Sakura had grown exemplary in discovering new hiding spots, both to avoid chores and to avoid childhood bullies. Even after Ino had stepped in to protect her, Sakura had decided being good at hiding from others in unusual ways was an essential Ninja Skill, and had kept up the practice for fun.
This was why, on a warm evening after class, she was climbing higher into a tree behind the school than she ever had before. Almost to a second story height, and challenging herself to climb with only her hands, not her feet. She wasn’t as strong as the other girls in class, but she hadn’t made it all the way to the final grade for nin as some sort of civilian weakling. Just as she’d reached particularly long-reaching branch, she swung herself upside down to hang from it, clinging a big like a monkey on the underside of the sturdy thing and began to climb forward. She’d seen some ninja walking around upside down before, and she thought it would be good practice for the change in orientation. Suddenly, she heard a loud yell, and looked down to spot two men in the distance, running on their hands, one in a bright green jumpsuit and the other looking very unimpressed. The sight is surprising enough, but as the green-suited man lets out another terrifyingly loud yell, the grey-haired man pulls out a book from his pocket and continues the race by hopping one handed, and Sakura is so shocked at the image that she looses her grasp on the branch and falls, half caught between a laugh and a yelp.
She lands with a crash, and poor Iruka-sensei is the first to notice, having stayed late to grade papers. He rushes his student to the hospital, worried at the knock her head must’ve taken, and waits impatiently in the reception area. It’s a while later, after the Haruno parents have arrived and joined Iruka-sensei in the mounting anxiety, that a doctor finally steps out and calls them all in. (Perhaps this would be unusual for civilians, but shinobi instructors have more of a right to student-patient information than anyone else, including parents).
“Your daughter is fine.” The doctor says first, and gives them a moment of quiet celebration, Mr. Haruno in particular letting out a cry of relief. “Unfortunately, there was some minor damage done to the part of her brain that handles memories.”
“Doctor...what does that mean for Sakura-chan?” Mrs. Haruno asks, peeking over the doctor’s shoulder at her resting daughter.
“It appears she’s lost some memories, and- well. Jumbled a few others. It won’t take long for her to correct, but in the meantime, she’s going to have trouble recognizing people, and she may struggle with older lessons affected by association-memories.”
Iruka has no idea what that means, or what he’s in for because of it, until Sakura arrives back in class a few days later. If he’d known that bump on her head would turn one of his most exemplary students into such a troublemaker, well- he’d have forbidden her little practices months ago, to say the least.
When Sakura finally returns to class, it’s with a hesitation that shows in every stride. Iruka doesn’t know it, but Sakura has spent the past two days doing far less resting than she has trying to figure out Haruno Sakura’s place in the world. Unfortunately, the girl was always a private one, and had left no diaries or other clues for how to sort out her memories, and Sakura is left piecing together the fragments that remain.
She eyes the sea of students in front of her, as Iruka-Sensei (who she’d first confused with memories of her Uncle, since they’re both nice stern doting tell me I’m smart, but her parents had helped correct that mistake easily) as he explains that Sakura will need some time to readjust to the lessons, and would anyone be willing to help her? There’s a muffled shout from the back of the room at that comes from a boy with blond hair, but Sakura’s eyes are drawn quickly towards a boy near the front row.
“Yo, Sakura-chan, what the hell happened to you?” The boy calls out, and it drives to the forefront one of her most disjointed memories. My best friend- loud, from a clan, annoying, likes my attention, cocky. This boy is certainly loud and annoying, and the markings on his face are distinctly associated with a clan (Uzimaki or Unizaki or something like that), and here he is as begging for her attention. It clicks in her mind, and she lets a giant smile grow across her face, because it’s nice enough to have your parents defined but she’s twelve years old and nothing is more important than her friends.
“Kiba-kun!” She yells, and she runs forward to give him an excited hug. The boy stiffens at the attention, but quickly pats her on the back, and it’s only after she’s thoroughly certain the hug has been long enough that she draws back to bop him on the head. “How come you didn’t visit me in the hospital, huh?” She asks, and he stutters for a few seconds before she snorts. “You’ll just owe me some, uh-” she pauses, desperate to remember her favorite food, before remembering her father had mentioned it yesterday, “dango! For lunch tomorrow!”
“Uh, yeah, sure, Sakura-chan.” The boy says, and she plops down in the seat next to him happily. With her best friend by her side, nothing can go wrong!
Iruka fidgets at the front, but he can’t bring himself to embarrass Sakura even further by pointing out the oddness of her actions. Presumably she’ll eventually figure out she’s got Kiba confused with someone else, preferably when Iruka won’t have to handle the ensuing embarrassed-breakdown the girl might have. Unfortunately for him, not everyone is so eager to let the odd actions slide, and Ino practically leaps from her seat (next to Sasuke, which she’s been happily obtaining the past two days while Sakura’s been out with a much weaker competition. Honestly, it’s kind of boring, and she was hoping they’d get back to usual when Sakura returned.)
“You’re not even gonna try to sit next to Sasuke-kun?” Ino accused, and Sakura looked up with some confusion at the girl. Blonde hair and blue eyes, begging for attention, something about Sasuke- her memories are foggier about this one, but she knows she finds them annoying. Gets into frequent fights, turns her down over something a lot. Maybe they’re class rivals, and she refuses to fight Ino in taijutsu matches? Hmph, she’ll have to ask Kiba-kun later.
“Why would I?” Sakura replies, genuinely confused, and glances around the room for some help. Her eyes pause, briefly, on a girl in the back, who seems to be nervous and drawn in on herself, with short spiky hair and a pretty round face. Quiet, short black hair, a clan heir- boy, Sakura hopes she’ll get a break soon or her head will turn to mush from all the sudden new information, but she’s glad she at least remembered her crush before she did anything too embarrassing in front of them. Hinata-chan is so cute! Says a part of her mind, and Sakura turns bright red and forces herself to look at Ino again instead. Damn brain, she didn’t ask for you to start pointing out the obvious!
“Why...would you?” Ino repeats back, and if Sakura wasn’t working so hard to avoid looking at Hinata, she might’ve noticed that the entire classroom seemed just as confused as her former rival in love.
“I mean, if you want to fight, we don’t really need to be making up reasons, you know.” Sakura points out, because she has no idea why she used to turn down this girl’s spar requests so much- the idea certainly doesn’t bother her now- but she doesn’t see much point in continuing the trend just because she used to. “We can just, you know, spar. I think it would be great for our improvement as shinobi, actually, you seem very talented!”
Sakura gives her a consoling smile. “Really, I’m being honest! I need to work on my taijutsu, anyways- we don’t need to bother poor, um, sas- Sasuke? Sasuke-san just for an excuse.”
Ino sits back down in her sit with a flump, a dazed look in her eyes. She’d always thought they’d fought over Sasuke-kun because they liked Sasuke, but maybe- maybe she really did just like fighting Sakura? Well, this would take some thought. She’d just have to ignore Iruka-sensei’s lecture today and focus all her energy on some much-needed introspection.
Sasuke, who’d been sleeping with his eyes open until that point, had startled at the mention of his name with such distance. Sasuke-san. He could get used to that. He fell back asleep, careful to make sure he was at least vaguely facing the board when he did.
As the day goes on, Sakura is quick to make friends with all sorts of people who don’t make her head rattle. There’s a nice boy named Shino, who’s so quiet she can only assume he’d never approached her before and thus never brought up any odd memories. A pleasant boy named chouji offers to teach her any recipes she might’ve forgotten, and when she confesses that she thinks she never knew how to cook in the first place, he looks at her like she’s admitted to murder and promises to bring her a recipe book the very next day. Naruto-kun is loud and kind of annoying, but he likes all the funny things she says- apparently, she’s funny, she had no idea- and thinks she’s super cool. Plus, he seems to be close with Hinata-chan, since the girl is always following him around, and Sakura can’t imagine there being a downside to being friendly with her crush’s best friend!
Of course, the very best part of her day is Kiba, who tells her all sorts of things about everyone, like how Sasuke once failed a test and cried about it back in their first year, or how Ino’s hair is really bright red but she bleaches it, or that Akamaru is the prince of all the dogs his clan has ever had! (Sakura is beginning to suspect not all of these things are true, but Kiba seems to be trying to make her laugh, so she goes along with it anyways.) Kiba promises to teach her a really cool technique for disarming someone where you get to bite them, so long as they ditch school tomorrow so he can teach her ‘cause you need some poisonous plants to make it work right (“But don’t worry, ‘cause I totally know the antidote! I mean, like, 70% sure!” He promises), and when she heartily agrees his face lights up and he says,
“Boy, Sakura-chan, you’re way cooler now than before!”
She smiles, relieved that nobody is too upset at her memory problems, and nods happily along.
Iruka-sensei senses danger when Sakura first skips, but hopes the problem will be resolved soon. Unfortunately, things only grow worse.
Ino begins to throw herself into competitions and daydreams through class- he spots her doodling new taijutsu techniques instead of taking notes during his lectures. Her actions with Sakura are shudder-inducingly similar to a certain Green Beast, and Iruka-sensei is dismayed to discover that Sakura is happy to play along. His two top female students are suddenly coming into class bruised, sore, and black-haired, and teaming up more often than not to skip out on ‘boring’ lessons to fight each other in increasingly bizarre ways instead.
Kiba seems overjoyed to have a human bestfriend for once, and throws himself into the position- which entails getting the pair of them into immense trouble far too often. He pulls her into pranks, teaches her the most feral of his family’s techniques, and begins to convince her hygiene is not a necessity for shinobi. Instead of reining Kiba’s behavior in, Sakura recruits Shino into the nonsense, having somehow discovered that the odd boy’s longing to be part of a group and his talent for covering up pranks.
Not even Hinata- perfect, orderly Hinata, his most exemplary student!- is safe. At first, she’s as peaceful as ever, tagging along after the group but not partaking in any nonsense or skipping any classes. Then, one day, Sakura gets into a fight with some genin- one of whom is a Hyuuga, for gods’ sake!- and after that, Hinata is twice a wreck in class as she was before. She’s bright red constantly, can’t pay attention to any taijutsu demonstrations that Sakura does- since it’s the only time Iruka can get her to participate in class lectures anymore- and is even failing her Kunoichi classes, apparently, from fixating on cherry blossoms in all of her flower bouquets.
The last straw is when Iruka discovers that Sasuke, no longer woken up by the constant squabbles of girls around him, has been sleeping so thoroughly so all his classes that his grades have begun to slip. The day after that particular discovery, Iruka walks into the classroom with a grim expression and unshakable resolution to undo the disaster before it’s too late.
Half his students come in late, and Sakura is the last to enter, leaning on Naruto for support, sporting a nasty bruise on her leg that Iruka can only assume came from the smirking Ino two seats away.
“I cannot allow this to continue.” He says, and everyone stills at his surprisingly serious tone. “I had hoped your memories would eventually sort themselves out, but it’s obvious that’s not the case. Sakura- Kiba is not your best friend. Ino is not your taijutsu rival, and-”
Iruka pauses, and the whole class turns in unison to stare in shock, at Hyuuga Hinata, sitting properly in her seat but with her hands slammed onto her desktop. “I- I mean- He’s! Sensei is lying!”
There’s silence, and then everything turns to chaos.
“It’s a trick! He’s getting us back for all the pranks-” Kiba shouts.
“He just doesn’t want you to keep losing to me, Saku-chan!” Ino clambers over top.
“I believe Iruka-sensei is the one confused. Why? Because his words make little sense, and do not match up with reality.”
Sakura leans heavier into Naruto, and shoots Iruka a grin.
“Come on, sensei, if you wanted to make me stop getting into trouble, you’ll have to come up with a better lie than that. ”
The class cheers are almost loud enough to drown out the sound of Iruka’s sob, the realization that he will be stuck with a class of troublemakers and slackers for the rest of the year bringing him to his knees.
Somewhere in Konoha, Kakashi looks up.
“Do you ever feel like you’ve accidentally changed the course of fate itself?” He asks.
“Shut up and get back to doing your paperwork, you loser.” Anko reprimands, munching on some dango and refusing to let him distract her from her position as watchdog, forcing him into finishing months-old forms. Kakashi sighs, and turns his attention back to the sheets of paper before him.
“Me either.” He says, and gets back to work.