Chapter 46 Preview

Sakura, Sasuke and Kakashi left out of Konoha under the cover of dark, before dawn cracked the first light over the sleeping village.

Kakashi explained briefly that he had a lead on something, something big. Top secret. And that they needed to go. Time was of the essence.

They trusted Kakashi so they went. No questions asked. 

But as the sun grew higher in the sky, it became clear that their destination was beyond the Fire country borders. 

She met Sasuke’s questioning gaze just once, but she had no answers either. 

Kakashi must have known of their silent communication. Because not long after he said, “We’ll stop soon, and I’ll explain more.”

They nodded and tucked into their rhythm, moving across the land in chakra-enhanced blurs.

This desperate dash across the countryside for a secret emergency mission was the stuff of dreams for most academy kids. And here she was doing it. Sometimes it surprised her. It wasn’t her dream. At least…not at first.

The chakra was the only thing that was easy. The rest was a challenge. School and learning skills. Friends and teammates. But her chakra was always there, even from the beginning.

She could not remember a time when there wasn’t a ‘green light’ in her hands. She thought everyone had it. She could transfer it from hand to hand, like a play toy. And if she held a book long enough, becoming immersed in it, the glow might actually transfer to it for the briefest moment. It was never strong. When she moved her fingers and tried to look for it, it would flicker away like a firefly. 

To her it was simply a game. But she was wrong.

She had a clear memory of the first time she shared her ‘green light’ with anyone else.

She was on a play-date when she closed her eyes and put it on her friend’s hand. She was amazed to ‘see’ the light still glowing there. It was different from inanimate objects. It was like she could feel both of them, where they were connected. She looked up smiling, but was met with horror. Green light reflected in the child’s overly wide eyes. Her mouth was open, forming a scream, but the sound had not yet come out—

It all caught up in one ear-splitting wail. The child ripped her hand away. Sakura, frightened by the reaction, extinguished her ‘light’ without even trying. When the two mothers came running in, big tears were rolling down the girl’s plump cheeks. 

The girl’s mother nudged aside her fingers, inspecting the skin and asking what was wrong. The attention made the cries sharper. But between the gasps she was able to point to the source of her pain. Sakura.

“She tried to take my hand,” the girl wailed. “With her green light— She tried to take it awaaayyy….” The mother frowned deeply, first at Sakura, then at Sakura’s mother. 

Sakura started to cry too. 

Within minutes, the mothers were bidding each other tight farewells and the Harunos were on their way home. 

Walking briskly, Sakura’s mother gripped her hand and quizzed her about what happened. Sniffling, Sakura repeated what had happened. Her mother was confused. “So, it was just a game then.” Sakura nodded.

They passed the baker and Sakura smiled at the good smells. Her mother didn’t notice. “Sakura-chan,” her mother said gently, “what did she say about a green light….”

Sakura nodded distractedly, trying to wriggle her chubby hand out of her mother’s hand. She wanted to get closer to the door, maybe even catch a glimpse of the sweet cakes—

Her mother held her firm. “Sakura, what about the green light—“

Sakura leaned toward the door, content to drag her mother with her. “The green light—“  she said with a dreamy sniff….

“Yes honey. Was there a light in her room or something else green—“

Sakura shook her head. “No, the one in my hand—“

Sakura’s mother was so surprised she loosened her fingers. Sakura’s tugged her little hand from her grasp. She ran toward the shop where the friendly baker gave her a smile, a tousle of her hair and a little cookie. The baker waved over Sakura’s head toward her mother. Her mother hid her confusion with a smile and a wave, then took Sakura’s hand again when she ran up, delighted about the cookie. 

“Sakura,” she said quietly when they were a few steps away, “the light? Was it…just a part of the game?”

Mouth full of cookie, Sakura beamed up at her mother and nodded.

Her mother smiled down into her big green eyes. “Of course. That’s what I thought.” Sakura took another bite of the crumbling cookie. “Is it good?”

“Mmm-hmmm.” Sakura smiled at it, constellations of crumbs sticking to each pink cheek, and took another bite. Her mother laughed and tousled her hair, pushing her bangs away from her eyes, and they went home.

That night, her mother relayed the story to her father, about the girl’s obvious temper tantrum and how she blamed Sakura. Her father laughed. “Our little Sakura? Never!” The matter was completely forgotten. 

However, the second time Sakura shared her light it would not be forgotten. It would change everything for her.

A few years later, Sakura accompanied her mother to deliver a parcel of embroidery to an important clan. It was all very formal and important. They went to a house with a round gate in front — a “moon gate” she heard her mother say — and she was thrilled to go through it. She turned her eyes upward in a big circle and slowly stepped through, wondering what other delights may lay beyond. 

It didn’t disappoint. There were pathways that lead to other closed doors, but Sakura was certain they must all contain courtyards as beautiful as this one. They waited there until a door opened, and an attendant ushered them into one wing of a massive clan compound that was hidden behind the interior stone walls. 

There, beyond a sliding screen, a grandmotherly type with piles of black hair and and milky eyes sat waiting. Sakura’s mother was shown toward the room, while Sakura was directed to an outdoor garden where the sound of children’s voices was echoing up. Sakura glanced at her mother, her mother nodded her head, and Sakura dutifully bowed back and followed the dark-haired woman out to the courtyard.

Outside several older girls were sitting in the grass under a tree, talking, braiding each other’s silky black hair and watching the older boys throw wooden kunai at a target. They all had the same luminous pale eyes. The newcomer was not worthy of their attention. But a cluster of boys and girls closer to her age took notice. They paused their game of kick ball to walk to the koi pond and investigate the stranger.

They asked the normal rapid-fire questions of school-age children, jumping from topic to topic without waiting to hear her answers. They said lots of words she’d never heard before, and when they determined that she was not, what they called, a shee-no-bee, they left her behind to find more interesting distractions. 

She was content to sit at the rounded edge of the pond and watch the black and orange koi fish dart beneath the lily pads. But suddenly, the surface of the water glimmered with reflected blue light. The fish disappeared.

Across the pond, one of the boy’s was showing off his fist, completely cloaked in flames of glowing blue energy. All eyes turned to him, even the older kids paused in their activities to acknowledge him. He looked around, face wreathed in pride, making sure everyone saw, including Sakura. 

Sakura didn’t know anything about their world, but she knew this. Smiling back, Sakura cupped her hands together and filled up the space with a pool of green light. It glowed much brighter than the boy’s hand—

But before she could look up and see if they approved, the kickball smacked in the chest, knocking her hands sideways, and sending her crashing into the pond.

Sakura’s top half was soaking wet. There was a scream. And then her mother was at the door. She looked aghast at Sakura, and Sakura looked down at what she’d done. Water was everywhere…but that wasn’t the worst of it— 

Tears immediately began to well at her eyes. 

The kids were drawing closer to see what happened, including the one who had kicked the ball. 

“Sorry,” he whined when the attendant jerked him by the elbow, “I meant to hit him! Not her!”

The very dour looking grandmother with black hair and milky eyes appeared at the door next, followed by other adult onlookers. She frowned deeply, first at Sakura, then at Sakura’s mother. 

A few clansmen fresh from a training session appeared at the doorway behind them. They stood at the back with sweat-tipped hair, their pale eyes looking over the wrecked garden scene before landing on the curious, dripping pink-haired girl in the middle. 

“I think you should leave,” the old woman pronounced. “Both of you.” 

Everyone bowed while the older woman proudly turned and left, certain her orders would be carried out. 

The boy who had been showing off muttered under his breath, “Weirdo—” as he walked past.

Sakura’s chin crumpled. 

Sakura’s mother opened her hand for her daughter, and Sakura ran to her mother, starting to sob. But Sakura’s mother shushed her and refused to let her dissolve into tears. She held her hand, tipped her chin up and they walked out in silence. 

Exiting through the round moon gate, Sakura shut her eyes hard. She never wanted to see this place again.

By the time they got back to their neighborhood, the whole episode felt like a memory. Sakura’s mother stopped at the bakery and got her a cookie, and spoke gently while they walked, asking her about the boy that threw the ball, if they were mean to her, or if anything else was said. 

Sakura answered quietly no, in between bites, and that put her mother at ease. 

“It was just a big misunderstanding then. Those clan types can be very strange. Very proud and just…different—“

Sakura nodded. “The boy had the same kind of light as mine. But I don’t think he liked mine.” She took another bite.

Sakura’s mother nearly stumbled. “What…? What light?”

Sakura smiled. “My green light,” she said matter-of-factly, wiggling her fingers. “It was brighter than his.”

Her father’s voice boomed from the road ahead of them. “Ohayo Sakura-chan!” Sakura broke off into a run towards her father, and Sakura’s mother was left to watch the two, one thought cascading to another. 

By dinner the whole incident at the clan was forgotten. The only mention was Sakura’s mother declaring that she would never work for a clan again. Her father approved. “Bah, let them sew up their own designs. You shouldn’t waste your talents on them.”

Her mother smiled at his support and passed him another helping. Sakura swung her legs under her seat and curled her hair behind her ears and smiled too.

But after dinner, Sakura heard her mother’s voice floating down the hall. Her mother and father were talking in more serious tones. “Try to remember. Did your family have a hidden skill or something special, anything—“

His laughter overrode her worried voice. “You mean like some of the ‘magic’ these Konoha clans claim to possess? Ha! If we did, then we didn’t put it to good use! My father and mother, and their father and mother, and all the family before them wouldn’t have had to work their lives dying fabrics in icy mountain streams—“

“What about anything…green in your background?” There was a tone of desperation in her voice. “Like in old family stories, anything you can remember—“

“No, nothing. Now put this out of your mind! Those clan people are strange! We’ve never had their business before, and we don’t need it now! I’m just sorry that your trip over there was for nothing.” He was satisfied, and his voice sounded like he’d resolved the matter. If her mother felt differently, then she didn’t say it. Only the clink of washing dishes remained. 

By the next afternoon, everything in Sakura’s life had changed.

She returned home from her civilian school to find her father’s downstairs workspace full of people. And they all looked at her. 

Sakura’s father’s voice boomed. “Here she is! Now she can clear all this up—“ But Sakura’s mother had the guilty expression of someone who knew more than she should. “There’s no green light! Our daughter’s a normal girl!”

Her mother however, gave her a wobbly smile and took her hand without speaking. Her cheeks were red as if she’d been crying. 

“Sakura,” she said softly. “This man was at that big house yesterday. The one with the…” she swallowed, “pond.” Sakura looked up at the dark-haired, pale-eyed man. He did not smile at her. “He says he saw a green light in your hands.” Her mother’s voice was tinged with desperation. “But that can’t be true can it? The green light, it’s just part of a game isn’t it, sweetie?”

Sakura nodded at her mother, and her mother exhaled deeply, so relieved to clear it up, and was just reaching to hug her daughter, when Sakura opened her hand between them. Her palm was coated in a bright, luminous green. She squeezed it and watched it squish around to the back side. It was stronger than the boy’s light, and doing new things. She smiled down into the glow of it.

Sakura’s mother gasped and leaned back. The others leaned suddenly in. Frightened, Sakura’s light suddenly snuffed out. 

Father and mother looked at each other, while the others in the room conferred quietly among themselves. 

The dark haired man whispered to a masked anbu agent leaning against the wall. Another man in a green vest spoke to a woman in a doctor’s coat. 

“And you are absolutely certain, there is no chance that she’s a shinobi-born— Or adopted“

“No,” her mother snapped in anguished tones. “How many times do I have to tell you—“

Sakura’s chin began to wobble and fat tears slid down. Her mother started to cry too. Her father’s voice was hoarse. “Tell me! What’s wrong with my daughter?”

One of the milk-white masked men stepped forward. “She is a shinobi—“

“What does that mean?”

She has powers abilities that are special. Unique even. 

“What are they?”

We do not know. She is, it seems, an anomaly.

So what does this mean—

The green-vested man stepped forward. It means the Kage is interested in her well-being. Her education. She might need to change schools if that’s acceptable to you—

The anbu agent spoke low and sternly. “There are other interests here and your Kage may not have jurisdiction—“

He said through gritted teeth, “She is a citizen of Konoha and therefore under the jurisdiction of the Sandaime.” But when the masked man didn’t back off, the one in the green vest growled quietly. “Tell Root to go harvest new recruits somewhere else. As you can see, she’s no orphan. She’s ours.” 

Neither man moved. 

The Haruno parents watched the exchange with growing anxiety. But it was settled when the masked agents left the home without another word.

The man with the clipboard turned back to them, smiling brightly. “Tomorrow, we will have a doctor come by to determine her health, as well as other shinobi to determine her skill and where she should be placed.”

Sakura’s mother’s throat went dry. “P-Placed?” She grabbed Sakura into her arms, refusing to let go. “You’re not going to…to….to take her away, are you?”

“No, of course not,” he exclaimed with a cheery smile. “But there will be a new school, new gear, new things to learn. It’s all so exciting!” Clearly, he was much more excited than the two parents holding onto each other in the center of the room. “You’re life is going to be very different from now on out young, uh—“ he flipped back the clipboard, “Sakura!”

Her father stood, shaking his head. “Wait, there must be some mistake—“

But the man was already leaving, “Nope! No mistake! Please be home tomorrow. I’m sure you will have lots of visitors—“

Her father followed him to the door. “But she has to go to school—”

“Oh I wouldn’t worry about that. A youngster with her talents will most certainly never need to go to a civilian school again.” He gave a cheerful wave and was out the door, saying something about needing to file this report and that the Sandaime was waiting for him—

Sakura’s father closed the door. He ran his hand through his hair, leaving it standing up on end, and it did feel as if a whirlwind had swept through and blown them all around. Sakura buried her tired head in her mother’s shoulder. 

The next day, a procession of official looking men and women filed through their little apartment. They sat at the kitchen table while Sakura sat and swung her legs. They tested her chakra, wrote in a file about the color, the consistency. They asked and scribbled. Took her temperature, her weight her height, her family background. They asked several times about her hair — “Pink is an unusual shade, it could mean she’s very powerful!” — and went over every detail of her birth and their family ancestry that might possibly be helpful. None of it was. She appeared to be an absolutely normal child in every way, except one. 

Green chakra dripped off her hand like water. Sometimes it cloaked them like oversized mittens. Other times it glimmered in the cup of her palm. And sometimes it stuck to things. But only if she thought about it really hard.

They put their pencil down, scratched their heads, looked at her worried parents, then picked up their pencil again. None of it made sense. But she was as healthy and happy as any other shinobi offspring, so the doctors and nurses smiled bracingly and said there was nothing wrong with her other than having a little bit of extra ability.

When her parents asked what that meant, they just shrugged. “That’s not for us to decide,” they said with a smile.

Her mother stepped forward. “What about school tomorrow,“ she asked. But they shook their heads. More tests. 

The next day, a few shinobi accompanied the doctors. They were not as friendly, didn’t carry a clipboard, and were only interested in seeing how far she could throw things. But whatever they were looking for, they were satisfied. They went away with a single nod of thanks, leaving the doctors to finish up their work.

At the end of the day, Sakura’s mother was fed up. She wanted answers, but they had none to give. “Well then, what about school tomorrow,” she demanded finally. They shook their heads. 

She was angry. “So who should we expect to see tromping through here tomorrow, huh? A king or a queen? Or all the rest of the hospital? Or a whole army of your ninjas?” She slammed her hand down on the table in frustration. They jumped, including Sakura who looked up from her afternoon snack to blink at her mother with big tired eyes. “How much longer will this go on—“

“Hopefully not much longer.” 

The soft rasp of the old man’s voice at the kitchen door took them all by surprise. He had let himself in and silently walked up the stairs. He peered up at them from underneath his kage’s hat, his eyes twinkling. 

“I thought I might come see what all the fuss was about.” The remaining medics bowed deeply as he entered they room but he waved them off. The doctor rattled off their names and made introductions to the Sandaime, but it was clear he hadn’t heard any of what the attendant had said.

He smiled at Sakura and took the seat opposite her. “Alright, I’m sure you’ve done this a lot lately, but why don’t you just oblige an old man. Let’s see what you can do.”

She wiped her hands on a napkin then brought them up in front of her. She pooled chakra in her cupped hands. It dripped through and disappeared into the air. 

“Ah,” he said, inspecting it, nodding. “I see.” The green light etched out every one of his deep wrinkles, and reflected back in his hair.

“May I?” She nodded, and he held his hands up underneath hers, cupping hers in his larger ones. “Can you feel my hands?” She nodded. “Even with your eyes closed?”

She blinked her big green eyes at him. He smiled with a grandfatherly patience.

“Go ahead and close your eyes,” he said, and this time she did. “Now, tell me if you still feel my hands.” He moved them slowly away from her skin. “Now?” She nodded yes. He moved them to the edge of the green light. “Now?” Her nod was slower, but it was still yes. Then he moved his cupped hands away from her light altogether. “And, now?” She shook her head no with certainty.

He smiled. “Excellent. You may open your eyes.” She smiled and went back to her snack.

The Sandaime looked at her, inspecting her face and noting her eyes. “Hmmm, curious.” He spoke quietly and almost entirely to himself. “I’m sure my apprentice would also find this interesting. He is somewhat of a specialist in unusual cases like this….”

Her father cleared his throat. “Like what, exactly?”

The Sandaime smiled back at him. “Unique abilities! And your daughter certainly has one! But it has to be cultivated to see if it comes to its fullest potential.”

Her mother stepped forward. “And…what does that mean…”

The Sandaime took out a card from his pocket and scribbled on the back of it a man’s name and the address of a school. He slid it out onto the table, but neither parent picked it up. 

“Speak to Ebisu, tell him I sent you. I agree, she needs to be back in school. And I think you will find this academy is a better fit. Of course…it’s your choice….” But there was something in the way he let the words hang in the air that made it clear it wasn’t a choice at all.  

Her mother pursed her lips, but finally she reached over for it.

Her father swallowed thickly. “And they will have special, um, powers like hers?”

The Sandaime smiled at her. “Oh I assure you. She will fit right in.” He opened his hand in front of her, and it was immediately covered in orange light. 

Sakura laughed with delight. “Like mine!” He nodded. 

He stood and gave a half nod to both parents as he turned. “10 o’clock sharp. Don’t be late.” The steel had returned to the grandfatherly voice. It was an order. Her parents bowed as he left.

And at 9:45 am the next morning, they were walking through an area of Konoha they’d never once dared venture to, to a school they’d never heard of. 

Sakura was nervous. But the newness of the Shinobi District distracted her. Her big eyes couldn’t take it all in. She held her parents’ hands in turns, swiveling her head to see everything she could. The narrow streets bursting with activity. The grown-ups, the shops. The men and women politely who made way for them, nodding as they passed, and the children who darted by, clutching their books and wooden toy blades. She craned her neck to follow them, and was happy to see her mother was leading them that same direction.

Sakura’s old school was forgotten for the moment, replaced completely by this new adventure. 

What she did not see, of course, was how the people on the street tracked them with their eyes. She did not see the heads lifting up from their bowls of ramen, or the dark eyes from the back of shops watch them as they passed the doorways. Or the dark figure on the rooftop, shadowing their movements through the maze of streets. Three civilians winding deeper and deeper into the shinobi district was sure to generate attention.

Sakura’s mother clutched the Sandaime’s card in her fist so tightly that it had crumpled. And if she hadn’t looked so steadfast to her purpose, one of the throng of shinobi there might have stopped them and asked if they were indeed lost. 

Her parents had come right through the heart of the tangle of streets, but the scant directions they’d been given were of no help now. Eyes were following them, and both had an uneasy feeling of being woefully out-of-place— 

Sakura’s mother stopped and looked at her father, suddenly uncertain of everything. Her father mirrored her concerned look. Sakura stood between them, looking back and forth. 

“Maybe we shouldn’t be doing this. Maybe we should just go back—“ Her father nodded. “We can figure this out. Somehow—”

A cheerful voice rang out suddenly behind them.

“Beautiful day isn’t it? Are you three looking for the school?”

They all turned in a whirl, and Sakura’s parents leaned together. But the sunny blonde woman was smiling down into Sakura’s face. Sakura looked up from between her bangs at her, uncertain if she should smile back or not. Behind her was a large building with flowers cascading from everywhere, and a sign reading “Flower Shop” above her head.

“My Ino-chan goes there too, and you look just about her age!” She smiled, unconcerned with Sakura’s shyness or her parents’ silence. “It’s just one more block down, then you’ll see it on the right.”

Just then, a girl the same height as Sakura darted past her mother, a bag, books and a lunch bento swinging behind her. Some older girls were waiting at the corner for her. 

“Ino-chan, wait— this might be a new student at your school—“

“Bye mom! Love you!” She blew her mom a kiss before realizing there was another child half-hidden behind the legs of the two adults. Never slowing down, she caught Sakura’s eyes, which were partially hidden behind her bangs, waved, then darted away with her friends.

Ino’s mother laughed, wiped her hands on a towel tucked into her apron with her flower clippers, and beamed at them. “Kids, right? But at least she’s happy! The school is that way, just follow her.”

Sakura’s mother, who hadn’t yet spoken, cleared her throat to say, “Yes, thank you.” She paused, swallowing as if her mouth had been dry. “That was where we were going. Thank you.” If there were second thoughts about their destination, then they were resolved. They followed Ino’s path to the corner, while her mother watched them, smiling. She waved at Sakura as they turned, but Sakura only looked back through her long bangs at her.

Ino’s mother turned her face up to the edge of the building nearest her and caught the eye of the guard on duty — a slim man with a long yellow ponytail almost the exact shade of her daughter’s hair. She  nodded, silently communicating that everything was fine. He nodded back and disappeared over the edge of the roof. She returned inside to cut more flowers for the day’s bouquets.

Outside the tidy school,  Ebisu, a no-nonsense instructor, was waiting for them. He escorted them upstairs into an empty classroom. He acknowledged Sakura, told her she was very welcome here, but said he did not need to see a demonstration. Instead she was encouraged to go out to the playground while he talked to her parents. Talk to some students and give it a try. Just to see if she liked it….

Sakura glanced nervously at her parents, but they nodded at her to obey. So she left.

She followed the noise down the hall, down the bottom of the wide, sunlit steps and out the open door. There, she hovered. Kids played everywhere, some talking, some playing games.

A kind woman in fatigues waved her out to a large tree where several kids stood around a swing. Sakura thought she reminded her of the nice teachers from her other school, and began to feel a little better. But the teacher was called away, and Sakura was left alone. 

She glanced up at the window a story above. The teacher stood in clear view, hands moving in explanation. He smiled once. But her parents didn’t smile. Frown lines creased her father’s forehead. Her mother wrung her hands nervously. Sakura suddenly felt very alone, abandoned below them. 

She thought of her old school. And the light in her hands that had brought her here. And that whatever trick it was, she wouldn’t show it again. She wiped her palms down the sides of her dress, smoothing the fabric as if she were wiping away the traces of the green light—

A group of older girls walked by, laughing in her direction. The words “new girl” distinctly floated over to her. Sakura looked down, letting her long bangs cover her face. She bit her lip hard to keep from tearing up. It wasn’t working. 

She decided that if her mother looked down at her, just once, that she’d wave and get her attention and ask to go. She’d say she’d forgotten how to do it. Then she would. She’d forget it. And she’d never do it again. 

But when she looked up, the window was empty. A door was closing inside the room, and they were gone. 

Voices were drawing closer. The kids drifting over from the swing as one unit. Sakura nervously glanced through her bangs and saw they were her age. She hoped they’d pass her by—

But they were coming right for her. Their questions reach her before they do.

“Yeah, she’s new.” “Wonder where she’s from?” “I never seen her before.” “Pink hair?” “Wonder what she can do—“

The group forms a loose circle around her, still talking. They are her age, and the prospect of a new student is endlessly fascinating to them. The questions take on a different tone, not mean. But blunt. And persistent. 

Sakura had been ignoring them, but it only added to her mystique in their eyes. She closed her eyes while the questions bounced back and forth around the circle.

“Pink hair…I bet it means something. Like she’s got some wicked power or something—“ 

“No, dummy. That’s the eyes. Like the Hyuuga.”

“Ooo maybe she shoots lighting with her eyes! Wouldn’t that be cool?!”

“Or she could make weapons, right? Some clans do that?”

A girl answered, “Yes, of course they do—“

Someone else said, “It could be bugs, right Shino?”

“No,” was the only response.

“Or what if it’s about some other animal. Maybe she’s got some control over cats or frogs. Or dogs—“

Suddenly there was a tiny yip. Sakura glanced up. A fluffly white puppy barked at her from the arm of a scruffy boy. “Nah,” the boy said. “Akamaru says he would have smelled it on her—“

“You can’t understand that dog! Quit lying, Kiba!”

“I can too!!”

The boy named Kiba launched at the other student, and they thrashed around a bit, the white dog barking and jumping up and down Kiba’s shoulders.

The group roared. Even Sakura laughed softly, but she hid it when she realized she’d drawn the attention of the inquisitive yellow-haired girl in front of her.

“I know you. Your parents were talking to my mom this morning outside our flower shop.”

The other kids turned their eyes to the girl, and she tipped her head, proud to have a little inside information about the new girl. “You’re the one the Kage sent right?”

The group collectively went “Ooooo,” and turned their big eyes from the blonde girl to Sakura.

“I heard my mom and dad talking about it,” she whispered. “I’m Ino,” she said, holding out her hand. Sakura was too nervous to take it. Ino wasn’t offended.

“I’m Sakura—“ A few girls said it was a pretty name, and Sakura curled a hair behind her ear, but another boy jostled to the front.

“Well, what can you do, then?” Startled, Sakura frowned. Ino smacked him. “What? She must do something, right?”

With that, all attention was focused back on Sakura.

Sakura’s palms were really sweaty now. She wanted to fit in. She didn’t want to stand out. But most of all, she didn’t want anything to go wrong. 

At least there weren’t any fish ponds around. 

She thought maybe she’d try again and show her green light. They seemed really interested. She closed her eyes and cupped her hands, thinking that at least if it scared them, then they’d leave her alone and she could just go home—

There was another chorus of “Ooooo” and Sakura opened her eyes. Her hand was filled with a pool of green chakra. It was the brightest yet. The group closed in around it, their faces reflecting the light. Even the white dog had a green tint to it. 

They weren’t afraid. Sakura heard “Cool!” “Wow!” “Oh yeah, I’ve seen that before—“ “My mom’s does that, but it’s blue— And only when I’m in trouble….” Even the dog barked happily at her.

“It’s so pretty,” Ino said from directly in front of her. “It matches your eyes!” She started digging around in her pockets, looking for something. 

Filled with surprised relief, Sakura smiled. She forgot about the light in her hand, and it extinguished itself. Satisfied, the group of kids started to slowly disperse.

One boy who had been standing at the back looked up from eating his bag of chips and tipped his head in thought. “So what do you do with it?”

Sakura shrugged her shoulders. “Um…I don’t know.”

He shrugged back. “That’s ok. They’ll teach you.” He crinkled the bag. “Chip?”

She smiled but shook her head. “No thanks.” 

Suddenly Ino was in front of her again. She studied Sakura’s face, pushed her bangs to one side then the other, then, satisfied, slid a barrette into her hair. 

Sakura ran her fingers down the clip, her cheeks warming under the special treatment.

“There,” Ino beamed. “Now we can see your eyes!”

Another boy came up and waited next to the one with the chips. He scowled at the girls. “Geez, stop playing dress-up, Ino,” he whined. “Let’s go play the ribbon game!”

Ino stuck out her tongue at the boy. “Shut up, Shikamaru!” She took Sakura’s hand. “Come on, do you want to play?” She pointed to a long red ribbon that several students were holding on to and following each other, eyes closed, through the playground. “If you don’t know it, I can teach you—“

Sakura smiled brightly. “I know this game! I’ve played it at my school. I mean…my, uh, old school. It’s one of my favorite games!”

“Good! Come on then!” She took Sakura’s hand and they ran to catch up with the other students.