Flashback;

It was a rumor that Itachi was perfect in everything. Yes, he did successfully perform all fire jutsus within a couple of repetitive tries. Yes, he's aim was perfect. Yes, he was a genius. Yes, his taijutsu was nearly always flawless….

But he was downright terrible in genjutsu before he unlocked his sharingan. When Mikoto discovered that her first son was incapable of distinguishing genjutsus from reality, she had begun private sessions with him every morning.

"Mum!" Itachi screamed in one of his rare displays of emotion.

Mikoto looked down at her five year old boy, "shouting my blood relationship to you in frustration is not going to make you capable of performing at your zenith."

Itachi's eyes narrowed – when Mikoto was in training mood; she was an Uchiha first, teacher second, and mother third. They had spent the past three hours training in genjutsu and so far his mother had trapped him in eighty-five…he had only noticed ten and escaped from three of them.

"When I get the sharingan," he began bitterly as he wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand, "I will be better."

"What if you don't get the sharingan? What if something happens to me and I can no longer teach you?" She cocked her head to the side, her eyes returning to their warm dark orbs.

"That's not going to happen," it was a definite statement. He couldn't imagine growing up without his mother or the sharingan. His hearing was not adequately trained so he did not hear the soft sigh that escaped his pregnant mother's rosy lips.

"You know what I think strength is?" His mother asked as she bent down and leaned towards him and smoothed out his hair.

It was a sign that training was over.

Itachi raised an eyebrow, not wanting to speak in fear that his emotions would roll into his tone and Uchiha's were not suppose to have emotional tones.

"When you're not good at something and you do not have any predisposition in that field and yet you still train and practice with it. It's the weak people who don't try or only work to improve what they excel at."

Those words would forever be imbedded in Itachi's mind. When the village was attacked a few months later he would bear witness to the brutal warfare which would be the key to unlocking his precious sharingan. Then, he purposefully trained in every single art obsessively because he wanted to excel in all aspects of shinobi so his mother would think he was strong and later because he wanted to keep peace and stop war from occurring; he wanted his existence to amount to that of an army.

Eventually rumors would spread that Itachi was good at everything…yet they'd never know that he just refused to be weak.

.

...

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Present: Sakura; age 13 and a half

The training grounds were open all day, every day and only those below the rank of Chunin had to register a time slot and be supervised by a ninja of Junin rank. All the rest were welcome and would generally occupy the training ground room number eight and higher.

Sakura wasn't really about breaking rules. She was a good girl who did the right thing, but as she's learned – doing the right thing doesn't get you noticed. Barely a full year into her team, she already felt as though there was no hope in sight, not even a minuscule speck of it lying around. And as she once read in a book by some witty humorist in the west, "Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is a clear sign of insanity," and Sakura was nothing if not sane but really…the situation itself was insane.

Kakashi had taken interest in developing Sasuke's and Naruto's abilities almost immediately. The reason was obvious; both were incredibly skilled and talented and had a lot of potential in comparison to her, who could only boast in excelled examination scores.

Then half a year ago, two of the legendary sanin returned, one to become Hokage and another to become Naruto's tutor and mentor. Feeling left out and unnoticed; Sakura had gone up to the great Hokage and asked the busty blonde to be her teacher. She thought it would make things better; Sakura genuanally believed if she worked with a Sanin like Jiraiya and someone was skilled as Kakashi she would then belong on team seven.

That wasn't the case.

And the last mission was the last straw.

Their previous mission had taken a terrible toll on once perky pink haired girl, not because of injury or fear, but because of Kakashi's pathetic attempt to comfort her. She had tried to fight alongside Sasuke and Naruto but, unfortunately, became more of a hindrance than a help. It wasn't even that she was incompetent, Naruto kept blocking any opponent from getting close to her and Sasuke made sure no weapon reached her a two meter viscidity of her. She never even had a chance to show that she could handle herself. At the end of the fight, they weren't even injured enough to be healed with medical chakra. Plus the rogue ninjas were barely rank C! The one with the shaggy hair was totally a rank D! She could have taken at least taken that one on.

On their way back to Konoha, while her two male teammates were engrossed in an argument, she told Kakashi that she didn't feel like part of the team.

"Sakura, it's a team's responsibility to take care of their own teammates."

"When will I get to protect my team?" She asked earnestly.

He simply ruffled her hair and offered a hidden smile behind his mask. Sakura knew the unspoken words hanging in the air; medics from Konoha are generally not fighters except for the Hokage. The Hokage was the exception but Sakura was not…apparently. She still had to prove herself, but how could she do that when she was still being protected as if she was the client?

Practice with Tsunade was paying off…Sakura's medical jutsu was improving at top speed and she was getting better at her chakra control for taijutsu. But it wasn't enough in comparison.

She still wasn't fast enough. Sasuke's speed was becoming hard to follow to the naked eye and Naruto's endurance allowed him to run and run and run…Sakura just wasn't able to keep up or even catch up.

She still couldn't sense chakra presences well enough while Sasuke felt something from a mile away and Naruto always smelled someone even if they masked their chakra perfectly.

She still didn't notice every detail in her surroundings. Sasuke could recall the number of leaves on any damn tree in the forest.

She didn't have enough chakra. Naruto had an unlimited supply that seemed never ending.

She still couldn't throw her kunai or shurikens with perfect precisions. Sasuke and Naruto almost never missed.

She was still weak while Sasuke and Naruto were strong and were becoming stronger and stronger.

She wanted to be on par with them…or at least for them to look at her as a teammate and not something that needed constant protecting. The girl felt as though she had stigmatized herself during her first few months with her Sasuke obsession. After a personal confrontation with reality, she labeled herself as love-struck, blind, and just plain dumb but when she had finally figuratively looked in the mirror – it was too late. Naruto still saw her as love obsessed and delicate, Sasuke still saw her as annoying and weak, and worst of all…Kakashi didn't seem to even see her. She didn't feel a part of the team anymore…Sasuke and Naruto had developed a competitive bond that could only house them. Three was a crowd, and Sakura was feeling more and more like the unwanted third.

They were still a team in the physical sense, but when in a fight, Sasuke wouldn't trust Sakura to watch his back and Naruto would make sure Sakura was always in line of sight. At first it was cute, back when she was twelve and didn't understand what being a ninja was about. But after Kakashi had killed a ninja right before their eyes, it changed her. She went home and cried because all she could think about is what if that ninja had a family…and friends…and then she thought about Sasuke dying and Naruto dying and Kakashi dying…and couldn't bear it. She wanted to help keep them alive. She wanted to be a strong asset because she had learned how precious life was.

That was exactly the reason why the night after they returned from their last mission, she bid farewell to her team and went home. Only to change into one of the last momentums she had of her dad – his tai-chi uniform. Her mother used to tell Sakura bedtime stories of her father and his great skill in the underappreciated martial arts and how he was the best in the whole world. She would sometimes put on his uniform – it still didn't fit right and the once bright blue had been dulled with age and misuse, but it always managed to calm her down. She wasn't able to recall exactly what she was thinking when she left her apartment…she just knew that nothing was getting better and sometimes, to excel you needed to break a rule…or two.

Tsunade helped her medical jutsu but that still left her on the back lines. It wasn't good enough and she didn't know where else to turn. Kureai had her own team and Gai was fully devoted to his. Kakashi practiced with Sasuke and Jiraiya took Naruto under his wing. Tsunade was Hokage, and Konoha came before a weak little pink haired girl.

Sakura exhaled a fog of heat as she saw the outline of the wooden fence; she looked over both shoulders twice as she approached it coyly. She didn't see anyone, but she didn't trust herself enough to take it as fact.

There was a signup sheet nailed to the large pole – honor system. She knew from experience the signup sheets were collected but almost never looked at. She had gone out more than a handful of times under the instruction of the Hokage to collect the Gate records and Training Ground sheets, only to have them organized into a folder and locked up in a cabinet never to be looked at again.

So Sakura signed herself in…illegibly. After all, a sign with the rules was posted just right above it and she was breaking almost all of them.

What should have looked like; Sakura Haruno 0729 looked more like Suhoaa Haiuoo 0889.

She, carefully and more quietly than she would normally be, made her way to the training ground neighboring the one Kakashi used to take team seven to (room number three), Sakura went into room number four. She had been there once to pick up Ino for dinner. It was strange enough to be new but familiar enough to ease her nerves – if only a little.

She pushed the wooden door open to a much warmer environment that startled her momentarily. The area consisted of a clearing surrounded by four dozen trees, a few boulders of rock, all surrounded by perfectly trimmed green grass. When she looked closer Sakura noticed various footprint indents on the ground and that silently encouraged her to close the door.

She took a breather, as she examined the area with hesitant steps forward, and then paused. Her thumb came up towards her lips and she bit at her nail.

This is a really bad idea, she thought to herself.

Your idea, inner-Sakura released herself from blame.

I should leave…

You came here to test your skills…so test them, or have you forgotten? her inner-self chided.

Sakura turned around on her heels and picked up half a dozen dart boards that were at the wall by the entrance. She began placing them all around the various trees and rock formations in the secluded room. She walked slowly so the only sound she could hear was the rhythm of her steps. There were no birds, no passing winds, nothing…pure and utter silence. It was like she was the only person alive and the entire planet had gone still.

She sighed and tried to push aside all those post apocalyptic books she recently read and resigned herself to thoughts which were of current importance. The kunoichi practiced her chakra control as she climbed up trees and hung the dart boards on various protruding branches. Some, the young ninja, hid behind leaves while others remained in plain view.

Then she jumped down, again feeling slightly weary of the too quiet atmosphere. But it was past midnight, so the chances of anyone being at the training grounds were slim, and if they were – they'd probably be in the trap rooms or the Jounin play rooms. Not the lowly training grounds used by recent academy graduates and undergraduates during the daytime.

She stood in the middle of the room and closed her eyes.

Okay, inner Sakura began, you can do this.

Out of the 6 dart boards, and 12 kunais she had thrown; 9 missed, 2 landed on the outer circle, and the last one had hit a dart board with the ring instead of the tip of the blade and fallen to the ground with a depressing thud. It was a terrible revelation.

She wanted to break down and cry. She had gotten one of the highest scores in the academy for kunai throwing….but back then; the target board was huge and right in front of her. Aiming perfectly straight was easy. And now….and now….

Stop! Inner-Sakura screamed, what the hell did you expect?

"Something better," she muttered to herself aloud.

The thought of just resigning her ninja title and becoming a Konoha medic started to look more and more appealing. It seemed as though she couldn't become an exception. The tears began to stream down her cheeks with abandon; she didn't have a right to complain…her teammates did treat her how she deserved to be treated. She wouldn't have been able to take on one of those ninjas last mission…Being a hospital medic would be easier….

Sure, her inner self agreed sarcastically, I bet everyone would be sooooooo impressed. At least then no one would be protecting you and we'd just be cooped up in a hospital all day, every day. Maybe we'd find ourselves a nice civilian boy to date…Mum would be proud wouldn't she?

Belittling herself caused her jaw to tighten.

I can't do it…I'm not born into a powerful clan…I'm not the son of the third…I don't have the blood of…I can't…Sakura didn't think she could compete with them…she just couldn't. Her genetics were proof.

She was just going to go give Tsunade her resignation of field duty and work off her internship at the hospital and then…

And then? Her inner-self chipped in, then maybe some ninja in a mask will come to your door to tell you about Naruto's death due to stupidity…or maybe all that inappropriate reading will finally catch up to Kakashi and he'll –

"No," she whispered drowning out her thoughts as she wiped her eyes roughly with the heel of her palm, "No!" she repeated with a greater emphasis as her Inner-Self continued in the background of her thoughts. With determination, she walked out towards the trees to get back all the kunais she had thrown. She was going to try again. She had to try again…she couldn't be this useless. It had to be a fluke.

Five hours later, two breakdowns, and one very embarrassing mix of moaning and shouting– she was able to hit 8 target boards, and even had one at bull's-eye. Because she wasn't putting chakra into her attacks, she was physically tired but not drained. A smile grace her sweat filled face.

See?

"Yes," she answered herself. She did see.

Practice was the key.

With a strut she went to pick up all the kunais that had missed and gladly pulled out all those which hit their intended mark. After placing them back in her weapons pouch, she then returning the boards back to their original stack, and finally left the room – carefully, quietly, and looking a little too guilty if not slightly excited. Thankfully, Sakura was able to comfort herself with the belief that no one had seen her. Unbeknownst to her, she was seen by the ANBU guards hidden and the night guards on the rooftops, but they didn't even regard her important enough to acknowledge in their reports.

When she got home, she set her alarm clock for 10 A.M. Kakashi said to meet at 8, she doubted he'd show up till noon.


There was a mistake in the documents earlier. I fixed it. :) Please leave comments to let me know what you think. There will hopefully be lots of character development, both physically and emotionally.