A/N: College has started, but I'm back with a new chapter at last! I haven't lost my inspiration for this fic, which is a good things. To the five or six people still reading this, thanks. I'm hoping the updates will be more frequent from now on. If not, feel free to kick my ass in reviews. Please mind the notes at the end of the chapter.

Ready, Steady

"Alright, the chuunin exams are in two weeks, and I'll be out of here today," Sakura spoke, sitting on her assigned hospital bed. It was the first time she'd been held so long in a hospital while she was the patient. A total of four days, Tsunade's orders, in order for all her chakra reserves to fill up. Now Sakura was full of energy, and with no permission to let it out until two in the afternoon. It was killing her, and she finally understood Kakashi's hate towards hospitals.

"We have two weeks to get your techniques perfected, and I'm going to have you sparring against each other each day," she continued, looking at the three children, each of them sitting on one chair in front of her bed. It was a nice feeling, the fact that she still held a position of authority, even strapped to a bed. "The not-so-good news is that I'm not going to be present all the time, since I need to get ready for my Jounin exams."

"Really? Does that mean you'll be leaving us alone?" Hana asked, raising a tentative hand.

Sakura shook her head. "No, I've asked Kakashi-sensei to come train with me during the same time I train you guys. So while you're sparring, I'll be sparring myself. The one who doesn't spar will have to do laps around the forest, or something around that line. I'm sure you've done enough laps with Gai's team."

The pale looks on the childrens' faces certified her affirmation. Sakura feared to think how many 'five hundred laps around Konoha' Gai or Lee had forced onto her kids, and why. Then again, they didn't look that traumatised, and there was not an inch of green on their clothes, so that was a good thing.

"Hatake Kakashi is gonna be there when we train?" Jiro asked, looking a bit more attentive now. "That's so cool."

"Hey! What's so cool about it?" Sakura snapped. "Don't go treating him like a star, he might get a bigger head. I didn't see you treat me like I was the best thing that ever happened to you."

"Because you weren't," Jiro retorted, giving her a cynical look that, if you added a bit of hair to his head, Sakura could swear he looked exactly like Shikamaru.

"That's it, young man, you can start running your laps right now," she ordered, glaring at him. It was a bit pathetic, watching Sakura, a perfectly mature and reasonable grown-up woman, have a stare-down with Jiro, an eleven year old kid.

It was at exactly that moment when Sakura's lovely, adorable, sweet mother decided to come inside her hospital room. Haruno Michiko was a short woman, slim and elegant looking. She looked twice the woman Sakura could ever be, and there were many the times when Sakura was reminded of this. While her father hadn't minded Sakura becoming a ninja—money from missions would prove to be profitable for the family, up until Sakura moved away at least—, her mother had never approved of Sakura moving away from her femininity, and jumping into her tomboy nature. The first time Michiko had seen Sakura knock down a wall with her fist, the young girl could've sworn her mother wanted to kick her out from home. Thankfully, Sakura'd kicked herself out a few years later, now living alone. And while they did talk, and Michiko still cooked the occasional o-bento box for Sakura to eat on lonely weekends, the two Haruno women did not get along much.

Her mother made a point of not knowing anything about Sakura's life, and Sakura tried to pretend she didn't care, and still be polite during family dinners. Of course, politeness from Sakura often came with a sharp tongue, sarcasm, or irritable moods. She sometimes wondered how her father had coped. "Hello, mother," Sakura said, looking away from Jiro's eyes.

"I…I heard you'd been injured during a mission, and I—" Michiko began, looking a bit faint. Probably from the smell of medicine.

"You came to check up on your daughter? Wow, you only managed to last about…four days with no visit. It's a miracle," Sakura grumbled. She was sure her mother had chosen that day in hopes that she'd miss Sakura at the hospital, but that at least, that way, her daughter would know she'd at least tried.

"Yes, well…I have been busy," the woman retorted through pursed lips. Her green eyes were observing the children in the room with a mixture of curiosity and disgust. "Who're they?"

"My kids," Sakura answered flatly, in a calm way. If her mother had come to make her life a worse hell, she'd get her joy from it somehow.

"Y-your what?" Michiko asked, looking at the children, and at Sakura with wide eyes.

Sakura's consciousness gave an evil cackle, and she smiles softly. "They're my children, mother. Don't you realise?" she asked sweetly. "Aren't you, darlings?" she asked the kids, giving them a pointed stare.

"Yes, mother," answered Jiro, who was the first to speak. He said it with such seriousness and conviction that Sakura wanted to hug and kiss the boy for all he was worth. Her students were helping her prank her mother. It could not get better than this.

"Who--when did you--?"

"When you were busy organizing parties for your friends," Sakura answered, waving her hand. "Want to meet them? This is Hana-chan, she's Sai's kid. She's the oldest. Naruto's Mara's daddy, she came second. And I kept trying until I had a boy, and then came Jiro," she explained, keeping a straight face. "He's Kakashi's."

Her mother turned white.

"Hello, grandmother?" Jiro spoke, softly and innocently looking at Michiko.

"How—Sakura, how could you?" Michiko gasped.

Sakura shrugged. "What can I say? Team 7 has always been…really close," she answered. Sakura's mother turned green, flailed a bit, at loss for words. Then she let out a strained smile, and stormed out of the room. Sakura leaned back against her pillows, satisfied. "Well, that went well."

"Are you sure you should've done that?" Hana asked, trying to hide the smile from showing.

"Well, considering that this is the first time I've seen that woman in…three months? Yes, I think I should've. It's her own fault for believing it so eagerly."

"Why would she believe it? It's clear that we don't look like you at all, and it would've been biologically impossible to have us all in this short time," Hana asked, curious.

"And more importantly, why am I the youngest?" Jiro added.

Sakura directed him a look before shrugging. "I think she's been too eager to find reasons to dislike me all this time. Either way, she'll probably end up confirming it with someone in power before she goes and disowns me," she explained, waving her hand dismissively. "I better not go anywhere near their home for some months."

"Why not?" Mara asked.

"Because when that woman finds out I've pulled her hair this badly, she'll want to skin me alive," she answered. "You guys will have to live without her obentos for now."

"Poor grandmother," Jiro said, with such seriousness that for a second even Sakura believed it.

The second passed, and Sakura started to laugh hard.


"Morning," Kakashi told Sakura after he materialised on the training grounds, at one in the afternoon the next day.

"Morning," Sakura answered, not looking away from her children, training a few feet away. "You're late."

"I was busy saving a—"

"Save it."

"So, I had a visit from your mother yesterday," he said after a while. "She hit me with a large, expensive looking bag, and told me to keep my paws off of you. Mind explaining that?"

"She visited you?" Sakura asked, looking at him at last. "That's rich. She must've really believed it. Tch, idiot…"

"Believed what?" Kakashi asked.

"That you're the father of my child. Jiro," she explained, pointing at the boy. "Is secretly our son. Mara and Hana belong to Naruto and Sai, respectively."

"Oh." He paused for fifteen minutes, before sighing. "You shouldn't lie to your mother. It's not polite to lie."

"That's rich, coming from you," Sakura retorted, tugging the gloves on her hands.

Kakashi shook his head, resigned, and patted her head. "Let's start training, yeah?"


"You're not focused, Sakura."

Sakura looked away from the window, and down to her hands. They were filled with blood, and the mess under them informed her that she'd just killed her dummy-patient. At this rate, she'd never pass the examination. "I need a break, shishou. I'll start again afterwards," the young woman begged.

Tsunade gave her an inspective look, her lips pursed in thought, before sighing. "Very well. What has you so concerned, anyway?"

"Is the team you sent to replace ours on the field okay?" she asked.

"Yes, actually. I just got a messenger hawk from one of the members today, they're moving in on the lair, thanks to your team's indications. It was very useful."

"It's annoying how we got held back because of a gang of bandits, though," Sakura groused.

Tsunade rubbed her temples gently, before leaning into her chair. "Sakura, the reports clearly said they outnumbered you. Even if they weren't S-class criminals of Akatsuki level, the fact that the odds were brought to one-against-four is still something that's to be taken into consideration. I know you probably wanted to be there on that mission, but I've told you from the start that your team's mission was to just track them. Judging from your experiences in the past against Akatsuki, whenever one shinobi goes against an Akatsuki, they end up dead. Kakashi, yourself and Sai were exceptions. That was my reason to send you. As for why I had you remain here, well…you need to recover. And I'm sure you'd rather be with your students."

Sakura gave a faint nod, taking a seat. It was true, her mission had been to join Kakashi's team, and just track the Akatsuki. Engaging mindless battle against them had been strictly forbidden, at least until the arrival of sufficient back-up. When Sakura had gone off with Sai to scout the area, and found themselves surrounded, she'd been enraged. To be held back by a group of meagre rogues. As it had turned out, not all of those rogues were meagre, some reaching A and B ranks. And their strategy had been a good one, as far as everything went. Sakura's team had been exhausted, and at times close to losing a team member, if it hadn't been for Sakura's efficiency. But still.
Two days after Sakura had recovered, Sai had informed her that he was being sent back on the battlefield, as a part of the group in charge of eliminating all Akatsuki. The ANBU Ne member wasn't by far a part of Niju Shotai—the group assigned to that mission—but he was a valuable piece. Kakashi was kept in Konoha, together with Kurenai, Anko and Ibiki. And Sakura, of course. Should anything happen to the village, they would be in charge of protecting it. Aside from that, Sakura also found out that Naruto had never returned from recovering her, and neither had Gai's team. They were also assigned. And her empty days at the hospital indicated that even Neji was gone.

In conclusion. All her friends were busy fighting Akatsuki and killing them, while Sakura stayed home and trained kids, and trained herself, and did something weak like recover. Either her life sucked, or Tsunade had decided that she needed a vacation from battles.

My life sucks. There were about fifteen days left till her Jounin exams, and only ten days left till her students ventured into their Chuunin exams. Sakura was nervous enough as it was, she didn't need to hear from Tsunade that her medical exams were also coming up. Apparently, before a medic-nin took the Jounin exams, they had to go through an examination in the medical terrain, to prove that they were worthy. Even the Hokage's apprentice wasn't spared.

And the bad part of this was that Sakura was honestly too nervous, worried and distracted to concentrate on an exam she was sure she'd win.

"That dummy won't wait for forever," Tsunade said, waking her up from her internal monologues.

"Ah, yes. To work."


Time passed relatively fast, her days being filled by trainings, examinations, pep-talks and more trainings. Completed by the occasional hospital shift. Time passed fast, and the ten days turned into nine, then eight, and so on, until it was the day before the Chuunin exams. Sakura had been on the verge of a nervous breakdown as it was, what with Naruto and Sai not returning from their mission on time, only to add that the next day, her mostly-average students would be shoved into the adult world.

She wanted to cry. Instead, she just took them to a restaurant, ordered soba and ramen for everyone, and gave them the obligatory pep-talk.

"That you've improved so much makes me proud of you already. Tomorrow you'll begin the exams. Remember that your team is everything, and that you have to keep a cool head. Don't break into fights with each other, don't let any other teams taunt you, and if anyone says you're average, break their noses."

"But you said that we shouldn't fight," Hana interfered.

"Fight with each other," Sakura elaborated. "If you kick everyone else's asses is fine by me. But keep it in the exams. If anyone challenges you before the exams start, just say no. I don't care what your ego will suffer, just think of what your stamina will suffer if you begin a battle after being dead tired from a previous one."

"Happened to you?" Mara asked, for once not busy with asking for seconds.

"To my team, yes," Sakura admitted. "It was the only reason why I got to be Chuunin first. Okay, not the only reason. I'm also really good."

There was a collective roll of eyes around the table, some more discrete than the other. It turned into a collective 'ow' when Sakura gave them each a slap on the back of their head. "Why'd you do that for?" Jiro complained.

"Learn to respect me already, dammit," Sakura growled. "Anyway. Back to point, just remember to rest well today. And forgive me if tomorrow I'll be cold, harsh and bitchy when instructing you. It's required, and I'll probably be really, really stressed. But know that I'm proud of you as it is. You've surpassed my expectations of you. Just remember that tomorrow, no matter what happens, this is a team. And the team matters more than pride."

"Yes, sensei."

Sakura grinned proudly, and ordered desert.

"Can we still change it to something different than Team Sakura, though?" Jiro whispered to his teammates.


A/N: I hope this closes some holes I left in the last chapter, or answers some questions. I had an interesting reviewer on ff-net who mentioned the mission seeming a bit off. Sakura's team's mission was only to track and surveil the Akatsuki, not hunt them down. And while it's kinda screwed up that they're distracted by a group of rogues, aren't missions unpredictable? I think Naruto has taught us that. Those weren't nice rogues, you know? Anyway, hope to answer more questions down the road. Patience. Next chapter: the Chuunin exams.