Thanks for reading, and apologies for the mistakes that I'm sure to have left.
This story is set in an Alternate Universe.
I do not owe Naruto.
"All right, let's head to Konoha!"
"What!? I haven't eaten yet!"
The whiny protest was immediate and Tsunade sighed. She should have seen it coming – the boy always seemed to have an excuse to be a loud-mouthed, whining brat. But the twerp did fully merit some food after the ordeal they had just been through.
A short while later, the four people finally set out to Konoha –munching hungrily and bouncing ahead of the group, Naruto opening the lead while Tsunade, Jiraiya and Shizune followed behind.
Tsunade smiled softly as she watched the energetic boy. 'Nawaki, Dan…There is someone that has inherited your dreams…It's this boy…Naruto…'
Tsunade took a deep, determined breath, making a promise to herself that she would do all in her capacity to help the boy's dream come true. She had found the will to live and forge ahead again.
"I would like to make a short detour," Tsunade announced barely half a day travel later, when the sun was at its zenith.
Jiraiya raised an eyebrow, then humped. "Yeah…it's indeed the best time to pay a visit, as the future Hokage."
"And it's only fair that he's warned," Tsunade said in a low voice for Jiraiya's ear only. "The younger one will surely be in more danger, now we know about Orochimaru's aim."
"Knowing him, I'm sure he is already aware on what's going on," Jiraiya murmured back.
"Where are we going now?" Naruto, curious and interested to explore yet another place, interrupted the two adults.
"Tsunade sama?" Shizune was curious too.
"It's a town close by where there's someone important I need to visit and you will wait for me at the gates," Tsunade told Naruto. She did not want to bring attention to the small boy – not in this place where there was the risk that he could be recognised.
As she expected, Naruto's protests did not delay to come. "Why do you get to explore alone? I want to go too_"
Tsunade flicked him gently on the forehead, cutting the tirade short. "I don't intend to take long; it'll be much quicker if I go alone."
"Another old hag like you, I bet," Naruto grumbled petulantly, rubbing his forehead.
"There's a nice stream at the town's entrance, perfect for a cool dip. We can wait for Tsunade over there," Jiraiya placated his very young soon to be apprentice. He eyed the boy's state and clothes. "You could do with a good wash."
Indeed, Naruto's orange garbs, apart from being almost in tatters, were caked with mud, as much as his blond hair. They had been in a hurry to set out for Konoha as soon as their fight with Orochimaru and Kabuto had been over, after all.
"What's this place anyway?" Naruto asked curiously a short while later, looking at the quite big agglomeration of tall buildings looming ahead as he and Jiraiya stopped by the stream snaking the outskirt of the town as planned, while Tsunade and Shizune had set off.
"It's a civilian town of Fire Country. Many Konoha residents came to settle down here after Konoha was almost destroyed years ago," Jiraiya explained.
"Err? Leaving Konoha…?" Naruto frowned. He had difficulty in comprehending why people would want to permanently leave his beloved Konoha for another place. However much he himself was hated and rejected by the villagers, however lonely he was with no friends of his age, the only one without a proper genin team and the sole student of Kakashi sensei, there was no place that he loved more on this earth than his dear Konoha. He lived only for the will to be one day acknowledged by the people of Konoha; to become Hokage who would cherish and protect his beloved village.
Easily reading Naruto's expression, Jiraiya ruffled the boy's hair. "Don't worry your head about it. Those who left had to think about their family first. I'll take a look around while you bathe. Don't wander away." With that, the sannin left.
The sun was blaringly hot, the water looking heavenly cool, the spot where they had stopped a secluded lush green clearing enclosed by tall trees and Naruto did not need to be told twice; in seconds he had shredded his clothes off and was in the water.
Totally devoid of any clothing, Naruto yawned lethargically, the cool shade of the big leafy bush taking off the bite of the peak summer sun and the warm air pleasant on his bare skin. He had finished bathing a while ago, his torn clothes washed and now hanging to dry from the branches of a nearby tree. Neither Jiraiya nor the two women had returned yet. The lush bush in whose midst he rested provided enough sheltering privacy, so he ran no risk of being immediately discovered if ever anyone would come around. So a small nap wouldn't hurt, though the young boy.
Barely a few minutes later though, he was jerked off his sleepy stupor by a voice – clearly female - and as he struggled his drowsy senses to listen carefully, not Tsunade's or Shizune's. And was quite close, too. Sleep startled away, Naruto hurriedly crouched in a sitting position, nervously judging the position of the person by the direction of the source of the voice. He did not want to caught stark naked as he was, and certainly not by any females! Carefully crawling on his knees, he edged closer to the outer edge of the bush and peered through the thick leaves.
Through the green foliage, he could glimpse one person crouching on the grassy ground, merely a few meters away, back towards him. A quite young girl, judging by her size. And she looked to be alone.
Alone, yet talking? Naruto frowned, wondering why she was talking to herself. Carefully, he inched his face further forward to have a better look. And as he got to see her more clearly, his attention was arrested.
Her hair was...pink.
Long, flowing pink hair, reaching down her back in a glorious, lustrous silky cascade. He stared in awe, never having seen such unusual, beautiful hair in his short twelve years. He must have taken a loud breath in or something, enough to make some noise, because the girl swerved around sharply.
Naruto froze. He hoped for dear life that the foliage was dense enough to hide him, specially his blond hair. He waited, breath bated, mind racing about how he would get out of this sticky situation of his stark nakedness and peeping activity. This was so much like what perverted Jiraiya did, not him, Naruto!
But even as his heart hammered in his chest anxiously, he stared. And stared. She was so pretty.
She had green eyes – dazzling bright green eyes. And a large, charming forehead.
Making him want to kiss it.
Naruto felt his breath stuck in his throat.
The twelve year old boy felt a strange fluttering in his heart.
The girl, who looked to be around the same age as himself, looked around some more, her eyes fearfully scanning past his bush but not stopping, then she turned back to her business again. Naruto slowly released the breath that he had been holding. It seemed that he was not caught – at least not yet. The thick bush had done its work hiding him and from her vintage point, the girl had not seen his drying clothes which were around a bend.
So much ensnared was he by the pretty girl that at first Naruto failed to notice the dog; only when she resumed conversing did he realise that she was, in fact, talking to a brown dog. She had shifted when turning around, and now he could see the dirty, ragged and frail brown animal. Straining his ears, Naruto tried to make out her faint words.
"Shh…it's all right…. don't worry, I'll not hurt you." There was a note of desperation in her voice. The dog whimpered and cowered away from her advancing hand, at the same time looking towards Naruto's bush.
He must have sniffed my scent, thought Naruto, but the girl did not seem to realise that, too intent in convincing the dog to let her touch it. Naruto watched on curiously. Now that he looked closely, the dog seemed to be wounded on its flank – the dark, oozing fluid on the dirty brown fur was blood. Feeling worried by now, the boy listened more intently, brow furrowed.
"It's okay. Let me heal you," the girl was saying soothingly.
So she was trying to help out the visibly reluctant dog…Naruto wondered whether he should call out and make his presence known – maybe he could help her? But then he remembered his naked state and groaned inwardly. It was impossible for him to sneak to his clothes without her seeing him. What could he do?
"What's going on here?" Tsunade's sudden voice cut through his inner debate. The sannin appeared from nowhere and walked to the young girl, throwing an intrigued glance towards Naruto's bush on the way as she sensed the young boy's presence.
The girl had stopped talking and knelt defensively in front of the dog, staring up at Tsunade, her nervousness very much visible at this sudden appearance. "He…he's hurt," she stuttered. "I want to help him..."
Tsunade looked suspiciously at the young girl, noting her protective stance on front of the animal, then looked closely at the drooling mouth of the trembling dog, the hazed eyes _ and immediately grabbed the girl's arm and pulled her away. "Stay away from him!" the sannin said sharply. So sharply that even Naruto was startled.
"Hey, let go of me!" the girl cried out, snatching her arm back and looking defiantly at Tsunade. "Can't you see how hurt he is and needs help! I'll_"
"This dog has rabid! He's dangerous and you should not touch him!"
"Stop treating him like a monster!" The girl shouted angrily, eyes flashing. "It's not his fault that he's ill! Why should it be hated and mistreated so much for something which he is not_" her voice broke and she crouched back besides the dog, who seemed to be getting weaker by the seconds and had now laid down, body limp and almost lifeless, looking pitifully at the girl. "_for something he is not responsible for!"
Tsunade had stilled in surprise at the girl's specific words.
"He's always being beaten by everyone because of his illness, and now look at his state," the girl chocked, fiercely fisting away the tears which had started to fall from her eyes. Advancing her hand over the wound of the now still and unresisting animal, she said, "It's all right, I won't hurt you."
Recovering, Tsunade was about to caution the girl again, when she stopped and stared down in astonishment at the girl's hands. A faint, flickering green light surrounded her small, open palms.
Healing chakra! Was this girl a shinobi?
"Where did you learn that?" Tsunade demanded, instantly on alert.
The girl looked up fearfully at Tsunade. "Tell me, girl," Tsunade urged authoritatively when it seemed that the girl would not reply.
The sharp commanding tone seemed to intimidate the girl. "I…I saw my grandmother using this on my father when he was hurt by an accident," she replied reluctantly. "Please don't tell anyone about it," she hurriedly pleaded. "I'll be in trouble…I'm not supposed to use such type of weird techniques. My parents have strictly forbidden me…" She did not finish her sentence and looked down at the dog miserably. "And anyway, I can't use it well…I'm not talented."
Tsunade was frowning heavily by now. "What's your name?" As far as Tsunade knew, it was mostly civilians who moved from Konoha to this village – the two last Uchihas being the only active shinobis having taken residence here.
The girl hesitated. "Haruno Sakura…" she finally murmured.
Tsunade's frown cleared. Ah…Haruno. She remembered the elderly Haruno woman, who must be the grandmother the girl was talking about. She used to work at Konoha's hospital way back as a lower level medic nurse, and the only son had not inherited any shinobi trait and had lived as a civilian. The family was among those who left Konoha after the Kyuubi attack, and Tsunade remembered that they had a four months old baby girl.
Sensing that she was not going to be stopped again, Sakura resumed her attempts on the dog. Tsunade watched as the young girl desperately hovered her faintly chakra swarmed palms over the dog's gaping wound, visibly trying hard to summon more chakra in her hands. So it seemed that this girl had inherited her grandmother's shinobi ability, however sparse it had been. And she achieved this much by merely observing her grandmother?
Feeling almost compelled by the girl's distress, Tsunade crouched down. "Here, let me." It took only a few seconds for the deep gash to close under the expert hands of the sannin, and a few more to completely heal the dog's ailment.
"You…You…" the girl stammered, eyes huge as saucers darting from the now perfectly closed gash to Tsunade. "You can use this technique too! You are a healer!"
"And you did it so quickly! So…so perfectly!" The young girl stared at the woman with an unabashed admiration and reverence. "You're not from this village." It was more an affirmation than a question.
Tsunade nodded in agreement.
Sakura suddenly bent low and bowed her head. "Please, I beg you, teach me! Please …teach me healing techniques!"
Taken short by the turn of things, Tsunade frowned impatiently. "I cannot do that, girl! I'm just passing by this village. Furthermore, you have had no prior shinobi studies and medic studies are very hard and take years to learn."
The girl looked imploringly at Tsunade. "Just teach some simple things…I don't want to be useless anymore. I don't want to be weak… annoying…"
Voice fading off, the young face turned dispirited, shoulders slumping and the green eyes darkening with what Tsunade read as insecurity. Those words – someone must have said those hurting words to her.
The next instant, though, her spine straightened and unwavering, intense determination burned in the green eyes. "I will work very hard, I promise you! I will give my all."
Tsunade felt a growing interest for the girl. So young yet with such a mixture of complex facets. Fierce protectiveness of her ideals and the weak animal at the risk of her own person, vulnerability and insecurity over what had been obviously some bullying words and now such strong determination to prove her worth.
But however touching the girl's pleas were, the request was problematic; Tsunade's free wandering days were over, now going to be grounded as the Hokage in Konoha, and from the brief information the girl had volunteered, it was clear that her parents would not let her go to Konoha.
"All I want is to be acknowledged."
In his bush, Naruto's eyes widened. The girl's words reflected what had always been in his heart.
Won over, Tsunade sighed. "I can spare only a short hour, I guess," she relented. Sakura's face immediately brightened so much that Tsunade felt the need to hastily warn her, "Don't get your hopes so high. I'll just explain the start basics to you_,"
"I'm thankful for any minutes you can spare me!" the girl cut her eagerly.
So, the next hour which stretched into two, Tsunade set out to teach the basics of healing techniques to the reverently listening and, to Tsunade's recognition, highly intelligent girl while naked Naruto had no choice but to stay put in his bush, intently following the exchange, and Jiraiya and Shizune, who had by then returned too, remaining unseen some distance away, not wanting to break this strange tutoring session.
"It twitched!" The overjoyed, victorious squeal rang out in the clearing, jerking Jiraiya from his short slumber.
Tsunade was thoroughly impressed. She had genuinely not believed that the girl – a civilian - would manage to achieve so much in just a mere two hours. True, the fish on which they had been practising was still very much dead; but even this slight of a twitch in such a short time was a huge feat. With such a sharp, keen intelligence, making her grasp concepts quickly and a rare, excellent chakra control, the girl's potential was astounding; had she been in the appropriate environment and proper shinobi studies, she would have become an excellent shinobi, most probably an excellent medic-nin, thought Tsunade.
But things were not always as one wished and it was with genuine regret that Tsunade had to end the tutoring session. It was getting late and they had to set off to Konoha. "I have to leave now," she told the girl.
The young face showed sadness, but her smile was bright with gratitude as she bowed her head in respect. "Thank you so much… shishou."
Shishou…Tsunade felt a warm rush at the word.
"I'll work very hard on what you have taught me today, and I promise you that I will revive the fish." The green eyes glowed with such a fierce will and Tsunade felt something tugged at her heart.
Acting on an impulse which she could not explain, Tsunade came to a sudden decision. She was breaking hundreds of rules of secrecy by doing so, not to mention the wrath of the elders of they ever found that that she was taking such liberties for a mere civilian, but she was going to be the Hokage and she had to acknowledge the Will of Fire; she could not ignore this girl's will.
Rapidly forming some hand seals, the sannin did an invocating jutsu and a large rolled scroll popped into appearance. "This is my personal work on medical techniques. I'll leave it with you. Study them and try to produce the techniques," she told the gaping young girl. "Give me your hand."
Sakura winced in pain as Tsunade pricked her thumb but did not object, realising that what was happening was of huge importance. She wordlessly obeyed with increasing curiosity as Tsunade made her signed her name on the scroll with her bloodied fingers.
"This is a security seal; now, you will be the only one able to use this medical scroll. Follow my hand seals to unlock each medical jutsu explained in here." The young girl carefully watched and memorised the seals that Tsunade taught her. "It'll be hard work," Tsunade said, "doing this on your own." If not totally impossible, thought the woman.
But the young girl, looking very determined, clutched the scroll to her heart. "I'll work hard! I promise," she said earnestly. "I won't let your faith in me down! Thank you so much!"
"Go now, Haruno Sakura," Tsunade bade finally, and watched the girl disappear, the scroll hidden preciously underneath her clothes.
"That was a true leap of faith," Jiraiya remarked as he walked to Tsunade's side, throwing a bundle of new clothes in Naruto's thick bush as he passed by it.
Tsunade sighed. "It's not much, just some new basics I worked on. And it's not as if it's guaranteed that she'll make it. Medical studies are very hard, and near to impossible without any proper monitoring."
"Impossible?" Jiraiya chuckled. "Don't forget you always lose at bets, Tsunade-hime."
Tsunade smirked. Indeed, she did always lose at bets, as a little twelve year old boy had recently proved to her; thus her decision to make the same act of blind faith on the girl. Her smirk turned whimsical. The next generation was proving to be very much worthy, with the promise to surpass the previous one.
"Let's go home," she said as Naruto hurriedly stumbled out of the bush, still zipping up his new - orange once more - sweatshirt.
Staring longingly at the direction in which the pretty girl had disappeared into, the young boy murmured in dismay, "She's already gone." There was so little hope that he would ever get to see her again.
"It's late…we need to set out immediately to make it to Konoha in three days," Tsunade reminded him, and Naruto regretfully turned to follow her.
"So, how did the meeting go?" Jiraiya asked quietly as the four set off again.
Tsunade sighed. "Itachi swears to serve Konoha when needed, but just as expected, has refused to his young brother come to Konoha."
Jiraiya nodded. "Can't blame him, huh? What he had to do for the village's sake…and what does the younger one do?"
"Sasuke. He goes to the civilian school and Itachi trains him in ninja techniques at home. And he is one arrogant, pompous know-it-all brat."
"Ah. Yeah, Kakashi said as much," Jiraiya chuckled.
"Yes, Kakashi and Naruto came across the two brothers while in a mission in Wave country a few months back. Apparently Naruto and Sasuke took off very badly."
"Ha. Not surprising!"
"But he also saved Naruto from serious harm, putting his own life in line to protect him."
Tsunade raised her eyebrow at this. "Oh."
"And according to Kakashi, since then Naruto has been fired to work harder."
After a minute of thoughtful silence, Tsunade murmured, "They would have been in the same class…"
Jiraiya smiled. "Yeah, and your pink haired temporary student, too."
"And who knows, maybe they would have been in the same team."
Simultaneously, both sannin had the same thoughts. Sakura, with the signs of medical talent, Naruto, with the frog summoning talent, and Sasuke, to whom Orochimaru was showing such a big interest. The continuation of their own legendary team…
The what if was indeed mind-blowing.
Jiraiya slanted an eye at his young student. The brat had been uncannily quiet since they had set out from the town. Tsunade followed his eyes and they both smirked knowingly. Young hearts…
Oblivious of the knowing eyes of the adults, Naruto trudged ahead, his heart fluttering warmly, his thoughts full of pink hair and green, strong willed eyes and large, charming, kissable forehead.
As said, the story will be in an alternate universe, but I'll be using many cannon parts throughout the story, tweaking some details, though, such as the corresponding age etc, to suit my story.
It's the longest project I am attempting up till now, having 15 chapter panned out in total, so, wish me luck!