Sakura's first impression of Sarutobi Hiruzen goes somewhat along these lines: Oh, wow. Old man's still got it. You tell 'em, dude. You keep fighting the good fight, my soul brother. If you keep this up, you might just get your happily ever after with your super comfy chair. Man, now I'm so jealous, like, you can't even imagine

This largely positive opinion of hers might have been influenced by the fact he gave Kakashi a dose of his own medicine. Not that she actually took the time to fully appreciate this glorious moment. Sakura might have been a tiny bit distracted by the news that Killer B is all for throwing down. Which, hell to the yeah, baby. Okay, she was a hell of a lot distracted, sue her.

After reading between the lines—or, in layman's terms, making sense of Killer B's special way of expressing himself—she's ninety percent certain Killer B never told his brother any of this shit, but whatever. Details. A will get the memo someday. Like, the day she smashes his face in. For sure.

Also, she's one hundred percent certain this will all end in tears. Whose is the real question.

(Definitely Gai's. And, hopefully, Kakashi's.)

When she finally tracks Gai down, Sakura's so ridiculously happy, so pumped up and feeling on top of the world, that she doesn't even put up her usual token protest when he joyously scoops her up and launches into his Gai-sensei-and-Sakura thing.



Gai's on her like white on rice, blubbering all over her and squeezing the life out of her, big, fat tears running down his cheeks. That's her teddy bear of a sensei, yep. So cuddly. Holding onto him like a pink baby coala, Sakura buries her face in the juncture of his neck and shoulder and melts into him, paying no mind to his (kind of gross) sweat-slicked skin. Knowing Gai, he'll have her sweating like a pig in no time, anyway.

"Didja miss me, sensei?" she half-sighs, half-giggles, because everyone likes hearing they're loved and she's no exception. Plus, Gai's the only shinobi she knows who doesn't shy away from feelings—no, correction, he revels in them—and Sakura loves him all the more for it. Shisui comes close, yeah, but he's not on Gai's level, not by a long shot. "'Cause I sure missed you."

"Of course! Have no doubt!" Gai assures her, loudly and emphatically, not missing a beat, then dials it back a notch. "You were sorely missed, young cherry blossom." His voice is a soft croon, a thick, fuzzy blanket wrapping around her heart; Sakura feels pleasantly warm, like a cat curling up in front of a cheerful fire burning in the hearth and basking in the warmth—like coming home. "Oh, but where are my manners? Who are your young friends, my youthful pupil?"

Huh? What frien—oh. "Oh, right!" Sakura laughs as she scrambles down her favorite human heater, flouncing over to her Kiri tag-alongs, who've been patiently waiting for her reunion to be over like the uber-polite boys they are. "Lemme introduce Kaguya Kimimaro and Yuki Haku," she says, smiling winsomely, all encouragement and don't-be-shy-now-boys, slipping between them and urging them forward with a gentle push on the back. "Kimirin, Haku, this is my awesome sensei, Maito Gai. I told ya all 'bout him, remember?"

Well-accustomed to the eccentricities of Konoha ninja after five days of traveling with their company, Haku carries out a textbook formal self-introduction. "Yes, I do remember," he says once the formalities have been observed, not at all put off by Gai's…exuberance, flashing the spandex-clad man one of his too-pretty smiles and meaning every word he speaks. "Sakura was certainly not exaggerating. I can see why you are renowned for your honest personality and dazzling footwork, Maito-sensei."

Cue another round of manly waterworks and Gai squeezing the life out of Sakura. Except, this time, Sakura's staring off into the sunset with this broken look in her dead green eyes as a flock of fucking seagulls serenades them. She loves him, really, she does, but… Sakura's got a once-per-day limit for the mindfuck that is the Sunset of Youth. Also, she has the sneaking suspicion that Haku's actually referring to Maito Dai; then again, there's no real difference (unless you count their hairdo), so never mind. Why did she miss this again? Someone, anyone, please rescue me

"You are Sakura's sensei?" her knight in shining armor cuts in bluntly, and Sakura vows to do something nice for this kid later. Maybe take him to the Yamanaka flower shop and introduce him to Ino? It's like, guaranteed they'll hit it off. They're both all over nature stuff. She talks a lot. He…doesn't. She's very into emotions. He…isn't. They're made for each other or something, so.

Releasing Sakura from his bear hug, Gai plants his hands on his hips, standing with his feet shoulder-width apart, tall and immovable and glowing with pride. There's just…so much green, that he can easily pass for Hulk's little cousin. Only, y'know, with less Hulk Smash and more Flames of Youth. "Indeed, I am, young Kaguya."

"Sakura speaks highly of you," Kimimaro states, apropos of nothing. Very, very seriously, as if it's some sort of divine mandate. With arctic green eyes, he looks Gai up and down for five whole minutes, while the man stoically endures his probing gaze without moving a muscle, then nods with resolution. "I trust her opinion." Executing a graceful bow on par with Haku's, he throws Gai a curve ball that catapults him straight into a third round of hysterics. "If it would not be an inconvenience, I would also like to train with you, Gai-sensei."

"Y-you—I—did you hear this, Kakashi? I have just gained another student! What a glorious day this is, truly, I have never felt more blessed—"

As Gai celebrates the acquisition of a new disciple in the only way he knows how, Kimimaro cuts his eyes over to Sakura with an adorable 'did I do good?' expression. Sakura…well, she can't not glomp him now. A little off to the side, Haku keeps smiling his too-pretty smile, quietly adjusting to the fact this is the new normal, because he's flexible like that. Gotta love this kid and his 'when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade, find someone whose life has given them vodka, and have a party' outlook on life.

"There you are, brats!"

And oh, there's the Slug Sannin crashing their party like a blonde meteor. Business as usual.

Transitioning from an aerial flip to a handstand, Gai pauses in the middle of his victory dance to gawp at her. "Tsunade-sama?" he breathes out, dumbstruck, frozen upside down.

Tsunade's brows hike up her forehead as she takes in his ridiculous pose, but her expression isn't mocking or shocked or even remotely close to the looks Gai usually garners. If anything, she's displaying a great deal of wonder, the kind a geneticist might feel in the presence of identical twins. "Huh. You're Dai's kid, right? Damn, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

At that, Gai starts tearing up again. Panicked and frantic to prevent yet another fucking round of the Sunset of Youth, Sakura remembers the reason she sought Gai out in the first place. "Listen, Gai-sensei," she all but gets in his face since he's still balancing on his hands and thus at eye level. "I just got the best news ever!" Crowned with light, a halo of unbridled joy and wildflowers. "The Raikage's brother—he wrote to say…" Here, Sakura pauses to take a deep breath. Gai, too, inhales deeply, hanging on her lips. "…they have accepted our challenge!"

In the blink of an eye, Gai surges forward and lifts her up in his arms—round and round and round they dance, heedless of their audience, lost in their own world where Sakura and A go all out in the most epic slugfest in the history of epic slugfests, while Gai holds Killer B off and proudly cheers from the sidelines and Kakashi regrets all of his life choices and weeps in the distance.

"Yosh! That is most excellent news, my youthful pupil!"

"We gotta up our training, sensei! Like, today."

"Yes," Gai agrees at once, latching on to her last word, with Kimimaro's levels of seriousness, "yes, we must." Cutting their dance short, he puts Sakura down and spins on his heel to face the Slug Sannin, who's wearing a smirk that conveys exasperation and something between shoulda seen this coming and how do I always get mixed up with your crazy lot.

(Note that she never turns them down, though. Tsunade can play hard to get all she likes, but if she wasn't willing to be dragged along for the ride, there's no power on earth that could move her. And everyone here knows it.)

"Tsunade-sama." Gai bends his waist in a full ninety-degree bow—and stays that way for the remainder of his impassioned little speech. "I would like to request a youthful spar between the two of us. Please allow me to test myself against a shinobi of your caliber to discover my current limits." And now, Sakura's the one tearing up, goddammit. "For the sake of my student," Gai chokes out, "to fulfill her dreams," emotions running high, "I, Maito Gai, Konoha's Sublime Green Beast of Prey," voice rising higher still, "swear to surpass them! TODAY!"

Gai's entreating figure, Sakura's goddamn-you-feels state of mind, Kimimaro and Haku adding a layer of unintentional mental pressure by being natural-born emotional predators—nothing escapes Tsunade's shrewd, analytical stare. Thing is...she's all warm goo inside, so. She almost gives in; only the thought of being labeled as a pushover is holding her back. Or so Sakura guesses based on Tsunade's facial gymnastics, ranging from a prominent scowl to a barely discernible moue and everything in-between. To tip her over the edge, Sakura attaches herself to Gai's leg like a limpet and sneak-attacks Tsunade with her killer combo of please-oh-please and I-will-love-you-forever face. Predictably, Tsunade's not amused (but also not immune to it).

"Well…" Heaving a 'why do I put up with you?' sigh, the Slug Sannin shakes her head and caves in to their united pleas. "I was getting kind of rusty, so why the hell not." She's got a reputation to uphold, though. A crimson grin, slow-spreading, equal parts beautiful and terrifying. Tsunade cracks her neck and makes a come hither motion at Gai. "Still, don't think I'll go easy on you, brat."

Not a moment too soon, Sakura gets out of their way, bouncing over to Kimimaro and Haku, all the while cheering like crazy for both sides and trying to cajole the boys into following her example. Which, truth be told, they do, just…with a fuck-load of dignity and repressed emotion. Eh, baby steps.

(Jiraiya, on the other hand, is not so lucky. Also, he's too old to be taught new tricks. Heh. Sucks to be him.)

"I would never dream of it, Tsunade-sama! LET US FIGHT WITH OUR FULL POWER!"

"Hoh. You've got guts, brat. I like it."


"I finally caught up to you, Tsunade-hi—"

Coming out of his Shunshin, Jiraiya only has a millisecond to mouth ohshi—before he goes airborne with an echoing 'iiiii' and Gai's shoe print stamped onto his face. Ooo. Ouch. That shit's gotta hurt, man. Bad timing on your part, old perv.

Well, as previously stated… Business as usual.

There's a slew of old adages originating from her first life applicable to the clusterfuck of epic proportions that her second life is turning out to be. Calligraphy lessons—which, to her teacher's ire, Sakura treats more as an artistic outlet than an intro to fūinjutsu—help with refreshing her memory. Itachi likes haiku. Shisui likes limericks. And Sakura likes little nuggets of wisdom that Fugaku rarely, if ever, appreciates. Prideful ass. Man, Sakura lives for Fugaku's face every time she proudly presents him with yet another (in her opinion) pithy masterpiece, insinuating they apply to his clan's collective mentality. Like, the classic: Two wrongs do not make a right. Or, always a crowd-pleaser: Where there is no wood, the fire goes out. Or, her personal favorite: Man plans, and God laughs.

(Sakura has a shit-ton of plans. But as the saying goes… Even the best-laid plans sometimes go wrong. It's not that she fucked up somewhere. It's just…

Fucking Sasuke.)

Entourage in tow—sans Jiraiya, because Fugaku; she's still waiting for that 'mean lil' prig' story, by the way—Sakura marches past the threshold of her home away from home with an upbeat sing-song of, "Honey, I'm home!"

Given that she can sense Shisui's chakra react to the sound of her voice, honing in on her with what feels like the equivalent to a mighty cry of huzzah!, it's only a matter of time before—

"Welcome home, chibi!" Of course, Shisui being Shisui, he doesn't just greet her like, y'know, a normal person, oh, no; he pounces on her, the asshole. It happens so friggin' fast, Sakura doesn't even see him coming, for fuck's sake. One moment, there's a familiar scent wafting into her nose, a familiar energy rushing over her skin—metal polish and spices, hot and sweet, like a day in summer, like wild things—then the next moment, she's lying sprawled underneath him with his face buried in her hair and he's stage whispering to her. "Uh, Saku-tan? Are you aware you've been followed home?"

At the risk of stating the obvious… No shit. Sakura lets out one of her Shisui-induced 'gods, why me?' groans and bangs her head against the floor, then headbutts him just for the hell of it. "No, really?" she stage whispers back with an eye-roll as he grunts in surprise rather than pain and mock-glares down at her. Ugh, those long curled lashes. It should be a crime for a boy's eyes to be this fucking pretty. Sakura cries foul, but nobody's listening. Like, ever. Gods, but the injustice of it all… It burns. "I had no idea, but thanks for letting me know, Shicchan."

"Anytime, Saku-tan!" he of the too-pretty eyes chirps and—he motherfucking pokes her forehead.

Oh, hell no. He did not just… Needless to say, Sakura spends the next five minutes rolling on the floor, locked in a dirty forehead-poking death match, with her pride as Konoha's number one hard-headed bitch on the line. Which, obviously, she wins hands down. Gai'd be so proud of her. Yay for monster foreheads. Ino's so damn right. If you've got it, flaunt it, baby.

"Sooo…" Shisui huffs out a breathless laugh as he nuzzles his red-and-slightly-swollen forehead against her collarbone, treating it more like a badge of honor than a mark of shame, not the least bit chagrined over his resounding loss to a five-year-old (technically civilian) girl. Not a sore loser, this one. A shining example of individualism and noncomformity; Sakura chalks it up to Shisui's life goal of being the most un-Uchiha Uchiha to have ever lived and refuses to delve further into his psyche. That way lies madness, and possibly mochi. No wonder they're teetering on the edge of co-dependence. "You wanna explain?"

Snorting, Sakura shoves him off of her none too gently. "Over dinner, yeah. 'Cause lemme tell ya, I can't live another day without Mikoto's cooking." Like, seriously. S-rank ninja can't cook for shit. Unless it's fish. On a stick. Unseasoned. Don't get her wrong, Sakura likes fish as much as the next person, but having the exact same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? For three weeks straight? If not for dear sensible Shizune and her propensity to stock up on ready meals, they'd have all starved to death. Or sworn off fish for life. True fact.

Shisui, too, snorts. "Can't argue with that," he says, wryly, knowingly, an unspoken I-totally-get-what-you-mean, still clinging to her back in spite of her best efforts to be rid of his excess weight—okay, fine, she admits it, that's a goddamn lie. Her efforts are weak as all hell, because yes, she missed the crazy fucker. Shisui's such a…well, a handful. He's a manipulative little shit, and an adrenaline junkie, and an honest-to-god stalker; basically, a lunatic even at the best of times, but he's her lunatic. And if he ever entertains any stupid-ass ideas of self-sacrifice or some shit, then he's got another thing coming. Same goes for Itachi, naturally. These damn Uchiha… Gods help her, she's in it for the long haul.

(At this rate, Sakura's fantabulous hair will turn prematurely gray at the tender age of five—and should that…that abominable travesty occur, there will be nothing to dispute the issue of her dubious paternity. She'll be forever mistaken for Kakashi's spawn. Oh, the horror…)

"Oh, by the way—" Shisui's voice breaks her out of her mini-meltdown, and Sakura can't decide whether she should thank him or cuss him out in advance. Mostly owing it to the glee underlying his oh-so-casual delivery, that I-know-something-you-don't and boy-will-you-be-shocked and sorry-not-sorry hidden message. She's learned to be wary of that particular inflection since it's unerringly followed by—yep, there it is, his grin of pure evil, the one that promises bad things for her future. "We're having an extra guest for dinner today. I mean, other than your, uh, esteemed company—it's such an honor to meet you, Tsunade-sama!" Finally, deigning to address the most important member of her entourage, Shisui disentangles himself from Sakura to bow dramatically, all boyish charm and pageantry. "Uchiha Shisui, at your service."

This… Sakura knows damn well Shisui only does this when he's taking the measure of someone; specifically, when they happen to hold a higher position of authority. He did it to Kakashi. He did it to poor Tenzō. Now, he's doing it to Tsunade. Sakura'd have loved to have been a fly on the wall when he did it to Sarutobi and the Three Stooges, because no freaking way he didn't. You have to fucking earn his respect for Shisui to afford you even a modicum of professionalism. (Fugaku doesn't count. He's family. And that's a whole other matter.)

Apparently, it hasn't escaped Shisui's notice that Tsunade's been examining him in the meantime, lingering on the almond shape of his eyes, the soft black curls framing his ears, how mischief licks at his mouth and thrums in his chakra. A low hum full of mirth works itself out of her throat. She smirks at him, then reaches out a hand and tousles his hair, making the gesture seem terribly fond and terribly patronizing at the same time. In a 'aww, you're adorable, pity you're not yet housebroken, let's fix that, shall we?' kind of way. Somehow. It impresses the hell out of Sakura. Wow, woman's got mad skills. Gotta get me some of that stat.

"You're one of Kagami's, aintcha, brat?" Tsunade coos as she subjects his forehead to the Flick of Love™, and Sakura can swear she spies the outline of a dent in the spot she'd thoroughly abused, before Tsunade swipes a green-glowing finger over the inflamed area and erases all proof of maltreatment. If it had been anyone other than Shisui, Sakura might have worried about brain damage or something, but that ship has sailed in his case.

"Yep—I mean, yes, ma'am." Shisui bobs his head and readjusts his posture to exhibit telltale signs of submission, though Sakura can recognize it's primarily for show. He's not there yet. Curious? Absolutely. Seen what all the fuss is about? Maybe. Ready to worship at her altar? Not so much. "You knew Kagami-jī-san?"

"Knew him?" A bark of laughter, sharp and filled with dry amusement. "Oh, no, I didn't just know him, brat." Tsunade pauses to heighten the suspense, her mouth curling impishly at the corners, but for some strange reason, there are traces of pity in the glance she shoots Sakura's way. You've gotta be kidding her. Isn't it enough her self-appointed mission in life is to be a wrangler of idiot Uchiha martyrs? Now she has to deal with their deceased ones as well? Why, gods. Why. "After the fifth time of getting to watch him make a complete fool of himself in front of Tobi-oji, I'd say we're way past that. Drunk proposals used to be his thing, if you catch my drift. Sad to say it never panned out, though. Tobi-oji wasn't interested like that in anyone, really."

"Oh, wow. Really?" Just like that, Shisui's gone all respectful and starry-eyed and shit, as if he's standing in the presence of an earthbound goddess who's come to regale him with many a glorious tale of unrequited love and drunken shenanigans. The worst part is… He's sure as fuck going to be inspired by his grandpappy's lovesick tomfoolery. "I never knew that! Tell me more? Please?"

Tsunade snorts. "Definitely one of Kagami's."

When Tsunade does go into delightful detail during the tragicomic social catastrophe that is a classic Uchiha family dinner, Sakura wants to feel sorry for Uchiha Kagami after the fatal blows dealt to his reputation—because he sounds like a real swell guy, honest—only… She just…can't. Not when Tsunade keeps sending her these poignant 'oh, you poor thing' looks in between revealing how he'd also been the biggest stalker to ever stalker and how her grand-uncle's saving grace was the fact Tobirama'd been the greatest sensor to ever sensor.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, indeed. Lesson learned, Tsunade, lesson learned.

In all the excitement packed into the introduction between Tsunade and Shisui, Sakura sort of forgot one very crucial detail. Or, no, not so much forgot as pushed to the back of her mind. Temporarily. Which, turns out, big—nay, humongous—mistake.

"Okay." Eyes glued to the aforementioned extra guest, Sakura only speaks after she manages to strike the perfect balance between being calm and anything but calm. She might have snapped three pairs of chopsticks and Fugaku's patience in the process, but who the hell cares? Mikoto bulk-buys them, so it's not like there's a shortage. Fugaku's patience, on the other hand… Well, that's always in short supply, anyhow. "Can someone…please…tell me what the hell did I miss? 'Cause when I left, I'm pretty sure Uzumaki Naruto was like, persona non grata or something."

Because the blond ragamuffin is sitting. Right. Fucking. There. Moreover, to Sakura's great confusion, he and Sasuke appear to be in the early stages of building the world's most epic bromance. They're all smiles and inside jokes and getting on like a house on fire. Only thing missing to seal the deal is a cool special handshake, and she can't be entirely certain they haven't made one already. Not that that's a bad thing; quite the opposite, in fact. It's just…

Mikoto mothering the everloving hell out of him is a given. She's like, his secret fairy godmother (Sakura knows she's been checking up on Naruto and leaving him anonymous little gifts, food stuff, et cetera, et cetera, twice a month). Fugaku accepting his presence as if the boy's always belonged at his dinner table? One word: whipped. Itachi and Shisui not batting an eye? See above reason. But Sasuke? Prone to random fits of jealousy over the silliest things, craving the attention of all his family members without exception, awfully territorial baby Sasuke? Bonding with Naruto? Like the long-lost brothers they are in the spiritual sense? What. The. Fuck?

"Yeah, well, that is all Sasu-chan. We had nothing to do with it, honest," Shisui attempts to explain with a negligent wave between himself and Itachi, adding to Sakura's great confusion instead of allaying it. To be fair, he's probably so used to dealing with all sorts of crazy, that in his perception, Naruto's presence registers as a wonderful deviation from regular Uchiha bullshit. Unfortunately for him, Sakura's all out of equanimity at the moment. "Apparently, they met at the park and kind of hit it off?"

Yeah. There goes the fourth pair of chopsticks. Shisui stares at the slain utensils, then at her eerily calm face, then clears his throat and tries a different approach.

"Okay." Soothing, hypnotic, the voice of a beast tamer as he sweet-talks a tiger into not eating him after pulling its fucking tail. "Truth is, you know how Sasu-chan is the jealous type, right?" Shisui waits until Sakura nods tersely; also, nabs the remnants of her chopsticks, thus depriving her of a weapon with which to stab him should his beast taming ways tragically fail. "So, Fugaku-sama might have, uh, ranted to Mikoto-sama within earshot of Sasu-chan? Something about how you remind him of Uzumaki Kushina? Bright hair, bad manners and all?"

Wait, what? What did he just—? Sakura's mental processes screech to a halt so abruptly, that she almost gives her brain whiplash. Holy. Shit. Hot damn. HolycrapBatman—

"Yeah, Sasu-chan found out there's actually an Uzumaki clan, then misconstrued Fugaku-sama's tirade and assumed you actually have Uzumaki blood, then it all kind of snowballed from there. Once Sasu-chan realized his mom used to have an Uzumaki best friend, and now supposedly so do we, he got super jealous. So, basically, he went out and got himself one. And since there's only one Uzumaki living in Konoha…" In Shisui's expert medical opinion, evidently, the best first aid for someone in shock is to inflict an even greater shock on their addled brain. Hence why he just…carries on. "Man, Fugaku-sama totally flipped out the first time Sasu-chan dragged Naru-chan to dinner, but then Mikoto-sama had already secretly adopted Naru-chan, and you know what that—"

Sakura grabs him by the shoulders and shakes him. Hard. Partly to force him to shut up, partly because she'll die if she doesn't get even a secondhand account of the beautiful shit that went down in her absence.

"Tell me you've got photos. Please."

She's not above begging if she has to. Luckily, while Shisui's an asshole who gets his kicks from burying (so not) innocent little girls neck-deep in Uchiha bullshit, he's not that type of asshole.

"Oh, yeah." And oh, there's that shit-eating grin, dripping with self-satisfaction and copious amounts of I-fucked-with-Fugaku glee. "Stop by the police station on your way home. I've pinned an awesome collage on the bulletin board in the break room—you can't miss it."

Is it bad of her that she high-fives him under the table? Fugaku seems to think so, judging by how his glare communicates cold-ass affront and the advent of an 'after dinner' lecture in his study. Does she feel the need to apologize? Hmm, let her think abou—pfft. Nah. Besides, Fugaku's got gallons of expensive booze to get him through their special brand of crazy, whereas all she's got is blackmail photos she can't even use since everyone's already seen them. Aside from whenever she needs a pick-me-up, that is, because Fugaku's 'woe is me!' face is legit a thing of beauty. From where she stands, he's got the better deal by far.

"Only you, Shicchan." Chuckling, she shakes her head. Trying to rein in Shisui is an exercise in futility. Just ask poor Itachi who's been putting up with his cousin's bullshit since infancy—a fate Sakura wouldn't wish on her worst enemy, to be honest. Speaking of… "By the way, what's up with Tachi?"

And by that, she means what crawled up his ass? He's spoken exactly two sentences to her all evening long: welcome home and please pass me the shoyu. That's it. That's all he's said. Not only that, but he hasn't taken his eyes off of Sasuke, not even for a fraction of a second—and there's something seriously wrong with the way he's staring at his precious baby bro, as if he can Tsukuyomi him into a coma through the sheer force of his stare. Itachi's inclined to submerge himself in deep, contemplative silences, yes, but not to that degree. Also, there's an aura of quiet menace around him that gives Sakura the heebie-jeebies, no joke. Like, an early emergence of Clan Killer Itachi. Except, this shit's for real.

"Oh, that." Shisui laughs, coating his tone with light humor, but his eyes have gone dark, chillingly similar to Itachi's—an abyss of dangerous impulses, and something else, selfishly, viciously possessive. "Well, Sasu-chan's a young boy, you know, and like all young boys, he's kind of going through, uh…a phase? Yep, just a phase, nothing to worry about, promise. But, uh, you know how Tachi gets when it concerns Sasu-chan, right?"

Oh. Sakura has a bad feeling. "His big bro senses are tingling?" she deadpans.

"Something like that, yeah. Anyway, I'm sure Sasu-chan will grow out of it soon. We've decided to give it time? 'Til, um, he graduates from the Academy? That good for you, Tachi?"

"Yes," Itachi concedes with a perfunctory nod, and oh, he speaks. "Until then."

Oh, boy. Her bad feeling grows stronger; so does her reluctance to stick her cute button nose into whatever-the-hell their business is.

"Uh-huh." Oh, wow. Will you look at that? A lovely, noncommittal response. Nice going, me. Who cares 'bout standard Uchiha family drama? Not me, nuh-uh. She should leave it at that, really, she shou—

"Just out of curiosity—" Gods-fucking-dammit. What the hell, mouth? Which brainless moron gave you permission to act, huh? 'Cause it wasn't me. "What happens if it's not a phase?"

"We'll just have a friendly chat with him," Shisui fucking chirps, laughing it all off, at the same time as Itachi asserts, flatly and with quiet menace aplenty, that: "We will…talk."

Oh, is that all? Well, why didn't ya say so? I feel so reassured now… Sakura's oh-so-very-tempted to let loose and go all snarky queen bitch on the duo, but she knows her boys. If she does that, they'll get defensive, and then the situation will be F.U.B.A.R. So, reason. She'll go with that for now, yeah. If that fails… Well, all bets are off.

Sakura fixes them with a harsh stare to drive home that she means business. "I don't like the way you're sayin—"

"Saku-tan." Shisui, the reckless fool, has the balls to cut her off mid-sentence. Which says a whole fucking lot about how unwilling they are to budge on this. "It's a boy thing, 'kay? Just… Leave it to us?"

A…boy…thing…? What even—no, wait, hold up, does that mean what she thinks it means? The fuck? No way—there's just… No. Just no. This—this is so fucking surreal, that Sakura begins to question if it's even happening. Why, oh, why, didn't she keep her big mouth shut back when she could still pretend ignorance? Now—fuck, now she's become invested.

"I will—if you answer me this," she promises, dead serious, falling back into the tried-and-true Sakura method when faced with Uchiha bullshit: delegating. "What does the Chief have to say about his son's…phase? He got a problem with it?"

Ironically enough, Shisui looks appalled. "Wha—no! Why would you even think that?"

Sakura is so very close to being done. "Oh, I don't know, Shicchan. Why don't you tell me? What am I even supposed to think, huh?"

Shisui opens and closes his mouth, helplessly, bereft of words, and Itachi answers in his place. Itachi, who looks equally appalled, but still, somehow, all flat tones and murderously quiet. "Tō-san doesn't…disapprove of Sasuke's…choice."

So, Fugaku doesn't disapprove, but Itachi and Shisui do. Extremely. Which, again, the fuck? Sakura feels horribly lost. It…honestly, it makes no fucking sense. Never mind the fact they're getting riled up over a five-year-old's hypothetical future sexual orientation, which is utterly ludicrous in and of itself, but to assume they actually have a say in it? Bullshit. They better come to their fucking senses soon. Or they'll hear what she has to say about that kind of prejudiced, controlling, disrespectful, asshole-ish attitude.

"Good," she says, tone clipped. "Okay, then." But it's not okay, her gaze telegraphs, hard and implacable and daring them to feed her some bullshit excuse for their, frankly, unacceptable behavior. Both avert their eyes in what Sakura interprets as a potent mixture of guilt and shame. Or so she wants to believe. She can't have misjudged them that bad. Right? Ugh, this is giving her a major headache. Best to forget all about it for now. They'll revisit this discussion if or when—please, gods, let it be neverit actually becomes an issue. "Glad we cleared that up."

Of course, that's when Shisui's voice box resumes functioning normally. He pastes a quasi-cheerful smile on his face, all too quick to agree, all too eager to put this nasty business behind them. "Yeah, we're all good, but enough 'bout us. What's up with—" There's a pensive hum, as if he's searching for a suitable (read: safe) manner in which to broach the subject, then an amused snort as he jerks his head in the direction of the Kiri refugees, who've gravitated towards Naruto and—surprise, surprise—seem to be getting along swimmingly. With raised brows and blatant interest, he drawls out, "You know?"

Smooth, Shisui, real eloquent. "We found 'em in Kiri," Sakura says simply, emphasis on the last word, and she doesn't have to elaborate for them to get it.

"Clan kids?"


"Tō-san will agree to take them in."


"Okay, so that explains them." Shisui then points Tsunade out in much the same way. "What about her?"

Fed up and firmly in the mood for serving some just desserts, Sakura unloads three weeks' worth of pent-up frustrations on their sorry asses. It begins with a huff of, "Tachi was being stubborn," continues with a hiss of, "and stupid," and ends with an oh-so-innocent shrug. "What else was I supposed to do?"

For the first time this evening, Itachi expresses an emotion that doesn't scream of violence quietly brewing in the dark recesses of his mind. Bluntly put, he looks floored. Shisui, who looks equally floored, as always takes it upon himself to sum up a portion of their initial thoughts, even though it's clear to see they're still processing.

"Only you, Saku-tan."

Huh. Did he just steal her line? Tsk, tskfor shame, Shisui. Bad form.

"Hey, um, are you—are you really an Uzumaki?"

At the shy question coming from an adorable blond bundle of nerves and naked hope, Sakura sits up straight and beckons him closer, patting the cushion near her left thigh as if to say sit down, son, 'cause this is gonna be a long conversation. Game on. Thank kami she's been forewarned about Fugaku's idiotic blunder—you so owe me, dude—so she can let him down easy. Last thing Sakura wants is to sprinkle more grief on top of the shitfest that is his life.

Sakura arches a brow, her body language open and welcoming and why-hello-there-sunshine-boi, and offers him a teasing smile. "Who's asking?"

In light of all these signals, Naruto's shyness vanishes—he wastes no time in plopping himself down and launching into a loud, quirky introduction of both his name and purpose for approaching her.

"I'm Uzumaki Naruto, 'ttebayo! Nice to meetcha! Sasuke said your name's Sakura, right? And, um, you might be an Uzumaki? Like me?"

"Well, I dunno 'bout that," she admits freely, nose wrinkled in thought, and it's the truth. "I mean, I gotta ask my parents to be sure, but I don't think there's ever been an Uzumaki in our family tree."

As expected, Naruto's face falls, though it doesn't last long. "Oh," he exhales wetly, half-smiling through his disappointment and dashed hopes, and Sakura guesses it's almost a habit by now.

"Mm. But you know what? See that pretty lady over there, the one talking to Sasuke's parents? She's an Uzumaki on her dad's side."

Naruto's head whips around so bloody fast, that Sakura pities his poor joints. Good thing he's got Kurama stuck in his gut.

"Really?" he ends up whisper-yelling, newborn hope in his bright blue eyes, straining his neck this way and that, trying to memorize the contours of Tsunade's face. Bless his orange-loving heart, Naruto doesn't do subtle.

Half her attention on Naruto's smiling 'family found, woohoo!' face, half on Tsunade's unsmiling 'what did you do now, cherry bon bon?' face, Sakura snickers. "Yeah, everyone knows the Shodai's wife was an Uzumaki, and she's his granddaughter, so."

Something passes through Naruto's gaze, too brief and complex to decipher at a mere glance, and his smile falters for a split second. "Her grandpa was like Hokage-jiji?" he asks, a little subdued, a little…betrayed.

Ah, shit. Naruto's suffering a kind of information blackout—which, by the way, verging on stupid—due to the simple fact nobody, ever, tells him shit. Except for dead people and giant masses of chakra. Literally. How can they even expect him to make informed decisions like, wanting to be Hokage? True, they teach that stuff at the Academy, but come on, let's be real here. He's a kid. With the attention span of one. That's on the teachers, not on him. Shoving basic knowledge into his noggin is in their job description, for crying out loud.

Well, time for an abbreviated history lesson. If Sarutobi doesn't like it, then he can kiss her ass. Fugaku's already spilled the beans on Kushina, anyway.

"Not only that, but his brother was the Sandaime's sensei. You know, the Nidaime?"

"Wow. I didn't know that! Why does nobody ever tell me—no, wait, I didn't mean it like that—"

Poor kid is on an emotional roller coaster, desperately wanting to make a good impression on Sakura, but also to hate on the adults in his life while crying on her shoulder. And that's not even counting the look on his face when he's stealing glances at Tsunade. Naruto's pulling off so-sweet-I-can-give-you-cavities-please-adopt-me by merely existing (like hell Tsunade's immune to it, not when she can't even say no to Sakura's, admittedly, inferior version of the same thing).

"Hey, s'totally fine, Naruto. I know 'cause I like to read, 's all. If you've got any questions, you can always come to me, and I'll try to answer as best I can, 'kay?" she says by way of consolation, barely bracing herself when he flies into her arms with a muffled cry of thanks, Sakura-chan, you're the best! in between sniffling and rubbing his cheeks against the front of her shirt. O-kay, then. Naruto's big on touch. Good to know. "Why don't you go talk to her? I'm sure if you ask nicely, she'll tell ya all about her family. Tsunade-sama's kinda like me, ya know, just… Older. But, uh, do me a favor and don't tell her I said that?"

Silence, then there's some maneuvering that results in Naruto peering up at her from where he's situated himself with his head resting on her lap, eyes impossibly blue, the color of the sky on a sunny day. "B-but—" he chokes out, a vulnerability to that little warble in his voice, a fear of rejection that Sakura's heard once before. Haku's been exactly the same.

"Trust me, she'll like ya," Sakura tells him, injecting pure warmth into her voice, the curve of her smile, the touch of her fingers as she strokes his hair.

Naruto pulls his bottom lip inside his mouth, chewing on it while he thinks over her words; it pops out when he's ready to talk, red-raw with bite marks that fade away even as he speaks, picking up steam until he's all but babbling. "Sasuke said you're smart and, and pretty, but sometimes, you—you're not very nice to his tō-chan, but I—I think you're really, really nice, 'ttebayo! So, so if you're not nice to that Uchiha temē, then he—he prob'ly deserves it!"

Uh-oh. Fun fact: Naruto's loud enough to wake the dead. Which might be the only thing that saves their friendship. Since, you know, the whole of Fugaku's expression implies that Sakura's dead meat. Despite the very real threat of her imminent murder, or maybe because of it—two words: Fugaku's. Face.—Sakura can't help but burst out in hysterical laughter.

"Thanks, Naruto. I think you're super nice, too." And a riot. "Also, lemme tell ya a lil' secret." Taking the hint, Naruto snickers and turns his head to the side as Sakura lowers her own, mouth hovering over his ear. "The Chief's actually one of my most precious people. That's why I'm not very nice to him. See, it's like this. I love him, so I want him to be the very best person he can be. Sometimes, that means I have to tell him stuff he doesn't like when I think he can do better. Get it?"

"I get it, yeah!" Wide-eyed, Naruto nods fervently, as if he's suddenly seen the light or something. No, seriously. Perhaps he has—his next words do reveal a new layer of maturity. "And—I promise I won't call him temē no more—but only 'cause he's your precious person, Sakura-chan."

"Awesome." For Naruto's sake, that is. Fugaku's lectures on the proper forms of address suck balls. "Now, go on. I promise Tsunade-sama doesn't bite, 'kay?"

"Okay. I'll talk to ya later, Sakura-chan?"

"Sure, I'll be around. See ya later, Naruto."

A/N: A very Merry Christmas to everybody. Or Happy Hanukkah, Happy Yule, Happy Kwanzaa, whichever holiday you're celebrating. I hope you'll all have a wonderful time with your loved ones.

As always, thanks so much for all the love and support. I read and cherish all reviews, follows, and favorites. You're all wonderful human beings and I absolutely adore you! Onward! XD