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i'm meaner than my demons

Chapter Text

Zabuza smelled. Stank to high heaven really, and that was what Sakura first noticed about him, before anything else. She supposed it made sense, he was a missing-nin, after all, and really, they had much more to worry about than hygiene.

Add that to the fact that he currently had her jounin sensei, who was famed in Konoha for being their number one tactician, trapped in a ball of water, and suddenly the huge sword strapped to the man’s back wasn’t the most imposing thing about him.

The missing-nin - Zabuza - pulled out his huge sword, edging forward slowly as Sakura, trembling, stepped back, kunai shaking in her hands as she kept a death grip on it. She could see Sasuke and Naruto out of the corner of her eyes, looking very, very pale. Tazuna was somewhere behind her, but at the moment, she couldn’t bring herself to care about anything, not when her heart was pounding out of her chest.

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, this is what a real mission is like, this is what a real missing-nin is -- oh shit, I don’t wanna die --

Kaka-sensei was still trapped inside that ball of water, burbling a warning to them to run, Sakura supposed.

She was about to turn on her heel and run, mission be damned, but Naruto beat her to the punch - except he was running in the direction towards Zabuza, hands outstretched for something. Sasuke looked aghast as he exchanged a look with her, and they both tacitly agreed that their teammate was most definitely a nutcase.

Kaka-sensei had real panic written on his face now, too, and Sakura pictured what he must be thinking - Zabuza swinging the sword at Naruto, Naruto bleeding out, dying -

For a second, Sakura was horribly still. She watched, watched as Naruto scrabbled forward and tripped, watched as Zabuza swung his sword up, up, up, knowing what was about to come. Those who abandon their teammates are worse than trash. And she didn’t want to watch Naruto die,because this was a boy she had grown up with, this was a living boy, and she would not watch the life fade out of his eyes in front of her -

She moved as Zabuza did.

Sakura flung her kunai at the giant of a man, watched it hit the blade of the sword and bounce off, as she ran towards Naruto, who was trying to get up with something in his hand, but he was going too slow - and Zabuza’s sword was too fast, and oh Kami Naruto was going to die -

Her body acted on autopilot, pulling out another kunai, bringing it up to deflect the sword that Zabuza brought down on her and Naruto, who had gotten up and was looking between her and Zabuza, indecision clear on his face.

Dobe!”, Sasuke yelled from somewhere behind Sakura, but she couldn’t pay attention to that now that Zabuza was slowly bringing the sword lower and lower, and both of Sakura’s hands were quaking with the pressure of holding it away from her, because she knew one slip of her hands could mean her getting stabbed and dying right now.

Zabuza chuckled and pulled out a kunai with his left hand, the one that wasn’t bringing the sword down on Sakura, and grunted, “Stupid kunoichi like you die young.”

She watched the hand bring the kunai in towards her gut in slow motion, and shuddered - I don’t wanna die, I don’t wanna die, oh Kami - and in her desperation, she looked for something, anything, to stop Zabuza from moving his feet forward and carrying momentum. And even as she pulled her kunai from under the iron blade Zabuza was boring down on her, she moved with the kunai in her left hand, slid enough out of the way that the blade hit her shoulder and not the juncture of her neck - and something in the earth gave in to her desperation, because she screamed in pain as the blade hit her shoulder, but somehow the earth encased Zabuza’s ankles, and he didn’t move forward for a few breaths. Somehow, somehow, that was enough time for her left hand, her left bleeding shoulder, to rotate with enough momentum to knock the kunai out of his hand, and she continued upward, slicing Zabuza’s arm before she leapt backward, and that was when the pain started to catch up to her.

Someone grabbed her from behind, steadying her - Sasuke-kun - and if Sakura was in any other situation, she would have blushed.

But right now, Zabuza was growling, and the very air around them seemed to thicken with something invisible that was settling over them all like a blanket. She gulped, and pulled out another kunai with her right hand, her arms shaking as she tried to recall jutsu that would be useful in this situation.

Naruto sounded oddly subdued when he spoke. “Sakura-chan, you’re bleeding…”

Sasuke hissed something unintelligible and jostled Naruto as the three of them surrounded Tazuna in a three-six-nine formation, kunai out. Sasuke had a huge shuriken in his hands somehow, and Naruto was making a low rumble in his throat not unlike a growl as the air around them seemed to fill up with vapor that kept on thickening around them, making it harder for them to see.

Somehow, this seemed familiar to Sakura - there was a shinobi who could manipulate mist with his chakra …  his name was Zabuza too .. he had a giant sword and was one of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist …

Shit.

“Sasuke-kun, Naruto, listen. This missing-nin is deadly - it’s Zabuza of Kiri - the demon one.”

There was a sharp inhale next to her, and both she and Inner could have bet all of their mission pay that she was not the only one trembling right now.

Zabuza had started running now, and the mist had begun to thicken - she couldn’t accurately pinpoint his location anymore, and she inhaled, then exhaled. Fuck, we’re gonna die -

By this point, her left shoulder was throbbing awfully, and Sakura was biting her lip to keep herself from crying out and accidentally alerting Zabuza of their location. She tried to siphon chakra to form a jutsu, any tangible defense against the missing-nin. His jutsu relies on silence - She felt very, very afraid. And everyone was still, Tazuna the only one breathing heavy, irregular breaths. Don’t breathe so loud! , she wanted to yell at the old man, but then Naruto yelped, and - fuck - Zabuza was running right at them, sword drawn again.

Running right at her, to be more precise. 

Chapter Text

Her breaths were more like shuddering gasps at this point as she took in their situation once more. Naruto was to her left, looking around warily - and oh shit Zabuza was behind her.

Sakura guessed that he had simply leapt - right above their eyes while they looked left and right for him among the mist. Which was clever. And very infuriating, because it was a very good move that didn’t work in their favor.

He was in between her and the old man, and Sakura scrabbled back, kunai held to eye level in her right hand, as Naruto shoved Tazuna back, crying out as the back of Zabuza’s elbow made contact with his stomach, knocking him back a few feet.

The missing-nin pulled his sword out with his other hand, and whipped the flat of it towards her-

And Sasuke-kun was there.

He was certainly the fastest out of the three of the genin in Team Seven - that much had been clear since Sakura had stalked - ahem, seen - him in the Academy. And even now, it was clear his speed had improved since then with leaps and bounds. He blocked the blade with the fuma shuriken in his hand and stabbed one of its ends into the ground, effectively putting him and Zabuza in a deadlock.

But Zabuza certainly wasn’t ranked in the top 100 of the Bingo Book for no reason. He had been a jounin of Kirigakure before he had gone missing with the large iron sword - she remembered its name now, Kubikiribocho, how fitting -  and that expertise showed itself as he seamlessly pulled the blade back and cleaved it overhead. Sasuke had leapt back and spat out some fire jutsu, twisting his hands into jutsu signs so fast that Sakura couldn’t decipher them, and Sakura watched with some anticipation as it sputtered two feet above.

But they’d both made one horrible mistake - sorely underestimated Zabuza’s strength. The sword cleaved through the top of the shuriken and the fire jutsu, and Sasuke paled next to Sakura. Fuck, they were gonna die here -

She could feel the panic building, and the tip of the blade hit the top of Sasuke’s scalp and Sakura couldn’t see if there was blood or not, but Sasuke slid back, a strangled sound escaping him as he clutched his head.

Sasuke was injured, and she had a bleeding shoulder that hurt like a bitch - couldn’t make jutsu signs either, then -  and where was Naruto? He had a tendency to rush into a fight with shadow clones - if there was no action from him by now, something must have happened.

She moved then, flung a kunai at Zabuza’s head, then pulled another out and flung it at his feet as fast as she could - which wasn’t very fast, considering how she was only able to use one hand.

Zabuza dodged the one aimed for his head, but the one aimed for his feet made contact just above his ankle, causing him to hiss in pain for a second and pause momentarily, as Sasuke flung shuriken at the Kiri nin.

Sakura tried to peer over Zabuza’s shoulder, but the mist was building up, just like her anxiety. What had happened to Naruto and Kakashi?

Something had happened, and that knowledge wormed its way into her and slithered down her bones and rooted her where she stood. Naruto was - Kami, she couldn’t even see him in the mist now - and she had bled for him, she had taken a sword to the shoulder for him, Sasuke was injured -  this was the boy who was untouchable during the Academy spars - and Zabuza was responsible for all of it.

It seemed like time had slowed down just a bit.

Zabuza’s sword made contact with her and Sasuke’s kunai and pulled back in a shower of sparks, then pulled in for another swing, the missing-nin snarling -

They would get to go home. They would all go home, because Sakura would be damned if she died here, bleeding out in the middle of a forest hours away from Konoha, she would be damned if Zabuza got to kill her before she ever made anything of herself - and she would not stand for Sasuke-kun or Naruto getting hurt because they were a team.

She remembered what it had felt like when she had first made a bunshin in the Academy. She remembered the thrumming she had felt, the sting of chakra as it concentrated in her chest and burst up in her hands as she had made the seals, the lightness she had felt as it left her and formed an exact clone right in front -

And she let her chakra pool at her feet, flow into the earth, even as Sasuke yelled something indistinct and surged in front of her, kunai at the ready, pushing Zabuza’s blade back.

The earth was rigid at first, unwilling to move, but she had a will and intentions that were born out of desperation, and her will was strong - so. The earth moved (really, it bent, like it had bent once for a curious little boy who had wanted it to grow, grow, grow, and had ended up growing a plant, then a sapling, then a tree - it bent like it had bent before for a man who had a will so strong it was like wildfire - it bent like it had once bent for the fiercest of ninjas and the stuff of legends, for Hashirama Senju, God of Shinobi - and now it bent for Haruno Sakura -)

A chunk of earth, bits of dirt and gravel falling from it and landing on the ground, was lifted. Sakura could feel her chakra in it, thrumming, connecting her to the piece of earth, and she  aimed it for Zabuza’s head in a beautiful side kick. The missing-nin fell backwards as the block of earth made contact with his head, and Sasuke immediately turned around and gaped at her, his face ashen and gray, and then starting to blur.

Oh. She recognized the symptoms of chakra exhaustion as she immediately staggered, and Sasuke caught her by putting a hand to the small of her back. Kami, this was not how she’d expected this to go. She was really too tired to start squealing like a crazed fangirl, though, and she watched as the mist bean to clear, making her vision the tiniest bit clearer. Not that it mattered now, though, because her vision was blurring all the same.

“-kura! Kakashi’s here, you - “

Oh, and now she wasn’t able to hear a lot anymore. Great.

In a last ditch effort to preserve the rest of her dignity in front of her crush, she turned her face up, staring into Sasuke’s, and attempted to pronounce the sentence “I am about to faint.” What came out was “Naruto … sensei … faint. ” She managed to place great emphasis on “faint”, and felt Sasuke’s head bob up and now, his chin clacking oddly as he did so.

The last thing she saw before her vision started to blur extremely and her head began to droop down was a senbon striking clean through an unconscious Zabuza’s neck without drawing blood. That would be a useful skill.

Chapter Text

Sakura sighed contentedly and sunk into the cozy mattress she was on, snuggling into the pillow - and her eyes shot open.

A dim light danced on the roof above her, and she glanced around the room surreptitiously through slitted eyelids as she tried to appear asleep. There was a figure walking through the room, long hair swaying past, and it obviously wasn’t anyone of Team Seven, where were they?

The woman’s footsteps got closer and closer, and suddenly she was jolted back into the forest, with Zabuza’s footsteps faintly resounding through the mist, not knowing where he was but oh Kami he kept on getting closer -

And there was a hand on her shoulder, and Sakura gasped and sat up, bumping her head against a woman’s chin. She blinked again, and suddenly, it wasn’t Zabuza’s face staring back at her, but a woman who looked like kaa-san’s age, with kind brown eyes. Calm down, calm down, calm down - it’s not Zabuza -

“You must be Haruno Sakura,” the woman said, helping Sakura up, and that was when she noticed that her outfit had changed. While she had been wearing her signature red qipao and leggings before, she was now wearing a sleeveless shirt - thank God she’d shaved before the mission - that fell loosely around her, some pajamas, and an old brown shawl covered the swathe of bandages around her left shoulder, and she winced as she experimentally rotated it. The woman continued, “I heard from Father that you played a big part in protecting him during the ambush - thank you so much.” And with that, the woman bowed, and Sakura was sort of impressed that someone could bow so low.

Then she blinked, and freaked out. Someone was thanking her. “Oh, no - no need to bow, it’s fine, it was the mission - “ she stuttered as the woman rose back up, smiling softly.

“Your sensei asked me to tell you to talk to him when you woke up. He’s outside,” she said as she led Sakura towards the back of the house, where a door was open, leading to what looked like a forest.

Sakura nodded politely and thanked the woman, who nodded and went into another room somewhere.

She tentatively took a few steps outside barefoot, then shrieked when she realized the grass was wet. But she didn’t see shoes anywhere, so she shrugged off the inconvenience and began to look for Kakashi - except he found her first.

She stifled a scream when he tapped on her shoulder, because he reminded her of Zabuza for a second, and her eye twitched as she clenched her fists tightly - it’s not Zabuza, he’s not here, you saw him die -

Kakashi’s gaze seemed sharper than ever as he looked at her, and Sakura had seen that look before in the Academy. Usually it was directed to Sasuke, though, or Ino, or most of the clan heirs, and Sakura stiffened, trying to gauge what Kakashi was thinking - was he calculating her ability or about to scold her?

Finally, after what seemed like hours, he spoke, not tearing his eye away from her. “Maa,  Ri - Sakura, I want you to climb one of the trees here.”

She looked to her right, and saw a vast amount of trees - and Sasuke and Naruto weren’t in sight. Her head snapped back to Kakashi. “Where are they?” she asked, voice lower and rougher than she intended for it to be.

He started at the words, then softened. “They’re practicing climbing trees somewhere,” he shrugged, then added at Sakura’s incredulous look, “they’re also perfectly fine and recovered now, and I have a clone watching them, so start climbing the tree, Sakura.” There was a slight hint of impatience in his voice, and Sakura felt slightly embarrassed and ashamed before she remembered that he hadn’t been confronting Zabuza - he didn’t understand the worry she felt, and the shame disappeared, replaced by slight anger.

But she said nothing, and focused on the task at hand instead. The tree loomed in front of her, huge and daunting, and she exhaled as she focused inwards on her chakra. Her pathways were still slightly irritated and felt sore, to accurately describe it - she supposed that was the result of attempting to pull up earth without doing the seals first. Nevertheless, she gritted her teeth and pooled her chakra down towards her feet - to walk on the tree would have to involve some element of gravity, except walking upward would naturally cause her to fall, and so she would have to stick to the tree as she moved upward, meaning adhesion of some sort, and she would bet all of her mission pay that the “adhesion” was just sticking chakra to the tree -

There was a steady thrum of chakra in her feet now, as it circulated there, and she inhaled sharply as she took a shaky step up a tree. She chanced a look at her feet - she was still sticking. That was good.

She took another step, chakra thrumming.

And another.

And then another, until her steps begin to blur into her normal gait of walking, and Sakura watched her feet until she was at the top of the tree - then grinned. She hadn’t fallen.

Then she turned around on the tree like she would turn around normally, and her grin faded as she looked at the ground. Her heart picked up a faster pace, and Sakura realized she had to distract herself so she could distribute chakra normally - so she started to daydream about what her first date with Sasuke-kun could be like, until she managed to reach the bottom of the tree again, wobbly-knee but proud.

She could see Kakashi’s jaw go slack through his mask, and grinned even wider. He turned around and put his head in his hands, muttering, “ First time - Kami, even I got it on my second time, what the fu -” .

Then, realizing who he was in front of, he cleared his throat. “Sakura, that exercise just confirmed to me that you have exceptional chakra control. So -” and here he popped his knuckles and sucked in a breath audibly, as if he were making a big decision, “I’m going to be teaching you a jutsu.”

A jutsu? Me? Oh Kami, this is one of the best days of my life, shannaro! Sakura squealed and hugged him as he spluttered and awkwardly patted her on the head.

Then, once all the hugging and jumping around was over, he cleared his throat again, eyebrow knitting into a serious expression. “Sakura.”

“Yes, sensei?” she responded, swinging on her tiptoes.

“Firstly - I want to test your elemental affinity. I already have my suspicions, but -” he produced a piece of paper that was maybe twice as big as her hand. “This is chakra paper,” he explained. “It determines your affinity when you focus a burst of chakra into it, so go ahead and hold it.” Kakashi offered it to her, and she held it with her right hand as her eyebrows furrowed, and she pulled the thrumming chakra through her, from her feet to her hand, and concentrated it, concentrated it - then let a pinprick of it explode. The paper instantly crumbled to wet dirt, which turned into sludge and mud in her hand a second later.

She looked at him, waiting for a verdict, and she heard the grin in his voice when he said, “Equal affinities in earth and water - the same elements that gave rise to the Mokuton.” He ruffled her hair again, ignoring her indignant squawk, and his eye seemed very far away as he said, “Based on this and your performance in an actual combat situation on a mission, I know exactly what to teach you.”

Sakura squealed and hopped around, feeling more like a happy child than a genin at the moment, but who cared? Certainly not her!

“But, Sakura-chan, ” he cackled, “it will most certainly be difficult at first, and I am not an easy teacher.”

She stopping jumping and gulped. Oh Kami.

Chapter Text

Kakashi ran his hands through his hair, sighing. “I’m only going to teach you this one jutsu for now, Sakura, but I want you to completely master this jutsu within - ah, six days, when we get back to Konoha. And when I saw completely master -” there was a devilish glint in his eye now - “I mean completely know this jutsu. Be able to execute it blindfolded, in the middle of the sea, anywhere, in any condition. ” His voice seeped through Sakura, chilling her to the bone. So this is a jounin.

She nodded as he looked at her.

Then he sat down. Sakura spluttered. “ Sensei!

Kakashi cackled. Sakura followed his example and sat down in lotus. “See,” Kakashi began, “here’s the jutsu - I’ll show you the jutsu once, then we’ll go through the hand signs, then you practice it until it’s in your muscle memory and automatic. Here we go,” he said with relish, and Sakura watched as he formed hand signs so fast they looked like a blur, and slammed his hands on the ground. “ Doryuukatsu!

She watched as the earth shuddered, then split into two blocks, each one roughly triple the size of the one she had used during their fight with Zabuza.

Kakashi moved his hands, brow furrowed in concentration, and the blocks mirrored the movement of his arms, swaying in midair. Then he dissolved the jutsu, and the blocks turned back into piles of dirt.

Sakura gaped. “That’s a lot of earth.”

“Maa, it is, isn’t it?” Kakashi replied. “It’s probably not likely that you’ll produce something this big on the first try, but don’t worry, Sakura-chan.”

Together, they went they went through the hand seals twice, until Kakashi suddenly disappeared in a puff of smoke, and Sakura sighed. He had been a clone then, and if he had disappeared, that probably meant that Naruto and Sasuke were tussling. Again.

She had half a mind to try to go find them, but , for some reason, she remembered Zabuza’s face again, remembered how starkly terrified she had been that she didn’t know any proper offensive jutsu, and clenched her jaw. She was going to learn this jutsu, know it like the back of her hand, and - maybe if she ever came face to face with someone like Zabuza again, she could be better -

Her left shoulder twinged again as Sakura ran through the jutsu seal sequence, but she ignored it as she focused on her chakra and felt it ripple through her body every time she made a seal, and it buzzed near her feet, in her hands, around her stomach. She formed the last seal, the ram seal, and sent her chakra into the earth - and nearly staggered with sheer exhaustion she felt. Two blocks of earth came jutting out of the ground, each one nearly the same size as the block she had pulled up against Zabuza, and she gritted her teeth as her shoulder throbbed more insistently, now.

She tried to pull on the chakra in the blocks of earth - her chakra, and, when she found its presence, tugged it towards her. Logically, the chakra in the blocks should have resonated with the chakra inside of her and automatically been attracted to her when she tugged, and she exhaled in relief when the blocks wavered slightly, then came careening towards her, and Sakura exhaled sharply as she let the connection go, and the blocks stopped inches away from her face.

It really was draining her chakra to keep the blocks suspended midair, so she let her chakra loose instead of pulling in it tight to condense it into a jutsu, and the blocks turned into dirt, slowly trickling onto the ground.

She sagged to the ground, then pulled herself back up again, fingers shaping into the first seal again - and stopped. Why were there so many hand seals anyway? The teachers in the Academy had said that it was to rein in chakra, but, if she could already rein her chakra in enough to do what she did to Zabuza, then did she really need that many hand seals?

What a curious question indeed.

The trees whistled then, and Sakura realized just how quiet it was. She could feel the earth and the trees thrumming under her feet, pulsing with something ancient, and maybe -

Sakura-chan !” Naruto yelled as he darted out of the trees, Sasuke behind him next to a bedraggled Kakashi with dirt in his hair, shaking his head as he pulled out his porn again. Sakura winced, both at Naruto’s volume and at Sasuke’s face, which was beginning to look less and less handsome the closer he got, and more caked with dirt and grime than anything.

Naruto babbled on and on about trees and how Sasuke’s a teme and of course, his ever popular catchphrase, I’mma be Hokage, ‘ttebayo!

Sakura rolled her eyes and tuned him out. And here she’d actually been worried for this idiot.

Sasuke took one look at her and nodded, face impassive. “Hn.”

This time Kakashi rolled his eyes. Well, eye. “Sasuke and Sakura, both of you practice kunai throwing, while I work with Naruto on his chakra control.”

Naruto jumped up and down indignantly and protested. “But sensei! I wanted to be with Sakura-chan!” Kakashi smacked it on the head and Naruto yelped as the man grabbed him by the scruff of his jacket and wandered off into the trees, leaving Sasuke and Sakura alone.

Alone. Sakura blushed. Ha, Ino would be so jealous right now, shannaro -

Sasuke mumbled something under his breath. Instantly, Sakura’s inner fangirl began to hyperventilate. Oh Kami what if he’s saying something bad about me -

“Say that again?” she asked, managing to appear calm on the outside.

The boy cleared his throat. “I said,” he repeated, a bit louder, “since you weren’t as annoying as Naruto when we fought Zabuza - I can help you with your throwing, tch.”

She blinked and nodded. There was a moment of silence as Sasuke pulled out a kunai and looked at her, and Sakura looked back, and then he cleared his throat and Sakura flushed. Oh, right - the kunai! She reached to pull out a kunai, then facepalmed as she realized she didn’t have her shuriken pouch on her. “Can I - uh. Can I borrow a kunai?” she asked, and Sasuke looked like he wanted to die.

He wordlessly handed three to her, and she grabbed one of them and threw it randomly at a tree, watching it glance to the side and embed itself slightly in the tree before falling out.

Sasuke sighed. “Watch how I throw, tch.” He whipped out a kunai, and Sakura watched his elbow bend slightly and his wrist flick as he threw his back into it, sharp and lithe, letting the kunai go - it hit the same tree trunk dead center.

Sakura mimicked his stance, which was essentially a crouch, but with less bending, and stepped forward, throwing her back into it as she threw the kunai - and it barely stuck into the tree.

She did the same for the third kunai, and tried to flick her wrist the same way that Sasuke had, but the kunai fell from her grip, and Sakura facepalmed for the second time in less than five minutes. She waited until Sasuke threw his kunai, and then darted to the tree to yank the kunai out of it, and grabbed the other one that she had thrown, which was near the moss. Then she hurried back, and tried to imitate Sasuke’s posture and speed as he threw the kunai, again and again, and - she could see why it was comforting, in a way.

The dull thud the kunai made on the occasions that she hit the tree was rhythmic, and if she could continuously get them to stick in the tree, she would probably find it hypnotizing, a bit of a lull, and really, it wasn’t so difficult, once she found out her elbow stuck a little to the side when she threw anything, and tried to correct it.

When she stuck ten near the center of the tree in a row, she looked at Sasuke expectantly, who looked at her and nodded slowly. “Hn.”

She wanted to scream, and was starting to see why Naruto thought Sasuke was irritating, because he was, in a way - too quiet, too unreadable. Well, Team Seven would have to change that, wouldn’t they? After all, Sasuke was one of them.

She threw her kunai, and it hit the tree near the center for the eleventh time.

Chapter Text

It had been a total of four days since they had all faced Zabuza (Momochi Zabuza, the demon that had slaughtered a hundred others when he was twelve, Sakura had learned from Tsunami, Tazuna’s daughter). Sakura had been unconscious for around one and a half of those days, and had, in the last two-ish days, alternating between improving her marksmanship, learning Doryuukatsu, and meditating to increase her chakra (this last activity had been suggested by Kakashi-sensei after she had nearly fainted again on the second day she had tried the jutsu - she had vehemently agreed because she really didn’t want to faint again).

Now it was the fifth day, and they were all heading to escort Tazuna to the bridge he was constructing on the other side of the city. Well, Kakashi, Sasuke-kun, and her were heading to escort Tazuna, because Naruto was currently off frolicking with Inari somewhere and Tsunami had assured Sakura around four times that they would be fine.

“Maa, thank you again so much, Tsunami-san,” Kakashi bowed and winked (it was hard to tell, but his voice had that sort of flirty undertone) and Sasuke and Sakura simultaneously gagged as the poor woman in question blushed and wrung her hands together.

Both Sakura and Sasuke wore different clothes than the ones they’d come in to Wave, and Sakura was sure that she was nearing broke, because Kami, the merchants here knew how to haggle. But the clothes were worth it, at least for Sakura, because her shirt and leggings gave her more mobility and dexterity than her qipao and shorts she used to wear, and it had taken tripping twice in front of Sasuke to come to that realization.

Sakura’s shoulder was better now, too, and Sasuke had a slight scab on his scalp now, instead of the painful injuries they’d both had four days ago. Naruto, unsurprisingly, had gotten more injuries falling out of trees than fighting Zabuza, and she scoffed as she remembered.

Tazuna said his goodbyes to Tsunami, and then they all began to stroll to the bridge.

The town was slightly strange today, with villagers looking subdued and scurrying away whenever any of them came close to ask something. Sakura took note of it, but didn’t pay much attention to it otherwise - in hindsight, that was her bigger mistake.

Sasuke had looked suspicious, but then again, he nearly always had the same facial expression, and Sakura wasn’t sure what to make of that, so the four of them made small talk (Kakashi talked the most, Sasuke replied in monosyllables, and Tazuna and Sakura observed) while they walked to the outskirts of the town, where the many stalls and small buildings became little huts and shacks instead.

In fact, she was astounded at how different everything became the closer to the edge of the city - the sight changed, the smell became different, and the noise level changed, becoming something much quieter. She was taking all of this in when Kakashi suddenly stopped in his tracks, causing grumbling as the rest of the group bumped into each other, but appeared to pay it no mind. Instead, he made a distinct whining sound, and pointed at some slats of wood and concrete that were laid across iron rails over a burbling river.

Sakura stared at the ramshackle layout of a bridge. “This is it?” she asked, voice flat. “ This is the bridge you’ve been gushing about, Tazuna-san?”

Tazuna shook his head, distant. “Hm …,” he muttered. “That’s strange, but where are the hired workers?”

Now that he mentioned it, that was strange. Normally, Sakura would’ve expected to hear the dint of hammers and the smell of sawdust everywhere, but it was eerily quiet. And as the air begin to fog up - it was too quiet. She turned around, corushing, and apparently Kakashi had had the same idea He corralled them all together and made the familiar hand signal for a three-six-nine formation, and - fuck, this was reminding her of Zabuza all over again -

Sasuke crouched to Kakashi’s right while she did the same to the left, and Tazuna pressed against her back, trembling.

The foggy air turned into thick mist all of a sudden, and Sakura pulled out two kunai - oh Kami what the fuck, what is this - and then it cleared slightly, as she realized that there was a man standing right in front of her, and - oh shit - why was Zabuza here?

There was a breath’s worth of time before Zabuza would move, this Sakura knew. So she moved instantly before he could, slashing through - water? Oh fuck, these were water clones. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw another one in front of Tazuna moved for his sword, and she grabbed the architect’s shirt and yanked him back as his glasses fell. The sword sliced right through the glasses neatly, barely missing Tazuna’s neck, and Sasuke was there in a flash, moving too fast for Sakura to see exactly how he made the clone turn into a puddle of water, splashing everywhere.

Meanwhile, the mist began to slowly clear, and the man that Sakura assumed was the real Zabuza - his chakra moved, not being a stagnant thing like those of the water clones’ - clapped slowly. “Bravo, boy, you’re faster than the last time I saw you.” But, he pulled out his sword again, of course, “Can you handle the real me?”

She was trembling again, hands shaking. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck - we’re gonna die - oh Kami, we’re really gonna die this time -

Sasuke smirked and pulled out another kunai, and Sakura was seeing at him and seeing flashbacks of a boy with a bloody scalp, blood dripping into his eyes from his forehead  - and Zabuza swung forward - fuck  - but at the last second, pulled his blade back. “On second though,” he snarled, “Haku will be enough for you.”

A figure wearing a white robe and a mask glided from the mist, and Sakura presumed that was Haku. He flew at Sasuke, and Sakura surged forward, but Tazuna put a hand on her shoulder and turned her around to where Zabuza was standing now, dragging his sword behind him as he slowly walked forward.

She looked between him and Sasuke, who was deflecting senbon with his kunai, hands moving so fast they blurred - shit, shit, shit -

And Zabuza snapped his fingers. “Your fight is with me, Kakashi of the Sharingan.” Her head snapped back to him and sure enough, Kakashi-sensei was tensed, kunai at the ready. Fuck, what if he gets trapped like last time -

Sakura began to back up slowly, hoping Tazuna would take the hint and bolt. He couldn’t though, because in a flash, Zabuza was directly in front of her, sword overhead, “And I have a bounty to take, and a bone to pick with you, Pinky.”

Fuck, fuck, fuck, oh Kami, help -

She yelped and brought the two kunai back up as Zabuza - or his clone, since there was another Zabuza in front of Kakashi - brought his sword down, and Kakashi bellowed in outrage somewhere in front of her.

Chapter Text

Tazuna jumped back as the blade closed over Sakura’s head, the tip of it close to his neck. Zabuza reeled his sword back in a flash, and swung it down low, near Sakura’s ankles.

Oh, shit, shit shit -

She barely avoided its sweep by jumping up, and pooled a bit of chakra down to her feet as she managed to land on top of the blade, then slid off before Zabuza could take advantage of her standing there. She threw one of her kunai, aiming for his left shoulder, and hopped back as Zabuza barely dodged the kunai, suppressing a groan as he did so.

In this time, she managed to steal a look behind him, and there was Kakashi, hands a blur as he fought another Zabuza, and Sasuke in the far front - shit.

He appeared to be surrounded by water, and this Haku guy must have been weaving a jutsu - fuck.

She rushed forward, but Zabuza’s sword stopped her, again, as it sliced the air just in front of the tip of her nose. Sakura growled in frustration and moved for him. She had to get past him - what the hell was Haku doing, she couldn’t see Sasuke anymore -

There was a high-pitched yell, and Sakura turned around to the source of the sound, eyes widening in horror as she realized it was coming from the direction of the ice dome which was probably Haku’s jutsu - was that Sasuke or Haku, oh Kami - and Zabuza’s elbow caught her in the cheek, sending her staggering back into Tazuna, who steadied her.

“You can’t afford to get distracted, Pinky, ” Zabuza crooned, and Sakura’s hand immediately went to cradle her cheek. Fuck, she didn’t want to die -

There really was no denying it at this point in time  - Zabuza was stronger than her. Really, she only had the chance for an element of surprise on him, and that, really, would mean faking him out and using Doryuukatsu.

He was running at her now, Kubikiribocho in one hand and a pronged kunai in the other, and Sakura gulped. He intends to finish this now, but at the same time, if I got past this attack, I could use a jutsu and he wouldn’t be able to counter properly -

There was a familiar yell, and everyone paused briefly, as Naruto leapt into the fray. “I’m here now, ‘ttebayo!” he cheered.

Sakura’s eyebrow went up, and Zabuza stared at her, as if to ask, Is your teammate an idiot? They shared a brief moment of solidarity and Sakura couldn’t believe it. Her teammate was such an idiot that even a missing-nin was agreeing with her about it.

“Tajuu Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!” Naruto yelled as as he solidified into about twenty clones that went running everywhere. And really, that was a bad move, because suddenly there was a shower of senbon, and Sakura got only got hit by three or so, but all of Naruto’s clones disappeared instantly with puffs of smoke.

“Naruto!” Sakura yelled while she still had the chance. “Help Sas - shit! ’ She shrieked as Zabuza swung his sword at her again - was he trying to behead her?

There was something familiar about the position she and Zabuza were in, and Sakura realized with a start that this was one of the first few situations Iruka-sensei had shown them, back at the Academy, and she felt his voice overlap with her own as she dropped into a basic crouch.

“Now, when they come at you with a weapon overhead, you can do a few things -”

She dropped into a squat -

“Put your weight on your back foot -”

Zabuza lunged down with his kunai -

“Bring the foot in front of you up -”

He brought his sword down with his other hand, aiming for Sakura -

“Put you weight on your hands and back foot -”

Sakura tensed up, then recoiled -

And kick.”

Her left foot connected with Zabuza’s chin, and she felt satisfied as he flew back slightly, giving her enough room to throw a kunai that embedded itself, deep, in his left shoulder, and his face screwed up in pain. That’s payback for what you did to my shoulder, shannaro!

More screams in the distance drew her attention and she was already going through the jutsu seals as Zabuza got up, looming over her with his sword raised up in his right hand - fuck, she should’ve gotten up first -

He kicked her shin roughly, and Sakura winced but didn’t falter with her chakra - couldn’t falter, because she was so screwed if she didn’t get the jutsu. But she pulled the concrete up, watched it condense into two blocks - holy shit this was hard to do in a rush - and pulled with her chakra, slamming both of them into Zabuza’s head at the same time - and watched as the ninja turned into a body of water. She groaned in disappointment and stood up, and - yep, her left leg was hurt for sure.

“Sakura!” Kakashi called out, voice rough as - she squinted into the mist - he appeared to be fighting the ninja who was probably the real Zabuza since his chakra was shifting.

“Yes, sensei?” she called out, pulling out a senbon from her arm as she pulled out a kunai with the other.

“Try to crack the ice dome!” came the faraway voice.

Right. She turned around, and sure enough, there was a relatively big dome of ice that appeared to be made out of sections of rectangular blocks, and - another duet of bloodcurdling screams rang out. Her blood chilled.

That was Naruto and Sasuke.

Fuck.

Before she knew it, she was running, running to where the dome was, to where Sasuke and Naruto were - oh Kami, they’re gonna die, fuck, what do I do -

She paused, pulled up another Doryuukastu - and nearly sank to the ground. She was essentially scraping chakra from the bottom of her reseres now, and it was with great difficulty that she managed to refine a connection between her and the blocks with some traces of her chakra in there.

Then Sakura lifted them both high and brought them crashing on top of the ice dome, like a hammer. It was the best way she could think up off the top of her head, and she watched the ice dome slightly shudder under the force of the two blocks of concrete. She pulled her arms back again and watched the blocks go up in the air, mirroring her movements, mesmerized.

And she gritted her teeth and brought them down again.

This time, a crack formed on top of the dome, and Sakura pulled the concrete blocks up one last time, focusing her chakra into them -

And there was an agonized howl that was alight with grief and sounded suspiciously like Naruto -

Sasuke!”

Chapter Text

Sakura watched as the dome shattered, orange chakra flaring everywhere, and Naruto at the center of it all. It looked like he was cradling something, though, and Sakura couldn’t exactly see what - until he turned around.

She took in his face, with fox-like whiskers, red pupils - and he was crying. Crying and howling furiously, clutching at - was that Sasuke?

No, it couldn’t have been. Sasuke was alive, a fighter, a prodigy among them all - he wasn’t the body riddled with so many senbon that it honestly looked like a porcupine in some places, he wasn’t supposed to look so white -

The masked figure materializing - stepping out of a block of ice - caught Sakura’s attention, and she felt Naruto’s chakra flare up, all murder, murder him, kill him -

He lunged at the figure, a blur of orange, and punched them with so much force that she heard a crack from all the way over. She watched the mask fall and break, and holy shit that girl was cute.

Wait, what?

Sakura watched Naruto growl and raise his fist again -

And then the orange chakra cleared, leaving behind a sobbing mess of a boy who stared at the girl. “Why would you kill him?” he yelled, voice broken.

The girl appeared to look remorseful, and opened her mouth to say something -

Sakura turned her attention back to the dead boy not four feet in front of her.

Dead.

The boy and Sasuke shared the same hair, bangs and all, and  - it must be a coincidence, a very bad coincidence, that they both wore the same dark shirt and pants - that was all it was, a coincidence.

Her body seemed to move of its own accord, staggering to where the body was, put a hand on the boy’s cold, cold cheek - it was Sasuke.

Fuck.

Sakura sobbed then, sobbed for the boy who’d had his family slaughtered a few years ago and had looked like a ghost to everyone around him since then, sobbed for the boy who wanted so much, yet nothing at all, sobbed for the boy who chased ghosts all his life - and then Naruto flew past her with an oomph.

She looked behind her shoulder and saw the girl - Haku, she remembered - glide over to where they were, senbon in hand. “I apologize, Naruto-san,” she murmured. “But for the sake of Zabuza-sama, I must kill you all.”

Sakura shuddered, kunai in hand, as thoughts swirled around in her head. She’s gonna kill us all? She killed Sasuke-kun already, what else can she possibly do, she already killed one of us, she killed him she killed him she killed him - she’s gonna pay now.

Inner stood up, growling. This Haku girl certainly was tough, maybe - she killed Sasuke - but Inner could beat her - would beat her. She would beat Haku to a bloody pulp, shove as many senbon into the girl as Sasuke had, watch her scream and writhe in pain - she would pay.

The other girl’s eyes narrowed, and she was calling forth a jutsu, judging by the rapid hand seals.

Inner smirked and pulled loose her inhibitions, let go of all the chakra Sakura had spent tamping down her anger all these years - and it felt so good.

Water surged at her and she snarled, throwing a kunai at the girl, letting the senbon hit her as she walked forward. She was the superior one here. She was the one whose teammate had died a death by drowning in his own blood. She was the one with the anger, and the chakra control to add to it.

And really, what was a jutsu? Nothing but something imagined, brought to life by chakra - it didn’t matter whose.

And at the moment, Inner’s will was far, far greater than Haku’s.

She pulled with her chakra on the water that was forming around Haku, and pictured icicles, needes, sharp enough to draw blood. She moved her hands, tugged on Haku’s water, and made it her own, twenty icicles forming behind her, at her beck and all.

Sakura-chan!” she heard a voice call out, distant, and paid it no attention as the girl in front of her moved again, quickly, lashing out with another spray of senbon, fingers moving into the signs for another jutsu.

Inner ran forward as well. Some senbon hit her, some missed - she didn’t really care. She growled, and guided the icicle needles forward with her chakra, and watched Haku bring up an arm to deflect the needle - ah. There was a little blood of her face now.

There was blood on Sasuke’s face too - no, there was blood everywhere -

She pulled out two kunai, felt Haku rip into her forearm with a few senbon, and cut a gash in Haku’s stomach with the kunai in her right hand, blood coating it.

But Sasuke’s face kept on coming back to her in flashes, cold and dead and so pale, so pale -

The anger overtook Inner again. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. And that statement was true indeed, she thought as she gritted her teeth and moved her left hand up, senbon leaving gashes as she drove the kunai in her left hand into the juncture  between Haku’s neck and shoulder.

… There was so much blood.

And maybe that was brought her to her senses. Maybe it was Naruto’s indistinct yell, filled with unmistakable horror as he ran over to her. Maybe it was Haku’s face, with so much sorrow in her eyes as she gurgled and murmured, “For … forgive ..”

Either way, Sakura jumped back, dropping her kunai as her trembling returned, watching Haku disappear into a block of ice that appeared and wavered next to her.

There was a hand on her back, and Sakura turned around, hands suddenly nerveless as she faced a crying Naruto. “Sakura-chan … your eyes are green again …” he mumbled, and suddenly he was hugging her.

He was hugging her, and it was a good thing he was, because she would have collapsed otherwise, as the gravity of what she had done hit her like Zabuza’s elbow.

She’d - Kami, she’d killed someone -

Sakura pushed Naruto away and retched.

What had she done? What had she done?

She’d stabbed a kunai into a girl’s neck, watched the life fade from her eyes, knowing that she was responsible for it -

She’d caused the same thing that had been done to Sasuke. She was responsible for a body, she was responsible for turning a girl into a corpse, what had she done -

Sakura dug her palms into the ground and threw up her breakfast, Naruto standing to the side, watching her helplessly as they both sobbed.

After all, she knew she shouldn’t have been surprised - she’d known when she had entered the Academy, she’d known when she received her hitai-ate - she was going to kill someone eventually.

She’d known, and yet -

What had she done?

Chapter Text

Sakura shivered. She quaked like a leaf, because her hands were covered in blood, and Oh Kami she’d just taken the life of another person.

She felt hollow and sat down. Watched as everything around her became reduced to a blurry motion in her peripheral vision.

Vaguely, she felt someone put a hand on her shoulders, a brief touch, and then it was gone - just like Haku, just like Sasuke -

Her hands trembled, and Sakura fell to her knees as the realness of it all came to her. No, no, no, no, don’t think about it, don’t think about it, don’t think -

Her right hand reached for Sasuke’s head like it had a mind of its own, and she drew her hand back, because the hair was black and it looked too much like Haku’s and it was all wrong -

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Zabuza lunge for Kakashi even as the mist cleared, the sword glancing in the air, and Sakura could hear the stinging sound the metal made as Zabuza brought the blade down with a ferocious yell - full of pain. But of course, she thought, I killed Haku, so of course he’s gonna be angry -

There was a peculiar sound then, like the sound of a thousand birds chirping, and Sakura turned her head to see a blue blur and floppy gray hair rush a fist encased in - was that lightning? - into Haku’s chest -

That must have been the last straw for Sakura, because she started hyperventilating, one hand clutching her shirt and the other gripping onto Sasuke’s cold, dead hand. How did Haku even get there? Oh Kami oh Kami oh Kami she was already dead, she was already dead why is Kakashi-sensei’s fist through her chest -

And then Zabuza cackled, a maniacal laugh, full of pain and grief. Sakura had heard it before, an echo of hysteria in it when her Aunt Hayasaka had heard that Uncle Ryuchi, Kami rest his soul, had died in an accident at the mill. And, impossibly, Sakura started sobbing even harder, because her heart and mind were fracturing with the knowledge that she’d taken somebody’s life, and now a jounin, a full-fledged ninja, a man who’d been trained to breeze past thousands of deaths, a man who killed others himself, could laugh with so much hysteria.

But she saw, through the haze of tears, Zabuza lift the sword up and bring it down - Kakashi was stuck, his fist was still in Haku’s chest, oh Kami, what the fuck - and Sakura brought a kunai up. Her right hand was still trembling though, and she was holding a weapon she’d used to take someone’s life -

She gripped her right hand so tightly that it was bound to leave a bruise, and took aim - really, she didn’t, because the sword was right there, and Kakashi was stuck, and she didn’t want to see another cold, white, bloody body in place of her sensei -

The kunai was somehow thrown with enough force that it clattered against the blade, and then Zabuza and Kakashi-sensei both turned to look at her, eyes wide, as Kakashi dislodged his fist from Haku’s chest. There was a high-pitched sound coming from somewhere, and - oh. That was Sakura, screaming bloody murder.

She was still kneeling, and everything was so bright, and - calm down, calm down, don’t have a panic attack right now -

Then everything blurred for a little while, and Sakura didn’t feel anything.

When her vision snapped back into focus, she saw a crowd huddled a ways from her, maybe fifty meters down the bridge or so. Then she blinked again, and some people had fallen down, blood soaking the bridge. There was a path cleared through the crowd now, and in the center of it was Zabuza, kunai clenched between his teeth and arms hanging limply at his sides as he moved like a hurricane, crouching low and coming back up in a while, blood soaking his mouth and kunai as he stabbed people left and right. So this was a missing-nin. This was what a killer looked like.

Sakura had been a fool to think that shinobi were simply valiant heroes. She had daydreamed, back in the Academy, when she still had the luxury to taunt Ino about Sasuke after finishing her ikebanas in kunoichi class. She’d seen Izumo and Kotetsu at the gates of Konoha, had seen other ninja walking around town, laughing merrily, and how were they all so strong? How were ninjas strong enough to stomach the fact that they’d killed someone, knowing that they’d have to do it again? She could barely stomach the fact that she’d killed Haku, but she knew instinctively that if the same thing had happened again - most likely than not, she’d still end up killing Haku - oh Kami.

This was what a shinobi was, what a kunoichi was.

For all that the Academy had taught - kunai throwing, twenty ways to dislocate a jaw, how to calculate the trajectory of paper bombs, the ideology behind honeypot missions, how to arrange cherry blossoms - they had never taught any of them how to deal with killing someone.

Naruto was behind her now, murmuring something probably meant to be comforting, but all Sakura felt was a white-hot burst of anger. She called herself a ninja - and yet. And yet, she hadn’t sensed Naruto at all. No, instead she’d been busy mourning, lost in thought about murder, having the audacity to have a panic attack in the middle of a combat situation, what kind of ninja was she?

In front of her, Zabuza was now lying next to Haku, and Kakashi-sensei was squatted next to him, bloody hand brushing over both of their eyes, closing them - a common ritual for shinobi.

She was shivering again, but her breathing had calmed down, and Naruto was rubbing circles over her back, whimpering as he struggled not to cry. That was when Sakura really took it all in - she was covered in blood, surrounded with puke, wearing a tearstained and bloody shirt with torn leggings, and - Kami, she was holding a corpse’s hand -

Except. The hand was moving. Fluttering in her grip ever so slightly, and Sakura tensed, then whirled around as -

“Sa - kura?” a raspy voice croaked.

She watched, with mounting horror and relief, as black eyes blinked open, and the boy whose hand she was holding sat up.

She’d killed someone because she’d thought he was dead, oh Kami -

“Sasuke,” Sakura said as she promptly fainted.

Chapter Text

When she woke up, she didn’t know what she had expected - maybe all of them heading back to Konoha, maybe her back on a nice, warm bed - but Sakura had most certainly not anticipated Kakashi and Naruto digging a hole. 

Well, two. And they were pretty big holes, big enough to fit a man - oh. They weren’t digging holes. They were digging graves, for Haku and Zabuza. 

“What,” she croaked, then cleared her throat, because she was sounding too much like Sasuke when he’d - “what happened?”

Naruto turned around in astonishment and dropped his shovel when he saw her. “Sakura-chan,” he murmured, and moved forward, arms outstretched, and it was Zabuza all over again, sword looming over her, and then Haku, with the blood dripping down from her neck as her arms - 

She flinched, hand reaching for her kunai, and Naruto moved back, a hurt look crossing his face. 

Kakashi turned around to look at her, eyebrow furrowed, and then shoved his shovel into the ground to the side, kneeling down to whisper something in Naruto’s ear. Naruto looked at her, his eyes full of pity, and Sakura hated it. Hated that she couldn’t stomach the fact that she’d killed someone, hated that she was still such a fucking coward because shinobi were meant to do this all the time - 

“Sakura?” an unfamiliar voice asked, poking her shoulder and then abruptly moving their hand back.

What -” Sakura turned around, ready to snarl if it was Tazuna, looking at her in the same way Naruto had - and oh no. It was worse. It was Sasuke, frowning, eyes narrowed at her. Oh my Kami. Kill me now. No, wait, I think I’m already dead, because there’s no way in hell Sasuke would be caught dead talking to me.

While she was monologuing internally, Sasuke jerked his hand over to a tree to the side. 

Sakura frowned. “What?” she asked.

Sasuke jerked his hand emphatically again.

“Use your words, Sasuke,” she said, crossing her arms. He might have been her crush, but she didn’t speak Uchiha, and she wasn’t patient enough to try to understand what he meant right now.   

Sasuke groaned. “You know what, I’ll just say it right here.”

“Eh?” Naruto shrieked from the background. “Teme, are you about to ask Sakura-chan out? Bastard!”

Sakura hoped to Kami Kakashi would smack him.

“Thanks for uh.” Sasuke scratched his neck. “Doing what you did for me.”

Sakura stared at him, not sure what to say. You’re welcome? No problem? It’s nothing, except for all the mental trauma and self-loathing I have now at killing someone? 

She had gotten lost in her thoughts, and Sasuke nodded and slunk off to join the other two. Sakura sat down again and looked at the piles of dirt that were getting heaped up on the side, next to two - oh. 

Two bodies, pale and white, were laid next to each other, eyes closed. One was significantly taller than the other, with bandages wrapped around arms and masking a mouth, and the other - there was still blood on her neck and waist. Sakura stood up, her knees weak, palms sweaty, and walked slowly, sunk her weight into the earth because it was the only way she could root herself to the ground and not go flying away from the bodies, away from the mission, away from all of this - 

Haku’s hands were so small. They were riddled with tiny cuts, Sakura noticed as she walked closer. One of them was splayed open, and the other was curled up slightly, and for some reason, Sakura wondered if Haku had played the piano. (It had nothing to do with the fact that Haku’s left hand looked like her father’s hands when he played the piano, melodies filling their tiny house, and Sakura wanted to sob with just how homesick she was, and also disgusted, because how would her father react when he learned that she killed someone -) 

It made her wonder how many other things Haku had done, besides kill and now, being killed. She’d killed Haku the shinobi, and maybe that was understandable. But everyone had sides to them, and she’d killed not just Haku the shinobi, but also all the other versions of Haku that would now never get to dream anything, because she’d taken life from them. With this realization came crushing sadness, and Sakura would’ve given anything to cry then, but she’d run out of tears, and instead stood swaying, numb. 

A glint of metal caught her eye, wrapped loosely around Haku’s forehead. It was a Kiri forehead protector, slashed all the way through like Zabuza’s. How awful it must be, to abandon everything for one ninja, to act as a killer to be used for someone else’s machinations, to go into any fight with the realization that if you were killed, nothing would mourn you but the blood soaked into the ground when you died. 

And Sakura had killed Haku. She’d, in a sense, condemned Haku to that fate, and condemned herself a life filled with disgust at herself for ever killing someone. So she did what she could now, to preserve the memory of Haku, because she would not let there be only dust to remember the memory of the girl’s footsteps. She bent down and grabbed the forehead protector and tied it around her own forehead, a reminder of a memory to mourn. Then she scooped Haku’s body into her arms, her body numb, acting on autopilot, as she nearly staggered under the weight. 

But she’d killed this girl, and she would bury her and remember her, because it was the least she could do. She walked over to the nearest open hole, and all conversation stopped, as three concerned faces looked at her. She couldn’t bring herself to look at them, and instead lowered the body into the, shoulders shaking as she did so, and - Sakura had thought she’d run out of tears. She hadn’t. 

Sasuke took the body from her, bent over halfway to place it into the grave, and Kakashi-sensei made a pitiful sound as he looked at her, eye creased, and then he dropped his shovel and crossed over to her in two quick strides, holding her as she collapsed against his chest, bawling yet again. “Kakashi, I killed her.

Chapter Text

Kakashi exhaled and held Sakura for a moment, something aching in his chest as he did so. He exhaled sharply, remembering the first time he’d - 

It had been raining. It had been raining, and Obito had been to his right, snarling as he fought a ninja, kunai to kunai. There had been a ninja in front of Kakashi then, and he had pulled out the sabre his father had given him, ignoring the pang of hurt he felt whenever he held the wretched thing, and had slashed the ninja’s neck in one go, hacking through the spine with both hands, blood spattering all over him as he did. 

He’d been numb for days after, gotten nightmares, and retched when he saw cooked meat. That was one of the reasons he didn’t eat the stuff anymore - it smelled like ozone and Chidori to him, and he didn’t want those reminders.

Sakura was resembling Rin less and less and a younger version of himself more as time passed, and as fucked up as Kakashi was, he couldn’t let someone else walk the same path that he did. And - he was no Yamanaka, no therapist, but if he said something, he could probably help Sakura’s mentality, just a bit.

“Sakura,” he started, letting her go as she wiped her eyes, watching as Sasuke seemed to notice that a heart-to-heart conversation was about to take place, and dragged a curious Naruto a few yards away. Kakashi sighed and ran a hand through his hair, wondering what he was going to say as Sakura looked at him, green eyes teary and conflicted and filled with sadness and self-loathing. (That was exactly how he looked like whenever he saw himself in the mirror -) 

“Sakura. I want you to know this - there is a difference in between killing without cause and killing with a cause. Of course, I’m gonna be honest with you,” here Sakura laughed ruefully and finished the sentence for him.

Killing is killing, whatever the reason,” she echoed, curling her shoulders, a new Kirigakure headband - was that Haku’s? - glinting as she did so. 

Kakashi shook his head. “No actually. That is right, but so is this, Sakura: that’s easy to say when people don’t have to take the risk themselves. We’re shinobi. We are tasked to protect, to kill if we have to, in order to protect what we must. That’s one thing that is true. No matter what side you are on as a shinobi, that is true. Naruto told me what happened with you and Haku and Sasuke.”

At this, Sakura let out a guttural sound, eyes closing, and fists balled up, face in pain. She was probably remembering what happened on the bridge, and Kakashi mentally cursed himself for being irresponsible, for not being quick enough to take care of Haku - this was a C-rank, goddamn it, and genin were not supposed to be the ones saving his ass. More to the point, he hadn’t expected Sakura would do anything, and cursed himself even more. He was unworthy of being a jounin, of being a teacher, of being a sensei

He knelt down to her eye level, voice soft as he spoke. “Hey, Sakura, look at me.” 

Her eyes opened, startlingly green, and Kakashi frowned as he remembered what Naruto had told him. 

“They were blue, I swear ‘ttebayo, sensei, that wasn’t Sakura, the eyes were blue…”

Kakashi would dive into that later, when Sakura was mentally stable enough to not have a breakdown over this mission. He continued. “Sasuke fell, and you thought Haku might do the same to Naruto, I think. It’s … understandable, because shinobi protect, and you have to see that that is what you did, Sakura.”

She was shaking her head now, eyes less teary, face crumpled. “I killed her, Kaka-sensei. I was so angry - I don’t know what came over me, really, but I killed her.”

“You killed her because Naruto was there,” Kakashi reminded her. “Even unconsciously, you wanted to protect them, and that’s what -” his voice lowered here. “That’s what the Will of Fire is. Protecting your loved ones through whatever is necessary.”

Sakura looked at him, shocked, and Kakashi desperately wished he had known this when he was younger, because Sakura was like him, but she had the Will of Fire. It was natural in her, and he felt proud, sort of.

Her eyes seemed filled with slightly less self-loathing, and a bit more puzzlement, and Kakashi smiled grimly under his mask. “There is a difference between cold-blooded murder and killing for a reason, Sakura. You know what the Will of Fire is, and I need you to understand this Sakura: what you did at the bridge? That wasn’t cold-blooded murder. You aren’t a murderer. You are a shinobi. If you hadn’t killed, Haku might’ve killed you and Naruto or something along those lines. You did what you had to do, Sakura, because you’re a ninja of Konoha, and you have the Will of Fire written into you.”

She looked at her hands, relief written into her face. But it was quickly replaced by caution as she looked at him warily. “You’re not just saying that to make me feel better?”

Why the heck would I sugarcoat anything? Kakashi ruffled her hair. “Maa, Sakura, never. I’m your sensei, and I wouldn’t tell you something false.” He swore right then and there, as he saw Haruno Sakura’s face, that he would never underestimate her again. She was one of his genin, too, and he would make sure she flourished, because that was his will. That was the Will of Fire - to protect, to grow, to teach. And Kakashi was struck with a realization, even as Sasuke and Naruto came shuffling back, Naruto squawking in an attempt to make Sakura feel better. He had an Uchiha prodigy and the son of Minato-sensei, a jinchuuriki, on his team, but Sakura, the ordinary civilian-born, had more of the Will of Fire than the rest of them, himself included. 

Kakashi figured, with a bittersweet feeling and a half-smile hidden under his mask, that Haruno Sakura was a shinobi ( he remembered what it meant to be a shinobi again, what Minato-sensei and Obito had taught him, what he’d kept hidden under his hands and his heart and his head, what his father had been -) and not just a genin, and it took all of his energy to not burst into tears at that.

Chapter Text

Sakura stopped at the gates, thinking.

It was supposed to be like this: when a ninja team came back from a mission, they checked in, and went home to write their mission reports. It was supposed to be like this: Sakura would go home numb, say a few words to her parents, who would smile and offer to make her dinner, and she would feel like a monster, because despite what Kakashi had told her, she had killed someone. And if she was completely honest with herself, she wasn’t sure whether or not she’d killed Haku out of fear or anger.

She was supposed to work like a normal genin after a mission, but -

Naruto saw her, trembling, looking pale and drawn. “Ne, Sakura-chan,” he said, voice quiet, like Sensei’s had been, “are you okay?”

Beside them, Sasuke rolled his eyes. “Tch, of course she’s not, are you dumb, dobe?” She killed someone twelve hours went unspoken between all of them, and Sakura - well, she didn’t like them any less because of it. 

Over the journey, she’d known that the gates would loom over her, had known that she was about to feel suffocated and lost and disgusted, but she hadn’t anticipated - well, none of them could’ve expected it, actually - for Naruto to take her hand and grin and give her a thumbs up. “Ne, Sakura-chan, I was thinking, - yes, shut up teme, I can think - how about we have a … sleepover?’

Sakura, Sasuke, and Kakashi all stared at him like he was crazy, which he was. 

Naruto looked back at all of them, scratching the back of his neck sheepishly. “What, ‘ttebayo?”

Sakura considered it. She could sign in and go home and feel like a suffocated monster, like a wolf among sheep, trapped between walls with her parents who loved a girl made of lies, like she was supposed to do, or. Or she could take this way out. And maybe then, the predicted outcome would be different. 

Screw Naruto for throwing a wrench in her plans of self-loathing. 

She nodded hesitantly, and then Sasuke, Naruto, and Kakashi looked at her like she was crazy, which, to be fair, she probably was.

Without taking his eyes off her, Sasuke nodded his assent, and Kakashi sighed, probably resigning himself to the fact that his genin were weird as hell. 

“Maa, my cute little genin having a sleepover without me?” He sighed forlornly, then suddenly ruffled Naruto’s and Sasuke’s hair, his tone… smiley, all of a sudden, as he continued, “No chance!”

Sasuke actually hissed, and Naruto shrieked because he only had so much room Kaka-sensei, a big nasty old fart like you wouldn’t fit, ‘ttebayo!

Sakura sighed and dropped her knapsack in front of the gateguards’ desk as she signed her name. She looked at Izumo and Kotetsu’s shocked faces at the commotion going on in front of the gates, and sighed again. “They’re a mess, ” she emphasized, and Kotetsu grinned, letting her pass.

“That they are.”

She tightened Haku’s headband around her neck, trying to not think about the mission, and instead focused on Sasuke and Naruto, who were, she could tell, about to get into a brawl. 

Kakashi was keeping them apart by putting a hand on each of their foreheads, and both Sasuke and Naruto were kicking up dirt as they marched in place on the ground, trying to get at each other with their full force. And Kakashi just looked bored. If that said anything about his physical strength - Sakura gulped. 

Two or three minutes later, the rest of Team Seven - one bored man and two grass-stained boys - scribbled something into the gate ledger, and headed towards her, one of them screaming enthusiastically at the top of his lungs. Everyone was unfazed, of course. 

RAAAAAAAAAMEEEEEEEENNNNNNNN!!!” Naruto screamed at the top of his lungs as he zipped past them, running for what could only be Ichiraku’s. Sasuke stopped next to Sakura and looked at her.

Sakura nodded sympathetically, and then blinked, because she was actually beginning to understand his microexpressions. Oh Kami, what if, a few months down the line, we’re in an argument or something of the sort and all he does is raise an eyebrow and I start ranting again because I understand what his eyebrow is trying to communicate? She groaned and smacked her forehead. Why am I thinking like Naruto?

Sasuke looked at her weirdly, and for some reason, Sakura wasn’t nearly affected by that as she used to be.

Just then, Kakashi came up to her left. “Someone please catch Naruto,” he sighed, “I have to go to the Hokage Tower to file a mission report, as much as I hate to do so. Oh and, for the love of Kami, please make sure Naruto doesn’t eat himself into a food coma.”

With that, he held up two fingers, and disappeared in a swirl of leaves.

Sakura sputtered. “How did he -”

“Tch, it’s a shunshin,” Sasuke replied. And then, after a lengthy pause, as if he was debating something, “my cousin could do it.”

Sakura sputtered again, because she wanted to know how to do a shunshin, but at the same time, she didn’t want to beg Sasuke for anything.

She’d be bothering Kakashi later. A lot. 

For now, though, they had to go find Naruto - Sakura grimaced. He’d probably eat at least five bowls of ramen, and she sure as hell wasn’t gonna pay for it. Sasuke had started to walk ahead, hands in his pockets as Sakura walked one or two steps behind him, checking how much money she had in her pocket. 200 yen. Fuck. 

Sasuke had noticed a kunai stall, and halted, causing Sakura to nearly bump into him. He pointed at the kunai, and Sakura flushed with shame as she remembered how she had next to none with her at Wave. If she’d had some more, maybe she could’ve - 

The kunai glinted in the sun, sharp and dangerous, and Sakura fumbled with her pouch, paying attention to her weapons for once. Sasuke peeked over too, and when Sakura counted out three kunai, a tiny unopened packet of shuriken, and nothing else, he shook his head. “Tch, you’re my teammate, at least get weapons. What are you, a civ?”

He had a point there. Sakura sighed. Naruto and his ramen would have to wait. She just hoped he didn’t eat, like ten bowls of ramen or something, because she might actually faint if she saw the bill for that.

Chapter Text

The pink hair and red outfit didn’t bother Sasuke as much, for some reason. Probably, he thought to himself, because Sakura had started to wear a red shirt with Wave’s sign on the back, and black leggings. It was much more practical than the qipao she used to have wore, which if Sasuke was being entirely honest,was simultaneously worrying and funny - worrying if you fretted that Sakura would trip and fall, and funny to Sasuke because it was slightly entertaining at first to see her attempt to run circles around them while bow-legged. 

She’d changed more than just her outfit during Wave, though. Sasuke had no idea what had happened while he was unconscious, but it was apparent enough that Sakura had killed someone, and now she had the same eyes that that man had had after he’d come home from his first mission. Haunted eyes. Sharp, wary eyes. It unnerved him, just a bit. 

He’d been six, after all, and he’d only seen that man after his missions and hadn’t ever thought he looked anything different. That man, with his blood-and-sweat stained clothes and red eyes, talking and laughing with his mother after. Sasuke hadn’t had an understanding, back then, of the ninja world beyond a vague idea of kunai-and-shuriken throwing and nobility and heroism. 

And then. He’d seen Zabuza, had been close enough to hear him breathe. He’d fought Haku, bloody and sweaty and grimy, Uchiha katon against a kekkai genkai. And he’d lost. He’d gotten pierced with senbon left and right because he’d defied that man, and chosen to listen to Old Man Kakashi for once. Those who abandon their teammates are scum. He’d lost because of that philosophy, and maybe in one world, he would have considered ignoring that - but Sakura had listened to the same thing, Naruto had told him. She had thought Sasuke dead, and she’d made Zabuza’s apprentice pay the price. 

She was scarily resembling that man…

Except that man hadn’t wept and thrown up because he’d taken a life. That man hadn’t been filled with regret for what he’d done. And that man wasn’t like the girl who was buying kunai and shuriken in front of him, haggling with the shopkeeper over money - 

Sakura was Sakura. She was not that man. 

She had bled for Sasuke. She had not made Sasuke bleed.

And he decided right then and there, under the scorching sun with blue tarp over his and Sakura’s heads, with the latter grinning toothily as she packed the kunai and exploding tags and other items into a pouch, that that had made all the difference.

Those who abandon their teammates are scum. 

Sakura had fought for him. And so had Naruto. He’d seen him turn into a riot of orange fury, with anger and something else, something deep, something sorrowful, swirling around him. He’d seen Naruto lunge at the senbon-wielder just as his vision had begun to speckle and fade to black - 

Those who abandon their teammates are scum. 

That man had killed his whole family, his own clan. Sakura and Naruto, even though they were not family, even though they were not tied by blood in any way, even though they had no obligation to - had fought and bled for him, and that was why, he told himself, Sakura was nothing like Itachi - he shuddered just thinking the name. 

“Sasuke, are you okay?”

He snapped his head around, startled, to look at Sakura, who had a concerned face as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other, uncertain. 

“Tch, I’m fine,” he lied, slouching slightly as he tried to force himself to look relaxed.
Her eyes narrowed and pinched. “Are you sure?” she asked, slightly suspicious.

Damn it. Be the cool kid, Sasuke. He slid on his unperturbed expression, felt his face adjust to it like it was second nature (which it probably was) and jammed his hands into his pockets for good measure. He wrinkled his nose, and injected a slight tone of duh, I’m an elite ninja into his reply. “Tch.”

Sakura shrugged, and was opening her mouth to say something, when - 

“Sasuke-kun, Sasuke-kun, Sasuke-kun!”  

He turned around, eyebrow threatening to twitch, and he fought the urge to gape when he saw who it was. Beside him, Sakura scowled.

Out of all the possible fangirls - 

But no. Amaterasu just had to torture him with the worst of them all. Honestly, he wasn’t even sure what he could have ever done, in this life or the past life, to be settled with such an annoyance. 

Heavens above and below, it was the blond brat. No, not Naruto - it was worse. 

It was Ino. 

Shuffling alongside her was the lazy Nara and Akimichi Choji, who were pleasant enough in the sense that they didn’t follow Ino’s example and bother Sasuke.

The latter was munching on chips and talking to the Nara, who was looking disinterested and muttering something under his breath as he scuffed the ground with his foot.

Ino flew into him, and Sasuke closed his eyes and gritted his teeth as he was forced to bear the indignity that was hugging. 

Hell, he honestly would have rather had Naruto fangirling after him than Ino. 

Beside him, Sakura scoffed, and Ino caught onto that slight sound like a cat pouncing on a mouse. “Jealous much, Sakura?” she grinned as she clung to Sasuke’s back,

Sasuke rolled his eyes as he prepared for a fangirl fight.

“And what’s with your outfit?” Ino continued. “Did you give up on trying to woo Sasuke-kun? Finally accepted I was superior, huh, Forehead?”

Sakura didn’t say anything. Instead, she clenched her fists and bit her lip, and Sasuke could tell she was holding back scathing words. 

“She gave up! I knew it!” cried Ino, and that seemed to be the last straw for Sakura, who pulled him and Ino apart surprisingly quickly.

“You,” said Sakura in a low, rough voice, as she stepped closer to Ino, “can’t say anything. No, I’m not jealous. And you’re right, I’m not gonna be an annoying fangirl anymore.” She leaned  closer to Ino, who stood transfixed, cheeks slightly flushed. 

Sasuke frowned. The sun was particularly scorching today.

“I’m his teammate,” Sakura whispered, and if Sasuke was anyone else, he would’ve clapped. 

Because Sakura was right. 

Those who abandon their teammates are scum - 

She hadn’t abandoned him.

Chapter Text

When they found Naruto half an hour later, happily eating his eighth bowl of ramen sitting underneath a fan, Sakura burned with envy. She and Sasuke had just spent shy of an hour in the sweltering sun and arguing with Ino-pig, who was a brat, with her stupid blonde hair and her stupid eyes that just happened to be the best shade of blue Sakura had ever seen in her life - stupid Ino. 

Anyways. 

Naruto saw them as he was finishing slurping up his ramen, and enthusiastically said, “Sakuwa, Sake, wef doin sweefovel, ne?” . Sakura blinked, and decided to ignore the statement because she didn’t understand ninety percent of what Naruto had said. 

She slid onto an open seat to his right, and nearly gaped when Sasuke soundlessly sat down next to her as well. She really couldn’t be blamed, though - she was still getting used to Sasuke not being as standoffish and distant with her as before - and Naruto tapped out a menu, eyes alight as he looked at them. ‘You guys - you guys want to eat ramen with me?”

Sakura and Sasuke stared at the menu, then at each other, and nodded, coming to a decision. Sakura mentally cursed Naruto and his goddamn puppy eyes, because her wallet was going to be nearly empty now, first because of the oji-san who overpriced kunai, and now, this. 

“Tch, dobe,” Sasuke interrupted her train of thought as he leaned across to talk to Naruto, “which one do I -” he took a moment to clear his throat, “which one do I get?”

Sakura facepalmed as Naruto started lecturing Sasuke about all the types of ramen and how they “even come with the bestest toppings, ‘ttebayo, ‘cuz there’s a topping named after me!” After he was done yelling about ramen, Sasuke looked like he’d died and Sakura was closing her eyes and praying to Buddha for Bodhisattva.

They both got a bowl of plain ramen.  As they ate their first bowls, and Naruto ate his ninth, there was that familiar breeze that smelled like mint leaves and static and dog , and Sasuke wrinkled his nose as Kakashi appeared in Ichiraku’s. Naruto simply gaped, and Sakura smirked, because she knew the answers to the questions Naruto was currently bombarding Kaka-sensei with, like what the jutsu was called (a shunshin) and how it was done (goddamnit, Sakura didn’t know that, actually) and will you please please, pretty please with a narutomaki on top, teach me, sensei (goddamn it, she was going to learn it too ). That was it for her, and she started echoing Naruto, saying,” Please, Kaka-sensei, teach us.” 

Kakashi looked frazzled, and Sasuke, in that moment, must have felt some semblance of pity for their sensei, because he quickly distracted Naruto with his ramen again, giving Sakura a chance to wheedle Kakashi. 

“Ne, Kaka-sensei,” she began sweetly, and Kakashi looked very, very afraid, “will you teach me how to do a shunshin? Pleaaaaaaaase.”

The man actually thought about it for a minute, then grinned so wide Sakura could see his lips move through the mask. “Maa, Sakura-chan - Naruto, Sasuke, you listen too! - I’ll teach you all the shunshin - but only if you show up at four in the morning tomorrow, because I’ve got a bit of  a special exercise for you all.”

Naruto nodded enthusiastically, and Sasuke looked pensive. Sakura didn’t know what to make of the whole thing, so she nodded once, uncertainly. 

“Great!” Kakashi said gleefully, clapping and rubbing his gloved hands together. He cackled as he handed them three separate envelopes. “That’s your mission pay,” Keep it together, Sakura, forget about it, forget about it, forget about it, how could she forget about it - 

She dropped the envelope, barely managing to keep the sobs out of her voice. “I don’t want it. You can have it,’ she said, cold and distant as she walked out of the restaurant. 

Keep it together, keep it together, keep it together - 

She’d barely walked ahead a few meters when Kakashi put his hand on her shoulders and bet over to whisper in her ear. “I’m sorry, Sakura-chan, I shouldn’t have brought that up,’ he apologized. “But remember what I told you?”

She nodded, biting her lip because she didn’t want it to keep wobbling.
“It was self-defense,” Kaka-sensei repeated, hand rubbing circles on her back. “It was self-defense.”

Sakura exhaled, pushing her emotions and her memories down as she tried to steady her breathing.

“You ready to go back?” Kaka-sensei asked. “If I recall, you have a Team Seven sleepover tonight as well.”

Sakura nodded, and took baby steps back towards Ichiraku’s, Kakashi guiding her back like a mother duck with its baby chicks.

Naruto and Sasuke were there still, talking animatedly about ramen (really, it was one-sided, Naruto had a menu in his hands and was lecturing Sasuke about something - probably ramen - while Sasuke had his head in his hands and was looking ready to die. Sakura didn’t blame him.)

They both stopped talking when Sakura walked in, and Naruto looked uncertain, big blue eyes filled with apprehension and worry, and Sasuke was the one who slapped down a pile of yen on the counter. He flushed when everyone looked at him in surprise.

“Tch,” he began, but never got to finish, because Kakashi was pretending to wipe tears from his one good eye.

“Maa, so touching,” Kakashi said.

Sasuke scowled.

Naruto jumped up excitedly. “ Ne, ne, so what are we doing now, ‘ttebayo?”

Kakashi stretched his hands over his head. “Well, we’re going to go to a friend of mine, Naruto. She makes shinobi attire, and you all will go ahead and try something on, and we’ll buy it if it’s good enough.”

Sakura frowned as she looked down at what she wore. Pants and a shirt. Was that not enough? She’d thought it had been, especially since it was such an improvement from her qipao. She shuddered. Why in her right mind had she thought wearing a qipao would make for good moving-around clothes?

“Let’s go shopping,’ Naruto said as he clapped. “Let’s go!”

Sakura and Sasuke sighed in unison.

Chapter Text

It took all of three seconds for her to notice that the shop was a mess. And that was understating it. Severely. There were clothes everywhere, and it looked like a hurricane smelling of blood and grease had swept through the shop.

Kakashi cupped his hands as he yelled out, “Mei-san! You have customers!”

Moments later, a red-headed woman with two separate mugs of coffee staggered out from behind a pile of clothes. 

Kakashi audibly snickered.

The woman, Mei-san probably, Sakura inferred, scowled back at Kaka-sensei. “What do you need, Kaka-kun?”, she asked as she took a sip of coffee. Sakura was impressed. Mei-san was badass, because no one else managed to give Kaka-sensei the stink eye. While drinking coffee, no less.

“Maa, Mei- chan ,” Kakashi drawled, slipping his hands into his pockets, “I need my cute little genin to get outfitted. In shinobi-wear.”

‘I gathered that much,” Mei-san said, rolling her eyes, as she set the coffee mug and papers down on a chair and pulled out a tape measure from seemingly nowhere. “One of y’all come forward, and the other two, go select some clothes.”

Sasuke sighed, and decided to get measured while Naruto and Sakura zoomed around the store, trying to make sense of the haphazard clothes, while listening to Kakashi make awful puns.

Some time later, after Naruto had decided to dive into a pile of clothes laying around, and Sakura had used a clone to reach the topmost shelf of clothes at least three times, they managed to all find acceptable clothes. (Sasuke had disappeared into the trial room every time he spotted Naruto, that bastard.)

Kaka-sensei clapped his hands when Mei-san herded them all towards him, grumbling about coffee and goddamn Kakashi. “My cute little ducklings, let me see you new outfits!” He genuinely looked excited as he said so, and Sakura tried not to snort as she pictured Hatake Kakashi, the fashionista. 

Naruto pushed her and Sasuke out of the way as he flailed his arms in an odd little dance excitedly. “Kaka-sensei, Kaka-sensei, look at it, look at what I’m wearing it looks so great!”, he babbled excitedly. Sakura had to admit that his outfit wasn’t half as bad as it could’ve been. He’d ditched the orange jumpsuit for a slightly more practical outfit, wearing silver track pants, a muted orange shirt with mesh sleeves, and an orange-black striped vest with the front unzipped. The only reason there outfit wasn’t even more orange was because Mei-san had interfered, Sakura remembered with bemusement. 

Sasuke harrumphed and pushed Naruto out of the way, and after a brief one-minute tussle, Naruto grudgingly stepped out of the way, and Sakura gaped. Neither her nor Naruto had gotten a very good look at his outfit, because he’d been stealthily hiding in the trial room for most of the time, and Kami, Sasuke looked very different. Now, he wore black pants and a dark purple belt to tighten it. He had on a shirt of mesh, and a kimono over it. “Hmm,” Kaka-sensei muttered as he appraised the outfit. “The kimono is a good add, because you could slip out weapons under those sleeves without your opponents noticing. Very clever, Sasuke. The pants … Mei-san, would you mind fitting shin guards there into the outfit somehow?” 

Mei-san threw her hands up and stalked away, grumbling.

“Sakura-chan, Sakura-chan, you show him your outfit too, ‘ttebayo!” Naruto cheered as Kakashi turned to face her. 

She shuffled, face burning, because she’d sort of become obsessed with the mesh aesthetic, and, well. Her outfit reflected that. She’d scrapped her old outfit completely, and only recycled the color theme, as was apparent. Her pants were leggings now, and they were the only red part of her outfit. Her shirt … was much more complex. She wore a layer of mesh, and a black no-sleeved shirt over that. Instead, for her left shoulder with the scars she’d gotten fighting Zabuza, Mei-san had found a compression half-sleeve, and it would prevent any blood clots from forming. Additionally, she’d gotten a forearm band on her right forearm, and it was a black meshed compression sleeve as well - Mei-san had fitted them all with compression sleeves. 

Kakashi cackled as he looked at her. ”Maa, Sakura-chan, this is such an improvement from that qipao you wore on your first day! I love the leggings, because they will allow you a lot more flexibility than your qipao or even pants.”

After that, Kaka-sensei paid a grumbling Mei-san, who had gone back to gingerly nursing her second or third cup of coffee. Sakura was slightly concerned. 

As they all exited the shop, Naruto exclaimed. “Ah, look, it’s nighttime! Sleepover sleepover sleepover sleepover please -

Sasuke growled for him to shut up. 

Everyone was tired and relatively quiet as they walked the ten minutes to the apartments near the Hokage Tower, with Naruto leading the way. 

Naruto’s apartment smelled like ramen. That was it. And when he sheepishly opened the door, none of them were surprised to see the ramen containers stacked up in towers all around the room. 

Usuratonkachi ,” Sasuke complained as he looked all around. 

Naruto flushed, and he began talking loudly, embarrassed. “WELL YOU SEE, I LIKE RAMEN. I LIKE RAMEN A LOT, DOBE. AND I LOVE ICHIRAKU RAMEN, OKAY. AND I JUS’  FORGOT TO PUT THE TRASH AWAY, AND DON’T GLARE AT ME, TEME. ICHIRAKU RAMEN IS THE BEST. AND IT DOESN’T SMELL. A LOT, ANYWAY. ‘S ALRIGHT, ‘N I’LL DO IT NOW, ‘TTEBAYO.”

Sakura and Sasuke exchanged looks, and Kakashi whistled innocently, muttering something about stinky genin ain’t my problem right now as he shunshinned away. 

Drat it. That was a handy jutsu and Sakura needed to learn it soon. 

Sasuke muttered, “Naruto’s such an idiot. Why would you agree to a sleepover.”

Sakura honestly wondered that too. She was supposed to be smarter than this, goddamnit. 

Two of Naruto’s clones returned soon, panting, as Sasuke and Sakura lingered awkwardly in the doorway. “Take your shoes off, ‘ttebayo,” they chorused as Sakura slipped hers off and walked into the apartment, mentally prepared to barely sleep, because it was Naruto.

Besides her, Sasuke scowled again, and kicked his sandals outside as they wandered the apartment. 

There were three rooms. A bathroom, a bedroom, and a kitchen.

Sakura winced as soon as they walked into the bedroom because, Kami, it was so orange. 

Kami forbid that Naruto have a normal apartment, of course. Sakura sighed, because she most definitely knew that with Naruto’s shenanigans and his volume, she was going to get very little sleep tonight.





Chapter Text

Kakashi landed in his house, a buzz of thoughts running through his head.

There was a scroll on his kitchen counter, unfurled. He picked it up and reread it for the umpteenth time. It was a brief message, written in the Sandaime’s hand, and delivered by some of the pricklier ANBU on his guard a week ago, when he had first been assigned to Team Seven.

Make sure Uzumaki, and Uchiha pass the Chunin Exams coming up in three months. Haruno passing would be good as well, but not necessary.

Do not reveal Uzumaki’s heritage.

Teach Uchiha how to handle his Sharingan.

Thanks,

Sandaime Hokage

He didn’t dispute the Sandaime’s orders at all, though, because to do so would be treason.

Ok, but if he was entirely honest with himself, he was a bit miffed.

Not only at the fact that he couldn’t reveal Naruto’s ancestry, but also at the fact that Team Seven had to go through the Chunin Exams in less than three months, and that the Sandaime legitimately expected three fresh-out-of-the-Academy brats to pass.

Add the blatant dismissal of Sakura (who was the one Kakashi saw himself most in - ok, ok, the one that was his favorite by a slight margin), and that honestly made him feel peeved.

This was a bit of a conundrum, but the Wave mission had awakened something within Kakashi - a desire to do something , be something to the kids other than a bored jounin-sensei who always read porn. He’d already deviated from that persona anyways, when he’d taught Sakura a new jutsu and Naruto and Sasuke how to climb trees using naught but chakra. So if he’d already done that - well, go big or go home, really.

He thought for a little while, rubbing his chin thoughtfully as he evaluated each one of his genin. 

Naruto was … infuriating, to say the least. He’d been burdened with a fox, and he didn’t know who his parents were, and yet. And yet he stood tall and proud and smiled and really, Naruto, you become more and more like Kushina-san every day …

Kakashi pulled himself away from the sentimental thoughts and focused on his tactical analysis as he paced. Futon elements. Having the Kyuubi essentially meant an affinity for all elements though. And the boy was an Uzumaki - knowing sealing would do him good. Which meant Kakashi would have to directly disobey Sandaime-sama’s orders and tell him his heritage.

Ah, well. He owed Minato-sensei and Kushina-san anyways, and this was really the least he could do.

He didn’t really get the chance to analyze Naruto’s fighting style in Wave, but he would bet his ninken that the boy would use a brawl style, what with his enormous chakra and shadow clones.

Next was Sasuke. The kid was obviously a bundle of nerves and paranoia and too much pride, but he reminded Kakashi too much of when he’d been a newly minted ANBU, not quite suicidal but still grieving too much. He’d taken a look at Sasuke’s psych evaluation, but every other word had been redacted, and, well, he was the last Uchiha. In Konoha, anyway - it was only a matter of time before he would have become a ninja. The kid needed to see a Yamanaka, though. Naruto had told him that he’d awakened his Sharingan in Wave, and Kakashi sighed as he compared everything: the eyes, the lightning affinity, the pride - the kid was a mini-him. Oh no. Well, Kakashi knew how to deal with that - make the boy participate with the team. A lot. And he’d seen Sasuke recently - the boy seemed to be less aloof around Sakura and Naruto. Maybe he’d be fine. But still. Kakashi would keep an eye (pun intended) on him.

And then there was Sakura. She’d killed Haku, the boy that Naruto and Sasuke could not beat, during Wave. According to Naruto, her eyes had been different - a shade of blue - when she’d attacked, using water, her other affinity. Was that a dormant kekkai genkai? Was it something else? A trick of the light?

Either way - Sakura was not the quiet, average girl that her Academy reports advertised. Her chakra control was very refined, but her chakra reserves were abysmal for a genin, as evidenced from the number of times she’d already fainted from chakra overuse. So in short: a lot more practice would improve her, and that was the only thing. (And maybe he could get a Yamanaka to look at her, too.)

He took a deep breath. Looked at the photo frame on the table. It was an old, old photo, taken many years ago, of team Seven - Kakashi and Obito sulking, arms crossed, and Rin in the middle, grinning with Minato-sensei. 

He sighed fondly. Those were the times … before everything went to shit.

Kakashi made a fist, and promised himself that he would not let his genin team fracture and turn into what the old Team Seven used to be.

And in order to do that, he’d be overturning and ignoring one too many rules set in place by the Hokage and the Council. 

Honestly though, these kids - this team - were worth more to Kakashi that following some antiquated precedents.

Kakashi felt his fingers move through a series of seals he hadn’t performed in well over a decade, but he felt the tug of his chakra as the summons came out of space-time, landing with a solid thunk in front of Kakashi.

The wolf landed in front of him, resting on its front paws with an air of leisure and dignity. It looked up at him, eyes flashing a familiar yellow, and snarled a greeting, in a language Kakashi hadn’t spoken since he was sixteen.

Hello pack leader.”

Kakashi felt his blood rush, and saw the wolf’s tail wag as it got up and circled him, sniffing his and nipping at his calves as it did so. “ I’ve forgotten your name,” Kakashi rumbled back.

He felt the wolf pause. “ Urazoshi. I remember your father. Pack leader. Smoke and mirrors. You smell different.”

Kakashi bared his teeth, pulling his mask off, and crouched down. “And what do I smell like, Urazoshi?”

The wolf bared its fangs right back at him, stopping in front of his face. “Desperation and fear and foxes.”

Chapter Text

Kakashi blinked, taken aback. Foxes? Oh. Oh. Because of the Kyuubi and Naruto and —

He had to teach them all and prepare them so they would survive the Chunin Exams, because there was a certainty that some of it would be worse than Wave. Particularly the second stage.

His growls took on a slightly urgent, slightly frantic tone. “Urazoshi-san. I have a problem and I need your help.”

The wolf’s tail flicked. “ I know. Wolves and foxes are related, after all. I smell the legend of foxes on you, and I know that history.”

Kakashi clicked his tongue impatiently. “Not just that. My pups - my genin - have been nominated for chunin. Which means the Exams.”

It was that growl that caused Urazoshi to flatten their ears to their head. “How long have they been with you?”

A month. There are three before the …”

The wolf’s tail flicked with even more agitation. “ Your Hokage does not do well, putting month-old pups into such deadly places. Pack leader. You must tread carefully as well as teach them, because the one with the deadly eyes and the fox kit are targets. Be careful. There is something far more sinister at play, with all the fox summons being slaughtered left and right.”

Kakashi breathed fast, and stood up. “ Urazoshi-san, please tail them.”

I will, pack leader. The wolves gravitate to the fox kit, and to the girl with the curious spirits. But,” the wolf grinned, showing even more of its canines, “ that is something to be revealed of its own accord. Do not force it, pack leader. There are two wolf spirits that are particularly attached to your girl, and I can smell it on you as well. A word of advice - even though you have been called upon for your eyes, you would do well to remember that it cannot see all. You are in danger too, for your relation to the fox kit.”

That was a lot of information to take in, and Kakashi nodded, resolving to look more deeply into that issue later. “ What do I need to do?”

“Be careful, pack leader. I can smell something rotten in this village. It has reeked for decades, and it continues to grow in its intensity. I wish you luck, but your chakra has begun to snap, and I must go back.”

And with that, the wolf vanished, tongue lolling. 

Kakashi smacked his head and immediately ran through the signs for summoning his pack of ninken.

Hopefully Pakkun or Bull would know what to do with the information of the summons being slaughtered, since they lived in the summon world most of their time. But Urazoshi-san was right - Kakashi had to tread very carefully. Because the Chunin Exams were where 60% of the genin either died or went missing, and he wasn’t willing to let that happen.

The whole pack appeared mere seconds later, and Pakkun wagged his tail, speaking for all the ninken as a whole.

“Boss, what -“ 

Kakashi hushed him, because he was feeling extremely paranoid right now, and began to snarl in Old Hatake Pack, a jumble of growls and clicks that came out rusty from him not having have used that language in a long, long time.

Pakkun. Genin may be in danger. Tail. Fox summons dead, dying. Look.”

And here, Kakashi paused, considering his next order. He could teach Sasuke how to use his Sharingan - that would be his best asset. Naruto needed to learn how to rein in and better control his chakra before learning any new jutsu. But Sakura - she had enough chakra control, and really, she only knew four jutsus, all of which were of mediocre quality at best.

“Go into the Hokage Tower.”

At this, Pakkun’s expression began to border on uncertainty. “ Boss, I-“

Kakashi held up his hand. “The wolves have come and told me something is at play here. My genin are in danger and Hokage-same has ordered us to take the Exams. They are not prepared, and I need you to do as I say. So, go to the Hokage Tower. And … ” Kakashi breathed. “ And bring me the … Journal of Earth from Senju Hashirama’s scrolls. Do not get caught.”

All the dogs’ tails collectively drooped - the human equivalent of turning as white as a sheet - and Pakkun managed to whimper out a “ Boss, if we don’t come back by morning —“ before reverse-summoning themselves to wherever they had to go. 

He .. didn’t know what he was doing, and by now that had to have been painfully obvious. Fumbling with his hands in a moment of panic, Kakashi pulled off his flak jacket and began pacing. Fuck, fuck, fuck. For all he knew, he could be setting off something very dangerous - a completely different chain of events, which could lead to a variety of possibilities - him dying, his genin dying, his ninken dying - fuck.

Breaking into the Hokage Tower and stealing a historical artifact with forbidden techniques to teach one of his students was probably punishable by death.

He sat there for Kami knew how long, thinking about it.

Like the incident at Naruto’s graduation. That fucker Mizuki had been working for Orochimaru the whole time, and the fact that he’d managed to conceal that fact for almost twelve years, paired with Urazoshi-san’s warning led Kakashi to wonder just who he could trust with his theories. 

Kakashi was good at two things - being paranoid and reminiscing. Now he needed to add a third thing to the mix - teaching. 

But he needed to take everything into consideration: the ticking time bomb that was the Hogake’s order, the Chunin Exams, Naruto and Sasuke being targets, fox summons being slain, something rotting in Konoha, and the mission he’d been declining repeatedly since a week ago…

Well. Hatake Kakashi was screwed. 

But right now the kids were his biggest worry and his biggest promise. 

Ah, well. He’d have them do the bell test again in the morning. And see where they were at. And then do whatever it was Minato-sensei and the Academy teachers did.

He allowed himself a moment to look at himself in the mirror without a mask on, and - he wasn’t about to lie to himself, but it was actually a bit jarring. He looked like … tou-san , before all the rumors and Hokage summons had taken such a toll on him that he’d killed himself. 

He looked quite a lot like his father, and maybe he’d spent enough time running away from that - Kakashi had to change something. 

He’d spent so long hiding, so long building walls, trying to bury his pain and memories, but there was a new Team Seven now and - and he couldn’t be that way anymore, if only for Naruto. If only for Sasuke. If only for Sakura. If only for Minato-sensei and Kushina-san and Rin and Obito - 

What better way to start than by taking off his mask?

Kakashi cursed as he looked at the clock. Somehow, it had been so long that it was nearly five now. In the morning. He’d told the genin to meet him at fourth. 

Fuck . How?

And as Hatake Kakashi, famed copy nin, wielder of the Sharingan, cursed frantically and rolled off the neck of his turtleneck that used to serve as his mask, all around him, the city of Konoha awoke.

Chapter Text

Naruto gasped at Kaka-sensei suddenly appeared on the bridge.
“Eh, sensei!” he squawked, “you’re normally, like, hours late, ‘ttebayo! An’ your face!”

Sensei touched the puckered scar that ran from his forehead down his right eye and smiled. “What of it, squirt?”

Beside Naruto, Sasuke snickered. “Pfft. Squirt.”

And that made Naruto feel kind of ugly inside because that was what Mizuki-sensei and Hokage-jiji used to call him whenever they didn’t wanna talk to him. And he didn’t like that ‘cause he wanted to talk to people and get taken seriously because “I’m a ninja and not a squirt, damn it, teme !” he screeched as he threw himself at Sasuke. 

Sakura groaned. “ Oh my Kami, can it, you two.” Sasuke listened to her for once and put his kunai back, and Naruto felt kind of happy because teme was listening and not being a broody asshole for once, but then Naruto, who was in midair, landed face first in the dirt and ow, his nose.

Sensei sighed like Hokage-jiji did and as Naruto scrambled up, dusting off his brand new jacket, he got back to business. “We,” he said, pulling out a kunai, “will be sparring today. It’s not a team exercise - just a bet. If any of you children can last … say, thirty seconds against me in a one-on-one spar, I will teach you a jutsu. If not, then …” he cackled, and Sakura, Sasuke, and Naruto all simultaneously shuddered. Well, Naruto didn’t know why Sakura and Sasuke were scared, but Naruto was scared ‘cause Sensei sounded like a banshee whenever he cackled, and he needed a haircut. Like, really, even teme’s hair wasn’t that bad, and he had a literal duckbutt. 

But! Naruto could learn a new jutsu if he beat Sensei! And it was only thirty second, what could go wrong?

“Here I come, Sensei!” Naruto crowed, as his hands automatically did the weird things that made the wonky feeling in his chest go away. 

Oh, right. He remembered what they were. Hand signs. And chatora. 

Whatever. 

But Naruto was gonna win this spar, because he’d learnt something from Wave, when the man with the sword had knocked him out before he could make his clones. 

That’s right, Naruto was super sneaky now. See, he wasn’t gonna yell out the name of his jutsu anymore, and Kaka-sensei would never see it coming.

Except … Sensei just sighed as six Narutos came running as him, and roundhouse-kicked two of his clones into the dust.

“It’s been three seconds, Naruto, try to be less predictable,” he advised as he leapt above Naruto’s head, and the idiot fox cackled in his brain.

Hey brat, if you were less of an idiot, you might have won, but you need a new technique. These damn clones every single time won’t cut it, ya know.

The idiot fox may have had a point.

You’re an idiot, brat. Not me.

So Naruto tried another jutsu Iruka-sensei had taught him as he ran at Sensei, who was perched on another rock. 

He made some more clones, but what if one of them turned into something else an’ Kaka-sensei would know and he’d win?

What was the jutsu - oh right, henge.

As five more Narutos poofed into existence, Naruto used the smoke as a cover to turn into an explosive tag and jump into one of his clone’s hands and squat there.

His legs hurt.

But as Sensei kicked and stabbed his clones, each one vanished with a poof, the clone holding Naruto-the-explosive-tag leapt up onto another Naruto and -

There was an opening.

So Naruto tried the same move that Sakura-chan had at Wave, when her chakra had turned scary like his when he got all orange and red.

He twisted in the air as the clone threw him and pulled out a kunai, aiming for a slash at Sensei’s hand -

Sensei laughed, and grabbed Naruto’s wrists in midair and slammed him down into the other with one hand, the other dropping the kunai and making a bunch of signs. 

Naruto wheezed. 

“Twenty-two seconds, Naruto,” Sensei told him, grinning. “Sasuke, you’re next.”

Naruto hurt, but not because he’d been slammed down. It was ‘cause he’d tried,  but he wouldn’t get to use a new jutsu, an’ he wanted to, because he wanted to beat teme and be Hokage.

He didn’t wanna marry Sakura-chan anymore, though. Sakura-chan was real nice, but she was also kinda really scary when she didn’t sleep enough or when her hair got tangled and then teme ended up braiding it ‘cause she was mad at Naruto. But she wasn’t mad at teme. And teme wasn’t as much of an asshole this morning. Probably ‘cause he was asleep. 

But Naruto could get his revenge on teme by getting better, and then teme would marry Sakura-chan and get hit by her when she was mad, and haha! He was so smart!

There was a yell, and Naruto watched from where he was, still buried in the ground, as teme leapt over Sensei’s kunai and went straight for the throat, and whoa. Sensei was really fast.

He disappeared in a poof, kunai dropping, and Sasuke growled as he looked around for Sensei. He looked at Naruto, and his eyes turned from black to red to black again, kinda like Sakura-chan’s turning blue when she got all scary and - 

Teme palmed a kunai and had another one between two of his fingers, but he was facing the wrong way and Sensei was running at him from the back - 

Naruto opened his mouth to yell a warning just as Sasuke turned around and slipped under Sensei, kunai glinting as he drove it up - 

Brat, that’s a power move right there.

And then! And then Sensei flipped, using Sasuke’s hand as a support. He did a fucking flip midair, and the kunai whizzed past his floppy hair as he landed on the other side near Sasuke’s head. And teme was still lying down, but he tried to blow a flame-bomb thingy at Sensei. And! Sensei winked and then, quick as Naruto when he smelled ramen, pulled out an explosive tag and stuck it on Sasuke’s mouth!

Teme went really still and didn’t move, eyes wide, ‘cause Naruto didn’t think he wanted to get blown up. 

Sensei hummed and said, “Thirty-one seconds, Sasuke.” And then he peeled off the tag from Sasuke’s mouth and teme jumped away from him, a slight smirk and frowning at the same time. 

Naruto squinted. Teme looked constipated. “Oi teme, ” he yelled, “good job!”

Teme looked at him weird, and Naruto continued, “But don’t think I care or something! All I’m saying is that you didn’t die! So like. It was okay!”

Idiot, shut up. You’re embarrassing me.

But then teme smiled. Not in a nasty way. He didn’t loom constipated anymore. That much, anyway.

And he said, “Thanks, dobe.”

And Naruto felt kind of fluttery and kinda weird, but then Sensei cackled and called out, “Sakura!” and Sakura-chan looked like a deflated balloon.

Chapter Text

Sakura was so dead. And that was a pity, because she really, really, really wanted to learn a new jutsu. The shunshin, Sasuke had called it. 

It seemed so handy and - 

Sakura pressed her hands to her face and dragged them down her cheeks, exhaled. Stop geeking out over a jutsu you might not even get to learn, Sakura.

Because the odds that she would last thirty seconds in a fight against Kakashi? Doubtful. Naruto had been a powerhouse, but Kaka-sensei had simply used more brains than him, which to be honest, wasn’t that hard, but still. Sasuke. Oh Kami, Sasuke. He’d used the fucking Sharingan, the legendary dojutsu, and Kakashi had wiped the floor with him. 

Speaking of Kakashi … “ Sakura-chan!” Kakashi singsonged again. “Ready to start?”

Sakura ground her teeth and pulled out a kunai.

Thirty seconds. She had to run away from Kaka-sensei for thirty seconds.

Oh, she was so fucked - 

Sakura ran at Kakashi, cursing herself as she did so, because Sasuke hadn’t made the first move in his spar. Then again, Sasuke had barely lasted thirty seconds.

Kakashi looked at her, two feet away from him, and rushed her. And boy, was Sakura so glad she’d practiced her kunai aim, because she knew she wouldn’t last even five seconds if the grey-haired jounin rushed her and they were in a taijutsu spar. So she leapt back, and threw a kunai, aiming for the inside of the crook of Kakashi’s elbow, while pulling out something, anything, with her other hand. 

The kunai, of course, was deflected by Kakashi, who didn’t even blink an eye as he halted, parried it, and continued to rush her.

Sakura fumbled around. 

And … oh, fuck, oh fuck fuck fuck fuck Kami please - 

Kakashi swung the kunai, and Sakura pulled out the lucky charm her mother had given her at the same time. 

She wanted to die. Of all the things - 

The charm had been given to her before Wave, and she’d thought it a charming gesture. It was made out of porcelain and glass blown jade, and now it shattered under the pressure of the kunai that Kakashi drove at the flesh of her palm.

Sakura leapt back, as Kakashi came forward, grinning unabashedly. He had two kunai in each hand now, and she gulped as she pulled out another kunai and continued to walk backward, knowing that, at any moment, Kaka-sensei would rush at her again, and this time, most likely, he would be able to end the spar by trapping her. 

It’d been what, ten seconds?

Fuck.

She gulped. Even if he rushed her, there was no solution she could think of, her brain wasn’t working, and Kakashi was rushing at her too fast - 

Sakura stepped back too quickly and her foot must have snagged on something, because she fell backwards, unprepared, and the kunai clattered out of her grasp. 

Fuck indeed.

If Kakashi made it to her, she would lose the spar exactly like Sasuke had - in only fifteen seconds. That’s worse than Naruto. I want do better. I want to do better. I want to - 

The next few seconds blurred together, because Sakura immediately went through the hand signs for the only jutsu that could give her an edge in this - the jutsu she had practiced the most during Wave. 

Four signs. 

Kaka-sensei took four steps. The first two got him to Sakura, the third got him to jump over her, and the four had his hand outstretched, kunai pointed at Haku’s headband - 

Doryuukatsu.

The earth behind her exploded, and she moved as fast as she ever had - she grabbed the edge of the earth beneath her, and scrabbled up onto the irregular steppe that had formed, dirt trailing behind her as she grabbed a fistful of it and threw it into Kakashi’s uncovered eye. She didn’t stick behind there long enough to find out what is reaction was, but she heard some sort of distinct wheeze and the clatter of two kunai falling on each other on the ground. As Sakura reached the top of the earth, she allowed herself a brief grin, because she’d gotten away from Kakashi. 

All she had to do was somehow outrun him some more.

Her grin faded as she felt the familiar throb of chakra leaving her body, and nearly fell to her knees for a second as Kakashi threw a kunai at her, with an explosive tag trailing behind it.

There were two Kakashis now, both looking at her with their visible eye narrowed, and Sakura felt her stomach flip. She needed thirty seconds. Thirty seconds, thirty seconds, thirty seconds, please please please I want to learn justus, I want this - 

They came running at her, armed to the teeth in a flash, and there was a distinct staticky smell to the air as they started to climb onto the steppe, hands near Sakura’s feet.

Shit.

She drew out another kunai and kicked dirt into one of the clone’s faces, watching the dirt hit their eye and them drop their weapons, clawing at it, and weighed her options.

She could either jump above them and pull a Sasuke and try to attack the clone from behind and make it disappear, or she could - 

One of the Kakashis grabbed her ankle and Sakura yelped as she felt electricity buzz through her. Fuck, she had forgotten to take care of the other one. Her body briefly spasmed as the panic began to take over, and for a moment, Sakura was back in Wave, back with Zabuza and Kakashi with his raiton stabbing him through the chest - 

She screamed and forced her arms to close around the kunai, even as Kakashi leapt back and began to do something with his hands and her body was still spasming - 

And thrusted down. 

The steppe beneath her had begun to crumble by now. But Sakura had seen Naruto swear the blood on his left hand that he would become Hokage, before Wave. She had seen Sasuke promise himself that he would become a better ninja, and it showed in every kunai he threw, every shuriken he flicked, every single time he practiced.

The boys wanted to get better with all their heart.

And Sakura did, too. 

She’d seen Wave, survived Zabuza, killed Haku to avenge Sasuke when she thought he was dead - she would get better, if only to protect Sasuke and Naruto. 

And so Haruno Sakura swore by the blood trickling from her mouth that she would not fail her nindo. She wouldn’t let Sasuke and Naruto lay out pale, dying, in front of her. Ever. she would get better, stronger, and that started here. 

Lasting thirty seconds.

I want this.

And Sakura pulled on her chakra, pulled on the remains of her chakra inside the crumbling dirt, and knotted it together. She felt it pulse under her feet and through her bones, and she swung.

She pulled the earth from where it was becoming a pile of dirt, pulled it close together and up, and slammed it right into Kakashi’s clone’s chin with enough force, with enough chakra behind the motion, that the clone poofed.

She briefly registered a whoop in the nearby vicinity and concluded that such an obnoxious yell could only belong to Naruto.

In front of her, Kaka-sensei stilled for a second, letting surprise flicker across his face. It was so much easier to read him now that he didn’t have a mask, and it was like his personality had changed a bit too. He was no longer the chilly man that she had introduced herself to at the rooftop.

Then he flew at her again in a blur, and Sakura staggered, kunai held up in front of her in one hand, but her ankle and leg were still weak from the shock she’d gotten, and she buckled as Kakashi pressed a kunai to her throat with one hand and held the small of her back with the other.

He grinned at her, and she grinned back, canines exposed.

“Thirty-seven seconds, Sakura.” he said. “And I would like for you all to pay attention, because I will teach all of y’all a jutsu - but before that, I’d look for you to meet a friend of mine.”

With that, he let her go, and Sakura stumbled back, landing on her butt as she lost balance.

In front of her, Kakashi began to perform a complex series of hand seals quickly, there was a poof of smoke.

Sakura cringed, hands held out in front reflexively, but what emerged from the smoke wasn’t a clone or a jutsu of some sort.

As the smoke evaporated, she began to see the outline of a wolf, all silver fur and sharp white canines. Its ears were flattened back and it grinned, all feral as it growled, “ Kakashi .