Sakura

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After the shock passed, Sakura cried for three days straight.

It was strange. She felt awful, like she was a despicable person, like she no longer deserved her life, but at the same time, she felt no guilt over killing the man, which only made her feel worse.

"Am I a bad person because I feel no guilt about killing that man?" Sakura whispered, lying on the couch under a pile of blankets.

"Every shinobi would be a bad person if that was true."

Naruto hadn't really answered the question, but Sakura was still mildly comforted by that. It would have happened anyway, and that possible first kill could have been an innocent, not someone who deserved it.

"Does it get better?"

"You start to forget after a while," Naruto said, still not answering her question.

And she did. Well, not really. Sakura shoved down the memories of what she had done- the visceral feel of the vitreous humor on her hands, when it had POPPED- and she went on with her life. Back to school, from which she had been taking a break due to "illness".

The teachers would have gotten on her case, but the bags under her eyes and the slightly sallow tint to her skin that makeup just couldn't hide well enough deterred them. Sakura wondered what they would have said if they knew the real reason. Congratulated her on getting it out of the way, probably. Shinobi weren't exactly paragons of mental health, after all.

On her way out of school one day, she was accosted by Hyuuga Neji, who had been hounding her for a proper fight, not that he would admit to having done anything so callous as how she described it. She refused once again, but she brought it up with Sasuke later.

"What do you guys know about Hyyuga fighting styles?"

"Are you sure you want to start meddling with the Hyuuga boy again?" Sasuke asked, too busy whisking something in a large stainless steel bowl to look over at her, "I thought you hated him."

"Look, I'm either going to kill Neji or marry him, but either way it'll be good to get to know him better."

"You do know that if you marry into the branch side of the family, any children you might have will be branded?"

"Branded?"

Sasuke turned towards her, a serious look on his face.

"Well, sealed. The Hyuuga put seals on the members of the branch family to prevent their eyes from being stolen, but it's also used to torture those that have it," He said, emphasizing the words branch family and torture.

"So," she stated with determination, "I guess I'm looking into seals."

Sasuke looked slightly put out that he wasn't able to get her to let go of that idea, but he knew that once she was onto something she wouldn't stop. He could only mitigate the damage.

Sakura spent the rest of the day at the Konoha Shinobi Library. Their sealing section was unfortunately sparse, but there were some theory books and a few notebooks from other people who either dabbled in seals or sometimes, actually knew their stuff.

But those weren't the only things she was there for. The Konoha Shinobi Library kept a classified section on clans, both Konoha and otherwise. While a good deal of the information in there was speculation, there was a chance that someone had written something down about the Hyuuga clan's sealing practices.

If Sasuke was right, it must have been a more open secret amongst the clans than the Hyuuga would like.

The man guarding the entrance blinked lazily at her and, recognizing her, pulsed his chakra in a certain pattern in order to signal an override or all clear, or whatever that might mean. Sakura mentally marked chakra pulsing down as something to learn. It seemed useful.

The room she stepped in was cold, covered in a light layer of dust. Being classified, the civilian employees of the library couldn't go in to clean, and thus the room relied on stasis seals to keep the scrolls from molding or otherwise decomposing.

Unfortunately, the scrolls were also mostly disorganized for the same reasons. Sakura scoured the shelves, finding a few that were labeled with the Hyuuga clan symbol, and others that were simply labeled 'Hyuuga'.

Most of the files were specifically about their dojutsu, some of which were collected off of foreign shinobi who had attempted to steal their eyes at some point, which did lead to the notion that the seal was used to prevent people from stealing the eyes post mortem, but that didn't make much sense. Did the main house members not have the same eyes?

Sakura shook her head in disdain. The more useful ones were placed in one pile, with the rest placed back where she had found them. Kami, she was going to have to come back sometime and sort that whole mess out. But that was something for a future Sakura to deal with.

She walked out with her load of books tucked under one arm, sharing a smile with the shinobi librarian on her way. It was already dark out, and she frowned at the fact that she'd have to get in through the side window. Her mother always locked the door at night.

Sakura snuck around the side of the house, pulling herself up with a thick branch from her neighbor's tree.

Now, Sakura is good at doing what she does unnoticed by her parents, passing shinobi, and the majority of the population. But that does not mean that she goes unnoticed by everyone.

As evidenced by the boy sitting on her window sill, face unnaturally pale in the moonlight.

"I think we have some things to discuss," He said, gesturing for her to come inside her own bedroom, "You may call me… Sai. I've heard that giving your name helps others to feel at ease. Are you at ease?"

~:~

Naruto

~:~

Tenten returned to the Uchiha compound less than a week later.

"I know I said I wouldn't be back often, but… something came up," Tenten said, mouth a thin line, "Remember Hitomu?"

"Yeah, they're the one with the scar, right?"

"Yes. They're in the Orphanage now."

The Orphanage. Not the village-sanctioned, civilian ones, but the secret paramilitary organization comprised of predominantly orphans. The one that no one refers to by its real name in fear of being snatched off the streets and killed, or worse, recruited.

Hitomu must have been part of the latter.

She sighed, scrubbing at her head in annoyance. Once a child was taken by the Orphanage, they almost never came back. And if they did, they came back wrong. Cold.

And if Hitomu had been taken, that meant that more of the people that Naruto cared about were in danger. And she couldn't let that happen, not again. It was hard enough when some of the older kids had gone, and if she could do anything to keep the remaining ones safe, she would.

The orphans, at least the ones that Naruto had known and cared for, had all been wards of the Konoha Orphanage, years ago. The orphanage, lowercase O this time, had been ostensibly run by civilian childcare workers, but the orphanage was overrun and had ultimately been run by the older orphans.

As soon as a child hit the age 15, or earlier if they became a shinobi, they were considered an adult and could no longer be a ward of the state, but before they left, they helped out with the younger kids, teaching them how to survive, mostly. The older kids tended to feel more responsible, which is only part of why Naruto felt responsible for them.

Naruto had left, but the people she had met had stayed with her, physically or not.

She was interrupted from her musings when Sakura walked through the door carrying a large stack of books, which she had tucked underneath her chin in order to stop them from toppling. As soon as she had passed the threshold and made it into the living area, she dumped them on the couch, only bothering to be gentle because some of them were older.

"I went to the library last week, but these are all bullshit- Hey Naruto, do you know anything about the Hyyuga sealing matrix?" Sakura asked, looking as if she didn't actually think she would, but asking anyway.

"Well, it's built upon the manji, and supplemented by two additional matrixes… I'd say that the seal is mighty destructive. Takes out brain matter every time it's activated. The actual seal though… Only half of it is really necessary in order to protect the eyes. If you could separate it from the sections that cause brain damage to the host it would work even better, but those bastards just combined random elements to make it all stick, and you'd have to get it all off in one go somehow."

"How do you know all this stuff, Naruto?"

"Well, I've got my sources." she listed, ticking off each item on her fingers as she spoke, "The orphans, the sex workers, and also just digging through the trash that some clans leave out. But we've all done that, right?"

Sasuke looked appalled, but Sakura just shrugged, "I mean, I have. Okaasan once forgot to give me food for a week, but it wasn't like I did it seriously."

"It's pretty easy though! Every once in a while you scan the obituary section of the news, look for any dead shinobi, and raid the garbage outside of where they live. Most landlords are civilians, so they just put everything they can into donation shops and dump anything they can't in the trash. And then I take it."

"That's… surprisingly resourceful of you," Sakura stated. Naruto pouted.

"Hey, it's not like I'm stupid or anything! I was doing fine on my own for years before Sasuke let me stay here!"

"I'm not saying you are. In fact, I likely wouldn't have done as well as you have had I been on the streets, and I happen to be extremely intelligent."

"Wow, thanks for the confidence boost, Saku-chan."

"You're very welcome."

Naruto went back to planning. The only way to assure that none of her family ended up in That Man's hands… would be cutting his off. Maybe it was time for her to talk to Kabuto.

~:~

Sasuke

~:~

Sasuke headed to the grocery store, leaving Naruto and Tenten to finish their conversation.

They went through food fairly quickly in the Uchiha household, mostly because Naruto's stomach was a black hole. And with Sakura staying over more often than not, they went through food even faster.

Sasuke was the one with the money, so he got the groceries. Naruto usually protested, going as far as to shove bills into his wallet, but Naruto had been distracted lately. Something about orphans and a mission. She was specifically keeping Sakura and him out of that business, so Sasuke would stay in his own lane. For now.

He browsed the aisles, picking up plenty of fresh produce, along with medical supplies and some less-than-healthy items that the others enjoyed. For Naruto, the vice was any type of ramen, but Sakura's vice had always been sweets, loathe as she was to admit it. Whenever she was deep in her research, she would subconsciously gravitate towards any candy within a five-foot radius, usually ending up sucking on a lollipop after a minute or two.

Sasuke bumped into another person while he was looking down at his shopping list. He looked behind him to apologize, but the other person was already turning into the next aisle.

He frowned, as it was quite a long aisle that the man had crossed so quickly, but he brushed it off.

Sasuke finished his shopping, and went to pay. He felt something in his pocket that he hadn't put there, as that was normally just for his wallet, and he intentionally made no reaction to it, just took out his wallet without disturbing it and paid.

When he left, instead of taking his normal route back home, he stopped into an alleyway midway through, making sure to do so in a way that didn't look suspicious. Not that going into an alleyway wasn't inherently suspicious, but as far as Sasuke could tell, there wasn't anyone around to judge.

He pulled out the object that was still in his pocket, which turned out to be a small rock with some sort of sealing array on it. Instinctively, he tossed it away from him, and with a puff of smoke, a boy not much older than him appeared.

Sasuke tensed, prepared to fight, but the other boy merely looked around as if to catalog his surroundings, before sticking up a couple of seals.

"They are barrier seals. No one should know that we are here," He said as his only explanation. Judging by his deadpan voice and the half-mask he wore over his eyes, he was an Aburame, but Sasuke had never seen him before. He didn't interact with the Aburame clan much, but he thought that he would know if they boasted a sealing prodigy… Not that they boasted at all, really.

He looked straight at Sasuke, the dark lenses making him seem far more foreboding than a pre-teen should.

"I am here to warn you. For your sake and the sake of your… precious people, I would take heed of it."

"What do you mean? Who even are you?"

"Currently I am known as 012360. My brother and I attracted the attention of someone who has his sights set on you currently. Do not fall for his promises."

"So... someone is after me? Who? And what exactly does he want with me?"

"I can't tell you who he is," He said, the emphasis saying more than the word itself, "He will come for you, and then you'll know. All I can say is that you should not agree to go with him, no matter what. Find another way."

"Why did you join… them, if he's so bad?"

"I'd do anything for- my brother."

Sasuke nodded solemnly. He would do the same for Kiyo any day. But hopefully, he thought, it wouldn't come down to that.

~:~