Sakura is fragile. Fragile, but intelligent. Intelligent, but petty.
This is what her parents are told every grading period. A future paper pusher. Not anyone to look out for. And her parents are relieved.
They were against her training as a shinobi, but without a family business to push her into, they didn't have a choice. She would be a shinobi or she would be nothing at all.
But that pettiness didn't mean weakness, it just means that she can be colder. Crueler. And that intelligence, that one redeeming trait, only adds to it.
She reads her first anatomy textbook at age 6. She lets her parents think it was because it had pictures. But she traces diagrams and whispers names of arteries and veins until they stick in her head. She likes knowing things.
Knowledge for knowledge's sake.
In her spare time, she reads scientific journals and medical texts. Her diary turns from fawning about Sasuke-kun to musing about potential applications of using genetic engineering to help repair damaged chakra systems. But it still has talk of Sasuke in it, because being intelligent and knowing things doesn't invalidate her having a crush.
The librarians at the Konoha Shinobi Library (not the public one, she moved on from that years ago) know her well. They give her sly smiles when she walks up to the counter with books from the sections restricted to chunin and jounin, but say nothing. They look after their own in a place where genius often ends up synonymous with traitor.
Geniuses are looked upon with suspicion, especially those not backed by a clan, and Sakura has no such advantages.
But it is in these restricted sections that she learns her first genjutsu.
It's a simple technique, one that can be used to camouflage one's scent, invoke emotions through changes in scent, or hide the telltale signs of, say, poison.
It's a good start. Not much chakra, more control, but it could be devastating if applied properly. Just like her.
Not much changes at the academy. A simple illusory genjutsu keeps people from noticing the titles of high ranked techniques, and not many people would bother looking too hard at a little girl's books anyway.
She looks into other scientists, both famous and infamous, just once. Once is all she needs to figure something out. All scientists experiment, but the "good" ones never have that mentioned. And the "bad" ones are just the ones that experimented and got caught.
So all she has to do is not get caught.
A good part of having the head of T&I's daughter as a best friend/rival/frenemy is that she's good at not getting caught, and she knows what it looks like when someone is catching onto something.
Also, free access to the intricacies of the Yamanaka's mind walking techniques.
But Ino isn't always there.
The longer their rivalry goes on, the less Ino hangs around her, and the more Ami and her weak excuse for a gang try to bully her.
Sakura starts ignoring her bullies after a while. She stops reacting to their taunts and instead buries her head back into whatever ridiculous tome she was reading. She grows quiet, still. And there is no longer anyone to notice her, no longer a little blonde girl to chase away bullies that have long since gotten bored. The voice inside her head grows louder, but that's fine. She's gotten used to ignoring loud voices.
Sakura stops wearing the ribbon Ino gave her, instead just tying her hair back in a loose braid.
Most of her time is spent in the library or sequestered away in her room, where she's smuggled in all sorts of chemicals for her experiments. It's easy for her to hide things from her parents, especially because they don't bother looking into anything she does. Her experiments started small, following along with her books, but she wants more.
She knocks one of the frogs set loose upon the classroom from one of Kiba and Naruto's pranks into her bag and performs her first dissection that night.
She sticks a razor blade on the end of a pencil for a scalpel. She'll filch a few from the hospital for next time. Using a book she picked out at the library, Sakura picks out each organ that she can identify. Afterward, she has to dump the body in the river, but she nearly gets caught smuggling it out of her house.
That kickstarts her adventures into medical ninjutsu. She continues to dissect larger and larger animals, but now she has the ability to put them back together when she's done.
She doesn't get caught.
Itachi made a mistake that night. He was always too soft on children.
When he slaughtered the majority of the Uchiha compound, he made their deaths quick. And while that worked, while 27 children died that day for no other reason but the clan they were born to, one survived. Not uninjured, but alive.
The slice meant to go through her jugular didn't pierce through fully, instead slicing through more skin than important arteries or the trachea. And with other things to do, including killing his parents and traumatizing his brother, Itachi left without looking back.
When the team of ANBU came across her, it was only sheer luck that she survived even without her main arteries cut.
However, she made a full recovery with help from a healer, albeit with a nasty scar on her neck. She'd have it for the rest of her life.
At least the Uchiha tended to wear high collars. Or at least they did before they were massacred.
She was handed over to Sasuke when he woke up from his coma. He clung to her like a lifeline. The two of them, the last Uchihas in all of Konoha. With a little help from the ANBU that cleared out the house, Sasuke found out who she was.
Uchiha Kiyo, one year and 3 months old.
A distant relative, his third cousin once removed's daughter, making her his… fourth cousin?
In one life he wouldn't have ever met her, just another faceless corpse to swim through his nightmares. But Kiyo was real, and she was his.
One of the ANBU, a tall man with a dog mask, put his hand on Sasuke's shoulder when he asked about Itachi. Once the Hokage finished his explanation, the man leaned over and whispered in his ear.
"Don't try and go after him, he'll kill you, kid."
In another life, Sasuke would ignore the warning, but he wasn't alone this time. He had someone to look after, someone that needed him.
He looked down at Kiyo's tiny face. She scrunched her nose at him.
And so he swallowed every semblance of Uchiha pride he had left and took a parenting class.
Despite being advertised for civilians, there was a decent amount of kunoichi attending. Most were pregnant, but others just wanted help dealing with their unruly kids. They generally took to him as if he was a little brother or their child. But most importantly, they didn't look at him with pity in their eyes.
Sasuke had long grown tired of passing adults, his classmates, and everyone else staring at him and Kiyo. It took a long time for them to adjust to the sight of the last Uchiha, just barely seven years old, carrying a baby in a sling.
The women in the classes are different. Well, not all them, but a good deal of them know what he's dealing with. All shinobi experience loss, his is just more large scale than most.
Yamanaka Mina-san gives him discounts whenever she's running the shop, and weapons advice when she isn't.
Hannoruki-san was still recovering from giving birth to his daughter, Akane-chan, but he makes sure to stop by every once in a while with pastries or an offer to babysit Kiyo. Sasuke only takes him up on the offer when he has to, though. He hates being separated from her.
Ise-san brings him an obento every day before he gives in and asks her for cooking lessons. He'd be fine eating store-bought meals supplemented with tomatoes for the rest of his life, but Kiyo deserves better.
She's his imouto now, and if nothing else, he'll manage to be a better aniki to her than Itachi was.
It all started with a simple history lesson. One that Naruto decided not to skip.
And to that lesson, he was ultimately indebted.
The lesson? Uzushiogakure. Once a shinobi village renowned for their fūinjutsu, so much so that they were destroyed for it.
It was a short lecture, just vague facts on the land and how the village came to be destroyed. But the moment Naruto heard the name Uzumaki in conjunction to Uzushio, he became obsessed.
The only hint he had to his deceased parents, the only connection to his culture that he could find, lay with Uzushio.
He had never made it into the library before, due to both a lack of interest in reading and getting kicked out if he tried, but this time he was determined.
He henged himself into someone bland, unobtrusive. A genin, brown eyes and hair, a little on the older side of being a teenager. One of the many who just barely passed, only to stay in the genin corps for the rest of their lives. Easily overlooked.
And with that, he was free to start his search.
Naruto wasn't so bad at stealth that he would go straight up to a librarian to ask about the overly specific topic that he wanted to research, which meant that he spent an hour in the library before finding Sakura.
As usual, she was sitting with a pile of books and scrolls around her. From what he could tell, it was mainly made up of science textbooks, ones that he couldn't even begin to try reading.
"Sakura-chan! It's me, Naruto!"
At this, she looked up.
"Naruto?" Her eyes sharpened, "Why are you in a henge?"
"Doesn't matter. Anyways, do you know where I'd find any books on Uzushio?"
"Uzushio... That would be in some of the older travel guides, maybe history books too. Aisle 939."
He shot a quick grin at her before running off to find aisle 939.
There wasn't much to find about Uzushio, but he managed to scrounge up a picture from an old textbook that included a depiction of the creation of both Konoha and Uzushio, and a couple of Senju Hashirama's wife, Uzumaki Mito.
In the first, the Uzumaki man wore a high collared, wide-sleeved shirt with spirals stitched into the upper arms, plate armor, and two swords of some sort strapped to his back.
The others pictures depicted a regal woman with red hair tied in two buns that had two tags with kanji on them hanging down. She wore an elegant high-collared white kimono with a turquoise obi.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all, and Naruto aimed to flatter his apparent ancestors. So he bought new clothes.
It didn't match the old man's exactly, but he managed to procure an orange, wide-sleeved shirt that he sewed two spiral patches into. Naruto also would have bought a white kimono and hakama in order to match Mito, but he wasn't going to be going anywhere fancy enough to wear that anytime soon. If ever.
The next time Naruto walked into class, he was met with some whispers about his new attire. Or just blatant questioning, in Kiba's case.
"Hey, what's with the new clothes?" he asked.
Naruto shrugged, "I just kinda felt like a change, that's all."
Sakura side-eyed him when he sat down next to her. Not in a 'why are you here' way, more of a 'what's up with you' way.
"So the research paid off, huh."
Naruto just shot her one of his trademark grins and turned to grab the homework that he had actually done this time.
When he looked over, he saw that Sasuke was staring at him. Well, Kiyo-tan was too, but that might have just been because he was the only thing within her line of sight in the sling.
Naruto waved tentatively at them. Sasuke jerked his head up slightly. Kiyo-tan just kept staring.