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Win or Die

Chapter Text

Four year old Haruno Sakura was standing at the playground prepared to make friends. She was usually shy and afraid to talk to new people. Her father and mother encouraged her that everyone is scared at their first time to strike a conversation. However, once they try, communicating with others usually turned out to be much easier than originally thought. She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. She had been practicing with her teddy bear until late last night.

Sakura found three girls playing at the sandbox making a castle. The girl in the middle had purple straight hair, the girl in the left had short spiky brown hair, and the right girl had afro-style ginger hair. The three girls were laughing and seemed to be enjoying their time. 

Thoroughly convincing herself that she was ready, Sakura headed towards them. Once in front of the sandcastle, she took a deep breath and spoke, “H-Hello. My name is Haruno S-Sakura. Nice to meet you! I’m four years old. I live nearby.....C-Can I play with you?”

The three girls looked up. The girl with spiky brown hair looked annoyed at being spoken to, and the girl with afro-style ginger hair ignored Sakura like she didn’t exist. Sakura felt her resolve to weaken by the second until the purple-haired girl in the middle responded. 

The girl smiled at her and said, “Sure! My name is Ami. Nice to meet you too! This girl is Kasumi.” She pointed to the girl with afro-style ginger hair. Then, she turned towards the girl with short spiky brown hair and added, “This girl is Fuki.” 

Kasumi and Fuki changed their demeanor, seeing that Ami was speaking to the newcomer in a friendly manner. 

Sakura’s face brightened knowing that she got accepted. “Hello! Ami-chan, Kasumi-chan, Fuki-chan!” The three girls nodded their heads in response.

Sakura was brimming with happiness as she built sandcastles with her new playmates. She was proud of herself for taking the first step to talk to them. If trying was this rewarding, she would make it a habit to try new challenges all the time. 

However, Sakura started to feel uncomfortable with her new friends in the second meeting.

She was standing in front of a candy shop, along with her three other friends when Ami spoke, “Sakura, we’re friends right?” 

Sakura nodded her head slowly, not sure where Ami was going with this.

“We friends borrow snacks from shop owners without letting them know. If you are our friend, you are required to do the same thing.”

“Isn’t that stealing?” 

“No, we’re only borrowing,” Fuki said. 

“I don’t think we should do that…” Sakura muttered. 

“What? Are you scared? You’re not our friend anymore?” Kasumi taunted. 

“No! You’re all my friends!” Sakura replied quickly.

Ami pat Sakura as a comforting gesture. “Then let’s do it together! If we do this together, there is nothing to be afraid of! I’ll go with you.” 

Sakura gave a hesitant glance to her friends, all three sporting a wide grin. Sakura nodded her head and entered the candy shop reluctantly. The candy shop was like a dream come true for her. The store was empty, save for the shop owner, Ami, and herself. She gazed dreamily at the glass containers in front of her. Each container had different types of sweets, from chocolates, candies, to gummies. The whole row looked like it was lined up in rainbow color which was fascinating to Sakura. How can a simple snack turn out to be so colorful?

She gave a quick glance over her shoulder to see Ami standing right behind her. Ami jerked her chin and signaled Sakura to stuff the candies in the small plastic bag attached to the containers and to make a run for it. 

Sakura went still. Trying hard to calm her rapid heartbeat. I can do this! I can do this! I can’t let them down! I don’t want them to hate me.

She turned her gaze towards the shop owner, he looked to be around a thirty-something-year-old. He was behind the counter, reading a newspaper near the shop entrance. He probably wouldn’t notice her stealing a candy, but even if the counter was at the other corner, she didn’t want to take her chances.

Ami looked confused as Sakura went up to the shop owner and looked up at him shyly.  

The man lowered the newspaper from his face and replied, “May I help you?”

“I saw some ants crawling inside one of the containers over there.” Sakura directed to the glass container at the furthest end of the store. 

“Inside the container!? Damn it! I’d have to change the whole thing!” The man rushed towards the spot, seemingly forgetting about Sakura’s existence. 

Willing herself to move, Sakura hastened to grab the chocolate bars placed on the counter and hurried out of the shop. She could hear Ami right behind her. After some suitable distance between herself and the store, she ran without looking back, afraid that the store owner might be chasing them. They headed towards the park where they promised to meet up with Fuki and Kasumi. 

Upon reaching the duo, Ami exclaimed, “Sakura did it! She got those chocolates for us!” 

“Wow. That’s great! Good job Sakura.” Fuki patted Sakura's shoulder. 

Sakura was happy that her friends acknowledged her, but she could not bring herself to be truly proud of the accomplishment.

The four girls sat on the ground munching on the chocolate bars when Ami broke the silence. “You are so much cooler than I first thought!” 

“R-really?” Sakura felt her cheeks heating up. 

“Yeah, we look forward to more of your cool work!” Kasumi responded. 

My cool work?

Then, Sakura realized that they expect her, and only her, to do the stealing. Maybe they never did it themselves like they say they did. She was sure didn’t want to do it anymore. But she didn’t want to break her friends’ trust either. 

She didn’t know what to do. 

Later that night, when her mother asked how her day was she reared her back slightly. Sakura replied with “fine” but inwardly winced at the obvious lie. Not wanting to receive any more questions and lie to her mother further, she promptly went to her room. She couldn’t bear to see her mother’s face after her stealing. She was a bad child and did not deserve her mother's clueless affection.

Then a sudden thought came to her. What if they found out? She could imagine the disappointed faces of her father and her mother. Maybe her always forgiving father would disown her, maybe her mother would cry. 

The dreams of her being caught stealing, her father and mother’s disappointment, her being in jail had plagued her that night.

Stealing wasn’t worth hiding in sunlight, she decided. She would never do it again.   

The next day, Sakura decided to play at the playground further from home to avoid her friends. She didn’t want to tell them that she won’t do stealing anymore and disappoint them. So she did the only thing she could do, stay away from them. 

However, luck was not on her side. She saw the three of them at the entrance, smiling at her knowingly. 

Ami’s voice had a hint of sadness as she spoke, “We missed you Sakura. Why aren’t you hanging out with us anymore?” 

“I missed you too!” Sakura replied quickly. “I-I was just busy. Sorry!” 

“You’re busy to meet with us but free enough to come all the way here?” Kasumi asked, donning a feigned curious expression. 

“Cut that out Kasumi!” Ami reprimanded. She grinned towards Sakura. “Come on Sakura! Let’s do that cool stuff again! Maybe a different place this time!” 

Sakura paled. But she had to put an end to this. She couldn’t live with that guilt anymore. “I’m never stealing anymore!”

Ami’s voice dropped low as she muttered, “Oh”.

“I-I’m sorry! I hope you won’t hate me and we can still be friends and-”

“But that’s the thing Sakura,” Ami's face turned sinister as she answered, “we were never friends.”

Kasumi and Fuki giggled in the background. Sakura felt the blood drain from her face and her ears ringing in high pitched noise. Her knees buckled and she dropped to the ground on all fours. She had lied and stolen and spent her days in fear of being caught. She went through all that for people who didn't even consider her a friend.

“Oh my gosh, this is priceless!” Fuki laughed. “We treated her like a slave from the beginning and she didn’t notice!”

“As if we’d let a ‘friend’ steal a shop!” Kasumi added. 

Sakura cried, “I stole chocolate bars for you because I thought you were my friends! I didn’t want to disappoint you!” 

Ami kicked her. “Shut up. Stop talking back to us like you’re our equals. Like we’d be friends with someone with such an ugly forehead.” 

Sakura curled herself on the ground as Ami, Fuki, and Kasumi kicked her. 

“Arrrgh! What’s this!?” Sakura heard Ami's scream and looked up through her pink bangs. There was a purple flower sticking out from the three girls’ mouths. They immediately spit it out and glared furiously at a spot behind Sakura. The pink-haired girl looked behind over her shoulder to see a pretty blonde girl smiling triumphantly. 

“That’s aconite. Be careful, it’s poisonous.” The girl smirked as she came closer.

Ami, Fuki, and Kasumi’s eyes widened with horror and scrambled away.

The pretty girl bent down in front of Sakura and gave out her hand. “Hi! My name is Yamanaka Ino. Yours?”

Sakura placed her hand and let the girl help her stand up. “My name is Haruno Sakura.”

“Well, Sakura...why don't you come to my house and get you cleaned up. It's near here. Wouldn’t want your parents to see you like this would you?”

Sakura nodded at her savior. This girl was a hero. She was pretty, strong, and kind. Everything Sakura wanted to be! 

During dinnertime, Sakura talked to her mother endlessly about how great her new friend Ino-chan was. A big grin plastered on her face.

“What is with that ribbon?” Mebuki asked, pointing to the red ribbon that was on Sakura’s head. It had a small bell attached to it. 

“Ino-chan told me that I have a cute face so I shouldn’t hide it!” Sakura gushed. She happily remembered Ino-chan poking her forehead. She loved her forehead now. 

“I’m glad you found your one true friend,” Mebuki said with a smile.

“I want to be strong like her too!” Sakura declared, then asked curiously, “How do I become strong?” 

“Eat a lot of healthy food, do exercises and build up your muscles, and study hard,” Mebuki answered. 

That she will do! She wanted to be a powerful shinobi duo with Ino-chan!

That night she dreamed happily of herself going to adventures with Ino-chan and beating up all the bad guys. Ami, Kasumi, and Fuki appeared in her dream too, but that was alright because Sakura beat them up!

Sakura brought herself to one of the shinobi training grounds that were listed in her village map book. She wasn’t sure if she was allowed to enter, but if she was going to get strong she better watch how the strong people train.

She walked for ten minutes when she found a clearing where two black-haired shinobis were fighting against each other. Instinctively, she got under the bushes so they won’t find her out. Watching their fight, to say she was astonished was an understatement. They were so fast! She couldn’t really follow their movements with her own eyes.



Sakura couldn’t stop the excitement coming out of her mouth. Sad to say, the boys halted their movements, and one boy disappeared from the area.  

"Huh? Where did he go?" Sakura wondered loudly. 

A voice behind her answered, “Here.”

Sakura jumped bumping into the branches and leaves as she spun around. She yelped in shock when she saw the boy with short black hair looking at her amused. She opened her mouth, then closed it again, wanting to ask how he knew her position, but not wanting to admit her spying.  

“It was obvious you were watching us with the noises you were making.” The boy explained, answering the girl's thoughts.  

“Oops.” Sakura covered her mouth. 

The boy bent down to talk eye-level with Sakura and asked, “You’re three? Four? What are you doing at the training grounds?” 

“I’m four!” She showed with her fingers. “I’m here because I want to be strong like Ino-chan! So I watched you train so I know how to train myself too!”

“Bleh. Too early for you.” The boy brushed her off. “You kids should enjoy life in the playgrounds.”

That comment didn’t go well with Sakura. She put her hands on her hips defiantly as she protested. “I am already four! Just you wait and see! I am going to beat you up and then let’s see who’s talking!”

The boy chuckled and introduced himself, “My name is Shisui. I’m eleven. That boy over there is Itachi. He’s nine.” He pointed towards the long-haired boy who was practicing katas by himself. “What is your name?” 

“My name is Haruno Sakura. I am going to be the strongest shinobi in the village next to Ino-chan!”

“You sure do love this ‘Ino-chan’ a lot,” Shisui commented. 

“I do!” Sakura beamed. “Ino-chan is super strong and smart and pretty and kind! She saved me from the bullies! She knows everything about flowers! She gave me this ribbon! She-”

“Okay okay, I get it!” Shisui interrupted and held up his hands. “She’s this super amazing extraordinary girl, yes?” 

“You’re only four-” Seeing that Sakura was about to get angry he corrected himself. “You’re already four but you don’t have the stamina yet. If you want to get strong, I suggest you start running laps around Konoha. That would build up your endurance and help you become like ‘Ino-chan’.” 

After all, just running around the village couldn't bring any harm right to a four year old right?

Sakura’s face brightened up with the suggestion. “Thank you! I'm gonna try it! Bye-bye!” She disappeared without looking back. 

“She's like a storm,” Shisui muttered. 

The next day Sakura invited Ino to run laps with her. Sakura had barely run five hundred meters when she started to get out of breath. 

“You’re tired already?” Ino asked, her breath steady, and her body not showing any signs of fatigue. 

“Why are you not tired?” Sakura asked her friend in disbelief.

“I run with my father sometimes. A few laps in the village is nothing.” 

Sakura felt admiration towards her Ino-chan grow again. How cool would it be if she could run so carefree and tirelessly like her? While she observed her best friend, she realized that their running forms were different. Sakura’s back was bent a little, while Ino’s was straight. Sakura’s arms were moving sideways, while Ino’s arms were bent at the right angle moving back and forth. Sakura's whole foot hit the ground upon contact, while Ino’s heel hit the ground first.

If she wanted to keep up with her Ino-chan, she better learn how to run like her. Sakura changed her posture and movements so they were similar to Ino’s. She didn’t know if it made much of a difference, but she’ll try and run until she drops. 

Hiruzen, Koharu, and Homura were listening intently as they were listening to Danzo’s suggestion regarding the current academy system.  

“The current academy is not practical, and its snug environment is not fit to raise shinobis. The percentage of death is a lot higher for a genin during a mission than that of any jounin who frequently takes S-rank missions.”

Danzo handed them the paper with the numbers of shinobi deaths with their positions, reasons for deaths, and their clan affiliations. 

“As you can see, the deaths are mostly clanless genin who doesn’t have any other form of learning outside the academy. The genins from clans easily escape deaths because they have the privilege of their clan family to teach them. Also, clanless genin whose own parents were shinobi has a higher survival rate than clanless genin whose parents were civilians.” 

Hiruzen asked, “What do you propose?”  

“I suggest three things. One, we start an advanced class for shinobi children with outstanding potential.” 

“You want to separate the class based on skills?” Koharu asked incredulously. “We usually put the students in class together with diverse grades. This is to enhance teamwork and to force the smarter, stronger students to help and support the ones that aren’t.”

“That is where we’re wrong,” Danzo answered. “We aren’t supposed to lower the standards for the smarter and stronger students. You are putting emphasis on the weak ones. At this rate, Konoha will have good shinobi with excellent teamwork.”

“I see no problem with that,” Hiruzen interjected as he puffed out smoke from his pipe. 

“It is a huge problem. It’s only been five-six years since the Third Shinobi War ended. We are surrounded by countries that were once our enemies. The strongest one of them being Kumogakure. How many S-ranked shinobi do you think Kumogakure has? For starters, they already have two jinchuurikis. Their previous Raikage fought an army of 10,000 shinobis all by himself. 

“The point is, when faced with an S-ranked shinobi, it doesn’t matter how many good shinobis we have. Thousand good shinobis can’t put a single dent on the likes of a guy like the Raikage. We need more extraordinary shinobis of our own if we are ever to fight them. We need one spectacular shinobi over a thousand good shinobis.” 

Homura and Koharu hummed at Danzo’s explanation, finding them convincing. Konoha did have their own batch of prodigious shinobis; Hatake Kakashi, Maito Gai, Jiraiya, Tsunade, and Uchiha Shisui. However, Tsunade left the village, Kakashi was strong but not strong enough to fight a Kage-level shinobi, and Uchiha Shisui was still too young. That only left Jiraiya and Maito Gai, and having only two dependable shinobis didn’t seem too comforting. 

“I propose we test every shinobi children under the age of eight, and any kid with outstanding results will join the advanced class. This class will focus on making strong kids stronger and smart kids smarter . They are the future S-ranked shinobis. It doesn’t matter whether they are clan children or not. This way we wouldn’t have to make another Namikaze Minato drown within our clanless children.” 

“What is your second proposal?” Hiruzen asked.

“The second suggestion is with regard to the usual academy classes. We need to change the curriculum so the students will be ready to fight by the time of graduation. We need to implement more actual survival training, fighting practices, trapping practices, and elemental ninjutsu training. It is a huge waste to lose a clanless student just because he or she didn’t know how to set a trap or use elemental attacks to fight with the enemy.”  

Hiruzen nodded. He actually agreed. He himself didn’t like sending genins on missions and seeing them come back in pieces. It was obvious that the academy wasn’t enough to prepare them for real-life combat. People called these genins lazy for not training enough by themselves. But it was more that they didn’t know how to train or how to use techniques, especially when many of these techniques were kept secrets within clans. 

Danzo continued. “My third suggestion is that we don’t decide teams upon academy graduation. This means the chuunin exams should be based on individual prowess.” 

“What?” Homura asked disbelievingly. “Won’t it be inefficient having to divide teams each time for a mission?” 

“Because of the high number of casualties that come from being a shinobi, and the variation of missions we receive, we have to reorganize them and divide them most of the time. It would be easier to reorganize the team if the team members weren’t attached to a particular team. Also, as I said, we can’t have a strong individual pass up on promotion because their team member wasn’t strong enough.”

Hiruzen, Koharu, and Homura looked at each other, coming to a conclusion. 

Sakura stretched for her morning run. Today she was alone because her Ino-chan had to go on a trip with her family. That was alright, she could train without Ino-chan! Maybe she could catch up to her while she’s gone.

“What a youthful blossom you are!” An enthusiastic voice greeted from behind her. 

Sakura saw a large man with black bowl-cut hair, wearing green spandex, and his teeth shining brighter than the sunlight. She looked behind but saw no one else. The guy must be talking to her. 

“Hello! Are you here to run too?” Sakura asked. The guy seemed nice. Maybe she can become friends with him. 

“Yes! I have seen you and your friend running with a spirit hotter than fire! I was passionate like that at your age!” 

“My Ino-chan is beautiful and smart and strong and kind! She helped me from the bullies! I want to be strong like her too! I want to be able to protect myself! If Ino-chan is in trouble then I have to be strong enough to protect her too! And I-” Sakura gaped when she saw the man burst into tears. 

“What a beautiful spirit you have! Even the sun could not match your fire! Even the moon could not match that pureness!” The guy seemed to be bursting with emotions. Then he looked at Sakura with determination. “Alright! Let’s head towards the stars!”

Sakura tilted her head to the side. “What do you mean?” 

“I shall make you my apprentice!” The man declared.

“Really?” Sakura asked. The man nodded and Sakura squealed in joy. “Yay! I’m so happy to receive training!”

“My name is Maito Gai!” He gave a thumbs up with a smile showing sparkly teeth.

“My name is Haruno Sakura!” Sakura also gave him a thumbs up with a smile.

“Now that we’ve introduced each other let’s start! How many laps could you run around the village?” 

“Two!” Sakura declared proudly, showing him ‘two’ with her fingers. 

“I can run five hundred laps.” 

Sakura nearly choked. “F-”

“No worries! I will make sure you could run five hundred laps, my youthful student!”

Sakura didn’t know if she ever wanted to run five hundred laps in the village. She was certain that this man was a monster!

While Sakura ran her two laps she saw Gai passing her by in a green blur several times. Sakura felt like she was only an ant compared to Gai’s falcon speed. When she ran the two laps, she was ready to go home, tired and sweaty. Unfortunately, Gai stopped her. “Great! Now you have finished your pre-warming up we could start with our warming up!” 

Sakura stared at Gai surprisingly. Did he think those laps were only her pre-warming up? Could it be that the five hundred laps were his pre-warming up? Not wanting to disappoint her new teacher she followed him to the training grounds reluctantly. 

“Let’s do a warmup of 50 front lunges, 50 push-ups, 50 crunches, 50 hip lifts. I could do all this in three minutes!” Gai grinned. 

Sakura groaned. 

It was when Sakura started her hip lift, she stopped and immediately ran to the bushes to throw up her breakfast, Gai following close behind. 

He frowned at the contents. “You shouldn’t be eating anmitsu for breakfast. You should be eating fried fish, eggs, soybeans, or red meat to intake proteins that will build your muscles.” 

Five days later when Ino returned back from the trip, the two girls had a sleepover at the blonde’s house. Sakura was lying in bed next to Ino; recounting her training with Gai-sensei and asking if Ino would be interested to join. Ino paled and refused the offer. “U-uh I think I can’t join with you anymore in the mornings! I have to train with my family! It’s not that I don’t want to! Not at all! Hahaha.” 

Sakura looked a little disappointed but accepted it. Ino was the Yamanaka clan heiress. She probably had duties and responsibilities Sakura wouldn’t know of. If she could meet with Ino-chan during her free time, Sakura was plenty happy. 

Her musings were halted when there was a knock at the door of Ino’s room. “Ino can I come in?” The voice was Yamanaka Inoichi. 

“Yes daddy,” Ino answered, as both girls sat up on the mattress. 

Inoichi entered Ino’s room and looked at Sakura. “Hello, Sakura-chan. Sorry for disturbing you. I thought both of you would be interested in what I have brought you.” 

The man handed the envelope to his daughter. “This is the entrance exam for the academy.” 

“Isn’t that a bit early? Academy is from eight years old!” Ino replied as she opened the envelope and took out the documents. 

“This isn’t the usual exam. This exam is to extract any high potential students for the advanced course. Anyone from four to eight could enter.” Inoichi explained. “It is also mandatory that every child from a shinobi household take the test.” 

“As a Yamanaka clan heiress, I’ll have to ace it don’t I?” Ino crossed her arms and proclaimed. 

Inochi patted her head proudly. “That’s my girl.” 

Ino looked towards Sakura and asked, “What about you?”

Sakura closed her hands into fists. “I’m going everywhere you go Ino-chan!” 

The two Yamanaka’s smiled. 

A month later, Sakura and Ino were taking tests for the advanced course. Sakura thought the written part of the exams were easy, and she enjoyed answering all the problem-solving questions. Solving puzzles were her hobby after all. 

Next, there were exams to check her physical abilities: speed and endurance. For the speed exam, she was forced to dodge balls at varying speeds. The endurance exam made her run the treadmill at a steady pace until she raised her hand to give up after two hours. Her training with Gai-sensei was a lot harder than the exams. 

The last exam was to prevent an actual bomb from detonating. One had to crack the code and input the numbers. Sakura guessed that the bomb wasn’t real. With the way the code was easy, she surmised it was to check how level-headed the person could react in a dangerous situation. She had no difficulties in typing the correct numbers.

A month later, she received a congratulations letter from the academy. She and Ino hugged and jumped together in joy when they learned that they would attend the advanced course together. They were even more surprised when they found out that only four people passed to attend the advanced course. 

The Yamanaka clan members seem to be proud that their heiress was one of the four that passed. The other two that passed were Hyuuga Neji and Uchiha Sasuke. Kizashi and Mebuki were full of joy with their daughter’s accomplishment. Unlike the other three, Sakura didn’t have any clan to pressure her or be proud of her. But being together with Ino-chan and becoming stronger together was what mattered. 

Nobody noticed that her life was going to take a tragic turn.  

Shisui was eating dinner with the Uchiha Main Family. He didn’t like what he was hearing one bit.

Fugaku spoke, “Sasuke, we are proud of you. You have been chosen as one of the four to pass the advanced course starting this year.” 

“Thank you, father.” Sasuke chirped. 

“Make sure you come out on top of those four. I heard Hyuuga Neji was a prodigy. Don’t lose to him.” 

Shisui sighed inwardly. Sasuke was a good boy who loved his brother dearly. But compared to prodigies like Itachi and Neji, he had to say Sasuke was mediocre. Of course, there was nothing wrong with that. He wanted Sasuke to enjoy his childhood, rather than forcing himself to run after his brother’s footsteps only to disappoint himself. 

“I’ll try my best father.”

“Good.” Fugaku seemed satisfied with the answer. Then added, “The other two you won’t have to worry about.”

“Why not?” Shisui asked curiously. If the other two passed along with Neji and Sasuke, they had a high potential to be considered as equal rivals.

“One is a Yamanaka. She might be a prodigy but she’s not going to be a fighter.” 

That sounded like prejudice. Even if being a fighter wasn't the main focus, it didn't mean she couldn't be a strong one. Tsunade was hailed as the strongest kunoichi despite being a non-combatant. “And the other?” 

“The other is a clanless girl. I heard both of her parents were genin. What a joke! Her name is Haruno Sakura, I think.” Fugaku found the idea to be funny.

Shisui thought the name familiar and realized it was the girl who spied on him at the training grounds.

Despite his belief that ‘children should stay in the playground’, he couldn’t help but feel a little proud that the girl he met before has actually proved herself. She was a very earnest girl who truly loved her friend and made people want to cheer for her. 

“That is a joke.” Shisui agreed. Inwardly he was snickering. The joke was on Fugaku. If a girl was strong enough to go head to toe with prodigies with no clan backup or kekkei genkai, then she was likely the strongest when it came to basic abilities. 

He didn’t know how far Sakura would go, but he sincerely hoped she could prove the others that look down on her for not having a clan, wrong. 


Chapter Text

Sakura skipped to the training grounds, she couldn’t wait to show her acceptance letter from the academy. She massaged her muscles, stretched, and did a few push-ups while she was waiting. 

“What has got you burning with passion today!?” Gai’s exuberant voice echoed through the area.

“Gai-sensei!” She stood up from her position and ran towards him, grabbing a rolled paper from her pouch and handed it to him. “Look! I received the acceptance letter from the academy!”

Gai scrutinized the letter, spreading it, turning it over and back. Sakura could not see Gai’s face blocked by the letter, but she could see his hands shaking, holding the paper in a tight grip. Then, a single stain appeared on the paper. One stain, two stains, three stains, when Sakura realized her sensei was going to ruin the paper with his tears. She wrestled the paper away from his hands, tried to smooth the slightly crumpled paper, rolled it and hastened it in her pouch. 

A second later Gai was squeezing her as he whooped in joy. “What a wonderful present this is!” His snot was all over her hair, and Sakura’s face scrunched up in disgust. 

However, since it was his first time to hug someone so young and small and frail, he had no idea how much pressure he was putting into her body. Sakura tried taking in oxygen only to find that her chest could not expand to inhale, making her suffocate. She could feel her consciousness leaving….

“Gai-san! You’re killing her!” 

In the next moment, Gai’s body was separated from Sakura, Shisui holding Gai’s left arm, Itachi taking his right. Before Sakura could fall on her back, two hands grasped from behind and hoisted her carefully back onto her feet. Sakura looked over her shoulder to see Shisui’s face full of concern. 

He’s so fast! 

Sakura did not know why, but at that moment her cheeks were stained with red. Maybe it was from the embarrassment of having to be saved, or maybe because the way Shisui saved her appeared prince-like that she momentarily imagined him wearing a crown over his head. She gazed dazedly at his curly short hair that looked fluffy were she to touch it, his long lashes, then his eyes that were dark as a cold night yet full of warmth. 

“I am so sorry my lovely student! I shall run a thousand laps over Konoha to make up for this!” Gai cried. His voice rousing Sakura from her stupor. 

“I think she has a fever or something. Her face is red.” Shisui cut him off. 

“She does seem a bit slow to react,” Itachi commented. Sakura looked back at Gai and Itachi, the red hue on her cheeks receding. Itachi narrowed his eyes at her. “Her face isn’t red though.” 

“Really?” Shisui came and crouched in front of Sakura, connecting their foreheads. “Her face is hot and it’s getting hotter by the second.” He stood back and studied her. “She is red.”

“There is no way my youthful student could be suffering from fever! Her passion is hot enough to burn any bacteria!” Gai shoved Shisui out of the way, not caring the way the younger shinobi nursed his shoulder as he glared daggers at the older shinobi. Gai bent down to be eye-level with his student and connected his forehead with hers. His student flinched and her face turned pale. “She’s fine. Nothing could extinguish my student’s will of fire!”  

Just listening to Gai’s speech made Shisui exhausted than he should be. The older man truly believed that “youthful passion” could prevent any disease. He contemplated on commenting how stupid that idea was so he could spare Sakura from future trouble. But then he realized Maito Gai never caught a single cold. Surprisingly, the guy actually had the accomplishments to justify his claims. 

Instead, Shisui asked, “Isn’t she too young to be your student?” 

“Good question!” Gai beamed. “You see, Shisui-kun, there are no limits to let the power of youth explode. Even if Sakura was sixty, I’d still take her on as my student! Passion to get stronger and better will exceed all boundaries, including age, gender, and talent!” 

“Four-year-old girls should be playing hide-and-seek, tag, and dolls. When I was four, I didn’t have that luxury. But the war is over. She shouldn’t have to go through what we went through.” 

“But I want to become like Ino-chan. I train but I play dolls with Ino-chan too!” Sakura interrupted. “Thanks to Gai-sensei I could go to the academy with Ino-chan! Gai-sensei is-” she trailed off as she could not come up with a specific word to explain he was her beacon of light, but then decided to substitute with something else that was close enough, “like my sun!” 

Shisui and Itachi visibly paled with her statement. They needn’t look towards Gai to see his waterfall of tears. 

“Sakura! You are my beautiful sunflower.” Gai exclaimed. He pointed towards the sun and shouted. “Let's run towards the rising sun! Follow me, Konoha’s one and only handsome manly teacher!” 

“Yes sensei!” Sakura ran after her crying teacher. 

The two Uchihas were stupefied as they stood looking at the two silhouettes melting away. 

The next morning, Sakura watched as Shisui and Itachi were sparring against each other at the training grounds.

Noticing they had a guest, Itachi suggested a break and the two boys plopped on the ground, hydrating themselves with canteen water. Once they were rested,  Sakura ran towards them full of joy.

She jumped towards Shisui, but because she was too energetic, she headbutted against his chest and fell backward on the ground.

“That hurt,” Sakura said with teary eyes as she got back up and sat down.

Shisui bit the inside of his cheek, trying not to laugh. Itachi looked amused. To prevent her from crying, Shisui decided to redirect her attention, “Are you here for training? Or to spy on us again?” 

Sakura put her hands together exuberantly as she remembered her purpose. “I remember you telling Gai-sensei you wanted to play dolls! So I brought them!”

Shisui briefly remembered saying something like he wanted to play during his childhood, but he was certain that he didn’t mean “dolls”. 

Sakura rummaged through her bag and took out two clay substances.

Itachi eyed them but wasn’t able to discern what the figures were. “Is that the dolls?”

“I made them with clay! I wanted to have a prince doll for Shisui, and a princess doll for me!” 

“Not that I don’t feel honored, but why a prince doll for me?” Shisui asked. 

Sakura’s face turned bright red as she unintentionally batted her eyelashes quickly. “I-I-It doesn’t matter! Okay!? If I say you’re a prince, then you’re going to be the prince!!” 

Sakura started to fan her face quickly with her two hands, then handed to Shisui the clay substance that was supposed to be a ‘prince’, which looked like a deformed grey mushroom. Likewise, Sakura’s princess doll looked like a grey dumbbell, the two bloated ends most likely representing the head and skirt. 

“Here, you can be the bad guy.” Sakura handed Itachi a dragon toy, which was the only one that was decent looking because it was manufactured. 

“I have to play too?” 

“It is the bad guy’s job to kidnap the princess! When a bad guy kidnaps me, Shisui must come and save me! Because he’s the prince!” 

So not only was Itachi forced to play ‘dolls’, he had to be the villain. 

Shisui looked down at his doll. He wished he could use Itachi’s dragon toy. It was weird having to play the mushroom saving a dumbbell.

After an hour of Sakura playing the damsel in distress, Shisui acting the cool ‘prince’ with the mushroom, and Itachi very reluctantly using the dragon toy to kidnap the ‘princess’, the two boys were drained mentally and spiritually.

Feeling exhausted, Shisui said, “Sakura, I think we had enough for today.” 

Sakura pouted at him looking heart-broken. Then she started plucking the grass on the ground, one by one, which added to her lonesome atmosphere and made Shisui feel like the world’s lowest jerk.

Feeling guilty, Shisui suggested a compromise. “At least let’s do something else?”

 Sakura’s expression brightened up. “I know! We can play pretend!”

"What are we going to pretend to be?” Itachi asked warily. 

“We are going to play Sailor Stars! I will be the moon princess, Shisui will be the earth prince, and Itachi could be the evil queen.” 

“Shisui,” Itachi whispered to him. “When is this going to end?”

Shisui only groaned.

Another hour of playing with Sakura, Itachi was finally set free thanks to Mebuki Haruno who came to pick up her daughter. Shisui said in relief, “Her mother is a lifesaver!” 

“Sakura may not have gone around it the right way, but she wanted you to relive your childhood,” Itachi commented. 

“I know.” Shisui acknowledged with a tender smile.

Later, Itachi was musing over the day’s events when Fugaku’s question brought his attention back to the present.

“I apologize, father, I didn’t quite catch you.” 

“I asked, how was your training?” 

Itachi’s family were eating dinner at the dining table, his father sitting across him, his mother sitting next to his father, and his brother sitting next to him. 

“The usual. Shisui is very strong. I find it hard to win a spar against him.” Itachi replied honestly. 

“Hm.” Fugaku nodded. “Good. I expect you to train harder so you could beat him one day.” 

Itachi scraped his chopsticks over his plate, picking up a bite of grilled salmon. The color reminding him of the entertaining encounter he had earlier.

“Sasuke’s new classmate happened to visit our spar today.” 

Fugaku perked up. “Hyuuga Neji? Was he there to spy on our techniques?” 

Mikoto laid a hand on her husband’s shoulder. “Fugaku, you cannot expect a six-year-old to spy on his classmates' family.”

“It was Haruno Sakura,” Itachi muttered awkwardly. 

“The girl from a genin family?” Fugaku snorted. “What does she want?” 

“She just wanted to play dolls with Shisui. She is very cheerful and friendly, I think she could be good friends with Sasuke.” 

“I don’t need friends!” Sasuke protested. “I have you, nii-san.”

Mikoto chuckled. “Wanting to play dolls with Shisui? Did the girl get her wish?”

“Yes.” Itachi felt a small smile pulling at the corner of his lips as he remembered Shisui playing dolls and acting like a ‘prince’. “He tried very hard.”

“That’s adorable!” Mikoto clasped her hands together and cooed. 

Sasuke looked positively annoyed that the unknown girl was taking not only his brother’s attention but his mother’s too.  

“I’m a bit worried she might be sick though,” Itachi said. 

“That’s worrying.” Mikoto agreed. “Did anything happen?”

“When Shisui gets too close to her she starts getting a fever somehow,” Itachi answered. 

“I think that’s-” The Uchiha matriarch tried to respond but was interrupted by her husband.

“Why don’t her parents take her to the hospital?” He looked at his son and told him sternly, “We can’t have her fever infecting our clan member.” 

Mikoto looked at her husband disappointedly and let out a deep sigh.

“If Shisui nii-san wants, I could play dinosaurs with him!” Sasuke exclaimed, raising his fork excitedly.

When Sakura visited Itachi and Shisui at the training grounds again there was another member. A boy who looked similar to Itachi, but younger, was seated on the ground observing Itachi and Shisui’s spar. The young boy seemed to cheer when Itachi landed a hit on his sparring partner.   

Sakura sauntered towards him and the young boy noticed, looking at her with irritation. 

“Are you the girl bothering nii-san?” He asked. 

“Stop being rude Sasuke.” Itachi scolded as he appeared in front of the two, Shisui in tow. He turned his gaze towards Sakura. “Don’t mind him, he’s like this to everyone.” 

Sakura shook her head, then smiled. “I don’t mind!” 

“Hello, Sakura.” Shisui greeted her. “This brat right here is going to attend the academy with you coming spring.” 

“Oh, well nice to meet you,” Sakura bowed towards Sasuke. 

The boy ignored her and looked away. Itachi sighed, he had to lecture his brother later. That attitude was not acceptable.

Wanting to lighten up Sakura’s dejected face, Shisui suggested, “Wanna see us spar on the lake?” 

Sasuke jumped up gleefully. “The one where you two stay on the water!? I want to see it!”

Sasuke and Sakura were standing side by side as they watched the two Uchiha jounin show their skills of fighting over the water. Sakura couldn’t help but squeal from the moment she saw them expertly walk on water. That was amazing! 

“To see Shisui and Itachi walking on water is so cool!” Sakura gushed. 

“That’s nothing special,” Sasuke replied, seemingly forgotten that he himself was excited earlier. He crossed his arms and jerked his chin upwards. “Every shinobi should be able to do that.”

Sakura was running out of patience listening to Sasuke talk to her with clear disrespect in his tone. She managed to reply to him calmly. “I know about shinobi walking on water from the books. But to actually see them do it is so much greater than reading it.” 

“Pfft. You get excited at the smallest things. Bet your parents didn’t teach you about being a shinobi. Wait. Are they even a shinobi?”  

“Well, not much yet. But they are shinobi! I’m proud of them! They have been Konoha’s genin for sixteen years!” Sakura professed. 

“Your parents are genin?” Sasuke asked disbelievingly and gasped in surprise when Sakura nodded her head in confirmation. “Your parents are weak! My father said-” 

Sakura tuned him out as she searched around for any signs of human activity. Thoroughly convinced that she was alone with Sasuke, sans the two Uchiha jounin sparring nearby, she kicked the rambling boy in the lake. She took a step back from the spray of water to avoid herself and her clothes from getting wet. 

Sasuke surfaced soon enough, spitting water. He sputtered, “How dare you!” 

In a flash, Itachi and Shisui appeared right next to him, lifted his wet body from the water and put him back on the ground. Sasuke was on all fours, coughing and mumbling. 

Sakura tried to pat him on the back, but Sasuke pushed her hand away. 

“Sasuke,” Itachi’s voice was reproachful.

“It’s okay, it’s my fault. I tripped and accidentally made him fall into the lake.” Sakura defended the younger boy. She bowed her head and apologized, “I’m sorry.”

“You made me fall into the water!” The young Uchiha accused her.

“Sasuke, you should not hold a grudge when someone has made an honest mistake and is apologizing for it.” Itachi reprimanded. 

“B-But she did it on purpose!” Sasuke stammered, glancing between Sakura and his brother’s disappointed face.

“Nonsense, you must learn to control your aggressive nature.” Itachi brushed him off as he dragged Sasuke towards home. He cast a glance over his shoulder. “Sorry for my brother’s attitude Sakura. See you later Shisui.”  

When Itachi wasn’t looking, Sasuke tilted his head back, gave Sakura a death glare and ran a thumb across his throat in a threatening gesture. If it weren’t for Shisui standing next to her, she would have returned the gesture, she thought regretfully.

“Oooooh scary,” Shisui said in mock-fear staring at the two shrinking figures. Then he burst out laughing. “You sure taught that arrogant kid a lesson, huh?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Sakura said innocently, looking everywhere but at Shisui. 

“Oh really? I thought I ought to buy you a dango for doing a job well done. Well, if you didn’t-”

“I-I may have done it,” Sakura said, fidgeting with her fingers.

“You may-?”

“I did it?” Sakura looked up at him shyly.

Shisui chuckled, then held out a hand. “C’mon let’s go to Amaguriama. That’s Itachi’s favorite dango shop.” 

Sakura took Shisui’s hand and together they headed towards Amaguriama. Sakura skipped and jumped, raising their connected hands in a wide arc. Shisui watched her enthusiastic energy with a smile, although sometimes he worried his arms might be ripped off from their sockets.

The hustle and bustle of the streets were a nice reminder to Shisui that the war was over. Instead of enemy shinobis lurking in the shadows for surprise attacks, innocent civilian children were hiding to shock their playmates. The temporary food stalls that provided provisions were replaced with restaurants providing various cuisines. The people were dressed up in different shades of color that brought out their character; a stark contrast to shinobi uniform and rags people used to wear. 

The shop they entered had a variety of sweets on display inside the glass case. Sakura nearly stuck her face to the glass in excitement, if not for Shisui grabbing her by the back of her collar. The waiter standing behind the case watched the two in mild interest.

“Can I choose anything?” Sakura asked. 

“Of course.” 

“Then I want to have this, this, this, this, and this,” Sakura said pointing to five different sweets. 

Shisui nearly stumbled over his feet. “That many? You’re so tiny! You can’t eat so much!” 

“I’m not tiny! I’m already four!” Sakura huffed out. 

“Right.” Shisui turned to the waiter. “The ones she said, please.” 

The waiter handed Sakura her sweets assortment on a black plate and kindly pointed her to an open round table with three chairs. She happily took it and went to save a seat while Shisui handled the payment. 

Sakura let out a relaxed sigh as she plopped herself on the comfortable seat. “Ohhhh aren’t you two adorable?” Sakura turned to the voice and found a teenage girl with spiky purple hair standing and looming over her from across the table. “I just saw you walking hand in hand with Shisui. What are you? His girlfriend?” 

Shisui was a boy, that makes him her boy friend right? Sakura wasn’t sure if Shisui himself thought of her as a friend, so she didn’t think it was right to call herself his girl friend.

Instead, she answered, “Shisui is my boy friend!” 

“Awww! Young love!” The girl wooed. She pointed a thumb towards herself. “I’m Anko by the way.” Then she hastily took a seat at the table uninvited and asked, “What’s your name?”

“My name is Haruno Sakura.”

“So Sakura-chan, what do you think of your boyfriend?” 

“I think he’s very cool and strong!” Sakura proclaimed. “I want to be like him too! But I want to be like Ino-chan too so…I don’t know...”

Anko spotted Shisui walking towards their table after finishing the payment and called out towards him, “Shisui! Sakura-chan here says you’re cool and strong and handsome and that she wants to marry you!”

Her face was red like a tomato as she shrieked. “I didn’t say he was handsome! I didn’t say I wanted to marry him!” She immediately jumped out from her chair and wailed her hands up and down in embarrassment.

“What? You don’t think I’m handsome enough to be your husband!?” Shisui laid a hand on his chest, feigning a hurt expression as he seated himself next to Sakura.

“That was mean Sakura-chan.” Anko shook her head. “Now you’ve hurt his feelings.” 

“ mean-”

Suddenly, a hand smacked the back of Anko’s head. “Stop harassing a young girl Anko!” 

Anko glanced over her shoulder and complained, “Oh geez. It’s you, Kurenai. And your boyfriend.” 

Kurenai crossed her arms. The male standing right beside her replied, “I have a name, and it’s called Asuma.”

Anko waved her hand dismissively. “Nah, not important enough.”

“He is the Hokage’s son, you know.” Shisui pointed out.

“Still not important.” Anko lifted herself from the seat and gave Sakura a mock salute. “Well Sakura-chan, nice meeting ya! See you around. You too, Shisui.” 

The trio left with Anko linking her arms with Kurenai. Asuma followed close behind. 

“She’s Konoha’s troublemaker-” Shisui trailed off noticing there were no contents left on Sakura’s dessert plate. He asked disbelievingly, “You ate them all already?” 

Sakura looked down at her plate and let out a gasp. “I didn’t eat anything! My youkan…why are they gone?” She tried hard to hold back a sob, her eyes glistening with moisture. 

“Don’t cry! Don’t cry!” Shisui held up his palm in a placating gesture. “I will get the exact same ones for you. Okay?” 

Sakura nodded slowly and Shisui patted her head before he left the table to purchase the sweets. 

“Damn you Anko,” Shisui muttered as he paid at the cashier for the second time that day.