The winds howled and raged throughout the land of fire, bringing a hint of rain with them and drowning out the pained screams of a woman hidden deep within the forests of Konoha.
"Chinatsu-sama, you're almost there," the midwife urged the screaming woman. "I can see the head. Please, my lady." She kneeled at the bottom of the futon as the doula leaned over it with a wet towel in hand, tucking blush colored strands behind her lady's ears.
Chinatsu was was unwavering in her determination. She had vowed to bring her child into this world, to grow and prosper despite their heritage. Her baby would live. She didn't hope for it as this was a fact to her.
Almost as soon as the dark skies brought the rain, she was proven right. The rains seemed to struggle against the sturdy wood of the hut, and as the loud cries neared her, she could feel the worries in her vanish as something in her soul relaxed completely. Even as the doula wept at her side, trying in vain to soothe her injuries, she smiled when the midwife kneeled next to her.
"She's beautiful," Chinatsu looked up eagerly and felt her cheeks grow wet as she spotted the tuft of pink.
"Oh, thank you," the mother whispered. "Thank you, thank you… " Her confidence in her baby's survival grew even further. After all, no Senju child had ever had pink hair. Her eyes lost focus for a second as she tried to sit up, only managing to do so halfway, leaning against Chiyo. The doula looked resigned, but there was a trace of joy in her face as she looked at the child. The sound of a door sliding open had them alert, and Chinatsu frantically tried to think up plans that would ensure her child's survival.
Light footsteps approached them, as did a familiar voice. "I'm sorry I'm late. Chinatsu, I…" The man looked sad to see her in such a state before his eyes were naturally drawn to the little one next to her.
Chinatsu, still smiling, beckoned him to come closer. "Hashirama-sama, come meet your niece." He did so, teary-eyed and delighted as the midwife placed the baby in his arms.
"She's gorgeous, Chinatsu-chan. She looks almost exactly like you, he's going to sulk…" Hashirama told her, frowning when her giggles gave way to wet coughs. "Let me…"
"No. There's no need," she said firmly, shaking her head at his attempts to look her over. "Is he…?"
He refused to look away even as his bright eyes dimmed. "No, I'm sorry. He won't make it in time." She simply nodded, knowing that despite everything that had happened with them, he would have tried his best to reach them in time.
"I know you can't raise her." He looked stricken, even though they both knew it was true.
"All I ask," she cut him off, trying to keep her gaze focused on her child. "Is that you do what you need to. To make sure she lives. Whatever you need to do, Hashirama-sama. Please." He placed the baby in her trembling arms, placing a glowing hand on her forehead.
"I swear it upon my honor. She will live," he breathed, soothing what pain he could. Chinatsu nodded, thanking him as she brushed a thumb across a feather soft cheek. A light blink allowed her to glimpse light brown eyes and she nearly wept again, in her strong relief.
"I will watch over you from the skies, Atsuko-chan. I love you," she cooed. Hashirama watched as she faded away slowly, never once looking away from her daughter. And he silently vowed to watch over this child until death and beyond. He picked her up once more as the two women wept over the loss, and saw the newest addition to his clan, not his brother's illegitimate child. She might never know it, but she was of his blood. He watched with a little smile as tiny Atsuko dozed without a care, realizing there was something he had inherited from her father.
"You look just as grumpy when you're asleep…" he mused.
As Chinatsu had wished, they cremated the body and slowly made their way back to the village, freezing when they felt several chakra signatures heading their way. Hashirama handed Atsuko over to Chiyo, his movements indicating a sense of urgency as he led them in a different direction than the one the village was in.
“Chiyo-san, Hanako-san. Keep heading in that direction, the way to the Wind should be clear. Atsuko-chan’s existence must be kept secret. I’ll take care of our pursuers and join you as soon as I am able.” Which shouldn’t take too long, he thought privately. The two women, looking anxious but resolute, nodded their understanding and slipped into the shadows of the trees. Hashirama, realizing it would be better to meet his enemies himself instead of letting them get closer, hurried towards them.
They were no pushovers, these men trying to claim his head for fame, but far from his own level of power. He took to the trees, excited to bring his niece home where his wife was surely waiting up for them. A sudden flare in the direction the women had been heading had him speeding up, hoping to all the powers above that it wasn’t a hostile encounter.
His heart sank when he neared the place where he could still sense traces of chakra, but not the steady lifeforce of the people he had been trying to protect. The site that came into view had him dropping to his knees, eyes burning as he searched for the bundle. But there was none, he realized. Hanako and Chiyo were dead, with Atsuko missing. Good, because missing he could deal with. He sprang up with the intention of going after his charge when he sensed the arrival of several more chakra signatures. He bit back a growl as reinforcements kept coming. They couldn’t put more than a scratch or two on him, he knew but the more time he wasted here the faster he could feel the traces of chakra disappearing. Hashirama dealt with them quickly as the numbers kept increasing but by the time he started running in the right direction, the traces had all but disappeared. Not giving up, he searched throughout the night but it was as if the kidnappers had vanished into thin air.
Searching through the night bore no fruit and he had to pause his search eventually, slipping into the village and his home in silence. Hashirama sat in the backyard of his home, hidden from view by thick trees. His ears twitched when the door to the backyard slid open and heavy footsteps thudded down the wooden stairs and slid through the long grass. Within a few seconds, Mito was staring down at him sullenly, her arms held out expectantly. It was hard to tell who felt the crushing weight of disappointment more when she noticed his empty arms and teary eyes, clouded over by his grief.
Present day, Konoha
The civilian neighborhood of Konoha was mostly peaceful, with limited shinobi activity throughout the day. There were, however, exceptions to this that took place every other day. The front door to one of the lovely little homes opened to the happy sounds of the birds chirping, and a man stepped out, the grin on his face entirely too cheerful for the heat of the afternoon sun. He hurried towards the ice-cream vendor passing by, exchanging greetings with a familiar ease even before he reached the gate.
As the vendor dug through several popsicles, the man eyed the ninja rushing over rooftops curiously.
"Ah, Arashi-san. Do you know what's…?" he asked the vendor, who only snorted in response. The had disappeared by now, but they hadn't missed their irate expressions.
"What else? It's the same as usual, Kizashi-san. The Uzumaki boy gave the rock-kage faces makeover," the old man seemed more amused than anything by it, now used to the pranks conducted by the child. It was a cry for attention he had often heard from his own children and considering the boy's circumstances, it did not surprise him in the least.
"Ah, I see," Kizashi guffawed. "He's a spirited one, that kid." He paid for the cherry popsicles, collecting all ten of them eagerly. Arashi looked around in confusion as he seemed to realize something.
"Oh? Is Sakura-chan out playing?" he asked, by now used to seeing the Harunos' daughter at her father's side every Sunday as they waited for him. The other man seemed to wilt slightly at the question.
"No, I'm afraid not. She came back earlier than usual, saying she was tired. She's taking a nap upstairs…" he mumbled as Arashi's eyes darkened.
"It's those kids again, isn't it?" He nodded and the older man huffed in slight anger on his favorite customer's behalf.
"Damn kids these days, they're little demons, some of them. It astounds me that the same people who shun the Uzumaki brat are raising such cruel children." Kizashi watched him go silently, his joy subdued now as he walked back in, moving to open the freezer almost mechanically. He let the cold air hit him in the face, a pleasant feeling even after the few minutes he'd been outside. A shuffle behind him had him blinking and looking over his shoulder.
"Is everything okay?" He handed one stick to his wife silently, who looked at him with slight concern as he slid past her into the living room.
"It's the Uzumaki kid again," he sighed, sinking down on the couch. "Mebuki, are you sure we can't do anything about this?" She rubbed his shoulder comfortingly as she set to devouring the treat. It was a subject that had often come up during their whispered discussions, with them reaching the same conclusion every time.
"It's not like we haven't tried to help out. But, like Hokage-sama said...civilians shouldn't get involved in this." If there was a hint of bitterness in her tone, he ignored it.
"So we, as civilians, can't help out at all. But the others can torment him as much as they want to? That's ridiculous," he muttered, knowing that Hiruzen was doing what he could but it just felt like he wasn't doing enough. "It just feels wrong, you know. With our roots in the same place, he could be of our blood." While they'd both grown up in Konoha, the couple knew their family history enough to know there was a chance of some distant relation, especially on Mebuki's side.
"I know, I know what you mean." And she did. But there wasn't much, if nothing, they could do about it except maybe urge their daughter to befriend the boy. But as much as they wanted to do so, neither of them had taken that step yet. Their daughter's safety, coupled with their lack of understanding when it came to vessels, kept them quiet.
"Is Sakura-chan awake yet?" he asked. Mebuki shook her head, glancing at the staircase for confirmation. "Did she have another nightmare?"
"No, she went back to sleep after that. Hasn't woken up since then," they exchanged slightly worried glances. It wasn't uncommon for children to have nightmares, but it was the nature of them that worried the parents.
"Well, she said they watch those scary movies at Ino-chan's place," he tried, unconvincingly. Mebuki waved the now empty stick at him in disagreement.
"It's not disfigured ghosts she dreams of, Kizashi-kun, she dreams of war-"
"Mom?" came a young, sleepy voice from the door and they went quiet immediately, turning with identical smiles aimed to sooth.
"Sakura- chan, how was your nap?" Kizashi asked, ready to cheer her up with surprise ice-cream. He watched in slight bewilderment as she went straight to the kitchen.
"Good, but I wanted to sleep longer. But then Ha-chan woke me up, saying you'd got the cherry sticks," her voice came from the kitchen where she was on her toes, peering into the freezer.
"Popsicles," Mebuki corrected absently, mirroring her husband's exasperated look. She had probably seen him come in from the window but insisted on acknowledging her friend.
"Isn't she too old to have imaginary friends? She's got a real one now," Kizashi whispered. Mebuki shrugged, knowing it would pass on its own. Sakura was an emotional child and was probably too attached to the idea of her non-existent Ha-chan even at the age of six.
Her idea of an imaginary friend, however, was a bit different from the ones they usually encountered. Sakura said she couldn't see him, could barely even talk to him, only hearing the barest of whispers as she grew up, though they were stronger than ever if she could be woken up by them.
The strangest thing, Mebuki thought as she watched her daughter skip into the room, was that she had been climbing up the large tree in their backyard as soon as she was able at age five, claiming that she could hear Ha-chan best when she was there.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Let us enjoy the joys of childhood for a few chapters until they grow up and the complications arise.
It's currently unedited. I'm not completely sure how big of a role Hashirama's going to get, but we'll figure it out. Is the bullying trope getting old? But there was something I wanted from it, so it had to be done.
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters.
The playground was the only place Sakura could get to on her own, without needing any assistance from her parents. It was five minute walk from her district and she usually met Ino at the entrance.
One glance at the sky told her she had about an hour to play before it got too dark, and she hurried to the park as quickly as she could. Ino had agreed to go over flowers and their meanings while they picked them today, as their lessons had become hard to schedule since her friend had been preparing to join the Academy this year. Sakura was self-aware enough to notice the stab of envy she felt at that, not that the school for civilians was boring at all. Her subjects were interesting and she liked all her teachers, but the chakra she could sometimes feel in her belly told her it was a waste. Every time she saw a ninja jump over rooftops, she couldn't quite suppress her sigh of longing, which did not go unnoticed by her mother.
Which was why she had the best news to share with her best friend today. Ino would flip but in the best way possible, had been Sakura's first thought after the discussion she had had with her parents. She passed by a familiar person on her way. It was the boy she had heard her parents mention frequently, but never around her. Naruto. He was a nice boy, in her opinion. Befriend-able. She aimed a hasty but polite smile at him, not liking his downcast appearance. It was a happy day! She contemplated approaching him, but a glimpse of her friend's impatient blue eyes had her forgetting the idea as she continued to run towards the park, tackling the other girl as soon as she put her book down. She was babbling nearly incoherent sentences as they lay side by side on the ground. Ino sat up and pinched her cheeks, her grip not gentle at all.
"Stop." Ino pulled her up, dusted them both off as Sakura gulped down her giggles at how Ino was such a mom. Or so she'd heard Ino's friends complain. She didn't really grasp the lazily muttered words completely, but she did agree that Ino's action often resembled some of her mother's.
"Okay now, what happened?" The sudden sparkling eyes had her dazed before she shook it off. "Tell me tell me tell me." They ran to an empty bench, and Sakura absently noted it was a lot more crowded than usual. That included Ami and her followers, but Sakura didn't let that dampen her spirits. She had a lot more important things to attend to and she sat her friend down quickly.
"Ready?" Seeing Ino's face about to shift to a glare, she rushed on. "My parents agreed to let me join the ninja academy." Her smile nearly hurt as Ino's expression went from disbelief to joy with the realization that her best friend was going to be a ninja too and they were going to do it together. A second later Ino had her arms around Sakura and they were both jumping up and down excitedly.
"This is perfect-"
"I need to start preparing-"
They paused at that. Sakura couldn't really train with Ino, not full time as she was studying her clan techniques and she had a lot of catching up to do. She would need books and her physical activity was mostly limited to running to and around the playground, or to school.
'Don't look so worried," Ino poked her cheek. "I'll ask my dad to make a schedule we can follow together. We just have to follow the basics for now."
"Would that really be okay?" Sakura asked hopefully. Ino winked at her, giving her a thumbs up.
"Of course. Now, let's start our lesson. Look, I brought dad's book along." And they were soon immersed in it, both of them taking it a lot more seriously than they used to. This was knowledge that would definitely be of use somewhere down the line, and they were determined to be prepared for it. It was June already, and they had a month before classes for the first batch started. They spent the next thirty minutes reading it, with Sakura regretting not bringing a notebook and pencil along to take notes. The blue of the sky was fading fast when they called it a day, with Ino offering to walk her home.
"No, I'll leave in a few minutes and stop by the library on my way home," Sakura declined. The blonde nodded, familiar with her friend's ritual and hugged her goodbye, promising to speak with her father about their training. Watching her leave for a moment before turning and sprinting towards the treeline, Sakura approached one of the biggest trees there. The entrance for the training grounds lay beyond them, she knew and her excited smile bloomed again at the thought of one day entering them herself.
She closed her and inhaled deeply. "Ha-chan? You there?" The wood pressed against her back was warm as she felt a familiar shift around her.
"Sakura-chan!" Opening her eyes, she smiled even though her view wasn't any different than before. She could feel another presence there, and didn't need her eyes to confirm it.
"You must've heard it already but I wanted to tell you myself. You know, properly," she took a deep breath to ground herself. She wanted to say it with complete confidence. "I'm joining the academy. I'm going to be a ninja." And she beamed, hearing her friend's booming laugh though it sounded kind of distant. She shifted closer to the bark, feeling like she was a radio looking for good signal.
"Congratulations! I'm so proud of you, Sakura-chan. I was very impressed with your argument, your father's reaction was so funny." Ha-chan was the one person who would be just as happy for her as Ino had been. They were her true, best friends.
"I didn't think he would buy it! But really, if they didn't let me, you know what I'd be?" She waited for the words he had taught her.
"Wasted potential," Ha-chan said firmly and they burst into giggles. She heard him stop abruptly, breathing a low uh-oh, watch out Sakura-chan before she heard the evil cackles of the witches of the civvie district. Ino's title had her lips quirking before she faced them, Ami's mean looking smile had her mood dropping, but she refused to cower.
"You know, I get that you get lonely when Yamanaka's not around, but talking to trees? That's just stupid, even for you Forehead.." Ami'l lame words had her friends laughing, but Sakura couldn't find the amusement in them.
"What do you want Ami?" Her indifference did not sit well with the girl who wanted the opposite, so she decided to dig deeper.
"I heard you screaming about joining the academy. I'm so surprised you're entering too," Ami feigned her shock well. Sakura was far from the teary eyed girl she used to be, but even so she couldn't help but feel defensive at having her supposed inadequacies pointed out to her.
"And why is that? You're joining, aren't you?" It was unfortunate, but Ha-chan had told her not to let a bunch of little girls stop her from chasing her dreams.
"Yeah, because there are some civilians who are born with enough chakra to make it. But you? You're not one of them."
"You're not in charge of deciding that. You're just a kid," Sakura said hotly, Ha-chan's soothing words not doing much to calm her. Ami's words were scratching at her innermost fear of the other girl being right, and Sakura not being enough to make it while everyone else did.
"Oh?" Ami's smirk was downright nasty as she stepped forward. "What kind of a ninja has pink hair? And that forehead? It practically says, I'm here, come hit me!" Ami's inaccurate imitation of her voice had her friends laughing again. Sakura was used to the insults by now, but her embarrassed blush showed wasn't unaffected.
"Oi," a yell startled them and they collectively glanced at the figure running up to them, glaring angrily. Naruto looked nearly as offended as she felt, though she wondered what he was doing here.
Her sidekicks looked uncertain, but Ami didn't back down. "None of your business, demon boy." A shuffle had her realizing that Sakura was up and ready to leave, and Ami was determined to have the last word. The only word, actually but she didn't let the opportunity pass her by. "Running away already? What, your blonde guard dog or imaginary friend aren't coming to save you? Ha-chan or whatever." Sakura's horrified expression at realizing Ami had overheard her conversation had the girls smirking again.
Naruto looked confused, and Sakura wasn't sure if she was embarrassed at it being said in front of someone she had been thinking of trying to befriend. But her anger outweighed her embarrassment, as she thought about these mean, mean girls insulting her dear friends. Calling Ino a dog behind her back, insulting Ha-chan in front of him, without him being able to do anything about it. How dare they insult her friends?
Sakura was furious in way she had never been before, and ready to hurt Ami as she took several steps forward. A loud snap had her jumping back as the tree she had been resting against creaked, like old bones moving after a long rest. She watched with wide eyes as a long branch snapped down at the ground, missing the group by inches. They shrieked, terrified as they ran to escape. Sakura watched with growing horror as Ami stumbled at the root of another tree, just as the seemingly possessed branch swept up, ready to bring it's wrath down upon the ground.
No, the girl. It was after Ami. Naruto was yelling at her, telling her to move and ran to make her do it, bringing him into the target area.
"Well, this is quite a surprise." Sakura looked around wildly, seeing no one but sure she had heard her friend clearly as if he was right next to her. "Sakura-chan, you need to calm down."
"Ha-chan, help, we need to help," Sakura wailed as the branch shifted in the air above the frozen children. "What do we-I-I don't want to hurt them!" Her shriek seemed loud enough to wake something up, and as the branch came down on the Ami and Naruto only to be met by an obstacle, Sakura realized that was what it was. The branch of another tree at swept around and over the children, tangling itself around the evil branch and twisting them both into a large knot of wood. The air seemed to still around them as they looked at each other in disbelief.
"How did you do that?" With a start, Sakura realized the other girls hadn't left the area. They were looking at her fearfully, like she was something...wrong. "What are you?"
Sakura was still speechless, because she didn't know either and she noticed Ha-chan's presence around her was stronger than ever. She took comfort in his silent, steady presence as she tried to answer them, but was stopped as the only boy with them ran to Sakura.
"Was it you?" one of the girls directed the question at Naruto, her expression twisted. "Some of your demon tricks?" That was just mean, and Sakura glared at her, faltering when the branches shivered. She felt drained all of a sudden.
"That's right," Naruto puffed his chest up, refusing to back down. "It was me. So, leave us alone or I'll sic 'em on you again." The girls shrieked again, running to Ami and pulling her away with them, though the purple haired girl continued to glance back at them with an unreadable glint in her eyes.
The remaining stood in slightly awkward silence as Naruto looked up warily. "Um, they're not angry anymore, are they?"
"Huh? Oh, uh, no. I don't think so," she mumbled, equally wary. But she wouldn't forget Naruto's quick save so easily. "Why'd you do that?"
"Do what?" He was so bright, she thought as she looked closely at him. His golden hair would make a neat night light. Ha-chan's murmur of 'that's not how it works' and 'no boys in your room until you're thirty' went ignored.
"Why did you tell them it was you who did...that?" She was grateful, but really confused at his casual shrug.
"Well, I knew I wouldn't get into too much trouble for it. People think I'm always creating trouble anyway, so as long as they don't talk too much it'll be fine. I could tell you didn't mean to do, um, that," he rambled nervously. "Plus, they started it." He looked offended again and she couldn't help but smile.
"Thank you," she said as sincerely as she possibly could. She paused again. "Are you sure it'll be okay?" Naruto waved a hand carelessly, not bothered in the least.
"Yeah, yeah." He was grinning now, and she relaxed, believing him.
"I'm Haruno Sakura," she introduced herself, sticking a hand out. He looked at it strangely before clasping her hand with his almost gently.
"Uzumaki Naruto," he replied, eyes shining.
"I know," she laughed. "Oh no, it's dark already, we should get out of here." He agreed and they walked back, Naruto keeping pace with Sakura as he noted her pale face. She looked exhausted.
"So um," he began as they stood at the entrance to the playground. Neither of them knew how to part ways, and Sakura wasn't sure if he would appreciate being hugged goodbye.
"Do you wanna meet back here tomorrow?" she asked. "It's friday, so I'll be here around five." She was nervous, she knew that much. Ino had been the one to do all the friend-ing. This was Sakura's first time making plans with someone she didn't know too well, but she hoped that would change.
"Yes!" Naruto cheered, beaming at her. "Sure, I'll see you tomorrow. Bye, Sakura-chan!" He had started running when she replied, waving cheerfully.
"Bye, Naruto," she called. It was too late to go to the library, so she slowly trudged back home. She would need to do a lot more research now.
"Sakura-chan, you just made your third friend!" came an excited voice, without any clear source as always.
"Ha-chan? Wow, I can hear you so clearly," she whispered excitedly, mindful of the people still walking down the streets.
"I know, I feel as if I just woke up from a long nap. Even though I wasn't asleep, haha."
"But how? Wait, Ha-chan did you see what happened earlier? With the branches?" She continued when he simply hummed in response. "Do you know what it was?" Her remained quiet as she reached her gate, standing in front of it to make it clear she was waiting for a response.
"For that...you'll need to borrow an extra book or two from the library tomorrow, Sakura-chan. This is going to take a lot of explaining."
She pouted at the response, pushing her gate open as she decided to go with it. Ha-chan probably had a good reason for it. "Okay. Which books?"
"Whatever you can find on the Senju Clan."
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Sakura finally knows who her friend is and what it could possibly mean for her. There's much to think about and some adjusting to do before she enters the academy.
I know this is a little short but I'm working on the next chapter as we speak so hopefully, I'll have it up soon!
Sakura wiped her damp palms on her shorts, reaching for the glass of juice she had brought up to her room with all the books from the library. She could feel an ache in her head, wondering if she could crawl onto her mother’s lap and hide there for some time. Her...friend had been strangely quiet, waiting for her to try and process what she had read.
“Shouldn’t I tell someone? The Hokage, maybe?” Sakura asked, looking down at the glass with a troubled frown.
“Not...not yet. We need more information before you can even consider going to someone.”
It wasn’t common, what she could do. So she only nodded and took a sip. The taste of sweet mangoes had her smiling, and she took one last sip before nodding to herself. Ninjas couldn’t hide behind their mothers. They faced everything with their heads held high. She needed to go to bed before she collapsed.
“Need to brush my teeth” she mumbled. She brushed her teeth and slipped into her paw print pajamas, flicking the light switch off on her way to the bed. Burrowing beneath her covers, she blinked in the dark. The book she had borrowed from the library explained a lot about her friend after he helped her through it. She feels lost at the legends, the weight of who he was. And it also leads her to more confusion about the incident in the forest.
“Have you ever had a sleepover before?” she whispered aloud, curious to know if one of the most important figures of authority in her village had had time for fun.
“With my siblings, yes. But...no, I can’t say I ever had the chance to with a friend.”
She felt a little sad at that, knowing that he had lived out his whole life during wartime. Sakura didn’t think people back then had much time for doing fun things like this. But with her, he could and she told him so. His grateful laughter had her smiling along. She was glad becoming an adult didn’t necessarily mean you had to be dull and serious all the time. Ha-chan was one of the brightest people she had ever met. And once upon a time, he was also a shinobi.
“Hashirama. That’s your real name,” she nodded when he hummed in response.”Can I still call you Ha-chan? Or um, Shodaime-sama…”
“Ha-chan, of course. I hope this changes nothing. Sakura-chan, we’re still friends.” She felt reassured at that. His identity was a lot to take in, but more than that Sakura was afraid of losing her friend.
“Okay, okay. But this still doesn’t make sense. I, I made those branches move, didn’t I?” she waited for an affirmative answer before continuing. “That’s something only you could do. And I’m a Haruno, not a Senju. My mom’s never mentioned it either.”
“I’m not sure, Sakura-chan. That was the Mokuton, I’m just not quite...sure how it happened. But let’s not worry about that. About what happened in the forest-”
“What if they tell?” she blurted out her biggest fear at the moment. “Ami and the others, what if they tell everyone? I mean, I don’t think I’m ready to tell anyone.”
“I don’t think you should tell anyone. But we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it. Right now, all you need to do is go to sleep, okay? One thing at a time.”
Sakura knew he was right, but sleep did not come to her easily. Thoughts about how people would react wouldn’t leave her, and she couldn’t help but wonder if she was adopted.
It didn’t seem likely. Her mother had always told her she’d inherited her dad’s awkward laugh.
While Sakura tried to sleep, Hashirama didn’t know what to make of this entire situation. Try as he might, he could not understand how Sakura could have awakened the Mokuton.
Her lineage was something he had suspected since the first time she heard him. The pink hair had brought him sorrow, the first time he glimpsed it. But if Sakura really did have Senju blood…He feared for the girl if the village was to ever find out about it. Hashirama existed only in nature, but he didn’t need an overactive imagination to know what Sakura’s future would be like if her Mokuton was discovered.
“If I didn’t know you were my friend and a Hokage...I’d think you were trying to kill me,” Sakura said, her voice muffled due to her lying facedown on the grass.
‘And what makes you think a Hokage wouldn’t kill you?’ Hashirama thought to himself before turning his attention back to his new student. “Well, of course, I’m not trying to kill you. We’re trying to make sure those who might try don’t succeed.”
Sakura lifted her face off the ground, her expression painted with disbelief. “I’m six .”
“You’re a six-year-old Mokuton user. A possible Senju in a village that has none left. You’re a young lady with many talents in a world that would love nothing more than to exploit them.”
Hashirama had changed. It was something Sakura had slowly come to accept over the weeks since the Incident. He was still her best friend who encouraged her to eat all the popsicles. But now he was also her teacher who told her to eat more greens, be more alert, to be wary.
He had come up with a training regimen.
Her friend, the first Kage of the village, had told her to find a secret training ground hidden near the Senju compound. It was something Sakura was reluctant to do at first, as she was fairly certain it was Senju property.
“And you’re a Senju.” Hashirama sounded more and more certain every time he said that. Sakura still wasn’t sure how she felt about it. A big part of her wanted to protest-she was a Haruno, not a Senju. But he told her no one would find her there, and it was absolutely essential that no one saw her even shift a branch. And so she had set off for the training ground the very next day. The village was silent, but she spotted a shadow here and there of shinobi patrolling the village. Her chakra wasn’t heavy enough to really be noticed, but Hashirama still urged her to exert control over it, hiding what she could. She didn’t think it really mattered in the end, as there was no one in sight when she reached the Senju compound, except for a guard who was softly dozing in his booth. Following the high walls around the compound, she ducked into the forest beyond. Almost at once, it felt like a separate part of the village. There was no trace of anything that wasn’t nature, and the trees seemed to loom over her as Sakura tried to take in everything at once. The ten-minute walk lead to a small clearing of sorts. It was too small to fit more than one person, which meant it was perfect for Sakura. There was a little stream nearby, which Hashirama said would be included in future training.
For her present training schedule, Sakura would wake up at five in the morning. She would go for a jog around the village, and they would increase the distance over time as her muscles adjust. After a short break, she would work on building her strength for an hour. That was followed by a shower and breakfast prepared by her parents. She had discussed the training and diet with her parents at length, and while they were still concerned about her wandering the village on her own, they agreed that preparing for the academy and a career as a shinobi would require a lot of sweat and tears. Squats, push-ups, and sit-ups were her new friends, but Sakura felt the most comfortable with the chakra aspect of things. Accessing it and helping it flow through her system came easily to her.
At 9:00 am on Mondays and Wednesdays, she would go to Ino’s house, where they both were taught the basics of chakra, poisons, and weapons by Ino’s mother. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays were for Mokuton training.
Sakura was a little bummed out that Mokuton Mondays couldn’t be a thing.
It was a Tuesday and Sakura was now sitting cross-legged on the ground, in a soft cotton t-shirt and spandex shorts. Her shoulders were aching and her thighs were protesting. She wanted to take a nap. Her eyes were screwed shut, trying to empty her mind and take in the nature around her.
“It’s one thing to know you’re surrounded by it, and another to truly be aware of the nature around you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Life, Sakura-chan. There is life all around you. Ino’s mother taught you to access your own chakra. Now I want you to feel the chakra around you, not in you.”
“A-and how do I do that?” Sakura asked, her forehead smoothening out as she listened to Hashirama’s words.
“We start with making your mind and body stronger. A tree with a weak trunk can never remain standing for too long. To meditate, you have to understand that this isn’t about control. It’s about acceptance and patience. You can’t be forceful with your mind, you have to flow with it or it will continue to escape your grasp.”
Like water. Instead of latching onto every thought that went through her head and making splashes, Sakura had to simply watch them drift by. Acknowledge their presence, but let them pass.
She would grow stronger, in body and mind, so she could even start to attempt to live up to her friend’s legacy. Regardless of whether or not they shared blood, they did share a gift and Sakura refuses to waste it.
It's been a year since the academy started for Sakura and friends! They have special plans for the summer and Sakura dreads politics.
sakura: yeah uchihas ain't shit
Sakura didn’t have a lot of friends, but she was very grateful for the ones she did have.
All three of them.
Looking around the classroom, with Ino and Naruto on either side of her, she felt quite optimistic. Despite Hashirama’s constant paranoid lectures, Sakura was having fun here, and looking forward to her years at the academy. Years, because no matter how talented she was, she was not graduating before the age of twelve. It was something she had decided with her mentor and best friend, who had been quite relieved at her not wanting to graduate earlier.
Nothing good ever seemed to happen to those who were marked as prodigies. Not that Sakura thought of herself as one. She had been blessed with a unique skill and an equally unique teacher. It had been almost a year since she had joined with her friends, and it had been a very different experience than she had been expecting. Hashirama had become almost militaristic in his teachings, and Sakura had been expecting something along the same lines.
They hadn’t even begun training properly. The academy held classes five days a week, and they had the weekends to themselves. She enjoyed theory more than most, but as Hashirama had hammered into her head, theory would only get them so far. Classes started at 9 o'clock, giving her plenty of time to train before. To avoid overdoing it, they had decided on Monday, Wednesday, Fridays, and Saturdays as the days for private training.
Another thing Sakura had noticed was the gap in skill-level between her classmates. Her classmates had children from clans as well as civilian families, but it only took basic observational skills to realize how much stronger the clan kids were. Even the teachers tended to focus more on them, honing their skills. But not much focus was given to helping the civilian kids develop any. It wasn’t that they were ignored, but Sakura only had to look at Satsuki-sensei worshipping Sasuke while Hojo tried to get her attention. What was more troubling was most of the civilian kids' acceptance of it. They truly seemed to believe that it was only fair, since children from the amazing clans of Konoha were in different leagues, it was better to accept it than to…
“Than to kick up a fuss when you know nobody’s going to do a damn thing about it.” Her friend had been quite upset about it.
‘Language,’ she thought absently. But she did agree, it was disturbing to think that she could have been right there with them, chasing after Sasuke just to get some kind of advantage in this unfair environment. She knew how lucky she was and thanked the Sage for it.
“To be fair, I don’t think most of these kids are thinking from a political angle. The Uchihas have always had a dazzling charm no matter which generation we look at.” Hashirama sounded almost nostalgic, but having read about his history with the legendary Uchiha, she refrained from pointing it out.
‘Hmm. I don’t see it,’ Sakura decided, her expression turning flat. ‘I don’t think they’re all that.’
“I guess Uchihas aren’t your type. Always knew you were smarter than the rest of us.”
She really didn’t want to know what he meant by that. Turning her attention back in time to hear Satsuki-sensei ask the class about Taijutsu, Sakura raised her arm. She had to make sure no one underestimated the civilian side of the kids, after all.
As she made sure Mizuki-sensei was looking the other way, Sakura quickly adjusted Naruto’s grip on his kunai. Ino was twirling her own absently, ignoring the other girl’s disapproving look. They stood in clusters around the field, each student with their own bundle of practice weapons.
“Mentorship?” she asked curiously. Ino nodded, throwing her practice kunai at the target when Mizuki-sensei looked over at them. They focused on throwing the weapons for a few minutes before returning to the conversation.
“Yeah, apparently we get to follow some strong ninja around to get a ‘real glimpse of the shinobi life.’ We’ll be assigned in groups of four in the next semester and,” she trailed off with a sigh. “I’m not even going to pretend to be surprised when my teammates are decided.” Sakura sympathized, but couldn’t see what was so bad about knowing your teammates and even growing up with them. They had more time than everyone else to work on their teamwork and specialized skills.
They didn’t seem too worried about it. She guessed peacetime really did make people complacent, as Hashirama liked to complain.
“Hmm, I wonder who I’ll be paired up with,” she thought out loud, gaze drifting to Naruto. It would be nice to be with a friend, but she had no interest in being the fourth wheel to the Ino-Shika-Cho team. What were the odds that she would get to pair up with the Uzumaki?
“Sakura-chan, you seem to have improved a lot since the last lesson,” Mizuki-sensei observed, looking pleased. The expression was mildly disturbing, she realized, as their teacher only ever used that tone with the clan children. “Perhaps the others would do well to follow your example?” he said, mostly to the students who seemed to be struggling. His condescending glance at Naruto made her want to kick him. Or trap him in a tree.
The boy didn’t bother looking away from the target, determined to do better with every throw. He was hard working and accepted any advice from Sakura with a smile. Needless to say, Sakura and Hashirama had grown to be quite fond of the boy. Their friendship had been something of a pleasant surprise, and even more surprisingly he hadn’t asked her anything about what happened in the forest back then. Sakura did want him to know, but telling him would put him in danger.
The biggest source of suspicion and paranoia, however, had been Ami and her friends. There had been no questions or any rumors about the incident. She had asked Naruto, but he said no one asked him anything about it either. Which could only mean they hadn’t reported it. It had driven her crazy for a while, with her jumping at every shadow. Naruto had only shrugged and told her he’d take care of it if it ever came up.
She hoped whoever he was teamed up with would be kind to him.
Sakura didn’t exactly like being in the spotlight.
She liked that her effort had been acknowledged, but it put her at a disadvantage because she preferred observing from the background. She tried not to stand out, always in fear of someone looking at her and somehow figuring it out, but it couldn’t always be avoided. She had accepted that. Therefore, on the first day of the new semester, she ignored the whispers around her. She had ended up in the second spot after the exams, losing out to Sasuke in Ninjutsu and Taijutsu.
‘Barely,’ she grouched. The bunshin technique was useful, but she still had a hard time with the fact that they would only be taught the three basic jutsus during their time in the academy.
“Alright class,” Iruka-sensei called out. “I have something very important to discuss with you. So, if you could please focus for the next ten minutes, I would greatly appreciate it.”
“Huh? What’s this about, Sensei?” Naruto asked loudly. Sakura narrowed her eyes at anyone who turned to scoff at him. Iruka only looked amused at the question, patting a stack of papers on his desk.
“You’ll know if you’re patient,” he replied with a touch of fondness, before adopting a serious look. “Now, as I’m sure most of you have heard, we’ll be doing a special program this summer. Think of it as an internship, as your first glimpse of what shinobi are like. You will be assigned, as groups of four, to one ninja. You will be a team, and they will be your captain. You do, of course, have the option to opt-out. It’s not mandatory, but I will recommend it if you are serious about your career as shinobi. Make no mistake, if you sign up for it, you will be expected to be fully dedicated to it. You will be representing your batch, and it’s your chance to make connections,” he finished, not losing the grim look in his eyes.
This was an important decision to make. Signing up would obviously be the smart choice, but she wondered if everyone realized that. After all, giving up the entire summer isn’t something any child would do gladly. Sakura herself felt a bit grumpy about not getting to travel with her parents, but any self-respecting shinobi would not pass this up without a good reason. It was her chance to make connections as, unfortunately, politics did play a large role when it came to shinobi life in Konoha. If you wanted to be more than a soldier, that is.
“You have until Monday to sign up. Please go home and think about it. You’re free to ask me any questions you have about this or anything else.” With that, they were dismissed. They watched a few of their classmates run-up to Iruka-sensei, bombarding him with questions.
“Sakura-chan, wanna go get ramen?” Naruto asked eagerly. Sakura agreed, if only for the opportunity to get his thoughts on the matter. She turned to Ino, who was eyeing Shikamaru with a frown.
“I’ll probably have to get home soon. We have a meeting tonight,” she whispered, ignoring Shikamaru and Chouji’s groans. Ino never bothered to hide clan stuff unless told explicitly, something that never failed to amuse Hashirama. They parted ways at the entrance, Naruto and Sakura walking together cheerfully in the face of disapproving parents. She had told her parents to stop coming to pick her up after classes, only allowing them to do so on the days Naruto would be coming home with them for dinner. They didn’t protest too much.
The sun was preparing to set for the day, the sky awash with deep pinks and oranges. A dark-haired teenager met Sasuke at the gate, smiling down at him with deep affection. Sakura had to force herself to look away from his graceful movements. Her companion didn’t have the same restraint.
“Sasuke’s brother is pretty, huh?” he stage-whispered, to her immense embarrassment. Sakura grabbed his hand and began dragging him away, missing Sasuke’s nauseous look and his brother’s faint amusement. They rushed to Ichiraku’s, determined to grab good seats.
“I don’t think you have to run. I’m sure Teuchi-san would be willing to kick people out to make sure Naruto gets his ramen,” Hashirama said teasingly. Sakura laughed, the wind dancing across her face as Naruto squeezed her hand lightly, letting out his own delighted giggles as they dodged unsuspecting citizens. Hashirama nearly cried at how adorable he was. They got to the stand in record time, sliding into their usual seats and wasting no time in yelling out their orders. The conversation did turn to Iruka-sensei’s announcement, and Naruto crossed his arms almost defensively.
“I mean, I know we have to, but do we really have to?” Naruto mumbled as he dug in. Their orders were set down in front of them with a cheerful ‘Enjoy!’ Hopefully, her mother wouldn’t scold her too much. She did soften up when she mentioned hanging out with Naruto.
“Yes, we kinda do,” she said, watching the noodles swirling around the bowl, looking up to return Ayame’s smile. “This could be a big opportunity if we’re lucky. They’ll probably assign us based on what our skills are,” or what they think our skills are. “I’ll sign up first thing tomorrow.” Naruto groaned, slurping up the rest of the broth.
“Fine, fine,” he sighed, placing his empty bowl on the table. He seemed pensive like he wanted to say something, but didn’t quite know how to. She bumped his shoulder, encouraging him to share his thoughts. “Um, what if they’re, ya know, like the others? Like, Mizuki-sensei and don’t wanna teach me stuff?”
Sakura felt her heart hurt at the suddenly hunched shoulders of her friend. There was a big chance they would be, if only because of nearly all the adults who seemed to watch Naruto warily, like he was a bomb. She usually kept past experiences in mind but refused to share that with the blond, already making plans to keep an eye on him.
“They won’t be. If they even try to be mean to you, I’ll kick their butt,” Sakura promised. Hashirama backed her up on it, their protective sides in overdrive at the vulnerable look in Naruto’s eyes. His mouth twitched at her response, bumping her offered fist.
“You mean we’ll kick their butts!”
Summer was starting to bloom. Hints of it were all around them, from the wide expanse of the blue sky to the birds chirping cheerfully at anyone who bothered to listen. It was a rare, beautiful Monday morning. Even the people who were mourning the end of their weekends couldn’t help but smile.
It was picture-perfect, but it wasn’t something Uchiha Sasuke could bring himself to appreciate right this moment. He was quite offended, and his body trembled with all his offense. They had been assigned to their teams and mentors. It was supposed to be the perfect opportunity for him to show the professionals what he’s made of. To have his father acknowledge him. But could he really do that with people holding him back, he wondered, crumpling a sheet of paper containing details of his teammates and mentor in his fist.
Could he do that with Uzumaki, Haruno, and Hyuga holding onto him like the burden they were?
Sakura stared back the young Uchiha, completely unimpressed with his reaction to their presence. No doubt, he was thinking something along the lines of how much better he was compared to them and how could he stand for this insult, of being teamed up with…
‘People who would honestly rather not be around him,’ she thought snidely. Naruto stood right next to her, looking equally offended, his expression mirroring the other boy’s. Hinata seemed torn between passing out and trying to mediate. She turned, eyes wide and hopeful, to their mentor, who was still waiting for them to greet him. Surely he would be capable of keeping them from fighting?
“S-senpai?” she called out. That was hard enough, seeing as who their mentor was. But the others were busing staring each other down and she was slightly worried her Uchiha classmate was going to spontaneously combust. Honestly, what had Iruka-sensei been thinking?
Uchiha Itachi glanced at the Hyuga heiress, his mouth twitching up into an exasperated smile as his other three students continue to ignore him in favor of trying to set each other on fire with their eyes. He couldn’t help but wonder he was being punished for something.