Into the Water
Sakura had always loved the water.
As a child, she had been fascinated with the way the Nara river sparkled in the midday sun, how the bubbles broke as it splashed against the rocks. She’d play in the river’s edge, jumping up and down and watching the droplets land on the rocks of the shore. Other times, she’d block a stream with rocks or twigs or mud, waiting until the water either broke through or found another way around. She couldn’t stop it. Not for long.
Her mother came to dislike the rain, because without fail Sakura would play in the puddles and step in the mud until her little dresses were brown and dirty and completely ruined.
Learning was a distant second-love. The smell of old texts, thoughts and ideas of those she would never get to meet was entrancing. The library was one of her favourite places to hide and read away the day.
But she always came back to the water’s edge.
When the distraction of the library failed to keep her attention, her parents would find her at the nearest brook, shoes off and giggling. If they weren’t quick enough, she’d jump in and be nearly impossible to pull out.
”It’s like father all over again.” Kaoru-oba-san would sigh, bones creaking and grey hair that still had streaks of the dark brown of her youth. “The rare times we ever saw him, of course. He’d always disappear off to the river near the house. I don’t know how mother put up with him.”
”Yes, mother, I’m sure.” Mebuki replied, before turning back to her daughter. “Oh- Sakura! Not in your new dress!”
It didn’t get better when she got to the academy like her parents had hoped.
She was picked on for her forehead and the books she’d carry with her to class. Some times she would bring scrolls, the kind that she needed both hands to carry, from the family collection. They had been left by her great-grandfather, half complete with thoughts that trailed off before starting a new train that seemed to go in a different direction before looping back to the original thought. She struggled with the words some times, but it was always a challenge and not a barrier - oh. Now that was an interesting idea for a political system. Similar to how Konoha operated even.
And when the bullying reached a level she couldn’t tolerate, Sakura would run to the small lake near the Academy and swim to the other side. Her teachers would shout at her, but she couldn’t have been bothered to come back until after the break had finished.
In the water, she was uncatchable.
”Sometimes an elemental affinity will run deep in a shinobi, to depths not even they are aware of.” Sarutobi offered as an explanation to Iruka when the chunin instructor expressed his frustrations. He hid his amusement at the Chunin's predicament with a long draw on his pipe, exhaling the smoke in a stream.
”I just wish she wouldn’t spend all her time alone in the lake. Sakura needs to spend time with her peers.” Iruka grumbled, “And I can’t catch her when she’s in there either.”
Uchiha Sasuke became her third love in life, distant compared to her first, or even her second at times. Sakura liked him not because he was pretty, which was why Ino liked him, or because he came from a clan, which was why the other girls liked him, but because he was smart.
Trying to get his attention took almost all of hers. She didn’t have time to read the old scrolls gathering dust in a corner of her bedroom, so she put them away somewhere safe. Ino-chan had explained that spending all her time in the lake made her weird, and her bullies never dared pick on her with Ino around, so she stopped her daily swims, but never managed to pull completely away from the water’s edge at lunch time.
She aced her studies, and did well enough with the combat component that she was one of the top kunoichi. Sasuke-kun still never seemed to look at her.
She ended up on Team 7 with Sasuke-kun and Naruto, the class idiot. After her first day with Kakashi-sensei and the boys, Sakura was left disheartened with her team. It didn't really improve much from there.
She did, however, take heart in the training grounds Team 7 claimed as their own. There was a river close by, and no matter where her training took her on the ground, the water was a constant and reassuring presence in the back of her mind. Sakura always knew where the river ran, if it was swollen with rain water or shrunken with a summer drought, and it kept her grounded in a sea of disappointment. When they performed their daily ritual of waiting for Kakashi-sensei, Sakura would lean on the bridge, watching the water flow underneath and fighting the urge to jump in.
Her first love was hers though, and she never shared its secrets with her team.
The mission to Wave happened.
Sakura learned that her first love, her friend, could also be an ally in battle. This changed many things in how she thought of the water, and nothing at all.
Between Naruto’s sheer, raw potential, and Sasuke’s newly awaken dojutsu, Kakashi seemed to forget about her. She was given simple exercises, and tried not to think of the favouritism, or her fear from almost dying because she wasn’t strong enough in Wave.
She was weak. And it almost got her team killed.
It took some digging, and the dust clouds made her cough and sneeze when she pulled the old scrolls out that she had half-forgotten about, and a closer inspection revealed some to be water jutsu. They were mostly theory, about how to train with water, understand its flow and balance, and the familiar hand-writing was its own comfort to a girl who had gotten lost on the path to becoming a Kunoichi.
Pulling out a blank scroll, inspired by someone who came before, she started making her own notes.
Her chakra control was perfect.
Her chakra reserves dismal.
She almost gave up on her dream of wielding water the way Sasuke-kun used fire, or Naruto used kage-bushin. Especially when, after she asked to learn more about water jutsu, Kakashi just patted her on the head like she was one of his nin-dogs and told her as gently as he could that she did not have the same kind of chakra reserves as the boys. Almost.
It turned out that the water loved Sakura as much as she loved it. With the barest amount of chakra she could call on it, feel its presence no matter how deep a river ran underground. It took some experimentation, but she could, with focus and more chakra than she felt comfortable parting with for a single use, create water.
Her daily swims resumed. She ignored the way her teammates tried to call her out of the river each day as they waited for Kakashi, and dove deeper underwater to feel the current better. Maybe Naruto and Sasuke were stronger than her, that was fine. She’d just have to be uncatchable in her own way.
They weren’t ready for the chunin exams.
Kakashi entered them anyway.
The Sandaime Hokage was dead. Sasuke was gone. Naruto and the team that went with him were still in the hospital.
Sakura heard all of this, and ran to her first love, a true love, that welcomed her no matter her faults. The water embraced her as it always did.
Tsunade of the Sannin became her teacher, after the writer of the scrolls, and after water.
Naruto was gone now too. Sakura learnt to set bones, pump blood (so much like water, but not) and close wounds with her shishou during the day. She also learned how to break bones, which arteries to slice to cause an enemy to bleed out faster and how to deliver killing blows. Despite this, Tsunade made it clear that, as a medic, Sakura would not be on the front lines.
That knowledge chaffed at her; she needed to be able to keep up with her boys, to watch Naruto's back because he was always running in without thinking and bring the Uchiha home because Sasuke was an idiot. In the evenings she trained with scrolls written by a man she’s never met but knew all the same.
”Okay, kid.” Tsunade interrupted her once when she was suppose to be taking a break but had instead turned her attention to the lightning jutsu in the scrolls. A year ago, she didn't have the chakra reserves to consider using it. She probably wouldn't ever be able to use it effectively in combat, but it could have uses elsewhere- like being re-purposed into starting a heart. “That’s definitely not one of the medical scrolls I gave you to study.” Her Shishou snatched the scroll from Sakura’s hand before she could respond, “What on earth are you looking…”
”Shishou?” Sakura asked in the sudden silence, fingers twitching because the author was just getting to the crux of the problem of combining water and lightning jutsu. It wouldn’t do to fry herself practicing.
Tsunade was quiet for a long time. “Where did you get this, Sakura?”
”It belonged to my great-grandfather.” She frowned, “I’ve been trying to learn some of the techniques. After I finish studying what you’ve given me, shishou. Why?”
”Your great-grandfather, huh?” Tsunade moved slowly, gently rolling up the scroll as if it was as much as treasure for her as it was for Sakura, and handed it back.
”You’ve been learning some interesting jutsu,” Tsunade said lightly, “Show me.”
Tsunade stared through the neat little hole a well-placed water bullet had carved through a boulder to the sunlight on the other side. It had taken Sakura a bit of fidgeting with the jutsu make the water bullets something to be feared. She had wanted something requiring finesse to use and her perfect chakra control allowed for the bullets to be compressed to the point they would shear through just about anything.
Her shishou placed her hands on her hips and then turned to her apprentice lounging in the water, happy as a clam, like she hadn’t just turned the lake into her own personal playground of death minutes before. “Your great-grandfather must have been quite the shinobi.”
Sakura, happy and content because the waters were an old friend and now an ally, blinked slowly, “I don’t know.”
”Do you know who he was?” Tsunade continued, her gaze now on the cliffside Sakura had split in half with a blade of water.
”No.” Sakura allowed herself to float on the surface, staring at the sky overhead and enjoying the heat of a Konoha summer sun on her face, but the cool of the lake in her hair. “Ka-san said that he and my great-grandmother had a bit of a difficult relationship, mostly because he was never home.” She frowned, trying to remember a half-forgotten memory. “I think grandmother may have been a surprise.”
Tsunade was quiet for a long moment. “Well, as long as you don’t fall behind in my training, or skip a shift at the hospital, I don’t see any reason why you can’t continue with this project of yours.”
Sakura trained until she collapsed. Until her hands shook and her vision blurred. She stayed up late reading scrolls, and woke up early for hospital shifts. Under Tsunade’s careful guidance, Sakura learned to conquer wounds and, sometimes, beat back death. Other times, she learned how to inflict it.
Occasionally, her shishou would ask questions about her family. Some she could answer. Most she couldn’t.
Naruto returned, still bright and blinding and- huh. Sakura found her fourth love in the foxy smile of a brother she didn’t know she had.
Sakura hated the desert with a burning passion. No matter how she stretched her senses across the sands, water eluded her. It left her grumpy and irritated. The wind though...
Gaara was dead. Then he wasn’t.
Between those moments, Sakura had to make a calculation, cold and considerate, before she crushed Sasori’s heart with her bare hand. There was no water in the desert to wipe off the blood and muscle- she left the stain like it was a badge of honour.
She was weak once.
”Are you absolutely sure?” Tsunade tapped a finger against the kitchen table of her apprentice’s home. The rescue mission would be wrapping up soon, and the sannin did not care to explain why she was in Sakura’s home when Sakura returned. Finding a time to approach the family without her apprentice around had turned into a logistical nightmare.
”Quite, Hokage-sama.” Mebuki replied. “Before my mother passed, she mentioned how much she would like to return to her childhood home on the border of Fire Country. We didn’t get a chance, of course. She went downhill very quickly.” The chunin sighed, “She had always wanted to see her father again, or at least know why he never came home. I’m afraid we never found out. After I was born, and my grandmother passed, my mother moved the both of us to Konoha.”
”And your grandfather, he had white hair?”
Mebuki shrugged, “As far as I know. I never had a chance to meet the man.”
Lightning was interesting, sharp and painful when handled with anything less than respect.
Wind was finicky. Hard to grasp and harder still to hold. But she had always been stubborn.
Earth was steady, grounding and powerful. Always ready for her call.
Water though was forever and always her first lover, a friend, and an ally. As long as she had water, Sakura was complete.
They tangled with Sasuke.
The outcome left Sakura with a bitter taste in her mouth. He was just so fast. She didn’t even have time to call on the water jutsu she had been trying so hard to learn and master. They trudge home in a thunderstorm they couldn’t manage to shake. Sakura was the only one accepting of the drenched rat look.
She spent an entire day at the lake, watching the water sparkle in the sunlight. She built a little dam out of twigs and mud in a stream of water, just to watch the water carve its way though. The stream didn’t break through.
Instead, it found another path around the barrier.
Tsunade concluded the medical component of her apprenticeship, leaving Sakura free to address the fact she was just not fast enough to catch Sasuke. Digging through scrolls, she found one she hadn’t open before, in the pile of complex jutsu or jutsu she simply didn’t have the chakra reserves for.
She had misplaced this one, she concluded later, or her younger self had mistakenly assumed she wouldn’t be able to pull off this jutsu. Parts of it were missing and the theory was very advanced, enough that it almost made her head spin, but Sakura learned how to take a human body apart and put it back together in little over two years. Advanced was relative.
This jutsu was all about control, not chakra, about seals and time and space and the ways between them. It struck her as familiar, but she couldn’t quite place why.
Her interest was perked when Tsunade absently mentioned that there was no medical jutsu for testing an individual nerve without triggering the rest in an area. Sakura turned that thought over and over in her head, before pulling out a blank scroll and calculating how much chakra would be needed to shock a single nerve and hand seals to do it.
It could be safely said that Uchiha Sasuke did not see Haruno Sakura coming.
Neither did the rest of Team Kakashi.
She had lost her temper and summoned enough water from nowhere to make a lake, one that everytime Sasuke’s foot touched the surface, water tried to skewer him. His look of complete and utter shock was a victory that would comfort Sakura for the rest of her life.
It wasn’t enough, in the end. The Uchiha had taken the first opportunity he could to retreat in the face of Team Kakashi’s attacks.
No matter how much Naruto badgered her about how cool that was and asking where she learned it, or the weight of Kakashi’s lone eye on her, Sakura kept silent. She didn’t say a word the whole way home, too busy thinking about how she could trap that Uchiha, or maybe drown him, or at least be able to catch him. She needed to work on that time/space jutsu more diligently.
Her team left her. They shouldn’t be surprised that she grew strong without them.
Kakashi tried cornering her when they made it back to Konoha. He tried to be the sensei she needed when she was a genin and offered to teach her the water jutsu she had asked him about all those years ago.
She laughed at him and walked away. Kakashi had had his chance, back when she was nothing, and he had chosen the boys. Sakura had to learn without his guidance. She had learn to outgrow him.
The water was her teacher now.
Black flames covered the land.
Itachi was probably dead considering that Sasuke wasn’t there. It grated in a different way, and Sakura felt her anger bubble to the surface. Sasuke had gotten away again.
She felt the presence of a rainstorm on the horizon, and fueled by her anger, a better part of her chakra, and a few hand seals, she called the monsoon close. Rain fell, so thick that she couldn’t see anything directly around her and it was practically like being in a lake.
The water comforted her, cleared her mind, and her anger ebbed away with the tide. An instinct she had learned to associate with the water told her there was something in the rain.
Her team stared at her back as she disappeared into the rainfall, not quite understanding what they had just seen, only to return with a slightly charred lump, the black flames having never stood a chance in the face of Sakura’s fury.
Uchiha Itachi, mass-murderer, S-class missing-nin and all around dangerous shinobi, stared back. “You extinguished them.” He repeated, brows slightly furrowed in confusion. Sakura got the impression that surprising him didn’t happen all that often.
She nodded slowly, double-checking his chest cavity for any remaining infection. He was bound under what might have been Kakashi’s entire selection of chakra-suppression seals and all his limbs tied with wire, rope, and even more seals. Sakura concluded he was probably still dangerous. “The black flames? Yes.”
The Uchiha was still staring at her, as if he could divine her entire existance if only he stared hard enough. “That was Amaterasu.”
”Sure.” Sakura agreed. His chest would recover, but all the rushed and botched healings left scars on his lungs and spoke to someone attempting something they had seen but didn’t understand. Stupid Sharingan.
Black eyebrows furrowed, slim and pretty and how in the universe was it fair that Uchihas were blessed with such pretty genetics? Hmm. Genetics. Could she make a jutsu that could reveal the presence of kekkei genkai, dormant or active? After a couple of dead fish, she managed to get the her new, more reliable, heart-restarting jutsu to work and she did need another research topic...
”The black flames,” The Uchiha continued as if he wasn’t being prepared for transport back to the village for trial, “burn for three days and cannot… it should not be possible to extinguish them.”
Sakura snorted, because as close as the Uchiha are to fire, she was far closer to water. “Well,” she began as politely as she was able to, “Thankfully you didn’t tell me that beforehand.”
She felt the Uchiha’s eyes on her the entire trip back to Konoha.
”You should learn kenjutsu.” Kakashi told her after the seventh time he tracked her down in as many days. Sakura was not quite sure how he always managed to find her, but it served to reinforce the idea that he had definitely been avoiding her while Naruto was gone.
She barely held back her snort, turning it into a cough instead. “Oh? Even if I had the time, who would teach me how to use a sword?”
Even with his mask on, Kakashi somehow managed to look like she kicked his puppy or something. “Mah, Sakura-chan, my precious student. I could.”
An old pain stung in her heart. She narrowed her eyes and replied with every intent on delivering a killing blow, “Don’t you have Naruto to train?”
Her former sensei looked up from his book and, maybe, finally, saw her. “Yes." He said softly in a way Sakura didn't know he could, closing his book, "But now there is something I can teach you as well.”
She didn’t accept Kakashi’s offer right away. Sakura wasn’t joking when she said that it could only happen if she had the time. As it was, she was finally closing in on that time-space jutsu- it was almost ready for a field test- and she still had training with Tsunade and shifts at the hospital. Then she had a notebook of ideas she wanted to explore, medical jutsu that could save lives if she could figure out how to make them work. She was going to spend a foolish amount of her paycheck on fish in the future, she could just tell.
But water was forever in motion, even in the stillest of ponds. It would either find a new path or carve its way through an obstacle.
In the end, she was glad she accepted Kakashi’s help. Swordwork joined her repertoire smoothly, a back-up in case she was in a fight where chakra wouldn't help her. For reasons Sakura didn’t fully understand, Tsunade broke into cackles whenever she saw Sakura with a short sword slung over the small of her back.
Pein attacked Konoha.
Or not, because if there is one thing Tsunade-shishou came by honestly it was her stubbornness and her skills. There were hopes that Tsunade would recover from her coma.
Sakura actually crossed paths with Uchiha Itachi during the fight. She had many questions, so many, like ‘how did he get out of the prison’ and if he did escape why did he stick around? But he seemed to have been helping with the evacuation and was one of the few shinobi capable of handling a Path on his own, so Sakura settled for glaring at him and landed beside him. “I don’t want to know how you got out, but if you are interested in really helping, Tsunade-shishou is that a way.” The Uchiha regarded her before nodding and disappeared after the last civilian made it into the bunker. Sakura didn’t think too much on it- the battle waited for no one.
Shizune found her later at the lake, and through the older woman was obviously shaken up by what had taken place, tired and exhausted she managed a smile. She held a bundle close to her chest. “Tsunade was going to give this to you, as a gift.”
The bundle had some weight to it when Sakura accepted it. Slowly, carefully, she unwrapped a sword from the silk. Intricate seal work covered the hilt, and briefest bit of lightning element chakra was amplified until it felt like she was holding a lightning bolt with one hand. ”Wow.”
”It belonged to Tsunade’s granduncle, the Nidaime.” Shizune continued, watching as Sakura did some practice swings.
”The Nidaime, as in the Nidaime Hokage?” Sakura repeated, surprised. “Why would she give me this- it’s a treasure of Konoha!”
”She didn’t say. Only that she thought it would be of use to you.”
The sword added a new element to her water jutsu. One that Sakura practiced with every chance she got because one day her life, and the life of her comrades, might depend on it.
After Tsunade awoke, Sakura learned that Itachi had taken on a Path and defended the Hokage to such an extent that Tsunade adjusted his sentence from execution to ‘community service’. In shinobi speak, Itachi was Tsunade’s shiny new gopher in the tower. Sakura knew there was more going on than she was privy to, there had to be, for the Uchiha to be running like he was a loyal shinobi with only seals preventing him from using his Sharingan.
She was standing on the lake when the irony hit her: she had brought home a wayward Uchiha like she had promised she would.
He was just the wrong one.
She nailed the time/space jutsu and realized why it seemed familiar.
She knew what the history books called it, some on the man who made it and much more on the man who made it famous, and it raised a lot of questions about the origin of the scrolls on the shelf in her apartment. About her family and just why Tsunade was so interested in her background. It raised even more questions about the secrets of Hokages- especially after the one time she saw Naruto standing dead center in front of a coloured picture of the Yondaime and holy hell, how did she miss that?
There wasn't time to research her family or Naruto's though- war loomed.
The Fourth Shinobi War began.
Sakura had accepted that she would be kept from the front lines, caring for the wounded, until Tsunade narrowed her hazel eyes and set her loose. “You’re exempt from the medic-nin laws. Go make sure Naruto doesn’t get himself killed.”
With a wolf-like smile, Sakura drew the Nidaime’s blade, and disappeared in a flash of yellow.
Using the Haraishin was a thrill, like the first time she jumped off of a waterfall, confident and sure that the water would catch her. This jutsu was all about control, and not sheer brute strength; something, as a medic-nin, Sakura had in spades.
She tore through an army of white Zetsu in a blink of an eye, scattering kunai with a cherry blossom engraved on their hilts as she went, trying to reach her boys.
Sasuke’s expression when she dodged his attacks and managed to hit him into the ground hard enough to shatter the earth made all the nights spent studying instead of sleeping worth it. (That Naruto let out an exuberant shout of, "Go Sakura-chan! Kick his ass!" when he saw the devastation just proved Naruto was the best teammate ever.)
Madara fell- as would any enemy who had to bear the wrath of Team 7 and the Kages.
Kaguya learned the hard way about the true meaning of Dai-nana-han, and Sakura punched the Goddess hard enough to shake the heavens to protect her teammates and felt more than a little proud of the fact.
In the aftermath, Sakura could only watch as Naruto met a parent he had never known. Her brother, not by blood but family all the same, practically bounced- and Minato looked like he was just as excited to meet Naruto as Naruto was meeting him. A glance to the right showed the Uchiha siblings reconciling, she hoped. Itachi was sharing sticks of dango with Sasuke and nothing was on fire, so there was evidence no one was going to die any time soon on that end.
She itched to run to the river less than a mile away and jump in.
Instead she turned to her second love and with a stick in hand she began sketching the base for a new medical jutsu she had been working on- supposing the kekkei genkei were just genetic flukes, how could she track them through their dormant stages? Someone blocked the sunlight she was working in.
Glaring up, ready to ask them to move like three steps to the right, or left, she didn’t care, Sakura nearly bit her tongue in half.
The Nidaime Hokage tilted his head in consideration before frowning slightly and crouching down beside Sakura. He gently grasped the stick she was using to draw in the dirt from her slack hand. Carefully, in a hand writing she had known almost all her life, he added a couple of notations in the top quadrant of the calculations.
Sakura blinked and redid the calculations in her mind. “That’s… hm.” She thought of the intended result and what that little change would do. “The jutsu would require less chakra to perform, but you risk the jutsu not working at all.” She concluded aloud.
The man - re-animated corpse?- nodded, frowning slightly. “You’re right.” He tilted his head like a cat before adding another notation at the bottom. “That would fix most of that problem.”
”But leave a bigger one here-” Sakura snatched the stick back, and circled the offending piece.
”That is not as big a problem as you think. See?” The formerly dead Hokage pointed to the running tally Sakura had kept of the yin-yang chakra required for her jutsu. It still balanced. “Jutsu creation is an obscure art.”
”Yes it is,” Sakura agreed, eyes drifting back to the familiar handwriting in the middle of her own scribbles. “I was lucky. My family had scrolls left by my great-grandfather on the matter.”
Red eyes glanced at her. Yes, Sakura could see her grandmother in his face- or at least the nose. “You wield the Raijin.”
”Yes.” Sakura smiled and stood up, “I am Haruno Sakura, and I am glad I finally get to meet you.”
The Nidaime stood up slowly, that famous mind of his working to put the pieces all together. A small smile touched his pale face. White hair. Red eyes. Albino, just like the history books said. “Senju Tobirama.” He replied, amused. “And your family?”
She couldn’t help her smile, no wonder Tsunade allowed her to continue her work with the scrolls. “I am the daughter of Haruno Mebuki, who is the daughter of Kawa Kaoru.” Sakura tilted her head, “And I’m going to guess that Kaoru-oba-san was your daughter.”
A soft snort, almost remorseful. “Yes. Kaoru-chan is my daughter.” He confirmed quietly. “Is she…?”
Sakura shook her head in the negative. “Kaoru-oba-san passed away in her sleep years ago.” Time to change the course- she had had enough of the men in her life sulking or brooding or running away to kill the Snake Sannin. “I heard that you are a master of the water element.” She glanced in the direction of the river she had felt earlier. The itch to swim hadn’t faded.
White brows furrowed slightly, and he turned to face the water over a mile away. “Can you feel that?”
”The water is my ally.” That and more, but Sakura had a feeling Tobirama understood in a way so many couldn’t. “I’ll race you there.” She was gone in a flash of yellow, a slightly-less-than-dead Hokage on her heels.
She was weak once.
She is strong now.
The water loved her regardless.