A/N: I've seen several very well done Naruto time travel fics, and at least one where both Sasuke and Naruto return. It made me wonder... how would Sakura handle it? Unfortunately, the plot-bunny stalled out on me around the chuunin exam (bet you guys have never seen that happen in this fandom, right?), but that's a ways into the future and I hope to resolve it by the time I get there.
"Thank you, Sakura. Well done." Iruka-sensei smiled at her, and handed her a shining, new hitae-ite.
Sakura blinked once, feeling disoriented. It was like waking from a daydream; she felt unsettled and everything seemed oddly fuzzy for a second. She tried to think. It took her far too long to remember that there had been a Plan. It had been a good Plan. Well, actually it was a Plan made up of one part guesswork and three parts desperation, but it had worked. Kind of. She was here, in the past. Or, she supposed, the present. She gave the examiners a smile that likely looked as wobbly and unbalanced as she felt, and hurried away from the chuunin sitting behind the wide wooden desk.
Right into a crowd of twelve-year-olds that were simultaneously incredibly familiar and not. There was Sasuke-kun, taking time from his brooding to grace them with a superior smile: number-one rookie, and proud of it, even if it was only a small stepping stone on his path. Ino was going on beside her, something about being surprised they'd found a hitae-ite large enough for her enormous forehead. "Shut up, Ino-pig," she retorted, but it was half-hearted at best and without any true anger, and a wave of exasperated fondness welled up within her at the sight of the girl who had been her chief rival and best friend all in one.
And there were all the other familiar faces: shy Hinata-chan, and the annoyingly loud Kiba, and Shino, and Chouji, and... the entire Rookie Nine was in attendance, all twelve-years-old and flushed with success. Adults were there as well. Her parents were easy to spot, since the Haruno women were not the only ones with pink hair; the males of clan Haruno were likewise cursed with that unfortunate trait. And there were the Yamanakas, both Ino's parents looked like they'd stepped from the pages of a modelling magazine, and some family members that had to be Inuzukas with those facial tattoos, not to mention all the dogs. But in all the melee, she couldn't spy one very important face. Where was Naruto? The kid just wasn't happy if he wasn't the center of attention, and he was nowhere to be found.
Until she spotted him over on the swings, looking dejected, and without a hitae-ite. She tried to remember - he'd shown up with a hitae-ite the next day for the team assignments, hadn't he? He must have. Graduation day had been a long time ago, subjectively, but she was sure he'd had one.
She was about to go over to him, when she heard a pair of women talking about him: "He's the only one who failed," and "Serves him right." She very nearly bloodied their noses for them, before remembering that Haruno Sakura did not go about punching women in the street. Even if they were slandering a teammate, someone who tried so hard at everything he did...
By the time she looked back, he was gone, the swing swaying slowly. She still half-wanted to go chasing after him, but there was no point. She'd see him again tomorrow, and Sasuke-kun too. But for now, she needed to think. Naruto and Sasuke were the ones who got by on brute strength and raw talent - Sakura had other skills.
She barely heard her parents' congratulations, and was silent the entire walk home, trying to puzzle out what she was going to do.
Later that night, there was some sort of fuss, with ninja running around searching for something or other, but Sakura figured it didn't have much to do with her.
She'd eaten a hurried dinner - she'd barely tasted her oden, which she remembered had been a favorite of hers at this age - before hurrying up to her room to come up with an attack plan. When they'd come up with the idea, they'd had to work night and day just to work out all the complex seals in order to bind Naruto's chakra to do what they wanted - something that, according to all logic, should have been impossible. There'd been no time to work out what to do when she got there. If she got there. They - she and Kakashi - had been unable to discover when and where exactly it would set her down. It seemed like a pretty big coincidence that she had 'arrived', so to speak, at such a crucial turning point in her life, at the team assignments. Perhaps her emotions, or her memories, had more control over the process than they'd realized, she didn't know.
Their 'plan', if you could call it that, had way more guesswork in it than she was comfortable with. It probably would have been better if she'd managed to go back earlier, give her more time to prepare... but she decided to just be a grateful little kunoichi that she hadn't been reduced to her component atoms, or with her adult mind ending up in Sasuke's body, or a dozen other horrifying possible outcomes.
After a little experimentation - and with only one broken piece of furniture, she'd never liked that dresser anyway - it seemed that she still had her exacting chakra control, even more finely-honed than when she'd been an academy graduate. But her physical strength and chakra reserves were the same as they'd been when she'd really been twelve - which was to say, pretty much below average. She still knew all her jutsu, but with the amount of chakra most of them required, she doubted she'd be able to heal much of anything before succumbing to chakra exhaustion and passing out. Hardly an ideal outcome. She wasn't sure she could summon the slugs, since she hadn't technically signed a contract with them at this point in time, and her room wasn't a very good place to try summonings anyway.
So, she was pretty much what she'd been when she really was twelve; an average genin with low-level strength and high intelligence. Well, she might have a new trick or two up her sleeve... but now, she had time to fix things, to make things better. Assuming it played out as it had before - gods, let it be the same - she could make improvements. She wouldn't be such a hindrance. She had a year to train and get strong enough to go with Naruto and the others to get Sasuke-kun back. No, she could even keep it from ever getting that far.
She could... she could find a way to avoid Orochimaru, maybe, and keep Sasuke-kun from getting the cursed seal. Or better yet, find a way to kill that snake entirely, though she hadn't the faintest idea how such a thing might be accomplished against a ninja who was by all accounts immortal. She remembered very well what he'd done to Sasuke-kun, and she'd like very much to find a way to pay him back for it. In spades.
But she'd likely only get one shot at changing the timeline; if she succeeded and derailed the track of coming events, her future knowledge would be nearly useless, and if she failed but revealed that she knew more than she should... well... she'd be in deep, deep trouble. She simply couldn't stand up to the kind of enemies she'd come to the attention of. The Akatsuki and Orochimaru - even the average jounin, if she were honest with herself - were far, far out of her league.
But, she acknowledged, first things first. Before all that, she had to get sorted into Team Seven!