PART ONE. IT ENDED AT OUR FINGERTIPS:
Sakura blinks awake. Her chubby hands try to keep the sun rays falling into her face at bay, light dancing in her vision, and she tries to sit up – tries, but can't. Her muscles are too weak and the sense of something distinctly other makes her shuffle uncomfortably in her bed. She reaches for her chakra and finds power thrumming dormant under her skin, but it's not her own.
Something is wrong. The world around her feels off and then she realizes – she's the one out of sync.
Chakra coils through her limbs, every inch of her body and it's.... it's not hers.
Sakura is in someone else's body, a boy's body, and only the reassurance that she's a medic to the bone lets the grazing unease settle. She draws her blanket in closer with pudgy little fists she doesn't know to call her own and she screams hysterically at the walls of her crib until a woman comes to her, fussing, to pick her up.
The gentle rocking motions put a stop to the panic shaking her from head to toe. Calamity washes over her.The burn in her lungs lingers. She has an adult's mind, but she just died and woke up somewhere else, somewhere she doesn't belong, and if that doesn't warrant being hugged close to someone's chest, a mother's chest, then she doesn't know what else could.
“There, shhh. It'll be alright, Minato-kun,” the woman whispers at her, stroking the tiny puff of hair on her head.
Sakura. She's Sakura.
The woman has tufty dark hair and Sakura reaches for it, torn between despair and wide-eyed wonder. This is real.
The woman laughs, a pearly white thing. She's most definitely not Sakura's mother judging by the amount of beds in the room she only just became aware of. She's not at the hospital, she knows hospitals – she's at an orphanage.
A second chance at life and she doesn't even have parents to cry on, doesn't have anyone to help her deal with the trauma she is experiencing. Who knows where she is, who knows whom she can trust. She might be in Iwa for all she knows.
When she is softly let down, she manages to catch a glimpse of the name tag on the crib she is laid to rest in.
Oh no, Sakura thinks. Please, no. There's only one Namikaze Minato she's aware of. If she's right – it can't be though, can it? He's dead, has been for years and there's just no way.
But it's real and Sakura deals with it. The way she's dealt with everything life has ever thrown at her. She had never been lucky, life had never been kind. Perhaps growing up with living parents was something of a blessing, but they died early enough for that to be tainted.
When Sakura closes her eyes she can taste the smoke in the air. She feels a slippery kunai in her hands and remembers the rubble beneath her feet. When she closes her eyes she's climbing into what's left of her childhood home again, sick with dread. The day of the invasion has burned itself into her memory. Her bony fingers are clutching that kunai tighter and tighter as she howls and lifts and searches. She's surrounded by ruins and smoke again, not realizing until well after she sees the corpses buried under the ceiling that she's wedged the kunai deep into her palms.
She had cried her heart out that day. It had taken her a long time to tear herself away from the site and to bury her grief. She'd faced the remnants of her team only to be slapped, hard, by reality once more: Naruto was leaving, Sasuke had defected, even Kakashi-sensei disappeared into black ops. She was all alone.
But that's a different Sakura's story. This time around there is no Team Seven to tie her down and leave her behind.
As a toddler she has literal ages on her hands doing little but struggling for control of her own body. She sleeps a lot and is enraptured with the most mundane things around her. Changing nappies is unpleasant, but it's better than having a full nappy, and at least she doesn't have to look at her penis for longer than necessary. A medic's detachment helps numb her mind, but the innate wrongness of her body keeps sending her into fits of despair. It's a tear in her heart and it hurts worse than a betrayal. She feels hollow, terribly hollow in this body.
Sakura's attention span is next to non-existent. That's both a blessing and a curse. But she's dedicated and determined, always has been fixated on something or other, so she doesn't let go of the world she grows larger sheltered away from.
The smaller children around her call her “Natto-chan” and that hurts, because it sounds a lot like they're trying to say Naruto. She really, really doesn't want to think about fathering the former teammate she thinks of as a dumb little brother with a woman she doesn't know.
But it's also sweet in a way. She starts to feel like a mother hen with the way they crowd around her despite being younger and barely articulate.
Sakura sets to work and gathers what she knows about the Fourth Hokage. She wishes she could write, but she's somewhere between one and two years old. Although she's a fast learner it's impossible to learn that fast.
Sakura recalls her Academy textbook well:
"Namikaze Minato rose to fame after developing a space-time technique that allowed him to make several spatial jumps in quick succession, earning him the moniker “The Yellow Flash.” The war hero of the Third Shinobi War became the Fourth Hokage and destroyed the Kyuubi, protecting Konoha at the cost of his own life."
She also remembers all the things left unsaid or obscured: The sealing genius, the roots of his techniques in the Second Hokage's teaching, Uzumaki Kushina, the real story behind the Kyuubi attack, the way Naruto looked far too old talking about his parents. She knows he was Jiraiya's first apprentice, that Kakashi saw him as a second father. Knows that the Third favoured him over Orochimaru, which was rumoured to be at least partly responsible for his defection.
The Fourth was also the only emotionally well-balanced powerful shinobi she's ever heard of.
Sakura snorts. Failed that one already, hasn't she?
By the time she's five Sakura has a chakra pool to rival her twelve-year old self – it's so unfair that boys get this predisposition, as if sexism isn't bad enough in this world – but she has the chakra now, and she's still a girl. Being a woman, a real woman, is where she always came from and that will never change.
Sakura hones her fine chakra control, practices moving leaves around her body, extending threads between her fingertips until she's wrapped herself into a tight cocoon that alters her appearance.
She marches straight into the Chunin section of the library, three feet taller and flashing a special code at the desk nin – being the Hokage's assistant had its perks, and certain protocols are as dusty as the village itself – and no one dares look at her twice.
Now that she's enrolled at the Academy she can rely on junior nin protective laws, meaning that she has the right to request a Yamanaka's expertise if they catch her, think her a plant and carter her off to T&I.
There's a war going on and Sakura is neither intent on becoming cannon fodder, nor does she want to be killed for being a spy she really, really isn't.
Sakura would never dare risk her life without that law, not trapped in this body. She crushed whole armies once but that was a very long time ago and she'd led a different life, a life with a lighter burden.
Sakura has a legend in her hands like clay, so she must work hard to be perfect, to be everything he was and she isn't. What if she screws up the future, selfish enough to make space for her own?
She pours over heaps of sealing scrolls and tries not to think too hard on what happens if she fails.
This library, Sakura knows it like the back of her cramping hand, blisters from practising calligraphy until she can't hold a pen, let alone a brush, an aching reminder of her duty. The library is one thing she's allowed to be familiar with, because even the classroom 1-B is on the other side of the building she once walked.
Her steps echo like ghosts through the school's hallways, mocking her. As if she's the one haunting it. She grits her teeth, shakes the doubts off, teaches herself to walk silently and is moved up a year. She turns six with little attention paid to it. As a gift, she collects herbs and buys other ingredients. She makes a cream against blisters, a recipe Hinata once swore by and one she's grateful for, especially when they start sparring and kunai throwing.
It's like her early Academy years all over again, except this time no one's pulling punches because she's a girl – they don't know better here, she tells herself. Sakura likes being treated like an equal, but this time around it's for all the wrong reasons. She bruises all over and feels like she barely keeps up with the worst of them, let alone smug-faced stern Uchiha fucking Fugaku.
Sakura's dedication to her goals is far beyond what even the clan heirs can think of. How would they? They're children. Sakura just... isn't. The stakes are too high for her to slack off so she carefully monitors her progress, glowing green chakra expertly hidden under her fingerless gloves.
She runs herself into the ground and spends just enough time sleeping so she doesn't blow herself up working on her sealing skills.
Sakura is a prodigy, one the Academy hasn't seen since the Sannin. She spends four months in class 2-A before she's transferred to sit with ten-year-olds slated to graduate next spring. They're kind enough to keep her in class 4-A for three terms so she doesn't immediately die entering the war as a Genin even tinier than the rest of them. Except it's not kindness, it's an investment in her skillset.
She knows kunoichi classes are rubbish, because they shouldn't separate based on gender and enforce stereotypes, except they don't even do that, they separate based on sex, and Sakura finds herself staring longingly after the other girls in her class. “Got a crush on Yuki-chan, eh, Namikaze?” An Inuzuka teases her and she blushes brightly.
She's older than these kids' parents, of course she doesn't have a crush .
At least not until red-faced Uzumaki Kushina scowls at her new classmates, pronounced an Uzushio transfer and teased relentlessly for it.
Sakura forgets to breathe, doesn't remember how to, and wonders if Naruto's dad is destined to helplessly crush on his future wife.
Her future wi–
She splutters, and doesn't dare look at Kushina for a week. The redhead sneers at her like she's part of the bullies and she hides shyly behind her textbook, snatching a few glimpses of Kushina's hair – so silky, so pretty – before she quickly looks away again. Right.
They are never paired off in combat because Sakura is a hidden girl, so Kushina remains distant and unreachable until well after they graduate. Sakura hides a new design for a barrier seal in her desk, one she spent months on, and hopes Kushina will make use of her gift. Kushina is only eleven years old, still trips over her hair sometimes, the second youngest after Sakura. But she's already a Genin, by her own merit. Sakura can't help it. She idolizes her. Kushina is amazing.