Disclaimer: I barely own my own characters, let alone Kishimoto's.

Notes: Kind of in Tsunade's PoV, kind of not. No matter what I did, I couldn't drag this out any further. Nor could I fit it into Butterfly in Reverse. I remember last week, when I was moaning about writer's block! Please don't ask what possessed me, 'cause I have no idea, but I needed to post it, or I'd never be able to avoid writing it in somewhere. And it really didn't fit.

An experiment in the present tense. Reviews are much appreciated - XD

The heat of Konoha is stifling; summer came early this year and the dry warmth still hasn't let up. War is starting to encroach upon their borders yet again, and nobody really feels prepared for it.

The young shinobi have started alternating teachers, training in pairs of three-man teams and staging mock battles rather than sparring light-heartedly like they used to. The absent teacher is likely on a mission somewhere, or recovering from one, and they start to dread the days when they see the same strained face for more than four mornings in a row. Their days off are few and far between and their sensei won't answer the burning questions they have without their first offering up some exchange, as if it were a game, as if they were safe. Most days though, they can see the burden of themselves within his eyes, and it scares them, if only a little.

At the moment, not much is happening. The six genius shinobi are being ignored by Team 7's perverted teacher - and taking that as a sign to quench the instinct that tells them war is coming, they concentrate on being children for a little longer.

Sakumo and Jiraiya lounge opposite one another on the grass of the training field. Hatake Sakumo's dogs run circles around them, bounding up at the dark haired kunoichi in his team. Setsubi-chan is Team 3's weapons expert, apparently a formidable shinobi, and Tsunade itches to look through the many sword sheaths on her back.

Orochimaru and the Hyuuga boy from Team 3 slouch dramatically behind their respective team-mates, glaring at each other from across the field. Jiraiya jokes very quietly that they're competing for the Angsty Pretty Boy of the Year Award, and Sakumo joins in by saying Orochimaru will win hands down – there's very little decent shampoo in Grass Country, and his visits there must have strained his psyche.

Jiraiya once said Team 7 was a force of nature. He was fire – passionate, incorruptible, stubborn and harsh; Tsunade was water – healing, hurting, graceful, destructive yet vulnerable; Saratobi-sensei was like the earth itself – an immovable rock that sometimes came down too hard; and Orochimaru was like air – fluid, silent, untouchable, but easily poisoned.

Until six months ago, when Orochimaru had run away to the alchemists of Grass Country, Tsunade had never realised how right her team-mate was. She had been forced to re-learn the white haired shinobi then, really look at him.

Tsunade wishes that Jiraiya could have more faith in their third team-mate, but knows if she'd been in Jiraiya's shoes she'd not be half as strong as he remains. Jiraiya's bravado had barely even fractured after that last mission, when he and Saratobi-sensei had literally dragged the snake-summoning genius home.

She counts herself lucky, in a way, that Orochimaru hasn't killed them yet; though since his leaving they've all improved beyond what anyone could expect, and Tsunade knows it isn't bravado talking now, when Jiraiya threatens to kick Orochimaru's sallow arse all the way back to his mother's teat. Tsunade's beginning to think that anyone with Sakumo-kun, Hyuuga Kouan and Honsuji Setsubi at their backs can't be weak – and Jiraiya has always been horribly fierce anyway. It's just that now he finally seems to have the ability to back it all up.

Sakumo and Jiraiya begin to play some recently devised version of Rock, Paper, Scissors - involving many dirty gestures interspersed with school-boy giggles and suggestive finger waggling. Tsunade looks on, rolling her eyes and berating their complete idiocy, and wonders at their easy games, wonders if they realise that they haven't played like this since the Ninja Academy, back before they were even Gennin.

After all they've done and been through; it seems like a lifetime ago.

All she gets in response are two rakish grins; Sakumo's mask is not currently hiding his face, he says it's just to avoid the sensory overload that comes from training dogs on the field. Already a Jounin at seventeen, Team 7 take his word for it, though Kouan-kun insists his friend only wears it to look cool despite his girly features.

Tsunade wishes to avoid seeming like the helpless girl she once was, so says nothing about how attractive she actually finds those 'girly features.' A glance to her left tells Tsunade she has found a co-conspirator in the other kunoichi. Not that they'd ever say, of course. Jiraiya still teases them all for their fascination with Orochimaru, before he became the strange boy he is now.

Orochimaru is an orphan, Saratobi-sensei tells them, and feels it keenly - but Jiraiya has no sympathy because Jiraiya's been an orphan all his life, and never once been beaten because of it. According to him, you make your family, like you make your life, and if Orochimaru can not see that then Jiraiya sure as hell won't lose any sleep over it. It'd be disappointing if they lost their best friend all over again, but Jiraiya tried to help, he really, truly did, and he's beginning to doubt that he can really change the world anyway. Tsunade is beginning to miss that indestructible boy, but recognises the brilliance replacing the aspiration in his narrow eyes, and is slightly awed.

An elite Jounin messenger, with a long bushy tail of hair swinging down his back, appears suddenly before Saratobi-sensei, whispering some words that none of the students have energy enough to attempt to find out. As the Jounin disappears again, Jiraiya lets out an impressed whistle.

"Did you see his hair?"

"Oh don't be pathetic, Jiraiya-kun, that looked stupid!" Tsunade purses her lips in disdain, wrinkles her aristocratic nose.

"Yeah, I mean, my father has one. And he's just…old!" Setsubi ruffles the neck of one of the largest dogs in emphasis, and Sakumo raises a silver eyebrow at the affectionate scritch, as if he can feel it himself. Setsubi smirks, flicking dark hair over her shoulder, and doesn't notice Tsunade smiling slyly at the exchange.

"No, I'm telling you it's cool! How many shinobi do you see with big old hair like that? None!" Jiraiya's hands flap about madly in his enthusiasm, and a weight is removed from Tsunade at the gesture, some sense of the old Jiraiya in amongst the competence of this new one.

"An efficient shinobi wouldn't have such a long tail because it's too easy to get hold of in a fight. It's not safe." Orochimaru pauses in his drawling speech for a moment. "Idiot."

"I like them," begins the Hatake, before his friend can launch himself at the snake master. It's just too hot for a fight. "To me they totally scream 'I'm such a kick-ass ninja I don't need your weak, safety hair. Watch me as I flick my awesome mullet into your face, puny shinobi!'"

Jiraiya grins delightedly, and even Kouan-kun smiles a little, before turning it into a smirk.

"Don't be ridiculous." Saratobi-sensei's voice startles his students. They were unaware he was still awake, let alone watching them all so intently. "It's terribly unfashionable."

Jiraiya's grin turns mischievous as he leans in towards Sakumo, and Tsunade backs away on instinct. "I bet you anything you like I can grow a longer tail than you can!"

Sakumo's eyebrows twitch, and Tsunade and Setsubi each tug on an arm.

"Don't do it, Sakumo-kun!" Setsubi whispers as her team-mate's grin heightens.

"If I were you, Sakumo-san, I would think it a foolish bet." Sakumo's eyes latch on to Tsunade's own as the medic-nin speaks. His head bobs up and down as he smiles.

"You're on." Sakumo lowers his voice as Jiraiya whoops with glee. "The loser though… the loser has to… the loser has to write a dirty book!"

Jiraiya and Sakumo shake on their bet as the two kunoichi groan. Orochimaru and Kouan glare at each other silently, and Saratobi smirks, blissfully unaware at what has just transpired.

A new chapter in Konoha's history has begun.

The heat of Konoha is stifling; summer came early this year and the dry warmth still hasn't let up. War is starting to encroach upon their borders yet again, and nobody really feels prepared for it.

At the moment, not much is happening. Six genius shinobi are being ignored by Team 7's perverted teacher - and taking that as a sign to quench the instinct that tells them war is coming, they concentrate on being children for a little longer.

Naruto and Lee are lounging on the grass for the most part, making cracks about Sasuke and Neji's fierce battle for the coveted title of Angsty Pretty Boy of the Year Award, and Sakura glares half-heartedly at them, not entirely able to hide her amusement and seeing a co-conspirator in Tenten's twitching face. Once, comments like that would've had Sasuke lunging at Naruto, would've caused savage fights that only Kakashi-sensei's amused jibes could effectively quell. But Sakura can feel the sense of accomplishment in their bones now; can see the deep rifts healing over, and knows they are stronger for it.

Sakura is the only shinobi in her team who is not an orphan, but she doesn't stay at home like she used to. According to Naruto, you make your family, like you make your life, and Sakura feels more at home in the presence of her three crazy boys than anywhere else she knows of. She worries about Sasuke-kun sometimes, wonders if he can resist the lure of power quickly gained – but Naruto isn't about to lose their best friend all over again. He will protect the Uchiha heir from himself, from Orochimaru, from Itachi with all that he can, because Naruto's beginning to believe that he can really change the world.

Sakura's beginning to miss the eager-to-please, needy boy that Naruto once was, but recognises the confident brilliance replacing the aspiration in his bright blue eyes, and is slightly awed.

At some point, the conversation turns to Jiraiya's hair, and Kakashi emerges from his books to dissuade Naruto from ever growing such an old man's do.

"What does he know about fashion?" whispers Tenten, when Kakashi appears to have drifted off into his fantasies once more. "His hair defies gravity!"

Naruto and Sakura break into giggles and even Sasuke can't help but grin at the familiar joke, they feel freer than they have in a long time.

Some time later, Naruto decides against the hair. He's going to be the Hokage some day; he can't afford to copy someone else's style.

Sometimes, history repeats itself. But Naruto has always had a way with the unexpected.

((EDIT: Thankyou SO MUCH for all the kind reviews on this! And, I'm sorry if I confused anyone, I forgot to mention, Sakumo's team-mates are OC's. Couldn't find any other 50 year old ninja from canon...'Honsuji Setsubi' roughly translates to 'short-story/plot device,' just in case you were wondering... XD))