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halcyon days

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Sakura sees dead people. Well, two dead people to be exact.

From the very young age of five, Sakura knows there is something off about the Uchiha and the Uzumaki in her class. One is greatly adored based on his bloodline and the other is reviled for a secret the adults refuse to speak of in polite company. They have only one thing in common.

Full-grown spirits follow them around.

The first time Ino points out Sasuke with a shy smile, Sakura is beyond surprised. Thankfully, her quiet demeanor keeps her from mentioning anything as she cautiously observes the man hovering behind the boy of Ino’s dreams. He has long dark hair and fierce red eyes. He looks like one of the Uchiha. He isn’t doing anything. He just stands there, looking completely bored, as if the squabbles of children were beneath him. As far as she could tell, no one can see him except her.

That’s interesting, Inner Sakura comments blithely.

It scares her, especially since she knows that most people do not see things others couldn’t or have voices in their heads. Sakura fears that she was crazy.

She avoids Sasuke after that.

Naruto she bumps into during one of his pranks. He flinches away, expecting to be hit or berated but Sakura is more interested in the figure behind him. He is tall and fit with cropped dark hair. He isn’t really paying attention to his surroundings which made her examination easier. He looks nicer than Sasuke’s spirit but it frightens Sakura all the more.

She is seeing people; people who aren't actually there.

Thankfully, Naruto doesn’t have the chance to ask her what she is staring at as Iruka-sensei grabs him by the scruff of his neck and drags him to the Hokage’s office.

She waves Naruto a tentative goodbye, resolving to stay away from both boys for the sake of her sanity.


 

Sakura holds to that decision, even with Naruto throwing her tentative looks that beg for friendship. She mentally apologizes but she doesn’t want to be near the spirit. Her resolve has yet to waver and she even chooses a seat at the very back of the classroom to keep from drawing attention to herself. Shikamaru sits by her on one side and Ino on the other.

Sakura’s mind drifts as Mizuki-sensei covers information she’d already read. She has a lot of time on her hands when Ino is helping her mom at the flower shop. The library is her favorite place in Konoha.

She catches sight of movement in her peripherals and automatically tenses. Ino throws her a questioning look that Sakura just shakes off.

One of the spirits is moving.

Sakura watches with trepidation as Naruto’s spirit moves toward Sasuke’s. She didn’t even realize they could move.

She avidly spies on the spirits, watching as Naruto’s spirit pleads with the other. His expression is sad and desperate. She has never seen anyone look quite like that. Sakura knows that there is a story there. Sasuke’s spirit is dismissive, ignoring the pleas of Naruto’s. Sakura realizes with a jolt that she cannot hear them.

Sakura decides that it is long past time to visit the library.

She needs to research.


 

She wears her hair in a braid that slithers down her spine.

Sakura learns from one of her ancient books (The Kuniochi Way to be precise; a handbook written for and by kuniochi during the Warring Era) that things can be beautiful and twice as deadly.

Sakura wraps her hair in a spiked thong and places short senbon intermediately through her braid. Anyone who tries to grab her hair is in for a nasty surprise.

It is when she is buying these hair accessories that she meets Tenten.

It goes a little like this:

Sakura hesitates outside the well-established shinobi shop. She has never really explored this district and she is unsure of the procedure.

“Hi!” a voice greets.

Sakura looks up into kind brown eyes set in a tanned face. “Hi,” she says in return, a bit shyly.

The girl assesses her before saying, “First time here right?”

Sakura nods abashedly, starting when she throws an arm over her shoulder.

“No need to be shy! I’m Tenten and I’m this store’s number one customer!” the dark haired girl declares, leading Sakura into the store.

Sakura does not reply, flabbergasted by the amount of stuff in the store. She had no idea there are this many ways of killing a person.

Tenten nudges her and Sakura flushes. “I’m Sakura,” she replies belatedly.

“What are you shopping for?” she asks, waving enthusiastically at the bored chunin cashier.

“I’m looking for hair ties,” Sakura explains. She gestures to her long pink hair. “I read that kuniochi in wartimes would weave spikes and other weapons into their hair. If an enemy ever grabbed it…” Sakura trails off.

Tenten gives her an excited look. “That’s amazing! I had no idea. Would you mind if I buy some too?”

Sakura leaves that shop with newfound confidence, hair ties, and friend.

The next time she is in class Mizuki-sensei gives her an odd look. He approaches her while she is sparring and scans her thoroughly. Sakura stands still, waiting for judgment. Finally, his eyes crinkle upward in a smile and he cautiously pats her head.

“I see you’ve been reading some more,” he states proudly.

Sakura shrugs with a slight smile.

“Just, be careful. Remember that these are your classmates,” he tells her. “You don’t want to hurt them.”

Sakura nods. She knows this all too well. One day, when they are no longer in the play yard sparring but actually out fighting and dying, she will add poison to her hair accessories, just like the kuniochi of old.

Those who underestimate her and grab her hair will be bitten in return.

Little baby badass, Inner crows.


 

Sakura continues to read books on the founders and those who come before them. She thinks these spirits are ancient, especially with their style of clothing. They are probably from a time before the shinobi villages. A time of the Sage of Six Paths.

Unfortunately, there are not many books on the Sage’s time, aside from those that detail his legendary feats. Sakura decides to go to the wisest man she knows: the “God of Shinobi.”

Sarutobi Hiruzen.

“Sakura-chan,” he says in surprise as the eight-year-old girl walks into his office. The Hokage has made it a point to know all of the Academy students by name as they will inherit the Will of Fire. The children carry the future of Konoha and they need to be made to feel important. “What can I do for you?”

Sakura steps into the room, glancing at his Anbu guards quickly. She sits down in front of his desk and smiles nervously. “Hokage-sama, I was wondering if I might borrow some books from you. I tried to find them in the library but there are not many.”

Sarutobi raises an eyebrow out of curiosity. “What books, Sakura-chan?”

“Books on the time of the Sage of Six Paths,” she replies.

Sarutobi looks mystified but he chuckles all the same. “Mizuki-sensei has reported that you are a voracious reader and this further proves it.” He nods to her. “I have some books you can borrow. Weasel; take her to the library in the Hokage House. She’ll find what she needs there.”

One of the Anbu nods before holding a hand out to Sakura.

She takes it tentatively, smiling at the Hokage. “Thank you Hokage-sama,” she says quietly before leaving with the Anbu.

Sarutobi watches her go thoughtfully, smoking his pipe. “The Will of Fire is strong in this generation,” he finally decides. “I’ll be interested to see where they go from here.”

Sakura feels awkward and gangly beside Weasel who embodies grace. She can feel him staring at her so she finally says, “Yes?”

“Why are you interested in the Sage of Six Paths?” he asks softly.

Sakura recognizes the voice. She hears it every time Sasuke’s brother comes to pick him up. Uchiha Itachi: scion and heir of the Uchiha clan. She is still astonished that he was promoted so rapidly but Sakura gets the feeling that the Uchiha exerted their influence on that decision. Hokage-sama does not seem the sort to enjoy child soldiers.

She shrugs in reply. “Who wouldn’t be interested in the man that created our skills?”

She knows that Weasel does not really buy her response but he says nothing. From what she knows of Itachi, he does not know how to interact with people on a social level outside of Sasuke. It is sad, she thinks, that he is so accomplished yet has so little of what really matters. Ino and Tenten are Sakura’s stalwart companions and she cannot imagine life without them.

“I want to know more about the wars he stopped,” Sakura elucidates.

“You wear weapons in your hair,” he points out randomly.

Sakura nods. “Kuniochi who wore their hair long during the Warring Era often wrapped weapons in it. If anyone tried to pull them over by their hair…” she trails off.

“That is smart. I am surprised that the trend died out.”

Sakura snorted. “I’m surprised that so few people read about the wars we’ve fought in.” She eyes his silky dark hair speculatively. “You could do it too. Shinobi with long hair often did the same. Besides, my friends have started to wear their hair this way. Maybe it’ll catch on.”

Weasel makes a humming noise. “We’re here,” he says. He makes no move to follow her into the building, aside from giving the guards a slip from the Hokage.

She turns to him and bows. “Thank you for escorting me, Weasel-san.”

He nods in turn, hesitating. “…let me know what you find.” He slips his mask off. “I am Uchiha Itachi.” He watches her shrewdly. “I think you already knew that though.”

Sakura smiles guilelessly.


 

Ōtsutsuki Indra and Ashura.

The sons of the Sage of Six Paths.

Sakura watches the spirits’ interactions through new eyes. Everyone has heard the tragic story of the Ōtsutsuki brothers who turned on one another after their father’s death. It isn’t until she sees an etching of their battle in one of the Hokage’s books that she realizes just who these spirits are.

Sakura cannot help but fear for Naruto and Sasuke’s fates. There is a reason that these ancient spirits, these ghosts, are following them around and their story is not a happy one.

Ashura, Naruto’s ghost, seems repentant of his actions and continuously seeks his brother’s love. Sasuke’s spirit, Indra, is too proud to listen. Sakura likes to watch them from her place in the back of the classroom as she, Ino, and Shikamaru doodle and write to each other in a cipher of their own creation. Sakura glances at the senbon in Ino’s hair with a mild grin.

Poison training later? Sakura scrawls across the sheet of paper.

Ino glances down and smiles. Yeah. Mum is on a mission. Can Tenten come?

No. She has some sort of additional assignment this afternoon.

Sakura spends the rest of the class drawing cartoonish depictions of Indra and Ashura. Ino, knowing Sakura’s obsession with their story, just giggles.


 

Ino’s mom finds them throwing up in the bathroom. Aiko is just returned from an exhausting solo B-ranked mission and wants nothing more than to sleep.

“Girls, what’s going on?” she asks with concern, rubbing a hand down each of their backs.

“Rhododendron,” Ino gasps before retching into the toilet again.

Aiko is torn between pride and anger. “You girls are trying to build up immunity to poisons? Alone?”

Sakura nods with exhaustion. “Just the natural ones. We aren’t going to start on the artificial until after we’re promoted.”

Natural poisons are dangerous by themselves but those created from the minds of the depraved are much, much worse.

“Girls,” Aiko begins. “What brought this on?”

“During the Second Great Shinobi War, poison was an essential component to the warfare,” Sakura recites. “Besides, the best ninja of Suna are poison wielders.”

“What she said,” Ino says. “We also have the best access of everyone in Konoha to these poisons. Why wouldn’t we take advantage?”

Aiko sighs, smiling ruefully. She wonders if her parents had to deal with her enthusiasm for the ninja way. “Next time, let me know ahead of time. I can help you prepare. You also need to make sure you have an antidote on hand, just in case something goes awry.”

“Do you have an antidote?” Sakura asks hopefully.

“Yes,” Aiko replies.

“May we have it?” Ino inquires after a long pause.

“No, you may not,” Aiko says firmly. “As punishment for your reckless behavior, you’re going to wait this out.” She pats their backs as she leaves. “Have fun girls.”

They moan pitifully.


 

“Aburame-san,” Sakura greets.

Shino regards her cautiously behind his sunglasses. While Sakura is not physically the strongest in their class, she is incredibly intelligent and unforgivingly dangerous in spars. Shino respects the fact that she is so dedicated to her craft but he is wise to be wary.

“Haruno-san,” he says in turn, tilting his head slightly.

“Would you accompany me after class today?” Sakura asks.

Shino blinks. “You want to walk with me home from school. Why? Obviously you want some information.”

Sakura does not flinch at his peculiar manner of speech which is more than he can say about most of his classmates. “You are not wrong.”

They watch each other in silence before Shino nods in acquiesce.

Sakura grins at him and runs off to rejoin Ino, Shikamaru, and Choji; her constant companions these days.

Shino spends the rest of the class warily watching her, catching the way she stares pointedly at something beyond Sasuke and Naruto’s shoulders. There is nothing there, but Shino has enough quirks of his own to be unfazed by her peculiarities. He amuses himself with watching her for the rest of class until Iruka signals the end of the day.

Shino waits as Sakura drags Shikamaru behind her, with Ino and Choji trailing behind.

“I didn’t realize there would be an audience,” Shino comments, slightly flustered.

Sakura shrugs, laughing a little. “They thought my question was interesting.”

“And what exactly is that question?” he responds.

The group begins to file out the door. “So, Ino and I were wondering a bit about the way that your bugs break down poison. I know that the Aburame are the official poison specialists of the village. I was also wondering how they drain chakra of enemies. Do they facilitate a transfer of enemy chakra to your own?”

Shino blinked rapidly, processing this information. “A lot of what you ask is secret; known only to the Aburame clan.”

Sakura and Ino both deflate in disappointment.

“Damn,” Ino mutters. “I thought we were going to get an easier way of poison immunity.”

By the unsurprised looks on Choji and Shikamaru’s faces, Shino assumes this is knowledge well known in their friend circle. “You are building up poison immunities?”

Sakura and Ino glance at each other and have a silent conversation before nodding. “Ino’s mom and dad run the florist shop here when they aren’t on missions. We have easy access,” Sakura explains blithely. “Besides, Yamanaka-san supports our endeavors.”

Shino nods and hesitates before speaking, “I will speak with the elders about it. There may be some general information I can give you.”

The girls and Choji grin, though Shikamaru shakes his head in exasperation. “Way to encourage their craziness,” he grumbles but subsists with a well-placed elbow on Choji’s part.

“Thanks so much Aburame-san!” Ino enthuses. “Maybe we can train sometime, even if this whole thing doesn’t pan out.”

Shino looks at the group of friends and feels something akin to envy in his chest. He wants something like what they have. He smiles slightly. “That sounds great Yamanaka-san.”


 

Sakura glances down at her headband, pride radiating in her chest. She is a genin of Konoha now. She is technically an adult. Sakura ties the headband around her throat, knowing that the area is incredibly vulnerable. The placement may deflect small projectiles.

Ino runs over to her, throwing her arms around her. “Can you believe we graduated? This is awesome! Tenten said she can meet us at that seafood place we went to that one time for dinner tonight. You know the place? Her team is training right now though.”

Sakura nods, staring over at Sasuke and Itachi. Itachi is poking his brother’s forehead as the boy pouts. Indra looks reluctantly amused. Naruto is not celebrating. He did not pass.

Sakura feels bad for him, truly she does, but she also knows that the boy doesn’t study. The tests they took are laughable at best and are not true preparations for being a ninja. Ino and Shikamaru have noticed as well. Sakura thinks that Shino knows too.

She glances around their classroom one last time; the place she has spent the last six years of her life. She will miss it, if only for her friends’ constant company. They will be separated tomorrow.

Mizuki-sensei congratulates her sincerely before moving off to other genin. Sakura notices that Hyuuga-san is all alone, no family present to celebrate with her.

Sakura nudges Ino, breaking her out of an argument with Shikamaru. She looks to Hinata and nods. The duo approaches the timid girl, frowning when she flinches away. Sakura cannot help but wonder if there is abuse and neglect in the Hyuuga compound.

“Hyuuga-san,” Sakura greets. “Would you like to join us tonight? A couple of us are grabbing dinner at the local seafood place.”

Hinata flushes, starting to shake her head.

“Seriously, Hinata,” Ino says. “We’d love to have you join us. If I have to listen to Sakura go on about different wars again, I might scream.”

Hinata glances between the two of them, flush dark against her face. “I-I would be honored to accompany you, Haruno-san, Yamanaka-san.”

“Call me Sakura,” Sakura says. “You can call her Ino. We aren’t too big on formality.”

Hinata flashes them a tentative smile. “P-please call me Hinata then.”

The trio grins at one another, unaware of the long-lasting bond they have just forged.


 

Sakura settles into her seat, sated after a long night of good food and better friends. Tenten and Hinata hit it off, surprisingly enough, griping about the Hyuuga on Tenten’s team. Iruka-sensei is about to announce the teams.

Sakura is beyond surprised to see Naruto stride into the room, headband shining on his forehead. He and Sasuke begin arguing about something as per usual. Both spirits look incredibly resigned though Ashura seems happy to be beside his older brother.

Ino laughs, pulling up a chair next to Sakura. “Are they at it again?” she asks. Ino has long outgrown her crush on the Uchiha boy.

“As always,” Sakura replies, waving at Hinata who joins them.

Shikamaru snorts. “I pity anyone who ends up on a team with one of them.”

“Why is that?” Ino inquires.

“Neither knows the meaning of teamwork.”

Iruka-sensei clears his throat and begins listing off teams. “Team Seven will consist of Uchiha Sasuke, Haruno Sakura, and Uzumaki Naruto,” he reads.

Sakura glances at her friends who are leveling her with looks of sympathy and then to her teammates and the ghosts behind them.

It figures that Sakura would be placed on this team.


 

Sakura strides up to her teammates, long braid trailing behind her. She smiles as Naruto brightens considerably.

“Sakura-chan!” he exclaims, grabbing her hand. He is starved for contact and Sakura has never shied away from him though she has never been a friend to him. “Isn’t it great that we are on the same team?”

Sasuke smiles slightly at her. He is glad to have her on his team. She’s sensible and intelligent. “You’re much better the idiot here, that’s for sure.”

Sakura links hands with Sasuke as well.

“It is nice to meet you as a team,” she greets, all the while looking up into the eyes of their shadows. “Please take care of me as I take care of you.”

The figures exchange astonished looks before waving to her, Ashura enthusiastically and Indra very slightly.

Sakura has the sinking suspicion that her genin days are going to be…eventful.