One late August night, when Sakura was eight, there was a sudden upsurge in ghosts and other spirits. The ghosts were angry and sad, their depression tangible from where it emanated from the Uchiha Compound.
The whole Uchiha Clan is dead.
Sakura listens, day in and day out, to wailing ghost children and screaming ghost adults and furious ghost shinobi. They never seem to notice her. She's called out to them and even stared them directly in the eyes, yet they are all too consumed by the horrors of that night.
Sakura decides to straight up ignore them as well.
It's harder than one might think.
The Uchiha Ghosts scream and cry and howl in their combined grief and rage, a never-ending cacophony of anguish that keeps Sakura awake no matter how tired she is.
It takes nearly four whole weeks for the Uchiha Ghosts to calm somewhat. The overhanging cloud of depression and anger that holds tight to their compound begins to dissipate, slowly but surely.
Sakura realizes just why that is, when she walks into her Academy class and sees Uchiha Sasuke sitting, hands clasped before him, in his usual window seat, several Uchiha Ghosts milling around him with flickering red-and-black eyes. Hashirama, who has taken to following her to class during the day, sighs in relief, mumbling to himself,
“They're not all dead. That's a relief...”
Sasuke notices her staring, and his eyes sharpen and narrow, blind rage seemingly ever-present in his gaze. Sakura frowns, briefly returning his glare with one of her own as she plops her stuff onto the table next to him, silently cursing the fact that her assigned seat was right next to him. She glances once more at him, and then at his ghosts, before resolving to ignore the whole thing.
Sasuke, at least, seems almost thankful for one less fangirl.
It begins, as all things do, with a seemingly innocuous thing:
The sitting room table wobbles a bit. One of its legs is a fraction of an inch shorter than the others.
Hashirama offers to fix it, but his chakra and abilities no longer work against things like this.
So he proposes a, at the time, good idea,
“Sakura-chan, why don't you fix it for your parents?”
Sakura cocks her head to the side and shrugs,
“But I don't know how, y'know?”
“Oh, it's easy! Let's head to a training field and I'll show you!”
It turns out that, despite what nearly everyone believed, the First Hokage's 'Kekkai Genkai' wasn't a Kekkei Genkai at all.
“Wood release is just that – a jutsu release.” Hashirama explains to a fascinated Sakura. “The problem is, that it requires an equal affinity to both Water and Earth release.”
“But if it's that simple, why hasn't anyone been able to use it since you, y'know?”
“See, it's not just that you need both affinities in equal amounts. To use Wood release you also need to apply a bit of Nature Energy as well.”
“See, everything has chakra – the grass, the trees, and the ground included. To use the Wood release, you have to be able to feel and use the natural energies that surround you. But using too much of this energy can turn you into a tree or into a stone statue. That's why only those with summoning contracts usually learn to harness Nature Energy.”
Sakura's nose scrunches up and she cocks her head to the side,
Hashirama shrugs, scratching at his cheek,
“Nature Energy is really difficult to control, let alone use. Most shinobi don't have the control or willpower necessary to use it.”
Sakura's brow furrows,
“But, if real ninja can't use it, why'd you think I can use it?”
Hashirama grins and flashes her a thumbs up,
“Well, you've got really, really good chakra control and a lot of willpower – you gotta have lots with the amount of yin chakra you have! Plus, you have affinities for Water and Earth – I can feel it!”
Sakura grins back at him,
“Really?! Then lets do this, y'know!”
It ends with, as a lot of things do, a ton of pride and a smidgen of jealousy:
There's a jutsu show and tell in the Academy.
Sakura is ten – it's been nearly a year since her first use of Wood release. She fixed the wobbly table – by making a new one and then throwing the old one out.
To be fair her control over the Wood release at the time was shaky at the best of times and downright awful most of the time – it was a miracle she could even create the table.
Her Wood release is still pretty bad. But careful instruction from Hashirama has made her a little better at it – now she can aim her wood jutsus! They no longer just go in any which direction or grow uncontrollably.
Anyway, the jutsu show and tell.
Iruka-sensei brought in a few Chunin and Jounin to demonstrate the various elements.
Then Uchiha Sasuke preformed a flawless Fireball Jutsu and Sakura felt the green-eyed monster rise in her. Sasuke was beating her in most of their academics – he was better in the more 'ninja' physical subjects, while Sakura was better in the more knowledge based subjects. But she'll be damned if he gets extra-credit for this! She knows some jutsu too!
So, when Iruka-sensei calls for any more volunteers to show a jutsu, Sakura raises her hand.
Sakura stands before her class and a horde of interested ghosts (including a fretting Hashirama, a laughing Kushina, and an interested Tobirama), and shakes loose her hands.
She clasps her hands together in a snake sign and summons up her chakra and a tiny amount of Nature Energy.
A tree sprouts before her and rises quickly, roots snaking almost angrily along the ground, rumbling the earth with its arrival.
For a moment, it is dead silent.
That moment doesn't last long.
Her classmates shout and scream and exclaim about how awesome her tree is.
Most of the ghosts do the same.
Iruka-sensei and the visiting ninja are staring at her tree in incomprehension.
Hashirma, Kushina, and Tobirama look almost proud, if a bit fearful.
Sakura remembers, then, that Hashirama had made her promise to never preform the Wood release until she was Genin or better.
Well, Sakura thinks, locking eyes with Hashirama, shit.
Sorry, She mouths to him, as Iruka-sensei clasps a hand onto her shoulder, dismissing her classmates early.
Despite what Hashirama said, Sarutobi Hiruzen was intimidating.
This man is the oldest living shinobi in the village – and he was still the Hokage at his age.
Standing before this clearly powerful man, in a small cramped office bursting with papers, Sakura can't help but be scared.
Hashirama and Tobirama are there, offering silent encouragement as Sakura spouts about her supposed 'Kekkei Genkai' reveal.
“I made a table last year.” She says, “Our old one was wobbly, y'know, and I just really wanted a new one and then poof! There was a new table growing from the ground!” She waves her arms in exaggeration, “After that I figured out that the trees grew when I wanted them to, y'know! And flowers and grass too!” She fidgets, hands playing with the hem of her shirt. “D-Did I do something wrong?”
Most shinobi were able to spot even the best liars, but nothing Sakura said could count as a lie – it all happened of course. She merely left out Hashirama's part in teaching her.
Sarutobi Hiruzen smiles and shakes his head,
“No, Sakura-kun, you did nothing wrong. We haven't seen a natural born wood-style user since Hashirama-sama himself. Your teacher was merely surprised and panicked a bit.” His smile softens, “You have a wonderful gift, Sakura-kun, and I encourage you to use it well." He takes a drag from his pipe. "Now, before I dismiss you, I simply wish to know: what is your dream for the future?”
Sakura stares at the Hokage and cocks her head, her brain whirring and her thoughts speeding.
Her dream for the future?
She isn't quite sure, but...
She looks over to Hashirama and Tobirama; at their soft smiles and ancient eyes.
She thinks of Kushina; of how she was literally only half of herself yet still so strong.
She thinks of Izuna; of his blinded eyes watching over her and his rare smiles.
She thinks of Shisui; of his missing eye and his bright grins and curly hair.
She glances out the window and thinks to herself,
All her friends were ghosts. All her friends are dead.
But that's not true – Naruto was her friend.
And for all he denied it, so was Sasuke.
Both boys were lonely – orphaned young in two disastrously different scenarios.
Both revered yet hated for things out of their control – Sasuke for his eyes and Naruto for his sealed burden.
So alike, yet so different.
She thinks of Naruto's beaming grins and the way he radiates positivity and his never-ending determination.
She thinks of Sasuke's small smiles and occasional brooding and his determination to get stronger than anyone else.
She doesn't want them to die.
She doesn't want to see their ghosts.
Sakura nods to herself and turns back to the Hokage.
She straightens and grins,
“My dream is to be strong, Hokage-sama. Strong enough to live a long life like you. Strong enough to protect my precious people. I want to be strong, Hokage-sama, so I don't have to see them die. So I don't have to see anyone die.”
Hiruzen stares at her for a long, silent, moment, before he chuckles,
“An admirable dream, Sakura-kun. And I'm sure you'll make it a reality.”
As his teachers would put it – the Will of Fire burns brightly in her.