Effloresco Secundus

Chapter 29: The Slug Princess


It had been a month. One very long month where Jiraiya had shuffled them to and from various small settlements, villages and minor towns around Fire Country. He was apparently some sort of spy master, from all the contacts that came to meet them and report to him. 'I never would have guessed,' Sakura thought. 'But I suppose that's the point.'

Tsunade always seemed to be one step ahead of them, perhaps used to dodging pursuers, and so all they'd managed to find so far were fights with various groups of enemy shinobi. The enemy nin were still close to the border, but that they were actually encroaching on Fire Country's territory said a whole lot about how the situation had escalated.

"I had no idea how bad it was," said Naruto one night. They were curled up together in a small tent, and as shinobi they slept lightly enough that any movements any of them made invariably woke the other two. Sleeping under the stars would have been more beneficial, but the night was cold in northern Fire Country this time of the year. "I mean, I knew since that whole massacre that things were bad, but I didn't think things were this crappy already."

He was referring to the injured Konoha shinobi they'd encountered these past weeks, supported by their teammates, exhausted and far from home. Sakura played absently with her dogtags, remembering how terrified she'd once been about the possibility of war, how she'd cried when talking to Kakashi… it felt like a lifetime ago. The possibility had rooted itself firmly into her bones, and at some point she'd come to expect and even accept what was now finally happening for real.

From the darkness, she heard Sasuke murmur, "We're at war, idiot. No matter what anyone official is saying, we're at war now. It's only going to get worse."

The words were heavy in the air, the dark nighttime shadows lending them an ominous tinge. Sakura sighed. "It is. One day, sometime soon, it's going to get truly bad. And we'll have to be ready when that happens."

"It's not like we're not used to the bad stuff," Naruto mumbled. "And we train all the time. Not to be all arrogant or whatever, but I'm pretty sure we're the strongest team from our graduation class."

Sakura agreed, though she only hummed in response. 'I don't think anybody can be truly ready for war, training or no, until they've actually lived it.' It was one thing to speak of war in hypotheticals, but quite another thing entirely to be up to your neck in the really bad stuff. Though at least as child soldiers with actual training, they were more prepared for it than she, Harry and Ron had ever been. That was the silver lining, Sakura supposed.

A week into their search, Jiraiya had given them all three techniques he wanted them to master. Probably because Naruto had complained about the lack of anything useful to do as they followed Jiraiya around. He'd given Naruto a water-filled balloon with instructions to force his chakra to swirl inside it until it burst. Sakura had been given directives for a jutsu that would enable her to shape clumps of soil into little birds that she could use as spies or as transportation and Sasuke was working on a technique that would force lightning into a metallic weapon and thereby extend its reach.

Sakura sighed when a newly formed clump batted its misshapen wings and then threw itself dramatically into a nearby tree. She was distracted, thinking of bad dreams where crazy little girls were cackling at her from behind bookcases. She hadn't done anything to rectify that situation, other than to make sure the door remained closed. She wasn't sure what else she could do right now.

"Your birds appear to have a death wish," Sasuke muttered, frowning at the edge of the kunai he was trying to light sparks along. His hand glowed with lightning, but it just curved itself teasingly around his knuckles instead of continuing down to the metal blade.

"Your lightning is acting like a disobedient toddler," Sakura said and picked up a new clump of dirt. Sasuke snorted.

"Argh, it's not working! Oi, pervert! Give me better instructions-" Naruto said in an aggrieved tone, bouncing ahead to where Jiraiya was walking further up the road.

"Be quiet, brat, we're almost there!" Jiraiya smacked the blond over the head, rubbing his temples like dealing with Naruto was giving him a headache. 'Or else he's hung over,' Sakura thought with a trace of irritation. She almost let slip some biting comment in Naruto's defense, but thought better of it at the last second. The Sannin would probably just find it amusing, or else make some quip about her trying to 'woo' her blond teammate.

"We're almost where?" asked Sasuke, looking up from his kunai. There was still a slight rasp in his voice when he spoke in louder than a murmur, and Sakura wondered if there always would be. It didn't seem to bother Sasuke, so she hadn't prodded him about it. Yet, anyway.

"Tanzaku-gai," said Jiraiya, looking over his shoulder. "Famous for its many gambling houses, elaborate bath houses and its variety of festivals." He grinned in a way that made Sakura want to throw her clump of dirt at his face.

"You sure you're not just leading us to some place you like?" Naruto asked, brushing dirt off his clothes and looking up at Jiraiya suspiciously. "'Cause seriously, if you're just gonna wander around peeping into bath houses we'll be pretty pissed."

"Have you so little faith in me?" The Sannin twisted his lips into an exaggerated pout better suited to a child than a middle-aged man.

"Yep," said Naruto with a decisive nod.

"Tch, today's kids have no respect for their elders," Jiraiya muttered, though he didn't seem particularly offended. "Tsunade is a bit of a gambling addict, you see."

"…The most famous medic of all time is a gambling addict," said Sakura flatly. She almost laughed at the sheer absurdity of it, though she was really more exasperated than anything else.

"We all have our vices," Jiraiya said cheerfully and Sasuke glared at him like he was considering shoving a lightning-enhanced kunai where the sun didn't shine.

'A lecherous pervert, a gambling addict and a monstrous traitor. What a team,' Sakura thought with an internal frown. 'Unless… are their respective vices how the two of them cope with Orochimaru's treason?' she thought, wondering as she did so if she wasn't thinking too charitably of them.

As always, something in her grew spikes and ridged edges at the thought of the Orochimaru. What had first been pure fear and hatred had sharpened over time into a jagged dagger of seething, bubbling anger. She was good at controlling her thoughts in daytime. But she always had trouble sleeping, spending hours at night staring out into the darkness until her eyes burned, and she thought about the traitor Sannin often. What he could do with her ovary, what it would mean for her in the future if he could find some way to use it.

And then sometimes she'd wonder why his former team, and their teacher, hadn't seen what he was. That kind of sadism, that kind of cruelty, didn't just appear from one day to another. It had birthed a trace of unfair resentment for Jiraiya that she tried her best to repress in his presence.

Tanzaku-gai was surrounded by a concrete wall that wasn't quite as impressive as Konoha's great red walls, but that was solid and well-made enough to make Sakura wonder if the city had once been a shinobi dwelling.

Preparations for a festival was clearly in the works. Colorful lanterns on strings were being hung up in newly assembled stands and there was a merry atmosphere in the air. People had clearly dressed up for the occasion, and they stood out like birds of paradise against the dirt and the earthy colors of the wooden buildings around them. Sakura only had a fleeting moment to wonder what they were celebrating before Jiraiya beckoned them into an alley.

"Quite a few Konoha shinobi visit this festival, so you guys won't have to disguise yourselves as civilians." Then he gestured at Sakura and Naruto. "But your hair is both too striking and-" He visibly stopped himself there. "Not too many people are naturally blond in this part of the country. Or pink-haired."

Naruto unfolded the cloth of his hitai-ate until it could cover his head. Sakura looked him up and down and thought that the absence of his sunny hair just made his eyes stand out all the more. But perhaps blue eyes were a more common feature.

"So what are we doing?" Naruto asked, when Jiraiya just looked pensively at him. Sakura put her hair up into a bun and draped the cloth of her hitai-ate around her head the way she would wrap her hair after a shower. It was all askew, but it would have to do.

"Visiting all the gambling houses, of course," he answered, grinning like he'd fully anticipated their immediate put-upon expressions. He formed a hand-seal and henged into a less… loud version of himself, Sakura described it in her head. His scroll, red face markings and enormous white ponytail all disappeared and the colors of his short kimono muted.

"Huh, you look almost normal like this," said Naruto, looking him up and down. Jiraiya absently threw a water-filled balloon at his head that the blond only barely dodged.

"Are we splitting up and spreading out?" Sasuke asked as Naruto glowered balefully at the Sannin, rolling his eyes at the antics.

"Yeah. All gambling houses have yellow lanterns out front. Most are mahjong, cho-han or hanafuda and most are technically illegal."

"If people know they're illegal-" Naruto interrupted, brows furrowed.

Jiraiya waved a hand at him. "They draw in a lot of cash for the city and since the yakuza branches here know that any hostility towards the civilian population will have shinobi coming down on them, they're relatively benign and low-key. They can only operate as long as the civilians don't report them, and the civilians will report them if they're being threatened or cheated out of their winnings."

"And we're just letting this go on?" Sakura asked, more curious than concerned.

"There are factions of Yakuza backed by independent shinobi that are a much greater menace than these guys. We know the ins and outs of this particular city's branch, and they're no threat." Jiraiya stuck his pipe into a pocket, patted dirt off his pants and then made the signs for a summoning. With a quiet poof of smoke, three small toads appeared on the ground before him. "Take them with you. If you find her, tell them and they'll pass the message along."

They picked up the toads, thought Sasuke looked especially disgusted by the little orange one that hopped into his hand. Sakura had to admit that they were rather… slimy. Like they'd jumped directly out of a pond.

"We meet here again in 90 minutes if none of us have found her," Jiraiya said and then disappeared in a swirl of shunshin.

"What is it with jounin and disappearing like that without saying goodbye?" Naruto muttered. Sasuke stalked out of the alley with another eye-roll. Sakura went next, and since Sasuke had disappeared in the crowds to the right, she turned left and began walking.

She wandered in and out of various establishments, keeping her eyes peeled for lanterns, getting lost in the colors and sounds. Wishing briefly that she could have come here on a day off, she took a second to wonder if she could buy a cheap snack from one of the stands or if that was against some rule that governed the spending of mission funds. 'Though that's definitely what Naruto would be doing. Not that he's the best example of a disciple of the shinobi rules…'

"Hello there, ninja-san!" greeted a man in hakama, waving to her from underneath a bright yellow paper lantern. The windows were painted over and large signs proclaimed Everything from Koi-Koi to Richi Mahjong! in bright red letters.

"Hi," said Sakura and fingered the purse of disposable cash they'd been handed by Jiraiya when they left Konoha. 'I can't just ask if they've seen Tsunade… even by description. That'll raise questions.'

The man bowed lightly as she came closer, and straightened with a smile. "Would you be interested in a game of hanafuda?"

"Perhaps. How many players are currently engaged?" asked Sakura carefully, stalling a little to consider her options.

"Right now? Six."

Sakura tried her hand at looking bashful, not entirely sure if she was succeeding or not when the man merely smiled wider. "Um, I'm not sure I want to play with a roomful of men…" she said, taking half a step closer to the door like she was interested despite herself.

The man clucked his tongue and winked. "Oh, half the players are women! Two of them are your own age and the third is a shinobi like yourself."

"Really?" Sakura asked, mentally crossing out two of the three in her mind. "A Konoha shinobi?"

"Of course, ninja-san. We don't allow foreign ninja into our houses! It's a point of pride to deal only with domestic clientele." He nodded sharply, eyes like an eager businessman closing a deal. "She's a very pleasant woman with a little pet pig."

'A pet pig? That medic who examined me after the fight with Zabuza had a pig, didn't she?' Sakura thought slowly, though she was unsure of how much it mattered whether the woman was actually the same person or not. She was looking for Tsunade, not some random other medic. 'But perhaps she can give me a few pointers, if the Sannin really is around? The shinobi gossip mill is usually quite fast, so if any other shinobi in the area has seen her, that should have spread by now…'

"Alright," said Sakura. "I want in."

"Good choice," said the man with another wide smile, opening the door for her with a grandiose flourish.

"How much is the buy-in?" Sakura asked as they headed down a narrow corridor lined with a plush red carpet. The wallpaper was yellow with age but otherwise unstained.

"Merely 10,000 ryo, ninja-san." He gave her a smooth, well-lubricated glance that made Sakura think he agreed that there was nothing "merely" about that sum.

But Sakura nodded. 'Half of what I have… let's hope this pays off.'

They passed a handful of scantily-clad people on the way, all resting lazily in plush couches. Two women sat opposite two men, deep in tipsy conversation, and Sakura took careful note of the group's lack of visible weapons and musculature.

"…Ah, ninja-san, we have age limits for those particular services."

"What? Oh. That's alright, I was just looking." Sakura took another glance, though not for the reason her guide probably assumed. 'I wouldn't have pegged those four for prostitutes, honestly. They're a little too clean for this place.'

He knocked on a nondescript door and waited for a deep male voice to call out to him before opening and politely waving her through. There were slippers by the threshold, and she stepped into them without being prompted.

The room they entered was spacious, but with all the windows covered by heavy curtains it was lent a rather shady atmosphere. The tatami mats muted her steps as she approached the two short rows of people engaged in the game.

Sakura spotted the clothed pig team seven had encountered after their fight with Zabuza, before noticing the back of one vaguely familiar brunette dressed in non-descript clothing.

"A new player! How exciting!" said the woman Sakura assumed was the dealer, her painted nails scraping over each card as she gathered them into hands. What little was visible of her skin in the gap of her open kimono was heavily tattooed. "My name is Taika. Please have a seat."

"…Thank you," said Sakura, and copying the other players, she folded her knees into a proper seiza on the zabuton next to the medic. 'What was her name, again? Something like Shizu or Shime, I think… Shizune?'

From the corner of her eye, Sakura saw the other Konoha-nin notice and recognize her. Shizune's brown hair was a tangled mess in a bun atop her head and the look she threw Sakura was resigned, like she'd expected to encounter another shinobi and was waiting for something bad to happen now that she had. Sakura wasn't sure what to make of the reaction, and gave little outward sign that she had even noticed the other kunoichi.

Listening half-heartedly to the dealer's instructions, Sakura signed a very discrete danger? to Shizune and waited for her to sign negative before allowing her shoulders to relax.

The game began and Sakura kept up mainly by observing the other players, who, as they were all somewhat tipsy civilians, had rather noticeable tells. A few minutes into the game she signed important Konoha medic woman? to Shizune and watched as the older woman slouched down, mouth tightening. She took several more hands to answer, and when she finally did, it was with a long-suffering look in her eyes. Her fingers moved into alcohol stupid defeat hurt and Sakura wasn't quite sure what to make of that. She'd signed emotional-hurt and not injury-hurt, the sign for which was used when shinobi wanted to convey severe emotional reactions to bad missions.

Just as Jiraiya's little toad began to wriggle up along her torso, Shizune also signed, traitor snake and Sakura almost crushed the cards fanned out in her hand. Her heart leapt into her throat and her pulse beat such a harsh tattoo into her neck that she thought she might pass out.

"Young human, one of my brothers is with Tsunade-hime now," the tiny toad croaked quietly into her ear, hidden from view by the wide collar of her shirt. Sakura nodded absently, murmured something about the game taking too long to the dealer, and then looked pointedly at Shizune before turning to leave. She was proud of how she didn't run, how her legs didn't shake, how she held her head high and kept her expression placid. 'Traitor snake.' Where? Where? Shizune had signed no danger, so did that mean the man was already gone?

She heard the medic make her excuses and rise to follow. The little toad guided them to a hotel nearby and Sakura withdrew a kunai when she saw the giant crater in one of its walls, her fingers tensing in anticipation. She wasn't strong enough yet, but if he was here, then… she wanted to throw herself against him, tear him to pieces. See if her magic could devour him. It was already responding to her sudden mood-swing: waking up and stretching out without her actually having called on it.

Shizune stopped her from moving further with a hand on her shoulder. "Don't. It's not a fight, she's just angry."

Sakura blinked herself out of her increasingly vicious thoughts. 'What? Who?' "…Tsunade?"

"Yes. My mentor is quite temperamental," Shizune said with a sigh that was less irritated and more fondly amused.

With some difficulty, Sakura pulled herself out of the violent headspace she'd been settling herself into. Her magic was still right there, cold as always, and she had to wrestle her fury down to ease the chill from her head. Orochimaru obviously wasn't here, so she had to reign herself in.

Sakura breathed out in one long exhale. "Your mentor destroys buildings when she's angry?"

"We pay for the damages, you know," said Shizune, glancing at her sideways, as though reading her thoughts in the expression on her face. "…Eventually, anyway."

"Adults shouldn't be throwing temper tantrums," Sakura muttered, looking up at the hole. It was in the second floor, from what she could tell, and large enough to fit four people standing side by side. She fed chakra to her legs and bent her knees to jump.

"Temper tantrums are something shinobi are particularly adept at," Shizune said, absently straightening her shirt before following Sakura up and in.

Sakura almost crashed into Naruto, who was standing in front of the hole just out of view from the outside. He turned around, blond brows drawn into an expression of jittery anger, like he needed a spar with Sasuke to get rid of some unnamed frustration he couldn't do anything with.

"Naruto?"

"Sakura, thank fuck you're here."

"Where is Tsunade?" Sakura asked, glancing around the room. It was mostly unharmed, though there was a conspicuous set of indents in the floor from where a table had probably been standing before Tsunade got angry. 'She's supposed to be one of the strongest people alive, I think I remember hearing. So I guess she was holding back?'

"That asshole ran away when the old pervert showed up, like some coward," Naruto all but spat, his right hand closing into a fist. "Isn't she supposed to be one of Konoha's greatest shinobi? She's owes like half the gambling houses in the whole country money!"

"She's not a coward," said Shizune tightly and Naruto opened his mouth, took a long look at her, and then held back whatever else he'd been meaning to say. With such obvious difficulty that Sakura had to wonder if the Sannin had personally offended him somehow.

"So she's with Jiraiya?" she asked, wondering if it was worth it to ask what they'd argued about that had made her angry enough to put a hole in the wall and then run away. If it had anything to do with their former teammate. Sakura made herself breathe out slowly, forced her thoughts to scatter in another direction. What kept accidental magic in check was the ability to reign in even your strongest, most volatile emotions. It wasn't as easy as her first-year Hogwarts textbooks had tried to make it out to be.

"Guess so. Unless she can outrun the perv."

"She is not as fast as she is strong," Shizune murmured. She slapped a hand to the wall and it shivered in place before slowly beginning to regrow, the material bubbling into place like it was liquid rather than solid concrete. It was missing the wallpaper, but other than that there was no sign that a woman with superhuman strength had blown a hole through it not too long ago.

A moment later Sasuke stepped through the door, and Sakura looked up at Naruto's sudden laugh. It shattered the tense atmosphere.

"Shut up, idiot," Sasuke said sharply, brushing bright purple flakes of glitter out of his hair with a scowl.

"Did the drag queens get you?" asked Shizune and the innocent expression on her face was a truly impressive feat.

"They put me on some sort of gold palanquin!" Sasuke said and Sakura was not going to laugh at his aggrieved tone. "One of them was a Konoha shinobi," he added, like he couldn't believe it even as he was telling them.

"They say shinobi always have the most interesting hobbies," Sakura said and tried to sound sage-like. Sasuke peered at her like he thought she might be making fun, which she kind of was, and like he wasn't sure why the rest of his team didn't seem particularly outraged. He finally muttered something uncomplimentary and allowed the toad on his shoulder to jump off and onto the back of a nearby chair.

Raised voices from outside the door interrupted their conversation, and Sakura recognized Jiraiya's voice, though it was unusually serious. He murmured something she couldn't make out and a woman said something in return, her voice rising to a harsh shout as she spoke.

"- so don't even try to tell me it isn't blackmail, Jiraiya!"

The door opened and Jiraiya stepped through first, his expression set in a faint grimace. But at least he didn't look like he'd recently been fighting a traitorous Sannin.

"Shizune-chan," he greeted with a wave, but before he could do more than grin at her, a tall blond woman stepped in through the door. She slammed it closed behind her and deliberately pushed a sharp elbow into Jiraiya's side as she passed, before dropping herself down in one of the large armchairs.

"The rest of the brat brigade, all gathered together. How wonderful!" she said, her full lips set in a snarl. Naruto glared at her like he wanted to try his hand at punching her.

'So this is Tsunade…' Sakura thought. She was a beautiful woman. Or at least her Genjutsu was. Who knew what she really looked like under all that illusion? 'I know she's supposed to be in her fifties, like Jiraiya, but…' She didn't look a day over thirty, if that.

"What have you agreed on?" Shizune asked carefully, and Sakura thought she might be trying to manage her mentor's temper.

Tsunade's hand folded on a knee and she looked side-ways at Jiraiya, her eyes spitting knives. "We haven't agreed on anything. He's not giving me much of a choice."

"Huh? Weren't you just going on and on and on about how you're never gonna return to Konoha no matter what?" asked Naruto. Tsunade snorted inelegantly, kicking off her sandals and leaning back in her seat. Sakura thought vaguely that she looked like one of those yakuza dealers and wondered if that was on purpose.

"I wish I never had to see the damn village again, but as I said, my former teammate isn't really giving me a choice." Her hazel eyes slid to Shizune and her lips twitched downwards. "I'm being formally recalled to the village."

Shizune sighed, but didn't look very surprised. Her lack of reaction seemed to annoy Tsunade, who dug around in one of the wide sleeves of her haori and produced a ceramic bottle. Taking a swig of its contents, she stared down Jiraiya. There was a hard look in her eyes. "I'll never forgive you for this."

Jiraiya's face seemed to age at those words, but he nodded without hesitation. "I know, Tsunade-hime."

"What's a formal recall?" Sakura heard Naruto mutter to Sasuke, who grunted but actually answered the question. Sakura tuned them out, because she already knew very well what a formal recall was. What a threat it could be, at least to someone like Tsunade.

Anyone who refused a formal recall was considered a missing-nin of the highest order and had Konoha's hunter-nin set upon them. Tsunade was one of the best shinobi alive, or so Konoha's people said, but even she wouldn't necessarily be able to stand toe to toe with a whole squad of Konoha's best hunters. 'From what I've heard, sometimes former ANBU members who weren't part of that unit are called upon to perform hunter-nin duties.' And Kakashi was a former member of ANBU, and he was also considered to be one of the best Konoha had to offer. 'They're really forcing her back,' Sakura thought and wasn't sure what she felt about that. Didn't they need her to come back willingly? How else could they be sure she would actually be motivated to do her best as a medic?

And personally, Sakura wasn't sure what to think about the woman whose dereliction of duty had put her badly injured father in the grave. 'It's not like she would definitely have saved his life,' Sakura tried to think. 'He was badly injured. His brains were coming out of his head, for Merlin's sake.' But Tsunade was famous for medical miracles. She was known for saving code-black patients, those who were so close to the other side only divine intervention could possibly bring them back. Divine intervention, or Senju Tsunade.

Tsunade and Jiraiya bickered back and forth. Or rather, Tsunade did her best to provoke Jiraiya, but despite a throbbing vein in his forehead he managed to stay civil.

Shizune sidled closer to Sakura. "How is your head?"

With a jolt of surprised realization, Sakura wondered if that was how Kakashi had first become suspicious of something being off about her. Had Shizune noticed something when he examined her that time, what felt like ages and ages ago? 'Wait, so would that mean that chakra-powered techniques can detect magic?'

She couldn't ask, of course. Shizune might not know what it was she'd noticed, if she indeed had noticed something. "Fine, thank you."

"Oh, yeah! You're that medic lady from before!" said Naruto and peered up at her curiously. "What are you doing with someone like her?"

"Oi, brat!" Tsunade barked, straightening in her armchair with an angry grimace. "I'm the best goddamn medic on the planet. People used to line up to be taught by me!"

Naruto looked her over with a conspicuously neutral glance. "So what? If you're not loyal to Konoha, none of that matters."

Tsunade drew back like she'd been slapped. "How dare you?" she said quietly. "You brat, you have no idea-" and waves of indistinct killing intent began to fill the room, lapping against them like a tide.

Beads of sweat formed on Naruto's brow, but he tilted his chin up. It took Sakura a moment to recognize that gesture as something Sasuke usually did when he was being challenged. Tsunade's eyes narrowed to slits and she heaved herself out of the armchair. Jiraiya seemed half a second away from getting into defensive position in front of team seven, though Tsunade didn't seem inclined to come any closer to them than she already was.

She began speaking, still in that quiet, furious tone of voice. "I recognize that you're pissy and resentful because an adult had the temerity to disagree with your lofty ambitions, but if you ever accuse me of disloyalty again-" Here she leaned forward, and her beautiful face twisted into something beastly and menacing. "- I will put you in the dirt. Permanently."

Sakura and Sasuke placed themselves in positions to flank Naruto, and while Sakura didn't think this would come to a head with Jiraiya in the room, it was the principle of the thing. 'All of one and one for all, as the three musketeers would have put it.' She tried to ignore the way her teeth wanted to click together at the feeling of oncoming doom filling the room. It wasn't a tide, it was a tsunami.

"So you are coming back, then? For real?" Naruto asked and Sakura saw more beads of sweat roll down the nape of his neck. She wasn't sure if she wanted to encourage him or slap his mouth shut.

Tsunade huffed, and her killing intent faded. "I already said I would."

"…Yeah, but are you coming back to help?" Naruto asked, shoulders sagging with the release of tension.

"I don't have much of a say in the matter." She took another look at him and then rolled her eyes. "I'm not going to come back and wreak some horrible revenge on Konoha for dragging me back. I just won't be happy about it."

She turned to look at Jiraiya again. "You do realize that I expect certain concessions from the Hokage, I hope."

"Yes, princess. We figured that out." He smiled at her and she smiled back just a little. Suddenly Sakura could see them as children, as teenagers, as teammates in one of the most well-known teams on the planet. Together with…

"Ugh, get a room," Naruto muttered, folding his arms over his chest.

Tsunade laughed and it was a sound that didn't quite fit her young face. Grating and loud, but genuine. "You have just as many perverted fantasies as my idiot teammate, blondie."

'She's… mercurial,' Sakura thought and wasn't sure what to make of that. There were worse personal flaws, she supposed. 'Like racking up huge amounts of debt via gambling.'

"We should celebrate," Jiraiya said, smiling and eyeing her bottle. Sakura held back a sigh and traded a glance with Sasuke, who looked deeply unamused.

Tsunade tilted her head, hand on one curvy hip. The mirth faded out of her expression. "There's nothing to celebrate. I'm not coming back willingly, just because I'm not making you fight harder for my return."

"Come on, Tsunade-hime. For old time's sake?" Jiraiya wheedled and again Tsunade smiled that tiny smile.

She cracked her neck and after a few seconds thoughts, relented. "…Fine. But you're paying." She all but sashayed to the door, Jiraiya hot on her heels like an eager puppy.

"Uh, hello?" Naruto said, staring incredulously after them. "What about us? And the village?"

"Go do whatever genin teams do for a few hours. But no threesomes, you're too young for that kind of mid-mission fun! I'll be back for you later-" he cut himself off by closing the door.

"All the Sannin are completely irresponsible," Naruto said, sounding amazed, like he was having an epiphany. "Completely."

Shizune looked amused. "They're really not, you know. They just act that way."

Naruto waved a hand at her. "Same thing, pretty much."

Shizune sighed, but didn't actually disagree. "I should probably go after them and make sure Tsunade doesn't drink the whole bar. Again. Sometimes her amplified alcohol-resistance truly infuriates me." She sighed, nodding good-bye and picked up her pig, walking out the door with distinctly a distinctly unenthusiastic gait.

When the door closed behind her again, Sakura looked at her boys. "So what do we do until they return? I'm not eager to gamble again."

"We could visit the festival," said Sasuke noncommittally, and Naruto's eyes grew comically large.

"You want to visit the festival? It has people and bright lights and sounds and junk food, you know!" He pointed at their dark-haired teammate as if to emphasize his words and perhaps accuse him of being an imposter. "And you still have glitter in your hair!"

Sasuke threw him a sour glance. "I know, and I don't want to visit for those exact reasons. But you two do."

Naruto blinked and there was something quietly happy in his expression for a second, before he decided to plaster on a big grin and make ridiculous kissing noises in Sasuke's direction. "You're so sweet, Sasuke-kun!"

Sakura found herself smiling at him as well, and perhaps that wasn't the best thing she could have done. Sasuke, looking put-upon and like he regretted opening his mouth at all, took a long look at them both and then vaulted out a window.

"Come on, Sakura! We can't let the bastard get out of doing festivally things!" Naruto completely unnecessarily grabbed her by the arm, and together they threw themselves out after Sasuke.


A/N: This story is very faaaar from being abandoned, as some of you have PM'd me to ask. But I'm not going to be updating as regularly as I used to, because IRL stuff. I do however have a not-insignificant portion of the next chapter already written. So never fear! I still thoroughly enjoy writing this story.

So, what did you think of the hunt for Tsunade? Sakura doesn't much like her, but Tsunade is one of my favorite Naruto characters. Tell me all your thoughts!

As always, thanks to Against-The-Current for her help!