(notes at bottom)

IV.

Despite her desire to run away from anything pre-teen, Sakura pauses and slows her fast walk to a halt at the sight of a familiar presence behind her. She takes quick note of the suspicious looking figure hiding behind a tree and turns to give a cordial greeting to her three classmates walking by.

"Good afternoon, everybody." Amongst the three is Hatoba Yuki, and Sakura gives a silent frown as her classmate swiftly looks away with despondent eyes.

"Hello there, Haruno-san!" One of the other two, a small girl with glasses, chirps as the other one next to her flushes slightly before murmuring a quieter hello.

"Yes, ah, hello, Haruno-san…"

Again, Hatoba remains stubbornly silent.

Sakura shrugs in return and tells her heart that she isn't bothered in the slightest. There are far more pressing matters than the near-depression of a lost, civilian girl to focus on. Like, for example, why exactly her 'uncle' is re-enacting the role of a pedophile just a few meters away; or, even better, finding a way to get out of this deceptively peaceful world.

But even though Sakura is painfully aware of her own, shameful faults, this does not stop her from silently slipping a thin book into Hatoba's bag. It falls onto the bottom with a soft thud but none of the other three girls notice - Sakura walks away with a slight nod, not leaving even a hint of her actions in her movements.

That night, if Hatoba has the courage to rifle through the book, she'll find popular English-Japanese phrases, translated and filled with Sakura's carefully written notes on pronunciation and communication.

And on top of said book, she'll probably see a single, yellow post-it with the words:

"They say that courage is taking that first step into an unknown direction.

I have no doubt that you will flourish beautifully, no matter where you go.

I wish you all the best,

Haruno Sakura"

(Kindness. Sincerity. Unwavering. Courage. Yuuki.

In retrospective, Sakura can admit that she may have had the worst luck in teammates. But she has never considered that to be an actual fault, for not a single day has gone by where Sakura hasn't repeated these few, precious words in her head. And though Uzumaki Naruto may not be the most model ninja - really, the orange itself is telling enough - he is the model of who she strives to be.

Kind. Sincere. Unwavering. Courageous.

As embarrassing as it is to admit, she isn't like her almost-brother: she can't pull dazzling smiles and heartfelt words into a single sentence, she can't barge into a civilian girl's house and demand that her parents stay in Japan.

But -

Kindness. Sincerity. Unwavering. Courage.

But that doesn't mean she can't help in her own ways. Even dimensions away, Sakura can't help but strive for the brilliant, shining star that is Uzumaki Naruo).

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.

The next morning passes by like a floating breeze. Sakura waves off Nikaidou's offer to go with him in his car, and - to her internal surprise - even the crowd of squealing pre-teens crowding around Hinamori only creates the smallest twinges of annoyance.

Fangirls, she considers, almost fondly in nostalgia.

Soft chatter and quiet murmurs dance across the classroom and Sakura sits loftily down. A strange feeling drifts past her chest and Sakura rubs it thoughtfully.

"Is something wrong?" Yuuki asks, sharp eyes scanning Sakura's entire body. Surprisingly, a light chuckle escapes from Sakura's lips.

"No, nothing, don't worry about it." She flicks a piece of lint away from her skirt and smiles in consideration. "It's just - everyone here is so young."

Something flickers underneath her voice, and Yuuki is quick to pick up the admiration mixed with frustration.

"It's nothing necessarily bad, but it's definitely strange. There's innocence here that I haven't seen for - "

Sakura hums and lazily rests her chin in her palm. She glances at the all-too-serious Yuuki, and smiles with a twinge of sadness.

"I haven't seen this kind of innocence in years. It's… refreshing, almost."

And for a moment, as Yuuki's eyebrows furrow in vague understanding, Sakura almost becomes complacent. She nearly remains that way, wondering dreamily if she has been cleansed of Team Seven's nefarious luck, even as her classmates surround Hatoba when news of her transfer falls out.

Would you look at that, she tilts her head idly and notes, Hinamori has three Guardian Characters.

The blissful mood continues on until -

until a sinister force taints the air.

Her body grows still as her muscles freeze minutely. With almost detached eyes, Sakura watches as Hatoba's face darken to a dazed, hypnotized state.

Character Change

"Is that… English?" Sakura murmurs bewilderedly. She flicks her fingers to reassure Yuuki's tense form, and the Guardian Character pauses for almost an eternity before letting go of her kunai holster.

Like a scene from those terribly produced soap operas Ino has always been fond of, Hatoba dramatically cries out her innermost fears and runs off, black egg in tow. Sakura starts, barely listening to the whispers flooding the classroom as her muscles tighten in preparation to spring.

She makes eye-contact with Hinamori for a brief second before -

-before Hinamori runs after Hatoba?

Wait.

"Yuuki." Sakura delicately places her bag onto her desk and attempts to push down the sudden irritation flaring in her. Yuuki straightens her back and gives a crisp salute. "I believe we are lacking sorely in information."

She recalls the recent image of wobbly determination in Hinamori's eyes: determination, not surprise.

Hinamori has seen something like this before.

Sakura hums even softer than before and smoothly stands up. She walks quietly out of the classroom and pauses at the scene in front of her, raising a single eyebrow at the image of her guardian clumsily collecting his books from the hallway floor.

Sighing, she picks up a few of the books and gracelessly passes them to Nikaidou.

"Here you go, sensei," Sakura smiles with closed eyes, and continues on without giving him a single chance to open his mouth. "Also, I know that homeroom will be starting soon, but I really need to go to the bathroom. Do you mind if I go now?"

At this point, Yuuki is twirling multiple kunai in both hands ominously, the sharp edges dangerously close to Nikaidou's face.

"Ehh, Haruno-san, was it?" Apart from his eyes widening fractionally, he gives no sign of being affected, and Sakura grudgingly gives him a bit more respect for that. "Of course, of course, don't take too long~!"

Not bad, Nikaidou, not bad at all.

Sakura's smile widens imperceptibly.

"Thank you, sensei."

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.

Although she had her own suspicions before, it is only when Sakura runs past a familiar looking boy that she realizes this world is just a jumbled, chaotic mess of unsupervised children running around.

They meet at the edge of the school's rooftop and Sakura stares at the cat ears on top of his head and the tail sprouting from behind.

(Chakra does not always follow the laws of science…? She viciously attempts to believe).

Instead, she tries her very best to convey her thoughts on his pathetic presence through her eyes.

What are you doing here, her eyes drain of any life as she looks at him with a pitied, dull gaze.

Or even, is this what you do in your free time, and she glances up and down at his young adult body.

And then she gives him the patent I-am-so-done-with-your-shit-Kakashi-sensei look and finally thinks, shouldn't you be in school.

With a shrug she jumps silently away, realizing his non-existent worth in her quest for answers - too old, she considers, and not enough substantial background information.

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By the time Sakura reaches the small clearing, she comes across another realization as she stares, dumbfounded, at the black tiny person spewing English letters (?) at the shrieking Guardians below.

She is hiding in the trees, silent and unmoving, but even Sakura, badass jonin medic, cannot refrain from commenting.

"Yuuki."

"Yes, Sakura?"

The Guardians continue to run around, and Sakura is suddenly reminded of frantic chickens right before Sasuke introduces how well he can cook with a kunai.

"I just really, really want to go home."

To a place that made sense, at least.

"Duly noted."

Sakura rolls her eyes and growls as the male Guardians (sans Fujisaki) chase after the flying menace.

I should just go back. At this point, they're not really worth my time. Who cares if there are random flying menaces roaming the streets?

But she follows the cackling black character anyway, strongly wishing for a kunai to stab it and its horrendous English with multiple holes the entire way.

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.

"This is actually really beautiful," Sakura quietly notes, looking down at the floating stars dancing beneath her feet. "We should visit this place more often."

"Perhaps," Yuuki says, visibly trying very hard to contain her awe. "When things settle down."

"When things settle down," Sakura agrees. She glances from her upside down position on the building's ceiling and gives a steady promise. They silently watch as the little horror bombards Hinamori and friends with its butchered, squeaky voice and briefly, Sakura considers revealing herself and helping them out.

"Yuuki-" she begins, fingers twitching when a pre-pubescent voice shouts,

"My heart: Unlock!"

A blinding flash floods the building.

(It is here that Sakura realizes she is completely out of her depth).

She watches in near disbelief as Hinamori transforms into a magical girl (what, did the world suddenly become an anime while she wasn't looking), with hearts and sparkles flying through the air.

"I'm so done. So done, sosososo done," Sakura mutters beneath her breath, batting away the black character's English attacks like an annoying pest when it comes her way. "She could have been killed. I could have killed her. Who - " she chokes, near hysterical. " - who waits for someone to finish a power up?"

"Negative Heart: Lock on!"

"What in the world is this girl trying to do?" Sakura stares at Hinamori's heart shaped hands. "More importantly, why is everyone just waiting for something to happen?"

"Open Heart!"

And then the world is filled with sparkling, pink chakra.

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.

"I think Hatoba-san should be fine now," Hinamori sighs, separating from her Guardian Character in a bright flash and returning to her normal school uniform.

"We should hurry and go check, she was left unconscious when the X Egg hatched." Hotori says, ushering Hinamori out of the building. Sakura lands lightly from the ceiling.

My eyes, she groans, rubbing her eyelids carefully at the blinding chakra attack.

A gentle tug pulls at Sakura's hair and she rolls her shoulders at the reminder.

The last one to leave in the three-man group is a lax, brown-haired boy with arms thrown behind his head and Sakura zeroes in on her target.

"Excuse me." She taps his shoulder lightly and Sakura can't help but smile (there's just something about this one that feels achingly like Naruto) as he turns, the other two rushing ahead.

"Hm? Oh, aren't you that new transfer student?" He - Souma Kukai, Sakura guesses - blinks distractedly, glancing back to look at his leaving companions. "Nadeshiko mentioned you earlier…"

"I'm Haruno Sakura, it's nice to meet you." She gives a nice, formal bow and, taken aback by her polite manners, the boy bows hazardly back.

"Yo. It's Souma Kukai - pleasure." Souma scratches his head and his own Guardian Character pops up from behind him, scrunching up its nose. "Uh…"

"I was just wondering if you could answer a few of my questions; I know the Guardians are the best people to ask from, and you seemed the most reliable, being the oldest and all," Sakura dredges up memories from when she was a pre-teen and sweetens her tone. She beams when Souma silently preens at her words. "Of course, I know that you all are very busy…"

(At this point, all members of Team Seven know to back away when they hear this tone because that is when Sakura is at her most dangerous).

"No, no, it's fine," He laughs and Sakura can almost hear the sound of a trap being set off. "What's up?"

"Well, you see, I was actually in this building when the three of you came in," Sakura tilts her head and in a split second, Yuuki appears before a startled Souma. The Guardian Character twirls a kunai between her fingers languidly and gives a nod in greeting.

"Whoa! Guess our King was right after all." He leans forward with curious eyes. "Is she a ninja? You want to be a ninja when you grow up?"

"Something along those lines," Sakura's smile grows sharp, because she already is a ninja. What Yuuki represents is something altogether different. "I saw a lot of, ah, interesting things happen. Yuuki and I have only known each other for a little while, so I don't know what's going on. Do you think you could give me quick rundown?"

Souma shares a glance between his Guardian Character - "His name is Daichi," the boy hesitantly introduces - and gives an unsure grin. Sakura can almost admire his self-preservation instincts.

"Sure, why not?"

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.

.

Character Change, Character Transformation, Sakura rolls the terms around her head, slowly connecting them together into the world she knows.

X Egg, X Character -

"Embryo…" She mutters from her seat, contemplating the weight of this mysterious, so-called, magical egg.

How much of it is true? Souma had been a helpful information source, even if he ran off at the end. But there isn't a single reliable, physical source where she can pinpoint the truth, and the thought brings up a well of frustration.

"Haruno-san?"

"Here," She half-heartedly responds, casually waving a hand in the air to mark her presence for roll call.

The Embryo is an apparent source to grant all wishes, but how far can this Embryo bend reality till other dimensions are reached? Where exactly did this myth come from, and how did a group of pre-teen children find out?

It's apparent that there are two different sides vying for the magical Embryo, but for what purpose? What leads do these people have?

Too easy, Sakura grits her teeth at the lack of evidence no one seems to care for. Does such a thing even exist?

But do I have anything else to lean on? What other options are there?

Hopelessness crushes her heart and Sakura blinks back frustrated tears.

"Himamori-san? Is Himamori-san here? Himamori Amu-san?" Rubbing her eyes, Sakura holds back an audible sigh because Nikaidou is so very obnoxiously petty. "Himamori-san?"

Really, who's the responsible adult here?

Sakura kicks the girl's desk to grab her attention.

"Huh, what? Haruno-san?" The girl glances around in a daze and blushes slightly when Sakura pointedly looks up front. "Ah, I'm here, sensei! And it's Hinamori, not Himamori!"

And for the rest of day Sakura ignores her teachers (and virtually everyone else) to concentrate on how long she's stayed here for. Has it already been a few months?

There's something about this world…

Something monotonous. The days go by quickly without change, without pause.

But I can't put my finger on it.

Her focus is so, completely fixated, that she nearly does not register the presence next to her.

"G-Good afternoon," Hatoba Yuuki stutters out in careful English. Her cheeks are aflame and her hands tightly clutch the book Sakura had given her. "How are you t-today?"

The girl's voice lifts up to a squeak, as if questioning her own question, and Sakura blinks, startled.

"I - " She stops whatever was going to come out of her mouth and looks straight into Hatoba's determined eyes. For perhaps the first time since arriving in this world, Sakura falters, her lips twisting in a grimace. "I…"

Hatoba shifts uncomfortably, but her eyes shine with encouragement.

Don't worry! They seem to be calling almost shyly. You got this!

The side of her mouth twitches upwards.

"I am fine," Sakura admits, her English heavily accented, but articulate and clear. She pauses to collect herself, realizing with a silent start that for all her inner despair, her words are completely true. "A little… lost. And… lonely. But I'm okay. You?"

Hatoba blinks and flushes, looking at the clock that is signaling the near end of break.

(Unseen, Hatoba Yuki has spent the first thirty minutes of break prepping and receiving motivational pep talks with her other friends for this conversation. Sakura-chan is intimidating but kind, and Yuki can't help but want to improve for the girl who seems almost unearthly in her mature manners).

"I, I am goo - well. I am well. Ah, t-talk to you later?"

"Of course." Sakura's growing smile grows even brighter. She then switches to Japanese, feeling a mixture of pity and pride for the young girl. "That was wonderful, Yuki-san. You're very good."

"Thank you, Sakura-chan," Hatoba - no - Yuki grins in return. "And I mean it."

Yuki's grip on the book tightens and tears well up in her eyes.

"I really, really mean it. Thank you for everything."

Something soars within Sakura's chest and she realizes, almost belatedly, that she isn't really alone. Hope is a fragile thing that only people like Naruto would carry, but somehow, Sakura feels it fluttering past her as well.

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Later on that day…

"Whoa!"

An entire crowd stares as Hinamori flips multiple times in the air before kicking a ball into a goal.

"I am blind." Sakura insists, ignoring Yuuki as the tiny woman rolls her eyes. "I am totally, completely, and utterly blind. Nothing is out of the ordinary."

"For a ninja, you're quite insistent on denying the effects of chakra."

"Blind." Sakura adjusts the bag on her shoulder and takes a brief moment to glance at the soccer field below. She watches, completely unimpressed at the strange workings down below, and by pure coincidence, her eyes make contact with the resident Jack.

Almost immediately, Sakura's eyes crinkle and she offers a smile at the paling boy.

Souma, in return, gives a hesitant, bastardized version of a wave before turning abruptly away, skin pasty white and steps unsteady.

He stumbles, once, twice, before falling onto the floor in a dazed heap.

Heart even lighter than before, Sakura carefully tunes out the cries of worry from the soccer field below, and heads off for another appointment with Watanabe at her favorite dojo.

Yes, not so alone, anymore, right?

SE: I actually have no excuse for this one - I just fell out of the Shugo Chara fandom, which is a shame because I still love it to this day. You can tell in this chapter that it was written years and years ago. I'm not exactly comfortable uploading something that doesn't represent the way I write now, but I know I'll never be able to really edit it completely either. I still want to finish this story, but it'll be a slow process, as I try to shift this into something that's more aligned with my writing style at the moment.

And even though I wanted to poke fun, I ended up taking this far too seriously as well haha. Hopefully I'll be able to find my muse again and till then, please accept this meager chapter for now.