Chapter 18: The Old Town Road

When Sakura awoke it was to a surprising lack of severe aches and pain that usually came with a post thrashing. Well, thrashing may be a strong word for what amounted to just getting gut punched, but getting hit by Tsunade was more or less the same as getting hit by a train. It was easier to just let herself pass out than fight to remain conscious through what was several damaged organs, fractured lower ribs, and internal bleeding.

Seriously. Choo choo, motherfucker.

Here though in the hotel room she found herself in, she felt very healthy and put together in a way that only came from masterfully done medical jutsu. She doubted there were many who could tell her sensei's work from others, but after seeing and experiencing it so many times over the years it was like a neon bright signature.

It would be more pleasantly nostalgic if the woman hadn't caused the damage in the first place… or wasn't currently being a massive bitch.

"Ah, you're awake."

Shizune's voice was surprised as she approached, a glowing hand reaching out for a quick diagnostic. Sakura observed the process with interest, drawing a small smile from the older woman.

"Just checking you out," she explained, the glow fading before long. "We didn't expect you to wake for another hour or so."

"Did you heal me?"

"No, that was Tsunade-sama." Shizune offered a hand and Sakura took it, getting to her feet. "You weren't so bad that I couldn't handle it, but she felt guilty for hitting you so hard."

Sakura regarded Shizune flatly.


The woman held her gaze for a second before deflating a bit and shaking her head.

"No, sorry, she just wanted it done faster and didn't want to wait for you to recover after," she amended.

Yeah, that sounds more accurate.

"It's fine, I feel great. Where is everyone?"

"At the bar off the lobby. We've already checked out but they were kind enough to let us use the room until you woke up." A tilt of Sakura's head with a skeptically raised eyebrow had the kunoichi sighing lightly once more. "Yes, that's not entirely accurate. No, I do not want to explain it. It's mid morning and we've got ground to cover. Come on."

Sakura couldn't help but chuckle at that. Poor Shizune put up with so much for her sensei.

The two of them made their way to the ground floor where the remaining members of their group were waiting. Tsunade barely gave her a glance before downing whatever was left in her cup and making for the door, leaving a grumbling Jiraiya to pay. Kakashi gave her a signature eye smile and that was about all she got before blonde hair took up most of her vision.

"How are you feeling, Sakura?" asked Naruto with his usual energy. Sasuke joined a moment later, having simply walked to her instead of the half leap the jinchuriki took. She gave them both a beaming smile, flexing a bicep and slapping it lightly with her hand.

"Right as rain! Did you like the fight?"

"Heck yeah!" said Naruto, punching the air to her side. "You should have gone all out on that first hit though, it would have totally blown her away. I wouldn't have lost any money to Kakashi-sensei either," he said as an afterthought.

"You say that like the whole thing with the casino didn't happen yesterday," Sasuke said flatly. To Sakura he continued, "It's good to see you on your feet. Not many people live through being struck by the Slug Sannin."

"I mean she didn't really hit me," Sakura argued as the three of them followed the adults out onto the street. She immediately noticed that they were fairly close to where they came into the village. It was actually kind of amazing that they spent so little time there overall considering what their mission was. "If she really hit me I'd have exploded."

"Ugh, that is not a picture I want to imagine," Naruto said with a grimace. "By the way, is that scary strength thing a medical technique or something? Tsunade-baa can do it obviously. Can Shizune-san?"

Whatever Sakura was going to say was interrupted by something striking her friend just above his hitai-ate, causing him to give a shout of pain and place his hands over the spot.

"I told you not to call me that, brat," Tsunade said, her right hand still raised over her shoulder like she'd just flicked something behind her. "And to answer your question, no, it's not a medic thing."

Sakura's aggravation at her friend being attacked was partially stalled by the fact that the woman actually answered him. She threw Sasuke a confused look who moved a bit closer to speak to her ear.

"Naruto's been talking to her nearly non-stop since your fight yesterday. You know how he is."

Indeed, the Naruto Power of Friendship™ was a formidable force.

Sakura moved a lightly glowing hand past Naruto's and gently laid it upon his head, clearing whatever pain he was feeling within a moment.

"Thanks, Sakura," he said gratefully. "You're really getting good at that."

"All thanks to you constantly getting roughed up during training," she replied, much to the blonde's chagrin. He threw her lopsided smile before doubling his pace and moving level with Tsunade.

"I let you get that one for free, baa-san, out of respect for our shared ancestors."

The woman looked at him sidelong before letting out a long breath.

"You have brain damage. That's the only explanation I can come up with."

Naruto lagged behind for a few steps as he looked up at the blue sky and groaned.

"Why does everyone think I'm stupid?!"


The group of seven humans plus one pig made camp roughly a quarter of the way back to Konoha after many hours of moderately paced travel. Jiraiya evened out the ground with an earth jutsu and Shizune set about unsealing some light camping supplies.

Much to the surprise of Team Seven, they would be spending the next three weeks there, training for the upcoming final round of the chunin exam. To be fair, the surprise was less that they'd be killing time training and more that Tsunade seemed to be fine with it.

"Do what you want."

This was her only response as Jiraiya laid out the plan to the group, shooting Shizune a look who resignedly resealed some of the gear only to unseal a different set, this one having a tent large enough for her and the older woman. Apparently she and Tsunade traveled very comfortably from village to village. Only once camp was set and they all sat down for a meal did the conversation truly continue in full.

"Kakashi-sensei, since we'll spend the rest of the month here, what did you want us to accomplish before we got back?" Sakura asked in curiosity, a sentiment mirrored in the other genins' faces. They all had new things to train and their own personal milestones, but as sensei he surely had some ideas about what to aim for collectively as a team.

"Whatever you decide to do with your time, just remember you're still working with Ma and Pa every day," Jiraiya added in, poking at the pot he was cooking in without looking up.

"Of course," Sakura said with a smile, missing the sharp look Tsunade sent her and Jiraiya in turn. "Well, sensei?"

"To be honest, you're the most ready for the tournament in the team," Kakashi said with a thumbs up. "You've been doing very well coming up with ways to train your control while doing other things. I'm confident you'll feel prepared when the third round starts."

"So I'm…"

"Free to do whatever you want outside of working with Jiraiya."

"Understood," she replied with a salute.

Kakashi turned to Sasuke and Naruto in turn.

"Chidori. Rasengan. You have three weeks to master them." Both boys exchanged brief looks before nodding, noting the soft intakes of breath from the two who were just finding this out. "Not that I think you'll need to use them during the tournament, but I know you'll be responsible one way or another."

"Of course, Sensei," said Sasuke.

Naruto on the other hand turned his attention to the number one skeptic in the group.

"You look like you've got something to say," he shot, much to the expectation of everyone else in the group. His attempts to bait the woman were as obvious as they were frequent. Also she seemed unable to resist rising to them.

"The chidori is one thing but the rasengan? The original technique of the fourth hokage?" Tsunade eyed him skeptically. "Even Jiraiya took time to get it down and he wasn't some snot nosed genin when he did it."

Naruto scoffed, giving her a patronizing look as he shook his head lightly.

"Come watch me train anytime, baa-san, I'll show you what a future Hokage can really do."

There was a snap, and all gathered knew it was the woman's patience.

Leaning slightly she grabbed the front of the blonde genin's shirt.

"Hey, hey don't you think you're taking this a little too seriouslyyyyyyy…!"

The rest of the group watched Naruto disappear over the trees on the other end of their clearing, his voice trailing off to nothing.

"I'll get him later," Tsunade said neutrally, accepting seconds from Shizune.


The next day dawned bright and comfortable for Team Seven and co. Not about to let their eventual destination distract her from her day to day activities on the road, Tsunade looked over medical documents she picked up from the central hospital in Yugakure. While most of the information she had was fairly restricted, her position as one of the top medical minds in the Elemental Nations gave her plenty of leverage when it came to exchanges of knowledge.

She still worked to solve many of the medical issues their time faced, but while her mind and abilities never dulled, being on the road so much afforded her little in the way of large amounts of medical data. She simply didn't have the patient count. Even the times when she and Shizune settled for a few months in a smaller village with some medical issues and set up a temporary clinic it wasn't enough just by size.

So she offered her insight and help when able and they paid her back in turn.

Shizune was next to her, studying a diagram of a human hand and comparing it to the diagnostic she was performing on her own hand. Much of her time was spent studying one thing or another as she grew her medical knowledge. Working as Tsunade's apprentice and traveling as her friend was a dream come true in many ways. Oh sure, there were no illusions about the kind of woman she'd attached herself to, but Shizune liked to think that she had a much better understanding of her sensei than most. Tsunade was a good person at heart and following her would allow her to help make the world a better place.

Sasuke and Naruto were already gone, led off by Kakashi to a different area to work on their respective techniques. This left Sakura patiently waiting next to Jiraiya as he poured over a diagram of a complex looking seal.

"That snake, always making my life more difficult," he grumbled, cutting his thumb lightly and flashing several hand seals without breaking his attention from the paper. He placed his hand on the ground and two elderly toads appeared in a puff of smoke.

"Oh, is that Tsunade-chan over there?" said Ma, waving at the surprised woman. "You're as beautiful as ever, dearest."

"Thank you…" she returned, notes held loosely as she moved her gaze to Pa. The last time she saw the two elder toads was during the second shinobi world war. "Jiraiya, what-?"

"Oh, she certainly does!" Pa said with a laugh. "You sure missed out with this one Jiraiya boy."

"Can we not talk about this?" the toad sage said tiredly. "They're working with Sakura, Hime."

"On sage mode?!" Tsunade said incredulously, getting a curious look out of Shizune. "You can't be serious."

"It's complicated," Jiraiya said, getting a flat "no shit" look from his old teammate.

"I can show her, if that makes it easier," Sakura offered, getting a nod from Jiraiya. He caught Tsunade's gaze and motioned to his eyes meaningfully. She got the message and grimaced, but that was all the time she had before her attention was robbed by the transformation that happened in front of her.

"What the…!"

Shizune actually dropped her book, stunned at the sudden shift in appearance Sakura took. So distracted was she that she didn't notice Tsunade's eyes briefly shift colors to an emerald green, her pupils shrinking to a fraction of their normal size. Her own form of sage mode was one she used exceptionally rarely, to the point that most speculated her title as a sage was just that, a title.

"She's using natural energy?" Tsunade said in confusion, looking from the stretching Sakura who looked like she wanted to burn some energy, to the troubled Jiraiya.

"Do you remember the seal our dear teammate put on his apprentice years ago?"

"Anko, right?" Tsunade pulled up short as she regarded the frankly monstrous Sakura once more. "You're telling me it does that?"

"No, Orochimaru improved it. This is the newer one," Jiraiya explained. "The seal passively pulls in natural energy and balances it to keep from killing the host."

"Host? You make it sound like the seal is a parasite," Shizune said, the medic in her taking over.

"In a way it is," Sakura said, drawing everyone's attention. "I can always feel the seal trying to influence me, as weak as it is. It feeds on my chakra and emotions. In return it gives me a frightening amount of power. I like it though," she added with a smile. It was unsettling against her black eyes. She traced two quick jabs that cracked the air where she struck. "I would have won our fight faster like this, I think."

Tsunade, eyes back to normal, said nothing, observing the girl with a clinical eye.

"I'll tell you the grittier details later, Hime. Thanks, Sakura. Ma, Pa, she's yours now."

"Off we hop then," Pa said, repositioning to Sakura's right shoulder and pointing with his cane. Ma took her left, patting the girl's head fondly. The three moved off to find an appropriate place to meditate.

"Shizune, go for a walk. Jiraiya…"

Shizune grabbed a book and made herself scarce, deciding to go check in on the training boys. Tsunade finally stood, her documents long forgotten.

"What the actual fuck is going on here?"

Jiraiya dropped a seal on the ground, mentally making a note to make more of the things, and sighed in a way that was far more common now than he felt it had any right to be. With that he began to fill her in.


Sasuke was currently having a problem with his training. It was a problem that very few people in history actually experienced, and likely ever would. He, of course, had no idea that his brother in all but blood was actually experiencing more or less the same thing, and so he suffered the issue alone.

He was trying to learn something he already knew like the back of his hand.

As one might expect, faking learning a jutsu when a good part of your personal arsenal was based on said jutsu was insanely challenging. He was doing his hardest to replicate the struggles and timings that he went through the first time he learned the technique, but it wasn't that simple. He was many times the shinobi, at least publicly, that he was in his previous life. Simply replicating his old experience would be blatantly false to a high level shinobi, let alone someone as keen eyed as Hatake Kakashi.

What was his solution then?

Improve the base chidori.

It was almost too simple of a solution to his situation. However, this did invite its own complications. Namely that he had no idea what to do with it.

Sasuke would never consider himself inflexible by any stretch of the word, but he wasn't exactly the most creative shinobi. His time under Kakashi and further Orochimaru were very straightforward. Even his father was very similar. Train the body, train the skills, train the jutsu. As the years went on this became his entire philosophy for gaining strength. The dojutsu certainly helped, but this was more on a personal level. He had many alterations to the chidori jutsu already based on the skills he accumulated through the years. This was not what he was looking for.

Working with Kurenai however taught him much about his limitations. He lacked creativity and a freeness of mind that lended itself to certain paths. Training genjutsu relentlessly from when he woke up once more as an academy student went a long way to softening those edges, but he still had them.

"This wasn't what I expected when I thought I'd see how your training was going."

Sasuke was roused from his musing when his guest finally spoke. He noticed her immediately, but she didn't say anything so he mainly ignored her.

"I have a unique issue I am trying to overcome," he said briefly.

"Like that though?"

It took him a second to realize what Shizune was referring to. His body was currently a highway for visible electrical currents, starting at his right finger tips, traveling along his arm, and splitting to several directions at his torso. The lightning chakra moved freely around before finally dissipating into the ground off his left foot.

"I'm allowing the lightning to move freely through me to prevent myself from being electrocuted," he explained. "I'm unsure about how to properly keep it contained without turning my hand into a charred husk."

Shizune winced a bit at the bluntness of the remark but otherwise was amused at his matter-of-fact tone.

"Well if you want to try something unwise I am an accomplished medic. I'll stick around while you work."

A medic…

The lightning died away as he stopped providing it chakra. Shizune was an incredibly accomplished medic in her own right, often overshadowed by the abnormalities that were Tsunade Senju and eventually Sakura as well. Being apprenticed to the Sannin spoke for itself in a lot of ways.

"If you're open to it, could I ask you for some advice on chakra control technique?" he posed, getting a look of surprise from the woman.

"Your control is pretty good from what I just saw," Shizune observed, her unasked question clear.

"If 'pretty good' was enough then I might as well look for a nice place to dig my own grave and climb into it," Sasuke said with an uncharacteristically visible show of scorn. The jonin would never know that it was at himself his feelings were directed. At how his shallow standards allowed himself to be a slave to his own idiocy and the ambitions of others.

"Well…" Shizune considered the genin before nodding to herself. It wasn't like she had anything pressing to take care of. "I'm sure I can give you something to work on. My training might be a bit much though, medical techniques require exacting control."

Sasuke gave a satisfied grin. A promising perspective as ideas began to form.

"That's exactly what I'm looking for."


"Not gonna lie, Hime, but Sakura's on another level from where you were at her age. This whole team is like that. They're the future."

"Come on, Jiraiya," Tsunade said skeptically. "I'm not saying the kids can't be really good, but don't you think you're going a bit too far? The future, really?"

"You know just as well as I do what a single heavyweight can do for a village. Besides, the prophecy-"

"If I've said it once I've said it a dozen times," Tsunade interrupted. "Dumb shit your toads say while they're high doesn't magically make it prophetic. Stop licking the brightly colored ones." She paused as Jiraiya grumbled to himself. "It's Minato's kid, right? The one who you think is… whatever?"

"Yes, it's him," Jiraiya said with a frown. Tsunade was intelligent but sometimes she was too stubborn to see past her bitterness at everything.

"Not worried this is just you pushing your expectations onto some chump genin with a bit of talent?"

"If you went and spent some time with him and didn't push your own expectations on him you'd see what I mean."

Silence fell between the two and Jiraiya stepped on the privacy seal tag he'd dropped to the floor, burning it with a pulse of fire chakra.

"I'll admit, they are a pretty chummy group for a Team Seven," Tsunade said after a minute, to which Jiraiya nodded absently.

"Tell me about it," he agreed. "It's actually kind of uncanny how much they mesh… almost like-"

"You're better off forgetting those thoughts."

The two turned to find a one eyed jonin joining them.


"I'm serious. You'll thank yourself later."

"This… doesn't it seem odd to you?" Jiraiya asked. "You must have noticed something off. Haven't they only been a team for a few months now?"

Kakashi sighed, sitting beside the pair with a grunt.

"Of course I noticed. They were a bit awkward at first, in an overly nice kind of way. Apologizing if needed, not wanting to offend each other. They went out of their way to include one another whenever possible and stuck together no matter what I put in front of them. In no time they were comfortable. Now, a couple months later they are the best friends I've ever seen, just as close as many bonds I've seen forged in the corps. Even if a romantic relationship started somewhere, it likely wouldn't mess up the team dynamic because both boys would support the other and be happy for their two friends."

Kakashi's head tilted slightly to the side and the other two could tell he was smiling under the mask.

"They just work. It's like they were meant to be together."

The jonin reached into his pouch and pulled out his little orange book, getting an eye roll from Tsunade but nothing more. She didn't want to interrupt, and it was clear he had more to say.

"Don't take this the wrong way, but maybe we're projecting, trying to find something wrong because our teams went wrong too. It took me a while to think about it differently, but I can say this with confidence now. Not every Team Seven needs to be a tragedy waiting to happen," Kakashi said finally, unable to keep the pride out of his voice. "I'd rather do everything to support that instead of picking it apart. Don't you agree?"

Jiraiya sighed, giving the jonin a rueful smile.

"I can't argue with that."

Tsunade just huffed, reaching behind her for one of the sake bottles she bought back in Yugakure.

"Kami, you've gotten mouthy, Kakashi. Next time warn me so I can at least have a drink first." She surprised him then by tossing him a cup and the bottle after she poured her own. "Go on, tell us more about your new team."


Tsunade let out a steadying breath, focusing on the fading warmth of the setting sun against her skin. Over three weeks passed since they set up their camp. Three weeks of the kids working to become the scariest group of genin Konoha had in a long time. Three weeks of trying to figure out what to do with her life once she was back in Konoha once more. Three weeks of trying to take a bath properly without Jiraiya trying to peep on them.

Ironically, the answer to that solution was to include Sakura. While making comments about a young girl's potential was fair game, actually peeping on one was apparently beyond the near invisible line the man drew for content acquisition, if barely. She could bathe in peace and it also gave her an opportunity to learn about the genin with skills so similar to her own.

Sakura's chakra control was uncanny, to the point that she could already be considered one of the best in the entire village. She wasn't able to spit out large jutsu by any stretch of the imagination, but it simply didn't matter. The girl was the poster child for the phrase "quality over quantity".

Then there was the matter that the pinkette seemingly created her own super strength technique, a byproduct of her medical training, chakra control, and ingenuity. Truthfully Tsunade didn't really believe that the girl came up with it on her own, but she seemed genuinely shocked that the Sannin could do it as well and it wasn't like there was anyone to teach her the technique in the village. She must have heard about it from somewhere and just figured it out, which to be frank was just as ridiculous.

Regardless, the girl was, for lack of a better word, uncut. With some proper guidance she really could become one of the strongest the world had ever seen. A diamond in every sense of the word.

Tsunade grimaced and shifted in her seat. She was getting that feeling in her stomach again. The one that caused her to take on Shizune as her apprentice. The Sannin tried to focus on the girl's negatives, such as her propensity to piss her off with nothing more than a disparaging look, but the feeling persisted and only grew stronger with time.

Kami damn it, that girl pisses me off.

Determined to put the matter aside, Tsunade instead refocused on the main target of her attention. The orange maniac jinchuriki that worked himself to collapsing day after day to unbelievable results.

Chakra was perhaps one of the most oddly balanced forces in existence. One could get by with very little, as long as they could control it perfectly, a skill few even began to approach over the course of their lives. It went equally in the other direction, of course, but the extremes were rare and the extreme extremes even more so. Sakura was a great example of one end of the spectrum.

This kid simply obliterated the other end.

Exhibit A, the shadow clone jutsu. Few could do it. A fraction of those could make so many. A fraction of those could simply just dispel and make a new one whenever any of them got some kind of good idea. In all honesty the kid should have actually gone insane from all the micro personalities that were constantly being created and reintegrated with his own. He's fine though. No big deal.

Exhibit B, the rasengan. Another stupidly intensive chakra technique the genin was trying to learn by spamming it around his training area as much as he could before collapsing. His clones worked on shape, power, and other things, but the original himself just tried it over and over and over. At least with the clones he got some return on chakra investment.

Exhibit C, his health. Naruto Uzumaki may actually have been the healthiest person she ever laid her hands on. His naturally absurd clan vitality combined with the scarcely known regenerative aspect of the kyuubi kept the kid in tip top shape for his entire life. She doubted he'd ever been sick a day in his life, and if there was record of it he was probably making it up. He'd stay looking young and fit long past the time his friends would get old and decrepit. Actually it was kind of pissing her off just thinking about it.

Case and point, Naruto's physical energies to contribute to chakra creation were through the roof, and the fact that he just never seemed to quit spoke to mental fortitude that matched. The boy was a beast and would shake the world to its core.

Yet… despite his lineage and position, despite being Jiraiya's chosen one, despite having so much potential and strength at his age, he was still a goofy dumbass who really only cared about his friends being happy and keeping people safe.

The little idiot really did remind her of her brother.

Thus did the final night before returning to the village fall on the pair, clones dispelled, the younger blonde lying on his back and staring at the starry sky while the elder sat next to him, a single glowing hand being the only indication of what she was doing.

"Why do you try so hard?"

It took Naruto a few seconds to realize she was speaking to him. Understandable, as she hadn't said a word to him once while watching him train up until that moment.

"Huh?" was his intelligent reply.

"Your drive, your commitment, call it whatever you want. Why push so far?"

"Why do you want to know?" She could tell from the tone of his voice he was genuinely thrown by the question.

"Morbid curiosity, brat, just answer the damn question."

"Uh, I guess it's all I've ever known?" He frowned as he considered his answer. Seeing the flat expression she was giving him he held up his hands to forestall a verbal beating. "I'm serious, what else did I have to work with?"

Naruto pushed to his feet and Tsunade let the jutsu fade from her hand.

"I don't think I need to explain it much, but Dad really screwed me over when he put the kyuubi in me." Naruto caught her surprised expression over his shoulder with a small smile. "Yeah, I know about him. Everyone else thinks I'm clueless though so don't tell them."

Tsunade didn't say anything but the boy seemed satisfied and started stretching to warm down, not that his muscles needed it.

"Anyway, I have a certification in being pushed aside and treated like shit. More than half the village still thinks I'm the kyuubi somehow and more than a few active shinobi have been, ehem, reassigned because they tried to do something to me. Also having a twenty-four seven Anbu shadow is not equivalent to having friends."

Naruto pulled off his hitai-ate, looking at the heavily scuffed and marked metal. An odd amount of wear for a thing he'd only have gotten less than six months ago.

"I started busting my ass to prove to everyone they were wrong and I was worth a damn. Along the way I found more and more people that are worth protecting with my home. Hokage doesn't need to really be it, but it's been a dream for as long as he could remember. I guess the motivation's changed a lot over time but the work just stuck. There's really only one way in this world to get what you want."

Overwhelming strength.

"Huh, and here I was half thinking you were just doing it to get Pinkie's attention," Tsunade mused, drawing an irritated huff out of the boy. "What else could drive a kid to learn a move like that in three weeks?"

Naruto held out a hand and concentrated, a small sphere of spinning chakra coming to being an inch above his palm. It dissipated with a small burst of pressure.

"To be honest I figured it out two weeks ago. Clone training is busted."

"Wha- why the hell didn't you say something then?" Tsunade asked. To this Naruto gave an awkward laugh.

"Ahh, well, I figured you'd leave after I got it and it was handy to have the best medic in the world next to me in case I blew my arm off when I started to experiment?"

Two blinks.


Naruto only got a foot away before her hand caught the back of his neck tightly.

"What stupid ass shit have you been trying next to me?!"

"I was being responsible, I had an adult nearby!"

"The hell you were!"

Internally Tsunade oddly felt at peace, shaking the genin silly for his recklessness. Maybe it wasn't all doom and gloom waiting for her back at the village after all.


Chapter complete! Hope y'all enjoyed as we move our merry way along. A couple things to comment on. First, the name of the chapter just came to me and stuck but it has no reason for being what it is. This little arc is obviously more Sakura/Naruto focused but never fear, we'll give Sasuke his spotlight soon. The other thing is I genuinely have no idea who Jiraiya shared the prophecy stuff with, but it never felt like a stretch for him to chat up Tsunade about it.

Anyway, let me know what you think, be good, take care, and until next time.