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Youth

Chapter Text

It seemed like a peaceful day at the academy. Then again, it seemed. The students were stuffed through the large front door, gathering in their respected places, greeting their friends, asking them how their short break was, looking out for the teachers, getting excited for their first summer as potential genin. Today was the day where they were divided in teams of three, a girl and two boys, assigned to a jounin sensei and would spend the next several years training until they were ready to rise to a higher rank. Iruka, the only teacher they have known for the last years, was patiently standing behind his desk, watching the students  chat. Soon, several other people, all wearing the forest green west of the Hidden Leaf village, joined him. They signalled Iruka to go with them, so they left the young ninjas talk for a while.

 

Somehow, Naruto was late again. He woke up on time, well maybe, not exactly on time, but he did try. Racing out of his flat, he was dressed quickly and put on his brightly coloured orange uniform and googles, while stuffing his face with leftover ramen. An orange streak raced through the village, kicking and tipping of people, while apologising profusely and loudly. He made it just in time and saw there was an empty place in the back thankfully and plopped himself down on the seat. Then he noticed there were no teachers there, which means it was time to shake everyone up.

 

The first person he laid eyes on was Sakura, his old childhood crush. She was the prettiest girl he had ever seen, albeit some people might argue that pink hair is unnatural. She was quite tall for a girl her age and dressed somewhat traditional, like today, she was wearing a red top, black short that reached her knees and a forest green long jacket with the symbol of her clan embroidered on the back. Her hair was in a braid flowing down her back, with two pieces framing her face. However, Naruto loved her eyes the most. They were a lovely jade colour, the same colour he saw on jewellery rich women wore. Sakura was perched atop her desk, discussing something with someone who had a spiky ponytail on his head, who Naruto recognised as Shikamaru Nara, and next to them was a girl with blonde hair. Naruto sighed. Ino Yamanaka was never a fan of his.

 

He walked down the stairs to greet Sakura, writing a sentence in his mind, because he had a tendency to get incoherent around her. She was discussing something with Ino as Naruto approached them and he noticed the displeased look on Ino’s face.

 

“Hi there!” He said, the excitement clinging in his voice. Shikamaru waved at him and Sakura was about to open her mouth when Ino spoke.

 

“What is it?”

 

“I just came to say hello.”

 

Shikamaru patted the spot next to him lazily. He had a soft spot for the village outcast. Sakura gave him a short nod of acknowledgement and continued speaking.

 

“Who do you think will you get for a sensei?”

 

“I hope it’s someone capable.” Ino huffed. “I don’t want someone lazy and disinterested as a sensei.”

 

Naruto noticed that Shikamaru was falling asleep on the table, so he said loudly to Ino.

 

“So, not someone like Shikamaru?”

 

Sakura put a hand on her mouth and chuckled as they heard a shriek. Ino jumped up, sensing something dramatic happening when they spotted several girls fighting over an empty seat. The seat in question was next to the person Naruto would not hesitate pushing off a cliff. Fucking Sasuke Uchiha. His royal pain in the arse was ignoring the conundrum around him and looking away, dressed in his fancy clan clothes for the occasion and then he looked in Naruto’s direction and the boy in orange had enough and jumped over to Sasuke’s desk. Sakura sensed danger and went after him. Naruto was now eyeing Sasuke.

 

“The hell are you doing?” Sasuke said.

 

“Just to see your ugly mug.”

 

“How dare you call Sasuke ugly! He is so handsome!” Ino shouted, stomping her foot. Naruto and Sasuke got into loud fights every other day. It was usually over something dumb, like who had the ability run quicker, or who was better at hitting the target. It was an elite clan brat versus an orphan, loudmouth versus quiet kid, the popular one versus the runt of the litter. Sasuke was attempting to look unbothered, but veins were visible on his forehead. Sasuke cocked an eyebrow.

 

“Just shut it and go back to your seat.”

 

“You tell him, Sasuke!” Shouted one of the fangirls. Naruto crouched down on the table, eyeing Sasuke.

 

“Or else, Uchiha?”

 

Sasuke was about to say something when Shikamaru suddenly woke up from the noise and slammed his head against Naruto’s back, tipping him over, right into a charming lip lock with Sasuke. They both jumped back, screeching in disgust. Then everyone started screaming and punching each other, Sakura could swear she heard a dog bark. The classroom was shaking from the noises, so Sakura just sat down and waited for everyone to take it easy. Then she heard a loud bang in the front. Iruka sensei was there, carrying a list.

 

“Will everyone please take a seat?”

 

As Chouji Akimichi now occupied the seat next to Ino, Sakura sat down next to Naruto who settled next to Sasuke. Everyone went quiet quickly and Sakura felt her leg shaking. Where would she end up? She just prayed her family was not involved with this and sipped a little of her water, attempting to calm her nerves. She thought that she could share the news with her dad tonight when he comes back, as he has been away for weeks. She thought about her aunt who was waiting to hear the news and the rest of the clan who was equally excited to see their youngest member take her first step in the adult world.

 

“As tradition says, you will be divided into teams of three with a jounin sensei as your leader. When I call out your names, please leave your seat, take a headband, and leave the classroom where your sensei is. And congratulations.” He smiled, pointing at the table. They all passed their final exam to earn a headband with the symbol of the village and were ready to be accepted. Several teams stringed and then Iruka sensei stopped in his tracks.

 

“Team 7! Sensei, Kakashi Hatake! Members, Sasuke Uchiha, Naruto Uzumaki and Sakura Senju!”

 

The entire classroom went deadly silent. This team sounded like a nightmare come true. The three of them quietly got up, took a headband each, and went out. Sakura was clearly confused. Everyone and their mother was aware that the Senju and Uchiha were not on the best of terms and that Naruto was a wild card. Two members of main branches of a clan and a child with a mysterious background were called upon to form a team under Kakashi Hatake. His last name sounded very familiar to Sakura, somewhat too familiar. They sat down on a bench and Naruto started excitedly speaking.

 

“So, we are a team now, I guess we can become real ninja and go on missions and kick bad guys in prison and…” He was speaking very loudly, his voice getting faster and faster, he was clapping his hands in excitement and speaking about what will happen next.

 

“Wait, where is our sensei?” He asked, staring into the empty hallway. Sakura was confused; no jounin was ever late to a meeting, especially with those who depend on him. Naruto jumped up and started asking people he bumped into if they have seen someone named Kakashi Hatake. Sasuke was shaking his head and turned to Sakura.

 

“If the jounin doesn’t show until 9, I’m going back to the compound. I need to train and rest.”

 

“How delightful.” Sakura said. She and Sasuke were never truly close growing up. She was the firstborn and only child of Lord Nawaki Senju, head of the Senju clan and elite ninja, while Sasuke’s father was Lord Fugaku Uchiha, head of the Uchiha clan and commissioner of the elite ninja police. The Uchiha police force consisted of members of their clan and the clans that were connected to them, it counted over 300 members and their Hokage created it in order to keep the village safe. Or so was everyone told. They were rumoured to be quite wealthy too, as they possessed some goldmines outside of the village and had several shops and restaurants across the village. Sakura often heard the Uchiha were cold and solemn, but savages on the battlefield and they produced several legendary fighters.

 

 On the other hand, the Senju clan was the symbol of Konoha; for some, they were the royal family of the village, as their ancestors were founders of the Hidden Leaf. They built the village’s main defence and source of income, the forest. In addition, for some mostly important, two of the village’s Hokage came from their family, mainly Sakura’s branch. Sakura was the great-granddaughter of the First Hokage and great- great -niece of the Second. Sasuke felt somewhat threatened by Sakura’s pedigree. He was used to be the one from the elite family, but the Senju were basically ninja royalty, he often heard people use the word “princess” when talking about Sakura or any woman born into the main branch, and he could swear he heard somewhere that she had an actual princess for an ancestor. He wondered what else her bloodline was hiding, because he knew the secrets of his somewhat too well. He wondered how Naruto felt being among them, an orphan raised by the village among rich kids from powerful families. He remembered Sakura’s mother died a long time ago, but he figured he never cared enough to ask her. Maybe he will, someday. His thoughts drifted back to Naruto. He had terrible grades, skipped classes regularly to fight the local kids, pranked people left and right and yet somehow, managed to graduate with them.

 

Naruto just returned. “Well, no one even knows what Kakashi Hatake looks like.”

 

“Maybe we can find a picture in the bingo book.” Sakura suggested. Then they heard light footsteps. Behind them stood a man, dressed in a traditional uniform, with his headband covering one of his eyes and a mask over the lower part of his face. The only thing that stood out was a tuff of silver hair. He gave them a quick look.

 

“My name is Kakashi Hatake and I’m your new sensei. We will meet tomorrow at the training compound of the academy at 5 AM sharp.” Then disappeared in a puff of smoke. The children were clearly confused. Sasuke shrugged and turned around and Sakura and Naruto followed.

 

“Hey, are you two hungry?” Naruto asked. “I’m starving!”

 

“No.” Sasuke said. “I have to train.” He turned and left the two of them alone in the courtyard of the academy. Sakura rolled her eyes and turned to Naruto.

 

“I can walk with you so you can eat, but I have to go home too, my dad is returning.”

 

“Oh, does he have pink hair too?”

 

“No, it’s dark blond.” She said, confused. “My mum had somewhat darker hair then mine, but I have the same eyes as my dad.”

 

“Are both of your parents working as ninja?” Naruto asked.

 

“My dad does. My mum did too, before she died.”

 

“Oh, I’m sorry.” He quietly said. He was proud of himself for managing to have a normal conversation with Sakura, and then he elegantly blew it. Sakura felt bad, because she at least had a living parent and an aunt.

 

“So, who watches you when your dad is on a mission?”

 

“My aunt, Tsunade. If you want, you can come over to my house for dinner.” She suggested. Her father always encouraged her to invite Naruto over, but she felt stupid doing so because everyone hated him for some unknown reason and she rarely spoke to him.

 

“Yeah, that’d be so cool! Thanks! Um, where do you live?” They approached the apartment complex where a lot of working ninja families lived and Naruto prayed she lived there because he was tired of walking.

 

“I live a little closer to the edge of the village.” She explained. It clicked for Naruto. There, the forest was the deepest and strongest, there lived the elite, on large compounds with several buildings. The great clans, Nara, Yamanaka, Akimichi, Senju, Uchiha, Hyuuga, Aburame, Inuzuka and Sarutobi lived scattered in half moon on the north part of the village, close to the Hokage monument and near the mountains. No one would ever dare to attack from the mountains, so it made sense for them to live there. Sakura sat down on the bench on the river station, waiting for a boat so she can reach home. Naruto sat down next to her, watching the water.

 

“I had no idea you take the fairy.”

 

“Oh no, my cousin usually passes by now so I hop in his boat, sometimes I walk.”

 

“Your cousin has a boat?”

 

“Yeah, he usually gives a lift to his friends when they return from a mission. His name is Yamato and he’s quite nice.”

 

Naruto soon saw a boat, with a man with dark brown hair and green eyes, albeit darker then Sakura’s, anchor on the shore, so Sakura signalled him to jump in. She greeted her cousin with a hug, so he steered the quite large boat, and floated away.

 

“So, kids, who is your sensei?”

 

“Kakashi Hatake. And Sasuke Uchiha is with us.”

 

“Excuse me?” Yamato asked mouth agape. “Are you fucking with me?”

 

“The fuck is that supposed to mean?” Naruto chimed in.

 

“Hatake, he’s well, one of the greatest fighters I’ve ever met. Although, I must say, who in the world puts together an Uchiha, a Senju and an Uzumaki together?”

 

“The hell is that supposed to mean?” Naruto asked now. “My family was a small clan, right?”

 

“Right…” Yamato said, a sense of shame coming over him.

 

“Sakura, is he also related to the First Hokage?” Naruto asked.

 

“Yes, his grandfather was the Second Hokage.” Yamato gave them a big grin as they arrived at the dock that belonged to the small Senju river port. There were several other boats tied there, even some beautifully decorated. What Naruto noticed the first were the walls surrounding the compound. It was huge, enormous, and there were several buildings neatly organised in a formation on the grounds. In had a neat garden, Naruto had never seen so many beautifully coloured roses in his life. The path that lead to the main houses was leading straight from the main gate and was surrounded by cherry trees which weren’t bloom at this time of the year. There was even a fountain in the garden. The entire place looked beautifully kept and maintained and to little Naruto, it seemed like heaven. Sakura greeted the guards at the gate and entered with Naruto in the main house, which was the biggest.

 

Sakura’s house was large, with several floors. She showed him upstairs.

 

“I should greet my auntie fist, she’s somewhere here, and then we’ll wash up and if you want, you can help me prepare dinner.”

 

“Yeah, of course I will!”

Sakura walked up to a room, knocked on the door, and heard a stern “Yes?”, so she opened the door and Naruto poked his head behind her. There was a woman with lovely blonde hair and brown eyes, dressed in a dark green kimono and enjoying tea. Her hair was tied behind her head and she had a purple diamond painted on her forehead. Naruto noticed that rich women liked to dress in an excessive way, but the purple shape on her forehead was just too much. Sakura gave her a sweet smile and the woman responded with a similar facial expression.

 

“Hello, Auntie Tsuna. This is Naruto. Naruto, this is my Auntie Tsuna.”

 

The woman gave him an odd smile. “Hello, Naruto. I haven’t seen you since you were a baby.”

 

“You met me when I was a baby?”

 

She nodded. “I’m a medical ninja, Naruto.” She explained. He scanned his brain for medical ninja knowledge and looked at Sakura who nodded at him.

 

“Is dad home?”

 

“Not yet. But he will be for dinner.”

 

“Okay. I’ll make dinner tonight.” Tsunade nodded and sipped something from her cup.

 

Sakura went downstairs to the kitchen and Naruto followed her.

 

“Are medical ninja, like ninja doctors?”

 

“Yes, somewhat yes, although they know how to defend themselves. Aunt Tsuna is on hiatus, but once she’s ready she’ll return to her position in the hospital.”

 

“So, she can like, be a surgeon?”

 

“Yeah, she can. There are so many different ways of harming people with chakra, why don’t we use it to heal someone?”

 

She opened the kitchen door where a single woman was chopping vegetables and putting them into a broth.

 

“Hello, Mrs Mebuki!” Sakura greeted the woman and she nodded her head quickly.

 

“Lady Sakura, do you need anything?”

 

“No, I just wanted to prepare dinner for my dad. You can go earlier home tonight.”

 

She nodded and thanked Sakura. The kitchen was empty now and Sakura pulled out some eggplants and gave them to Naruto.

 

“Wash these in the sink and I’ll start preparing the soup. My dad loves eggplant soup. Do you like onigiri? I want to make those too. Oh, and some salmon.”

“That sounds so healthy.” Naruto deadpanned.

 

“Listen Naruto, we can’t eat salty ramen every day, you’ll get sick from the sodium!” She said, as a matter of fact and added some tomatoes to the pot, followed by garlic.

 

“Well, you are not the boss of me!”

 

She glared at him and he nodded. “Maybe you are. The eggplants are clean!”

 

She started cutting them and instructed Naruto to get the fish from the refrigerator and he deadpanned at the size of it.

 

“Do I just chuck it into the fire?”

 

“No, Naruto that will burn it and it will taste horrible. It needs spices, some chilli oil and then when can chuck it in the oven.”

 

Dinner was cooking and Sakura got up to set the table. This time, instead the usual four plates, she put six, one for Naruto and one for Yamato.

 

“Sakura!” She heard a voice from downstairs. “Your father is home!” She yelped with happiness and raced downstairs to hug her dad. Naruto followed, dumbfounded by the ruckus caused from the arrival of the head of the clan. Many clan members were outside to greet him and shake his hand and they overheard something about a meeting. Then he stepped inside his house and saw his sister standing atop of the stairs.

 

“Nawaki.” She smiled.

 

“Tsuna!” He replied, hugging her with excitement. “Where is my daughter?”

 

“Dad!” He heard a voice, so he turned around to see his daughter racing down the stairs and she jumped into her father’s arms. Naruto observed Nawaki Senju. He was a very tall man, with dark blonde hair and green eyes, dressed in a jounin uniform, but with bands around his sleeves and a short-sleeved royal blue jacket with the Senju crest on it. He kissed Sakura atop of her head.

 

“I’ve made dinner, and we have a guest! Come here, Naruto.” Naruto walked over to see Nawaki, he never actually met a clan head in person, he saw Sasuke’s father once from afar, and in his book, clan heads were scary people. This one didn’t really seem that frightening. Naruto awkwardly bowed his head. Nawaki bowed his head too.

 

“I’m Naruto, Naruto Uzumaki!” He shouted with a big grin. Nawaki gave him a warm smile and nodded.

 

“I’m Nawaki, Sakura’s dad.” He looked honestly kind to Naruto; there was nothing fake about this man. He gestured them all to go upstairs and promised to return once he was changed. They all sat down around the dinner table and started enjoying the food Sakura made for them. It was delicious, of course, but Naruto was interested in the mission her dad went on.

 

“Top secret.” He grinned and Naruto pouted.

 

“Did you kill some bad guys?” Naruto asked, still curious.

 

“As I said, top secret.”

 

Naruto decided to let it go and finished dinner. Sakura waved him off and he went to bed, happy and content. Then he remembered he kissed Sasuke.

Chapter Text

It was raining fucking cats and dogs when Sasuke stepped out of the house. He huffed and puffed and realised he had no umbrella in his room and it was fucking four in the morning, so no servants were around yet and he had no idea where the umbrellas were. He remembered he could always bother Shisui. There was a building with several flats on the compound, where young unmarried clan members lived on their own, in single bedroom flats. Shisui’s was on the top floor, which Sasuke found even more annoying, so he climbed the stairs, which thankfully were covered and waited on the balcony slash hallway of the floor after knocking on Shisui’s door. No one answered and Sasuke just decided to break in. He cracked the lock in a second and entered the small living room and kitchen. Shisui always had a soft spot for Sasuke, ever since Sasuke’s older brother, well, went missing.  Then he saw a pair of red, glowing eyes in the dark and noticed the glimmer of a katana. It was Shisui, dressed in a fluffy teal bathrobe. Sasuke attempted not to laugh.

 

“Relax, it’s just me. I need an umbrella.”

 

“Son of a… Just take the fucking thing and piss off.”

 

“Cool.” Sasuke saw a ridiculous yellow umbrella leaned against the dresser in the living room, so he grabbed it and went outside. He stared at the flat next to Shisui’s, flat number 14. It belonged to his brother for a short time, but he decided not to dwell on it and left for the training grounds. Shisui was after all, a captain of a unit in the elite police force. He was close family, the son of Sasuke’s uncle, a good friend of his missing brother and a keen user of the bloodline limit their family was blessed with, which was really something that brought pride and joy to Sasuke, something that made him more powerful and unique in comparison to his teammates. Naruto and Sakura had no kekkei genkai to brag about, after all. Sasuke wasn’t even halfway there when it stopped raining.

 

“Good morning, dickhead!” Naruto shrieked across the field and Sasuke flinched, wishing he stayed home.

 

“Just shut your muzzle.”

 

“Hi.” Sakura said quietly. She was playing with some grass, as if she was stroking a dog. She was looking at the soft pink sky, tasting the nice morning air.

 

“Now, where is our sensei?” Naruto barked.

 

“Probably lost somewhere.” Sasuke spat back.

 

“Sakura’s weird uncle warned us against him.” Naruto shrieked.

 

“I found him in the books. They call him Copy-Cat Kakashi and Kakashi of the Thousand Jutsus.”

 

“And that means?” Sasuke said, putting his hands on his hips.

 

“It means he’s not someone we should underestimate.”

 

“Good morning, my cute little genin.” They heard a voice above them. Kakashi stood upon one of the wooden pillars, looking eerily relaxed and rested.

 

“Today, we play a game.” He announced, jumping down. He showed them a pair of little silvery bells, and strapped them on his waist.

 

“Your task is to get these balls and you will pass and become official genin. Otherwise, you will be returned to the academy for another year. We begin now. You have time until sunrise and everything is allowed.” He disappeared in a puff of smoke. The three of them split immediately and went into hiding. Sakura did the math. She knew the weak spots of the human body, thanks to her aunt’s several anatomy books, so a poke in his thigh muscle should do the deed. She pulled out a kunai and tapped it against her knee, thinking. Maybe, if she causes enough distraction and diversion, she can set a trap and surprise him. Just how, that was the question?

 

Sasuke, on the other hand, was ready to set the damn forest on fire and just get those bells and be finished with this. Naruto was sitting in a tree, enjoying an apple and considering just creating a bunch of Shadow clones and be done with it. Surely, he can’t fight of a swarm. Team 7 was just on the brink of being accepted into the shinobi world, so surely, nothing can stop them. They spent several hours hiding, developing plans and connecting the dots individually.

 

Boy, were they wrong.

 

Sakura just decided to leave her hiding spot and track Kakashi, when she saw Sasuke’s head poking out of the ground.

 

“What in the world…?” She yelped. “Need some help, Uchiha?”

 

“No.”

 

“Okay.” She said, turning her back.

 

“Yes, I need fucking help, Lady Sakura!” He shouted. She turned around and pulled him out. Sasuke cleaned his clothes off.

 

“What the fuck happened?”

 

“Well, I managed to find him and started using some taijutsu on him, I even used my fire jutsu and some good techniques, managed to touch the bells, but then, he tricked me and I was underground.”

 

“How long ago was this?”

 

“An hour ago. Maybe more.”

 

“And you didn’t ask for help?”

 

“No.”

 

“We’re a team, Sasuke.” She said. Then it hit her. She had a brainstorm.

 

“You managed to chase Kakashi-sensei, right?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“We need to find Naruto; we might even manage to survive this.”

 

Sasuke never had the opportunity to see Sakura so up close and personal. She was very beautiful; she had a heart-shaped face with high cheekbones, full lips and lovely jade coloured eyes, albeit, her forehead was on the larger side. Only, her hair stuck out like a sore thumb. He blushed slightly; he shouldn’t be staring like that. She’s a Senju and his teammate.

 

“So, you have a plan?”

 

“Something like that. Now, where is Naruto?”

 

Then they saw him. The orange goofball was tied against a tree, upside-down.

 

“He caught you, too?” Sakura asked.

 

“No, that’s a fox trap.” Sasuke laughed. Sakura started laughing too and Naruto felt embarrassed. Sasuke cut the rope and he fell down.

 

“We need to team up.” Naruto said. “We can’t defeat that old man alone.”

 

“Agreed.” Sakura said, laying out the plan. “Sasuke, your job is to chase him out in the clear, Naruto, you need to make an army of clones, and I need to transform into you.” She pulled out a senbon needle.

 

“I’ll poke him in a muscle on his upper leg which will make his leg stiff, so we can steal the bells. Because I will look like Naruto, he will think I’m just another clone. Sasuke, you need to get him to the middle of the meadow in order for this to work. Got it?”

 

They both nodded and Sasuke went to track down Kakashi again while Naruto and Sakura hid in the bushes. Sasuke started tracking Kakashi and saw the jounin lazily hanging on a tree branch, as if it was a hammock, reading some brightly coloured book. Sasuke almost got angry at the sight, performed several hand seals, and blew a fireball at the tree. The jounin jumped up with ease and flew across the branches, so Sasuke went on a chase. He blew another fireball and Kakashi shook his head against the futile attempts to catch him.

 

Sakura and Naruto were still hiding, Sakura clutching on the senbon for dear life. Sasuke and Kakashi were now engaged in a taijutsu battle, but the young Uchiha was struggling.

 

“Sasuke needs help!” Naruto shouted, flying out of the bushes. Sakura wanted to yell to stick to the plan, but Naruto was in the clear already, jumping in the fight. Kakashi sent him flying back right in the bushes, with a mildly disturbing taijutsu move, but Naruto came flying back, creating a swarm of shadow clones. Sakura transformed into Naruto and joined the beehive of Naruto clones. She flew in between the clones, racing at Kakashi who was fighting off several clones. Then, four clones and Sasuke jumped at Kakashi and Sakura saw the opportunity and poked him right in the nerve. His leg started shaking and he fell, so Sakura took off the bells from his belt and waved them in the air. They all shared a high five and Sakura waved the bells at Kakashi.

 

“You actually worked as a team.”

 

“Yeah.” Naruto said.

 

“Well, team 7, congratulations. You have passed.” Kakashi attempted to stand up, but his leg was twitching.

 

“I think we need a medical ninja.” Sakura said, looking at Kakashi’s trembling leg.

 

“Isn’t your aunt one?”

 

“Well, she is somewhat retired, but Shizune isn’t. C’mon boys, we need to get him to my house.”

 

The three of them picked up their sensei and dragged him to the Senju compound. Sasuke had never visited it; he surely passed there a few times. Kakashi visited when he was very young, but couldn’t remember the details. He was sprawled across a settee in the living room of the main house, praying that they’ll get Shizune, whoever that was. Kakashi was in pain now, his leg felt numb. He thought he was hallucinating when he saw a tiny piglet with a fancy pearl necklace race around the room. Then he saw a woman with short dark hair and something that looked like a medical ninja uniform.

 

“What happened?” The woman asked.

 

“I poked him in the Rectus femoris; I think I might have struck a nerve.”

 

Shizune pinched the bridge of her nose. “Get out of the room, kids.”

 

Sakura signalled them to leave with her, so they sat down in the cool hallway and waited for Shizune to finish the procedure. Naruto heard footsteps and saw Tsunade come down the stairs, albeit dressed differently than last time, this time in what looked like a nice dress. She looked at Sakura, clearly confused.

 

“Is Shizune there?”

 

“Yeah, I poked Kakashi sensei with a senbon and his leg is limp.”

 

“WHAT?” Tsunade yelled, a vein popping off on her forehead. Naruto and Sasuke started trembling in their boots. “I DIDN’T TEACH YOU ANATOMY SO YOU CAN PARALYSE ELITE SHINOBI!”

 

“Granny, it’s not Sakura’s fault, we had to defeat him somehow…”

 

“WHAT DID YOU CALL ME?” She yelled and Sakura closed her eyes. Then Shizune opened the door.

 

“He wasn’t paralysed; you just cramped his muscle up with the senbon. See, he’s okay.” She opened the door further, but the room was empty now, Kakashi had left through the window. Tsunade sizzled down and looked at Sakura.

 

“We will talk when I get home! Shizune, come with me.” The two women left, with a little piglet following them. Sasuke looked around. The Senju compound looked like an actual home, there was noise from familiar people in the house, they even had pets, the walls were decorated with family pictures spanning several generations and in the main hall, where they were standing, was a portrait of the First Hokage. He was wearing the red and white uniform and was holding the Hokage hat in his hands. He had long brown hair and bright green eyes.

 

“Is that your great-grandfather?” Sasuke asked.

 

“Yeah.” Sakura sad. “Aunt Tsunade will kill me.”

 

“Eh.” Sasuke said. “At least we passed. I’m heading home.” He was about to leave, when Sakura stopped him.

 

“You can stay for dinner, if you want.” She said nicely. “I’m alone tonight; I imagine you must be too.”

 

“I mean, why not…”  He said, not sure why.

 

“Yeah!” Naruto said. “We’re cooking together.” It was the first time the three of them shared a meal, together.

 

The main conference room of the Hokage tower was decked out with the clan heads, village elders the Hokage’s secretary. The room had walls made out of wooden panels, a long table with several seats and a small podium for the speakers. On the walls, portraits of the previous Hokage were hanging, the First, his brother the Second and the late Fourth Hokage. O the right side, were usually seated the clan heads, on the right sights, high ranking officials, like the head of the hospital, the headmaster of the academy, the council and the main guard. As some clan heads held important positions in the village too, this separation wasn’t really needed.

The doors opened and everyone expected the Hokage, but instead it was Lord Nawaki and his sister, Lady Tsunade. Nawaki took his respectable place as head of the Senju clan and Tsunade sat across the table, on the position of the director of the Konoha hospital. Her deputy, Shizune, was right behind her. Fugaku Uchiha eyed the Senju and turned back to Inoichi Yamanaka to discuss some other matters. The door creaked again, but this time it was a tall man, with long spiky white hair, dressed in red and green. Tsunade sighed as he plopped down next to her.

 

“Tsuna!”

 

“Hello, Jiraiya. What are you doing here?”

 

“I’m here to see the genin selection.”

 

“How fun.” She responded, wishing she had some sake. Nawaki chuckled under his breath, remembering seeing a similar interaction recently. Then, finally, a figure dressed in red came in; the scent of sweet tobacco was filling the room.

 

“Welcome to the formalisation of our newest genin graduates. This year, we had 142 graduates, less than the past few years. Now, we will hear from the jounin sensei which ones have passed and which ones will be returned to the academy. Today, we have the pleasure of being joined by two of my favourite students, Tsunade and Jiraiya.”

Jiraiya laughed and the secretary put down the files for the first team in front of the Hokage. The first ten jounin sensei walked in and took their respective places in the back of the room. Nawaki eyed Kakashi, knowing about his reputation of failing every single team he had. This year, he even received a team with his favourite number. The first two teams passed, the next two were failed, and then the next two passed. The secretary placed three papers in front of the Hokage. Hiruzen Sarutobi eyed the three children and showed Naruto’s paper to the secretary.

 

“Is Naruto wearing clown makeup on his ninja registration picture?”

 

“I think, so, Sir.”

 

The Hokage chuckled and looked over. “Well then, Hatake Kakashi, rank jounin, step forward.”

 

“Watch this one.” Said Asuma, another jounin sensei, leaning over to Kurenai, the only female jounin sensei in the room. The red-eyed woman rose an eyebrow.

 

“He failed them, per usual.”

 

“Who is on his team even?”

 

“Team 7. Members, Uzumaki Naruto, Uchiha Sasuke, Senju Sakura.” Said the secretary. Everyone braced themselves. This was a delicate situation. Tsunade looked at Jiraiya.

 

“Your niece?” He asked. She nodded and turned her head to Kakashi. His hands were in his pockets.

 

“Passed.” He said. Everyone’s mouths dropped. Hiruzen smiled, closing his eyes.

 

“Congratulations.” The secretary stamped the three papers and wrote the team names on them and the Hokage signed them. Fugaku looked over at Nawaki; he was unaware that his daughter was placed with Sasuke. He hadn’t seen his son since the graduation and the family meeting was tonight, so it was interesting to see him placed on Hatake’s team. Kurenai and Asuma looked shocked. It looked like the tides were changing in Konoha.

 

“This is protocol breaking, but I must ask, since you are known for failing every single team you had, what changed this time?” Asked the Third Hokage, leaning back into his chair.

 

“We’ll see.” He said, before stepping back. Asuma looked at Kurenai.

 

“Those kids have spines of steal and a lot of moxy if Hatake passed them.”

 

“Have you heard their last names?” Asuma muttered.

 

“Those names haven’t passed them. If I’m correct, Kakashi failed a Hyuuga.”

 

It was very late when Nawaki and Tsunade arrived home, with Shizune and Tonton the pig in tow.

 

“Do you think Sakura is awake?” Tsunade asked.

 

“Probably. I know how excited I was when I graduated from the academy.”

 

Tsunade knocked on Sakura’s bedroom door. In the room, which once was her grandfather’s nursery, Sakura was siting finishing reading on thigh muscles. The room was now in a soft, rosy hue, with a bed, a bookshelf and a large dresser with a mirror. She smiled at Tsunade, who walked over to her bed and gave her a big hug.

 

“Congratulations on becoming a genin. In addition, I’m sorry for today, I was too harsh on you. But, it is one thing to know anatomy, the other thing to apply it.” She removed a strand of Sakura’s hair. “I was wrong to teach you anatomy so vaguely. You need to learn more. How about, I teach you some medical ninjutsu?”

 

“That sounds incredible.” Sakura hugged her aunt. Tsunade gave her a goodnight kiss like when she was a little girl. There was another knock on her bedroom door, this time her father.

 

“I wanted to congratulate our newest shinobi.”

 

“Dad!” She liked to have her family around, no matter how short the time they spent together is. He put a box on her lap and she opened it. Inside of it was a key.

 

“It’s for the library. The Senju library.”

 

Sakura’s eyes opened wide. She was allowed in that library on special occasions, and then only accompanied by an adult. The girl gave her father a big grin.

 

“Thank you, dad!”

 

It was quite late, Sasuke just wanted to sleep. His mother poured him some tea, but it made him even sleepier.


“He’ll be here soon.” Smiled Mikoto, removing a strand of his hear and tucking it behind his ear. Sasuke loved his mother with every bone in his body. She was sweet and kind, very loving and the best mother he could ask for. She gave him a big kiss on the cheek.

 

“How do you find your new team?”

 

“They’re… something. Kakashi seems competent.”

 

“Kakashi Hatake? Yes, he was a top student, I remember, and a war hero, too. And your other teammates?”

 

“Well, Naruto is a loudmouth and Sakura has somewhat of a temper, but they’re bearable.”

 

“Naruto Uzumaki and Sakura Senju?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Mikoto smiled. “I was good friends with their mothers.”

 

“Really? Didn’t Naruto’s parents die in the Konoha attack?”

 

“Yes, they died 12 years ago. It seems like a lifetime.”

 

“And Sakura’s mother?”

 

“She died when Sakura was a baby. Some complications after labour I think, but the three of us were good friends. I want you to have a similar relationship with your teammates. Invite them for dinner sometimes.”

 

“I’ll see.”

 

The door opened and Fugaku entered.

 

“Well, I praise there where praise is due. Congratulations, Sasuke.”

 

“Thank you.” He said, attempting to mask his emotions. His heart was swelling.

 

“I was surprised that you were with Nawaki’s daughter and the Uzumaki brat. If they don’t do, I’ll pull some strings to get you a better team.”

 

“It doesn’t matter. I’ll just ignore them until they go away.”

 

“Now go and get some rest, I think they’re taking pictures for the yearbook tomorrow.”

 

In the morning, Naruto was standing with Sasuke, both of them bickering over their clothes. Naruto showed up in his obnoxious orange, Sasuke came in his usual garb, except his shirt was brighter shade of blue today. They heard footsteps approach and saw Sakura approach. She looked like her usual self, only her hair was down, flowing down her back and framing her face. Naruto approached her like the little weirdo he was in his heart and smelled her hair. She got creeped out and punched him the shoulder.

 

“Well…I tried…”

 

Sasuke looked uncomfortable and hoped their sensei would approach so they can take the damn picture. Kakashi came soon, and they were first up. It was an adorable thing, really. Kakashi was standing behind them, while Sakura stood in the middle, giving the photographer a sweet smile, while Naruto and Sasuke, were glaring at each other. Kakashi requested four copies. After receiving them, he gazed at the picture for a long time. He cannot allow himself another failure. Not after what happened the last time.

 

“Today is a day where I will only review your abilities and see in which way you can grow and work together. So follow me.”

 

He turned into a cloud of smoke and the little team followed him on the training grounds. Their sensei was already there in the shadows, holding the familiar orange book and reading.

 

“Ah, here are my cute little genin!” He set the book down and showed them the tree behind him.

 

“I want you to climb this tree.”

 

Naruto rolled up his sleeves and started marching towards their green protector.

 

“Without using your hands.”

 

“Well, how the hell will I climb the tree, old man?” Naruto shouted.

 

“Did he just call me old man…?” Kakashi said, looking deflated.

 

“Naruto, before you throw hands, I think Kakashi means to climb the tree with chakra.” Sasuke explained.

 

“Correct. And how will you do that?” Kakashi asked.

 

“Oh, I have an idea! By infusing chakra into the soles of our feet, like a thin layer of glue, and then we can climb, right.”

 

“Exactly.” Kakashi nodded. “See, if you put too much chakra, the tree will break, if you put too little, you will fall down. Now try.”

 

Sakura focused. This was an easy task. She felt the energy generated in her body and soul surge to her legs and she slowly approached the tree. Naruto decided to run for it and he managed to climb half up before falling down on his butt. Sasuke followed a similar path.

 

“Just what will I do with you two hotheads, huh?”

 

“I did it!” Shouted Sakura. She was standing on a tree branch, upside down, long hair waving in the wind. Sasuke snickered at the poetic beauty of the sight.

 

“Looks like Sakura has the best chakra control. It is more common for a kunoichi to have better chakra control than her male counterparts, but, nonetheless, you two will continue with practise once we’re done with the basic testing.”

 

The two of them seemed displeased with Sakura and Kakashi and were even more confused when he pulled out a piece of paper and split it into three strips.

 

“Here you go. Now, let’s test your chakra natures. There are five basic chakra natures. Water, fire, wind, earth and lightning. If you’re curious, I’m a lightning type.”

 

“And how will we tell what type we are?” Sakura asked.

 

“By infusing chakra from your right hand into this paper. If it burns, fire type, if it splits in half, wind type, if it turns to dust, earth type, if it gets wet, water type, if it explodes, lighting type.”

 

“Got it!” They said in union.

 

“I’ll got first!” Naruto said. The paper split in two and started dangling.

 

“Ah, a wind type.” Kakashi smiled, familiar pang stung in his heart. He felt like he was looking at someone long gone. Sasuke’s paper was already burning.

 

“A fire type, very traditional in your family. Your father is a fire type too, if I remember correctly, just like your…” Kakashi stopped himself. “It doesn’t matter. Well, I saw you use fireball jutsus before, I must say, I’m impressed by the control of your chakra nature, since fire is very versatile.”

 

“Now, for you, Sakura.” She infused the little piece of paper, it got all wet and soggy.

 

“A water type.” He said. “Good chakra control, water nature… Have you considered becoming a healer?”

 

“I’m a water type, just like my dad.” She looked very pleased.

 

“Good, my cute little genin.” Kakashi wrote down their types in the data from the academy he had and started reading their reports. He closed them up.

 

“So, Sakura, you’re free for today, and you two can attempt to climb a tree.” Sakura looked very excited to spend a day with her dad and just take it easy. Then she saw her two annoyed teammates.

 

“Do you need any help?”

 

“No!” Sasuke sad, being the stubborn little shit he was ever since he left his mother’s womb.

 

“Well…” Naruto said, pointing his fingers together. Sakura gave him a basic rundown of what she did and how and where to focus the chakra. She gave them a nod and ran to see her father. He must be busy with a clan meeting, but Sakura had always had a special place in his busy schedule. Her dad was in his office, working per usual, but when he saw her, he decided to finish up for today.

 

“Dad, do you want to talk a walk with me?”

 

“Always.”

 

It was sunset when they reached the training grounds when Sakura saw her two dusty teammates high fiving on a tree.

 

“You did it?” She yelled from bellow.

 

“Yeah!” Naruto shouted. “We did it, you better believe it!”

 

Sakura clapped for them. It seems like Team 7 is going forward.

Chapter Text

Sakura woke early, earlier than needed. Her stomach was in pain and she felt cramps all over her body. She opened the door of her bathroom and searched among the medicine to find a remedy. Another sharp pain. She felt the urge to relieve herself and started taking off her pyjama. Then she saw blood.

 

Oh.

 

She just changed and went back to bed. Sakura woke up again, tired and groggy, as if she hasn’t slept a day. She went downstairs to eat some breakfast and saw her aunt enjoying her morning “tea” which was probably laced with peach sake. Shizune was already out of the house, as the deputy of the Hospital director she had her hands full because the director is on an infinite break.

 

“Morning.” Sakura said, taking a cup of tea and sat down. She took a bite out of an apple and realised she already has to go. Tsunade gave her a firm look.

 

“Remember, after those lessons, you come back to the library and we work.”

 

“Got it.” Sakura said. “I have to tell you something.”

 

“Yes?” Tsunade said, feeding Tonton with an orange slice.

 

“I got my period.” She said.

 

“Well, it was time. Take care.”

 

She nodded and left for the training grounds. Sakura arrived at the bridge, but only Sasuke was there. She braced herself for the awkward conversation. She thought to herself how much their families despise each other in secret and how little in common they had. She played with a loose strand of her hair, praying he will be his usual arrogant self so he doesn’t strike up a conversation with her. She felt awful about that heavy felling she had whenever she saw him, but gods, he was so difficult and stuck up. Perhaps because she is who she is.

 

“Sakura.” He said, nodding at her. She nodded back. Sasuke hoped she’d crack a smile like she does when Naruto or Kakashi say something funny.

 

“You look nice today.” He said, not sure why.

 

“Thank you.” She said. “Just today?”

 

There it was, He put his fucking foot in his fucking mouth, just as Naruto always does.

 

“No, no, I meant you look nice always, but today especially.” Saved.

 

“I was just joking, geez.”

 

Sasuke cursed inside of his mind. Naruto made Sakura laugh, he pissed her off enough for her to strike him to the Hokage monument, he made her upset with his irresponsibility, but nonetheless, he saw the care she had for him, and it was almost maternal, to a sense.

 

All Sasuke was given was a blocked wall, a pink shadowy girl that had a few things to say to him and was always quiet. He turned his head slightly, to observe her. She was sitting atop the bridge, lost in her thoughts.

“Do you know what Kakashi sensei has planned for us today?” She asked, breaking the silence.

 

“I’d be surprised if he had a plan at all.” Sasuke said, his sarcastic streak showing.

 

Sakura leaned her head back. “Good one.”

 

“You know, for a notorious shinobi, he doesn’t strike me as terrifying.”

 

“The one eye is a bit scary.”

 

“I give him that.”

 

“Speaking of eyes, how are yours?”

 

“I still haven’t awaken my Sharingan, if that’s what you mean.”

 

“Oh, that’s all cool. I was just curious. Also, when Naruto is here, I want to invite both of you to my dad’s garden party. It’s his birthday, so he usually throws a small party by the river so we can swim and play games.”

 

“I don’t think it’s really appropriate…”

 

“And why not?”

 

“Sakura! Dickhead!”

 

“You know, Naruto, I’m actual from a noble clan…”

 

“Oh, I’m sorry, Lord Dickhead! Wilt thou accept my forgiveness?” He said making a hand motion to imitate speaking.

 

Naruto was dressed especially bright today, in an orange suit with a single, thick dark green stripe across it. It almost hurt Sasuke’s eyes how bright it was. Naruto stared at Sasuke. It was easy to figure out that Sasuke didn’t come from a random civilian family. He had aristocratic, sharp features, dark hair and eyes, sharp cheekbones and his stance said he came from money and power. No wonder the girls went bananas for him.

 

“Does anyone know how to summon Kakashi Hatake?” Sakura groaned.

 

“Oi, Lord Dickhead, Sakura, why don’t we find out where he lives?”

 

“And what?” Sasuke asked.

 

“Yo.”  A voice above them said. “To the Hokage tower, kiddies. We’re going on our first mission.”

 

The three children looked up and nodded, following their sensei. The Hokage tower was the largest building in Konoha; it contained the administrative and private residence of the Hokage and his closest relatives and the secret library and archives of the village. Kakashi told them to wait for him until he returns with their mission.

 

“And don’t cause any conundrum.”

 

The three of them sat down on a bench in front of the building and were about to mind their own business, when three little kids appeared. They were dressed absurdly bright, with green googles, just like Naruto used to wear.

 

“Naruto! We are here to tell you, that inspired by you, we decided to paint the Hokage monument!” The kid in the middle said, holding up a bucket of petroleum blue paint and a paintbrush. The other two kiddies, a boy and a girl, were also armed from head to toe with paint and various kinds of brushes.

 

“Konohamaru, I am very proud of you!” Naruto said, giving him thumbs up. “Paint the Hokage like I did when I had the time!”

 

“Is being a genin hard?” Asked the girl.

 

Naruto nodded. “Yes, we go on secret, dangerous missions and defeat bad guys.”

 

“That’s so cool!” Konohamaru shouted and then looked over at his friends. “I hope that I’ll become as cool as you, Naruto!”

 

“With enough luck and training, you will, Konohamaru Sarutobi!”

 

Sakura and Sasuke deadpanned at the exchange. “Wait, Sarutobi?” Sakura asked. “Like Lord Third?”

 

“Yes, he’s my grandfather!” Said the kid with pride.

 

“So, you’re painting your grandfather?” Sasuke asked, clearly confused.

 

“We miscalculated this one, boys.” Konohamaru said, looking disappointed. “Dad and Uncle Asuma will have my head.”

 

“You can still paint the academy.” Naruto suggested.

 

“Naruto!” Sakura said, looking very disappointed.

 

“What, if the kids want to paint the academy fresh, why not?”

 

The three little students looked excited and Sakura was ready to strike Naruto down with the might of several gods when she heard a loud whistling sound. It was a tall man, with spiky white hair and brightly coloured clothes. He was dressed very old fashioned, and his horned headband read a kanji that said “oil”. He looked oddly familiar; she could swear she saw his picture somewhere. He had a large sealing scroll on his back and looked well armed. When he saw the kids with the paint, he approached them, clearly confused.

 

“As an upstanding ninja of this community I am forced to ask you what is this paint for?”

 

“Uh, we’re painting my house?” Konohamaru lied.



The man narrowed his eyes. “Is that true?” He asked, again. The kids looked like they were about to pee themselves. Sakura held her breath.

 

“We’re painting the Hokage monument!” Said the other boy, shaking. Konohamaru slapped his forehead and looked at his friend angrily.

 

Then Naruto decided to chime in. “Hey, don’t pick on the kids old man! Take your business out with me?”

 

“You, wimp?” The man said, picking up Naruto by the back of his collar. “You look like you weigh less than a cat.” Naruto started throwing fists at the old man and Sasuke slapped his forehead. Sakura attempted to grab Naruto by the waist and pull him down from the man’s grasp and screeched loudly. Sasuke started yelling and the kids attempted to flee, but were stopped by the man. The man picked Naruto higher up, so Sakura followed too and Sasuke then, in panic, grabbed Sakura’s calves in order to pull her down. They screamed in union and people started to turn their heads to see what in the world was going on. Naruto was biting the man’s face at this point and everyone was screaming and yelling.

 

Kakashi just stepped out, with the mission scrolls and then spotted his cute little genin in fight with an elite, legendary shinobi. Kakashi braced himself for the fallout.

 

“Lord Jiraiya!” He shouted.

 

The man turned around, dropping the six children on the ground with a loud thud.

 

“Kakashi, Kakashi Hatake, is that you?”

 

“Lord Jiraiya, is everything alright?”

 

“I was just handling these brats. They were about to paint the Hokage monument.”

 

“No, we weren’t!” Sakura shouted, pointing at Naruto and Sasuke.

 

“But we were!” Konohamaru responded.

 

“I can account for the bigger three.” Kakashi joked. “They’re my team.”

 

“Why didn’t you say so?” Jiraiya said, picking Naruto, Sakura and Sasuke one by one, placing them on the bench. He observed them, head to toe.

 

“Dark hair and eyes, angry face, fan crest… Looks like an Uchiha.” Jiraiya said.

 

Sasuke looked hissy. “And what about it?”

 

“I was just about to introduce them. Yes, that is Sasuke Uchiha, our girl’s name is Sakura Senju and this one is Naruto Uzumaki. Team 7, this is Lord Jiraiya, one of the greatest and finest shinobi this village has.” The three little academy students saw this as their opportunity to leave the chaos.

 

Jiraiya’s face got softer. He looked as if a sadness washed over him, but he pulled himself together. “Uzumaki, eh?” He petted Naruto’s head, fixing the lapel of his unzipped jacket. He was the spitting image of someone long lost. The he turned to Sakura.

 

“You’re Tsunade’s niece, aren’t you? We were teammates, you know?”

 

“Yes, she’s my aunt. But she never mentioned you.”

 

Jiraiya deadpanned. “I see…” Then he turned to Sasuke.

 

“Ah, Uchiha. You must be popular with the girls. Are you Fugaku’s younger boy?”

 

“Yes.” He said. Sakura went a little pale. Jiraiya nodded.

 

“It was nice meeting you, kiddies. Is your aunt around?” The man said.

 

“She’s home, probably. Aunt Tsuna has been on hiatus for a while.”

 

“I know. I’ll go visit her, then.” He waved them goodbye, throwing one last glance at Naruto.

 

“Well, you managed to not to burn down the village, so I’m proud of you. We’re going on your first D-rank mission.”

 

“A D-rank?” Naruto shouted. “No, we want an A-rank, at least!”

 

“Not yet, Naruto.” Kakashi smiled. “We’re going to help a nice old man catch mice in his new bakery. Then we have a mission where you have to display some puppets in a shop, which should be easy enough, and the last is feeding the dogs for the Inuzuka clan.”

 

“That should be an S-rank.” Sasuke said. “Those dogs smell.”

 

“So do the Inuzuka.” Naruto said.

 

“There, there, no quitting now.”

 

Naruto never wished to quit more. The mice bit him, so he had to get a rabies shot from a medical ninja, then the puppets fell on him several times because his arm was hurting from the shot and then came the Inuzuka. Now, the dogs were the size of smaller and larger horses and presumably, had a similar appetite. Gods, they were wrong. They had an even bigger appetite. But, Hana Inuzuka, the older sister of Kiba, one of their academy friends, gave them a clear instruction not to overfeed the dogs. Sakura did the measuring, while Naruto and Sasuke carried the food to the animals.

 

“The mission was a success.” He smiled proudly at them. The three little dirty genin gave him crooked smiles.

 

“You can go home.” He said, disappearing in a puff of smoke. Sasuke was about to leave, when Naruto grabbed him by the shoulder.

 

“We’re going to spend our first ninja money on ramen. To Ichiraku’s!” Naruto yelled, dragging the Senju and Uchiha with him. Ichiraku’s was a small restaurant in the food district, sometimes affectionately called “The Belly of Konoha”. It was always full of people and life, especially in the night. Ichiraku’s was full, but when the shop owner saw Naruto, he found three spots immediately. He served them three bowls and chatted with Naruto, greeting him like an old friend.

 

“Enjoy guys!” Naruto said, digging into the bowl. He ate hastily, with speed beyond with the wind. Sakura chuckled and dug into her own bowl. It was too good to be true; she finally understood Naruto’s addiction. He took of his orange and green jacket and threw it over the chair.

 

“Another bowl!” He shouted. Sasuke was halfway through his.

 

“Someone is hungry…” Sakura laughed. “Anyway, Naruto, I have to tell you too, my father is throwing a birthday party for himself soon, you’re invited.”

 

“Will there be ramen?”

 

“Maybe? There will be barbeque. And my dad.”

 

“Okay, he’s pretty cool; I can’t wait to be there. But your auntie is scary!”

 

She has a bit of a temper…” Sakura said.

 

“So it’s in the family?” Sasuke asked.

 

“I DON’T HAVE A TEMPER!” Sakura yelled, breaking her chopsticks in several chunks with a squeeze of a hand. Ayame, the daughter of the shop's ownder Teuchi, just pushed another pair towards her.

 

“You sure?” Sasuke poked again.

 

“I’d cut that out if I were you, Lord Dickhead.” Naruto advised. “My second portion!” He clapped, devouring it all over again.

 

“Do we have training tomorrow or are we going to do another rota of these missions for academy students?” Sasuke asked.

 

“Kakashi-sensei hasn’t said anything.” Sakura tapped her chin. “I think he likes surprises.”

 

“That man is tiring.” Sasuke proclaimed. They finished eating and started going home. Since they lived in different parts of the village, they would usually split, but this time, Naruto decided to cause ruckus, because, he didn’t cause anything since midday.

 

“Hey. Lord Dickhead, I’ve seen Sakura’s house but not yours.”

 

“And you never will. Little bitch.”

 

“You dick!” Naruto yelled, rolling his sleeves up, ready to crash his skull. They started bickering and Sakura was at the end of her wits so she punched them both in the face. They fell down and she started yelling at them.

 

“I hate you!” Sasuke shouted.

 

“Does your mother even love you?” Naruto yelled back, tackling him down.

 

“Stop fighting, you two dickheads!”

 

“We’re not fighting!” They yelled back. Sakura slapped her forehead.

 

“Sasuke, just let Naruto see your house, then we can all go home to sleep.”

 

“Fine!”

 

They arrived at the Uchiha gates soon enough. Two torches were lit at the entrance; the walls were twice as tall as the ones at the Senju compounds. The place had an eerie fell to it. Naruto was ready to prance in when Sasuke pulled him back by the collar.

 

“Where do you think you’re going?” Sasuke said. “This is my house. You saw enough.

 

“Dick.” Naruto spat. “Good night, Sakura!” He said, waving them off.

 

Sakura was about to leave too. “See you tomorrow, Sasuke.” She said, bowing her head slightly.

 

“See you tomorrow, Sakura.” He said, bowing his head towards her. She ran off, disappearing into the forest. Sasuke looked as her small figure went away, smiling somewhat. She was a good one.

 

“Adorable. You have a girlfriend now.”

 

“Fuck off, Shisui.”

 

Shisui chuckled and jumped down from the branch. “She looks nice. Didn’t know you were into pink hair.”

 

“Shisui.”

 

“Okay, okay. Your parents and grandmother are awaiting, you know.”

 

“She’s your grandmother, too.”

 

“I like to pretend she isn’t.” Shisui said. “She treats your mother like shit, you know.”

 

Onibi Uchiha was his father’s mother, so the previous Lady Uchiha, now known as the demon of the Uchiha clan. The title demon didn’t come from a potentially legendary career as kunoichi, but from her sheer ability to suck the life force out of every human being there is and to destroy every sense of happiness and joy in the world. In addition, she was a nightmare of a mother-in-law. Sasuke wasn’t even born when his grandfather, the previous head of the Uchiha clan, died. From what he learned from Shisui, his grandmother was unbearable before their grandfather’s death, but after, she was a monster. She tore Sasuke’s mother down, more than her other daughters-in-law. Nothing Sasuke’s mother did was good enough. He inhaled deeply and pushed open the door of the smaller dining room, where the tighter part of the clan held meetings. He wasn’t allowed, not until now, since he graduated from the academy.

 

“There he is. Our future.” Smiled Onibi. She was an elderly woman and in her later years, she gained a lot of weight. She usually wore red and plum silks, strong makeup, her hair was always done, and she carried a red and white Uchiha fan.

 

“Good evening, family.”

 

“You’re late.” His father said. “Sit down. Our first topic for today is the issue of the retirement of the Third Hokage. The Chunnin exams are coming up and the rumour mill has it, the old man is planning to retire. This means that he needs to choose an heir. There are shinobi on the list, none of them to my liking.”

 

“Who’s on the list?” Shisui’s father and Sasuke’s uncle spoke.

 

“Shikaku Nara, Kawarama Sarutobi, Danzo Shimura, Jiraiya, some even say Kakashi Hatake and the one who cannot sit on that seat, Nawaki Senju. Another Senju on the seat would mean complete ostracism for us.”

 

“And this is a rumour?” Onibi spoke.

 

“I doubt it that Nawaki will accept the seat this time. He refused it when the Fourth died.” Mikoto spoke.

 

“He was much younger then, Mikoto. People change. Nara, as clever as that one is, lacks power; Sarutobi is Hiruzen’s son, I highly doubt it the council will accept him, Jiraiya is a fool, but Shimura, Shimura, now, I like where that is heading.” Onibi spoke, fanning herself. “A man who has worked with our clan, a good man, a loyal man.”

 

“Isn’t Shimura old?” Sasuke finally spoke up. “Don’t you think they’d want someone younger?”

 

“Shimura is as old as Sarutobi.” Sasuke’s uncle agreed. “And he is no Uchiha. I suggest, we nominate one of our own.”

 

The room erupted in shouts.

 

“Who should we nominate?” Fugaku yelled. “The only one of us, the only one who was capable enough, the only one they respected is missing!”

 

 

Sasuke watched as a silent sob left his mother’s throat. Enough was enough. He excused himself and went out, saying he was feeling queasy. He was six years old when Itachi went missing. Itachi was his older sibling, a shining star in the dark sky of the Uchiha clan. He was a prodigy, a talent like no other. He was accepted into S-rank missions only at the age of fourteen and ever since then, he was the pride and joy of his father. His entire childhood was spent in being compared to Itachi. It went worse once he went missing. Sasuke sighed. After taking a shower, he wanted to go to bed, but he just didn’t want to sleep. The wound was still fresh and the first meeting he ever attended was a disappointment. He felt quite lonely; it looked like almost no one could satisfy his sense of loneliness and the lack of power. If he was a more powerful ninja, he could maybe find Itachi and the clan would be at peace, once again. It was such a nice dream. That night, he dreamt of a snake in the lush green grass of Konoha, biting him in the leg.

Naruto woke up early, his stomach churning. Was it time to eat again? He just turned around and laid in bed for several long, drawn out minutes. Then he got up, observing the mess his apartment was and went to the kitchen to prepare some instant ramen. There was laundry everywhere, rubbish on the table, the fridge wasn’t stocked and the bathroom was a mess. His flat was small, a bedroom with a small kitchenette and a bathroom. Nothing fancy. He had a nice bank account, something that old man Hokage said he inherited from his mother. Once the water boiled, he poured some into the cup and waited for it cook, attempting to wake up. He was groggy and tired, ready to eat and just return to bed, when he heard a strong knock on his door.

 

“Naruto, are you home?”

 

Once he recognised the voice, he almost dropped his ramen. He opened the door and there was Sakura, in off duty clothes. They were supposed to meet Kakashi-sensei tomorrow, as he had an urgent matter to attend to, but he wasn’t specific about what it was. Sakura carried a plastic bag with oranges.

 

“I wasn’t sure how much you like oranges, but you like the colour, so I brought you this… When was the last time you actually cleaned?” She said, putting her hands on her hips.

 

“Ugh, maybe in spring?”

 

“And it’s almost autumn now. C’mon, we’re going to get some cleaning utensils and make this place look nice. We’re beginning with the laundry.”

 

“But…”

 

“No, we’re cleaning up.”

 

“Okay…” Naruto found his laundry basket, which was promptly, empty. He and Sakura gathered all his dirty clothes, the linens on the bed, the curtains and tablecloths and placed them at the door.

 

“Where’s your washing machine?” She asked.

 

“Uh, in the basement.”

 

“Okay then, we’ll go downstairs later, to wash it.”

 

“You do your own laundry?”

 

“Yeah, my aunt told me that I need to know how to take care of myself, no matter where I end up.”

 

“Isn’t your family stinking rich?”

 

“Probably. Damn, look at the dishes!” She said. “I’ll do the dishes and you gather the rubbish. Ah, the rubbish bin is full…”

 

They started working, cleaning every single surface there was. The place was nearly spotless when they were finished. Sakura looked proud at their accomplishments.

 

“Next task is the laundry and the groceries and then I’ll help you put fresh sheets and curtains on and I think we’re done.”

 

“What are we doing after?”

 

“Hm…”

 

“Can we bother Sasuke?” He asked.

 

“I don’t see why not.”

 

In the grocery store, Sakura was staring at the book display and she noticed similar books to those Kakashi-sensei was always reading. She poked Naruto’s shoulder and showed him the displayed books. Curiosity got the cat, so Naruto grabbed one and slammed it open and read a few lines.

 

“Sakura! He’s reading porn!”

 

They gave each other disgusted looks and she turned her head to the vegetables isle. When they came out to the checkpoint, Sakura asked if Naruto needs any money, but he said no. She told him that in the case, he ever needs it that he can borrow.

 

“It’s okay; old man Sarutobi gave me access to my mother’s bank account. She was rich, apparently, so I have enough for my entire life.”

 

“Your mother?”

 

“Yeah, she and my dad died when the monster attacked Konoha 12 years ago; at least they died defending the village.”

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s okay. I feel like, sometimes, it would be more painful had I’ve known them, you know? It’s sad to grow up without parents, but, imagine if I knew them and they just weren’t there one day.”

 

“Yeah.” She pondered about Naruto’s lonely childhood. Sometimes she wondered why life was cruel to the kindest.

 

“Like Sasuke’s brother, you know? What was that all about?”

 

“To be honest, I don’t know… From what I’ve heard, he went on a mission and just didn’t come back. His platoon was found, all dead.”

 

“Fuck… I feel bad for Sasuke, you know?”

 

“Who doesn’t? The Uchiha’s lost their heir.”

 

“By the way, what’s up with your family and Sasuke’s?”

 

“I have no idea, to be fair.” She confessed. “It’s a long lasting feud and it started before my grandfather was even born.”

 

“Well, maybe you and Sasuke can resolve it!”

 

They both looked at each other and started laughing. Once the chores were done, they went to the Uchiha compound.

 

“Now, how the hell we find Sasuke?” Naruto asked.

 

There were some Uchiha outside, giving those weird looks. Naruto marched straight up towards one, with dark, curly hair and asked straight up. Sakura thanked the gods she didn’t wear anything with the markings of her clan on her back.

 

“Excuse me, Mr Uchiha Sir, we’re Sasuke’s teammates and wanted to see him.”

 

“Sure, come with me, I’ll get Sasuke. My name is Shisui. You know, the main house is only reserved for the main branch of the clan and esteemed guests, but I’ll get Sasuke. What are your names?”

 

“I’m Naruto Uzumaki and this is Sakura…”

 

He gave them a key. “Apartment 12 on the top floor.”

 

“Got it!”

 

They weren’t in the apartment for a hot minute when Sasuke came in, bursting through the door.

 

“What the fuck are you doing here?”

 

“Nice to see you too, Lord Dickhead.”

 

“We came to invite you to my dad’s garden party, which is tomorrow.”

 

“No, I won’t be there.”

 

“C’mon, Sasuke, you should go to the party, you need some fresh, non-Uchiha air.” Shisui suggested.

 

“Fucking fine. But I won’t stay long.”

 

 

 

“Why do you have to be such an ass?”

 

Chapter Text

The Yamanaka flower shop was open for business. Ino was arranging a bouquet for someone who just had a baby, placing daffodils and daisies in a specific order. She hummed to herself and placed the finished product in a vase. The bell on the entrance rung and she lifted her head to see her very own best friend standing there, carrying a basket. Ino waved at her with excitement and called her father from upstairs. Inoichi Yamanaka descended downstairs, carrying two fresh new bonsai. He placed them on the counter and greeted Sakura.

 

“It’s lovely to see you here. You know my bonsai bloom better when you’re around.” Sakura gave him a bright smile.

 

“Thank you.” She affirmed. “But I think it’s just the good care Ino gives them.”

 

“Damn straight!” Ino said. “Forehead, get over here, we have some business to deal with.”

 

“Also, you’re coming to dad’s birthday bash, right?” She said, putting down the basket. Ino was there to help her to make decorations and just have some girl talk. Kakashi-sensei had been on a mission for almost two weeks now. All she did was practise with her aunt and some taijutsu with the boys; otherwise, she wasn’t too busy. Naruto and Sasuke were ready to pull each other’s teeth out, so it seemed like her job to make them stop and prevent them from taking their rivalry to the extremes. Sasuke irked her too, not in the way he rubbed Naruto, no. This was something different. Ino was just gushing about him.

 

“You know, we can set up a double date.” She offered. “Me and Sasuke! Moreover, for you… Hm, what do you think about Shikamaru?”

 

Sakura rolled her eyes. “Nothing, really. You can come to the training grounds whenever you want, Piggy. Sasuke is there, training with Naruto, attempting to kill him and vice-versa.”

“And you?”

 

“I study medical ninjutsu and prevent them from killing each other.”

 

“You are aware that’s not your job?” That’s your sensei’s job.”

 

“He’s on an important mission.” Sakura inspected her nails. “And he prefers Naruto and Sasuke over me. Especially Sasuke.”

 

“Every jounin prays to get their hands on a prodigy.” Ino said, shaking her head. “Asuma-sensei tries hard, at least. Nevertheless, Shikamaru is his favourite. I can tell. I’m not dumb.”

 

“We still have a lot of work ahead of us.” Sakura said, as she was finishing one of the garlands with flowers they were making.

 

“I think…” Ino finished. “Naruto will only hold you back.”

 

“He has a lot of potential, Ino. Inhumane chakra reserves and stamina. He has a lot of endurance.”

 

“Naruto? He never looked like it.” She shrugged. Sakura leaned on Ino’s shoulder. Was it always going to be like that?

 

Naruto finally reached the training grounds. His colours of preference today were orange and red; it almost burned Sasuke’s eyeballs out. The Uchiha heir was sitting next to Sakura on the training field, who had a medical scroll splayed in front of her and was writing something down, seemingly engaged in her work. She glanced over to Sasuke and gave a big bright smile to Naruto. He sat down in front of them and crossed his legs.

 

“What is our course of action today?”

 

“Well, we completed enough D-rank missions to put the other genin to shame.” Sasuke said. “But I’m sick and tired of lacking a sensei. He is supposed to train us.”

 

“Agreed!” Naruto said. “In the meantime, you and I can spar. C’mon, big boy, let’s do this. Blow one of your fireballs at me!” Naruto announced, waving his hands at Sasuke.

 

“That’s my family jutsu.” He said.

 

“I forgot, Lord Dickhead! Wilt thou forgive me?”

 

Sakura covered her mouth and Sasuke got up, walked several paces and jumped up, performing the necessary hand seals to summon the grand fireball of the Uchiha clan. Naruto dodged it with some effort and created his shadow clones, directing them at Sasuke. Sakura watched from afar and leaned her back on a tree, its chakra soothing her, as if it was giving her some of its natural energy. Then she heard a rustling among the leaves and looked up, there was her sensei, a bit bruised with a wrapped arm.

 

“Yo.” He smiled, jumping down. Sakura noticed his wincing.

 

“Is everything okay?” She asked.

 

“Just some mission injuries.” He said, then turned his gaze towards Naruto and Sasuke fighting on the training grounds. Kakashi shook his head.

 

“Naruto’s style is very… brutal, Sasuke, on the other hand, has the elegance his pedigree demands, but it seems whenever he’s fighting Naruto he chucks it under the carpet and decides to demolish his opponent.”

 

“They’ve been at it all this time.” Sakura’s hands turned a minty green, signalling she was ready to perform a procedure.

 

“Is that the Mystical Palm technique?” He paled.

 

“Yeah. I think I should get a look at your arm. You look as if you’re sitting on needles.”

 

If only that was the sole reason, he was restless. Sakura unwrapped his bandages and her face was white.

 

“These are third-degree burns, how did you manage to leave the hospital?” She asked performing the delicate procedure. Kakashi watched her work, meticulous as her older peers. Medical ninja were supposed to have tough and special training, learn anatomy and physiology, how to perform surgery… It was all very tiring and demanding and it was plainly, simply, an education Kakashi did not possess in his tool belt of shinobi skills. Sakura focused, working on his arm slowly. She had been able to heal fish, minor cuts and bruises Naruto and Sasuke gave each other.

 

“How long did it take you to master this?”

 

“Almost three weeks. I haven’t mastered it, I’m still learning.”

 

Kakashi now had first-degree burns. Sakura sighed. For now, this was the best she could do. She pulled out some cooling ointment, rubbed it over the older man’s arm, pulled out clean bandages, and wrapped his arm. Kakashi thanked her and then they heard a loud thud and two boys fell on the ground, with bleeding noses.

 

“You two! Get here!” She shouted. They dragged themselves to the shade of the tree and Sakura shook her head and pulled out her utensils.

 

“Kakashi-sensei? You’re back?”

 

“Seems like it, kiddo.”

 

“Where were you?” Barked Sasuke and winced as Sakura cleaned the blood from his nose.

 

“I had an important mission. Nothing too serious.” He smiled again. “I see you’ve been training.”

 

“Yes!” Naruto affirmed. “I think I broke Sasuke’s nose today.”

 

“No, it’s whole.” Sakura said, finishing the cleaning. She repeated the process while Sasuke probed Kakashi for information. The jounin did not budge. He was stone cold in his demeanour, albeit, he plastered a friendly mask over his face. Not counting the one, he was always wearing. Sakura fixed up the cuts on Naruto’s face and arm and berated her male teammates for their carelessness.

 

“In two days, we met again, to train. I see you did enough training and practise today. I’m very proud, but I need a break too…”

 

“Kakashi Hatake!” Shouted an angry, female voice behind them. Sakura recognised Shizune immediately and braced herself. Shizune was in her hospital uniform and holding a baton, looking very angry. She put the pieces together and looked at her sensei.

 

“Did you escape the hospital?”

 

“Maybe…”

 

Sakura grabbed Naruto and Sasuke. “I guess we have to go.”

 

She ran away on wobbly legs, hence the herculean chakra drainage she just used to patch up her teammates. She turned to see Shizune grab Kakashi by the ear and drag him out of the training field. The team ran away, laughing. Sasuke thought how he has never met any medical ninja in his entire life, as his clan lacked in that department, yet somehow he was acquainted with several.

 

“Damn, Sakura, why are the women in your family so scary… You, then Granny Tsunade, then Shizune…”

 

“Shizune isn’t my blood relative, but she’s family. Officially, she’s the deputy head of the Konoha ninja hospital and my aunt’s disciple.”

 

“Kakashi actually deflected medical care to see us?” Sasuke said, slapping his forehead.

 

“He had third-degree burns on his arm and was in pain the entire time.”

 

Sasuke stopped in his tracks. What on earth did manage to graze Kakashi Hatake? The man was feared and respected in the Uchiha clan and was faster than lightning. The mission he went on must have been a difficult one. He turned to Naruto and Sakura.

 

“Now what?”

 

“I have no idea…”

 

“We can always go to Ichiraku’s for a lunch break.” Naruto suggested. The three of them nodded and went to have lunch together. After leaving Ichiraku’s, Sasuke decided to crash Shisui’s place, because, why not. He enjoyed taking the piss out of his favourite older cousin. Shisui’s flat was very sterile, somewhat barred of personal possessions, save for the framed photograph of him and Itachi on the counter. Where Sasuke took mostly after his mother in his looks, Itachi took the brunt of their father’s genetics. He had a delicate bone structure, but the eyes and jawline were their father’s, without a doubt. Sasuke almost forgot how his big brother always had dark bags around his eyes, presumably from living as if they always were in the middle of a war. Sasuke cracked open a bottle of soda and took a sip. He heard the door open and saw Shisui taking off his flak jacket.

“Honey, I’m home!” He shouted and waved at Sasuke.

 

“Funny.” Sasuke said, rolling his eyes. Shisui turned on the television and informed Sasuke he needs a shower because missions are dirty and nasty. He had several bandages around his arms and his face looked bruised. After some time, Shisui came out in his teal bathrobe and took a seat next to Sasuke. He gave him a glance and saw his younger cousin looked like he’s been beat up.

 

“Kakashi is hard on you, huh?”

 

“No, I sparred with Naruto today.”

 

“Naruto, heh?”

 

“What he lacks in skill, he makes up in determination and sheer wrath. He just doesn’t give up. That’s why it always has to be a tie.” Sasuke finally turned to Shisui, noticing a shadow behind his eyes that hasn’t been previously there. It looked like shattered, black obsidian pouring out of his soul. His eyes had red marks, it was noticeable he had been crying.

 

“Is… What happened on your fucking mission?”

 

“We lost a comrade, that’s all.” Shisui sad. “Sometimes, it’s hard to breakdown to their family what happened.”

 

“I see.” Sasuke said, nodding. He didn’t look forward to this part of his official shinobi career. Sasuke rested his head on the couch, studying Shisui. He was aware that whatever Shisui did for the village was usually top secret, so Sasuke wasn’t familiar with his team. The Uchiha heir still pondered what in the world happened with that teammate that shook the usually cheerful and headstrong Uchiha.

 

“Now, I want you to tell me how your training is advancing.”

 

Sasuke spent some time going into the its and bits of his training, the demand and the techniques he has been developing. Of course, he showed an aptitude for ninjutsu, as most of their clan, and of course, genjutsu, the bread and butter of their clan, but taijutsu was also interesting for him. Al in all, his Sasuke was a triple threat. Shisui was about to offer him some help with his training when they heard a tap on Shisui’s window. Taking his katana, Shisui paced to the glass opening and deadpanned when he saw a bright orange ball of sunshine standing on the tree behind the building.

 

“Your security is shit.” He announced, jumping in the small flat.

 

“Ah, Naruto! Care for some tea?” Shisui asked.

 

“Nah, I’m here to drag Sasuke to a party.”

 

“Can’t go. Won’t go.” Sasuke said.

 

“Yes, you will!” Shisui and Naruto said in union.

 

“Bitches.” He said under his breath. “How will you explain where I am once I’m gone?”

 

“You can crash here.” Shisui offered. “I’ll tell Lord Fugaku that we trained and you fell asleep at my place.”

 

“I mean…”

 

“Just get here, dickhead.”

 

Sasuke was confused when he saw Naruto carrying a potted plant the entire way to the Senju compound. The orange ninja explained that since it was Lord Nawaki’s birthday, a present was needed; therefore, a potted plant seemed like something the Head of the Senju clan would enjoy. Sasuke tumbled over his memories to summon all of his knowledge on the man. Well, he was Sakura’s father, her being his only child. He had some nicknames as a shinobi. He knew about some legendary war story where he took an entire platoon out alone. His sister was regarded as the greatest medical ninja in the world and the most powerful kunoichi that ever lived, yet Nawaki’s abilities seemed like a mystery to him. What was the Senju clan jutsu again? Were they all doctors or something?

 

They arrived at the compound and Sasuke heard chatter and noise coming from the garden. Naruto creaked open the garden gate and let Sasuke into the magical world of a birthday party. He saw some familiar and unfamiliar faces, elite shinobi, the bloody Hokage without his hat, Asuma Sarutobi pouring sake for Sakura’s aunt and his own jounin sensei, presumably some Senju clan members working on a grill. The scent of meat, flowers and confetti filled his nose, his senses were nearly overwhelmed by everything going on. Sakura approached them, followed by her father. He couldn’t help but notice they had nearly the same eyes. She cocked her head.

 

“I’m glad you made it. Dad, you remember Naruto and Sasuke?”

 

“Of course. Thank you for coming.” Nawaki smiled, taking the plant from Naruto. Sasuke scanned him several times. Of course, he met the man once, but what he didn’t notice was his inhumane height, he was as tall as a tree. Well, not really, but he was surely taller than his father was. Just like the rest of that damned clan. Is this why they called them the Senju of the forest? Because when they all gather, they formed a forest?

 

“Sensei!” Shouted Asuma and Nawaki turned around. “Lady Tsunade said she’s pulling the old soju out of the stash!”

 

“Sensei?” Shouted Team 7 along Team 10 that tagged along with their parents.

 

“Asuma was my student, back in the day.” Nawaki chuckled. “One hell of a student, may I add.”

 

Tsunade chugged her sake, toasting. “Yosh!”

 

“Your aunt does drink a lot…” Naruto deadpanned.

 

“You don’t know the half of it.” Sakura muttered, hiding few bottles under the table. What the adults didn’t see cannot harm them. Naruto pranced over to Kakashi, shouted “Sensei!”, and hugged him around the shoulders. Still in pain, Kakashi winced.

 

“Get off me, kid!”

 

Sasuke turned his gaze towards Sakura.

 

“Nice party.”

 

“They’ve been drinking for hours now. Tomorrow will be a bitch.” She sighed.

 

“Anyway, if you’re hungry, ask Yamato for food, he’s our chef tonight. There will be cake soon, I promise.”

 

She walked towards Ino and Sasuke paced and sat down next to Kakashi, feeling many Senju eyes glued on his back. He felt a surge of respect towards Sakura; she didn’t even flinch on the Uchiha compound. Thank god for Naruto’s loud mouth.

 

“Sensei, what does your face look like?” He shouted, tugging at Kakashi’s mask.

 

The adults around the table started screeching from laughter, Lord Third puffed out some smoke from chuckling. Tsunade banged her hand against the table, causing a dent in the stone.

 

“Show us the mug, Hatake!”

 

He flung Naruto over his shoulders and the boy landed straight on the table, tipping over Tsunade’s sake. Sakura gulped.

 

“Somebody needs to teach you brats some manners!” The woman shouted, slamming her fist on the table again, causing another dent. Naruto stuck his tongue out and took the bottle.

 

“Why is this stuff even so popular? Ew, it stinks!” And then he took a nice swig from the bottle. At first, he seemed perfectly fine, then his face went blood red, and then he tipped over and landed straight onto Tsunade’s lap.

 

“Dumb brat!” She shouted and immediately took him over her shoulder and started patting his back, making him cough and spit.

 

“That’s disgusting! How can you drink that, it tastes like ass?” He shouted, still coughing. Tsunade gave him some water and struck the back of his head.

 

“Dumb brat! You could have chocked!”

 

“Well, I haven’t!” He spat back, ready to throw fists at the older woman. Naruto noticed that she and Sakura were very alike, not just physically but also mentally. Sakura grabbed Naruto away before he got into a fight with the world’s most powerful kunoichi and dragged him over to the spot where Team 10 was seated, while apologising profusely to the adults. Sasuke just watched. He has never seen his clan throw a party, now to think about it; there was no sense of celebration in his family. It seemed as if the Uchiha weren’t capable of being jovial. The conviviality of the Forest clan was something he had never felt in his skin before, and frankly, it felt nice. Was he getting soft? He followed Naruto and Sakura to the spot and sat down with his knees in front of him. Chouji Akimichi was studying his face vigorously, looking at every nook, cranny and crevice in Sasuke and chewing potato chips loudly at the same time.

 

“The fuck are you looking at?” Sasuke asked, annoyed.

 

“I’ve never seen one up close.”

 

“What?” Shikamaru asked, now drawn into the strange conversation.

 

“And Uchiha!” Chouji sad, chewing even more loudly now. Sakura looked confused and Naruto just deadpanned.

 

“He’s not a weird breed of dog, Chouji…”

 

Ino was shaking her head in the background. She scooted over closer to Sasuke who inhaled deeply. Here we go, again. And then Naruto happened. He started slurring his speech, waving around like a leaf in the wind, flailing his arms and moving his body in a weird way. Ino immediately realised he’s drunk and covered him with Shikamaru’s jacket, tackling him on the ground. Yamato approached them, telling it is time for cake. Sakura saw her aunt carry out a cake out of the house, with multiple lit up candles. The adults were already singing so they pulled Naruto up for the song and swayed him in the rhythm of the song. He had an odd flush around his face, his singing was terrible, but he looked as if he would fall right into the fluffy cake.

 

Sakura nudged Sasuke and they carried Naruto behind the smaller gate of the house. Sakura was about to put him in a sitting position when he puked the front of her shirt. She winced and looked up and Sasuke wanted to kick Naruto. He poked his head over the fence and signalled Ino to give them some water. He turned around, saw that Sakura’s shirt was off, and unceremoniously flung over the gate. He felt a slight blush creep up on his cheeks when he realised she was just in her undershirt. Sasuke wasn’t really familiar with girls’ bodies.

 

“We can’t really drop him off to his place. If he pukes again, he might choke in his sleep.” She said, concern washing over her voice.

 

“We’ll take him to Shisui’s; he’s skilled at handling drunk people.”

 

“He won’t mind?”

 

“Nope.” Sasuke snickered and they carried Naruto to the Uchiha compound. Sasuke snuck them through a secret door designed for emergency escapes and they carried him upstairs to Shisui’s place. Sasuke kicked the door open and a snoozing Shisui jumped up, eyes lighting red and katana pulled out.

 

“It’s me, again .”

 

“You little shit… Wait, what’s wrong with Naruto?” He said, noticing his flush. Naruto reached out to Sakura and she gave him a deadly look, nevertheless, he started stroking her hair. Shisui pulled of Naruto’s hand and they placed him on the couch.

 

“Who gave booze to a fucking twelve-year-old?”

 

“He drank it himself.” Sasuke said, shaking his head. Sakura’s eyes went wide.

 

“Shisui, get a bucked, he’s going to puke the house down!” Shisui raced to the bathroom and came out with a random plastic bucket and Naruto puked in it, again. He was out of it. Shisui sat down.

 

“Sasuke, get a towel and water. This will be a long night.”

 

Sasuke nodded and came out of the bathroom with the utensils needed for this procedure. He turned to Sakura.

 

“You should go home. No need for you to watch the puke fest.”

 

“I’ll go, then.” She nodded. She said good night to Shisui and they turned to Naruto.

 

“Gods, pink hair is such a bad choice for a kunoichi.” Then Naruto puked again. Shisui frowned and prepared for a long night. The entirety of their nocturnal hours were spent in Shisui’s bed, exchanging who will get up to clean Naruto and make sure he doesn’t choke. They took turns and even with that regiment, they got almost no sleep. In the wee hours of the morning, Naruto cracked a single eye open, smiling. Sasuke and Shisui had finally gotten some sleep, Shisui was sleeping on the floor and the younger Uchiha was hanging of the bed.

 

“Good morning!” Naruto shouted, causing the two cousins to jolt awake. “I slept like the dead.” He yawned and stretched several times. “It smells nasty here.”

 

“You little…” Sasuke said, flinging himself towards Naruto. The other boy went a little pale when he saw Sasuke charging towards him. Shisui was just knackered, ready to pass out. And then his little Uchiha ears heard very heavy and familiar footsteps. Actually, two pairs of them. Shisui got up and with the speed of the shinobi he was, he pushed Naruto in the bathroom with the dirty buckets, tucked Sasuke into the bed and opened the windows. He jumped over the kitchen counter and pretended to brew coffee. He held his breath when the door opened and revealed Onibi and Fugaku Uchiha.

 

“Is Sasuke awake?” Fugaku asked, hands on his hips.

 

“I think he is.” Shisui said, poking his head toward the bedroom. “Oi, get up!” Sasuke opened the bedroom door, looking like he murdered all the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist and cracked a borderline sadistic smile.

 

“Yes, Father?”

 

“Come down to the main house, we have some important guests for breakfast.”

 

“Very well.”

 

“You slept in your training clothes?” Onibi poked.

 

“I just came here and fell asleep.” Sasuke lied with a perfect poker face. Shisui was almost proud.

 

“Then clean up and get down.”

 

“Fine.” He spat, closing the door behind them.

 

“Do you think they busted us?” He asked, leaning his head against the cool door.

 

“Oh yeah, they just have no idea where you went. How was the party, by the way?”

“It was okay, until dobe there didn’t take the goddamned sake and chugged half a bottle at once. I wonder how Sakura’s aunt didn’t crush his head.” Sasuke spat, opening the bathroom door.

 

“Was that your old man?” Naruto probed.

 

“Just get out and go to the training grounds, I’ll meet you there in an hour.” Sasuke said, showing him out of the back window. Shisui shook his head and threw the bucket under the shower.

 

“Where are you going?” Sasuke asked, crossing his arms.

 

“Oh, I’m going to sleep. Good luck with the meeting, Lord Sasuke.” Shisui sad, closing his bedroom door. Sasuke cursed and went to the main house. In an hour, he was at the training grounds, praying he doesn’t fall asleep right then and there. Boy, Kakashi did not go easy on them today. He forced them to learn how to walk on water, which was something that came easy to Sakura due her being Miss Perfect Chakra Control, or Miss I Know the Entire Shinobi history and theory. Naruto and he, on the other hand, were nearly drowned. Sakura panicked and jumped into the river with them and it all just erupted into one big old fight. Kakashi was shaking his head in the background and told them to get out, since they have a contract for a D-level mission. Naruto pouted and they went to the food district for this one.

 

“So, what is our mission?” Naruto asked.

 

“Our contractor wants us to retrieve a bottle of some rare… Pear sake?” Their sensei said, reading the paper repeatedly.

 

“Let me guess, the contractor wants a bottle from the Haruno distillery?” Sakura said, shaking her head. She took the paper from Kakashi and showed it to Naruto and Sasuke. Their contractor was a certain Senju Tsunade. Sakura sighed and told them to follow them.

 

“The distillery isn’t in the food district, guys. It’s in the industrial district, in the pharmacy areas. The Haruno are a merchant family that works with Nohara industries. They take the remains of the alcohol that company doesn’t use and make really strong sake.”

 

Kakashi looked down. “I’m not really a booze expert.”

 

“She contracted us because she knew I’d know where to find the damn sake.”

 

“This just proves we’re overqualified for this stupid job!” Naruto shouted, kicking a stone. “We want a B-rank, sensei!”

 

“Fine. If you think you’re ready.” He said. “Meet me tomorrow early for your first B-rank.”

Chapter Text

Naruto studied Sakura’s apron vigorously. He walked around her, noticing the pouches and pockets hidden underneath and gave her his approval. She explained to him that medical ninja in training were supposed to wear apron skirts, no matter of gender and they had a multitude of applications. Sasuke just shrugged and told her the garment is going to get dirty from battle while Naruto, as always, had something to add.

 

“I like it!” He said, giving her enthusiastic thumbs up. Kakashi arrived, this time only an hour late, carrying the scroll for their new mission. On their way to meet the client, he explained the man was a bride builder and that he had a job in the Land of the Waves.

 

“Where?” Naruto barked.

 

“The Land of the Waves.” Sasuke repeated.

 

“Isn’t that, like, very far away?”

 

“Yep. That’s why this is a… drumroll… C-rank!”

 

“Oh!” The three little genin said in excitement. Sakura pounced quickly, bombarding the jounin with hundreds of questions. Sasuke turned to Naruto.

 

“She is so annoying…”

 

“Hey, listen to me, bitch! Don’t talk that way about Sakura!”

 

They were at it again when Kakashi snapped his fingers over their heads, pointing at their client who was patiently waiting for them to start their mission. The man, introduced as Tazuna, was a broad, tall human, with signs of his choice of work on his hands. He looked them up and down, shaking his head.

 

“The smallest idiot looks like a street cat can beat him up.”

 

“Ha! Sasuke, he’s making fun of you! Wait…” Naruto said, realising he’s shorter than the Uchiha. Sasuke just shook his head and turned to Kakashi.

 

“Are we leaving now?”

 

“Yes, Sasuke. Tazuna, these are Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura. Your protectors for this mission.”

 

“They’re kids.”

 

“Highly capable kids.”

 

“Is that one, one of those, what do you call them… Uchiha?”

 

“Yes, he’s an Uchiha. Now, let’s sign off at the border and leave. We agreed on four days, right?” Kakashi said.

 

“Of course.” Tazuna confirmed. “Otherwise would these kids die from missing their parents.”

“My parents are dead.” Naruto muttered. Sakura shot Tazuna a mean glare and wrapped her arm around Naruto’s shoulder and Sasuke gave Tazuna the scowl of a thousand years of pure Uchiha wrath. Kakashi noted the following facts. His cute little genin were a fearsome threesome, they were always at each other’s throats and were ready to murder each other at any given chance, they had enough chakra reserves to blow up an entire platoon of adult jounin and had the skillsets of an average chunnin all combined.

 

On the other hand, they were fiercely loyal to each other and did not take any shit from outsiders. This might be an advantage in the long run. Sasuke knew the basics of his clans jutsu, although, Kakashi craved to see the all mighty Sharingan in action. Naruto had raw, unleashed potential, his chakra reserves were inhumane and his sheer will was impressive. Sakura who was close to Naruto when it came to reserves was more of the analytical type, she was very good with her theory and knowledge, but Kakashi didn’t know how well she was able to apply it. One of her strong suits was her incredible ability of communication and her understanding of diagnosing a problem, analysing it to the core and then tackling and solving it. He figured she’d make an incredible politician someday.

 

Then again, his cute little genin had one hell of a pedigree because they were well-bred ninja. Sasuke’s Uchiha heritage gave him abilities most shinobi dreamt of possessing. Sakura had the entirety of the Senju clan resting on her little shoulders, but he still wasn’t sure if she can live up to the name as she has only shown aptitude for medical ninjitsu now, something he had virtually no knowledge about. Naruto’s DNA was designed to make him strong enough to sustain injuries of inhumane proportions; the boy was robust and strong. Perhaps, with the right guidance, they’d might be able to become excellent shinobi. Kakashi just wasn’t sure if he was the right guidance. After the ninja at the border gave their stamps to the little team, they went on their field trip to the Land of Waves.

 

Sakura just realised this is the first time she was leaving Konohagakure. She felt a sense of anxiety wash over her, her knees felt weak. The sense of serenity she usually felt when surrounded by the familiar energy of the forest was leaving her. She turned her head one more time to the gate of orange stone. The village was her home and she had no business leaving it unprotected. Was she okay? Will she be a good ninja? She scanned her knowledge of everything. When it came to theory, she knew the ins and outs. What if something goes terribly wrong and everyone dies because of her?

 

Sasuke stared at her.

 

“I can literally hear you thinking. Calm the hell down.”

 

“I’ve never left Konoha before. That’s all.”

 

“Hm. No. That’s not it.” He said, remaining firm in his conclusions. Sakura was probably thinking she was out of her debt. Sasuke was clearly confused, surely, the Senju must have taught her some clan jutsu, and she was surely capable enough to defend herself. For better or for worse, the girl was a walking ninja dictionary. Then Naruto barged in, asking Tazuna millions and millions of questions.

 

“Do you want to be a bridge builder, too?” Tazuna joked, watching Naruto jump around him.

 

“No, no way old man! I want to become Hokage when I grow up! Yeah, I want to be Hokage!”

 

Kakashi felt his heart twist and turn at the statement. It was like seeing the shadow of someone long gone come alive again. He didn’t know enough numbers in order to count all the shinobi that swore they’d become Hokage someday. Sakura and Sasuke exchanged knowing looks. Naruto had that dream in the Academy and even mentioned it once or twice in their outings. It was somewhat adorable.

 

“I never wanted to be a bridge builder. But here I am.” He professed. “You know, the Land of Waves, my homeland, is a small, poor island. Most people are carpenters. We all work day and night to make furniture and other life necessities in order for people to have normal lives. Therefore, I became a carpenter because that was the best career for someone from my island. I was tasked to build a bridge by my island’s government in order to stimulate economic growth in my land.”

 

“That sounds like a noble cause, Mr Tazuna.” Sakura spoke, nodding her head.

 

“Say, you ninja, you’re basically like wizards. Can’t you not use some of your ninja magic and create a bridge?”

 

Kakashi chuckled. “Only with genjutsu, Mr Tazuna.”

 

“What is that?” He asked, confused.

 

“That would mean that the bridge would be an illusion.” Sakura suggested. “Unfortunately, there is no ninja magic that can be used to build a bridge…” She stopped in her tracks. “I mean, there may be one, but we aren’t capable of using one.”

 

“I see… And you three, are like beginners?”

 

“Yes.” Sasuke affirmed. “Academy graduates.”

 

“There are three ninja ranks.” Sakura explained. “Well four, if you count the kage rank. Therefore, there is genin, which is we currently. The next rank is chūnin and the last one is jōnin, like Kakashi-sensei.”

“And I imagine you get promotions through some kind of exams?”

 

“Precisely.” Kakashi said. “Except for kage. Usually, the previous kage chooses an heir.”

 

“So, it is a basic military system. I understand.” Tazuna nodded. “And kage is what the Hokage represent the little one mentioned?”

 

“Somewhat. There have been four Hokage in our history.” Kakashi said.


“Ah, the four heads on the mountain. Got it. My island doesn’t have a ninja village.”

 

“There are only five active kage in the world at once.” Kakashi spoke.

 

“Like the five great nations.” Sakura continued.

 

Without missing a beat, Naruto turned to Sasuke. “I didn’t know any of that.” Sasuke just slapped his forehead.

 

They arrived at their first camp in the late afternoon. Once they set up camp, Tazuna started cooking fish that Naruto and Sasuke caught and talking about his daughter and grandson.

 

“My grandson wants to become a shinobi.” He said with disapproval.

 

“How cute.” Kakashi smiled. “We are a military society back in the Leaf. It’s almost brought upon us.”

 

Sakura thought long and hard about Kakashi’s statement. Would she be a kunoichi hadn’t she been born in a great clan? Tazuna had so many questions.

 

“A famous shinobi visited my hometown once.” He spoke. “My mother told me that story so many times that it’s impossible for me to forget it. She said he wore red armour and had long, dark hair. His wife also came with him. They said they were from the Hidden Leaf. She said the man was very charismatic and that he had a strong, bright voice.”

 

“Sounds like the First Hokage.” Kakashi said, smiling. “Sakura here is his great-granddaughter.”

 

“Really?”

 

“That does sound like the First Hokage. The woman in question must be my great-grandmother.” She smiled. “He was a great shinobi, according to legend.”

 

“He was hailed as a god.” Kakashi confirmed, eyeing Sasuke carefully. The boy looked as if glued to the tale of the God of Shinobi. “The Second one was his younger brother.”

“Also, my relative.” Sakura said.

 

“You said your weird Uncle Yamato is his grandson, right?” Naruto asked, remembering Yamato.

 

“Weird Uncle Yamato?” Kakashi chuckled. “I’m not sure he’d appreciate the sentiment.”

 

“He’s pretty mellow.” Sakura joked.

 

“And you, Uchiha? I know you come from a warrior line, too.”

 

“My family has come from an unbroken line of shinobi. We specialise in ninjutsu and genjutsu, as well as various fire techniques. That is something we’re known for. Speaking of clan jutsu, what is your clan’s main jutsu?” Sasuke finally asked, gathering the courage.

 

“We don’t have that.” Sakura responded flatly. “My last name means “of the thousand skills”. My auntie is a medical ninja, my father’s forte are water techniques and Uncle Yamato specialises in fuinjutsu.”

 

Sasuke wasn’t sure if he was afraid or found them suddenly harmless. They had no organisation among themselves, apparently. Thousand skills, his arse. How was it possible for them not to have a kekkei genkai, like his clan or the Hyūga clan, or clan techniques like the Nara or Inuzuka? How the hell did they manage to climb the ranks so fast and become noted as the clan that gave some of the best shinobi in the world?

 


“Well, it’s time to sleep.” Kakashi said. “I’ll watch the camp for the first shift and then I’ll wake you three up.”

 

“Got it.” The three genin said.

 

In the crack of dawn, the little team and Tazuna went back to the road. Then Sasuke’s sixth Uchiha sense woke up. He felt an unease in his surroundings, something was just off. He inspected their surroundings and walked the meadows from their new break spot up and down. Kakashi seemed alert too, while Sakura was busy lighting a fire and cutting vegetables for their stew and Naruto took it upon himself to butcher a fish with Tazuna. Naruto said he needed to tinkle, which caused annoyed groans from the group. Naruto walked deeper into the forest and relieved himself.  He heard rustling and pulled out a kunai, ready to strike. Then he spotted a girl in a soft hued kimono, plucking flowers. He put the kunai down and paced towards her.

 

“Hello!” He shouted loudly, but the woman in pink wasn’t startled.

 

“Hi.” She responded sweetly.

 

“I’m Naruto Uzumaki.” He exclaimed loudly, causing her to look up. She was very beautiful, with dark, long hair and matching eyes. Naruto concluded she must come from a rich family.

 

“My name is Haku.” She answered, stuffing the flowers into her basket. Naruto crouched down across her, watching her graceful movements. She smiled at him and for a moment, he thought she looked very delicate. What confused Naruto the most was her icy, pale skin. He wondered if she was sick.

 

“What are you doing here, Haku?”

 

“Plucking flowers, as you can see.”

 

“I’m here on an important ninja mission!” He shouted, proudly.

 

“Oh, that’s lovely. What is your mission?”

 

“Protecting a bridge builder named Tazuna!”

 

“Oh.” She got up, nodding. “Good luck.” The girl left him, walking back into the forest. She paced down the meadow. “Oh, by the way, I’m a boy.”

 

Naruto nearly fell on his head from the revelation. He wandered back to the camp, in silence. The girl was a fucking boy. An actual, man, not a soft, gentle lady like Naruto thought. The orange menace splashed down on the bed of grass, studying the sky. Just what in gods’ name just happened? He decided to prance towards Sakura, who was buried in a pile of medical ninjutsu books, meticulously reading them and writing notes. She patted a pencil on her forehead, as if she was trying to summon an idea to figure out what the next step is. She was writing something down and marking solutions when Naruto decided to drop in.

 

“Sakura!” He said, plopping his head down in her lap. “What are you doing?”

 

“Attempting to learn most common shinobi neck injuries and how to solve them.”

 

“That sounds boring.” He pulled the book out of her hand. “Let’s take a break and get Sasuke. We can maybe take a walk and explore the terrain…”

 

“Actually, you genin have some practise to do.” Kakashi said. “Your next task was to learn how to walk on water. As far as I remember, Sakura was the closest to solving it.”

 

The three children groaned and walked over to the water surface. Kakashi almost enjoyed watching them attempt one of the basic shinobi skills with wobbly legs, tiny hands, and a lot of splashing and falling down into the water. Sakura was by far, the best at this task, but Naruto and Sasuke were getting better. They were walking together this time, attempting to use each other as crutches. Sakura got off the lake surface first, then walked several steps back and attempted again. Then Naruto fell into the lake, making a loud splash. Sasuke pulled him out and they started bickering again.

 

Then Kakashi’s sixth sense started working. They were supposed to be near a small town, which was by the ocean border that lead to the island, but there was no noise, no people walking around, they haven’t spotted anyone since they came there. The air was strangely humid for this time of the year and Kakashi decided to call it a night and get the kids back in camp. They weren’t even falling asleep when Sasuke heard a rustling too loud to be a wind in the bushes. He snapped up, pulled out a knife, and walked out to see his sensei alert. The jounin was standing on a tree, his single eye focused on their surroundings. He gave Sasuke a signal to stop. It looked like Kakashi was ready to pick up his headband but he suddenly stopped.

 

Then Sasuke noticed them. Two large men, about the same size, with a wild array of fur and weapons upon them. Boy, was he ready to take names and kick butt. His plan was simple, he’d blow a large fireball at them and then some tag bombs, blow them up and check on Sakura and Naruto. Unfortunately, Sakura was a light sleeper and noticed the ruckus outside. Sasuke pushed her back and told her to protect Tazuna. For some reason, he received the same command from Kakashi and was forced to retrieve into the tent with Sakura and Tazuna. They heard several shouts, bangs, breaking sounds and something that sounded like a bomb blowing up. Then Kakashi stung his sweet masked ace in the tent and gave them a reassuring covered smile.

 

“Just some robbers, Mr Tazuna, no worries. Sasuke, Sakura, go back to your tents.”

 

They left the tent of the bridge builder sharing the same thought. Kakashi-sensei was lying through his teeth. There was some damage to the woods around them, but they were both tired. They crouched down into the tent the genin team shared. Sasuke noticed Naruto somehow slept through an entire battle and wanted to slap orange idiot awake. Sakura shook him awake and Naruto jumped up, snot drooling down his nose.

 

“Idiot, wake up, we’ve been attacked!”

 

“Attacked? Is Sakura okay?” He asked, reaching for his weapons.

 

“I’m right here, dumbass.”

 

“Somebody attacked our camp and Kakashi told me to get inside and protect Tazuna. Then lied it were robbers.”

 

Naruto covered himself up with the blanket. “What if those were ghosts?”

 

“Naruto, how old are you?” Sasuke barked. “I think those were some ninja.”

“But Tazuna stated there are no ninja villages in this area.” Sakura said.

 

“Correct.” Sasuke responded. “Therefore, I believe someone is after Tazuna and wants him dead.”

 

“Just why would someone kill a nice old bridgeman?” Naruto said, scrunching his little nose. Sakura laid back on the tent floor, her mind working extra laps to figure what this was about, why their sensei who was brutally honest and upfront with everything lied to them, why would someone kill an old man who is a carpenter for a living and why her idiot teammates were bickering again.

 

The last question was always the hardest. She got up and slapped open the local bingo book. The handbook in question was something of an illegal data source, a perquisite from her aunt’s gambling buddies, perhaps from the bookie himself, the thing stated this particular area was littered with various sorts of criminals and missing ninja. Sakura read the names, the abilities, the body counts and their price fees for each gentlemen or ladies’ service. Sakura gulped, showing the book to her teammates.

 

“How many were outside?” She asked, turning the pages.

 

“Two.” Sasuke said. “I think I saw fur in the night.”

 

“The Demon brothers.” She said, pointing at the pages. Their description was fairly short, simple and easy. The brothers are a paragon of coordinated attacking. Their large metal gauntlets, which house a retractable shuriken-styled chain running between the two of them, which they can use to bind an enemy and then slice them to pieces. In the event that the shuriken chain is neutralised, they also have a release mechanism, to free them up for individual attacks. They use the sharp, poisoned claws on their gauntlets to shred their opponents. Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy. Boy, they were in some serious trouble. Kakashi probably managed to fend them off, for now. Sakura calculated. So, two missing ninja with an aptitude for kenjutsu against a jounin with who knows what kind of abilities and three fresh-faced genin?

 

“So, the shreddy brothers attacked Kakashi-sensei and he managed to beat them? He’s so cool!” Naruto shouted, grabbing his head.

 

“He’s not cool for not telling us.” Sasuke pointed out.

 

“Agreed.” Sakura said.

 

“Then, let’s roast him until he tells us.” Naruto said, point blank. “I don’t see why he wouldn’t give up if I bother him enough.”

 

“Naruto, what makes you think you can pull out information from a high-ranking elite shinobi?” Sasuke spat, tired of his fix-ideas.

 

“Watch me, bitch.” Naruto said, stepping out of the tent. Sakura and Sasuke exchanged weird looks and she wanted to put the book in the bag, when Sasuke pressed her about the content of it and where she got it.

 

“That’s a fucking bingo book, Sakura. Those aren’t really available in a public library.”

 

“My aunt’s bookie sells bingo books, so I borrow them from her. She sucks at gambling but her contacts always turn out as useful.”

 

“Your aunt is a compulsive gambler?”

 

“We don’t talk about it.” She deadpanned. Sasuke gave her an odd grimace and she just shrugged. “Every family has skeletons in their closets.”

 

“Oh yeah?” He said, thinking of the pale figure of his older brother who just went missing one day and never bothered to appear, not even as a corpse in some river. Wherever Itachi Uchiha went, he was alive; Sasuke felt it in his bones. He was a goddamned prodigy, the pride of the Uchiha and their future leader. Well, that was what he was supposed to be once. Now it all fell onto Sasuke. He wondered how Senju clan laws worked, was Sakura too to be the leader of her clan?

 

Then Naruto stormed in, followed by their jounin sensei. The man plopped down on the tent floor and sighed. He looked absolutely defeated and his arm was bleeding, the crimson liquid was staining his standard shirt. Sakura sighed and started healing it immediately. Sasuke gave Naruto and odd look because his teammate was sporting the most direct shit-eating grin he had ever seen.

 

“Confess, old man!”

 

“As you already know, we were under attack by missing ninja called the Demon brothers.” He muttered, looking over at Naruto. He looked very pleased with himself, pulled on his little frog-themed sleeping hat, and leaned back.

 

“And I apologise for not telling you, we are on the same team and you should know.”

 

“I’m only upset you didn’t come to me with that cut up arm. That could have been a possible infection.”

“Ma, I’m sorry.” He said again. Kakashi glanced over at Sakura again, his face washed in pain, but not from the wound. He leaned back once she was done healing his upper arm and bid them good night. They all swaddled up in their sleeping bags and they wanted to sleep, but Naruto was now interested in the bingo book. Sasuke turned on the lantern but then the flaps of the tent opened wide.

 

“Sleep.” Kakashi said, hands on his hips. Sasuke put out the lamp and they all went to sleep.

 

 

In the early morning, the team was back on the road and getting closer to the island itself. Tazuna explained that they’d need a boat to get to the other side of the shore. Naruto knelt down and watched the ocean for the first time in his short lifetime. He peeked down the depths and watched as the waves rippled, performing a delicate dance. It was a sight of beauty and Naruto was just grateful to be around to feel the sensation of the sea wind against his face. He dipped a single finger in the ocean and felt a cooling presence on his skin.

 

“This is the first time I’ve seen the ocean.” He said, sitting down. “It looks really beautiful.”

 

Kakashi gave him a weak smile. They were interrupted by a shaking sound in the background. Mist started covering the already dark shore. Kakashi felt every nerve in his body twist in panic. This already shady mission is turning even shadier. Kakashi was now ready to murder somebody. Tazuna was high on that list, due his secrecy about this thing. Although, he couldn’t really blame the man because A-rank missions were quite pricy as one had to pay for jounin, but even Kakashi, a passionate enemy of bureaucracy, could see this was becoming no a rank.

 

The mist finally cleared.

 

High atop a hill of the shore stood Zabuza Momochi, the Demon of the Hidden Mist. In his hand was the legendary sword Kubikiribōchō. Had Copy Cat Kakashi received a dime whenever something went horribly wrong on a mission, he’d already been retired. But, it seemed like he was truly cursed by the same luck that followed the Legendary Sucker of Konohagakure, whose niece was shaking behind him.

 

Zabuza finally spoke.

 

“Copy Cat Kakashi!” He shouted. “We meet again!”

 

The giant jumped off the hill and landed several feet in front of Kakashi. Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura immediately created a formation around Tazuna. Then something happened that changed Sakura’s entire knowledge of shinobi, bloodlines and genetics. Kakashi-sensei pulled up his government-issued headband and revealed his hidden eye. He had a scar over that eye, sure.

 

Oh, and a Sharingan. A fucking Sharingan, three tomoe and all.

 

“Motherfucker!”

Chapter Text

Kakashi was sitting on the floor of the house of a bridge builder, completely battered and bruised, and to top it all off, drained of nearly all chakra. Oh, and three little wrathful monsters were surrounding him and plucking his wounds. Well, to be fair, one was healing him. The fight with Zabuza was a wild ride, from the beginning to the bitter end when a battered Zabuza had to leave the fight, carried away by some lackey of his in a mask. He winced when Sakura pulled out a stray senbon that the lackey threw at him when Zabuza started faltering.

 

“Just how did you get the Sharingan?” Sasuke demanded, clapping his hands. “How? Was your mother an Uchiha?”

 

“No, my mother is still very much alive and not an Uchiha.” He replied. Albeit, he hadn’t seen her since his academy graduation and that was a lifetime ago. Naruto was just trying to connect the dots.

 

“Where my Sharingan is from, doesn’t matter. What I will tell you is that I was not born with it, but I obtained it when I was about your age. I think you are smart enough to figure out on your own that you were placed on my team because I’m the only jōnin the entire village, except for your family, who can teach you how to use your dōjutsu.”

 

“This is some bullshit.” Sasuke cussed. Kakashi was about to get up to make his point, when Sakura pulled him down in order to fix his pulled shoulder.

 

“Sensei, who is this Zabuza man?” She asked, voice dripping with concern. Naruto then probed.

 

“Is he one of the Seven Ninja Swordsmen of the Mist?”

 

Kakashi was shocked that Naruto heard of them. “How…?”

 

“I found it in Sakura’s bingo book.”

 

“You have a bingo book?” He yelled. “Where did you get it?”

 

“Granny Tsunade’s bookie.” Naruto finished.

 

Kakashi was about to cut the questions, when Sasuke lost it again. “Why do you keep calling her granny, the woman is top, what, twenty-seven?”

 

Sakura put down her hands. “Sasuke, my aunt is fifty-two years old. Her grandfather was the First Hokage, remember?”

 

Sasuke deadpanned. “How…?”

 

“Not anyone’s business. What did you read in your bingo book?” Kakashi continued.

 

Naruto slapped it open and coughed dramatically.

 

“The Seven Ninja Swordsmen of the Mist was an organisation consisting of only the greatest blade-wielding shinobi of their generation that Kirigakure can produce. There can only be seven members at a time — hence the name. The swords of the Seven Swordsmen are passed down from generation to generation, since the First Mizukage's era, and are considered mystical. Together, the Seven Swordsmen are capable of bringing down an entire nation, and are regarded as being the strongest shinobi in the village behind the Mizukage.” Naruto stared at his team again, aware they are soaking up the information.

 

“But, in newer times, several members went rogue and hence, the team has been disbanded. Here is creepy swordsman Zabuza! He’s just over-powered.” Naruto said, putting the book down.

 

“There are some things that are not in the bingo books. Thank you, Sakura, I feel much better. You see, my cute little genin, when one graduates in Konoha from the academy, they just take several exams and boom, and you are a genin. In Kirigakure, on the other hand, uh, they have to fight to the death for their genin spot. Zabuza here murdered over a hundred of his comrades in his academy days.”

 

He heard them gulp. Sasuke looked panicked. “And his lackey?” He asked.

 

“I’ve never seen that man in my life before. To be honest, he looks quite young.”

 

“Should we panic?” Naruto asked.

 

“Not really, but you kids ought to stay out of this one. I have to take down Zabuza.”

 

“Why?” Sasuke barked.

 

“Because your fathers will have my head if something happens to the two of you and Naruto will get himself killed and then the Hokage will kill me to.” Was what Kakashi wanted to say, but he just shook his head and told them they were out of their debt. He could feel the Uchiha clan that was already on his neck for the Sharingan chasing him to death if something were to happen to their precious heir. He couldn’t bear to look Nawaki Senju in the eyes if something were to happen to the only thing the love of his life left. And Naruto… He wasn’t ready yet to open that can of worms if something were to happen to that boy. The debt was just too much. Kakashi pondered if he should send them back to Konoha and just finish this on his own. Then it clicked that Zabuza might try to kill his cute little angels in the name of Kirigakure vengeance.

 

He cussed again, falling back into the bed.

 

“Get some sleep, sensei. We’ll watch out for Zabuza tomorrow.” Sakura spoke, covering the older man with a blanket. She looked tired and drained.

 

“Guys, let’s go ask Tsunami for some food and then we’ll sleep.”

 

They nodded and left Kakashi to rest. They ate quietly, while Tsunami gushed about having four shinobi in the household. She was Tazuna’s daughter and a homemaker by occupation. The woman had a bright and bubbly personality and a great sense of humour. She reminded Sakura of Ino.

 

“Some onigiri for the little Lord.” She said, pushing more food into Sasuke’s plate. He thanked her and continued eating. Sakura was slowly chewing on her first portion, but her mind was in a bygone time. Naruto, on the other hand, was downing his fourth instant ramen and discussing the battle in details. Tsunami listened with eager, as if attempting to memorise every word that came out of Naruto’s mouth.

 

“Naruto is such a unique name. I like it, a lot.” She said, patting her stomach. “I’m expecting, so one has to think about baby names. How did you get your name?”

 

“I have no frigging idea, lady.” He shrugged.

 

“Albeit, Sasuke is also a very noble name.” She said, looking at the Uchiha.

 

“Thank you. My mother named me after Sasuke Sarutobi.” He said, eating some of Sakura’s remaining crab legs.

 

“The Third Hokage’s father?” Sakura asked, in surprise. Mikoto Uchiha punched the entire clan in the face with that act, probably. Sasuke Sarutobi was the man behind the scenes who pushed for Hashirama Senju to become the First Hokage. He was the founder of the ANBU ranks and his greatest legacy was his son Hiruzen, the current Hokage.

 

“Yeah.” Sasuke said, shrugging. He probably knew better the weight his name carried in the clan. Itachi had been named for their grandfather and Sasuke’s name was probably to be some old-timey, Uchiha name, to honour some ancestor, but Mikoto Uchiha pulled a substitution jutsu and just named him Sasuke.

 

“And your name is Sakura.” Tsunami said with a romantic undertone in her voice. “A name fitting for a princess. Cherry blossom.” She smiled again, eyeing Sakura. “Fitting with your hair.”

 

“My mum had pink hair, too.” She said, tapping her chin. “Her name was Midori Senju. My clan doesn’t really have a name tradition, but I know I was named for athe actual flower.”

 

“Cherry blossoms symbolise the shortness and beauty of life. They’re the symbol of samurai and spring.” Tsunami sat down. “I’m writing all of your names on the list. I like them, a lot. Midori, too.”

 

“Anyway, I’m heading off to sleep. Help yourselves if you need more food. Before that, my son is demanding another read of his favourite story.” Tsunami said.

 

“Oh, which one is that?” Naruto asked, as he was a lover of fairy tales and legends alike.

 

“The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.” She said, shrugging. “Never understood why he loves that story so much. Ah, the dishes!”

 

“We’ll do the dishes, Miss Tsunami.” Naruto said, nodding. “No worries.”

 

She thanked them and Sakura helped Naruto dry off the dirty bowls and chopsticks. Sasuke played with his kunai, praying he could awake the Sharingan again. He felt a sting for blatantly lying to his teammate, but the memory of him tapping into the ancient power of his bloodline was too painful. Sasuke had just learned of his brother’s disappearance, he awakened a single-tomoe Sharingan and his father gave him a stone cold berating by saying Itachi summed a two-tomoe Sharingan his first time. Sasuke tapped his foot, pulling chakra into his eyes. And shocker, no effect. He eyed Sakura’s back, intuitively staring at the Senju crest on her back, hoping the feud embedded in his DNA would trigger the great dōjutsu. He felt as if a veil went over his eyes and his vision turned red. He smiled and then got up. Suddenly, he felt dizzy.

 

As if Sakura’s motherly medical ninja sense picked up on his ailment, she turned around to see her teammate shaking. She came closer and knelt in front of him.

 

“Sasuke, are you okay?” Then she saw the red eyes and fell back. Naruto turned around, saw Sasuke’s eyes, and cheered.

 

“Good job, idiot! With your Sharingan and Kakashi-sensei’s one, Zabuza can pack his bags!”

 

Sasuke immediately stopped the chakra flow to his eyes, grabbing his head. Boy, was it draining and he was a born Uchiha. Kakashi must be on his last legs after the battle. Sakura just watched him, worry hovering over her face. Perhaps, her DNA was cursed to fear the Sharingan.

“Do we tell sensei?”

 

“In the morning, Naruto. We all need rest.” Sakura said quietly. They all retrieved to the guest bedroom they were sharing. Sakura came out of the bathroom; her long hair was wet and flowing down her back. She started brushing it slowly, remembering that she read that the Sharingan, or any kekkei genkai for that matter, was triggered by an emotional event. Sasuke fucking lied that day at the bridge. She watched him as he entered the bathroom after her, as if he had no worries in the world.

 

Naruto flopped himself on the bed, thinking about seeing the red eye in person, today. Sasuke had a fucking bloodline limit, something that made him exceptional. Naruto just figured he must train harder than before to catch up to Sasuke’s great advantage. He wondered what the limits of the Sharingan were and how he could counter it. Then it clicked. The Sharingan can cast one under a genjutsu. Something he just sucked at so badly he just wasn’t ready to admit yet. Huffing and puffing, he turned to Sakura who was brushing her hair, angry and bothered.

 

“Sakura, are you okay?” He probed.

 

“Yeah, yeah.” She answered. He had some questions about her family.

 

“Oi, Sakura, does your clan have a bloodline limit?”

 

“Yes and no.” She said, tapping her chin. “The First Hokage was able to use Mokuton.”

 

“Oh, what’s that?”

 

“The ability to create wood out of one’s chakra.” She said. “After my great-grandfather died, the ability died with him.”

 

“Just imagine what you can do with tree-magic!” Naruto said, grabbing his head. “Holy shit, you could…”

 

“Create an entire forest?” She said weakly, remembering the shelter the man provided for the village he loved with all his heart and might from beyond the grave.

 

“Yeah, create an entire forest! Alternatively, a national park. So, why can’t someone learn it?” Naruto asked, attempting to summon the knowledge he had about nature transformations. He had a little grasp over the sheer knowledge and imagined that the girl next to him was a walking textbook.

 

“We don’t know. All I know, it requires a dual chakra nature. Earth and water, to be precise. Combined, they give…”

 

“Mud?” Naruto said, scrunching his nose. Perhaps, he might be onto something, Sakura thought. She wanted to pull out her entire medical knowledge and textbooks and spend the night like a mad scientist but she was too damn tired. Falling asleep, she heard Sasuke’s footsteps and felt him crawling into the bed next to her, as she unfortunately had to sleep in the middle as the thinnest member of Team 7. His body weighed down the mattress as Sakura’s mind was racing all over the place.

 

Kekkei genkai. Bloodline limit. What made it so special?

 

She was pulled into the dream world, feeling as if she was spirited away. Aunt Tsunade always said that the Senju had a strange connection to the spirit world. She dreamt of an old house, which frankly reminded her of her own house. There was a man with long, dark brown hair, standing by the table. The house looked ruined, with branches and ivy growing over it. The man wore a bright red armour and had a white cape over his back.

 

“Ah. You’re here.” He spoke, tapping the table impatiently. “Sit down, dear.”

 

Sakura followed the instructions, only for her dream to take a dark turn. The man’s hands started bleeding; her own hands were bloody and hurting. She heard loud voices, as if there was a choir of adult men chanting “Kodama”. There was even more blood everywhere, filling the room. Instinctively, Sakura grabbed the man’s hands and closed her eyes, feeling the blood fill the room. She felt a touch on her forehead and then she saw a face, an ancient, burly, strong face with thousands of wrinkles coming out of tree branches. There was even more blood and Sakura screeched, jolting awake. Naruto and Sasuke jumped up, ready to fight, when they saw Sakura take her head between her hands, shaking.

 

“Hey, hey, calm down.” Naruto said, putting his hands on her shoulders. Sakura just gave him a sad, tired look. Sasuke gulped, wondering what her brain concocted to torture her from the day’s unsavoury events. Sasuke knew about the shinobi curse, the one that made men quiver in their boots and force them awake for days at a time. Naruto was still petting Sakura’s head and she just whispered “Kodama” and fell asleep.

 

In the morning, the team was back on the field, watching Tazuna and his builders lay the foundations for a future bridge. Naruto spun a kunai around his finger and Kakashi took it before he could cut himself on the face, shaking his head.

 

“Ninja lesson number… I don’t care, really. We need to gather information on why in the fucking hell would an S-rank criminal hunt down a humble bridge builder from a small island.”

 

“Tazuna did mention that the bridge is for the island’s economy.” Sasuke said.

 

“But what does Zabuza get from that?” Naruto pondered, feeling the hamster wheels turn in his head. He went over and over all options that his weird mind could summon without overheating

 

“What if someone hired Zabuza in order to take Tazuna down?”

 

“Wow, you’re so smart.” Sasuke said, irony colouring his voice. Sakura noted his voice was a little deep for a boy his age, so she figured he must have been hitting puberty recently. Alternatively, puberty was hitting him. She just winced at the thought and listened to the two idiots bickering.

 

“Thanks! Hey!” Naruto said, figuring out Sasuke’s sarcasm.

 

“Stop it.” Kakashi said. “Sakura, you’re the temporary leader on this mission. Your task is to figure out who is behind this. Be quick, as I’ll be guarding Tazuna all on my own.”

 

Kakashi turned his eye to the builders, feeling Team 7 disappear behind his back. Those kids were his last hope for making this mission a success, and frankly, their team too. There was no room for failure now.

 

Three little cute genin were scanning the village, looking for cues and clues. Today was market day, as it happened and people were roaming the streets. Sasuke eavesdropped on a conversation between two merchants, who were discussing the trade and economy of the Land of Waves. They mentioned how everything will change once the bridge is built, mentioning a huge boost the new trading system will receive. In Sasuke’s book, all of that sounded excellent. He returned to his team who were discussing something.

 

“We found out that almost every shop and restaurant on this island is owned by a man named Gatō.” Sakura said, writing the data they found in a neat report.

 

“That Gatō could potentially have issues with a bridge being built, as it will introduce new merchants and shop owners, perhaps even cause migration.”

 

“And competition is never good in his business.” Sakura said. Naruto nodded, seeing the greater picture.

 

“So, mob boss Gatō hired Zabuza and his lackey to take down Tazuna and the bridge, because, if there is a bridge, he will lose money.”

 

“Exactly.” Sasuke pointed, scratching his chin.

 

“But this means, in order to make a significant impact and protect Tazuna and his family, we need to take out the mob boss too.” Sakura said.

 

“Murder?” Naruto asked, shrieking.

 

“I have to agree with Sakura on this one, idiot. If we don’t take the man who hired Zabuza, he’ll just hire worse criminals to take down the bridge.”

 

“I meant reporting him to the local government, Sasuke, why do you always resource to murder?” She shrieked, grabbing her head. “We’re not killing him just because we can!”

 

“Sasuke, if we kill him, we’re just showing of our power over civilians and that’s not cool, ya know?” Naruto yelled back.

 

Sasuke just rolled his eyes. “What if he is the government, Sakura? He could hold all government officials in his pocket, as we speak! And you, Naruto, you idiot, maybe you don’t have the guts to clean up this mess, but I do!”

 

“If you say so…” Naruto said, nodding. “Let’s report to sensei.”

 

After his adorable adoptive off –springs served him with old-fashioned mobster-in-need-of-to-preserve-monopole-over-poor-people bullshit, Kakashi had to side with Sasuke. In order to take out Zabuza and introduce some order into the Land of Waves, Mr Godfather-wannabe had to be brought into the sweet release of death. Just, how in the fuck will he explain to the fucking council and the Hokage why he told three kids to kill a civilian? Kakashi decided to put the man on his personal hit list and gave his kids the following task. He’d train them somewhat more until Zabuza strikes again, and while the kiddies are asleep, he’s going to take out the mob boss. Easy. Except he didn’t tell them about the second part of the plan. Boy, did he execute Part One of the grand plan? His students were on the floor from exhaustion. He refined their taijutsu and by that, he anchored Sasuke in the right direction, explained to Naruto that there are more kinds of attacks than human canon ball that punches everything that moves and noticed his female student had the raw strength of an adult bison.

 

Kakashi made a mental note to revise that and utilise it in a future fight. Sasuke’s forms were a joy to watch, he was quick, traditional, and everything his heritage demanded of him, only if he’d turn on that shiny red eye, that’d be perfect. Sakura had good forms, but he assumed that theory buffing and learning medical ninjutsu leaves her a bit rusty. He thanked whatever deity was protecting Naruto for his bottomless chakra reserves; those would come handy soon. He was about to tell them to take a break, since they’ve been on their feet since six in the morning, and the mist around the village hadn’t settled yet.

 

Then he smelled danger.

 

There he was, Zabuza Momochi, in all of his might and glory. And for some reason, cow print, as Naruto proudly exclaimed looked weird and ugly. Sasuke, on the other hand, went full Uchiha mode and turned on the legendary dōjutsu. Sakura pulled out a kunai and prayed this shit would not go anymore south than it already has.

 

“Kids, protect Tazuna, I’ll handle this.”

 

And boy, did he handle it. Kakashi was using various nature transformations to tackle Zabuza, but then, he miscalculated Zabuza’s lackey. The creature reappeared, dressed in fine fighting clothes and a mask. Then it used some kind of fancy nature transformation and summoned ice and started firing at Tazuna. Sasuke took the brunt of the injury. His left elbow was covered in ice-coated senbon. Just great, Zabuza’s lackey had the ability to summon ice. Sakura was the one to act the fastest. She grabbed Tazuna and performed a basic genjutsu on him, something Kakashi taught them yesterday, making him appear to look like a tree. She prayed Zabuza and his lackey weren’t genjutsu specialist. Then Naruto threw his hat, erm, headband into the ring. He went fists first in, knocking the lackey out with his clones. Sakura noticed the flying mask and heard Naruto shriek.

 

“Haku?”

 

“You know her?” Sasuke barked.

 

“It’s a him!” He responded, causing Sasuke’s jaw to drop. She heard a loud bang and thanked for whatever ninja juices her jōnin sensei was on, then, another bang, Naruto and Sasuke were missing in an ice ninja palace. Sakura immediately pulled out the bomb tags and was ready to blow the place up, but then she remembered, ice is sharp and can pierce some’s soft tissues with ease. There was some thinking to be done before she could free Naruto and Sasuke out of whatever Haku summoned.

 

Meanwhile, Dumb and Dumber were trapped inside, facing a thousand mirrors with the image of Haku. Sasuke had to hand it to the Mizu ninja; he had one hell of a kekkei genkai. Unfortunately, they were getting hit left and right. Sasuke was dodging most of the attacks, while covering for Naruto, because dumbass was going to get himself killed. He managed to stab Haku several times and even damage him with his fire jutsu, but somehow, the ice didn’t budge as much as he wanted. With the last of his energy, Haku pulled an ace out of his sleeve.  A rain of thousand-ice senbon stormed upon him and Sasuke, with all his might and strength, was shot down and fell on his knees. Then Naruto snapped. Whatever was cooking deep inside of him boiled into the strength he did not know he had. Truth to be told, he knew about this, it was a monstrous side of his being that was supposed to be buried, but not today. His whisker marks got sharper, eyes went orange and wrath spilled out. Then the ice palace snapped in half, the south part of it was knocked down. On the other side was a proud Sakura, holding up a string of wire, courtesy of Tazuna’s tools, and an axe, another courtesy of Tazuna’s tools. She carved the icicle out. Naruto ran out of it, chasing Haku, orange chakra swirling around him in torrents. Sakura felt the blood in her body freeze and walked towards Naruto, but then she heard Sasuke groaning in the background and saw he looked as if he was dying. Ain’t to bitch dying on their first mission outside of Konoha on her watch. She immediately started checking for vitals and snapping him out of it. She heard Haku crying out for Zabuza, but all she could focus now was pumping the internal bleeding out of Sasuke and keeping him alive.

 

Kakashi smelled danger again, for the umpteenth time on this mission. Boy, is that the smell of chakra of a tailed beast that murdered the Fourth Hokage, his wife and maybe, like a hundred other people? Not today, Nine-Tailed Fox, not today. Kakashi summoned his ninken and released them on Zabuza, the dogs delivering painful bites to the already half-beaten Zabuza. Then Haku snapped and raced towards Zabuza. In panic, he reached to save him, but was struck by the terrible orange energy radiating from the once cheerful Naruto. If only he had a Mokuton user to supress the beast now…

 

“Naruto, calm down! Don’t let the beast break the seal!”

 

As if snapped out of it, Naruto looked around himself. Zabuza was fighting off ninken, while Haku, nearly dead from Sasuke’s intervention was attempting to save his life. He gave Zabuza the meanest look he could summon and yelled.

 

“You fucker! Hey, ugly fucker! Look, fucking Haku is trying to save your life while a monster is chasing him! And you, you’re attempting to kill Kakashi-sensei while the only person who cares for you is dying! You’re a dick, Zabuza Momochi! If I become stronger, does that mean I'll become as cold-hearted as you are!? He threw his life away, and for what? For you? You never let him live on his own, huh, but he didn't care, and you just toss him aside like he was nothing... a broken tool. Man, that's so wrong... so wrong!”

 

Then Zabuza started crying, succumbing to his pain from the injuries Kakashi inflicted upon him. Haku just made it in time, touching his partner’s hand. They died, together. With Haku’s death, the remaining snow just imploded and covered them. Naruto fell on his knees, tears streaming down his face. Then he thought of Sasuke, who was probably succumbing to injures himself.  He felt all of the paper cuts his paper-thin plans and ideas caused. He thought he could just show up and stomp two criminals in the ground. Then he heard a loud, throaty cough. Right in Sakura’s arms, laid the young Uchiha, coughing. She threw him over her shoulder and patted him on the back and he coughed, again.

 

“Naruto, look, Sasuke is alive!” She yelled, putting him down and letting him take a breath on his own. He was breathing. Kakashi and Naruto ran towards them. Sasuke was alive, which means Kakashi gets to see the light of day for another time. He knelt down and watched him, but was shocked when Naruto jumped to hug him.

 

“I thought you’d die, Lord Dickhead.”

 

“Fuck off.”

 

“Hey, that’s mean!”

 

“No you, idiot, the senbon are stabbing us both!”

 

Sakura shook her head and inspected Sasuke, wiping her own tears.

 

“I can pull them out, with or without local anaesthetics.”

 

“None needed, I can take it.”

 

The medic nodded and pulled out a single needle out of Sasuke’s belly. Sasuke yelped and shrieked shaking his head.

 

“Give me the drugs, woman!” Sakura pulled out a syringe and pulled the needle into Sasuke’s hip, causing him to cuss. Naruto laughed aloud, falling back into the concrete of the pavement, rolling around. They actually survived the whole ordeal.

 

Kakashi just fell on his back. “Sakura, where is Tazuna?”

 

“Oh, right. Kai!” She said, and a random tree turned into a bridge builder who watched the damage, mouth agape.

 

“Atta girl!” Kakashi said, remaining in his position. In the evening, Sakura patched her two lovely teammates up, but was surprised by how quick Naruto healed. The boy was like a human bandage. Sasuke, was all in bandages and ointments, pouting as he radiated the smell of a thousand grandmothers. Kakashi was writing the mission report, which he cannot wait to receive a berating from the Hokage and council of elders for. He winced, as his right shoulder was severely damaged from fighting a criminal he hadn’t seen since the Third Shinobi World War. Sometimes, when he closes his eyes, he could see the faces of the people who were impacted by that war and who he truly missed. Zabuza Momochi was not one of those people. He winced again. His little medical ninja noticed immediately.

 

“Sensei, do you mind if I look at your shoulder?

 

“No need, Sakura dear. It will get better in the morning.”

 

She poked it with her finger and it stung like a thousand wasps. Kakashi cussed in pain. Truth to be told, he didn’t teach the kids too many new stuff, most of it was build up from their own knowledge, but at least he taught them some cuss words, something that would be useful in their later lives. His legacy just might be colourful language. Sakura observed his shoulder, it looked like he suffered some damage from Zabuza’s sword, so she figured with her current abilities she’d be able to stabilize the injury until a senior medic can inspect him. Nevertheless, the injury needed to be mended before it spread and damaged his back, neck and upper torso.

 

“I’m going to ask you to remove your shirt, sensei. You have a backpack to carry.”

 

Kakashi inhaled deeply. He did have an odd relationship with medical ninja. There were no medical ninja in his clan, but he did have a late teammate who was a medical ninja. Then there was the aunt of the current little doctor that was handling him, another medical ninja, albeit, this one was legendary and arguably the most powerful kunoichi in the world. Then there was Shizune, who was ready to tie him to the hospital bed and tranquilize him if he managed to escape again. If Sakura’s prognosis was right, he’d be locked in the hospital for a while, so he agreed. The other two team members decided they didn’t want to watch the healing process and craved some nourishment, so it was time for them to leave.

 

Naruto and Sasuke went downstairs to Tsunami’s kitchen. She was preparing some stew and curry for them, humming as she worked. Naruto helped her set the table and answered all the questions, how they buried the criminals and how that meant that Tazuna could finally finish his bridge.

 

“Oh, what a rowdy day. Somehow, someone murdered Mr Gatō.”

 

“What?” Sasuke spat.

 

“Yeah, an angry mob broke in his office and took him down. Anyways, enjoy your meal. Will Sakura and Kakashi join you?”

 

“Probably, Sakura is patching his shoulder up upstairs.” Naruto said, tapping the food with his chopsticks. He discussed what happened with Tsunami, who was a respondent talker, unlike Sasuke, who was quietly savouring the delicious food.

 

“Also, the food is awesome, Miss Tsunami! Right, Sasuke?” Naruto said, nudging him with his shoulder.

 

“I find it quite delectable.” He said, nodding. Naruto wanted to slap him. Then Sakura came in, face as red as a tomato. She plopped down on the floor, fanning herself. Their teammate looked odd, giddy even by Sasuke’s standards.

 

“What’s up with Sakura?” Naruto asked, confused.

 

“Are you overworked?” Sasuke asked.

 

“No… I saw sensei’s face.”

 

“What?” The two boys yelled in union. Their mind raced over various scenarios, consisting of big lips, bucked teeth, a missing jawline and no teeth, even.

 

“He’s the most handsome man I’ve ever seen!” She cooed, grabbing her face. Their jaws hit the floor on her statement and Sakura continued to gush how handsome their sensei is, while Tsunami clapped in excitement.

 

“I knew there was something underneath that mask!”

 

“This is why sensei says that we have to look underneath the underneath.” Naruto deadpanned.

 

“Great, how the fuck am I supposed to eat now?” Sasuke said, throwing his chopsticks.

Chapter Text

Kotetsu and Hayate were casually playing a party of Hanafuda. The day looked nice and sunny, with a slight breeze adorning the picturesque setting of Konohagakure. In their language, a perfect day for gambling and doing otherwise undignified stuff. They were expecting some merchants who were making weapons for the Hyūga clan, but today was a leisure day for the two guards. No one important was coming today. Until they saw Hatake Kakashi’s genin team. They looked as if they faced a world war, all bruised and beaten. The girl on the team who happened to be carrying the village’s pest, which Hayate recognised due the symbol on her clothes, made him go into a state of panic and cause him to jump up and bow.

 

“Hatake-senpai! Lady Senju!” Then he clocked the fan crest on Sasuke’s attire and shrieked again. “Lord Uchiha!”

 

“Actually, it’s Lord Dickhead.” Naruto corrected. “Kakashi-sensei, can we go to Ichiraku’s now?”

 

“Naruto, you idiot! Hospital first!” Sakura shouted, causing Naruto’s grin to drop.

 

Kakashi sighed, sharing his hatred of hospitals. Soon they were in a hospital room, being checked by nurses under the watchful eye of Shizune. Then the door broke open and flew on the other side of the room. The nurses yelped and started bowing in panic, revealing a pale Senju Tsunade who immediately raced to her niece’s bedside and hurled her into a bone-crushing hug. Sakura closed her eyes and leaned on her aunt’s shoulder, attempting not to weep like a small child in front of her teammates. Kakashi gulped. He could already feel the wrath of the Legendary Sucker on his skin. Then the situation went even more south when he spotted officers of the Uchiha police force. He was getting ready for a potential arrest and then he noticed Lady Mikoto Uchiha grace the room with her well-mannered presence.

 

She wrapped her arms around Sasuke and patted his head gently. Naruto sighed, feeling left out again. No one was coming to see him, nor did anyone care. At this point, it was even ridiculous to hope anyone would show up for him, really. Then he felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up. His sensei was smiling down at him. Naruto leaned on Kakashi’s shoulder, trying not to cry. This was too much for his little, broken heart.

 

“We survived the whole ordeal, huh?”

 

He felt his hair being ruffled too and looked up to see Tsunade give him a sweet smile before turning a glare of thousand daggers to Kakashi Hatake. He smiled under his mask and Tsunade cracked her fists. Today was not a good day, too. Naruto went into a panicked state and attempted to calm down the Senju woman when she started yelling at Kakashi. The entire hospital room was shaking and Sasuke hugged his mother in fear. Then they heard another layer of footsteps and saw the goddamned Hokage enter. Kakashi wished the roof of the hospital collapsed on his head.

 

“Ah, Lady Tsuna, there you are! Please, we have a meeting in the Tower.”

 

Tsunade let go of Kakashi’s collar and shot him one last mean stare before whispering something into Sakura’s ears and leaving. The Hokage greeted respectfully Lady Mikoto and went on his way with one of his students. The Uchiha matriarch sat down and put a basket on the table.

 

“I’ve brought you some fruit, because one cannot really eat heavy stuff once they’ve injured.” She turned her face towards Naruto and Sakura, who were watching Sasuke awkwardly shift around his mother. She was softly patting Sasuke’s shoulder, asking them if they’re all okay.

 

“You two must be Naruto and Sakura. Sasuke has mentioned you many times. I’m Mikoto, Sasuke’s mum.”

 

“It is an honour to meet you, Lady Uchiha. I’m Sakura.” The pink-haired girl said with a perfectly straight back, bowing her head in respect for the matriarch of a powerful, albeit rival, clan. Mikoto gave her a soft smile.

 

“Hello! My name is Uzumaki Naruto and I’m Sasuke’s teammate, ya know!” Naruto boasted, patting his chest. Mikoto gave him a hearty laugh, something that surprised Sasuke to the bone. His mother was warm and kind, but usually remained composed and elegant in almost every situation. She wiped a silent tear from her face.

 

“You remind me of someone, Naruto.” She observed the boy. He was of a thicker, stockier built then most of his peers, he had odd, whisker-like marks on his cheeks, while his face was much rounder and wider than she would expect considering his paternal heritage. Remembering that people observed a newly born Naruto and shouting how he was the spitting image of his father, yet Mikoto had to disagree; his mother left her own, personal stamp on him, something that was just so much like the late kunoichi.

 

“Well, I hope whoever, he is, that he is as cool as I am!” Naruto shouted, falling back into his bed and letting out a lonely yelp once his back hit the mattress. There was an injury there, right.

 

“I wanted to invite you for dinner tonight, if you’re okay to leave the hospital.” Mikoto said, removing some loose strands of hair from Sasuke’s forehead. She gave him a quick peck on the cheek and he rested his head on her shoulder. Mikoto turned to Kakashi, who was peering at her with one eye, praying that Wicked Eye Fugaku wasn’t around. He noticed members of the police force exchanging odd looks because one of them was giving the kids an excited wave.

 

“Shisui!” They all shouted in excitement, even Sasuke. He plopped down on Naruto’s bed and gave his head another messy makeover. The other Uchiha members were confused again by such public displays of affection, alas, nothing was strange when it came to the black sheep of the main family.

 

“Lady Mikoto, was that the Slug Princess that stormed the place when we came?”

 

“Yes, that was Lady Tsunade.”

 

“I thought she retired from hospital work.” Shisui said, still confused.

 

“I assume she came to see her niece.”

 

“Her niece?!” Shisui said, clearly confused. He turned his head towards Sakura who gave him a weak wave and a soft smile. Suddenly it clicked. The pink hair, her name and everything. Sakura was Lord Nawaki Senju’s daughter, his only daughter in fact. He went into a state of shock and quickly shook back before anyone could notice.

 

“I had no idea you were a member of the Senju clan, Sakura. Now that I know, it makes sense.”

 

“It’s the height, isn’t it?” She said in a grim tone.

 

“I think it’s the forehead.” Naruto stated. “Granny Tsunade and you have such giant foreheads!”

 

Sasuke rewinded back to his earliest memories of the Ninja Academy, back when Sakura was bullied for her unique physical appearance, her weirdly coloured hair, her forehead and her height. The forehead must have been a sore spot, because she gave Naruto several sore spots on his head for that.

 

“Do you have to remind me of that, too?”

 

Shisui figured that she was Tsunade’s blood through and through. She was a pretty girl that will get even prettier, no doubt, but he could tell that Sakura’s weak spot was her physical appearance. Naruto just gave her a big grin and patted her back.

 

“Ah, Sakura, look!” He pointed through the window, pointing at the statue of the First Hokage. Hashirama Senju watched over his village with pride, as the venerated hero he was. Sakura gave an odd look to the statue.

 

“Yes?”

 

“Look at the First Hokage, he too has a big forehead and everyone loves him!”

 

Sasuke braced himself. Insulting one’s ancestor was regarded as the highest offence in the Uchiha clan, among ninja clans in general, something that was one of the biggest insults one can use in conversational combat. Sasuke braced himself for Sakura to send Naruto flying across the village, perhaps even the entire Fire Country, when she pointed at the portrait itself again.

 

“Naruto, he doesn’t have a giant forehead, the statue is huge!”

 

“Yeah, show me pictures of him! That is a huge ass forehead, I should know, I painted it several times!”

 

Sakura found it hard to argue with that logic. “Fine Naruto, I’ll show you the First’s surviving photographs, but I know you just want to see them because he’s the First Hokage.”

 

“Maybe…” Naruto confessed, playing with his fingers. Sakura shook her head. Then Shizune came in, holding a medical chart.

 

“The kids are all clear, but Hatake stays for the night. We need to watch that dislocated shoulder of his for a night, if everything is okay in the morning, he can go too.” Shizune announced, slamming down the chart on the table. “Although, Sakura did a good job of putting it back into place.”

 

“Thank you, Shizune! That was my first time fixing a shoulder!”

 

“What?” Kakashi yelped. He was tired of being a medical ninja’s guinea pig. First his teammate back in the day, now this? Kakashi figured he needed to check up if his medical insurance covered “medical- ninja- in-training-experimenting-on-me” damage.

 

“What did Lady Tsunade and I tell you about experimenting on elite ninja?”

 

“That it’s perfectly legal until I get caught?”

 

“Damn it, Sakura!” Shizune said, instructing the other medical ninja to take Kakashi to a separate room for additional medical procedures. Mikoto and Shisui said goodbye to the little bunch, with Mikoto reminding them for the dinner that evening. Once they were out, Shisui turned to the matriarch of his clan, holding his head.

 

“Uzumaki, Senju, Uchiha. What in Gods’ name was the Third thinking? Anyone who ever has heard of history and the warring times knows whenever these three names appear together; you’re up for a shit show… Oh my, I apologise for my foul language, Lady Uchiha!” Shisui yelped, giving several deep bows.  Mikoto chuckled, shaking her head.

 

“It’s alright Shisui; I have to agree with you. They’ll either become the greatest team in the world, heirs to the Sannin, or an absolute wreckage.”

 

Shisui just shook his head and turned on the earpiece he was wearing.

 

“Hawk here, I’m escorting Lady Uchiha out of the building.”

 

“Idiot, the earpiece has been on the entire time, I’ve heard you cuss in front of Lord Uchiha’s wife.”

 

Shisui just deadpanned.

 

Back in the hospital room, Sasuke jumped over his bed and sat down next to Naruto, studying his cut up face. Well, it was cut up some time ago, but he looked almost perfectly healed, albeit, there were some other injuries to nurse. What Sasuke wanted to know was the appearance of that strange, orange chakra back in the Land of Waves.

 

“Dobe, might telling me where the chakra you pulled out of your ass in the mission came from?”

 

Naruto’s usual sunny disposition went much darker. Sakura had never seen him like that, so she scooted over and plopped down by Naruto’s legs, watching his face.

 

“I can’t tell you. I mean, there is no point, ya know…”

 

“Naruto, we’re your teammates. You can trust us.” Sakura stated.


“Fine.” Naruto raised up his shirt, revealing an odd array of seals on his stomach. Sakura had never seen anything quite like it, especially since her clan was full of sealing specialists. Naruto put down the shirt.

 

“I have a beast, a demon, whatever you want to call it, sealed inside of me.”

 

Suddenly, everything made sense to Sasuke. He remembered the complete isolation everyone was giving to Naruto, treating him like rubbish because he happened to be a human prison for some demon. Sasuke was confused about the kind of demon it was, then he remembered the tale of the Nine-Tailed Fox attack back when he was an infant. He finally fit the last puzzle piece in place. The beast must have been sealed into an infant Naruto at the time, placing him in the not so comforting spot of being a vessel for an ancient, evil spirit. The three of them just hugged in silence for a while.

 

Then Naruto told them the tale of how he learned the shadow clone jutsu, how one of their academy sensei made him break into the Hokage library and steal an ancient scroll with markings of the Senju clan and how he managed to learn an S-class jutsu. Sakura immediately realised what it was and wondered how big Naruto’s reserves are if he could pull out something like that.

 

“Does anyone else in the team have a secret jutsu I should know about?” She pressed.

 

“I have a secret tail.” Naruto said, grinning. The three genin just laughed.

 

After they were released from the hospital, Naruto and Sakura were sitting on the floor of one of the many family rooms of the main house, where Sakura sprawled over several pictures of various relatives, which happened to contain images of the late Hashirama Senju. They looked ancient, there was an image of him in his Hokage robes, then images of his wedding day, then Sakura found the only coloured photograph of the First Hokage. She placed it gently in Naruto’s hand and pointed at the man. By then, his hair was long and white and face was rather wrinkly. Next to him was a woman with auburn hair and a similar purple diamond painted on her forehead, who looked a lot younger than he did, and then there was a small girl in Hashirama’s lap, with adorable blonde pigtails. Behind them was a man with dark, long hair, who looked a lot like the images of the First that Naruto had seen, albeit, his hair had a reddish tint to it. Next to him was a smiling blonde lady, in a purple yukata.

 

“That’s Granny!” Naruto shrieked, pointing out the tiny girl. Sakura nodded.

 

“My dad wasn’t even born back then, so this are his parents, Taiyō and Yue.”

 

“So, your grandparents?”

 

She nodded. Naruto continued studying the picture. The First gave the same eyes to his son and eventually grandson and great-granddaughter. He placed his face next to Sakura’s, studying the pictures.

 

“He gave you a big ass forehead, Sakura.”

 

She just looked down. “Enough for today.”

 

“Hihi, got it. You’re right, enough reading for today.”

 

“But we weren’t…”

 

“We have to go to Sasuke’s!” Naruto announced, getting up. He stretched and Sakura was again amazed to see all of his wounds were almost perfectly healed, wondering if the fact he had a spirit sealed inside of him helped. She put it down in her mental notes to research tailed beasts with Haku’s kekkei genkai, as it reminded her of the late God of Shinobi.

 

They arrived at the Uchiha compound. After a thorough search from the guards, they were checked in by Shisui as guests of the main household and let into the compound. To Naruto, the Uchiha compound looked like a small city inside the village. There were many people roaming the streets, most dressed in the red and white of the Uchiha employees, all busy and working. No one paid attention to them, even though they were escorted by a police officer. The main house had a stiff, rather rigid atmosphere. Sakura found it difficult to breathe inside. Naruto was staring at everything, the fans, the military accomplishments, the medals and the lack of family pictures. Shisui told them to go upstairs, to Sasuke’s room, but a servant intercepted and told them that Sasuke was waiting for them in the drawing room.

 

“Sasuke has an art room?” Naruto said, confused.

 

“No, Naruto… Just, let’s go.” Sakura said, grabbing his hand. He blushed furiously as Sakura dragged him to the spot where Sasuke was. The Senju girl was eerily reminded of the blueprint of her own house. She figured since their clans were here from the time Konohagakure was founded, all old houses must have a similar plan of building. Sasuke was casually seated in the drawing room, petting the family dog. Sasuke paid them a glance.

 

“You two actually came over.”

 

“Nice to see you too, idiot.” Naruto muttered. The little dog jumped over to sniff Naruto and Sakura, so Sasuke got up and instructed them to the porch that looked over to the lake in the middle of the compound. There was a cool breeze outside, but Naruto had a gut feeling that something was horribly wrong with this this place. Like there was a darkness looming over, ready to swallow them whole. Naruto gulped and a seat across Sasuke, while Sakura sat down with her back turned to the lake. She was feeling rather cold, so she pulled put a thin overcoat from her bag and put it over her shoulder. They sat down and discussed the upcoming autumnal season, which usually meant for genin to stay inside the village and help the farmers put their affairs to rest for the winter. A servant brought them green tea and Naruto nearly chocked when trying it.

 

“I think that we should lay low after the Land of Waves.” Sakura suggested, toying with the edge of her sleeve. She didn’t like being here, not even one bit.

 

“I agree with the idiot for once, we are more than ready to knock it with the enemy!” Naruto said, pumping his fist.

 

Sasuke went quiet. “I don’t want to be stuck in the village, playing ninja. I want to get stronger. I have to.” He said. He has a name to live up to, a brother to find and a clan to defend. Sakura inhaled deeply. The air tasted sour and cold.

 

“Do you think we can manage another attack of the likes of Zabuza and Haku?”

 

“That just means you two have to train more. You’re book smart and have sharp eyes, but being able to heal a few cuts isn’t nearly enough to be considered a true shinobi. And Naruto, as resilient as you are, you are incapable of any jutsu besides the shadow clones.”

 

“I’ll show you! Time for my sexy jutsu!” Naruto said, but received a knock on the head.

 

“Cut it.” Sakura said, in a dangerous voice. “Even if I agree with you, it’s obvious you’re Kakashi-sensei’s favourite. I just can’t go around and bother every member of my clan to teach me. My aunt has been in talks to return to the hospital force, she won’t have any time to teach me medical ninjutsu. I mean, she will if I work at the hospital.” Sakura stated. “But that leaves Naruto hanging.”

 

“Always the dead-last, huh?” Sasuke said, remembering his days in the academy. “Kakashi can split his time between us and I can ask Shisui to train me. He’s a powerful ninja.”

 

“Ah, there you are!” A voice behind them said. Sasuke’s mother was standing on the porch, hands on her hips. “Come in, it’s time for dinner.”

 

“Lady Uchiha.” Sakura greeted her in the respect she had been taught, bowing her head deeply. Sasuke cracked a smile and Naruto waved at her with excitement. They entered the house and went into a small, private dining room. Sakura figured this is where the main, nuclear family must eat. Mikoto brought out a lot of food and asked them how their injuries feel and discussed future mission plans. She was very kind and sweet, Sakura noted, so nothing like Sasuke. She could see little shattered specks behind the eyes, a pain from the loss of her firstborn. They heard a loud thud in the hallway and Mikoto braced herself.

 

The door pushed open, revealing what Naruto initially thought was a purple toad. Sakura immediately got up and bowed her head, followed by Sasuke. She figured she must be a high-ranking member of the clan, since she roamed the private quarters so freely.

 

“Mikoto? Private dinner? Without me?” She said in a demanding tone.

 

“Hello to you too, Onibi. Sasuke has his teammates over, please be gentle today.”

 

Her eyes scanned the two other genin and stopped at Sakura’s sleeve, where a Senju symbol was embroidered. She sat down and shouted at a servant to bring her a plate and chopsticks. The old woman fanned herself, studying the three genin.

 

“Do you have no respect for your elders? Introduce yourselves.”

 

“My name is Uzumaki Naruto, Granny!” He shouted, patting his chest. The old woman looked displeased.

 

“And you must be Nawaki’s brat.” She stated as a matter of fact at Sakura, who fought really hard against the urge to roll her eyes. Mikoto scoffed.

 

“Honestly, Onibi, she is Lord Senju’s daughter and heir. Treat her as such.” Mikoto said, eyes narrowed like sharp kunai.

 

Onibi snorted. “Noble or not, she is a little brat of the enemy.”

 

“Do I need to remind you that the warring period ended over a half a century ago?” Mikoto said, shaking her head. “Sakura is a guest in our home, just as Sasuke had been at her own. The Senju and Uchiha are not at war.” Sasuke was shocked by his mother’s frankness, but he imagined that years of being bullied by Onibi reached a boiling point and that a screaming match would be insured for the night. Naruto and Sakura cringed at the entire ordeal, but Naruto felt the urge to intervene and defend Sasuke. Onibi turned an undignified red and faced the boy with an angry scowl until Mikoto Uchiha stopped a potential brawl and pulled Onibi out of the room. Sasuke threw his chopsticks on the table and crossed his arms, his mouth in a frown.

 

“Can you two leave?” He asked through his teeth. Naruto was about to screech at Sasuke when Sakura reprimanded him, nevertheless, they entered an uncomfortable shouting exchange and Sakura pressed them down.

 

“Naruto, I think it’s better for us to leave, yeah?”

 

“Fine.” He said and they left the main house. On their way out, they encountered Shisui who just gave them a sad look, figuring out that something must have happened. Sakura felt many eyes on her back, probably due the symbol gracing it and decided to leave before an incident occurs. They were walking down the street and Sakura offered to treat Naruto to Ichiraku’s place to make him feel better but he was so bummed out that he just wanted to sleep. She was about to wave Naruto goodbye, but when they reached the Senju compound they heard a loud bang, as if an explosion occurred. The two genin spotted many shattered walls and several craters around the compound and noticed a shadowy figure run around the perimeters of the estate, followed by a blonde woman.

 

“Auntie Tsuna!” Sakura yelled, grabbing her head. Tsunade swung a leg on the figure, but missed, causing another crater. Naruto gulped, watching the earth shatter around the woman. He made a mental note never to piss Granny Tsunade off or she will turn him into minced meat. Several members of the clan went after her, but were simply having difficulties following her pace. Tsunade stopped abruptly once the shadowy figure escaped by jumping into the river. An elderly woman was standing by the gates, shaking her head. A panicked Yamato, in a bathing robe, who started at the deteriorated terrain and asked what happened, followed her. The woman turned to Sakura who immediately bowed her head.

 

“Lady Tōka, what happened here?”

 

“We had a break in the armoury, child.” She shook her head, watching the damage Tsunade caused. Yamato performed several earth-based jutsu, flattening the terrain. “Unlucky for the intruder, Tsunade was there making poison.”

 

“He picked a bad time to break in, huh?” Sakura said, remembering Tsunade’s laboratory was in the extended part of the armoury, where her aunt conducted research and Sakura learned medical ninjutsu. Tsunade came back, panting. She looked angry.

 

“Get the kids in the house, someone attempted to your father’s sword, Tōka.” Tsunade said, dusting herself off. Yamato came behind her, talking about to break in attempt and how they need to contact masons to fix the walls. Tsunade shook him off.

 

 

“What? Why in Gods’ name would anyone steal that sword? It’s an artefact.”

 

“True.” Tsunade said. “I think this is beyond the sword, it was a distraction to steal something else, but bad timing I guess.” Tsunade pulled out the sword, which had no blade. Naruto gave her an odd look.

 

“That sword looks useless.”

 

“It’s the Sword of the Thunder God, brat. The Second Hokage wielded it with his lightning techniques.”

 

“Wow! Like it can light up?”

 

“Yes. I need to put it back where it belongs.”

 

“This is an insult to the clan.” Yamato’s mother finally spoke. “Taking something this precious… Insult!”

 

Tōka was an elderly woman; Naruto figured she must be a similar age to old man Sarutobi, since she was the daughter of the Second Hokage. Yamato, her son gulped.

 

“Mum, I think Lady Tsuna is right. You can replicate this sword easily. We should alert the Hokage, so he alerts Nawaki. Do you think this has to do with the Mokuton?” He said in a lower voice, as if someone could hear him.

 

“I will decide what will happen as acting head of the clan.” Tsunade stated, putting her final foot down. She inhaled deeply.

 

“Sakura, you’re sleeping tonight in my room. Naruto, if you’re staying the night, I suggest you, too.”

 

“No, thanks! I snore a lot, ya know!”

 

Sakura stared at her aunt, eyes wide with horror. Just what in Gods’ name was brave enough, and more important, skilled enough to break into the Senju armoury?

 

“The robber wore a mask, if that is your next question.” Tsunade stated, again. “Yamato, seal the place down, get Jiraiya if you need to. Bate him by telling he can sleep over tonight.” She sat down on a rock, sporting a tired look in her eyes “I wanted to return to the hospital, but it seems the clan needs me now.” She raised her head towards Sakura. “Go inside, sweetie, and place bomb tags in the attic. Have some dinner, too.”

 

Sakura nodded and said goodbye to Naruto. He walked away, ears sharp for the conversation of the Forest clan. Their voices were low and they removed themselves from the open lane and went inside. He really wanted to know why someone would attempt something like that. He saw Jiraiya on his way home, who shouted to get out of his way as he raced towards the estate.

 

Later that night, Sakura laid in Tsunade’s room, while her aunt was revising some old hospital reports.

 

“Auntie?”

 

“Yes?”

 

Then Sakura poured her heart out, telling her about the Land of the Waves, how scared and helpless she felt.  About Zabuza and Haku, the mob-boss and his goons. Tsunade listened, with sadness in her voice.

 

“I felt defenceless; I don’t want to feel like this, ever again.”

 

“I see. How can I help?”

 

“Teach me your taijutsu.”

 

Tsunade snickered. She had been praying for the day her niece would ask her this, finally someone on whom she could pass down the brutal techniques she perfected by studying her grandfather’s fighting style.

 

“You sure about that?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“We begin when you come back from your sessions from Hatake.”

 

“Thanks!” Sakura said, rolling back to sleep. Tsunade closed her eyes and thought of Midori, of Dan, of Midori’s little sister, of everyone who died at her hands, everyone she was unable to save. Perhaps, by passing this down to her niece, her own flesh and blood, she’d be able to pay some of that debt back. Even if she’s been looking for excuses not to enter the hospital workforce again. Truth to be told, Tsunade put a stop to the idea of having children once her lover was lost to the cruel hand of war. There was no one else for her, never and ever. Then her brother married, had a child and his wife died. Tsunade was left, stranded, in a village she was planning to leave, with a child. Her brother had to answer the call of their former mentor, a debt for the protection and open favouritism of the Senju clan, so she had to raise Sakura. Tsunade adored the little girl with the entirety of her heart. She turned her head to the sleeping form and heard Shizune creak open the bedroom door.

 

“Lord Jiraiya has placed traps around the estate. The Hokage sent ANBU guards and Lord Senju will be notified in time.”

 

“Thank you, Shizune. Go to bed, you look like you’ve been through hell and back.”

 

“You know what I’ll tell you. You’re needed at the hospital, like a desert needs rain.”

 

“I’ll think about it.” She dismissed and Shizune just sighed. The greatest medical ninja in the world feared blood because she lost only two patients in her career. Her lover, Shizune’s uncle, and Midori, Sakura’s mother. Perhaps feared was too much of a word, but rather terrified of the loss of another human life was better. Shizune prayed every night that she’d be able to return to the poison department once Tsunade pulled her crap together. On the other hand, maybe not.

 

In the early morning hours, Sakura and Ino were sitting in front of the Yamanaka flower shop, talking about their upcoming missions and training regime. She wanted to tell Ino about the break in, the Land of Waves and Sasuke’s weird family, but decided to stay put. Ino didn’t need to know about this kind of bullshit, not now, when she was so excited about mastering a family jutsu, since she wanted badly to live up to the name Ino-Shika-Cho, a formation feared among men and women across the nations. Ino spoke about the upcoming festival, her dreams of the future and Sasuke. She also dished how she believes Asuma-sensei was seeing someone. Sakura listened, studying Ino’s face, memorising every single detail. She wondered had she died in the Land of Waves if she’d remember that face.

 

“Good morning, Sakura and Ino!” Shouted Naruto from down the street, causing Ino’s head to take a sharp turn.

 

“Naruto, quiet, people are sleeping!” She hissed as Naruto took a seat across them, eating his breakfast pastry. He devoured it quickly, listening to the conversation the two girls were exchanging. Naruto licked the bottom of his chin and was about to say something, when they saw Sasuke approach. Naruto and Sakura wanted to berate him for last night, but Ino pulled him in and sat him down next to herself, forcing Sakura to switch to Naruto’s seat.

 

What followed was a long, drawn out silence. It was beyond awkward. Ino wasn’t sure what to say, until she spotted a bleak, familiar face in the background. Her wrath engine turned on and she pushed Sakura’s shoulder.

 

“Sakura, it’s that bitch! Ami!”

 

Sakura turned around and Naruto quivered in his boots when he noticed the wrath in Sakura’s eyes.

 

“Who’s Ami?” Sasuke asked, clearly confused.

 

“You don’t remember?” Sakura said, confused. “She used to bully me and Ino. Then we cornered her after school, beat her and got suspended for a week.”

 

“I remember that! It was the best thing everyone did to shut that loud mouth up! She was a raging bitch and was mean to everyone!”

 

“I don’t know.” Sasuke confessed, remembering through a haze that at time when that was happening, Itachi went missing. His demeanour remained stoic and cold as usual, but there was a slight shift in the air around him. Ino continued ranting.

 

“We almost got expelled because it looked really bad, two clan kids ganging up on a civilian, plus she’s a member of the Kazamatsuri family. Hadn’t the Third vetoed it, we would have been ousted!” Ino said, cracking her fist. It seemed as if the bad blood run fresh. Sasuke dismissed the child’s play and got up.

 

“Team 7, we have training to continue.” Sasuke spoke, getting up and leaving. Ino frowned but threw Sakura a smile as she waved at her, promising to come over at night. Shikamaru and Chōji reached Ino finally and she screeched at them for being late.

 

Team 7 reached the training grounds in silence, which was quite unlike them. They sat in silence until Kakashi arrived, an hour or two late. He looked fixed up and clean so he crossed his arms told them he has an announcement for them.

 

“Next spring are the Chūnin exams and I’ve taken the liberty to enter you.” Kakashi announced and stepped back, preparing for the obvious shouting he was about to receive. Boy, were they loud. He was hesitating to swing Sasuke over the fence and beat his sorry little rich ass, because it was Fugaku Uchiha who insisted upon his little angel to move up ranks. Yet, studying Sasuke’s face, the boy looked almost pleased. He looked challenged.

 

“All I know, there is a written exam on March 22 and everything else follows after that. So, prepare.”

 

“How many villages are participating?” Sakura asked.

 

“Konohagakure is hosting and our guests are Sunagakure, Kirigakure and some other smaller villages that don’t belong to the Five Great Nations. So, the Mizukage and Kazekage will be in the audience.”

 

“Holy shit.” Naruto said. “We have to win, guys!”

 

“Naruto, one participates in the Chūnin exams, and then their respective Kage decides upon them moving up ranks.” Sakura said.

 

“Not gonna lie, kiddies, the exams will be a bitch. There will be people who have taken and failed these exams several times. On an average, about four or five people are promoted every years and hundreds sign up.”

 

Naruto’s jaw hit the floor. “Do people die?”

 

“Guess what, dumbass?” Sasuke spat, pinching the bridge of his nose.

 

“Yes, Naruto, people die.” Kakashi sighed. “That’s why I’m going to train you somewhat this winter. Of course, you know that in this season, the genin stand back. I’m going to have some A-ranks, but I believe you will somewhat manage on your own.”

 

The three of them nodded. “It won’t be easy, kids. Today, we need to work on your taijutsu. Boys, spare each other.”

 

“And what about me?” Sakura asked.

 

“You can fight me. Don’t worry, I’ll go easy on you.”

 

Sakura gave him a mean look. “Cool.”

 

“Shall we begin?”

 

Naruto and Sasuke beat each other up pretty badly, but Sakura received a decent kicking from Kakashi, albeit, he was afraid of her raw strength. She was sitting on the grass, panting.

 

“You’re a little choppy, but you’re brutal.” He said, hands in his pockets. “Not bad. You two, Naruto, you’re making sense finally, but we need to learn more basic forms. We’ll train this week and then I’ll have to go. Got it?”

 

“Got it!” Naruto said. “Sensei, can we go to Ichiraku’s ramen stand?”

 

Kakashi sighed. “Fine.”

 

Sasuke returned home later than he planned. The house was quiet as usual. He walked upstairs to see if his mum is working on something and noticed a seal on his father’s office door. That was never good, since it meant there was some top secret meeting inside. He slithered away and was cursed by bumping into his grandmother.

 

“Child, what are you doing here?”

 

“I’m going to take a shower and train some more, Grandmother Onibi.”

 

“Very well. Why didn’t you tell me Nawaki’s daughter and the Nine-Tails brat were in your team? What was Sarutobi thinking?”

 

Sasuke shrugged. “None of my business, they’re tolerable.”

 

“Have you talked with your father about joining the force?”

 

“No. They have no need for genin there.”

 

“Which is why you must strive to become a jōnin. Itachi was a chūnin at your age.”

 

Sasuke kicked an imaginary rock.

 

“I’ll pass my exams.” He said, looking away.

 

“That’s what I wanted to hear.”

Chapter Text

Sasuke jolted awake. The rain was thudding on the roof of his house, so he stretched and walked through the balcony door. Today marks exactly six years since Itachi went missing. Officially, he has to be declared dead today, as he has been unaccounted for in six, long, painful years. His name will be placed on the monument of those who were killed in action and on the tombstone of the missing Uchiha. Sasuke had to endure a private ceremony in the Uchiha shrine where his mother kept her solemn composure and his father remained stoic as Itachi was proclaimed dead. Every dead look in their eyes stung deep in Sasuke’s already broken heart. He wished to fall on his knees and sob, but now was not the time. Uchiha do not show any emotion, never and ever, they remain stoic even if their family is getting murdered in front of their eyes. This was ingrained in Sasuke’s brain since he left his mother’s breast. Then, the priest compared Itachi to cherry blossoms, which bloom only for a short time, but perish soon, yet they bring immeasurable conviviality and beauty to the world. The priest raised his hands.

 

“As we mourn Lord Itachi, we must remember that his fire burns bright, even beyond our world, for he resides among the spirits and our ancestors now. May the spirits of Lord Izuna and his brothers protect and guide him.”

 

Izuna was the most famous head of the Uchiha clan, the one who brought them to Konohagakure, something that some clan members considered a big mistake. Nevertheless, Sasuke had relatives who bore his name. Izuna’s son was Itachi, who had a son named Fugaku, who was the father of Sasuke and Itachi. This makes Izuna Sasuke’s great-grandfather and he was the most powerful Uchiha in recorded history, which gave the main branch of the clan its claim for leadership. Then, they walked to the village’s monument, where the Hokage gave a short speech about Itachi and his accomplishments, calling him a genius and prodigy that is born once every three hundred years. The Hokage and his entourage left soon after and Sasuke remained alone after most of the clan went away and his parents were invited for tea with the Hokage. Shisui never came today, but Sasuke figured he was on a mission.

 

 Sasuke remained at the cenotaph alone for a while, reading names so unfamiliar to him. The monument held their name and age. Nohara, Namikaze, Aburame, Akimichi, Nara, Hyūga, there were even several Uchiha, particularly someone named Obito, who died violently aged twelve. Sasuke’s fingers brazed the name of the dead boy. He died of war, one of the many victims of village politics. Sasuke looked up at the sky, hoping the rain will swallow him. Today, his status as the heir to the Uchiha clan was cemented, set in the same stone that Itachi’s was carved in. Sasuke leaned his head on the cool stone, letting it soothe his headache. What’s past is past. The crown landed on his head, for better or for worse. When he was a kid, he was angry and jealous and the praise Itachi was constantly receiving from everyone. To top it all off, he was to inherit their father’s position. Now, this was Sasuke’s duty. He kicked a stone and walked away. After the ceremony, Shisui finally found him and they shared sticks of dango over Itachi’s memorial.

 

The Uchiha heir walked back downtown when he was hit by the smell of burning rubbish. If Sasuke had to bet, he’d put his finger on Naruto Uzumaki’s idiotic face. The smell was borderline overwhelming and he felt bad for unassuming Inuzuka who were now probably on the floor because of their sense of smell. He walked pass by several burning rubbish bins and shook his head. Another day, another idiocy. Sasuke walked off to Naruto’s apartment and entered without knocking. His blond teammate was sitting on the table, eating instant ramen and enjoying himself. When he saw Sasuke, he pushed a cup toward him and pointed at a seat.

 

“Hey there, idiot! Here, have some ramen!”

 

“Did you or did you not set rubbish bins on fire in the village?”

 

“Who are you, Sakura?”  Naruto said, narrowing his eyes.

 

“The village stinks, dobe.”

 

“It’s for Iruka-sensei’s birthday, I always do that on his birthday!”

 

Sasuke slapped his forehead and took a seat across Naruto. He miscalculated the need for human presence. Sasuke was very much in need of human interaction, not that he’d admit it to anyone, especially not Naruto.

 

“Do you want some hot water for the ramen or do you eat it dry?”

 

“Who the hell eats dry ramen?”

 

“Me when I need a snack.”

 

Sasuke deadpanned and looked through the window. Naruto noticed something was really off about his teammate, something he couldn’t put a finger on. Naruto crouched down to come closer.

 

“Oi, what’s wrong, Lord Dickhead?”

 

“Nothing!” Sasuke hissed, leaning away. Enough human interaction for today. He was about to leave when Naruto started pestering him.

 

“You can tell me, Sasuke, we’re teammates!”

 

“I have nothing to tell you.”

 

“Then why is your mug sadder than usual?”

 

“No, it is not.”

 

“Yeah, right! Bullshit!”

 

“Stop being so fucking annoying.” Sasuke said through his teeth. Naruto jumped him and they started fighting again until they heard a loud bang on the door. The neighbour yelled to keep quiet.

 

“Let’s go to visit Sakura, she’ll tell you I’m not annoying.” Naruto spat, dragging Sasuke by the arm. Sasuke was screaming at him the entire way to Sakura’s house, until he saw construction workers fixing some damage from what looked like several, concentrated explosions around the walls and compound. Sasuke stopped abruptly but Naruto continued walking and dragged him inside the walls of the Senju clan. The first person they spotted was Weird Uncle Yamato who was overseeing the work of the outer walls. Naruto greeted him.

 

“Oh hi, kids. Sakura is in the library, down there. She should be in the study area.”

 

“Thank you, Uncle Yamato!” Naruto shouted, dragging Sasuke with him. He entered the library and was hit by the scent of black tea. The library was gigantic, with hundreds of shelves filled with books and scrolls of various nature. In the middle was a large table, now filled with several books and scrolls. On top of a pile was a teakettle and an empty cup. Sakura was sitting by the table, writing something. She remained unfazed as her teammates entered the room, walking on eggshells. Then Naruto saw on the wall a picture of the First Hokage and immediately raced to look at it. Sasuke remained awkwardly away from Sakura, who raised her head to look at them.

 

“Oi, it’s nice to see you.” She said, slapping the book closed. “I’ve been doing some research on our late friend Haku. Therefore, while digging through books I found the Yuki clan, a clan that at the time this book was written in the Land of Water. They have a unique kekkei genkai, what you two have experienced. It’s called ice release and it consists of mixing water and wind natures, very similar to the Mokuton. Now, what confuses me here is how Haku was able to use it because I checked records and the Yuki clan is nearly extinct. He might have been the last Yuki, ever.” Sakura mumbled and pulled out a vial with a bloody senbon.

 

“This is Haku’s blood. Nothing outstanding about it, it’s AB positive and he was in good health before, um, we came. My idea is to extract Haku’s DNA and see what it consists of. Also, the ice release they use is quite unique, as it can withstand chakra caused damage. This is why his ice survived your fire but was damaged by a common axe. I basically had Naruto’s dumb luck when I cut through it.” She said, closing her notes.

 

Sasuke and Naruto clapped. “So, this it? Haku was the sole survivor of a clan and we killed him?”

 

“Yeah.” Sakura said, plopping down on her chair. “Shitty, I know. And probably the last user of ice release. I investigated the clans of Kirigakure. The Terumi clan has two unique kekkei genkai, lava release and boil release. However, unlike the Mokuton, it appears in various clan members, albeit, rarely. There is also a clan in Sunagakure who has something called magnet release, which I frankly don’t understand yet. It’s going to take a lot of investigation to tackle all of these unique kekkei genkai but I might be onto something. I’m thinking when I take my medic exam that the paper I submit should be on nature release kekkei genkai.”

 

“Awesome!” Naruto said, pumping his fist.

 

Sasuke just listened carefully. He had nothing to say so he just nodded and watch Sakura take a seat.

 

“Ugh, I need a shower and a long nap. Gods, that was exhausting.” She tapped the book again. “Here it says that not many Yuki clan members had the unique release. Weird.” She cocked her head.

 

“Clans are weird. Do all clans pass a bloodline like that? Naruto asked.

 

“No, for example, in Konoha only the Uchiha and Hyūga have a dōjutsu. Nature release kekkei genkai are somewhat extinct here.” She said, looking over at her great-grandfather. “My mum did research on this too. I mean she was more of a poison expert, but her papers and research helped me here.”

 

“She is awesome!” Naruto concluded, convincing Sakura he was the best teammate ever.

 

“Say, do you two want to stay for dinner?”

 

“Of course.” Naruto said, since he hadn’t had anything but ramen in days. He sat down and slapped a book open. After reading the first two words, he closed it.

 

“This is a book on childbirth.” He gulped.

 

“Yeah, I’m supposed to be studying that, because I’m going to the hospital next week to assist in the maternity ward. Auntie Tsuna and Shizune agree it is my time to learn about obstetricians and gynaecology.” She put the book away. “So, we won’t see each other a lot next week, but you can visit.” She grinned.

 

“Well, Naruto has to keep his loud mouth shut or he’ll wake up the infants.”

 

“I can keep quiet!” Naruto yelled.

 

Sakura just deadpanned. Naruto turned to Sakura to ask. “So, are there birth records in the hospital?” In truth, he had questions about his parents and wanted to find out, first things first, who they were, if they were shinobi and how they actually died.

 

“Yup. Every birth in the hospital is recorded. If you’re born there, that is.” Sakura showed them a large cabinet with several locks and seals. “I was born at the compound, so my birth certificate is here. I suppose it’s the same for you, Sasuke. Naruto, why would you even need birth records?”

 

“I don’t even know what a birth certificate looks like.” He said, scratching his head. “Because I’ve never seen mine.”

 

“What do you mean? Your parents must have signed it when you ever born, otherwise they’d send you to the civilian orphanages.” Sakura said, crossing her arms. “I’m not an expert on shinobi law, but only if your parents were shinobi you can be born at the military hospital and live in the orphanages.”

 

“That’s the problem; I never lived in the orphanage.” He said, still confused. “Old man Sarutobi and Iruka-sensei took care of me when I was a kid and I had a nanny.”

“You said Sarutobi told you your mother was wealthy and left you a nice bank account, right?” Sasuke chimed in. “You could have been born in the shinobi hospital only if she or your father were ninja.”

 

Sakura pulled out a piece of paper. “Tell me your parents’ names and birthdate; I’ll see if I can dig something out.”

 

“I have no idea.” He confessed.

 

“What?” Sakura and Sasuke asked. “Oh, I was born on the day of, ya know, the attack.”

 

Sakura nodded. “October 10th? I’ll check every birth on that day, that year. Are you sure you’ve never seen your birth certificate?”

 

Sakura walked over to the cabinet, pulled out her own, and placed it front of Naruto. He studied the blue piece of paper and nodded. “Yup, never seen it. It has your parents’ names on it. I’ve only seen my registration papers.”

 

Sarutobi was hiding something nasty about Naruto‘s heritage, Sasuke figured. Maybe his parents were rogue ninja or criminals. He studied Sakura’s birth certificate, there was a seal of the Senju clan, confirming her as a member and her parents’ names and signatures. He looked confused.

 

“Your mother’s maiden name isn’t Senju?”

 

Sasuke read the name listed under mother, Midori Senju, nee Nohara. That was no clan and Sasuke was confused how a civilian married a shinobi from the royal family.

 

“No, she was a kunoichi from a wealthy family. You know the Nohara, right?” She said, crossing her arms.

 

“Oh, the rich ones!” Chimed in Naruto.

 

“Yup, they and the Kazamatsuri family run the merchant parts of Konohagakure. My mum was a ninja, a medical one too. She studied under my aunt for a while and that’s how she met my dad.” Sakura chuckled.

 

“That’s actually adorable.” Naruto smiled, giving Sakura her papers back and she tucked them away safely.

 

“Also, sensei left a note that we will be training with Team 10 for a while, until he’s back.”

 

“Alright, let’s beat Ino-Shika-Chō’s asses!” Naruto said, pumping his fist.

 

“He also said not to bother Asuma-sensei too much.” Sakura stated with a deadly tone in her voice. “Kick Shikamaru and Chōji all you want, but if a hair goes missing on Ino’s head, you’re done.” She threatened. Then she remembered that Ino will probably attempt to shove her tongue down Sasuke’s throat and wanted to take back her words.

 

“Eh.” Sasuke said. “As if those punks can touch us.” Sasuke said, rolling his eyes.

They went to the kitchen and Sakura decided to make some tempura, rice and a salad. “Okay, I can’t find any matches for the stove…” She said. Sasuke cracked his knuckles, starting to form hand signs.

 

“Sasuke, no!” She shrieked and he pouted. “Fine.” He cussed, crossing his arms.

 

“I have a bomb tag somewhere.” Naruto said, digging through his pockets. Sakura found the matches and told him to stop. So their cooking fest begun. There was a knock on the kitchen door and Yamato’s head peaked through.

 

“Sakura, dear, I’m taking Mum to the meeting, Master Jiraiya will come to watch the compound.”

 

“Okay, Uncle Yamato. See you soon.” He waved them off and went on his business.

 

“Wait, Granny Tōka is Yamato’s mum?” Naruto asked, scratching his head.

 

“Yup. She’s a village elder, too.”

 

“Oh, cool. I see, she’s an elder because she’s old. Got it.”

 

“Well… Okay.” Sakura said, frying the shrimp. They heard a loud bang at the door and a singsong voice bellow shouted.

 

“Oh, Tsunade, I’m home!”

“She’s not here!” Sakura shouted and was greeted by a groan. Jiraiya entered the kitchen, smelled tempura, and grinned immediately.

 

“Oi!” He said in excitement, sitting by the table between Sasuke and Naruto.

 

“There you are again, old man.” Naruto said, narrowing his eyes.

 

“Kid, I’m here as a bodyguard.” He said, crossing his arms. Naruto spotted a familiar book in his backpack.

 

“Hey, that’s… The porn Kakashi-sensei reads!”

 

“He reads what?” Sasuke shouted.

 

“This is not porn, this is high romance. And I’m the author!” He yelled, slamming his fist on the table. Sakura deadpanned.

 

“These are actually popular books, many people read them!”

 

Sasuke was still recovering from the fact that their jōnin sensei had a penchant for reading pornography in public. Jiraiya just defended his books and placed them on a table.

 

“Why does it say 18+, old man?” Naruto shouted. “You’re a pervert!”

 

“Listen, kid…” He hissed. His face went still for a moment, the memory of the boy’s father and mother nearly suffocated him in his chest. Tsunade might not be here, if she was he’d had to sob in her shoulder because it was painful how much the boy sounded like his mother. She used those same, exact words on him once. Naruto’s arms were crossed and he was giving him an evil glare.

 

“You are acting as if you were raised on a pig farm. Go and help your friend with the cooking.”

 

“Stay away from the stove!” Sakura yelled, raising her frying spoon. The two boys immediately stopped and stayed at their spots. Jiraiya gave out a hearty laugh, being reminded of his own team, back in the day.

 

“You remind me of my old team. Hiruzen-sensei used to say that no one can kill us, but we will inevitably kill each other. Good times!”

 

“Who was in your squad?” Sasuke asked.

 

“Oh, well, Lord Third was our sensei; there was Tsunade, the honourable granddaughter and me.”

 

“And the third guy?” Sasuke asked.

 

“He’s dead.” Jiraiya answered, jaw clenched. “We don’t talk about it.”

 

“You’re lying.” Sasuke said.

 

“Someone needs to teach you Uchiha brats some manners! He’s a criminal, Sasuke, that’s what he is. Cut it out, now.”

 

“Sorry, Pervy Old Man.” Naruto said, rubbing the back of his neck. “We didn’t know.”

 

“They don’t teach you that at the academy, what Tsunade, I and he did?”

 

“No?” Naruto said. “I mean I never listened, but I think no.”

 

“Have you ever heard of the word Sannin?”

 

“Three legendary ninja.” Sasuke said. “I might have heard of you. The most powerful tag team ever, am I right?”

 

“Yes.” Jiraiya said. “That was our war-nickname. We had a “run-on-sight” warning back in the day. Tsunade, Orochimaru and I were good friends outside of being ninja. Yes, his name was Orochimaru. He was a war orphan, just like me. Tsunade rather took us in and we trained with Hiruzen-sensei. We graduated to jōnin at the age of sixteen and we were in all the bingo books. Your aunt had to save our asses all the time because we’d get into stupid fights… I miss those days, you know?”

 

“What changed, I mean what happened to Orochimaru?” Sasuke asked.

 

“He went rogue. Ambition, wrath and revenge are a dangerous and potent drug, kids.” Jiraiya stated, leaning back. “The Sannin are no more.” He stated, closing his eyes. “Don’t ever lose your team, kids. Sakura?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“Do you know of Ino-Shika-Chō?”

 

“The Yamanaka-Nara-Akimichi tag team?”

 

“They lasted sixteen generations. These three clans, the Sarutobi and the Senju stuck together through thick and thin.” He looked up on the framed family pictures above the potted plants in the corner. “Team work is everything.”

 

“Old man, so, if you’re a powerful ninja, can you teach me your secrets?” Naruto asked.

 

“Nope.” He said, digging into the food. “I don’t take in any students.” Jiraiya could not handle another heartbreak.

 

“What if I convince you to take me?” Naruto said.

 

“Kid, if you manage that, I’ll tell Sarutobi to make you Hokage.”

 

“We have a deal!” Naruto said, giving thumbs up.

“You and me, training grounds. But in the morning”

 

“Why the morning?” He said, slamming his hands against the table.

 

“Do you want to wake up the entire Senju clan?”

 

“Okay.” He pouted.

 

“You’re sleeping over tonight, since it’s raining.” Sakura said. “I’ll get you towels and everything, don’t worry.”

 

“Cool.” Sasuke said.

 

“Are we sleeping in your room?” Naruto asked with excitement.

 

“Ew, no!” She hissed. “I’ll get someone to prepare guest rooms for you.”

 

“Smooth.” Jiraiya chuckled. Silence fell over the household and Sasuke felt weird sleeping over at the Senju estate. For some weird reason, the feud was still fresh as it was back in the day. Still, Sakura and her family had been nothing but warm and welcoming to him. He realised he almost forgot about Itachi, feeling his brother’s face hover over him again. Sasuke dreamt of crows on a graveyard that night. He woke up, tired and groggy and dragged himself to the kitchen. The kitchen was spacious, but it suffered from the cluttered syndrome like the rest of the house. There were plants everywhere, little knick-knacks, family pictures hung on the walls with dried, framed plants, every piece of furniture one could sit on had a multitude of pillows on it and there were bookshelves everywhere. Sasuke found it hard to function in a filled space like that; he was used to minimalism and cleanliness. Not that the place was untidy, it just had too much stuff. He walked over to the kitchen, where he saw an excited Naruto doing crunches. Sakura was just sitting on the table, feeding Tonton tomato wedges and humming to herself.

 

“Where is Jiraiya?” He asked.

 

“I ask myself that too.” Tsunade said, barging into the kitchen through the backdoor, carrying a bucket of herbs. Just as summoned, Jiraiya pranced down the hallway, popping his head through the kitchen door and grinning. When he spotted the bucket in Tsunade’s hand, he shrieked.

 

“Tsuna, I hope you’re not cooking.”

 

“Well, I was about to make poison but it seems like I’m doing both for you.”

 

“Aw, you’re cooking for me!” He received a mug in the head.

 

“Auntie, are those from the greenhouse?”

 

“Yes, yes. Go and put them out to dry, I’ll need them later.”

 

“I’m ready for the challenge, old man!” Naruto yelled, jumping on Jiraiya’s back. Tsunade closed her eyes, knowing that there will be some property damage in the future.

 

“Tsuna, can we use the training grounds?” Jiraiya pouted.

 

“If you pay for the damage, then yes.”

 

“We have a deal.”

 

They were on the training fields, Tsunade was seated on a bench bellow a cherry tree, with Sakura next to her. Sasuke picked a branch above them as a preferred spot and watched the circus unfold. Tsunade had a little table in front of her with her favourite green teakettle, which was filled with sake-laced tea. She poured herself a cup and was about to drink when she saw Jiraiya draw a line behind him.

 

“Kid, if you manage to push me past that line, I’ll take you as an apprentice.”

 

Tsunade nearly spilled out the liquid.

 

“Apprentice?” She shouted. Sakura calmed her down and told her to watch. Yamato was standing on the porch of his house and noticed some people gathered on the training grounds. He nearly dropped his morning coffee and raced to see what was going on.

 

“Begin!” Jiraiya announced. Naruto threw several kunai at the Sannin, which he evaded easily, without a flinch. He chuckled and then was taken slightly aback when he saw a rain of shadow clones attack him, nevertheless, all were taken down. Naruto looked angry, cracking his fists. Not today, old man, not today.

 

“I’ll get you old man, wait for me!”

 

Jiraiya chuckled. The kid had sheer, raw potential. He was no prodigy, like his father once was, rather a concentrated ball of energy, just like his mother. He was an uncut diamond. He dodged every attack, clapping and chuckling. They were fighting for nearly an hour now, he wondered if the kid’s chakra reserves were dwindling. He sensed they were not, shaking his head and thanking his late mother for that blessing. Naruto was ready to unleash the beast that was sealed inside of him, when Jiraiya stopped him by his forehead and flew him across the training field. Naruto bounced back, rolled up his sleeves, and raced back. Then Jiraiya performed some weird seals and boom, there was a toad about the size of a dog in the yard. Naruto shrieked at the sight of it and jumped up on a tree branch.

 

“Hello.” The toad said. Now it was time for Sasuke and Sakura to get weirded out.

 

“Eh, we have no need for you, Gamakichi. Go back.”

 

“But why did you wake me up, old man!”

 

“Just beat it!”

 

“Fine!” It disappeared and left Naruto in a state of shock.

 

“What was that?” He yelled.

 

“My summon, Gamakichi.” Jiraiya said simply. “I’ve seen enough kid.”

Naruto frowned. “I lost.” He said.

 

“Yeah, you did. See you on Monday.” Jiraiya said. “After I’m done with research, let’s say around four or five?”

 

“Yeah, sounds awesome... Wait, what? You’re accepting me?”

 

“Yup. You are a legend to be, Naruto, but we have a lot of work. Hatake hasn’t taught you shit, I see. Maybe some taijutsu. Don’t worry kid, I got you!” He said, grabbing Naruto around the shoulders. Naruto gave him enthusiastic thumbs up and Tsunade slapped her forehead.

 

“Now there’s two of them… Jiraiya, if you take him to spy on naked women with you, I’ll break your spine again!” She threatened.

 

“Wait, that’s his research?” Sasuke said, jumped by the words.

 

“Break his spine again?” Sakura said, in shock.

 

Jiraiya raised Naruto up in the air, waving him around. “Tsuna, look, now I have one too!”

 

“Wait until Kakashi-sensei hears this!” Naruto bragged. “We will kick ass on the chūnin exams!”

 

“On the what?” Tsunade said, snapping her cup.

 

“Sensei applied us for the exams.” Naruto announced, still being swung in the air by Jiraiya.

 

“You haven’t been genin for a year. Yamato?”

 

“Yes, Lady Tsunade?”

 

“Is Hatake back in the village?”

 

“No.”

 

“Tell me when he comes back. I need to pay him a visit.”

 

“Oi, old man, remember what you told me about being Hokage?”

 

“I see I miscalculated gravely.”

 

Naruto grinned at him, his smile stinging deeply into Jiraiya’s heart. The boy was beyond excited of having a mentor of sorts, someone to lead him in life. After Team 7, Naruto finally felt accepted somewhere. Jiraiya ruffled his hair. There was raw, unleashed potential in the kid. He’d go hard on him, for sure, but he just might raise Konohagakure’s future. Naruto was smiling all the time, tears gathering in his eyes. Nothing compared to the feeling of being accepted.

 

Kakashi Hatake arrived home for a short shower, food and sleep and then he was supposed to head out in the early morning hours. His flat on the Hatake compound was empty. He avoided the main house like the plague and walked upstairs, creaking the door open. He pulled out a kunai, sensing someone’s presence inside.

 

“That won’t help you with me.” The woman said. Kakashi gulped.

 

“What do I own the pleasure, Lady Tsunade?”

 

“Why did you let Fugaku Uchiha bully you into signing the children up for the chūnin exams?”

 

“Ma, Lady Tsunade. You were never one to mince your words.”

 

“Yes.” She said. “If this does happen again, and it probably will, because we both know it will, you go straight to me. I’ll handle Fugaku.”

 

“Oh really. And how?”

 

“Lord Third is retiring soon. The dynamics in the council will, shift, so to say.”

 

“I see.”

 

“Kakashi, this is beyond village politics and squabbles. This is about safety. You know that Minato and Nawaki were friends. Your friends, too.”

 

“Don’t mention his name, I’m begging you.” Kakashi said, sitting down. “It’s too painful.”

 

“Good. Could you look him in the eye and tell him you put his son in danger because you are afraid of Fugaku Uchiha?”

 

“Tsunade, don’t… You don’t know what it’s like. They’ve been on my neck ever since, you know…” He said, pointing at his covered eye. “I’ll get Anko to watch them during the exam. Nothing bad will happen. I solemnly swear.”

 

Tsunade snorted. “Nawaki is out of the village for a while and were going to have two former enemy villages as our esteemed guest. Oh, also the Kazekage and that tyrant Yagura from Kirigakure. I don’t see how anything could go wrong. The goddamned Kazekage signed up his own kids, one of them is a… Well, we won’t go there. I’ll tell Sarutobi to get Nawaki here and put him on high alert. This smells like a trap, Hatake.”

 

“I thought so too.”

Chapter Text

A Hanafuda deck was spilled across the table, followed by loud laughter and chatting. Asuma was hosting his fellow jōnin in his bachelor pad and they decided to gamble and drink. He already went through a pack of cigarettes for the night. Kurenai was popping sake bottles open, pouring one for her and Anko. Kakashi was covering his already covered face with his cards and then placed his cards on the table.

 

“I win.” He proclaimed. Genma threw his cards on the table, cussing. Chewing on his senbon, he handed Kakashi his wins and sipped some of the rice wine on the table. Anko dug out a bottle of soju and offered it as her loss.

 

“You need to win once, Hatake. I’ve heard the high lords haven’t been treating you nicely.” Genma said, taking a shot of sake. Kakashi puffed.

 

“Ma, Genma, take care of your own shit.”

 

“Your shit happens to be more interesting.” He said. “I’d never believe they’d hand you them as your team. What in Gods’ name was Sarutobi thinking?”

 

“I ask myself that every day.” Kurenai scoffed. The entire table erupted in laughter. Anko just shook her head. Kakashi just threw his head back, snorting. Asuma took the insult with dignity and took out a pack of fresh cigarettes.  

 

“However, I believe with babysitting the vessel of a demon, the heir to the Uchiha and the little princess gets you a hefty pay check.” Asuma said, lighting his umpteenth nicotine stick for the night.

 

“They’re something else, truly. Their team dynamic is interesting. Sakura is very maternal by nature, a know-it-all with a vicious temper, Sasuke is pretending to be stoic and ice cold and Naruto is a loud-mouthed knucklehead. He’s nothing like Minato-sensei. The man was as cool as a cucumber and calculated, while Naruto is, uh, how to put it, bold.”

 

“Ino mentioned that Tsunade trains Sakura in her taijutsu skills.” Asuma said, sipping. “Oh, agreed about Naruto. That is Kushina’s kid, through and through.”

 

“She is doing what?” Kakashi hissed. “The village doesn’t need another super-strong violently tempered kunoichi.” He said, putting his head in his hands. “And Naruto requested an apprenticeship with Master Jiraiya.”

 

“Oh boy.” Asuma said. “Well, that’s good news for you. Less work, so you can focus on your favourite student.”

 

“He is not my favourite student.”

 

“If you had a kid, it would be like Sasuke. Little, cocky asshole with a Sharingan.” Anko said, burping from the strong sake.

 

“Oh, fuck you.” Kakashi said. “Why don’t you join Fugaku to venerate the Uchiha, huh? They could use some more fire up their asses.”

 

“I feel bad for Itachi.” Kurenai stated, shaking her head. “What a tragic loss.”

 

“Yeah, pretty shitty.” Kakashi stated. In his ANBU days, Kakashi served right beside the Uchiha prodigy. The boy was a wonder to behold. Uncomfortable silence filled the room. Everyone knew the little, soft-spoken boy who was taken from this world by the sharp knife of a short life.

 

 “Do your students get crushes on each other? Mine are like, brain dead in that matter.” Kurenai stated. “Hinata is painfully shy; I need to talk with her father about it, while Kiba is obsessed with his dog and the Inuzuka traditions. Then we have Shino…” Kurenai deadpanned. “None of them is particularly social.”

 

Asuma scoffed. “Mine are like, well, Shikamaru is almost always asleep, Chōji is insecure and needs to work on his confidence and Ino has too much of it.”

 

“I see.” Kakashi said, shaking his head. “Naruto has this adorable little crush on Sakura. It’s so cute how worked up he gets.”

 

“Example?”

 

“One time, he convinced Sasuke to come with him and ask me about prolonged genjutsu. I poured my heart out, there. Told them everything I knew. Then, they asked me if there is a way to put someone under a genjutsu that changes their behaviour over certain periods. Now, I asked them why they were interested and then Naruto told me he thinks that Sakura is under a genjutsu. I was terrified, but then I realised one of the Senju would probably notice it, so I asked them why. They said, and I quote “She gets demonic once a month, sensei.” You should have seen my face.”

 

The entire table erupted with laughter. “You got to be kidding me!” Genma shouted, slapping his forehead. Kurenai covered her mouth. “Did you explain it to them?”

 

“Never.” Kakashi said. “Poor Sakura overheard them and went home crying. I expected Tsunade to come down and scream off my head.” Kurenai was shaking her head at this point, impressed by Kakashi’s malpractice as a teacher.

 

“Nee, Genma, Anko, can we get some news for the chūnin exams?” Kakashi asked, counting his money. Anko scoffed and shook her head.

 

“Ibiki Morino would walk in and stab me in the back point blank if I even uttered a word.” She said.

 

“Why are you asking me, Hatake?” Genma said. “Since your closer with Anko, I’d imagine you could get information out more easily.” He said, stirring his cocktail with a senbon needle.

 

“Oh, you want me to fuck you too?” Kakashi said, rolling his eyes. He put the money in his pocket. Anko slapped Genma on the back. “Genma, if you wanted a threesome, you just should have been honest and upfront.”

 

Asuma nearly chocked on his drink. Kurenai started laughing again, wondering if Genma bit off more than he could chew.

 

“No thanks, Anko, I imagine only Kakashi can handle your weird shit.”

 

“Damn straight.” Kakashi said. “Speaking of weird shit, I have a mission tomorrow with the right honourable Lord Senju.”

 

“Ah, good for you. A-rank?”

 

“S-rank.” Kakashi answered. “Water my plants, dear.” Anko brushed his cheek and he chuckled.

 

“We should go, you need to sleep. Nawaki will stab you if you’re late.” Anko said, pulling him up.

 

“I honestly don’t think he would mind.” Asuma said, looking down. “It’s Midori’s anniversary, remember?”

 

“No, Asuma, Midori died in September.” Kurenai corrected him.

 

“Who is Midori?” Kakashi said, shaking his head. He had only met one Midori before, and that was a lifetime ago.

 

“Nawaki’s late wife.” Asuma said. “Ah, you’ve never had the honour of meeting her?”

 

“Impossible.” Kurenai said. “She gave a crash course on poison once you’ve entered ANBU and she was the proctor of the ANBU medical exams. You must have met her, but you didn’t put two and two together because she practised under her maiden name until marriage. And they weren’t married for a long time.” Kurenai said, dancing around the real connection Midori had to Kakashi. He shook his head, memory still hazy.

 

“No, doesn’t ring a bell. I didn’t take poison training.” He confessed. Kurenai gulped, realising he truly wasn’t aware. She nodded and soon, the party ended. Guests started to leave, so she would just crash at Asuma’s flat. Kakashi and Anko left. They really weren’t that couple that was all lovey-dovey huddled up in the streets, but she extended her arm, wrapped it around Kakashi’s and leaned her head on his shoulder. They walked in silence, when Anko muttered.

 

“Will you be away for long?”

 

“Oh, will you miss me?”

 

“I’m asking about your genin, idiot.”

 

“Uh, don’t worry. Asuma and the little clan demons have me covered.”

 

“Got it.” She said, nodding. She swallowed deeply, thinking about a particularly painful topic for her lover. “You seriously have never met Midori?”

 

“Nope. The only noblewoman I’ve met was Kushina, you know. And she wasn’t much of a one, now. Oh, and the lovely Mikoto Uchiha. I wonder how in the world a woman that nice married someone as bitter as Fugaku.”

 

Anko chuckled. “Fugaku was pretty laid back before marriage. He used to buy weapons at my dad’s shop all the time.” She said, looking up in the sky. “Marriage didn’t change him, the Uchiha clan did.”

 

“When Obito died and…” He said, pointing at his eye. “The Uchiha suggested I immigrate in their household and live with them for a while. I refused. They are a cold, cold house. Whenever I go through their district, I feel ice in my bones. I cannot pinpoint why.”

 

“And Sasuke?”

 

“You’re right. He’s a little arrogant bastard like me who thinks he’s better than his teammates. I think the Third put Sakura in the team because only her family tree can counter Sasuke’s.”

 

“True.” They arrived at Kakashi’s place and he went to take a shower, while Anko studied the framed picture of Team 7 on the table. She whistled at how much Naruto looked like his father. When Kakashi came out, blessedly naked, he sat down and cocked his eyebrow.

 

“Studying my kids?”

 

“How will they perform on the exams? What say you?”

 

“I say, if they manage to harness a fraction of their potential, the other teams can pack their bags and call their mothers.”

 

Anko chuckled, taking off her coat. “Now, where were we?”

 

In the crack of the morning, Nawaki Senju stood in front of the gates with his squad. Kakashi practically raced to be on time and he managed, barely. He prayed he wouldn’t receive another scolding by the clan leader, because it was embarrassing how much respect Kakashi gave Nawaki and how much the man deserved. The night of the attack, Nawaki was in Kirigakure on his first term as ambassador and he raced back to the village in a night. He fought for Naruto to receive his mother’s inheritance, which Shimura and some other scavengers planned to “invest” in the village, which Kakashi believed to be utter bullshit; he led the Senju with compassion and strength. In ANBU circles, Nawaki was known as the “The Prince” for his commanding behaviour. If anyone could contain the ANBU, it was Nawaki. Others called him Nawaki the Waterdancer, for his unique fighting style. Kakashi bowed his head and they headed out of the village.

 

“You have probably received a briefing, but this is the usual. Infiltration, interrogation and intelligence. No assassinations.”

 

“So what do you have me for?” Kakashi snorted.

 

In the wee morning hours, Team 10 and Team 7 were on the training grounds, with the later missing one team member. Ino explained to them that Sakura was on her first day in the maternity ward and that they can visit her later. They were waiting for Asuma to arrive, who was on time, unlike Kakashi, which was a nice change for once. Asuma nodded.

 

“Wait, there are supposed to be three of you?” He said, confused.

 

“Sakura will come down in an hour, once she’s done with the babies.” Naruto affirmed. Asuma stopped in his tracks. Babies?

 

“What babies?” He asked, clearly confused.

 

“Oh, she’s busy with, um what do you call when a baby comes out?” Naruto asked, turning to Sasuke, who grunted with annoyance.

 

“She’s working at the maternity ward in the hospital.” Ino said in a dead tone.

 

“Why would she do that?” Chōji asked. “Sounds gross.”

 

“Medical ninja training, I presume.” Asuma stated, clasping his hands together. “Today I want you to practise sparring because the exams are coming up and you will fight one-on-one. So, no slacking. Who wants to go first?”

 

Sasuke stepped forward. This pleased Asuma, because he wanted to see Kakashi’s genius against his own genius. Speaking of which, he was snoring in the corner like the lazy bastard he was. Asuma was ready to bust his little ass up, when Ino Yamanaka stepped forward and gave an elegant sway. Asuma nearly chocked on his cigarette. Just what the fuck was that girl doing? He could just feel Inoichi Yamanaka shaking his head.

 

“I want to fight Sasuke.” She said, with her chin proudly up. Legally speaking, both of them were future clan leaders, albeit of a nice, flower-planting clan that does sometime use brutal interrogation tactics and reads minds and a vicious, bloody clan of skilled illusionists. Asuma was about to step in, but Shikamaru, now awake, stopped him.

 

“I need to see this.” He said, crossing his legs.

 

“But I want to fight too!” Naruto yelled, annoyed at being ignored. Chōji pulled him down and told him to pay attention. Back in their academy days, Sasuke had his fan club that was lead by everyone’s least favourite bully, Ami. Sakura and Ino were Ami’s opponents and they greatly disliked Sasuke for letting the girls behave the way they did. Naruto was of course on the side of Miss Florist and Miss Vicious, but decided to stay out of it. Later, once the bullying ceased a little, Sakura became quite indifferent towards Sasuke, as did Ino. They were polite to one another as clan brats usually were, mostly ignoring each other. Then came something known as group assignments where students were divided into groups of two and were given a topic to research about and present it in front of class.

 

 Naruto remembered his fondly, he was placed with Kiba Inuzuka, they spent the entire afternoon that was dedicated for the assignment playing with the ninken, and annoying the living shit out of Hana Inuzuka, Kiba’s older sister. The two knuckleheads even managed to release a storm of ninken on Asuma Sarutobi, something Naruto hoped Asuma forgot. But then again, Asuma used to babysit him alongside his nephew and Naruto always gave him hell. Anyway, Ino and Sasuke worked together on the topic of swordsmanship and Ino returned with a big, fat, massive crush on Sasuke. Naruto was shocked to find that out, to be frank.

 

 What did the girls see in Sasuke? To Naruto, Sasuke was his mopey teammate. He was a good friend and fighter, as well as a great rival, but a bit fussy and grumpy and the times and terrible at pretending he has no feelings.

 

“Okay, before we begin the sparing, some ground rules. No dirty fighting, no back attacks and hair pulling. We fight with honour.” Asuma stated, hands on his hips. “And no pranks. I’m looking at you, Uzumaki.”

 

“You’re just angry I almost set your hair on fire once.”

 

Asuma took a deep breath. “I feel like that’s a valid reason. Anyway, take of your jackets and begin.”

 

Ino gave her aubergine coloured padded jacket to Chōji, who wrapped it around his shoulders because he was cold. Sasuke threw his dark blue coat on Naruto and turned to Asuma.

 

“Do I have to fight a girl?”

 

Ino cracked her knuckles. Hot or not, Sasuke Uchiha was going to be impressed by her skills. She didn’t bust her ass training all this time for someone to dismiss her like that. No, not today Uchiha, not today.

 

“Begin.” Asuma said.

 

Shikamaru frowned. Ninja courting was weird, especially among the clans. They didn’t just value looks, money or some even personality, shinobi looked for strong mates. His mother, a genius medical ninja, was put through hell and back by the clan elders in order to marry Shikamaru’s dad. Skill and power was important and he figured Ino was smart enough to figure that Sasuke didn’t look just for pretty girls, but for strong girls. He explained this to Naruto and he nodded.

 

“So, that’s why I like Sakura!” He said. Shikamaru winced. Naruto wore his big, soft, goofy heart on his sleeve. He came closer, to ask.

 

“Since when?”

 

“Uh, since we were 10?” He said, tapping his chin. “Yeah, since when we were ten. Ya know, I was pretty jealous of you when you two worked together on your research task. Sakura is special and precious to me.” He affirmed, nodding. Shikamaru was confused.

 

“Have you told her?”

 

“No. And I don’t think I ever will.” He said, sounding a little sad. He was petrified if Sakura just flat-out rejected him and sent him flying across the village. “But you’re right, ninja men like strong ninja women. That’s why Asuma-sensei is dating Kurenai-sensei.”

 

Shikamaru snorted loudly and Asuma turned around, slapping his forehead.

 

“Don’t worry, I haven’t told Old Man Hokage!” Naruto stated while giving him thumbs up. This cemented Naruto’s position in Shikamaru’s bro code list. Naruto was no snitch. He tapped his chest, mouthing, “I got you” to Asuma and he just nodded in approval. Ninja bro code was working. Back to the fight, Ino and Sasuke were engaged in a battle of taijutsu and Sasuke was easily getting the upper hand. Ino was aware she was out of her debt, so she pulled back and watched. She had to tackle Sasuke with ninjutsu. Naruto got bored with the fight. They were just throwing kicks and punches at each other.

 

Asuma studied their forms, they were quite elegant and quick. As expected, Sasuke was more refined than Ino, but she was impressive too. Then Ino took a few steps back and Asuma started sweating. What did he say about using secret forbidden clan techniques on your peers? Of course, those damn kids won’t listen. When Ino formed her hands into the specific sign used only by the Yamanaka clan, Asuma shrieked.

 

“Ino, no!”

 

Sasuke turned on his Sharingan and then all hell broke loose. He barely dodged it, due to the Sharingan and then he remembered the Yamanaka speciality- mind transfer. Shit no, Sasuke did not want to end up switching bodies with Ino. He pushed back, throwing a few shuriken at her and she dodged them with ease.

 

“Why not?” She yelled back. “I’m sure Sasuke can handle it!”

 

“Of course I can!” He answered, Sharingan still glaring. Asuma had no idea how to handle the fucking magic red glowing eye. It looked evil. But, he knew it ate Sasuke’s chakra easily. So, Ino was more likely to use up her stamina, but the Sharingan was a terrifying sight to behold. All Asuma had to do to wait for them to give out due exhaustion. Which did not happen. Sasuke messed up by turning on the wrong side, which gave Ino the opportunity to hit him with a mind transfer. Unfortunately, Ino could not see through the Sharingan and she bounced back to her own body immediately. Sasuke was disturbed for today.

 

“Okay, okay, enough.” Asuma said, stopping the fight. “Ino, we do not use those techniques in casual training. Look at you, you’re drained!” He said, slapping his forehead. “And Sasuke, as magnificent as it is, save your Sharingan. This was supposed to be a spar, not a full-on fight.”

 

Sasuke, who was in a much better state then Ino just shrugged and went back to Naruto. This made Shikamaru dislike the stuck up heir even more.

 

“I think I should take Ino to the hospital. Chakra drainage can be dangerous.” He said, picking her up. Ino just winced.

 

“Great, we can go and visit Sakura!” Naruto said, excited. The two teams were in the ER, while a genin-medical ninja was examining Ino, humming. The lady finished up quickly and pushed a pack of vitamin pills into Ino’s hand.

 

“More nutrients, sweetie. You’re developing. You’re clear to go.”

 

“Hey lady, where do the babies come from?” Naruto asked, causing the entire unit to shriek.

 

“Excuse me?” She gasped.

 

“In the hospital, if you get me?” He asked.

 

“He means where the maternity ward is.” Sasuke said, shaking his head. The nurse chuckled and turned to Naruto. Sasuke was baffled by Naruto’s sheer skills to take words and make them really uncomfortable.

 

“Third floor, left wing. It has a sign but you must be quiet. I assume you have a friend there.”

 

“Mhm, she’s working there.” Naruto said, waving at the group. Asuma knew there was no way of stopping Naruto once he was convinced of doing something. They climbed the stairs and reached the doors of the department for gynaecology and obstetricians when they noticed a girl in white carrying a bundle, with pink hair sticking out of her cap. Naruto paced towards her with a big grin and she stopped in her tracks. He was about to shout her name, but Sakura put her hand on his mouth.

 

“The baby here is sleeping, Naruto.” She whispered. Then she noticed her friends and waved at them. Ino ran to hug her, but she only pressed a kiss on Sakura’s cheek, while observing the newly born baby.

 

“Oh, look! How cute!” She whispered. Naruto leaned over with a big grin. He adored babies, but he rarely got to see them up close and personal. They were adorable and had fat cheeks, but this one looked angry red and it had wrinkles. Confused, he looked at the baby, hoping it’s not sick. Old man Sarutobi mentioned many times what a resilient and strong baby Naruto had been, so he was wondering if he could somehow assist Sakura with this tiny little thing. The baby yawned and Naruto cooed.

 

“He’s an hour old.” Sakura explained. “I’ve just brought him back from his first shot. His parents decided to name him Hayao.” The baby was still asleep, leaning on Sakura’s chest. Shikamaru stared it and was confused why it was so bright red and wrinkly.

 

“Sakura, is the baby okay?” Sasuke asked. “Why is it so red?”

 

“Babies get an adrenaline kick when they’re supposed to be born; this fellow has put up a struggle to come out. It’s not easy to give birth, nor is it easy to be born.” She explained, rocking the tiny one. “That’s why they look like they’ve punched someone in the face.” She explained. Chōji came closer now.

 

“He’ll get cuter once he gets chubbier.” He said, staring at the baby.

 

“I’ll some back once he’s with his mum.” Sakura said, leaving down the hallway. She was back soon, now in her regular clothes.

 

“Let’s go, then.” She announced, fidgeting with the tie of her forest green coat. “How was training, by the way?”

 

“Ino almost got chakra exhaustion because of Sasuke.” Naruto blabbered and Sakura turned around and grabbed Sasuke.

 

“What did you do?” She screeched.

 

“Oi, calm down!” Naruto said, grabbing her by the shoulders. Ino pulled her away.

 

“It’s okay, Sakura. I was dumb enough to use a jutsu that uses up nearly all of my chakra.”

 

She let Sasuke go and he shot her a mean glare. “We’re supposed to be teammates, Sakura.”

 

“But Ino is my best friend. And she’s blood.”

 

Sasuke nearly chocked on the thought of Ino being related to the clan of thousand skills. If Ino had Senju blood, this should mean she has much bigger chakra storages and should be able to withstand a fight against an Uchiha. As much as the Senju were hated among the ranks of his family, they were respected for their skill.

 

“Naruto, remember my grandmother?” Sakura said.

 

“Ah yes, Granny’s mum! She was so pretty, with her nice blonde hair.”

 

“Yup, Grandmother Yue. Her birth name was Yue Yamanaka. Ino and I are third cousins. Or fourth?” Sakura said, turning to Ino, still confused.

 

“I think second.” Ino said. Sasuke was now all ears. The Senju main branch and the Yamanaka clan were related by blood. This was interesting information, because the Uchiha picked wives among their own ranks or from weaker surrounding clans. This was new, confusing information. Was Sakura related to any other significant clans?

 

“You know, I really missed your house, Sakura.” Ino said, swinging an arm over Sakura’s shoulders and another over Naruto’s, nearly startling him. He wasn’t used to such interactions with Ino. They didn’t really see eye to eye back in the day, but it was nice receiving such acceptance and camaraderie from someone who he was convinced hated him.

 

“You’re all invited to dinner tonight.” Sakura said, turning to Team 10.

 

“Awesome!” Naruto said. “After I’m done with the Pervy Old Man, I’ll be right there!”

 

“Who…” Asuma asked.

 

“Master Jiraiya.” Sakura answered in a flat voice. Asuma chocked and waved the kids off, going I his own direction, remembering “Pervy Old Man” used to babysit him.

 

“Our first lesson of the day is fūinjutsu.” Jiraiya announced dramatically. Naruto just deadpanned.

 

“Just what in sweet Hokage names is that?” He asked, shaking his head. Jiraiya’s face went blank.

 

“Hasn’t Hatake taught you anything?”

 

“Uh, I did learn some taijutsu and some useful curse words. My favourite is c…” Jiraiya put a hand over his mouth, shaking his head in disapproval. There was a lot of work in his bowl of ramen today. He pulled out a ridiculously big sealing scroll and stretched it across the lawn he was teaching Naruto on, pointing at the writings on it.

 

“Fūinjutsu (are a type of jutsu that seal objects, living beings, chakra, along with a wide variety of other things within another object. Fūinjutsu can also be used to restrict movement or unseal objects from within something or someone. Now, do you know who invented this?” Naruto’s confused look was all Jiraiya needed. ”I’m guessing no.”

 

“Don’t keep me in suspense, old man!”

 

“The shinobi from Uzushiogakure in the Land of Whirlpools were specialists in the art of fūinjutsu, to the point that their nation was eventually destroyed due to the fear others had of these techniques. It was one of the greatest war crimes in shinobi history. Wiped out. But, few survivors made it out and came to their sister village, alongside a certain clan. The clan members settled down, but unfortunately, they died out but their techniques were preserved and passed down to me.”

 

“Who taught you fūinjutsu, old man?” Naruto pressed.

 

“Lady Tōka, I imagine you have met her.”

 

“Oh, Weird Uncle Yamato’s mum! Got it.”

 

Jiraiya chuckled at the nicknames. He showed Naruto the basics and after several hours of practise, Jiraiya was convinced he had a prodigy at his hands. The kid was clever at picking the nicks and tricks up, something Jiraiya attributed to his street smarts. The kid showed him his first seal, loud and proud. Jiraiya saw a few twitches there and there, but otherwise, it was an excellent seal. The kid seemed to have picked up his mother’s penchant for the fine art of sealing.

 

“Kid, would you be interested in a summoning contract?” He offered, eyeing Naruto. He nodded in excitement.

 

“But after you master the fifty basic seals and are able to seal away an elemental jutsu.”

 

“I hate you.” Naruto answered and Jiraiya chuckled.

 

“You remind me of your mum.”

 

“You knew my mum?” He yelped. Bad choice of words, Jiraiya. He cussed at himself and nodded.

 

“Yes, somewhat. I’ll tell you about it another time.”

 

“Promise?”

 

“With all my heart.”

 

After work, Naruto and Jiraiya walked back to his flat, which was by the Red Light district. Jiraiya was confused when they passed some of the ahem, houses and Naruto waved at the girls in front, and to his surprise, they waved back. One of them, a tall busty one with dark hair leaned over the fence of her balcony.

 

“Naruto, sweetie? I baked some sweets today; I left them in front of your apartment!” She announced.

 

“Ah thank you, Miss Miku! You’re very nice!”

 

“You know them?” Jiraiya yelped, wondering how in the world Naruto was friends with prostitutes. They seemed to take a liking to him, pinching his cheeks and showing sweets into his hands.

 

“Ah, they’re the best neighbours.” He said. “When I ran away from Asuma or Old Man Sarutobi, I’d hang out with them. They’re the coolest.”

 

“And do you know what do they do for a living?”

 

“Uh yes! Miku told me she hugs people for money. Isn’t that cool?”

 

Jiraiya’s face just went blank.

 

In the evening, Shikamaru and Chōji reached the Senju estate and entered the main house. Ino and Naruto were already there, racing around the house with Tonton the pig. The piggy greeted the new guests and they were left stunned. The Senju household never ceased to amaze Shikamaru, because one can either expect a serious debate about the fairness of the shinobi and civilian relationships or a pig with a fancy necklace being chased around the house by Sakura and Shizune. Soon after them, Sasuke arrived and they all gathered in a living room where Sakura served some mochi and tea. They all gathered in a circle around the coffee table while Ino secretly fed Tonton some of the treats.

 

“So, dinner is cooking and I cannot wait to eat. Before that, Naruto!” She said. He snapped his head to Sakura and she gave him the news. “Lady Tōka wanted a word with you.”

 

“Ah no! I must have pissed her off, somehow!” He yelped, holding his head. Tōka was a village elder and sat on the Hokage council, a serious woman. Naruto went through all stages of anxiety until Shikamaru told him to snap out of it. Then they saw Yamato approach them and call Naruto to something called the Red chamber. Naruto understood why it was called that. The entire room was covered in red and yellow wallpaper with various seals framed and displayed on the walls. There was a desk, a small couch and several large chairs, made out of red velour. Thick carpets with flower embroidery covered the floor. But what drew his attention the most was the framed portrait in the background. On the portrait was a proud looking woman, with red hair and a purple diamond on her forehead. She was clad all in white, with a golden headpiece covering her head. On one of the chairs sat Lady Tōka, face stern. Her back was turned to the wall and she didn’t turn around until Naruto approached her.

 

“Do, sit down, Naruto.” She said. In her lap were several scrolls, which looked like the ones stocked on the shelves and cupboards in the room. He gulped, looking at Yamato. The older man gave him thumbs up and sat down on the armchair of Naruto’s seat. He felt an urge to straighten his back when he was talking to the elderly woman.

 

“Now, Naruto. Jiraiya has told me of your lesson in fūinjutsu and told me you happen to have an aptitude for it.”

 

He nodded, still in panic. Tōka placed some of the scrolls on the table. That was when Yamato noticed Sasuke Uchiha peering at the door. He grabbed a kunai, swung it directly besides Sasuke’s ear, and showed him to go away. The little curious bastard could just have gotten himself whacked. He was aware that his mother happened to share a disdain for the Uchiha with her late father, the Second Hokage.

 

“Yamato? What was that?” She said, shaking her head.

 

“I saw a rat!” He shrieked.

 

“And you threw a knife at it?” Tōka said, slapping her forehead.

 

“I saw the rat too!” Naruto said. Yamato got up and entered the hallway, where Sasuke was hiding. He summoned his scariest face and told him to shoo away.

 

“Anyway. Do you know who this is?” She said, pointing at the portrait behind them.

 

“Nope.”

 

“This is Lady Mito. The wife of the First Hokage and my great friend, favourite aunt and the greatest teacher I have ever had the pleasure of being acquainted to, and probably one of the most powerful kunoichi to have ever lived. Aunts are very important people, Naruto. This aunt passed on me her secrets. You see, Mito’s maiden name, one she used even after marriage was Uzumaki.”

 

“Uzumaki?!” He shrieked, processing the information.

 

“Yes. Lady Mito came from the village of Uzushiogakure, the only child of Lord Arashina Uzumaki, to marry the First Hokage. She is considered as one of the founders of Konohagakure. Due her proves and skill, she wrote down all her knowledge. Since you are by blood a descendant of the Uzumaki clan, I hereby give you access to her work and what she salvaged from the ruins of her homeland. You, my dear, just might be the last living Uzumaki.”

 

Naruto just went deadly silent. For the first time in his life, he found out that he came from a clan. He, someone who had no idea what happened to his parents and didn’t even know their names, just might be the last member of a legendary clan. Boy, he will rub this shit into Sasuke’s face so hard.

 

“I imagine you have questions. You are a descendant of Kushina Uzumaki.” She explained. “She was your mother and due her right, you bear the Uzumaki name and I someday I hope, their skills.”

 

Naruto nodded. It was just a lot to take in, because for the first time in his life, he was a part of history. He thanked Tōka and returned quietly to the dinner table. At the table, he broke everyone the news and they were quite surprised. Everyone’s jaws hit the floor, but Tsunade just nodded and poured herself some more sake. She recalled her elegant grandmother, always dressed in pristine kimonos, throwing frying pans in her grandfather’s, father’s or great uncle’s direction, all with a perfect hairstyle. She was a true lady, but boy did she have a temper.

 

“My brother always claims how Sakura and I have the “Uzumaki” temper, whatever that means.” Tsunade said, shrugging. “But when I remember my grandmother, she was a vicious bitch, I give her that and the bitch apples didn’t happen to land far from the bitch tree.” Tsunade said, pointing at herself and Sakura.

 

“I had no idea that great-grandmother Mito wasn’t from around!” Sakura said. Finally, the swirling pattern on her grave made sense. She wanted to hit herself for never noticing. She decided to crack down and research the history of Mito’s birthplace for Naruto.

 

“She had red hair, right?” Sakura asked, remembering her portrait.

 

“And she lived like a turtle. Died at the age of 91. Lived long enough to see her grandson marry.”

 

“Damn.” Naruto said. “Are all Uzumaki like that?”

 

“The Uzumaki have a unique life force, you see. Uzumaki naturally possess incredibly strong life-forces. As such, they have very long lifespans and likewise age slower. My grandmother was two years older than my grandfather was and looked much younger than him in her old age. This also enables them to survive and endure much more severe injuries while likewise able to recover from injuries and exhaustion with much greater efficiency in short periods. I myself, as well as my brother and niece, bear some of that life force.” She explained. Sakura was stunned. It made perfect sense, why her chakra reserves were excellent or why she never caught a cold. She imagined the life force must be stronger in Naruto, due his closer relation.

 

Later that evening, Naruto and Sasuke were returning from the Senju estate. Sasuke was quiet after he heard the news, without showing any interest or compassion. It just sounded like Naruto’s dumb luck that he’d be blessed with a heritage of an entire hidden village and a clan that participated with the founding of Konohagakure.

 

“You know what this means, right?” He said.

 

“No?” Naruto answered.

 

“You just might be related to your crush.”

Chapter Text

Genma Shiranui was hiding in a tree, next to Shisui Uchiha. The two men were watching over the new arrivals in Konohagakure, in honour of the Chūnin exams. Genma counted the numbers. Kirigakure had the least candidates, to no one’s fucking surprise. He was just glad they could scrap up that much livestock and send them over for the exams. Then he saw the Sunagakure envoy, the one that belonged to the Kazekage himself. Several members of the Uchiha police force, along with their leader, Lord Fugaku, were in front of the gates, to greet the Kazekage and escort him and his family into the their designated residences. The civilians in Konoha were unsettled by the presence of such high rate of shinobi, especially considering there were some terrifying looking ones. Then there genin from Kusagakure and Otogakure, along with some wayward ones from Amegakure. Overall, this year seemed interesting.

 

“Hawk, the Lord is with the target.” Shisui said into his microphone. Fugaku and the Fourth Kazekage started moving down the street, followed by three children. Shisui could sense the discomfort of his fellow police officers around the last kid in the middle. The kid, a boy about thirteen or twelve, was a tall, lean kid with a mop of spiky crimson hair. Shisui narrowed his eyes and tapped Genma on the shoulder.

 

“Shiranui, do you know who that is?”

 

“The Fourth Kazekage, idiot.”

 

“I mean the kid behind him, the one with red hair.”

 

Genma had a weird gut feeling immediately. There was something fucking off about this kid. He turned to Shisui and signaled him to turn on his Sharingan. He was surprised he got nothing, but the evil looking kid had near bottomless chakra reserves. To get even weirder, the kid was carrying something that looked like a gourd made out of baked clay. The envoy turned around the corner, causing the little tag team to lose them out of sight.

 

“Hawk here, can you hear me, Raven?”

 

“All clear.”

 

“Change positions. Hokage Tower, four o’clock.”

 

“Got it, Hawk.”

 

Shisui of the Body Flicker did his thing and went away. Genma jumped over the branches and went to alert the Third Hokage that his Suna counterpart was in the village.

 

In the Senju household, Sakura just woke up and groaned. Her entire body was hurting from the rigorous training she was put under. For the entirety of winter and early spring, her life consisted of training and hospital shifts. She pulled on a pair of wide shorts, a tank top and some sandals. She dragged her tired legs down the stairs, nearly tripping over the stairs. She pulled out a random ribbon out of the pile of fabric in the basket on the table. Tsunade and Shizune were in the kitchen, the former crushing some plants in a stone bowl. Sakura greeted them and plopped her head down on the table.

 

Shizune chuckled and brushed her hair up in a bun, with Sakura handing her a ribbon. Tsunade chuckled at the sight and placed a mug of strong black tea in front of Sakura.

 

“When you return to the land of the living, I have an important task for you. I’m out of deer antlers, so I need you to go to the Nara clan and ask Shikaku for some antlers.”

 

Sakura nodded, yawning. “Do I have to?”

 

“Yes, you insolent brat. Look at you, you look limp and tired.”

 

“You’re killing me, Auntie!” Sakura moaned, throwing herself back on the chair. “Every bone hurts in my body.” She said, stretching her legs. She’s been growing lately, a lot even. Sakura shuddered, thinking she’d end up as tall as her father. Shizune pressed her shoulders and poked her nose.

 

“Also, I need you to drop by the hospital and gather my reports for the Hokage.” Shizune said. Sakura just nodded in compliance, she wasn’t in the mood for messing with her family.

 

After some light breakfast, she pulled on one of her aunt’s coats, a green one with the gamble symbol on its back and grabbed a basket. She started walking to the Nara clan compound, repeating the names of arm muscles in her mind. The Nara were their neighbors of sorts, since it wasn’t a long walk. On the front porch of the Nara house, Shikaku Nara was sitting with his wife and some guest. A soft breeze danced around the idyllic setting.

 

Sakura approached then and bowed deeply, just as she was taught. Lord Shikaku and his wife returned the bow and greeted her.

 

“Ah hello, Sakura. What do I own the pleasure?” The head of the clan asked, stirring his tea.

 

“Do you want to sit down for some tea, dear?” Yoshino Nara asked, offering her a seat.

 

“I’m afraid I must decline, Lord Nara.” She put on her best I’m-dealing-with-clan-heads-but-I’m-a-kid smile and asked. “My aunt is in need of some deer antlers, do you have some?”

 

“Why of course, it’s spring. They have lost their antlers, by now. You can go into the forest and take as many as you need. Wait. Shikamaru!” He shouted in the door. No one answered. Yoshino Nara got up, clearly annoyed by her son’s oversleeping. To be fair, it was nearly noon and there was no Shikamaru. She came out with her sleepy son in tow. Sakura chuckled, staring at the olive green pants and black tank top Shikamaru was wearing, which were undoubtedly his sleeping clothes.

 

“Morning.” He greeted, giving an undignified yawn. Sakura was on the verge of falling down on the ground and laughing. Yoshino Nara shot a glare and he straightened his back.

 

“Shikamaru, Sakura needs some deer antlers. Accompany her to the forest.” Sakura could see Shikamaru wanting to scream and fall down on the hard floor. He just complied and pulled on a pair of shoes and waved at her to follow him in the house. She poked at his waist and he flinched. Yoshino Nara chuckled. Her guest turned her head towards the two freshly baked teenagers walking into the house.

 

“Who is that?”

 

“Sakura.” Yoshino said, eyeing the girl. “Nawaki’s Sakura.”

 

The woman raised her eyebrows. “Never too early to look for an esteemed daughter-in-law, Yoshino?”

 

“You would know.”

 

“I imagine you must be annoyed.” Sakura said, taking off Tsunade’s jacket and handing it to Shikamaru who threw it into his room. His hair was untied so he grabbed a tie and pulled it away from his face. Sakura leaned on the doorway.

 

“I literally slept only for like, 10 hours.”

 

“Shikamaru, that’s a borderline coma.”

 

“Sounds festive.”

 

He signaled her to go to the backdoor and soon they were in the Nara forest. They walked for about half an hour in, chatting about the upcoming exams. Sakura noticed something that resembled antlers, but was disappointed when she realised it was just some branches. Shikamaru poked at her.

 

“Eh, you can’t be always right.”

 

“Shikamaru, if I don’t find deer antlers by the end of the day, my aunt will make us both scrub the hospital floors.”

 

“Fine, I’ll help you.”

 

They roamed the lands but were left disappointment. Then Sakura saw a heard by the lake, enjoying their morning water and grass. She shook Shikamaru’s shoulder. He just smiled. In his thirteen years, they never ceased to amaze him. All of them were unique and powerful. The stag, the leader of the herd, eyed Sakura, but seeing that she was accompanied by a Nara, he moved back and let her enjoy her stay. Sakura looked at the deep, inky eyes of the Nara animal. She couldn’t help but notice how alike the stag eyes were with Shikamaru’s, deep and inky, hiding every secret between the shadows. It was an honour even to be walking on the sacred Nara lands, but the chakra the trees held was the same one throughout Konohagakure.

 

“Oi, look how beautiful they are!” She said. The deer were gathered around a particular doe, who was laying down in the shadow of a tree. Sakura approached, with Shikamaru’s hand on her shoulder. He knew they could get buck wild and attack strangers. She knelt down and her eyes went wide.

 

“She’s giving birth.”

 

“Oh boy. Why don’t we let nature run her course?”

 

“Because the baby looks stuck.” Sakura dropped her basket and raced to the doe’s side. Shikamaru winced as Sakura turned the baby inside of the mother and watched in pure horror and awe as his classmate pulled the baby out. He helped her by telling the others around to move as Sakura gently placed the newborn fawn by its mother’s legs. The doe started licking the fawn’s head and it opened its tiny dark eyes. Sakura smiled and leaned back. Her thighs and knees were covered in blood, but she didn’t mind. The new doula washed her hands in the lake and was excited when she spotted a pair of antlers by the shore. She gathered them and Shikamaru was staring at her, shaking his head.

 

“That was mad brilliant. And scary.”

 

“Let’s go.” She said. They walked back to the Nara household, where Yoshino nearly screamed when she saw them covered in blood. They explained what happened and Shikaku Nara whistled when they told them.

 

“Well, thank you, Sakura.” He said. “If you need anything, let us know.” Unbeknownst to Sakura, once you help a deer on Nara territory, you are forever welcome at their table. The last person to do so was her great-grandfather, who brought the Nara clan to the village.

 

“Thank you, Lord Shikaku.” She affirmed, bowing her head. “I’ll be on my way, then.” She said, pulling Tsunade’s jacket back on, thinking how annoyed she will be with the bloodstains. After she left the hospital, she noticed the Uchiha police racing around the perimeters and shouting commands. Her heart immediately sank to her feet, considering there are important politicians in the village; she prayed it wasn’t an assassination attempt or something. Sakura looked up, saw the freshly painted Hokage monument, and just deadpanned. There were offensive texts everywhere, Naruto-shaped prints over the Fourth’s face, the words “giant forehead” written over Hashirama Senju’s face, then something that looked suspiciously like male genitalia placed on the Third… Sakura closed her eyes, reminding herself to knock Naruto in the head for this insolence. She was about to turn the corner when she saw the before mentioned pest hiding in the bushes, covered in paint.

 

“Pst, Sakura! Come here!”

 

“You idiot!” She hissed. She jumped next to him and grabbed his collar. He was dressed in a striped blue and minty green shirt and bright orange pants but his face and limbs were covered in paint. The shirt looked new and fresh, so she figured he must have changed. Since it looked a few sizes too large on him, she figured he stole it from some unassuming civilians who were unlucky to hang their laundry on the day Naruto decided to be a pest. She wondered how in the world the Uchiha missed him.

 

“We need to hide you or Lord Third will throw you in jail.”

 

“On what charges?” He challenged.

 

“Vandalism.” A voice above them said. Sakura swallowed and looked up. There was Shisui Uchiha, looking down in disapproval, all-pristine in his nice uniform, followed by an equally annoyed Sasuke. Shisui grabbed their shoulders and flickered them to the side of the street.

 

“Kids, now listen. I’m going to put a genjutsu so Naruto and Sakura look like tiny Uchiha’s. Got it?”

 

“Ew, I don’t want to look like Sasuke!” Naruto squirmed. Sakura knocked him on the head.

 

“He’s trying to help!”

 

“Is it always like this?” Shisui asked, shaking his head.

 

“Yup.” They said. After Shisui smuggled them inside of his flat, Sasuke manhandled Naruto in the bathroom so he can wash off the paint. Shisui threw his sword on the table, staring at Sasuke.

 

“I cannot believe you convinced me to actually break a fucking law.” He said to Sasuke. He just looked away and stared at Sakura’s legs.

 

“Sakura, mind telling me why you’re covered in blood?”

 

“Because I delivered a fawn today.”

 

Sakura was stored somewhere between “Sasuke’s friends” and “people I really shouldn’t piss off” in Shisui’s book, but today he added “forest witch” to her file and “doula to nature”. Sasuke just looked dead confused, opening and closing his mouth in pure disbelief.

 

“Uh, do you want to wash up?” Shisui said.

 

“No one in the right mind wants to use a bathroom after Naruto.” Sakura answered and Shisui yelped. There was water splattering everywhere inside and he cursed himself for letting those damned kids pull him into their stupid plans.

 

“I have to bring these antlers to my aunt.” She said, pointing at her basket. “So, I’m leaving you to handle Naruto.”

 

“Nuh-uh.” Sasuke said, crossing his arms. “He’s your teammate too.”

 

“I hate you.” She said, narrowing her eyes. “Fine, but we’re taking the written test tomorrow, remember?”

 

“Oh boy.” He said. “Okay, let’s get Naruto, drag him to his place under a cover, then return home and tomorrow ace the exam. And by ace, I mean I will copy with my Sharingan whatever you write and I’ll get Naruto my answers.”

 

“I still hate you.” She affirmed, nodding. Shisui just snickered. “I remember my exams. I got into two fight before the written test. Ah, those were the days…”

 

“Shisui, we don’t have any time for your reminiscing!” Sasuke said, grabbing Naruto who just came out of the bathroom. Shisui pulled over a hoodie over Naruto, putting the cap in his head. Sasuke and Sakura left with him through the back door, dragging him downstairs. Unfortunately, the streets were full so they had to navigate around various obstacles in the forms of the Uchiha police force, the Hokage guards, the guest shinobi and some random street animals. Naruto just watched in horror. Sasuke risked his ass and Shisui’s career to save him from the Hokage’s wrath and Sakura just tagged along. They were truly a family now, teammates. They walked the streets holding hands. Sakura was still covered in blood, with a basket full of deer antlers and hospital reports and Sasuke just gave him annoyed glances.

 

No matter how angry they looked, Naruto knew he had friends for life and their bond was for forever and ever. He felt tears welling up. He thought of Shisui, Granny Tsunade, Old Man Jiraiya, the dinner table at the Senju household, Shizune yelling at Tonton to get off the carpet, Granny Tōka telling him that he was a puzzle piece in a bigger picture, then weird Uncle Yamato and his angry stares… He thought of Kakashi-sensei and his perverted penchant for pornography and of Lord Nawaki and his sage advice. He felt like he was home. Smiling, he was about to tell Sasuke and Sakura how much he loved them, when his little demon-vessel senses started tingling. He looked up from his daze and realized Sasuke, Sakura dragged him downtown, too far from his apartment, and they were facing three mean looking kids.

 

The first thing about them that irked him is that they looked stinking rich. The girl, who looked the oldest had sandy blonde hair and teal eyes, was dressed in fancy lilac clothing and sported something that looked like a giant fan on her back. Ditto, giant fan girl in some weird fishnets was eyeing them with dangerous curiosity. On the left was something that Naruto would describe as an overweight bat. He looked fucking ridiculous, with plum coloured face paint and an ugly hat with pointy ears. He was sporting a weird, bandage backpack and whistling. But behind them was the weirdest kid Naruto has ever seen. He was tall and lean, with sharp, aristocratic features and a scowl that would make even the Uchiha piss their panties and run to their mummies. He had blood coloured, crimson hair and teal eyes, which were rimmed with dark circles. Oh, to make him ever meaner, he had a kanji tattoo above his left eye. Naruto narrowed his eyes, read that it means “love”, and just snorted. Was this dude in a gang and were those his gang-buddies? He sported a strange, ceramic gourd on his back, signifying him as “weird with murderous intents” in Naruto’s book. Then he noticed the dude was lacking eyebrows and without missing a beat asked.

 

“The fuck are his eyebrows?”

 

The two teenagers looked horrified while the red-haired boy looked absolutely murderous. Sakura gulped, recognising their allegiance to Sunagakure. She bowed immediately and spoke up.

 

“My apologies, Sunagakure shinobi. He had no intention of harming or offending you.”

 

The girl stepped forward too, nodding. Her movements were shaky, voice petrified in fear.

 

“It’s alright.” She said, gulping. “I’m Temari.” She introduced, bowing back to Sakura.

“And you are?”

 

“Senju Sakura. I understand Sunagakure doesn’t use last names?”

 

“Yes!” Temari affirmed, a little too enthusiastic. The grim looking red head was still shooting daggers at them with his eyes, while the batman was eyeing Sakura’s bloody legs. Sasuke snorted, turning his head to check if any of his family members were on their coattail. Then evil-looking kid spoke up.

 

“You’re Sasuke Uchiha, aren’t you?” He said.

 

“And I’m Naruto!” He finally shouted. Sakura wanted to slam him into the ground for maximum damage. The red head responded well, to his credit.

 

“Don’t care.”

 

“And what about it?” Sasuke asked, toying with a kunai. Sakura now wanted to slap him into the building if he would pick a fight with some Sunagakure genin.

 

“Nothing, I’ve never encountered an Uchiha.” He said, shrugging. His face sported a scornful snarl. “What can those eyes of yours do?”

 

“You’ll see if you make it to the exams.” Yup, that was a threat in Sakura’s book. She grabbed her boys by the shoulders, apologised again and berated both of them for nearly starting a diplomatic incident in the streets of Konohagakure before the exams even begun. They dropped Naruto at his place and Sakura raced home to get the antlers to Tsunade before all hell breaks loose. Naruto opened his door and smelled tobacco. He threw Shisui’s hoodie on the floor.

 

“Aw, I said no smoking in the house, old man!”

 

At his lunch table, the Third Hokage and Lord Fugaku Uchiha were sitting and patiently waiting for him. The Hokage puffed out a cloud of smoke, turning to Fugaku.

 

“You are truly right that patience and stealth are the greatest virtue of shinobi, Fugaku.”

 

He puffed out another smoky cloud and snapped his head in Naruto’s direction. His eyes went wide and he gulped as he received a loud berating by both men for causing conundrum, ruckus and giving them the indignity of having to explain foreign dignitaries why in Gods’ name the most famous monument in their village looked like a debauched street. Naruto just opened his window and put on his ramen water to heat.

 

“It’s was my way of saying welcome!” He said.

 

“And just how did you manage to evade the police force?” The Hokage asked, groaning.

 

“I imagine he must have had some help from the inside. I’ll have a word with Sasuke once I’m home.”

 

Naruto felt ice in his veins. He was no snitch and Sasuke was his best friend who just saved his sorry ass today.

“Sasuke had nothing to do with this! Please don’t punish him!”

 

“I won’t punish him.” Fugaku said. “Maybe ground him or something, or make him paint a fence or something, I won’t put him in prison.”

 

“No, no! He doesn’t deserve to go to jail or paint a fence! He’s awesome!” Naruto shrieked, jumping the Hokage. ”Convince him, gramps!”

 

Sarutobi put down Naruto and chuckled. “Alright. So, you’re saying Sasuke had nothing to do with this?”

 

“I solemnly swear!” Snitches end up in ditches and the Uchiha are bitches.

 

“Very well.” He said. “Fugaku, let’s go. Oh, and Naruto, you have a monument to clean.”

 

“Aw, fuck!” He said, throwing his uncooked ramen on the table. He smiled, thinking of Sasuke and Sakura and how they put themselves out to save him. Naruto loved them, with all his little, demon-infested heart. They were awesome friends and he was ready to fight with them and for them. Maybe he could even convince them to be his advisors once he becomes Hokage. Maybe he could marry Sakura once he grows up, like Hashirama married Mito, and finally have a place in her family he loved so very much. Sasuke would be his best man and friend and together, they’d bring peace to the village. Sasuke would lead the police, Sakura the medics and together, they’d be unstoppable. There it was, his dream, right in front him. Perfect. He snapped out his daydream once the water was cooked.

 

Sakura arrived at her house and was greeted by a sleepy Tonton. Shizune screeched when she saw blood on Sakura’s legs and asked her what was wrong.

 

“Nothing, just help a doe with birth. I did the old turn and pull trick you taught me.”

 

“I’m very proud. Did you get the antlers and reports?”

 

“Yup. Did you hear Naruto committed an act of vandalism again?”

 

“Yes, I got quite an earful from Tsunade-sensei.” She sighed. “They’re at the tower, having a meeting. Oh, and Lord Nawaki is back in the village.”

 

Sakura shrieked with happiness and hugged Shizune. She raced off to the bathroom to wash up. Tomorrow was the first day, the written test. She was anxious as ever and waited to see her dad. Whenever he came home safe, she was happy. He was no absentee, but after she turned 12 her dad went on more serious and dangerous missions. The thought of losing him made her heart quiver with fear. She already was a mother short, she knew her father’s death would break the family apart, once for all. Nawaki was born 10 years after Tsunade and was a surprise to many. He was an exception to clan rules, as he married a civilian kunoichi. He must have adored her mother with all is heart.

 

Sakura washed up and raced to wait for Tsunade and Nawaki to arrive for dinner. Once the door creaked open, she raced downstairs to jump into her father’s arms. He laughed and kissed the top of her head. She gave him a big grin.

 

“Welcome home!”

“Thank you, sweetie. And good news, no more missions until June!”

 

Sakura clasped her hands in excitement. Her dad would be there for the chūnin exams. Perhaps he could even train her. Her dad sat down and they all had dinner together.

 

“Well, you know, Hiruzen-sensei has invited us for the formal dinner with the Kage. I really don’t want to share a plate with Yagura Karatachi.” Tsunade stated, sipping her drink.

 

“Is it because he’s a jinchūriki?” Shizune asked timidly.

 

“Don’t be dumb! My grandmother was one and…” Tsunade stopped. “He is a tyrant, Shizune. A complete fucking tyrant. Do you know his punishment of shinobi who fail their mission?”

 

“Death?”

 

“I wish that only was the punishment.” Tsunade inhaled deeply. Politics were never on her favourite things to do list, which was ridiculous since she was ethically a politician. “The man is a bloody despot and Sarutobi wants to break bread with him, not to mention the Kazekage’s goddamned children are in the roster this year. This is a brewing pot for something terrible to happen.”

 

“I wish I could call you paranoid.” Nawaki said, turning his head to Sakura. “Keep your eyes open. We smell foul play here.”

 

The politician’s blood in her veins brewed as she made bullet points for research on the Mizukage, Kazekage, jinchūriki and relations between the three countries. Sakura nodded.

 

“Got it.”

 

In the morning, Kurenai Yūhi was rounding up her three angel students. She patted their clothes in order, gave Akamaru the dog a pet for being a good boy, fixed Shino’s glasses and calmed Hinata down. The Hyūga heir was shaking in her boots about the fucking written exam, so Kurenai was praying that she could hold it together before all hell breaks loose. She patted Hinata’s head, pressing a kiss on her forehead, something she imagined the poor thing must have been starved off in the ice-cold Hyūga household. She felt familiar footsteps approaching and turned her head to spot her adorable boyfriend with his adorable team. The Nara kid looked half-asleep, while the little Akimichi was chowing down a bag of chips. The Yamanaka girl, give her credit, looked motivated and was looking around the room, which was already filled with various genin and their sensei. Asuma leaned over to Ino.

 

“Now, Ino, remember our lessons. Look around the room and tell me what you see.”

 

“Bitches.” Ino responded, without a beat. Kiba’s ears perked up and he whistled. Kurenai gave him a scolding look but she was trying not to burst laughing because Asuma looked absolutely defeated and the Nara kid was snorting, trying to contain his laughter. He turned her and was about to open his arms but put himself together before the kids started teasing.

 

“Ne, where is Kakashi’s team?”

 

“Late, as they sensei.” Kurenai shrugged. Then she heard a loud bang at the door and saw Kakashi throw in three children, with one of them wearing pyjamas. Naruto was dressed in orange and yellow, duck-patterned pyjamas and house slippers, while his teammates looked normally dressed.

 

“Naruto Uzumaki is here!” He shouted, causing everyone to turn their heads. Oh yes, he was sporting a neon green bathrobe over his pjs. Classy. Asuma slapped his forehead and observed the other kids. Sasuke was pristine in his high and tight Uchiha collar while Sakura was fumbling around her medical-ninja-in-training apron skirt thing, pulling out something that looked like sweets and pushed them into Naruto’s mouth. Kakashi was shaking his head.

 

“You actually fucking overslept.” Sasuke spat.

 

“I cleaned the Hokage monument until three in the morning! I was damn tired!” He said, crossing his arms.

 

“Then why did you paint it in the first place?”

 

“Listen, dumbass…”

 

“Cut it out!” Sakura shouted, smacking them both on the head.

 

Kakashi was shaking his head and turned to his colleagues.

 

“Yo.”

 

“Hello.” Kurenai said, observing Team 7. “Rough morning, huh?”

 

“You don’t want to know.” Kakashi said, grimly remembering how Naruto bit him in the arm when he dragged him out of his bed. He reminded himself to get his rabies shots renewed. He was already sinking into the floor from embarrassment when the door burst open again, this time by two green monsters. Kakashi thanked all fucking gods, spirits and deities for sending those two clowns and taking the attention from his messy team.

 

“Dynamic entrance!” The duo shouted. Two other disgruntled kids, who were looking away, followed them.

 

“Ah, Hatake Kakashi! My eternal rival!” Gai shouted, causing Kakashi wanting a shit ton of bricks to pour down on his body.

 

“Sensei, who is this?” Naruto asked, pulling his sleeve. “Damn, yesterday we met a dude with no eyebrows and now we meet two dudes with the biggest eyebrows ever! Life is so interesting.”

 

Kakashi wanted to give Naruto a peck on the forehead for that statement. Especially when Gai nearly dropped on his knees from sadness.

 

“Are you Kakashi’s team? Team 7?”

 

“Um, yeah?” Sakura answered, still confused. “And who are you?”

 

“He… You actually never mentioned me?” Gai cried out, causing his tiny green counterpart to weep. The other two kids, one Sakura recognised as a Hyūga, looked positively annoyed.

 

“Sensei…” The girl spoke up. “The exam is about to begin…”

 

Sasuke cringed at the situation and turned around to spot Asuma and Kurenai dying from laughter. The two teams looked confused, but the Hyūga girl looked deadly pale and was looking and looking away from the boy in the front, whom Sasuke figured must be a relative of hers. The Hyūga and Uchiha, along with the Aburame, Akimichi, Sarutobi and Senju were considered the noble clans of Konoha, but the two first stuck out due their possession of rare dōjutsu. The girl looked like a pipsqueak terrified of her own shadow, but the male Hyūga intrigued Sasuke because he wondered how the Sharingan would fare against the Byakugan. The jōnin in green showed his students off like a peacock.

 

“May I introduce? My precious students, Rock Lee, Neji Hyūga and Tenten!”

 

Then Rock Lee had to go batshit. He was observing the room like a weird parrot when he spotted Sakura and froze in his place. The bowl cut boy looked absolutely besotted, as if he saw the most beautiful thing in the world. He raced to her and got on one knee, took her hand and kissed it, to her visible disdain.

 

“My name is Rock Lee! Be my girlfriend, please, and I will protect you with my life!”

 

Sasuke cringed inwardly and hoped Sakura would break the dude’s teeth. Naruto was already prepared to deck the dude with all his stocky might when Sakura pulled away and just spat out the utter most brilliant response she ever could.

 

“Do you even know my name?”

 

Kakashi was beyond amused now. The clock struck 7:30. He gathered his colleagues and patted Asuma and Kurenai’s backs.

 

“This is where we leave you, kids. See you after the exam. We’ve been told it’s on the third floor.”  Kakashi said in a singsong voice. The jōnin disappeared in a puff of smoke, leaving their poor unassuming students. Sakura went on to hug Ino and they noticed Hinata, an old friend from the academy. Hinata was barely breathing, getting over-heated and Sakura offered her some of the sweets she had. Hinata nearly fainted when Naruto approached them, to see what is wrong. Shikamaru, who was now appointed water boy, noticed that her cousin didn’t even flinch at her despair. The clock struck 7:35 and it was time to get into the exam room. Naruto placed a seal on Sasuke’s hand, which would write down everything Sasuke writes or copies from Sakura and prepared to enter the room. They sat down in a diagonal formation, with several rows between them. Then all hell just had to break loose.

 

Some genin from Otogakure and a leaf genin got into a fight and Naruto was ready to defend the unknown leaf genin with all his might, so Sasuke jumped in to prevent him from doing anything stupid. Sakura had to help the genin up, a taller, older dude with silver hair and big nerd glasses.

 

“Are you okay?” Sakura asked, helping him up.

 

“Yes, yes.”

 

“Those dicks shouldn’t have threated you. We’re in Konoha. No one can attack us in our own home.” Naruto stated firmly, nodding.

 

“Oh, agreed. I’m Kabuto, by the way.”

 

“Uzumaki Naruto. This is Sakura.” He said, pointing at his female companion.

 

“Ah, you’re a medical ninja, too?” He asked, staring at her apron.

 

“Mhm.” She said. “In training, of course. Not yet officially.”

 

“Yeah, yeah. So am I, but I don’t like wearing the training apron.”

 

The door slammed open and Ibiki Morino entered the room with his terrifying presence.

 

“Did you manage to cause a fight? No fucking fighting on the written test, you imbeciles! Uzumaki, the Hokage might tolerate your shit but I won’t!” He cleared his throat as everyone took their seats. He laid out the ground rules and so begun the written test.

Chapter Text

“And that’s how we passed the written exam.” Naruto concluded, in the dim light of the Senju kitchen were his squad, Team 10, their jōnin teachers, Tsunade and Jiraiya were sitting. Shizune was helping Nawaki bring in the food, while the adults who listened their whack story were shaking their hands. Nawaki was sporting a fancy pink and white apron with cherry blossoms, yet somehow retained his intimidating presence. He placed the pot with the grilled salmon on the table and an extra portion for Chōji.

 

“Thank you for the food!” The kids said before digging in. Nawaki sat down on the head of the table and raised a glass.

 

“For your successful first day!”

 

They raised their glasses in response and dug in. Asuma ate slowly, observing Chōji who chowed down half of his roast already. Tsunade informed them that the medic corps are ready for the survival test tomorrow and that she hopes the kids are ready for the onslaught. Naruto assured her he is ready to fight them all for the title of chūnin, just as he is ready to fight for the title of Hokage.

 

“Oh, you want to be Hokage?” Nawaki chuckled, taking a bite. “I know someone who was obsessed with becoming Hokage when he was your age.”

 

“Oh, what happened?” Naruto asked, with wide eyes.

 

“I’ll tell you later.” He smiled. Ino patted Chōji’s back, as he was nearly choking on the food.

 

“You know, you should slow down a little, you’re getting chubbier…”

 

“I am just big boned!” He shouted, causing Shikamaru to groan in annoyance. This was above the paygrade he did not receive for handling their bullshit. Tsunade slammed her hand on the table, causing a dent.

 

“No fighting around the table!”

 

“Apologies, Lady Tsunade.” They said in union. Tsunade was in Ino’s book on the page “scary but loving”.

 

Shikamaru thanked the Gods for sending the world’s most aggressive aunt to his unit and continued eating lazily. Asuma turned his head to Nawaki, asking him how the Tower is handling the diplomats.

 

“Well, Yagura is absolutely demonic and suggesting we add more violence to the exams, while Rasa is an unbearable bore. So, the usual.” He said, thinking.

 

“I wish Kumo participated this year, I really want to arm wrestle the Raikage again.” Tsunade pouted, causing every person on the table to tremble in their boots. Kakashi sipped his drink just shuddered. “I guess we just have to deal with Rasa and his brats this year.”

 

“The Kazekage has children?” Ino asked, confused.

 

“Yes, three children. I can’t remember their names, but one of them looks like a murderous little shit. I wouldn’t trust that kid with Tonton.” She concluded, throwing the piglet a piece of her salad.

 

“Wait, does the kid have red hair?” Naruto asked, remembering the encounter.

 

“Yes.” Tsunade affirmed. “I don’t remember the dead-faced bastard’s name, but I remember seeing a red head among his children.”

 

“Yes, the boy is one of his children.” Nawaki confirmed. “I’ve spoken to his daughter; she seems like a respectable young lady, very well-spoken and smart. The other son is a bit of an eccentric.”

 

“Ah, fat batman!” Naruto confirmed. “I remember him; he looked like a weird animal.”

 

Nawaki gave a hearty laugh and patted Naruto’s head, pouring him some orange juice. Naruto sipped it at turned to Tsunade.

 

“Oi Granny, mind handing me some of your sake?”

 

“No underage drinking!” Nawaki stated. “Not after what happened the last time.”

 

“You noticed?” Sakura yelped.

 

“I’ve been handling drunk shinobi before you were born. This one is what we call a touchy drunk. Sound familiar, Jiraiya-sensei?” Nawaki said, pointing at Naruto.

 

“Pfff, as if!” Jiraiya stated, taking a symbolic swig out of his soju cup. “I’m a true gentleman.”

 

“Do you want me to dig your eyes out with these chopsticks?” Tsunade said, snapping them in his direction. Jiraiya gulped and looked down. Shikamaru felt the evil politician stir in him and turned to Nawaki.

 

“Lord Nawaki, is it true what they say about the Fourth Mizukage?”

 

“Oh, he is a tyrant and to make it worse, a competent one. I’ve seen many different Kage in my lifetime, but Yagura was cut from a different cloth. Kage usually put their village first, along with the well-being of their comrades. By that I mean, they do whatever is in the best interest of the village. Yagura prefers a more, how to put it, the goal justifies the means approach, but his goal is world domination. Kirigakure has been financially strained for decades, ever since it has been founded, even. Yagura decided to put matters in his own hands and accept S-ranks and A-ranks only, which did stimulate the economy, but for the hefty price of depleted numbers. Kiri shinobi started protesting and deserting their posts and the retributions were beyond brutal. I won’t get into the details, because that should be punished by the law what he did.” Nawaki concluded. “Kage should be held accountable, not venerated as Gods.”

 

Shikamaru nodded, exchanging glances with Sakura. They both wanted to press more on the question.

 

“How did Yagura stay in power?” Sakura asked.

 

“He is a perfect jinchūriki, which makes him formidable, but to put that aside, his unit is pretty terrifying. He has a secret police which listens to people, bugs their houses and whenever someone speaks against him…”

 

“They get snuffed out.” She concluded.

 

“Politics make my brain hurt.” Naruto winced, turning to Sasuke, who just shovelled more food in is plate, which Naruto gladly ate up. Dinner concluded and Shizune was cutting cake for everyone. She pointed to Naruto and asked him to open the large windows in the hallway to let in some fresh air, which he gladly did. He saw Nawaki sit outside with a cup of tea and asked Shizune for two slices of orange cake. He brought them and gave one to Nawaki who thanked him with a big smile.

 

“C’mon, sit down.” Nawaki said, patting the spot on the wooden porch next to him. Naruto took a big bite and asked with a mouthful.

 

“Oi, Old Man Nawaki, you need to tell me about your friend who wanted to be Hokage.”

 

“Ah, that’s an easy one. That’s me!”

 

“What?” Naruto shrieked.

 

“Yup. You see, I grew up with a grandfather who was Hokage and a great-uncle who was Hokage. And let me tell you, they were my heroes. My grandfather could make trees grow. To a small boy, that looked like magic. Becoming Hokage was all I ever talked about, I probably blew Tsuna’s eardrums out when I shouted that around the house. Then I learned of the Will of Fire and the symbol and that my purpose was to spread that legacy and protect it.”

 

“But that’s what a Hokage does! He rules the village and spreads messages!”

 

“No, Naruto. The Hokage does not rule, he serves. Everyone in the village is his family.”

 

“So, what changed? Why did you give up?”

 

“Well, long story…I met a special lady, and we had another special little lady…”

 

“Sasuke, you dickhead! Stop scaring me like that!” Yelled Sakura from the house. Nawaki snorted.

 

“Sakura, language!”

 

“Sorry, dad!”

 

“Anyway, I fell in love, so Midori and our baby came first. Then some tragic things happened and to be honest, I realised being Hokage wasn’t what I wanted to do. In addition, my best friend became Hokage instead. Lord Fourth, that is. He would be Hokage, and I’d be his skilled diplomat.”

 

“The Fourth Hokage is my hero! What was he like?”

 

“One of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Very tactical, quick-witted. Oh, and his favourite colour was yellow.” Nawaki grinned.

 

“Mine is orange!” Naruto said. “Uh, what’s your favourite colour?”

 

“Green.” Nawaki smiled. “Like leaves.”

 

“You’re the coolest.” Naruto concluded. “Oi, you have a sword, right?”

 

“Yup. My great-uncle taught me kenjutsu when I was five. He was a screamer.” Nawaki recalled, remembering his gnawing great-uncle. “Funny, story, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Senju have brown or blond hair, mostly brown, and green or hazel eyes. Uncle Tobirama had neither, full on white hair and red eyes.”

 

“What, was he sick?”

 

“Nope, he had albinism. It was sort of a running joke in the household. You see, Tōka, his daughter, was born with brown hair and her mother was blonde. Tobirama used to joke around that if he wasn’t albino he’d look exactly like Tōka.”

 

Naruto laughed loudly, remembering the stern council member and her strict lessons on fūinjutsu and Uzumaki history.

 

“Do you want more cake?”

 

“Yeah.”


“Let’s go inside and rob Shizune of some more.”

 

Sakura was perched atop a chair, where Shikamaru was squeezed in next to her, while Ino sat at the foot and handed them newspaper. Chōji was cutting newspaper with Sasuke who chopped them up with deadly precision with a single kunai. Nawaki made a mental note to disarm Sasuke once he’s in the house because he could feel Tobirama’s ghostly breath on his neck for allowing an armed Uchiha in the household. Kakashi and Asuma already left, so the kids were taking over the living room.

 

“What are you doing?” He asked, confused.

 

“Finding information on the Mizukage.”

 

“Honourable work, but you need rest. Tomorrow is a survival test, which means you might sleep in the open for days. I’d suggest you go and rest in your beds. Or here, we love guests.” Nawaki said, as he walked into the kitchen. Tsunade was already there, eating the remains of the cake with Jiraiya. Nawaki frowned.

 

“Oh, there is none left.”

 

“Too slow.” Tsunade said, sticking her tongue out.

 

“Huh, that must be the first time you’ve ever heard that.” Jiraiya stated, eating a piece of the orange cake. “You know what would make this cake better? Booze!”

 

Tsunade nodded enthusiastically and poured some sake over the cake. Nawaki just shook his head and pulled out a banana from the fruit basket.

 

“You know, I’m concerned about Sakura’s cussing.”

 

“Hatake is her sensei, what did you expect? If he can teach those damn kids something, it is swearing. Oh, don’t look at me like that! Teenagers get potty mouths, you know that.”

 

Nawaki nodded, and then his feet suddenly got cold. He grabbed his head. “Teenagers?” He yelped.

 

“She is thirteen, that’s a teenager. She’ll be fourteen soon.” Tsunade stated. “Puberty is a trying time.”

 

Nawaki felt dizzy. “I’m not ready for that.”

 

Tsunade snorted. “You don’t have to get ready, if you stay ready.”

 

Jiraiya patted his back. “I’ll beat the boys off with a stick, Nara there look too comfortable for his own good.” The Sannin glanced over into the room where the kids were cutting newspapers. He returned to comfort Nawaki.

 

“Oh Gods.” Nawaki said, putting his head on Tsunade’s shoulder. “There, there, sweetie.”

 

Kakashi arrived in his flat, but for some reason, people were already there. He and Anko were sort of living together, but they had their separate places. Speaking of which, she was sitting by his kitchen table with a small, white haired woman. Kakashi frowned immediately.

“Evening Anko, Aunt Naoko.”

 

“Ah, there is my favourite nephew.” She stated, turning her frontal body to Kakashi. She gave him a signature grin and patted the chair next to her. Naoko was his father’s older sister, a stern woman and a member of the Hatake clan. She married into the Inuzuka clan, had a daughter named Tsume, and by now, was a proud grandmother and the glue that held the Hatake family together, or what remains of them. Their numbers dwindled significantly after the war, so the current remaining members were Kakashi, his father and his aunt, who was technically now an Inuzuka. Naoko was giving him a very disapproving look.

 

“Anko just confirmed you haven’t talked to Sakumo in four years. Four years!” She said, slapping his wrist. Kakashi crossed his arms like a pouty teenager. Naoko was giving him the sternest look she could muster.

 

“He is your father, Kakashi!”

 

“There is nothing to talk about.” Kakashi confirmed. The conflict between Kakashi and Sakumo Hatake can be traced back in his academy days, sometime before graduation. Sakumo curbed tradition and married a civilian, Kakashi’s mother of course, and they had him. But, the poor unassuming civilian Kakashi’s mother was, did not understand what being married to a shinobi looked like. So she filed for divorce, something unheard of in ninja circles. She was not aware that if a civilian marries a ninja and they eventually divorce, the custody of their children goes to the shinobi parent without any arguments. That law was set by the state in order to keep shinobi numbers high and to increase the probability of academy enrolment. To conclude this sad story, Kakashi hadn’t seen or talked to his mother since he was six. His relationship with his father was horrible, to put it mildly, so he constructed a family within his genin team. It was just him, Obito, Rin and Minato-sensei. Then they all died. However, that did not mean mending bridges with his father. Even if he lived next door.

“Kakashi. He is your family. You should talk to him, only if you jump in to say hi. I know you were a rebel in your teenage years…”

 

“I wasn’t a rebel, I was fourteen and I’ve joined ANBU, my team was wiped out and I was alone. He wasn’t there.” Kakashi, the private person he was, never spoke so bluntly about his feelings. It must be the built up resentment.

 

“Aunt Naoko, if you don’t have something to talk about besides my father, please leave.”

 

Naoko murmured something and left, with Anko leading her through the door. She returned, crossing her arms.

 

“Sorry you had to see that.” Kakashi whispered, leaning on her chest. Anko pressed a kiss on his fabric-covered cheek.

 

“I’m not going to say she’s right or wrong. Just wash up and let’s sleep, is that okay?”

 

“Yeah.” Kakashi said, nuzzling her shoulder.

 

“Don’t torture yourself over this.” She repeated. “Because torturing you is my job.”

 

He laughed against her shoulder. All was well that ends with her.

 

Anko was standing atop the platform reserved for the proctor of the survival part of the exams, eyeing the newly arrived genin. Anko clapped her hands in order to gather their attention and Hayate threw her a megaphone.

 

“Attention, bitches!” She shouted, causing everyone to turn their head. “Welcome to the second part of the chūnin exams, I will be your proctor! My name is Mitarashi Anko and this is the Forest of Death! The rules are the following: each of you will receive one scroll, a Heaven or Earth scroll. The goal is to find two scrolls, how is none of my goddamned business. If you die in there, we will send condolences to your family. Take this party seriously or you will not have a good time!”

 

Naruto rolled his eyes. Today, he actually managed to wake up on time and dress properly. He was wearing bright orange pants, a bomber jacket he received from Jiraiya, which was also a festive orange, with dark blue wave patterns and a dark blue shirt with the red Uzumaki swirl on it. Personally, he loved his outfit but Sasuke screamed his head off because how fucking bright his clothes are. Sasuke wore dark grey shorts, a navy shirt with a high and tight collar with the infamous Uchiha crest on the back, along with the usual training bandages bullshit. Sakura was sporting her white medical apron, something she always wore, a sense of pride for her, with a pair of short black shorts underneath, a red kimono top with short sleeves and over-the-knee black socks along with her usual shinobi shoes. She was sporting a large pouch on her back, since backpacks were not allowed.

 

Anko opened her mouth again, shouting. “You will all be escorted to different gates where you will enter. Wait for your designated chūnin who will escort you. The exit from the forest is on the southernmost part of the fence! Oh, and the last rule, do not under any circumstances open the scrolls!”

 

Naruto started imitating Anko, causing people to turn around and chuckle at his antics. Sakura and Sasuke were looking at him with disappointment in their eyes, wondering when the inevitable fight will break loose. Kakashi shook his head, searching for his fellow jōnin. Kurenai was giving her kids a pep talk, while Asuma was begging Shikamaru not to fall asleep. Then Team Gai just had to make a dynamic entrance. Rock Lee immediately waltzed towards Sakura and she just winced. He bowed deeply in front of her, kissing her hand. She flinched again. Gai put a hand on Kakashi’s shoulder, which caused the latter to sigh. Here we go again, a speech about youth or some bullshit…

 

“Ah, the burgeoning blossom of young love! Beautiful!” Kakashi observed Naruto offering his fists to Rock Lee, who looked ready to fight him, while Sasuke looked down. He noticed Sakura power walk in their direction. He watched as his cute, 100-pound little genin grab a jōnin by the collar, the jōnin being Gai, pull him down to her face and give him a scowl that would put the Uchiha to shame.

 

“Either you tell him to stop, or I will stop him!” She said in a deadly quiet tone. Kakashi fell pride swell up in his very empty chest; he even nearly wiped a tear. “It’s not cute.” She affirmed, pushing Gai back. The man just nodded and called Lee to his side. Kakashi even saw the haughty Hyūga kid snicker like a playground bully.

 

 “What is her name?” Gai asked, turning his head to Kakashi, putting a pause on his smack down of Rock Lee.

 

“Senju Sakura.” Kakashi said with a smirk. The perquisite of having kids with bigshot names is the sheer abuse of power those monikers bring with them. Great-granddaughter of the God of Shinobi? Here, here! Uchiha prodigy! Look this way! He wasn’t even ready to dig into Naruto’s lineage.

 

Gai stopped in his tracks. “That is the great-granddaughter of the First Hokage, you idiot!” He said, shaking Lee. Anko was walking the perimeters, checking if some genin are trying to smuggle in some random backpacks or unauthorised illegal stuff. She saw Naruto and Sasuke squabbling over something so she threw a kunai between them.

 

“No fighting before the exam begins.” She reminded them, and then turned to Gai shaking Rock Lee. She looked them up and down and turned to Kakashi.

 

“Do I even want to know?”

 

“Nope. Kids, this is Anko. Anko, this are Sasuke, Naruto and Sakura. Also known as, Team 7.”

 

“Nice to meet you, kiddies.” Anko said.

 

“You threw a knife at us!” Naruto yelled.

 

“No fighting before the exam.” She repeated. Naruto was giving her the mean eye.

 

“My, my, aren’t you a ball of energy?” She smiled, propping her elbow on Kakashi’s shoulder. Some random woman with a long tongue from Kuso handed Anko her kunai back with the lovely tongue and she thanked them. Sakura observed their body language and they looked very comfortable together. She elbowed Naruto and Sasuke and they exchanged glances. Naruto gave the couple a big grin.

 

“Oi, sensei… Is she your girlfriend?”

 

Kakashi slapped his forehead. Naruto was as subtle as a ton of bricks. “Perhaps.”

 

Sakura whistled. Sasuke just shrugged. “I’m surprised you actually know women.”

 

Kakashi snorted and Anko belted out a hearty laugh. “Ne, Kakashi, your kids are adorable. Even Uchiha. You look just like your mum.” Anko said, twisting her head to get a better look at Sasuke.

 

“Haha! She said you look like a girl!” Naruto yelled, causing another verbal confrontation between the teammates. Sakura rolled up imaginary sleeves and gave them each a smack on the back of the head. Anko clasped her hands together, gathering the chūnin. It was time to escort the teams. Team 7 was given an earth scroll, which means they need a heaven one to pass. Easy, peasy, lemon, squeezy. Not really, as they were soon to learn. The forest was somewhat dark and gloomy, but they weren’t alone. At least they had each other. There was an old saying in Sakura’s family, which she remembered in these trying times.

 

“My dad says that the only place a Senju has nothing to fear is the forest.” Sakura said, looking at the trees. Those were the same trees that protected the village, but there was a darker, gloomy energy around them. Sasuke just let out a “tsk” and continued watching. Naruto was attempting to soak in every detail, but the place was just sensory overkill. Sasuke watched the place with deep interest, but he seemed sure of himself, unlike Sakura. Naruto, being his usual sunny self, was whistling, already planning the celebratory dinner to Ichiraku’s ramen stand.

 

“My plan is simple. We set a trap, ambush a team and steal their scroll.” Sasuke said.

 

“But what if they have the wrong scroll?” Naruto chimed in.

 

“We first find one with the correct one, of course, dumbass.”

 

“Sounds like a… plan?” Sakura said. “We don’t know shit about other teams abilities; some of those genin are twice our age.”

 

“Then we just have to better than them.” Sasuke said.

 

“We shouldn’t set camp.” Sakura said. “We need to stay on the go. I don’t think this forest is as big as Miss Mitarashi said.”

 

“How do you know that?” Sasuke asked. Sakura wanted to say that she could feel the perimeter if she pushes her nature based chakra in the trees, but decided to bite her tongue until she was able to understand that ability herself.

 

“Just a hunch.” She said. Something bad was bound to happen, she could just feel it in her body. “We should find Team 10; maybe we can gang up and solve this task with them.”

 

“What if they have the scroll we need?” Sasuke barked. “You wouldn’t be able to fight them, wouldn’t you?”

 

Sakura remained quiet. She would not let Sasuke bully her into an argument. Naruto was already pissed. “The hell, we can’t just attack our own teammates!” He said. “They’re from Konohagakure; they’re our friends and allies! We take the scrolls of a non-Konoha team! Like those Sand bastards!”

 

“I don’t think we should get into a fight with them.” Sakura stated, crossing her arms. “They radiate “do not attack” and there is something unsettling about all of them, not just the one with the red hair.”

 

“Hn.” Sasuke replied. “I’d like to test my abilities against them.”

 

“Now to think about it, I want to!” Naruto yelled, reminding everyone of his rivalry with Sasuke.

 

“And I’ll be right there to heal you…” Sakura said in a tired voice.

 

The Jōnin lounge was located on the third floor of the Hokage building. It consisted of a large living room like area, with several couches and chairs. Right now, Konohagakure jōnin and their Kiri and Suna counterparts occupied it. Kakashi was sitting on a chair, reading his book when Asuma tapped him on his shoulder.

 

“Oi, what is it?”

 

He pointed at a Suna shinobi with a strange head wrap. “That’s the jōnin who leads the genin team which consists of the Kazekage’s brats. His name is Baki, as I’ve heard.”

 

“Interesting.” Kakashi stated, fanning himself with the masterpiece pornography in his hand.

 

“Ne, Asuma, what say you? Should we bully him?”

 

“Yup.” Asuma said, lighting a cigarette.” Kakashi’s eye crinkled and they were about to get up, when they heard a panicked medical ninja enter the lounge.

 

“Dr Katō is here to call the jōnin for their annual exam!” The chūnin yelped, causing the gathered jōnin to grab themselves. Shizune never ever raised her voice, never got angry and was always calm and rational. However, when it comes to her medical practise, if one of the jōnin did not comply on their annual check-up, there would be hell to pay. All thanks to the venerable Lady Tsunade of the Senju, the medical system Konoha once had was updated thoroughly and there were certain standards, which medical ninja had to respect. Aside from the three rules set by the First Hokage, a medical ninja himself, albeit not as proficient as his granddaughter, Tsunade set up a complex system of ranks and rules.

 

Genin medical ninja always wore white aprons, and served mostly like nurses in regular, civilian hospitals. Such as, they delivered babies, helped in surgery, gave shots, did check-ups, sometimes even served as desk ninja for the hospital administration. Then, once they get the rank of chūnin, they’re given the opportunity of taking the exam and getting a certificate of an official medic. These serve as specialist, they make medicine, to basic healing and lighter surgery, some of them even serve as field medics, which Konoha lacked of greatly. Once they acquire the rank of jōnin, they have to retake a more difficult version of the exam, are sworn in as doctors, receive the title of doctor, and serve in the hospital as surgeons, specialists or field medics. Tsunade developed this system in order to have a functioning staff instead of the old way of “everyone does everything”. Unfortunately, a lack of staff was an issue, as Sakura stated to him once, no one wants to work in the hospital or become a field medic. The girl was confused about it, but Kakashi knew. Becoming a medical ninja, wearing the white band with the symbol of medical ninjutsu on your arm per tradition, puts a target on your back. Everyone wants to take out the medic in the battle first.

 

Shizune slammed down their files on the table and shot Asuma’s nicotine stick a disapproving look. She cleared her throat and begun reciting the schedule.

 

“Sarutobi, after your check up, you have an appointment with Dr Nara, the pulmonology specialist. Do not look at me like that; you are a smoker by choice! Yūhi, routine examination and yes, go on floor three. Gai, do not forget to check in with Lady Tsunade for your tendon..., and as for Hatake, just a routine examination. No specialist, this time.” She affirmed, putting her files down. “No slacking, no being late. Oh, and if you see Shiranui, remind him to come to see me…”

 

“Ma, Shizune, why do you have to press us every time?” Kakashi groaned.

 

“Because you’re irresponsible, that’s why.” She said, crossing her arms. “Especially during the exams.” Shizune used a lower tone, eyeing Kakashi. She pushed a file towards him. “Monday, 5 o’clock.”

 

Kakashi opened the file, which was empty, save for a seal from Jiraiya. He heard murmurs and whispers in the corridor and raised his head. Shizune was on the side, bowing her head. Shikaku Nara and Nawaki Senju entered the lounge and people immediately turned heads. Kakashi was just missing the head of the Uchiha clan and was ready to get his ass handed to him. Nawaki and the jōnin commander approached their table and they got up to greet the elders. Nawaki sat down, jawline firm. Shikaku didn’t look too happy either.

 

“I came here to invite you for dinner.” He announced, looking very stiff. “A formal one, with our guest Kage.”

 

So that’s what that was about. Kakashi heard from Anko and Genma that the Tower was on lockdown due a meeting. Kurenai, clearly confused, gave Nawaki an odd look.

 

“What do you mean, Nawaki-sensei?” She asked, shaking her head.

 

“A dinner, at my place. Tuesday evening. Dress nice.” He said, before he got up. The Copy Nin immediately figured out that the Third bullied Nawaki into hosting the Kage and their entourage. No wonder he wanted elite jōnin at his household. The message was clear, come prepared. Jiraiya’s seal clearly stated to come armed, or there would hell to be paid.

Chapter Text

In his short existence, Uzumaki Naruto had only one question. Well, several, like the one about his patrilineal heritage, how the fuck did he end up with a demon inside of him, why do flowers bloom in spring, what is Sakura’s favourite colour, why is ramen so tasty… Right now, he had just one question. How the fucking fuck did he end up here?

 

To dissect this shitstorm of a story, we must begin at the tale of three little genin hiding in a forest. Several hours after they’ve been released into the arena, Team 7 gathered some roots under the watchful eye of their resident medic-in-training and gathered water from a stream. All was going swimmingly; they ate a little, because Kakashi advised them to eat a heavy breakfast. Sakura organised their supplies and ration pills, courtesy of a raid of Tsunade’s medicinal cabinet. Sasuke was on scouting duties, which were fruitless for now. Naruto went on a tinkle break and did not encounter a single enemy team. Now, they were sitting on branches, when Sasuke had an ingenious idea. They’d set traps and light a fire, to pretend they set camp there, and when a team dumb enough comes around and they just knock them out and take their scroll. It sounded like a decent enough plan. Naruto’s newly acquired sealing skills allowed him to seal enough rope into a scroll, which they smuggled in Sakura’s pouch.

 

Then the Sand Siblings happened. Well, not necessarily happened, but Team 7 saw them. They noticed the three rich kids take a casual stride alongside the forest; all while sporting some fancy umbrellas. There was a team of docile Kuso ninja who were ready to fight them, but tough luck, the creepy kid pulled out some weird substance out of gourd and enveloped his enemies in it, crushing them to death, releasing a rain of blood and gore on his teammates. Oh, so that’s what the umbrellas are for. The other boy in the team knelt down at the remains and searched their stuff. He pulled out their scroll and threw it on the ground.

 

“They have a Heaven one.” He said.

 

“Well.” The kid responded in a grim voice. “Let’s search some more, then.”

Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura watched with their jaws on the ground. That was one of the most brutal acts Sasuke had ever witnessed and he had the dishonour of being raised in an Uchiha household. They had to hold Naruto down, because he was about to intertwine and defend those Kuso ninja, but something told Sakura that those Sand kids were not to be messed with. They immediately dragged him on the other side of the tree and they all collected themselves.

 

“Just what the fuck was that?” Sakura asked. Sasuke wanted to take back everything he said about them being unbeatable, but his pride did not allow him. He was just shaking his head. Naruto was flabbergasted and looked at Sakura for answers.

 

“What do you think that was?”

 

“It looked grainy? Like sand or dust?” She said, leaning her back against a thicker branch. “We shouldn’t cross them. I don’t even know what the fuck that was. My fucking god. Let’s just do what Sasuke said. Oh, daffodils!” Sakura shouted, seeing the flowers bloom underneath the tree.

 

“Sakura, we don’t have time for your floristic tendencies. You do that with Ino in your free time.” Sasuke stated, rolling his eyes.

 

“No, dumbass. Daffodils have very poisonous roots. We’re talking knocking out a grown man easily poisonous. I will make some easy poison with them to put on our kunai. The other poison I have needs to be injected directly to work, but this one can be lathered on weapons.”

 

“Wow, that’s smart.” Naruto said. “I’ll help you with the digging.”

 

She thanked him and Sasuke stood guard as his dumb teammates dug out the roots. Sakura crushed them up with rocks and they lathered their kunai with the newly minted poison. They used them to set traps and Sasuke lit a fire. Now, they wait.

 

The plan actually succeeded. The Ame genin were out cold on the ground and Naruto went to search their stuff. One was attempting to get up, but Sasuke knocked him out with ease. Naruto pulled out the Earth scroll out of their bags and they high fived each other.

 

“Good job, Sasuke!” Naruto said, with a supportive Sakura in the background. Sasuke gloated in his victory for a while before realisation struck them.

 

“Now, just how the fuck do we find the exit?”

 

Easier said than done.

 

The Third Hokage was sitting in the Senju household, which was terrible enough since he bullied the Senju siblings into hosting foreign Kage, one of them being Yagura Karatachi, a man who may or may not be responsible for the death of their father. Taiyō Senju was assassinated in Kirigakure while on ambassador duty, which was fact, but who assassinated him remains a mystery. The story is quite short, but quite easy. The former leader of the clan served several terms as the official ambassador in Kirigakure before getting brutally murdered by allegedly unknown assassins. His son succeeded him briefly before the coup‘d’état Yagura and his goons created in order to rule the Hidden Mist with an iron fist. It was public knowledge that the Senju did not support Yagura and his system.

 

“Ah Lady Tsuna, stop giving me that face.”

 

“Hiruzen-sensei, be glad I don’t hit old men.”

 

“Your words wound me.”

 

“I said what I said!” She shouted, taking a swig from her soju cup. She gave him a mean glare. Long ago, Hiruzen Sarutobi learned that if he could stand up to Tsunade, he could stand up to anyone. He was attempting to convey a message.

 

“You understand why this is. My goal is to retire by the end of the year.”

 

“What makes you think that will be possible, Lord Third?” Nawaki asked, crossing his arms. The tension in the room was could be cut with the sword resting on Nawaki’s hip.

 

“My dear Nawaki, always the diplomat. I appreciate that Senju never mince their words. Lord Hashirama was just like that. Lord Tobirama too, except he didn’t care about hurting anyone’s feelings. Tōka is, in a way, his spitting image. She wanted to stab me with a pencil when I told her where the state dinner would be taking place. I would suggest maybe mowing the lawn a little and adding a few benches. You have a nice garden. Oh, lights would be nice too.”

 

“Yamato is already on it.” Nawaki said, shaking his head. “I really don’t feel comfortable planning a party while my kid is in that forest, with Kiri and Suna ninja.”

 

“A Senju is the safest in a forest.” Hiruzen snickered, taking a long draw from his pipe. “Or am I wrong?”

 

“We had our suspicions, to be fair.” Nawaki said. “Ever since she was born. But, you know that, don’t you?”

 

“You mean I didn’t notice your daughter was born with the same dual nature chakra as her great-grandfather? I am not known as the Professor for being ignorant of my surroundings, Nawaki. Inoichi Yamanaka sensed it too. He always jokes about his bonsai when he says that.”

 

“Many ninja are born with a dual nature chakra.” Tsunade stated. “You, yourself happen to be one of them. And you don’t have a kekkei genkai.”

 

“No, I do not. Has she shown any abilities?”

 

“No.” Nawaki said in a curt voice, which he usually did when he had to lie. He had to cut the numerous houseplants on a weekly basis, because they kept growing like crazy. Moreover, there was the event that convinced him of the super-natural. One sunny afternoon, while he was blowing up a tiny inflatable swimming pool, he let his at the time, three-year-old daughter play in the flowers that grew bellow an elm tree in the garden. The Senju had large gardens, courtesy of Hashirama, which grew many diverse plants, as his grandfather believed that diversity is the key to success in every aspect of his life. Then Tsunade came out, she had just returned from a night of partying and gambling. Shizune was in tow, she just made jōnin at the time. They asked him if he wanted early dinner and then Shizune went pale as a sheet. She pointed her finger behind them and Nawaki saw Sakura sit among the flowers, holding an orange carnation and showing it off to what looked like Hashirama motherfucking Senju. The man looked quite young, wearing his freshly cleaned armour.

 

Now, Nawaki never believed in ghosts, ever. After that day, his opinion of the existence of the spirit world, reincarnation, afterlife and everything his sister was convincing him was real seemed more real than his own hands. Sakura was giggling and the ghost of his grandfather was laughing too, as she showed off the flower. The three of them watched in shock, from the porch, as Sakura offered Hashirama a flower and he touched her head before disappearing in a flurry of leaves. Tsunade fainted after seeing that and Nawaki was close too. They never spoke of the incident, nor did they mention it to anyone.

 

 

“If she were to possess it, do you think I’d allow it to be public knowledge?” Nawaki said. “My grandfather’s grave has been robbed enough times. The Uchiha and Hyūga would understand my stance.”

 

“There are some things beyond the Uchiha and Hyūga. Their dōjutsu are the stuff of legend, without a doubt, but the wood release is in a league of its own. The wood release was also equally famous for its power to manipulate, suppress, and absorb a target’s chakra. Lord Hashirama's mastery of this ability earning him recognition as one of the few people able to fully control a tailed beast.”

 

“It took him years to learn it and he had our grandmother’s help.” Tsunade stated. “I’ve been teaching Sakura my taijutsu and she’s been making great progress. She’s a very talented girl, but she is still a child. We’re talking about an ability only seen once in a lifetime.”

 

“Well, now. Currently we have three jinchūriki in the village. If she has an aptitude for it, she can practise.”

 

“Wait, three?” Nawaki said, standing up.

 

“Yes. I mean, I’m not sure, but I have my suspicions.”

 

“So, putting Sakura and Naruto on the same team was no coincidence.” Tsunade said. “Always playing with fire, huh sensei?”

 

“Imagine what they could do together. Your grandmother was one of the most powerful people ever to live because she had full control of a tailed beast. Lady Mito was a formidable one. Imagine what Naruto could do with Jiraiya’s teaching and learning how to control the Nine-Tails. With Sakura being a potential wood release user, they’d be unbeatable. And having an Uchiha who could potentially awaken the Mangekyō Sharingan is not too shabby either. Together, they’d be unbeatable.”

 

“You know what happened the last time you tried to assemble a team like that.” Tsunade reminded him. “Or not?”

 

“This is different. Did you know that only main branch Uchiha could awaken the Mangekyō Sharingan? Sasuke is a direct descendant of Izuna Uchiha, the last known wielder aside from Fugaku and the late Itachi Uchiha. He is a genius, like his brother.” Hiruzen affirmed again.

 

“You’re throwing dangerous words around, Lord Third.” Nawaki said. “We don’t know if she has it or not. It’s impossible to test. Hell, Yamato also has a dual nature, of water and earth. No wood release.”

 

“We’ll see. She is quite young.” Hiruzen puffed. “She reminds me a lot of you, Lady Tsuna. A little bossy know-it-all.”

 

“And what about Naruto?” Nawaki asked. “What is his position in this?”

 

“His position is simple. He learns to control the beast and becomes another God of Shinobi.”

 

“He dreams of being Hokage.” Nawaki said.

 

“Every little boy in the academy dreams of being Hokage.”

 

“So, you want weapons, is that it?” Tsunade said.

 

“I just want some children to reach their potential. I do remember that Lord Hashirama told me that his wood release was triggered by seeing Lord Tobirama fall from a cliff. A branch caught him and that’s when he started developing it. I’ve been told that Team 7 has some strong bonds among them.”

 

Nawaki was borderline disgusted. “Promise me you won’t trigger a situation like that.”

 

“I swear on my father’s grave, Nawaki.” Hiruzen said. “As despicable you think me to be, I’d never do that to anyone, let alone our own. We need to let nature take her course. Now, about my other offer…”

 

 

They barely escaped with their lives intact, all thanks to Naruto’s shadow clones. A team from Kuso was on their tails. The enemy ninja figured that Team 7 has gathered both scrolls, so they wanted to kill two flies with a single stone. Too bad, they did not calculate a hyperactive kid with bottomless chakra reserves into the equation. Sakura’s poisoned kunai helped him a great lot, so now they seemed safe. They were hiding among branches. Sasuke was sure that there were more enemy ninja around, he even recognised the weird woman from Kuso who licked Anko.

 

“Guys, I really need to pee.” Naruto said, bouncing his leg up and down. His speedy metabolism was truly a bitch sometimes.

 

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Sakura said. “Someone could use a henge and transform into you.”

 

“We’ll use a password.” Sasuke suggested. “Sakura, think of something, you’re a walking text book.”

 

“Uh, the rules of medical ninja? First clause, no medic ninja shall ever stop medical treatment until the lives of their party members have come to an end. Second clause, no medic ninja shall ever stand on the front lines. Third clause, no medic ninja shall ever die until they are the last of their platoon.” Sakura said. “Got it?”

 

Naruto nodded sheepishly. As much he liked Sakura, medical ninjutsu was really boring and complicated to think about. He gave them thumbs up and went to relieve himself in the woods. Sakura and Sasuke remained together in silence, listening to the rustling caused by enemy ninja roaming around.

 

“Sasuke, I think I’m sensing a genjutsu nearby.”

 

“I think so, too.” He turned his Sharingan on, and then turned it off. “Nothing. This is beyond strange.” They heard a singsong voice in the background and Naruto pranced in. Without hesitation, Sasuke pulled out a daffodil poison laced kunai and put it in front of his neck. Sakura gulped.

 

“Password?”

 

“First clause, no medic ninja shall ever stop medical treatment until the lives of their party members have come to an end. Second clause, no medic ninja shall ever stand on the front lines. Third clause, no medic ninja shall ever die until they are the last of their platoon.” He repeated like a well-practised song.

 

“Bullshit. Naruto would never bother to remember school work!” Sasuke said, jumping back. Sakura followed him and what they thought was Naruto chuckled in a very un-Naruto way. The features of the person behind the mask turned very grim and twisted. The henge wore off, turning into the woman that they met before the exam. Sasuke felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise. Shit was going down and it was going down quickly. He threw a poisoned kunai at her and she caught it with her tongue and swallowed it. Just swallowed it. Sakura nearly fainted at the sight. Her mind immediately raced towards Naruto.

 

Naruto went on his little tinkle field trip and as he was minding his own business, he saw something that unmistakably looked like a motherfucking, giant snake. Now, Naruto has never been afraid of snakes, ever. He used to catch them with Kiba and Sasuke back in the academy days. He even wanted to take some home to keep as pets, but Old Man Third forbid it. Said he wasn’t too fond of snakes. The snake slithered around, coming closer and enveloping itself around Naruto’s body. Oh boy, not today, snake, not today. Naruto grabbed his kunai and attempted to poke it, but it swallowed him nevertheless.

 

His teammates didn’t fare better either. They were running away from a deranged, poisoned-kunai swallowing woman. She even casted a genjutsu on them that made them see their own deaths, something that was traumatic on its own. He was running on fuel he was not aware existed.

 

Naruto was poking around the snake’s insides but it didn’t even budge. It looked like was nearing the stomach and he wasn’t really keen on being digested by a snake. Surely, the snake cannot expand forever? He summoned as many shadow clones as he could and the snake let loose. Just how did crazy Anko Mitarashi find a giant snake to put into the forest as a trap?

 

Sasuke turned his Sharingan on. This was some serious shit.

 

“Who are you?” He shouted.

 

The woman chuckled. Something seemed off about her body to Sakura’s medical eye. Yes, she looked like a woman, but her stance and the way she walked did not look like it belonged to a woman, due the fact that women carried most of their weight in their hips, so they walked much different from men. She felt Sasuke pull her behind him and they hid behind a tree. She was about to heal the cut on his cheek when she felt cold breath on her neck. Oh, fuck no. She pulled him away and the snake was met with a rain of kunai. Naruto was standing on a branch diagonally from them and Sakura let out a sigh, at least he was alive for now.

 

“Just take our scrolls and leave us alone!” Sasuke shouted.

 

“What the fuck!” Naruto shouted back. “No way is she taking our scrolls!”

 

“Stay out of this!”

 

“Stop being a little bitch and man up!”

 

Sakura noticed the woman was now standing atop the snake, which was chasing Sasuke. She kept taunting him, repeating his name. Naruto already threw himself in and the snake jumped, pushing him against a tree. His eyes turned red, deadly. Fangs and nails longer and sharper. He returned to the snake’s body, stabbing it with his entire wrath. Sakura watched in shock. Wait. Her brain was over-thinking.

 

She read up on the Sannin after the conversation in her kitchen. Sakura recalled her childhood room and the tiny yellow carpet she always played on. Her aunt’s summon watched her sometimes. Tsunade summoned slugs. Jiraiya summoned toads, as Naruto boasted after a training session he was to learn to summon too. Orochimaru summoned snakes. Sakura felt her heart sink into her feet. In front of them was not a random Kusagakure genin, this was Orochimaru of the Sannin.

 

“Naruto, Sasuke, we need to get out, now!” She screamed, but they didn’t budge. She realised they were not only fighting against the snake, but also competing with each other. She was at a loss of words. Then she noticed the red glint of the Sharingan as Naruto was knocked out. As he was falling, Sakura threw a kunai and it broke his fall. She raced to Sasuke, but he was engaged in a taijutsu battle with the wayward criminal. Sakura was screaming at him to get back when Orochimaru ripped Sasuke’s sleeve off. Sasuke drew back and blew a fireball. Sakura chose to grab Naruto and jumped on the branch above Sasuke. She yelled at him to leave it, so they can escape.

 

“You truly are gifted, Sasuke.” Orochimaru spoke. “A perfect Sharingan user. Just like Itachi!”

 

“Who the fuck are you?”

 

“I’m here to give you a taste of true power.”

 

Sakura noticed the creature’s skin was peeling, like a serpent shedding its ice-cold skin. She watched in horror as the mask cracked, revealing purple markings around yellow eyes.

 

Then the unthinkable happened. Sasuke, several meters away from the woman, watched in horror as Orochimaru stretched his neck and bit the spot where Sasuke’s neck and shoulder joined. The creature went away and Sakura raced to his side, with Naruto over her shoulder. Sasuke just screamed in pain and then fainted. She grabbed him too and hid them underneath joint branches. She checked Naruto first, as he has been longer out. He was good, but trigger demon chakra probably exhausted him. Sasuke, on the other hand… His chakra was shaky and his reserves were expanding at an inhumane speed. Sakura performed the hand seals, summoned the mystical palm technique, and sped up Sasuke’s metabolism. The quick metabolism integrated the foreign chakra and filtered it out, but there was a three tomoe seal on Sasuke’s neck. Gulping, she fumbled around her medical pouches and found a ration pill, which she crushed up and gave Sasuke.

 

Turning her attention back to Naruto, she noticed that Orochimaru disabled his chakra flow. Now, using the mystical palm on Sasuke nearly drained all of her own chakra. She ate one of the pills and restarted Naruto’s system, but it would take hours until it recovers. She could just wait. Sakura tore up her apron skirt and made makeshift rags to bring down their respective fevers. With the last of her strength, she covered the entrance of their hideout with bushes and fell asleep.

 

When she woke up, Naruto and Sasuke were still out. Sakura exhaled and fixed up the last of her apron to change their bandages. Having two scrolls truly puts a target on their backs. Naruto was making a far better progress; he could be awakening any moment. She thanked her aunt for the lessons on restarting systems and leaned back.

 

Anko was sitting in front of the Forest of Death, sipping on her morning tea. She chucked down on her dango and started reading the reports from chūnin who served as guards. That is when she saw Kotetsu and Izumo ran as if they were chased by a goddamned yōkai.

 

“Mitarashi-senpai!” They shouted. “We spotted the corpse of a giant snake!”

 

Anko put down her teacup. “Alert the fucking Hokage.”

 

The Senju gardens were neatly arranged with an array of tables and chairs, which were decked out with plates and cups. Flower arrangements from the Yamanaka shop were gracing the tables. Nawaki fixed his formal wear and turned his eye to his older sister, who was not hiding her displeasure about the situation. Tsunade nodded at Shizune and they stood at the gates, welcoming the new arrivals with the Hokage. Tsunade was ready to punch her sensei into tomorrow, but good conscience told her otherwise. Nawaki was very formal, shaking hands and greeting people.

 

He saw the Kazekage and Mizukage arrive, followed by a mighty display of their own ANBU. They were extended their usual courtesies and were escorted to their seats. Jiraiya was late per usual, but at least he came with several bottles of that good shit from the merchant district. The most painful dinner party in recorded history begun and the guests were an array. Every head of every clan in Konohagakure was there with their respective spouse, alongside elite ninja and jōnin from the highest ranks. Yamato looked beside himself, as he was the one who planned this extravagance. At the main table, the Third Hokage sat the head, with the Kazekage and Mizukage on his left and right. Nawaki and Tsunade sat next to each other, with Jiraiya and Fugaku Uchiha across them. Next to Fugaku was his wife Mikoto and the notorious Onibi Uchiha. Across Onibi, the Senju brought their own heavyweight, Tōka. The Hyūga, Aburame and Akimichi graced the other side of the table.

 

Tōka was giving Onibi the possibly meanest glare she could muster. Yamato was watching across another table, nearly pissing his pants. Kakashi gave him weird looks and Asuma just shrugged. He and Kurenai looked much offset, as if they were on nails. Asuma leaned forward, gathering his friends in a circle.

 

“We have an announcement to make.” Asuma smiled. “Kurenai and I are engaged.”

 

“Oh.” Kakashi said. “I thought somebody had died. Congratulations.”

 

The table congratulated them and Kurenai did her best to hide her blush. After the obligatory when is the wedding and other questions, they explained that they’ve only told Lord Third and their friends and that the wedding would be soon, as they planned a small ceremony and a simple dinner. Nothing too fancy.

 

The excitement of their good news wore off once they heard grumbling at the main table. Yagura was bragging about inhumane conditions in Kirigakure prisons, which horrified everyone around the table. Even the Hyūga thought it was too much, especially since they were shooting dirty glares to the Kirigakure ninja for many kidnapping attempts in the past. The Third Hokage insisted on bygones being bygones, but Hiashi Hyūga was not so merciful. Rasa was quietly drinking his rice wine and observing Nawaki. He cleared his throat and changed the topic.

 

“I understand your son is participating in the chūnin exams too.” He spoke.

 

“Son? I have a daughter, Lord Kazekage, who happens to be on the same team as Lord Uchiha’s son. You must have mixed them up.”

 

“Oh? Right, I must have…” He nodded, taking a bite. “Who is the third member of their squad?”

 

“Uzumaki Naruto.” Tsunade said in a flat tone, remembering the confetti bomb she found in her closet yesterday. That child would be the death of her.

 

The Hokage chuckled and Nawaki shook his head. “What of your children, Lord Kazekage?”

 

“They’re quite capable. I do believe they will show extraordinary talent.” He turned his attention to Fugaku Uchiha. “I’ve heard your son, Sasuke, is a genius.”

 

Fugaku shrugged. “He is talented, yes. The Uchiha have given many talented shinobi.” Fugaku said. Nawaki closed his eyes and prayed to every deity and spirit protecting the Senju clan that no one namedrops Itachi Uchiha. Mikoto Uchiha remained quiet, her face a quiet façade. Onibi’s ears perked up.

 

“The boy is our future, isn’t he?” Onibi spoke, playing with her glass. “I can see him becoming an excellent ninja. Sasuke awakened his Sharingan when he was six years old.” She recalled, carefully avoiding the topic of why and how he did it. Fugaku agreed, nodding.

 

“His taijutsu is excellent for a boy his age. What about your daughter, Nawaki? She is your heir, isn’t she?”

 

Nawaki cocked an eyebrow. He was well aware that people prodded him about not having a male child, something he was perfectly fine with, truth to be told. He enjoyed being a father above else.

 

“Her medical ninjutsu is something else, truly. It took her mere months to learn the basics of the Mystical Palm. She even healed my arm after a mission. However, above else, I trust her judgement and logical thinking. She is a smart kid with a big heart.”

 

Fugaku didn’t look too impressed. “A medical ninja? Is she hoping to become a field medic?”

 

“I don’t know. Even if she prefers to stay in the hospital, I’ll support her wholeheartedly.”

 

“Do I need to remind you, Lord Uchiha that the First Hokage was a medical ninja, too?”  Hiruzen Sarutobi spoke, puffing out a large cloud of smoke. “Give credit where credit is due.”

 

“Hn.” He said, crossing his arms. Onibi Uchiha let out an undignified sigh.

 

“What a waste.”

 

Before Tsunade slapped her down with her bare fists, Tōka delivered a tongue-lashing of thousand deaths.  “Remind me, Onibi, what for were you famous for except for marrying well?”

 

On the table beside them, Kakashi was trying not to fall over his chair. Point, Tōka. The late Lord Second must be cackling from his grave. Yamato’s mouth was on the floor, while Asuma was squeezing Kurenai’s hand.

 

“Ne, Onibi? What is it?” Tōka said, sipping her sake.

 

“Oh, look, pheasant!” Nawaki shouted, as the waiters brought out the roast of the evening. Yagura watched with great interest. Perhaps he could get some of those Hyūga eyes as a souvenir from the Hidden Leaf, maybe even Uchiha ones. Ever since he came here, his fingers itched for a fight. He wondered if he could see the two grandmothers lash out, but granny fights weren’t really something he was interested in. Nevertheless, he couldn’t wait until things get in motion.

 

The dinner returned to silence. Then, Yagura had to speak.

 

“Do state dinners usually take place on a clan compound in Konoha, Lord Hokage?”

 

“Ah well, sometimes. This place has some fond memories for me, I hoped to share it with my guests.” He pointed a particular spot in the yard. “This is where Lord Tobirama announced the birth of his daughter.” Then he showed the large entrance door behind them.

 

“Hashirama-sensei used to sit on those stairs and read to us. I remember Lady Mito would bring her son out to listen to our reading sessions. Ah, I do miss my youth sometimes. It would be lovely to see the faces of my late friends again.” The Third said. Karachi looked unimpressed, while the Kazekage contained himself from snorting.

 

“Lord Hokage!” A voice screamed. Kotetsu landed on a cherry tree and dunked in the middle of the yard. “Captain Mitarashi needs you!”

 

Momentarily, the entire jōnin table got up and threw their cutlery. The look on Kotetsu’s face told Kakashi everything. Something was lurking in that fucking forest and whatever it was, there will be hell to pay.

Chapter Text

Senju Sakura was not having it right now. Naruto and Sasuke were still out of it (not that Sasuke had it ever, truth to be told, while Naruto remains debatable) and sleeping soundly in a borderline comatose state under the tree. She just changed their bandages and stayed on guard duty. This was definitely above your medic’s average paygrade. At least her chakra was returning, so she’d be able to defend them in the worst case scenario. Tsunade had insisted that she doesn’t use yet the technique she’d been taught, because she wasn’t sure if Sakura’s evasion skills are good enough. But that was okay, since there was no worst case scenario yet.

 

Cue in, worst case scenario.

 

Sakura was preparing to find some more daffodils to make poison, but she was intercepted by a conversation among the trees. Their chakra signatures felt foreign, she figured they must be Oto or Kuso. By their accent, she bet they were from the first village. One of them mentioned something about killing a certain Sasuke Uchiha. Sakura closed her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose. She wished she could summon Shisui so he could hear these threatening words and throw hands with these evil, murderous brats. Oh, not today. Sakura prayed they won’t detect them but she was wrong, dead wrong.

 

“Oi, Kin! Three signatures behind those bushes. Feels like Konoha.”

 

“Three, you say? Interesting.”

 

Sakura was about to leave her hideout and beat the shit out of the bitch, when she heard a loud, booming voice.

 

“Leaf hurricane!” Rock Lee shouted, kicking one of the Oto ninja directly in the face. Sakura immediately raced out and threw poisoned kunai at him. He dodged them, but fell into a trap and was cut by a daffodil-coated wire. He chuckled and Sakura prayed the retching would kick in soon. He came running at her and she dodged them with ease. Standing atop of a branch, she felt shuriken thrown by the girl, Kin, flying in her direction, but Lee jumped in front of her.

 

“Do not, worry, honourable great-granddaughter Sakura!” Rock Lee shouted. “I came to defend you!”

 

“Thanks Lee!” She shouted atop the branch. With a kick, she broke it and it fell on the middle of the field, crushing one of the ninja. Then the creepy dude in bandages decided to kick Rock Lee around like a goddamned ragdoll. Sakura screamed, but not from seeing Lee defeated. Sasuke woke up, rising like the sun over a cursed forest. His Sharingan was glowing in the darkness of the pit where he and Naruto were sleeping. The seal on his neck bloomed and it spread like flames down his body. Then came the most vicious beat down she ever witnessed in her short life. He beat the ever-loving shit out of them. Sasuke was not holding back. Sakura jumped down and grabbed Lee, in order to pull him away. In the meantime, Naruto jolted awake and sprinted out of the makeshift hideout.

 

“Sakura, where are you? Where is Sasuke? Wait, Sasuke, what the fuck!” Naruto screeched, watching the Uchiha in the middle of a case of demonic possession. Sakura raced down the tree and she and Naruto tackled Sasuke, grinding his face into the dirt.

 

“Sasuke stop, before you kill them!” Naruto shouted, keeping him down. It took a lot of chakra-enhanced strength, but they pressed him down. Sakura pressed her forehead against his shoulder blade. “Stop, please.”

 

Naruto fell tears swell up in his eyes. This was not the boy he knew, they boy that trained with him and occasionally shared his mother’s homemade onigiri, the boy that requested the same comforter when they stayed over at Sakura’s house, they boy that begrudgingly agreed to teach Naruto the best way to throw a shuriken… Sasuke blinked, holding his head. He was shaking uncontrollably and the seal gathered again. Sakura let out a long, drawn out breath and hugged Naruto, crying. She had never seen a sight more terrifying than a loved one lose grip of themselves. Naruto grabbed Sasuke and pulled him into the hug. They got up and noticed that the enemy team was gathering their bells too. Sakura braced herself when she heard a familiar voice.

 

“Oi bitches! Ino-Shika-Chō is here!” Ino shouted. Ah, friendly fire! Team 7 looked at them, dumbfounded. They immediately got into formation. Then one of the enemy ninja, the boy with brown hair, started retching and puking. Everyone stopped, clearly confused. He was clutching his stomach and shaking. Sakura looked at Ino and winked.

 

“Daffodil poison?” Ino asked. Sakura gave her a grin and they fist bumped. The enemy team ran away, with the puking boy in tow. Shikamaru sat down, staring at a passed out Rock Lee and the broken branches.

 

“Man, how troublesome. Looks like a fucking rhino fought here. Why are you still hugging Sasuke?”

 

“He needs hugs!” Naruto concluded. Sasuke pushed his teammates away.

 

“Stop hugging me.”

 

“Oh, grumpy is back. Are you feeling okay?”

 

“Yeah, yeah. My neck hurts and the rest of my body. Also, I feel skinnier?” He said, touching his ribs. Sakura nodded.

 

“Yeah, I did some minor surgery on you. You’ll eat once we get out. Naruto, are you okay?”

 

He was laying on Sakura’s left thigh, his whiskered cheek nuzzling against it. If she wasn’t this tired, she’d kick him away, but she just couldn’t find it in her heart. “I slept like a baby. Dreamt of a giant bowl of ramen.” He smiled, feeling content. “What the fuck was up with Sasuke?” Naruto asked, watching the Uchiha rubbing his eyes.

 

Ino knelt down, eyeing Sasuke. “I can scan your mind, but it will hurt cause I’m not really practised.”

 

“Absolutely not!” Sasuke said. Chōji observed the battlefield. Lee’s teammates appeared, looking very disgruntled. The Hyūga was giving Lee a clear face of displeasure. Sakura waved at Rock Lee.

 

“Thank you, Lee, for your help!” At those words, Rock Lee jumped up, blowing her a kiss. She just looked away and the female member of the team shook her head in disappointment. They took him away without a word.

 

“Those ninja fight like murderous little shits.” He said. “Anyway, we have to go, Team 10. We are a scroll short.”

 

Sakura thought of their scrolls hidden in the lining of Naruto’s jacket and felt a surge of anxiety down her spine. “I imagine you can bully a team into giving you theirs.” They were about to split, Ino hugged Sakura and went into the bushes, dragging Chōji along, reminding Shikamaru not to slack behind. Before the Nara left, he grabbed Sakura’s wrist, pulling her closer.

 

“You have both, don’t you?”

 

“And what are you doing about it?”

 

“The exit is 300 meters west away. Good luck.” He pulled away and left without turning his back. Sakura stood there, dumbfounded. She turned to Naruto and Sasuke and grabbed both their hands. “Let’s go.”

 

Since their Uchiha teammate was on his last legs, they manhandled Sasuke out of the gates, throwing him on the carpet in the lounge. A familiar face greeted them.

 

“Iruka-sensei!” They shouted. The chūnin gave them a shining smile. His favourite academy students looked beaten and bruised, but they were alive. Sasuke was sitting on the ground, face paler than the moon.

 

“You didn’t know that I’m co-proctor?”

 

“Not at all!” Naruto said, giving him a big hug.

 

“I’ll call the medical team for Sasuke, don’t worry. Scrolls, please.” He said. Naruto pulled them out and placed them on Iruka’s desk. He opened the first one and Genma Shiranui jumped out, lying flat on the counter.

 

“Motherfucker!”

 

“No swearing in front of the kids!” Iruka shouted, giving him a backhanded slap. Genma pouted. Iruka undid the other scroll and Ibiki Morino came out. He grumped and sat down next to Genma.

 

“Chūnin and jōnin are sealed in here, in the case some of you brats get fresh and try opening it.” Genma said, putting his signature senbon back in his mouth. “A bitch really, but it’s worth it.”

 

“I said no swearing!” Iruka yelled.

 

“Our sensei is Kakashi Hatake.” Naruto said. “We know every curse-word in the book, Iruka-sensei.”

 

Iruka slapped his forehead with a disappointed face and Genma laughed loudly, even Ibiki snickered at the statement.

 

“I’ll have a talk with Kakashi about this. My Gods. Ah, why are you standing there?” He pressed a button on the table and yelled. “Dr Katō, get in here!”

 

They were back in their favourite room in the hospital. Tsunade summoned Jiraiya and Tōka to look at the seal. Jiraiya’s face went pale at the sight. He sat down, turning to two thirds of Team 7. Sakura was looking like a kitten in rain. Naruto looked shell-shocked, but he kept a big smile on his face. For the girl, it was always for the girl, Jiraiya figured. The look on Sakura’s face told him everything he needed to know. This shit kept Jiraiya up at night. He sighed, sitting down.

 

“The ninja that attacked Sasuke summoned giant snakes.” She said, without missing a beat. Jiraiya’s heart shattered into a thousand pieces. He leaned back on the wall. Tōka looked concerned, but remained composed. She looked and Jiraiya and they began the delicate procedure. As Jiraiya thought, there was no way of removing it. Tsunade was checking Sasuke’s vitals, frowning.

 

“Your chakra reserves have nearly doubled. And you lived to tell the tale.”

 

“Auntie, I did something. I sped up his metabolism with the Palm, but it knocked him out in a lighter coma and he lost weight.”

 

“But he’s alive. Good job.”

 

With those words, Fugaku and Mikoto Uchiha burst into the door, followed by a concerned Nawaki. He sat down next to Sakura and Naruto, and they both hugged him. Tsunade was looking at them with sadness in her eyes. Mikoto Uchiha wrapped her arms around Sasuke, before he pulled back.

 

“I’m okay, Mum.”

 

“You lost weight.” Only the concerned eye of a mother would notice something like that. She was keeping her usually composed façade, but it was cracking due the thought of losing her second son, too. Mikoto’s heart had been in shambles ever since Itachi vanished, but Sasuke’s potential death at the hands of a criminal was too much. Sasuke told Jiraiya and Tōka not to tell his parents about the seal, as he wanted to discuss it with his father.

 

“Sakura did some medical witchcraft to save my life.”

 

Mikoto turned to her. “Thank you, dear.”

 

“Thank Naruto too. Without him, we would have died.” She said, petting him. The boy gave a fox like grin and nodded. “Totally. Sasuke’s Sharingan was the most badass thing I have ever seen.”

 

“And don’t call medical ninjutsu witchcraft.” Sakura said.

 

“Excuse me, nurse Senju.” He replied in a sarcastic tone. Sakura found a plaster and stuck it on Sasuke’s forehead.

 

“There you go, cured.”

 

“You have horrible bedside manner for a future doctor.”

 

“Was that an attempt at a joke, Sasuke?” Naruto asked.

 

Even Fugaku Uchiha chuckled. The kids were discharged and went to their respective homes to rest. Naruto was taken by Iruka, which made the orange goofball happy. That’s when they found out that the chūnin exams will have preliminary rounds before the finals due too many teams passing the survival exam. The preliminary rounds were in a week, until all teams that were in the forest are accounted for. This just caused more growing displeasure with the genin participating and among the villagers who had to deal with disrespectful foreign shinobi. Shisui and the Uchiha police force were working around the clock in order to make the streets save, due foreign shinobi mistreating their citizens and the inevitable fights between rival villages.

 

Speaking of Shisui, he just arrived in his apartment and decided to have some light dinner before dropping to bed into a long, well-deserved nap. Then some little shit had the audacity to knock on his door. Groaning, he pulled on his favourite fluffy teal bathrobe and went to open the door. His jaw nearly hit the floor when he saw his visitors. The Copy Ninja himself, Kakashi Hatake and an ex-ANBU, Anko Mitarashi, were standing on his porch.

 

“Evening, Shisui.”

 

“What are you doing here?”

 

“Mind getting Sasuke? We need to have a little talk with him.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Shisui, please.” Anko said, sitting down. The look on her face told him everything he needed to know. Shisui threw Sasuke in the apartment, still in his pyjamas.

 

“What the hell, Shisui? Oh, Kakashi?” Sasuke looked surprised briefly, before composing himself and sitting in the chair next to the window. Shisui sat down across of him and fixed the tie on his bathrobe. Anko was giving Sasuke a look he only saw in his mother when Itachi went missing. Confused, he asked her what happened.

 

“I’ve heard you encountered Orochimaru.”

 

“Yeah, so what? Why did you bring your girlfriend here, Kakashi?” Sasuke said, throwing Shisui off. The Uchiha captain was well aware of Kakashi’s perverted ways and habits, but this was a surprise even to him.

 

“Girlfriend?” Shisui asked, but their body language told him everything. Kakashi’s hand was on Anko’s shoulder, and she was holding his other hand in her lap. Carefully, she removed her hand and showed the back of her neck. There was something that looked like a seal, created out of three tomoe and some basic seal work. Anko inhaled deeply, leaning back.

 

“Back when I was a genin, I requested an apprenticeship with one of the Sannin. Can you guess which one?”

 

“Orochimaru.” Sasuke said, without missing a beat.

 

“You have to understand that he was a venerated ninja at the time and a war hero, the tutelage he was granting me should have been considered an honour. It was, to some point. The village is now aware of the sheer prowess of Orochimaru’s crimes. What you and I have on our bodies is a Cursed Seal. It will grant you some abilities, yes, but it comes with a great cost. The one I bear is the first one ever created. He put the mark on my neck without my consent or knowledge. I cannot predict how much his power has changed over the years, but I can only imagine it has increased since. What I can offer is to teach you how to subdue it and downplay its effects.”

 

“Why would I discard something that can give me great power?” Sasuke said, crossing his arms, spine painfully straight, Kakashi gave Anko an “I told you so” look but she remained unaverred.

Shisui couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Orochimaru, the Sannin, the fucking criminal Orochimaru, came and attacked Sasuke? Does the Hokage now?” Shisui shouted. “Do Lord and Lady Uchiha know?”

 

“Yes, the Hokage knows. As for now, the mark has been sealed away. Sasuke requested not to tell his parents.” Kakashi said. “Kid, listen to me. This is for our own good. Anko wants to help.”

 

“I’ll think about it.” He cut them off. Shisui knew that in Sasuke’s language this means fuck off.

 

“I cannot force you, of course.” Anko said. Her facial expression changed, she sported a daring grin. “Scared of me, Uchiha?”

 

“Why would I be scared of you?” He hissed.

 

“I am the disciple of a Sannin. Only two more people in the world can say that. Well, three, but he passed since.” Anko said, looking at her nails.

 

“Listen, if Orochimaru comes to you offering you power, come crazy shit or something, remember. You are a member of the Uchiha clan. Nothing he can offer can outdo us.” Shisui said. He suspected that Orochimaru was after Sasuke’s eyes. Sasuke was the youngest member of the main branch, a suitable candidate for awakening the clan’s highest form of power and a prodigy.

 

“I know. The snake can go fuck himself.”

 

“That’s the spirit.” Anko said, ruffling his hair. “I want to invite you for some tea and dango if you’re in the mood. Hit me up.” She said getting up. “My sweetheart and I better get going.” Anko said, grabbing Kakashi’s shoulder. He groaned and they left.

 

Shisui gave Sasuke a sad look and hugged him. “You need to tell your parents, you know?” Shisui said, holding him close. Sasuke pulled away. “I know.”

 

In the wee morning hours, Sakura was getting her ass kicked by her aunt. Tsunade decided to put a halt on her medical ninjutsu training in order to prepare her for some hand-to-hand combat. When one is learning evasion with Tsunade, one wants to escape every single punch because her aunt did not hold back. Tsunade was a force to be reckoned with due her physical strength. Sakura was painfully aware that her aunt wasn’t pouring in any chakra in her attacks and yet, she punched a hole in the tree. Sakura just escaped on attack, when she felt a wave of water on her back.

 

“Dad!” She pouted. Nawaki chuckled and poked her shoulder. “You need to be more alert.” Sakura nodded, pouting. Tsunade gave Nawaki a concerned look.

 

“Going to the Tower?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Give him a proper dressing down.”

 

Nawaki just grinned and Tsunade’s heart nearly broke how much he resembled their grandfather in that moment. He went through the garden gate and Tsunade waved him off. Sakura just got up, cleaning herself. “I’ll take a shower. We’re meeting Kakashi-sensei for training this afternoon.”

Naruto was telling Sasuke about the big dinner he had with Iruka-sensei last night in the afternoon, when Sakura flew down with a basket in her hand. She waved at them and Naruto jumped up. Sakura gave him a tight squeeze and wanted to hug Sasuke, but his rigid manner told her not to.

 

“I’ve brought some food, in the case we get hungry.”

 

“You’re the best.” Naruto stated and she smiled back. They waited for Kakashi, who arrived only fifteen minutes late. At their shocked expressions, he explained that Anko threatened him. Kakashi clasped his hands together.

 

“Well, kids, today we’re taking a little fieldtrip. C’mon, we have a long way to go.”

 

They travelled for what looked and felt like hours. Although, the place of their arrival served as enough of a reward. The valley they landed in was decorated with several anchors of deep, untouched forest, two cliffs covered in woodwork were kissing in the background, all surrounded by the rustling of water. As it was spring, the forest was in bloom. The chirping of birds enhanced the idyllic landscape. It truly was a sight for sore eyes. The children looked in awe as Kakashi showed them around as if the valley was his own garden.

 

“Back in the day, my sensei took me here and my genin team for survival training. Today, we will not do survival training; first, we will work on your ninjutsu and genjutsu. Afterwards, we will take a short break. Now, what do you see here?”

 

“Those trees are growing unnaturally.” Sakura said. “Sensei, did you put a genjutsu here?”

 

“No, not at all. Strange.” He turned his head. “Okay, some history. During the Warring Era, many battles took here, so it wouldn’t be wrong to assume that here isn’t a potential mass grave.”

 

“Oh, okay.” Kakashi patted Sakura’s head.

 

“Now, I know you have a good nose for sensing genjutsu. Sasuke’s dōjutsu allows him to cast genjutsu on whim, so this will be practise for all of you. Got it?”

 

His three little genin nodded. “Someone once told me that the art of genjutsu lies in the small details, the bigger and less realistic the genjutsu is the more likely my opponent will notice it and release it.”

 

“Exactly. Let me guess, Shisui?”

 

“No, Itachi.” Sasuke said quietly. Naruto pushed his chubby cheeks with his hands, leaning forward. Splayed on his belly, he listened to Kakashi explain the training. He considered using his own Sharingan, but he didn’t want to exhaust himself in the case he’s needed. After only an hour and a half, Sasuke fell back in the soft grass. His eyes were burning from using them, so he closed them. Sakura and Naruto were dead tired too, with Naruto missing the mark every time, but Kakashi was happy that he was able to teach Sakura how to release others from a genjutsu. Kakashi thought how nothing bad would ever happen to Naruto if he had Sakura on his side. Kakashi’s heart hurt as he looked Naruto blush furiously around his crush, who was handing them food. Sakura leaned her back on a rock, watching the cliff.

 

“Sensei, did you come here often when you were a genin?”

 

“Hm, not really. We didn’t have much time as I moved through the ranks through the war. I’m not going to lie, your chūnin exams are more complex than mine. We didn’t have preliminary rounds and ours were held among our own ranks, not with two additional villages.”

 

“Ugh, this is too much. Why doesn’t Old Man Third hand us the titles and let us live?” Naruto said. “I’m no quitter, but this drawing out is dumb.”

 

“There are some teams that are unaccounted for.” Kakashi said. “It’s like the forest swallowed them.”

 

“Must be that murderous shit from the Sand.” Sasuke said.

 

“What murderous shit from the Sand?” Kakashi replied.

 

“He has red hair, but we don’t know his name. He looks like a demon.” Naruto said, describing him. Kakashi’s single eye batted. “I’ll find his name out for you, don’t worry. Now, as for your genjutsu skills, you have none.”

 

Naruto pouted, crossing his arms. “Not my fault that Sasuke has magic genjutsu casting eyes.”

 

“Are you jealous?”

 

“Never!”

 

Sakura finished making a crown of daffodils and daisies and placed it on Kakashi’s head. The jōnin looked surprised, but admired the handy work.

 

“Look how adorable sensei looks!” Sakura plucked a dandelion from the field and gave it to Naruto. “This flower looks exactly like you.”

 

Naruto stared at the fluffy yellow flower. “I have a twin! Look, Sasuke, my twin!”

 

Sasuke just glanced over and returned his eyes to the sky. He remained still and watched the wind blow through the leaves, wondering why he’s wasting time. The Uchiha got up and dusted the grass of his clothes.

 

“Get up, Naruto. We need to work on taijutsu. Sakura, you too.”

 

“I have to decline, I’ve already trained with my aunt this morning and promised her that we will train in the evening.”

 

“Hn. Considering how much you’ve been slacking, I think you should train with us. Even Naruto has made more progress than you.”

 

“Sasuke, don’t be a dick! She saved our lives in the forest!”

 

“She can barely put up a fight. And you’re supposed to be the blood of the most powerful shinobi who ever lived.”

 

Sakura remained quiet, tears welling up in her nice. She just saved his life, using her brains and evasion skills only, and this is how he thanks her? Kakashi’s lone eye was shooting daggers at Sasuke, who was standing his ground. Naruto got up, angry and flung himself at his rival, tackling him. He was so quick that Sasuke didn’t see him coming. They were rolling around the grass, biting and shouting at each other. Sakura watched them, ready to roll her sleeves up and separate them from murdering one another, when she felt a large hand press her shoulder down.

 

“Let them wrestle each other, Naruto will kick his ass. He’s heavier than Sasuke and is fighting for your honour.”

 

Sakura gave him a soft smile. “You’re a medical ninja, Sakura. I know the rules very well; no one is expecting you to be a jōnin level fighter and a doctor at your age. Work on your medical ninjutsu, since it makes you so happy.” What he truly meant and knew, this little girl would never need to stand on the front lines and sacrifice her life. Everyone is happy because she’d be well and alive. Sakura’s smile didn’t change, but there was something about her big round eyes that struck his belly with terrible familiarity. Kakashi felt his throat go dry.

 

“I’m not really sure if I want to kill people, but I am very much sure I want to heal them. Instead of death, there can be life.”

 

Kakashi closed his eyes from that awful pink hair and blinked away the ghost he just saw. “How charitable of you.”

 

She cracked her knuckles. “But I also want to kick ass. Especially Sasuke and Naruto’s, they deserve it.” Gone was the ghost. Kakashi ruffled her hair.

 

“Now, let’s go separate our boys before they kill each other. Naruto, stop chewing Sasuke’s hand!”

 

Sasuke pulled away and wiped his hand on Naruto’s shirt. The knucklehead stuck his tongue out and kicked Sasuke who pulled out a kunai. Kakashi sighed and separated them. They were jumping over the roofs of Konohagakure, the moon high on the sky. Naruto imitated a wolf howl at shining orb at the sky. Sakura chocked out a laugh and Kakashi snorted. Sasuke continued ignoring him and abruptly stopped. He signalled his entire team to stop and they gathered in the crown of the tree beside one of the most hotels in Konohagakure.

 

Atop the roof was the strange, murderous kid from Suna. He looked much different; his face was washed over with an odd, unnatural serenity. He was in a deep meditative state, hands clenched in the tiger sign. They watched him like a newly discovered exotic bird, terrified he might jump them. Kakashi thought the kid was up way past his bedtime, wondering what his team thinks of his strange guru performance. He shooed the kids away, passing his apartments. Kakashi approached the Hatake household, groaning as the kids recognised the Hatake symbol on the gates.

 

“This is where you live, sensei?” Naruto said in excitement.

 

“Yes, that flat behind the main house.” He said, hands on his hips. Kakashi felt a familiar chakra signature approach and braced himself for the fallout. Behind them, on the street, stood Sakumo Hatake, carrying groceries in brown bags. His facial expression was stern, but his eyes lit up at the sight of his only child. Kakashi swallowed his pride and anger.

 

“Good evening, Dad.”

 

“Dad?!” Team 7 yelled in union. Sakumo Hatake chuckled and looked at Kakashi.

 

“Long time, no see. Your genin team, I presume?”

 

“Yes.” He said with some content. Sakumo approached the three children, eyeing them.

 

“Hm, which one will I interrogate first…Eeny, meeny, miny, Uchiha!”

 

Sasuke pouted. “Hey, I’m Uzumaki Naruto, I’m much more interesting!”

 

“Are you?” Sakumo said, eyeing Naruto. He turned his eyes back to Sasuke. “Fugaku’s brat, I assume.”

 

“Hn.” Sasuke grunted, crossing his arms. Naruto looked jealous, put Sakura straightened his back and showed him to Sakumo. “Kakashi-sensei, you and your dad look alike.” Sakura said, eyeing the two men. To put it mildly, Sakumo looked like a future, geriatric Kakashi, but with a fashionable ponytail.

 

“And you, little lady? You look familiar.” He said, narrowing his eyes.

 

“Sakura. Senju Sakura.” She smiled, offering her hand. Sakumo shook it and backed away.

 

“Well, it was nice meeting you, kiddies. You too, son.” Sakumo turned his back and waved at them, entering the apartment on the left side of the main house. Kakashi didn’t see that his father wiped a silent tear away. Kakashi felt led fill his stomach and wanted to disappear. He waved his kids off goodbye with an awkwardness unnatural for Kakashi Hatake and locked the door.

 

 

Back in the Hokage Tower, Nawaki was on the verge of snapping the elder’s necks. Shimura was persistent on becoming the Fifth Hokage, something that no one except Danzō himself and maybe the Uchiha wanted. Tōka, Homura Mitokado, Koharu Utatane and the Third Hokage himself were not on his side, with Tōka being especially vocal. Nawaki feared that the reign of Shimura would very much look like the dictatorship in Kirigakure, something that the three elder completely agreed with. The daughter of the Second Hokage was doing him justice when she slammed her first against the table.

 

“Shimura, what gives you the idea we will take your word sitting down? The jōnin despise you, to put it mildly. Your little project has been disbanded ages ago, due to ethical issues during the war. Ethical issues. During a war.”

 

“Your words hurt me, Lady Tōka. I only have the village’s interest at heart. Your father would be ashamed if he heard you.”

 

“Your interest or the village’s interest?” Tōka spoke, causing angry gasps around the table. “If you mention my father ever again, I swear he will rise from his grave atop that mountain and slap some sense into you!” Tōka was on the verge of snapping his neck but remained calm.

 

“The Uchiha might support you, Shimura. The Hyūga too, in the case Hiashi doesn’t kick the bucket because his own clan despises him. I elected two Hokage before you, Danzō, which means I know the rules, ins and outs of this election. You might be a candidate, but I’ve never seen a candidate less qualified and more despised. I nominate Lord Nawaki Senju, son of Senju Taiyō and Yamanaka Yue, grandson of Senju Hashirama Senju and Uzumaki Mito, grandnephew of Senju Tobirama and student of Jiraiya of the Ogata, a Sannin and Hiruzen Sarutobi, the Third Hokage. Not to mention, a teammate to Lord Fourth, may the Gods rest his soul.” Tōka spoke, without breaking eye contact with Shimura’s lone eye.

 

Nawaki nearly fell of his chair. Was she insane? Tōka knew why Nawaki rejected becoming the Fifth after the Fourth died. His best friend was murdered in cold blood, sacrificing his life for the village, all under Nawaki’s nose. He had a little child, just lost his wife, Tsunade was in shambles, everything was dire and… However, those were different times. Nawaki was now in charge of S-ranks and intelligence gathering and passed the position of jōnin commander to Shikaku because that would mean disabling him in mission. Shikaku himself currently, looked very pleased.

 

“Here, here.” He spoke. “I am on Lady Tōka’s side, Nawaki is out best option. He has the right heritage, schooling and abilities to lead us.”

 

“I think I should have some say in the matter.” Nawaki said, causing a light chuckle around the table. “You see, I need some serious thinking to do. This is an important position. Expectations will be high, I imagine.”

 

“Which is why I should take over. I have the experience.” Shimura spoke.

 

“We’ll see.”

Chapter Text

“How did you manage to ruin your apron, remind me again?” Shizune said, digging through the towel closed on the second floor of the family home. Sakura was fixing her over-the-knee socks, adjusting them with the bandages that contained her kunai.

 

“Told you. I tore it up when I made rags for Naruto and Sasuke back in the Forest of Death.”

 

Shizune pulled out a medical apron, but this one was an older example. The newer models had drawstrings, but this one was dusted in a lighter pink colour and had to be tied around the waist. Sakura lifted her arms like a small child and Shizune chuckled as she tied the apron skirt around Sakura’s waist.

 

“I didn’t know ones who you have to tie like that existed.”

 

“Yup, back in the day, this is how it worked. This could have been your mother’s or mine.” She stated, evaluating the garment with nostalgia. “Good luck at the preliminary matches.”

 

“Thank you, Shizune! See you tonight!”

 

The arena that would be used for the preliminary fights was located in the basement of the jōnin headquarters. The headquarters had this impressive statue of fingers in a tiger seal, made out of painted wood. Sakura asked herself what kind of artist was bonkers enough to carve a pair of hands when she recalled that long ago, someone who could manipulate wood on a whim lived. Naruto and Sasuke were sitting in front of the hands, arguing about something. Sakura clapped above their hands, calling for their attention. They raised their hands and Naruto squealed with excitement when he saw her.

 

“Oi, are we ready to kick some ass?” Naruto asked. Team 7 confirmed then Naruto looked around. “Now, where the fuck is our sensei?”

 

Kiri and Suna shinobi splattered around the gallery on the top, while the Konoha shinobi were slacking. They were far more lively and chatty than their foreign counterparts, probably due a lack of civil wars and bloodbath academy exams. Sakura noticed Team 10 with their sensei approach them and greeted them wholeheartedly. Naruto pulled Chōji and asked if they’re going to grab some ramen after the matches and he agreed, pulling out of his valet. Naruto fist-bumped him and Shikamaru admired the two adorable gluttons. Ino sighed, asking Asuma why boys are gross and he just patter her head.

 

“Yo.” Kakashi said, jumping between his team. The three genin shrieked and Kakashi patted their heads. He noticed the Suna jōnin with the three Kazekage brats eye him and the squad. Sasuke noticed too, but against his better judgement, decided to stay quiet on the matter. Sakura was lecturing Naruto on not to get into a fistfight with Kiba, because it was against the rules. Kiba wasn’t really helping it, sticking his tongue out. Genma Shiranui, the current proctor, walked out followed by the medics.

 

“Okay. You see this screen? All your names are in the data and it will pick randomly two people to fight each other. You are fighting until one of you gives up. Good luck. Since there are 30 of you as for now, there will be 15 matches and I hope they will conclude until the end of the day. Now, please greet the Lords Mizukage and Hokage.”

 

When Naruto spotted Yagura, he immediately opened his big mouth. “That’s the Mizukage? He looks like a teenager!”

 

Sakura tackled him immediately, putting a hand on his mouth. Sasuke pinched the bridge of his nose and Kakashi just sighed. Genma let out a light chuckle and raised his hand. The screen turned, twisted and then revealed the first fight of the day. Uchiha Sasuke vs Zaku, whoever the poor person was. Sasuke looked extremely pleased that he was first to go. He still was a little thinner than before, but was ready for an altercation with the Oto ninja. Sakura immediately noticed how every person came closer to the railing and ogled the Uchiha crest on Sasuke’s back, the one he wore with great pride.

 

“I’m interested to see an Uchiha on the field. No children were born to the clan after Sasuke and Itachi, curiously.” Asuma stated, observing the young heir. Genma gulped, praying Sasuke’s genes won’t kick in and he chops up everything that moves in his Sharingan-enhanced vision.

 

“Begin.” Genma said, waving his hand in a horizontal line. Naruto and Sakura looked at each other, confused. “Wasn’t that the guy who wanted to, you know?”

 

She nodded and pulled Naruto away from Kakashi. “We need to investigate this shit. And watch out for Sasuke. If the dude has failed in his task already once, whoever hired him and if it is you-know-who, we need to figure out why someone would kill Sasuke.”

 

“Uh, because they’ve met him?”

 

Sakura slapped her forehead and pointed at the match. “If he does anything funny, we alert Mr Shiranui.”

 

Naruto gave her a nod and they watched Sasuke wiped the floor with the poor man. Sasuke showed no mercy, beginning with his fire techniques. The dude thought he dodged them, but sike, Sasuke packed some nice shuriken for lunch. Zaku was done in a measly five minutes. Genma was about to declare Sasuke a winner, but the Uchiha heir decided to grab Zaku, twist him and dislocate his arms.

 

“You attacked two knocked out boys and a defenceless girl. You fight with no honour.” He whispered in Zaku’s ear. The boy wailed in agony.

 

Sakura nearly screamed in horror, while Naruto didn’t refrain from screaming. Ino, right beside her, swallowed. Her Yamanaka sensory skills were reading Sasuke’s chakra, which was turning much darker. Something was different about him, something was looming inside of the boy and Ino was not ready to admit it to herself that Sasuke was straying from the light.

 

“Winner, Uchiha Sasuke!” Genma declared, watching as the medics pulled the poor boy away. Kakashi just kept it to himself. Whatever tainted Uchiha curse boiled in Sasuke’s blood, it threatened to spill and drown everyone in his way. Kakashi knew nothing of blood curses, but assumed there must be such a thing. There was a reason no child was born after Sasuke. The clan recorded nothing but stillbirths and miscarriages since the boy came into this world.

 

“What the fuck was that?” Naruto asked, disgusted.

 

“Victory and vengeance.”

 

“No one asked you to avenge anyone.” Naruto muttered angrily. Kakashi put a hand between them and Shikamaru read the interaction. Sakura tugged his sleeve.

 

“I need your help.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Ino and Naruto too. I’ll tell you later.”

 

The Mizukage watched Sasuke fight with great pleasure. He praised him and the Hokage just inhaled deeply, puffing out a pillar of smoke. “The Uchiha truly are something else. Wicked Eye’s son, you say? Is he a killer, like his brother before him?”

 

“We have to wait and see.”

 

The screen danced around again and the next two names shook every jōnin in the room to the core. The names read simply: Hyūga Hinata vs Hyūga Neji. Kakashi looked at Kurenai, shaking his head. Asuma grabbed her wrist.

 

“You need to stop this, immediately.”

 

“Why don’t we see the great Byakugan perform?” Sasuke chimed in.

 

“Because.” Asuma snapped. Sasuke got angry but Kakashi put a hand on his shoulder. “This goes beyond just abilities. We’re in clan politics water now, Sasuke.”

 

“What is wrong with the Hyūga clan?” Naruto asked, scratching his head. In a lower voice, Asuma explained.

 

“You see, the Hyūga are always segregated into two branches. The main family and the branch family. The current main family consists of Lord Hiashi Hyūga, his wife and their two daughters, Hinata and Hanabi. Hiashi had an identical twin brother, Hizashi. Because Hizashi was younger, he was degraded into the branch family, along with his son, Neji. The relationship between these two families is tense, to put it mildly. The rumour mill has it that Hiashi uses some kid of control jutsu to keep the other ones in check. They do not like each other naturally.”

 

“It goes deeper than that.” Kurenai corrected him, watching as poor little Hinata walked down to meet her impending doom. “Hinata was supposed to be the heir of the family. She had two disabilities. The first one being a girl and the second of being weak. She is no prodigy, nothing like the illustrious shinobi her clan spawned across generations. The clan calls Neji a genius. That he is, without a doubt. But, the clan has another young hope, and by clan I mean the younger child, Hanabi. The girl is talented and Hiashi disinherited Hinata in favour of Hanabi. He basically threw her into my arms. No wonder she’s so shy and afraid.”

 

“Man, that’s fucked up!” Naruto shouted. “That clan needs change! Hey, Hinata! Beat his ass, you hear me!”

 

“But… Genetically speaking, Neji and Hinata are half-siblings. Their paternal genetic makeup is identical, due their fathers being twins.” Sakura said. “They’re nearly brother and sister and he wants to attack her?”

 

Naruto empathised greatly with a fellow underdog, but the facial expression Kiba wore unsettled him. Gai was tense as ever, Neji was his shiny gopher in the tower. Wherever training Lee was a pleasure and exciting journey, Neji was a genius who soaked skills up like a sponge. Gai was afraid for the poor thing that was trembling down there.

 

“Sensei, they have the same eye-magic, right?”

 

“They do, Naruto, but a weapon is as a proficient as its user. Imagine Sasuke with medical ninjutsu.”

 

“Sasuke would use medical ninjutsu to kill me.”

 

“That is true.” Sasuke confirmed.

 

“Oh, you agreed on something!” Sakura said, watching Hinata with a heavy feeling in her stomach.

 

“We didn’t!” They said in union. Sakura darted her eyes to the floor. The Mizukage looked interested in Konohagakure’s display of bloodline limits. Some Kiri shinobi were angry that they weren’t able to fight, but their Kage’s angry stare convinced them to stay put.

 

Genma felt like carrying a lamb for slaughter. “Begin.”

 

Neji did not hesitate.

 

“The Hyūga use a unique style of taijutsu, the Gentle Fist. It’s a marvel of youth to see it action on two fronts.” Gai spoke, observing the children. Between Naruto’s shouting, everyone’s pale faces as they watched the match, Hinata was shaking in her boots.

 

Whereas Hanabi, her younger sister, was born lucky, Hinata considered herself lucky to be born. She was a painfully shy child, with little to no ambition as a kunoichi at first. One day, her mother sat her down and told her about the future, her planned future, as the leader of the Hyūga clan. She understood the burden and agreed to train. The training was a painful process, to put it mildly. First, there was her cousin, who was just standing in front of her, ready to decapitate her with a single strike. She never won a single spar with him, all under the watchful eyes of her father and uncle. Her father never said a word afterward, looking at her with disgust and disappointment.

 

Then she was kidnapped by some foreign shinobi and rescued by ANBU. After a faceoff with her sister the following day, Hinata was disinherited. Hanabi was the only one fit to lead the Hyūga. Something that stung Neji the wrong way. He was tactical, smart, confident and a genius, but had the infortune to be born to the wrong son. And now he will show what a true heir of the Byakugan looks like.

 

Neji got into his fighting stance and the entire Konoha part of the arena held their breath. Naruto, leaned over the fence, clutched the railing, knuckles turning white. He heard of Neji in the hallways of the exams. Neji was to the Hyūga what Sasuke was to the Uchiha. A cold, brilliant genius.

 

Naruto turned his head, to see fat batman from the Sand walk in his direction. The dude bowed.

 

“My name is Kankurō, pleased to meet you.”

 

“Uzumaki Naruto, future Hokage!” He said, offering his hand. Kankurō shook it and Naruto gave him a big smile.

 

“Say, you’re from Konoha?”

 

“Yes!” Naruto beamed, with pride.

 

“Are those Hyūga?” He asked, pointing at the fight.

 

“Yes. To be honest, you should probably ask Sakura or Kakashi-sensei, they’re better informed, ‘cause I thought Hinata was blind when I met her first back in the Academy.”

 

Kakashi deadpanned and Sakura covered her mouth. “This is Sakura.” Naruto said, introducing his rosy-haired teammate.

 

“My, aren’t you a knockout.”

 

Naruto felt veins pop out on his forehead when Kakashi stepped forward. “She’s thirteen.”

 

“My bad!” He apologised, bowing. He could hear Temari laugh her sorry ass off in the background, while Baki-sensei was pinching the bridge of his nose.

 

Naruto laughed at Kankurō’s faux pass, causing him to step a little away. “Will that fight be a bloodbath?”

 

“I hope not.” Naruto said. “I don’t know Hinata and Neji very well, but they’re people from here, I don’t want to see them hurt.”

 

“Your teammate, the Uchiha, he really kicked that guys ass.”

 

“Sasuke? Lord Dickhead? Yeah, I guess he did well.” Naruto stated, putting his hands in his pockets. Here he was, Sasuke, being all-cool and praised by everyone. Sakura leaned over the railing, watching in horror as Neji hit Hinata and she flew back several meters, but landed on her feet.

 

“Oi, Hinata, no giving up!”

 

“Maybe she should.” Sakura voiced her fear, turning to Kakashi. “Sensei, she’s coughing blood.”

 

“Why would she give up?” Naruto shouted. “She can win!”

 

Kakashi let out a long, drawn out breath. Naruto saw this in a personal manner; he wanted Hinata, the underdog, to defeat Neji, the genius. However, the girl’s life might be on the line. Kurenai mentioned that Hinata suffered from anaemia and various health problems. Neji hit her points with the Gentle Fist easily, and the little girl coughed up crimson liquid.

 

“The Byakugan sees chakra points.” Kakashi explained. “Their Gentle Fist is designed to strike and clog them, so the victim is unable to use their own chakra.”

 

“But foreign chakra?” Sakura perked up. “Like from a seal, let’s say?”

 

“Probably.” Kakashi nodded, beaming at his smart little genin.

 

“How many Hyūga are there? Are they all powered up like that kid down there?” Kankurō chimed in.

 

“Is this an interrogation on Konoha’s military proficiency?” Kakashi said, arching his brow.

 

“No, I’m just merely curious. I’ve never faced a dōjutsu in action.” The boy said. Naruto asked him about his teammate with the red hair. Kankurō’s face went into a frown. “You mean Gaara?”

 

“Yeah, what’s up with him?”

 

“He’s just Gaara.” Kankurō stated, through closed teeth. Naruto shrugged and then shrieked with horror as Hinata stumbled back, coughing blood. Sakura suspected Neji didn’t hit her chakra points, but her blood vessels. She was about to perform the hand signs for the Mystical Palm, when Kakashi stopped her.

 

“Preserve your chakra.”

 

But then, Neji wasn’t done. The jōnin in the audience jumped down. It took three elite shinobi to stop Neji. Kakashi and Asuma were holding his shoulders, while Gai jumped in front of him. Kurenai grabbed Hinata and Sakura jumped down to check her vitals.

 

“Mr Shiranui!” She shouted, in panic. Genma ran over. “Please, summon Lady Tsunade or Shizune, she is bleeding at 8 points inside.”

 

“Got it, little lady.” He said, racing to alert the medics. Hinata left the arena in a stretcher. Kurenai held back her tears. She failed Hinata again; the little girl fate threw into her arms. Kurenai recalled when she insisted to become Hinata’s sensei, pleading with the Third. Maybe Hinata would forgive her, but Kurenai could never forgive herself for what happened today. She felt Asuma’s hand on the small of her back and then left with the medics.

 

“Should we alert the family?”

 

“No.” Kurenai said. “I’ll down in the hospital in an hour.”

 

Sasuke studied this case with great curiosity. He eyed Neji, who was climbing back to his team. No one congratulated him. Sasuke took a great interest in the wrathful genius, because he did this without hesitation. As it should be done.

 

Sakura saw the girl from the squad that assaulted them back in the forest leave for the bathrooms. She elbowed Ino and the Yamanaka nodded.

 

“Asuma-sensei, I need to fix my makeup. Shikamaru needs to come with me so I look important.” Ino lied without hesitation, as she wasn’t wearing any makeup. Shikamaru groaned as Ino pulled him to the bathrooms. Sakura leaned over to Naruto. “C’mon, we need to go now.”

 

“Oi sensei!” Naruto shouted. “I’m going to grab some snacks with Sakura, I’m hungry.”

 

“Alright.” Kakashi said, watching as they left. Sakura walked in front of the bathroom, where Ino was berating Shikamaru.

 

“The plan is simple. I’ll hide in a cabin, as back up, with my shadows. Ino and Sakura interrogate her while Naruto stands guard. If anyone tries to use the loo, you tell them to fuck off.”

 

“Got it.” Naruto said. Sakura grabbed Shikamaru and pulled him into the ladies’ room. He felt a little awkward, but decided to stay quiet. Sakura pulled him into a cabin and put a finger over her lips. Ino drew water, pretending to wash her hands. The girl, Kin, exited her stall and went to wash her hands. Ino slammed her hand on the counter and Sakura exited the cabin she was sharing with Shikamaru.

 

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Kin hissed and Sakura drew a knife at her.

 

“We’re here to talk.” Ino said.

 

“Your team attacked us in the Forest because your task was to kill Uchiha Sasuke. You will tell me why or Miss Yamanaka here will torture you.”

 

“Do you know who the Yamanaka are?” Ino repeated. “We specialise in mind jutsu, so I will enter your brain and fry it.”

 

“Fine, fine!” The girl shrieked, unaware what Ino told her was a complete lie, due her being nowhere near that level. “We were tasked to track Sasuke and test his abilities.” She yelped, waving her hands in front of her. “I don’t know who hired us, we just had the command to test his abilities and kill him.”

 

Ino and Sakura exchanged glances. “Fine. Go.” Ino threatened the girl and she ran out of the bathroom. Shikamaru left the stall. “Brain frying?”

 

“Shut up.”

 

They returned to a fight where a Kiri shinobi was obliterating a Sand ninja, giving his Kage great pride. Sakura walked back to her sensei, who was watching the match with no interest. Naruto was right behind her, eyeing Sasuke. He was shocked by his behaviour during the match. He wondered if he ever allowed his demon to act up, would the result be similar?  Sasuke showed no mercy, he defeated his opponent with clean precision and was now the first Konoha finalist, followed by Neji.

 

The Mizukage turned to his Land of Fire counterpart. “Lord Hokage, what say you? The first two finalists are from your village.”


“Ah yes, Sasuke and Neji, prodigies. Neji is a year older, so I imagine he has a lot more experience than Sasuke as genin. Sasuke, on the other hand, is the heir to the Uchiha clan. We expect nothing but greatness of him. He’s very talented, already awakened his Sharingan and his sensei says he’s proficient with a shuriken. Although, Neji is a marvel to watch.”

 

Yagura nodded. “If I had such brilliant young minds at my hand, I’d sharpen them in the right way.”

 

Hiruzen felt a chill down his spine. Yagura was out for blood. Another Konoha vs Kiri match, a boy named Kabuto gave up, although he had the upper hand most of the match. Unfortunately, the Kiri shinobi fainted from fatigue, so it was declared a draw. The Mizukage clenched his jaw as they carried the boy out, branding him a weakling.

 

The Third Hokage thought of the poor Hyūga heiress, now laying in the hospital. Hiashi wasn’t a visitor of hospitals, no doubt.

 

Tenten lost next, to a kunoichi from Suna. She looked disappointed, but Temari returned to her post with pride.

 

“She uses fans, like my mother.” Sasuke said. “Except, she used to use two much smaller fans combined with wind jutsu.”

 

“That one just pulled out a huge one. Damn, poor Tenten.” Naruto said. “Oh well, I want to go next.”

 

The table let him down. The next fight were an Oto nin and Chōji. He lost too, returning to his team. Ino hugged him and told him she’s very proud of him and that next year is his year. Genma announced there would be a short break from the fights, fifteen minutes and then they all return.

 

Sakura played with the edge of her apron, wondering when her turn was. Naruto was giving her a pep talk, explaining that she will kick ass and defeat whoever comes in her wake. “So, what has Granny taught you?” He asked.

 

“Taijutsu. We practise a lot, but Auntie insists I build up reserves before trying this kind of taijutsu. My evasion skills need work, but I think I’ll have to resort to taijutsu today.”

 

“Pervy Old Man has taught me that sealing shit, but it’s a lot to take in, ya know!” Naruto showed her a small scroll in his bag. “This is my starter, in the case I need to seal something away.”

 

“You’re really getting into that Uzumaki shit, aren’t you?” She said with pride.

 

“Hell yeah! I want to become a seal master to keep the demon away.” He said, patting his stomach.

 

“The technical term for you is jinchūriki.” Sakura said. “I read that in my great-grandmother’s notes. She didn’t write about how the uh, furry tenant came to her, but she wrote a great deal about her feelings. If you want, I’ll give it to you.” Sakura said.

 

“But it belonged to her.” Naruto said. “And now to your family. Also, I don’t really read.”

 

Sakura deadpanned. “You don’t want to learn about the first jinchūriki we know of?”

 

“Well, you said she wrote about her feelings mostly.”

 

“True.” Sakura said, leaning back. “She really loved my great-grandfather. Lady Mito wrote that they met as children and that she thought he was annoying, but their father’s arranged a marriage when they were babies, which they weren’t aware of, nevertheless, they fell in love. She wrote how he grew her a garden and cribs for their future children with his wood style. When her father told her about the arrangement, she was a little surprised but accepted. Once they married, he never left her side. They had a son and afterward she became a jinchūriki.”

 

“Oh…He must have loved her, a lot?”

 

“They were childhood sweethearts.”

 

“Also, what did that creepy girl say about Sasuke?”

 

“I told you. My theory is that someone wants to cause conundrum among Uchiha ranks, by taking out their heir. You know what happened with Sasuke’s brother.”

 

Naruto felt his little heart swell in his chest. He felt dumb for envying Sasuke, with his powers and titles, realising now they were putting targets on his back. Sakura got up, noticing the break was over. The next fighter was Shino, who obliterated his next opponent. So far, the Rookie 9 had three finalists. Kurenai praised Shino. He just shrugged.

 

“Will Hinata be alright?”

 

“Shizune is taking care of her. She’ll be fine.”

 

Kiba chimed in. “I asked the medics, they said Shizune took her to surgery immediately. Everything will be fine.” Kiba wasn’t sure if he was comforting Shino, Kurenai-sensei or himself. Hinata has been frail ever since their met, but he has never seen her bleeding on the ground. He thought of her ice cold cousin who had to be held back by three elite jōnin. Kiba didn’t want to cross that shithead in his life. Cue in, Naruto. He got into a confrontation with Neji, asking him what’s wrong with him and why he attacked his own blood like that.

 

“You don’t know me.” Neji hissed, before disappearing in the corridors. Naruto saw another Sasuke, but with more wrath if that was possible. Kakashi pitied the kid. He was born without a chance for a fair life. He felt a pair of eyes on his back.

 

“Oh hello, Kiba.”

 

“Gran told me to say hi when I see you.”

 

Kakashi nodded. “Say hi to her too.”

 

Kiba nodded awkwardly and left. Sakura leaned back on the railing, standing between Kankurō and Naruto. The table behind her dinged and Naruto patted her shoulder with excitement.

 

“You’re up!” Naruto said with excitement. Sakura turned her head, seeing she saw up against some Kiri ninja. She undid her apron and hung it over the railing.

 

“I’m not going down to heal anyone.” She grinned, before jumping on the ground. It was time to make Aunt Tsunade proud.

Chapter Text

The first thing Sakura heard about herself from bystander’s mouths were her looks. Back in the Academy, she was branded as “weird-looking”, “strange colouring”, “awful pink hair”, “big forehead” and from adults, “ah, what pretty little girl” or “if you take after your mother and aunt, you will be a beauty”. Ino was called beautiful all the time, everyone called her mother a “wild beauty”; her aunt had been renowned as the most beautiful woman in the world, so beautiful that she used ninjutsu to preserve her impeccable looks. Her mother even picked a name from her favourite flower, so yes, she was supposed to be beautiful.

 

She realised she has certain abilities because boys were staring at her in a different way now and adult men, even. Now, everyone was staring at her. Sakura looked at her opponent, not even sure what his name was. Didn’t matter, because she would take him down and go to the finals. If people don’t take her serious for her sex and age, maybe her ranking and family name would help. Naruto took her seriously, but as a figure to protect, and Sasuke saw her as their annoying, tending nurse. Kakashi always looked at her as if she were ghost. Fine then, let her be a phantom. Shiranui swirled the senbon around his lips, eyes fixated on the symbol on her back. For fuck’s sake, she was the blood of a man they venerated as “God of Shinobi” there is no way she can be less.

 

“Begin!” He shouted.

 

Kakashi watched his only female student move. Gai leaned over the railing, squinting. The Kiri ninja was a long-range fighter, kenjutsu specialist of sorts, throwing chains and kunai at her. Sakura dodged his attacks with ease. Gai turned his head to Kakashi.

 

“That looks like the Heavenly Fist of Pain style.”

 

“Ma, Gai, always the taijutsu expert. I highly doubt she has mastered the necessary control of that style. Although, I see it in her movements. Quick, sharp with heavy blows.”

 

“Sensei, what’s the heavenly shit?” Naruto asked, wincing as a chain struck Sakura in the ribs.

 

“It’s a taijutsu style developed by her clan. The First used it, but Tsunade perfected it to a terrifying degree, but I don’t think Sakura has the chakra reserves to fully realise it.”

 

Rock Lee nodded with excitement, while Tenten glanced over. “Tsunade? As in the Sannin?”

 

“That’s her niece.” Kakashi said. “Don’t you see the family resemblance?”

 

“I’ve never met Lady Tsunade.” Tenten said. “But I admire her greatly. I wanted to become her disciple, but Gai-sensei didn’t have any connections to get me into touch with her. She is the most powerful kunoichi in the world. If that’s her taijutsu style, I want to see it on the offensive, not the defensive.”

 

 

“Tch.” Sasuke said. “She’s messing up by not attacking.”

 

“Idiot, she’s trying to pick up on his attack patterns.” Shikamaru said. Asuma was proud of his little brainy tactician. “All long range fighters have particular ones, because their element of surprise has to be well practised.”

 

“She can’t win this fight with brains, this is demanding brawn.” Sasuke said.

 

“Will you two shut up and watch!” Naruto said, biting his nails.

 

“You have to understand that as a medical ninja, Sakura needs to have a good defence first. The three clauses strictly forbid fighting for medics unless absolutely necessary, so they have enough chakra for healing. But, I must say, this is a situation where fighting is demanded of her.” Kakashi said, watching her carefully.

 

“Sensei, if this is the Heavenly style, do you think we will see it in the most beautiful form?”

 

“We have to wait, Lee.” Gai said, ruffling his hair. “The true beauty of the Heavenly style is the efficiency.”

 

The Third Hokage watched the girl’s movements. Precise, quick, brutal. The Mizukage leaned over, eyeing the embroidery on Sakura’s back.

 

“Is that a descendant of the First Hokage?”

 

“Yes, Lord Mizukage, it is indeed. Hashirama-sensei’s great-granddaughter.”

 

“Does she display a range of abilities that were particular to him?”

 

“The art of wood style is, I’m afraid, lost. A legend now. For better for worse. Lord Senju and his family have suffered enough from the grave robberies of Lord First.”

 

“Ah. What a shame.” Yagura said, reading the Hokage’s lies. There was a leak, of sorts, a decade or two ago that there have been occurrences of foreign shinobi breaking into the Hokage tomb and slicing a little of those magical cells for themselves. Yagura had an entire shelf in his office back in Kirigakure on that impeccable tissue, even several failed attempts of theft. There were even some rumours that the grave of Lord First has been moved in secret and that Konoha has extracted entire strains of cells and has been experimenting on them, attempting to clone the dead legend.

 

 Sakura bounced back, flinging herself on the railing. Enough was enough. She managed to land few good strikes, but the bastard used wind jutsu on her, to push her back. She’s had enough of long range fighters for a day. Sakura cracked her knuckles and divided her chakra into two. One to her feet, the other to her fist. She flung herself on her opponent, knowing full well this will probably be a miss. He dodged her fist barely, chuckling like an idiot, taunting her, but Sakura’s fist connected to the wall, creating a crater of the size of an adult male. Neji immediately turned on his Byakugan and leaned forward.

 

“What the fuck was that?” Sasuke asked, Sharingan flaring. Genma’s senbon fell out and the Third pinched the bridge of his nose. Ah yes, seems like another Sannin was into cloning. Hiruzen Sarutobi turned to his secretary. “All property damage to be written on Nawaki’s bill.”

 

“Beautiful!” Shouted Rock Lee, raising his fist, while Shikamaru whistled loudly. Naruto jumped up on the railing, waving his hands. “Go, Sakura!” Naruto turned his head to Kankurō. “You were right, she is a knockout!”

 

The Kiri ninja looked like he shat himself. Sakura jumped up, using his moment of confusing and stuck him with her leg this time, slamming him into the ground. Another crater appeared, this time slightly larger. The Kiri nin shouted.

 

“I yield!”


Sakura pumped her fist and Genma nodded. “Winner, Senju Sakura!”

 

She raced back to her team and opened her arms. Naruto was about to jump in, when Ino pushed him back and squeezed Sakura tightly. “That was badass.”

 

Naruto felt realisation slowly dawn on him. If he annoys Sakura ever again, bye, bye spine. Sasuke stood back, nodding in approval. Kakashi crouched down to Sakura.

 

“You’ve been training with Lady Tsunade, huh?”

 

Sakura beamed with pride. “I have!”

 

“Such destructive beauty…” Rock Lee wept, kneeling in front of Sakura. “I am grateful to have been in presence of such magnificence… You are a lady of statue and power!”

 

“Thank you.” Sakura said, releasing Ino. She fist bumped Naruto and they exchanged a “we-got-this-shit” look. Gai looked very impressed too, while Asuma was reliving all of his babysitting sessions with the Sannin, especially when Jiraiya decided to get on Tsunade’s nerves. Ah, the good old days when Master Jiraiya would fly over the village, with Asuma and his older brother measuring the distance he could go. He even missed Orochimaru.

 

“He nearly got me with that chain, not going to lie. Imagine if it was poisoned. Oh, my apron!” Sakura thanked her boys for watching her apron and tied it back around her waist. She didn’t do a neat job as Shizune, so she flipped it and saw it had a ninja registration number embroidered on it.

 

“Zero-one-one-eight-eight-five.” She said, reading it with confusion. This wasn’t Shizune’s or Tsunade’s number, neither it was her mother’s. Kakashi listened to her, feeling his throat go dry.

 

“Come again?”

 

“The registration number of the medical ninja in training who wore this apron. I found it in my house.” Sakura said, fixing the apron. “I don’t know to whom it belonged, Shizune dug it out this morning for me.”

 

Kakashi would recognise that number on his deathbed. And why wouldn’t he? This skirt belonged once to Rin Nohara, his late teammate. Then it clicked. Anko being confused about not meeting Midori, him wondering who this Midori was, due her fairly common name. Rin had an older sister named Midori, who to her due their somewhat large age difference was like a second mother, perhaps due even their own mother’s inability. Once Rin died, Kakashi avoided her remaining family like the plague. If Midori were Sakura’s mother, and Kakashi would lie to himself if he didn’t see Rin’s smile in Sakura’s childlike grin, that would make Sakura Rin’s niece. He sighed at the irony. He had been fixated on the wrong aunt. Kakashi wondered if Rin ever met her niece. He was an idiot back then, not listening to Rin when she spoke about her family matters. He would never mention this to Sakura.

 

The screen dinged again, announcing the next fight. Gaara of the Sand vs Rock Lee of the Leaf. Lee, pumped, jumped over the fence and started stretching. The kid from Suna decided to tell everyone who jumps down to fuck themselves by teleporting downstairs with his bloody sand.

“Sand? From Suna? How original.” Kakashi said. “Although, what kind of kekkei genkai can cause the ability to manipulate sand? Or is it very refined earth release? What say you?”

 

Asuma shrugged. “It can be anything, really. I’ve never seen a shinobi use sand.”

 

The kid, Gaara, was just too fucking good. His defence was impenetrable, poor Lee couldn’t get a single kick. Sakura, confused, leaned over the railing. “Hey Gai-sensei, maybe Lee should get some distance and use genjutsu or ninjutsu?”

 

“Great idea! If only he could.” Gai said, with a bright smile. The entirety of the remaining Rookie 9 deadpanned. “What the fuck?” Naruto asked.

 

“Lee has very little chakra, due his chakra system being undeveloped. Once I got him a lost case from the academy who barely graduated, we decided to forget about any technique that has chakra in it and poured all of his time in taijutsu. And he is a star!”

 

“A ninja that cannot use ninjutsu or genjutsu shouldn’t be a ninja.” Neji stated.

 

“You shut up!” Naruto yelled, waving his fist.

 

“You’re just angry because you suck at genjutsu.”

 

“Listen to my words, Uchiha…”

 

“Enough!” Sakura yelled, cracking her knuckles. Sasuke and Naruto immediately stopped, terrified of coming into contact with her fists. Kakashi thanked the ninja spirits for Tsunade on educating her little mini-me in pure, unaltered violence. The fight was at an impasse, the Suna boy not even moving. Lee jumped back, resting on the big hands in the background. Naruto yelled, to cheer him on. Gai just gave the boy thumbs up.

 

“Alright Lee, take ‘em off!”

 

“But, but, Gai-sensei! You said only to take them off if lives of precious people were in danger!”

 

“It’s alright.” Kakashi almost heard him say, “Your life is in danger, you fool.”

 

The kid undid his leg weight. Shikamaru whispered into Chōji’s ear how old-fashioned they are, while Kankurō was snickering how pathetic the attempt is. The entire room was shaking from the impact of those weights on the ground, creating craters of the size of elephants on the ground. Sakura grabbed her jōnin sensei for leverage, while Naruto felt his jaw hit Sasuke’s shoulder. Asuma just light up a cigarette took a long draw and looked Gai in the eyes.

 

“What the fuck?”

 

“A bit too much.” Kakashi said, pinching his brow. To his credit, Gaara didn’t even flinch.

 

The secretary leaned closer to Hiruzen Sarutobi. “Also put this property damage on Lord Senju’s tab?”


“I don’t see why not.”

 

Then shit hit the fan. Rock Lee was fast, so fast that the dōjutsu boys turned on their magic eyeballs, watching in shock. Naruto and Sakura leaned over the railing and Kakashi felt a paternal urge to pull them back. He suppressed it.

 

“Alright, go Rock Lee!”

 

They were whistling and shouting and the Suna team nearly fell on their asses when the boy in green managed to hit Gaara. The boy looked taken aback, so he sped up the pace of his sand. Kankurō raced over to the side of the railing.

 

“Is the sand like a bloodline limit?” Sakura asked.

 

“See, that’s just his, how can I say, ability?” The puppet master said, shaking his head. “It’s like a living thing connected to his chakra.”

 

“The fuck?” Naruto said. Sakura was confused. She recalled reading about a certain clan in Sunagakure that had the bloodline limit of magnet release, but surely, this is impossible to be a feat of that kekkei genkai? She looked closer and nearly screeched from joy when Lee managed to push the Suna kid back.

 

Everyone was rooting for Lee, even fucking Neji had his Byakugan shinning and staring in awe. Ino was shaking Sakura’s shoulders from excitement. Temari just watched the Konoha genin in confusion. Damn, they were weird.

“Kakashi-sensei, he might have a chance!” Sakura said, in excitement. “I don’t think even Sasuke could keep up with him.”

 

“I wouldn’t be so sure.” Sasuke stated.

 

“I’m willing to take a bet.” Sakura said.

 

“Damn that’s cool.” Naruto said. Kakashi just sighed. Rock Lee was for now kicking ass, the Suna kid flew around like a puppet. Then, the Sand swirled around the kid, applying a shell like armour.

 

“Uh-oh.” Kankurō said.

 

“That’s right!” Naruto answered, happy for the bushy browed monster downstairs.

 

“Gaara is angry.”

 

“Is that bad?” Naruto asked.

 

“Yeah.” Kankurō said in a broken voice. His entire childhood of hiding from Gaara’s murderous tantrums flashed before his tired eyes. Gaara was shielding himself, using up a lot of chakra. Not good, not good at all. Sakura’s fingers were buzzing for some reason. She sometimes got that same feeling around Naruto.

 

“Okay, Bushy Brows nearly got him. He just needs one good strike.” Naruto said, rubbing his hands together. Sasuke now looked over the railing, his Sharingan glowing red.

 

“Does he now any secret taijutsu we aren’t aware of?”

 

“Maybe.” Gai grinned. Kakashi felt something sink down in his stomach. Lee performed the Lotus, slamming the kid on the ground. Sakura gasped, but she felt a hand on her shoulder and saw Neji shake his hand.

 

“He missed.”

 

Once the dust settled, the shell of sand was crumbling like Lee’s dream on the floor. The Suna shinobi was standing on the railing. He looked like a raging animal, growling and snarling. His breathing was ragged and there were cracks all over his lanky limbs. Gaara looked like a demon from the depths of the desert, a creature who killed without hesitation.

 

“Well?” He taunted.

 

“The Lotus blooms twice.”

 

Kakashi snapped his head in Gai’s direction. “I cannot believe this. How many?”

 

“Five.”

 

“Five?” Kakashi said. “Motherfucker.”

 

“Five what?” Sasuke asked.

 

“Inner gates.” Kakashi responded.

 

“What are those?” Naruto asked, confused.

 

“The Eight Gates exist in order to limit the flow of chakra within an individual's body. Ordinarily, individuals can use no more than 20% of their body's full potential, the brain's way of protecting the individual from harming their body through overexertion. With training, individuals can learn to remove these limiters, referred to as "opening" the gates. If you were to open all of the gates at once, you’d reach power beyond the Hokage, but for the price of death. Lee is a genius in his own right.” Kakashi stated, looking with concern.

 

Neji, Sasuke and Sakura nearly hit the floor. Rock Lee was flipping shit like a lunatic, throwing kicks left and right. He opened gates by now, glowing with fuming, strong chakra. His face was blood red. Gaara didn’t know what was happening to him. Lee kicked him around the arena like a rag doll, shattering his defence like it was a pile of cards. Then the Suna kid got tired and gathered all of his sand in a pile. Naruto watched in horror as Gaara wrapped a sandy beam around Lee’s left leg and arm and crushed his limbs like twigs, laughing like a maniac. Lee fell on the floor, bleeding. He was unconscious, barely showing sings he was alive. Genma gulped.

 

“Winner, Gaara.”

 

“No, no…” Lee said, but Gai jumped down and went to approximate the damage. Lee looked rough, to put it mildly. The medical squad raced to check on him, alongside Naruto and Sakura. A nurse, which Sakura knew from her hospital rotations, went pale.

 

“Um, Lady Sakura, mind calling Lady Tsunade?”

 

All the blood drained from Sakura’s face. She nodded, told Naruto where she was going and raced outside. She spotted Shisui, who was patrolling the streets, followed by various members of the police force, probably his squad.

 

“Shisui!” She yelled. The Uchiha turned his head and spotted the young girl racing in his very direction. Sakura grabbed his hand. “We need to get to my house, now! Can you do your thing, please?”

 

The panic-stricken look on her face worried her. “Is Sasuke okay?”

 

“He won.” Sakura nodded. Shisui snickered and put an arm around her waist. Now, Shisui never had the pleasure of talking to Lady Tsunade in person. She was a somewhat tall, imposing woman. Maybe not at first glance, but once she speaks, her omnipresence became obvious. When she spotted Sakura, escorted by an Uchiha police force member, she cocked her eyebrow.

 

“Did Naruto burn down the village?”

 

“Auntie, we need you.” Sakura whispered, swallowing tears. Tsunade immediately dropped the poison she was making and wrapped herself in a haori laying on the table. Shisui offered her an arm and she nodded, without hesitation. He flickered them to the battlefield, which was shattered in multiple spots.

 

The presence of a Sannin in the arena caused murmurs across the arena. The medical ninja assessed the situation and snapped her head to the team. “Get Room 5 ready, I’ll be performing the procedure myself.”

 

Oh boy, this was serious. Tenten’s jaw was hung as she figured who the woman downstairs was. The Mizukage studied Tsunade with great interest, especially while she was observing the injured boy. So far, this has been his favourite fight. The presence of the Slug Princess was a welcome surprise. Lady Tsunade narrowed her eyes, stabilising his limbs immediately. She turned to Gai.

 

“The boy will need extensive surgery, but he will recover.”

 

“Lady Tsunade…” One of the medics questioned her. “I think the damage is too great.”

 

“Did I ask?” Tsunade spat. “Do as I said, I have a surgery to attend to.”

 

The Sannin turned around and left with Lee on a stretcher. Sakura breathed out and thanked Shisui, who winked at Sasuke and flickered away. Sakura returned to her spot and gave Gai a reassuring look.

 

“If anyone can save him, it’s Auntie.”

 

“Your Auntie is mad scary.” Chōji stated, shaking his head.

 

“You’re right there, kid.” Kakashi snorted, leaning on the wall. He saw the defeat behind Gai’s eyes and wanted to give him a slap for exposing a kid to such techniques, but cursed himself for his own hypocrisy. He brought three kids to fight an S-rank criminal. Ino and Chōji lost, unfortunately. Sakura was comforting Ino, who was sobbing quietly into her chest.

 

Shikamaru defeated Kin, the girl who tried to kill Sasuke. The screen stalled this time, probably from being overridden. It threw out two names: Uzumaki Naruto vs Inuzuka Kiba. Naruto stood straight.

 

“You can’t lose. Sasuke and I can’t go without you in the finals.” Sakura stated, poking his chest. Naruto nodded.

 

“As if I’m losing to dog-breath Inuzuka!” Naruto shouted, jumping down. The Third Hokage observed the exchange, recalling an old conversation he listened to many, many times before. The knucklehead had one scroll in his pocket, which limited him on about four sealings before the scroll combusts under immense pressure. Genma eyed them.

 

“I want a clean fight. This ain’t the finals, so I’d avoid murder.”

 

Akamaru barked. Kiba gave Naruto his most threatening snarl and started attacking the moment Genma finished speaking. He threw several dust bombs in Naruto’s direction and summoned his clan jutsu. Naruto was nearly disoriented by the quick blows Kiba delivered, but gathered his shit together and pulled on the scroll. The fūinjutsu sucked up the smoke, leaving a shocked Kiba in its wake, especially when Naruto managed to kick him around. Tenten turned to Kakashi in shock.

 

“Naruto knows fūinjutsu?”

 

“Somewhat, yes.” Kakashi stated. “Jiraiya insists teaching him.”

 

“Jiraiya?” Gai said. “Eh, only elite teachers, ne Kakashi?”

 

Sasuke frowned and turned his head back to Naruto. Sakura was cheering for him, and Naruto shot her his best shit-eating grin before using a henge and turning into Akamaru the dog, right in front of Kiba’s eyes. The two twin dogs started running around Kiba’s legs, past the two Kage and circled them, lifting the edges of their skirts. Kakashi nearly laughed when Kiba cussed.

 

“What the fuck, Akamaru!”

 

The two dogs stood still, but then Kiba used his strong sense of smell and kicked Naruto who lost the transformation. He repeated the same smoke bomb move and Naruto sealed it away, again. Then one more time. Kiba lost a lot of chakra, because his reserves were much lower than Naruto’s, who was grinning. Everyone in the room was in awe. Kiba was a promising student, a good and skilled member of his clan and Naruto here was pulling his leg and tossing him around like a petulant child.

 

“He’s getting Kiba tired before delivering the final blow, isn’t he?” Sakura asked.

 

“He knows Kiba doesn’t carry the same life force. I have to hand it to him, he made incredible progress.”

 

“That’s my Naruto!” Sakura shouted. “We hate losing in this house!”

 

Then the shadow clones appeared and Kiba was done for. Genma nodded. “Winner, Uzumaki Naruto!”

 

“Team 7 is going into the finals and Old Man Sarutobi better dust off that Hokage chair for me!”

 

“Three out of three, Hatake?” Kurenai said, looking very impressed. “Your team is a force to be reckoned with.”

 

Naruto returned to their post, while the Rookies cheered on him, Sasuke stayed back, confused by the amount of progress he made. He figured training with that old pervert had some impact, after all.

 

“We’re meeting at Ichiraku’s tonight, treat on me.” Kakashi said, ruffling their hair. “I’m a very proud sensei, right now.”

 

His three little cute genin gave him a grin and Kakashi fell the cavity in his chest fill up with joy. They even exchanged hugs, with Sakura and Naruto tackling Sasuke, who begrudgingly agreed to a show of physical affection. They separated to bathe and rest before dinner. Naruto gasped with excitement when he saw Iruka-sensei wait for him with a bag of treats.

 

“I’m very proud of you. Master Jiraiya told me to extend his congratulations and…” Iruka gasped when he felt Naruto wrap his tiny arms around him. He ruffled his hair and chuckled. “Let’s go have some lunch, eh?”

 

Naruto nodded with a big grin and they left. Sasuke spotted Shisui waiting for him and was confused by the bundle of dango he was waving at Sasuke. Shisui hugged him, another speck of pure confusion and shoved a stick in his hand.

 

“Good job.” Shisui said, reminiscing when he shared dango sticks with Itachi after their exams back in the day. Itachi adored sweets, he had a particular sweet tooth, unlike Sasuke who despised them. Sasuke looked at the treat with confusion.

 

“I don’t like sweets.” He twitched. Shisui snorted.

 

“It’s tradition.”

 

“Fine.” Sasuke mumbled and took a bite. Shisui ruffled his hair and noticed Dr Katō take Sakura away. Right now, he was in for a rough month, because stuffing many people who dislike each other in one village will procure numerous fights.

 

Kakashi entered the already full bar, eyeing the different symbols on the guests’ forehead-protectors. He found his friends gathered around a small table, attempting to squish themselves in a small compartment. Anko was already downing the beer, while Gai was being his usual boy scout self and refraining from the satanic grasps of alcohol. Asuma and Kurenai were slowly sipping warm sake, toasting their finalists. Kakashi took a seat, congratulating everyone on their current status.

 

“I’m worried about Lee.” Gai confessed. “He over-worked himself there, as proud as I am, he might have gotten hurt hadn’t it been for the blessed Lady Tsunade.”

 

“Ah yes.” Kakashi stated, nodding. “How will you prepare Shikamaru?”

 

“Well, first I have to convince him to wake up before noon.” Asuma said, lighting a cigarette. “Then of course, a party of shōgi, which I will undoubtedly lose. After, maybe we can go and practise some taijutsu.” Asuma stated, shaking his head. “He is lazier than a sloth. Sloths aspire to be Shikamaru. Genius or not, his stamina is lacking.”

 

“Ma, he is a smart kid.” Kakashi said. “Albeit, I’m worried that all three of them passed. I’m not sure that I can train them all at the same time. Although, Naruto has been working with Jiraiya and I imagine the clan of the thousand skills will help Sakura. Sasuke, on the other hand… I’ll train him myself. Anko was right, he is like me in many ways.” He waved his hand. “Fugaku can’t be bothered to teach him and I imagine Shisui has his hands full with the petty crime rate.”

 

“True.” Anko stated. “Sasuke is your spitting image when you were a genin.” She nodded. “Down to the annoyed twitching when someone proves him wrong.”

 

Kakashi snorted. “Thank you, dear.”

 

“I’m worried for the people they’re fighting.” Kurenai stated. “Naruto will fight Neji! Then, Sasuke, Sakura and Shikamaru are taking on the Kazekage’s children each.”

 

“I’m worried about Sasuke’s opponent.” Gai confessed. “That kid came for blood when he fought Lee.”

 

“So does Sasuke.” Kakashi stated, crossing his arms. He heard rumours about the Sharingan’s connection to bloodlust, but he dismissed them for superstition. He wondered how much anger and resentment Sasuke carried with him, counting the dismissal of his father, his missing brother and overall clan pressure upon his young shoulders. He recalled Itachi, a quiet, polite and smart kid, who never bragged or voiced his opinion. The two brothers couldn’t be more different. Kakashi inhaled deeply, pondering upon every possibility.

 

“We need to prepare them to the best of our abilities.” Asuma stated. “But, the genin aren’t really what’s worrying me.” He snorted, observing the foreign jōnin. A Kiri and Suna ninja were arguing by the bar, where the concerned bartender was washing glasses. Kakashi stayed alert, knowing there was a full on fight to be if some shit was about to go down. Genma returned to their table from his tinkle break, slamming his hands on the table.

 

“There’s fucking white snow on the counters in the bathroom. That shit is beyond illegal here. If the Uchiha’s come, heads will fly.”

 

“Fuck.” Kakashi said. Wonderful, enemy ninja were infesting the village and doing cocaine in seedy bars. He wondered how much the crime rate went up in these past weeks, but something told him that the Statistics Department of the Academy doesn’t really keep tabs. He imagined Fugaku Uchiha fuming over the petty fights and crime when he could be pushing Shimura in the Hokage seat. Kakashi leaned his head back and calculated their next move.

 

“I think we should leave.”

 

“Something tells me some shit is about to go down.” Asuma said, lighting a cigarette.

 

Kakashi recognised Baki, the jōnin who led the Sand Siblings, attempting to calm the Suna nin down, but he just elbowed him in annoyance, tipping over a Konoha and Kiri chūnin. Then shit got rocked.

 

Before Kakashi even understood why, things were flying around with chairs, tables and human bodies tossed around like ragdolls. Kakashi ducked, dodging a broken sake bottle. He threw several shuriken at the men around them, pinning them to the wall. Kurenai snorted, dodging a Kiri attack and knocking the man who attacked her out. Asuma was angry because he came without his favourite weapons, so he did the old school alcohol bottle break and knocked out some Kiri ninja.

 

Gai roundhouse kicked some out of the bar and by this point, the place was a cacophony of screams, yells and shrieks. Bloodstains marred the wall. Then the Uchiha police force came, under the watchful eye of Fugaku, who was shaking his head at the state of disarray.

 

“The meaning of this?” He asked.

 

“Alcohol, probably.” Kakashi said, shrugging. Cocaine too, who knows what else? Perhaps testosterone and violence, a potent drug for these men. This bullshit smelled like a distraction because at that moment, a pale Shisui Uchiha arrived, announcing there has been a break in the Hokage tomb.

Chapter Text

Shisui evaluated the situation. To put it mildly, it did not look good. The monumental grave of their past leaders was ruined, grave stones tattered and covered in smoke. The entire Uchiha police force was gathered around the Hokage tomb, taking photographs and evidence. The Third Hokage was standing next to an agitated Nawaki Senju, who was looking at the damaged headstone of his grandfather. What the robbers weren’t aware of was that the grave was emptied years ago, after the very first break in. Hashirama’s cells were powerful, but many failed attempts to clone his grandfather caused Shimura and his “scientists” to lose a lot of power and respect among the council.

The, rumours flew and everyone wanted a piece of those brilliant, regenerating, wood creating cells. Hashirama Senju had been known to have a life force and body so strong that he could take on a tailed beast all alone and defeat it. Everyone wanted to read his DNA with the limited knowledge science had, which caused countless grave robberies. The tomb was blown up, but somehow the graves of  Lords Second and Fourth were whole. Nawaki knelt in front of the Fourth Hokage’s grave, wishing he was alive to spare him some wisdom. Seems like he was alone in this.

 

Hiruzen Sarutobi bowed his head deeply. “I must offer you my deepest condolences and apology, Nawaki. This is disrespectful to your ancestor.”

 

“All that matters is that the robbers didn’t get a hand on them. You see, the last remaining strain of those cells in Tsunade’s possession. They couldn’t be in safer hands.”

 

“Agreed. Princess Tsunade is our only hope for discovering the secret behind the great abilities of wood style and regeneration. However, this… This is terrifying. And I smell only one person’s fingerprints over this.”

 

“I don’t think he’s inept enough to go straight for the public monument. He must be aware of the fact that the tomb has been empty for decades. I’m talking about my aquatic counterpart.” He puffed out a long smoke. “He is a master when it comes to violence, but he underestimates us severely.”

 

“Hm? Does he want the Senju clan to plainly simply declare war? My father was assassinated on their soil. Still unsolved, if you ask Yagura.”

 

“He is poking the wrong bear, Nawaki. We both know that there is something lurking behind these exams. I’m surprised the Raikage hasn’t thrown in his hat too.”

 

“Nah, he’s afraid of Tsuna.” Nawaki grinned.

 

Sarutobi chuckled. “That, without a doubt. Say, do you want us to seal away his body and give to Jiraiya to just hand it to the toads?”

 

“The Senju have their own Sage region, no worries. Tsuna took him there.”

 

“Ah… He was only the happiest in that forest, wasn’t he? Come, my dear Shisui. Tell.” The young police officer turned to them with a report.

 

“After accessing the situation I figured that there are traces of copper wire specific for the Land of Water in the tomb. Do I write that down on the report?”

 

“Of course.” The Third said. “We’re done playing games.”

 

 

“This bullshit makes absolutely no sense.” Ino declared, slamming a book on the table. The middle of the Senju library was stuffed with various scrolls, books and teapots, alongside the lonely fruit peel of an empty bag of Chōji’s favourite crisps.

 

“Okay, let’s say the Suna creep has the magnet release, which is quite possible. He comes from a clan who wields it, fine by me. However, just how does that make possible for him to manipulate fucking sand? I’m no chemist, but I’m well aware that there are shards and specks of metallic particles in your average pound of sand, but this shit… You know how little that is for someone to manipulate, right? Either his prowess is insane and he can bend kunai with his fucking mind, or there is something else we are not catching on.” She stated, closing a copy of Sunagakure: A long and gruesome clan history, first edition.

 

“Here it fucking says, the Third Kazekage was regarded to be the most powerful user of this jutsu.” Sakura pointed out, reading her grandfather’s notes. “Nevertheless, he used sand made out of iron.”

 

Sasuke listened to them, confused. “Is there any way of blocking that magnet release, if that’s it?”

 

“Nothing is written here.” Shikamaru huffed, closing the book. “I agree with Ino, this shit makes no sense.”

 

“Maybe we should revert to Kakashi-sensei’s theory that it’s a case of prolific earth release.”

 

“Then how powerful is the bastard?” Naruto asked, slapping down a scroll he didn’t understand due the messy handwriting. “By the way, the dumb bitch that wrote on this scroll has the handwriting of a blind person.” He handed it to Sakura, who realised it was just notes on dust manipulation and the usage of some weird time-space jutsu to dodge it, alongside the numerous notes and physics behind the jutsu. It looked interesting. Sakura read it, noticing a tiny note underneath. The writing said, “You were right, as always. N.M.”. Putting it down, she pushed it over to Sasuke.

 

“This person suggests using speed to counter dust-based techniques. A little excessive, but it worked for Lee.”

 

“And now he’s in the hospital.” Sasuke stated.

 

“Yeah, but he has no Sharingan.” Shikamaru stated. “Lee fucked up there by not withdrawing on time. You have the long range he lacks.”

 

Sasuke leaned over the chair. “I’m interested in testing my abilities, but I don’t want him to turn himself into a sand cocoon or something stupid like that. I want a challenge.”

 

“You’re stupid.” Shikamaru stated, point blank. Sasuke’s left eye twitched and Naruto laughed loudly. Sakura slammed down another book on the table, alongside a pile of the Second Hokage’s notes on his jutsu. She opened his diary and was greeted with the sentence “Jutsu creation is an obscure and fickle art, but the one who masters it is truly a great shinobi” signed with the initials S.T., followed by “And that’s why I forbid most of them”, signed with S.H. Sakura snorted and put down the diary.

 

“We’re toast. Shikamaru is fighting that batshit girl who nearly killed Tenten, Sasuke is fighting a sand demon, I’m fighting the puppet dude and Naruto, well, poor Naruto, he got Neji fucking Hyūga. The girls in the hospital always gossip about him, rumour has it he is in line to take over the Hyūga leadership if Hinata’s sister doesn’t prove herself worthy, which is another shade of fucked up.”

 

“Neji will make kebabs from Naruto.” Chōji stated, shaking his head.

 

“Hey!”

 

“My dad has heard some disturbing shit about them. Dad says, since Hinata failed to prove herself as a talented heiress, her sister is now on the line. If she fails to, she will be moved to a cadet branch, like Hinata when she turns eighteen. From what I’ve heard, once a younger sibling turns eighteen, or a failed sibling, they get demoted to a lower branch and the clan decided upon their marriage and shit. No woman is allowed to marry outside of the clan due the Byakugan. Now, get this, dad says they use some weird jutsu to control their lower branches.”

 

“Damn and I thought the tales about hypnosis, death and red eyes about the Uchiha were too much.” Sakura deadpanned. “How powerful do you think Neji is?” Sasuke looked annoyed in the background.

 

“It took three jōnin to contain him.” Shikamaru stated. “That shit looked scary, man. I know about the Gentle Fist, but something tells me the Hyūga have more in store. Are there any books on the Hyūga in here?”

 

Sakura got up and went to the Konoha history department of the library. “Only two, one with the family tree and a scroll on how the Gentle Fist works. That’s it.”

 

“Shit.” Naruto said. “I believe with the Old Man’s training, I’ll kick some ass! The old man isn’t just talk, you know!” Naruto said, but Sakura felt the cracks in his voice. Neji was brutal to Hinata, his own flesh and blood. What would he do to Naruto?

 

“Maybe we should ask Hinata for help.” Shikamaru suggested. “Maybe she would tell you how the techniques of their clan work, so you can figure how to counter Neji.”

 

“Why would she? Clan secrets are clan secrets. I don’t run around and tell people about the Sharingan.” Sasuke said, shaking his head.

 

“You are stupid.” Shikamaru affirmed, nodding. Sasuke just grunted and closed his book.

 

“I think we should as Yamato about the sand. Earth jutsu is sort of his thing. I remember stories about shinobi possessing strong affiliation with their natural affinities. My dad’s affinity is water, and he loves to swim and used to jump into puddles as a kid. But then again, my dad uses water in its natural form; he doesn’t have the ability to use ice or steam. Sand is a derivate of earth, in the end, which is why I think Kakashi-sensei’s theory must be rejected.”

 

“I thought we were onto something.” Shikamaru said. “Man, how troublesome are these Suna shinobi. Did you know their policy of their missing-nin? Kill on sight.”

 

“Fuck.” Ino said.

 

“Yeah.” Shikamaru finished, opening another book. “There isn’t a single shinobi mentioned in this book who can manipulate sand. Although, there is a lot on fans.” He whistled.

 

“I’ll ask Jiraiya when I see him.” Naruto said. “Which is tomorrow. Really early, now that I think about it!”

 

“It’s three in the fucking morning.” Ino said, groaning. “And I have a shift at the flower shop tomorrow.”

 

Sakura got up, reaching her great-grandfather’s personal section of the library. There were books from all over the world, various scrolls and diaries, notes and collections. She returned to the nice, carved desk in the back of the room and rummaged through the drawers. She found a family picture, or more like, what looked like her great-grandparents hugging. They were adorable, standing in front of the newly constructed Hokage building. She returned to her friends, showing them the photograph. Ino cooed at the picture.

 

“This is the cutest shit I have ever seen. Man, she was tiny!” Ino said, pointing at Mito.

 

“Dad says she used to throw pans when disrespected.”

 

“God damn.” Naruto said, observing the tiny woman in the arms of the First Hokage. “She wears the same weird makeup as Tsunade.”

 

“It’s not makeup.” Sakura said, shaking her head. “Anyway, doesn’t matter. We need to get some sleep. Chop, chop.”

 

 

The sun was high on the sky and Naruto was lying on the ground, observing the clouds. He suddenly understood Shikamaru’s habit of cloud watching, it felt calming after getting his ass handed to him by a legendary ninja. Jiraiya gave him one of the popsicles and Naruto grinned when he saw it was strawberry flavoured.

 

“Yo, where are you from?” Naruto asked.

 

“From Konoha, Naruto. Where else?”

 

“Dunno. Your accent is sometimes weird.”

 

“Ah that, yes. Well, ethnically speaking, I am a descendant of the Ogata people.”

 

“Who?”

 

Jiraiya almost forgot with whom he was dealing with. “Ignorance is a choice, boy. The Ogata are people originally from the mountains of the Fire Country, long before the days of the Kage and hidden villages. They were a tribe, albeit small, still proud and full of warriors. They fought various samurai, had fabulous hair, used basic sealing jutsu, spoke strange languages… It all changed once the hidden villages were founded and the mountain regions became sparse. I was born upon the mountains and emigrated to the Hidden Leaf around the third year of my life. I was enrolled into the academy as a war orphan, because living with the monks that remained of my people wasn’t really an option.”

 

“Oh, you come from a cool tribe? Do they all have white, spiky hair?”

 

“Believe it or not, most of them do. We all look alike. Strong built, white hair mostly, although there were rare exceptions, we all lived off the land… Good times, I assume. They’re mostly extinct or integrated into the people here, due the many intercultural marriages the Senju propagated. The First was a poster boy for that. When he married Lady Mito, a foreigner, not a member from a local clan or his own, it raised quite a few eyebrows. Their love signified the marriage of two cultures. I was blessed by become teammates with their adorable granddaughter.” He huffed and Naruto laughed.

 

“Do you wish your people are still around?”

 

“Sometimes.” Jiraiya confessed. “I wish there was someone to teach me more about my culture and heritage, alas, I do not like the company of monks.”

 

“That sucks.” He affirmed. “I ask Granny Tōka about the Uzumaki and Uzishio all the time, but her knowledge is very little. Man, I wish I had a time machine so I could travel and talk to those people.”

 

Jiraiya ruffled his hair. “I know for a fact there are plenty of Uzumaki books at the Senju library. Sakura is a nice girl, I bet she would let you study there.”

 

“Studying, me? Nah.” He said.

 

“Even with Sakura?” Jiraiya winked.

 

Naruto blushed and looked away. The man let out a hearty laugh and took out a scroll. “As promised, the summoning contract for Mount Myōboku.” He rolled over the scroll, revealing it was four times the size Naruto assumed.

 

“As the custodian of Mount Myōboku, I, Jiraiya, hereby offer you, Uzumaki Naruto to sign a contract with the ancient toads.” He pulled out a kunai and Naruto winced. “You need blood to sign this. The toads are gentle, they only demand a little blood. The slugs are more demanding and let’s not even get to the snakes…”

 

Naruto nodded and slashed his palm, signing his name. He nodded and gave Jiraiya a proud grin. The Sage looked pleased and rolled up the ancient scroll.

 

“What is that mount?” Naruto asked.

 

“Well, it’s an ancient region. There are three gates, if you can call them that, to the spirit world. The Mount is one of them. Each of them has a human custodian. There are only three active custodians in the world. If the spirits are real, then the only way to get to their world is through the forest, cave or mountain.” He affirmed, nodding.

 

“I think spirits are real. They have to be.” Naruto agreed. “Can you take me there someday, old man?”

 

“Maybe. If you manage to summon a giant toad.”

 

“We have a deal!”

After 9 hours of training, toad introductions, Naruto proudly managed to summon a single baby frog.

 

The flicker of the garlanded lights was putting Sasuke to sleep. He attempted to get out of this social event, alas, his mother dragged him here and now he was eyeing his teammates who looked frightened at the story that the perverted Sannin was telling. He flared his arms around, describing the situation around a particular bathhouse and how he spied on them and one of them noticed and threw a towel on him, which made him fall and break his arm.

 

Sakura was looking over at her aunt, who was clutching her sake glass a little too strong. Her father begged his older sister not to get into any physical altercation at the wedding, so she was doing her best not to take Jiraiya and swing him over the Hokage monument. Asuma and Kurenai, the newly married couple, looked terrified too, but the Third Hokage, father of the groom, looked relaxed, used to the antics of his students, even in their golden age. Jiraiya got up to grab more drinks, and Yamato turned to the young boys around the table.

 

“Say boys, do you know what the penalty is for disrespecting women?”

 

They all shrugged, muttering words of confusion.

 

“Death.” He responded, with a frightening glare. Sasuke swallowed and nodded, while Naruto shuddered and asked Yamato not to kill him. Tsunade gave him a look of approval and took and nice swig from her glass. Nawaki just sighed at the tales of the Village’s Madness once he returned to the table. Then it was time for the Hokage’s speech.

 

“My dear guests and family, I wanted to thank you for coming for my youngest child’s wedding. Truth to be told, no one ever believed this day would come.” Kakashi snorted at the statement, recalling the years Asuma and Kurenai played cat and mouse.

 

“Nevertheless, we are all here, alive and healthy after many years of turmoil. To my dear daughter-in-law, Kurenai, I welcome you in the family officially. And now, a toast!”

 

It was a small, private affair; unfortunately, officials had to be invited due Asuma’s status. Little Konohamaru proudly proclaimed that Kurenai is his favourite aunt and that he cannot wait for them to be best friends.

 

After the wedding, Naruto was sitting in the Senju garden, eating lemon squares and arguing with Tsunade about Jiraiya’s misdemeanours. Tsunade was tolerating his shit, but barely. Swinging a little of peach flavoured sake, she threatened him with her fists and he gave up. Nawaki came out of the house with his daughter, they were carrying a box and a projector.

 

“Tsuna, we found the old family films!”

 

“Is there any footage from the Hokage?” Naruto chimed in excitement.

 

“None, unfortunately.” Nawaki said. “There is one shot of Granny, but otherwise, nothing. Howevert, there is a lot of footage of my darling wife.”

 

Naruto imagined Sakura’s mum to look just like her, maybe a little older even because Sakura once told him she had pink hair. He helped Nawaki hang a white sheet on the tree in the backyard and Sakura set up the projector and wounded up the film. Naruto imagined Sakura’s mother to be a poised, elegant wife of a clan leader, but he was in for a surprise when he saw the first footage of Midori Senju roll in. Midori was damn beautiful, without a doubt. She had bright, nearly magenta coloured hair, nothing like her daughter’s soft pastel, deep brown eyes and a sharp face. What surprised him the most was the short chop of her hair, it ended underneath her chin and she had her entire left ear in earrings, and the right one halfway pierced. She was speaking about something in the video, but the shots didn’t have any sound in them so he had to assume what she was talking about.

 

Her face was very animated and expressive, she was bright as a sun and spoke about the topic passionately. Midori waved her hand in front of her face, pointing at Tsunade who was yelling at Jiraiya. Then Nawaki switched the tapes, recognising what looked like another wedding. Sakura’s parents, dressed in their formal clothes, Midori in a fabulous purple kimono, waving a fan at her new husband, who was laughing at a joke his wife told him. Behind them, Jiraiya was offering alcohol to a young Asuma and Shizune, while the Third Hokage was yelling at him. There was a blonde man running to catch a red haired woman, who was drunk off her legs, then they bumped into a what resembled a young Yamato who shrieked, running into a girl with short, brown hair. There was laughter and confetti, familiar and famous faces…

 

“Damn, your mum looks badass.” Naruto said. “She looks like he could kick ass.”

 

“Midori was the best damn toxicologist we had. Not really a healer, but girl knew to whip up a poison.” Tsunade said, wistfully. “Only my poisons were able to keep up with her… Her little sister really looked up to her, if I recall correctly and she became a medic too. Nawaki, look!”

 

Nawaki shook his head when Jiraiya poured sake down Shikaku Nara’s head, annoying him greatly. Naruto watched the deceased woman in awe. She was so much like Sakura, but so different at the same time. He studied Nawaki’s face, he’d never forget the sorrow in his eyes while looking at the face of his long lost love. On the tapes in the box stood a simple writing, “Long kiss goodbye”.

 

There was one week left until the finals and Naruto and Sakura went to visit Rock Lee and Hinata in the hospital. Armed with a fruit basket and two bouquets from Yamanaka  Flowers, they were about to visit the ward when they noticed Tsunade standing between Shisui Uchiha and a familiar looking person.

 

“I swear, it was terrifying. That Suna kid straight up tried to strangle him with the sand.” He repeated.

 

“Is that Kabuto?” Naruto asked in confusion. Shisui was writing everything down, nodding. Tsunade looked at the desk genin with suspicion in her eyes.

 

“Do you have any idea how he managed to bypass the security and find Rock Lee?”

 

“Bushy Brows has been attacked?” Naruto yelled, jumping between the three ninja. Shisui greeted him but Tsunade pushed him back.

 

“This is a crime scene, child. Get away from here, please.”

 

“We were visiting Hinata and Bushy Brows. Is he okay?” Naruto stated, brushing the dust off his clothes angrily.

 

“He’s just waking up from emergency surgery. That Gaara brat attempted to kill him.”

 

“Allegedly.” Shisui stated. “We have no evidence, only an eye witness who mixed up his hospital shifts and therefore is unreliable.”

 

Kabuto looked down. “I’m very sorry, Lady Tsunade. I thought I had a night shift.”

 

“Well, he was there to witness the act.” Shisui said, wrapping the conversation up. “I’ll take this directly to Lord Uchiha, he needs to alert the Hokage. This is unacceptable if it’s true. Kabuto, I’ll need you to go down to the police station with me to make a statement.”

 

The genin nodded and left with Shisui, waving to Naruto and Sakura.

 

“The Hyūga girl is on the fourth floor, room 22. Be fast, visits end in an hour.”

 

“Thank you!” They shouted in union. Hinata was sitting in her bed, looking at the landscape of the Hidden Leaf. When she saw them, her face turned a strange shade of pink but she smiled. Sakura placed the fruits on her table and greeted her, while Naruto put the flowers in the empty vase next to her bed. She was staring at the purple peonies with wide eyes, before turning to her friends.

 

“How are you doing, dear?” Sakura asked with a smile. Hinata looked down quietly.

 

“Well, I’m okay now. Breathing is easier, but I really hope I can stay with Kurenai-sensei until the end of the exams.”

 

“Are you healed now?” Naruto asked and Hinata let out a long, drawn out breath and nodded. “We wanted to ask you if you can help me.”

 

“Anything you need, if I can help.” She nodded with a small smile.

 

“Is there a weakness to the Byakugan?” He asked, with worry in his eyes.

 

“I think most jōnin know of this. There is a blind spot, at the neck.”

 

“Ah, awesome. Thank you!” Naruto said, nodding. Hinata gave him a sweet smile and thanked them for the gifts. Sakura asked a nurse to give Lee the flowers once he’s awake and they left the hospital for the clan library.

 

Sakura pulled out a wood style scroll, something from her great-grandfather’s prolific writing collection, and started reading. Her great-grandfather stated that the key hand sign to control the wood style is the serpent one, declaring that the key of releasing an actual, living branch from one’s chakra is the precise aptitude of a combination of earth and water release, but with the ability to trigger the wood style, something he believed was only possible by blood. Hashirama noted that he believed that an ancestor of theirs had it, but for some reasons, it disappears for several generations and then returns, writing that he believes this ancestor was his great-great-grandfather. Sakura closed the book, took a chakra paper in her left hand, and walked to Naruto.

 

“Have you asked Master Jiraiya to teach you wind jutsu, since it’s your affinity?”

 

“Yup, he showed me the basics, but nothing special. My chakra control isn’t the best, it just flies all over the place. He says I might be better with water, since it uses a lot of chakra and I can create powerful torrents with that. Oh, isn’t water your affinity?”

 

She nodded and pushed a little chakra into the paper and to their surprise crumbles appeared. They looked at each other in pure shock. Sakura took another paper in her right hand, but this time it went all soggy and wet.

 

“Ah, I must be dual.” She said, shaking her head. “Some ninja have dual affinities.”

 

“Kakashi-sensei has a lightning affinity, Sasuke a fire one, I’m wind and you have earth and water. Damn, we’re cool!”

 

Sakura grinned. “I guess.” She heard the words “Kodama” again, ringing inside of her head. She shrugged them off and told Naruto to stop for the day so they can return to training. In the evening, Sakura told Tsunade about her discovery who shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

 

“Water and earth?”

 

“Aha.” She said, stirring the noodles.

 

“Like grandfather.” Tsunade said, looking down at the hospital paperwork. Tsunade, a skilled sensor, was aware of this ever since she took her niece for the first time in her arms, which was over a decade ago. Then Nawaki noticed, then Sarutobi and they decided to keep it quiet, until now. “Do you want me to teach you some earth and water jutsu for the exams?”

 

“If you think I can master them. Oh, maybe dad can show me some of his stuff.” Sakura grinned.

 

“I think he’d be flattered.” Tsunade stated, nodding. “Nawaki misses the days he taught a genin team.”

 

“Who was dad’s sensei?”

 

“Jiraiya.” Tsunade said in a grim voice. “Hiruzen-sensei taught him a little too. Nawaki was a prodigy, so the council assigned him and another prodigious brat to Jiraiya for special training.”

 

“Oh, who was the second student?”

 

“The Fourth Hokage.”

 

Sakura’s eyes went wide.

Chapter Text

The sun was shining high on the sky when Genma Shiranui announced the start of the finals. The crowd was roaring, clan heads filled the stadium and three Kage grazed the balcony reserved for the esteemed guests. Nawaki and Tsunade made it down excited to see their kid perform, since she was first up. The original Ino-Shika-Chō making it down to their spots, followed by Ino and Chōji, who brought all the snacks he could find. Gai was walking with Lee and Tenten, the first one proudly gracing the world with crutches. Kurenai was holding Hinata’s hand gently, leading her to their reserved spot with Kiba. Asuma was upstairs with the Hokage platoon, eyeing the ANBU black ops on the roof. People watched Fugaku and Mikoto Uchiha enter the arena under the strict and watchful eye of the Uchiha police force, led by Shisui himself.

 

Downstairs in the gym, the finalists were gearing up for their last matches. Naruto was washing his face, headband swung over the soap dispenser in the bathroom. Shikamaru walked out of a cabin and tied his hair.

 

“Oi, where is Sasuke?”

 

“I have no fucking idea. Probably dragging Kakashi-sensei out of the house.” He shrugged and continued fixing his clothes. Shikamaru nodded and left, leaving Naruto alone in the bathroom. He was confused when he saw Neji come out of another cabin and wash his hands in silence.

 

“I’m going to beat your ass, Neji.” Naruto stated.

 

“You shall not.”

 

“Who the fuck uses shall?”

 

“Who comes and announces that they will beat someone stronger than them?” Neji hissed angrily. “There is an order in this world, Uzumaki, a way of how things are supposed to be. A genius will always defeat the talentless hack, a younger son will always be beneath an older son, and a clan shinobi will always be above a civilian one… That is just how it is. I know my destiny, Uzumaki, and today, my destiny is to beat you into the ground like the hack you are.”

 

“What the fuck, Neji? What have I ever done to you?”

 

Naruto noticed that Neji was wearing weird bandages around his forehead, due the lack of a protector. He was about to ask what happened, but Neji stepped away angrily. Naruto tied his forehead protector around his head. This Hyūga bitch was giving Sasuke a run for his money.

 

“I will not be bullied by the less of me.” He repeated, going away. Naruto just shrugged and went to see Shikamaru and Sakura. They were sitting on a bench beneath their balcony, discussing techniques.

 

“In the end, what kind of weapon did you decide to bring for the puppet master?”

 

“My hands.” Sakura stated.

 

“I can respect that.” Shikamaru said, nodding. “Oi Naruto, you’re ready?”

 

“Yeah, I’ll fuck Neji’s face up.”

 

“You seem grumpy.” Sakura said, in confusion. “You’re never one to go into a challenge like this.”

“Neji is weird, talking about destiny and some shit.” Naruto said, shaking his head. “Just what the hell is wrong with him? He comes from a rich, powerful clan, he’s well fed, has friends, a good sensei? What the hell is wrong with him?”

 

Sakura shrugged. “We could ask Hinata. Neji reminds me a lot of Sasuke.”

 

“Speaking of him, where is Lord Dickhead?” Naruto chimed, shaking his head. “Is he becoming sensei?”

 

Sakura gave him a grin. “They are alike, aren’t they? All angry, stoic geniuses. Sensei is a little more mellow, thou.”

 

“You’re right there.” Shikamaru snorted. “Also, you’re up first, you might to warm up a little.” She noticed the Suna shinobi arriving, alongside the Kiri and Oto shinobi. Then, the last arrival came with the faint scent of blood. Gaara of the desert was coming in. Shikamaru cocked an eyebrow in interest, noticing Gaara’s angry pace. Then, he saw two Kuso shinobi intercept him. Something told him that what they did will cost them a lot.

 

“Hey, kid, you’re Gaara, right?”

 

He remained silent.

 

“Anyway, as you know, many nobles bet on these tournaments, so we’re here to tell you that you should lose against the Uchiha. Of course, he’s the favourite…”

 

Gaara just grinned like a demon, his eyes were bloodshot, radiating unspoken evil, knowing that those two sealed their fate, and his sand wrapped around the two Kuso shinobi and snapped their bodies as if they were twigs. The three Konohagakure genin exchanged terrified looks and looked away as Gaara made his way downstairs. Naruto shuddered.

 

“Did you see that?”

 

“Sasuke has a lot on his plate.” Sakura said. She was terrified how unfazed the three of them appeared to be. Then again, the rule of shinobi was never to show their feelings or emotions, no matter how dire the situation was. Shikamaru turned away and just told them to go to another corner.

 

“My old man told me that the reason why there was a break between the preliminaries and the Forest of Death was the fact that more than eleven shinobi teams were unaccounted for. That means, they couldn’t find their remains”

 

“Gaara.” Naruto and Sakura said at the same time. Shikamaru just nodded and Sakura got up to prepare.

 

She jumped up and took off the medical apron usually tied under her chest and hung it over a rack. She begun stretching and Naruto got up to help her. While she was doing crunches, Naruto voiced his opinion.

 

“I’m a little worried about Sasuke.” He confessed. “Does he seem a little darker to you?”

 

“More than usual, yeah.” She agreed, getting up. “We’ll talk to him after the exam, promise?”

 

“Promise.” He smiled. Shino arrived and acknowledged them with a slight nod. They climbed the stairs and were greeted by a roaring audience of shinobi and civilians alike. Naruto waved at everyone, donning that “I-will-be-Hokage” smile. The others looked with a mix of confusion, shock and awe. Sakura eyed her opponent, Kankurō was standing between his brother and sister and giving her the stinky eye. She was raised by Tsunade, so she gave him the best mean glare she could muster, but probably resembled an angry coco puff. Pink hair wasn’t really threatening.

 

“There is one missing. Where is Uchiha?” Genma said.

 

Naruto run to him. “Uh, Sasuke and Kakashi-sensei are late, but they will be here soon.”

 

“If he’s late, I have to disqualify him.” Genma said. “Rules are rules.”

 

Naruto recalled one of many Kakashi-sensei lessons, abandoning rules is one thing, but abandoning comrades is another. He begged Genma, but the jōnin didn’t budge until a swirl of green leaves arrived in the centre point of the stadium. An uproar of applause echoed once Hatake Kakashi, elite jōnin and Copy Ninja arrived, with his protégé, Uchiha Sasuke, heir to the legendary fire clan. The Uchiha on the bench looked with approval. Kakashi nodded and left his student, while Naruto got hissy.

 

“Show off.”

 

“That was an entrance with style, now.” Genma stated, nodding. Kakashi left for the jōnin benches, where he bumped into Gai and Jiraiya, who was late too. Shiranui clasped his hands together and turned to the fighters.

 

“No rules today, we fight until you give up or die. The Kage have the final word when it comes to your promotion, so be ready. No funny business, there are still some prohibitions like solider pills. If I’m correct, our first match is Sunagakure vs Konohagakure. Senju Sakura, Kankurō, step forward. The rest of you, get back on that balcony.”

 

Sakura went in the left part of the arena, already pushing her chakra all over limbs, getting ready to charge. Kankurō stepped in the right corner, eyeing the thin pink thing across of him. She managed to cause some decent property damage in the preliminaries, but otherwise, she seemed harmless. Then again, he had to save chakra for the cause of it.

 

“Begin.” Shiranui said. Sakura let him summon his puppets, two of them.

 

“Let me introduce you to my friends. This is my puppet.” He grinned, summoning a puppet that resembled a nasty monster, with dark hair and sharp teeth. Sakura cracked her fists and dodged the rain of senbon the puppet launched. Sakura swung over the kunai, eyeing the puppets on the ground. There was just one. Sakura studied puppetry in the month she had, finding out that most puppet masters made their own weapons and marking them with either their clan symbols or names if they lack a clan. Sakura observed the puppet, he had a scorpion painted on his back. This scared Sakura a little, because she was unaware of who or how made this puppet. Every craftsman had their own quirks and signature moves, but nowhere did she see a scorpion mark.

 

After dodging another swung of the puppet, Sakura studied the puppet’s blades, all shining in a fresh coat of some poison. The smell was botanic, which meant it was a nature based one, against a chemical one. This was interesting, because the Land of the Wind doesn’t grow any plants that can produce airborne poison, which makes it highly unlikely for this poison to be that lethal. Then Sakura recalled the tales of Lady Chiyo of Sunagakure, famed poison master and her aunt’s sworn rival. This could mean that Kankurō, a son of the elite, might have access to her prowess.

 

Kankurō did not underestimate the girl across him. His father warned him about the Senju clan, explaining they have to signature jutsu, for they are known to have a thousand skills. She was a medical ninja, as he noted before, the digging told him she was a student of the Slug Sannin, the one his grandmother dearest despised. He knew, if something happens to his puppets, he is done for. Therefore, his own body would have to take the brunt of her fist. He inhaled deeply, waiting for Sakura to pounce.

 

“Scared?” He asked.

 

“You wish.” She answered, determination coating her face. Sakura hated to lose, ever since her aunt took her gambling as a toddler. Kankurō’s finger patterns were obvious, but she had no antidote against the poison he was using. Therefore, the puppets were out of reach, she had to bypass them and take him down. She needed a distraction. Thanks to her fists, a distraction was coming.

 

She jumped up and lunged towards Kankurō, missing him by a hairline. Nevertheless, he jumped out of the debris, mildly shaken by the impromptu earthquake. Up on the seats, Tsunade beamed with pride. She turned her head to Nawaki, who was wiping his brow with concern.

 

“Not bad, huh?” She grinned.

 

“You took it upon yourself to raise a baby you, haven’t you?” He huffed. “To be fair, I’m proud of her prowess. She already has the chakra control to use your monstrous strength.”

 

“She has a lot of raw strength.” Tsunade noted, eyeing the watchful Uchiha clan. Fugaku looked slightly surprised with the development. She heard Jiraiya sigh behind her. Gai gave him a brilliant grin.

 

“Why are you so sad, Master Jiraiya?” He grinned. “The marvel and beauty of youth is upon us.”

 

“Yosh!” Lee affirmed, wiping a tear.

 

“I’m mourning Naruto’s skull.” He said, shaking his head. Tsunade snapped her head at him and the Toad Sannin looked at his feet, whistling. Down at the balcony, Sasuke eyed the fight. To him, it looked uneventful, boring even. Naruto, on the other hand, was screaming and cheering for Sakura, shaking Shikamaru’s shoulders. The only person louder than him was probably that Yamanaka girl upstairs.

 

“Sasuke, you idiot, root for her!” Naruto shouted. “Also, you look feral with that hair.”

 

“Yeah man, you could use a haircut.” Shikamaru said, shaking his head. Sasuke didn’t really have time to cut his hair while training with Kakashi, so he went to the bathroom to approximate the damage, figuring it might fly into his eyes during a fight. On his way to a mirror, he bumped into the Hyūga prodigy.

 

“Uchiha.”


“Hyūga.”

 

They stared at each other, making Izumo, the guard on that perimeter, sweat with anxiety. He really wasn’t looking forward to taking on two murderous, angry, dōjutsu wielding, clan prodigies. Sasuke exchanged looks with Neji, Sharingan spinning lazily, the veins around Neji’s eyes strained once the Byakugan activated.

 

“What a pity we won’t be fighting each other.” He said. Izumo felt a bead of sweat trail down his back, ready to alert the ANBU. He gathered himself and turned to the brats.

 

“Likewise, Uchiha. Another time, perhaps.”

 

Izumo exhaled as they went their respective ways. Hiashi and Fugaku would have his head if these brats misbehaved. Once Sasuke returned to the balcony, realising Naruto was right, for once, not that Sasuke would ever admit it; he looked over the railing and noticed the arena has nearly been levelled, but Kankurō’s puppets were intact. Sakura looked pissed off and confused, especially once he spoke the words.

 

“I yield.”

 

“What? NO way!” She shouted, pacing towards him. Genma put a hand in front of her and shook his head. “Not today, little lady. You won this one.”

 

The Suna ninja retrieved, leaving a confused Sakura. Two chūnin came down and performed some kind of earth jutsu, flattening the terrain. Sakura went to the balcony and Naruto jumped up to hug her. Releasing Naruto from her arms, she sat down with a sour face.

 

“Doesn’t feel like a victory, doesn’t it?” Sasuke said, observing Kankurō retrieve between his siblings. Shikamaru looked at them with narrowed eyes.

 

“Sasuke, about that haircut… Ino knows how to cut hair. I’ll tell someone to get her.” He said, emphasizing Ino’s name. Sasuke cocked an eyebrow, before remembering that Ino is a Yamanaka and that Inoichi is called the “Nightmare Fuel” of T.&I. He nodded and Shikamaru brought the blonde haired kunoichi, who was carrying a pair of scissors. Sasuke took off his forehead protector and sat down, while Ino connected the Konohagakure shinobi with her mind jutsu. Sakura held her back, as she knew this drains her a lot.

 

“You all saw that fight. Something stinks here.” Shikamaru said, eyeing the Suna and Kiri shinobi across of them. Naruto’s thoughts were frantic so Ino waved at him to calm down.

 

“Why did he give up? He could have fought me with his poison.” Sakura stated, shaking her head. Naruto leaned over the railing, looking at the chūnin who were still fixing the terrain. Shikamaru was, as always right.

 

“I think something bad is in store. We need to be careful.” Shikamaru repeated. “Save your chakra as much as you can.”

 

Ino finished cutting Sasuke’s bangs and put down the scissors. A gust of wind blew by them, flying away the hair on the ground. The Sunagakure kunoichi was grinning at the team with her giant fan. She approached them and sat down.

 

“Ah, an impromptu haircut. How interesting. You Konoha shinobi do this all the time?”

 

Ino sat down, gathering her strength. “He has to look decent when he’s kicking your teammate’s ass.”

 

“Ah, I see. He’s my little brother, too.” Temari grinned. “Gaara is very eager to fight an Uchiha of Konohagakure as well.”

 

Sasuke just grunted and Ino probed Temari again. “Where did he learn that sand jutsu of his? Is it some special earth release thing or…?”

 

“Let’s call it his special ability. Yes, that is the best way to describe it. It’s the ultimate defence, at the end of the day. Well, it was nice chatting to you, but, I must meditate and stretch. Bye.” She said, leaving for her siblings.

 

The Konoha shinobi exchanged knowing looks and Sakura went to take Ino back to her spot. There, she met up with her very proud guardians. Tsunade gave her a big, bone-crushing hug. She kissed the top of her head, something that made Jiraiya’s jaw drop. Never in his years, has he seen Tsunade be so affectionate for someone. Sakura grinned at her family, hugging her father next.

 

“Stay alert.” He whispered in her ear. Ah, they know. She nodded and left them in a hurry. She watched as Shino stepped forward against an Otogakure opponent. Sasuke and Naruto were observing too, albeit from their secluded spot.

 

“I’ll be rooting for you too, don’t worry.” Naruto said, grinning. “You might be my rival, but you are my friend. Then I’ll beat your ass.”

 

“Hn.”

 

“Hey! Don’t make me get Sakura!”

 

“What’s the point? She prefers your company, anyways.”

 

“Where did you get that from?” Naruto said, in confusion. “Sakura cares about you, idiot. She nearly drained all of her chakra to save your life back in the forest. When we were in the Land of Waves, she cried because she thought you were dead.”

 

Sasuke eyes widened fractionally at the statement.

 

“We’re teammates, Sasuke. There are no favourites, just the three of us against the world.” Naruto grinned. Suddenly, his vision got hazy. Naruto grabbed his head, sensing his furry tenant going buckwild. The fox was snarling, gnawing and shaking the bars of the complex, sealed prison he was trapped by the Fourth Hokage. Naruto felt his breath hitch, stomach churning at the pain. The fox roared, shouting one single word. “One! One! ONE!”

 

Naruto stared coughing and Sasuke stepped away. In the meantime, Sakura arrived, noticing that Naruto had doubled down, holding his stomach. Sakura’s blood drained from her face, the orange boy never got sick, his immune system was a medical miracle, so she touched Naruto, but her hands were buzzing. Sasuke’s eyes were hurting from the sight, especially when Sakura pulled out the Mystical Palm and pressed it against Naruto’s head. Once he took a deep breath, he calmed down. Sakura exhaled.

 

“What’s wrong?” Sakura asked in a thin voice.

 

“Uh, um, the demon fox is raging.”

 

“What?” Sakura and Sasuke yelled in union.

 

“He calmed down, now. Okay… That was weird.”

 

“What happened?” Sakura whispered.

 

“He, uh, started shouting? Said one or something?”

 

Sasuke noticed that Gaara kid staring at them, eyes narrowed. Naruto gave him a weird look and he just turned away. Sakura helped Naruto up, while Sasuke was about to go and have a nice little chat with him, when she grabbed him by the shoulder and told him to wait. Sasuke inhaled and nodded.

 

“I saw his face. Haven’t in a long time.” Naruto confessed. “He used to be meaner back in the day; he would growl and be angry. I guess no one likes being locked up, huh?”

 

Sakura wondered if Naruto’s empathy has an end. She gave him a little of the sweets she was carrying. The loudmouthed, annoying, brat in orange had enough heart to fit an entire village in it. They saw a giant bug and knew Shino won. Naruto gulped and got up, dusting his clothes off. Neji got up too, not even sparing him a second glance. Sakura and Sasuke jumped to the railing, gluing themselves to the court. Genma was wiping bug slime off his face, he truly deserved a pay raise for bullshit like that. Neji and Naruto observed each other with wrath in their eyes.

 

This time, it wasn’t really personal. It was to the death.

 

Neji took his stance, ready to strike. Genma quirked an eyebrow at him. “Well, you know the rules. Begin.”

 

Neji decided to go all out. He took a stance only familiar to the Hyūga and seasoned jōnin themselves. The pose was ancient, but well-practised. One arm behind him, the other in front of him, a devilish glint in his pale eyes.

 

“Get ready, Uzumaki.”

 

“Oh fuck.” Shino said. Sakura and Sasuke gave him a weird look.

 

“Oh fuck?” Sakura asked.

 

“That looks like…” Shino said, leaning forward. “No, it can’t be.”

 

Up in the audience, Nawaki and Tsunade exchanged a shocked look. She pulled Jiraiya closer. “Does that look like what I think it is to you?”

 

“If it is, I’m not sure if Naruto can take him. That’s at least jōnin level, if you ask me.”

 

“What kind of technique is that, Gai-sensei?” Ino asked, turning her head to a concerned looking Gai.

 

“That, dear Miss Yamanaka is one of the most difficult taijutsu techniques of the Hyūga clan, the Eight Trigrams.”

 

Kakashi raised his eyebrow. “To master that technique, at such a young age… Not even Hiashi and Hizashi were skilled in that manner.”

 

“That’s a genius, if I’ve ever seen one.” Nawaki said. “What say you, Kakashi and Gai? Do you think he’ll surpass Hiashi?”

 

“Without a doubt.” They said in union. Jiraiya leaned back. He wasn’t convinced that this makes Neji the winner. The boy in the arena had a lot of fight in him. Then he did something stupid. He charged towards Neji, tossing a rain of kunai, which the brat deflected with ease. Then Naruto engaged in close, hand-to-hand combat with a Hyūga. Sakura wanted to scream, because this meant that Neji must have pressed him where it hurt and Naruto was now fighting with his anger, not his head.

 

“Naruto, get your shit together!” Sakura shouted, when Naruto flew back. He summoned an army of shadow clones and charged against Neji. This was the moment when every Hyūga jaw hit the floor, alongside every jōnin and the Hokage himself. Hiashi Hyūga was holding his head, not believing that a branch member was able to master that technique at such a young age. Neji took back his Trigram stance, but this time, his movements were ten times faster. He spun around, creating a shield of chakra, which caused the clones to bounce off like they were dust.

 

“What the fuck was that?” Sasuke said, eyebrow twitching. Sakura’s face went pale.

 

“You don’t know? Ah.” Shino said. “Rotation. That is the ultimate Hyūga defence. That bitch is impenetrable. However, the thing is, Neji shouldn’t know it. Do you know about the Hyūga affair?”

 

They both shook their heads.

 

“Back in the day, some Kumo ninja attempted to kidnap a Hyūga. Tough shit, they were murdered by Hiashi because they tried to kidnap Hinata. You see, unlike your Sharingan, Byakugan users are able to awaken their dōjutsu from birth. Neji is the son of the younger Hyūga twin, which demotes him to a branch family from birth. That sucks, because they place a curse mark on the branch members to protect the main family. Only the main family can use the Rotation technique, because it’s passed from head to heir. Now, you see, Hiashi murdered a Kumo ninja in cold blood. Kumo wanted blood, so to avoid war; Hizashi was executed in his brother’s stead.”

 

“Fucking hell.” Shikamaru said, listening to the conversation. “No wonder he went apeshit on Hinata.”

 

“Yeah, but Naruto isn’t a Hyūga.” Sakura said.

 

Shino just pointed to the audience. “Hiashi is watching. Neji wants to prove himself to that man, for his father. Whenever that dude speaks about curses and destiny, I feel bad. The main branch can literally fry his brain if he goes out of line.”

 

“Oh, there is a reason for the branch system.” Shikamaru said. “Some kind of forbidden technique? And the Hokage remains quiet?”

 

“That’s actual slavery.” Sakura said.

 

“The branch family dies for the main family. The order of the world, so to speak.”

 

“We don’t have a system like that.” Sasuke said. “Only the members of the main family and those closest related to them have the potential to awaken a mature, three tomoe Sharingan. The others just don’t compare. So, what went wrong with the Hyūga?”

 

“The birth thing, probably.” Sakura said, calculating the genetics of it all. They watched in anguish as Neji swung Naruto across the arena. Sasuke was shocked too, although it was hidden in his face. They both lost a lot of chakra and if he counted well, Neji closed up about half of his chakra points by now. Both boys were panting, looking angry.

 

“I have nothing personal against you, Uzumaki.” Neji stated. “But people like you should know their place.”

 

“My place? What about your place, Neji? You’re never going to do anything with your attitude, Neji! I see that you’re hurt and full of hatred, I don’t understand why, but I want to help you, ya know.”

 

“I carry a curse like you cannot imagine, Uzumaki.”

 

Naruto thought of the demon sealed inside of him and restrained himself from slapping Neji. “Cursed or not, doesn’t mean you have to be a bitch about, ya know? Neji, after this match, I promise to offer you my hand and…”

 

Then Neji flew him several meters back. Sasuke snickered.

 

“Serves him right for talking shit in the middle of a fight.”

 

Sakura rolled her eyes. Then Naruto got up and rolled his sleeves. He performed some hand seals and blew a gust of wind that Neji couldn’t withstand.

 

“Ah, he mastered his affinity!” Sakura beamed with pride.

 

“Well, not mastered, but he has a trick up his sleeve.” Sasuke said, cocking his head.

 

Sakura thought of her chakra natures, feeing her fingers buzz when she saw a swirl of orange chakra around Naruto. Naruto was in full rage mode down. Neji was going down, he will learn his lesson and he will like it. He knocked Neji over his face, surprising him with his speed.

 

“The Hyūga clan needs some changes.”

 

“How presumptuous of you think you’d be able to change them.” Neji hissed, knocking Naruto in his ribs. Naruto’s back hit the fall. Even his Uzumaki heritage wasn’t able to keep up with a well-oiled killing machine.

 

Nevertheless, Neji was losing ground too. He was angry that someone like Naruto bested him and was forcing him to pull all of his secret techniques. Naruto and gathered his hand in a fist, so did Neji. They charged towards each other and…

 

Knocked each other out. They were lying on the floor, unresponsive. Genma swirled his senbon round his mouth and knelt to check their pulse.

 

“They’re alive!” He shouted.

 

The Senju booth exhaled, as did Sasuke and Sakura bellow. They jumped down and picked up Naruto, carrying him over. Some medical ninja grabbed Neji and carried him up to the podium, assessing the damage.

 

Genma cleared his throat. “In cases of a draw, the Lord Hokage will decide upon the conclusion of this match once the candidates are awake.”

 

Sakura pulled the healing chakra, fixing the damage around Naruto’s head. The idiot managed to get a mild concussion, proving truly he didn’t know how to give up. Naruto woke up slowly, Sakura eased him up. He was awake on his feet soon, as if nothing happened. The medical ninja watched in awe as he sat down on a bench and snacked on some treats as if it was nothing.

 

“What the fuck are you made of?” Shikamaru asked.

 

“Wrath and energy.” Sasuke said, shaking his head. “Are you whole?”

 

“My head is ringing.” He said, eating the sweet bean treat.

 

“Because you had a concussion!” Sakura yelled. Neji was still out, with the team suggesting to take him to the hospital. Of course, Naruto had a genetic advantage over the now knocked out genius. His Uzumaki heritage gave him a strong, healthy body. She just chucked him a bottle of water and sat down.

 

“Shikamaru, you’re up.” Shino said. Shikamaru groaned, watching the Suna kunoichi take her place across him. Naruto kicked him down on the field, so he landed face first in the grass. And the match begins.

Chapter Text

Kakashi decided to take a short break and check up on Naruto, to see if the boy was doing well. Jiraiya looked immensely proud, because Naruto just took on a genin that everyone believed was more powerful than most chūnin and K.O. him. A sense of paternal pride washed over Kakashi, he felt like he owed his late jōnin sensei this. When he passed the corridor, he noticed the Mizukage and his guards standing by a bench, discussing something quietly. The guards turned towards him in surprise, eyeing him with a mix of hidden disdain and shock.

 

“The Legendary Copy Ninja.” The Mizukage grinned.

 

“Lord Mizukage.” Kakashi responded, quietly. He attempted to ignore the man, ignoring his powerful and overwhelming chakra, all that was made possible by the appearance of a tailed beast sealed inside of him. If Kakashi was correct, which he usually was in these trying times, the right honourable fucker was the jinchūriki of the Three-Tails, a particular beast that Kakashi had personal beef with, due an unfortunate series of events that gave him his least favourite nickname. Not today, motherfucker, not today. Then some dumb kid with a grey ponytail came around, bumped straight into the Mizukage’s guard and was shooed away by him in an unfriendly manner. Assholes remain assholes.

 

“You took down Zabuza. Impressive.” Yagura stated, nodding.

 

“I’ve heard on the streets he defected the Mist because he failed to kill you.”

 

“You heard well. We should pay you too; you did us a great favour, Hatake Kakashi.”

 

“I  suppose luck works in strange ways. Eh, I have to go now.”

 

“Why of course. Goodbye, Hatake Kakashi.” Yagura spoke, nodding. Kakashi left without a word, gritting his teeth under his mask. Not today, motherfucker, not today.

 

When he came down, he nearly chuckled when he saw his team arguing all over again, with Sakura slapping and healing Naruto at the same time. Their banter reminded him of Jiraiya and Tsunade many ways, thinking how all relationships are alike and different. Sasuke was standing by their side, telling them to stop their childish behaviour. Naruto was being particularly snarky today, something which truly didn’t sit well with baby Tsunade. Kakashi put his hands on their shoulders.

 

“Ma, are you precious genin okay?”

 

“Yes, sensei.” They said in union, tired. Sakura sat down on the bench, pushing her face between her hands. Her pudgy cheeks made Kakashi remember she was just a child, as Rin once was. Obito, too. They were just little children. He promised them ramen, whatever the outcome of Sasuke’s match was, and told them to behave. When he returned to his seat, Kakashi has been notified that Shikamaru has given up, letting the Suna kunoichi win, although he had the upper hand most of the match, much to Asuma’s amusement and Kurenai’s disdain. Upstairs, Shikaku Nara was laughing his ass off, wiping tears, while Yoshino was sporting a murderous look in her eyes. The Uchiha downstairs were scratching their heads, while the Hokage laughed with all of his might. Shikamaru dragged himself back to the podium, where he received a berating from Naruto.

 

The next match was another Kiri ninja versus a Suna shinobi, which meant a break for Konohagakure. Sasuke begun preparing himself, knowing he’d be the one to take on Gaara next. The kid was giving them the evil eyes. Sakura still felt humming in her hands and ribs now, for it was nearly painful. The humming didn’t budge, just as Gaara’s chakra. She turned to Naruto, who looked like he was sensing something too. He gave her a weird look and she returned it.

 

“Sakura, can I ask you a question?”

 

“Sure?”

 

“Did you um, read up on other jinchūriki?”

 

“Only on Granny Mito. She is the only one I have information on, but I believe there are uh, more of you.”

 

Naruto nodded. “What if…”

 

“No.” She said. That was not the cause of the buzzing in her fingers; the same buzzing her great-grandfather described when he felt the presence of a tailed beast’s chakra, because of his prowess. It just couldn’t be it. Sakura sat down, setting herself into a meditative state. Using her great chakra control, she connected the aquatic molecules to the carbon of the earth molecules and then her head nearly imploded from the sensory overload. She opened her eyes in panic and Naruto caught her before she fell down.

 

“Are you okay?” He asked in panic. The blood in her veins seemed to flow quicker. “I’ll call a medic, Sakura, don’t worry.” Naruto stepped outside of the corridor, noticing a familiar face.

 

“Ah, Kabuto!” He shouted, waving at him. “Can you help us?”

 

“Of course. Did someone faint in there?”

 

“Sakura is a little under the weather, maybe you can check her.”

 

“Sakura? Lord First’s great-granddaughter?”

 

“That one! She was meditating, I guess and then she just fell down.”

 

“Oh dear.”

 

When they returned to the room, they noticed Shikamaru holding Sakura up, under Sasuke’s watchful eye. She was standing with ease now, but she looked pale. What no one noticed was the bush of sandalwood underneath them, because it grew an entire inch. The only person noting the change was Aburame Shino, but he decided to pretend it didn’t happen. For now. The fight was over and it was time for Sasuke to face Gaara. The Uchiha clan now turned their heads towards the stadium. It was time for the showdown of the day. Kakashi eyed Fugaku. This was his final weigh in if Sasuke was a worthy replacement to Itachi. Something told him that Fugaku had made his mind up a long time ago. No wonder Sasuke was a spiteful little bastard.

 

But, as for now, another spiteful little bastard was about to take down the last known born Uchiha with the ability to awake a fully matured, three tomoe Sharingan. Only one Uchiha born away from the main branch was able to harness it, although, he never had the time to use the sheer power of the dōjutsu.

 

Kakashi inhaled deeply. Shit was about to get rocked. Unfortunately, it was Konohagakure’s shit.

 

Sasuke stepped forward, murder radiating off him. The kid from Suna reeked of death and anguish, something Sasuke understood well. Only rejection from those who you love can grow and harness such anger. Anger leads to power. Power leads to everything. This just might be fun.

 

Then Sasuke turned on his Sharingan. The creepy Suna kid suddenly shuddered, grabbing his head.

 

“Mother, don’t worry…” He said. Sasuke was taken aback. All of the weird shit he had seen recently, ranging from Zabuza to Shino’s giant bugs, paled in comparison of this display of behaviour. Sasuke decided to put a stop on it and sped around Gaara, serving several elegant punches and kicks.

 

In the audience, Rock Lee turned to Gai. “Sensei, did Sasuke manage to master the Iron Fist in a month?”

 

“He copied it.” Kakashi said. “His Sharingan now is fully matured, three tomoe and everything.”

 

At the balcony, Sakura felt her body buzz this time. Her body was aching and Naruto was holding his hand over his stomach. They grabbed Neji and Shikamaru and told Shino to keep an eye out for Sasuke. They raced upstairs to tell Kakashi their concerns.

 

Sasuke was still kicking Gaara around, but the boy got pissed and started forming a protective ball of sand around him. Sasuke hissed as his fist started bleeding from the contact, wishing he had now Sakura’s monster strength. Inhaling deeply, he pushed back, only to see something in the shape of a human eye float above the ball. Sasuke’s eyes widened fractionally and he retrieved.

 

“Sensei!” Naruto yelled. “Sensei! You need to stop this match! Sasuke might die!”

“Nonsense. I armed him for today. Just sit down and watch.” Kakashi said.

 

“Sensei, we believe he’s a jinchūriki.” Sakura spoke. “Naruto says, uh, he has been having headaches.”

 

Kakashi’s lazy eye turned to them. “Stop drawing conclusions without much evidence.” He looked at Genma downstairs.

 

“I need a reason to stop the match. If he’s cheating, maybe I can use that. But for now, only the proctor and the Hokage can stop the match.”

 

Gai was watching Sasuke with tense shoulders, especially when the boy retrieved to the wall and tested the ball of sand with shuriken and kunai. They bounced off like feathers. None of Sasuke’s attacks worked against the ball. He knew he needed more destructive power than his body had. He eyed his father in the audience, who looked completely unimpressed. Angrily, Sasuke drew back again and started forming the necessary hand seals for his next move. Monkey. Dragon. Rat. Bird. Ox. Snake. Dog. Tiger. Monkey.

 

“I believe Sasuke can handle himself down there, after all, he is a genius.” Kakashi said, praying Sasuke will buy them time so he can figure out what the fuck is the plan of the attack. He knew the Mizukage and Kazekage were about to unleash something, just wasn’t sure what.

 

“Kakashi?” Gai asked. “Is that what I think it is?”

 

“What do you think?”

“Kakashi…” Gai said. “This is why he needed to increase his speed.”

 

“Sensei, what the fuck is that?” Naruto shouted, clutching Kakashi’s arm. Nawaki Senju got up in pure shock in awe. Fugaku’s jaw was now clenched, watching as his son formed lightning based chakra around his hand. The chakra let out a loud sound, painful for human ears.

 

“You see, dear kids, from all the techniques your sensei has copied, he had to make one on his own. The one thousand singing birds.”

 

“Chidori.” Kakashi said, watching as Sasuke slammed down on the ball of sand, slicing a hole into the protection Gaara had. The hand engulfed his hand, but Sasuke felt he got a hit on the kid. Then he froze when he heard a high-pitched, demonic screech. Sasuke went back, holding his hand.

 

“Blood!” The boy screamed. “Blood!”

 

Temari and Kankurō exchanged pale looks. Gaara’s nasty side was showing and for the first time in his life, he was bleeding. Kankurō recalled how he was unable to eat for three days straight after witnessing the last carnage Gaara did with that jutsu. Temari’s hands were trembling.

 

Then the sand shield cracked, dispersing into grains of dust. Inside was Gaara, but he didn’t look like Gaara. His skin was glowing with a strange, dark chakra and he was much larger. He looked like some kind of an animal, with a single, thick tail. His face was gone, now two, soulless white eyes and a snarling mouth marred his once sharp face. He had a pair of ears, but one could see the familiar shape of his head. The chakra Sasuke felt was something he had never seen before.

 

Tsunade got up, exchanging looks with Jiraiya. Nawaki followed her, leaning over the railing. Fugaku Uchiha’s Sharingan was glowing now, along with the members of the police force. The three Kage were standing, Yagura with a murderous glint in his eye.

 

“That is a tailed beast.” Jiraiya said. “We should give you kids more credit.”

 

“How did you know?” Nawaki asked.

 

“Naruto said he heard the fox get rowdy and… my hands were buzzing.” She said.

 

“Ah.” Nawaki affirmed. “It looks like we’re under attack.”

 

Tsunade handed him the sword hidden underneath her seat. Nawaki unsheathed it. Everyone was up now, watching as the Sunagakure brat escaped from the arena, leaving Sasuke. The ANBU black ops were racing to the Hokage, but the Kazekage took him hostage. The Mizukage now jumped down in the middle of the arena, pointing at the Senju booth.

 

“I suppose you have figured it out.” Then he transformed too. The Hokage was hostage, the black ops scattered, and two jinchūriki were let loose on the village. Nawaki inhaled deeply, imagining his grandfather spinning in his grave. The Hidden Leaf was under attack and they were about to go to war with two Hidden Villages at once. It looked like a not particularly fun day to die.

 

Hiruzen Sarutobi kicked the Kazekage and too off his hat. “Nice to see you again, my dear Orochimaru.”

 

“Hiruzen-sensei.” He grinned. “The pleasure is mutual.”

 

Then Uchiha Sasuke had to fuck everything up by following Gaara out of the arena. Fugaku’s face lost colour and he yelled. “Shisui! Gather the entire force and get that bastard now!”

 

Nawaki jumped up, landing right in front of Shikaku Nara. “Gather the jōnin, we’re under attack! Where is the Hokage?”

 

Lord Third jumped down between Nawaki and Shikaku. “Orochimaru has infiltrated the village. My guess is that Kuso, Oto, Suna and Kiri jōnin are at his disposal.”

 

“Can we fend them off?” Inoichi asked.

 

“Together, yes.” Nawaki said.

 

Tsunade cracked her fists. “Hiruzen-sensei, let us take on Orochimaru.”

 

“Out of the question, Lady Tsuna. I will clean this mess up myself. Jiraiya, secure the parameters. No one can leave the grounds of the Hidden Leaf. Lady Tsunade, gather the medic corps, we will need them. Fugaku is already bringing the police. As for Nawaki, I have a mission for you.”

 

“I’ll give Yagura hell.” He spat, before disappearing in a flash.

 

The Third Hokage turned to Jiraiya. “In the case it gets grim, you know what to do.”

Jiraiya nodded and Tsunade turned to the hugging genin. “Brats, if you leave this arena, I’ll gut you! Is that clear?”

 

“But Sasuke is out there!” Naruto screamed. “We will handle it!” She shouted back. The adults left the arena and Sakura looked at Naruto in the despair. Kakashi narrowed his eyes at them, revealing the cursed red one, and summoned his ninken to watch over the dumb genin. He left in a hurry with the rest of the adults.

 

“I suppose you won’t follow orders.” Sakura spoke, regretting the sentence that just came out of her mouth.

 

“Fuck no! Sasuke’s life is in danger!”

 

“I’ll help you because otherwise you might get yourselves killed. Shikamaru?”

 

“I hate you people. I don’t really care for Sasuke.” He spat. “But the village is under attack.” Ino and Chōji jumped up. “We’re here too.”

 

“Great. Then let’s get out and give these bastards hell.” Naruto shouted loudly. Sakura knocked down a wall and they all jumped down. Ino accessed the situation with her sensory skills.

 

“Okay, so at the Hokage tomb, Lord Third is fighting something powerful… Huh? I don’t know what this is. The jōnin are engaged in battle already. Ah, Sakura, Uncle Nawaki is fighting something with a shit ton of chakra and the Uchiha are tracking Sasuke and Gaara. Oh… And I think I’m sensing the actual Fourth Kazekage somewhere.”

 

“We’re going to die.” Chōji whispered.

 

“Not today!” Naruto yelled, racing towards the forest where Sasuke went after Gaara. Sakura followed suit. The Uchiha didn’t have Yamanaka level sensors, but they were good at tracing the damage Gaara caused. Unbeknownst to them, they were ambushed by Sunagakure and Kirigakure jōnin who were tasked with containing the Uchiha Police Force. Neji and Shino were on their legs, chasing down the other two Sand Siblings. It was on and it was beyond personal. Pakkun, Kakashi’s summon, was on Naruto’s shoulders, barking angrily at them.

 

“You dumb kids are going to get yourselves killed.”

 

“As if we have a choice.” Ino snorted.

 

“Can you sense Sasuke?” Sakura asked.

 

“Nope. There is a lot of foreign chakra that doesn’t really feel human.”

 

“You were right.” Sakura whispered. “Remember what my dad sad about the Mizukage?”

 

“Yup.” Naruto said. “So that’s what, two demons?”

 

“And their entire military.” Shikamaru said. “We’re fucked.”

 

“We can’t give up now! The entire village is putting their lives on the line!” Naruto barked.

 

“Do you have a plan?”

 

“Yes.” Shikamaru said. “We need a sealing master to contain the tailed beasts, if there is such fūinjutsu.”

 

“There is, but Old Man Jiraiya knows it.” Naruto said, scratching his head.

 

“There is another way.” Sakura said. “Unfortunately, no one wields the wood style.”

 

“Great, let’s just find a wood style user and we’re saved.” Shikamaru said. “I need realistic possibilities.” He chewed his bottom lip. “My best guess is that Jiraiya has already figured this bullshit out and is sealing a barrier around the village. With our abilities, we can defeat their genin and chūnin.”

 

“Our mission is to save Sasuke.” Naruto said.

 

“Okay, so a suicide mission. Since we’re dealing with an actual demon, we need to contain it in one area until he pipes the fuck down. We need to build a boulder so the damn thing cannot leave the forest.”

 

“Ino, do you sense any Uchiha?”

 

“Only one, two kilometres away.”

 

“Sasuke.” They all said in union.

 

“Where is the police?”

 

“Uh, on the other side.” She said. “They’re battling some kind of foreign chakra. My guess is jōnin from the other villages, due the sheer amount they possess.”

 

“So we’re on our own.” Naruto concluded. “Ino, can you feel the demon thing?”

 

“Yup. It has enough chakra for an entire army. Damn.” She said. “Wait, someone is following us.”

 

“Great.” Shikamaru said. “Naruto, Sakura, go ahead. Ino-Shika-Chō will fend them off.”

 

They nodded and left.

 

“How much until we find Sasuke?” Naruto asked, losing patience

 

The sound of earth shattering filled the perimeter. Several trees fell down, shattering the local bird observatory.

 

“There he is.”

 

Sasuke was battling the monster on the ground, but as for now, he was transforming into something that resembled a mythological tanuki, but it was somehow sandy.

 

“Just what the fuck is that?”

 

“It has one tail.” Sakura said. “The fox has nine, right?”

 

Naruto didn’t say anything, he just flew right into battle, summoning a rain of shadow clones. Sasuke chased the demon into the deep forest of the village, where jōnin would have trouble finding them. The idiot wanted to show off, apparently, not caring about his life or anyone else’s, so some sacrifices had to be made. It just might be Naruto’s life. The beast was summoning large torrents of sand, which made for Naruto and Sasuke impossible to reach the source, the beast downstairs.

 

Naruto heard his own demon growl. “Shukaku! One-Tailed bastard tanuki!” before releasing a flood of chakra through Naruto’s system. On other occasions, Naruto might have been terrified, but lives were now on the line.

 

“Don’t get into my way, Uzumaki!”

 

“Sasuke, you need help!”

 

None of their attacks were working. Absolutely nothing. Not even the few chūnin and jōnin who came to their rescues after tracking them weren’t successful, getting knocked down and flown across the forest in waves from the massive outburst of sand. Naruto was bleeding and injured from the multiple sweeps of sand when he felt green, soothing chakra against his back.

 

“You’re going to get yourselves killed.” Sakura hissed. “We cannot defeat him.”

 

“Gaara!” Naruto shouted. “Hey man, can you hear me? I know it sucks to have a demon, but you need to pipe the fuck down!”

 

Naruto jumped up, using the sole sealing scroll he head, in order to seal away some of the sand the beast used. Unfortunately, it seemed like the beast produced more.

 

“Idiot, like that’s going to work!” Sasuke hissed, watching the kid go berserk. They both looked at each other with resolution in their eyes. They charged again, armed with shadow clones and Chidori, but Gaara didn’t budge. The beast continued to send spikes and daggers made out of sand a them. Then a torrent hit Sasuke and he fell down. Sakura went pale and flew downstairs.

 

A pulse. Good. She inhaled deeply. She was a Senju of the forest, and right now, the monster was on her terrain. Sakura slammed her hands into the serpent hand sign, closing her eyes, something she forgot to do last time. Now, she was certain, because all this time, she felt the chakra pulsating in her body. The tailed beasts, her dreams, the ghost of her great-grandfather that visited her as a child. Why no one ever spoke of her chakra nature, why her father was terrified to show her elemental ninjutsu…

 

She felt the hydrogen and oxygen molecules separate in her nature release, binding with the carbon of her earth chakra, creating patterns only familial to living plant cells. Sakura finally released it, using her precise chakra control to connect to the existing trees. The forest listened and created a circle around the beast. It screamed with an inhumane voice. Naruto snapped his head, watching the branches engulf the area. The fox inside of him roared a name shinobi feared.

 

“Hashirama!”

 

The beast subdued and Naruto grinned like the devil. Sakura fainted, due drainage and Sasuke snapped awake when he felt the rustling underneath him. His mouth nearly fell when he realised what happened. Sakura had the wood style, just like the First Hokage, an art thought to be lost in the Senju bloodlines. He jumped up to help Naruto, in the anguish of seeing his comrades going down; Orochimaru’s gift started releasing on his shoulder, for the battle was not over yet.

 

Tōka Senju watched in horror as she felt an earthquake caused by the pending battle. The fūinjutsu and genjutsu master she was, she was still in her sixties, not as young and agile as she wished. Using her sensory skill, she accessed the enemies and counted them, giving the black ops instructions where to go. Then, as she was about to tell Yamato to strike beneath the Academy, she felt her heart shatter in pieces.

 

Tōka swallowed her tears, feeling a chakra she only sensed a long time ago, when she was a very feisty teenager. The chakra she was so familiar with, a signature of a man who was long dead. Tōka let tears stream down her face. That bastard Orochimaru, the sword robbery some time ago, then the break into the Hokage tomb… No one was after the Hashirama cells; they were placing a seal on her father’s grave for a jutsu he himself created.

 

  Edo Tensei.

 

The Impure World Reincarnation.

 

She watched in horror as Orochimaru used the corpse of her reanimated father to attack the Third Hokage. Tobirama Senju, in all of his might, summoned a torrent of water out of thin air and swept Lord Third across the monument. Orochimaru was gone now, gloating in victory. Somewhere, the Mizukage was murdering people, while the Kazekage was holding down people with his Gold Dust technique and the little Gaara brat was on a rampage. All was going according to plan. On the other hand, maybe not.

 

He greatly miscalculated his former teammate’s abilities. Jiraiya and Tsunade appeared in front of him, arms crossed.

 

The last thing the Third Hokage saw as he was dying, sacrificing himself to seal away his late master, was Three-Way-Deadlock.

 

Slug, toad, snake.

 

And he was gone.

Chapter Text

Sometimes, people like to think that war means something. Sometimes, a boy born from a perishing tribe finds his way into a school, and then into a family. Sometimes, a little girl is born to privileged parents, venerated, as a princess due her prestigious pedigree has to let go of her arrogance and grow into a family. Sometimes, a boy gets left behind by a dying clan who went to search the world for a better place. Sometimes, they boy turns out to be a prodigy and they put him in a team that grows into a family. Sometimes, bad things happen. Death. War. More war.

 

Then, the boy leaves.

 

Back when Konohagakure was founded, under the leadership of the Senju, their first allies were the Sarutobi, who brought with them the Yamanaka, Nara and Akimichi. Then came the Uchiha, with the Kurama and Shimura clans, closely followed by the Inuzuka and Hatake. The Ogata people resided on the outskirts, drawing back into monasteries and forests. Soon, the Hyūga followed suit, with their Aburame allies. Soon, from a land faraway, the nearly perished, but once powerful Yashagorō clan arrived. They attempted to ally themselves with the powerful and rich Uchiha, but they refused. The clan, unable to find resources, left a sickly boy behind. The boy was taken in by Sasuke Sarutobi, later by his son Hiruzen and flourished into a prodigy.

 

His name was Orochimaru. Alongside Tsunade and Jiraiya, they held a flee-on-sight stamp, and were feared across nations. Then Orochimaru committed some horrendous acts and defected, leaving a trail of corpses, human experimentation and war crimes behind. The three Sannin were at an impasse, each standing on their respective summons. Jiraiya’s summon, also affectionately known as Gamabunta, chief toad and angry son of a bitch in his free time, took a nice, long draw from his pipe.

 

“Ah. Tsunade and Katsuyu. Orochimaru and Manda. Just like in the good old days. Lady Tsunade, you haven’t aged a day since I’ve saw you last. Jiraiya, you brat, are we taking down Orochimaru?”

 

“You can bet your pipe, Bunta.”

 

“I see.” He said, unsheathing his sword. Many ninja stopped fighting, in order to observe the legendary ninja fight.

 

“Today is the last day we are called Sannin, because after this, only two will be left! Katsuyu!”

 

“Yes, my lady?”

 

“Split and find my brother. Tell him we cornered Orochimaru. Then find Lord Third and…”

 

“Sensei is dead.” Orochimaru grinned. “I killed him. Well, with a little help from your lovely great-uncle.”

 

Tsunade and Jiraiya stopped in their tracks, looking at each other in shock. The decision fell, any remorse they had for Orochimaru was gone. He had to die, immediately. Orochimaru charged towards Tsunade, wrapping around Katsuyu. The great slug split into hundred, spitting acid at Orochimaru, which he dodged. He swung his tongue in order to hit Tsunade, but missed. Angrily, Tsunade jumped back when she felt Jiraiya’s oil bomb charge towards the snake. The dreaded monster missed it, but was impaled by Gamabunta’s sword, courtesy of Tsunade’s brutal strength.

 

Jiraiya, flew another oil bomb at Orochimaru, but missed and stabbed Tsunade right through the ribs. Angrily, Tsunade clasped her hands into the tiger sign, releasing the seal on her forehead. Her wounds sizzled away, much to Orochimaru’s interest.

 

“It is always great to see medical ninjutsu at its pinnacle. Unfortunately, not even that could save sensei now, couldn’t it?”

 

Jiraiya let out a growl and charged.

 

Now, it is time to tell the tale of three Sunagakure chūnin who had worse luck than the Legendary Sucker herself. They were tasked with taking out genin, so they stumbled upon a small compound and felt a single chakra presence inside. Toru, the team leader scouted the estate. It had a small central house and some apartments for clan members, some training grounds and a fence. To his surprise, there were no traps. What kind of fool doesn’t leave traps?

 

“Oi, Misaki, are you catching anyone?”

 

“Just one signature in the apartment on the left.” He said. The third chūnin, Aka, snorted.

 

“We’ve been chasing dumb brats since we’ve been here. I want a fight.”

 

“Well, let’s break in here and see if we can find any weapons. It does seem like this place belongs to smaller clan.”

 

Then, a tall man with white hair appeared on the door. He was wearing a bright green bathrobe with shuriken patterns and drinking a cup of tea. He yawned lazily, observing the intruders. Sunagakure symbols, they seemed a little too well equipped to be dumb, unassuming genin, so Sakumo decided to lay down the law. They were on Hatake land, therefore will be treated as intruders.

 

“Who the fuck are you?”

 

“We’re here to kill you.” Aka spoke bravely. He noticed the tension in Toru’s shoulders.

 

“I think the fuck not.” Sakumo said, pulling out a kunai.

 

“That’s… that’s Hatake Sakumo, the White Fang of Konohagakure! He killed the Third Kazekage!” Shrieked Toru.

 

“Oh my, it seems I’m quite famous in Sunagakure… Ah, well the thing with the Third Kazekage… I did kill his older son and his wife, but never the Kazekage himself. Common misunderstanding. You, on the other hand, are about to join the list of Sunagakure shinobi I have killed. Gods know it’s too long.”

 

Katsuyu slid through the forest, sensing Nawaki’s presence. She met Nawaki when he was an infant, presented to her in a bundle in the middle of the Shikkotsu forest, awaiting the blessing of the elder slugs. Nawaki was a bright, skilled child and she missed him dearly. She wondered if he was struggling against Yagura, because she was aware of the bloody history between the Senju and Kirigakure. She heard a roar, one belonging to a tailed beast without a doubt, and sped up to her goal. She saw Nawaki lean against a tree, taking in a deep breath, holding his sword high. Nawaki exhaled and ran back into the field, weaving hand signs and summoning a great stonewall around the area. She noticed they were fighting on a lake, something that gave the aquatic Three-Tails, an advantage.

 

Then Katsuyu recalled that Nawaki was a master of elemental ninjutsu, that he mastered every form of it there is and that he probably has a reason why he drew Isobu and Yagura in the middle of a lake. The beast released a bomb, which damaged the wall, nearly piercing it. Nawaki duck, dodging it. He looked angry and had a cut on his cheek.

 

Yagura was taunting him, recalling events of his father’s death. Nawaki did not let his wrath get better of him and drew up another wall, this time blocking Yagura’s charge. Then, he felt something slide up his leg.

 

“Lady Katsuyu, is that you?” He wheezed, coughing from the smoke and debris his battle was causing.

 

“Yes, Lady Tsunade sent me. She and Jiraiya have cornered Orochimaru, but I’m afraid I’m bringing dire news.”

 

“I’m currently fighting a perfect jinchūriki; I think I can take it.”

 

“The Third Hokage is dead, Orochimaru killed him by summoning the corpse of the Second Hokage. Lord Third gave his life away to seal Lord Tobirama away.”

 

Nawaki wanted to fall on his knees.

 

“Katsuyu… Is Tsuna alright?”

 

“Of course. She is immortal as long as she has chakra.”

“Does Asuma know?”

 

“I highly doubt it.”

 

Nawaki laid his hand on the ground, sensing Asuma in the southernmost part of the village with the other elite jōnin, fighting a torrent of Oto and Kiri ninja. He turned his sight to the west, sensing the presence of the Uchiha police force, alongside Fugaku and Shisui Uchiha. They were ambushed by what felt like Rasa and Suna jōnin. Then, he sensed a presence of another tailed beast, one that he thought resided in a much older holder. Confused, he sensed three very familiar chakra signatures around it. The first one was knucklehead Uzumaki, disregarding orders, then there was Uchiha, who was pulsating and then he felt the presence of his daughter.

 

“Katsuyu, go and find my daughter. Gods, I’m going to ground her for this.”

 

“Yes, sir. Do you want me to heal your wounds?”

 

“No need. Go, be quick. I’ll take down Yagura if it’s the last I do.”

 

“Lord Jiraiya also has a message.”

 

“Yes?”

 

“He just told me to tell you it’s time.”

 

Nawaki inhaled deeply. He thought of his wife, if he were to die now and today, he’d see her tonight. She’d probably kick his ass for leaving their daughter alone. And Naruto… Naruto needed him too. Jiraiya wasn’t really the appropriate guidance. He had to pay for his crimes for not being close to the boy when he should. Unfortunately, there was no time to dwell on his sins or the past, it was time for respecting his family legacy and protecting the village. For the Will of Fire cannot simply be buried underneath games and mistakes of the foregone times. For the last time that day, Nawaki unsheathed his sword and charged.

 

Yagura was now fully transformed, roaring on the middle of the lake.

 

“No matter how much a master of water you are, Nawaki, you cannot defeat me in my own element! Give up! Konohagakure has fallen!”

 

“Not until we’re alive. Konohagakure is alive as long as there are people willing to fight for the village. You’re going down today, Yagura. For whatever happened to my father, for whatever you did in the past… You will pay.”

 

“And who the fuck do you think you are?”

 

“The Fifth Hokage.” He said, summoning lighting strong enough to electrocute the entire village and slamming his sword right into the lake, using the water to conduct electricity into Yagura. He was paralysed by the blast, losing control and plunging into the lake. Nawaki exhaled and sunk on his knees. Then, he jumped up to fish the son of a bitch out. He was taking prisoners today.

 

 

Naruto woke up with a groan, smelling charred wood, fire, hearing shouts and screams. He noticed Sakura lying on a branch that grew downwards. Tree branches didn’t grow downwards. Oh. He saw Sasuke lying on the ground, bleeding from a cut on his stomach, but it didn’t look too deep. Gaara was there too, swung across a tree branch, also with his lights knocked out. Just great, they were all going to die. He watched Sakura’s body in agony as she twisted around, giving sings of life. He crawled closer to her, when he saw something that resembled a dog-sized, white and blue worm crawl in their direction. He screamed and then the worm raised its head, revealing two small horns.

 

“Are you injured?” The thing spoke. He was about to scream when he saw a tuff of dark blonde hair and everything went dark again. When he woke up again, he was in a hospital room and again, there were many voices outside. The buzzing annoyed his head, but he gained consciousness quickly and looked around the room. Sakura was huddled up in a white sheet, sleeping soundly with an IV drip connected to the arm. Sasuke was on the other side, also sleeping. On the bed next to Sakura’s, Shikamaru and Ino were sitting. Ino was quietly reading a hospital chart while Shikamaru was toying with his bandages.

 

“Oh, you’re awake?” Ino said, exhaling. “I’ll get Lady Tsunade.”

 

“No, no, wait!” He said, shaking his hands. “Is everyone okay?”

 

“Yeah, mostly. We took down a Kiri jōnin.” She grinned, before putting her worried face back on. She turned to Shikamaru.

 

“You stay here, I’ll get Lady Tsunade.”

 

“What happened to Gaara?”

“In custody.” A voice behind them said. Tsunade and Shizune were standing in the doorway, alongside that giant white thing Naruto saw today. Once he got a better look at it, he recognised it was a slug. The freakishly large slug flowed across the room and accessed him.

 

“Nearly recovered, Lady Tsunade.”

 

“You must be a medical miracle, kid.” Tsunade spoke, shaking her head. “You broke two ribs, had a concussion and fought a jinchūriki. All in one day. And lived to tell the tale.”

 

“Are Sasuke and Sakura okay?” He whispered.

 

“Of course they are. Sasuke overused his chakra and Sakura…” She exhaled, tears gathering in her eyes. “Can you keep a secret?”

 

He nodded.

 

“Please, don’t tell anyone what you’ve seen today. Is that alright?”

 

“Okay.” He said, nodding. She sat down by his bedside. “Maybe you should get some sleep, Naruto. Also brat, your sensei is very angry with you. You disobeyed orders.”

 

“Well, I did save the village today.” He snorted, crossing his arms. Tsunade bonked him with her chart.

 

“We all worked together. Jiraiya and I pushed back Orochimaru, Nawaki took down Yagura and the Uchiha held of the Kazekage. It was a feat of team work.”

 

“Ouch, wait? Yagura? The Mizukage?”

 

“Yup. He is a perfect jinchūriki; I don’t even know how my brother is alive…”

 

“He has a tailed beast?” Naruto stopped for a while, thinking of Gaara’s murderous rampage and Yagura’s bloody reign on Kiri. “You know… We jinchūriki aren’t all that evil… Maybe Yagura is a bad man, but Gaara… I feel like he’s hurt and broken. Can I speak to him?”

 

“I’m not so sure about that, since he’s a hostage of the Leaf. I’ll see with Morino and Nawaki.”  

 

“Ah, Lady Tsunade, Sakura is awake!”

 

“Auntie…?” Said a faint voice and Naruto jumped up. Shikamaru and Ino leaned forward in shock. Tsunade jumped up and hugged her niece, hearing a loud sob come from her. Naruto wanted to hug her too, but waited patiently for Tsunade to release Sakura.

 

“Just what on earth were you thinking, brat?” She whispered.

 

“Auntie, I think I can…”

 

“I know. I think, no I knew you could. Always.”

“That explains a lot, doesn’t it?” Sakura whispered. “Why I saw great-grandfather’s ghost all the time…”

 

“Wait, you remember that?” Tsunade yelped.

 

“Uh?”

 

Naruto was scratching his head. “You saw a ghost and didn’t tell me?”

 

“And you’re awake…” Nawaki said, followed by Kakashi and Yamato. Kakashi was on crutches, while Yamato was sporting a broken nose. They looked quite displeased. Nawaki looked slightly different, he had some cuts, but otherwise was fine. His katana was still strapped on his hip and Naruto didn’t miss his change in posture. Kakashi came over and bonked Naruto in the head.

 

“What did I tell you?”

 

“Well, we’re alive! And if we didn’t make it in time, Gaara would have killed Sasuke!”

 

“He’s right.” Sakura said. “The Uchiha were fighting the Fourth Kazekage and we were stuck…”

“They weren’t just fighting the Fourth Kazekage; they were ambushed by half of Sunagakure’s ANBU force.” Nawaki said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Rasa uses golden sand when he fights, so imagine Gaara, just the adult version. And I’m very, very upset that you didn’t follow orders and hide in the arena. Although, you did extremely well.” Nawaki said. “Maybe through dumb luck and talent, but you managed to knock him out. He was out control, that is. Had you faced Yagura, I’m not sure if you’d be singing the same song.”

 

“Well, we won. For better or for worse. Damn, my head hurts.”

 

“The Hyūga brat gave you a concussion. Speaking of which, he trapped six Oto ninja on his own.” Tsunade said, shaking her head. “Whatever you kids are on, it’s working.”

 

“About that…” Sakura asked. “Dad, did you…?”

 

“Aha, yes. We had our suspicions, not going to lie.” He sat down on the foot of Naruto’s bed. “We’ll talk later, after you recover. You need to build up your reserves and sleep. Yamato, Kakashi, you too. Yamato, is your mother better?”

 

“She’s a little shaken up, that’s all. Also, the council is ready. They sent me to inform you.”

 

“Did they?” Nawaki snorted. “Wow, they’re fast. I imagine Shimura is shaking up the tables. He can wait.”

 

“The council?” Sakura asked, in confusion.

 

“We lost the Third Hokage today, Sakura.” Kakashi spoke gently.

 

Naruto felt tears well up in his eyes. “The Old man? No way he died, no way! No! You said we took little damage.”

 

“The official body count for Konohagakure is ten. Four genin, five chūnin and one Hokage. He gave his life for us. As much as I didn’t see eye to eye with him, I respect him immensely for that.”

 

“Oh…” Naruto said, wiping his face. He felt Sakura’s hand on his wrist. “Does Jiraiya know?”

 

“Yes.” Tsunade said. “He’s speaking with Hiruzen-sensei’s family.”

 

“Asuma-sensei must be devastated.” Ino whispered. “Should we go?”

 

“I think they deserve to mourn as a family.” Tsunade stated. “Your intentions are well. Go, I see no harm, but don’t be too intrusive.”

 

They nodded and left. Shikamaru spent one last glance at the room and closed the door. Then Sasuke opened his eyes and Naruto and Sakura exhaled. He looked groggy and tired, wiping his eyes and yawning.

 

Tsunade jumped up and opened the door. “Mikoto, Fugaku, he’s awake!”


Sasuke’s parents raced into the room and Mikoto hugged her son, sobbing. “You’re well…” She wept, holding him gently. Fugaku stood behind them, shaking his head in disappointment.

 

“What on earth were you thinking, Sasuke?”

“The fight wasn’t over.” He said, cutting him off. “I was merely finishing what I started.”

 

Mikoto’s eyes flared red for a second and Sasuke gulped. “We’re talk once you recover.” She turned her head to Shizune and Tsunade. “How bad is it?”

 

“Chakra exhaustion, a mild concussion, hairline fractures on femur, otherwise, he’ll make a full recovery.” Shizune stated. “Your eyes are also in good shape, but you need to tone down the Sharingan, your chakra pathways were overridden. You might go blind someday if you keep doing that all the time.”

 

Sasuke snorted and laid back. “Sakura, how did you…?” He asked before he caught Tsunade’s sharp gaze and cleared his throat. “How did you heal Naruto so fast after the exam?”

 

“Oh, Neji made some minor damage…” Sakura blurted out. “And Naruto heals quickly.”

 

The Uchiha exchanged gazes and got up. “We’ll leave you to recover. Oh and Nawaki, congratulations.” Fugaku spoke. “Third person in the family to take the big job, huh?”

 

“Ah, yes, that little thing.” Nawaki said. The tension in the room was palpable. “Nothing is official yet.”

 

Fugaku raised his eyebrow. “I’ve gotten the impression it has been official for a long time.”

 

Sakura turned her head to her father, confused. Third in their family? Her eyes widened and her mouth fell agape.

“Dad?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“Are you going to be Hokage now?”

 

He knelt down to her bed, taking her hand. “It looks like it, sweetheart.” He smiled. “Nothing will change, really. I might just be more around than usual.” Sakura nodded and looked at her legs underneath the blanket. This was just too much to take in for now, so she laid back in bed. The Third Hokage was dead, Naruto and Sasuke nearly died, her father was to become the Fifth and oh, she is a wood style user. Just great.

 

Nawaki gave her a hug and whispered.

 

“Everything will be alright, is that clear? I’ll have a lot of help.” He grinned at her. “You should rest, we’ll talk about my official positon after the funeral. It doesn’t matter, in the end.” He shrugged. “I’m here to protect the village.”

 

“Is Yagura dead?” Naruto asked.

 

“No, his ANBU squad took him away to Kiri. They escaped, but we have their hostages.”

 

Naruto got up, tearing off his IV. Tsunade was about to yell at him, but he apologised and stuck the needle back. Then he dragged the entire bag with himself.

 

“Are you going to the bathroom?” Tsunade asked.

 

“Nah, I’m going to find Gaara. I need to talk with him.”

 

“Naruto, you brat…” Tsunade started, before she felt a hand on her shoulder. “Maybe Naruto should talk to him. After all, they understand each other.” Nawaki stated. “Remember how Granny felt?”

 

Tsunade just shook her head and watched Naruto leave for the halls. He found Gaara in his room in a meditative state, surrounded by various fūinjutsu seals and guards.

 

“Hello, Gaara!” Naruto yelled. The Suna ninja snapped one eye open before closing it. Naruto sat down in front of him, watching his stone cold expression.

 

“I just wanted to talk to you a little.” He smiled, but Gaara remained impassive. “You know, the thing is… I know how you feel. It’s hard, ya know? Having a demon inside of you that you cannot control and that sometimes growls and scares you, but it gets better.” Naruto grinned. “When you grow up lonely, you think that no one can love you. Then, you form a bond with someone, like a teacher, or a friend. Then, it gets better. You have siblings, right? I’m sure they love you…”

 

“My siblings are the reason why I’m cursed!” He snapped. “Neither of them was compatible with the damned demon. Just me… he is a bloodthirsty monster that tortures me if I don’t kill on his command! Right now, it’s telling me to kill you.” Gaara growled. “Leave before I do it. I never show mercy, but today I might make an exception. Use it wisely.”

 

“Okay, bitch.” Naruto said, slamming his hands in front of Gaara. “You think you can hate everyone because you’re in pain? That makes you no better than the people who hate you! You are no better than the monster you’re protecting the world from…”

 

“Maybe I don’t want to be better.” Gaara said. “I made my peace with that a long time ago.”

 

Naruto huffed. “You’re worse than Sasuke and his brash ideas about the world!” He said, arms flaring. “Listen, Gaara. You get one chance to live, right? If you spend it inflicting pain, you will only end up hurting. Your siblings, as monstrous as you think you are, love you.”

 

It seemed like Gaara got a little calmer. “How old were you when they sealed you?”

 

“I don’t know. I was a baby.”

 

“I was sealed while I was in my mother’s womb. Childbirth killed her on the spot. My father has despised me ever since because I took his beloved wife away. So did Temari and Kankurō, because I took their mother with me. I should have died, but no, the demon wanted me to live. Because I was so young and the seal so weak, the thing nearly escaped and went on a rampage. Ever since, the people in my own village fear me. The only person who ever loved me… Well, I killed him.”

 

Naruto listened in shock. He leaned over to hug Gaara, but the boy moved away. He was still terrified of touching. Naruto’s eyes filled with tears and he started crying. Gaara watched in utter shock as a complete stranger cried over his fate.

 

“So you were alone, all this time?”


“Yes.” Gaara said. “As I always will be.”

 

“At least I had Iruka-sensei… Then came Sakura and Sasuke, alongside Kakashi-sensei… You should met them, ya know? They’d like you a lot…”

 

“What are you talking about?”

 

“I’m sorry Gaara.” He said. “For everything that has happened to you.”

 

Naruto got up. “I’ll leave you, to rest. If you want to talk, I’ll be around.”

 

Gaara nodded. “Very well.”

 

He watched the door close and for the very first time in his life, Gaara didn’t feel alone.