Breathing In @montenyaofthefairies
Year 1

Sakura Yamanaka was born the day the cherry blossoms bloomed. She was a bit late—she had been meant to arrive nearly two weeks before—but she was healthy and a good weight, if a bit larger than her mother would have preferred.

She was the eleventh child in her family, but she wouldn't know that for months.

Sakura's first weeks passed in a blur of sensations. She didn't really comprehend the passing time, and to a large extent she wasn't yet conscious. As the weeks pulled into months, however, that began to change.

There wasn't really a moment, a sudden sensation of being. Instead Sakura's consciousness developed over the hours, days, weeks; her ability to remember past sensations slowly improved, as did her ability to receive new ones, especially by sight. Her feelings about the world about her became stronger, and she suddenly found herself having a deep affection for the woman who could only be her mother as well as the various other caretakers that passed in and out of her life. She slowly began to realize that each of them spoke—made sounds in a certain order to convey messages—but that she had yet to understand the code.

Most importantly, she figured out that something was very, very wrong.

Because it wasn't just Sakura's thoughts in her head, and it wasn't just that at her age Sakura shouldn't be thinking at all. It was Arden's thoughts that were the problem.

Which was not to say they were much clearer than Sakura's own. In fact, at first it was impossible to tell the difference between the two. It was only as time passed that it became clear that some of her memories, some of her knowledge, and some of her awareness could not have come from this world.

This all, of course, took a backseat to real life. It didn't really matter that she (or Arden) knew how plants grew when she had not, despite her best efforts, managed to hold back her bladder and was therefore very, very uncomfortable.

Also sleep. Sleep was really nice, and (at least according to Arden) surprisingly easy to do in this body.

The older Sakura got, though, the more "Arden" began to fade. She'd already been, at best, half formed the first time Sakura thought of her as a separate entity, with huge chunks of her life missing and what little remained piecing itself together the best it could, but even that began to vanish, more and more of what Arden knew but Sakura didn't disappearing every day.

Neither particularly liked that.

In the end it was Arden who decided what to do next. Sakura was still swimming in and out of existence and even given the advanced abilities she did have thanks to her shared brain it wasn't quite enough to actually form a plan, much less put it into action. Arden, fortunately, was still fully capable of that, so that was what she did.

Beginning when Sakura was about two months old, around the same time that she became fairly certain that kaa-san meant mother and that, given that the other, smaller humans around her used the same name to refer to her primary caregiver, she had siblings as well, Arden pulled her sharply away from the world.

Immediately her senses dulled and her ability to control her physical body all but disappeared.

In exchange her brain became capable of absorbing all the information that Arden threw at it rapid fire, only ever pausing to allow Sakura to sleep when it became too much. Her body, somehow, stayed alive despite her making no active effort to use it. Her mind, on the other hand, swelled.

Arden had started with a story, of all things, or at least something that her memories interpreted as such. It was of a boy named Naruto, and the story came in fragments, randomly jumping from one point to another with almost nothing in between. Sakura recognized some aspects of the story—one quick scene, which Arden could not fully recall, included the energy (chakra, apparently) that one of her brothers had used on her after she'd banged her wrist onto the edge of her mother's bedstand. The 'shinobi' running up and down walls was a common theme, too, and she was fairly sure she saw at least two of her siblings doing just that before she was pulled away from reality.

In the end, though, the story was still very incomplete, and quickly finished. Arden did not give Sakura much time to rest or take in what had already been given, however, instead pushing knowledge of an entire language—English—into her head, both to better understand the scenes she saw and would see, and because Arden seemed to have a deep and abiding respect for language, one she tried desperately to pass on to the consciousness that she shared a brain with.

After that came math, and biology, and chemistry, and psychology, and physics, and even more stories—some historical, others entirely made up, some parabolic, others simply meant to deepen her understanding of all that was possible. Interspersed throughout this was music and sculptures and paintings which danced in and out of focus, as if taunting Sakura to come nearer, to understand more.

At last Arden came to what she knew of anatomy, of physiology. Arden was nearly gone, by then; she'd spent as much time as she could giving Sakura information and scant traces of her memory—of times when she felt she succeeded, of times where she knew she failed—but she had yet to give the infant any time to understand any of it, and now there was nothing else left to give.

While her anatomical information had started out interspersed with the memories of her learning it, and the feelings associated with various parts (frustration, during a chapter she'd had particular difficulty memorizing; boredom, during another that she'd already learned in two previous situations) gradually began to disappear. By organ systems, because she'd started with the atom before growing in scale, there were no emotions. Sakura had barely been able to start integrating Arden's knowledge of medicine, which was to be shown next, when she was suddenly and forcefully pushed back into awareness and she knew at once Arden was gone.

She wailed.

Footsteps rushed towards her, and as she allowed them to do what little they could to comfort her, she took in her entirely novel environment, full of white walls instead of lilac, and a small basinet instead of her mother's bed. There were other babies in the room, too, Sakura thought, and adult people huddled around other beds, but it was hard to see beyond her tears, and so she simply cried, grasping onto the shirt of the man who held her.

She did not know how long it took her to fall asleep, but he never put her down, never stopped cooing and talking to her in a language she still didn't understand.

When she next woke up she was back in the basinet, but a familiar voice was singing a lullaby beside her. For the moment she forced her grief over Arden down, and instead turned towards the voice—towards her mother—and reached out, grasping with hands much larger than she remembered. The woman rushed forward and picked her up immediately, cooing and talking just like the man had. She called something behind her, and another man rushed in, different from the first, followed by two faces she vaguely remembered as her sister and brother.

They all circled around her, gasping and talking and touching, and the man began to cry quietly, holding back the sound in a way she never could. The woman, mother, passed her off to this unknown man, and she did not like that did not like that did not like that but he held her the same way mother had and he pressed her ear to his heart and the sound was nice and anyway, hadn't she been awake for long enough?

It took at least another week for her consciousness to get a grasp on what was happening, interspersed between liberal amounts of napping and all too many unfamiliar faces looking and touching and talking.

Her consciousness's main takeaway was this: she was in the hospital. Apparently, at least as far as she could figure, upon her sudden and inexplicable lack of reaction to anything she'd been shuttled here, and over the course of what she guessed to be over a month (based solely on the temperature and Arden's memories of her own seasons, which admittedly wasn't the best source) she was kept under constant observation, the room she was living in being presumably for that exact purpose.

She wasn't as bad as some others, of course—about two thirds of the infants in the room were hooked up to some kind of monitoring system, and nearly all of them were younger than her—but that didn't really stop her mother from acting so, so relieved every time she opened her eyes, or tried to grab at a finger, or really did anything.

It was honestly quite nice to be the center of attention, especially because whenever that wasn't the case she tended to be overcome with a sudden gripping fear that it would never be true again.

This went away whenever her mother reentered her vision, but it was still not a pleasant sensation.

In other news, she was fairly sure she was a Yamanaka. Her mother was blond with the same odd eyes as the Ino of Arden's memories, and all of the faces that called her Kaa-san, besides the adult man who now appeared almost daily, shared a similar look. The man (quite possibly her father, actually—she thought she saw him and Kaa-san kiss once) was a brunette, but he had the eyes too.

So there was that.

Mostly, though, Sakura spent very little of the day trying to extrapolate on Arden's information. Most of it was spent trying to interact with the world around her—spending so long stuck in her own mind made her itch for a change, and so she would squirm and kick and grab and babble, forcing the flood of knowledge to the back of her mind, to be ignored until much, much later. As she gradually grew used to faces other than Kaa-san's, she began to truly appreciate that at least one of her siblings, or her father, (tou-san?), would spend a little of every day playing with her and bringing her new toys (the small box that held them next to her hospital bassinet was now full to the point of overflowing, and the people would frequently grab a few of the toys—never the ones they had brought—and put them in other babies' baskets so there was room in hers for their own gift.) (They also seemed to snipe at each other when caught in this practice, which Sakura found hilarious.)

Beyond that, she had recently figured out how to roll over, which was a blast, if tiring. She was working on sitting up next, less because it was the next milestone according to Arden's memories and more because she wanted to reach the toys on her own, and figured that would be the best way forward.

She was also, kind of, beginning to figure out some of the words—manma, she thought, meant food, and she'd taken to trying to scream it when hungry. It was not going well, but at least her caretakers seemed to understand what she was trying to say. She'd also figured out some of her siblings' names—she was fairly sure that she had a genin brother named Ren, and another, slightly younger, brother named Aoi.

By the end of the month she was moved out of the hospital, and back to her house, but not to her mother's bed. Instead she found herself sharing a crib with a girl about a year older than her, with two short beds taking up much of the rest of the room, each holding a child each—a girl she would place at about four, and another who held up seven fingers when babbling a hello to Sakura.

The next major shift in Sakura's life did not come for another three months. Over the course of those months she managed to learn how to sit up and crawl and taken to the action with such tenacity that her mother had had to institute a rule about sharp objects after Sakura was found on the floor above her room trying to grab a kunai off her brother Ren's desk. She may have become somewhat of a kleptomaniac. Also she learned how to throw things, so that was cool (her brother Kamui really hadn't expected to be pelted with grapes, but she'd found it hilarious.)

Her speech had improved by then, and while none of the sounds she could make really amounted to words, she was able to generally discern what others were saying (so long as they spoke slow enough and she knew what words they were using), so she considered that progress.

She'd also managed to figure out her entire family. Kaa-san stayed at home, though Sakura was fairly sure she was a shinobi, while Tou-san was frequently on missions, and would disappear for months at a time (he left about a week after she'd been taken home, and had yet to come back.) Her oldest brother, fourteen year old Ren, was a genin, as was her twelve year old sister Sayuri. The next oldest was Aoi, who was eleven and not a girl no matter how long his eyelashes were.

Then came the 'fake twins', her brothers Kaede and Kamui, nine and eight respectively but physically identical in nearly every other way. They were followed by a set of real twins, Sakura's sister Akina and brother Arato, who were as different as could be (Akina being far more masculine and Arato preferring typically feminine disciplines.) Sakura shared her room with Akina as well as her sister Ayame, who was five, and Kohana, who was one. Between them in age was a boy, Fujio, who shared his room with the fake twins and Arato. Ren and Aoi shared a room, and Sayuri had the smallest as her own, but Ren was moving soon—he wanted to live on his own immediately after his chunin promotion, so Kaa-san was helping him prepare.

So up until she reached seven months things had been going fairly well if, thankfully, quite mundanely. This was brought to an end by the Chunin exams.

Ren, as Sakura had already figured out, was going to be participating in them, and that they were taking place in Konoha meant the entire family was heading out in support, which meant her mother was dragging ten children between the ages of twelve years and seven months through hoards of onlookers. Thankfully, she had help from the rest of the clan. Unfortunately, most were doing the exact same thing.

Eventually, though, they made their way into the stadium. It didn't look the same as Arden's memories—it was smaller, for one, and the majority of the onlookers seemed to be Konoha natives. The competitors, on the whole, also seemed to be slightly younger—her brother, the two genin he was standing next to, and about five of the other competitors looked to be about the same age, but the other half were all decidedly younger.

It was the younger competitors that were the problem. As Sakura tried to ignore the noise and bustle and screaming around her, she had squinted into the arena to make out the faces that she may have to watch attack Ren in the next few minutes. Most were unrecognizable. Three weren't.

There, about four or five meters away from Ren, stood Orochimaru, Jiraiya, and Tsunade.

Sakura squeaked.

"Hush, Sakura-chan." Her mother murmured. "It's just a bit of noise. It won't hurt you."

Well actually, Sakura thought, Orochimaru proved pretty indisputably that that wasn't the case. That it had happened in what was now clearly the future was none of her concern.

(What was more concerning was that she had been trying to block Arden's memories, and yet clearly some had leaked through. Still, it wasn't that bad, so long as it didn't disrupt her day to day life. She pushed back her other concerns—her concerns of death and terror and wrong—past her mental barrier. She was not ready for them.)

The Hokage was speaking now—his face the same as the Hokage of Arden's memories. He was talking about peace, and strength, and other words that remained meaningless. Sakura's head hurt. She didn't want to think of the life-altering children below her, or the danger her brother was in, or the words she couldn't understand, or the noise that encompassed them all. She began to whine and squirm, but her mother shushed her again, running through a few one handed seals. The world went blissfully silent, and Sakura closed her eyes.

She was shaken awake what felt like mere moments later by her sibling's jostling. She rubbed her eyes and peered toward the battleground, trying to find out what was exciting them. The scorch marks, wet spots, and overall disrepair of the field was evidence enough that she'd already slept through at least one battle, so she wondered why this one had them so excited.

Oh right.

Her brother.

Ren stood with his hair drawn back in the traditional blond ponytail. He wore purple, the color of their clan, and held kunai in each hand. The girl across from him was clearly an Akimichi—his teammate, if Sakura remembered correctly; she was fairly sure she'd met both of them about a month ago, at Akina and Arato's birthday.

If Arden's memories were correct, this wasn't a good matchup. The Akimichi, after all, were known to be front line fighters—a kind of specialty that worked all too well in this kind of exam. Yamanaka, on the other hand, were known to be great support. Not exactly ideal in this scenario.

Her siblings were screaming beside her, but she couldn't hear them. Across from her, on Sayuri's lap, a discomfited Kohana was trying desperately to get off the energetic girl. Kaa-san, at least, wasn't outright vibrating in glee, but she was leaning far enough forward that Sakura was compelled to lean with her.

She squeezed her eyes shut, but felt a pinch. Letting out a yelp, she whipped around to find Aoi staring straight at her. He pointed to the battlefield, then went back to watching himself.

Was… was she meant to watch?

She glanced around at her siblings' faces. Each and every one, from Fujio up anyway, was riveted to the battle, and Kohana's head was also turned to the battle, however unwillingly.

She was meant to watch. She wondered why.

So she watched.

As she expected, it did not take long for the battle to begin going the Akimichi's way. She hadn't ballooned up yet—perhaps only the future Akimichi could do that?— but she was a fearsome opponent anyway, attacking and grappling and doing all she could to put the battle in close quarters.

Ren, on the other hand, was doing everything he could to stay away from her. He threw kunai at a mile a minute, sprinting across the field from one side to another as fast as his admittedly short stature would let him. Every once and a while, in a particularly desperate situation, he'd even use a small jutsu to make the ground erupt from under him, giving him an additional boost.

But the Akimichi would not be deterred.

She'd managed to hit him only twice so far, but each had had their impact—he didn't seem to be capable of moving his left arm very fast, and (according to an increasingly panic-y Kaa-san, who had rudely removed the silence jutsu so that she could hear the battle), his breathing did not look good.

Until, that is, the entire battlefield collapsed. A pit, several meters down, grew startlingly fast from the center of the field, quickly encompassing all but a meter on each side. Ren had clearly been expecting it. The Akimichi had not. She fell with the earth, landing hard at the bottom, and Ren didn't waste any time, immediately beginning a long series of hand signs before pointing straight at the Akimichi. A stream of electricity arced across the air straight at his opponent, and several seconds after he let up and the Akimichi still hadn't moved the match was called in his favor.

Fujio, positioned on the other side of Aoi, began to cry, as did a number of her other siblings.

Kaa-san was saying something, but Sakura couldn't make it out, too befuddled by the roar of the crowd and her screaming siblings. When her mother pointed at the field, however, she forced herself to look down again.

In the middle of the field, surrounded by a couple chunin who were fixing the worst of it, two medics were slowly bringing the Akimichi to her feet, and while she had to lean heavily on both, she was able to make it out of the arena on her own feet.

Fujio did not look all that comforted. Sakura was inclined to agree. She buried her face in kaa-san's stomach. She was not looking forward to seeing children fight, and neither of the next two contestants could be older than eight, so she closed her eyes until it was her brother's turn again.

Ren lost his next battle to Jiraiya and, like the Akimichi, was promptly whisked away with too many injuries to feel good about. The family, to Sakura's disappointment, stayed until the end, when a ferocious battle between the six or seven year old Jiraiya and Orochimaru (another that had seen her silence taken away) found the latter the victor. Sakura fell asleep for good soon after, and only awoke the next day to Ren jostling her awake and shoving green fabric in her face—the chunin vest—before doing the same to Kohana. She guessed he got promoted then.

Besides the excitement of the exams, however, and the hard work she had had to do to shove Arden's related memories away, the rest of the year to her birthday passed relatively sedately. Ren moved out, of course, and mother found herself pregnant again. Aoi now shared a room with the fake twins, while Arato now only shared with Fujio. Sayuri was also made to share with Akina, who had complained about being stuck in the baby's room even more than Arato. Sakura herself grew by leaps and bounds—she was now able to crawl onto any of the shorter seats in the house, and could even walk if she was careful to have a handhold within reach. She'd also managed to figure out how to eat both finger foods and spoon foods by herself, which she was quite proud of. She'd started calling Kaa-san 'mama' like Kohana did, because it was much easier to pronounce, and she could generally get out the first syllable of everyone else's name. She could also ask for food, cuddles, and help with something. She could also say no, a power which she used liberally.

Kohana, too, was improving substantially—while her understood vocabulary was about the same as Sakura's own, she was able to talk more than Sakura could currently hope for, even if none of it could yet be considered sentences. Most importantly, all this improvement meant she got her own bed, which doubled the space Sakura was able to occupy and meant she didn't have to deal with bumpy elbows in her sleep anymore—Sakura was fairly sure she was more excited about Kohana's bed than Kohana.

Beyond that Ayame', Kamui', and Ren's birthdays (both Sayuri's and Kaede's taking place exactly one week after her own) proved great opportunities for meeting new Yamanaka, Akimichi, and Nara, which made it all too clear that Arden had been right about what world she'd been born in, even if not one face (beyond, of course, those all too fleetingly seen in the chunin exams) matched a memory.

The falling of the cherry blossoms marked a year passed, and Sakura breathed in their smell willingly, her mind undeveloped enough that she could not truly understand the impact of what she knew.

At least not yet.

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