Happy two year anniversary of me not updating! Yay!

Wait, what is this? Is this... an update? Truly? Is it?

Yes, it is! Whoa!

I am so sorry. I am a horrible, terrible person for taking a personal hiatus and not actually telling people. I kept swearing up and down that I would update and then the months flew by and damn it I'm just so horrible.

But... I'm here now, so, yay? Back on the plate. Been an eventful couple of years, in real life and the internet. So many wonderful people have left reviews, messages, and all manner of fair inquiries on both fanfiction and deviantART. As I am a terrible person, I have not replied to all of them. Or most of them. But! I hope this answers the common 'are you ever going to update this story?'

As it turns out, I'm too much of a glutton for self-punishment to not update eventually.

Still, it's been a couple years, and I have been practicing my writing since. If my style looks a little different, I'm still trying to improve. If the tone is a little different, well, I had to read my own damn story from beginning to end because it's been a while. I still have everything in place plot-wise, I just had to remind myself.

Also, current Naruto events-wise? Um. There's an emote for that. And a gif. Maybe even a detailed comic.

Let's just say, absolutely nothing has changed in my story regarding anything that happened in the last two years. Just... God.

Enjoy.


"Uhhhn..."

Thud.

"Uhhhrrrgh..."

Thud.

"Uhhh-huhhh..."

Thud.

"Muhhh..."

Thud. Thunk.

"... Mmph."

"... Uh... Wow." Rae scratched her head, still gazing down at the strange thing she'd found crawling behind the ramen stand. It was extraordinarily... pink. "... Kid. Do I need to put you in a hospital?" She bent and carefully rolled over the small form, flinching lightly at the exhausted gaze that snapped on her. "... Damn."

"R-Rae-san..."

"Haruno Sakura, I have to admit that I have a reasonable amount of fondness for you. You're freaking adorable and I admit it with a straight face." Rae stood up again, staring down wide green eyes. "But what the hell are you doing?"

It looked like she was training. If said training post didn't have nearly the same amount of dents any wood would have after being assaulted by a ninja. And if the ninja herself didn't look defeated by the inanimate wood. Sakura whimpered, looking up pitifully to her.

"I-I'm... training."

"No, you aren't." Rae crouched down again, nodding patiently at the post. "You're getting your ass kicked by a stick in the ground. Who on earth told you it was a good idea to beat it until you were crawling around?"

"... N-Naruto..." The woman slapped her forehead until it really began to hurt. "A-Ano, R-R-Rae-san... I'm... hungry."

Rae explained a few certain things as she sat the girl on a stool, making her a bowl of vegetable ramen. Like how Naruto was not only a blockhead, but an Energizer bunny.

"... What?"

"You know those kinds of really little kids that you babysit sometimes? The ones that start talking and doing something, and then they keep going on and on and on and on?" Rae idly leaned forward on the counter. "That's Naruto when he's training. He might eventually crash into a wall and take a nap, but he wakes up like it never happened twenty minutes later. He's kind of low-maintenance in that sense." She tilted her head to the girl. "Now you are a perfectly-normal little girl. You aren't a Naruto. If you crash into a wall, you're going to stop. And you're not going to get up until the concussion heals."

"... Rae-san, I... I don't get it."

"You need to take care of yourself." Sakura blinked owlishly. Rae pushed the bowl towards her. "Look at this! You didn't even finish your ramen!"

"But ramen's full of fat!" the girl protested, pushing the bowl away. "Do you know how many calories are in it?"

"Do you even know what calories are, you little twig?"

"Calories are bad! Even that stupid Ino-pig knows it!"

"I oughta wring your neck you little-" It was a bit longer before both had calmed down, though they were still glaring at each other when Rae huffed and relented. She pulled back the bowl, pointing at it sharply. "Calories are energy, kid. Let me guess- you hear a bunch of skinny-ass civilian women complaining about how many calories they eat?" Sakura nodded quietly, scowl lessening. "Think about how much energy those kinds of women really need. They don't exercise, they don't run anywhere, they walk around and chat happily and go to bed. They don't need that much energy. When you eat more energy than you need, your body stores the energy in areas like around here." She motioned to her stomach and thighs.

"That's the fat that women always complain about. The fat in food? It just has a lot more energy than other foods. And some other nutritional crap, but the point is that your body needs calories. Because it needs energy. A lot more energy than some toothpicks that don't do much with their lives at all." She pushed the bowl forward. "You're not storing energy, you're using it when you train. If you don't have energy when you train, why do you think that is?" For a long, long moment the girl stared at the ramen, and finally her head began to lower between her shoulders. "Plus, think about when you're going to eat a cookie in front of Ino and still be healthy and strong."

And then Sakura finished the bowl. She finished an eggroll as well, and then stated that she could definitely do more training- do it immediately! She ended up falling asleep on the counter of the ramen stand, snoring softly as Rae worked around her.

She was cute enough, anyway.

There was something to be said about this vacation thing. Though, possibly not good things in Rae's opinion. Just one week of doing little else than working the ramen stand, reading books and essentially doing everything she could to pretend that she wasn't focused entirely on a bleak-looking future.

Which only frazzled her all the more when she realized that a bleak future was sort of something she had a right to worry about so much. Still, the Hokage had been right- she wasn't handling the stress very well. Having her Sasuke epiphany, realizing she wasn't going to get any second chance of her own, watching a spiral that seemed to inevitable, and given her own attitude this entire time...!

"U-Um... Rae-san...?" Rae snapped from her thoughts, blinking several times to realize Sakura's concerned and sleepy expression. "You, ah, don't look so good..."

"... That should really mean something coming from you," she muttered, rubbing at her face. "Sorry, kid. You feeling alright?"

"Yes, but I'm pretty tired." Sakura sighed heavily, pulling back her hair from its ruffled mess. "I was just... thinking. Kakashi-sensei keeps talking about the future like... like there's something big coming up, you know? It's not like before, when we were learning to be shinobi, and I mean- I mean, I know this wasn't just some lifestyle to take on casually-" She cut herself off and Rae set aside her rag, sighing her own troubles.

"Yeah, I getcha, kid."

"I-I'm scared." Sakura looked at her with big, green eyes, and again Rae had to remind herself that twelve years old didn't last forever. "Sensei's getting serious. I don't know why, but I- there is something going on, isn't there? Things that adults aren't telling us. We've been training with the other rookie teams, and even Gai's team- there's something very wrong in Konoha!" Rae wasn't sure she knew how to properly deny that. Or if she really should. She was... tired. "And then there's you! I don't get it- you're a civilian, but you're not! You're not a shinobi either, but you have some secret assignment from the Hokage himself! Please, Rae-san- just- I don't-" Her lips quivered and Rae grasped her hand tightly, preventing her from pulling back.

"You're a smart kid, Sakura. But... you worry too much." Sakura looked up with a start. Rae sighed once more. "The teachers are just worried about you kids, you know? When they were little, they started fighting a lot younger than you, you know. So outside people come in and just make sure that they're at least on the right track to learn shinobi stuff."

"L... Like you?"

"I'm more of an attitude kind of observer. Why I was so concerned about the duck- Sasuke, see? He's got attitude like nobody's business." That made the girl giggle. Rae tilted her head with a little smirk. "But you know what? I'm not worried about you. You're very intelligent and strong-willed. The only thing you should be scared of is letting yourself forget that, neh?"

"Yeah!"

"So you just make sure to eat well, train hard, and all these guys with dreams? Don't let them pass you up! You're part of Team Seven- and don't let anybody break that up!" Sakura beamed at her, all but sparkling in renewed vigor.

"Y-You're right! So... everything's alright?"

"Heh. Kid." Rae patted her head. "Believe it."

"Great! I'm going to go take a nap, then- then I'll get right back on training! Thank you, Rae-san~" Rae watched her leave with something a little painful in her gut, carefully taking up her rag again and methodically wiping the counter.

"... I think this vacation's going to get to me a lot faster than actually working," she said aloud, feeling sick. "Shit."


"I see what you meant about that weird fighting style." Asuma had to give it to Kakashi. His kids hit hard. They weren't quite like the other rookies of the year, still squabbling as a team and tripping over each other while training.

Well, sure, they squabbled like nobody's business, but there was something more... tight-knit. First meeting Team Seven when Kakashi had come to pick up Shikamaru for their little joint program, Asuma easily compared the members to his own. The intelligent, brooding loner, the loud-mouthed blond, the kid with the eating disorder (because seriously, what was with girls this day and age? They looked like toothpicks).

But watching the three of them work together against his little genius, there was also something very, very different.

For one, Sakura was lately looking... well, not quite as toothpick-esque and more filling out the proper muscles a kunoichi should have. She didn't do that stupid thing Ino did either, fixing her outfit between punches or checking her nails after a good hit. Her dress was rather impractical, but most kunoichi worked in some of the damndest outfits, so he could let that one slide. She emerged from a fight ratty, but looking actually triumphant with what she did. She had looked to Sasuke quickly, sure, but then seemed to catch herself and instead complimented both him and Naruto (which had startled Naruto, he noticed).

Sasuke was... well, his brooding was a lot less lazy. Shikamaru could probably beat him in a game of wits still, but only if the little pineapple actually put some drive into his actions like Sasuke had. Not that there wasn't a reason for Sasuke to not have drive, but he wasn't chomping at the bit nearly as much as Asuma would have expected. He seemed, at least, more willing to work with his team than around them, which was something that all genin had as a long, painful phase. It was kind of nice to see (maybe his team would be inspired? Nah.)

And then there was Naruto, who Kakashi brought by alone for today's exchange, and that kid was a machine.

"It's a rather mean style," Kakashi agreed a bit too cheerfully, watching the blond hurl a very startled Choji across the field by his arm. The Akimichi groaned and rubbed his shoulder, but he'd really been spared by Naruto not following through with that arm-snapping move. "Impressed?"

"From the kid that couldn't even pull off a clone technique?" Asuma grinned around his cigarette. "Not bad."

"He's not actually that bad at shaping chakra." Kakashi seemed as laid-back as ever, watching the four spar. "He's just never had a proper grasp on his own power levels."

"Right, right. Makes sense." Still. Naruto tore into his team with something almost... ruthless. It was an odd style of fighting, with all those balances and levers, something most shinobi, possessing a rather unnatural strength, didn't tend to bother with. He was almost... juggling the others around, taking their own moves and breaking them by their own strength.

For a kid with a smile like sunshine and such an innocent dream of being a leader, it was a little chilling.

"How'd you snap them out of it?" he wondered aloud, briefly plucking out his cigarette to breath out smoke. Kakashi's eye lazily drifted to him.

"Hmmm?"

"You know what I mean. They're not just some innocent rookies. Hell, they almost seem closer than Gai's own second years."

"Oh, well." The former ANBU captain gave a nonchalant little shrug. "You know... kids."

"..."

"..."

"... Is that it?"

"Well, it's true..."

"Damn it, Hatake, I was looking for some solid advice. I can't even get Ino to eat breakfast. Or at least nothing proper. Shikamaru? He'd rather cloud-watch than train. Choji? He flies into childish tantrums like you about the grey hair." Ah, there it was. Kakashi's hand twitched a bit violently.

"... You know what color it is."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Point is, I've got a bunch of academy kids that come from the same class as yours. What's your secret? This is the only team you've passed anyway."

"To tell you the truth, Asuma..." Kakashi looked to him rather seriously, gaze as unreadable as ever. "... I'm not entirely sure."

"Hatake..."

"No, really." The other jounin held up his hands in a picture of innocence. "Maa... I wasn't doing very much when I first got them, anyway. It was just a very long, strange parade of circumstance that happened to all of us. Oh, and then Rae."

"Who?"

"Not really important." Kakashi waved this away. "She's just this civilian woman who hung around the kids a lot. Naruto's pretty fond of her. I think she has some kind of bond with Sakura, but... I'm not sure what she said to Sasuke. I don't think she likes him much. But they've all had some kind of influence from her, just little things that seem to motivate them. Combined with all the stuff we've been going through... let's call it a happy accident."

"Great. Happy accident. Still, they're getting to a great place if they want to try out for chunin." Asuma grimaced as he watched Ino grumble and check her nails again. "... We really did let ourselves go, though."

"Now what makes you say that?"

"The fact that a possible war is coming up and we're in a mad scramble to be prepared for it." His gaze darkened as he flicked the remains of his cigarette away. "When we were kids, teachers would have beat the hell out of problems before they even came knocking." Kakashi merely hummed in thought, but Asuma pondered his team and wondered if as long as his team was soft, maybe he was getting that way himself.

And a thirty-five million ryo bounty used to be something a guy didn't take lightly. Maybe he could just... pick up his own pace a little, test some of those old routines he got from the Twelve Guardians.

He was sure they wouldn't be too difficult, even after all these years.

"Hey-! Nee-chan!" Naruto suddenly chirped, his concentration blooming into a big, silly grin. Asuma followed his gaze to a woman with shorter dark hair and odd goggles, a rather distinctive scar on her throat. Dark-themed attire, but no visible weaponry. Just an expression of pinched stress that relaxed at Naruto's bright gaze.

"Maa, Rae-san," Kakashi greeted cheerfully, eye crinkling. "What are you doing here? Aren't you running the stand today?"

"I'm on a lunch break."

"Don't you serve lunch?"

"... I am not in the mood for your assholery."

"Hey, nee-chan! Nee-chaaan! Lookit! I made a whole new move! Watch!"

"I'm watching, hero!" Rae hollered back, stopping by Kakashi and Asuma. "Now pay attention to your surroundings!"

"Ack! Shikamaru!"

"So, this is Rae?" Asuma eyed the woman once more. Healthy, maybe, but nothing really outstanding. Though those goggles were a weird fashion statement. "Sarutobi Asuma."

"Kuroda Rae." She seemed to eyeball him the same though before turning to Kakashi. "Look, uh... I need my break to be over." Asuma looked between the two in confusion, but something in Kakashi's masked gaze shifted.

"Oh?"

"I'm handling vacation worse than I'm handling work," she said stiffly, shoving her hands in her pockets. "I can't... I can't be out of the loop and not worry myself sick, alright? And I don't need one of your comments about-"

"Okay." Kakashi seemed rather relaxed about this whole matter. "Neh, Asuma, you can handle the kids for the day by yourself?"

"Something wrong?"

"Nah." The jounin clapped an arm around Rae's shoulders, looking cheerful. "We just have a date." The woman's face went an alarming shade of red as he led her away, and Asuma was rather willing to bet that it wasn't just embarrassment. He was rewarded when, as the two reached the edge of the clearing, a loud burst of some strange tongue reached his ears. It seemed angry.

Well, that was weird.

"Hey! Where's that pervert taking my nee-chan?!"

"I dunno... maybe they have a date or something."

"D-Don't ever say something so stupid! They hate each other!"

"Jeez... if you're in denial, just be a little quieter about it..."

"Well, I think it's sweet!"

"That's cuz you're a girl."

"Shut up, Shika!"


How much does Rae know about nutrition? As much as I did, when I started writing this chapter a year and a half ago (hahaha oh my god). Still, I hope no one expects an expert in too much out of her, so yes, some inaccuracies and ignorant comments are intentional.

So I'm going to update my profile, add links to fanart that's appeared in my hiatus, and I'm still a horrible person so I probably can't get to everyone's messages, but thank you everyone for all the support and love you've shown for this story! I'm still going through college (really, I'm going to be in college for a long time) but I'll be pushing myself to work on this again! Maybe find some kind of schedule- a deadline (like the anniversary of not updating my own story) might help keep me on track.

Anyway, for all my old readers (if you're still there) thank you for sticking through! For any new guys popping by, welcome! It's a bit of a short chapter, but I hope my improvements stand out! And yes, I am at an age where I've outgrown my crazed anime phase (at least the crazed part- I'm not sure I'll ever outgrow anime or Batman), and I look at some of the Japanese inserted in previous chapters and cringe a little. Too late to really change a lot about the story, but any further stories will be working on more professional vocabulary and actual English. (Yes, there's actually going to be an end to this, no matter how long it takes).

Love you guys, and here's to hoping that this chapter was worth the wait! (It so wasn't).

Peace out.