Chapter 1: Haruno Sakura, Haru no Sakura

Sakura listened to the clock on the wall at the head of her bed ticking loudly, breaking the morning silence. Though her eyes remained closed, she could picture each item in her room with clarity: pastel pink walls, light beige lace curtains covering the large windows but still thin enough to let in the early morning light, a low bed with baby pink covers and pale turquoise pillows placed across the door opening to the hallway, leaving plenty of room for a small kotatsu sitting at the center of a plush red rug. A maple-wood desk stood next to the right of her bed, gifted by a distant uncle last year before he'd suddenly passed away.

Sakura remained still on her bed for a few more moments before swinging her legs lethargically over to touch the cool wooden floor. Though she loved to watch the sun rise and smell the fresh, dew-kissed air, she had to acknowledged that she might never be a morning person. It was only through sheer persistence at forming good habits and the empowerment of the moments of silence that she was able to get up at six in the morning everyday. It was a habit worth making, especially since today was the day she would begin attending the academy. If there was one habit she wanted to make, it would be punctuality. Passing by the large, maroon colored bookshelf to the left of her bedroom door, she quickly slipped into the bathroom and prepared for the morning. After grabbing a croissant she had thrown into the toaster oven on the way to get dressed, she was out the door in half an hour. Breakfast would have to be eaten on-the-go, though her mother will undoubtedly rebuke her for not eating properly at the table. But what she doesn't know won't hurt her, right? Taking a deep, apprehensive breath, Sakura began her walk to to the school grounds.

Registration into the academy was relatively easy. Since it was the first day of class, the children were left to their own devices during lunch break, leaving Sakura largely with nothing to do. That was until some children decided that singling out her pink hair was next on their entertainment list. The quickly-formed clique trailed eagerly behind a girl who had been unabashedly pointing her finger in her direction for the past ten minutes. She arrogantly quirked an aristocratic brow as she came to a stop in front of Sakura. Feeling slightly cowed and wary at the sudden attention, she took a step back. The brown-haired girl grinned confidently at the pinkette's reaction, and looking swiftly to her companions as if to pass some silent joke, she gave Sakura a taunting greeting, her little ponytail swishing violently at her sharp movements.

"Well, look what we found here. A little civilian mouse snooping around our ninja academy trying to act like one of us. And she dyed her hair pink too. What a sight for sore eyes. "

The other girls snickered loudly while the boys watched on in the background with piqued interest and amusement. Sakura though, however wary she was of facing so many on her own, silently snorted at the girl's little introductory speech.

First of all, I'm not a 'what' but a 'who', thought the grammar Nazi inside her head. Though of course, she was not stupid enough to voice this retort out loud. And my hair is naturally pink, you oaf.

"Why are you even here, anyway? Why not go back to your cozy civilian family and drink tea and mind your stupid little shops and your own business? Leave the ninja work to us, who can actually do the job. Just from looking at your stupid pink hair... and that forehead!" the girl guffawed as she jabbed crudely at the center of Sakura's forehead, making her cringe as the offending digit used enough force to knock her head back slightly at the motion. Rat, as Sakura decided to call her because of her mousy brown hair and the mean, scrunched up look on her face, finished her incomplete sentence, "Just from seeing those, the only enemy you might scare are animals and little children... But then with a forehead as large as yours, you might just be able to use it as a weapon and charge all your enemies out of the way like a bull."

And you would fall into the category of child, just like the rest of us- and an animal because you act like one. If I'm a bull and you're a rat, I will definitely find some satisfaction in stomping you to the ground!

But the whole group choked with laughter as they began to join in on the taunting; verbally and soon physically as well, tugging and poking at her hair and forehead with grubby little fingers and brittle branches they found on the dusty ground of the academy yard. Sakura struggled valiantly to push the children away from her, only to fall to the ground on her backside as the group swarmed in around her like a pack of hyenas upon a fallen prey. The boys who had been in the background snickering at the girlish taunts now frowned nervously at the obvious bullying. Some stood impassively, turning around to pretend not to see her plight- like ostriches, Sakura thought, sticking their head into the ground. Others either scattered about, afraid of getting into trouble, or hesitated over whether to put a stop to the bullying before it got too far. But her divided attention was brought back to her present predicament when a particularly sharp branch scraped roughly across her arm in an attempt to entangle itself with her mussed elbow-length hair. Sakura gave a slight cry of pain at the rough treatment. Tears poured from her light viridian eyes as she saw that the scrape had torn through her skin, the blood seeping slowly down to her elbow. At the sight of blood, the girls froze with realization dawning on their faces; they had drawn blood. The sudden yell coming from the academy entrance finally pushed them back into action, scattering like wind blown leaves to leave a dirty, mud smeared, and slightly bloody Sakura in their wake. Their instructor, Iruka-sensei quickly ran over to her and knelt down to inspect her injuries.

"Are you okay Sakura-chan?" Iruka-sensei asked worriedly as he gently helped Sakura to her feet. "Thank goodness Naruto-kun ran to tell me what happened! Let's get you cleaned up at the nurse's office. Those girls..."

Iruka-sensei continued to mutter to himself exasperatedly as he slowly led Sakura into the academy towards the nurse's quarters. After bandaging her up, Sakura was sent to her next class and for the rest of the day, there were no more major mishaps. But from that day on, the taunting and jeering steadily increased and Sakura soon forgot the name of her rescuer on that first day in the misery.

"Oh my goodness, Sakura! Are you hurt anywhere? Why is your arm bandaged?!" demanded Haruno Mebuki as she fluttered about Sakura, intent on looking for anymore weeping scrapes or bruises that the nurse might have missed. When she didn't find anymore, her worry slowly turned into exasperation and annoyance as she took stock of Sakura's mussed up hair and the soiled clothing. There were even a few tears here and there in her dress. "Did you get into some scuffle with the children at the academy? I thought I told you to play nice, Sakura. You're a girl, for goodness sake. This is going to be a hassle to clean out!" Mebuki huffed in irritation.

"I'm sorry mother..."

"What if you scar? I've already relented in allowing you to attend that... ninja academy just because you wanted to try it. Your uncle... he had spoiled you too much, letting you romp around climbing trees with him like a boy. Just- just get in the bath and clean up after yourself, please. Be sure to rinse out your hair carefully to get rid of all that dirt. And clean up the bath floor after you're done. I don't want any of that stuff left around!"

"Yes, mother." Sakura muttered sullenly before heading to the bathroom.

"And use conditioner! And the scented oils!" Mebuki called as an after-thought. "We'll be heading to a dinner meeting with an important person tonight. Make yourself presentable!"

The dinner proved to be more stifling than Sakura expected. As much as she liked wearing kimonos and frilly dresses, the dinner was anything but enjoyable. Since her family owned a small chain of private banks, there were often times they were required to host dinners for important, potential investors. And because Sakura was their only child and heir to the fairly successful company, she was made to attend every single one of them. Thus, Mebuki took it upon herself to instill into Sakura's soul all sorts of proper etiquette and decorum.

Never put your elbows on the table. Never slouch. Always take small bites and sips silently. Speak softly and always bow at the forty-five degree angle with both hands folded demurely at the waist, right hand over the left. And never speak unless spoken to, for children should be seen and NOT HEARD.

So many rules, so many things to keep in mind so she wouldn't embarrass herself and shame her parents.

She really loved her parents and wanted desperately to meet their expectations, to make them proud to have her as their daughter. Her obedience and good track record were the only reasons why they allowed her the one exception in attending the ninja academy when she asked. But somehow, deep down in the core of her being, she couldn't find it in herself to pretend to be the demure and elegant girl high society wanted to mold her into. She was shy, yes, but only around people. She was spirited, loved to explore, and most especially loved to read anything she could get her hands on. At first, it was to please her parents with her diligent studying and quick learning. But now, she thirsted for knowledge; there were just so many things in the world for her to discover. She wanted to be like the Spring after a frigid, stiff winter; like the new shoots of grass and flowers pushing out of the cold snow-covered ground. But her mother found it displeasing that she liked to talk, would tremble with the desire to join what Mebuki deemed as an adult's conversation. It was not Sakura's place to butt in. Her father, on the other hand, was growing increasingly distant. He was constantly out working, barely playing an active role in the meager six years of her life, and rarely made himself available to commune at the dinner table with her and her mother. When he was there, he expected silence: no conversation, no "how was your day, Sakura?", and certainly no laughter. Laughing out loud was for the uneducated and the undisciplined. And Sakura was certainly educated and most definitely not undisciplined. Her mother made certain of that.

Sakura groaned in relief, finally able to relax from her stiff posture once she entered the safe haven that was her bedroom, where no one would be able to scrutinize her actions. Pulling out the overly abundant amount of elaborate silver pins and delicate crystal chains which had kept her hair up in a bun, she relished in the feel of her hair tumbling softly down her shoulders, glossy and luscious. She proceeded to fall face first onto her comforter, limbs splayed out carelessly across her bed. Her feet were throbbing painfully from wearing a pair of geta and having to walk quickly in order to keep pace behind the adults as her parents took their potential investor around on a tour of yet another newly built bank. Sakura had been forced to take small steps because of the restricting kimono, and had more than once, nearly fallen flat on her face. Her mother noticed of course and had frowned at her in reproach; her father just looked annoyed. But now, she laid comfortably in her own clothes, her mother having taken back the kimono silks to be returned to it's paulownia box. Now, she could enjoy the sound of the trees outside rustling gently in the night and feel the wind from her open window play with her pink tresses like it plays with flower laden sakura trees in Spring. Closing her eyes, she succumbed to a mentally and physically exhausted sleep.