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A Study in Survival

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The world rights itself all at once. One moment, she's weightless and hurtling through dense nothing. The next, she's jerked to stillness so suddenly her head's still spinning.

She has a body again.

Gravity exists.

She can't move.

Sakura-- doesn't scream. It's a habit born of years as a shinobi, even before silence was imperative at the world's end.

It’s a near thing.

She can move, it's just-- different. Her chakra isn't low so much as unformed. The pool itself is tiny, badly done, and there's physical energy left lazily uncombined. It takes a second, some frustration, and three false starts to get clumsy control over the flow of it.

Immediately, the fog over her senses clears a little, though things are still muggy. She hasn't moved, frantically working to restore her chakra network to something resembling sense.

It feels oddly like her central nervous system was restarted and she's having to reconnect with each part of her body-- or at least her chakra system and reconnecting her tenketsu.

Her cells and muscles are still quivering as she leashes them, imposing iron control on her weirdly recalcitrant body. She won’t settle for anything less.

Finally, everything settles in like usual with what feels like an audible snap.

One breath, then another, and her hair brushes against her shoulders, longer than it’s been in nearly a decade.

Sakura goes as still as she's able.

Instead of grass around her, a canyon or clear-cut ground or a cave, she’s indoors-- not a novelty so much as an impossibility. A room with four walls. The pastel of it is horribly familiar.

Sakura tosses off her thick duvet restlessly, numb with disbelief.

She runs a hand through her hair, only to startle and yank it in front of her face, heart beating fast as a rabbit's. It's small. And shaking.

She can still taste the ash in her mouth, but there are four walls around her.

Moonlight slants through the window, curtains pulled back, the first fingers of dawn reaching purple through the glass.

The walls are pink, three shades off from white because-- because her mother thought it was clever.

This room burned even before Konoha did, though-- destroyed and never rebuilt after Sound's invasion. Before Kaguya, before the war, before Pein, even. Different levels of impossible, tangible before her.

Four walls, and beyond it a village. It's impossible, but somehow real, no trace of foreign chakra in her system and her breath caught baldly in her throat.

She can see it, as her body moves on autopilot, soundless footsteps carrying her to the windowsill. It’s like a mirage in the desert, streetlamps and the dark silhouette of buildings, stretching into the distance, even the occasional shadowed flicker of a masked ANBU jumping from one rooftop to another. Chakra signatures break the gentle night like candles in the dark, and her senses, spreading out across the village, drink them all in.

She doesn't realize she's backing up until her knees brush against the bed again, a tiny thing to match her tiny form, all of eleven years old.

Perhaps most worrisome of all: if this is a dream, she's not sure she wants to wake up.

Finally, it's too much. Claustrophobic, she throws the window open. It doesn't want to rise. She has to force it.

Her chest is tight. The first wave of air through the window has her stumbling, a foot trying to perch on the sill and launch her into the village proper, but too short to manage.

Sakura's reach isn't what she's used to. Panic claws at her, even as she tries to reason, to shove it down. There's no room for panic, not with the emotions that swell like a high tide. Leaves and street food are scents on the wind, achingly familiar.

It smells like dew on grass, a stillness that Sakura finds horrifically precious, dry eyes burning. She hasn't cried in so long that she's forgotten how. One hand pressed over her heart and the other clenched white-knuckled over the wood of the windowsill, Sakura closes her eyes and lets her senses drift from light to light, humans like fireflies in her mind's eye.

They're everywhere, all around, easily thousands. In every direction lights blaze, fiercely alive.

She's not alone.

Chakra signatures she familiarized herself with over the course of years are smaller and relaxed, though no less recognizable, and it aches to be so near them.

Names try to form and she let's them, attaching names of the dead to their lights-- some closer than others.

It’s strange to think of her parents as alive. Stranger still to consider, on the heels of that thought, all the ghosts now breathing in the village.

That there’s a village still standing at all.

Breath escapes Sakura's tight throat, shaky and cracked.

So many people.

All of them hers.

It takes less effort than Sakura might have assumed to pull herself from the window, when the sun rises in full.

She doesn't try to reign in her chakra sense. For so long she was alone, the only light lit, and the abundance now surrounding her is a welcome warmth-- compared to the empty blackness, her chakra senses still reaching out like the phantom movement from an amputated limb, they're blinding. (A sky full of stars.)

Sakura is eleven years old.

She knows because her hair is long, her head band stretched around her forehead. She'd only worn it to bed the one time, just after receiving it, and the breathless nerves make that night one she remembers, through a haze of time and change.

As a child, she had been so naively excited.

Sakura flexes, feeling the extent of her child self's muscle tone. It is barely above a civilian's equivalent, which seems grossly irresponsible, ability to enhance them with chakra or not. Orange light shines through the glass once she reluctantly shuts the window, surprised it doesn't shatter. Her skin is pale, unscarred.

She's woefully unarmed.

Where would she--?

Sakura rolls her eyes at her own ridiculousness, turns to her closet. There, under the hung outfits, are carefully arranged shuriken, kunai and shoes.

It's been a very, very long time since Sakura has used brand new weapons. She'd scavenged where she could, looting the corpses of her fallen comrades-- because everyone alive was a comrade, at that point in the war-- of steel and armor, scrolls and rations.

There are no rations in her mother's closet.

There are civilians sleeping in the same house as her, peaceful as infants, alive as they haven't been in almost ten years, though it felt like much longer.

Half her life with them, half without, and she's mostly unnerved by their sudden return to life.

Sakura knows what day it is, though she's not letting herself think about it, and if her hands don't falter as she dresses-- shoes, honestly-- it's only because of her rigid self control. She doesn't creep so much as walk carefully through the house, shadows catching on every wall. The modest furniture seems like a relic of a time long past, an anachronism-- except she's the one out of time.

The sun rises shining and lovely over a village nestled between towering trees. There's no rubble, not one building destroyed; this is the golden age between the Kyuubi's attack and Orochimaru's.

Walking up the wall of her old house feels like shedding a skin she wasn't ready to lose, her long hair and small body a strange nakedness.

There's a small amount of resistance as she channels chakra to the bottom of her feet-- her shoes. It causes a wobble to her step that's more astonishing than waking up in her younger body.

The control is there. She knows how to move her chakra. Her pathways are just clumsy with disuse. That will have to change immediately.

Her breath catches again, sharp and sudden.

The roof under her feet seems stupidly fragile, a dwelling of mere wood. All around her is an illusion of structure. Any chunin could wreck a house with a handful of jutsu, elements brought to bear.

She's seen the village reduced to scrap wood and rubble not just once but twice now.

The illusion is that the village exists, at all, as a structure instead of a people. Konoha is Tsunade's tired smile, laughter jumping from one jonin to another after a mission, chunin complaining at the gate, nine rookies in over their heads and blowing away their predecessors.

The village is an ideal Sai sketches idly, Ino's voice drifting merrily through the streets, Shikamaru's raised in lazy complaint. It's Choji's warm laugh, Kiba's ridiculous challenges, Lee walking on his hands. It's Kakashi reading porn, Yamato relaxing in a sunbeam, Shizune humming as she files paperwork, and Naruto is its beating heart.

Standing on one rooftop, Sakura looks out at all of them, burning splendid colours with the sunrise. Her village is standing and its villagers are alive.

Looking out at it, laid out before her eyes, she tries to call up disbelief or denial and finds hard reason instead.

Something happened, some jutsu gone wrong, a mix of yin and yang chakra in just the right proportions that she's been thrown back in time. Naruto's father couldn't have done it on purpose, or the Nidaime before him, and the reality of it is so much that Sakura can't even wrap her thoughts around it properly, a concept too big to rationalize.

She's gone back in time.

Alive, alive, everyone is alive.

The song of it is fierce in her, the sound of a village waking below louder and more hopeful than anything she's heard in an age.

She has no idea how it happened, but Sakura can't dismiss what's in front of her. She's eleven years old. Her precious people are alive and well. It's seven years before the fourth shinobi war.

There's a Konoha headband across her forehead and she's got a child's reserve of chakra, tiny but full to the brim. This body has never been pushed for months on end with little sleep, squeezed every last drop of chakra out in a desperate chase. It's new, and fresh, and so is her career as a ninja.

Tomorrow, she could wake up in her real body, nearly a decade older with the scars to prove it, but today-- today she has somewhere to go, and someone to be.

How often has she wished she could rewrite history?