Stay Human

Where there's good, there's also evil; Sakura knows she cannot choose one side over the other.

Standard disclaimer applies.

Chapter 1

Humming a lullaby, a woman sat down on the patio chair in her backyard, content to enjoy the cool night air. Her baby, swaddled in the thickest of blankets, was cradled gently in her arms. The babe slept with her eyes closed, blissfully unaware of her surroundings. Her mother glanced down at her only child before staring out into the gardens. Further out was a tiny pond that was home to some koi, and a pink willow tree with its branches reaching over the water.

The night was clear and the moon shone bright. Even if it wasn't a full moon, it was still beautiful. A new, but familiar energy signature in her yard drew her eyes back to the tree. Beneath it stood the largest white wolf she had ever seen. She eyed the red markings with a soft gasp and rose from her chair as the wolf padded over.

Standing out of touching distance the wolf looked at the woman before lowering her gaze to the child in her arms. Mebuki bowed in recognition, "Ookami-sama." In response a voice that was feminine yet not her own filtered through her mind, "The Haruno clan's newest pup. Her star shines bright. I have come tonight to offer both a blessing and a warning."

The woman's eyes widened in slight surprise and then alarm. To think her child's birth would warrant a visit from her clan summon's matriarch. She looked down at her child, still sleeping peacefully, with a hint of love and sadness before returning her attention to the great wolf.

The voice continued, "The blossom shall grow and spread its roots in the Village Hidden in the Leaves, connecting strings of fate together. By bonds she overcomes barricades that otherwise are set in stone, but alone she begins to crumble. She shall grow into one that shakes the Earth, and unite those that will shake the Heavens and Seas, at a price yet to be determined for the future is forever changing."

Mebuki bowed lower this time, trying to keep the emotions from showing on her face. "Thank you, Ookami-sama, may you be there throughout Sakura's life to guide and teach her so she may not stray from her own path, yet to be forged." The wolf dipped her head before disappearing with the wind.

Releasing a shuddering breath the woman looked down at her child. Her child was going to grow up to be a strong woman, and her mother planned to do all that was possible to support her child in the future that was to come. She retired back inside for the night and set her babe back in the crib before sliding under the covers of her own bed. Her husband stirred in his sleep and turned to face her without opening his eyes, "Did something happen dear?"

Mebuki smiled, a little exhausted, "I'll tell you all about it in the morning."

x

Pink hair was extremely hard to ignore, yet when it's on the head of a three-year old child it went easily unnoticed. And that was how Sakura found herself in the park, a block away from her house. She had managed to dress herself in a simple green dress before nabbing a snack off the counter and leaving through the garden gates. Her parents never worried when she "disappeared", not that they were negligent, but they understood that their daughter was quite intelligent and independent for a child her age.

Settling herself on the lowest swing, she rocked herself gently back and forth. She didn't generate too big of a momentum though, knowing full well how dangerous it could get and no one was here to help her at the moment. She felt the wind slide across her cheeks, the rush of being in the air.

Eventually she slowed to a stop and hopped off. Her gaze swept through the playground, bypassing the jungle gym and the slides before settling on the big tree at the edge of the park. Ambling over on her still clumsy feet, she put her hand against the oak and closed her eyes. She ran her hands down the bark and smiled like she knew a secret. Settling down in its shade, she picked up a twig and tried to draw lines in the dirt patch in the middle of the grass.

She drew a line here, a line there, and something like a cloud over them. She giggled, her tree was awesome. She leaned against the trunk and closed her eyes, content to hear all the sounds the park had to offer, allowing them to lull her to sleep.

Her father found her an hour or so later, shaking her shoulder lightly to wake her. "Child, it's time to go home, your mother is preparing lunch." She could barely open her eyes but nodded in affirmation. Kizashi lifted the girl into his arms, letting her small head fall on his shoulders. He wondered briefly what his daughter did today as he walked back to their home.

Inside, he closed the door and slipped off their shoes before entering the living area. He patted her awake and then settled her on the floor, "Go wash up." Sakura nodded again before heading off to do just that. She came back a minute later and climbed into her booster seat with a little help. "Itadakimasu," the family of three chorused before digging into the light lunch.

Mebuki watched as her daughter ate all her vegetables first, then her rice, and finally the meat. Her child was a little peculiar in the sense that she didn't like to mix her foods, unless it was supposed to be mixed, like curry. Mebuki was beginning to notice how organized her daughter was growing to be. She was also grateful that her daughter had no problem eating her veggies.

Kizashi ruffled their daughter's hair for a job well done in finishing. She was still too young to help carry the plates to the sink, so she did her best by mimicking those restaurant ladies and putting her utensils and dishes together in a neat pile for her mother.

"It's a little early, Sakura, but would you like to meditate with me?" her father asked. The girl nodded and followed her dad out into the yard. They sat down by the pond, crossing their legs. They closed their eyes simultaneously and relaxed. Her father was a priest, their shrine located on the outskirts of the village near the Hokage Mountain. But their home was further into the village for convenience sake.

Sakura loved meditating, especially with her father. She felt like she was becoming one with nature, and she felt good inside after every session. It quieted all her thoughts as a toddler and she felt she could focus better. And unbeknownst to her, it also deepened her chakra pool.

Kizashi peeked his eyes open a little later into the afternoon and watched his daughter. He was no ninja by any means, but he could sense chakra rather well and was pleased to see the progress in his daughter's chakra pool. After what Mebuki told him that morning three years ago, he was determined to help his daughter prepare as much as possible without being too obvious. She'll probably never take up being a shrine maiden or a travelling merchant, so I can only do my best to make sure she's prepared for the path she'll inevitably choose to walk. One day, Sakura, you'll be something great. You'll do something great.

The little girl broke out of her trance when she heard her stomach rumble. Blushing lightly she followed her father back inside. Time truly flies as it was nearing sunset. Her mother motioned her over to the dinner table where she sat and opened a practice book of sorts. Sakura picked up the pencil and started tracing the dotted outlines on the paper. The booklet she was working on today was basic characters.

While she focused on that, her mother prepared dinner. They ate and she practiced her writing some more before heading upstairs for bed. Life as a three year old was tiring and it wasn't long before she fell asleep, dreaming of big dogs in the forests of her beloved village.

x

At the age of four, it was hard to describe Sakura. She could be curious and wander the streets, but be extremely shy with her neighbours. She could watch the clouds, but never wish to be high up in the trees. Being four was a confusing time for the girl. She wanted the see the world but stay in the comforts of home.

On one particular day she left the house in simple shirt and pants and walked down the street, staying close to the walls. She was still a child and her mother reminded her to not walk in the middle of the street lest she wanted to be bumped into or lost in the wave of a crowd. Her mother had given her some money and asked her to buy some eggs for dinner.

Turning the corner she looked up and spotted another child coming down the street from another turn in the road. She watched as he ran towards her end but turned last minute to hide behind a post box. Tilting her head she watched as the boy kneeled down and covered himself with a cardboard box.

Moments later two more kids appeared from the same way and ran towards her. They were both obviously older than her but probably only by a year or two. "Hey, you!" one of them shouted. This boy had his hair angled weirdly and the left side of his shirt was stained with…something. Her nose wrinkled a little, whatever it was kind of smelled.

They approached her as a pair, both obviously angry. "Have you seen a blond kid with lines of his face," the kid lifted both hands towards his face with six fingers pointing towards his nose, "like this?" Sakura blinked and then lifted her hand to point in the direction she had just come from.

One boy growled and the other smirked before they raced off again, eager to deliver some sort of punishment on the poor blond boy. She backtracked and poked her head around the corner to make sure they were out of sight before turning back to the post box. She counted to ten before approaching the cardboard box behind it. "They're gone," she said softly, just in case.

The boy lifted the box and poked his head out, glancing left and right and behind Sakura before he drew himself to his full height. Chuckling nervously, he scratched the back of his head, "Thanks! You're a lifesaver uh," he slowed his speech, not knowing her name.

"My name is Sakura. Haruno Sakura," she said to him. He chuckled again, "Yeah thanks a bunch Sakura-chan! My name is Naruto! Uzumaki Naruto! And one day I'm going to be Hokage'tebayo!" He held his hand out and she shook it. Amusement flittered in her eyes at the verbal tick and his ambitious dream.

Then he suddenly changed his grip to grab her wrist and started tugging her down the street from the way he came, "Come on! As thanks I'll take you to get the best food ever! It's ramen, you'll love it!" For some reason she found herself smiling and allowing this new boy to drag her through the streets. Luckily they made it with no further incidents and Naruto entered the food stall with Sakura in tow.

He hefted himself up on a stool and Sakura did the same beside him. The man behind the counter turned and smiled when he saw his best customer, "Naruto!" the man exclaimed jovially, "What a surprise, and who is this young lady?" Sakura introduced herself to the proprietor with a polite bow of her head given the fact that she was already seated.

"And what polite manners, Sakura. Naruto," the old man looked at the boy, "You should learn from her." The boy laughed sheepishly before scratching the back of his head again. "Hey old man Teuchi, can we get two miso ramen?" Naruto glanced over at his companion, "please?"

"Coming right up!" Teuchi turned back to stove, cooking up the order before serving it to the children. Sakura stared down at her bowl before picking up a pair of chopsticks and snapping them apart. She's never had ramen before. She looked over at Naruto and watched him dig in with much gusto.

She turned back to her bowl and started eating, much slower than him of course. She was pleasantly surprised by the taste of the soup and the texture of the noodles. Her parents never made ramen and never really bothered to eat it on the odd occasion that they went out. It was a great first-time experience for her. The children finished their noodles and drained the bowl of its broth pretty quickly.

Setting the bowls back on the counter, they looked up and saw Teuchi giving them a wide smile. "It's on the house kids, I've never seen someone enjoy ramen that way since Naruto." A blush dusted the young girl's face. They thanked the owner before walking out and down the main street.

Sakura guided them towards the main market where she was originally headed. The boy walked beside her. Although he was content not to say anything, the closer they got to the market, the more uncomfortable he seemed to be for some reason. And she soon found out why when they approached one vendor her mother frequented.

She looked up at the old man and asked to buy a package of eggs. The vendor looked up from his newspaper and smiled when he saw the Haruno girl but his face slowly contorted to a sneer when he spotted the boy beside her. He stood from the milk crates he was leaning on and picked up a package of eggs while maintaining the sneer.

"Haruno-chan, I'll sell you the eggs but don't be keeping company with that… that pariah you hear? Your parents would be very disappointed in you." He said while eyeing the boy. Naruto seemed to shrink behind her in response like he wanted to disappear. He reached out and clutched the hem of her shirt. Sakura watched her new friend as the man spoke and saw the way it hurt him more than a physical blow ever could.

Snapping her head back at the man she frowned and gave him the most disapproving look she could, a look she once saw her mother direct at a letter from extended family. "Bad news for the business," she had called it. She felt the anger bubbling inside her, "Takayama-san," he shifted his eyes back to the girl, "thank you for your advice, but I will not be taking it. My parents would also be disappointed. In you. I think I will buy my eggs somewhere else." His face blanched. She dipped her head briefly before grabbing Naruto's hand and leading him away.

She did not stop until she was halfway down the market. By now she was angry and huffing and she couldn't believe what that old man said about her new friend! She whirled around to face Naruto and her anger dissipated at his downcast eyes. She slapped her hands onto his shoulders and that startled him into looking at her. "Naruto! No matter what mean people like him say, I am your friend and always will be!" she stated with a fierce edge to her voice.

"B-but, you don't even know me! How could you so easily-!" he started to say, afraid of the impossible. Her brows furrowed in response, "You saw the good in me and took me to one of your favourite places! So I see the good in you, too!" Naruto's mouth hung open before he slowly closed it and nodded.

"Naruto, we're friends until we die, I promise!" and she thrust out her pinky finger and waited. Naruto looked down, all the hope and some desperation on his face. He pinched himself, just to make sure this was really happening. And yes, ow, it really was happening. A smile began to bloom on his face. He eagerly locked pinkies with her and shook them, "Friends until we die, promise'tebayo!"

Being four was no longer confusing for Sakura.

x

She began to meet up with Naruto on a regular basis, usually at the nearby park. Now they could go on the jungle gym and try to beat each other to the top, or play on the seesaw. Naruto was definitely energetic and he could never really sit still. She was almost afraid he was going to hurt himself with his exuberance.

So one day she decided to pull him over to the shade of the oak trees and had him settle down beside her. She was going to teach him to meditate! And surprisingly Naruto listened to her instructions and began the process. His breathing evened out and came out in measured inhales through the nose and exhales through his mouth. He didn't rock back and forth anymore and just quietly took in as much as he could. For once, Naruto was also feeling at peace.

But that lasted all of ten minutes before he jumped up in alarm. "Oh no, oh no! Sorry Sakura-chan! I forgot I promised to meet up with Jiji!" and before she could even ask who that was he had shouted another apology as he hightailed it out of the park, "I'llseeyoutomorrow!"

And then there was one.

Sakura sighed and got up. There was no use meditating now after that. She got up and wandered around letting her thoughts wander also. Her feet eventually took her somewhere she had passed by, but never entered; the training grounds. As a child she was not allowed to enter, because it was dangerous, so she figured if she stayed just outside the perimeter of the field, she wouldn't get into any trouble.

And so she settled down behind a tree and let her thoughts wander again. A little while later her ears picked up some noise in the distance and she peeked around the tree and saw two adults at the far edge of the clearing. They wore flak jackets and long pants with bandages and pouches wrapped around their legs. Oh, shinobi-sans!

She knew Konoha was a shinobi village and seeing people of that profession in and around town was normal. But this was her first time seeing them, well, up close. If a whole training field between them could be considered up close. Hopefully they wouldn't notice her with a big tree and some bushes hiding her entire form. She looked on in curiosity.

The shinobi walked a little further into the field, talking animatedly, one shoving the other in the shoulder after a certain remark was made. Soon they both stood a distance apart and settled into stances, brandishing kunai. And then they danced.

Or at least it looked like a dance to the child. Their moves were elegant and flowing, turns and throws made with calculated precision. It was breathtaking. She could feel her mouth slowly dropping open at the display her untrained eyes could barely keep up with. It was so cool, so awesome!

And then one of the shinobi was thrown backwards, he skidded roughly along the floor, back flipping before the momentum brought him crashing into a tree. But instead of slamming his back into it, he landed against the trunk with his feet, crouching against the tree trunk!, and using the momentum to propel himself forward towards his sparring partner.

That's so cool! She thought, and she was pretty sure that quick flash of blue when his feet hit the trunk was chakra. Amazing! Her father had begun teaching her what chakra was. Where it came from and how it could be used by various people. To think that it was capable of making people stick to trees!

She continued to watch, riveted by the movement of the shinobi. Eventually the one with the bandana won and he helped the other one up before leaving. Sakura was shaking where she stood, not with fear but excitement. Tomorrow she had to tell Naruto what she saw!

x

One summer day, when the weather was surprisingly not sweltering, Mebuki caught her daughter playing in the pond with her blond friend, Naruto. She knew the stories of mischief that began with the boy and ended with defaced property. She knew he was lonely and seeking attention. She knew who his parents were and what they had done to protect the village. She knew he had no idea about any of that because it was the highest class secret, meant to keep him safe.

She also knew he was good for Sakura, and she was good for Naruto. In the months that they had known each other, Sakura was becoming more confident in herself, and Naruto was learning everything a boy should be at his age. Prior to meeting Sakura and her family, he had clearly been neglected in health and his studies. The boy could barely write anything other than his name and a few select words - some of the better ones being "future" and "Hokage".

Sakura, stubborn like her mother, was determined to bring the boy up to her level in basic studies. She erased all her older practice books and sat down with him at the dinner table every afternoon after playing to teach him what she knew. "If you want to be Hokage, you need to learn to read and write! You don't want any other kage to make fun of you!" she told him at one point. Naruto became rather serious after that and learned whatever Sakura and her parents had to offer.

Today was one such days and they taken a break to play in the pond. Mebuki looked down at the practice book and flipped through the pages, pleased with the boy's progress. She hadn't been close with Minato or Kushina when they were alive, but she was determined to keep their boy on the right path, especially if it intertwined with her daughter's. With that in mind, she stepped outside and called the children over.

Handing them a coin pouch and a list, she instructed them to buy ingredients for tonight's dinner. When she heard that Naruto's favourite food was ramen, she was quite appalled by the fact that it was probably the only thing he ever ate. Growing children needed better than that for their bodies and so Mebuki had made it a point to have Naruto join them for dinner every night. Nobody complained of course.

The children set out to the market and pointedly avoided Takayama-san's stall. Unknown to them, his business had not been faring well since that day. When Mebuki Haruno got wind of the incident, she was furious. The man starting losing some of his loyal customers and his suppliers were no longer giving him the same discounts as before. If his pride would allow it, he would have begged for forgiveness at her feet.

Truly a business woman to be feared, Mebuki Haruno nee Miyamoto led one of the biggest merchant clans in Fire country, had the ear of the daimyo, and had several successful business ventures before meeting and marrying her husband. There's some slight irony in the fact that her maiden name was Miyamoto yet her husband was the priest.

The children moved from stall to stall, purchasing each item on the list from the specified vendor with great efficiency. Sakura would ask for the item, Naruto would hand over the money, and they would split the bags between them. Most vendors were a little smarter after hearing about Takayama-san's misfortune and learned to quickly adjust their views of the boy. Plus nobody dared to take more coins than they should. The woman would know.

By the time they finished the list, Naruto was excited to get back to Sakura's house. He started running towards the market exit but made the mistake of looking back to make sure she was following. BAM! Naruto collided with something and was sent sprawling over the pavement, some of his groceries scattered on the floor.

"Naruto!" he heard Sakura shout as the girl caught up. She hauled him into a sitting position and looked him over before glancing at the mess he made. In front of them, a woman with black hair was helping her son, presumably, into a sitting position and checking him over for any injuries. The raven-haired boy blinked, stunned by the impact before his face contorted in anger, "Watch where you're going!" he snapped.

Naruto looked up and frowned at the boy, it's not like I smacked into you on purpose. "Sorry," he said. He looked around and gave a shout, "Oh no! The groceries!" he quickly got up and started collecting the fallen food, "Sakura! Some of the veggies are bruised! Auntie's going to be so mad!" Frantically the boy continued to collect the scattered produce.

The other boy scowled at Naruto and Sakura saw it and scowled at the boy. "He said he was sorry," she said with a frown. The boy scowled at her and looked away. His mother shot him a disapproving look and clasped a hand over his shoulder, reprimanding him for his behaviour, "Uchiha Sasuke, I know I raised you better than this." She gave her son a pointed look before motioning to the other kids.

Sasuke pouted, "Fine," he looked up at the other two, "I accept the apology. I'm sorry I was careless enough to get hit." He didn't sound sorry at all to Sakura. His mother sighed and apologized for her youngest son's behaviour. "Sasuke, your tomatoes," she said when she realized his bag looked a little empty. The boy gasped before realizing some had fallen out of his bag. He began looking left and right before finding them burst behind the girl.

Sakura turned around and saw the reason for his distress. She hauled Naruto over to her after he finished bagging the produce and bowed towards the mother and son. "We are terribly sorry for your loss of tomatoes, Uchiha-san. We have some money left, please allow us to purchase new ones for you and your son, it's only fair."

"Oh my, it's no trouble at all dear, I would feel troubled to have a child purchase groceries for me," she looked down at Sasuke's sad face, "But as those were personally meant for my son to consume, I suppose I will overlook it just this once if you replaced his share of tomatoes." She watched as Sasuke and the girl's face lit up in eagerness.

"Thank you for accepting my offer Uchiha-san. My name is Haruno Sakura," the girl said and bowed politely again before gesturing towards her friend. "And I'm Uzumaki Naruto, future Hokage!" the boy exclaimed before Sakura pushed his head down into an appropriate bow.

Mikoto laughed lightly at the children's antics before they made their way back into the market to procure tomatoes. She hung back as she watched the children walk up to the food vendor. The girl was surprisingly adapt at choosing good produce, and she looked on as Sasuke seemed to absorb the methods to choosing delicious tomatoes. It was kind of cute. She glanced over at the Naruto boy, surprised that the offspring of her best friend Kushina would look like a carbon copy of his father. The only thing he seemed to have, surprisingly, inherited from Kushina was the odd verbal tick.

She saw how Naruto was looking at her son with what was possibly jealousy and she almost laughed. Definitely adorable. Oh how the tables have turned Kushina, I used to be so jealous of your fuinjutsu skills and now look at our sons. The children turned away from the vendor with the new purchase in Sasuke's hands and walked back to Mikoto. They walked out of the market together and headed down the road until they had to part ways.

Mikoto looked at Sakura and Naruto, "Thank you for walking with us, but we must part ways here. You two will find your way home all right?" she asked, curious that these youngsters were wondering around without supervision. Sakura turned to her and bowed again, "Yes, Uchiha-san, we run errands for my mother often and we will not stray from the path home."

Pleased with the girl's reply she allowed the children to say their goodbyes. "See ya Uchiha-san," Naruto said before looking at her son, "duck butt." Mikoto's eyes widened in surprise before she covered her mouth, lest the laughter escape. Sasuke looked downright appalled if not entirely insulted. "You! You-!" he sputtered, unable to find his words.

Sakura sighed and made a chopping motion at the back of Naruto's head. "Be nice," she gave him a pointed look. "I apologize Sasuke-san, Uchiha-san. Like you said," she levelled a look at Naruto, "I know my mom raised you better than this." The boy winced at the mention of Mama Haruno and sunk his head in defeat. "Fine, see ya Sasuke."

No honorific, but better than an insulting nickname. The girl thought before she too gave her parting words and hastily hauled Naruto away before any more potential insults could be flung around. Mikoto watched the children walk until they turned the corner and disappeared out of sight. She looked down at her youngest and motioned for him to follow as she set down the street towards their compound.

She continued to discretely catch glimpses of her son sulking all the way home, obviously unhappy about being called "duck butt". Neither of them could help it, she's tried to tame her son's hair before but to no avail. Unless he grew it out like his brother, it was going to forever stick up at odd ends in the back. Oh I can't wait to tell Fugaku about this, Sasuke got his hair from his father after all.

x

Author's Corner:

I have no idea what I'm doing, honestly... it's been years since I've written anything (anything decent, too). There will always be a soft spot in my heart for Naruto fanfiction, especially Sakura Haruno. I'm not a diehard fan to be very honest, I stopped watching the anime ages ago and gave up reading most of the manga at the end. I also feel like Sakura's parents were done justice in their appearance in the anime (movie). How do you manage to have create a daughter with near perfect chakra control, that achieves as much as she does in the main storyline, yet the parents are basically genin. In the back corner of my mind it made little sense.

So again, I have no idea what I'm doing (I rely heavily on the Naruto wikia for information). Or where this is going. Although I do have a vague outline about where I want this story to head. Certain points in the canon will remain true, but I'll diverge and twist it here and there because when you're the one in the front seat writing this thing, anything you want to happen will happen.

Cheers!