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Breathing In @montenyaofthefairies
Academy: Year 1

Sakura's first birthday had been a minor affair, overshadowed by those of her siblings that had happened in the weeks previous and afterwards. Her second had been much grander, a sort of particularly spectacular celebration because it was apparently the first they thought she'd remember. Her third landed somewhere in between, with sweets and games but not as many siblings able to make it, not as much attention solely focused on her.

What made her third birthday all the more memorable, however, was that the day after was the first time she was sent to study with the six other Yamanaka who were preparing for the next summer or winter entry to the academy.

In terms of physical capabilities, Sakura couldn't hope to compete. She was far better than most other three year-olds, but she did not have the same coordination or speed as the four, five, and six year-olds she shared her lessons with.

In terms of everything else, however?

Most of the others had to physically force their attention span to last longer than 30 minutes. She regularly made it to an hour before she found her mind wandering. Most of the others could recite fifteen, maybe twenty plants and some of their qualities. She'd made it to 32. This pattern continued over nearly every lesson they were drilled in—it was she who understood chakra best (although admittedly far from perfectly), she who at least knew everything she was supposed to do to survive with only a basic shinobi kit in the woods, she who recognized the most weapons when they were placed in front of the group, she who (usually) managed to keep the historical events they'd begun to be coached in in the correct order.

But she could still barely through a kunai, much less a shuriken. She still gave up first when they ran any physical drills, who had to be corrected most when they went over kata. Her hands refused to cooperate when she tried to make hand signs.

So her her pre-academy peers seemed very confused over whether or not to be jealous of her. This debate was quickly settled, however, when the one year-old Inoichi began to be placed in their lessons for a few hours a day, "just to observe." The class's general consensus seemed to be that at least she was potty-trained, so she couldn't be that bad.

In June, however, with her start date only a month away, Sakura decided to do something she'd solemnly sworn not to.

At night, when everybody from Kaa-san to the two year old Himari was asleep, when the fans positioned strategically around the house did little to keep her hair from clumping against her face, she closed her eyes and, once more, opened the floodgates to Arden's memories.

They whizzed by her the same as they had last time, crowding into her consciousness and leaving barely any room to breathe, to think, to act. But the horror she'd gone through with the evil doctor apparently had a purpose after all, because the sheer volume did not cause her to break as it had last time.

Instead she forced herself to ignore the great majority of it and instead grab one wisp of a memory, and then another. Arden had left her a trove of information and there was no way in hell she was going to the academy without having accessed even part of it.

She grabbed the smallest string of memories she came across, a series of apparently connected bits of information that Arden apparently injected in sequence, bits that Sakura quickly realized contained Arden's actual life, and the first thing she learned was that by the time Arden was shoving information into her, most of it was long gone, already faded away as Arden eventually would be. There were still flashes, sure—a swing that she'd apparently spent much of her childhood on; an eerie memory involving something called a TV and towers falling, falling and lots of crying; a happy memory, involving somebody (Arden's sister?) throwing a bouquet and another girl screaming with joy as she caught it; the stress of a test superimposed onto the image of a 'gymnasium' filled with row after row of tables and chairs…

Arden couldn't have been older than twenty when she died, but what memories remained showed a full life, one consisting of the same constant feeling of contentment that Sakura now found herself having in this life.

Her memory of anatomy, however, was another story.

There was more of it, for one, though Sakura knew this was also only a fraction of what Arden had learned in her own life. For another, it seemed like the explicit memories passed less… easily into her memories of this world. After all, it was all too simple to ignore that none of her memories had any mention of chakra in them—it was far more difficult to dive into Arden's memories of learning about the human body and realize that chakra simply seemed to not exist. Even at three Sakura had been instructed of the benefits of the life force beyond simply being alive—being able to use chakra, as humans could, allowed them to push their muscles farther, to make their brains work harder, to control nature in whichever way they dreamed, given enough knowledge and time.

Arden's world didn't seem to have that.

It was only as she'd finally reached Arden's information about skin, however, that she realized the sun was beginning to rise. In that time she'd managed to go through about 1/1000th of what Arden left, and that was being optimistic. But she hadn't slept in about twenty four hours now, and Himari was crying because she'd apparently wet the bed, and Mama was rushing into the room to deal with that, only to notice Sakura and her clear exhaustion, and before Kaa-san had the time to freak out Sakura stuttered out a lie about a really weird dream involving a monkey making tomato soup and her mother was checking her for a fever and telling her to stay in bed.

Sakura did not touch the memories again until two days later, and then restricted herself to about an hour a night.

By the time the next academy group started she'd finished most of Arden's memories on human anatomy, and come to the conclusion that at least half of it had to be irrelevant. She should've started with the memories she knew Arden had of her world, but she hadn't been able to find them at first, lost as they were in the sea of information. Still, she was fairly sure anything would be better than an in-depth understanding of the human-like life form that Arden had been, a life-form which did not exist (at least in carbon-copy) here.

On the other hand, her ability to remember and comprehend seemed to soar with each memory she did take in, regardless of its material, so she had managed to get the highest grades in her pre-academy class in everything remotely educational. Inoichi, now one-and-a-half, could count to two. He was applauded first.

The academy, or at least the one Sakura was going to attend and the only one within Konoha proper, was positioned inside of the shinobi headquarters on one side of the building, which itself was positioned at the very edge of the city. The walk to get there wasn't really all that difficult—she and her mother (her father, unfortunately, having disappeared again shortly before her birthday), as well as the rest of the academy students, new and old, had simply turned left from the Yamanaka main gates, then right at the main road. It had been a bit of a long trip, admittedly—most of the older children raced ahead at one point or another, tired of being held back by the speed of the 'sprouts'.

It would be pertinent to note at this point that this was not Sakura's first time out and about in Konoha. She had, after all, had regular playdates with Shin Nara and Yuri Akimichi. The thing was, they always turned right out of the compound to get to them, crisscrossing major roads, sure, but not the road to the main gate by any means, which meant that this was her first look at the street often called the 'spine' of Konoha.

It was… busy, she supposed. It was early, too—the Academy technically started at seven, but the Yamanaka always started their journey on the first day at six. That meant that most of the traffic on the road now was either merchants and the like preparing their restaurants for the day, or other students making their way to the same place they were, and it seemed like most of the latter were still asleep.

Still, the sheer number of carts, horses, products, and people was much, much more than she was expecting. The only reason she knew it was technically reasonably empty was because the road could clearly support four or five times the amount, and because despite being lined with commercial stores, no one seemed to be shopping and most shops seemed to be closed.

Which made its business all the more notable, really.

Besides that, though, the most impressive part of the road was the part they were headed straight towards—three faces carved out of stone, etched in pain staking detail, perfectly positioned so that at least one could be seen no matter where on the main road you stood.

"The Hokages!" Sakura said. A cousin agreed, and began talking about why this was such a clear sign of the first Hokage's brilliance, when another cousin started to talk over the first, explaining why the third Hokage was obviously the best, despite, of course, having never met the man. Then another cousin interrupted, pointing out how his father was so amazing that he should be the Hokage.

The adults smiled, though, happy to see the harmless debate wiping away the nerves all of the children had been pretending didn't exist.

Sakura was more preoccupied with how some part of her had recognized all the faces, despite having only met one of the men and never having seen a picture of any of the others.

She really needed to get through Arden's memories.

But now, when they'd finally arrived at the academy that was only now filling up with its first arrivals, was not the time.

Almost unwittingly Sakura found herself being pushed away from her mother, away from her clan. One of her fellow Yamanaka year mates, a stalky five year old named Gaku, took the lead, ushering the rest of them into a swarm of similarly sized peers, somehow managing to place them smack dab next to the Nara clan children, with the Akimichi right in front of them. As the crowd continued to grow, Sakura found herself being moved once more. It wasn't… it wasn't intentional, exactly. Or perhaps it was, just not… specific to the individual? It was just that, whenever she recognized one of her pre-academy peers' partners, she'd help shove them closer based on where she knew they were, and whenever someone saw one of hers, they'd do the same.

The whole Ino-Shika-Cho thing had really been pushed on them pretty hard.

Still, Sakura did find it strangely comforting to know that the ever quiet Shin and increasingly talkative Juro would be by her side, and it was nice to have them literally so when the crowd became so large that she started to be forced forward no matter what she did. Each boy grabbed one of her hands (as she was, by far, the smallest, and therefore the one least able to stop the force of the mob from pushing her to and fro) and physically held her in place. Juro even, after a few minutes of the treatment, began to sneakily look for feet to step on (who cares if it happened to be his brother Kuro, so long as everyone stopped shoving?) and Shin began to subtly maneuver them closer to the middle of the Ino-Shika-Cho group, were there seemed to be less movement overall.

Finally a gong rang. In the time since their arrival, the small courtyard next to the school that every first year student had flocked to had gone from having seventy or so inhabitants to easily over 200.

Arato had told her once that most years started out around there; "256 in my class," he'd explained, "but most leave over time, because a lot of civilians just want to take advantage of the free education. That said, generally by ten there's less than fifty. See, you take the group you start out with, and about half leave before the year's out, most during the first semester, which leaves 128. Then, the next full year—year two—generally sees about two dozen quit, which leaves, let's say 100. The next year, year three, you don't see too many people leaving, maybe ten or so, but year four's where they really pump up the pressure, so that's generally were you drop down to about fifty. Then you don't get many people dropping out during years five or six, but that's because at the end of it you have the graduation exam, so most people are willing to stick it out until then, even if they don't really think they'll pass to become full genin."

Sakura looked around. From her vantage point, with her height, she couldn't see much of anyone besides Yamanaka, Nara, and Akimichi, but she knew that the group of them together made up about twelve students in her year and semester. She wondered which of her cousins wouldn't want to stay, and whether their partners would leave with them.

Not that she was supposed to be thinking like that, of course. Based on the words of the Hokage who was currently waxing poetic to the class, she was supposed to be thinking about how to support her fellow ninja, so they could all grow, flourish, and defend Konoha together.

She thought of her fourth oldest brother, Kamui, who had dropped out when he was nine. He'd have defended Konoha if he had to, she knew, but she also knew that he would've wished to be anywhere else when he was doing it: pain, both giving and receiving, had never appealed to him. Were there any others like those in her class, she'd make no effort to stop them from being happy, no matter how pretty the Hokage's words. But the man's words were still powerful, and she also before she knew it Sakura had also determined to do as her mother had, and try to convince them to try for just a bit longer just in case they might change their minds in the interim.

He was talking about the will of fire now, and how trees, despite being generally considered incredibly flammable, would persevere during a forest fire, and come out stronger on the whole for it once it was over. His words seemed to pump energy into her veins, and she could suddenly picture herself fighting at Shin' and Juro's side, defending the people she loved and refusing to give up, even when all hope was lost, and winning because of it.

"The will of fire is in all of your veins," the Hokage finished, "and it is here that you will learn to harness it."

After a speech such as that it was almost criminal to simply start listing names for various classes in a droning monotone, completely killing the spirit it had achieved.

There were to be five new classes, it was explained. Each time two classes dropped to less than 25, they would be merged. Interestingly, and without any official announcement proclaiming it, not one of the pre-made Ino-Shika-Cho teams was split. Shin, Juro, and Sakura were all placed in classroom three under Sensei Masaru with little fanfare, and slowly, inch by inch, person by person, the crowd in the courtyard was formed into five vaguely militaristic series of rows—five across, ten down, which worked fairly well, given that each group had between 47 and 48 students.

And then, with even less fanfare, each group was led to one of the top floor classrooms.

The academy was six floors high.

Sakura would be expected to take five flights of stairs at least four times a day, every day—up in the morning, out and in for physical lessons, and then down in the evening.

Every day.

Sakura understood a bit better, now, why so many quit in their first year.

Five of her classmates outright refused to move at various points, and were abandoned where they sat.

By the fifth staircase, each and every one achingly tall because apparently each level had to be at least fifteen feet apart, Sakura was almost crawling.

Sensei Masaru did not seem to care.

Even when they finally arrived at the top, the apex, the goal—he did not allow them to stop to rest. Instead, they were promptly led into the first classroom on the left, where Sensei Masaru pointed to each desk one by one and announced who would be sitting where.

Sakura was placed in the second row, smack dab between Shin and Juro, and behind two Hyuuga and an Uchiha.

The entirety of the first row and about half of the second, Sakura realized, were clan kids, with the rest of the class from the end of row two to four filled with average looking children and orphans. The fifth, on the other hand, held those who were clearly richer or poorer than the rest of the class.

She wondered if their placements had anything to do with how likely they would be to drop out. She thought they probably did—a number of the richer students in the back row were the most vocally displeased about the stairs, and wore clothing clearly unsuited for any kind of exercise, and Sakura knew the academy wasn't free.

The first and second row inhabitants that she recognized were more interesting. There were three Hyuuga total, for instance, in this class—the twins who sat in front of her, as well as another who was to the very right in the second row. There were also two Uchiha, though she didn't think they were siblings; both sat in the front row. Making up the rest of the front row was a Shimura, two Sarutobi, and the other Ino-Shika-Cho trio that had made it into the class—she knew all of them to be nieces and nephew of the current leaders.

The rest of her row was taken up by a pair of Inuzuka twins and some of the more athletic looking remaining students.

"As," Sensei Masaru began, and everyone's eyes snapped to the front as if against their will, "I'm sure you have noticed, you have all been organized in a very specific way. Simply put, the closer you are to the front, the more I expect you to stick around. I could be wrong, of course, and I welcome that chance as any would—I did, after all, prove my own Sensei wrong, and I encourage all of you in the back to do the same. That said, you will not be moved up until you have proved to me that you have some modicum of skill. That said, by the same token, you will not be moved back until you disappoint me."

As if on cue, one of the stragglers pushed the door open. She was clearly an orphan girl—they were all given the same Uzu symbol to wear, in honor of their sister village—but there was no more room where the other three were sitting. Two of the other stragglers, a girl and boy, had changed their mind about giving up and managed to make it up in time to get those seats. "Case in point—you, for your delay in changing your mind, will find that your seat is in the back row. Please find it before I decide that the seat isn't even in this building." She rushed forward and grabbed one, leaving only five seats bare. Sensei Masaru glanced at the clock, then nodded firmly. He turned towards the window and opened it, ignoring the room full of stares, before making his way to the back of the room and picking up each and every empty seat.

He then made his way to the front and, quite unceremoniously, chucked all five of them out the window.

The class flinched when they clattered onto the ground. A few seconds later another clatter was heard, ostensibly from the same thing happening in the room next door.

Just then the classroom door opened again, revealing a red-faced boy who looked torn between flying into a rage and fainting in an effort to catch his breath.

"You never answered my question about why we're on the top floor!" He snapped. "That's very rude, you know. You could have at least carried me—you saw that I was having trouble!"

Sensei Masaru moved to the chalkboard in the front of the room and began to write out the day's schedule.

"Hello? Can you hear me? Are you deaf?" Sakura stared at the boy in a sort of wide eyed fascination. She'd never heard any child talk to an adult like that. She wondered who the boy was, that he seemed to believe he was the one deserving of respect. Oh, it seemed the boy had just realized the class had no empty chairs.

"Where am I supposed to sit?" He whined. "I made it all the way up here, and I can't even sit down?!"

The Uchiha in front of Juro smirked, and muttered "You could always sit on the floor."

"The—the—! You expect me to sit on the floor!"

Sensei Masaru was still ignoring the boy, and had moved on to listing out the physical and mental requirements they were supposed to achieve by the end of the semester.

"You!" The boy said. He was pointing at one of the orphans—the one who was closest to the right of the third row's table, where the path to file in and out was. "Stand up!"

The orphan (Yasuo?) looked at the straggler, then at Sensei Masaru, then back at the straggler. He shook his head.

"Do you hear me?" The straggler said. "My name is Takashi Saito! My uncle owns the most popular bank in Konoha! You are merely an orphan, with no family at all! When I tell you to do something, you do it!"

Yasuo glanced at Sensei Masaru again, who had yet to turn from the chalkboard and was now sketching out diagrams for their first lesson of the day (grammar), and then shook his head again.

Takashi had apparently had enough, and stormed towards Yasuo, lifting his hand as he did. Yasuo flinched, but before the slap could connect Sensei was there, holding Takashi's hand in a visibly painful vice grip and making no effort to move.


"Yes, Sensei?"

"Please switch seats with Teru Inuzuka."

"What did I do?!" Teru snapped, but his sister Kegawa shushed him.

"You were in the best position to stop this, and did nothing. Switch seats, now."

It was true—Teru sat directly in front of Yasuo, and by the time Takashi had begun rushing forwards he had already been standing next to the Inuzuka, making it technically more difficult for the Sarutobi sitting at the end of the front row to have done something. Still, Sakura wasn't exactly sure what he was supposed to have done.

Nevertheless both boys carefully switched seats, slowly making their way around a statuesque Sensei Masaru and the suddenly mute and clearly terrified Takashi in his grip.

"As for you… Saito… please go home, now, and explain to your mother, and your father, and your uncle, and every other family member you see fit to brag about, that you got kicked out of the academy. And please, I insist, tell them to come to me if they have any questions as to why." Sensei released his grip, Takashi released his bladder, and the two stepped apart far enough for the latter to slip out of the classroom almost faster than Sakura had time to blink.

Neither of the other stragglers entered for the rest of the day, and Sakura wondered if they'd been thinking about it until they saw Takashi on his way out.

Whatever they were thinking, those in the class knew the truth—no one would ever disobey Sensei Masaru, so long as they had the slightest bit of reasoning left in their bodies.

None of this, however, made up for Sakura's next realization: the academy was boring.

Very boring.

Very, very boring.

She wondered if Arden had ever had to repeat a grade, like some in the academy did after their sixth year, and if she had any tips on how to deal with the mind numbing boredom of having already gone over all the information previously.

She was fairly sure that Shin's solution of staring blankly ahead and zoning out so completely that he never answered a single question wasn't ideal, but then Juro's plan of releasing an ant every day and trying to keep track of it until they left didn't seem that great either, and based on how some of her classmates were struggling, no pre-academy training was also a very bad idea, and too late to implement anyway.

So instead she was stuck, bored out of her mind, while Sensei operated as if none of them knew anything more than addition and basic reading, but somehow also had the learning speed of a Nara.

By the end of the first week half of the third row had dropped back a row, and half of the fourth row had moved forward. No one in the first or second rows moved at all, including Yasuo, who somehow managed to eke past each test by increasingly narrow margins as he desperately tried to show he was worthy of his spot. The rest of the non-clan members in the second row, on the other hand, looked to be relying on their brawn rather than their brain to maintain their positions, and so far it was working.

As for Sakura, Shin, and Juro, they had yet to score anything but perfect marks, and still had private training at home to keep up with at the same time. (This, of course, was par for the course for clan children, but still.)

The other big thing about the academy was the people. Sakura had always liked people. She enjoyed spending time with her siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins—basically, anyone available. She just wasn't the best at initiating contact anymore, particularly with people she had little to nothing in common with (this, as well as Shin' and Juro's own behavior, may have resulted in her Ino-Shika-Cho team had picked up the collective name 'chinmoku', or silence, within the first week of the academy.)

While there was a reason for her sudden reticence, its benefit was that it did provide her with the time and circumstances necessary to observe her peers, and try to understand as much as she could without direct questions.

The Hyuuga, for instance, were not fond of talking. The twins—Hizashi and Hiashi, Sakura learned, were main house Hyuuga, both of them five years old and hyper competitive, but only to each other—they did not see any other as worth their time. The third, Hiroki, was a branch Hyuuga, and only ever spoke to the twins, and only then to do whatever they wanted him to. Sakura… tried not to think about that particular relationship too much.

The Uchiha, too, she also had trouble getting to know. They were generally quite insular, and while they'd occasionally talk with the other children of the clans (including team chinmoku), they'd never talk to anyone else, and mostly just make conversation with each other whenever conversation had to be had at all.

The Inuzuka, at least, were cheerful. While they were separated, Teru and Kegawa didn't let that stop them from talking regularly, even taking an inevitable punishment or two whenever they allowed their cross-row powwow to go on too long. They'd also talk to whomever was next to them, or seemed interesting, or happened to be in the same building. In short, while the Hyuuga and Uchiha talked too little, the Inuzuka talked too much.

Even they didn't talk to Sakura that frequently, though. They tried, at least, but found her odd for being so young and even odder for not seeming to be solely made of energy as they were. They got along a lot better with those who were already clearly Taijutsu focused; those who wanted to wrestle and fight during recess, rules be damned.

Out of the rest of the inhabitants of the first two rows, Sakura probably got along least with Ryota Shimura, and he more than anything was the cause for the scale of her shift in behavior. The Sarutobi children had much the same problem as the Inuzuka, really—too much energy, too much emotion, all of it filling one small body (two times over.) They were just as hard to dislike, however, because they, too, seemed to have an endless fountain of good humor to draw from, no matter what the situation. The other Ino-Shika-Cho trio Sakura probably got along with best, even if they acted nothing like her own (her cousin being much more of a gossip, the Nara being cursed with a superiority complex, and the Akimichi clearly not wanting to be there at all.)

Ryota Shimura, on the other hand, was nothing more than a bully.

There was a girl in class, one of the orphans named Sachiko Morino, who, while fairly smart, had an awful stutter which she found impossible to control. Every day, at least once a day, Shimura would make sure to point it out, to point out exactly how unsuitable for ninja work she must be, and once, when he was absolutely sure neither the Sensei nor any of his classmates (except for Sakura, but how could he know she'd lagged behind the rest of the class out of some inexplicable sense of unease), about how the only work she was suited for involved her on her back.

Both Shimura and Morino were five.

And the worst, the most horrible part?

Shimura was popular.

It was, she supposed, part hero worship—the Shimura clan was a major clan even before the founding of Konoha, and their decision to move here was largely considered the reason the city ended up succeeding. It was also, she knew, his looks. He was tall, pretty, and athletic, even at his young age—what more could you want? His charisma, combined with his habit of taking others under his wing probably helped, too, and by the end of the first month he'd managed to get over half of the non-clan kids to start listening to his words as if they were gospel.

But he also said those things to Morino, and actively pushed anyone he saw as unworthy (too feminine, too weak, too unfocused, too childish…) to quit. He'd succeeded three times, already. Sensei Masaru did not seem to care.

Beyond the clan children, as well as the third row Inuzuka, second row Yasuo, and Sachiko Morino, there were two other orphans, fourteen children from shinobi households, two children from poorer families, and seven wealthier children remaining.

If the same held true for the rest of the classes, then the school had already lost about 30 students. Sakura knew that about another 100 would leave before July came about again.

She wondered if she could change that number, make it smaller, less devastating. After all, Kamui had left of his own free will, to pursue desires that a shinobi career simply couldn't. But the children who had already left to never return? Two of them had never made it to the classroom, and she couldn't see them persevering anyway, and another—Takashi—had made such a bad impression that Sakura would be amazed if he were allowed to reenter the following year, an option generally left open to all first year drop-outs. But the other three… The first had left in the first week, after he'd cried over not knowing an answer in class and an hour later Shimura pinned him to a wall during recess and muttered something too softly for anyone to hear. The second had left nearly two weeks later, when Shimura had grown tired of her constant last place position in races, and set his newly acquired gang on her—she hadn't even made it through the day. The third had left just three days before the end of the month, when he had a panic attack shortly after lunch and sprinted out the door the second Shimura opened his mouth.

The last had been part of Shimura's gang, actually, before that had happened.

At the same time, though, it was all too clear that this was what the academy wanted to happen. She found it hard to believe that anything escaped Sensei Masaru's notice, and yet he had not intervened once on the goings on in class. So long as you didn't interrupt his lessons, in fact, he wouldn't impose discipline at all. There were rules, sure—no wrestling during recess, no stealing, no bullying…

The problem was that the rules weren't enforced, that while the punishments for talking during a lecture were clearly outlined, the punishments for making a classmate cry weren't even worth a mention.

Assuming they existed, of course.

Her life was not entirely based in the academy, though. After school she would ignore whatever had happened that day and instead run, and play, and read to her little sister Himari. But the largest change came thanks to the hour she spent every night lost in her own head.

She still, even as winter approached, had yet to find the memories she knew existed of her own world. She'd searched for them, sometimes for the entire hour, but they were impossible to find amid the sludge of other information. To deal with that, then, she'd started taking some of it in.

It just hadn't turned out to be as easy as she'd hoped. The math information, for instance, gave her such a migraine so quickly that she found herself forced to stop for the night. Similarly, she found that in terms of anything that had to do with chemistry took her anywhere from five to ten tries to truly understand—and only when that happened would it stop clogging her brain once she unleashed the floodgates.

She had managed to get through many of the stories though, as well as basically all of Arden's understanding of English in both its spoken and written forms, but that was mostly because the latter was so interwoven with the rest of Arden's memories that every time she examined one it helped her understand the English memories a bit better too.

Shortly after Akina and Arato's birthday, however, she came upon memories which actually seemed useful in the immediate future: Arden's understanding of psychology.

There was a lot of it, to be sure, and not all of it was fully there (a problem shared with most of Arden's other memories, too), but it did contain Arden's world's views on ethics (which were from the beginning quite clearly far removed from Sakura's own), as well as the psychological experiments that had been so useful but had, all the same, prompted rules to be put in place to keep them from happening again.

These experiments fascinated her.

People, she already knew, were quite malleable creatures. With the right words, the right actions, you could get nearly everyone to do nearly everything. The problem was that as much as she knew that to be the case, as much as she saw it in action every day at the academy, she herself had not put much effort into practicing it herself.

Her life had been easy and simple and she, like most of the rest of the Yamanaka clan, was likely expected to grow up to be a desk ninja (if a very good one) and live a life of relative ease within Konoha's borders. So playing mind games? It hadn't been the first thing on her mind.

It wasn't as if the Yamanaka weren't gifted at them—they were, she knew, considered some of the best members of the T&I department, and the older she got the more certain she became that that was where her mother worked every night, long after all her children had fallen asleep.

It's just…

Sakura had never really felt comfortable causing people pain. And as far as she could tell, it was not only the ability to manipulate, but also the ability to willingly and without remorse hurt someone that made a good T&I shinobi. Front line shinobi, of course, hurt plenty of people too, but they did it in the moment, when their opponent was a direct threat to the lives of themselves and their comrades. Ninjas specializing in assassination also had an easier time of it—their target may not be an immediate threat, but they were still clearly a threat.

Those in T&I took enemies already neutralized and then hurt them all the more, to get out even the slightest drop of information that that enemy may have, regardless of whether or not another source had already given them what was necessary.

And Sakura didn't know if she was capable of that, so she'd never tried.

That said, the psychology in her mind thrilled her and seeing it in action in her classroom day to day made it all the more real, all the more powerful.

She saw children placed in positions of power doing things they normally would never dream of, not because they were told to do it but simply because of the addictive nature of the power coursing through their brains. She saw one boy in Shimura's gang begin to question whether it was really right to kick another boy in the stomach when he was already down, only to cave into peer pressure and agree that, really, he deserved it. She saw herself unable to defend these children, and pushing herself all the more in Taijutsu to make up for that perceived failure. She saw the constant reminders of the power of the Leaf and the danger of other villages to cause children to see anything not-them as a threat, as something to be exterminated.

The academy, really, was quite good at what it did—it took children and made them into soldiers. It took unmolded clay, and made someone who could think, but knew when not to; who could follow rules, but break them given the right motivation; who could murder, and come out the other end relatively unscathed.

Sakura knew all this, but she still drank in Arden's psychological knowledge every night. If there was any better, any less painful way to get the same results—then she'd try to make it happen, no matter how difficult the concept was.

(In the meantime, however, she continued to find herself cursed with an inability to get up the courage to act.)

The end of the semester brought a series of guest speakers to the class, one for each (official) Shinobi discipline.

The police force was discussed first, likely because the speaker ended up being so brief. Both civilians and shinobi worked there, and anyone could apply, but the force was overwhelmingly Uchiha. Should any of them chose to be in the police force, then they were expected to be competent in terms of ability to subdue without killing, find information, lead, and deal with a multitude of different assignments at once.

The tracking shinobi, who went next, was a bit more talkative. He was an Inuzuka, and explained that Shinobi who specialized in tracking generally had three kinds of missions: tracking down missing peoples (of both the ninja and civilian variety), tracking down missing objects (generally those whose worth was more than anyone who would touch it in its lifetime), and acting as scouts (figuring out who had gone where, if the borders were safe, how an unseen battle played out…)

Academy students wanting to be good at tracking would be, amazingly enough, expected to know how to track. They would also be expected to be fairly good at taijutsu and breaking genjutsu, and have a good amount of stamina.

Being an academy instructor, the next speaker's specialty, was an entirely different matter. An academy instructor, the speaker explained, was simply a stepping stone to better offices—academy instructors tended to become jonin instructors, yes, but the main pull for becoming one was better than average pay and the chance to work in the Hokage's office—not only that, but out of their three Hokage who had ruled two had spent some time as chunin teachers, however short. Nearly all the elders had taught at the academy in their youth too. Being an academy instructor was, apparently, where you went if your goals were political in nature.

A harried looking doctor followed the academy instructor, and went on for a bit too long about the need for more medical-nin, about the power they had to save lives. It seemed to be his first time speaking in front of such a large group, and it showed.

Next was T&I, which Sakura mostly tuned out—she'd heard the speech in its various forms played out too many times at her clan residence to need the refresher, and could probably have recited it in its entirety from memory before the speaker even began.

The research division, spoken for by an oddly buzzing Aburame, went next. This was a job that Sakura actually found herself interested in, and she listened more intently than she had to the others as the kunoichi talked about technology and its power to change the world. All too soon the speech was over, and a saboteur ninja had taken the floor.

And promptly left.

Apparently all they had to know was that they existed—the saboteurs would be keeping an eye out to see if there were any academy students they wanted, not the other way around.

She wondered if they were actually ANBU. It seemed likely.

The frontline speaker went next, a stocky Sarutobi who was actually the father of one of her classmates. Yamanaka were rarely frontline, so it wasn't particularly interesting to her, but her classmates on the whole seemed thrilled, outright leaning forward as he described massive battles involving ninjutsu and taijutsu and kinjutsu and so much chakra in the air that it was hard to breathe.

Apparently her peers missed the sentence where he mentioned that less than a third left that battle alive.

The day was wrapped up with a speaker from the cryptology department who, like the saboteur before him, barely spoke before leaving.

Aoi, she suddenly remembered, had talked about an interest in cryptology in passing before dropping out of the shinobi forces. She wondered what, exactly, the department did.

After the speeches were over each child was given a small card to outline their current top three choices on. They would be expected to do so once a semester every semester until graduation, to see where their interests lay and how they changed over time.

The chinmoku gathered together, and Sakura put pen to paper first.


Next was Shin, who thought for a second, then put down


Juro went last, and took his time before finally writing down


Then all three copied the others' answers on their own cards, before turning them in. Ino-Shika-Cho did nothing separately until chunin, and that included choosing what they would do as a chunin (never mind that they rarely had the same desires: unity was more important than honesty.)

She did, however, wonder why they'd chosen what they had. It wasn't so much unexpected, as it was unexpectable. Perhaps they should do as the other Ino-Shika-Cho team had, and actually talk. Or perhaps, she thought as she noted the other team furiously arguing in the corner, apparently no closer to filling out their papers as they had been at the start, there were some benefits to silence after all.


Ren's marriage to Ikue, for a reason that was not well explained to Sakura, took place on a dreary Sunday in the middle of February. A good chunk of both the Yamanaka and Nara clans had attended to wish the two off on their journey, as well as a number of Ren's coworkers in T&I, who spent the majority of the time teasing Ren about marrying a girl who was over half a foot taller than him.

Despite the weather, it was a nice ceremony, and the two that took center stage clearly loved each other. Ikue, Sakura knew, had never made it past genin, but hadn't really wanted to and took her retirement from the forces in good grace, instead going into the much more mundane field of city planning.

That said, she had apparently taken her retirement too well—she'd only officially left the summer previous, and as Sakura found out during the ceremony the wedding took place in February less out of any particular love for the chilly month and more out of a desire to have the wedding done with before Ikue began to show.

Still, it was pleasant, and both families were having a relatively good time. Sakura, Shin, and Juro had found a bench near one of the corners to sit on after their exhaustion finally caused them to give up their individual battles to eat their body weights in sweets, and instead all three sat companionably at the edge of the hub-bub, watching their families interact as they themselves slipped by unnoticed.

It was the year 27 Konoha, and life was good.

This, of course, could not last.

It wasn't that a world war was on the horizon, thankfully—that particular aspect of life had ended in 16 Konoha, and hadn't been back since. The problem was more… personal than that.

Ren, now 18, and Ikue had settled down two blocks from Sakura's house by the end of spring, and she and the rest of the family were frequent visitors to ensure Ikue was doing well despite her pregnancy. Sixteen year-old Sayuri was now officially dating her (former) best friend Yua's older brother, but had left for a long term mission with a tracking team, one she did not have a return date from.

Aoi, halfway through his 14th year, was still missing, and everyone was still acting as if that did not matter.

Kamui had also moved out of the house, disappearing into a world of spices and specific meat cuts under the eyes of a watchful Akimichi chef.

Akina and Arato were due to become genin in the summer. They, like Aoi, had begun mentioning possibly quitting despite, like Aoi, having shown no inclination to do so in the past. Kaa-san didn't even blink.

Ayame was fresh-faced as ever, taking on the academy with as much aplomb as could be managed. Her goal, she had decided, was to be one of the first female frontline Yamanaka ever.

She still couldn't do a single jutsu.

Fujio was also doing well in the class two semesters above Sakura's own. He was, she understood, near the top of his class in everything but taijutsu, and so had begun nagging Akina and Arato to tutor him in what little free time they had.

Kohana, now five, was finally in the pre-academy class, but she'd already begun to make noises about preferring to do just about anything else. While she had enjoyed running and jumping and playing as a toddler, the more serious the lessons got the less she seemed to enjoy them, and she'd begun to make wistful eyes at their clan's flower shop rather than practice the required katas.

Sakura was still unravelling the ocean of stories that plagued her brain every night.

Himari, at almost-nearly-three, had found that she liked to climb onto the roof whenever anyone's back was turned.

And Kaede? 13 year-old Kaede who shared a birthday with Sayuri, who was Kamui's doppleganger in every physical aspect one could mention? Kaede who was sweet, and gentle, and kind, and always willing to lend a hand?


Ren's wedding had taken place on a chilly day when the clouds where so numerous and so overladen that they nearly drooped to the ground. Shortly before the wedding ended they'd released their burdens, pouring down a waterfall onto the party-goers who were rushing home.

Kaede's funeral took place on a day without a cloud in the sky, when the humidity was oddly absent and a slight breeze kept it from being too hot. It took place in May, with the flowers in full bloom, and birds chirping in every direction.

Kaede's funeral took place on the day after they'd found out he'd died, and that day had occurred only several hours after Sakura had uncovered Arden's first memory of the world she knew—a memory which showed an 'animation' of a crazy man, threatening to kill everyone in Konohagakure. Sakura had shoved back that memory, resolving to go to sleep and deal with it the next day, but the next day…

They weren't told how he died, and they weren't given a body to claim, and Sakura's throat was closed so tightly she worried she'd lost the ability to speak and eat permanently.

He was a genin, she knew, and every genin was put in potentially life threatening situations every day, but it was different when the genin was your brother, when it was his funeral you had to visit with tears burning your eyes and incense burning your nose and the image of a madman burning your brain.

Tou-san had appeared from nowhere to lead the funeral. He hadn't been there in nearly a year, having been who-knows-where doing who-knows-what for the Fire Nation, but he'd appeared quite unexpectedly on the day of the funeral and led the hand washing, the incense burning, and the tablet inscription.

No one spoke.

Kaa-san had put her into simple, undyed, hemp clothing the night before, and Sakura found everyone else in similar outfits when she awoke, so the scene outside the temple was a sea of beige cloth, blond hair, pale skin, and red eyes.

Sakura tried not to cry too loudly—she'd been instructed to be as silent as possible.

When the funeral rites were finally complete, and her brother's name had been inscribed on the tablet of those bound for the afterlife, each Yamanaka, Nara, Akimichi, and other attendee was given a single flower by the priest. Only when every member had been handed one did each, as one, begin to tear the flower apart—a reminder of the lasting impact of Kaede's death, and how more than one life was affected by it.

The thing was, Sakura had been so busy, so constantly forcing her mind to absorb more, more, more, that it seemed Ren's wedding had only been the day before. She could remember being pressed between Juro and Shin against one of the walls, watching the smiling faces around them as they tried desperately to stay awake until it was time to leave.

She remembered the beauty and the abundance of flowers, which had taken up every nook and cranny available, making the ceremony awash with every color in one's imagination, the clothing in every style imaginable, the laughter coloring the air in every hue.

To go from that to pale people, pale clothing, even pale flowers, in the space of what still felt like less than a week?

Sakura tried to swallow past the knot in her neck. She didn't really succeed.

She was four years old, and she had just lost her first sibling. She knew it wouldn't be her last.

Anonymous reviews have been disabled. Login to review. 1. Year 1 4046 0 0 2. Year 2 4832 0 0 3. Year 3 3153 0 0 4. Academy: Year 1 8667 0 0 5. Academy: Year 2 3301 0 0 6. Academy: Year 3 4507 0 0 7. Academy: Year 4, Part 1 4740 0 0 8. Academy: Year 4, Part 2 2557 0 0 9. Academy: Year 4, Part 3 2374 0 0 10. Academy: Year 5, Part 1 3897 0 0 11. Academy: Year 5, Part 2 2562 0 0 12. Academy: Year 5, Part 3 2272 0 0 13. Academy: Year 6 2675 0 0 14. Genin: Start of Genin, Part 1 2090 0 0 15. Genin: Start of Genin, Part 2 2301 0 0 16. Genin: Start of Genin, Part 3 2392 0 0 17. Genin: Start of Genin, Part 4 2463 0 0 18. Genin: The Capital, Part 1 3399 0 0 19. Genin: The Capital, Part 2 3179 0 0 20. Genin: The Capital, Part 3 2554 0 0 21. Genin, Back Home, Part 1 4717 0 0 22. Genin, Back Home, Part 2 2799 0 0 23. Genin, Back Home, Part 3 2004 0 0 24. Genin, The Long Countdown to War, Part 1 2549 0 0 25. Genin, The Long Countdown to War, Part 2 2967 0 0 26. Genin, the Long Countdown to War, Part 3 3283 0 0 27. Genin, The Long Countdown to War, Part 4 1584 0 0 28. Genin, The Long Countdown to War, Part 5 2510 0 0 29. Genin, The Long Countdown to War, Part 6 2575 0 0 30. Genin, War, Part 1 2769 0 0 31. Genin, War, Part 2 2687 0 0 32. Genin: War, Part 3 2445 0 0 33. Genin: War, Part 4 3055 0 0 34. Genin: War, Part 5 2381 0 0 35. Chunin: The Capital, Part 1 3402 0 0 36. Chunin: The Capital, Part 2 1815 0 0 37. Chunin: Back to War, Part 1 2337 0 0 38. Some Naras' Perspectives 3213 0 0 39. Chunin: Back to War, Part 2 1975 1 1 40. Chunin: Letters to Sakura 3072 0 0 41. Chunin: Letters from Sakura 3605 0 0 42. Chunin: Back to War, Part 3 4226 0 0 43. Chunin: Home, Part 1 3237 0 0 44. Chunin: Home, Part 2 2441 0 0 45. Chunin: Home, Part 3 3296 0 0 46. Chunin: Home, Part 4 2602 0 0 47. Chunin: Home, Part 5 2519 0 0 48. Chunin: Home, Part 6 2487 0 0 49. Chunin: Home, Part 7 1773 0 0 50. Chunin: Home, Part 8 2553 0 0 51. Chunin: Home, Part 9 2049 0 0 52. Chunin: Home, Part 10 2195 0 0 53. Chunin: Home, Part 11 2888 0 0 54. TJ: Home, Part 1 2977 0 0 55. TJ: Home, Part 2 3456 0 0 56. TJ: Land of Mushrooms, Part 1 2755 0 0 57. TJ: Land of Mushrooms, Part 2 3118 0 0 58. TJ: Land of Mushrooms, Part 3 3232 0 0 59. TJ: Land of Mushrooms, Part 4 3329 0 0 60. TJ: Land of Mushrooms, Part 5 3395 0 0 61. TJ: Peace, Part 1 2474 0 0 62. TJ: Peace, Part 2 3490 0 0 63. TJ: Peace, Part 3 3445 0 0 64. TJ: Peace, Part 4 4307 0 0 65. TJ: Peace, Part 5 3150 0 0 66. TJ: Peace, Part 6 3544 0 0 67. TJ: Peace, Part 7 2784 0 0 68. TJ: War (Kumo), Part 1 3421 0 0 69. TJ: War (Kumo), Part 2 2766 0 0 70. TJ: War (Kumo, Iwa), Kumo Part 1 2909 0 0 71. TJ: War (Kumo, Iwa), Kumo Part 2 2346 0 0 72. TJ: War (Kumo, Iwa), Part 3 2772 0 0 73. TJ: War (Kumo, Iwa), Part 4 3317 0 0 74. TJ: War (Kumo, Iwa), Frost Part 1 3134 0 0 75. TJ: War (Kumo, Iwa), Frost Part 2 3024 0 0 76. TJ: War (Kumo, Iwa, Kiri), Part 1 2643 0 0 77. TJ: War (Kumo, Iwa, Kiri), Part 2 2551 0 0 78. TJ: War (Kumo, Iwa, Kiri), Part 3 2429 0 0 79. TJ: War (Kumo, Iwa, Kiri), Part 4 2585 0 0 80. TJ: War (Kumo, Iwa, Kiri), Part 5 2803 0 0 81. TJ: War (Kumo, Iwa, Kiri), Part 6 2230 0 0 82. TJ: War (Kumo, Kiri), Part 1 2867 0 0 83. TJ: War (Kumo, Kiri), Part 2 2393 0 0 84. TJ: War (Kumo, Kiri), Part 3 2262 0 0 85. TJ: War (Kumo, Kiri), Part 4 1831 0 0 86. TJ: War (Kumo, Kiri), Part 5 3005 0 0 87. TJ: War (Kumo, Kiri), Part 6 2298 0 0 88. TJ: War (Kumo, Kiri), Part 7 3226 0 0 89. TJ: War (Kumo, Kiri), Part 8 2228 0 0 90. TJ: War (Kumo, Kiri), Part 9 2375 0 0 91. TJ: War (Kumo) Part 1 3203 0 0 92. TJ: War (Kumo), Part 2 2874 0 0 93. TJ: War (Kumo), Part 3 3271 0 0 94. TJ: War (Kumo), Part 4 2388 0 0 95. TJ: War (Kumo), Part 5 2500 0 0 96. TJ: War (Kumo), Part 6 2609 0 0 97. TJ: War (Kumo), Part 7 2472 0 0 98. TJ: War (Kumo), Part 8 2449 0 0 99. TJ: War (Kumo), Part 9 2400 0 0 100. TJ: War (Kumo), Part 10 3448 0 0 101. TJ: Peacetime, Part 1 3157 0 0 102. TJ: Peacetime, Part 2 2525 0 0 103. TJ: Peacetime, Part 3 2592 0 0 104. TJ: Peacetime, Part 4 2549 0 0 105. TJ: Peacetime, Part 5 2650 0 0 106. TJ: Peacetime, Part 6 2762 0 0 107. TJ: Peacetime, Part 7 2569 0 0 108. TJ: Peacetime, Part 8 2400 0 0 109. TJ: Peacetime, Part 9 2491 0 0 110. TJ: Peacetime, Part 10 2506 0 0 111. TJ: Peacetime, Part 11 2467 0 0 112. TJ: Peacetime, Part 12 2790 0 0 113. TJ: Peacetime, Part 13 2390 0 0 114. TJ: Peacetime, Part 14 2811 0 0 115. TJ: Peacetime, Part 15 2720 0 0 116. J: Peacetime, Part 1 1915 0 0 117. J: Peacetime, Part 2 3057 0 0 118. J: Peacetime, Part 3 1524 0 0 119. J: Peacetime, Part 4 2264 0 0 120. J: Peacetime, Part 5 1976 0 0 121. J: Peacetime, Part 6 1407 0 0 122. J: Peacetime, Part 7 1581 0 0 123. J: War, Part 1 2154 0 0 124. J: War, Part 2 1602 0 0 125. J: War, Part 3 1904 0 0 126. J: War, Part 4 2125 0 0 127. J: War, Part 5 1600 0 0 128. J: War, Part 6 1427 0 0 129. J: War, Part 7 1386 0 0 130. J: War, Part 8 1409 0 0