Disclaimer: Do not own.

She sat at her desk in her bedroom, stared at the piece of paper in her hands and shuddered.

Dear Sakura

Rejoice! You have the month off.

I took Sasuke out of Konoha to train him for his match against Gaara. I arranged a trainer for Naruto to bring him up to speed on chakra control.

You just relax and don't forget to practice your basics.

Your loving Sensei.

A tiny drawing of Kakashi holding the victory sign had been thoughtfully added in stead of the signature.

She carefully placed the note on the desk like it was a lit explosive tag and moved to stare out the window.

"The last thing I need now is to sit around on my ass and think Sensei." She sighed. Sure it was supposed to be like this. Seemingly irrelevant crap adding up to serious training while the student still waited for the first lesson. How being late and not learning anything new, aside from the tree climbing exercise was helping was beyond Sakura's understanding. She sighed looking out her window. Even if he was teaching them patience he was pushing it.

The scene down on the street was deceptively peaceful. It was a bright and sunny afternoon but the sounds of children playing ninja outside her window rang eerily in her ears. She had been just like them a few days ago. A little girl playing ninja.

The kunai flashed in the corner of her vision and she just barely moved aside, the blade leaving a thin, fiery line across her shoulder blade.

She shuddered again, went to her bed and snuggled up to her ANBU outfit, bear masked, bear plushy. Even if he couldn't help her get to sleep last night Kuma-kun was always a comfort. She was so tired. She closed her eyes and soon her mind began to wander.

The explosive tag she set went off and one of the sound ninja screamed in pain as the smell of burned flesh spread across the clearing.

She shuddered, her eyes snapped open and she hugged Kuma-kun tighter to her. The forest had been even worse then Wave country, at least then she still believed the boys could take care of anything.

A hand grasping her her long luxurious pink hair, the other holding a kunai to her throat. Whispered taunts in her ear. Anger.

She ran her hand across her much shorter curls and a tear ran down her cheek in regret. She didn't even remember exactly how she got free. She just got so angry, cut her hair free and moved, twisting out of her captors arms and in a split of a second, slashed her kunai across the stunned girl's belly just like in the academy drills.

But the ninja targets in the academy do not bleed. The ninja targets in the academy do not make you angry. They do not cause a thrill of twisted, wrong pleasure tingle down your spine as you slash them. She knew it had just been battle lust like the lectures and her private reading said it might happen. But she still had moments of alternating revulsion and glee at the girls expression before she jumped away and the kunoichi's team mates rained a deadly rain of steel on her phyric victory.

With all the traps, determination and surprise she had been beaten and nearly died there in the forest beside her unconscious team mates.

"You're just a little girl playing ninja." The kunoichi had whispered in her ear and she could still feel that got breath crushing her pride.

She held Kuma-Kun close to her chest as she lay on the bed bone tired yet still unable to sleep. Would she live through her next C-rank? Or a B-rank? Would Sasuke even protect her, or would Naruto die trying?

Sasuke lying there helplessly face chalk white and feverish. Naruto trying to drag himself to his feet, kunai in hand, bleeding from numerous wounds. And then it was just her. And the enemy ninja.

Yes, he would protect her. Or die trying. He'd do it for Sasuke too.

"I could just fade away, hide behind their strength. It would be easy. I'd be safe" An insidious thought made itself known and for a moment Sakura was tempted.

But she couldn't let them drag weight any more. She had given her oath to Konoha. She was a ninja in the service of the Hokage. And she made an oath to herself, back in the forest. She should work with her team mates and not just sit there and wait to be rescued.

"I don't wand to die dammit." a part of her shouted and she wished she dared say it out loud.

Still. The decision to do something about herself brought a moments peace to Sakura. And finally she drifted off to sleep.

She cut her hair off and pulled away from the ninja holding her. She tried to speak but it came out as a gurgle. Her throat had been cut open. She tried to gasp for breath and realized in horror that she just breathed in her own blood. She fell to the ground and couldn't move. The sound ninja all turned into snakes using some weird jutsu and opened their jaws to eat her and her team mates but team Gai chased them off.

'I'm still alive' She tried to tell them even as Tenten shook her head. "We were too late. they are dead."

Such was the fate of children playing ninja." Proclaimed Neji wisely.

'I'm not dead yet!' She tried to yell even as a medical squad arrived and proceeded to put them in body bags. The zipper closed over her head even as she screamed soundlessly while they buried her.

"I'm not dead!" She whimpered in the darkness clutching Kuma-kun. At least they buried him with her. She curled up and just cried silently. She would never exchange barbs with Ino again. Or have Mother fuss over her. She would never hear Naruto's grating voice again or see Sasuke leaning against a tree without a care in the world.

It was just her and Kuma-kun in her soft grave. That squeaked when she moved. That thought gave her pause. Since when do they put beds in a grave?

She sat up suddenly cobwebs dropping from her mind as she took stock of herself and the world around her, heart beating suddenly. She was in her room. And that had just been a bad dream.

Her feet found her rabbit slippers as she got up, still clutching her toy bear.

"What kind of an idiot dream was that?" she complained softly to Kuma-kun even as the lingering white sadness clutched her heart.

She glanced at her clock. Four AM. She sighed as she made her way to the bathroom. She might as well start her day. She had a long way to go after all.

By the time she woke up completely, took a bath and dried her hair she was feeling much better.

She glanced at the list she made and decided that should do for now, until she could make it to the library.

If Kakashi didn't care for her survival she would teach herself. She was Haruno Sakura and she took bullshit from no one.

Do not die list.

If you lack Earth run in the fields. If you lack Heaven seek enlightenment.

Earth goals:

4x Academy minimum. Two hours. Raise intensity and speed of workouts when I get into shape. Level out at 7x until I find a physical combat style that fits me. Modify exercises to fit style when you find one. Manage to run two whole laps around Konoha for stamina. Use Hidden Rabbit to ensure a full workout.

One hour of academy kata while tree climbing. Channel the Jumping Monkey Technique without seal. Aerial style? Mix with kunai training?

Monitor chakra levels to avoid burnout. Buy soldier pills and check the medical journals carefully for the side effects and limitations. Stock up on protein bars, eat double to triple the normal meals. No diets.

Get 95% accuracy with kunai on moving targets while airborne and upside down?


Craft 10 usable exploding tags in under six hours without making a mistake. Eventually get it down to 10 tags in an hour. Six minutes each. Check out basic sealing out of the library again.

Get Kawarimi speed to under half a second. Master Kawarimi, no seals. (I KNOW I saw an article on seal-less matrix theory in the library somewhere. Time to step up the math.)

Keep Henge up for duration of physical training. Eventually keep it up while sleeping and when hit. Study illusion reinforcement theory in detail. Seals?

Make ten independent bunshin. Keep them up for an hour along with henge. Bunshin mastery. Manipulate the regular bunshin with independent movement, looks and injury.

She nodded, satisfied with her list of where she was supposed to be by now and tied her leaf protector to her forehead. She reached for and tied her kunai holster to her slacks, opened her window, made a seal with her hands to aid her and with a precise focus of her chakra into her leaps jumped from her window to a lamp post and up to the roof. She avoided roof hoping for a long time because it burned through her chakra to use the Leaping Monkey Technique so much which in turn made her hungry which broke her diet.

That was the first thing she would change. Burning chakra trains chakra capacity, control and chakra regeneration speed. Even if being low on chakra feels like the worst flu ever and she had to eat like a pig she would endure it.

She broke into a run and then made her way, leaping across Konoha rooftops in constant consecutive ten meter leaps burning chakra with wild abandon.

Five minutes later she landed into academy training ground only slightly winded her heart beating in her chest. 'That was fun!'She realized. Cutting loose made her feel good, somehow. And as the side effect of using so much chakra she didn't exhaust herself physically.

The Academy building was dark and eerie in the night and the playground with all it's ninja additions looked oddly serious under the moonlight.

She took stock of her reserves and was shocked to realize she had used only a quarter of her chakra on that wild run instead of most of it. She still remembered that wild run she did in her third year when she almost ruined her perfect attendance record by oversleeping. And the subsequent exhaustion.

Did her chakra reserves increase that much without her noticing? She made a few crisp precise seals and made a bunshin mentally calculating the draw on her chakra.

She smiled. Her chakra levels had increased since the academy. By only about fifteen percent. So why had she used so little?

'Doh! Molding efficiency dumbas.' The answer came to her quickly and she suppressed the urge to kick herself. She had been practicing the tree climbing exercise from time to time, ever since Wave.

Sasuke-kun's dead body, littered with senbon, herself, crying out for...

She shook her head. No time for moping. Yes she had to focus.

She threw herself into the full set of academy kata for warm up and immediately afterward went for the obstacle course in the academy playground suppressing her chakra with the Hidden Rabbit Technique to avoid accidentally cheating herself. Clicking on the stopwatch she started running.

The hopscotch stones were easy, her agility was never in question as she precisely stepped into the hollow of each of the round stones without touching the sides. She ran swiftly across the balance beam and ran for the first rope. She jumped and grabbed the rope in her hands letting her momentum take her across the pit. She usually hated the way the harsh texture of the rope dug into her palms but paid it no heed this time. She ran across the second balance beam, the one with a gap in the middle and grabbed a kunai out of her holster. She hopped over the small gap and sent the kunai at the first wooden target. She knew the kunai struck firmly in the center without bothering to check, concentrating in stead on landing perfectly onto the balance beam.

A short run and it was time to face her old nemesis, the twenty meters of monkey bars. With gritted teeth stubbornly refusing to take it slow she made it across, just barely, her arms burning, heart pounding in her chest. She heaved herself off, drew out another kunai as she landed and went into a sprint, sending it into the second target that stood above the tunnel directly in front of her. Her hands shook but she hit the target, off center. She crawled through the tunnel exited it with a roll, sprinted to the three meters tall web climbing it with some difficulty. By now her heart had settled into a rapid but even beat and she had found her breath somewhat drawing upon her experience of the course she jumped down from the top shaving seconds off her time and faced her other nemesis. The climbing rope. She made it up, barely and rang the bell. She carefully wrapped her legs around the rope as she slid down, slowing enough not to hurt her palms. She was half way through.

She made he way back along the obstacles in reverse order with somewhat less grace and she missed the first target after she made it off the monkey bars as she did most of the times she ran through this. At least this time she nicked it just a little.

She made her way through the hollow 'hopscotch' stones a little less surely as she gasped for breath but managed to avoid tripping or stepping on any of the edges. As she made it across the starting line she stopped the stopwatch on her wrist and allowed herself to drop, gasping for breath, spleen straining painfully to supply blood to her system. She glanced at her result.


She stared at it for a long moment, gasping for breath, and then smiled. Even with the ten second penalty she knew that last miss gave her she had finally done it. She ran it under three minutes. Almost thirty seconds less then when she was in the academy.

Thirty frisking seconds." She muttered to herself in disbelief as her breathing leveled out.

So she was faster then in the academy. The rush of success washed away her tiredness as she made her way to the exercise area an proceeded to go through the standard set of academy exercises each students was required to perform after the obstacle course. A series of push ups, sit ups, crouches and other exercises designed to test and build strength. The results were less then stellar.

'I've gotten weaker.' She realized as she lay on the grass gasping for breath, the sun half risen over the horizon lighting up the training ground. The grass was wet from the morning dew but she was too tired to move just now.

She had barely made it through one set. In the academy she could if she had to make it through two. Not even six months of only practicing with her team and she had become weaker.

By the time the sun had peeked fully over the horizon Sakura was able to drag herself to her feet and go into the mandatory cool down jog.

"There was no way I could make it around Konoha like I wanted to but I'll run the full ten cool down circles or die trying dammit all!" She yelled inside her mind and snarled n determination. "Or die trying." She repeated out loud a jolt of fear reminding her why he was doing this. She redoubled her efforts.

After three laps she wanted to gasp for breath, after seven she was gasping for breath. After eighth she had to stop to puke the remains of last nights dinner. She felt sick as she completed the last two laps. She fought the urge to sit down and went to the water taps. She, washed her mouth, took one careful gulp of water and washed her face. She tried to walk around the academy grounds to collect her kunai and stumbled.

With a sigh she released the Hidden Rabbit Technique and focused some of her chakra through her body instantly feeling a little better. The mix of spiritual and physical energy would speed up recovery processes and energize her.

"Oh well. At least I can still meet academy standards." She mumbled dejectedly as she walked out of the academy grounds nodding absently to one of her former teachers that was coming in for work early. She missed how the startled man stared with approval at her bedraggled sweaty form.

"I tell you it was an recent graduate. This year or the last two I swear. She looked like hell and the obstacle course showed signs of use." The teacher spoke after the morning faculty brief." His tone had a hint of hope. The female graduates took a lot more time to blossom lately.

"Which one?" Someone asked.

"How should I know? I think she was one of Iruka's." The first responded.

"Damn Iruka always landing the best candidates." Someone grumbled.

Konoha was in the process of waking as she walked home. Shops were just getting ready to open and you could see ninja's making their way across the roof. Probably to relieve the night watch.

The smell of freshly made pastries hit her as she past a bakery and her stomach growled loudly. The nausea had subsided when she released her chakra but now her body was demanding to be fed. She smiled. She might as well bring some fresh bread home. Maybe even make breakfast?

She was flipping the last pancake when her parents made it down the stairs drawn in by the smell bacon, eggs and a fresh pot of coffee. Her mother was petite and pretty with pink hair and delicate hands that suited her sewing and weaving. Father on the other hand was a large, fit man in his prime, buff from construction work. He loved food and had a tendency to grow a small belly if he had no work for a week or two or during winter.

"Sakura? You're up early." Said her daddy as he hugged Sakura as a morning greeting. Unlike her mother he was not adverse to displays of affection.

"Bacon for breakfast Sakura?" Her mother asked, frowning at the plate Sakura had been nibbling from as she made the pancakes and Sakura sighed.

"I'm a ninja now mother. I won't get fat."

Her mother looked taken aback for a moment and looked at her husband.

"Oh leave her alone Honey, she has a point. A ninja has to eat."

Sakura smiled at the gentle chastisement. Daddy always knew how to handle her mothers a bit old fashioned ideas.

" I didn't know we even had bacon?" He added even as he happily sat down at the table. Sakura didn't make breakfast that often.

Sakura shrugged and slid the last pancake on the large plate that had a dozen others. She took the plate and her cup of coffee to the table.

"I woke up early this morning and bought some heavier food then rice and pickles." She winked at her father. He was a man of simple tastes and his favorite dish reflected this.

"So what brought this on?" Inquired her mother.

"I realized I was neglecting my training and falling behind. After facing real ninja in the chuunin exams I realized I had to step it up." She said and then cheerfully attacked her food."I'm going to spend the month training."

"Well try not to get to messy with your practice. Boys don't like sweaty girls." Her mother intoned. Her father rolled his eye at this and winked at his daughter shaking his head that it wasn't true.

Sakura shrugged and continued eating heartily. Boys could watch her back, and were nice to daydream about. "But what use is romance to a corpse." She questioned somewhat grimly.

Three eggs, several slices of bread and half of the bacon disappeared quickly into her belly as her parents talked between themselves. They never knew what to do when she talked about her chosen profession and the subject, like always, drifted to father's construction work and mother's weaving. She polished off the pancakes with lots of syrup and sighed content as she slowly nibbled the last one. At least they supported her choices, somewhat. Even if they didn't understand how she could want the career she had chosen.

'Mother doesn't realize what training entails. Civilians never understand what chakra does for you.' The thought startled her a bit. Since when were civilians them. And since when did she think about her parents like that?

She pondered that question as she liberally applied milk to her second cup of coffee so it was more milk with coffee then coffee with milk. She took a carefull sip and tried to remember why she wanted to be a ninja in the first place.

It seemed like she had always wanted to be one. Before Sasuke-kun, before even Ino. On of her earliest memories was of herself pretending that Kuma-kun and her were fellow ANBU on a secret mission to steal cookies from the kitchen.

She was happy when she graduated the academy. Ecstatic when she was put into a team with Sasuke-kun. But she had been a little girl pretending to be a ninja. To be honest, she still was a little girl. Even if she was going to be thirteen soon. It was about time she stopped pretending.

She sighed and broke courtesy drilled into her all her life by her mother, standing up before father was finished.

"I'd love to stay and chat but I have work to do." She told her parents. Took two pancakes, wrapped them for later, said farewell to her parents and left.

Her parent's looked at each other after she left.

"She looks a bit better." Sakura's mother pondered.

"Something happened during the chuunin exams that shook her up. I was getting worried too. At least she got her confidence back."

"She bought groceries, with her own money, like a grown up."

"Yes my pink flower. She did. Our little girl is growing up."

"I worry for her. She chose a dangerous path. And ninja's grow up so fast."

"Yeah. I worry too. But it's her choice. All we can do is be there for her and worry."

She stepped into one of the six designated shops scattered across Konoha that catered to ninjas on her way to the library. 'Tags and Kunai' catered to general supplies and had in stock almost anything a ninja would need for a mission.

The store itself was fairly large, with a section for specialized armored clothing, civilian clothing sorted by country of origin, a shelf with nothing but rows of throwing implements, a corner for camping gear, a specialized rack with the pricey storage scrolls and other ninja implements of deception and destruction. She made her way to the food section, she grabbed ten protein bars and five matchbox sized wooden boxes, each containing three 'Booster' type soldier pills and was labeled thus. She was going to need them.

The effects of the basic booster pill were taught in the academy. Everyone knew that they boosted some body processes and doubled chakra generation speed for the duration of an hour or so and that they could be bought by any genin. It was neither addictive nor did it have potential side effects as long as you took only three or four per day when not taking any other medication. Any more and you risk dying. Which was not quite true.

Sakura was a curious child and thus she read through the specialized medicinal journals any time an interesting subject came up in class. What Sakura knew was a bit more then the average genin. You could take as many as six without ill effect but it would put a strain on your coils and body after three to six weeks dependent on various factors. You could take as many as ten on a mission but you'd collapse after the effects wore off and feel sick and weak as a kitten for days while the mitochondria in the cells of your body recovered. Any more and the risk of chakra burnout rose exponentially as the cells in your body begin to systematically shut down from the strain. Months in a hospital and the possibility of damaging your chakra generation was not worth the slight boost.

She was going to take use three on Mondays, four on Tuesdays and work up to a serious exercise on Wednesdays taking up to five as needed. Then she would lessen things back to three, lessen physical exertion on Saturdays and use Sundays to rest and let her body recover from exertions of the past week in accordance with academy exercise cycles. From what she know of effects of chakra on the body this would maximize and then exceed her readiness levels immensely in one month. Unfortunately doing this for more then a month or two was useless since after a certain point things slow down as ones body hits it's optimal efficiency. That and she knew damaging herself for a tiny boost would be an extremely stupid course of action.

She idly considered what little she knew about the two other types of soldier pills. As she browsed the rest of the shop. The Mission pill lasted for 24 hours, could keep you going for days and was restricted to chunin. The suicide pill's real name was unknown but it was rumored it made you into a godlike implement of destruction.

'And then you died.' She shuddered at the thought as she examined a kevlar-wrought silk shirt with leather reinforcements on the elbows. The slightly thicker kevlar fibers inside the double layer silk made a distinct ribbed pattern that kind of looked pretty.

"Big mission?" The The forty something, one armed semi-retired ninja on duty asked helpfully and Sakura jumped. She didn't even hear him get up and walk to her side.

"Stocking up after the chuunin exams." She half lied.

Chuunin exams at your age? You must be really good. Did you make it to the finals?" He beamed at her.

Sakura shook her head and sighed.

"Almost, but I mostly coasted on my team mates strength and washed out by double knockout in the preliminaries. I can meet academy standards. That's about it."

"Your sensei wouldn't put you in the exams if he didn't think you were qualified. Are you sure you don't have something that would qualify you?" Asked the man as he rang up her purchases.

Sakura shrugged "The only thing I have going for me is good chakra control."

The man nodded. "Here you go. How good exactly?"

"Ninety five to ninety nine percentile."

"That would explain it. With chakra controls that fine you could make chuunin even with just academy basics. Are you considering a specialization?" The man asked curiously.

Sakura glanced at him suspiciously. "If sensei would actually teach us something other than tree walking. What's with all the questions?"

The man shrugged.

"It's boring here in the mornings. I have nothing better to do but impart wisdom on youngsters. So, any special plans?"

Sakura hesitated for a moment and then shrugged. The man was obviously a veteran ninja she might as well see what nuggets of wisdom, if any, he had.

"Essentially I have a month to myself. Sensei and my team mates are busy with the finals. I want to master seal-less basics and shove them down Sensei's throat until he teaches me something useful that I can make my own." She growled. She was a bit miffed at Kakashi sensei for just dumping her while Sasuke and Naruto trained even further.

"Oh?" The shrewd man inquired. "Feeling left behind?"

"Of course I'm behind! One of my team mates is a stamina freak that throws around Kage Bunshin like they were regular Bunshin and my other team mate has the Sharingan." Sakura snapped.

The man laughed. "Oh boy. You have a fitness fanatic and an Uchia on you team."

She just glared at him silently. How dare you laugh at me you old bastard! I'll kill you."

"Oh sorry kunichi-san, no need to leak killer intent at me. I'm not laughing at you. You just reminded me of some of my past colleagues antics. Let me get this straight. You plan to master the basics in a month. Fully. Without seals?"

Yes." Sakura replied determination written on her face.

"And you think you can do it on your own?"

"Yes." Sakura confirmed. Frowning. Everyone doubted her.

"Well then. How about this. You work hard and pull it off by the day of the chuunin matches and I'll give you my old ANBU training manual, a jutsu and a five percent lifetime discount in the store. If you fail you have to do all your basic supply shopping in my shop for a year. If you manage to do it by the end of the year I'll still teach you one C-rank justsu at least."

"You were ANBU?" Sakura blinked and looked at the man in a new light. "And wouldn't an ANBU training manual be classified?"

The man shrugged. "It's 25 years out of date. As a genin you'd have the clearance to look at it. More or less. Worst that could happen is that some ANBU takes it from you if they realize what it is. So do we have a deal?"

Sakura frowned at the man. And then extended her hand. "Deal."

"So can I help you with anything?" He asked her.

"Do you know if these armored shirts come in different colors?" Sakura asked innocently, her shopping habits taking over.

The retired ANBU watched her leave and smiled.

"Like shooting fish in a barrel." He whispered to himself. "Didn't even have to prod her into boasts."

"One of these days a genin will win one of your little bets you know." His wife, who had been watching the proceedings said. "Perhaps even this one. If she really has perfect control she could pull it off."

The old ANBU shrugged. "If she does I'll eat my leather shoes. You know seal-less mastery of the basics is an ANBU training requirement. No way can a genin pull I off. And no genin has prefect level chakra control. Ninety nine percentile my ass."

"Oh? Forgetting about Tsunade?"

She's one of a kind, one in a million. "What are the odds of another one like Tsunade emerging in our lifetime?"

"Your funeral. You gave her a discount on the armored shirt. You never give discounts on armor"

The old ANBU harumpher, embarrassed

"She wanted it in pink. I wasn't going to let her go out in the field with pink. Dark red? Sure, green? Definitely. Heck even and orange on black tiger pattern make excellent night cammo. But pink? Might as well put a 'shoot me now' sign on her back. her hair is bad enough. Kids these days." He sighed and shook his head.

"She's still young. Besides, you sold that Uzumaki brat orange."

"Bah. If that one isn't dead by now he'll out live us all."

Sakura made her way towards the library feeling slightly miffed. He didn't think she could do it. We'll she'd show him, she'd show Kakashi and everyone else.

I'm a kunoichi dammit. Don't you fucking dare under estimate me.

She stalked angrily down the street, to even realizing the crowd was parting around her from the killer intent she was radiating unconsciously. You don't get between a kunoichi and her mission lightly. Even a small pink haired one.

She had books to track down.

A muscle tearing spasm woke Sakura up at three in the morning. She whimpered for a few moments still caught in the dream of a snake tearing off her right arm. The limb in question had curled in on itself and Sakura barely managed to concentrate enough to send a surge of chakra into her arm. The effect nearly made her cry out. A sharp insane pain like a thousand needles piercing her arm surged for a moment and then a hot fire raced along her muscles But soon, within seconds the spasm was gone like it wasn't there. Sakura sighed in relief for a moment and then the rest of her body started to complain about the abuse she put it through yesterday.

'Pain generally means you did a good workout kiddies. Feel the burn! Love the burn!' She recalled their taijutsu instructor often repeating.

Sakura hated the burn.

More carefully this time she molded some chakra and allowed it to spread evenly through her body. During the next twenty minutes a feeling of bliss overtook her as the muscles she didn't even know she had slowly over faded into obscurity once again.

She was about to drift back to sleep when the images came raising her heartbeat again. Her dream had been a disjointed mish-mash of pain and death the aftermath of which seemed like a vague weight constricting her breathing, unbalancing her limbs and upsetting her stomach.

With a sight Sakura got herself out of bed and rubbed her face with the palm of her hand. She might as well get ready for morning.

A longish hot shower left her feeling a bit better but as she stepped out a wave of dizziness hit her. She grabbed onto the sink and dry heaved into the sink.

'The hell? I can't afford to get sick Dammit!'

Feeling vaguely betrayed by her body she washed her mouth and brushed her teeth. It was odd. She had eaten double her usual for dinner, and was still feeling still hungry as she want to sleep after nibbling off half a protein bar. And still all she puked up was a bit of bile.

As she entered her bedroom to get dressed the smell hit her and then the hunger. In a flash she was across the room and stuffing her mouth with the half eaten protein bar from last night. She had unpacked and eaten one more and was in the process of opening the third before coming to her senses.

"What the hell?" She mumbled. Her stomach growled and her mouth was dry but already the sick feeling was fading away.

Realization dawned in her. Low blood sugar and mineral deficiency equaled physical exhaustion, spasms and sickness. She was probably dehydrated too.

Quickly slipping out of her pajamas and into her new 'ninja' clothes she made her way downstairs. Time to raid the ice box.

She walked into the pantry and opened the lacquered wooden cupboard. One of the benefits of living in a ninja village is the low cost of luxury commodities With a squelch of the rubber and a hum of activating seals it opened and a waft of cold air washed over her. She took out a bottle of orange juice imported directly form island country and the butter dish. She hesitated for a moment and then grabbed a chicken leg left over from dinner.

A few rice crackers, liberally doused with honey completed the unusual pre-breakfast snack.

Still. Even after she ate everything, helped herself to another chicken leg and sucked the bones dry Sakura was left with an odd craving for sprouts and the feeling she could eat some more.

Shaking her head Sakura headed back to her room to pick up her things and get ready for the morning exercise.

She made a mental note to stop by the Yamanaka owned 'Herbs and Poisons' after breakfast and get some water solvable magnesium supplements or maybe a mineral mix would be better.

Maito Gai has been hearing the bell during his morning workout for a week now and finally his curiosity go the better of him. At dawn he directed his student to keep balancing the boulder as he ran around Konoha on his hands and made his way to the academy. The sight that awaited him made his hart flutter with delight.

As he had predicted someone else was up before dawn practicing. And the intensity was a bit lacking the complexity of the exercise made up for it. The blond twenty something kunoichi was doing simple abdominal crunches, counting out loud and keeping up ten bunshin all doing complex independent actions like juggling and academy taught kata. Two of them looked to be sparing and she was making it deceptively realistic.

Pulling off that kind of control over your bunshin was hard work for the mind, made even more difficult while she was also working on her body. She stood up after only fifty abb crunches, did a dozen quick stretches and dismissed her bunshin with a gesture. And they disappeared without smoke. And look! Her form wavered for moment. She reapplied a henge! Two illusions at once with only half a second disturbance. Not bad. For a chuunin. He smirked to himself. At her age he had all three basics down to a quarter second with only two half seals..

What was she doing now? She was moving a log to the track? Would she jog with it in her hands? He felt a slight disappointment as she just set it down and started running. What was she doing?

He was soon enlightened. The girl made a few half seals and without sound or smoke for a moment there were two of them. And then the afterimage faded and the log settled to the track with a slight waver. And the girl continued running without pause. After forty Kawarimi half-laps she settled down, replaced the log to it's place drank some water and grabbed her bag. He mentally corrected his opinion from a rookie chuunin to a prospective jounin. Even if there was something off about her movement and stamina.

Gai watched curiously as she performed an academy textbook cool down and then pulled out a sat of blank sheets a brush and started preparing ink. When she pricked herself and added some of her blood to the ink he realized she was working on a sealing.

Gai smiled at the mysterious henged kunoichi. Genjutsu, Ninjutsu, sealing. She was no close combat specialist but whoever was teaching the girl was not kidding around either. He moved up in his tree to see what she was making. Ah. Basic explosive tag. Useful and good on the budget. She had smooth and precise movements with the brush, despite still cooling down from practice. She was a bit slow, at this rate it would take her twenty minutes to finish the tag but he was convinced she would do it perfectly. Slow and steady won the day.

He wondered who she was. From what he had seen she had inadequate stamina for a chuunin kunoichi but she was working on it. Perhaps she was recovering from an injury? What he had seen of her basics was brilliant and she was clearly pushing for perfection. Perhaps she had ANBU ambitions? She had steady hands and had a mind that could grasp the basics of sealing at least, and was willing to put in the time if she was up before dawn.

He wondered who she was for a moment and then shrugged. He had tracked people down with less. How hard would it be to find out the name of a recovering, well rounded, veteran, blonde, twenty-ish chuunin kunoichi with ANBU ambitions? He wondered if she was seeing anyone.

He nipped that thought in the bud and left to find his student. He could ponder the thought later when it wouldn't qualify as stalking. he was the green beast of konoha and if he loved he loved openly! Stalking was Kakashi level un-youthfull.

Sakura was strolling down the street feeling good about herself and taking it easy on her off day unaware of getting the attention of certain people. Like say the academy staff or Maito Gai who was still searching for the 'most youthful sun flower'. In stead she eagerly anticipated her day. She had decided that on Sundays she would only read about sealing and chakra theory, write exploding tags and take the afternoon off to take a long bubble bath and read one of her favorite ninja romance novels. The fictional ninja in them had good tricks that were semi-usable. Too bad the author dumped the series for writing that Icha Icha smut. If her ever found the man she had a kick to the groin with his name on it.

Somewhere nearby Jiraya shuddered and decided to leave the hot springs for the day. Better no push his luck.

Sakura was truly feeling good about her progress. After only a week and a half she was hitting the mark on the Earth side. Mostly. She could already do three times the academy minimum strength workout in one sitting, she could run two laps around Konoha or fifty laps around the track. She had only fifty/fifty accuracy with acrobatic shots but it was improving. She could change her trajectory using the leaping monkey technique off a falling kunai while in mid air but she still couldn't make the kunai fly off to where she wanted it when she did it. So far so good but there was much much room for improvement.

Her chakra capacity was double what it was to the point of almost not being pathetic Which meant she had about a tenth of Sasuke-kun's. Or a hundredth of Naruto's. Still. So far so good. She really has been a lazy kunoichi until now doing the bare minimum on physical exercises. She was just glad one could flush away lactic acid buildup with a simple chakra infusion and that ninja's heal faster when their chakra capacity was full. Her mornings were a murder until she flushed her system with chakra. But in the last few days the pain has been much less then usual.

A single day of relaxing from active use of chakra and exercise was enough for the excess energies her body generated to soothe away the small aches and pains that even chakra diffusion didn't clear away. The body of a fully charged ninja was a paragon of health and efficiency when all the excess chakra a body generated went into body maintenance but some things still needed time and good old fashioned rest.

Heaven side was good as well, half seals were tricky to use properly but so useful that she couldn't believe they weren't teaching them in the academy. She had already learned to condense some parts of the seal sequences. Of course you could only easily do that with simpler D-rank ninjutsu but Sakura only had simple ninjutsu. According to the theory she read the more complex jutsu needed the focus. Unless of course you were Naruto.

I know damn well that a ram seal can't be all that is to that kagebunshin Naruto uses. He pisses me off so much. How can he have such lousy grades and be so stupid and then turn around and do something genius like that? She growled and kicked a rock.

"Damn Idiot Savant breaking the rules and grinning like some blond monkey like it was nothing." She muttered. A part of her felt vaguely guilty for swearing out loud but she suppressed it. She'll damn right say whatever she wants. Propriety be damned. Life was too short.

"Sakura!" A voice called out after her and she groaned. Speak of the idiot and he shall appear. There he was all grins and bounce. God, if I had his energy I'd be a frigging Jounin by now. Or I'd have exploded."

"Ah! What do you want Naruto?" She growled still a little miffed at him for making her head hurt with paradox.

"I just wanted to ask how are you doing? I haven't seen you since Kakashi-baka dumped me for Sasuke." He asked looking slightly abashed.

"Well I'm doing fine. Unlike for you Kakashi didn't see fit to get me any training so I'm training myself." She muttered bitterly.

"Bah! You don't need training! You're Sakura! You, like, know everything! Especially about chakra and stuff." He stopped bouncing on the balls of his feet and looked like he had an epiphany. "Ne Sakura? Why do we even have to do the stupid walk on water thing?"

"Chakra control you dummy! You can't be a ninja without chakra control." She sighed. 'How can he be so dense.'

"But my new sensei says I don't need control since I never run out of chakra and have that other chakra to pull out even if I do run out." He whined.

Sakura started at him for along moment, her arm twitching with the urge to just smack him silly over so grossly misinterpreting whoever was teaching him and get it over with. She took a deep breath and calmed down. Murdering my team mate would look bad on my record. And he did save my life a few times. So I owe him.

Coming to a decision she stood straighter and looked him in the eye.

"Alright Naruto do you really want to understand this?" She asked him. Of course even if she did owe him it didn't mean he'd get lessons for free. She might as well bum a meal out of him and fill her recently bottomless stomach. The blond bounce ball always seemed to have money in that silly frog wallet of his.

"Of course I do! But it's so complicated with chakra ratio's formulas and flow speeds and Ram-Ox variables." He groaned. "It gives me a headache jut thinking about it."

Sakura resisted another reflexive urge to smack him. Had she really gotten that used to doing it that it became habit? But as her stomach was already complaining it was lunch time the thought was set aside. To be honest you didn't need to know the mathematics of chakra theory to do it. The heavens know that most of her class barely got the basics of it.

"Alright. You feed me and I'll try to put it in as simple terms as I can while we have lunch." She offered.

He stared at her in disbelief for a long moment and then let out a loud whoop. "Alright! Ramen time!"

Sakura shrugged. Food is food.

5. Ramen = Chakra ?

"Two Beef specials with sprouts." Ayame said putting the order down in front of her customers and winking at Naruto.

"Itadakimasu!" Yelled Naruto and started inhaling the ramen.

"Naruto!" Sakura yelled.

"Whaa!" He asked, a noodle hanging from his mouth.

"Just this once eat slowly? And pay attention. It's the polite thing to do when you eat in serious company. Especially if it's a business lunch. "

"Alright Dind't knw." He mumbled and miraculously tried to do what he was told.

"Ok, listen. All living things make chakra. I won't go into theory much but to be alive you have to have at least a little bit of chakra."

He nodded and slowly ate his ramen, trying to pay attention but his eyes darting too and from. He was like a blond puppy, Sakura realized, wandering away if you lost his attention for even a moment. She resisted the urge to smile at him. It would only set him of now that she finally got him to listen. She ate some ramen and and then told him in a very grim tone.

"If you run completely out of chakra you die."

"What!" He exclaimed. "No one told me that!"

"It was in the academy lectures. Tho I suppose you never pay attention to those."

"Well they're..." He started to complain when Sakura cut him off.

"Shh. Eat your ramen and listen."

"Chakra is generated, that means produced or created if you don't know from two parts. Spiritual energy and Physical energy. Spiritual energy is sometimes called Mental energy and people argue all the time if it comes from the soul or from the unique electric impulses of a sentient, that means a living thinking, brain. I believe it comes from both mind and the soul."

"What? We have electricity in our brain?" Naruto asked as he waved at Ayame for seconds.

"Yes we do. Its how we think. But it doesn't matter right now. If you want to learn about Genjutsu I'll tell you more about the brain some other time. I was talking about Spiritual energy. To increase spiritual energy you have to become smarter by studying, meditate a lot like monks do or find an inner determination to pursue your goals. You want to be Hokage right? Don't speak just nod."

Naruto nodded enthusiastically.

"Well then. When you really really focus on how much you want to be Hokage. Or how much you want to get to Ichiraku's to get ramen. When you completely focus on how important it is to defeat your opponent or when you are really having fun or learning something new your brain learns how to generate more spiritual energy to help you with your task. This also happens when the Hokage, or a ninja puts all he is into protecting the village or those that are important to them. That is called The Will of Fire."

Naruto stopped eating for a moment and stared at her with large eyes. Sakura could see that he got some understanding out of this and could also see he was about to explode in enthusiastic shouting again.

"Your ramen is getting cold." She pointed out and he got distracted from his tirade by quickly consuming his meal.

"So to recap, that means to repeat something to confirmed you learned by the way. Spiritual energy is made by the brain and the soul. Will of Fire. Physical on the other hand is made by the cells in our body. It gets increased by exercising your limits. This is called the Buns of Steel." She joked a the end and Naruto snickered. She was beginning to see how easy it was to see when you were losing him. His eyes would dim or glitter depending on how much he was following you.

"Oh I know what cells are. Those little things in our blood that carry air!" Naruto offered.

Sakura stared at him and then shrugged. Well he had to know something to pass biology in his first year.

"Close. Red blood cells deliver oxygen to the rest of the cells in our body, and then those cells, and the mitochondria inside them, work hard to produce physical energy."

"We have more cells?" He asked and Sakura gaped at him. 'You have got to be fucking kidding me? Is he..." And then it dawned on her. He wasn't that stupid. He just didn't know basic stuff everyone else did. She filed that away for pondering later.

"Our bodies are made out of cells Naruto. Your bones, your hair, you skin, your muscle everything. Cells are what living things are made of. Like a house is made out of bricks and stuff." She explained.

His face scrunched up and she patiently finished off her ramen as he absorbed that.

"And these myto... Myto cho things that live in our cells? They make the physical half of the chakra?" He finally asked. And Sakura's eyebrow rose. He was following this.

"Mitochondria Exactly. So to recap where do we get both halves of our chakra?" she asked him.

"Um. Spiritual from lightning in our brain and soul. Physical from My to chon duria in our cells." he enunciated carefully. "Um. Sakura? How come we don't fry ourselves if we have electricity in our heads?"

Sakura considered explaining voltage and power ratios and then dismissed the idea.

"It's a very very small kind of electricity that makes our body move and stuff. Which is why when you get shocked your body and brain get confused resulting in spasms or unconsciousness."

Naruto nodded in understanding. Mini lightning good. Big lighting bad.

"Now what does this have to do with water walking you ask yourself?" Sakura asked as she signaled Ayame for another bowl.

Naruto nodded. For once waiting patiently for the rest of the lesson. Well, patiently for himself, which meant he was fidgeting in his seat, eating ramen and occasionally glancing around, especially when she wasn't talking.

"Chakra mix ratio." She said and she could see Naruto frown she put up a hand to stop any questions.

"Look, when you make ramen you have to make it just right mix of this ingredient or that or you get bad ramen right? Well you can't get bad chakra. You have to use the proper amount of Physical and Spiritual when molding chakra. And what does not get used is thrown away. What you do with bad chakra control is basically take a steak, cut off a piece or three to make ramen with and then throw away the rest of the steak. Sure you have a herd of cattle and I have only a little calf Naruto. But it's a waste if you make ten bowls of ramen out of a cow instead of a hundred or a thousand. I on the other hand can make ninety nine to a hundred bowls from a calf every time."

Naruto stared at her in resigned understanding for a moment and then sighed. "I should learn water walking then?"

Sakura nodded. "Don't forget to keep practicing your tree climbing as well. Use different trees and other surfaces to really get the most out of it. I'm currently leaf floating while I sit upside down on a tree or a wall."

Naruto stared at her confused. "Practice... my tree climbing?"

"Are you telling me you haven't been doing any tree climbing since we came back from Wave country?" Sakura asked incredulously.

"He he. Kinda?" He said rubbing the back of his head nervously and watched her as she sighed. "Um. Sakura. Don't get me wrong. But how come you aren't getting angry at me for being stupid?"

"Naruto you're not stupid. You can't be. Stupid people can't condense a complicated bunshin into a single seal, take ANBU for a chase across rooftops just for kicks and elude them or do the things you do in a fight when you aren't just charging blindly. I think you just have trouble learning like everybody else. As for getting angry?" She shrugged. "This is a lesson. Only a bad teacher would yell at you for asking questions or not knowing something. Not when you are trying to understand the subject. Besides we're team mates and you asked for my help with a job related issue." She smirked and threatened him with her fist. "I'll punch you some other time when you are being annoying."

"You're mean Sakura-chan!" Naruto exclaimed but her laughed with her. "I'll work on my chakra control I promise. Even if it's hard."

"Well that's about it. But here is another reason for wanting good chakra control." Sakura added.

"Another reason?"

"Jutsus." Sakura said smugly as he perked up. "With better chakra control you can learn use and modify jutsus better."

Sakura made a rabbit seal followed by a single ram half-seal. And suddenly with a small pop there were two Sakuras sitting in the booth and eating ramen. Naruto gaped.

"How did you do that? No smoke or anything" Naruto exclaimed.

"How do you make Kagebunshin with only a ram seal?" Sakura retorted.

"Put more chakra in?" Naruto replied.

Sakura stared at him for a long moment and then banged her head on the table and groaned.

"Well you asked!" He exclaimed. "You have to be carefully when you do it or it goes wonky and explodes but it only takes a bit more chakra to push it through a single seal. It took me while to figure it out."

The expanded explanation made her feel a bit better. He wasn't breaking the rules. He just didn't know the rules and stumbled on to solutions by trial and error. Or he really was an Idiot Savant. Sakura suspected that perhaps he wasn't stupid but had a learning disability in stead.

"Well I don't use more chakra Naruto. More chakra is not the solution to everything, in fact now that I think about it that's probably why your bunshin don't work. You have to use exactly the right amount of chakra in them or they don't work or blow lots of smoke. What I'm doing is refining my control over the academy jutsu so I can cast them in an instant without thinking about it and with less seals. Currently I'm learning half seals so I can mold with only one hand and throw kunai with the other."

"Wow that sounds cool, can you teach me?" He asked.

"Hit sixty, seventy percent chakra efficiency and I'll think about it."

"But Sakura-chan? How can I know when I do that?" Naruto whined.

"Compare the total amount of Spiritual and Physical energy you draw and compare it to the amount of chakra you get. Try to draw equal amounts of each. When you loose only half your spiritual or physical energy that's fifty percent. Come see me then and we'll talk precision."

Sakura finished her second bowl of ramen as Naruto finished his fifth and they signaled for more.

"No wonder you eat so much considering how much energy you burn on you molding." She commented, making small talk now that the lesson was over.

"What do you mean?" Asked Naruto, confused.

"Well, I eat much more now that I'm spending my days burning chakra during practice. Sometimes It feels like I'm always hungry."

He shrugged. "Well yeah. If you use a lot of chakra you get hungry." He stopped eating for a moment. "Wait. That means... When I waste chakra I waste Ramen?"

Sakura stared at his horrified expression and almost snorted ramen out of her nose at that statement.

"Sakura! This is serious. You have to help me get better at this control thing!" He pleaded.

Sakura just laughed and laughed.

She wasn't sure about agreeing to meet with Naruto next Sunday to help refine his chakra control but he offered to feed her and food was a big deal for Sakura these days. She gave him a few instructions before she left and threatened with bodily harm if he misconstrued them hanging out as a date. She made sure he understood by grabbing his head and giving him a noogie until he pleaded mercy and swore he won't even think the word date.

Finances have been on her mind ever since she started enhancing her training with chakra pills. She had a tight budget and while her parents would feed her no questions asked she didn't want her mother to realize she was eating almost five times her usual. She had plenty of money for food but soldier pills were another issue. And they were important because the intensity of practice they enabled shaved months of her training regime.

Fifty Ryo for a box of three soldier pills was a fair price but she only had about seven hundred Ryo left in her money box. The extra food she was buying to sate her constant hunger for meat and sugars (and sprouts of all things) wasn't cheap either. Protein bars and mixing vitamin and mineral solutions in a water bottle helped stave off hunger until meals but those babies were ten Ryo a pop. Plus she splurged sixty Ryo yesterday afternoon on a stake and potato special at the Akamichi restaurant. She couldn't do that too often.

'But it was sooo good to sink my teeth into that soft, succulent veal. What the hell was I thinking I was doing with all those diets. Dumb ass.' She smiled at the thought. She'd have to repeat that at least once or twice a month.

At least she was too tired every night to dream much. Getting killed in your sleep every night would have driven her nuts. Heck by the time she went home a sundown she was too tired to think too much let alone worry. So no flashbacks of Bad Things.

The sealing stuff was a surprise. Her basic exploding tags were really good and she was making them faster then she believed she would. They primed perfectly and burned for exactly three seconds before exploding. She had to see if the stores would buy them from a genin. If she continued burning through her money without more income she'd run out and her plans would get set back by months. And until the exams were over she had no other income.


Ino had Monday morning duty in the Yamanaka flower shop and was dozing in her chair. She was never at her best at seven AM and so it was forgivable that she was startled out of a light sleep by the chime of the shop doors opening.

She snapped to her feet. "Welcome to Yamanaka Flower shop! The best flower shop in Kong!" She spoke with long ingrained habit in a carefully modulated cheerful tone. Of course the zombie impression of her body language made it anything but welcoming.

"Hey Ino!" Sakura said with an amused expression on her face.

"Sakura! Hi. Going on a mission?" She inquired curiosity spiked. Sakura was wearing simple slacks made out of ninja cloths. The unsightly mission ones with ceramic fibers woven into them. Her shirt was the same, with leather additions on elbows and shoulders. Ino didn't like the added weight but Sakura made them look... Good. She looked like a ninja. Well of course she looked like a ninja but she looked like the seniors did. Relaxed but ready. Like she had grown comfortable with the added weight. With the more practical length hair she looked like a proper ninja should. And was that a protein bar she was nibbling?

"Nah. I had some free time since my team mates are training and decided to do the same or I'd fall behind further." Sakura shrugged

"Oh." Ino didn't know what to say so she resorted to the old standby. "You know you'll get fat if you eat those things." She teased lightly.

Sakura chuckled. "Have you ever seen a fat kunoichi Ino?"

Ino pondered that for a few moments. "Well, no not exactly." She conceded the point.

"No more diets for me Ino. I'm eating whatever my body needs to get stronger and exercise takes care of any fat that might have wanted to attach itself to my hips." Sakura expanded.

"Aren't you worried you'll bulk up?" Ino asked. Something was different about her long time friend and rival. "Sasuke-kun doesn't like bulky women."

Sakura sighed. "Sasuke-kun doesn't seem to like any women. He is either still too young or he's too focused on his brother."

"He has a brother?" Ino asked, in surprise.

"Itachi. He's a missing nin. He wants to kill him bad Ino. That's why he was the rookie of the year. As far as I can tell all he does is train, eat and sleep. I worry about him." Sakura said sadly.

"So you're not after him any more? Does that mean I can have him?" Ino asked a teasing glint in her eye bringing a responding fire from Sakura. But it faded all too quickly.

"Fat chance Ino. I still like him. He's Sasuke-kun! But you have about as much chance right now as I do. Slim to none. I don't think he'll become interested in romance any time soon." Sakura sighed sadly. "I don't think I'll have much time to romance him either."

"Sakura?" Ino stepped closer to her friend, concerned my the morose tone the usually perky Sakura was using. She led her suddenly fragile looking friend towards a courtesy bench.

"I'm so far behind Ino." Sakura confided as they sat down. "And the missions will keep getting more dangerous. I realized I can't be a damsel in distress an more Ino. I'm a ninja."

"What are you talking about."

"Back in the forest Ino. Sasuke was out cold. Naruto was bleeding and pinned down. It was just me and enemy ninja. I can't tell you everything because Hokage made some things classified but the sound didn't want our scroll. They just wanted to kill us Ino. If Team Gai didn't come when they did I'd have been killed. Sasuke and Naruto too. I barely held out for a minute Ino. One minute. I had the site trapped. I had surprise. I had home advantage and I barely wounded one of them." Sakura sniffed. "I'm just a little girl playing ninja Ino. It's time to grow up."

"Sakura..." Ino muttered as she wrapped her arms around her best friend. She didn't like it when Sakura was sad. They bickered and fought but sad Sakura was bad and Ino didn't like it. Ever. She hated everyone who made Sakura sad. It was unforgivable.

"I don't want to die Ino." Sakura whispered. And a pang of fear ran down Ino's spine. This conversation was way too dark for her liking. She needed to cheer Sakura up. Fast!

She put two fingers under Sakura's chin an lifted her Sakura's head to look in her pretty tear stained eyes.

"You're not going to die Sakura." She said firmly.

"Ino..." Sakura tried to look away but Ino didn't let her. Finally Sakura gave up sighed. She stared back, seeing the strength of Ino's steely conviction. A pang of familiarity spread across her soul. It wasn't the first time Ino did something like this.

"No one is going to die. You'll train your ass off. And I'll light a fire under my team as well. We're Konoha Nin, Sakura. We'll beat anyone that comes after us into the ground." She smiled confidently and Sakura echoed it.

They sat like that, Sakura's arms around Ino and looking close into her eyes. Ino nodded, satisfied before closing her eyes and pulling Sakura into a hug. Connecting them once more after a year of petty rivalry with far too little friendly interaction. After a long comforting moment they pulled away and looked at each other again.

Ino smiled and whispered gently: "And then, when you and I kick everyone's ass." Ino paused significantly. "I'll take Sasuke-kun from you."

For an endless moment Sakura looked at her best friend, breathless at the warmth in Ino's tone before Ino's words registered. Ino could see the shifting of emotions in the pink haired girl's eyes and she smiled as Sakura jumped back and spluttered in indignation.

Ino grinned broadly at her friend. A mad glint in her eye. 'Ah yes. Now I remember why I went after Sasuke-kun in the first place. He's cute and all but really, it's Sakura's reactions when I needle her about it that make up most of the fun.'

It wasn't like the Uchia ever paid any attention to her.

Sakura walked down the street feeling oddly light. Once again an encounter with Ino dissolved into bickering and insults. And yet... Ino was grinning way to much for Sakura to take her seriously. And in the end they dissolved into giggles like they used to, a long time ago.

When they calmed down Ino had said to her something she hadn't for a long time. 'Now that's the Sakura I know and like.'

After that she finally managed to do what she came there to do, buy the enhancement mix necessary for chakra ink. The discretely separated back room of the non-civilian part of the shop was so different then the flowery front. Locked cabinets that contained Chunin and Jounin restricted poisons and drugs were almost hidden amongst the infusions, herbs remedies and plants of all kinds. And for the first time she recognized that the decorations along the walls has seals hidden in them.

Ino was surprised with Sakura's request but her mother mixed the infusion quickly and efficiently cautioning Sakura that while the infusion would keep indefinitely on it's own when she combined it with living blood and ink it would only keep for 24 hours before the unused ink lost it's properties.

"Always mix only as much as you need." Ino's mother had cautioned her exactly like the books did. She left the shop a hundred Ryo lighter but much happier.

Ino had cheered her up and given her the confidence to execute her 'improvised finance' plan.

It was Wednesday when a nervous looking genin walked into Tags and Kunai and the proprietor took stock of her. Ah the kid that came in a few times and bought soldier pills. He put on his best 'I-sell-stuff-buy-lots' smile and greeted her.

"Ah, welcome welcome. Haruno-san right? What'l it be? Protein bars and soldier pills again? Working hard on our little bet are we?" he joked and chuckled to himself. Like she had a snow balls chance in hell of pulling it off.

Sakura nodded and then paused uncertainly. "Yes I need some more. Um... I was also wondering if you were I the market for some quality exploding tags?"

The old Wolf nodded neutrally, silly Genin, ninja shops wee always in the market for quality tags. Smoke tags. Exploding tags, fire tags, disruption tags, flash-bangs You name it ninja bough it. "Show me." he said and watched as she pulled out a tag out of a the back pouch of her kunai holster.

He studied it carefully. Not that many ninja had the right mix of patience, mathematical know how and skill to make tags, and everyone from genin to kage used them. There was enough to go around but he pretty much sold any he made himself and then some. The tags were number one on his turnover list after all. He was surprised that a genin had extra but if they were good he'd buy them for resale. He studied the tag and liked what he saw. The simple type one tags were well made. Precise lines, average size. Nothing fancy but good quality.

"Ah. good good. These aren't that bad. I'll give you half the market value for these."

Sakura stared at him. "Sixty percent."

"Fifty fife and that's cause I like you. I always buy Tags at fifty percent."

She frowned but didn't say anything for a moment. "How about a trade in stead?"

"What did you have in mind?"

"My choice of fifty five percent or two boxes of soldier pills and ten bars for ten tags, I'll probably have ten or so every few days?"

"What do you think I was born yesterday? One box and ten bars. Fifty five percent is fine."

"Two boxes and six bars. Keep in mind that I know tags sell better then soldier pills."

"Alright. That sounds fair. You bring in ten tags I'll get you your cash or merchandise." He finally agreed. She actually squeezed him for a bit more then sixty percent on the merchandise but she was right. Tags were a better selling item and he still made a profit. He wondered for a moment if she was using the pills herself or supplying her team mates as well but decided it was none of his business. A pill or three was not going to harm the kid if she was careful.

"Your sensei giving you extra tags for practice?" he asked in stead. If her sensei was a seal crafter he might look him up and make a little side deal.

"Um. Actually I made these." Sakura said nervously.

Wolf stared at her for a long moment and then nodded understandingly.

"Ah. Smart smart. That's gonna save you a lot of money in the long term. You didn't mention you can work seals when we talked last?"

Sakura shrugged. "Well I only made a few tags out of curiosity before. But I decided recently I should better myself and am studying the basics of sealing. Maybe in time I'll figure out storage scrolls and yield variables of exploding tags. Maybe cross that with Genjutsu foci and stuff."

"Well if you can understand that stuff bully for you. Just be careful and don't blow yourself up kid." He told her. "If you make other types let me know and I might buy those as well."

"Can do mister, I'm always careful." She pulled out a stack of thirty tags out of her jacket pocket. "That will be six boxes of soldier pills and eighteen protein bars." She smiled at him innocently.

The man, once again got taken off balance. The pink kid kept surprising him. He chuckled to himself. Either it was that wide eyed pinky little girl look that was getting him to underestimate her or he was getting complacent in his old age. "Sure thing kid, go help yourself while I look these over right quick."

If they were the same quality he'd take them. The tags would be gone in a day or two after all

"Oh and kid. Name's Kenshin. Kusanagi Kenshin. People I do business with call me Ken. And I have the feeling you'll be bringing me more then just tags soon enough." He gave her his best I'm-just-a-honest-buisinessman smile and offered he a small bow.

"Haruno Sakura. Pleased to meet you. Ken-San If we'll do business together you should call me Sakura." Sakura responded in kin.

"If you keep making tags we'll do that for a long time, Sakura-san."

Interlude: Butterfly effect.

Naruto lay on his back in the far off training ground exhausted. Currently he was doing something he was not accustomed to. Thinking.

Ero Sanin wanted him to draw on the red chakra and summon with it. So he kept making Naruto exhaust himself before trying to summon. After his talk with Sakura Naruto made a bunch of clones and did some tree climbing to spend the chakra faster. It was the first time someone looked at him in surprised approval, like he did something smart. He made a mental note to thank Sakura-chan for that.

A whole week had past since that conversation and he was working hard on tree walking and summoning. And now that he thought about it the whole exhaust yourself and then summon thing sounded fishy to Naruto. He didn't want to die.

Still. If he got a baby frogling while on the edge of chakra exhaustion... He could probably summon something if he tried gathering a lot of chakra while he was at full capacity. In fact. He was going to do that just as soon as he recovered all of his chakra. Yeah. He jumped to his feet. He knew only one way to recover chakra fast. Ichirakus!

He patted his belly as he made his way back to the remote training ground and took a deep breath. Ok what was it Sakura said. Brain and Body in equal parts. He wasn't smart but it was really important. He wanted to beat on Neji-baka for Hinata-chan. So it was really important. And he was gonna pummel Neji with his fist that was his word as a ninja!

Naruto was never one for long pondering so he just started to gather chakra. More then he did for a hundred kagebunshin. More then he ever gathered at once. And then just like that it clicked. He could feel them clearly. The different types of energy moving into his stomach and he was forming much more physical energy then mental. So he tried to think real hard about avenging Hinata-chan and beating in Neji-baka. And as the chakra began to form he could tell a lot less was wasted then usual. He was almost to that fifty percent thing Sakura wanted him to hit!

Glowing slightly blue from the excess energies his massive gathering of chakra had wasted he bit his thumb, made the seals and called out the necessary words.

A massive cloud of white and red smoke, the remnants of an imbalanced chakra ratio and the trickles of semi-filtered Kyuubi's chakra that always permeated Naruto's system engulfed the clearing and then, just like that a large red toad the size of a house, dressed in a stud riddled black leather jacket stood before him. He was looking around intently and gripping the handle of a knife the size of a lamp post that was on his belt.

Naruto stared at him in awe and then whooped in glee and jumped around the clearing.

"Yeah! I did it! Take that Ero-sanin! I'm the best. In your face!"

The toad looked at him in surprise and then an indulgent smile formed on it's large face. He adjusted his studded leather jacket that said 'The Bunta Group' on the back and then carefully pinned down the kid with two fingers.

"Hey! What's the big idea!" Naruto complained.

"It's good manners for the summoner and summon to introduce ones selves when they first meet. Some might take your behavior as an insult you know." The toad spoke in a deep somber voice. "I'm not much for passing hot air but some traditions have to be followed."

Naruto scratched the back of his head. "Ah, sorry I don't know much about manners and stuff but I'm really glad to meet you. My name is Uzumaki Naruto of Konoha team seven. I'm gonna be Hokage some day." He confided to the large amphibian..

"Very well Naruto Uzumaki of Konoha. I am Gamaki of the Bunta group. First Under boss to Gamabunta. I congratulate you on summoning me."

"Ne Gamaki-san whatsa under boss?"

"That means I'm the second strongest among the frog summons. Only my Dad is stronger. At least until I catch up in a few hundred years. Tell me kid, how's your chakra levels right now? Can you fight?"

Naruto tilted his head and then focused inwards. Wow, he never used so much chakra at once. He felt good, like some pressure had lifted from his body. He knew he wasn't out of chakra. It felt different. He tried molding some chakra and it came eagerly.

"Ok I guess? I'm pretty low right now but It's filling up. I'm up for a scrap if someone messes with me." He growled eagerly.

"Well then Naruto-san. Earn your right to summon me in battle. Show me what you can do." The summon drew his massive knife, cut himself a bit, placed his palm on the ground and with a poof of smoke a frog the size of Naruto was standing in front of him.

"What can I do for you boss?" The smaller frog asked and Gamaki answered.

"Fight the kid. Let's see what he can do."

"Yes Sir!" The smaller frog grinned and cracked his knuckles.

Naruto gulped.

Jiraya was on his way to the training ground to check on the kid, contemplating the cliff method when he came across a slightly battered Naruto making his way towards the residential area

"Naruto! Who told you to stop practicing!" Her landed in front of the boy and growled menacingly.

"I managed to summon a really cool toad so there!" Naruto countered sticking his tongue out at the old pervert.

The toad sage raised his eyebrow in surprise. "Oh? Who did you get?"

"Gamaki!" Naruto said smugly.

"Gamakichi you mean?" Jiraya corrected the kid. Heh, no way did the kid summon the under boss but maybe he really did summon his younger brother.

"Nope! Gamaki! The First under boss! And he said anyone with my amount of sheer guts can call on him in battle any time. So there." He said sticking his tongue out at his teacher.

Jiraya was slightly surprised at this news. The kid managed to summoned the under boss already and had enough chakra to go through the toads test afterward. He accessed the fox already. The kid was brilliant! "So you managed to get the red chakra then. Good."

"Nope! That was all me!" Naruto said smugly. "I managed to get my chakra mix ratio to almost fifty percent for the first while I was doing it too!"

Jiraya was stunned. Not only did the kid dull seeming kid know what a chakra mix ratio was. He had enough of his own chakra to... What was... This scrawny genin had... Jiraya had no words. He just stood there. Rapid chakra regeneration he could understand. But the kid probably had almost as much chakra as Jiraya himself did. Well. A third at least. Maybe half. Not counting the sealed parts or sage mode. 'He's gonna be a ninjutsu monster when he's older. With or without the foxes chakra.

He pondered the novelty of the idea. A stable jinchuriki that didn't need to draw on his demon. It was a pipe dream of course. But still...

"Um. Ero-sanin? You ok?" Naruto asked worriedly.

"Huh? Oh right kid. You know what. Let's forget about the red chakra for now and see if we can get that water walking down. And your chakra capacity up. If you're lucky you'll be able to summon the Boss by the end of the month. By the end of the year for sure."

"Eh? You really think so old man?" Naruto asked beaming..

"Sure. The boss take about twice as much chakra as the under boss If we get you to mix your chakra more efficiently and I put you through a stamina raising regime. Yeah kid. I know you can do it."

Naruto beamed. Someone believed in him. A legendary ninja even. And he was gonna train him properly. He was gonna be Hokage so fast everyone heads would spin.

"I'll do it in two weeks." He proclaimed.

"Yeah yeah. Calm down." Jiraya dismissed the boast. "First thing first. We have to put you on a training diet. You have to start eating things other than ramen and put some meat on those bones."

"Whaaaat? No way!" A startled scream of disbelief rang across Konoha and life was back to normal.

Sakura finished her morning training and sighed. It was a week before the Chunin fights am she had hit a plateau with her physical training. Her research noted that there was only so much progress the body can do in a certain amount of time, especially at her age. But that didn't bother her so much. Her muscles were nice and toned but not bulky like she had feared. The monkey bars didn't bother her any more and she shaved another thirty seconds from her obstacle course run.

She would maintain her new level of fitness and work on her stamina and her Jutsus.

'Now there I'm really stuck.' She grumbled internally.

She sighed as she sat on the swings and ate the second breakfast she had boxed before leaving the house. She would go over the chakra matrix equations of the basic academy jutsus later. She was probably missing some small detail that would enable her to make that last leap.

"Excuse me miss? The children will be coming in in a half an hour." A voice startled her out of her musings

"Eh? Iruka sensei?" Sakura started and looked at her watch. "Oh. My training got extended a bit long eh? I'll relocate as soon as I finish breakfast don't worry."

"Have we met?" The man inquired a polite but puzzled expression on his face. "The others claim you were my student but..."

Sakura stared at him for a long moment and then chuckled. "I forgot. Give me moment."

She lifted her sleeve and rubbed the inside of her right fore arm and removed a minor seal. "It's technically cheating but it helps focus on the secondary illusions when doing half sealed construction of bunshin." She said as she wiped the mark and dismissed the henge. Iruka stared as the exotic, dark skinned, blonde kunoichi turned into a familiar pink haired genin and then smiled.

"Sakura!" Iruka beamed happily. "That was an excellent illusion! I didn't even notice the difference in height! Been working on your basics have you? Working on a little illusion theory perhaps?"

"Thank you sensei. I've been making progress in my studies but, I still can't figure out what I'm doing wrong."

"Wrong? Are you having difficulty with something? I'd be happy to help." He offered.

"Here take a look." Sakura made a half seal with her left hand and two bunshin instantly sprang silently into existence on either side of her.

Iruka gaped for a moment and then composed himself with a cough. "Well I don't see any problem. Your bunshin technique looks pretty much perfect to me. No residue, no loss of chakra to be sensed. Instant casting. You are as ready for the next level of bunshin as anyone can be. I'd suggest starting off with an elemental bunshin that matches your affinity but with this level of control you could probably learn them all if you wanted to."

"But I still can't do it without the last half seal, My bunshin just come out as a bunch of smoke. I can't do any of the basics without a seal. Well, aside for the Leaping Monkey." Sakura pouted.

Iruka's lips twitched and he coughed. "Well. Yes. You will probably have to do them a couple thousand times over a limited period of time before you can instinctively mold chakra without seals. Tedious but it's the only way aside for experience of doing them for years in the field. Have you been doing a lot of roof hopping?"

"I pretty much roof hop everywhere I go these days. I's good for my chakra capacity." Sakura confirmed.

"Well there you go. Practice the Bunshin as much as you can each day and after couple of thousand times you will realize you don't need the last half seal."

Sakura beamed at her sensei. Two weeks ago the thought of performing a jutsu a thousand times would crush her. But she had already done at least a thousand in the past few weeks.

"Thank you Iruka sensei." She said ash she gathered he things. "I'll go and practice some more. Have a good day!"

She waved at the teacher and jumped from her spot and landed in a tree ten meters away.

"Sakura!" He sounded a bit strange as he called out for her but she stopped and turned around.

"Yes Iruka Sensei?"

"Look me up when you get it and I'll teach you an elemental bunshin."

"Thank you Iruka sensei!"

As she left Iruka stared after her for a long time. "Kakashi I retract everything I said about your teaching skills. You did good by this one."

He went back inside still feeling a bit stunned. "Perfect bunshin at her age. In two and a half weeks since the preliminaries. Going for seal-less. At this rate she'll have the other two done in a few months as well."

The instinctive grasp of ninjutsu that comes with truly mastering the basics, and the girl excellent chakra control? She should probably be able to write her own ticket as far as ninjutsu goes even with her somewhat dodgy chakra capacity.

He had to buy that man a drink next time he saw him.

Almost a week after her conversation with Iruka sensei Sakura stood at training ground seventeen and concentrated. If Naruto the slowest student in the academy could do it with advanced bunshin she could do it with the regulars.

She concentrated and in quick succession, four by four an army of generic male soldiers sprang into existence and marched in formation away from her until she kept it up she could barely concentrate on each individual bunshin. A couple lost cohesion and she stopped making more. Forty seven clones. Three more then yesterday. That was how many she could keep up at once. And even then they pretty much did the same action and that was it. Blast that idiot savant. I can't believe he's up to summoning already.

She had continued experimenting with bunshin, taking Iruka Sensei's words as fact and it paid off. Creation speed, dismissal speed, variations, left handed seal, right handed seals and finally seal-less. Attempting split casting with two half seals had an amusing effect of two headed clones. She could pull off a simultaneouss Kawarimi-Henge combo when using separate hand seals but it was really tricky to pull of. Still, like every day before she kept things up until she almost ran out of chakra, made exploding tags as she waited for her reserves to replenish and then she'd perform rapid, multiple Kawarimi around the clearing combined with kunai throwing. Rinse and repeat with the soldier pills doubling her chakra regeneration made up a lot of ground.

She yawned as she looked at her watch. One more round of Bunshin, keeping back about four percent of her capacity and then it would be time to roof hop home. She would eat. Shower and drop into bed until the morning. The routine was comforting. She even slept in henge yesterday and didn't even realize it until she looked in the mirror in the morning and saw the blue streaks in her hair and violet eyes.

And over the last few days, In her dreams? She was no longer dying. She was winning.

The Proprietor of Tag and Kunai was a semi-retired, one armed ANBU that mustered out after the war due to loss of limb. He partially owns the shop, with Konoha as his silent, majority partner. At forty six he was an old ninja. But no less dangerous or perceptive. So when the pink haired, tag making genin walked into his shop with a smug look on her face, somehow, his first instinct was to be elsewhere.

Of course he couldn't really hide since she already saw him. And throwing down a smoke grenade and riding the shunshin express would be a blatant act of cowardice reserved for when his wife was experiencing PMS.

So whatever it was he decided to take it like a man. What could a little girl do to him anyway. She didn't look angry. Gone were the dark circles under her eyes and she had a healthy glow about her. And now that he considered it she had an extremely faint chakra signature. Her being so low on chakra yet looking perky meant she was burning a soldier pill. He made a mental note to talk to her and learn exactly how many she was using.

"Hi! Remember me?" She intones cheerfully. Too cheerfully.

"Of course I do! The cutest tag crafter I know and soon to be favorite customer!" He intoned. 'By favorite I mean I of course mean paying and regular.'

"Yup, that's me! Haruno Sakura. I'm here for my discount and my training manual." She intoned smugly.

The gray haired shinobi raised his eyebrow. Trying to bluff her way into profit. Gutsy.

"So you can do all three basic academy tests without any seals?" He asked, knowing the answer.

The girl might have, just maybe, by working 24/7 gotten them down to half seals. Heck it took him three months of training to refine his control to the point where he could take the specialized ANBU proficiency training that qualified you for joining ANBU. Advanced stealth. Seal-less basics plus tree climbing and water walking performed under while Hidden Rabbit chakra suppression technique. Academy basics, performed well become a stealthy weapon of a true assassin. Basic precepts of ANBU. The specialized training you get when you join.

She smiled and suddenly there were three pink haired girls. A blink and suddenly they were different people. None of them pink haired. An almost silent whoosh of air and suddenly one of the punching bags for sale replaced the middle one. He looked at the far corner of the room and the smug genin was right there beaming at him.

And her smile was infectious. He chuckled. And then the chuckle threatened to disolve into laughter but he controlled himself.

"Oh very good! Now come over here." He had meant for her to walk but she exchanged herself with the bag again. Show off.

He formed a half seal. 'Kai' He intoned mentally and her henge wavered for a moment but stayed attached. He put a hand on her shoulder.

"Dismiss those two and call two new ones." He ordered.

She tilted her head and just like they flickered out of existence and then back in. He could hardly fee any residue and he was touching her.

"Do the Hidden Rabbit." He ordered her a tinge of excitement finally rushing through his cynical veins.

She formed the half ram and then paused and blinked. "Oh."

"What's wrong?" He growled. He wanted her to be able to do this under the Hidden Rabbit. That would be just... Perfect. A prodigy. One that taught herself! He could probably get her into ANBU the moment she made chuunin Heck, the Hokage would probably make an exception for her and get her in as genin. Maybe even promote her.

"What's the holdup."

"Um. I forgot to remove it when I was doing my calisthenics this morning." She stammered nervously. "Hold on."

She briefly flickered in his chakra senses as she took it off and re applied it. In about two seconds. He realized she wasn't low on chakra she was suppressing it. She didn't have a lot of it, but she was fairly decent for a female genin.

He stepped back and stared at her for a long moment as she squirmed and then he smiled.

"I'm guessing you were not joking about having almost perfect chakra control." He finally intoned.

She looked like she wanted to say something and he stopped her with a gesture.

"Ok kid. Mind the store for me for a few minutes, if someone in an ANBU mask comes in tell them Dire Wolf will be right back ok?"

With that he disappeared in a swirl of leaves.

Sakura was confused. She hadn't expected the calm, professional testing of her new found skills. Or to be left in charge of the store so suddenly.

She stood there for a few moments and then shrugged and walked behind the counter. She was already way waay off what was proper according to her mother. She sat in the chair and leaned back. Comfy. She just got settled in when the door opened with a chime. She hesitated for half a second and said what the heck, she was supposed to be minding the store.

She eyed the vaguely familiar kunoichi that walked in for a moment and then she moved from behind the counter and bowed like she had seen Ino do a hundred times. "Welcome to Tags and Kunai. The best Nin equipment store in Konoha."

The fishnet and skirt clad customer seemed surprised for a moment and then grinned.

"Wow the old man hired himself a mini-ninja eh?" She chuckled to herself. "Did he sucker you into a bet and now you're his new slave for a month or something? What's your name pinky?"

Sakura's eye twitched. The woman was a customer, and she wasn't quite being insulting, just very informal. Sakura tried for nonchalance. "Nah, we did have a little wager but that's mostly resolved. My name is Haruno Sakura. Were you looking for anything in particular?" She added helpfully.

"Che what the hell. I'm running low on Kunai." The woman said looking vaguely amused. "Left my last ones inside some dead ninja near the border."

"Well our selection of fine steel kunai is over here." Sakura led the way and then notice the small shelf on the side of the kunai shelf. Rapid calculation and a slight change in direction ensued.

"Of course if you really want the best implements of death we have a small selection of Suna-steel kunai and other deadly implements imported from Sand village." Sakura added helpfully

The woman regarded her for a moment and then smirked, putting one hand on her hip.

"Ha, laying it on a bit thick Pinky. But sure gimme six of those. Good weapons pay for themselves. And a kodachi. I had to leave my last one in the fake client." She pointed and then sighed. "Damn Rock Nin always costing me a fortune in steel." She muttered angrily.

"So where's the old man anyway?" The kunoichi asked as she followed the helpful genin to the counter.

"Oh Dire Wolf had to step outside for a moment, he'll be back any minute now." Sakura said absently as she added the amounts on the mechanical teller.

"Six times three hundred and seventy five and Three thousand ninety nine for the Kodachi." She gulped. "That would be five thousand three hundred and forty nine Ryo" Sakura added smiling as she tore the paper bill from the top of the the till.

The woman took out a small leather bag and counted out eleven gold coins with five hundred stamped to the side. Sakura looked at her strangely. "You don't see many of those around "

"What? Speak for yourself. I just got an double A-rank pay and two A-rank bounties. You think I'll carry that much silver? Keep the change kid. And, tell 'Papa' Wolf he still owes me dango and I'm collecting today, one way or another."

With that the kunoichi slid the kunai directly into her empty holster, picked up the kodachi and walked out.

Sakura smiled. She couldn't help herself. A hundred Ryo is a well paid D rank mission. And she just got tipped a hundred and fifty Ryo! Man that woman was cool. Confident, devil may care attitude. Smooth movement. Big spender. Man I didn't even get her name dammit! I wanna be like that some day!"

She opened the till and counted out her tip and deposited the gold coins. She hesitated at the last one and then studied it, feeling the gold under her fingertips. "I never saw one of these up close and personal before."

Her father usually got paid in Konoha bank notes. Only outside the village did you need silver and gold.

"And you won't again until you get you first B rank or higher." A voice startled her out of her musing and she whirled around to see the old man grinning at her. "You need to work on you chakra awareness. Here's your ANBU manual." He gave her a tattered looking booklet entitled So, you wanna be an ANBU? by Kazama Arashi

"The recognition codes and passwords are torn out since an ANBU is expected to memories them immediately, and even if they were not they would be out of date but the laws concerning ANBU action and the sign language are in there. So are stealth procedures, descriptions of basic chakra sensing exercises, suspect take down techniques, basic elemental theory and a basic mishmash of whatever else the commander felt we should all know at the time. As I said it's out of date. The current Anbu manual is a bit more on the official side of course. The Professor takes his job a bit more seriously."

Sakura's face fell a bit. She was hoping for some jutsu. Or a How to kick ass manual. It's sounds more like a procedure manual. Close enough.

"Aw come on kid don't make that face! For a genin it's a frigging goldmine, trust me. Just don't get caught with it in public. It's not illegal for you to have it but people will ask questions. By the way was that Anko I saw leaving as I was coming in?"

"Yeah. She bought some of that Suna steel." Sakura said and tried to copy that woman's self satisfied smirk.

"Wow you got that cheapskate to fork out for Suna steel?" The old man asked disbelieving. "What did she buy."

"Six kunai and a kodachi. She got a really nice glint in her eye when I used the phrase 'sharp implements of death'. Left me a big tip too." Sakura smirked.

"Sheesh, you're good kid. I.. You want a part time job kid? Pays 10 Ryo per hour." He offered.

"Fifteen." Sakura responded reflexively, her clothes haggling skills surfacing reflexively.

"Twelve, that's twenty percent above standard and I'll generously let you work around your missions." The old ninja countered, smirking.

"Twelve and you buy dango once a week during lunch." She countered back impulsively putting her hand on her hip like the woman had done earlier.

"Another dango fan huh. Sure, I'll buy one set of dango per week if you work during lunch."

"Deal." Sakura said offering her hand which was accepted.

"Oh, speaking of dango Anko-san said you owe her some and she'll collect one way or another."

"Oh man, I should have know not to bet against that woman." the retired ANBU sighed. "So when can you start?"

"We have a team meeting today after the finals. I'll probably know more about the schedule after that." She offered.

"Alright now, don't the finals start in an hour? Go and cheer for your team mates. Have some fun. We'll talk later about the jutsu I promised you." He waved her off.


Sakura made her way to her seats with a bag of junk food she bought on a last minute impulse. She had planned to change into some civilian clothing before the matches but got sidetracked by the Anbu Manual. Still. What she had on suited her, in a way.

A new, improved and happy Sakura waited for the others to show up. She pondered the previous month and it seemed like a lot more time had passed. She was feeling much better about herself and her place in team seven and ability as a Konoha nin in general.

Perhaps she'd even get an interesting mission and get to test her new skills soon.

Yes, life was good.


Or is it?


Sakura smirked as the huge monster that was Gaara held 'her' unconscious form trapped against a tree. She watched mentally counted down the ten seconds it would take for the slow burn exploding tag to blow. Sasuke-kun was out, Naruto was getting all worked up and there was no was she was playing the damsel. Not now. Not Ever. No. Way. She carefully layered the last of her tags on her special surprise as she waited for the situation to develop.

Now all she had to do was catch one of of the clones that were watching from the trees across the clearing.

"Sasuke you can't be really leaving. Don't you care about us?" She begged him. "Naruto needs you. The team needs you. I... I need you:"

He stepped closer to her, expression softening as Sakura's heart fluttered. He tilted her head up and put an arm on her waist.

"Sakura." He whispered, leaning in and pressing his lips on hers and for a moment everything was magical. It was alright. He wasn't leaving. He loved her.

The sharp pain of a fist in her diaphragm took her breath away as she fell to her knees she looked up at his now cold red eyes.

"Sa... Sasu.. Ke:" She gasped with disbelief and lack of air. "Why?"

"Sorry Sakura. Can't have you warning the guard." He said factually. "Orochimaru has what I need. Konoha is holding me back."

Her vision grayed and she fought it anger sparking something inside her. A fist to her temple put an end to her struggles as she slumped to the ground.

"Goodbye Sakura." The words floated to her as she faded out.

And something inside her broke.

Cleaned up a little in preparation before working on the sequel: July 28th 2012 (Mind you it'll be a while so don't get your hopes up)

Still not perfect but I managed to catch some bad parts and a few typo's.