The past few days had passed by with very little to show for her efforts to understand her sun-kissed enigma of a teammate. Kakashi seemed to know something but he was unwilling to say anything besides that he had been given some training by a few of the Jonin in their free time. She had already been to what had been his home but it seemed he had since moved and she had no clue where he could be found. Just as she was about to head back home for the day she spotted both Ino and Naruto. Both of whom were happily talking about one thing after another. In his hands were bags filled with food along with various other groceries. Sakura happy to have finally found the boy in question ran up and called out to them both.
"Naruto, Ino what are you two doing together"? She asked eyeing the two before her with a lost expression on her face. Ino at once seemed to go from happy to stone-faced while Naruto happily answered the pink-haired girl.
"Oh, Ino-chan asked me to help her. Her mother is making something and asked Ino to go buy the stuff. Seeing how much was needed she asked me to help". Naruto said lifting the six or so bags up to prove that point all the more. Sakura for her part was taken aback by the answer.
"Why would she ask you? She doesn't even know you". Sakura said finding the very idea that he and Ino knew each other totally ridiculous. They had after all only been in the same class for a few weeks before graduating from the academy and she had never once seen the two together in all that time.
"Ino knows me very well Sakura-chan". Naruto said before adding. "I eat at her place every few days. Her mom makes the very best food". Naruto said with a happy expression on his face as his mouth started to water at the mere thought of the food. At this Sakura was utterly floored.
"You eat at Ino's"? She asked mouth agape. The idea he, the most hated boy in the whole village was eating with one of the most well-liked girls and an up and coming clan head was almost too much to take.
"But...but why? You're a nobody. What possible reason would she have to eat with you"? Sakura said.
"That's enough Sakura"! Ino yelled making the pink-haired girl take a few steps backward. Eyeing Ino in case the girl planned to do more than merely yell at her. But when she didn't move to attack she relaxed somewhat.
"What...it's true Ino everybody knows it. He's a nobody. I bet his mom and dad gave him up because they knew how useless he would turn out to be". Sakura said before she was upon the ground with Ino standing above eyes filled with a rage never before seen in the mind walker. Sakura could only eye the girl with fear.
"Stop, Ino please". Naruto said standing between the two. Ino at once turned on him and asked.
Why she's being rude"? Ino asked.
"Everybody is mean to me Ino-chan I'm use to it. Let's just go Ino we have to drop this stuff off anyway". Naruto said in a sad downcast voice before walking away not once looking back at Ino or Sakura.
"Wait up Naruto-kun". Ino yelled before she too left the pink-haired girl behind. Once the two were gone she picked herself up, rubbed her now redish cheek and walked back home. Her mind trying to understand what had happened just now. Why did Ino care about what she said? It wasn't like what she said was untrue he was a nobody. He bore a clan name that was mostly gone from the world. His skills before being trained by a few Jonin about a year ago were next to nonexistent and his placement in the school was as the years dead-last. The fact he had even passed his Genin Exams was the only notable thing he had ever done.
Meanwhile, Naruto and Ino entered the clan compound and placed the bags upon the table. At once Inoichi and Ino's mother stopped what they were doing upon seeing Naruto's upset expression.
"What happened"? Inoichi asked folding his paper and eyeing the two.
"Sakura was being rude to Naruto". Ino answered making the two nod in understanding. She like most people in the village viewed him as useless and while she was never as mean as most she was a far cry from nice. Naruto for his part was sitting with his arms crossed.
"Do you want to talk about it, dear"? Ino's mother asked in a soft tone.
"No, I'm fine. I'm use to it". Naruto answered but she knew better. She knew he was upset.
"I'm so sorry you had to deal with that Naruto-kun". She said hugging him close. His face being pushed right into her sizeable chest.
"Mom"! Ino yelled out when she saw Naruto's face turning red. At once she released him and he walked out. A small trail of blood running down from his nose.
As that was happening Sakura was just entering her own home. Her father was busy with paperwork and her mother was still on that mission of hers. She didn't know much besides it dealt with the Land Of Waves and an old man. She was sure she would be fine but ever since then, she had this feeling of utter dread. As if something terrible was about to happen. Trying to chase the unpleasant feeling away she began to make her way to her room. That was until her father's voice sounded from down the hallway.
"Oh, Sakura-chan do come here for a minute". Her father asked. Upon entering the room she could see he was still busy with the paperwork. A sizeable pile of papers sat on the right side while another smaller pile sat on his left. He was busy picking one up, placing his signature and lastly placing it atop the sizeable pile.
"Yes, father what is it"? She asked as she stood before him unsure what this could be about. Her father never asked her into this room unless it was very important otherwise she was never to step foot into the room.
"I just had a call from Inoichi's. Any idea why"? He asked eyeing her long and hard.
No, daddy, I don't". Sakura replied. Why would Ino's dad be calling her father? Surely it had nothing to do with that encounter with Ino and Naruto about an hour ago.
"You don't". He said sounding as if he didn't buy that at all. Sakura for her part said nothing. Seeing this he pressed on pulling out a photo of a man.
"As I'm sure you know by now a notable ninja is here in the village". He said pushing the photo over to her. Sakura took it and eyed the photograph.
"Who is he"? She asked.
"Miniko-sama". He said but when he saw she had no clue who that was he added. "He's the fourth's father. You know the man who watches your training and if what Inoichi said is anything he's unlikely to be pleased with you". Her father said making her look lost.
"Why would the fourth's dad watch our training"? She asked. Her father, in turn, only replied with.
"Why indeed". He said before he resumed his work. Seeing this she knew her time was up and she walked out.
"Oh, and a fair warning you would do well never to do that again". He said before waving her off. If Sakura was lost before it was nothing to what she was now feeling. She was sure her father wasn't talking about Ino so that meant Naruto. But if that was the case why? Why would the father of the fourth Hokage care about her calling Naruto useless? Needless to say, she tossed and turned all night.
The next day Sakura made sure to take the longest most out of the way path to training-ground seven but of course, in time the training ground came into view and with it the sight of both Naruto and Miniko.
"Hello Sakura-chan". Miniko said making the girl jump at the sudden sound of his voice.
"Hello, Miniko-sama". Sakura said before finding a nearby tree and sitting down as Kakashi would no doubt be late...again. A few minutes later Sasuke walked in and as if the other three were not even there he began to train. Miniko eyed the boy for a time with a most unpleased expression on his face. This boy was playing a very dangerous game, one that if not resolved soon would very likely doom him and his team. But fixing the boy's disrespectful tendencies wasn't his job though he doubted very much Kakashi would fix it any time soon. He seemed to dismiss his behavior as just his personality. But just as he was about to set out to find the Jounin Naruto tugged on his hand. Looking down he could see a seal.
"Naruto...you made this"? Miniko asked looking at the seal.
"Yup Miniko-sensei I have been practicing". Naruto proudly proclaimed with a big smile on his face.
"It's not bad but it does have one flaw". Miniko said showing the seal to the boy who had stopped jumping in joy.
"What...what flaw"? Naruto asked as he started looking over the seal trying to find the flaw in question but having a hard time in finding it.
"This right here...you put an end-gate here when an in-gate should have been placed. Flip that around and the seal would've worked as you no doubt intended". Miniko said before placing the mostly working seal into Naruto's hands. Just as Naruto walked away head downcast he again felt the tug of another. Looking down again he saw it was none other than Sakura.
"Yes, what is it, girl"? He asked making her jump at his tone.
"Um will, sir I was hoping you could train me in that". She asked never fully meeting his gaze.
"Why would I do that"? Miniko asked as he watched as the girl seem to squirm under his gaze.
"Will, sir your training Naruto"?
"Yes that's true so what"? Miniko asked as she seemed to squirm all the more.
"So train me too". Sakura said finally lifting her eyes to meet his own.
"No". Was his answer and with that, he walked away. Sakura, however, wasn't about to take that and marched over and tugged him yet again.
"By sage what is it now"! He yelled making Sasuke stop and eye the two before finding it pointless and resumed his punching and kicking.
"Train me in seals". Sakura said again this time looking as determined as another redhead who once walked the village streets. Seeing no alternative he pulled out a scroll and a kunai.
"What are they"? He asked simply.
"A kunai and a scroll". She answered. Nodding his head he sealed the blade inside the scroll and asked again.
"A scroll". She answered unsure what he was getting at.
"What of the kunai...does it make it any more dangerous than before"? Miniko asked.
"No". Sakura answered before he eyed her long and hard. For a time she felt as if he was judging her.
"How much do you know of seals"? He asked. She had proved she wasn't as clueless as most in the village but that was an easy thing to be. This, however, was the true test.
"That they are really old". She replyed and at once he was again walking away. He had no time for this idiotic girl's games. He had a mission to do and training her wasn't part of that mission. He wasn't even sure why she wanted to learn the ancient artform anyway.
"Wait please I'll do anything you want anything at all". Sakura cried out. She knew from day one she was the weakest on the team and now here was somebody who could really help her be useful. To no longer be dead weight.
"By sage girl your as persistent as my son". Miniko replied before quickly closing his mouth but alas it seemed this time luck had forsaken him for both Sakura and Naruto eyed him intensely.
"Your son...I didn't know you had a kid Miniko-sensei". Naruto said seeming to have forgotten all about the seal in his hand. "Is he still around maybe he could train me". Naruto yelled out before Miniko's face seemed to stop him dead.
"No, Naruto-kun his not. He died a long time ago and because of that I left the village". Miniko said with tears flowing down his face in a seemingly unending torrent. Sasuke seemed almost like he was about to stop in his punching and kicking but in the end, he resumed his task dismissing the man with but a shrug of his shoulders.
Minutes later Kakashi had finally arrived and they're training for the day began. Today he was having them do the mind-numbing dull leaf balancing lesson. Something so basic even academy students could do but nevertheless, he pressed them all on the fundamentals. Something that while basic was a crucial skill to have. An hour into this Miniko walked up and watched as Sasuke added a leaf Sakura added three more and Naruto added none at all.
"His control sucks". Miniko voiced upon seeing the number of leaves on Naruto's body.
"I wouldn't be so sure, sir. His control seems just fine". Kakashi replied without moving his gaze from the boy.
"What are you saying Kakashi-kun he has but one leaf. An academy student could hold three". Miniko fired back astonished at the man's lack of understanding. Naruto had no business wearing the leaf emblem if his control was so poor.
"An academy student doesn't house a demon, sir. He does and you know as well as I do what that can do to one's control". Kakashi answered calmly before pointing at Naruto who by this point had added a new leaf making his total two.
"Why sir I dare say he has matched Sasuke in that area of his training if not surpassed him". Kakashi voiced in light amusement.
"Yes, it seems he has. Good for him". Miniko said with a smile finding a place on his face. With that, he made up his mind. He would train the girl and with luck maybe she would stop belittling his grandson. As if by some unknown ability Sakura's skin suddenly grew cold and covered in goosebumps. She didn't know it yet but she had just taken her first steps into a world of pain as well as happiness. But mostly pain. Lots and lots of pain.
In the following days, Sakura could be found most days at the local library on all things seals. So far all she had to show for her efforts was a book from 57 years ago that was mostly theoretical applications and not how to make one or the history of seals which was what she needed. Naruto upon learning of this set himself to the task of helping her in the endeavor. A fact that allowed her to see he wasn't all bad. He was a bit too loud but he was also a carefree kind of guy who also enjoyed reading a good book. A fact she was surprised by. Currently, the two were busy reading: Misadventures Of Bilbo The Toad: a story about a toad who with a group of fourteen others travels the world battling vast armies and enjoying a good smoke every now and again.
"Naruto Ino wanted me to tell you she is going to be busy so she can't tomorrow". Inoichi said as he placed his coat on the hook and made his way to his office. This, in turn, made Sakura eye Naruto with an unspoken question.
"Oh, it's nothing Sakura-chan it was just a walk around the park. It's not like it was a date or anything". Naruto said rubbing the back of his head and giving a nervous laugh.
"Oh, I'm sure". Sakura replied not at all convinced but saying nothing. What the two did was none of her business after all but still, he was her teammate and while she and Ino hadn't seen eye to eye in many years she still felt close to the girl. Looking up she was surprised when the clock read 7:25 PM. She had unintentionally spent the whole day with Naruto. Not that she minded all that much. He was actually quite nice to have around once he stopped yelling about ramen and seals and whatever else he was enjoying that day. As she pulled her coat off the hook Naruto placed a thin book with yellowed pages in her free hand.
"What's this"? Sakura asked eyeing the book.
"A gift. The damn shopowner charged me twice it's actual price but I saved up so it's fine". Naruto said before giving her a smile making her feel a kind of warm fuzzy feeling in the pit of her stomach. It was the kind of feeling that while strange was also pleasant.
"I'll walk you home Sakura-chan. It's late after all and your place is halfway across the village". Naruto said as the pair walked outside the air cold on their bare skin.
"Thi...thank you Naruto...-kun". Sakura said making the boy smile all the more.
"Anytime Sakura-chan". He answered before the two jumped onto the rooftops and made their way over to the residential civilian district. The street lamps gave the village an orangeish glow that she oddly found pleasant to look at.
"Naruto do you like Ino"? Sakura asked as the pair jumped over a particularly wide street.
"I like everybody Sakura-chan". Naruto replied without meeting her eyes.
"No I mean do you like Ino...would you date her"? Sakura asked at long last. At once he stopped and looked at her. From her perspective, he seemed to have an otherworldly glow. The sight made that feeling return full force.
"I like Ino so I guess it's possible why do you ask"? Naruto inquired making the girl step back. A step too far as she began to fall only to be in the arms of Naruto.
"Nar...Naruto thi...thank you". Sakura said breathlessly her heart pounding against her chest so loud she feared he would somehow hear it.
"You know Sakura-chan you really should stop hiding your forehead". Naruto said as he used his free hand to push her pink locks away showing off her somewhat larger forehead.
"Stop it Naruto". She yelled pushing him away and turning her back to him. "I'm ugly. I don't need your fake pity". She said angrily.
"No your not Sakura-chan. You never were...not to me anyway". Naruto said placing his hand on her shoulder and turning her around. Her cheeks were now as red as her eyes.
"Why didn't you say anything then"? She asked once she stopped crying long enough to ask.
"I'm the demon child remember if I did you would be picked on. I didn't want that so I did what I could". He said looking sad.
"Like what"? She asked.
"Do you recall the time Ami was picking on you and somebody threw a rock at her and she ran away. I did that". He said before he was taken into a long hug by the girl. The hug lasted for nearly two minutes without a word said. She didn't really know why she did it but she wouldn't deny the fact that it felt nice.
"We should be going Sakura-chan it's nearing 800 PM". Naruto said and their journey once again resumed. It wasn't long before the pair were outside her house and she was safely inside. Turning to walk home he saw a man. At once he entered a fighting stance.
"Naruto"? The man said making him raise an eyebrow.
"Yes, who are you"? he asked but the man remained silent.
"A family friend you could say. I just returned from a mission when I saw you so I, of course, shadowed you.
"Who are you"? Naruto asked again.
"Be at ease I'm not your enemy but you really should stop putting so many multipliers in your seals especially such low-level ones. I'm sure Miniko-sama would tell you the same". The man said before tossing a scroll. By the time Naruto picked it up the man was gone. Unsealing it he saw it was a picturebook. Opening it he saw the same man and woman from the house with that long hallway of doors. He saw swords of every make and model. He saw seals that made what he did look like some retarded monkeys doodles. He didn't know it yet but he had just met his godfather. The one...the only toad sage Jiraiya. But he was sure he would see him again and when he did he would get the man's name.