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A Little Pain

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At the age of 7, there were a few things Hinata Hyuga was sure of. One, her father, Hiashi Hyuga, was the strongest shinobi she knew. Second, just the thought of her having to one day make decisions for her entire clan terrified her beyond belief. Third, her younger sister Hanabi, at the age of 2, was very easy to impress.

 

“The Ninja Academy? You’re going to the Ninja Academy?! That’s so cool, Hinata-neesama!”

 

Hinata gave Hanabi a small smile. “Father thinks that it’ll be good for me to get experience with training with others aside from him and Neji-niisan.”

 

“As heiress, there are many things for you to learn.” Her father had said. “The history of our village, the responsibilities of a shinobi, and dealing with others outside of the Clan. While you won’t be placed on genin team after your graduation, these are valuable information you can acquire from the Academy. But diplomacy and the Hyuga’s history and secrets will be mine to teach you.”

 

Hinata bit her bottom lip a little just remembering what she had been told just an hour prior after she had finished her sparring session with her cousin. Her father had announced she would be going to the Ninja Academy just like Neji. The only difference was the fact he would be actively pursuing missions for genin. Apparently missions like that could be dangerous and as heiress of the Hyuga Clan, it would be better not to risk letting her go on any as an inexperienced kunoichi.

 

Heiress.

 

Hinata felt a trickle of anxiety fill her chest.

 

A big title with many expectations.

 

Hanabi’s chirping cut of Hinata’s train of thought before it could even begin whirling down the tracks. “You’ll teach me everything you learn, right?” Her lavender eyes were shining.

 

“You aren’t even old enough to start your training, Hanabi.” Hinata giggled.

 

Hanabi pouted, chubby hands clenching Hinata’s shirt. “But still! I want to catch up to you and be a ninja just like you, Hinata-neesama! If I don’t start early, I’ll be so far behind!”

 

I’m not really not that strong.

 

“You have to wait to begin your training just like Lady Hinata did, Lady Hanabi.” Natsu finally cut in, but a soft smile was on her face. She could never truly be cross with Hanabi. She was to Hanabi as Kou was to Hinata, a caretaker. “It’s so you can grow properly. Real missions aren’t as exciting as you might think they are. They are dangerous and deadly and one can-”

 

Hinata could only stifle a giggle as Natsu went on with her lecture and Hanabi puffed out her cheeks in indignation. “Don’t worry,” she whispered into Hanabi’s ear, low enough that Natsu wouldn’t hear it. “I’ll make sure to tell you that happens when I’m gone.”

 

Hanabi smiled widely once more.

 

That was a fourth thing to add to the small list of things Hinata was sure of. There was no one who supported her more than her own little sister.

 


 

If there was one benefit to Hinata needing to be enrolled into the Ninja Academy, it was that she got to leave morning training early.

 

She didn’t have to be scrutinized by the constant stares of her father and grandfather, Housen. Nor did she have to see Neji and be pierced by his staring. His Byakugan wouldn't even be activated, and yet it still felt like he was staring right through her.

 

Did Neji even like her?

 

Hinata couldn’t tell. When they were younger, perhaps. She could barely recall the smiles her elder cousin would give her when she was 3. Now she never saw him smile, let alone around her. “Kou, I can never tell what Neji-niisan is thinking.” She told him as they walked down the main street together. “His face is always blank like Grandfather’s.” And Father’s. Hinata added to herself.

 

“You mean he has a ‘poker face’.”

 

“Poker…?” Hinata’s nose scrunched up in thought.

 

“Ehh it’s a game involving cards.” Kou replied, face a little strained. “But the idea of a poker face is something very useful for a shinobi. If your opponents can’t read your face, they can’t predict what move you may make next in a fight. Or how you might be feeling during a meeting of diplomacy. So you’ll learn this skill as well as heiress.”

 

There was that word again; heiress .

 

The word that meant one day, when she was old enough, she would be the head of the Hyuga just as her father and his father before him. Hinata couldn’t even imagine being a good ninja let alone the leader of an entire clan. The Hyuga Clan.

 

Hinata spent the last seven years of her life learning about it. How the Hyuga was the most distinguished Clan in all of Konoha with renowned techniques many coveted for themselves. How the Byakugan is the most well kept power that outsiders can’t know much about lest the Hyuga wish to be taken advantage of or become weak. How everyone has a destiny they were born into and how they can’t escape it or change.

 

And it was her destiny to lead the Hyuga. Which means one day she would become a ninja like her father.

 

But why don’t I ever feel that way? Hinata stared at her feet, absentminded of anything that could be coming out of Kou’s mouth as they continued their walk to the Academy grounds. Father is so sure of everything. He doesn’t second guess anything either. How can I lead the Clan if I’m not even good with others.

 

Hinata knew better than anyone that she was painfully shy. She could barely look anyone in the eye when she meets anyone new. Like on her first outing outside of the Clan compound. A kind shopkeeper had given her a greeting and Hinata froze, looking anywhere but the person hoping that the situation would resolve itself if she did nothing. Thankfully she was with Kou who was there to apologize to the shopkeeper, Tamura, on Hinata’s behalf and Hinata was able to leave the situation with a cinnamon roll in hand-- but Hinata knew she wouldn’t have Kou with her at the Academy.

 

She would have to confront people.

 

Hinata hated confronting people.

 

“Kou, will I do well at the Academy?” Hinata mumbled so low that she was surprised that Kou even heard her.

 

“Of course you will, Lady Hinata. It’s your destiny to succeed and become a leader that the Hyuga can all be proud of.”

 

The words were probably meant to be comforting, but those words filled with Hinata with so much dread that she felt dizzy and needed to squeeze Kou’s hand in order to keep herself grounded. I don’t want to lead the Clan. The thought rung out in Hinata’s mind with great clarity. She didn’t want to be in charge of over 200,000 Clansmen. She didn’t want to be in charge of diplomatic relations. ….I don’t want to disappoint everyone.

 

Hinata bit her bottom lip and her eyebrows knit into each other. Despite the fear of being in charge of so many people, sometimes the fear of letting down her family was worse than it all put together.

 

So many high expectations were on her to lead and be strong.

 

Hinata was very sure that there had to be some that didn’t agree with her being the heiress. She had heard the whispers around the compound. ‘How can she be a Clan Head with such a shy disposition? Surely she’d lead us to ruin.’ ‘Perhaps it would be best if Lord Hiashi chose someone more fitting?’ Those were only two of the things she’s heard, but Hinata is pretty sure that have been other things. The only ones who seemed to believe that she was capable of leading the Clan was Mother, Hanabi, Kou, Natsu, and Father. But if it’s my destiny, does that mean I’m destined to be a weak leader? The blue haired girl could only wonder.

 

“Ah, here we are, Lady Hinata.” Kou announced and Hinata jolted from her thoughts. “The Academy.”

 

Hinata gulped at how large the school was. “Here?”

 

Kou must have seen the discomfort on her face because he quickly added, “It will seem a lot smaller once you get used to the building and are running around playing with your new companions.”

 

I’m not very good at making friends. Hinata wanted to say aloud but instead she shifted her feet and looked at the grounds.

 

“Lady Hinata.”

 

“.... Yes?” Reluctantly, Hinata looked back up at her caretaker expecting to be scolded for being so unexcited.

 

“Would you feel better if you stayed out and played instead?” Kou smiled reassuringly pointing over to a forest of sorts. “Those are the trees you’ll be practicing your shuriken and kunai training with. But since there is no studying going on today, you don’t have to worry about being grazed by anything. I can take care of the paperwork and when I am done, we may go to Tamura-san’s shop and eat some of her delicious cinnamon rolls.”

 

Saliva began forming in her mouth just from imagining the smell and taste of one of Tamura’s cinnamon rolls. “Really?”

 

“Really.” Kou repeated as he looked over for a particular spot for Hinata to play at. “It will only take a moment, so you might not be able to make any friends but if you play over-” Kou cut himself off.

 

“....” Hinata blinked.

 

Once.

 

Twice.

 

Thrice before finally saying something. “Kou?”

 

Kou’s grip tightened over Hinata’s hand, not enough to hurt but enough to cause discomfort. “Kou?”

 

“On second thought, Lady Hinata,” Kou’s voice was grave. “I’ll have to take you inside with me.”

 

Why? Hinata peered over Kou’s leg to see what he possibly could have seen that would make him change his mind. Did he see something scary? Like a large spider. Or maybe what Kou had seen was a group of children coming out of the forest area in order to set up a place to practice throwing their shuriken.

 

Instead, all Hinata could see was a boy around her age sitting on a swing.

 

Hinata held her breath and tucked her back behind Kou instinctively, thinking maybe he had seen her. But she was able to relax after realizing the boy hadn’t seen her at all. He was too busy staring at his own lap. Is he already a student here? Or are his parents enrolling him today too? “Do you know him, Kou?”

 

Briskly, Kou began walking through the Academy gates causing Hinata to start. “Kou?!” Hinata looked behind her back at the boy and saw him looking back at her, his eyes a clear blue.

 

Hinata looked away immediately. She didn’t like staring people in the eye.

 

It seemed to be an eternity before Kou finally stopped walking and Hinata was panting a little by the end of it. “My apologies, Lady Hinata. I should have taken a different approach.”

 

“I-it’s fine.” Hinata took a deep breath, hoping to calm herself down. “What was wrong?”

 

Kou didn’t say anything immediately at first. His jaw was firm and he closed his eyes as if in deep thought. Then he opened them, lavender eyes holding Hinata’s firmly. “You must never talk to that boy, Lady Hinata. He is a monster.”

 

“.... A monster?” Hinata had heard of monsters in old nursery tales. They had claws and fangs and shaggy fur. Yet that boy had none of those things. The only thing that could be considered odd about him were his eyes. Being so used to seeing dormant Byakugans on a daily basis, Hinata still found it odd when she left the compound and saw people with a variety of eye colours with a black dot in the middle.

 

Kou’s eyebrows furrowed. “A social outcast.”

 

“What’s an outcast?”

 

Kou seemed to deliberate for a few more moments before saying anything again. “Someone who doesn’t fit in. He’s flawed and not right. You shouldn’t associate yourself with him while in the Academy.”

 

Hinata looked away as Kou’s gaze came crashing down on her. “Yes, sir…” She said automatically. But her mind was elsewhere.

 

A social outcast.

 

Someone who doesn’t fit in.

 

Someone like me.

 

However, Hinata ultimately ended up seeing that boy again; they were in the same class. Not that Hinata talked to him. She didn’t really do any talking on her first day at the Academy.

 

She sat all the way in the back in the chair seat closest to the door and fiddled her fingers hoping that the day would end fast so she could go home.

 

She did, however, look around to see some of her classmates. Like the boy with the blue eyes and blond hair who sat nearly all the way in the front. He was definitely the confident type. And leaders are supposed to be confident. Hinata knew this due to her grandfather Housen. He made it quite clear to her that being unconfident was not the way to lead the Clan. So what makes him an outcast? The boy had even stood up, faced everyone, and took a gander at his surroundings (Kou told her that was another way to say ‘look around’) before announcing loudly and clearly:

 

“I am Naruto Uzumaki and I’m going to be the next Hokage!”

 

Hinata couldn’t even imagine saying something like that in front of a few people she knew let alone a group of people she didn’t even know.

 

She glanced at her other classmates to see how they reacted. They weren't the best reactions one could hope for.

 

“Yeah right, Naruto. You’ll definitely be the next Hokage.” Said a boy whose cheeks were dashed with red. His hair was just as wild and unkempt as the blond's, except it was brown. “When dogs fly.”

 

The blond boy-- Naruto-- made a face. “I will be the next Hokage, I will! And when that happens, Kiba, you’ll have a front row ticket in order to see me accept the hat and cape!”

 

‘Kiba’ only snorted and went back to conversing with someone else in front of him. Everyone else was whispering around them, but from the looks on their faces, Hinata could tell they weren’t whispering good things. They kept giving Naruto dirty looks.

 

So maybe he really is an outcast. Hinata realized. She could ask but… that would require her actually talking to him. And she couldn’t do that.

 

Instead, she looked around some more to see if there would be anyone else who caught her eye.

 

There was another brunet that she could see. His hair was easily defined as looking like an uncut pineapple fruit. Hinata giggled silently to herself about it. He seemed generally disinterested in everything, settling for laying his head on his arms. Next to him was a much chubbier boy, he was slightly more interested in their surroundings as he ate out of a bag of chips. Glancing around at the people sitting in the front of the room as he mumbled something to the pineapple head beside him.

 

Like a loud blonde girl who was surrounded by various other people. Her eyes were a bright blue and her clothes were very stylish. Pretty was the first word that came to mind when Hinata looked at her. Definitely not an outcast. She was an untouchable or someone Hinata was probably expected to be like when around others her age.

 

Hinata looked away before she could begin comparing herself to the girl too harshly and saw a different boy who had on sunglasses indoors. Odd.

 

Then their homeroom teacher walked into the room and everyone scattered to sit down in available seats. “Good morning, everyone! I hope I gave you all enough time to try and talk to your new classmates because we are all going to be together for the next 5 years. So I hope you’ll all get along!” The man said cheerily.

 

“Yes, teacher.” Came the expected response.

 

Hinata didn’t say anything. Instead she let herself be distracted by the flash of pink that she saw from the corner of her eye.

 

All the way to the left of the chairs in the back row was a girl with shoulder length pink hair. Pink hair. Hinata almost couldn’t believe it. She’d never seen pink hair before. The girl sat, looking as uncomfortable as Hinata felt. Hinata couldn’t see her eyes very well, they were slightly obscured by her long bangs that covered her forehead.

 

She hadn’t talked to anybody either as far as Hinata could tell.

 

…..

 

Hinata guessed that she learned something else that day. There were two potential outcasts inside her class. People who didn’t fit in with everybody else; people who were like her.

 

[';']

 

“Hinata! Be more assertive! Again!”

 

“Yes, Father!”

 

Hinata swallowed back her saliva nervously as she allowed herself back into the Gentle Fist stance. Neji was in his, looking at her expectantly. She would have to strike first, be aggressive.

 

Bracing herself, Hinata strode forward, right palm aimed to strike Neji's shoulder. It was expectantly blocked by his own palm and Hinata squeaked as she felt the world underneath her fade and she collapsed unceremoniously on the floor.

 

She lost to Neji. Again.

 

Right in front of Father and Grandfather.

 

For a moment, she dared to peer over to the right and look at Hiashi and Housen and see what kind of expressions were on their faces. But she decided against it, not wanting to see something she wouldn’t like.

 

Gingerly, Hinata stood up and fell into her stance once more. She would make sure not to lose in this sparring session.

 

(She did continue losing in their sparring sessions until finally, Hiashi announced that the training was over and they could proceed to leave. Hinata bowed, then she ran out of the room to escape what was probably eyes of disappointment.)

 

[;';]

 

Sakura.

 

The pink haired girl’s name was Sakura.

 

Hinata had learned her name during a lesson during homeroom when Iruka-sensei had asked if anyone knew the names of the previous three Hokage Konoha has had thus far and the pink-haired girl had risen her hand. “Yes, Sakura?”

 

“Their names were Hashirama Senju, Tobirama Senju, and Minato Namikaze?” She asked rather than stated, her green eyes filled with worry at the thought of having the wrong answer. Hinata knew the feeling when she was being quizzed by her father on matters of diplomacy.

 

“That’s correct.” Iruka said and Hinata felt relief for her classmate who smiled widely. “I’m surprised, Sakura. Most children your age don’t know all the previous Kage.”

 

“My dad really likes history.” Sakura replied, smiling nervously. “He told me that the First and Second Hokage were brothers and that our Third Hokage was their pupil.”

 

“Your father would be correct about that as well!” Iruka beamed. “I see we have a studious kunoichi on our hands, everyone.” Sakura blushed at being brought to attention, but no one said anything. Nothing positive, anyway.

 

“Forehead Nerd!” Someone coughed under their breath, and Sakura’s happy flush disappeared and she shrunk back into her own seat, a hand pulling more hair to cover up her forehead now that the mystery person had brought it up.

 

What was wrong with Sakura’s forehead? Hinata could barely tell with the amount of hair Sakura had covering it up. Was her forehead what made her an outcast? That seemed like a silly reason for everyone to not like someone for. Or maybe it was her shyness? Hinata had never seen the girl actively play with anyone at recess. Or anyone at all.

 

…. Maybe we could be friends?

 

Hinata looked from Sakura over to Naruto.

 

All three of them could be friends! All the outcasts in the class could play together and it wouldn’t be awkward at times because they all knew what it was like not to fit in. Hinata could easily imagine herself, Naruto, and Sakura playing tag or maybe even ninja together. Maybe I could bring them over to the compound for snacks!

 

“You must never talk to that boy, Lady Hinata.”

 

Hinata remembered Kou’s words abruptly, his lavender gaze firm.

 

She felt disappointment settle in her stomach as she stared down at her desk. Maybe she wouldn’t be able to be friends with all the outcasts in her class after all. Maybe no one would have to know. Hinata thought briefly, but she shook the idea out of her head.

 

The fear of disappointing Kou stood out more than trying to be rebellious.

 

(Sakura’s bullying only seemed to get worse since the time a person made a rude comment in class about her forehead.

 

Hinata looked down at her feet as she heard the words echoing around at recess between three boys-- Atsushi, Kenta, and Ganta. Sakura crying in between the circle they had around her. “Billboard Brow, Billboard Brow, Billboard Brow!”

 

The name calling only made Sakura cry harder and Hinata tightly squeezed her knees into her chest and clenched her eyes shut, hoping to drown them out somehow. I’m sorry. Hinata thought, sure she could feel her eyes starting to water. I’m really sorry I’m not brave enough to help you!

 

Hinata had hoped someone else would try to come to Sakura’s rescue.

 

They didn’t.)

 

[';']

 

At age eight, Hinata had acquired new knowledge about herself and the world. One, her father, Hiashi Hyuga, was the strongest shinobi she knew. Second, just the thought of her having to one day make decisions for her entire clan terrified her beyond belief. Third, her younger sister Hanabi, at the age of three, was still very easy to impress. Fourth, no one supported her more like her younger sister did. Fifth, there were two definitive outcasts in her class. Sixth, her grades at the Ninja Academy weren’t impressive. And seventh, she was an outcast. A cowardly outcast.

 

Not that she could tell her sister that, Hinata tried to ignore the dark feelings in her stomach as she smiled at the approaching forms of Hanabi and Natsu. “You’re going to your studies?”

 

Hanabi smiled widely in return. “Yep! I can write my name now! And I know some of my kanji now too!” She extended her booklet out, excited to show off the kanji she had learn. “A lot of kanji!”

 

But Natsu politely cut into the conversation. “Lady Hinata, you mustn’t keep Lord Hiashi waiting.”

 

Hinata didn’t let her dread to go and train with her cousin show. “Right. I’ll see you later, Hanabi.”

 

Hanabi thankfully didn’t look upset at the thought of Hinata needing to go and train for hours. “Okay, I’ll show them to you later!”

 

Hopefully, Hinata wanted to add, but she didn’t. She was usually very tired after her training sessions. She was thankful that Hanabi’s wouldn’t be as rigorous when she finally had to begin her own training, which was right around the corner. It would start off lightly, then it would build up in difficulty once she reached a certain age.

 

Maybe Hanabi will have to train with Neji-niisan as well. Hinata wished that wouldn’t be the case. Neji and his poker face. Neji and how easily he could defeat Hinata’s defenses, little effort showing. Hinata was sure it was only luck that she could land hits on him.

 

She was also sure that her grandfather felt the same way. She seldom held his gaze whenever she came across him. He was always there, watching. Just like the day before that, and day before that day, and today when she entered the special training room that all Hyuga heirs trained in. Hiashi and Neji were already there as well.

 

“Thank you for taking the time to train with me, Neji-niisan.”

 

Neji’s reply was sharp. “Let’s hurry and get this over with.” There was a pause. “Lady Hinata.” He added at the last minute, sensing Hiashi’s own look. Neji took the Gentle Fist’s standard position and Hinata followed suit, taking a deep breath.

 

Strike.

 

Parry.

 

Block.

 

Counter.

 

Strike.

 

Try to read your opponent’s moves.

 

That had been repeated to Hinata many times since the day she began her training. Hinata always had to strike first, and, as per usual, Neji always seemed to block with ease before he sent a palm flying in her direction.

 

Thankfully, Hinata was able to dodge quickly, leaning back before reaffirming her balance as she struck back and Neji blocked once more with his forearm.

 

There was no use of the Byakugan this lesson.

 


 

There hadn’t been much change in her one year at the Academy either. Her classmates had their established cliques, Hinata not part of any of them. Pineapple head, Shikamaru, was typically around the chubby boy Hinata remembered from her first day-- Chouji. Kiba had recently began bringing a dog to their classes, a cute puppy named Akamaru.

 

And Naruto always seemed to be wrapped into some kind of mischief with the aforementioned boys. Hinata wasn’t sure if she could still deem him an outcast, but she wasn’t sure if she could deem them as the other boys’ friend. For the only time they seemed to hang around each other at one time was when Iruka told them they all had detention.

 

But there was something that was definitely new since Hinata’s first year at the Academy. Hinata’s eyes were full of surprise when she saw Sakura Haruno sitting in one of the front row desks. Her short pink hair now sported a ribbon a top her head and she was smiling shyly as she talked to Ino, the popular blonde girl from before, and her friends.

 

Hinata felt a small smile on her lips. I’m happy you made some friends, Sakura-san. She ignored the disappointed pit swelling in her. If she had talked to Sakura and Naruto sooner, the three of them could all be friends now.

 

This is why I’m a coward. Hinata thought spitefully. Why she still had no friends. She’d been lucky enough thus far to avoid the bullies in her class due to her own hiding at recess. But bully avoiding doesn’t necessarily make for great friend making skills. Iit was probably just the world’s response to how Hinata cowered in fear whenever Sakura was being bullied. Or whenever Naruto braced harsh words and returned them with scoffs and self reassurance that one day everyone would regret picking on him since he would become a leader everyone would look up to.

 

Hinata didn’t even have that level of confidence for herself and it had been a year. A long one and here she is.

 

“Everything is predestined, Hinata.” Housen said, his voice sounding like gravel. “Do you know what that means?” His eyes were completely white and Hinata had grown up constantly wondering if he was blind and yet he always looked and talked like he could still see perfectly fine. Kou said it was probably because he had very good hearing.

 

Hinata, age six, cocked her head to the side as she thought carefully before reluctantly answering, “No, Grandfather.”

 

“It means that, everything in your life has been decided for you from the moment you are born.” Housen answered. “Whether you are destined to be heiress or a success or a failure. It’s all laid out for you. Your father, he was born to be the leader of the Hyuga after me. Hizashi, he was always meant to be part of the Clan’s many branches.”

 

Hinata blinked, awed.

 

“So never forget, Hinata. There’s no such thing as choice when it comes to destiny. You were lucky to be born with the destiny of heiress. Remember that and always be humbled.”

 

Then I was always meant to be a coward and to never be good at anything and never have any friends. Hinata lowered her head down on to her arms, trying not cry. She wanted to go home.

 

Not that home offered much comfort, because as always she had training with Neji. The cousin she who she wasn’t sure liked her and who had a poker face. Maybe one day she’d get a definitive answer for that question of hers, maybe she wouldn’t.

 

 

Either way, Hinata took a deep breath, now in her sparring clothes. She still had to train with him, always under the watchful eyes of her father and grandfather. “Thank you again for training with me, Neji-niisan.”

 

“Of course, Lady Hinata.” Neji replied curtly, eyes cold.

 

It was the same routine.

 

The morning sparring sessions included newer techniques, the afternoon included strengthening the foundations of all jutsu-- the basics. Multiple sparring sessions that occasionally had a quip from Hiashi on Hinata’s hesitance.

 

Strike.

 

Parry.

 

Block.

 

Counter.

 

Strike.

 

Hinata loses.

 

Strike.

 

Parry.

 

Block.

 

Counter.

 

Strike.

 

Hinata loses.

 

The sun begins to set.

 

Strike.

 

Parry.

 

Block.

 

Counter.

 

Strike.

 

Strike--

 

Sigh.

 

Neji stops, eyebrows furrowed and a hand on his hip.

 

Hinata felt a nervous flutter in her chest. “Neji-niisan?”

 

Neji lifted his head and looked at Hiashi instead. “Her sparring partner doesn’t always have to be me.” He finally grounded out, irritation clear on his face no matter how respectful he managed to keep his tone. “I would prefer to do my own training instead.”

 

Hiashi only closed his eyes, face giving nothing away as to what he could be thinking. “No.” He replied coolly. “Continue the training session.”

 

Hinata held back a shaky breath, though dread crept coldly around her. It was what her father wanted. “Please continue training with me, Neji-niisan!” She had returned to her fighting stance, hoping that the training would continue more-or-less smoothly and she saw Neji scowl at her, eyes burning and Hinata felt frozen.

 

“Fine.” Neji fell into his own stance and as expected of her, Hinata charged forward palm intent on landing a blow to his arm.

 

But a bandaged hand slapped it away so harshly Hinata fell back a few steps with a gasp.

 

“What’s wrong, Lady Hinata?” Neji asked with a smile. No. It wasn’t a smile. At least, not a good one. “This isn’t child’s play or some beginner taijutsu lesson. Shouldn’t you be able to continue on from a simple slap?”

 

Hinata inhaled, hoping she didn’t look as scared as she felt in this moment. Then she ran forward as aggressively as she could as she struck a palm out again, this time, Neji dodged. She struck again and he ducked down before rising up and striking out towards her face. Hinata lost all sense of dodging and blocked against it and ignored the burning sensation of his palm hitting her forearms.

 

But another hard palm hit her.

 

And another.

 

“That was nothing!” Neji growled.

 

And another.

 

“And you honestly expect to fulfill your destiny as the leader of our Clan!?”

 

Each one sending her further back than the last until Hinata hit the wooden floors with a pained whimper. Tears were brimming in the corner of her eyes, burning as she saw Neji-- his Byakugan awakened and full of rage as he brought back his palm as if steadying an arrow in a bow before quickly bringing his hand down.

 

That was when Father leaped into the fray, large hand covering Neji’s completely as he gracefully flipped him onto his back.

 

Hinata looked up at her father gratefully before she nervously darted over to Neji. What will Father do to him? What will Father do to him? What will Father-

 

Hiashi made an Earth Release seal then suddenly, Neji was screaming. Bloodcurdling, pain-by-all-meaning-of-the-word screaming. Hinata was frozen again as she saw Neji grabbing at his head in an attempt to make it stop. His scratching only succeeded in tearing his forehead bandages off showing Hinata a brand she had almost forgotten existed but her father had told her long ago.

 

Something all the males in the Branch families were required to have.

 

The Cursed Bird Seal.

 

Neji’s screams finally tapered off into silence as he collapsed backward, eyes rolling to the back of his head.

 

Now Hinata definitely felt cold and numb.

 

Her father was saying something. But she couldn’t hear anything. Her eyes were glued on Neji’s crumpled form.

 

Neji-niisan… Is he-

 

“Hinata!”

 

Hinata jumped and looked up at her father. His expression wasn’t clear and his lavender eyes were cold. She couldn’t make herself say anything.

 

“Training is done for the day.” Hiashi stated. “And from now on, your sparring sessions will be with me. Your fool of a cousin seems to have forgotten his place.”

 

Hinata wasn’t sure if she felt relieved or not. “H-he isn’t-”

 

“Your cousin is fine. He simply needed to be reminded of his position in this Clan. His destiny as a Branch Member who must always protect you. He will recover. Now go.”

 

Hinata didn’t waste any time running out of the room.

 

She had her answer now, an eighth piece of knowledge she was now sure of in her eight years of living. Yes. Her cousin Neji did hate her.

 


 

Hinata felt especially sore the day after the incident with Neji and she hadn’t seen him around the compound either. She secretly felt relief at that. She didn’t want to see him quite yet. Not anytime soon, anyways.

 

Instead, she wanted to find solace elsewhere. “Natsu!” Hinata called out to the green-haired woman when she saw her all alone. “Is Hanabi in her room still?”

 

Natsu gave a kind smile with a nod. “She was a little slow getting out of bed this morning. Four year olds. Excitable one day and sluggish the next. I'm sure she was up all night playing ninja.”

 

Hinata felt herself laugh despite her anxieties feeling high. It wasn’t that long ago that Hanabi’s birthday had passed. Hinata couldn’t believe it. “I’ll go get her. Maybe she’ll want to play before breakfast.”

 

“I’m sure she would love that.” Natsu clapped her hands together. “It’s been a while since the two of you have had a moment between yourselves. Your training as heiress is important, yes, but she is still your younger sister. You have to be a good elder sister for her.”

 

“I will.” That’s at least something I am good at. Hinata felt a little better already. Hanabi, her biggest supporter and best friend despite the age gap and how much training seemed to come between them at times. Nothing made Hinata happier than Hanabi. She still remembered how excited she was when Mother had told her she was going to be an elder sister.

 

“I’m going to be a big sister?!” Hinata, age four, could barely contain her excitement. “Really?!”

 

Hinata’s mother, Tomoebi, chuckled as she stroked her daughter’s hair lovingly. “Elder sister, dear. That’s more proper. And yes. The doctor confirmed it this morning, by next March we’ll have another family member to welcome to the world.”

 

Hinata couldn’t hold back a squeal and was happy Tomoebi didn’t chide her. “Can I get to name it, Mother?! Please?”

 

“Hmm, maybe if you’re a good girl.”

 

Hinata gave a little bounce in her mother’s lap. “Is Father excited too?”

 

“Of course he is, silly girl. Now we have two children to adore, it’s happy news for everyone. Especially me and Father.”

 

“No, Mother! It’s ‘Father and I ’!” Hinata felt a little smug by the fact she was able to correct a grown up-- no, adult-- on something.

 

“You must be slipping in your senses a bit if a child is correcting your speech patterns, Tomoebi.” It was Hiashi, looking tall as always in his robes he always seemed to be wearing as Clan Head. It was a simple yukata and jacket, though. The fancier clothing were always worn for special occasions. It’s to be humble, Hinata believes he once said.

 

“Oh hush.” Tomoebi scolded but Hinata saw nothing but warmth in her mother’s lavender eyes. No one was more beautiful than her mother, she decided then and there. Her mother was pale with long plum-coloured hair and she always had a pale plum yukata that faded into white the further down it got. And she smelled like flowers. She was always practicing ikebana.

 

I hope I can be beautiful and kind like her when I get older. Hinata snuggled into Tomoebi’s shoulder. “Mother says I can name the baby if I’m good, Father.” Hiashi only gave a nod to show he had been listening to her comment. “Is the baby going to be a boy?”

 

“Only the gods know.” Tomoebi replied, brushing a soft hand through Hinata's bangs. Hinata let out a giggle from the slight tickling sensation. “And we will be happy regardless.”

 

Hinata opened her mouth to agree but then a different thought popped into her head. “Father, where do babies come from?”

 

Hiashi had stiffened and turned around before barking out a harsh, “Ask your mother.” 

 

Hinata smiled to herself at the memory before she felt a pang in her chest. There were no more moments like that anymore between her family, not since after Hanabi’s birth when Hiashi began giving a harsher training regiment to Hinata as her responsibilities as the first born child were mentioned more and more.

 

She was busy with her training and her mother was busy being Lady Hyuga who handled diplomatic events while her father busied himself with Hinata’s training. Maybe Hanabi and I can try to see Mother today. Hinata’s schedule was so jam packed that seeing Tomoebi outside of mealtimes were a blessing in their own right. “I’ll go and see Hanabi now.”

 

Natsu smiled politely before continuing down the hallway and Hinata hurried to catch Hanabi. Hanabi who was luckily still in her room. “Good morning.”

 

“.... Morning.” Hanabi gave Hinata a glance before staring down at her feet. “Aren’t you supposed to be at morning training with Father?”

 

“Father had a meeting, so I get to have free time until noon.”

 

“So are you going to train on your own then?”

 

Hinata felt something stir in her chest but she ignored it. There was no reason to feel the way she normally did with people around Hanabi. “I was thinking we could try to see if Mother had any free time today so we could play with her.” It wouldn’t be Ninja, Hanabi’s favourite game when she was two. Tomoebi preferred her daughters to play Tea Party, probably to prepare them for actual diplomatic events. But Hanabi and Hinata were easily bought off with little tea cakes and daifuku to eat with the floral teas their mother would prepare.

 

“.....”

 

“Hanabi?”

 

Hanabi finally looked up. “I think I want to train this morning instead. Natsu really wants me to focus on learning my kanji so I have to do it now so I don’t fall behind. Maybe next time?” Hanabi replied, tense.

 

“O-oh.. Okay. If that’s what you want.”

 

It became what Hanabi always wanted, Hinata had long since realized when she turned 9. Hanabi was now just a month away from becoming 5 and she was training constantly when she wasn’t busy with her lessons with Natsu.

 

“She just wants to be like her elder sister,” was what Kou, Natsu, and even Tomoebi had stated. Hinata honestly felt like it was more than that.

 

Hanabi had become distant.

 

Hard to reach.

 

Hinata hated the feeling like she couldn’t reach out to her own sister when it seemed impossible in a world full of adults who constantly talked about her future as heiress. The one person who treated her normally even if Neji hated her.

 

It was awful.

 

It sucked.

 

She couldn’t fill the distance.

 

“Hinata.” Hinata jumped out of her thoughts and looked at her father meekly. “Today you and Hanabi will be sparring in front of a few our Clanmates.”

 

“What?” Hinata couldn’t hold back her surprise.

 

“I am telling you now so you can prepare yourself.” Hiashi continued on like her outburst never happened. “You need to show them that you’re skilled and learning your techniques fast.”

 

“B-but Hanabi is-”

 

“Showing her capabilities as a kunoichi. Do you understand?” Hiashi’s replied cool as ever, but Hinata could hear the authority belying his tone. This wasn’t an option. She never had options, not with Hiashi.

 

“... Yes, Father.” Hinata said, feel dread sinking from her chest down to her belly. She had to spar against Hanabi who just shy of five just as if she were sparring anyone else. Neji or Father. With Hanabi. What if I hurt her? Hinata had already begun to picture it. Hanabi crumpled on the floor like Neji had been, but this time it was because Hinata had struck out.

 

….

 

Hanabi, if she had any feeling of nervousness at all about sparring each other in front everyone, was the first to strike.

 

Hinata wasn’t sure how she kept her face from showing it as she blocked Hanabi’s palm and sent one of her own forward. But Hanabi quickly countered, her hand sending Hinata’s back as she rushed forward with both palms poised for Hinata’s stomach who stepped back to respond with her own attack.

 

But Hanabi deftly smacked Hinata’s slower palm away before rushing forward and sending Hinata back a few steps.

 

She was quick.

 

She was precise.

 

Hinata didn’t need to hear some of the amazed comments to know that her sister, five years younger than her, was already at her current skill level. Hanabi had only begun training on her fourth birthday.

 

And her training had never been prioritized.

 

Hanabi could hold her own and she didn’t hold back like Hinata had been when she had purposely slowed her hand, images of Hanabi in pain still echoing in her mind. But perhaps Hinata’s worries were for naught. And if she had been able to notice Hanabi’s skills in the Gentle Fist basics, what was Father thinking?

 

[';']

 

It didn’t take but a month or so for Hinata to found out what her father was thinking when he had rounded herself and Hanabi into outdoor training area of the compound.

 

Hinata kept herself from glancing around under her father’s watchful gaze, but she could feel the eyes burning into her back from the small group that had gathered to watch what Hiashi had yet to announce.

 

“The two of you will be participating in a mock battle today.” Hiashi’s voice was crisp and clearly projected across the clearing. Hinata instantly felt shock enter her system and gasped, barely hearing Hanabi do the same. “I want to see the skill and power the both of you have gained up until now. I do not want either of you going easy on each other despite you both being sisters. Fight with the intent to defeat.”

 

Hinata could hear the clearing abuzz with voices.

 

‘What is Lord Hiashi thinking?’

 

‘Fight with the intent to defeat?’

 

‘Surely there are other ways to measure this with Lady Hanabi barely five.’

 

But all that was silenced when Hinata felt Hiashi’s hands on her shoulders, his grip tight as if he was desperately trying to convey something to her. His voice was low when he began talking to her. “Hinata, you’re the heiress of our Clan.” His voice was tense. “Show me that you are worthy of that.” You have to. Hinata could hear the silent words clearly in her father’s voice.

 

She had to prove it to everyone right here and now. She was the destined leader of the Hyuga and not even her little sister, skilled as she may be, could defeat her.

 

“... Yes, sir.”

 

How she was suddenly in front of Hanabi, poised in the typical Gentle Fist stance, Hinata wasn’t sure. Time seemed to skip forward for a moment and land right here. They both had to fight as if this was a real battle. No more hesitation and no dormant Byakugans.

 

I’m the heiress of the Hyuga Clan. Hinata told herself, feeling the veins near her eyes beginning to bulge and her sister’s chakra pathways coming into her vision. She no longer needed her hand signs to activate it after so long of having to using it in various sparring sessions and neither did Hanabi. I’m stronger than my sister and I can beat her and I will show everyone that I was always meant to be heiress.

 

It’s my destiny.

 

“Begin.”

 

Hinata didn’t even get to blink before Hanabi was already in front of her and she ducked down, pushing the hand to the side as she felt a burst of chakra flow past her ear. She moved back as another palm came forward and Hinata pushed it away, ducking down once more as Hanabi swung out her left arm. Chakra heavy in the air.

 

Hinata didn’t let herself panic, she just stood back up as she finally struck back herself. She didn’t even panic when Hanabi blocked that. She continued to surge forward, jumping up with a fast kick Hanabi flipped away from.

 

Hinata could have sworn she saw Hanabi smiling to herself, but Hanabi was back in front of her to strike again so it didn’t matter.

 

All that mattered right now, was winning.

 

Strike.

 

Block.

 

Sweeping kick.

 

Dodging jump with a counter of Hanabi’s own leg that was Blocked.

 

Strike. Strike. Block.

 

Flip away.

 

Blow for blow, chakra spewing from their limbs as they barely managed to strike each other in the face and sent out large gusts in the opposite directions.

 

Hinata wasn’t sure how she was thinking so clearly in this moment. She wasn’t fighting Hanabi anymore, she was fighting an enemy of the village and making everyone proud.

 

Yet the battle was stagnant. Each striking palm blocked to be returned with another palm or a kick only to be dodged of blocked.

 

‘Observe your opponents.’

 

The eyes of the Byakugan before her were growing frustrated as their palms kept meeting each other.

 

‘Lull them into beginning they might have the upper hand.’

 

For a brief moment, Hinata let go of her closed off stance and left an opening near her stomach. And like a blood calling a shark, the enemy she was going against fell for the bait and Hinata deftly smacked the hand down and aimed her other hand to strike down as their head came into range and--

 

“Hinata-neesama!”

 

Hinata felt herself freeze with a gasp as the flash of Hanabi, flushed cheeks and chubby hands, entered her mind.

 

Then she saw that same face, contorted in pain and limbs spread out across the dirt .

 

And that moment was all Hanabi needed to regain her footing and begin attacking once again, Hinata barely in the moment as she clumsily aimed for Hanabi’s shoulder and Hanabi sent a hard palm to Hinata’s chest so hard it sent her flying to the ground.

 

“That’s enough!” Hiashi’s voice rang out against the stunned silence.

 

Hinata didn’t need to look up as she heard the footsteps approaching her, each step sounding like a taiko drum.

 

She knew it was her father.

 

She clenched a hand into a fist, dragging up dirt with her fingernails. It stung a bit, but the expression on her father’s face when she finally looked up stung even worst of all. People were talking, people weren’t talking. She could hear everything but she could hear nothing at the same time. Her heart was thrumming loudly and blood roared in her ears--

 

“To fall to Hanabi who is five years your junior.” Hiashi’s eyes were cold as the moon. “When she’s only been training for a year while countless hours have been put into yours. I don’t want to hear your excuses.” Hinata felt like she couldn’t breathe. “Get out of my sight.”

 

The tears in Hinata’s vision blurred her eyes but she didn’t hesitate this time.

 

She swiftly made her way out of the clearing and past Hanabi who could only stare at the ground.

 

….

 

A light broke unto Hinata’s room.

 

She had stayed in there for hours after the mock battle. She didn’t want to face anyone. Couldn’t face anyone.

 

“Hinata? Are you awake?” It was Tomoebi.

 

Her mother was definitely the last person Hinata wanted to see right now so she lied still hoping that Tomoebi would leave. The door shut and Hinata almost allowed herself to think she was alone until she heard the soft steps coming forward and the weight shifting on her bed as her mother sat down and stroked her head.

 

It didn’t take long for Hinata to start sniffling and for the sniffling to become sobs she tried to hold back.

 

She wasn’t the heiress any longer.

 

She had disappointed everybody.

 

“I-I’m sorry…” Hinata managed to grind out. “I’m sorry, Mother.”

 

“Shhh.” Tomoebi hushed gently, the stroking never stopping. “I know, I know. I’m sorry too.” That only seemed to hurt Hinata more than it helped.

 

Hinata cried herself to sleep that night.

 


 

It was wintertime now, her last winter as a nine year old, her birthday just a few weeks away though she dreaded it. She seemed to dread everything now. Leaving her room in the morning to see everyone like it was the still the day after her mock battle with Hanabi, it was like she could still hear the whispers that talked only of her defeat to her five year old sister who was the new heiress of the Clan.

 

She still received training, though it was mostly from Kou, but she had more free time. She could have trained in her spare time, like Hanabi did before her. Try to prove her worth to the Clan. But there was no point. That much was drilled into her. She was born a failure and she would never be able to escape from it’s clutches and would be lucky to serve the village as a genin.

 

So instead, she spent her time walking outside in the village to avoid them. But even then, that didn’t make her feel better.

 

If anything, it made her feel worse to see the children in her village that weren’t ninja that had no grand expectations about them being heirs. They just got to play and enjoy their days. And it didn’t help when she saw her classmates about with each other, always in their little cliques.

  

Hinata still hid at recess, rubbing the soles of her sandals against the dirt.

 

It had been about two years since she had started going to the Academy and nothing had changed about her. She was still the same shy, cowardly Hinata who had no friends and couldn’t even attempt to try and protect someone from the bullies who now seemed to enjoy picking on other targets now that Sakura was constantly under the watchful protection of Ino and seemed to embrace her forehead and it’s quirks.

 

Now it was winter, and Hinata felt as cold as the snow around her. Cold and frozen.

 

Hinata heard the sounds of laughing children and looked up from her feet and there was now a new sense of dread in her. Kenta, Ganta, and Atsushi. They were the last thing she needed right now.

 

Hinata bit her lip and tried to duck away undetected when--

 

“Hey! Aren’t you that weird girl from our class?!”

 

Hinata jolted, but instead of continuing forward, she felt herself stay glued to her place and she looked over to see all three boys staring back at her. “Yeah, she is!” Atsushi said, more to himself than the others, eyes wide with realization. “You’re the one we can never find at recess! You know, the one who always disappears super fast?”

 

“Oh! I know who you mean!!”

 

Hinata felt her legs trembling a little. Perhaps they would leave her alone?

 

But instead, the three boys only came closer trying to get a better look at her now that their elusive classmate was finally in front of them. “Woah, has your eyes always been like that?”

 

“Eww gross! It’s like looking at milk, man!”

 

“I-it’s-”

 

“It’s what, Weird Girl?”

 

Hinata’s clamped shut at the remark and fell silent.

 

“Geez, no wonder you have no friends.” Atsushi grinned cruelly. “‘Cause your eyes are so weird and you’re gloomy!”

 

“Gloomy Girl!” Kenta snickered.

 

“Weird Eyes!” Ganta added, looking quite proud of himself.

 

Hinata bit her lip and felt her eyes starting to well up and Atsushi rolled his eyes. “Oh come on! Why do girls always cry when you joke around? And you’re a ninja, Milky! You aren’t supposed to cry! You’re supposed to fight! Come on! Fight!!” Atsushi pushed Hinata, sending her stumbling.

 

“Yeah, fight! Fight! Fight!” Kenta and Ganta rallied around their leader and Hinata could only sniffle and look at the ground in return. She was going to cry. Atsushi was readying a fist.

 

Maybe this was what she deserved for not sticking up for Sakura back when they were seven. It was only a matter of time it came back to haunt her.

 

“Hey leave her alone!”

 

Hinata looked up from her feet and past the boys who were about to beat her up and all she saw was pink. Pink, red, and green from the girl behind the bullies. “Huh? What do you want, Billboard Brow?”

 

Hinata’s eyes were wide. It was Sakura. Of all people to come and help her, it was Sakura Haruno.

 

“U-umm…” Sakura’s hard face turned into one of self doubt as if she hadn’t thoroughly prepared to get this far. “I… I said leave her alone! It isn’t good to hit girls, s-so…” She looked unsure of herself as Atsushi sneered.

 

“And what are you gonna do about it, Billboard Brow? Cry because Ino isn’t here?” Ganta and Kenta laughed as if Atsushi said the funniest thing in the world.

 

“No!”

 

“Then I guess we just have to fight you!” Atsushi lunged at Sakura who gave a squeak as she fell into the snow, Kenta and Ganta quickly holding down her arms to keep her from fighting back. Hinata felt tears welling up in her eyes all over again and hot water spilled right onto her cheeks.

 

She wasn’t doing anything to help. Again.

 

I’m so useless!

 

But as quickly as Sakura’s beat down began, it ended as yet another feminine voice cut into the snowy forest area the children were all in. This time, Kenta spoke out first. “Oh crud it’s that Ino girl.”

 

“Ino-chan!” Sakura repeated, relieved to see her best friend.

 

Ino was still as pretty as ever as she darted over quickly pushing Atsushi way off Sakura whose ribbon was now lopsided. “And what the heck are you losers doing?!” Her blue eyes glared fiercely at the other two boys and she pushed them away as well. “Get off of her!” She stood protectively in front of the girl she had taken under wing years ago. Hinata felt envy creep into her chest but she couldn’t help but be in awe of the blonde girl. That’s what she had wanted to do had she had been brave enough.

 

“You can’t tell us what to do!” Atsushi barked.

 

“Yeah! We’re boys so we’re stronger and you have to listen to us!”

 

Ino crossed her arms with a sharp ‘hmph!’ “Well my dad says that a real boy doesn’t have to hit girls to prove that he’s strong and that one who does is a chump weakling!” Ino grinned wickedly. “So I guess that makes you all chump weaklings ever since we started out at the Academy! Chumps!!”

"W-well my dad says that it doesn't matter if who you're fighting is a boy or a girl if you're a ninja!" Ganta stammered out. A nervous sweat was beginning to show on his forehead.

"Well your dad's wrong because my dad's the best ninja ever!" She had a look of pride on her face. "And my dad trained me! So prepare to get hit with a sixteen hit combo!"

That was all it took for the three boys to finally retreat, one of them yelling out something about getting their big brothers. Ino couldn’t have cared less as she chased after them yelling at them. “I thought you jerks wanted a fight! Bring it on, I’ll whoop all of your sorry butts!!”

….

And then there were two, Hinata sucked in her breath as she look away from Ino and her pursuit and back at Sakura who was looking back at her.

She was mad.

Hinata could already tell even if Sakura’s face gave away nothing. A poker face. She was mad, really mad because once again Hinata didn’t come to her aid when she needed it and Sakura had come to help her even if no one ever stuck up for her when she was being picked on, let alone Sakura and-

“Hinata, are you okay?”

What?

Hinata blinked, surprise. “You’re okay, right?” Sakura repeated coming closer to where Hinata stood. “They used to pick on me all the time too.”

“You know my name?”

Sakura looked at Hinata liked she grew another head but smiled a little anyway. “We’re in the same class and I remember from the attendance.”

“....”

“...”

It fell silent between them both as Hinata fell into her thoughts. All she could think about was all the bullying Sakura went through and how she never stood up for her and with a twist, Sakura stood up for her when the time came for Hinata to pay for it. “..... I’m sorry.”

“Huh?”

“Y-you… you got beat up again because of me…” She looked away, hoping to disappear where she stood.

Sakura’s voice was kind. “That’s okay. I’m sorry I wasn’t that good of a protector anyway, I needed Ino-chan to help me again. But, I know what it’s like to be bullied. So I didn’t want you to go through it too.”

“... I didn’t for you though.”

“What?”

“I said.. I didn’t stick up for you before, though. I wasn’t brave enough and… and it happened again. Right in front of me and I still couldn’t…”

“....” Sakura paused for a moment and Hinata was sure that she was going to start yelling at her before going off to find Ino and go play with each other. “.... I wasn’t either.”

Hinata’s gaze snapped back at Sakura whose jade green gaze never wavered and were as kind as could be considering Hinata’s confession. “I wasn’t brave either. And I had no friends. I cried all the time because everyone made fun of my forehead and I never stood up for myself and hid behind my hair because I thought maybe the bullying would stop.

“But then, Ino-chan became my friend and she told me that they only wanted to pick on me because I cried and hid my forehead and that if I started acting more confident and like I didn’t care, that I would. And at first, I just pretended and still hid behind but her but then one day I noticed that I did change! And I had lots of friends and I didn’t care about my forehead anymore. And then today, yeah I got beat up but… I stood up against the people that always used to hurt me and I used to be super scared of. And now I- well, I kinda lost track but I just wanted to say that, if I can go from being a friendless crybaby with a best friend then you can go from being not brave to actually brave. That’s what my mom always says, that we can change and that people are always changing and that it’s always possible to change as long as you want to.” Sakura beamed as she finished.

“....” Hinata didn’t say anything, but she felt her heart flutter for the first time in a while. It wasn’t like the fluttering she got from when she felt nervous and like all eyes were on her waiting for her to mess up. This one was light and fluffy and warm, like a butterfly flying through a field of flowers in the middle of summer. I can change? Sakura was right about herself changing.

By all from she had been told as a little girl (well, littler girl), if Sakura was born a cowardly crybaby then she was always supposed to be one, even now.

And yet here she was, friendly smile and all. A pretty smile and all.

“.... So-” Sakura cut herself off as the sound of crunching snow entered the air. It was Ino, who was mumbling to herself.

“Stupid boys. They said they’d have their older brothers come fight me? Right. I’ll just sixteen hit combo them too.” She stopped right in front of the two girls. “And you! Geez, Sakura.” She sighed, giving her a once over. “I can’t let you go anywhere by yourself.” She dusted Sakura off. “And they messed up your ribbon too.”

 

“My ribbon?!” Sakura repeated, hands flying up to feel at it.

 

“Don’t worry, it’s just lopsided.” Ino replied, already making the adjustments herself. “We were supposed to be playing hide and seek, Sakura, not hide and go get beat up. And when did Hinata get here?”

 

“I-Ino-chan, she was here the whole time though. That’s why I came over here.”

 

“What?!” Ino looked at Hinata whose cheeks flushed.

 

Even when she was right in front of someone, she lacked a presence. That was nice to know. “Oh. Um.” Ino looked a little awkward. “Are you okay?”

 

“Y-yeah, S… Sakura-san helped me.” Hinata shyly glanced over Ino’s shoulder and felt her cheeks heat up more despite the cold air. Sakura was smiling back at her. She looked away.

 

“Are you getting cold?” Sakura’s voice broke out into concern.

 

“It’s snowing Sakura, of course she’s cold. We’re all cold.”

 

“Yeah but her face is pink. My mom says that happens when someone is really cold and could get sick.”

 

Ino hmm’d before looking Hinata’s direction. “Did you want us to walk you home? We can if you need us to, but those boys are long gone. I scared them off pretty good, ha! They really are chumps.”

 

“I-I um… It’s okay. I can go home by myself.”

 

“Are you sure?” Sakura stepped a little closer. “Do you at least want an extra scarf? You can take mine if you want.” Sakura was already taking hers off, shuddering when the cold touched her neck before wrapping the scarf around the lower half of Hinata’s face. The action only made Hinata’s face blush more and her heart was beating harshly in her chest like she had just finished running a couple of laps around the training grounds at the Academy.

 

“Pff how is she supposed to breathe, Sakura?” Ino asked, not unkindly as she gave Sakura a playful nudge.

 

“Ino-chan!” Sakura yelped embarrassed and Ino gave her a light pat on the back.

 

“Come on, let’s go back to my house. My mom is making hot chocolate with marshmallows and you can sleepover. Later, Hinata.” Ino was already dragging Sakura off, voice echoing excitedly in the air about sweets and doing each other’s hair.

 

Sakura still managed call back over her shoulder, “You can keep the scarf, see you at school, Hinata!”

 

Hinata finally snapped out of her daze. “T-thank you for helping me!” Sakura smiled again before turning back around, giggling as she and Ino drifted further and further to Ino’s home leaving Hinata with a red face and a heart beating like a drum, but despite that, she couldn’t stop the smile spreading across her face as she hurried back home as well.

 

For once, there was no dread in her chest after many months of feeling it like it had been frozen completely in her chest as each day seemed as dreary and similar as the one previous. Like time had stopped.

 

At age nine, her very last winter of being nine, Hinata Hyuga had acquired some very true facts about the world around her.

 

First, her father, Hiashi Hyuga was the strongest man she knew. Second, her cousin Neji definitely hated her. Third, her sister was the new heiress and she was the family disappointment.

 

However, Hinata thought her heart feeling light with hope, all that could change with the newest fact.

 

Fourth, change is a possibility as long as she wants it. Hinata wanted it so badly.

 

And fifth, though Hinata couldn’t fathom why this was so important to her considering it was only a brief interaction-- no one had a prettier smile in the universe than Sakura Haruno.

Chapter Text

“Now listen here, Naruto.” Iruka Umino’s voice rung out, the exasperation in his voice clear as day.

 

In front of him, was Naruto, the village’s number one knucklehead himself.

 

Or at least, Hinata felt her chest lurch a bit as she watched her classmate get scolded by their sensei --again--, that’s what their classmates had dubbed him. It had been five years since her first day at the Academy, and if there was one thing that had stayed the same, it was the fact that Naruto was still constantly finding himself in trouble.

 

Hinata held back a sigh.

 

It was routine now for Naruto to find some way to disrupt the class and end up the center of attention. This time, he apparently graffiti’d the Hokage Monument.

 

Ironic for a boy who wants to become Hokage so badly. It was almost laughable. Still, Hinata found she didn’t mind the disruptions so much. She looked over the boy who had on his typical orange and blue jumpsuit. He still worked just as hard as anyone else, definitely a lot harder than Hinata did.

 

Hinata grimaced. She may have decided to change when she was nine years old, but that was easier said than do-

 

“That’s it!” Iruka’s voice broke Hinata from her train of thought. He sounded livid. “We’re having a pop quiz on the Transformation Jutsu, right now!”

 

Hinata felt her heart drop into her stomach. “What?” Her classmates exclaimed at the same time and Hinata had to agree.

 

She hated tests where you had to demonstrate the jutsu you knew in front of the whole class.

 

Collective groaning and loud whispers filled the air as people began reluctantly shuffling to the front of the class, Hinata last of all. Painfully shy with a strong hint of cowardice. That was Hinata Hyuga at age seven, and that still Hinata now at age twelve. Don’t worry. The Hyuga girl tried to soothe herself. Maybe it won’t be that bad. It won’t be that bad. A few hand seals and in a few seconds it would be over. She got through it once after all.

 

Still, Hinata released a shaky breath, it didn’t make the anxiety of waiting for her turn any easier.

 

“Ugh.” Hinata looked over to her right to see it was Shikamaru, hands shoved deep into his pockets, that groaned. He had some of the highest grades in the class, but he was still as lazy and withdrawn as Hinata remembered him to be since the beginning. “Thanks a lot, Naruto.” His brown eyes were sharply locked onto the source of their sudden pop quiz. Like seven years ago, his hair was still slicked back into the same spiky pineapple-esque ponytail Hinata remembered. She couldn’t picture him with any other hairstyle.

 

“Seriously.” Ino added, her hands on her hips and blue eyes just as filled with irritation. “We’re always paying for your screw ups.”

 

Naruto only scoffed in return, “like I care.”

 

Hinata felt a mixture of sympathy and admiration for the boy. She still hadn’t approached Naruto in their five years at the Academy, but she had observed Naruto’s confidence long enough. Despite the abnormal amount of trouble he found himself in on a daily basis, he never let it hold him back. He brushed off daily sneers with self assuredness and constantly announced to anyone who would listen of his goals. One day, he’d be Hokage.

 

Hinata felt a spark of envy.

 

She wished she could be that way.

 

Don’t. Hinata shook her head and brought her lavender gaze back to Ino. Since the interaction the two of them had when they were nine, Ino had gotten even prettier. Her hair was butt-length, always held up high in a ponytail save for a large strand of hair that drifted over her right eye. She was still sassy and even more confident than Naruto at times, at least it seemed that way. Thanks to her, Hinata no longer encountered the three bullies from before who had mostly grown out of bullying (physical bullying at least). But like the vast majority of the classroom’s female population, Ino had a large crush on--

 

“Sasuke Uchiha.” Hinata jolted when she heard a name finally called but sighed quietly in relief when she realized Iruka hadn’t called for her and that it was Sasuke who made his way toward Iruka at his own pace.

 

“There he goes.”

 

“Isn’t he gorgeous?”

 

“He doesn’t even need to take this test.” Ino’s voice chirped smugly above the rest.

 

Almost immediately murmurs began buzzing, but it was to be expected. It was Sasuke Uchiha, class prodigy, class heartthrob, and the sole survivor the Uchiha Clan Massacre. Hinata glanced down at her feet, feeling a negative feeling prick her chest. She never really liked Sasuke growing up and she still didn’t.

 

He had always been aloof and distant from the rest of the class, similar to Hinata herself but-- there was a large amount of squealing and Hinata looked up to see that Sasuke, of course, had performed his jutsu perfectly and was a perfect replica of Iruka.

 

“Well done, Sasuke. Excellent as usual.” Iruka smiled, making a few notes on his clipboard.

 

With a poof, Sasuke headed back to his spot in line with a ‘hn’.

 

Hinata saw Naruto make a sour expression and she didn’t have to hear the blond to know that what he was grumbling to himself wasn’t anything positive. Naruto didn’t like Sasuke either though that was more for the ‘rivalry’ the two boys shared. They were polar opposites in terms of skill and ability and no one seemed to let Naruto forget it, even if Sasuke himself hadn’t made any comments about it. Never seemed smug or anything. Still, Hinata didn’t like him either. Not for the sake of a rivalry but…

 

“Sakura Haruno.”

 

All thoughts of Sasuke ceased when Hinata heard the next name their teacher announced, a small smile appearing on her face as she stared right at the pink-haired girl making her way to the very front of everyone. Her red ribbon bounced with each step and each step was confident, loads more confident than the meek seven year old who hid her forehead with greasy bangs. Hinata’s heart started fluttering, a warm feeling entering her chest. Do your best, Sakura-san!

 

“Transformation Jutsu!” Then with a poof, Sakura disappeared and in her place stood another Iruka, a perfect replica.

 

Iruka nodded in approval. “Good job as well, Sakura.”

 

Hinata had to stop her smile from getting any bigger. Shikamaru may have been tied with Sasuke for highest grades in the class when it came to the boys, but as far as the girls, Sakura was completely unmatched. Hinata had been hopelessly crushing on her since she was nine. I’m so happy for you, Sakura-san. It wasn’t just Ino who had appeared that fateful snowy day back when Hinata was nine, Sakura had shown up first and given her some of the most inspirational words she had ever heard in her short life.

 

Sakura turned back around, jade green eyes bright and wide like her smile. Hinata felt weak. Then Sakura opened her mouth-- “Did you see that, Sasuke-kun? I did it!”

 

And all the good feelings Hinata had felt faded into a dull pang instantly.

 

That was the reason Hinata didn’t like Sasuke. She liked Sakura, but Sakura liked him. It was probably life’s way of rubbing Hinata’s poor luck in her face.

 

“Shut up, you’re annoying.” Sasuke’s response was cool and with that, Sakura’s smile vanished and she looked at her feet before walking back solemnly to her spot in line.

 

Anger flared in Hinata’s chest this time and she shot Sasuke a sharp look though he didn’t notice. It wasn’t just envy that made her dislike the popular Uchiha, he was a jerk, plain and simple. And no one seemed to even care. Don’t talk to her that way. Hinata wanted to say aloud, but she bit her tongue and just felt guilty.

 

Sakura stood up for her all those years ago and she still hadn’t returned the favor.

 

But the thought of invoking the wrath of Sasuke’s rabid fangirls was right in the back of her mind. So she kept quiet and just clenched her hands into tight fists. Then Hinata heard Ino smugly murmur, “She should have known that Sasuke was going to ignore her. He doesn’t like girls with pink hair.”

 

There it was, Hinata glowered silently. A giant change since Hinata and her classmates were all nine, Ino and Sakura were no longer friends. She looked at Sasuke again. Hinata had a small idea as to what the source of their dissipated friendship could be.

 

“You guys don’t know what you’re talking about.” Naruto muttered loud enough for Hinata to hear. “Sakura is the coolest, that jerk Sasuke doesn’t deserve her attention.”

 

Hinata’s feet shifted awkwardly. She agreed with the comment, but the fact is, Naruto had a crush on Sakura too. She had noticed the moment she had turned nine and started glancing at Sakura in class that Naruto had too and she felt a bit crestfallen. He was more obvious about it, loud about it. And Hinata was just the quiet girl in the class who Sakura only talked to once who didn’t even stand out in class.

 

Hinata sighed.

 

“Next!” Iruka called out. “Naruto Uzumaki.”

 

Thank goodness, it wasn’t her name.

 


 

Hinata’s face was still flushed even a half hour after the fiasco with Naruto and his Transformation Jutsu demonstration.

 

Only Naruto would do something that outrageous.

 

Hinata took a deep breath, trying to calm herself down. At least it got everyone out of class early, Hinata’s turn skipped completely. Crazy at it was to see a bare, female version of Naruto, it at least worked out in her benefit.

 

She sitting on a bench in the heart of the village, far away from the Clan Compound, and in front of a dango shop. She wouldn’t be heading home just yet. It was still too suffocating, much more than when she had been heiress. This bench had become her own private heaven away from the Clan when she wanted to think over the years. Moreso when she wanted to avoid lavender eyes that were all probably filled with disappointment no matter how much time had passed since her defeat to Hanabi.

 

It wasn’t as if she had to train either, Hinata grimaced and her hands tightened around the cup of tea she was holding.

 

In her father’s words, there was no need to dedicate extra training to a failure, she would get everything she needed at the Academy. So she could spare a few moments to try and relax from the… Naruto incident.

 

“Hyuga-chan, if you keep making that face it’ll get stuck.”

 

For the millionth time that day, Hinata jolted with a start and raspy laughter followed from an small old woman. “Didn’t mean to frighten you, dear!”

 

Hinata sighed, “I was thinking and didn’t hear you, Tamura-san.”

 

Tamura, the same old woman from when Hinata had first gone on a leisurely stroll around Konoha that had given her a cinnamon roll. Hinata had been a frequent customer to the dango shop ever since. Tamura had long since been retired from her time as a kunoichi of Konoha, a few scars maring her wrinkly face but she was still as a kind as ever, constantly seen with a large smile on her face. Hinata loved her dearly like she was her own grandmother.

 

“And what are you thinking about?” Tamura asked, taking a seat beside the younger girl. “Young people like you shouldn’t have much to worry about when you’re still in the Academy.”

 

“Graduation.” Hinata lied.

 

Tamura’s eyes sparked. “Ah it’s that time already? I remember my own like it was yesterday.” She sighed nostalgically, looking as if she weren’t even in the present. “Of course I got saddled with the most stress inducing teammates, only the gods know why.” She chuckled. “Kyohei and Yukio were always making things a competition with me and teasing me because I was the shortest. Boys.”

 

“Boys.” Hinata repeated.

 

“Of course now I’m starting to miss all that bickering. Crazy as your teammates might make you, Hyuga-chan, you’ll never have another connection like it. Try to get along with them, you never know what could happen.” Tamura sighed, closing her eyes probably remembering moments Hinata couldn’t even dream of experiencing. She remembered the older woman telling her of how she had lost all but one of her teammates in battle, Kyohei and their sensei dying in the Second Shinobi World War. Yukio later died of old age. “At least Yukio’s children still comes to see me. They love hearing about the old days.” Tamura opened her eyes and Hinata gave her a warm smile.

 

“I love to hear them too.”

 

Tamura grinned in return. “Now don’t you forget this old bat when you finally become a genin. You’ll be busy but still come back and visit and I’ll make you all the cinnamon rolls you want. So stop by after the graduation ceremony and there will be an entire tray ready for you.”

 

“I don’t know if I can eat that many.” Hinata couldn’t fight a small giggle.

 

“So bring a friend, dear.”

 

“.... I don’t have any friends to bring over.”

 

“Hyuga-chan,” Tamura deadpanned. “You won’t make any with that attitude. Stick out your chest, hold your head high! You’re beautiful, child. You’ll get someone’s attention, like a cute boy.”

 

But I don’t want to get a boy’s attention. Hinata didn’t dare say that out loud.

 

Same sex relations weren’t exactly a normality in Konoha. It wasn’t a norm in the entirety of the Land of Fire. But from what Hinata knew, Konoha had more of a standpoint of tolerance. Shinobi could do what they want with the constant danger they put their lives in. That didn’t mean the older generation like Tamura and beyond would be okay with it if Hinata ever told her the truth.

 

And even if she were the Clan’s disappointment, Hinata was at least expected to marry and have children. This she knew from passing by and hearing fragments of conversation.

 

“Hyuga-chan?” Tamura’s voice brought Hinata back to reality.

 

“... I’ll try to be a bit more confident.”

 

Tamura beamed. “Good. That’s all you can do.”

 

Hinata stood onto her feet. “I should head back home now, Tamura-san.” She gave the woman a small smile. “I’ll make sure to stop by after the graduation.”

 

“Train your butt off for that test!” Tamura flexed a gangly arm, no longer well-muscled like during her days as a shinobi. “And try to come back with a friend.”

 

Hinata continued smiling, but it was strained. She doubted she could make that happen. “I’ll try.” And with that, she walked away. At least Tamura was right about one thing-- she would need to train in order to past the test. Ninjutsu or taijutsu, Iruka said the subjects the class would be tested on could go either way.

 

[;’;]

 

“You’re later than usual, Lady Hinata.”

 

Hinata didn’t look Kou directly in the eye. “I took the long way home.”

 

“You shouldn’t stay out so late, Lady Hinata.” Kou scolded gently. “What if something happened?”

 

“Sorry…”

 

“.....” Kou released a small sigh. “Well as long as you’re alright, I suppose it’s fine. You are going to be a genin soon, so I suppose I shouldn’t be so overbearing.” Kou was still particularly difficult for Hinata to approach, he had especially had high hopes for her to take over the Clan. Hinata hadn’t been able to look him in the eye ever since. “Did you have a good day at school?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Good.”

 

“...... I’m going to change clothes now, Kou. I’ll talk to you later.”

 

“Very well, Lady Hinata.”

 

Hinata sped away as quickly as she could without making it obvious she was running away from the situation. One day she’d be brave enough to look Kou in the eye, and one day she’d stop being haunted by the past of losing her birthright. But today, decidedly, wasn’t that day.

 

She closed her room door quietly then sank into the desk chair in her room.

 

One day.

 

Hinata waited a few moments, then she opened a drawer to pull out a huanghuali box, still in mint condition. It was a gift from Mother when Hinata was six. A pretty box with lilies engraved on the top. “A beautiful box to place precious things that belong to a beautiful girl.” Tomoebi had said, voice as sweet as honey. And precious things Hinata did keep.

 

She gently traced over the lines of the box before gingerly opening it as if it contained a thousand treasures. Though really, the box just contained a small scarf. Hinata smiled as she caressed it, memories filling her. The scarf was a bright red, like the qipao Sakura wore for her kunoichi outfit and it had millions of pink blossoms sewn into the fabric. They were cherry blossoms, Hinata could tell from the branches.

 

It was the same scarf Sakura had given her years ago that snowy day and it was a fitting scarf for a girl named Sakura.

 

It had been forever since the day Hinata officially met Sakura and yet every time she looked at the scarf, it felt like yesterday.

 

She could still feel the cold air around her though she was dressed snugly in winter clothes and had on two scarves, one for her neck and the other wrapped around her face to keep the cold out since Sakura believed she was starting to get sick. The scarf was a bit itchy, but it was warm and smelled fragrant. Hinata had went home with hope warming her chest and right away she placed the scarf in her box for safekeeping as to not ruin it.

 

It was still in pristine condition, but it had long since stopped smelling of flowers.

 

Hinata sat awkwardly in her seat.

 

It had been about a week since the incident that took place near the Academy where Sakura and Ino had rescued her from the small group of bullies who gleefully picked on girls. One solid week. And Hinata hadn’t talk to them since.

 

This sucks. Hinata's face felt hot as she glanced over at Sakura once more from her seat in the back of the class. They were supposed to be reading out of their texts about lost villages in the Land of Fire and Sakura’s eyes were glued to the page. She had always been studious, Hinata felt admiration surge through her. I wish I could talk to you, Sakura-san.

 

It had been a week since Sakura had told Hinata that she could change as long as she wanted to.

 

Hinata sighed again.

 

She had tried to catch Sakura’s attention, to thank her again. Just to try and see Sakura smile again. But every time it Hinata worked up the courage to walk to Sakura after class, Ino would appear, hands on her hips, to whisk Sakura away.

 

‘Sakura, let’s go to my place.’

 

‘Sakura, my mom wants extra helpers at the shop, want to come?’

 

‘Sakura-’

 

“Sakura-san, do you want to get cinnamon rolls together?” Yeah. Hinata could say something like that. Take Sakura right to the dango shop ran by Tamura and they could talk and laugh all afternoon, and Ino could too. But Hinata would be lying to herself if she didn’t admit that the vision of being at the dango shop laughing and eating cinnamon rolls only seemed to include her and Sakura. It could be something we do as just us sometimes. Maybe we could even play at her house together. She couldn’t really imagine bringing Sakura over to a stuffy compound.

 

Sakura suddenly looked over her shoulder and jade green met lavender.

 

Hinata’s cheeks flushed and she looked back at her textbook. Suddenly, the history of Kinu Village was very interesting.

 

Hinata felt her face redden as she remembered the awkward exchange.

 

The moment class had ended, she bolted out not wanting to see if Sakura would confront her. But maybe I should have. Hinata fingered the scarf wistfully. That might have been an awkward exchange turned friendship had she stayed and waited to see what would happen.

 

Now they were going to be graduating in a week and they’d be too busy with missions to be able to properly establish some kind of friendship.

 

Hinata sighed in the present.

 

They would graduate from the Academy and be placed in teams of three, and Hinata knew there was no chance that she’d be lucky enough to be teammates with Sakura. Naruto would have more luck than Hinata when it came to that. The teams were always divided into terms of gender, two boys, one girl. And as far as Hinata knew, that was the way it had always been and always would be.

 

“What? Really?” Hinata’s mouth hung a little after hearing what Tamura had to say about team placements.

 

“Yessiree.” Tamura chortled. “Annoyed my pants right off. I wanted to be on the same team as Nadeshiko, my best friend. But there’s always got to be a dash of femininity to balance out the men. I guess they think too many kunoichi on a team is a recipe for chaos.”

 

Hinata closed her box. I just hope you really like your team, Sakura-san. Sakura deserved a great team. And… I hope that I can become a great ninja. Maybe not the Hokage, that was Naruto wanted to be. Still, Hinata hoped with all her heart that she could be a great ninja.

 

[...]

 

“Alright, everyone. Today we are going to finally have our graduation exam.”

 

Hinata inhaled shakily, her nerves rising.

 

“Unlike previous tests, when your name is called randomly, you will have to proceed to the room next door where I will be with another instructor you should all be familiar with. You won’t have to worry about your classmates watching you perform, just the two of us.” Iruka continued. “This time, we’ll be scoring everyone on their ability to perform the Clone Jutsu.”

 

The Clone Jutsu…. Hinata sighed in relief. That was a jutsu she could do.

 

Hinata glanced around the room discreetly to see the reactions of her classmates.

 

Sakura looked fairly confident.

 

Ino about the same.

 

Sasuke looked aloof and uncaring as usual.

 

Naruto looked like he had just woken up to his worst nightmare and Hinata bit her lip. As talented as Naruto was at the Transformation Jutsu, he was equally as untalented in the Clone Jutsu. But maybe he’s gotten a little better? Hinata at least hoped that was the case. If Naruto could produce at least one good clone, he’d be okay.

 

Against what her grandfather would advise, Hinata silently gave Naruto her best wishes.

 

If anyone could be a better shinobi than her, it would be Naruto (even with all his joking and pranks).

 

Then again everyone could be a better shinobi than her if they tried hard en-

 

“We’ll be going in alphabetical from your surnames, so try to behave while we’re in the other room.” Iruka interrupted before Hinata could dive deeply into a pit of self criticism. “You’ll also be getting your results back today, so after the test don’t leave.”

 

The tension in the room really started to settle in.

 

“And then we’ll be coming back in next week so you can all be settled into your three-man teams.” Iruka said with a smile. “After that, you won’t be coming back to the Academy anymore. You’ll all be full-fledged genin with new sensei to help guide you until you’re all ready to go on your own missions.”

 

Teams.

 

There were already some whispers about who would end up on Sasuke’s team.

 

All of which were from the other girl’s in the class.

 

Sakura’s voice wasn’t one of them, but the excited gleam in her eye was easy to see as she glanced over to the boy.

 

Two boys, one girl.

 

Hinata sighed and fiddled her thumbs.

 

Sakura had a higher chance of being placed on the same team as Sasuke than Hinata ever had of ending up on the same one as her.

 

Hinata sighed again and shook her head lightly. Just as long as Sakura was on a good team, Hinata wouldn’t be jealous.  (But there was a tiny twinge in Hinata’s chest that hoped that whoever Sakura got placed with, it wasn’t Sasuke. He was a jerk that didn’t give Sakura the time of day.)

 

That aside, the thing Hinata hoped for the most was that it would feel like forever before her name would be called.

 

(Decidedly, once the names started being called, it simultaneously felt like it was taking forever and that it was going too fast and Hinata just wished that she had the ability to time jump to when the test was over just to see if she had failed or not.)

 

(Hinata did not fail. She could at least have that accomplishment to give back to her Father.)

 

(In fact, a lot of her classmates had passed.)

 

(Naruto had not.)

 

....

 

“He didn’t pass? Really?”

 

“Pff right? Dead last loser, I’m not even surprised.”

 

“Yeah, my mom said not to go around him. Might be why he didn’t get chosen to become a ninja because none of the teachers want him around other kids too.”

 

Hinata looked over at her former classmates, a sinking feeling in her chest become heavier and heavier with every moment. How could anyone have such ugly personalities? She looked through the crowd to where Naruto was located, looking utterly defeated as he sat on a swing. It was a strange sight, abnormal even. Seeing the loud, boisterous Naruto sitting on a swing in the shade by himself like she did all those years ago, quiet and frowning. Hinata’s hand gripped tightly on her hitai-ate; she hadn’t put it on yet, it was nestled deeply in her pocket.

 

While a large handful of them had head home to announce to their families the results of their test (Sakura, Sasuke, Kiba, Ino, Shikamaru, and some others), a large amount had stuck around the Academy grounds to show off their bounty from passing the test that allowed them to become official shinobi of Konoha. Proudly wearing them or shoving them in each other’s face.

 

All while Naruto sat there to see it.

 

Not that it had stopped anyone from playing their unofficial game of ‘Let’s Make The Dead Last Feel Bad’.

 

Hinata had seen a few instances enough to know that it wasn’t just their classmates that were like this. It was the entire village. No one was standing up to them the way Sakura and Ino had done for her all those years ago. Hinata looked at her feet. She couldn’t fight off an entire village even if she wanted. Hinata squeezed at her forehead protector again as her lavender eyes looked back over at Naruto again.

 

“.....”

 

Hinata’s heart staccatoed as a small idea entered her mind.

 

“....”

 

She took a deep breath, then she finally took a step forward.

 

Sakura-san was probably scared when she tried sticking up for me, right? Hinata thought, trying to build her confidence. Stop being a coward for once, Hinata. With each step, Hinata could feel her nerves rising. I can do this too. Even if it isn’t much, this is something I can do too. Each footstep she took sounded like a loud echo in her ear.

 

She could do this!

 

“Um!” Her voice came out, barely audible and shrill.

 

As Naruto looked up at her, an eyebrow raised, Hinata wanted to kick herself in the ankle.

 

She cleared her throat, then tried again. “U-um…”

 

“Hinata? What are you still doing here?” And potentially not partaking in his indirect ridiculing??

 

“I... “ Hinata tried not to falter under his direct gaze. She was going to have this conversation with him. “I just thought.. Maybe you were sad.” In a few milliseconds, Hinata wanted to kick herself all over again. Of course he was sad!

 

If the blue-eyed boy was upset with her statement, he didn’t show it. “Nah, I’m alright.” He grinned, but even Hinata knew it was forced and weaker than it normally would be. “They even said they’d let me try for next year. So it isn’t like anyone here can get too cocky. I’ll be catching up super fast in no time!”

 

Hinata tried to give a reassuring smile, “I’m sure you’ll make it then.”

 

“Of course I will! I’m the great Naruto Uzumaki, I can’t just give up!” Naruto raised a clenched fist. “Same for you too! Cause this is just a warm up for you to get in as many missions as you can before I rise and steal the show! I’ll do so good, Gramps will probably retire early and just let me take over after just a few months of me being a genin.”

 

That got a small giggle out of Hinata despite the situation at hand. Even in times like this, no one could outshine Naruto in optimism and effort.

 

“Hey, where’s your headband?”

 

Hinata’s previous convictions left her and she glanced away. “I…”

 

“You should wear it, yknow?” Naruto press, sounding almost scolding. “It’s supposed to show off your pride as a Konoha shinobi.” When Hinata pursed her lips, Naruto gave a dismissive wave. “You don’t gotta act all guilty just because I didn’t pass, yknow. Just go ahead and wear it! Show it off!”

 

Hinata’s feet shuffled and she finally pulled her forehead protector. The metal looked a bit smudged from the sweat from Hinata’s palm, but she tried to not let that bother her. “Then… I want you to be the first to wear it then.” Before she could convince herself otherwise, Hinata shoved it into Naruto’s hands and took a step back.

 

The surprise on Naruto’s face was nearly palpable. “Wh-what? Are you serious? But you should be the first one to wear it!”

 

Hinata shook her head and pressed on despite feeling the welling lump in her throat. “But I want you to wear it first! Even if it’s just a few minutes, I-I want you to feel like you graduated too because you try really hard in our classes.”

 

“.....” Naruto didn’t say anything, he just looked down at Hinata’s hitai-ate for a few moments. Then with a shaky breath, Naruto smoothed out the cloth and decidedly wrapped it around his head. He gave Hinata another weak grin. “How do I look?”

 

Like a proud shinobi of Konoha, Hinata wanted to say. But what came out instead was, “It looks great.”

 

Naruto grinned even wider. “Thanks, Hinata. For the gloomy, quiet girl in our class, you’re an awesome person.”

 


 

“So this is this year’s list of graduates, huh?”

 

Kurenai Yuhi’s barely registered Asuma Sarutobi’s comment as her eyes followed the stack of papers being passed around by this year’s selection of genin sensei. The stack was decently sized she noted, each paper just a list of candidate names in team prototypes. She could feel the tingles of pride in her chest, this would be her first time teaching her own team.

 

“Yes indeed.” Iruka replied, pride tinging his own voice. Not for having a team to instruct, simply for the fact he had some students to pass on. But his smile faltered as his eyes drifted to a gray haired man with his hitai-ate slanted across his face to cover his left eye. “Ready for yet another genin team, Kakashi?” His voice was almost sarcastic.

 

Kurenai glanced over at him herself. Come to think of it, why is he constantly chosen to be an instructor? It was well known enough among the community of older shinobi who Kakashi Hatake, son of Konoha’s late White Fang, was. He was the instructor who had never passed a team of genin passed their initial first official day as genin. Asuma had even started to calling Kakashi the Rookie Crusher. ‘He breaks the heart’s of more students than he does lovers.’ He had said, and Kurenai had to agree.

 

Why have an instructor that constantly fails his potential students?

 

Kurenai glanced over at the Third.

 

Who knew what thoughts were going on inside of there.

 

Kakashi’s one visible eye crinkled at Iruka’s comment. “Hmmm, I wonder.” He said to himself, amused as he looked over the paper in his hand. His eye seemed to flicker with surprise. “Oh? Naruto Uzumaki is one of the graduates this year?”

 

With that, Kurenai’s focus was back on the papers as they finally came her way. Carefully, she took a page for herself before passing it on to a man named Abuto. She quickly skimmed over the paper before finding the aforementioned boy’s name under Kakashi’s in small script.

 

Team 7 -- Kakashi Hatake
Naruto Uzumaki, 12 (m)
Sasuke Uchiha, 12 (m)
Sakura Haruno, 12 (f)

 

Well by golly, Kurenai’s eyes widened. The boy did manage to graduate.

 

Kurenai hadn’t known much about Naruto Uzumaki aside from the basics, nor was she entirely sure of her own opinion of him. But it would definitely be interesting seeing what would happen with him being his own shinobi.

 

“He graduated just as fairly as the others.” Iruka’s tone was defensive. “Is that problem?” The air seemed to raise in intensity as everyone waited to hear Kakashi’s response.

 

“Not at all.” Kakashi replied easily. “Just pleasantly surprised.”

 

Asuma looked over his own copy of the list of teams. “No surprise to see the Uchiha boy on here.” He whistled. “I’m guessing Naruto’s been placed on his team for the balance system. You might have a bit of a handful.” Might.

 

Takarai, another chosen jounin, nodded in agreement. “Uchiha is another prodigy shining through the Academy.”

 

Like his brother. It was a thought that echoed through the minds of everyone in the room, but no one dared to say it aloud. Instead, Asuma changed the subject.

 

“And it looks I’ve got this generation’s InoShikaCho, I see. That’ll be interesting to work with”

 

Team 10 -- Asuma Sarutobi
Ino Yamanaka, 12 (f)
Shikamaru Nara, 12 (m)
Choji Akimichi, 12 (m)

 

“Congratulations on your team.” Kurenai piped from beside him quietly.

 

Asuma gave her a wide grin. “Same to you.”

 

Kurenai denied the small stutter in her chest and decidedly returned her gaze to her paper. Enough stalling. Time to see the students she had been given.

 

Team 8 -- Kurenai Yuhi
Kiba Inuzuka, 12 (m)
Shino Aburame, 12 (m)
Hinata Hyuga, 12 (f)

 

At first, Kurenai felt a pleased sense of satisfaction roll through her. After what felt like years, she’d finally been given the chance to mold a piece of Konoha’s future next generation of shinobi. She skimmed over the names of her team again. An Inuzuka, an Aburame, and a Hyuga. An interesting mix indeed. I wonder how I could get the three of them to collaborate their styles together. Kurenai had almost begun strategizing the tactics in which the distinct clan styles of fighting her pupils were from-- Inuzukas and their dogs, Aburames and their parasitic insects, and a Hyuga’s Byakugan and Gentle Fist-- when her gaze drifted over to the information listed with their names. “.... These extra notes, they’re supposed to indicate gender of the student?”

 

“Correct.”

 

Kurenai looked over her student’s again. Two boys, one girl. Her lips pursed slightly.

 

She suddenly looked over all the students on the list and the same pattern prevailed. For every three-man cell there was one girl to every two males. Actually-- Kurenai corrected herself as she saw one team that didn’t seem to have that p- And that team had three males. Why am I even surprised at this point? Kurenai fought to keep her eyebrows from furrowing. It had been this way forever, Kurenai supposed. But despite the initial rush of finally having her own students, Kurenai had to admit she could feel a slight hint of disappointment as well.

 

“Is there something wrong, Kurenai?”

 

Kurenai’s gaze snapped up to the Third. “Pardon?”

 

Hiruzen’s gaze was kind, “Is there something wrong? You don’t seem nearly as excited as you were before.”

 

Kurenai fought back a flush. “I’m sorry, sir.” She bowed respectively. “Everything is fine, I’m grateful to have this opportunity.”

 

“It’s no problem to tell me the concerns you may have with this year’s batch of genin.” Kurenai could feel relief flood through her. “If any of the jounin instructor’s have a problem, I’d like to hear them in order to avoid any future problems. You’ve grown a lot since you were that impulsive kunoichi, so I trust any critiques you have will be of sound judgement.”

 

The genjutsu specialist gave quick glances at the jounin around her. “Alright then…” She started, a bit unsure but her crimson gaze was firm and she straightened out her back to eliminate any signs of uncertainty. “I won’t pretend to understand the process of elimination when it comes to Iruka’s or any Academy instructor’s thoughts on assembling students into sound teams.” she gave said man a polite nod. “And I won’t act as if you don’t put every hint of care as you make them. However, I can’t help but think that the genders involved in the process in team selection should be given a more fair process.”

 

Iruka blinked, surprised at her comment. “What do you mean?” He thankfully didn’t sound defensive.

 

“For the longest time now, Konoha’s teams have always seemed to lean one way. Two males, one female. And if there is a monogendered three-man cell, it’s only men. Why is that?” Kurenai prodded.

 

Iruka opened his mouth, but quickly closed it.

 

“Even when it comes to instructors.” Kurenai guestered to the jounin surrounding her. They were all men. “The amount of kunoichi selected is astonishing considering everyone in the room. I won’t say that there isn’t a bit of imbalance, that there isn’t a slight increase in men being shinobi. But the gap isn’t that big at this point. And maybe it’s just me who feels this way, but it almost starts to feel as if a girl is shoehorned into a team because she’s a girl and it’s expected she’ll be around male teammates.”

 

A reply finally piped up from a man named, Jin. “That’s just how Konoha’s always assembled their teams, Kurenai. Don’t look too deeply into it, you'll offend yourself for no reason.”

 

“You can’t help but look ‘too into it’ when you’re a kunoichi.” Kurenai’s gaze sharpened. “Ask any kunoichi about her experiences with a team that she didn’t particularly like. What’s a constant is the treatment given to her that singles her out as the sole girl on the team. For instance, being given chores that would be expected of her as the girl.” Like cooking the meal for the team while someone else gathered firewood for the camp or handling laundry instances. Kurenai lost count of the snappish outbursts she had with her sensei back then about those issues before being brushed off or made to do physical exercise as a punishment for arguing. Asuma and Raido were probably the only reason she hadn’t spiked the man’s tea.

 

Jin’s response heavily made her consider wanting to do what she hadn’t to her former teacher. “Then in the future we’ll just make sure to balance out the more ‘womanly’ tasks evenly so the kunoichi on the team doesn’t feel singled out.”

 

Kurenai felt Asuma’s hand on her shoulder and she let out a silent breath through her nose. The last thing she needed right now was to lash out on another instructor in front of the Hokage. “I just think it might be a change to start disregarding that ‘this is the typical’ mindset when it comes to making teams. If a particular female student’s abilities and compatibility is much better with another female student than a male student, they should be listed on a team. Maybe have a team where’s there just one boy. Or none. Have there be a mix up than the usual listings.”

 

“I don’t think that’s such a bad idea.” Asuma chirped from beside her, tone light. “It’s new and it could bring a whole new set of benefits when it comes to certain missions with enemies who may overlook the strength of kunoichi. I’ve seen Kurenai kick enough ass in the past to know it’s a very amusing result.” Asuma’s own ass was included in that list. Raido’s as too.

 

Kurenai felt the corners of her lips turn up slightly. Thank you. Asuma’s eyes glinted in return. She looked back at Iruka. “Can we know some of the thought processes that you had with the teams you made this year?”

 

Iruka paused for a moment, looking over the list himself thinking heavily. “Well for Team 10, the first thing that came to mind was simply that this year there of course had to be an InoShikaCho.” To be expected. “And I knew to warn whoever had them as students should expect their families to be heavily invested in their training. With your team, I thought that Kiba would need someone like Shino, who is more quiet and aloof but curt and is no one’s pushover-- to keep him grounded to earth and call him out on his mistakes. Their Clans both have similar symbiotic relationships with various animal groups as well, therefore I knew that they’d be able to understand and respect each other well despite their complete differences in personality.”

 

Despite the points Kurenai was trying to raise, she was happy to hear the amount of thought that Iruka had put in so far with the construction of her team at least. “And the Hyuga girl?”

 

“...... Hinata is..” Iruka found himself pausing more than once. “Very shy. Delicate almost. She doesn’t have many friends, if any friends in the class. I was hoping that Kiba’s more vibrant personality could coax her into being more outspoken.”

 

Kurenai paused a bit as well. “And is Kiba’s personality and levels of patience truly that good for someone as shy and delicate as Hinata?”

 

“..... Admittedly… no.” Iruka sighed at last. “But with Shino, I was hoping that he would be able to reel in Kiba if he was ever being too rough with her.”

 

Kurenai shook her head. “With all due respect, Iruka, I can’t really see that working.” Yes, Kurenai could admit to the potential that maybe she was wrong. “It could definitely end out being a perfectly good selection of a team. But it could just as easily pendulum swing in the opposite direction. If this Hinata is truly as delicate as you’re making her out to be, she needs people on her team that are patient and less rough by nature. Outgoing, definitely. A little outspoken, sure. But having her placed on a team with someone with little patience and someone who is equally as aloof as her might not be properly suited to have her on the same team.”

 

Murmurs began to arose in the room, but Kurenai kept on. “What about Kakashi’s team?”

 

Iruka looked a little unsure of himself this time around. “Like Asuma said, Naruto was placed on Sasuke’s team due to his grades and abilities. Placing them on the same team was a guaranteed balance. As for the third member of their team, I admittedly struggled with who to pick. Sakura is one of my most brilliant students and her intelligence is on par with Shikamaru’s. Her control in chakra is surprisingly balanced as well compared to Sasuke and Naruto’s as well. The only hiccup that could be in her placement on the team…. I suppose, her blatant crush on Sasuke. And Naruto’s had feelings for her as well.” Iruka finished, looking as unsure as ever with his selection of Team 7.

 

“A team based in a love triangle is set for nothing but disaster, Iruka. I don’t think you even need me to tell you that.” Kurenai tried to sound as kind as possible with her statement, but she wasn’t sure that was entirely possible. “That could do nothing but cause a rift in their team and imbalance in their priorities.”

 

“I know.” Iruka sighed. “But the same could be said for basically every girl in the class. Naruto’s distraction of Sakura may be removed, but every girl in this class has a crush on Sasuke. He’s essentially the class heartthrob.”

 

Perfect.

 

Jin finally spoke up again. “Then it’s pointless changing teams at this point.” He gave Kurenai a pointed look, she returned it stoically. “Gender aside, it’s practically a tradition in Konoha’s team selection now. And even then, you have to admit that typically it’s the shinobi who happen to be stronger than their kunoichi peers.”

 

“Well maybe it’s time to begin changing tradition.” Kurenai replied evenly. If she had still been who she was just ten years ago, she wouldn’t have nearly a fraction of this composure. “Even if it’s little by little, one team of kunoichi or a team where the kunoichi outnumber the shinobi. If I remember correctly, Jin.” Kurenai's crimson eyes flashed. “There was a time you were in the hospital for nearly a month after a close brush with an all kunoichi cell from Kumo when we were chunin.” Jin’s face heated up as he glowered at her, but Kurenai didn’t give him the chance to reply. “Kumo’s been enlisting teams with more kunoichi to nothing but for generations now and that doesn’t seem to give them any problem in terms of strength in their armies. Who’s to say that won’t be the case here? Do you have that little faith in Konoha’s kunoichi to think that they can’t handle themselves on their own in battle?”

 

Kakashi’s voice piped up from the fray after being eerily silent the entire time. His voice was uncaring, however he said-- “Either way, I really don’t mind how teams are structured this year or any other year. If you want to change up the teams and have a bit more variety, go ahead.”

 

Surprise struck Kurenai clearly, but Kakashi’s vote was clear.

 

Jin looked aghast.

 

Kakashi shrugged. “I just don’t think this discussion is as huge of a problem as you think it.” He said, his one visible eye looking over at Jin. “Sometimes you just need to go with the change of the times.”

 

“Kurenai’s suggestion has got my vote, too.” Asuma grinned. “Maybe there will be other Jin’s out there who will be surprised to get their fair share of ass whooping from a Konoha kunoichi cell.”

 

“I was a chunin!” Jin snapped. “Surely you don’t want to undo all of the time and effort that Iruka has put into every team he has made-”

 

“Then make it just one team.” Kurenai cut him off. “It doesn’t need to be every team, Kurenai said. “Just one team of female students. This means a few girls and boys will need to be switched around in this case. Then we can just wait and see what happens.”

 

Green and red stared at each other, neither gaze wavering until finally the gravelly voice of the Third cut in.

 

“That’s enough. I’ve heard enough points raised on both sides of the argument to make a decision.” Hiruzen said, expression as calm as ever. “And I have to say I have no qualms on the suggestions given here today. It would be archaic to remain stagnant in terms of how are teams are assembled if there are better matches out there. Gender structure should have no place in how we assemble our teams.” He looked at Jin then Kurenai. “But for the sake of sating worries, we’ll just start with one. One team of kunoichi that would be a great match for each other out of the whole Rookie Nine. And if all goes well, I’m sure that will calm all worries. Maybe some traditions should be challenged.”

 

Kurenai inhaled deeply, eyes widening in a surge of excitement. “Thank you, sir.”

 

Hiruzen gave a small smile. “I expect you to raise a fine set of ninja ready to lay their lives down for the village.”

 

“Of course, sir.”

 

Hiruzen turned his gaze to Iruka. “My apologizes on having you look to editing the team selections you’ve made, Iruka.”

 

“It’s nothing at all, sir!” Iruka raised his hands defensively. “I’m always looking to improve how teams are made in order to ensure harmony and balance.”

 

“I’m glad to hear that. Are there any students that you have in mind?”

 

Iruka skimmed over his list for a few heartbeats before finally looking up. “.... I think I do. But there could be a mighty backlash from a few parents in making it.”

 

“Then make it.”

Chapter Text

“I’m officially a genin!!”

 

HELL YEAH; SHANNARO!!!

 

Sakura Haruno grinned widely and waved her hitai-ate in the air, her hair spread widely across her blankets. Finally after what seemed like ages, she was a ninja. No longer was she Sakura Haruno the Academy student, but Sakura Haruno the kunoichi.

 

She gave a small squeal as she projected herself into a sitting position.

 

Her grades? One of the highest in the class, right after Shikamaru. And the test to see if she’d graduate? It might sound arrogant, but it was probably the easiest test Sakura had ever taken. Honestly, I figured it would be harder than that. Like a 50 question exam about the history of Konoha, why the shinobi came along, or the rules about being a shinobi. Sakura had memorized them all.

 

But hey, why should I even complain about getting an easy exam? A small voice inside Sakura seemed to say. And Sakura agreed. She was a kunoichi now

 

It was about time.

 

The smell of beef wafted through the air, downstairs her mother was preparing hamburger steak. A rare treat in the Haruno household but a meal to celebrate Sakura’s graduation. It was a good day.

 

Now all that was left was to wait and see who her teammates would be. That was probably the most basic information Sakura had learned about being a ninja.

 

Every graduate of the Ninja Academy would eventually be placed on a team of three with one jonin instructor to teach them the rest about being a ninja in practice.

 

Sakura couldn’t stop the wide and dreamy expressin on her face.

 

It would be a dream come true if I could be on the same team as Sasuke-kun. Her jade green eyes dazzled. If there was any chance to impress Sasuke, being on the same team was it. Sure he barely seemed to pay attention to her in class; he barely seemed to really pay attention to anyone. But Sakura was pretty sure it was due to the population of girls in the classroom. With that many girls trying to get your attention, Sakura would probably block them out too.

 

But being on the same team?

 

He’d have to notice her then!

 

“Wow, Sakura, I never noticed how good you were at chakra control!” Sasuke would say, black eyes wide with surprise.

 

“W-well I can totally show you how I got this good at it!” Sakura would say back.

 

With the one-on-one focus and practice, they’d get closer and eventually start dating and then Sakura could totally rub it in that porker’s face once and for all.

 

We could totally even get married if things go super well! Sakura was squealing all over again.

 

She wouldn’t even care who her other teammate would be as long as she knew Sasuke was on her team. And he especially shouldn’t be on the same team as Ino. At the very least, the gods could be that nice to Sakura if she couldn’t be on the same team. Like, no other girl. Just put Sasuke-kun on a team of guys. Sakura pleaded. It was rough trying to get the attention of one guy when literally every girl in your class had a crush on him.

 

Feeling a bit anxious, Sakura ceased all thoughts of team placement and stood up. I should just try on my forehead protector.

 

That would be a great distraction.

 

In a few short strides, Sakura was standing in front of her room’s full body mirror she’d received on her eleventh birthday. Jade green eyes, bright pink hair, large forehead; all the characteristics that made up one Sakura Haruno.

 

Gone was the shy girl who hated her forehead.

 

Sakura then quickly discovered, her hitai-ate covering her forehead was not a preference of hers.

 

“But… you can still see my forehead?”

 

“Well duh! If you just keep covering it up, everyone’s gonna wanna make fun of it. Show it off!”

 

Sakura took off her hitai-ate with a shake of her head.

 

That memory wasn’t important. And it had zero effect on Sakura’s opinion on wearing her hitai-ate over her forehead like it was typically meant to be worn. But it isn’t like it has to be worn on my forehead. Sakura decided. Plenty of the genin in her year were wearing it more like stylish accessories instead of the traditional place to wear it.

 

Ino had already started wearing hers like it was some kind of belt instead of a forehead protector. “I doubt anyone else will be wearing it like this!” The blonde had bragged. “It’s just something that helps me stick out.”

 

Sakura made a face but then she attempted wrapping the blue cloth of her protector around her waist before promptly stopping herself. It did nothing for her red qipao and Sakura wasn’t changing her entire kunoichi attire of choice because she wanted to wear her hitai-ate as a belt. So Ino could keep the style; Sakura would find one of her very own to rock with.

 

A bracelet?

 

No, too impractical. She’d be worried about it falling off in the middle of her daily life.

 

Necklace?

 

It felt too out of place.

 

….

 

Anklet?

 

Sakura only considered that idea for two seconds before shaking her head. That just sounded really stupid.

 

“Ugggh.” Sakura placed her face in her hands in frustration. It’s just a hitai-ate, not some S-rank ninjutsu skill. She looked back at herself in the mirror scanning for any place she could try placing her hitai-ate.

 

Hmmmm.

 

Her eyes met with the reflection of her red ribbon. The one Ino had given her years ago.

 

Back when they were still friends.

 

Sakura made quick work of holding her hitai-ate in one hand and pulling her red ribbon apart gently with the other before placing it down at her desk. With that, she added her hitai-ate in its place, metal plate on top to proudly show off its leaf symbol.

 

There was a pause, but Sakura felt satisfied looking at her reflection now.

 

Much better than anything Ino probably could have thought of.

 

There was almost a bit of hilarity.

 

A forehead protector headband… worn as a headband.

 

Sakura giggled at her own bad joke.

 

Still officially a genin.

 

When the giggles subsided, Sakura looked back at her discarded ribbon laid out gently. That’s right, she was a genin.

 

Basically an adult in her own right.

 

There had been even younger graduates that Sakura knew of in history before the Third had made it official that there could no longer be genin younger than the age of twelve in their genin ranks.

 

She picked up her ribbon tenderly.

 

There was no place for something as childish as a ribbon in being a ninja.

 

So I guess it’s time to say goodbye now, old friend.

 

Sakura went over to her closet and crouched down to pull out an old box. It was a bit heavy, a lot heavier than Sakura was really accustomed to, but she moved it without complaint. Inside was just a bunch of things she found herself no longer caring for as she got older. Like an old deflated ball, some old books she no longer enjoyed reading, some picture frames.

 

….

 

Against her better judgement, Sakura lifted the top most picture frame to reveal that it was just an old picture of her and Ino. They had both gotten ice cream in this picture and were grinning happily, Ino had an arm wrapped around Sakura's shoulder in the photo, Sakura's cheeks stained pink. It had been blamed on the heat of the summer. Sakura wasn't sure who had taken the photo. Probably Ino’s mother or father if it was during one of the many nights Sakura would spend the night at the Yamanaka Compound for one of their many sleepovers. Living in a relatively medium-sized house with her parents who were from no notable clan of Konoha, Sakura had loved going over to the compound Ino lived in which was essentially its own little village in all of Konoha.

 

There they could play around in the family's garden, the flowers grown for the flower shop Ino's parents ran. Ino deftly made flower crown after flower crown with the blooms they could use and Sakura would always watch in awe, feeling like her heart had been in her throat.

 

Sakura's brow furrowed, clenching the photo tightly. Why are you thinking about that now?

 

"Is there anyone you like, Sakura?" Ino, age eight, giggled quietly during that particular sleepover, they were supposed to be asleep right now.

 

I do. Sakura's heart felt like someone was squeezing it painfully. "Um... well I like-"

 

Sakura placed the picture back into the box face down and shoved the box back into her closet without placing her ribbon in it. Her grip around it tightened even further before she headed out of her room and down the stairs, the dinner hitting her senses quickly. “Mom, I’m gonna go out really quick!”

 

Mebuki Haruno gave her daughter a quizzical look. “Now? But I’m almost finished cooking.” For a brief moment, Sakura wondered which of her parents she looked most similar to. She definitely didn’t have her mother’s honey blonde hair and darker green eyes. But it wasn’t like she had her father’s blue eyes and faded pink hair that used to be a lot more red she was a toddler.

 

Both then.

 

“Yeah but I wanted to tell a friend congrats really fast since we both graduated.” Sakura said. She looked over at her father who was sitting at the dinner table fiddling with an old clock that had started to act funny. “Dad, I’m trying to be a good friend! Convince Mom to let me go?”

 

Kizashi Haruno’s eyes crinkled as he grinned. “Hi ‘I’m trying to be a good friend’, I’m Dad.” Then he guffawed as if he had told the funniest joke in the universe.

 

Sakura’s lips pursed.

 

Oh my gods, he is literally the worst how are we even related!?!?!?!

 

Mebuki looked unamused herself and rolled her eyes. “Honey, please. Spare us.”

 

Kizashi wiped an invisible tear from his eye. “That joke was a good one, you just don’t have taste.”

 

His wife sighed before looking back over to Sakura, “Just be quick so you’re dinner doesn’t have to be re-heated.”

 

“Thanks, Mom.” Sakura was exasperated, but made quick work of going to the door to slip on her sandals. Her father might have seemed cool when she was younger, but Sakura would be the first to admit that it was nothing but irritating when he did nothing but make dad jokes when she asked him for things. If he ever went more than one hour without making some kind of corny joke, Kizashi would lose it and explode. At least that was Sakura’s theory.

 

That aside, Sakura set out on a quick pace to the Yamanaka Flower’s. Sakura had helped out a few times when she was a child (she’s practically an adult now that she’s a genin, she’s allowed to say this sort of thing). It was the flower shop Ino’s family had run for generations. Sakura always found it strange that it wasn’t ran by some branch family, but Ino’s father had said it always fell on the shoulders of the Clan’s main family to run the flower shop.

 

It kept them humble and was a reminder of the Yamanaka’s humble beginnings in the village before becoming a major powerhouse in Konoha's politics.

 

Not that working at the shop made Ino any more humble than Sakura was made stupid by not studying for a day.

 

Small details.

 

Sakura picked up the pace when she noticed the sign of the shop. Even if they hadn’t been friends for what felt like years, Sakura knew that at this time Ino had to still be helping out.

 

She slowly peered inside to nonchalantly confirm her guess and lo and behold, Ino was at the front desk looking as bored as ever beside her mother. Ino definitely had received her father’s looks as Ino didn’t have her mother’s dark brown hair that was always wrapped neatly in a bun or her mother’s light brown eyes. “Um, hi Mrs. Yamanaka!”

 

Chiaki Yamanaka’s eyes lit up in pleasant surprise while Ino just gawked. “Sakura-chan, is that you? It’s been ages!”

 

Sakura ignored Ino’s look and smiled, “I was just wondering if Ino could come out for a moment so we could talk? I can’t believe we finally graduated.”

 

Chiaki smiled widely and gave Ino a shooing motion of sorts. “Go go, talk to your friend!” She was already beginning to take off the apron Ino wore that was covered in grass stains. “Honestly, it’s been a while since we’ve seen your face, Sakura-chan. You should stop by more often. The last time I saw you was when your mother had ordered a bonsai tree.” And Sakura begrudgingly had to go to the shop to pick it up and tolerate Ino’s face for five minutes.

 

Sakura just gave a polite chuckle. “I’ll try but now that I’m a ninja I might be a bit busy.”

 

Motherly as ever, Chiaki’s expression turned into one of concern. “Please be careful? Both of you.” She laid a hand on Ino’s shoulder. “It’s a dangerous profession and I don’t want either of you being harmed excessively.”

 

Ino rolled her eyes, “Mom, don’t be ridiculous. It’s gonna be fine.”

 

“I still worry about your father when he goes on missions and he’s been a jonin for years, Ino.” Chiaki scolded.

 

Ino just shrugged her off and Sakura felt irritated. Chiaki was a very cool, lenient parent who was always regal as she was polite. Ino should at least be polite when it came to something like this. “We’ll be careful!” Sakura promised, sending Ino a sharp look from the corner of her eye.

 

Chiaki smiled. “At least one of you tries to not worry an old lady.”

 

“You’re not old, Mom.”

 

“After twelve years of raising you, I certainly feel like it.”

 

“Mom!”

 

Sakura snorted and Ino quickly whipped her head over, blue eyes cold. “Now you two run along and have fun! This is a big moment for the both of you.” Chiaki said warmly. “Who knows what will come of you two being ninja.”

 

Sakura tried not to think about it in a moment this serious, but she couldn’t stop the briefness of it. Maybe romance if I’m placed on the same team as Sasuke-kun. Sakura pushed away all thoughts of Sasuke as she and Ino walked out of the shop. “Mom, do I need to come back here when we’re done or can I just go back home?”

 

“Just go home, dear. I’ll be closing up soon.”

 

Perfect, now there was no rush.

 

Ino glanced over at Sakura, “So what do you want, Billboard Brow? I know that we just graduated but I could honestly do without seeing you on days where I can avoid it.”

 

Between gritted teeth, the pink-haired girl growled out, “It wasn’t like I wanted to see you, but this is important.”

 

“Then spit it out.”

 

“Come with me to the Academy then.”

 

The walk to the Academy grounds stayed silent and Sakura stopped herself many a time from placing her hand on her kunai pouch that contained her ribbon, but would soon be carrying her weapons. She was going to make this a quick break.

 

Clean.

 

Easy.

 

Simple.

 

It felt like months passed until they finally had gotten to the Academy grounds which was empty since it was a weekend, but Sakura guessed there were probably teachers inside anyway. She stopped walking finally and Ino took a few extra steps forward before looking back at Sakura, arms crossed. “So? What did you want?”

 

Sakura took the quietest deep breath she could muster before finally reaching into her kunai pouch and extending the ribbon forward. “Here.”

 

Ino stared at the ribbon for a moment like Sakura was trying to give her some alien artifact. “.... What are you doing?”

 

Sakura took another deep breath and held her ground. “I’m giving this back to you, Ino. I don’t need it anymore.”

 

Ino looked up at Sakura, surprised as she scanned her over and saw where she was wearing her hitai-ate. Then she made a face. “That’s supposed to be for your forehead, Sakura.” She pointed at her own forehead to make an emphasis. “Seriously, I shouldn’t even have to tell you that. You should just keep it so your hair doesn’t get in your way during missions.” Sakura decided to ignore the fact that what Ino was saying made no sense because she herself wasn’t wearing her hitai-ate on her forehead, but she decided not too.

 

“Like I said, Ino, I don’t need it anymore. And I don’t need you telling me what to do anymore like I’m the same crybaby from years before.” Sakura said, eyes sharp. “This isn’t about Sasuke-kun or anything like that, this is about me being a kunoichi and moving on from that part of our lives.” That sounded mature, like something an adult would say. “I’ll wear my hitai-ate on my forehead when I can finally face you head on as a kunoichi.” Sakura vowed. “I’m not losing to you anymore.”

 

Sakura gestured to the ribbon again. “So here.”

 

“....” Ino stared for a moment before she finally grabbed a part of the ribbon that was dangling from Sakura’s hand. “Fine. When we’re both facing each other in battle, we’re gonna see who the real kunoichi is.”

 

“Fine.”

 

Sakura pushed down any welling of discomfort and guilt that she had. Ninja and emotions did not go hand in hand together.

 

[';']

 

Ino sat at the dining room table with and laid her head on her arms, red ribbon balled haphazardly in her hand. Her mother was chopping carrots for a stew, back turned but she didn’t ask who it was.

 

“Ino, dear, how did your time with Sakura-chan go? Excited to finally be kunoichi together?” Chiaki’s voice was light, the sound of vegetable chopping rhythmic. “You must be so excited.”

 

“Yeah, Mom.” Ino tried to stop her voice from shaking as much as possible. “It’s great.” She clenched the ribbon even tighter, ignoring the tight feeling in her chest.

 

Everything was absolutely perfect.

 

“Honey?” Chiaki sounded closer. “Is everything alright?”

 

“Yep.”

 

“.... Is it about, Sakura-chan?” Chiaki pressed gently, lifting her daughter’s head. Ino stubbornly refused to let any tears fall and shook her head. “Are you telling me the truth?”

 

“Yeah, Mom.” Ino wiped away the wetness, leaving her eyes damp. “I’m fine. Just letting it sink in that I’m gonna be going on missions and stuff.”

 

“Oh, Ino.” Chiaki gave Ino a tight squeeze and rocked her gently in her arms. “Things will be fine, like you said. I’m sorry if I gave you a scare earlier, that was just me being a mom.”

 

Ino couldn’t hold back a small chuckle. “You’re always a mom.”

 

“Well maybe a little.” Chiaki laughed a bit herself. “You’re going to be a great kunoichi, Ino. You deserve every bit to be out there doing missions for the village even if I worry that you might get hurt. As long as you try your hardest to be safe, that’s all I can ask for.” She gave Ino another squeeze and gave her a kiss on the forehead.

 

“Thanks, Mom.” Ino sniffled. “You’re right, I’m gonna be a great ninja.”

 

“That’s the spirit!” Chiaki stood up. “I hope that you don’t let my worrying scare you away from your decisions to go on missions.”

 

Ino smiled in return. She didn’t want her mother worrying anymore. “It isn’t. I’m Dad’s daughter after all and if he taught me anything, it’s how to totally knock someone out with a sixteen hit combo!”

 

Chiaki placed her hands on her hips and sighed, “Your father just might regret ever teaching you that one.”

 

“Hey, it isn’t like I ever used it on anyone outside of training!”

 

“Don’t go around doing it to anyone because you’re a ninja now either.”

 

“I’m not that immature, Mom. I’m sophisticated, a woman.”

 

Chiaki began laughing instantly. “A woman!”

 

Ino’s face flushed red. “I am!! I’m basically an adult by status!”

 

“Well as long as you’re living under my roof and eating the food I prepare, you’re still just a twelve year old.”

 

“Mom.” Ino groaned.

 

“Now wash up before your father gets here so you can help me with chopping the rest of the vegetables.”

 

 


When Hinata had announced to her father that she had graduated from the Academy, there was no warm and congratulatory tone.

 

Just expectancy.

 

“I see.” Hiashi said, eyes closed. His tone gave nothing away. Surprise. Disappointment. Pride. “Your missions as a genin may get quite dangerous. See to it that you don’t bring further shame to the Hyuga name.”

 

“Y-yes, Father.”

 

“Now leave my quarters. I am working.”

 

“... Yes, Father.”

 

“Hopefully you will make some progress and catch up to your sister.” He added suddenly. “She’s doing exceptional.”

 

Hinata shoved her face into her pillow. That last part had been a jab, whether it was intended to be encouragement or not.

 

It had now been a day or two since her graduation and she didn’t feel any sense of pride in her accomplishment. She had gotten the expected congratulations from Kou and Natsu, both of which who reminded her how dangerous being a genin could be and that she should be extra careful and rely a lot on her teammates.

 

Tomoebi had smiled and caressed the top of her head before repeating the same thing. “Don’t be afraid to rely on your teammates for protection, Hinata.” She advised, lavender eyes thoughtful. “It can be frightful being on those missions and there’s no need to recklessly put yourself in danger when you can avoid it.” Hinata had just smiled and nodded silently, but her stomach felt like it had a lump of coal in it.

 

No one told her to train hard or grow in strength.

 

Just to be mindful of her teammates and to stay away from the brunt of the action.

 

Hinata didn’t need anyone to say it out loud. She knew no one in her clan had expected her to become a great ninja in any capacity. She was just always going to be Hinata, the Main Branch’s weak link. It was all she could really focus on and what could mainly be heard throughout the echoes of everyone talking about how exceptional Hanabi had been doing in her training in both the Academy and with Hiashi. She was the prodigy of the Main Branch, her skill closely catching up to that of Neji’s.

 

Hinata hadn’t seen Neji since her announcement of being an official ninja of Konoha.

 

Hanabi had given a meager “Congratulations, Hinata-neesama. Be careful on your missions.”

 

There was no celebratory dinner like Hinata had heard some of her former classmates talk about what their parents would probably do for them now that they’ve graduated. The closest Hinata had gotten to that was eating the cinnamon rolls Tamura had made for her that day. She had invited Naruto along with her as well.

 

Yet the blond had turned her down, saying that he wanted to start training for the new term so he could really wow Iruka’s sandals off.

 

She had just made her first friend-- was Naruto her friend?-- and now she was promptly going to be leaving him behind and would more than likely, rarely see him due to being a kunoichi.

 

Unfair.

 

All Hinata could think was that the situation was unfair.

 

At the very least and Naruto could have been on a team with each other and she could perhaps learn from confidence. He was always confident even when others thought he was being too much. Better to be too much than too little in Hinata’s opinion.

 

Then maybe Father would… Hinata trailed off her train of thought. She wouldn’t finish that sentence.

 

She’d just have to prove it to herself and the clan that she could become a strong kunoichi that the village could count on.

 

One that everyone in the whole Land of Fire could count on.

 

Even if she wasn’t a prodigy or anywhere close to Neji’s skill level, she could improve just a little bit, right? Hinata tucked her knees into her chest. It didn’t have to be how her grandfather had told her. Not everything had to be predetermined.

 

Hinata released a shaky breath.

 

She’d become a great ninja and she wouldn’t have to rely on anyone on her team. Not her jonin instructor or her teammates.

 

She would be able to protect herself.

 

[';']

 

Hinata hound found herself with a pleasant surprise upon entering her old classroom in the Academy. "Naruto-kun?"

 

“Yo, Hinata-chan!!” Naruto stood up with a wave before heading right to the classroom’s backdoor entrance. Upon his forehead, a gleaming hitai-ate. “Look who managed to still graduate!” He shuffled it around, as if to make sure Hinata could get the best possible look at it’s authenticity. “Me!”

 

Hinata clapped her hands together softly with a smile. “I’m so happy for you!”

 

She took a seat close to the door and Naruto sauntered behind proudly. “I was actually starting to worry for a bit, but I knew it would be enough time before Iruka-sensei realized what a waste it would be to let me not graduate.”

 

Hinata gave a nervous giggle and did her best to ignore the eyes she could feel in her and Naruto’s direction. She could hear some murmuring, probably gossip about the newfound development in the class but she decided to ignore that too. She could be brave, daring. She could ignore the gossip. Everyone gossiping about quiet and gloomy Hinata becoming friends with the loud and rowdy Naruto Uzumaki was a lot better than the alternative of being aggressively harassed by Sasuke’s many fangirls.

 

“I hope you have a good team.” Hinata said warmly. Maybe she and Naruto could be on the same team after all.

 

Naruto’s eyes twinkled back at her. “It would be pretty cool if we’re on the same team, yknow?” He said, laying his chin in the palm of one of his hands. “Cause working on missions with friends has to be pretty great!” Hinata nodded in agreement; if she could be on a team with at least one person she could consider a friend, it would be nice to match out her gloom of not being on a team she specifically wanted to be on. Then Naruto added, “But man, would I love to be on a team with Sakura-chan.” A light blush covered his cheeks. “You think she’ll totally notice me more than that jerk Sasuke if we were on the same team or no?”

 

Hinata’s smile fell quite a bit at that. “A-ah um.. well….”

 

Right.

 

Mutual crush.

 

A part of Hinata wished that she was bold enough to outright say ‘Actually, I’d much rather Sakura-san notice me than you’. And maybe, there was a universe where Hinata was bold enough to say that. Sadly, this decidedly wasn’t that universe. “Um… maybe?”

 

Naruto pouted. “Maybe?!” He puffed out a cheek in annoyance. “Hinata-chan, you’re supposed to be a lot more enthusiastic when a friend is crushing on someone.”

 

Hinata giggled nervously again, the awkward feeling swelling up. Sorry, Naruto-kun. It’s just… Hinata quickly scanned over the room. There was an obvious missing head full of pink hair in the room. I like Sakura-san too. Not that she was telling her first friend that. Even if he wasn’t bothered by her preferences, he’d certainly be upset about Hinata liking the same person as him. Heck, Naruto hated Sasuke and Sasuke didn’t even return Sakura’s feelings. “Sorry…”

 

Naruto was smiling again though, completely unbothered. “Don’t worry about it, I’m pretty sure that Sakura-chan will eventually be awoken to my greatness and fall for me any day now!”

 

Hinata felt guilty for wishing that day to never come.

 

“Maybe.”

 

That’s when Hinata heard the slight rumble of thundering footsteps and she looked behind her at the door to suddenly see two bodies trying to shove their way through it.

 

Sakura and Ino.

 

Speak of the devil.

 

“Goal!!”

 

Both girls eventually shouted before glaring at each other as they panted. “Looks like I beat you again, Sakura.” Ino did her best to smirk as Sakura gave her a disbelieving look.

 

“What are you talking about? My toe was in the door at least a centimeter before yours, so I win!”

 

Hinata felt tense and she tried her best to fight the blush that she knew was going to start forming on her cheeks any minute now. It had just been a long while since she and Sakura had even been this close to each other. Hinata quickly whipped back around to twiddler her thumbs, that was a lot more interesting than being caught gawking at her longtime crush.

 

Naruto, in contrast, had no problem letting his blush be seen as he stood up. “Sakura-chan, good morning!”

 

Sakura didn’t sound as pleased, “Hi, Naru- wait, why are you here? Isn’t this an explanatory meeting for graduates?”

 

A proud ‘haha’ came from the blond boy beside Hinata and she could easily picture him making some kind of pose as he gestured to his new hitai-ate. “Yep! That includes me now.” He said proudly. “Iruka-sensei realized it’d totally be dumb to not let me graduate when I’m a shinobi of many talents!”

 

“Well congratulations.” Sakura said, but her voice wasn’t that enthusiastic. “I just- Ah!” Sakura suddenly let out a displeased cry and Hinata instantly looked behind her shyness be damned. Sakura’s face was one of outrage. “Ino, you porker, what do you think you’re doing!”

 

In the midst of the conversation, Ino had made her way over to the desk Sasuke had placed himself in. “Just asking Sasuke-kun if he’d mind letting me sit with him, of course.” Ino said, tongue sticking out smugly.

 

Conversation with Naruto abandoned, Sakura stomped over to Ino in protest and Hinata could feel her heart sinking. She might not have been all that surprised, but it never really stopped hurting when Sakura so clearly liked someone else. “No fair, you pig, I beat you so I should be the one sitting next to Sasuke-kun!”

 

“Oh buzz off, Billboard Brow!”

 

Just like that, the chain reaction started.

 

“Well if that’s the case,” some girl with spiky hair, Rin, stood up. “I should be the one sitting next to Sasuke-kun, I got here first!”

 

“No, I did!”

 

“Actually I got here way before any of you guys, so I should be the one sitting next to him!”

 

Hinata saw Sasuke give the girls fawning over him a passing glance before closing his eyes and facing away from it like it wasn’t even there. Naruto tsk’d at the same time Hinata could feel her own sense of annoyance. “Why does anyone even like this jerk?” Naruto grumbled and before Hinata could open her mouth to even say anything, Naruto was storming over to where the action was taking place.

 

Hinata’s expression turned into one of worry. Don’t get into anything too reckless, Naruto-kun.

 

However, bold as Naruto was, he crouched down right in front of Sasuke--

 

On the desk itself.

 

He glared at Sasuke, Sasuke glared back at Naruto.

 

And the other girls, well, they made it quite vocal that they didn’t appreciate Naruto’s not so tiny micro-aggression. Naruto looked back over at them for a brief second before his gazed returned to Sasuke, the intensity so thick Hinata could practically see lightning shooting between them.

 

Then it happened.

 

Hinata was paying too closely attention to the boy sitting in front of where Naruto was crouching, but whatever he had done had caused Naruto to go leaning forward. Hinata could feel her own eyes widening in surprise at Naruto and Sasuke’s lips had connected in a less than willing kiss.

 

The shrieks of the fangirls hit the air almost immediately as Naruto and Sasuke quickly separated from each other, coughing and gagging.

 

“Naruto.”

 

Naruto’s expression of disgust quickly turned into fear as he saw the deadly looks he was being given. “I-it was an accident, yknow.” He tried to placate them. “Seriously!”

 

That… sadly did not save him from the inevitably beatdown.

 

The next thing Hinata knew, Naruto’s… corpse (?) was being plopped down beside her as Sakura took her seat next to Sasuke, Ino sitting on the other side. They then proceeded to glare at one another.

 

…. I guess there could be worse starts? Hinata looked over at Naruto gave him a sad smile. “Rough day?”

 

“Ugh.” Naruto groaned. “Out of all the people to lose a first kiss to.” He whined. “It was supposed to be with Sakura-chan.”

 

Naruto didn’t get to wallow in self pity any longer as Iruka had finally entered the room, just barely missing all the chaos. “Alright, alright, time to settle down!” He was focused on the papers in his hand, thumbing through them carefully. He didn’t bother looking up and the few students that remained standing, scurried to whatever seat was left available.

 

This was it.

 

Iruka finally looked up from his papers and placed a hand on his hip. “Alright, I’m glad to see everybody here on time.” He glanced over to where Naruto was and for a split second, he made a tired face as he briefly seemed to be wondering what trouble Naruto had found himself in before class. Yet Iruka quickly fell back into teacher mode. “You might have all graduated from the Academy, but things from here are just going to get harder now that you’re all officially joining the field. As of right now, all of you are genin, the lowest ranking of ninja there can be and now, as we’ve told you multiple times throughout the years-- you will be placed into three-man cells that will be lead by one jonin instructor.”

 

Hinata looked over to Sakura again as she sent her good wishes.

 

“Now I won’t be announcing your instructors, as after lunch they will come and pick you up specifically for introductions. So I will now begin reading off the different teams that we made based on performance and general compatibility.”

 

Hinata’s breath caught in her throat as Iruka looked back down at his stack of papers and opened his mouth. “Team One: Kenta, Ganta Azumane, Atsushi Tanaka.” Hinata quickly released that breath as the aforementioned boys yelped out their pleasure in being placed together on a team. At least she wouldn’t be stuck with any of the three boys who had picked on her so long ago.

 

“Um… good luck on whoever you get for your teammates, Naruto-kun.” Hinata whispered to her friend.

 

Naruto smiled in return. “You too.” He whispered back.

 

“Team Two.” Hinata looked back in Iruka’s direction, wondering if her name would be called this time. “Hikaru Takashi, Hanabi Kamishiro, and Agito Heiwajima.” No, not her this time.

 

Iruka continued on with teams Three, Four, and Five in a similar fashion. Aside from Team One, they all had the typical pattern of teams that Hinata had expected she’d be placed in. Two boys, one girl.

 

Hinata felt her nerves beginning to unhinge. What if her team was disastrous and she was placed on a team where they’d make fun of her dormant Byakugan? She could almost hear the echoes of how Kenta, Atsushi, and Ganta would call her names. Gloomy Girl, Weird Eyes, and Milky among some of them. What would they say if they had to see her activated Byakugan which, due to a lack of intense training with her father, had to now be activated by using hand seals.

 

Her father had seemed both disappointed yet unsurprised.

 

Hinata closed her eyes and shook her head lightly and tried focusing on her teacher again.

 

“Team Six.” He announced and Hinata, steadying out her breathing listened carefully for her name. “Kiba Inuzuka” She looked over at the boy, as per usual he had his dog with him and he smirked at the sound of his name being called. “Shino Aburame.” Hinata glanced at the boy who was always seen wearing sunglasses. That was two boys now. “And finally, Ami Nishimura.”

 

Hinata sighed, not sure if it was out of relief or if it was because she was disappointed her name hadn’t been called yet. Ami was a girl with purple hair that was long on one side, short one the other. She was pretty notorious in their year for being a bully.

 

“Well at least I’m not on a team with any of them.” Naruto muttered and Hinata found herself agreeing.

 

“I wouldn’t have liked being on a team with Ami-san either.” She whispered back. Ami might not have ever had the chance to pick on Hinata personally, but she’d seen from a distance how she’d torment Sakura to no end.

 

“Team Seven: Asahi Wataru… Naruto Uzumaki...” Naruto’s head perked immediately at the sound of his name, blue eyes full of intensity. Then he whipped his head over to Sakura’s direction, probably chanting out ‘Sakura-chan, Sakura-chan, Sakura-chan’ in his head in some kind of effort to increase his chances.

 

Hinata closed her eyes, as if that would be able to stop herself from hearing the name she thought was going to be called out-- “and Sasuke Uchiha.”

 

Hinata’s eyes shot wide opened and Naruto whipped his head back over to where Iruka had taken his place in front of the classroom. “What?!” He shouted, immediately what followed was the cry of outrage from the female population of the class.

 

“What?!” The girls cried out in unison.

 

Iruka sweated a little, but he remained firm in choices. “Like I said, Team Seven comprises of Asahi Wataru, Naruto Uzumaki, and Sasuke Uchiha.” He repeated. “I’m not going to take any compla-”

 

“Why would you even place someone like me on the same team as that jerk!” Naruto stood up in protest. “And that one too!!” He pointed at Asahi, he was the one who had accidentally knocked Naruto forward and he looked as awkward as ever.

 

“Because,” their teacher sighed. “Naruto, your grades are the lowest in the class in both mental and physical activities. Sasuke's are not. So to balance out the skills of all the shinobi in the class, it’s always commonplace to place the lowest ranking student with the highest ranking student in order to make up for the lack of skills the lowest ranking student may have in the beginning.” Naruto’s face fell immediately and there were a few snickers. “And as for Asahi, I’m placing him on the team because I thought he would be a good balance to your team. Now onto Team Eight-”

 

“But sensei!” A girl cried out. “I wanted to be on a team with Sasuke-kun!”

 

“Me too!”

 

“Yeah, change the team!! It’s usually one girl in the team, right!? I can be that girl!”

 

Iruka raised a hand, “Stop!” Finally the disruptions ended. “Asahi is staying on Team Seven due to the fact none of you girls can be trusted to balance out your priorities in being ninja as well as your crushes on Sasuke. If there were a girl in this class that showed me otherwise--” Hinata didn’t know whether or not she be offended that she was lumped into the rest of the Sasuke fangirls or not-- “I would have placed you on the same team, but due to your abilities as ninja coming first-- I’m sorry, but none of you will be sharing a team with Sasuke.”

 

The groans and whines of disappointment flew around the room loudly and Hinata was sure that someone had started sniffling and she felt an inkling of empathy. She knew she would be ready to face that same level of disappointment as well.

 

“Sorry that you don’t like your teammates, Naruto-kun.” She tried placating him, but Naruto just hung his head in defeat.

 

“This sucks. Why couldn’t I at least’ve had you on my team if I could be with Sakura-chan.” Hinata gave him a light pat on the shoulder. Neither of them would be with Sakura if it made him feel better, not that she would say that aloud. There wasn’t that many students left to name off, so Hinata figured her name would be coming at some point. Towards the end. Same for Sakura and Ino who both shared mutual looks of disappointment over not being on Sasuke’s team.

 

Hopefully they’d both end up with someone a lot better than Sasuke.

 

Iruka cleared his throat. “Now moving on! We’re on Team Eight.” Hinata turned her focus back onto Iruka. “Hinata Hyuga.” Hinata felt her breath hitching again. Who would be her teammates now that she knew for sure that one of them wouldn’t be Naruto? She waited for Iruka to continue onto the next name, but he hesitated. Instantly, Hinata’s anxiety shot up. Were her new teammates that bad? Was he having second thoughts? Was- “Ahem, my apologies, I lost my placement there.” Hinata’s anxiety didn’t lower any.

 

“As I was saying, Team Eight will include Hinata Hyuga, Sakura Haruno, and Ino Yamanaka.”

 

………..

 

Hinata blinked her lavender eyes once.

 

Twice

 

Four times.

 

“Wh-”

 

“WHAT?!”

 

Sakura and Ino shrieked, outraged.

 

“I’m on a team with her?!?!?!”

 

What?

 

Iruka made a face, “Don’t tell me you’re not happy with the teammates you’ve been given either.”

 

“Of course not!” Ino yelled, pointing at Sakura rigidly. “I refuse to be on the same team as Sakura, I don’t even like her!”

 

Sakura nearly had a bulge popping from her forehead. “I don’t wanna be on a team with you either! This shouldn’t even be happening, we’re all girls!!”

 

What?

 

“Girls, calm down.” Iruka’s attempts to placate his students didn’t work even a little bit. “We’re trying something new with our placing of teams this year. All-kunoichi cells aren’t commonplace in Konoha but in Kumo, it’s quite a commodity and usually the girls outnumber the boys when it comes to their teams. So we decided that we should be a bit more diverse in our team placing and the three of you had the most compatibility for a team such as this.”

 

“As if!” Ino cried.

 

“Ino and I are as compatible as milk and ramen, Iruka-sensei! Hinata’s fine but do I have to be on a team with Ino!?”

 

Iruka’s face grew stern. “This is the final decision when it comes to the ninja of Team Eight and that’s final. Now sit down so I can continue listing out the last two teams.” With that, Sakura and Ino begrudgingly sat down. They glared at each other for a few seconds, then abruptly looked away with a ‘hmph!’ from the two of them.

 

The sound of Naruto’s whine snapped Hinata out of her stupor and she looked over at him. “Seriously? I don’t get to be placed with either of you and it’s ‘cause you’re on the same team?” Naruto pouted and sank lower into his seat. “This just ain’t fair!”

 

“No whining, Naruto.” Iruka chided. “Now, Team Nine. Kimi-” Hinata didn’t bother listening out for the next team being listed.

 

I’m… on the same team as Sakura-san?

 

Hinata turned over to look in the direction of her new… teammates. Ino caught her looking but deliberately, Ino looked to the front of the class to glare at the board. Hinata winced a little at that. Maybe it would take Ino a while to warm up to her.

 

But then her gaze quickly went to Sakura.

 

Sakura who was no longer wearing her red ribbon, in its place was her hitai-ate. The blue of the cloth set nicely against her cherry blossom pink hair. Sakura’s jade green eyes suddenly looked in Hinata’s direction and Hinata felt her throat welling and her face getting hot.

 

Sakura looked away briefly, her face clearly set in disappointment. Though after a few seconds, she looked back at Hinata again with a small but awkward smile.

 

Hinata could have fainted.

 

She was actually on the same team as Sakura Haruno.

Chapter Text

Lunch had just ended and Iruka-sensei still had yet to arrive and there was an argument on who would be the one sitting next to Sasuke. It wasn't the first time that an argument like this had taken place in class, but it had stung the very first time Hinata had seen Sakura joining the ranks of girls fighting for just one seat. Looking at the scene now, Hinata had decided it was still a bit of a sting to watch. But like someone crying at recess over scraping their knee, Hinata could never bring herself to look away. Not completely.

"A forehead that big?!" Some random girl had stuck her nose up. "As if Sasuke-kun would ever like someone with a forehead like that!" Hinata felt her mouth open and then close. There weren't any words coming out despite what she had been thinking.

Don't talk to Sakura-san that way! Then Sakura and Ino would both be impressed that Hinata had came to Sakura's rescue against the bullies that still plagued the class over the topic of Sakura's forehead. Now that Hinata was older, she could admit she could see how people found it so large. But to the ten year old Hyuga, it was a cute forehead. Sakura's forehead. And if she had mustered the courage to say something against Kaori, Hinata thinks the girl's name is, it would be a stepping stone to becoming friends with the girls she had admired for so long.

Especially Sakura. Hinata felt her cheeks warming. But instead of remembering the daydream she was having earlier when she was walking to school about holding Sakura's hand (sometimes in that daydream Ino would pop up, teasing the two of them for acting like her parents. Other times, it was just her and Sakura, and they would just talk about anything. Like Hinata's training and Sakura telling her to not work herself too hard, before Hinata lost her right to being the family's heiress that is.), Hinata looked to where Ino was- and the flush dissolved instantly. And the warmth was replaced with cold.

Ino was smirking, arms crossed. "That's right, Sakura!" Ino said cruelly, but Hinata saw something in Ino's bright blue eyes. Was it hurt? Or maybe it was something else entirely, Hinata wasn't sure. "You might as well give it up now! Sasuke-kun would never date a girl with a Billboard Brow ! Right, Sasuke-kun?" Ino looked at Sasuke with a wild smile looking for some kind of response, but the boy promptly ignored her as he'd been doing all the girls in their class.

Hinata gasped silently and her lavender eyes quickly snapped to Sakura, whose face was warming and her jade eyes were wavering. "That's not true at all! You, you… You pig! Sasuke-kun would rather date a girl with a big forehead than a girl who looks like a pig!"

Hinata felt her jaws dropping. Was she seeing this right?

Ino's face lit up with shock before contorting into that of anger, "What did you call me?!"

"You heard me!" Sakura snapped, her red ribbon bouncing to her head movements. "You're a pig! A porker!"

"Well you're just a crybaby!"

"Yeah well-"

The insult battle was forced to a halt when Kiba Inuzuka, Akamaru scampering right behind him, ran into the class. "Guys, Iruka-sensei is coming!" The room went chaotic as everyone scurried to find any seat that was open before their teacher got here.

Sakura sat two rows ahead of her and Hinata felt shaken as she saw Sakura lay her head on her arms which laid atop her desk. Was Sakura crying? Then she looked over at Ino, whose face was flushed red with anger but Hinata swore she could see Ino's eyes glistening.

At the end of class, Sakura had bolted for the door quickly while Ino stayed behind.

Hinata's chest was full with dread as she hoped that the two girls would make up and be friends again by next class.

They never did.

[;';]

"And finally, Team Ten will comprise of Shikamaru Nara, Chouji Akimichi, and Yuna Hamada." Iruka finished, this time there were no uprisings of upset genin wanting new teammates. "For those of you still upset about your placements, I suggest finding ways to cope and bond with your teammates for they're going to be the people you spend the rest of your lives depending on with missions. " Ino swore that Iruka had given her a look and crossed her arms indignantly. "And if there is no trust, there's no way your missions will succeed, or at the very least, succeed smoothly. So I'm going to leave this time that you have to eat lunch, which will be an hour, to enjoy your time getting to know your new teammates before your sensei arrive to take you to your team training grounds.

"I'm so proud of you all for making it this far." Iruka smiled. "I expect great things from all of you." With a final nod, Iruka taped a paper of the newly established teams on the chalkboard and left the room to let everyone soak in who'd they'd be 'spending the rest of their careers with'.

Ino rushed over to the front of the room, shouldering past someone. Ino Yamanaka, Ino Yamanaka, Ino Yamanaka- Ino scanned down the paper to find her name. Maybe this was just supposed to be a test from Iruka and it was just a prank and Ino was actually placed on a d- Ah hah, Ino Yamanaka! Ino's eyes dimmed almost immediately. There was her name right underneath Sakura's.

She was officially on a team with Billboard Brow Sakura.

Ino looked over her shoulder to glare over at Sakura who returned it evenly. Just great. Stuck on a team with her rival, the Billboard Brow know-it-all- Ino whipped her blue eyes over to her other teammate who was shyly looking down at her thumbs. And the quiet one. Ino couldn't have picked a better team for herself to make her breakout career. What was Iruka-sensei thinking?! If there had to be a team she could be placed on that wasn't with Choji or Shikamaru, something her dad said could very well happen, Ino was hoping it would at least be with, well-

"Enjoying your new team, Ino." Ami said coyly from her seat.

"Oh shut it." Ino snapped, in no mood for Ami's remarks. She never liked the girl and the only thing Ino could have had to lord over her today would have been being on the same team as Sasuke. At least there were other quips. "You're lucky I don't have any flowers with me to use you as a makeshift vase again. Remember that? Because I sure do."

Ami flushed red, mouth gaping angrily.

Ino just walked away with her nose in the air, she could at least be more mature than Ami right now.

She could still be better than Sakura even if they were on the same team, right? Right. Ino just had to just act like this wasn't bothering her at all. In fact, she had almost made it to the door to go off and eat lunch when-

"Hey, aren't you gonna wait for your teammates and eat with them?"

Why am I even in the same class as him? Ino wanted to pull down her eyes in irritation as she looked over to where Naruto was sitting with Hinata. "No offense, but I spent a good chunk of my life getting to know everyone in this class. So I don't think I actually have to eat with either of them." She glanced away cooly, but from the corner of her eyes Ino could see Hinata looking back down at her hands with a frown. She felt a prick of guilt, but she shoved it back down. She could be upset about her placement on this team if she wanted to be.

Naruto made an insulted face. "Hey, you don't have to be rude!"

Ino felt a tinge of guilt, but she was too irritated to apologize after everything had happened. From the ribbon to the stupid team placement. She could apologize and make amends with Hinata later. At the very least, Hinata hadn't ever done anything wrong. She was just a victim of circumstance in Sakura and Ino's ongoing rivalry. "I'll be sitting with them anyway after lunch so get off my case, Loud Mouth."

"Listen here, y-"

Ino ignored the boy as she abruptly headed for the door, ignoring the growing feeling of guilt in her stomach.

Sorry Hinata.

[;';]

Sakura remembers being around seven or eight years old when she really caught notice of Hinata Hyuga.

At the time, Sakura had still been pretty shy and she had yet to become friends with Ino. So she spent most of her time, if she wasn't busy getting picked on by her classmates, in the classroom sitting off to a far corner to herself where it relatively easy looking at everyone else. Off to the opposite end of the room in another far corner in the back sat Hinata. She was quiet, meek, basically everything Sakura was at the time.

She looked pretty normal and cute, someone Sakura could easily imagine being popular like Ino and the rest of the cool crowd with her dark hair and light eyes. Yet Sakura never actually worked up the courage to talk to her, but Hinata hadn't reached out to Sakura either. So they never became friends. In fact, Sakura couldn't really remember Hinata making any friends.

Nor does she really remember Hinata being someone actively chosen for any class projects

Then at recess, she always managed to swiftly disappear somewhere so Hinata often was able to escape potential bullies.

The next thing Sakura knew about two years later it was winter and Sakura had been playing hide and seek with Ino and some friends when her efforts to hide from Kiku lead her to Kenta, Atsushi, and Ganta picking on Hinata. So gathering the courage that was had been growing since her first official meeting with Ino, Sakura had decided to try and give Hinata a helping hand.

Major emphasis on 'tried' because Sakura had only managed to get beaten up herself until Ino had come and chased them off for good.

After that, Sakura can't say that she and Hinata really interacted ever again.

Sometimes Sakura had caught Hinata staring in her direction sometimes before Hinata would suddenly look away as if she hadn't been looking in the first place- Sakura's jade eyes narrowed- but she could have easily have just been looking at Sasuke.

Hinata didn't have a crush on Sasuke too, did she?

She glanced over to the girl under scrutiny before she sighed tiredly. Ino had just stormed out the room and regardless of the problems Sakura had with her, Hinata didn't have anything to do with it. She certainly didn't deserve Ino trying to act too cool to be on the same as them either.

Sakura looked to her left at Sasuke who still hadn't said a word since the teams were made. Apparently he was just that unphased by anything, off in his own world. Most of everyone else was still chattering away, surrounding the chalkboard. It was the perfect time to really say anything to the boy and hope for the best, now that there was no one to interrupt them.

Then Sakura looked over to her right and saw Naruto making an effort to cheer up Hinata whose face looked considerably gloomier than it normally did. Not that Sakura really focused on Hinata's face before this but-

Sakura glanced at Sasuke again.

Then she sighed.

Her parents would want her to do the right thing, Sakura stood up. And Iruka-sensei's right. We are going to be stuck with each other, so we might as well try to get along even if Ino wants to be catty right now.

What did it matter anyway. Even if Hinata was crushing on Sasuke, it wasn't like either of them would spending a lot of time with him now. Yet it also wasn't like they'd completely be unable to see Sasuke either. So Sakura could try impressing Sasuke some other time.

"- so don't let her get you all depressed, she's just hissy cause she isn't on the same team as Sasuke." The blond's blue eyes were concerned as he patted Hinata on the back.

"... right." Hinata replied but her eyes remained on her still hands, Naruto's words of reassurance having no effect. When did they start becoming friends? Sakura decided to make note of the strange development and ask Hinata later. Since when had she and Naruto become friends?

"Uh hey, Hinata!" Sakura smiled, trying to look as presentable as possible. Considering her outburst with Ino, she had a distinct feeling she hadn't made the best impression. Naruto and Hinata looked over at her, both of them flushing for distinctly different reasons. Naruto because, well Sakura knew he had a giant crush on her. And Hinata was probably just embarrassed to be caught upset. Or maybe she was upset Sakura was trying to talk to her? "Sorry about earlier, it's not you. It's just Ino. I'm pretty sure the two of us will be great teammates."

"I-I um…" Hinata's hands started flittering about as she stammered over her words. "Me too…"

Sakura felt her smile become a bit more genuine. At least Hinata wasn't completely put off by the idea of them being on a team. "Sorry about Ino too. She gets like that sometimes, but I'm pretty sure later she'll have her crabbiness all sorted out."

Hinata glanced back down at her hands. "It's… fine."

"... Great!" Sakura wasn't sure what to really say next, her smile feeling stiff as Hinata avoided looking her in eye.

Naruto chuckled and tipped in, Sakura could almost say she was happy about it. "Hinata-chan's pretty shy sometimes, but she's pretty nice!" The blond said cheerfully. "You'll like her a lot, Sakura-chan!"

"I bet." For Hinata's sake, Sakura stayed cordial with him. Plus, it wasn't like Naruto was really doing anything wrong for once-- like kissing Sasuke. "So Hinata, did you want to eat lunch together? I know we're missing Ino but at least two out of Team Eight could actually do what Iruka-sensei said. We never really talked before." Hinata's face flushed even more- was she really that shy around people?- but she still managed to a smile a bit as she nodded. Sakura hadn't brought her own lunch for once, so they'd have to buy something from the cafeteria. She glanced at over Naruto, trying to keep her tone leveled and free from being less than pleasant. "Were you going to come and eat with us too?"

Naruto's face seemed to glow like a light bulb. "Really?!"

"Unless you were going to eat with your new teammates too." Sakura added, not entirely sure if she was ready to spend an entire hour eating lunch with Naruto.

Naruto's face fell into one of dismay, "As if, I wanna eat lunch with either of them!" Hypocrite!

"Ah, Naruto-kun, that's not very nice to Asahi-san." Hinata said clearly with a sheepish smile, her voice lacking any kind of scolding nature to it. It was still as soft as it was when they were nine and in the forest, Sakura noted, barely changing over the years. "You should really try to get along with both of your teammates too."

Naruto groaned and crossed his arms behind his head as he leaned onto the back of his seat. "Don't try to sound like Iruka-sensei!"

Hinata only seemed amused by her friend's statement while Sakura rested her hands on her hips. "You should totally take her advice, Naruto. You're going to be working with them for a long time." And one of them just so happens to be Sasuke-kun, shannaro! You should be happy!

"I guess." Naruto said half-heartedly.

"Then Hinata and I are gonna go ahead to the cafeteria." Sakura said decidedly. "Later, Naruto." Sakura then smiled at Hinata directly. "Let's go before all the good things get taken." Hinata fumbled, but she stood up before giving Naruto a wave goodbye and following Sakura out of the classroom.

Maybe the two of them could become friends. Even if Hinata was happy with her friendship with Naruto, just having one friend had to be depressing. Sakura would know. It wasn't like she really had any friends in the class now.

After her friendship ended with Ino, Sakura had turned her focus onto growing out her hair, learning about makeup from her mother, and focusing on her grades. So that left no real time for trying to be friends with any of the girls in the class if they were all vying for Sasuke's attention. So she had acquaintances in the classroom, buddies for note exchanges if Sakura ever needed to help someone who had missed a day of lessons.

But no real actual friends.

….

Sakura looked over at Hinata with another smile. "Hey maybe after meeting our sensei, we should go somewhere to celebrate!" She announced. "Like to a dango shop or shopping for clothes to wear on missions." And maybe they could do each other's nails! Hinata didn't seem like the type to enjoy that kind of activity but Sakura was sure they'd find something in common.

Hinata blinked, surprise. "You want to do something with me?"

Sakura gave her a playful nudge. "Well yeah." She said it like it was as clear as day. "We should obviously do stuff together outside of missions so we actually get to know each other. Like shopping and stuff."

Hinata looked away with her cheeks a light shade of pink. "I don't really go shopping."

"Oh." Well there goes that. "Well what is something you like?"

"... Flower pressing?" Hinata mumbled out after a moment. "My mother taught me how."

Flower pressing? Sakura repeated. With her quiet and shy demeanor, flower pressing did seem like an accurate hobby for Hinata to have. Although, it was not a hobby Sakura would really invest in. To be honest, that's something Ino would probably like. Sakura somehow managed to not scowl at the thought of anything Ino-related. So maybe Hinata would enjoy Ino's company in that regard. "That sounds really pretty! Do you flower press a lot?"

"Um.. yes. I have a lot of notebooks." Hinata still wouldn't look in Sakura's direction as the walked, but there was a small smile on her face, her voice was warm. "Since I was seven. My mother she really likes ikebana… So I got to press what she didn't use."

Sakura tried envisioning Hinata's mom. With nothing to go off of, the only thing that really came to mind was just an older Hinata with longer hair. But who knew how accurate that description could have been. Sakura had never seen her in person. Ino's mom would probably enjoy Mrs. Hyuga's company though with their enjoyment of flowers. Sakura's own mother, Mebuki, own thumb at gardening was anything but green. Only relying on the Yamanaka's if there was a need for floral decor in their household. Throughout her childhood though, Sakura could only really recall her mother enjoying the presence of silk flowers in crystal jars to actual flowers in their home. There really isn't anything we have in common at all. Sakura clenched a hand into a fist around a part of her skirt. Hinata would find much better company with I- Sakura. Stop. She really needed to curb her Ino-related things. Sakura was going to be the better teammate even if flowers weren't totally her shtick. "I'd like to meet your mom then!"

"R-really?"

"Yeah, I've never flower pressed before." Sakura only barely managed to stop any thought of how Chiaki kept many a frame of pressed flowers around their section of the Yamanaka Compound thought of something else. "Maybe you could teach me?"

Hinata nodded her head quickly, her eyes closed and cheeks looking feverish. Sakura wasn't sure if she kind of face she was supposed to be making but it was something? "But you'll have to go shopping with me and do puzzles. That way it's fair." Mind games were more of Sakura's forte instead of flower pressing, but she could make an attempt to try it out.

"O-okay…"

The silence between them became almost unbearable as Sakura ran out of things to say after that and Hinata started playing with a fraying string on her large coat.

It's gonna be a long time before we ever hang out. Sakura noted uncertainly with a glance at passing tree. Maybe she should have brought Naruto after all, he would have at least filled in the silence.

It didn't take much longer from there to reach the cafeteria where others in different classes had already begun flocking. (They definitely left at the right time to get the good bento boxes.) From there it had taken another ten or so minutes to find a bench a good distance from the crowd to eat. Ino hadn't been spotted, so she must have made quick work of getting to her wherever she had wanted to eat. (She definitely owed Hinata an apology for being a jerk.)

The conversation between Sakura and Hinata, however, hadn't picked up. And Sakura was just about ready to pull her hair out.

Awkward silences just weren't her thing.

"... So the weather is really nice today." Sakura said suddenly, trying to lighten the mood at least a little bit.

"Yeah..."

"..." Darn it.

Sakura kept her sigh internal and took a bite of her meal as she came to the decision that maybe she'd have to settle for awkward silences until Hinata felt more comfortable being around her. It makes sense. Sakura said, mostly in an attempt to relax her own nerves. We barely know each other and we've been classmates for months. Years even and only now was Sakura learning that Hinata had a thing for flower pressing which wasn't really stellar information to go off of if someone were to ask her to talk about all the things she knew about Hinata off the top of her head.

Sakura didn't even really know anything about her Clan other than the fact it was one of the largest and most powerful clans in the village. Oh, and there was the Byakugan eyes they were well-known for as well.

Sakura remembered when she was younger and how when she had first really noticed Hinata, the first thing to stand out about her were her eyes. They had seemed weird at first, the nearly opal sheen and glossy look of them almost akin to paintings she had seen of ghosts. But Sakura remembers it didn't take too long for her to suddenly find them beautiful, akin to that of the shimmery pearls her grandmother owned and let Sakura wear a few times as long as she was monitored carefully. When she had gone home that day, Sakura had told her parents about seeing a pearl-eyed girl 'with no dots in her eyes' and they'd explained a brief summary that she must have been a Hyuga because everyone in that clan had those unique eyes.

(Which Sakura found to be true over the years during the times she'd occasionally see a Hyuga walking around the village, all of their eyes just like Hinata's.)

Through the corner of her eye, Sakura observed her teammate. Hinata had barely picked through her food, pale face flushed.

It was like she was skittish rabbit who was ready to leap away at any source of sound or confrontation. It was a huge contrast when she was part of a clan that was the strongest and secretive clan in the village. That was probably why it was so rare to see them out and about in the village, to keep their secrets to themselves. Maybe I should read about them so I can try and learn a little about her? It was only fair. Sakura had known her fair share about the Yamanaka due to her past experiences with them. And the sudden raise of curiosity made

"U-uh, Sakura-san?" Hinata's voice cut off Sakura's thoughts and when Sakura snapped back into reality, she noticed how much her flush had deepened.

"Yeah?"

"You're- did you want something?"

Sakura raised an eyebrow and cocked her head to the side, "Huh?"

Hinata looked down at her lap. "You were staring…"

Oh.

Great.

She got caught.

"Er, sorry." Sakura grounded out. "I was just wondering about how to…." Understand you better because you don't talk a lot? Wanting to know what kind of books I could probably find about your clan? "I was wondering how we could best get along since we don't know a lot about each other?" The pink-haired girl said finally. That sounded a lot nicer and a lot less creepier than revealing your intentions to go to a library to learn about someone's family. "I mean, I think the last time we really talked was back when-" Ino and I were still friends. "it was snowy and those jerks were picking on you."

"You remember that?" Hinata's head turned over so fast that Sakura was surprised she didn't hear her neck snap.

"Well yeah!" Sakura giggled as she thought back to the day. "I got beat up."

"... Sorry." Hinata mumbled, eyes lowering to the ground.

"It's fine though!" Sakura said, holding up her hand that hadn't been holding her chopsticks. "Really! I'm happy that I was brave enough to try and stand up for you." The Sakura from when she was a little kid would have never done that for anyone, not even herself. "It's crazy to think that after all that time we'd end up on the same team." Iruka had said that the teams had been made by matching skills and compatibility. Sakura couldn't really think of what Iruka had been thinking when he thought she'd be a good match for either Ino or Hinata, but maybe it was just something she hadn't noticed being busy with other things.

"So we should make the best out of it." Sakura said at last. "But I guess you probably wanted to end up on a team with Naruto."

Hinata shook her head. "No! I-I mean- well… yes. I-" Hinata's mouth clamped shut. "... I mean I'm not upset if we're on the same team."

"It's okay, when I was little I wasn't really good with talking to anyone either." Sakura said trying to be comforting.

Hinata didn't reply, she just nodded and started to find her food more interesting.

And the awkward silence was back.

Sakura still made the mental note to eventually go to the library after this and to find whatever book she could on the Hyuga.

She briefly considered glancing back in Hinata's direction again, but after the staring incident decided not to. Just in case Hinata was glancing at any given time to see if Sakura would start staring at her again. Someone throw a kunai at Sakura now.

How would this go if she were on the same team as Sasuke, she wondered. Probably a lot smoother.

Sasuke wasn't the type to be around large groups of people, so it would probably just be the two of them. Maybe on this bench since it was pretty far off from everyone else and peaceful, so if they wanted a conversation with each other this would be the place.

Maybe he could be leaning against a tree, looking at her intently with a smirk on his face.

Sakura had to try her hardest not to squeal at the thought of it.

Sasuke was definitely the strong and silent brooder that was secretly very romantic like the love interests of the novels Sakura would read when the librarian wasn't looking (the kind that would have some shinobi on the cover, muscles ripped and sweaty while some girl was in his arms. Sakura enjoyed reading them. For research in order to know what to expect when she actually had to be confronted by her crush on Sasuke).

If only we were actually on the same team now for us to do things like that. Sakura sighed a little, hoping that her disappointment wouldn't be super obvious. Completely disregarding her previous decision, Sakura took a quick peek at Hinata to see what she was doing now anyway.

Thankfully, the girl was still picking at her lunch but her cheeks were pink and a small smile was on her lips.

Huh, I wonder what she's thinking about. Hopefully not Sasuke.


Lunch with Hinata had remained silent much to Sakura's chagrin, but eventually the hour had passed and they headed back to their old classroom. The walk itself, wasn't anything to brag about but at least Hinata seemed a little more relaxed.

Ino had beaten them there, sitting off in her own corner of the room.

"... Should we sit with Ino-san then?" Hinata mumbled, barely audible. The other students were, for the most part, sitting with their newly established teams, talking amongst themselves. Ino looked over at them and Sakura swore that another wave of electricity passed through their mutual glares.

Sakura looked away sharply, leading to a completely different desk. "She can sit by herself if she wants to be a jerk." Even if I'm not that happy about being on this team, at least I'm making an effort! Ino could at least do the same.

"Sakura-chan, Hinata-chan, over here!" Naruto's voice drowned the sounds of everyone else as he enthusiastically waved over to where he was sitting, Asahi right across from him at the table next door. This time, Sasuke was sitting closer to the front of the room. More than likely wary of Asahi unknowingly knocking him and Nauto close to one another again. Honestly a close call. "You can sit next to me!"

"Thanks, Naruto." Sakura said, surprisingly pleasant. Anything was better than dealing with Ino and her attitude right now. "Why aren't you all sitting together?"

Asahi chuckled nervously, "I asked if he wanted to and I kinda got glared at. By Sasuke and Naruto."

You did ruin Sasuke-kun's first kiss, you little- "Well I guess you guys will get closer eventually." Sakura said, gesturing over to Hinata to take a seat before her, closest to the person she felt most comfortable to.

"T-thanks, Naruto-kun." Hinata stammered, playing with her fingers. Huh...

Maybe Hinata having a crush on Sasuke was something Sakura didn't have to worry about.

"No problem." Naruto grinned. "You guys haven't missed much. I thought a sensei would be here by now but nope."

"Did you have a sensei you really wanted to teach you?" Hinata asked with a small smile.

Naruto shook his head, his dopey look remaining. "Nah, I don't even know who the sensei are gonna be, I just want mine to have a lot of cool jutsu to teach me." He wriggled his headband, looking like he could barely contain his excitement. "Finally, my steps to becoming Hokage are starting now. I bet he'll be the first guy who walks into the room!"

Sakura rolled her eyes but for once, it was out of amusement instead of irritation which it normally was when it came the blond. "Hokage, huh?" The boy had preaching that one day it would happen since their first year in the Academy, perhaps even becoming the youngest Hokage in history. She could hardly imagine the boy before her donning the Hokage robes and giving out command.

Naruto nodded, "You can wear the cape thing I get when the day happens, Sakura-chan." He offered with a bashful expression.

"No thanks." Sakura replied tersely. "I'd rather wear them because I'm the Hokage."

Her three classmates looked at her curiously, Naruto gawking moreso than looking curious. "Wait, you wanna try and be the Hokage too!? Sakura-chan, you can't!" He almost looked defeated.

Sakura squinted, "Why not? Is it because I'm a girl?"

Naruto shook his head rapidly, throwing his hands up defensively. "No way!" He exclaimed defensively. "You'd be a great Hokage, it's just..." Naruto trailed off, his face scarlet. It was so weird knowing when a boy actually had a crush on you. Maybe one day they could be friends, but Sakura couldn't see herself marrying the blond, orange-and-blue loving boy sitting a head away from her at all. Sakura looked Hinata in the eye, smiling a little. Don't worry, I'm not gonna try and marry your crush. She tried to mentally project to her teammate. When Hinata suddenly blushed in shock and looked down at her hands, Sakura was sure that the message had been received. "Anyway, do you wanna be the Hokage too?"

"Nope." Sakura said with a pop of her lips, taking her eyes away from Hinata's blushing form. "I wanna be something else."

"What is it?" Naruto questioned.

"It's a secret." Sakura grinned as the boy flopped over the table in disappointment. It really wasn't. Honestly, Sakura didn't know what she was going to do with her future. It kinda got blurry between becoming a kunoichi and the eventually becoming Sasuke Uchiha's girlfriend part. What do I want to be? The thought rang against her mind loudly as the realization of never having thought about it before catching up to Sakura's present.

"Team Six." The voice of a man brought Sakura back to reality as her head looked to the classroom entrance closest to the chalkboard. "Kiba Inuzuka, Shino Aburame, and Ami Nishimura?"

Sakura relaxed with a sigh and said mostly to herself, "I would have panicked if our sensei was the first person to walk in." Hinata softly agreed while Asahi lightly said something about his and Naruto's own sensei not being the first to make his grand entrance.

Not too long afterwards, more a few more sensei came one by one, calling out the names of their students.

"Team Two? Hikaru Takashi, Hanabi Kamishiro, and Agito Heiwajima."

"Team Nine-"

"Team Four-"

"I'm here for a Team Ten." The most recent man, someone Sakura recognized surprisingly to be the youngest son of the Hokage, Asuma Sarutobi, announced. "Shikamaru Nara, Choji Akmichi, and Yuna Hamada. Looks like you kiddos are stuck with me."

Sakura sighed in disappointment. "Lucky." She whispered. Getting trained by one of the Hokage's sons was probably one of the best sensei matches someone in their class could get. Our sensei better be someone cool! Sakura crossed her fingers under desk, hoping it would at least be someone with some kind of similar status in their class. "I wonder when our sensei is going to get here."

"Who are you telling?" Naruto grumbled, looking more disappointed than Sakura felt. "This is taking forever. And it isn't like they're even coming in order so it isn't like we can even guess when they're coming!"

"Maybe they're busy?" Hinata suggested, sounding hopeful.

More than likely, they were. It didn't make waiting any easi-

A beautiful woman with long wavy black hair and crimson colored eyes walked into the room stopping Sakura's train of thought. "I'm the sensei for Team Eight, Kurenai Yuhi." The woman announced. "Hinata Hyuga, Sakura Haruno, and Ino Yamanaka."

Thank the gods! Sakura could barely stop herself from jumping to her seat. Their sensei -Kurenai- was beautiful. Kurenai smiled when she caught the eye of her two of her students and Sakura felt nervous as she gestured to Hinata to hurry on over. "Later Naruto, Asahi." As she went ahead, Sakura could make out Hinata giving her own farewells to the boys.

"And I'm guessing my students are you three lovely ladies." Sakura took a glance behind her seeing Ino there. Team Eight were finally all together. "Then I suggest that we get a move on so we can get to know each other."

It all seemed like a blur before Sakura found herself sitting on a patch a grass under a small tree with her team, their sensei sitting on a bench across from them. "So," Kurenai said at last with a clap of her hands. "congratulations to the three of you for finally graduating and making history as Konoha's very first kunoichi three-man cell. This is something very exciting and new. And while some of my colleagues have mixed feelings about this, I have no doubt that the three of you are going to make wonderful kunoichi. But before that, I think some introductions are in order." Kurenai's eyes skimmed over the three of them.

"Like I said before, my name is Kurenai Yuhi. I place a lot of pride in my abilities and I would say that my strongest points would have to be that of my genjutsu techniques and intuition." She gestured to the three of them. "Now I would like to hear about the three of you."

It was quiet for a moment, Sakura scrambling for something to say that would sound impressive.

Ino, sadly, beat her to the punch. "My name is Ino Yamanaka!" Her nose in was pointed high in the air as she crossed her arms proudly. "When I wasn't busy training at the Academy, I was helping my parents run the family flower shop. I'd say that being smart is definitely my strong point." Her blue eyes were wide as she waited for any gesture of approval and when Kurenai nodded, Ino pumped her first silently as she glanced to give Sakura a look that shouted 'Try and beat that, Billboard Brow!'

I will! "I'm Sakura Haruno. I passed with one the highest grades in the class and I'm really great at memorizing things. I even memorized the Shinobi Code in one day!" The very first day Iruka had passed out the sheet containing that code to the entire class and Sakura had read each sentence carefully until bedtime in order to get them all committed to memory.

"Very impressive, Sakura." Kurenai praised. Sakura giddly didn't even bother sparing Ino a look of victory, this round went to her.

Sakura brought her knees closer to her chest and looked over at Hinata, waiting patiently.

The girl looked absolutely mortified, nothing coming out of her mouth.

Hinata... Sakura winced, from the corner of her eye she could see Ino oozing her own sympathy for the girl. Public speaking was probably not one of her strong points. It's going to be okay. She tried telepathically projecting again, hoping that Hinata would look up from the grass she was tearing up from the dirt and feel reassured. Hinata's eyes stayed glued to the ground instead, eventually stammering out a "Hi.. Hinata Hyuga" before going back to deathly silence.

Sakura was grateful herself when Kurenai didn't press the blue-haired girl to say more. "It's very nice to meet you three."

"When do we start missions and stuff?" Ino twittered, hand high in the air. Sakura was sure it was to get rid the tension of the air.

"You're going to have to start training first." Kurenai said with a playful expression. "While I do appreciate your eagerness, running into missions head first with no form of training wouldn't be the best move for three genin fresh out of the Academy."

"When do we start training then?" Ino countered. "I'm ready to go and start hitting stuff with combos!"

"Well not today." Kurenai replied, her crimson eyes darting to Hinata for a heartbeat. "I think we've all had enough excitement today and that you all deserve to tell your families about the events of the day. But tomorrow we'll be meeting here and the real training starts so I suggest heading home immediately to get some rest. And depending on how tomorrow goes, maybe we can get something to celebrate."

Sakura felt a small glimmer of disappointment but nodded anyway, glancing over to Hinata hoping to catch her eye. "Are you okay?" She mouthed when she did, almost immediately.

The lavender-eyed girl pressed her lips together and nodded, but Sakura felt doubtful all the while.


Sakura crashed onto her bed.

Talk about a long day.

Today had been her first official day as a kunoichi and instead of being on a team with Sasuke Uchiha as she longed for for months, she was on a team with two other girls; Ino and Hinata. Considering the entire talk about moving past the shadow she still felt she couldn't shake off from her times as Ino's friend, it was complete and utter irony.

"How did the day go, dear?" Mebuki asked when Sakura had entered the front door. Her honey blonde bangs were pinned back and she had discarded the long sleeved shirt she had been wearing earlier that morning.

"Fine, Mom!" Sakura said, already trying to head to her room. Mebuki made quick work of stopping her daughter.

"Fine?" Mebuki repreated, incredulously. "You've finally been promoted to genin and got your three-man cell, and you don't want to tell me more?" Mebuki placed her hands on her hips, in that 'mother-y' way that Sakura could never find a word to describe it. "Tell me who your teammates and sensei are!"

Sakura looked for her father to save her, but his blue eyes were looking expectantly at her as well. "No boys, I hope?" He tried looking stern, but then he chuckled. "Well, I guess the boys are expected. But if they make any moves on you, just tell your old man and I'll take care of it."

"Uuuuugh, Dad." Sakura rolled her eyes. "I'm on a team with Ino and Hinata." Sakura added after a second, "Hyuga. So you don't have to worry about any boys." Her parents eyes lit up in surprise at that last part.

"A Hyuga, eh?" Kizashi said, touching his stubble thoughtfully. "Their eyes were quite useful on the battlefield." Kizashi had remained a chunin, never going anywhere in his career as a shinobi. Then he retired to be a merchant after an injury left him with a limp and settled down with Sakura's mother. When she was six, Sakura remembered how Kizashi would let her wear his hitai-ate and how she felt like she had received some kind of power boost. Now her dad did nothing but crack wisecracks and wanted her to stay five forever. "You'll be very lucky with that girl on your team. She's the daughter of the Hyuga's head, isn't she?"

Sakura glanced down at the couple of books in her arms. True to her own personal promise, she had gone to the library and asked on books on the Hyuga Clan. She was only able to get two. A book on Konoha's Noble Clans ('a second, updated edition' the librarian emphasized) and one about all of the clans originating from Konoha in general. The information was very limited as the librarian said that the Hyuga were a clan that kept their secrets to themselves. But some information was better than nothing.

Mebuki nodded. "And to think you're on a team with Ino." Sakura felt a spark of irritation as she looked as her mother who had a concerned look on her face, hand over her mouth thoughtfully. "Are you sure?" Why wouldn't Sakura be sure about that? It took a lot not to voice that opinion aloud, instead reconfirming who her assigned teammates were.

"Yeah. Iruka-sensei said they wanted to try making the teams more diverse this time, so we're going to be Konoha's first kunoichi three-man cell."

"Oh dear. I wonder how Inoichi is taking this." Mebuki said, mostly to herself and then she looked at Kizashi who shrugged.

"If these are teams that Lord Hokage approved himself, he'll just have to bite his tongue." Kizashi said, a rare moment of seriousness taking him. "Sakura and Ino are good friends, so Iruka must have been going off of something like that." Sakura had almost cut in to make it clear that she and Ino were definitely no longer friends, but her mother had beat her into saying something to Kizashi instead.

"Yes, but the InoShikaChou exists for a reason." Mebuki's eyes were full of concern. "Her being on the same team as Shikaku and Choza's sons is something pre-determined by default since their abilities are honed to be compatible in combat. Sakura doesn't have anything like that."

Sakura felt her temper flare. "I'm just as good as Ino!" She snapped and her mother looked back at her in surprise, as if she'd forgotten that Sakura had even been there in the first place.

Then she tried to go back over her words. "Sakura, honey, I'm not trying to say that your skills are inferior to Ino's, just that-"

But after that, Sakura hadn't been in the mood to talk any longer and stormed upstairs to her room and locked the door. If her parents were still downstairs talking, Sakura didn't care. It was nice knowing how little of her abilities they thought she had.

I'll show those guys!

Sakura could punch her pillow.

Instead, she just looked at the books she had, spread out to her side. She could just distract herself instead; that always seemed to work wonders for her back in the Academy.

With a huff, Sakura picked up the smaller of the two books to begin skimming; Konoha's Four Noble Clans.

Introduction: Clans

The Four Noble Clans of Konohagakure no Sato

I. Aburame
II. Akimichi
III. Hyuga
IV. Uchiha

Other Notable Clans of Konoha

Introduction: Clans

 

clan, in the loosest sense of the term, refers to a family or group of shinobi who form a basic unit of a shinobi village. A majority of these clans were mercenary military forces even before the First Shinobi World War. The Senju Clan and Uchiha Clan were the first known clans to have agreed to settle and form a shinobi village, facilitated by creating agreements with the daimyō of the land they inhabit. Many clans would follow the example of the Senju and the Uchiha, later establishing the Five Great Shinobi Countries as they are known today.

Membership in a clan is usually determined by blood relations and genetics, which is vital in the usage of kekkei genkai and secret techniques. These attributes and abilities made many clans feared and renowned throughout many villages. While clans may be composed of many individuals and extended families, many clans are small, limited to a nuclear family.  In regards to the largest Clans, they can almost be compared to that of a secret society, having their own secret techniques, laws, policies, and much more. As such, the information within these pages are considered public information that non-members are allowed to know.

In each of the Shinobi Countries, there are a number of clans that exceed all others in terms of power both physically, in strength and numbers, and  politically. These clans are referred to as 'Noble Clans', Konohagakure containing four of its own two of which having two of, if not the most, strongest Clans in recorded history; the Hyuga and the Uchiha.

Sakura felt her heart thumper in excitement when her eyes landed on the finely printed kana that read 'Uchiha'. Sasuke-kun's clan. And the last name she would write on the pages of her diary when she would write about her dream wedding where she'd become Sakura Uchiha. Her father walking her down the aisle, her mother wiping away at her tears with a small handkerchief.

Sakura turned hurriedly flipped to the page where the Uchiha passage began, admiring the large red and white paper fan onto it. At the bottom of the page, Sakura's eyes caught a glimpse of a footnote under the main text.

"Uchiha" is another way of pronouncing "uchiwa" (paper fan) written as 団扇, hence the Clan's symbol.

Sakura Uchiha! Sakura's heart squeezed as she contained a squeal, trying to imagine the day she would have the symbol of this Clan somewhere on her clothing. Hell yeah I will!

Focus Sakura, focus. Sakura took a deep breath, closing her eyes trying to shove away the thoughts of her dream red and pink ceremonial kimono that she would undoubtedly wear to her and Sasuke's wedding. You're supposed to be reading about the Hyuga remember? Sakura opened her eyes, reluctant, but making no move to turn the pages back to where she could find the information she was originally looking for.

...

Well it wouldn't hurt to read about the Uchiha first. Sakura coughed, ignoring the small smidges of guilt. She would still read about Hinata's clan, even if it would take a moment or two.

IV. The Uchiha Clan

 

One of the oldest clans, the Uchiha were one of the founding clans of Konoha alongside the Senju. Like the Hyuga, the Uchiha are descendants of the Otsutsuki, particularly through that of Indra Otsutsuki, the eldest son. Hence making the Uchiha and Hyuga distant cousins.  Once the holder of the strongest clan title in all of the shinobi village of Konoha, there are now currently two recorded Uchiha remaining in history. Their former title is now held by that of the Hyuga, with whom. The title the Uchiha once had is largely attributed to their power and abilities, the Sharingan especially-

Sakura cut herself off there and the giddy feeling she had in her chest was gone.

She remembered when one day, Sasuke hadn't come to school. It wasn't something that major in all honesty. There were times when some classmates wouldn't come to class because they'd caught a cold. Still, the female population of the class had been worried since the class crush hadn't been there. Then Sasuke stopped coming to the Academy for a solid two weeks.

When he eventually came back, he'd been different. A lot quieter than he already would be in class. He was the most distant Sakura had ever seen him be in her life.

Then it was through sneaking to the bathroom after bedtime that she had caught her parents gossiping about it. About how Sasuke's entire Clan had been killed and that the mass funeral would be happening soon. The black garbs everyone wore that day even more unsettling than the darkness of the hallways she used to fear before her parents would leave the bathroom light in case Sakura would wake up in the middle of the night. Sasuke wasn't spotted anywhere present.

It was suddenly hard to swallow, Sakura's mind drifting to her own parents. Her anger from before dissipated completely. Sakura couldn't imagine losing her parents, let alone an entire clan of family and neighbors in the span of one night and just being alone. The book said there was only two Uchiha remaining, but Sakura had never seen another Uchiha aside from Sasuke around the village. She never knew what happened to them. She wanted to ask Sasuke. But she knew she wouldn't; she couldn't.

Sakura bit her lip. I should finish reading about Hinata's Clan. She decided, going back to her original plan, skimming until the pages until she caught a glimpse of a large flame painted inside of an odd triangle, semi-circle contraption.

III. The Hyuga

 

One of the oldest clans in the village of Konohagakure, the Hyuga are descendants of the Otsutsuki Clan, through Hamura Otsutsuki, and the largest political figure in the village outside of the Hokage and the elders. The Hyuga may be considered the most secretive of Konoha's clans, guarding their techniques about their eyes ferociously . T heir fame and prowess stretches far and wide, leading others to both praise and covet their abilities; specifically surrounding that of their kekkei genkai, the Byakugan.

The Byakugan,  gives them extended fields of vision and the ability to see through solid objects and even the chakra circulatory system, amongst other things. Members of-

[;';]

Hiashi Hyuga was no normal man, of that, Kurenai was certain as she stood in front of the man who didn't even spare her any sort of look even after waiting for what seemed like an eternity for someone to announce to her that she could speak to the Clan head.

"What was it that you wanted with me." Hiashi spoke coolly, back rigid as he stared down at the crumpled form of what Kurenai presumed to be his youngest daughter. Their similar features were almost uncanny.

"I believe your oldest daughter has been placed onto to my team." Kurenai replied evenly, ignoring fact she was interrupting a training session. She had seen the man's daughter a few times before, but until today she had never known her name and the fact that the heiress of a clan was on her team was an unsettling decision.

"What of it." The man didn't hesitate with his own counter. Harshly, he barked out an order for his daughter. "I said 'stand', Hanabi." The girl struggled to get to her feet, clasping her kunai tightly.

Kurenai's eyes narrowed, "Hinata will be under my command from now on." She answered calmly, temper flaring just beneath the surface. "I just wanted to know if you were sure about this. I was originally told that Clan Heirs don't maintain a genin status." The man said nothing. "Hinata is your successor." She added firmly. "And even as a genin, missions come with a high chance of death. Are you really prepared for the risk of losing your h-"

"Do what you want with her. If she dies, then it was in her destiny to have a short career as a genin." His tone was cold and uncaring and at that, Kurenai couldn't contain the small gasp that escaped from her lips. He couldn't possibly be serious! "That girl is a failure who couldn't even beat her sister, five years her junior. My clan has no use for such a person."

Kurenai opened her mouth to retort then closed it, gritting her teeth.

"If that was all you wanted to discuss then you may leave now." Hiashi told Kurenai crisply. "We're busy here."

Kurenai spun around hotly and leaving the two behind in the training room when she caught a flash of navy blue. The anger melted swiftly when Kurenai looked sharply to her left and saw Hinata in her compound clothing, dejectedly looking to the Hyuga grounds ahead. Kurenai didn't have time to say anything before the girl quickly paced away leaving Kurenai alone to hear the sounds of Hanabi's grunts and the sounds of steel hitting a hilt behind her.

The anger flared again.

Those girls would be the best Konoha would ever see, Kurenai would make sure of it.

Chapter Text

“This is an outrage!” Inoichi Yamanaka bellowed. “What is the Hokage thinking approving this nonsense?!”

 

Who are you telling? Ino rolled her eyes. 

 

She was still in utter disbelief over who her teammates were. Months of hoping that the InoShikaChou generational teams would stop and be stunned by her and Sasuke being an unstoppable duo. Hopes that such a dynamic frame of work in combination of the Yamanaka’s Mind Transfer jutsu and the Uchiha’s Sharingan inventing the most unbelievable jutsu! Hopes that such jutsu would usher in the blessing from her father to allow her to go from Ino Yamanaka to Ino Uchiha.

 

All of that went down the drain in one fell swoop when her old homeroom teacher announced who she’d really be sharing a new sensei with.

 

At this point, Ino watched as her mother brought a plate of roasted duck to the table. I’d prefer the InoShikaChou.

 

“Now now, Inoichi.” Chiaki soothed. Yet Ino could tell her mother didn’t seem that happy about the arrangement as well. “There’s probably a reasonable explanation for this and we just need to ask the Lord Hokage. And if it’s something we hadn’t considered, then we’ll just have to go along with it. Working with the Hyuga may be a good idea.”

 

“As if that lout Hiashi would ever want to work closely with any clan outside of his own.” Inoichi countered. “The Hyuga might not care what teams their youth may be placed on, but I do. We’ve had 15 marvelous generations of InoShikaChou formations only for this be thrown out! It’s as if we’re being given the worst bits of territory in Konoha like Uch-”

 

“Inoichi.” Chiaki’s brown eyes were sharp, cutting Ino’s father off swiftly. She looked from him to Ino and his blue eyes widened in recognition.

 

Ino cocked an eyebrow, “What is it?”

 

“Nothing, dear.” Chiaki gave a small smile. “Just your father’s language getting out of control with his analogies. I just want you to know that he isn’t upset with you, the InoShikaChou just means a lot to our family so it’s a bit unsettling for things to change all of a sudden. But we’ll get things sorted out soon.”

 

Ino’s brow furrowed briefly but she forced herself to look unbothered. “I’ll be fine, Mom. This isn’t anything I can’t handle.” Even though I don’t think anyone is happy about our team. At least, her parents made it pretty obvious they didn’t like it. Sakura was her biggest rival, too. As far as Hinata, Ino wasn’t too sure whatever went on in the gloomy girl’s mind but she probably would have preferred a team with Naruto instead of her and Sakura. She thought back to Kurenai’s words from before. “Tomorrow morning I won’t be able to eat breakfast because Kurenai-sensei wants us all to meet pretty early at our training grounds. So wish me luck.”

 

“Well, I’ll be talking with the Hokage first thing in the morning.” Inoichi set his tea cup harshly onto the dining table. “This is going to be sorted or so help me, the Yamanaka ancestors won’t be able to rest.”

 

Chiaki laid a hand on her husband’s shoulder and gave him a soft smile, “it will be fine, Inoichi.” She reassured. 

 

Ino took a bite of cabbage. That was something she had wanted to do with Sasuke. Maybe after a rough day of training that didn’t end good. She’d be mature just like her mother and tell him everything would be fine. Maybe I’ll be able to if we get the old teams back! For all Ino knew, she was on a team with Sasuke. Ino perked up almost instantly but the pep deflated. Even if that were true, her father would just demand her to be on a team with Shikamaru and Chouji.

 

Life really wasn’t that fair for a ninja.

 


 

When Ino finally left the Yamanaka Compound, the sun had barely risen in Konoha.

 

The clouds were thick and fluffy, the kind of clouds Ino detested the most. Clouds were fine if they were traily wisps in the sky, barely casting their shade on anything. All the fluffy clouds did was block the sun from their flowers and greens that needed it. Inoichi always said that gardening was a test of perseverance as you could never predict how the weather would be the next day, just how you could never predict the flow of battle.

 

Life lessons aside, Ino really just preferred for her days gardening to be straightforward so she could finally get to her favorite part of the experience. Seeing her blooms blossom healthily and vibrantly and arranging them to be her own living pieces of art.

 

Ino could feel the new wrinkle in her brow settling down as she walked to what would be Team 8’s training grounds. At the very least, she could relax today when she got home and could see her garden. Then she could ask her mother about any new shipments of any exotic flowers they could be receiving from any other lands.

 

Desert roses from Suna.

 

Sootflower from Iwa.

 

Maybe a bird of paradise or two from the Land of Waves.

 

Ino was sure that if she decided to go against the norm of being a ninja, she’d more than content as a florist. So she was happy that the kunoichi curriculum had its own floral design classes.

 

The class she had always been best in.

 

“Kunoichi have a special role to play in the ninja arts.” Their kunoichi arts teacher, Suzume, announced. She was donned quite differently than her usual shinobi attire, wearing a white kimono and red hakama pants. “Not only must they learn ninjutsu, but also a wide range of knowledge and refinement as women.” Suzume gave her students a sharp look as she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose, the light making them shine white. “If you don’t blend into enemy territory and conduct yourselves as a normal woman, you’ll never be able to succeed as a spy.

 

“In any event, today’s class will be flower arranging.”

 

Yes! Ino leaned forward with a grin. I could do this class in my sleep or my name isn’t Ino Yamanaka! As often as Ino helped her parents with gardening and running their shop in the heart of the village, Ino could build an arrangement in her head even if she was in the middle of playing tag. Beside her, Ino felt Sakura stirr looking more than a bit concerned. Ino gave the pink-haired girl a gentle nudge. It’s going to be fine!

 

Sakura cheeks nearly seemed to match her hair but she smiled back anyway.

 

“Now then, everyone.” Suzume continued. “Go into the field and gather distinctive flowers you feel attracted to and make an arrangement.”

 

“Yes ma’am!”

 

Ino wasted no time in bounding ahead of her classmates. This was an area she knew very well.

 

“Ino-chan, wait up!” Sakura called, not too far behind. 

 

Just as Ino turned, skidding to a stop, Sakura’s face planted into the dirt before she looked up in embarrassment. Ino couldn’t hold back a sigh. How was Sakura ever going to be a ninja if she kept tripping all over the place. “Geez, you’re such a klutz, Sakura.” There was a flash of navy blue far off from where the two of them stood and Ino looked over to see the concerned face of Hinata Hyuga staring at where Sakura fell. Ino gave a nonchalant wave.

 

Sakura was fine.

 

“C’mon, Sakura. Let’s go before the good flowers get taken.” Ino already began heading away again as Sakura stood up with a few nervous chuckles.

 

Ino already knew what was going to be her focal point for this arrangement and she’d be darned if she let someone get to all the cosmos flowers before her. She settled nicely into the grass when she found them, cosmos flowers as far as the eye could see in beautiful shades of purple, red, striped, yellow, and orange.

 

The light purple cosmos were definitely always the way to go. But maybe a chocolate cosmos would be great if we had any. Ino learned last year from Chiaki that chocolate cosmos were more common in Iwa than Konoha, so those blooms were a rarity in the village. It’d be fine either way, but next floral design class Ino would definitely get her hands on a beautiful chocolate cosmos!

 

“Ugh.” Ino looked up from her small hand full at Sakura. The pink-haired girl frowning deeply as she plucked a few thoroughworts from their stems and into her bushel of blossoms. “You’re lucky you work at a flower shop, Ino-chan. I’m no good at this kind of thing.” Sakura sat down, dejected.

 

Ino couldn’t hold back a light laugh. “That’s no good for a girl named ‘Sakura’.” If anything, that was the perfect name for a florist. A lot better than being given the traditional name of ‘Ino’; ‘boar’. But Inoichi said that was the name every first born Yamanaka child of the Clan Head would be given. “As started by our first Clan head, your ancestor Inosuke Yamanaka and passed to your grandfather Inoken, to me, and now to you and to your future children and grandchildren!” Her father said and so Ino was stuck with least floral name ever. “Look, there’s a trick to it okay?” Ino pushed thoughts of her family name behind her.

 

“When it comes to flower arranging, you have to decide on what your main flower is going to be.” It was the first thing Chiaki had told Ino about the artform before Ino even stepped foot into the family shop. “Then once you decide that, you find other flowers to compliment it! You don’t want the flowers to be arguing over who’s getting all the attention! Like a bouquet of roses being complimented by stock, lisianthus, tulips, and…” Ino trailed off when she saw Sakura’s brow furrow in further confusion. “Okay, maybe let’s use flowers in front of us. For example, you see these cosmos? If you want those as your focal point then these thoroughwort flowers would be the perfect accent! The cosmos are my favorite.

 

“They’re actually even compared to cherry blossoms, the Sakura .” Ino gave Sakura was a pointed look. “A spring flower, cosmos flowers are considered Akizakura . Autumn cherry blossoms. And they’re the prettiest flowers of the fall. Not to mention they also mean harmony! So I’m pretty sure any autumn flower or grasses would be perfect with them, so I want to make these my focal point for class.”

 

Sakura’s eyes were wide, her jaw slack. 

 

I guess she’s amazed by my cool flower knowledge! Ino was pretty amazed herself when her mother taught her all this the first time. 

 

Ino took one of the thoroughworts in Sakura’s hand, “I think I’m even cuter than the cosmos though.” Ino brought the flower beside her blonde locks. “Don’t you think so?”

 

Sakura looked away, “um… yeah.” Ino didn’t notice the pink tinge on Sakura’s ears. 

 

“Hey, what’s with the pause?!” Ino pouted. “If you really thought I was cute you woulda said it right away! I know when I’ve been insulted!”

 

Sakura only laughed at the accusation. Ino giggled right after.

 

“Well don’t you two look like you’re having fun!” An annoying voice suddenly approached. 

 

Ino groaned internally as she looked behind them and saw a familiar pair of brown eyes and an asymmetrical purple bob. Ami Nishimura and her duo of followers, Kasumi Tanaka and Fuki Ito, had approached. Ami may have been popular with the boys, but her personality was less than pretty as Ino’s mother would have put it. Ami crossed her arms with a smirk, “hey, Billboard Brow!”

 

Sakura hunched over knees as Ami leaned further. “You suddenly think you’re so cute now that you’re wearing some dopey ribbon?” Ami suddenly held out her hand, flicking the girl’s forehead dead center. “Don’t get so full of yourself!”

 

Ino didn’t even hesitate, flicking her wrist precisely and sending three thoroughworts into the girl’s mouth so quickly Ami fell squarely onto her back. “A-Ami-chan!” Fuki and Kasumi cried in unison.

 

Ami pushed their hands away furiously, pushing herself back into a sitting position. “INO!” She screeched, flowers still hanging from her mouth.

 

“Oh, whoops!” Ino held her hand up in mock surprise. “Sorry, Ami! You have such a pretty cylinder-shaped body that I thought you were a vase and vases need flowers so…!”

 

Ino only smirked, pulling out a dark bloom from her kunai case. “Oh dear… I think I pulled that out of the same place I keep all my shinobi wolfbane!” Ino continued on, unfazed by Ami’s glare. “The poison is pretty weak but it can rub off on other flowers… So I think you should really get those out your mouth, Ami.”

 

Sakura along with the goons all looked at Ino in horror. 

 

It didn’t long for three gawdy shrieks to fill the air as Ami, Fuki, and Kasumi ran for the hills. “Sensei!!”

 

Ino clutched her stomach, her laughs so hard they fell like small jabs to her tummy. I can’t believe they really fell for it! Ino opened an eye just in time to see Sakura looking at her in confusion. “Don’t worry, I should have just added that it’s really just the roots that are poisonous!” Ino’s giggles bubbled over again. She exhaled loudly once they had all gotten out her system and shot her best friend another smile. 

 

One day, Sakura would be able to protect herself from jerks like Ami. Ino just knew it. She was about to tell the girl this when she saw that Sakura once again looked dejected. “.... Sakura? You okay? Don’t let Ami bother you like that, alright?”

 

Sakura twiddled with one of her thoroughworts. “Ino-chan, if you’re a cosmos flower… then am I a thoroughwort?”

 

Oh Sakura. Ino frowned. It didn’t really matter how much Ino protected her if her confidence would shatter the moment Ami or some other jerk said something about her forehead. You can’t just compare yourself to a complimentary flower. Chiaki always said that a person was the focal point of the arrangement called ‘their life’. “What are you saying? Geez, Sakura.”

 

“W-what is it?”

 

“Well…” Ino looked up thoughtfully. “I’d say you’re not even a flower yet, Sakura. You’re still just a bud, right now.”

 

“Y-yeah…” Sakura laughed, forcing a smile before looking away again. “.... Ino-chan… why did you give me this ribbon?”

 

Ino flashed back to when the two of them officially talked. When Sakura was hunched over in a park blubbering her eyes out. It was like there she had no hope in the world. A shriveling bud in a garden of hardy plants. “Well… I just thought it’d be a waste for a bud to just wilt away before blooming.”

 

From the corner of her eye, Ino thought she saw Sakura’s cheek turn pink. It looked more like stray strands of pink falling over her face from her bangs. Ino looked over at a yellow daisy buds and tapped them lightly. “I just think there’s no point in all the effort if flowers don’t bloom in the end. It’s the best part of gardening!”

 

A warm breeze flowed over them, flowers seeming to bob in agreement.

 

That was always the best part of gardening. Seeing what a bud would turn into after all the sun, cloudy days, and rain. 

 

“For all we know,” Ino beamed at her friend. “you could be a flower even prettier than the cosmos.”

 

Ino clenched her fist tightly at the memory.

 

The random blushing and shy expressions.

 

I feel so stupid.

 

How did Ino even miss it?

 

There’s no point in thinking about the past anymore, Ino. Ino shook her head. Pretty soon, things are gonna be back to whatever teams we had before this. Then she wouldn’t have to work in tandem with her rival. She’d be able to work with her mind free. 

 

Ino really couldn’t wait to get her hands in her gardening gloves later after whatever it was their sensei wanted them to do.

 

Their sensei who had yet to arrive to their training grounds by the time Ino had arrived to the training grounds. 

 

Sakura had arrived first, Ino locking eyes in an intense glare before looking away with matching ‘hmph’s. By the time Hinata arrived minutes later, the light morning fog had begun to dissipate. They exchanged some very brief greetings, Ino gladly welcoming the blue-haired girl to lighten the tension.

 

All that was left was to wait for Kurenai.

 

Thirty minutes passed and the sun was beginning to shine, its rays setting fire across the horizon. Clouds painted into hues of orange, pink, and violet.

 

An hour passed and Ino’s stomach growled, much to her embarrassment and Sakura’s amusement.

 

Another forty-five minutes had gone by and Sakura grabbed at her hair, groaning loudly in frustration. “Geez, where is she?!” She exclaimed, large brow furrowed deeply. “How can she tell us to arrive so early when she comes here late?!”

 

Ino sighed, “I hate to agree with you, but I’m agreeing with you.” It was more than just irritating. At least when they first met Kurenai in their former homeroom, Iruka had never explicitly told them when they were going to be picked up by their sensei. Not to mention their preemptively eating lunch beforehand.

 

Breakfast had passed and lunch was swiftly approaching and their beautiful sensei had yet to arrive. 

 

“This stinks.” Ino huffed. 

 

“M-maybe she’s just running late?” Hinata offered, pointedly looking at her feet. She even looked doubtful at her own words. 

 

“Well I say that we leave if she doesn’t show up in the next ten minutes.” Ino yawned. There were better things the blonde could be doing right now. Like gardening. Or maybe even sneaking over to the Team 7 grounds and observing their training. “I bet Sasuke-kun has an amazing sensei!” She sighed. “I’m sure we would have had a great partnership if I was on his team, right Hinata?” 

 

Hinata didn’t get the chance to say anything as Sakura interjected, hands on her hips. “As if, you porker!”

 

“Well it certainly wouldn’t be you! You didn’t even get that good a grade when it came to taijutsu! And your ninjutsu is average at best! You might be best when it came to all that boring studying but when it comes to ninja stuff, I totally win!”

 

Sakura’s scowl deepened, cheeks flushed. “Whatever, you’re not so great!”

 

“Whatever.” Ino mocked.

 

Hinata held her hands up, lavender eyes wide. “I-Ino-san, Sakura-san, we shouldn’t fight.” 

 

Sakura crossed her arms, but the angry flush remained. “F-fine.” Sakura grounded out, albeit reluctantly. “I’m only stopping for Hinata’s sake.”

 

Ino only shrugged. 

 

Ino 1, Sakura 0.

 

“Still this is totally boring.” Sakura moved on. “If I knew Kurenai-sensei would be taking this long, I wouldn’t have bothered skipping breakfast. What about you, Hinata? Did you eat?”

 

“No.” Hinata mumbled. Almost on cue, a stomach growled and Hinata’s face turned scarlet. “S-sorry!”

 

Ino would have laughed if Hinata weren’t so skittish and easier to read. “Alright, that’s it, we should just-”

 

“Excuse me.” A deep voice interrupted Ino’s oncoming rant. The man was a shinobi, his build stocky. “Team 8, under the tutelage of Kurenai Yuhi, your presence is required at the Hokage’s office. Your team is under examination until the problem is sorted.”

 

“Problem?” Sakura repeated, arms at her side. “What problem? Is everything alright?”

 

“There is a discussion about the teams created ongoing.” The man answered briskly. He turned, ready to lead the way to the Hokage. “Please, follow me now.”

 

Ino’s eyebrows rose in realization. Dad!

 


 

“This is ridiculous!” Kurenai barked, crimson eyes glaring back at blue.

 

Beside her stood Inoichi Yamanaka, an old comrade, one of the most reliable. Yet in this instant, he was practically an enemy as they stood in front of Hiruzen. Shikaku Nara and Chouza Akimichi stood among them, both donning their own brows. Asuma appeared unfazed, his decision made up a long time ago.

 

The Hokage had yet to announce his thoughts; only allowing four shinobi in front of him to lay out their arguments in order to hear all sides.

 

“Furthermore, Lord Hokage has already given his seal of approval of those placed on my team.” Kurenai continued. Everything had been written, sealed in stone. A union already given its blessing to blossom into what could be an amazing team of kunoichi in Konoha’s history! “There is nothing to argue over. Even Asuma is satisfied.”

 

Asuma merely shrugged, “I’ve been fine with my team from the beginning. I’m just following orders. If those orders happen to change, I’ll follow those as well.”

 

“What’s ridiculous is the treatment of an alliance held dearly to our clans being disregarded so easily.” Inoichi posited firmly. “The InoShikaChou has been prevalent in the history of this village since nearly the time of Konoha’s origin! It’s a matter of tradition. How can the InoShikaChou continue on with this disruption?”

 

“Not every tradition needs to be upheld, that’s true.” Shikaku added, sounding calmer that his blond companion. “But this seems to be a bit much. As our respective heirs, this is their duty to continue on our families traditions and then pass it on the next generation and the next. Changing outdated traditions for the better of the village is fine, but at the expense of a clan’s culture?”

 

Their points were solid, Kurenai could admit. “True as that may be, I still feel that together these girls can craft something amazing. A shinobi’s training is rugged, there’s nothing from stopping you from training them as the InoShikaChou at your training grounds.”

 

“They need to be able to train together outside of the compounds if they wish to work perfectly in tandem on missions.” Inoichi seemed to stare Kurenai down.

 

“Yes, that’s true.” Kurenai’s own gaze remained steady. “However, they won’t be going on missions together. They will be going on missions with their respective teams. Training at home should be able to suffice your desires for the InoShikaChou to continue.” It didn’t have to disband. It would continue, it would simply need to adapt to a new scenario. This was already the life of a shinobi.

 

Inoichi clicked his tongue.“The InoShikaChou alliance has been built upon generation after generation! Our techniques have been honed for years in order to achieve the symbiosis we have between our families! How in the name of the Five Elemental Nations are you ever going to achieve that with these three?!” 

 

The feeling is mutual, Yamanaka. “I’ve already began to think about that! But it’s quite hard actually achieving anything if I haven’t even been given the moment to truly assess their abilities in person!” Her team who had been left out to wait miserably for what would be the final exam to truly test their abilities and see if they were truly ready to be ninja.

 

“Perhaps we need a tiebreaker.” Chouza finally spoke. Kurenai looked at redhead’s thoughtful expression. Between the three of them, Kurenai always remembered Chouza being more quiet and philosophical to counter Inoichi’s high energy and Shikaku’s occasional backs of laidbackness bordering laziness. “Everyone has been raising fine points, but ultimately this will be the Hokage’s decision and we will respect whatever is chosen.”

 

Kurenai turned her gaze back onto the Hokage, who closed his eyes. “I’ve heard all of your arguments.” Hiruzen opened his eyes as he began, “It is true that it would be quite the shock to the Yamanaka, Nara, and Akimichi Clans that their children aren’t under the tutelage of the same instructor. Uprooting tradition to the disadvantage of a clan is cause for uproar.” Kurenai opened her mouth, but Hiruzen holding up his hand made her close it as he continued on. “However, Kurenai is also correct that there is nothing stopping you all from training your children and continuing this generation’s InoShikaChou from a different standpoint. It’s also unfair to damn Kurenai’s team to the expectations nothing will rise from them if they are to continue on when she hasn’t been giving the chance to begin training them. So we will compromise. 

 

Should both Team 8 and 10 be ready for the Chunin and should they all pass, the teams shall be allowed to continue as they are and the Yamanaka, Nara, and Akimichi can plan accordingly. Shall they fail, the original arrangements of these teams will be as originally intended. Asuma the InoShikaChou. Kurenai will receive Hinata Hyuga, Kiba Inuzuka, and Shino Aburame. And Kakashi will receive Sakura Haruno, Naruto Uzumaki, and Sasuke Uchiha.” Hiruzen finished. He gave all of his shinobi a firm look. “Are there any protests to this compromise?”

 

“No, Lord Hokage.” Asuma replied to his father. 

 

“No, Lord Hokage.” Kurenai grounded out.

 

Inoichi, Shikaku, and Chouza all followed behind in unison.

 

Kurenai could feel the hairs on the back of her neck beginning to stick to her skin. Failure would not be an option.

 

“Dismissed.”

 

Kurenai’s eyes met with the faces of her and Asuma’s respective students, Kurenai’s own looking especially concerned as they watched three disgruntled fathers leave. As Asuma approached his own students, Kurenai stepped in front of hers as Sakura asked, “what’s wrong, Kurenai-sensei?”

 

Kurenai smiled, though it was less than enthusiastic. “We’ve been given an ultimatum in order to compromise with Ino’s father.” Kurenai met Asuma’s gaze and they both nodded. Kurenai looked back at her girls and nodded towards the exit. “The three of you learned about the Chunin Exams in the Academy, correct?”

 

“Yeah, Iruka-sensei told us about it.” Sakura answered. “The exams all genin must take in order to advance to the next rank of chunin , right? Then there’s one for jonin.”

 

“That’s right.” Kurenai praised. Sakura smiled in satisfaction. “We need to begin training immediately for it.”

 

“It’s my dad, isn’t it?” Ino’s expression clouded over. “He said he wanted to talk to the Hokage because he wanted me, Shikamaru, and Chouji on a team together. Are switching teams now?”

 

Hinata brought her right hand up to her face, her expression a mixture of surprise and horror. “We.. we’re being disbanded?”

 

“No, no.” Kurenai laid a hand on Hinata’s shoulder. “At least, not for now. The Chunin Exams will be our one hope to keep Team 8 together without interruption. Should we pass, ultimately, they’ll allow us to continue and Ino will train alongside her parents in order to continue the Clan tradition. It will be a rough road ahead. They will be doubting us completely, but we should be fine if we begin training im-”

 

A stomach suddenly growled.

 

Hinata hunched over, ears burning. 

 

“..... Maybe training can wait for the day.” Kurenai relented. “I should treat you all as an apology for today. I was accosted right as was leaving to the training grounds.” There she would have surprised her students with their final test. However, now it seemed there was a new test with a further out deadline. “We’ll start assessments tomorrow and train accordingly. This isn’t the Academy anymore, you’re genin and a complete unit given the blessing of the Hokage and your homeroom instructor who both believed that together, you three would be compatible and turn your unit into an elite one.” It seemed far off; three girls fresh out of the Ninja Academy being elite units. It was a concept they had no choice but to be if they wanted to succeed. “The three of you are now more than just classmates, you’re teammates. You will hopefully be that for years to come. You will grow and succeed together, you will fumble and fail together, and come to depend on one another deeply on and off the battlefield. 

 

“You’ll need to know each other as well as one knows their own body and jutsu. It all starts now.”

 


Kurenai spent the night settled at her desk, feeling irritated.

 

The vanilla incense lit minutes prior did nothing for her, neither did her now lukewarm cup of green tea by her half eaten daifuku. The faint chirps of crickets, normally a sound of comfort in the night, only fueled her anxieties.

 

It all started now and here she was feeling stuck more than ever.

 

With a huff, Kurenai let down her hair from its bun hoping it would help her mind settle and her sate her worries. The change did nothing as Kurenai continued staring at the information before her. The events of the morning and noon were still reeling in her head, the seething retorts and the tension of the reached compromise. It wasn’t nearly satisfactory enough.

 

Make her team successfully pass the Chunin Exams, lest she see the girls disbanded before their careers as kunoichi halted before they truly began.

 

Damn. Kurenai cursed, staring even harder at the paperwork she had laid out. The first caught her eye as she saw the names of her very own team circled in a dark circle of crimson ink.

 

Team 8 -- Kurenai Yuhi
Hinata Hyuga, 12 (f)
Sakura Haruno, 12 (f)
Ino Yamanaka, 12 (f)

 

Alongside that, lied their student files. 

 

Files that told Kurenai everything she would ever need to know about her girls. What she had originally put off viewing in the case the girls would fail their secondary assessment. Which was now irrelevant with their ultimaturm.

 

“The InoShikaChou alliance has been built upon generation after generation! Our techniques have been honed for years in order to achieve the symbiosis we have with one another’s techniques! How in the name of the Five Elemental Nations are you ever going to achieve that with these three?!” Inoichi had argued.

 

“I’ve already began to think about that! But it’s quite hard actually achieving anything if I haven’t even been given the moment to truly assess their abilities in person!” Kurenai countered.

 

Even if there was part of her burning to deny it, the truth was currently laid out in front of her. Kurenai was going to have her work cut out for her with the mix of students she had been giving.

 

In terms of taijutsu, Sakura seems behind Hinata and Ino, surprisingly. Kurenai noted. Ino’s scores were undoubtedly the highest, but Hinata’s achievement as second wasn’t by much in comparison to Sakura’s. Hinata’s own abilities were nearly even to Ino’s, Sakura’s own grades in taijutsu lagging to around average. Hiashi’s past training of Hinata came to some benefit for the girl, even if even thinking of the man made Kurenai’s blood boil. 

 

Tends to hesitate during sparring . Iruka printed beside Hinata’s grade. That needs to be taken care of now. There’s nothing wrong with wanting peace and showing your opponents mercy, Kurenai could agree. But in a split second on the battlefield, that hesitance can be the deciding factor between life and death. Whether you would live or if your story would be forgotten over the years.

 

Yet the ultimate problem still lied in the matter of abilities the girls already had and how they’d come together in battle. 

 

Then there was the matter of Hinata’s Byakugan and the Gentle Fist techniques, the kekkei genkai passed down the Hyuga’s line for generations. Techniques that could be a deadly weapon in the right palms.

 

Any observer would know that the mind techniques of the Yamanaka were nothing to take lightly either. Inoichi and countless other Yamanaka proving the fact time and time again.

 

Then there was Sakura. She hadn’t been from any notable Clan; the Haruno were typically a clan of civilians that occasionally spawned a shinobi or two. None of resulting into any shinobi of any importance. Nor were there any known records of special abilities taken into account when it came to the Haruno either.

 

So perhaps I’ve been given a blank slate. But there’s no telling what she could be inte- Kurenai paused as her eyes strayed to the notes Iruka had written.

 

Has a keen eye for noticing when she’s in a genjutsu and penchant for making traps.

 

Kurenai’s eyes widened.

 

Maybe the puzzle pieces would fall into place after all.

 

“I’ve decided what our efforts in training shall be geared to.” Kurenai announced the next morning, no accosting preventing her from showing up to her team’s training grounds quite punctually. She smiled warmly at the pairs of lavender, jade, and blue eyes looking up at her curiously. “The Yamanaka’s mind techniques perfect for holding enemies hostage and peering into their deepest thoughts. The Hyuga’s all-seeing eye that can see for kilometers and detect even the slightest movement. Sakura, your ability for genjutsu and traps.” Kurenai didn’t know how it did not come to her almost immediately upon first viewing of her students files. “Your abilities combined will be perfect for the most traditional of all shinobi fields. Tracking and interrogation.”

Chapter Text

I should start gathering my things, Kurenai-sensei said we would have a mission after we finished training today. Hinata set her kunai pouch on her desk, shuffling through a drawer for her kunai and ointments. It had been two weeks officially since she had become a genin and learned who she would be partnered with for her team.

 

Hinata couldn’t help stopping her search, ointment in hand, to look at the picture frame she had placed next to her huanghuali box. Almost instantly, a warm smile spread across her face looking at it.

 

The photo might not have had any interesting displays, but to Hinata, it was the most special photo she had taken in a while.

 

In the middle was Hinata, her cheeks sporting an almost characteristic blush as she smiled nervously at the camera. Directly behind her stood Kurenai, a small smile on her face as well though her shoulders were squared perfectly and she seemed to exude elegance. Directly to Hinata’s left, Ino was winking playfully with crossed arms at the camera. Sakura, on the other hand, stood to Hinata’s right and she smiled brighter than the sun.

 

I’m really on a team with Sakura-san. Hinata’s entire being felt warm with the declaration.

 

It seemed like a dream when Iruka had announced it on their final day being at the Academy and yet going on week two, Hinata had yet to wake up from it. 

 

She was on a team with the most inspiring kunoichi in the world, this was now fact.

 

For now, a cold voice in the back of Hinata’s mind hissed.

 

Hinata’s smile fell as a bout of anxiety thrummed in her chest. 

 

“Should we pass, ultimately, they’ll allow us to continue and Ino will train alongside her parents in order to continue the Clan tradition.” Kurenai had said in regards to the ultimatum that had been given. Pass the Chunin Exams and all would remain the same. Fail and Hinata would be starting all over again and this time, with new teammates. 

 

That won’t happen. Hinata reassured herself, placing her tools neatly into her kunai pouch. Today she would train and their mission would be a success. Everything would be fine. I won’t have to get a new team. I’ll… I’ll be able to keep training with Sakura-san.

 

Hinata’s shoulders relaxed as she exhaled, heart skipping a tad.

 

She would train and become stronger, someone her team could rely on. Someone her family would be proud of. Someone she could be proud of. Then, she’d be able to tell Sakura how she felt.

 

Hinata set her lavender gaze back onto her photo, eyes landing on Sakura’s smiling face.

 

All this time… Hinata closed her eyes. The day she saw a shy pink-haired girl, coincidentally named Sakura, hunched over in the opposite corner of the room. Seeing Sakura begin to don her ribbon. That fateful day in the snow and the silent cheers Hinata would give when Sakura was able to ace an assignment. All this time, all I’ve done is watch your back. Now you actually get to see me. Hinata exhaled again and secured her kunai pouch to her right leg. 

 

Now they could be equals.

 

Hinata nodded firmly.

 

She would go to the training grounds early and get a head start.

 

Sure-footed, Hinata stepped out of her room and into the hall. She had already eaten breakfast that morning and she felt more than confident that an extra thirty or so minutes of training would do her good.

 

Just watch me!

 

Hinata could have hummed as the image of her and Sakura donning matching smiles and holding hands entered mind. They were off to go and get cinnamon rolls from Tamura’s shop and chatting excitedly about training and what each other did well and could improve on. Sakura’s eyes were on her and no one else’s. Not Sasuke and not Naruto. Hinata could feel herself grinning widely, maybe one day it would be a reality. 

 

“You’re making a weird face, Hinata-neesama.”

 

Hinata’s eyes shot and her breath hitched. “Hanabi!” Hanabi’s words finally registered in Hinata’s mind and she wanted to kick herself in the foot. “I’m not making any face.” 

 

Every strand hair of Hanabi’s brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail, hiding nothing of her expression of suspicion. Her sister didn’t believe that excuse at all. Hinata looked over Hanabi’s person, hoping to find a way to change the subject. It looked as if Hanabi had just finished her morning bout of training.

 

“Are you excited that you’re going to the Academy now?” Hanabi had just enrolled not too long ago. Hinata was sure that just like with her, their father told Hanabi why her attendance at the Academy would be vital. There Hanabi would now learn the history of the village, the responsibilities of a shinobi, and dealing with others outside of the Clan. Unlike Hinata herself, Hanabi wouldn’t be placed on a team after graduation and would instead continue her duties as heiress.

 

“I guess it’s fun.” Hanabi replied and Hanabi almost sighed in relief that Hanabi didn’t press Hinata further. “It’s weird seeing so many non-Byakugans.” Hanabi muttered, brow furrowing slightly. “But my classmates thing my eyes are the weird ones.”

 

Hinata smiled sympathetically. She remembered that feeling, though she had since grown used to it. “It was a shock for me too.” Now she looked forward to leaving the compound in search of a specific pair of non-Byakugan eyes on a daily basis. “But you’ll get used to it eventually. And your classmates too.” At least, her brief bully encounter thankfully lasted that one time with Kenta, Ganta, and Atsushi. Hinata vaguely remembered that outside of the mean trio, the comments from some classmates surrounding her eyes eventually stopped altogether by the end of their first year.

 

But no one’s going to really bother Hanabi. Hinata thought wistfully. Hanabi would be able to defend herself perfectly if anyone tried to. 

 

“Do you have a mission today, Hinata-neesama?” Hanabi’s eyes glanced over her.

 

That’s right! I need to get going to train early! “Yes, I do.” Hinata did her best to keep herself from fidgeting. It felt like a rarity for her to ever have the opportunity to really talk to Hanabi. “We have to find another lost pet today.” All of their missions had been geared to tracking. Kurenai had been very serious with what she had told them. 

 

Hanabi made a face, “I thought going on missions would be more… exciting. I guess I won’t really be missing much, after all.”

 

“I should probably get going. I wanted to get to the training grounds early today.” Hinata didn’t want to waste anymore time. She could hopefully talk with Hanabi later once she got home. “Have fun at the Academy, Hanabi.”

 

Hanabi nodded, stepping to the side. “I have to get ready to leave soon too. Good luck with your mission, Hinata-neesama.”

 

“Thank you. Good luck with your classes.”

 

Hinata left home feeling light, almost jogging to the training grounds. Maybe today would go extremely well considering she left home without feeling like she was suffocating. It was possibly an auspicious omen.

 

Training would go fine and so would the mission.

 

Everything would be fine.

 

Hinata was still certain of this when she reached the padded stumps that were used for punching and kicking. Deftly, Hinata landed palm after palm onto the padding trying to imagine it as a moving foe.

 

It was an almost hypnotic rhythm as time seemed to become nothing but a concept. Hinata only paused when Kurenai’s approach alerted her to her presence.

 

“Hinata? You’re quite early.” The raven-haired woman sounded pleased. “Have you been here too long?”

 

“Not really…” Hinata muttered. “It’s only been a little while.”

 

Kurenai set down her bag, “well, sometimes a little extra training goes a long way.” She smiled at her student. “Have you been staying hydrated?”

 

“I….” Hinata paused. She hadn’t even packed a water canteen before she left. “... No. I forgot my canteen.”

 

“We’ve talked about the importance of water breaks many times, Hinata.” Kurenai’s pleased expression turned firm. She dove a hand into her bag, producing a water canteen. “I’m happy I always pack extra just in case. Make sure to drink some. We’re going to be training for a couple of hours before we go on our mission.”

 

“Your abilities combined will be perfect for the most traditional of all shinobi fields. Tracking and Interrogation.”

 

Hinata bit her lip after she took a considerable sip of water. “... Kurenai-sensei, do you really think we can do those sort of missions?” Hinata doubted she had an intimidating bone in her body. “T-tracking I think I can do but…”

 

“I think you’ll do just fine with those sort of missions.” Kurenai smiled reassuringly. “Just have confidence. Interrogation doesn’t always include torture. I’m told that chakra often fluctuates when someone is lying, your Byakugan could serve quite well during questioning and seeing if an enemy is telling the truth. I believe you girls will be able to produce fine results as a team as long as you cooperate.”

 

“I made it here first!”

 

“I was already at least a few footsteps in by the time you even made it to the gate!”

 

Kurenai sighed; the timing was almost comical. A pair of blonde and pink heads were swiftly approaching them. “Ino, Sakura! What did I say about petty arguments?”

 

“Sorry, Kurenai-sensei!” Sakura called almost immediately, brandishing a nervous expression. “We weren’t arguing just… debating!”

 

“Yeah, debating!” Ino repeated. “Hi, Hinata!”

 

Hinata’s smile was small as she tightened the cap of the canteen, placing it beside Kurenai’s bag. “Hello, Ino-san.” She said pleasantly as Ino and Sakura came closer, setting down their respective bags. Now Hinata felt quite unprepared. She should have thought so far ahead as to remember she would need water to stay hydrated during training. “H-hi… Sakura-san.”

 

“Morning, Hinata! You’re always so early when we have to train.” Sakura wrapped a hand around her chin, jade eyes widening. “I don’t know how you do it. You must be pretty tough.”

 

Hinata flushed, her fingers squirming as she clasped her hands together to ease her nerves. “Not- not really!” Hinata winced internally at her squak but she felt so light that if a breeze passed through, she was sure she would go tumbling into the unknown. The blue-haired girl was sure she could combust from the happiness she felt. “I haven’t been here that long… y-you’re impressed over nothing.”

 

“I don’t know, you’re taijutsu is still pretty good.” Sakura chirped pleasantly. “You’ve been training pretty hard.”

 

Hinata couldn’t find any words to say but turn her lips upwards as she twiddled her thumbs. 

 

Kurenai clapped her hands together, “Alright, now that we’re all here, let’s start on the debriefing.”

 

“Yes, ma’am!” The girls all called in unison. 

 

Hinata smiled once more to herself after sparing Sakura another glance. I hope I can impress her again. Hinata glanced quickly at her other teammate, surprised to find Ino was already staring her down with a curious look. What is it?

 

Ino didn’t give anything away, only smiling with a small wave. “Sorry, just thought I saw something.”

 

“Ahem.” Kurenai cleared her throat. “Well your taijutsu will certainly improve the faster we start training, Sakura. We should stretch and we can begin. I want us to cover some light sparring before working on the formation I taught you last time.” Kurenai looked at Sakura, wasting no time with her summary of what their day would hold. “Once Hinata spots an enemy, it’s your job to distract them with genjutsu long enough for Hinata to disable their chakra and Ino to get them in her grasp with her ninjutsu. If you’re quick enough, even without Ino’s mind transfers, Ino and Hinata should be able to dispatch enemies before they even notice they’ve been trapped.

 

Sakura, expect some longer hours of training with me. You’ve been great dispelling genjutsu and small illusions, but I want you to try something bigger. I’ll be showing you my Tree Binding technique again so you can practice it yourself. You’ll hopefully be able to do it within the next week or so if we’re lucky. We’ll work more on your taijutsu technique, remember what I said about keeping your thumb untucked. You can break it, otherwise.

 

Ino, while your technique is fine, you have a tendency to recycle the same moves when you’re sparring. What you practice with your teammates, you ultimately take into real battles. If your opponents are able to notice your pattern of attack, you’re done for. Your style of fighting is lovely, but that’s something to keep in mind in order to advance in your skill. We’ll try that sweeping kick of yours again today.

 

And Hinata. You still hesitate when we’re sparring, try to be a bit more assertive. Yes, you should observe your enemies in battle but it does more harm than good to continue on in stalemates. Being a bit more aggressive in sparring won’t hurt anyone. But, over all, you’ve been doing very well and I can see your putting in your best efforts.”

 

Hinata nodded at the critique and bit her lip. She still hesitated in sparring after all. But Kurenai-sensei says I’m still doing my best. Hinata let out a brief sigh. So long as she did what Kurenai told her and she kept training, she’d improve and become the kunoichi she was aspiring to become.

 

“So everyone,” Kurenai started once more, scanning her students over. “let’s keep up the good work. Hinata, you’ll be partnering up with Sakura for sparring today after stretching. Your fighting styles are different but I feel that you’ll be able to learn from each other. Ino, you’ll be with me so we can work on that sweep of yours for a bit.”

 

Hinata’s face bloomed scarlet, unaware of keen blue eyes that flashed over to her side before shouting, “alright!” Ino pumped a fist and took a step forward. “I’ll have that kick nailed before we’re even done with the first hour.”

 

“Not until after you’re done stretching.” Kurenai chuckled seamlessly as she fell into a lunging position. “Let’s not waste any time so we can hold you to your word. Maybe after our mission, I’ll treat you three to dango.”

 

There was a curtain of pink as Sakura leaned over, turning a playful smile at Hinata. “Looks like we’re partnered up for sparring today. Let’s do this and get that dango, huh?”

 

Hinata pressed her lips together with a nod before stepping away. “I-I’ll stretch first!” As she walked away, Hinata was sure she heard Sakura sigh. Great now she seemed like a weirdo again. Hinata made it a point to look anywhere but Sakura as she stretched away excessively. She needed to calm her heart before she could do anything properly for their training. 

 

It would be fine.

 

It would be fine.

 

Besides… she can tell I’ve been working hard. Hinata could barely stop a pleased giggle from escaping her. Today really was shaping up to be a good day.

 

Hinata still felt light and airy when she and Sakura stood across from each other, Sakura falling into her starting stance. Both fists curled carefully around her face, something Kurenai had been reminding Sakura to do for quite a few training sessions. Hinata smiled, happy to see even a small improvement. 

 

“Ready, Hinata?”

 

“R-ready!” Hinata crouched, left arm extended forward and her right closely guarding her side closely.

 

“Hinata.” Kurenai called. Hinata looked to her left where Ino and Kurenai had been settling for their own sparring. “Use your Byakugan this time. You should get in the habit of seeing the chakra pathways while you spar. Like I said before, you go into battle usin Just no pushing your chakra into Sakura’s internal organs, alright?”

 

Hinata felt frozen in place. “....My Byakugan?” 

 

“This is for everyone to get used to working with it, Hinata.” Kurenai placated as she could read right through Hinata’s discomfort. “We won’t start training to avoid your chakra attacks until later on, once we truly have a semblance of each other’s styles. I think training to avoid the true for of a Hyuga’s attack should be saved for a later time. But for now, practicing with your Byakugan will help with improving your range of vision.”

 

Hinata bit her bottom lip before looking at her designated sparring partner. “I-is… is that okay?” Using her Byakugan for their lost pet missions were one thing, but to use it on teammate was another. Most of all, using it on Sakura seemed like it would leave less than stellar results. Hinata felt like a hypocrite. Just this morning she had told Hanabi her classmates would get used to her eyes and yet Hinata still worried over hers.

 

Sakura stance remained but she shot Hinata a gentle smile. “It’s fine, Hinata. Let’s kick some serious butt! I’m just worried I’m not going to be able to land a single hit on you if you can see all of my movements.” The pink-haired girl didn’t seem scared or put off, crouching down further. “But I’ll totally win!”

 

… Alright. Hinata positioned her hands into a Horse seal. She could do this. Horse, Tiger, Boar, Horse, Rat, Dog, Horse, Dog, Horse, Rat, Boar, Snake.

 

Just like that, Hinata could feel the familiar bulging of her veins around her eyes as the lovely shades of pink, jade, and red faded away into nothing but chakra pathways connecting in a body.

 

She could do this. Hinata wouldn’t be expending any chakra in this spar.

 

I can do this!

 

Sakura stepped to her right, Hinata stepped to her left.

 

A heartbeat later, Sakura was on the attack readying a fist that Hinata blocked, immediately following with a parry to Sakura’s shoulder. Sakura jumped away before coming back with another punch.

 

Hinata blocked once more, right palm misdirecting the blow. 

 

The two had fell into a rhythm, Sakura’s punches coming consistently though she managed to switch it up with an occasional kick. Hinata deftly pushed the leg away lightly, unable to hold back a small smile when Sakura regained her balance.

 

“See, you’ve got this!” Sakura called, sounding pleased. Hinata didn’t want to disillusion herself, but she hoped that she was right in imaging that Sakura had a pleased expression on her face.

 

Hinata smiled, “T-thank you. You’re doing good too!”

 

“You try attacking me this time, alright? I’ll be able to block everything!”

 

“R-right.” Hinata paused, looking for an opening.

 

“Hinata, you’re still hesitating.” Kurenai’s words seemed to echo in her mind.

 

With squared soldiers, Hinata ran forward. Her heart pounded as she readied her attack. Sakura crossed her arms in a hasty block, leaning back to go on the counter.

 

Hinata blocked accordingly.

 


 

“See, that wasn’t so bad?” Sakura panted, hands on her knees. 

 

“Girls, remember what I said about lying still after you’ve finished heavy exercise.” Kurenai never seemed to be far away with her quick-timed assessments, already walking small circles around the padded stumps. “It’s best to walk it out until you’ve feel less winded.”

 

“Yes, sensei!” Ino and Sakura whined in unison, quickly shooting each other a glare before Sakura sped up to Kurenai’s side. Their sensei leaned over to say something Hinata couldn’t hear but it must have been good praise as Sakura was smiling brightly, holding up a V for victory.

 

Smiling just seemed to come naturally when it came to Sakura. I’m really happy for you, Sakura-san. Hinata slowly caught up. Training went fine, even with the hiccups.

 

Sakura looked over her shoulder, “that Byakugan of yours really is something, Hinata.”

 

Hinata hunched over, hand over her lips. “It isn’t…”

 

“Oh come on. I’m pretty jealous. My family has nothing like that.” Sakura sighed, crossing her arms. “I was actually reading about it not too long ago. It’s amazing! To think that there really are ninja out there that can see the chakra network and attack it directly.”

 

Ino, who fell in place beside Hinata, snickered, “Billboard Brow, talk about creepy. You were reading about her entire Clan’s kekkei genkai?”

 

Hinata’s face felt warm and she looked at her feet. 

 

“I just thought it would be good to know more about my teammates since we would be working together, Pig!” Sakura snapped, sclera more than a bit pronounced. “Don’t make it sound so weird, you’re gonna give her the wrong idea!”

 

“Ino, Sakura.” Kurenai clipped expectedly as she had whenever the two girls found themselves exchanging jeers. “Petty squabbling.”

 

“Er… sorry, Kurenai-sensei.” 

 

Kurenai hummed, pleased. “Still, Sakura had the right idea in mind. You’ll be working closely together in training and missions and even outside the battlefield.” She looked over her shoulder, wavy black hair obscuring the lower half of her face. “So it’s best to know about each other’s lineage and persons, knowing those small things can help with discerning genjutsu or enemies using the Transformation Jutsu. If you’re able to know even the smallest things about each other, it’s easy to avoid being duped. So you should learn more and share more about each other.”

 

“I already know enough about, Billboard Brow.” Ino muttered.

 

“I can say the same about you, Porker.” Sakura squinted.

 

Kurenai cleared her throat and Ino let out a loud laugh, “I just love the color purple! What’s everyone’s favorite color? We’re supposed to be learning even the small things about each other, right? Haha!”

 

“Wonderful ice breaker, Ino.” Kurenai said, amused. “I’d have to say that my favorite color has always been red. So I like incorporating it into the clothes I have to wear for missions.”

 

“My mom says purple is the color of royalty and I’m her Little Princess, so I think purple suits me just fine!”

 

Sakura snorted though she didn’t say whatever she was thinking. Hinata fiddled with one of the drawstrings on her hoodie. Her head felt a little dizzy. She wanted to learn more about me.

 

“I guess, I really like…” Sakura hummed thoughtfully. “I really like the pearl colors. My granny has a really pretty pearl necklace, she says she’ll give it to me when she thinks I’m mature enough. But red’s really nice too. And jade. I guess I don’t really have a favorite.” She turned around, walking backwards. “What about you, Hinata? What’s your favorite color?”

 

Hinata began fiddling with her drawstring even more, wondering what to say. She had stared at Sakura’s hair long enough over the years to come to the decisive decision as to what her favorite color was. I should say it… No, it might be weird… No you should say it. Hinata closed her eyes as she smiled, hoping that she would appear as unbiased as possible. “.... Pink. I really like the color pink.”

 

“Eh really?” Hinata opened her eyes in time to see Ino’s surprise. “I always thought maybe you liked beige or blue.”

 

Hinata shook her head.

 

Not even the creamiest beige or most vibrant of blues would change her mind. 

 

Pink would always be her favorite color.

 


 

“I’d say the mission, over all went well.” Kurenai announced as they left the Hokage’s office. “Hinata, you’re doing better but you need to trust what you’re seeing more and not second guess yourself.”

 

“... Right.” Hinata dejectedly replied. I could have messed up the whole mission. If it wasn’t for Sakura’s minor genjutsu of a squirrel stopping the dog in its tracks to bark and Ino’s mind transfer technique to supplement Hinata’s last minute announcement of where Kiyi the Missing Dog had been heading.

 

“Remember, I still said you’re doing better.” Kurenai repeated.

 

Hinata barely heard her.

 

“Hinata, there’s no point in being sad.” Ino said with the flick of a wrist. “Even I mess up sometimes and it wasn’t even something that couldn’t be fixed.”

 

Sakura nodded, “you were a big help.”

 

Hinata’s smile was forced, but she felt a small sliver of relieve that her teammates didn’t blame her. Yet she still knew she could do better.

 

“I think this is the perfect time to get mitarashi dango.” Kurenai added, smiling. “We were definitely paid enough to buy at least three sticks per person. What do you all say?”

 

Ino whooped almost immediately. “Oh yeah!” 

 

Sakura held her arms up in excitement.

 

Hinata’s stomach, tipped in its excitement as well. 

 

Ino and Sakura let out matching snorts as Hinata’s buried her face in her hands. “Well I guess we don’t even need to ask you.” Ino patted Hinata’s shoulder. “And I thought Naruto was a glut- oh my god, what happened to Naruto’s face?!”

 

“What are y-- Naruto?!”

 

Hinata peeked through her hands to see what Sakura and Ino were talking about and her hands fell to her side in horror. “N-Naruto-kun?!”

 

The boy in question looked absolutely ragged . His face, with red streaks running vertically down his face. Hinata could even spot red lines running across Naruto’s face that certainly weren’t the characteristic whiskers she knew him by. Beside him, Asahi chuckled nervously and Sasuke looked two seconds away from rolling his eyes in annoyance. A gray-haired man covering all of but his right eye let out a few chuckles of his own.

 

“I guess you could say… our mission went a little awry.” The man said, lifting up a carrier containing a hissing brown tabby cat, a small ribbon on one ear.

 

Naruto stepped forward, glaring heavily. “Keep that demon away from me!” 

 

The cat only hissed, reaching its claws between the metal holes of its container. ‘You’re lucky this thing is holding me back!’ The cat seemed to be saying. ‘Or I’d destroy you!’

 

Naruto winced, stepping away even further.

 

“You got all torn up from a cat?” Ino snorted. “This is classic!”

 

“Sh-shut up!” Naruto jeered. “I was just doing my noble duty as a shinobi and-”

 

Ino only roared even louder, clutching her stomach. Even Sakura had hunched over, unable to contain herself. The giggles began to crawl through Hinata’s throat and she slapped a hand over her mouth, but Naruto had heard. “Hinata-chan, Sakura-chan, you guys too!? I’m in pain over here!”

 

“I-I can’t!” Sakura gasped.

 

“S-sorry, Naruto-kun!” Hinata tried to look apologetic. Naruto’s look of utter betrayal told her her attempt was unsuccessful. “It is a little funny.”

 

“You’re only saying that because the missions you have don’t have demon cats that try to kill you only because you’re trying to do your mission!”

 

“It probably would have helped if you didn’t aggressively hold it as if you were preparing to give it a Iwagakure Suplex.” The one-eyed man said airily, looking away completely unbothered when Naruto turned his glare onto him.

 

“You’re on thin ice, Kakashi-sensei.”

 

Hinata managed to hold back another row of giggles and reached into her kunai pouch. “Here, Naruto-kun.” The healing ointment was needed after all. “This should help with your wounds.”

 

“Wounds? You’re giving him too much credit, Hinata.” Sakura snickered.

 

“Sakura-chan, you’re destroying my confidence here…” Naruto mumbled.

 

Sakura placed her hands on her hips, shooting Naruto a pleasant look. “Just take the medicine alright? Hinata makes them all on her own.” She gave the girl in question a nudge forward. “She also has pretty big parts in our missions thanks to her eyes too. You should be impressed.”

 

Hinata directed her gaze to the medicine immediately. “I-I’m not really-”

 

“Don’t be modest!” Sakura beamed. “Try not to use all that ointment on cat scars, alright?”

 

Naruto gingerly took the jar from Hinata’s hands. “Well if you say so. Thanks, Hinata-chan!” Naruto grinned. “So… what do you say about a da-”

 

Hinata’s heart fell into the pit of her stomach, more than grateful when Kakashi interrupted. “Naruto, I hate to interrupt but we do need to deliver Tora to our client.”

 

“But-”

 

“Now, now, let’s go so we can focus on tending those wounds later.” Kakashi used his free hand to grab Naruto by the back of his collar. “Later, everyone.”

 

Just like that, the storm passed as Naruto released protest after protest as his team dragged him off to the Hokage’s office.

 

Hinata felt like she was suffocating as Sakura scowled. “That guy never quits.”

 

“Maybe you should marry him.” Ino winked. “I mean, you were all caught up with him you didn’t even say ‘hi’ to Sasuke-kun.”

 

“I didn’t! Oh no .”

 

Kurenai held up a hand, “no chasing after them just to say ‘hi’, they’re reporting back from a mission.”

 

“I wasn’t…” Sakura pouted. She looked over at Hinata. “But don’t worry, it’ll go better next time. He’s just really dense but you’ll look so cute together!”

 

Hinata blinked, looking Sakura dead center in her eyes. Those beautiful jade green eyes. “.... What?”

 

“You and Naruto!” Sakura clarified cheerily though she quickly rolled her eyes with a crossing of her arms. “I don’t know what you see in him though, he’s such a dork. But since we’re teammates I’ll support you! I think he’ll be really impressed with talking about your training since he’s all gaga over being the strongest.”

 

“M-me and-” Hinata felt utterly petrified. She felt her eyes grow hot. “I-I’m not- Naruto-kun’s just a friend!” 

 

Sakura didn’t seem to notice, only smiling playfully. “I can tell how relaxed you are with him, Hinata. Don’t deny it. I’ll help you to the end! Maybe we can go on double dates together.”

 

Suddenly, Naruto being dense seemed outright impossible. Silly as he could be, he at least knew for a fact who Sakura had a crush on. 

 

Almost failing their mission suddenly seemed light years away.

 

Sakura thought Hinata had a crush on Naruto.

Chapter Text

“The spring has come/And the summer has come again/For the silk-white robes…”

 

Tomoebi’s words fell on deaf ears that evening as Hinata stared into her cup of matcha. It was had barely been touched and Hinata knew it had long since gone cold. Yet, Hinata couldn’t bother to raise even a sliver of concern for it.

 

All that echoed in her mind were the words told to her by Sakura the previous afternoon.

 

“You and Naruto! I don’t know what you see in him though, he’s such a dork. But since we’re teammates I’ll support you! I think he’ll be really impressed with talking about your training since he’s all gaga over being the strongest.”

 

The dark pit sweltering in Hinata’s stomach felt heavier as she remembered. Sakura had been smiling cheerily. They had actually been having normal conversation. Then this happened.

 

Hinata had heard earlier that day by way of Kurenai that Naruto’s team had gone on an escort mission to the Land of Waves. Sakura and Ino had been disappointed by way of Sasuke’s absence, not that Hinata could bring herself to be saddened by any degree about that. Yet she felt ill for the split second of relief she had that Naruto would be out of the village for a few days.

 

He’s your friend. Hinata clasped her hands together tightly in her lap, underneath the kotatsu. Yet the quiet thought of Naruto being out of the village in order to clear up this matter of who she had feelings for once and fall prevailed. Then Hinata felt even worse.

 

Sakura or not, Naruto had been her first true friend and she enjoyed the loud boy’s presence even if he could be a handful.

 

But Sakura-san thinking I like him… Hinata wanted to shrink into herself and disappear. Sakura thinking she liked someone else was a different matter entirely. Maybe putting off her confession had been for the worst. Maybe it was the best thing to do now.

 

Hinata wanted to ruffle her hair until it became a bird’s nest. 

 

She hated feeling like this.

 

“Hinata, are you listening?” 

 

Hinata looked up at her mother with a start. “What?”

 

Tomoebi’s eyes peered at her daughter curiously. “I asked if you were listening.” She repeated, setting down the book, an anthology of poems, atop the kotatsu between them. It wasn’t something that could be done often, but when there was time to spare Hinata loved to indulge in listening to her mother recite poems. A tradition held since she was small.

 

“I read to you when I was expecting you.” Tomoebi told her once. “You were so rambunctious but when I read, you would settle down and stop kicking.”

 

Then Hanabi arrived and their tea parties expanded, though now Hanabi had preferred training over nightly poetry readings.

 

“Y-yes.” Hinata said at last, reaching for her cold tea hoping it would gain her a few seconds to recollect herself. “I was trying to imagine the scenery of the summer robes being hung to dry.”

 

Tomoebi smiled, seemingly buying what she had been told. “I love to envision the scenery of the poems as well.” Tomoebi returned the anthology to her hands. “Waka is one of the finer styles of poetry you can read. Anyone can create flowery words, but knowing the stories behind each poem truly brings them to life. Like little paintings or songs. Did you want me to keep reading?”

 

“I’d like to hear a few more please.” Hinata needed to get her mind off of the issue. She could focus on something else, even for a little bit. Like her mother reading poems, the creamy taste of the matcha.

 

Her mother flipped through a few pages, eyes scanning for a poem that would catch her interest.

 

Tomoebi seldom didn’t entertain guests whenever there were important events; discussions with one of the many branch families, tea ceremonies, poetry readings, displaying new fabrics, or even ikebana. Tomoebi described diplomacy as an art in which one must be well-versed in many areas, conversation, art, debate. Things Hinata could barely do with those her own age, let alone those who could benefit the clan. 

 

It was no wonder most of her training was in the hands of her father, they probably hoped it would bring her out of her shell. They definitely didn’t have any luck there.

 

Hinata tried to push the thoughts of her mind as her mother’s eyes lit up. “Ah, here’s a poem I enjoy.” Tomoebi hummed, fingers tracing the characters she was observing. “O’er the wide sea plain/As I row and look around/It appears to me/That the white waves, far away/Are the ever shining sky.” Tomoebi recited seamlessly before closing her eyes as if she were envisioning the scenery. “I always felt as if this poem was describing the clouds over the sea, curving wondrously into wave formations. It’s a lot prettier to imagine than seafoam.”

 

Hinata let out a thoughtful hum, trying to envision it. 

 

What came to mind was the white collar of Naruto’s jumpsuit. 

 

“What other poem do you like?” Hinata blurted out. Something hopefully that wouldn’t mention anything of the color white.

 

“Let us two sympathize/Oh mountain cherry tree/For there is no one other than me and your blossoms.” Tomoebi practically sang a few moments later.

 

Hinata’s heart sank deeper. The only person she had ever liked was Sakura.

 

Not even waka would help her.

 


 

“Hinata sure is running late.” Ino sighed at the Hyuga Compound doors.

 

Hinata had stepped out momentarily only to realize she had forgotten her wallet before scurrying back inside to get it. Now Ino and Sakura were just waiting for their teammate to return in order to commence with the assignment given to them by their sensei. If you can really call this an assignment. Ino drawled.

 

Apparently just spending time together was worthy enough an assignment for a day off of training in Kurenai’s eyes. So now, for at least an hour, Ino had to spend time with Sakura and Hinata learning at least three new things about them on their days off. Definite three new things, no recycling old information. However, Ino definitely wasn’t going to complain about this.

 

Days off with Kurenai meant time training with her father if timing permitted that the InoShikaChou could train together. If not, that only meant more grumbling about the current team arrangements disturbing the flow. It’d be easier to train them all if they were on the same team, her father said. This wouldn’t be a problem if they were on the same team, he said.

 

It was more annoying than Ino could bare; so honestly lying and telling her old man that she had some important training to do so she could get out of the compound was her best option.

 

Sakura sighed herself. It sucked when they needed to agree but the faster that they got this over with, the faster they could go about their business as rivals. Sasuke might have been gone for a while but this was the perfect time for Ino to strike, maybe change her look. Something Sakura wouldn’t even think of doing!

 

Sakura’s gonna be distracted trying to help Hinata anyway. The girl had declared it her personal mission to support Hinata’s alleged crush on Naruto. Ino glanced at her rival.

 

“So you really think Hinata has a crush on Naruto?” Ino pulled a stray strand of blonde hair back into place. Normally she’d be silent, try to have an intimidating edge. Yet the question had been eating her since Sakura had brought it up.

 

“Obviously.” Sakura scoffed, rolling her eyes. “You see how she is with him. She’s definitely a lot more relaxed with him than she is with me. So I’m trying to help her relax around me by helping her get him. She definitely doesn’t like Sasuke so that works out for me.” Sakura’s eyes glinted as she crossed her arms. “But don’t think this means any less competition for you.”

 

Ino smirked, “I don’t even have competition.”

 

“Keep telling yourself that, Ino.” 

 

Ino didn’t even bother with a response. She knew the truth; there was no competition at all. Instead, Ino looked at the wooden sign donning the characters that made up the Hyuga name.

 

They were certainly prestigious enough, not that the Yamanaka interacted much with the Hyuga. She hadn’t really concerned herself with needing to know much about them considering how often her father yammered on and on about the Nara and Akimichi. The Hyuga Ino occasionally did see weren’t much for talking either, with others or among themselves, at least that’s how it looked for her.

 

Hinata was almost a clear contrast from that.

 

Hinata’s quiet wasn’t so much intimidating as it was her crippling shyness. Ino glanced over at Sakura. It was almost deja vu, honestly. It felt like forever ago but Ino remembered the shy pink-haired girl that would hide behind her if they were even talking to classmates. Hinata hadn’t tried hiding behind her or Sakura yet, but she definitely sank into herself when they approached clients with their lost items and kept her interactions to brief bows. If anything, Hinata was far worse off in terms of shyness than Sakura had been.

 

But she’s definitely hiding something. Ino was sure that it was her woman’s intuition, as her mother would put it. And whatever it is, I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with Naruto because for a guy she barely sees, she’s way too comfortable talking to him.

 

Like ‘Sakura just barely out her shell yet comfortable talking to Ino’ comfortable. It wasn’t the ultimate level of comfort and being able to talk to someone, but it was functional and someone you could relax with.

 

I dunno, maybe I’m overthinking. Maybe Sakura’s right. Ino clicked her tongue. She’d rather get grounded than ever admit that, but there definitely was a chance Hinata could be crushing on Naruto.

 

Which Hinata vehemently denied when it was mentioned.

 

Ino pursed her lips.

 

She honestly felt that Sakura was off the mark on this one. Ino spared Sakura another glance. I’m pretty sure she likes someone else, Billboard Brow. She wanted to say. Then Sakura would demand Ino tell her who she thinks it is Hinata is pining after. Ino personally felt her guess had a 50/50 chance of being correct. But it isn’t like I can just ask, ‘Hey Hinata, do you have a crush on- Ino cut herself off with a yawn. “Geez, this is taking forever !”

 

Ino wanted dango, stat.

 

“We’re going in.”

 

“What?”

 

“I said, we should go inside and just get her ourselves.” Ino repeated, not even waiting for Sakura’s response and heading right to the cracked open doors. “We’re her teammates so we should be allowed inside.”

 

“We can’t just step inside a famous clan’s compound!” Sakura sputtered.

 

“Oh relax.” Ino scoffed. “We’re her teammates, like I said. They should be fine with that. And if that doesn’t get them, the fact I’m Inoichi Yamanaka’s daughter will sweeten the deal.” Sure the Yamanaka didn’t qualify as a Noble Clan like Chouji’s family, but they were still one of the largest clans in the village. Someone here had to respect that, Ino thought, as she gazed around the small moon and lion statues decorating the courtyard.

 

Fancy.

 

Then a Hyuga woman with green hair and a violet yukata spotted them. “May I help you?” She asked evenly.

 

“I told you-”

 

Ino ignored Sakura’s hissing, “we’re Hinata’s teammates and we were supposed to do something for our sensei.” The blonde smiled her best ‘diplomacy smile’ at the woman. “I’m Ino Yamanaka and this is Sakura Haruno. We’re running a bit late so we were just stepping inside to see if she could be retrieved? We wanted to leave together if possible.”

 

The woman’s face faded from suspicion to mild surprise, “I didn’t know Lady Hinata had been placed with a Yamanaka.”

 

Ino bowed, “I’m pleased to meet you.”

 

Beside her, Sakura did the same. Ino couldn’t resist giving her a small smirk. I told you we’d be fine!

 

“Thank you for taking care of Lady Hinata.” The woman bowed herself. “I believe the reason she is taking so long is that she is conversing with her mother, Lady Tomoebi. She will be leaving to converse with a Hyuga ally and Lady Hinata was hoping to grant her luck in her endeavors.”

 

Well I’m definitely happy she isn’t just taking forever to find her wallet because her room is messy. “Oh that’s a relief, I’m glad it wasn’t something unfortunate.” Ino replied in perfect keigo . She knew all too well what it was like when her mother had to leave the village to discuss things with clans like the Kobayashi Clan in Koto Village or the Inoue Clan in Tosa Village for trade. “I wish Lady Hyuga great fortune on her journey and that her visit to your ally brings auspicious omens.” When Chiaki left as Lady Yamanaka for her visits, it was always for something in regards to cultivating plant life, something that the Yamanaka were known for in general. 

 

The Yamanaka had some of the best fruit orchards in the world, at least in Ino’s humble opinion.

 

“Lady Tomoebi will be happy to hear that Lady Hinata has such polite teammates.” The woman’s eyes were warm. “I’ll be sure to let her know what the kind daughter of Inoichi and Chiaki Yamanaka has told her. My name is Natsu.”

 

“Thank you again for your compliments, Miss Natsu.” Ino beamed.

 

“If you follow me, I can take you to a more comfortable waiting point so you do not have to feel uncomfortable.” 

 

“We would appreciate that greatly.”

 

Ino glanced at Sakura who had been gawking in awe. “Sometimes you forget that I am taught by my parents to handle things like this.” She whispered smugly. Not that Sakura could really remember since she long stopped visiting the Yamanaka Compound.

 

There, she wasn’t Ino the Porker. She was Lady Ino, heiress, just like Hinata.

 

“The Hyuga Compound is very lovely, Miss Natsu.” Ino said as she followed behind their tour guide. “I love the moon and lion decor, it’s a great contrast to the winged boar statues in my home.” Winged boars were a symbol of peace to the Yamanaka, the common wild boar represented war.

 

“We are humbled by your praise.” Natsu peeked over her shoulder with a smile. “The moon and lion are important symbols to our clan. The lion’s courage and loyalty and the moon’s mysterious air, we believe they represent our clan perfectly”

 

“I definitely agree.” Hinata certainly was mysterious in her own way with her behavior as of late. Ino eyed at the simplicity of the closed paper-and-wood sliding doors they passed. The walls were mostly barren save for a few framed pieces of calligraphy with words such as ‘courage’ and ‘refine’, written beautifully. Ino wasn’t sure if she was amazed or disappointed, not ever sure what the Hyuga Compound would have in it.

 

There was not a lot, yet a lot at the same time.

 

Maybe it’s a Hyuga thing.

 

It was more than likely a Hyuga thing.

 

“I’m guessing Otsukimi * is an important festival to your clan.” Sakura said for the first time in what felt like almost an eternity.

 

Natsu confirmed with a nod. Otsukimi wasn’t Ino’s favorite personal holiday but her mother always made the best tsukimi-dango for it. Personally, Ino was more of a tanabata * person.  “Otsukimi is a holiday we take very seriously in our clan. Perhaps Lady Hinata will invite you during the next festival now that you are teammates.” Natsu’s hands clapped together suddenly. “There she is, actually.”

 

Across a grassy stone path, Hinata was talking with two other people. One of which was a girl, clearly younger than Hinata, with long dark brown hair. The oldest woman, however, had plum-colored hair even longer extended to her the back of her knees. She was probably the second most beautiful woman Ino had seen, second to only her own mother, adorned in a beautiful violet-navy tomesode*. The bottom of the tomesode was intricately covered with beautiful red, purple, and yellow flowers all over what seemed to be a temple and bridge. Carefully, the tomesode was carefully held together with a golden obi, peach obiage, and red obijime.

 

“Oh my gosh.” Ino’s keigo fell immediately. “That’s so beautiful!”

 

Hinata, the young girl, and woman whipped their head to their lefts to see their three guests.

 

Ino felt her her ears singe in embarrassment. “S-sorry.” She stammered as Hinata looked to be discussing something quickly with the woman.

 

Natsu released a quiet giggle, “it’s understandable.” She sounded very proud. “Lady Tomoebi’s kimono are quite renown in the Land of Fire. We sadly don’t have any shops set in the village, but we make high quality silk and cloth.”

 

“That’s Hinata’s mother?” Sakura asked quietly. “I’m really jealous of her outfit.”

 

“I’m sure it could be arranged for you to make a custom outfit made by our Lady Tomoebi.”

 

Sakura released a nervous chuckle as Hinata began to jog over to where the three of them were standing. “I’m not sure I could afford something that high quality.”

 

“S-sorry for the wait!” Hinata exclaimed when she was close enough. “My mother is, s-she’s going on a trip. I-I wanted to say goodbye.”

 

“It’s fine, Hinata.” Sakura reassured with a light smile. “Sorry to interrupt you and your mom. We love her tomesode.”

 

Hinata smiled awkwardly, “t-thank you. I’ll tell my mother you think so.”

 

“Honestly, if your family were to open a kimono shop in the heart of the village, it would be so popular.” Ino gushed. She would definitely go if she ever had a quick date with Sasuke and needed to look her best. “Maybe you could do that when you become the Hyuga Clan Head, Hinata.”

 

Hinata’s smile fell and Natsu seemed to stiffen before bowing politely, “I’ll be taking my leave, Lady Hinata.” She said politely. “I was only bringing your teammates to a comfortable room to wait for you to finish talking with Lady Tomoebi and Lady Hanabi.”

 

“T-thank you, Natsu.”

 

Ino and Sakura gave their own bows to the green-haired woman that had helped them. “Thank you, Miss Natsu.”

 

When Natsu turned the corner, Ino placed her hands on her hips. “But seriously, think about it. It would be a huge hit.”

 

Hinata didn’t smile, though she nodded. “I still need to get my wallet… I stopped to talk with my mother and sister so I didn’t get to grab it. Can we go to my room first?”

 

“Yeah sure, lead the way.” Ino decided not to press Hinata on why she didn’t seem as enthused about Ino’s suggestion. Maybe that was just because she dreads the idea of leading when she’s so shy. Certainly by then, Hinata would be a lot more brave considering she’d have prime experience as a ninja by then.

 

Reaching Hinata’s room was accompanied with small talk about the dango shop they’d be heading to. Sakura mentioned something about an anmitsu shop she adored. Then Hinata had the two of them wait outside her room and entered seconds later with her wallet obtained. 

 

They were finally ready to leave. Finally, Ino could have some sweets.

 

Then on the way back to the compound entrance, there was a flash of beige, green, and pink and Ino almost cringed at the color combination before she realized the colors came from three different individuals. Another Hyuga, a boy wearing a full-body spandex suit with orange leg warmers, and a girl with a pink qipao-blouse. The three of them all had their own hitai-ate.

 

The Hyuga boy, who looked quite similar to that Hanabi girl from earlier, was honestly gorgeous. “Geez, Hinata, who is one with the long and silky hair and what is his haircare routine?” Ino could have fanned herself. The boy’s looks could rival Sasuke and were Ino ever truly rejected by the boy, though the chances of that were low, Ino knew who she would go to if she ever needed a shoulder to cry on.

 

“Oh, t-that’s Neji-niisan.”

 

“Your amazing older brother?”

 

“Cousin…”

 

Neji, looked over at them, his eyes sharp in an almost glare. Definitely an almost glare. His teammates, whatever their names were, looked over at them. Spandex Boy’s cheeks were pink.

 

Ino bit her tongue because this was an absolute no for her as she took in the boy’s black hair slicked into a bowl cut and his eyebrows were practically bricks. Ino knew she was pretty, knew she was kind and gracious. But this was someone she was definitely turning down if he convinced. 

 

A bowl cut? She could maybe work with.

 

The eyebrows? They could be trimmed.

 

But a boyfriend with zero sense of fashion as confirmed by his choice of ninja gear? That was a deal breaker.

 

Well, that and the fact Ino was in love with someone else. But, Ino could be fair, she wouldn’t mind being Spandex Boy’s friend and taking him shopping. They would be doing a lot of shopping.

 

Spandex Boy took a step forward before jolting a stop when Bun Girl, the pink blouse wearing kunoichi, grabbed one of his ears. But Spandex Boy waved her off with a bow and a subsequent thumbs up before jogging over.

 

Ino wasn’t emotionally prepared for this as the boy came closer and closer until he was finally right beside the rail they were walking beside. “U-um excuse me!” The boy stammered. “My name is Rock Lee and I would like a moment of your time.” Ino felt an acute sense of guilt. This boy was actually polite and everything! He opened his mouth again, “you are Sakura Haruno, correct? The girl who frequents the anmitsu shop across the street from Matsumura’s Shinobi Athletics Facility, correct?”

 

Ino blinked as Sakura raised an eyebrow, “yeah?”

 

The boy’s cheeks deepened to a hot pink, “I would be honored if you would accompany on a date!”

 

Sakura and Hinata’s jaws went slack, Ino’s eyes widened.

 

Naruto had competition.

 

“I- um, I-” Sakura’s stammering was cut off by the Bun Girl indigant calling.

 

“Lee, we have a mission!” The girl exclaimed. “This isn’t time for you to be asking a girl out on a date!”

 

“But Tenten-”

 

“‘But’ nothing, ask her later!!” Tenten put her hands on her hips like a mother scolding her son as the boy’s head drooped in disappointment.

 

“I will have to ask again another time when we are able to meet, Sakura.” Lee said firmly with a bow. “Please think about it!”

 

Then the storm passed.

 

Ino could barely contain her snickers as the spandex-wearing but polite boy’s back faded into the distance as he rushed after his teammates. “Congrats, Billboard Brow.” Ino cooly placed her hands on her hips. “First Naruto, now this guy. Looks like you just attract one loud mouth after the other.”

 

Sakura’s face turned magenta as she glowered, “Oh shut up, Pig!” She spat weakly.

 

The wave of glee passing through her body was too good for Ino to let pass up. “I feel so jealous that you’re so popular!” She harped, placing the back of a dainty hand onto her forehead. “Please teach me how I too can garner the attention of potential lovers!”

 

“I hate you.” Sakura replied dryly.

 

The blonde laughed lightly, “Oh come on! Hinata wants to know too! Right, Hinata?” Another chuckle slipped through Ino’s lips as she glanced in the Hyuga’s direction, expecting one of her light smiles. Instead, lavender eyes were downcast as they stared at her feet and her pale fingers clasped together tightly. Was it something I said? “Hey what’s wrong?”

 

No immediate response.

 

Sakura’s expression shifted from irritated to worry as she took a step forward, hand waving. “Hinata?”

 

Almost immediately, Hinata’s face deepened to scarlet. “Y-yes?!”

 

Sakura’s large brow furrowed in worry and she took a step closer. “Are you feeling alright? You look sick.”

 

Ino was sure the red on Hinata’s face turned darker as she took step back, “I-I’m not, S-Sakura-san!”

 

“Are you sure?” Sakura sounded unconvinced, brushing Hinata’s bangs away to place a palm on her forehead. Hinata’s eyes grew as wide as a saucer at the gesture. “Well, you don’t feel sick. But you still don’t look okay. Is it about your cousin? Because-” Before Sakura could finish her sentence, lavender eyes rolled back and Hinata’s form began to crumple. “H-Hinata!” Sakura exclaimed, barely managing to stop her friend from sprawling out on the floor.

 

Ino pawed at Hinata’s other side, “H-Help! Can someone-”

 

Almost immediately, a man with dusty brown hair appeared, eyes wide in shock. “W-what happened?!”

 

“We don’t know, she just fainted suddenly!” Sakura explained as the man picked Hinata up in his arms with ease.

 

The man grimaced, “Lady Hinata has been straining herself.” Ino worriedly examined Hinata’s face from where she and Sakura circled around the two Hyugas. It was still flushed, but the tones were lightening already a more standard red rather than the hibiscus-colored scarlet from before. “I’m afraid she might not be able to train for the rest of the day. I’ll need to take her to her quarters, you two should le-”

 

“We can’t just leave Hinata like this!” Ino snapped. Even if it wasn’t the best team in the world-- the best team being one that would obviously include her soulmate-- Ino refused to just walk out of the compound like that. “We’re staying! At least until she wakes up!”

 

Sakura nodded violently in agreement. “Yeah!”

 

I’m pretty sure that’s the only thing we can really agree on. Ino thought absentmindedly before turning blue eyes back onto the situation at hand. The man sighed tiredly, but thankfully relented before guiding the two girls to Hinata’s room where he laid her on her bed. ‘Just make sure to be quiet so Lady Hinata can rest’ was all he said before he finally left the room.

 

Well this is awkward. Ino crossed her arms, suddenly feeling claustrophobic. She pointedly ignored the pinkette beside her, eyeing Hinata’s room. It was on par to her own, Ino noted. Being the daughter of a Clan Head certainly had its perks, rooms being larger than most. 

 

But rather than the colorful, bright vibrant room Ino lived in herself, Hinata’s looked bare in comparison. It was somewhat fitting. But it’s so dark in here. Ino eyed the blinds at the windows. She really needs to let some air in here. And sunlight. 

 

Ino took a step towards the window before halting as she really took notice of the desk before it. The desk itself was simple, a few books lined neatly in a row with a small ink set right across from it. The most notable artifacts upon Hinata’s desk was an open book with pages littered with dried and flattened flowers and right next to that, a small wooden box. Ino could barely make out the carved lily pattern in the room’s gloom, but she could definitely tell the box was made of huanghuali . Granny loves that stuff. 

 

“Ah.” Sakura’s voice brought Ino out of her observations. “Hinata’s flower pressing book. She told me she liked doing that.”

 

Ino ignored the indignant feeling rising of her not being included in this information before. “Well I can definitely bring her flowers from the shop sometimes. Our flowers are the best flowers for miles when it comes to flower pressing.” Even without looking, Ino was sure Sakura was rolling her eyes. Sakura had the green thumb of a giraffe realizing it didn’t even have hands. “I’m sitting at the desk.”

 

Sakura’s gasp made Ino grin gleefully. “No fair!” She whispered loudly. 

 

Ino happily sat down, crossing one leg over the other. “No fighting, Sakura. We don’t wanna wake up Hinata, right?”

 

Sakura opened her mouth then closed it. Ino had to fight off a victorious guffaw.

 

“I’m leaving to get Hinata some water!” Sakura whispered furiously before leaving as quietly as possible.

 

Ino couldn’t suppress a giggle. This win’s for Ino! She leaned back happily, feet feeling at ease almost immediately. With a glance at the notebook, Ino noticed the flowers -- wallflowers and carnations-- scattered upon the page. I guess these are her most recent presses. They’re pretty good. Flower pressing was never a hobby Ino ever got into, but she could definitely appreciate the beauty of flowers in any form. She redirected her gaze back to the sleeping kunoichi.

 

Her skin was finally looking normal, Ino sighed in relief as her gaze went back to the huanghuali box beside her. This really looks prettier up close. Ino gently traced the markings. They weren’t her favorite flower (the cosmos would always be her number one), but liles were at least in her top ten favorites growing up with the flower shop. Ino made a mental note to ask what Hinata’s favorite flower was later. I wonder what’s in this thing anyway. Jewelry? With a gentle poke, Ino pushed the box back hoping to hear some kind of noise but her ears were only met with silence. Okay so something that isn’t jewelry.

 

A mischievous spread on Ino’s lips before she could stop herself. A tiny peek had to be alright! It wasn’t like Ino was reading a private diary or anything, Ino convinced herself. Just a small peek~ Ino giggled quietly, mind swimming to what the hidden treasures could be to be kept inside a box such as this one. Candies, combs, hair accessories that Ino could try on herself. This is just to get closer with Hinata! 

 

With that final thought, Ino giggled quietly as she lifted the lid slowly hoping for something exciting like love notes.

 

Blue eyes found themselves staring at a small red scarf instead. Disappointment swiftly came swelling after.

 

Just a scarf? Ino pursed her lips to contain her sigh. What’s so important about some scarf? The scarf was a bright, almost cherry red with small flecks of pink decorating it’s surface sewn almost delicately into the yarn attached to thin brown branches. It didn’t fit Hinata’s look at all, Ino clicked her tongue. She couldn’t imagine the girl in red at all, let alone remember a time she actually saw the girl wearing this scarf. A scarf this color would have stood out in Ino’s memory… Actually, didn’t Sakura own a scarf like this before?

 

Gingerly, Ino lifted the scarf out of its container and let it gently cascade out of its neat folding to get a better look at the pattern. Cherry blossoms.

 

“Ino-chan, look!” Sakura practically bounced. A small finger pointed to the scarf around her neck. “My mom made it for me! It’s a cherry blossom scarf!”

 

Ino grinned, “Wow, pretty! I want Auntie to make me one too with cosmos flowers!” She leaned closer to admire the handiwork. It was like Hanami* splattered itself all over Sakura’s scarf. “Ask for me? Please !!”

 

Sakura smiled, beaming. “I’ll ask!”

 

This is Sakura’s scarf! Ino gaped; it had to be. There had been no other scarf like it in stores. But why would Hinata have this? Ino glanced over at the unconscious girl. Ino vaguely remembered a time where Sakura stopped wearing the scarf altogether, coming to the Academy with a green scarf instead. Maybe they had a scarf trade or maybe Hinata really--

 

“Ino-san…?” 

 

Ino stood on her feet almost immediately, knuckles white as her grip around the scarf tightened. “H-Hinata, you’re awake!” She stammered, cheeks feeling tight by how wide her smile had become. “How are you feeling?!”

 

The blue-haired girl winced at the sudden volume and Ino mumbled out an apology as lavender eyes blinking slowly, looking bright in the gloom. “I-I’m fine.” She blinked a few more times then looked at her surroundings. “What.. what happened earlier? Why am I--” Hinata’s question came to a cold halt as her gaze fell onto Ino and then the scarf in her hand. Her face went from its usual pale to scarlet all over again.

 

Ino was sure her heart stopped beating for a few moments. Crap. “I can-”

 

Hinata rushed onto her feet, almost tripping. “D-don’t be rough with it!” Ino took a step back as the Hyuga yanked the scarf back with so much passion, falling back into her chair. “Don’t…” Hinata’s eyes clenched shut as she held the scarf close to her, practically cradling it to her chest. “I-it was a gift…”

 

 

A gift. Ino opened her mouth, then closed it.

 

Everything really felt like a series of puzzle pieces snapping together in complete harmony.

 

“What about you, Hinata? What’s your favorite color?”

 

A pause then shy smile. “... Pink.”

 

“N-Naruto-kun’s just a friend!!”

 

The small smiles when Sakura wasn’t looking as Hinata twiddled her fingers, cheeks a peachy pink.

 

How flustered and red Hinata was earlier before she fainted. How close Sakura was when it happened.

 

“.... Hinata…” The girl flinched, holding the scarf even closer. “Do you…” Ino needed to have her suspicions confirmed. “Do you have a crush on Sakura?”

 

The final nail in the coffin, Hinata teared up looking anywhere but forward. “I-I…”

 

She did.

 

Hinata Hyuga really didn’t have a crush on Naruto Uzumaki after all. All this time, she had a crush on Ino’s very own rival in love; Sakura Haruno. “R-really?!” Ino stood up in disbelief. “On Sakura!?” 

 

Hinata nodded, face darkening as she leaned forward in a hunch as if she was protecting herself. “Y-yes…”

 

Ino gaped in awe.

 

Lavender eyes looked at Ino with an almost panicked expression. “Don’t tell her!”

 

Ino raised her hands defensively, as if she were trying to placate a scared rabbit. It almost felt as if she really were. Anything detected as negative, Hinata would be sure to flee with scarf in hand in embarrassment of being found out. “I won’t, I won’t I’m just really, really surprised even if I think I kinda knew! I was just really surprised I was right in my suspicions.” It was one thing for that dummy Naruto to like Sakura, but it seemed almost outrageous to picture Hinata with the same feelings. “Sakura, of all people?”

 

Hinata looked as if she were going to cry.

 

Ino sputtered, trying not to panic. “I’m just curious, don’t cry! What if we just sit down and relax, alright?”

 

That was something they could agree on, Hinata collapsing on her bed like her knees were too weak to hold herself up any longer.

 

Ino sat back in her chair.

 

There was a pause as Hinata closed her eyes, her hands loosening her hold as she calmed down. It seemed like forever before finally, the girl began folding the scarf neatly into a compact size and laying it on her lap. “....”

 

Ino bit her lip, nervously. “.... So Sakura, huh?” She hoped she sounded as nonchalant as she was aiming to be.

 

Hinata’s fingers tightened her hold on her scarf before relaxing, finally she nodded. “Yes…” Her gaze was glued to the floor. “Since the Academy.”

 

Ino felt her jaw drop. “Since then?!” 

 

The pink blush returned to Hinata’s cheeks as she nodded again. “Ever since she gave me this scarf… I always wanted to be by her side.” Hinata gave the scarf a light caress, like she had the most delicate flowers in her hand. “S-she rescued me from bullies in the snow. You… you were there too.”

 

Ino blinked, “I was?”

 

Hinata actually looked up, embarrassed. “Y-you don’t remember? You were both playing hide and go seek and Sakura-san found me being bullied!”

 

Ino brought a finger to her lips trying to recall this moment. Hide and go seek… Bullies… Ah! “You mean that day I found Sakura getting beat on by those jerks!” Hinata nodded almost violently. Ino remembered now. 

 

They were by the playing grounds near the Academy with some friends and Sakura had been determined to find her own hiding spot with Ino’s help. Then everyone had been found except Sakura, so Ino went looking for her only to find those three idiots Kenta, Ganta, and Atsushi picking on her. She barely noticed Hinata had been there until Sakura had pointed it out.

 

Ino placed her hands on her hips, almost impatient as Sakura pestered Hinata like a mother hen. You’re the one that got beat up, you know. You should care more about yourself, you goof. Ino still smiled as she watched her best friend hurry to take off her own scarf, wrapping it around Hinata like her life depended on it. “How is she supposed to breathe, Sakura?” Hinata’s face had barely been visible when Sakura had finished wrapping it. 

 

“Since then, huh?” Ino leaned back in her chair in deep thought. “You’ve really got bad taste, Hinata.” She sighed, closing her eyes. She didn’t get how Naruto liked Sakura, let alone Hinata. Sakura was probably the worst crush option anyone could have with her big forehead and loud mouth. “I might have let the Naruto crush slide as kind of bad taste but if you’re crushing on Sakura then you must really be hopeless. Sasuke-kun is-”

 

“Sakura-san is a lot better than Sasuke-san.” Ino’s eyes shot open, meeting firm lavender eyes. “Much better.” Hinata repeated, her eyes distant like they were seeing kilometers and kilometers into the distance far from this conversation. “Sh-she’s brave and beautiful and kind…. A wonderful person. If you have a crush on S-Sasuke-san, you’re the one with the bad taste.”

 

Ino felt her jaw dropping all over again.

 

Hinata looked as shocked as Ino felt.

 

“I-I’m sor-”

 

The sound of the door creaking cut off whatever Hinata was going to say, Ino and Hinata sharing looks of mutual panic. Ino pointed at Hinata’s pillow. Put it under your pillow!!! Hinata wasted no time in receiving the message.

 

Pink and red flashed in Ino’s eyes. “Hey, I’m-- ah, Hinata!” Sakura smiled pleasantly, holding a tray with three cups of tea  and confectionaries. “You’re awake! Sorry it took so long before, I got carried away getting stuff just in case you woke up before I got here. Miss Natsu suggested it.” Her smile turned into a frown as she gave Ino the side-eye. “I brought you snacks too.”

 

“Um thanks, Sakura!” Ino coughed. “They look great!”

 

Sakura raised an eyebrow, “Yeah they do.” She looked back to Hinata, smile returning. “Did you want to eat anything? She made these cute rabbit wagashi.”

 

Hinata’s cheeks were a hot pink, all hint of firmness gone as she twiddled her index fingers. “I’d like one… Thank you, Sakura-san.” She was far gone, Ino could tell as she watched Hinata shyly take small bites of her wagashi as Sakura smiled and chattered on.

 

Sakura really was dense.

Chapter Text

Sakura Haruno felt her throat go fiery raw that particular late afternoon in Maruyama Park. 

 

I hate going to the academy! She thought as she sobbed on. I don’t wanna be a ninja anymore!

 

Sakura had only been going to the Ninja Academy for one year and today was the last straw after another round of teasing from Atsushi, Kenta, and Ganta. Sakura shoved her face deeper into her hands, chest racking with another sob. “Sakura,” Mebuki would say, her emerald eyes soft. “those bullies won’t even matter in a few years. You should ignore them! You have a beautiful forehead.” Mebuki would continue.

 

Sakura, on the other hand, begged to differ.

 

No matter what the pink-haired girl seemed to do, the boys seemed to relish teasing her forehead no matter what.

 

Her bangs covered her forehead all the time.

 

Sometimes for Academy festivals, Sakura would even have her bangs swept over behind her right ear as she sported a small ponytail with a cherry blossom charm, as gifted by her mother.

 

Sakura even tried finding private places to be on her own at recess.

 

Yet somehow, it always came back to her forehead and the three jerks that were her classmates would continue on.

 

Sakura sniffed strongly. She would just ask her parents if she could leave school and be a normal villager. Her father was just a merchant now, selling fine wood carvings while her mother manned the home. Sakura wasn’t sure where she could go ultimately, but it would definitely be better than maybe one day ending up on a team with either of the three boys she dreaded seeing daily.

 

“Hey, aren’t you the girl who always gets called “Billboard Brow” at the Academy?” A voice cut through the air. There was no malice, just curiosity.

 

Sakura looked up with a start, hiccuping all the while, to see a girl with short blonde hair and bright blue eyes staring right back at her. Sakura recognized her immediately as the pretty Ino Yamanaka, the girl everyone seemed to love and adore. Sakura could understand why; Ino was like a bright sun in their class, at least to Sakura. A bright sun that everyone else seemed to orbit.

 

Ino smiled, “I’m Ino Yamanaka. We have the same class together at the Ninja Academy.” She said as if Sakura didn’t know that already when the blonde was so popular. (Sakura did briefly think over that it was a possibility considering they never ever talked.) “What’s your name again?”

 

Sakura blinked, a few more tears escaping her eyes, half expecting this to be a joke. Yet Ino continued to look at her, waiting. “.... My name is Sakura.” Sakura eventually mumbled, hoping that the girl would leave once she obtained her answer.

 

“Huh?” Ino pursed her lips together. “I can’t hear you. Speak up.” She said in a sing-song tone.

 

“My name is Sakura!” Sakura all but shouted, just wanting the girl to go away.

 

That’s when she felt the finger poke at her forehead. Ino had lead closer. “Hmmm… I guess your forehead is kind of big. I can get why they call you “Billboard Brow” now.” Sakura felt her lips tremble. Ino was just going to tease her too. Just perfect. “With the way you cover your head up you look like those ghosts in the stories.”

 

Sakura crouched into herself more. That insult was new.

 

Ino then smiled. Just as usual when Sakura’s bullies relished in some new insult.

 

Then Ino stood up and began walking away.

 

That was different.

 

“Come back tomorrow this time tomorrow, okay?” The blonde girl called over her shoulder. “I’ll give you something nice!” Then just like that, Ino kept on walking and Sakura was left dumbfounded and not sure what to think.

 

That was entirely different.

 

She wants to give me something? The thought stuck with Sakura even when she went home and ate dinner. 

 

What on earth did one of the most popular girls at the academy want to give her that wasn’t a new crappy nickname she didn’t want.

 

“Sakura, dear, how was your day?” Mebuki asked, smiling expectantly at her daughter. “Did anything happen today?”

 

Sakura opened her mouth, completely ready to tell her parents that she was ready to stop attending the Ninja academy. She wanted to be a normal civilian. Maybe she could run a wagashi shop and never have to see her classmates again.

 

Then Sakura thought of Ino and her grin. 

 

“Not really.” Sakura mumbled instead. “I just played at the park. I’m gonna see a classmate tomorrow.”

 

“A new friend?” Mebuki gasped, pleased.

 

“Not a boyfriend , I hope.” Kizashi said sternly, mostly out-of-character for his usual playful behavior.

 

“Dad!”

 

“Honestly, Kizashi.”

 

“What?” Kizashi exclaimed. “I’m protecting my little girl!”

 


 

Sakura awaited anxiously the next day in the park for Ino to show up.

 

She would see what Ino had today for her and all depending on the results, then Sakura would tell her parents her plan to abandon the academy and become a sweets maker. It seemed like a very solid plan, at least in the pink-haired eight year-old’s opinion. Sakura wasn’t the best with the physical stuff in the first place, something very important for a shinobi.

 

Why go to the academy for something she’s horrible at?

 

Not that Sakura had the best abilities baking, but she was sure that she could learn later if she ever left the academy.

 

Probably.

 

While Sakura was deep mid-thought about her plan to become proficient enough in baking and making sweets when Ino finally arrived. Letting out a bright, “hey!!” When she did. “You actually came! Great!”

 

“I-Ino-sa-”

 

Ino held up a hand, cutting Sakura off immediately. “No ‘-san’! That’s what people say to teachers and old people!” Ino crossed her arms with a pout. “Say something else that’s cuter.”

 

Sakura gulped, “Ino-chan?”

 

Ino nodded, smiling in satisfaction. “Much better!” She skipped. “Now we can skip to the part we’re both waiting for.” Ino held out a red ribbon out, grinning ear to ear. “Tada!”

 

“...... A ribbon?”

 

“Yeah, cute right?” Ino said, mostly to herself than anything. “It’s cute but red isn’t really my color. So I thought you would like it!”

 

“I… don’t really wear ribbons.” Sakura eventually grounded out, hoping that the blonde wouldn’t get offended and then huff off in a tizzy.

 

Ino pouted immediately, “how do you know if you don’t try it on though?” She put her hands on her hips. “You have to try it on to see if you actually like or hate it. It probably looks better on than you than you think! Come on, let’s just get it on for a little while and…” Ino trailed off as she took a step closer hands fiddling with Sakura’s bangs.

 

Sakura’s cheeks flushed lightly but Ino’s blue eyes were full of concentration, paying no mind. Heart stuttering, Sakura looked elsewhere, finding the fat thrush perched on a bench nearby suddenly a lot more interesting. She was more than relieved when Ino took a step back, clapping her hands together.

 

Cute?

 

Sakura couldn’t see what she looked like with the ribbon on, but she knew for sure that her bangs were split down the middle now. Completely changed from the bangs that occasionally got caught in her eyelashes day to day.

 

“See? You’re cuter this way, Sakura!” Ino placed her hands on her hips again, this time sporting a proud expression. “You have to keep the ribbon now, no give backsies!”

 

Sakura’s face still felt warm but she gave Ino her expression of thanks anyway. But. The dark thought seemed to loom over head. “.... But.” Everyone from here to Kiri could see her forehead now.

 

“But what?”

 

“My forehead.” Sakura knew she didn’t need to elaborate anymore on that. Her forehead was humongous, a courteous gift from her mother and her mother’s mother. Sakura didn’t really relish giving anyone any extra fuel to pick on her now that her forehead was practically shining with a big gleaming target on it.

 

Ino only frowned, holding up a finger in a matter-of-fact way. “The only reason they pick on your forehead is because of how much you hide it!” Sakura blinked in surprise, but Ino continued on. “You’re actually really cute, Sakura. So don’t just hide behind your hair and be scared. Show your forehead off and show them that you don’t care!”

 

Ino-chan…

 

Cute. 

 

Cute.

 

Sakura felt like her head was spinning a bit as Ino clasped her on the shoulder with another smile. “Just trust me, alright? No one is gonna pick on you anymore when they see you don’t care about anything they say! That’s what my mom always tells me!”

 

The blonde said it with so much conviction, Sakura actually believed her.

 

“O-okay.” 

 

If Ino Yamanaka said it, it was something that had to be true.

 

Bright and sun-like, beautiful Ino Yamanaka.

 

Everything would get better at the academy now that she wasn’t hiding her forehead. 

 


 

At age 9, there were a few things Sakura Haruno was certain of. First, her forehead was very big. Second, her mother named her after the cherry blossom tree in the backyard of her childhood home. Third, her father really liked sharing bad jokes. Fourth, there was no one more perfect than her crush who she got to see everyday.

 

In fact, fifth thing Sakura was certain of was the fact that the reason she got to see her crush everyday up close and personal was because they were best friends.

 

Ino Yamanaka was undoubtedly perfect with her lovely blonde hair she kept adorned with various hairclips, her bright eyes that looked like a cloudless summer day, and a wide array of pretty clothes. 

 

Ino dazzled everyone they knew from the first day of their first year in the academy. 

 

Sakura had noticed immediately the circle of people that gathered around the girl as Ino giggled and nudge the girls around her. She had plenty of people she could call her friends and Sakura never thought that one day she would be one of them.

 

Ino’s best friend.

 

They did everything together from partner assignments to sleepovers. This sleepover in particular being extremely important. Mebuki had almost prevented Sakura from going when she caught a cold a week ago after she gave her scarf away to Hinata Hyuga. Yet with enough rest and soup, an obscene amount of soup, Sakura had managed to give the cold a sixteen hit combo of her own and make it in time for their sleepover.

 

Sakura glanced over at Ino’s bed from her place on the guest futon. Ino was leaning over, giggling away quietly at her newest bit of gossip from the academy so her parents wouldn’t hear that they were still wide awake. Apparently Natsuki Nishijima had a big crush on Hikaru Takashi. “Like, he’s always making those really bad jokes.” Ino went on with another giggle. “He’s almost as bad as Uncle Kizashi.”

 

“Y-yeah.” Sakura giggled herself. Her dad had some really bad ones, Kizashi’s most recent being “What does a cabbage merchant give his wounded cabbages? A cabbage patch!”

 

“But still, most of the girls in class have a crush on Sasuke-kun.” Ino went on.

 

“Yeah.” The boy was the best student in their grade and Sakura could admit that he was handsome with his raven black eyes and hair. But he was no Ino, that was for sure. “He’s really good with every jutsu our sensei gives him.”

 

Ino peered over closer, giggling again. “Is there anyone you like, Sakura?”

 

Sakura’s heart pounded wildly. 

 

Was this finally going to be her moment to say it? Ino never said anything about someone she had a crush on, let alone Sasuke who Sakura knew she couldn’t compete with if he were ever to suddenly gain interest in the blonde. Which would be infinitely worse than Sakura opting not to say anything and not at least let Ino know how she feels.

 

“Um… well I like you, Ino-chan.” Sakura closed her eyes the moment the words left her mouth, heart feeling like someone was squeezing their fingers around it. There I said it!

 

She finally did it.

 

She finally told Ino how she felt about her.

 

A few seconds passed.

 

Then another handful.

 

And another.

 

There was still no immediate response and Sakura opened an eye wearily. She couldn’t see the expression on Ino’s face but Sakura’s heart filled with dread as she imagined what Ino’s face could look like.

 

Sakura could hear Ino taking in a long breath as she finally began, “I’m sor-”

 

“Just kidding, I got you!” Sakura said as she sat up, forcing out the laughs. “I can’t believe you fell for it! That’s what you get for saying I’m a bad liar.”

 

Ino leaned back, sitting on her knees. “That was a joke!?”

 

“Well you said I was a bad liar the other day.”

 

“Because you are!” Ino argued. “You always give yourself away and that’s bad when you’re a ninja.”

 

“Well, I just proved that I can.”

 

“When there aren’t any lights o-”

 

Ino’s doors suddenly slid wide open, Chiaki turning on the lights with a frown. “Girls, I told you it was bedtime!”

 

Sakura and Ino squealed.

 

“Mom, we were sleeping! We just woke up-”

 

“You’re not fooling me with that excuse, Ino! I told you it was bedtime!”

 

Sakura let the exchange between Yamanaka’s fall on deaf ears, her ears only able to hear her own heart pounding loudly.

 

You messed up! A voice exact to her own seemed to scream inside her.

 

She messed up. 

 

She messed up.

 

She messed up.

 

She messed up.

 


 

Sakura was convinced Ino had been acting weird since the night she decided to be honest with her feelings.

 

Ino who was currently blabbing on to their group of friends as if nothing was bothering her about the situation at hand. Maybe because Sakura had made a fine attempt to cover everything up about her blunder the moment she knew Ino was going to turn her down. However, Sakura knew the unspoken rules.

 

Who really believes someone after they say that they don’t like you after just telling you that they like you?

 

No one.

 

No one ever had a crush on Sakura and even she knew this to be absolute playground law.

 

Sakura wanted to curl into a ball so deeply that she would disappear into thin air and then she wouldn’t have to remember how she ruined everything between the two of them.

 

“... kura. Sakura!”

 

Sakura jolted out her thoughts. Ino had been calling out to her, hands on her hips as the group looked over to the sole pink-haired girl in their troupe. “Huh?”

 

“We wanna play hide-and-seek in teams.” Ino repeated. “Wanna team up with Hana? She keeps saying there’s no way I can find everyone without any help!”

 

“Because you can’t!” Hana chortled.

 

“Just watch me! I don’t need to be in a team to find everyone in basically five minutes!”

 

Sakura bit her lip. Or you just don’t want to hang out with me anymore because you know I have a crush on you! She thought bitterly. Then in a matter of seconds, Sakura felt bad for the thought. This wouldn’t have happened if Sakura hadn’t told Ino anything. Besides, maybe Ino really did just want to prove that she was able to find everyone without any help. The blonde was notoriously competitive. “Um, okay?”

 

Ino cocked her head to the side, “you okay?” She asked. “We can still team up if you want to.”

 

Sakura did.

 

Even if it would be awkward, she really did.

 

But Ino knew now.

 

“I’m gonna just get some water and sit this round out.” Sakura said instead. “I’m just a little tired.”

 

A worried look passed over Ino’s face, “are you getting sick again?”

 

“No!” Sakura waved her hands. “I’m not even cold!” Her mother had knitted her a new red scarf (minus the cherry blossoms) and mittens and made Sakura wear double the amount of winter clothing she would wear in order to still play outside and attend classes as normal. Konoha barely had snow anymore, spring right around the corner. “Just thirsty and I know that I always get found really easily so I wanna get water and just watch everyone else get caught first.”

 

“Geez.” Rumi said as she rolled her eyes, but Sakura could hear the good nature in her tone. “Someone’s been hanging around Ino too much lately, Miss Sassy Pants.”

 

Sakura gave her best light giggle, “Ino-chan, good luck!”

 

“They’re gonna need the luck, not me!” Ino grinned. She covered her eyes accordingly. “ONE! TWO! THREE!”

 

Everyone scattered into the forest like Naruto and his group of friends would when Iruka would catch them slacking off. Sakura wasted no time running off in the direction that would take her home.

 

She needed to fix this.

 

If she found someone else that she liked and told Ino, then Ino would have no choice but to believe Sakura’s claims that she was just lying before about having a crush on her.

 

Anyone completely different from her would be perfect.

 

Sakura sighed, her breath becoming a puff of smoke. If only she just told Ino there was no one she liked at the academy and she wouldn’t even be in a problem. Sakura’s throat suddenly clenched tightly. Why did I think someone like Ino-chan would ever like someone like me?

 


 

“Sakura, dear.”

 

Sakura looked over her shoulder from her textbook to see her mother standing at her door. “Yeah?”

 

“Ino is at the door, asking for you.”

 

Sakura’s heart lurched. “Oh um, can you tell her I’m not here?”

 

That made Mebuki raise an eyebrow, “I think Ino already knows that you’re here if I said that I would go and get you. She wants to play at the park with you and all your friends. You’ve been studying all day non-stop lately and your teachers always saying that you have some of the best grades in the class academically and your jutsu have been improving. So I think it’s fine if you want to play with your friends.”

 

Sakura bit her lip. She couldn’t play with Ino yet.

 

She still hadn’t found anyone to like yet that wasn’t her.

 

“Are the two of you fighting?”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Are you and Ino fighting?” Mebuki repeated. “She told me that she thinks you’ve been trying to avoid her. Is that true?”

 

“N-no!” Sakura said as softly as she could, hoping her small yelp didn’t alert the blonde girl waiting outside. “I’ve just really been wanting to study and get better in class so I haven’t felt like playing lately. I-Ino-chan comes from a big clan and has a bunch of tutors and clanmates she can practice with and I don’t want to fall behind.”

 

Sakura’s mother made a much more sympathetic expression as she stepped closer, setting a hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “Honey, is that what this has really been about?” No. “Sakura, just because your friend is from a large clan and has different opportunities presented to her than you, that doesn’t mean you should let that interfere with your friendship. Ino doesn’t care about that at all. Wanting to study your tushy off is fine but at the expense of your friendship? That just isn’t right or fair to either of you.”

 

The pink-haired girl shuffled her feet under her desk.

 

While it would be a lie to say she never felt a little jealous about where Ino lived, that didn’t mean it really bothered her.

 

Ino never did anything to make her feel less than because of where she lived and being the heiress of a clan. So as if she would ever avoid Ino over that. Not that her mother knew that. “.... I still want to finish studying for the day. Can you tell Ino that I’ll meet up with everyone later? Please?”

 

Mebuki looked as if she wanted to disagree entirely and toss Sakura outside with a ‘just don’t come back too messy’. However, she complied with a gentle reminder of what she just said and gave Sakura an hour more of studying tops. An hour that, unfortunately, went much faster than Sakura anticipated.

 

Sakura sighed and fiddled with her shirt as she slowly made her way to the park hoping that by the time she got there, everyone would have gotten bored and wouldn’t feel like playing. Then Sakura could run back home and say that she tried to get there in time to play with everyone, ‘oh well’.

 

As if that’s gonna happen. The voice from before said grouchily. It had been popping up more and more lately. 

 

Sakura pouted, but she knew that that would probably be true.

 

Her luck wasn’t that good.

 

Unless maybe she took a detour. Sakura knew the forest they played in like the back of her hand due to the many times they played hide and seek there. Maybe if she walked long enough, she would get there with just enough time to spare before everyone was suddenly too bored to play games.

 

Sakura almost skipped before she reminded herself that she was supposed to be walking slower than a turtle.

 

She inhaled deeply as a warm breeze swept her way. Soon the cherry blossoms would be blooming and filling the air and Sakura’s family would go Hanami viewing. That was the perfect distraction as Sakura made her way through the main center of Konoha to the forest. Ino and the gang usually preferred the area of the forest closest to the academy grounds.

 

Sakura started her journey to their preferred spot from a little further away in the forest.

 

Everything would go fine, everything would go just according to plan. Sakura was almost 90% sure.

 

Then Sakura heard the familiar thump of kunai hitting wood and with a start, Sakura whipped her head to the left to see it was only Sasuke Uchiha, training on his own. Her heart was beating erratically as the boy paid her no mind and continued to throw kunai after kunai at his targets. Just like in class, he hit every mark.

 

“E-er, h-hi, Sasuke-kun!” Sakura decided to say for the sake of being polite. Sasuke Uchiha had always been one of her quieter classmates, but his silent nowadays had seem starker and colder. Could she really blame him after everything that happened to his family? He had no friends at the academy but Sakura could never muster the courage to attempt to be his friend.

 

Maybe today would be different?

 

However, all she got was a brief glare and no response as Sasuke went back to throwing kunai at his targets.

 

Sakura shrank nervously, heart stuttering even more and she placed a hand on her chest in an attempt to calm her nerves.

 

Sakura froze.

 

Her heart was beating wildly out of control. For someone other than Ino. This had to be it, Sakura decided. This had to be the person.

 

Suddenly her plan to walk as slowly as she could to her and her friends preferred meetup spot when out the window as she broke into a sprint.

 

She could finally fix everything with Ino!

 

“Guys, guys!” Sakura waved her arms as she finally reached her friends. “You won’t believe who I like!” 

 

“Hmm, let me guess.” Agito said sarcastically. “Sasuke Uchiha?”

 

“You already know?!”

 

Rumi shrugged, “well he is the most popular boy in the academy.” She said matter-of-factly. “Every girl likes him.”

 

“O-oh. Right.” Sakura mumbled. “What should I do then? I’ll have a lot of rivals for him then!” Sakura could faintly see the disgruntled look on Ino’s face.

 

She ignored the pang in her chest.

 

Just wake up, Sakura. The voice inside her growled. 

 

Just wake up.

 


 

“Again, Sakura!” Kurenai called as Sakura panted.

 

They had been repeating this drill all day and Sakura just about had it with staring at the same Kurenai clone. Ino and Hinata were off sparring together not too far away, Kurenai dubbing them well enough to focus on themselves. Sakura, on the other hand, needed to improve her taijutsu drastically.

 

It definitely showed in the amount of times the Kurenai clone had handed Sakura’s dignity on a platter.

 

This is humiliating!! 

 

She just needed one solid hit to make the clone poof into non-existence and she could finally regain her pride as a genin. Sakura glared at the clone and initiated the charge with a fist that Kurenai Clone blocked with grace before pushing Sakura back.

 

Sakura dodged the kick that came over head with a roll. 

 

She charged again, left fist braced and yet Kurenai Clone seemed to dodge that just as easily. Sakura spun on her feet, hoping to at least nick the clone on her side with her right fist. That move only garnered Kurenai Clone smacking Sakura’s hand down and kneeing her in the chest softly yet firmly.

 

“If this were a real battle, just one solid kneeing here could have you incapacitated for the rest of the mission. Maybe even killed if your enemy had the strength for it.” Kurenai said as the clone finally disappeared, albeit, not to Sakura’s own fists. “You messed up when you started to give in to your anger and frustrations.” Kurenai noted calmly. “Sakura, you have the makings for a great illusionist and kunoichi as a whole. It will just take time to get there.”

 

Sakura tried not to let out a huff of annoyance. At least she knew her sensei cared about her training and progress. Getting bested by a clone time and time again was a lot better than having a sensei who just left Sakura to her own devices and just focused on training the part of the team with the most potential.

 

Kurenai placed a hand on Sakura’s shoulder, “how about a break?” The woman smiled.

 

Sakura nodded in appreciation. 

 

“Remember to-”

 

“Walk it off, I know.” Sakura interrupted. It was the same as always.

 

“I was going to say drink water.” Kurenai chuckled lightly. “But yes, walking it off was going to be my next statement.” The raven-haired woman looked over to her other students. “Ino, you’re turn for evaluation! Hinata, you can get a break! Drink some water and walk it off! Ino, we’re working on your…”

 

Sakura stopped paying attention as she clumsily gulped at her water while she walked.

 

Her head hurt, she felt like her feet were about ready to fall off, she wanted to collapse on the grass, and on top of that she wanted to sleep for a million years.

 

Today wasn’t her best day.

 

“Um, Sakura-san?”

 

Sakura didn’t need to look to know who that soft voice belonged to do. “Hey, Hinata.”

 

The blue-haired girl came into her line of vision, a worried expression on her face. “Are you okay?”

 

Sakura gave the best smile she could offer, “I’m fine. It’s just annoying to be the worst on our team at taijutsu. I didn’t think I was that bad before.”

 

“I.. I think you’re improving every day.” Hinata mumbled.

 

Sakura felt herself smile for real, though it was slight. Hinata always did her best to comfort anyone if they were feeling down in the dumps. “Thanks, Hinata. You’re really nice.”

 

Hinata smiled bashfully, her cheeks pink from her earlier sparring with Ino. “I think that if you stepped a bit lighter, you’d have an easier time with Kurenai-sensei.” She offered her advice quietly. “I think you might be putting too much weight into your feet so it takes you a longer time to move around than you’d like to.”

 

“You think so?”

 

Hinata nodded, “a-at least I think so.” Hinata added softly. She was at least getting over her nervous ticks as of late, slowly but surely. 

 

“I guess I have to work on that then.” Sakura sighed. “Kurenai-sensei said she doesn’t mind if I want to punch hard but that I had to move faster then. I guess that was what she meant then and she wanted me to figure it out.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“But thanks for giving me advice, I really appreciate it. I’m pretty jealous of you sometimes, the Hyuga have a really pretty style.” Hinata may hesitate in a spar or during missions, but that never changed the fact her taijutsu style was one with grace. Sakura could only imagine what it would really be like sparring Hinata if she actually utilized her clan’s abilities to strike the chakra system directly. Shy little Hinata probably wouldn’t seem so not-scary then.

 

“I….cantrainwithyouifyouwant.” Hinata mumbled quite unclearly.

 

“.... what?”

 

“I-I said that I could help you train… if you wanted…” Hinata stammered out again, albeit much clearly.

 

“Really?” Sakura asked. “Thanks!” Maybe she could get somewhere before the end of today’s training session after all.

Chapter Text

“Well that mission has me beat.” Ino yawned as she and her team walked down an empty street of Konoha. Yet another tracking mission successfully finished neatly with Kurenai leaving the three girls to their own devices as she made her report. It was a rhythmic schedule. A few days of consecutive training interrupted by a mission day and two more training days and then one day of rest.

 

Ino couldn’t wait for Break Day. If she had to find one more lost pet, Ino would lose it. “I wish Kurenai-sensei would give us something spicier already, there’s only so much tracking we can do.” The blonde announced with another yawn.

 

“I hate agreeing with you, but yeah.” Sakura sighed. “It would be nice to do something different for once. But she is probably getting us prepared for something bigger when she thinks all of our skills are good enough. Something to really test our formations.”

 

Ino hoped so at least. They’d been training non-stop to boost their individual skills, formations primarily functioning on team evaluation days that Kurenai set at random. Sakura’s illusions, Hinata’s chakra blocking, then Ino holds them off with her mind transfer technique. It was something simple enough and with all the repetition, Ino was sure that was enough for some sort of mission that didn’t involve pets.

 

“Sasuke-kun’s team is probably doing all sorts of cool missions that take him out the village.” Ino sighed dreamily. “I wonder if he’s back from whatever mission he went on.” Kurenai’s rigid schedule certainly prevented any extra time to seek Sasuke out for a date, most of Ino’s free time was sadly spent with Billboard Brow.

 

“As if Sasuke-kun would be happy to hang out with you , Porker.”

 

An eyebrow twitched in irritation. “Well Sasuke wouldn’t be happy to hang out with you more, Billboard Brow!” Ino snapped. 

 

“S-Sakura-san, Ino-san, you shouldn’t argue.” Hinata intervened nervously, holding her hands up in a placating manner. “Kurenai-sensei would be upset.”

 

Ino huffed and crossed her arms as Sakura stuck out her tongue briefly before setting her hands on her hips.

 

Hinata had the nerve to say Ino had bad taste for liking Sasuke. How Hinata liked Sakura , of all people, Ino had no idea. Hinata was the one with bad taste, if anything. Sasuke-kun is ten times better than Sakura! Ino thought, blue eyes noting how Hinata shyly walked a few centimeters behind Sakura with a look of yearning over her face.

 

Just relax, Ino. Ino sighed. Get Sakura and Hinata together and that’s one less rival to deal with for Sasuke-kun’s heart. That was the plan Ino had conjured up when Hinata’s crush had been revealed. It might have been the absolutely worst crush imaginable and the thought of helping Sakura get together with anyone sounded like a pain, but better Sakura swooning over Hinata instead of Sasuke. Sakura had liked girls before she even thought of Sasuke so it was possible for the pink-haired genin to notice Hinata in time.

 

Sakura was just so dense that all of Ino’s attempts to get her to notice Hinata went right over her head. 

 

Anyway , you and Hinata have been spending more time together.” Ino cooed strategically. “Going on dates, you two?”

 

“Hinata likes Naruto, Dumb-dumb.” Sakura rolled her eyes, not even noticing that Hinata’s face had turned scarlet at the accusation. “Hinata’s just been helping me with my taijutsu. She’s been a lot more helpful with it than you have.” She smiled appreciatively at the girl. “Thanks again for all the help, you’re an amazing teacher.”

 

Hinata could barely mumble out a ‘you’re welcome’. By the gods, this would take Ino forever. Especially with Sakura thinking that Hinata liked Naruto. The blonde had her work cut out for her. 

 

“Well of course Hinata is. She’s a Hyuga, after all. Their taijutsu is pretty impressive.” Ino drawled on. If it was physical ability that Sakura liked about Sasuke, Hinata had that too. More or less. “Graceful and simple but dangerous.”

 

Sakura nodded in agreement, “I’d hate to be on the wrong end of a Hyuga with their techniques.”

 

“It’s a good thing Hinata’s on our team then.”

 

“Yeah it is.” Sakura grinned at the blue-haired girl. “I’m happy we’re teammates. Even if Ino is here.”

 

Why you little- Ino stopped herself from snapping. The two of them were having a moment that had Hinata clearly happy if the blush and smile were anything to go off of. Ino would be the mature one this time. All for the sake of Operation: Get Sakura out of the Picture.

 

Everyone would win this way.

 

Hinata would be happy Sakura and her were dating.

 

Sakura would have someone to dote on.

 

Ino would have Sasuke all to herself.

 

It was a foolproof plan.

 

“Hey, Sakura-chan!” Came a loud, familiar, and 100% annoying voice. Ino wasn’t surprised at all to see Naruto barreling down the street towards them, goofily grinning as he smiled. “I haven’t seen you in ages, how are ya!?”

 

Looks like Naruto was back in the village, after all. Which meant… Ino peered behind the blonde and caught Asahi trailing behind. Even further behind than that was Sasuke’s back as he walked off in the opposite direction. Ino smiled and clapped her hands to herself, this was just perfect. “Hey, Sasuke-kun!” Ino skipped away all irritation with Sakura dissippitating. 

 

Sasuke returned her greeting by suddenly disappearing. 

 

Great. 

 

Ino crossed her arms in disappointment. Sasuke always got shy in times like these. She looked over at Naruto who was happily chatting away with Sakura and Hinata, Sakura gloating about Hinata’s recent accomplishments. Sakura may have been a total dummy when it came to Hinata’s feelings but at least she was recently too occupied to really even think about flirting with Sasuke. She didn’t even try beating Ino to the punch of greeting him and asking him out on a date.

 

“Hey there, Ino.” Asahi waved, smiling. “It’s been ages since we’ve seen anyone from the Academy. You guys wrapping up a mission too?”

 

Ino tucked her disappointment away. “Yep, Kurenai-sensei went to go and report it in so we’re just doing nothing for now. When did you get back?”

 

“It’s been a few weeks. We’ve just been doing a lot of missions to really do anything else.”

 

Ino hummed in acknowledgement. She’d love to hear Sasuke’s retelling of their first trip out of the village. “Well, welcome back home.” Ino said instead. “We’ve been busy with our missions too.”

 

“Bah! Asahi, like we can even call what Kakashi-sensei’s been havin’ us do ‘missions’!” Naruto protested. “This is just community service! We need another mission outside the village again! You won’t believe the escort mission we had to the Land of Waves!” Naruto’s chest puffed smugly, hands behind his head. “It was crazy, right Asahi?”

 

Asahi’s own smile was more nervous, “that’s definitely the word for it.” He replied, eyes distant. “I’m just glad it’s over and we’re back in the village and doing some easier missions now.”

 

“Easy for you to say, man. I can’t wait for the next escort mission we have!” Naruto beamed. “Sakura-chan, you should have seen me! I was so cool!”

 

“Why don’t you tell Hinata all about it.” Sakura deadpanned, giving Hinata a small push forward. “She’ll probably be way more impressed than I would.”

 

Why does she have to be the most oblivious girl in all of the Land of Fire? 

 

“I-it’s alright, Sakura-san.” Hinata protested feebly. “I should probably-” Hinata cut herself off, looking behind Naruto. 

 

Ino looked herself. Is that…. a square rock? 

 

Naruto even looked put off and he was the most simple-minded person in their year. Naruto ran to the right and the box pursued. He ran back to where he had been originally and the box followed again. The chase kept up for a few more seconds before the blond finally had enough, pointing at the box accusingly. “Oh come on, even I know that this is a disguise! Rocks aren’t square!”

 

“... So you’ve seen through my disguise, huh?” The box said tersely. “As expected from my greatest rival.”

 

Suddenly, there was a flash of smoke and Ino immediately got to her guard as the smoke cleared and revealed three coughing children. Ino recognized the first boy immediately as Konohamaru Senju with his unkempt hair, yellow shirt, and blue cape. His friends, a girl with orange hair and a boy with a running nose, were unfamiliar.

 

“I think we used a little too much gunpowder.” Konohamaru coughed out.

 

Ino blinked.

 

At least the Third’s grandson was eager to be a ninja, that’s for sure. 

 

The three children suddenly noticed the group of genin staring at them blankly and got themselves together. 

 

“I’m Moegi, the sassiest kunoichi in the Academy!” The redhead announced.

 

“I love math!” Runny Nose Boy yelled in his own pose. “Udon!”

 

“And I’m the most brilliant ninja in all of Konoha, Konohamaru!”

 

“All together, we are the Konohamaru Ninja Squad!”

 

…….

 

“Yeah, I figured it was you.” Naruto broke the silence, clearly less than impressed. “What’s with the goggles?”

 

Konohamaru smiled with glee, gesturing to his own pair of goggles. “Well you used to wear goggles all the time so we’re copying you!”

 

…..

 

“Oh come on!” Konohamaru yelped when Naruto looked less than impressed. “You should be more excited, Big Bro!”

 

To think Naruto had his own little group that followed him around like ducks did their mother. It was almost cute. “So did you want something?” Naruto sighed.

 

“Well are you busy right now?” Moegi asked.

 

Naruto nodded, finally looking more excited to talk. “Yep, I have to go train, squirts!”

 

Konohamaru looked aghast, “that’s no fair! You promised to play Ninja with us today!”

 

Ino couldn’t contain the laughter that bubbled to the surface. A ninja playing ninja with some kids? Now that was hilarious, hilariously something only Naruto could manage even after miraculously graduating with the rest of the class. 

 

Even Sakura was thinking it. “A ninja playing ninja, Naruto?” She looked and sounded like a stern mother with her hands on her hips as she stared at the boy expectantly for some sort of answer.

 

Naruto only blushed with a nervous chuckle and scratched at the back of his head.

 

“That’s Naruto for you.” Asahi chuckled.

 

“Big Bro, who’s the chick with the pink hair?” Konohamaru asked as Naruto chuckled on. The wheels seemed to be spinning in his head when he finally opened his mouth with an ‘ah ha’. “Is this your girlfriend?”

 

Hinata’s freezing stature could be seen easily from where Ino was standing.

 

“Y-you young ones sure catch on fast.” Naruto replied, more than pleased. “Sakura-chan is pretty crazy about me, believe it.”

 

Sakura’s fist came faster than the speed of light, Naruto flying back. “AS IF, YOU MORON.”

 

“Big Bro!” Konohamaru and his friends ran quickly to the heap of orange and blue that remained.

 

“You insensitive, bonehead!” Sakura spat all but gesturing to Hinata. “Don’t just go around saying things that kids will just believe like that!”

 

Hinata held her hands up defensively, “S-Sakura-san, c-calm down.”

 

Green eyes looked sharply at lavender, Sakura grounding her teeth. After a few moments, Sakura’s huffs turned to sighs. “You’re lucky Hinata is here or I’d punch you a few more times and lecture your ears off.” She grumbled as Naruto staggered onto his feet. Her look became one of concern when the girl turned her gaze back onto Hinata’s, “sorry about him, Hinata. He’s denser than we thought.”

 

No, you’re denser than I thought! Ino grimaced in reply. 

 

Why couldn’t Hinata like someone easier to woo over? Even Naruto would somehow be easier since it wasn’t like he thought Hinata had a crush on anyone in particular. How is Hinata even friends with this guy? They like the same person. That would personally drive Ino insane. She made a mental note to ask Hinata that when she got the chance.

 

“Let’s go.” Sakura stuck her nose in the air. “We can go and eat something and just leave them to play ninja.” Sakura grabbed Hinata’s wrist and stomped off. “Come on, Ino. You too.”

 

“That’s right!” Konohamaru spat. “Keep going, Forehead Girl! You’re not even human!”

 

Sakura immediately stopped in her tracks.

 

Uh oh. Ino stepped to the side immediately. “Asahi, you might wanna step back. Sakura’s gonna snap.”

 

Asahi was already backing away to the nearest fence. “No need to tell me twice.”

 

Sakura let go of Hinata, eerily turning back to where Konohamaru stood beside his ‘rival’. Naruto and his ducklings winced immediately when Sakura’s jade green gaze landed on them like daggers.

 

Sakura dashed forward, full sprint.

 

Four screams released into the air as Naruto and his brood ran. 

 

“Sakura, come on he’s just a kid!” Ino called out but the cry landed on deaf ears as Sakura roared on. “I guess we should go after them.” Ino rolled her eyes. “You really want to date her ?” Ino eyed Hinata as they jogged after them, Sakura just barely in their line of sight.

 

Hinata huffed out a small chuckle. “Sakura-san is just a little energetic.”

 

That’s not the word I would choose.  “And you say my taste is bad.” Sasuke was definitely way cooler and level-headed than Sakura. Hinata was crazy if she thought otherwise. “You have your work cut out for you if you’re trying to get her attention. You should just tell it to her straight like Naruto does!” 

 

Hinata’s only reply to that statement was silence.

 

“Ow!”

 

The chase suddenly came to a halt when Konohamaru fell to the ground after bumping into a figure. He bumped into a boy clad in black, face covered in purple face paint. Beside him, a girl with a giant fan and sandy hair pulled into four pigtails. “S-sorry.” Konohamaru mumbled to the odd pair.

 

Ino sighed again. At least it was over and they could all finally go their separate ways with a simple apolo--

 

The black-clad teen only sneered, lifting Konohamaru by the cape. “That hurt, you little punk.” 

 

“Knock it off, Kankuro.” The girl remarked looking more disinterested than worried. “You’ll just get yelled at later.”

 

Sakura stepped forward, “Sorry, that was my fault. I was fooling around and got carried away.”

 

Ino’s blue eyes narrowed. What’s with this guy? She could understand it if maybe Naruto or Asahi had rammed into him full force. But to take it out on someone who was just a little kid? This Kankuro guy had some serious issues.

 

“Let go of Konohamaru right now, jerk!” Naruto barked.

 

Kankuro only smirked and Ino felt a chill down her back. “Why don’t we just mess with these punks for a while before he shows u-” Konohamaru’s feet kicking into his torso cut him off, the boy grinding out a ‘let me go’. “Well someone here is a lively punk, huh?”

 

“Why you!” Naruto bellowed, dashing forward with a fist bared.

 

Kankuro’s free hand wriggled his fingers peculiarly with a smirk that only widened when Naruto suddenly fell onto his back, surprise stark on his face. “Wh-what was that?”

 

The heck? Ino whipped her gaze to Hinata. “What was that just now?”

 

“I didn’t have my Byakugan out to see….” The girl mumbled, looking nervously at the sight before them.

 

“Look, I’m sorry about my teammate.” Asahi cut in, holding his arms in a placating manner. “But I’m sure that we can resolve this without fighting anyone. It was just a simple accident. So if you could let Konohamaru go we can just be on our way.”

 

Asahi got snuffed in return, “you’re all so annoying” Kankuro sneered. “I don’t like runts or any other scrawny weaklings. So when a wimp like this starts shooting off his mouth, I just wanna break him in half.”

 

What the hell is wrong with this guy?! Ino glared between Kankuro and the sandy-haired blonde beside him. Maybe if Naruto attacked him again that could be the distraction she needed to to use her jutsu and just force him to put Konohamaru down. Just as Ino came to that decision, the jerk lifted a fist to punch Konohamaru and Naruto dashed forward and Ino readied her fingers.

 

Then a gray pebble pelted across the air and Konohamaru came crashing down to earth.

 

Ino looked to her right from where the pebble came and saw black and blue.

 

“You’re a long way from home to cause trouble in another village.” Sasuke said as he broke a stone into dust. “Not to mention way out of your league.”

 

Gods, he’s so cool!

 


 

“I have summoned you for a very important purpose.” Hiruzen spoke clearly to the jonin gathered in the room. “Seeing your fellow jonin here, I’m sure you realize what this is about.” Kurenai certainly suspected it when she walked in the room and saw the small mass that had already began clumping together.

 

The most damning evidence, however, was Ibiki Morino’s presence. The proctor of the first part of the Exam.

 

Kakashi said dully, “So soon? I thought we’d have a little more time.”

 

“I take it that the other lands have been notified about the coming event.” It wasn’t a question, Asuma looked at his father expectantly. “I noticed that some of their genin have already arrived here in the village.”

 

Crimson eyes darted to the man beside her. That was an interesting fact to say the least. To think we, the hosting village’s jonin we would be notified so last minute about our Chunin Exam. “When do we start?” Kurenai asked, not wanting to waste anymore time. The girls really were on limited time. I need to amp up their training immediately, or else.... Inoichi’s face flashed in the female jonin’s mind. This team could be disbanded before they truly had the time to progress.

 

“We will begin in one week.” The Hokage answered, Kurenai’s surprise didn’t show on her face. That was even less time to prepare.

 

“That’s pretty short notice.” Kakashi voiced Kurenai’s thoughts aloud. It made her wonder how his own team was going. 

 

The Hokage only took a drag from his pipe before continuing. “Take heed.” He gravely voice spoke. “In exactly seven days from today. On the first day of July. The genin will be gathered and tested. Only the very best will be selected as chunin.”

 

And only my team has the threat of disbanding completely should the girls completely wash out. Kurenai grimaced internally, not allowing even the slightest bit of bitterness show on her face. There was always the chance, however, the girls wouldn’t want to participate. That could buy them an extra year of training. Kurenai wasn’t so sure if the previous generation of InoShikaChou would be so pleased if that ended up being the case. Kurenai wasn’t sure which option she preferred. Training even more this final week and hoping for the best or telling the Third the girls weren’t ready for this examination waiting for next year. Now it sounds like I don’t believe in them...

 

“It’s time we chose our candidates for the Chunin Examinations.” Hiruzen’s voice dragged Kurenai out of her thoughts. “Will those in charge of the rookie genin step forward.”

 

With a silent breath, Kurenai stepped forward in timed unison to Asuma and Kakashi. Her girls could do this.

 

“Kakashi, Kurenai, and Asuma. What do you say?” The Hokage prompted. “Are there any in your squads who are ready for the Exam despite their inexperience? As you know, any genin who has carried out eight or more missions is technically eligible for the examinations. Beside that, only you can determine if they are ready.” It was brief but Kurenai was sure she saw the man’s brown eyes dart to her. “Of course, there are many genin that require a longer training period. At least twice that many missions.”

 

Kurenai felt a surge of irritation.

 

“So Kakashi.” Hiruzen continued seamlessly. “You begin.”

 

The gray-haired man saluted with half a ram sign. “I lead Squad 7. Sasuke Uchiha, Naruto Uzumaki, Asahi Wataru.” He began. “I, Kakashi Hatake, recommend all three of these genin for the Chunin Selection Exams.”

 

A familiar gasp rang out in the room.

 

“And my squad,” Kurenai saluted with half a ram sign of her own. All her previous worries vanished. “is number 8. Hinata Hyuga, Sakura Haruno, Ino Yamanaka. And now I, Kurenai Yuhi.” Crimson eyes stared at the dulling brown eyes of her leader. “recommend all three.”

 

“And my squad is number 10.” Asuma saluted, looking amused. “Shikamaru Nara, Chouji Akimichi, Yuna Hamada. And now I, Asuma Sarutobi, recommend all three.”

 

Whispers rang around the room.

 

“Rookies?”

 

“This doesn’t make any sense.”

 

“What sort of training have they been enduring to be ready for the Exam already?”

 

Kurenai ignored it. Her squad would do just fine. They were smart, their skills were improving, and the entire village could take a kunai to the throat otherwise. 

 

“Hold on!” Kurenai looked over her shoulder, seeing a distraught Iruka stepping forward among the crowd.

 

“Yes, Iruka?” Hiruzen welcomed the man to the floor.

 

“Lord Hokage, with all respect… the nine names that were given were all my students at the Academy.” Iruka placed a hand on his chest. “I know their skills and abilities. Every one of them has great promise. But it’s too soon! They need more experience before they are tested. If they try now, they're going to fail the Exam!”

 

To her right, Kurenai felt Kakashi shifting as he turned to face Iruka completely. “When I became a chunin I was six years younger than Naruto is now.” The man said seriously.

 

“Naruto is nothing like you!” Iruka snapped furiously and Kurenai felt a sense of realization. That was what this was about. Naruto Uzumaki. Kurenai knew that Iruka always had a soft spot for the jinchuuriki. “Are you trying to destroy him!?”

 

“Well, they’re always complaining about not being challenged enough. Maybe wiping out in the Exams will teach them a lesson.” Kakashi replied, sounding indifferent. That was Sadistic Kakashi for you. “A little pain is good.”

 

“Wh-what did you say?!” Iruka exclaimed, brow furrowing further.

 

“Oh.” Kakashi dully corrected himself. “Nothing fatal, of course. But seriously Iruka, relax.” Kakashi continued on before Iruka could continue his protests. “I understand how you feel. It’s very personal for you and it upsets you but-”

 

“Alright, Kakashi. Back off you’ve said enough.” Kurnai interrupted, giving the taller man a sharp look. 

 

Kakashi spared no glance. “On the contrary, Kurenai, I haven’t said enough.” He said. “Iruka needs to hear this. He needs to realize that they’re not his students anymore. They’re mine .”

 

Iruka’s glare sharpened but he said nothing.

 

Kurenai sighed at the competitive feeling in the room.

 

“But these Exams could destroy them, you know that!” Iruka protested once more.

 

“Iruka.” Hiruzen’s voice entered the fray, drawing all eyes onto him. “You have made your point. I understand your worries, but this is something out of your control now. The moment your students became genin, they became soldiers of the village and under the commands of their sensei. This includes the Chunin Exams and decisions made by those sensei to determine whether or not they are truly ready for it. Stand down so we can continue.”

 

Iruka’s glare didn’t subside but the man held his tongue. There was no room left for differences in opinion. 

 

Nine of the newest rookies would be participating in the Chunin Exam whether their former teacher liked it or not, Naruto included. Even if Kakashi was right in that Iruka couldn’t coddle Naruto from the harsh realities of being a shinobi, Kurenai felt a pang of sympathy for him. Still, she held her own tongue as she fell back for the next row of jonin to give their assessments of their students.

 


 

“This was another great training session, girls.” Kurenai told her heavily panting students on the floor. “Sakura, you’re taijutsu has really improved lately, much lighter on the feet but you still close your eyes when an opponent attacks you. Ino, you still get too assured in your victory and that’s what leads to you being surprised in sparring sessions. Hinata, I know that striking first is a bit difficult for you but we will cover it more in our next bout of training.” The woman assessed quickly.

 

“You’ve been such a slave driver.” Ino grounded out between pants but Kurenai ignored the comment. They’d been training harshly for the past two days since the announcement from the Third about the Exams, Kurenai anxiously awaiting for her team’s copies of the application form. There was still so much to work on. 

 

“Now, now, I’ve told you about sitting after vigorous exercise.” Kurenai countered, sharp eyes giving them all a firm look. “We walk it off instead.”

 

Sakura and Ino groaned in unison, but the two of them still clambered up with Hinata following shakily after them. “You alright, Hinata?” Ino asked.

 

“I’m alright.” The Hyuga replied tiredly.

 

Once a rhythm had been set walking a loop around two nearby trees, Kurenai cleared her throat. “I have an announcement for you three.”

 

“Is it more training?” Ino asked sourly.

 

The corner of Kurenai’s lips twitched, “we can discuss that after.” She said smoothly. “I’ve recommended the three of you for the Chunin Exams.” 

 

The walking paused, all three students looking at their sensei with wide eyes. “What?” Sakura and Ino gaped in unison. 

 

Kurenai nodded, “I believe the three of you are ready for it.”

 

“B-but that means… the disbanding…” 

 

Kurenai gave Hinata a look of empathy remembering how visibly distraught the former heiress had been when Kurenai announced their predicament as a team on trial. “That’s right.” Hinata flinched at the firm tone of Kurenai’s voice. There was no point in sugar coating it. “This is where the fruits of our labor as Team 8 will be tested and will determine whether or not we will remain a team. Should we fail, we will be disbanded and organized into the original teams conceptualized.

 

“But I recommended you three because I believe in your skills as genin and as a team to overcome the trials that will be set before you. Admittedly, the Chunin Exams are difficult and will be no walk in the park, but regardless of the results, I want you girls to know I’ll be proud of you for putting forth your best efforts.”

 

Those words didn’t seem to soothe Hinata in the slightest. “But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, signing up for the Exams is completely voluntary.” Kurenai placed a hand on Hinata’s shoulder. “If you don’t feel you’re ready to participate, you can wait until next year. It’s an individual choice.” Though that choice will prevent the team as a whole from participating.

 

“Wouldn’t that just make my dad feel like we’re not a sturdy enough team in the first place?” Ino piped up, hands on her hips. “I mean, if not all of us decide to participate.”

 

“That’s a bridge to cross when we get there.” Came Kurenai’s reply. “This is still very short notice and angry as Inoichi may be, he is level-headed all in all. Things will happen as they’re meant to happen.”

 

Ino didn’t seem too convinced. “At least I know what team I’ll be going the moment we get disbanded.” The blonde drawled. “I’ll be going right to Asuma-sensei and be stuck with Pineapple Head and Mr. Big Boned. Two idiots who have no skill with girls at all.”

 

Hinata’s face even further, if that was even possible. “Ino, don’t write our team off just yet. We have no idea how this will play out.”

 

“Sorry.” Ino mumbled, finally seeing Hinata’s expression. “I was just joking, Hinata, we’ve been kicking butt since we started training with Kurenai so imagine how much but we’ll kick when we knock out those exams!”

 

Hinata only gave a weak ‘yeah’ in response.

 

“Hinata, cheer up. This could totally be a breeze!” Sakura smiled forcefully. “We should do something after this! Team bonding activities!”

 

“Good idea, Sakura.” Kurenai could appreciate Sakura’s efforts, at the very least. She reached into her kunai pouch to grab the application forms. “Now then, if you wish to participate in the Exams, go to room 301 at the Academy, 3pm sharp, five days from now.”

 

Each girl gingerly took a paper before Kurenai announced they should clean their training space before going to eat anything. “Kurenai-sensei.” Sakura said once she had her backpack properly packed and on her back firmly. “If we do end up being disbanded, what teams would Hinata and I go to?”

 

Blue eyes looked over in curiosity.

 

Lavender eyes looked over in anxiety.

 

Kurenai debated telling the pink-haired girl the answer.

 

On one hand, it was an innocent question. One that easily deserved an answer on the chance they did disband. The girls surely deserved to know who would be their newly assigned sensei and teammates, especially in Hinata’s case. But Sakura…. Kurenai’s mind drifted to the Uchiha boy and his being the new generation’s shinobi heartthrob. It almost seemed like playing with fire to give the girl any incentive to leave the team intentionally.

 

Then again, there was a chance she wouldn’t.

 

“I’ll be trusting you with this information, Sakura.” Kurenai peered into jade green eyes. “Hinata would remain on Team 8 with me. You would then be reassigned to being placed on Team 7 with Kakashi Hatake.”

 

The forest air seemed to grow tense.

 

“I’m trusting you all to make decisions based on your current team and abilities. Not based on where you will be put if things come to an unfortunate end.” Kurenai reaffirmed. “I’m trusting you all to make the right decisions.”

 

But I won’t stop you, whatever route you choose.

 


 

Hinata found herself unable to sleep that night.

 

I wish Kurenai-sensei didn’t say anything at all. Hinata’s eyes were hot, tears threatening to spill over. She buried her head deeper into the cherry blossom-and-red scarf she was holding. It was honestly too cruel, this sort of pattern always seeming to happen to her.

 

Right when something is in her grasp, it slips away without a trace.

 

Her right to being heiress first and now Sakura being on her team.

 

With that in mind, it was easy to remember Sakura’s words from that winter day when they were in the Academy. Things could change which meant destiny could change too, it was something you could take control of with your will. And if that were the case, it meant Sakura could do the same too. Sometimes the destinies you wanted to be intertwined weren’t possible. 

 

Maybe if I were aloof like Sasuke-san or bold like Naruto-kun… Hinata sniffled. Maybe then I could be someone Sakura-san would want to look out for. As far from Sakura’s preferred love interest as Naruto may have been, she still noticed him. It was impossible not to miss the boy regardless of your opinion of him. I want to be bolder. I’ll be bolder. The former heiress promised herself.

 


 

“Thanks again for the extra training, Hinata.” Sakura smiled a day later as she set down her pack. She and Hinata had been meeting up once a week since the Hyuga offered to help Sakura’s taijutsu improve.

 

“It’s fine, I like training together.” Hinata smiled softly, hoping her eyes weren’t red and puffy. She splashed her face with cool water multiple times this morning to make sure they would look absolutely normal. Even if Hinata felt like her heart would rip in two if their team were to disband, she at least hoped that she and Sakura could spar together when they could. “Maybe we could invite Ino-san to train with us too.”

 

“We’ll probably have to with the Chunin Exams coming up right around the corner.” Sakura grumbled. “Have you decided if you were going to sign up yet?”

 

Hinata looked down at her own pack. “I-I think I might sign up.”

 

“Really?” Sakura sounded surprised. “That’s great!”

 

Hinata’s heart skipped at the praise, peeking over at her pink-haired companion. “Really?”

 

Sakura nodded, “it just means you’re growing more confident in yourself and your abilities.” Sakura smiled. “You’ve always had decent marks in taijutsu when we were in the Academy, I was pretty envious back then since you were always so quiet. My mom always says it’s the quiet ones you have to look out for. I guess she was right.”

 

“I-I’m not that-”

 

“You’re good enough to be recommended for the Chunin Exams.” Sakura interrupted sharply. “Self-confidence, self-confidence, self-confidence.” Sakura repeated like a mantra. “If you can help me with taijutsu, I’m gonna give you the biggest confidence boost.”

 

Hinata’s face felt warm and she instead focused on doing her stretches. Sakura really did have some sort of warmth that made people feel more assured in themselves. How such a warm-hearted girl ever came to love someone like Sasuke, Hinata had no clue. It was something she had wondered ever since she had noticed Sakura’s frequent glances to Sasuke during class.

 

Sakura sighed as she began her own stretches. “Kurenai-sensei’s training always makes me feel like I’m dying afterwards, so this is really nice.”

 

“Y-yeah.” Hinata agreed. Their sensei was never one for pulling punches. “But… but I think we’re getting stronger, even a little bit.” Hinata wanted to believe that with all her heart. Getting the experience with new styles outside of the Gentle Fist really was helping her and would prepare her for her first real mission outside the village, whenever that would be. Part of Hinata looked forward to it, the other part was hesitant. Maybe after the Chunin Exam, she would finally be able to partake in said missions. Potentially with her current team.

 

Expectantly with whoever her new teammates would be.

 

“I think I might have Kurenai-sensei’s mirage technique down, mind if I try it today?” Sakura asked when their stretching was done.

 

“Not at all, Sakura-san.” Hinata replied, happy to let her companion perfect her technique.

 

Sakura beamed, readying a fighting stance. It was well-placed, no openings and close to Sakura’s center. Sakura really had improved since their days in the Academy, the subject she had struggled with the most. “I’m ready when you and your Byakugan are!” Sakura called.

 

Despite Hinata’s hesitance to use it on her teammates, it had become habitual for her Byakugan to be utilized in training.

 

With a deep breath and hand signs, Hinata set into her family’s preferred stance and Sakura charged forward.

 

Here it comes. Hinata dodged a well-timed punch. Sakura always led with her right fist when she was attacking. Hinata prepared a parry, eyes trained on Sakura’s chark network for any flares that would signify Sakura was preparing to use a genjutsu.

 

Hinata landed a palm on Sakura’s shoulder and leaped back. 

 

“Strike a little harder!” Sakura called.

 

“R-right!” Hinata called back. “Make sure not to lead with the same hand often!” She added quickly, not wanting Sakura to be the only one giving helpful advice.

 

Sakura charged forward again, this time with a leg swinging Hinata’s way.

 

Much better.

 

Hinata shuffled out the way in the nick of time. Leg work was definitely more of Ino’s terrain but Sakura was getting there, slowly but surely. Hinata darted two palms forward to Sakura’s stomach, hoping it wasn’t too hard. Still, Sakura fell onto her butt with an ‘oof’.

 

“Looks like you win this round.” Sakura grumbled.

 

Hinata relaxed her eyes and gave Sakura a worried glance, “I didn’t hurt you did I?”

 

“You definitely hurt my balance.” Sakura’s tone was light-hearted in contrast to her word choice. “I thought I would get out of the way in time. But the next round is mine, yknow.”

 

Hinata gave Sakura a reassuring smile. “We can try your genjutsu this time.” That round ended a bit too quickly for Sakura to do much of anything with her newly acquired jutsu.

 

“This time for sure.” Sakura stood up and dusted her skirt. “Brace yourself, alright?” Sakura’s hands formed the tiger sign, hands moving swiftly between the sequences. Boar, tiger, horse, ox and Sakura’s body quickly dissolved into hot pink petals that scattered off in the wind.

 

Hinata readied her Byakugan with a quick snake sign and after a moment, she saw movement coming from her left.

 


 

“Those really are some powerful eyes.” Sakura sighed loudly as she paced. “You see everything .”

 

Hinata shook her head, trailing after her in their cooldown. “Not everything… but almost everything” She admitted. “We can’t see at one point at the back of our neck.” The one blindspot a Hyuga couldn’t see in. Something the Revolving Heaven technique was developed to cover, though Hinata herself hadn’t mastered or attempted it yet. 

 

Yet Neji had mastered merely by watching Main Branch members practice.

 

It was admirable and intimidating all at once.

 

Sakura’s eyes were owlish in her surprise. “You’re alright with telling me that?”

 

“W-well we’re teammates so…” Hinata twiddled her fingers. “I trust you to protect that spot in missions.” Almost immediately after saying that, Hinata’s stomach filled with anxiety. “I mean... maybe if we’re still teammates after the Exams. B-but maybe if we ever work on missions afterwards together, we could still fight enemies together.”

 

Sakura’s expression was thoughtful, “yeah… I wasn’t expecting all this Chunin Exam stuff yet, it seems like we were in the Academy just a few days ago.”

 

“.... It’ll be difficult training with Sasuke-san with his Sharingan.” Hinata realized. She didn’t know much about Uchiha aside from their similar origins but she knew about their eyes' mimicking abilities. Not even the Byakugan could do that. “B-but I know you’ll do great with your genjutsu, Sakura-san.” Regardless of what happened to their team, that wouldn’t change.

 

“And you’ll keep being a great taijutsu teacher.” Sakura replied pleasantly. “I’m probably gonna have to keep running back to our sparring sessions even if I do get put on a team with Sasuke-kun.”

 

Hinata hoped her smile didn’t look strained. “Can I ask you something?” 

 

Sakura gave her a light nod.

 

….

 

“Why… do you like Sasuke-san so much?” Hinata finally asked. Her curiosity needed to be sated on this topic.

 

Sakura blinked and halted to a stop, Hinata stopping her pacing as well. Her face felt hot but she still wanted to know the answer. “Wha-” Sakura finally seemed to come to with a flustered face. “W-what’s that supposed to mean?”

 

Hinata glanced at her feet. “I was just curious…” She muttered. “Y-you and Ino-san seem to like him so much so…” She trailed off, letting Sakura fill in any blanks. Why anyone had a crush on Sasuke despite his continuously rude behavior was beyond Hinata’s comprehension.

 

“W-well why do you like Naruto?” Sakura stammered.

 

“I d-don’t like him like that!” Hinata exclaimed, lavender staring at jade. “N-Naruto-kun is just my first real friend so it’s easier talking with him. B-but I don’t like him, not like that.” He was just a good friend. And a rival. Nothing more, nothing less. 

 

“..... seriously?” Sakura sounded doubtful.

 

Hinata nodded. She was sure her face was scarlet but she was determined to clarify Sakura’s misconception once and for all. “I don’t like Naruto-kun like that.” I like someone else. She wanted to add. Those words couldn’t seem to push themselves out her throat, however.

 


 

On Exam day, Sakura’s head was throbbing as she waited for her teammates to arrive at their meeting point to turn in their applications. 

 

“Why… do you like Sasuke-san so much?” Hinata had asked.

 

Sakura grimaced and bit her lip. That question from Hinata of all people was more than surprising. Even more surprising was the girl’s adamant rejection of Sakura’s beliefs that she had a crush on Naruto. Maybe Sakura had been wrong about dismissing Hinata as a rival before?

 

Wake up.

 

Sakura had to stop herself from biting her lip to bleeding. She knew already. The idea of Hinata crushing on Sasuke was just a distraction. Hinata never seemed drawn to Sasuke at all.

 

Yet she still asked that question.

 

Sakura hadn’t been able to answer her, much to her own frustration because she couldn’t think of anything explicitly.

 

Did she really need a deep reasoning for her crush?

 

Sasuke was handsome.

 

He was an amazingly skilled shinobi, with a very impressively display of shuriken throwing techniques.

 

What was there not to like? Sakura really respected and admired that about him. Naruto should feel happy, having such a strong member on his team. Someone reliable and attentive to detail, it was easy to feel reassured with that kind of person on your team. Someone who can keep you safe.

 

Wake up, Sakura.

 

Sakura’s thoughts drifted to the kissing fiasco on their last real day at the Academy and felt a surge of irritation. No one deserved a first kiss like that, those were supposed to be sacred and with someone you loved. As far as Sakura was concerned, Sasuke didn’t love anyone yet.

 

But were those feelings alone enough for Sakura to say she liked him undoubtedly?

 

Sakura barely noticed when Ino arrived, giving her a half-hearted greeting. Now Hinata had Sakura questioning her entire belief system surrounding her crush. She recalled the day that started it all, that feeling of her heart thumping when she stumbled upon Sasuke and his training.

 

Sasuke was skilled in techniques Sakura could never master.

 

He was from a respectable clan.

 

Was confident in his abilities

 

It was almost like her old, admittable, crush on Ino. Sakura spared the blonde a glance vaguely remembering how she used to feel when she looked at her. None of that remained, only the desire to be a better kunoichi. Maybe I just have a thing for people in big clans. Sakura didn’t want to admit that too much to herself. She often tried forgetting about her days pining for Ino.

 

That probably wasn’t it anyway.

 

Ino just seemed like she was an entirely different galaxy than Sakura was orbiting. And she was pretty. And she was bright like the sun.

 

Sasuke-kun’s her polar opposite in terms of personality. Sakura blinked. He was quiet and kept to himself and he was mysterious, something about that very fact being quite drawing. Sasuke might not be her true love or anything--

 

Sakura paused.

 

“UGH!” Sakura tugged at her pink locks in frustration.

 

“What the heck, Billboard Brow you’ve been acting so weird!”

 

“A-are you okay?” 

 

When did Hinata get here was the real question. Sakura cleared her throat, “s-sorry, about that, was just thinking about my dad’s bad jokes.” She coughed, hoping that was convincing under blue and lavender eyes. “We should all just head to the Academy!” 

 

Without waiting for a response, Sakura tugged her teammates forward to the Academy grounds pushing away her thoughts completely. She had an Exam to pass right now.

 

Chapter Text

“Sakura, when it comes to sensing genjutsu, always recognize the change in the air surrounding you. It will be as clear as day to notice the feeling that something is off. It almost feels like thick molasses has covered everything.”

 

Sakura felt that feeling almost immediately when she and her team reached the staircase of the second floor. She paused. “Wait a minute. Do you feel that?”

 

Ino, a few steps ahead, stopped to give Sakura a curious look. “Feel what?” There was no sarcasm or teasing that laced her tone.

 

“Someone’s using a genjutsu.” Sakura muttered, a nervous sweat building up lightly on her skin. That sickeningly thick molasses feeling slowly became more and more prevalent the longer she sensed it. “I know that feeling anywhere by now with Kurenai-sensei practically beating it into me with her tree binding technique.” It would be embarrassing if she hadn’t felt it at all, all things considered. “It doesn’t necessarily feel hostile but… it’s definitely a genjutsu.”

 

“Should we keep going this way?” Hinata asked softly, concerned.

 

“We’ll have to.” Ino said though she looked reluctant. “This is the only way to the third floor. We’ll just have to dispel it. It’s probably just the jonin trying to spook us or something. But we can’t be spooked if we already know their tricks.” Ino laid her hands on her hips. “Come on.” 

 

Sakura shrugged, “I guess she’s right.” She said, looking at her blue-haired companion.

 

“Why… do you like Sasuke-san so much?” 

 

Sakura felt her stomach lurch and she cleared her throat. “Let’s hurry up after Ino so she doesn’t just leave us in the dust.” Sakura coughed, following after the blonde. She didn’t have the time to think about Hinata’s mind-probing questions, they had an exam to focus on that would further her kunoichi career.

 

By the time they reached the floor two, there was already a crowd of people dotting the floor.

 

“Can you see?”

 

“I dunno…”

 

“What’s going on up there?”

 

“Agh!”

 

Sakura flinched back in surprise when she heard the familiar sound of someone being punched. She stood on her tiptoes, barely able to catch a streak of green hitting the floor. “I can barely see anything like this.” She murmured.

 

“Hey, clear the space around the door, people!” Ino exclaimed sharply, hands on her hips. She paid no mind to the irritated looks sent her way, chin held high. It was no wonder that people still stepped back, leaving a clear line for them to see what was going on.

 

Sprawled on the floor was the same green spandex wearing shinobi that had asked Sakura out some time ago. Sakura hadn’t been expecting to ever see him again. Rock Lee, I think? One of Lee’s teammates drew attention back to the situation at hand, the girl with the buns, Tenten. “Please let us through!” The brunette begged two boys their age. They both stood where ‘301’ “We’re supposed to go in there.” She stood up cautiously, taking a step forward when she was suddenly knocked back by a fist. Lee caught her swiftly and Sakura’s job dropped at the audacity.

 

“What did you say?” The boy on the right with a surprisingly red nose leered smugly. “Listen here, genin.” He snorted. “We’re being nice to you!”

 

“Nice?!” Ino repeated incredulously, blue eyes wide with anger.

 

“Clearly.” The boy replied like it was obvious, smirking all the while. “The Chunin Exam is ridiculously hard.”

 

His friend nodded, wearing a smirk of his own. “We’ve seen many people quit being shinobi altogether, even people become disabled because of the Exam.”

 

“And a chunin is a unit leader’s level.” The first boy continued as if he and his friend were sharing each other’s thoughts telepathically. “Deaths of teammates, mission failures, it’s all the responsibility of a leader. Trust me, most of you guys don’t have what it takes to be chunin. What’s wrong with weeding out the weaklings now and calling it a day?”

 

Ino was seething and Sakura’s brow furrowed right beside her. “That’s not for you to say!” Ino spat, taking a step forward.

 

“Even more so,” Sakura glared at the door sign the boys were standing under. 301 it read, but the concentrated feeling of a genjutsu felt more prominent than ever. “this is clearly the second floor! Leave the genjutsu tricks and tests to the jonin!”

 

Around her, Sakura could hear the mumbling of her peers’ surprise.

 

“The second floor?”

 

“Is she serious?”

 

“No way!”

 

“She’s right.” Sakura nearly jolted at the sudden presence behind her, whipping her head around to the sight of black hair and matching eyes. Sasuke glared past her at the boys standing guard. “This is the second floor. I don’t care if you feel like taking out weaklings, but take down the barrier. It’s annoying.”

 

The boys finally looked something more than arrogant. “Oh so you two brats noticed, huh?”

 

Sakura glanced at Sasuke as he walked ahead of her, barely hearing Ino’s quiet praise that of course Sasuke noticed immediately what was going on. A few days ago, Sakura would have been squealing that Sasuke agreed with her analysis and reaffirmed it to an entire crowd. Now she felt dull and empty and confused. What’s wrong with me? Sakura grimaced to herself. Sasuke-kun. You like Sasuke-kun. Romantically.

 

The pink-haired genin was only brought back to reality when she was gently yanked back as Sasuke and one of the genin prepared to fight, a blur of green suddenly passing through and catching their legs mid-air before blows could be exchanged. Sakura blinked and looked to her right, surprised to see Hinata standing so closely to her.

 

“S-sorry!” Hinata’s face turned red as she took a step back, letting go of Sakura’s arm hurriedly. “It looked like it was going to be violent a-and I didn’t want you getting hurt and-”

 

“Thanks, Hinata.” Sakura smiled appreciatively. “You don’t have to freak out. I shouldn’t have spaced out like that.” She looked back to what could’ve been an ugly kick to her face had she stayed in place too long to see Sasuke and the other genin’s kicks halted by Lee. Gods he is fast! Where was the boy who had been punched in the face so easily only moments before and who was this?

 

“What do you think you’re doing?” A cold voice spoke as Neji approached the scene with a scowl. “You were the one who said that we should keep a low profile throughout this exam so we wouldn’t catch any unwanted attention.”

 

Lee flinched with a sheepish expression, “but…” His black eyes darted in Sakura’s direction and Sakura pursed her lips.

 

Tenten made a frown to match Neji’s as she realized what was going on, “really Lee?”

 

Oh no, not this again. There was nothing Sakura knew about this boy other than the fact he saw her walking around close to a training facility and that alone wasn’t enough to make her date anyone. Let alone someone who wore green spandex in this sort of weather and expected her to be into it.

 

Undeterred, the boy began approaching her anyway and Sakura scrambled to find the politest way to turn him down. I’m already dealing with this Sasuke-kun thing during the Exams and that’s enough for me! “Sakura-san!” Lee called intensely. “About what I asked you last ti-”

 

“I really need to focus on the exams, I’m sorry!” Sakura blurted before he could even finish the recollection of their previous encounter. The look of disappointment on Lee’s face was palpable but Sakura offered a sympathetic smile. “I wanna focus on being a kunoichi right now so… sorry.”

 

“See, Lee?!” Tenten scolded, tugging at his ear. “She’s trying to focus which you should be doing!”

 

“I just thought-” 

 

Sakura sighed in relief that the crisis was averted. “We should get out of-” Sakura trailed off from whispering in Hinata’s ears when she noticed how the girl had shriveled into her hood, eyes finding the floor interesting. Sakura raised an eyebrow, preparing to get the girl’s attention when she felt like eyes were burning into her side. What’s his problem? Sakura glared when she realized it was the only other Hyuga in the room glaring at her teammate with what felt like the wrath of a thousand suns. Sakura took a firm step in front of her teammate with a sickeningly sweet smile. “Is there something that you need before we go to the second floor?”

 

Neji’s glare lightened but it didn’t falter. “I’m just surprised to see Lady Hinata here at the Chunin Exams.”

 

‘Lady Hinata’, huh? Sakura vaguely remembered Hinata referring to Neji as her cousin the last time she was at the Hyuga Compound. He must be from a branch family then. The book she’d read in the Hyuga section of the Noble Clans history novel had only covered them briefly. The Hyuga were full of secrets unrevealed to the rest of Konoha but even the book had described that there were political tensions within the Clan due to the differences in treatment between the main and branch families. 

 

The rules favored the main family of the Hyuga. A tale as old as time, Sakura encountering stories like this plenty of times in the Academy’s history lessons about the downfall of minor Clans in the Land of Fire’s past. 

 

“Of course she is.” Sakura crossed her arms. “Our team is just as ready as anyone else’s so we’ll be seeing you there, I guess.” Sakura’s tone had more than a hint of finality that Neji could pick up and it was thankfully left at that. “We should get to the third floor.” She announced loudly to her team.

 

Asahi, glancing nervously at Sasuke who was exchanging sharp words with Hinata’s cousin, “yeah we should get going too. We don’t need another fight breaking out.” Almost instinctively, he placed a hand on Naruto’s shoulder to keep him from running off and making a rival out of a complete stranger. “The earlier we get enrolled for the exam, the better. We’re bringing attention to ourselves.”

 

Ino grinned confidently, “it’s fine, we’d do that anyway.” Still she ceded to Asahi’s desire, excitedly posturing up to Sasuke. “That was amazing back there, Sasuke-kun, you must be taking your training so seriously!”

 

Why does Ino like him so much? Sakura looked after the two, sure that Sasuke was likely making an uncaring expression. A part of her wanted to give into old habits and chase after them, letting Ino know she wouldn’t be left behind. But as if we can focus on that with Hinata’s cousin around.

 

“Hinata?”

 

Hinata looked up with a start, “yes?”

 

“You okay?”

 

Hinata nodded with a smile that was as fake as Sakura’s chances of being a long lost member of the Sarutobi Clan. “I’m fine, really.”

 

Sakura held back her protests and nodded, “okay, if you’re sure.”

 

“Hey, Naruto.” Sakura leaned towards the orange-clad ninja closely after kicking up her speed to walk beside him. She occasionally glanced worried jade eyes looking back at Hinata’s downcast form. Naruto leaned even closer and Sakura pushed back the urge to swat the boy for being insensitive in front of Hinata when she reminded herself. Hinata said she doesn’t like him. 

 

“Yeah, w-what is it?”

 

“Has…” Sakura bit her lip, not sure if it was her business to bring up. But Naruto’s still Hinata’s friend. She might’ve told him something, right? “Hinata ever talked about her cousin Neji? I don’t think they get along that well.”

 

Naruto blinked in confusion, “oh that guy with the mean mug from before? She’s never brought him up whenever I’ve seen her.”

 

Sakura hummed in displeasure, sighing. “I was hoping you’d know more than me since you’ve been friends with her longer than I have.” And Ino was too busy going gaga over him the last time we saw him, so I’m not sure if she even noticed. “That guy, I think he’s from one of the Hyuga’s branch families. Hinata’s not though, she’s the heiress of her Clan. But from what I hear, the main and branch families don’t get along.”

 

“You think he wouldn’t like her for something like she can’t help?” Naruto sounded incredulous but for once Konoha’s resident loudmouth kept his voice low. “It’s not her fault she was born the heiress, Hinata-chan’s the nicest person in the entire village. How would anyone not like her?”

 

Despite the tension gripping her belly, Sakura couldn’t help her smile at Naruto’s assessment. “Yeah she is.” She helped Sakura with her taijutsu training and always seemed to have medicinal salves at the ready. The thought of anyone not liking her, let alone for her position as her Clan’s heiress seemed preposterous. But it is always possible. And it could always be something more than petty Clan politics too. ”Just promise you’ll help me look after her during the exam to make sure that guy doesn’t do anything? I know Hinata’s strong. She always has to help me with training. But about this…? I could be freaking out over nothing but-”

 

The blond shinobi nodded, much to Sakura’s relief. “Yeah I can do that. He looked like a jerk anyway.”

 

Sakura nodded. “You can say that again.”

 

Naruto crossed his arms, lips pursed in dismay. “That guy looked like a jerk anyway. A huge jerk.”

 

Sakura snorted and gave Naruto a light shove, “I didn’t mean literally, you dork.” Naruto wasn’t so bad actually.

 

“And what are you two joking about over there?” Ino queried with her hands on her hips, a fine blonde brow raised suspiciously. “I thought you wanted us all to hurry up for the registration instead of just standing around and gossipping.”

 

Sakura clicked her tongue, “we’re making great time, Porker.” She glanced at Hinata and tried not to make a face at how Hinata’s smile looked forced. “Don’t worry, Hinata.” In a few backwards paces, Sakura was walking in tune to the Hyuga’s steps. “I’m sure the Exams are going to be a lot easier than what those guys from before said, we’ll be fine.” At the very least, hopefully nothing like just now will happen again.

 

Yet almost as soon as she had that thought, the universe decided it wanted to prove Sakura wrong. “Hey, you with the attitude!” A voice called out sharply and Sakura wanted to scream to the heavens. Not this guy again. Sakura groaned as she saw Lee glaring down at them.

 

“This guy again?” Ino voiced Sakura’s thoughts.

 

Sasuke was unperturbed, “what do you want?” He asked boredly.

 

“I want to fight.” Lee declared, unshaken as he jumped to the ground floor with the rest of them. “Right here and now. My name is Rock Lee, Sasuke Uchiha.”

 

“You know me and you still want to challenge me?” Much to Sakura’s dismay, Sasuke sounded more intrigued than he had moments ago. “Like you said, you know I’m an Uchiha, right?”

 

Lee fell into a stance, unprompted. “Of course. Everyone always talks about how amazing the Uchiha’s strength and techniques are and I wish to see that for myself.”

 

Sasuke’s dark eyes narrowed. “If you really want to test my clan so much, then go right ahead.”

 

“I get this weirdo first!” Naruto growled, irritated. Sakura was sure she saw what was the last of Asahi’s soul and patience leaving his body as Sasuke nodded smoothly. ‘Go ahead’ Sasuke said. ‘Go for it’ Sasuke said.

 

Asahi stepped forward, sharply. “Absolutely not, we have less than a half hour to get registered for the Exams. We don’t have time for this.” Looks like I dodged a bullet because this could be me right now. Sakura suppressed a shudder and corrected herself. Well it at least would be lively. “Do this later when we don’t have a time limit!”

 

“Asahi’s right, we don’t have time for this.” Sakura backed the brunet up. “We should get registered as soon as possible and you guys can just do this la- and he’s already going for it.”

 

Asahi strangled the air with a frustrated sound. “Why did I have to get paired with two knuckleheads who don’t understand the concept of time!” He whispered loudly, Sasuke pointedly ignoring him. At the very least, with the simple swat of a hand and a sweeping kick, Naruto was down for the count. “Do you have this out of your system now? Can we just do this later?”

 

But as Sasuke and Lee’s eyes met, Sakura knew this was a losing battle and so did Asahi.

 

The boy sighed, “forget it, I’ll just wait for them at registration.” Asahi threw his hands in the air in defeat.

 

Hinata looked after the brunet with a worried expression, “should we get Naruto-kun and go too?”

 

Ino fidgeted, “well it isn’t like it’ll take long for Sasuke-kun to knock this guy out flat the way he did Naruto.” The blonde justified it with a flustered but assured crossing of her arms as Sasuke charged forward. “And Naruto’s fine, that guy barely did anything. He’s just upset he lost.”

 

Sakura pressed her lips into a line but she didn’t protest. A part of her, a large one, was interested in what would be the result of this fight herself. If we don’t pass the exams, I’ll be on a team with Sasuke-kun. I should use this time to see what sort of moves he has. Even when Kurenai said it, Sakura didn’t feel a complete sense of elation at the news. After talking with Hinata, she was even more confused.

 

This was something she’d wanted even before she was declared a member of Team Eight. Then it turned out she was supposed to be on Team Seven before she was placed on another. Sakura fell deeper into her thoughts.

 

What if I was on Team Seven right now instead of Team Eight?

 

Would Sasuke offer to help her improve her taijutsu as Hinata did?

 

Would their sensei prioritize team relationships like Kurenai, commanding that they spend some sort of time together as a team outside of missions? With how chaotic Sasuke, Naruto, and Asahi’s dynamics were, Sakura wasn’t sure if he did.

 

Would her relationship had improved with Naruto’s the way it had? Sure she was getting along with him now, but that was because of their mutual friendship with Hinata. Hinata who Sakura had only grown close to because of their placement on Team Eight. Hinata who asks weird questions before an important exam.

 

Sakura spotted Asahi who, for all his griping, had edged around the sudden ‘battlefield’ to help Naruto get on his feet as Sasuke was kicked back by Lee.

 

Sakura watched in surprise as Sasuke stood up, ready once again, red eyes gleaming with two tomoes dancing around each pupil. Amazing, so that’s the Sharingan. Even amidst her inner turmoil, Sakura couldn’t help being impressed. Those eyes can do things that not even a Byakugan can do. And unlike the Byakugan, this doujutsu wasn’t present permanently. And he must have trained like crazy to activate it. How long has he been able to do it? It hit Sakura then how many people she was surrounded by who were blessed to be from amazing clans with amazing kekkei genkai since her Academy days.

 

There was nothing of note from the Harunos. She felt the brief sting of envy that she pushed down. They still trained hard back in the Academy so they could graduate.

 

Sakura remembered how Ino would have to spend hours a day training even after school and worrying if she was going to be hurt or catch a stress-induced fever. I just need to train harder if I want to get better at standing up to Hinata’s Byakugan or a Sharingan or even Ino’s Mind Transfer jutsus. 

 

Sasuke was catapulted into the air by a kick to the chin, Lee’s flexibility and speed was impeccable.

 

“We should get going.” Sakura said at last, ignoring Ino’s look of surprise. “I don’t wanna push our luck waiting for Naruto’s team so we should go ahead and just wait for them there.” She waved off Hinata’s worried expression, Hinata was a bit too intuitive for Sakura’s liking at times when she wanted to wallow quietly. Besides, if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s exams!

 


 

“Sasuke-kun, I’ve been waiting for you to show up!” Ino launched herself onto Sasuke’s back nearly twenty minutes later when Team Seven finally arrived to the examination room.

 

Sakura sighed in exasperation but didn’t complain, catching the tired look on Asahi’s face. At least Naruto’s team made it in time, along with Lee’s who kept their distance. Sakura glared discreetly, squinting at Neji. Thankfully, his energy was directed elsewhere rather than making Hinata feel uncomfortable.

 

“Oh, you guys came too?” Shikamaru asked, voice as bored as ever, Chouji by his side.

 

Naruto looked unsurprised, “oh it’s the idiot duo.”

 

“Can you stop calling us that?” Shikamaru sniped before grumbling under his breath. Sakura held back a snicker.

 

“Shikamaru-san is the same as always, huh?” Hinata whispered and Sakura nodded, glad her earlier gloom was dissipating. “It’s almost like being back at the Academy again.” It was almost a given at one point that Naruto, Shikamaru, and Chouji would be three of four students constantly in detention.

 

“All we need now is for Kiba and A-”

 

“Well well well.” Kiba sauntered over with a smirk, his ever faithful hound Akamaru resting atop his head. Sakura and Hinata shared a look before erupting into quiet giggles. “Looks like the whole gang's back together again.” Minus the intimidating and unfamiliar faces, Sakura appreciated the sense of normalcy this arrangement presented as Kiba went on to tease Sasuke.

 

“Even if the porker can be annoying, let’s do our best to knock this exam out of the park.” Sakura beamed quietly at her blue-haired companion. 

 

Hinata looked back at Sakura with a start but a small but pleasant smile adorned her face quickly. “Let’s do our best.”