Second Bite at the Cherry @sakinthra
Chapter 2

If Sakura was going to be smart, really be smart, she needed to start doing what she had been supposed to be doing this entire time and look ahead. Looking ahead, however, required some looking behind first.

What she did know about Sasuke Uchiha is that, with the exception of his brother Itachi, he was the last surviving member of the Uchiha clan. She knew that Itachi had massacred the entire clan when Sasuke was seven years old; as to why Itachi would kill his own family, she had no hints, not even from Sasuke's vague muttering on the matter. She liked to believe no one was screwed up enough to kill their entire family for sadistic pleasure, but psychopaths existed and there was no ruling that out. Still, it wasn't enough information. Why hadn't anyone offered to take Sasuke on after the massacre? Had the village thought it acceptable to leave a seven-year-old boy to live alone in the Uchiha quarters? And more importantly, had there been any further investigation into Itachi's whereabouts? Itachi had been able to just wander into the village, put Sasuke into a coma, and attempt to kidnap Naruto, and barely anyone had been prepared to stop him. Why hadn't the movement of a mass murderer been monitored? Why hadn't Itachi been captured and brought in, or even executed for what he'd done? Claiming that an Uchiha was too powerful to take in had to be some sort of fallacy. Itachi had taken down his family, but an entire village? The Third Hokage? She was missing information, and it wasn't necessarily conspiracy level information, but the more she knew about the Uchihas in general, the better. Maybe they really could be that powerful, which would explain Orochimaru's obsession with Sasuke and explain how Itachi had so easily evaded the village and slaughtered his own.

What she knew about Naruto Uzumaki was that he was an orphan boy who'd had the Nine Tailed Fox sealed inside him after the beast's attack on Konoha a dozen years ago. He had no clan, no inheritance to his name, no bloodline jutsu, nothing but the Kyuubi's power. For unknown reasons, likely the Kyuubi itself, an organization called Akatsuki sought to kidnap him. This organization included Itachi Uchiha, and at one point had included Orochimaru himself. She needed to know more about the organization, but also about Naruto. Why had he been chosen to contain the Kyuubi? There had been plenty of orphans after the war to choose from, and more importantly, plenty of strong shinobi who would have been far more suited to dealing with the beast's power. And why, on top of everything, had the Kyuubi's sealing been kept secret from the village's youth? And most importantly of all…what was the Kyuubi, and why had it attacked the village to begin with?

Getting inside the archives would be the hard part, of course. They didn't even need surveillance, what with the layers upon layers of protective seals that had been laid on every door, but despite this there were shinobi guarding the perimeter with such tightness that Sakura hadn't been able to find any way to slip past them after a full week of silent watching.

So, she asked herself, what would Naruto have done?

Perhaps it was a strange question to immediately ask, but she'd learned through a grapevine that Naruto had managed to sneak a scroll of forbidden jutsu away from the archives after failing his genin exam for the third time. He'd been wet behind the ears then, not having learned half the jutsu and skills he'd used to get through the chuunin exams, and if he'd managed to do it, surely she could as well. She just had to think like him and put herself in his shoes.

It came to her after a solid day of considering options that Naruto was an expert at doing things that people didn't expect. And more importantly, she'd seen Naruto approach a 'perfectly protected' area before in the chuunin exams, finding a way around it by finding the one blind spot that one Hyuuga prodigy hadn't expected.

Distraction, and surprise. She didn't necessarily need the guards to be gone from the archives. She just needed them to not be looking while she tunneled under the building and made her way into it from beneath. Thankfully, she knew another infamous prankster who had the extra bonus of being related to the late Third, which meant that a little mischief wasn't likely to get him arrested. A quick smile, a bat of her eyes, and some careful pleading, and Konohamaru would be off creating some havoc with a large herd of expertly diverted cattle.

Then, Sakura prepared to get her hands dirty. Digging holes was something that had been taught in school, of course, as digging a hole large enough to hide oneself in the midst of battle was a 'typical shinobi technique'. This, of course, required some precise chakra control and the arm strength to push through the thicker layers of the dirt. Prolonged digging could lead to injury, of course, if your body wasn't prepared enough to keep up with the effort. Sakura knew that she didn't have Naruto's endurance. Digging a hole from a safe spot all the way beneath the Archive would only end in failure. She'd dig her hands raw and bloody before she made it halfway. Thankfully, she didn't need standard digging techniques in order to get the job done. She just needed the public library, and ample amount of time to learn some basic Earth-style ninjutsu. The Tunneling Technique was a common enough ninjutsu that she found a scroll with the hand-seals after but an hour of looking. From there, it was just practice. The Tunneling Technique required visualizing the entirety of the tunnel from start to finish. Estimating length was a bonus, though in the heat of battle such estimations were far too much to calculate quickly, so Sakura deduced that the knowledge wasn't entirely necessary. Still, she prepared as much as she could, guessing the length she'd need the tunnel to be and working on making tunnels precisely that long. Making the training grounds full of holes wasn't something she was particularly fond of doing, given that she needed to practice the jutsu required to fill them again, but hey, she could consider it training.

After two weeks of practice, taking on mundane missions, and putting in the right words with Konohamaru, her plan was set, and the day of the infiltration arrived. It was nerve-wracking, she had to admit. She'd never been a rule breaker, and for a first time, she was really breaking one of the biggest possible rules in the book. She could be imprisoned for life for daring to attempt such a thing. At the very least, she'd have to explain herself, probably directly to the Hokage, and she doubted that 'platonic concern' would pass as a reason for sneaking into a restricted area.

Still, it was a better reason than Naruto would have had on the night of his failed genin exam. Sakura took a deep breath, waited until she heard the thundering of hooves in the distance, and made four hand signs.

Ram. Dog. Rat. Bird. The Earth Release: Tunneling Technique.

A hole formed directly in front of her, large enough for her to crawl into, but small enough to be reasonably concealed for a decent length of time. Sakura didn't waste any time testing the hole's integrity before crawling in; she might only have one chance at this, and every second mattered. It was a long and dark crawl to the other side of the tunnel, and with every pull of her hands she felt herself become more anxious. There was no light at the other end of the tunnel; the archives were kept dark unless they were in use. Thankfully, that was a decent enough sign that there were no guards inside the building. Stupid, Sakura thought to herself, but she supposed the village hadn't thought anyone capable of getting inside, let alone someone like her. She pulled herself up and out into a quiet room. With a small click of her flashlight, the shelves lit up around her. She saw scroll after scroll, tome after tome…more than she could ever hope to read in a single night.

Sakura glanced back at the hole she'd made. She could go get food, but that would waste time she didn't have. They might have caught Konohamaru's herd by then. No, she had taken her one chance, and she wasn't going to waste it.

With a push of her chakra, she sealed the tunnel behind her. She'd eaten before she'd started this venture, which meant, according to her basic survival classes, that she had an average of three to four days before dehydration would kill her. Then, she'd need enough energy to create a tunnel and scamper her way home before any of the guards could figure out how someone had managed to create a tunnel on the inside of the building, and where to. She wouldn't have Konohamaru's distraction, which meant they'd almost certainly catch on the minute she made the tunnel. She'd have to move fast. And the only advantage she'd have would be that they wouldn't know where the tunnel led right away, which would give her enough time to get a head start running. Plus, they likely wouldn't be looking for a Konoha kunoichi, and she wasn't stealing anything, so they wouldn't have any damning evidence. She could do this. She just had to take a deep breath and start what she came to do.

So, Sakura picked a scroll and read.

It was several hours before she found a collection of scrolls related to the Akatsuki, and not long after before she found an entire scroll on what she read to be the 'Nine Tailed Beasts'. Not the Kyuubi, mind, who was a nine-tailed beast, but that there were nine beasts in total of immense chakra who once roamed the planet. Forces of nature, untamed by man…until one day they were tamed, several of them, by none other than Konoha's First Hokage. Though several of the beasts were traded out to other countries in order to broker peace, Konoha kept hold of the strongest of the bunch: the Kyuubi. Only, they weren't really tamed, they were merely sealed away within the bodies of shinobi with exceptionally high chakra levels. Shinobi of a certain clan name…Uzumaki.

So, it wasn't a coincidence that Naruto had been chosen to house the Kyuubi within his body. His clan had been doing it for three generations. The first, one Mito Uzumaki, had very little written on her, but the second, Kushina, had grown up within the hidden village. And not only that, she'd gotten married to a local shinobi.

No, not just any local shinobi. One Minato Namikaze…the Fourth Hokage. And from there, a scratched record on a scroll confirmed the final piece of the puzzle.

Naruto was the son of Kushina and the Fourth Hokage.

Sakura took a moment to process this revelation. Had Naruto known who his family was? No, he couldn't have. No one could have, else how could they have possibly come to loathe the son of the city's savior? The Fourth Hokage was revered as a martyr, and if it was known that he'd had a son, well…something was off. Some piece of the puzzle that these scrolls didn't go into. How was it that the Kyuubi had broken free of Kushina's seal to begin with? Did that mean it was possible the Kyuubi could break out of Naruto?

More questions, and fewer answers. Sakura felt as though she'd completed the edges to a puzzle, but now was slowly reaching into the box for the rest of the pieces. Only she was completely blind and didn't know where exactly in the box to reach, nor where the pieces even fit together.

If only Naruto were here, she lamented quietly. Not that Naruto would remember his parents, but maybe he'd heard some clues from others, some pieces that Sakura wasn't quite privy to.

As for the rest of the Tailed Beasts, Sakura found some curiosity in learning about the One-Tailed Beast, Shukaku, whom was currently in the possession of Sunagakure. Gaara's 'monster', Sakura deduced. He and Naruto had been more similar than either of them had realized.

And the organization, Akatsuki, was looking for information on these Tailed Beasts, even going so far as to try and kidnap Naruto. Nothing was known as to the motives, why they wanted these Tailed Beasts so badly, but certain assumptions could be made. Seeing the power that the Kyuubi granted Naruto firsthand as she had was more than enough to convince her of the Kyuubi's worth, and that was just one of the nine. If the Akatsuki came into possession of all nine…well, they were already an organization of S-class missing nin. They'd be unstoppable. Sakura shuddered at the thought. Even without Sasuke's relation to Itachi, she was becoming scared of the man. He'd slaughtered his family, then joined such a fearsome organization. Itachi was becoming more villainous in her mind by the moment.

If only Sasuke were here, she lamented once more, chuckling a bit at her train of thought. Why, in but a few hours of illegal reading, she'd already deduced the most efficient way to hunt down Itachi, something she doubted Sasuke had put together yet. If he had simply stuck around with Naruto, Itachi would have eventually come to him again.

Not that they would have been prepared for such a monster, true. She was starting to see now why Sasuke had sought out Orochimaru. If the Hidden Leaf couldn't restrain such a person…who could? Though, the Third Hokage had fought Orochimaru off…

Still not enough information. Sakura buckled down and began to methodically go through scrolls.

The worst part about spending an entire day in a dark building full of dusty scrolls was not finding what you were looking for. Though she found ample information about the Tailed Beasts and the various Akatsuki members, there was absolutely nothing on the Uchiha clan other than Itachi's dossier. It was more like a void, a purposeful gap in information that roused Sakura's suspicions like nothing else. Not only had the clan been wiped out, but it seemed as though all of the information on them had been wiped out as well. Was it Itachi who had destroyed the records? Perhaps wanting to ensure certain clan secrets remained only with him? Then why leave Sasuke alive…why leave any competition or potential weaknesses alive?

Her stomach growled, and Sakura began to wonder how long she could stand hunger pains until her brain wasn't able to focus properly. Even a small drop of water would have been heavenly. Her eyes strained from squinting in the dim light, and words on scrolls were starting to blur together. She would have killed to have legal access to this place, the ability to read whenever she wanted, learn what she needed to…but that kind of clearance would take years to achieve. Years she didn't have.

The more she realized that she wasn't going to find anything Uchiha related, the more her attention began to linger on some of the other scrolls in the building. There was an entire wing dedicated to various jutsu techniques, some even being written records of clan techniques that she was sure certain clans would have killed her for even setting eyes upon. At first, she resisted looking at such scrolls, but eventually she couldn't help but take peeks. Not that she'd be able to learn any of these quick enough in her time here, but if she knew the mechanics of how they worked, she'd never be caught off guard by them. The Nara Shadow jutsus, the Yamanaka Mind jutsus, the Hyuuga Byakugan…records of all these prominent techniques were here, almost begging to be read. And perhaps it was the hunger delirium setting in, but Sakura eventually couldn't stop herself from reading everything she could get her hands on.

It was when the dizziness began to set in that Sakura realized she'd been in the building for longer than she could remember. With no clocks or sun to gauge the time, a week could have passed without her knowing. She was still conscious enough to know when her time was up; much longer and she'd starve to death.

Oh, but there was one more scroll she hadn't read yet…

Discipline, her inner voice shouted out at her. She had to remain disciplined. Maybe Naruto and Sasuke would have risked more time, but she wasn't them, and she needed to make sure she had enough chakra to make her escape.

She could always take a scroll, her delirious mind argued. Take something, learn the techniques, become a master of ninjutsu that none but the strongest could know about…

Stealing, her inner voice reminded her. That was stealing, and if she was caught, that would be a higher offense than just being caught in here reading. If they found her outside without a scroll, she could argue they had no proof she was in here. If they caught her with a scroll…

But how else was she going to get strong? She didn't have some sage to teach her new techniques. Kakashi had barely paid her any attention, focusing his eyes on Sasuke more often than herself or Naruto. Even though Naruto had made it to the final rounds of the chuunin exams, Kakashi had dumped him in the hands of another jounin. No, she didn't have anyone that could teach her things. Not her sensei. Not some sage. Only her scrolls, and that was it.

Well, she'd already made one stupid decision by breaking in here. What was one more? Sakura grabbed the first small scroll that she laid eyes on, something that she could fit in a pouch without arousing suspicion. Any of the larger ones would have held more secrets, but would have been far harder to hide. She had to have some measure of caution in her stupidity, didn't she?

She returned to the spot where she had exited her tunnel before, the ground there still broken up and soft, despite her having filled it in. It would make it easier to make the tunnel again, she hoped, if she was just reopening a tunnel from before. Sakura took a deep breath, attempting to compose herself. This would be the hardest part. This would be quick jutsu, running, hiding, deception, a high risk of danger and imprisonment…

But really, wasn't this what being a shinobi was all about?

For the first time in her year of wearing a leaf headband, Sakura felt like a shinobi at last.

Ram. Dog. Rat. Bird.

Sakura put her hands to the ground and prepared to run.

1. Chapter 1 848 0 0 2. Chapter 2 3162 0 0 3. Chapter 3 2532 0 0 4. Chapter 4 2819 0 0 5. Chapter 5 2551 0 0 6. Chapter 6 2767 0 0 7. Chapter 7 2188 0 0 8. Chapter 8 1950 0 0 9. A Brief Intermission 949 0 0 10. Chapter 10 4053 0 0 11. Chapter 11 3692 0 0 12. Two Worlds Away (Intermission Part Two) 1320 0 0 13. Chapter 13 3836 0 0 14. Chapter 14 2739 0 0 15. Chapter 15 2390 0 0 16. Failures (Intermission Part Three) 2824 0 0 17. Chapter 17 3234 0 0 18. Chapter 18 6529 0 0 19. Chapter 19 4214 0 0 20. Three's a Drag (Intermission Part Four) 2630 0 0 21. Chapter 21 3341 0 0 22. Chapter 22 2924 0 0 23. Chapter 23 6969 0 0 24. Chapter 24 3801 0 0 25. Chapter 25 4158 0 0 26. Alliances (Intermission Part Five) 2667 0 0 27. Chapter 27 6918 0 0 28. Act One Epilogue 30 0 0 29. Act Two Prologue 1 0 0 30. Chapter 30 7214 0 0 31. Chapter 31 3687 0 0 32. Other Worlds, Other Minds (Int Part 6) 7031 0 0 33. Chapter 33 2703 0 0 34. Chapter 34 2734 0 0 35. Chapter 35 3454 0 0 36. Chapter 36 3502 0 0 37. Chapter 37 2836 0 0 38. Sparks (Intermission Part Seven) 3351 0 0 39. Chapter 39 3664 0 0 40. Chapter 40 4064 0 0 41. Chapter 41 4611 0 0 42. Chapter 42 3675 0 0 43. Chapter 43 3720 0 0 44. Alekhine (Intermission Part Eight) 1118 0 0 45. Chapter 45 6405 0 0 46. Chapter 46 6106 0 0 47. Chapter 47 4601 0 0 48. Chapter 48 4531 0 0 49. Chapter 49 3483 0 0 50. Coming Storm (Intermission Part Nine) 7177 0 0 51. Chapter 51 4480 0 0 52. Chapter 52 5763 0 0 53. Chapter 53 3722 0 0 54. Chapter 54 4708 0 0 55. Chapter 55 5271 0 0 56. Chapter 56 5280 0 0 57. Sounding Thunder (Intermission Part Ten) 2812 0 0 58. Chapter 58 9001 0 0 59. Chapter 59 4492 0 0 60. Chapter 60 5379 0 0 61. Chapter 61 9941 0 0 62. Chapter 62 8222 0 0 63. Chapter 63 4430 0 0 64. Chapter 64 4766 0 0 65. Chapter 65 7008 0 0 66. Chapter 66 5769 0 0 67. Act Two Epilogue 2816 0 0 68. The Months Between 9232 0 0 69. Act Three Prologue 96 0 0 70. Chapter 70 5300 0 0 71. Chapter 71 5013 0 0 72. Chapter 72 4580 0 0 73. Chapter 73 5123 0 0 74. Chapter 74 3585 0 0 75. Chapter 75 3963 0 0 76. Chapter 76 4747 0 0 77. Chapter 77 3671 0 0 78. Chapter 78 2347 0 0 79. Chapter 79 5030 0 0 80. Chapter 80 3135 0 0 81. Chapter 81 4371 0 0 82. Arbitrium (Intermission Part Twelve) 3793 0 0 83. Chapter 83 3219 0 0 84. Chapter 84 2189 0 0 85. Chapter 85 2827 0 0