Disclaimer: I do not own anything from Naruto...
-I know, I know; here's another new fic and I haven't even posted the final chapter of OSAF yet. In my defense, when a new plotline bothers me, I just have to write it down. As you can probably tell from my other fics, my update speed is pretty erratic; I mostly just post as soon as I finish a chapter for any of my stories, so yes, all my other fics are still being worked on. I will never stop writing them unless I actually quit writing fanfiction. With that said, hope you find this newest one enjoyable.
-On a side note, I think I'm better at coughing out chapters if they're not all as long as the ones in my TLWS fic, not to mention it'll make the story more fast-paced in the long run, so this one, hopefully, will be like my crossovers in chapter length.
-I'll also be trying out a slightly different style of writing. I've always wanted to see what a story in present tense would turn out like, so here's my hand at it.
Full Summary: Back in time and armed with years of future knowledge, Sakura is ready to take the world by storm. Except... she's four again, not twelve. Ah well, nobody said she couldn't start a little early. Gen, time travel, AU, Sakuracentric.
Chapter Summary: In which a four-year-old body isn't as troublesome as one would think It would be, Naruto as a child is absolutely adorable, Ino-pig is still the bestest friend a girl could ask for, and the Kyuubi, Sakura reckons, is probably having a good laugh somewhere at her expense.
Chapter 1 – Some Things Change, Some Things Don't
The first thing Sakura thinks of when she opens her eyes is, 'I'll kill Naruto for painting my ceiling pink.'
This is quickly followed by the chilling thought, 'Naruto's already dead, stupid,' except it isn't her who supplies this helpful reminder.
Shooting up in bed, Sakura automatically reaches under her pillow for a kunai that isn't there even as she thinks, 'Inner?'
'Who else?' Inner retorts, sounding exasperated. 'Honestly, Kura-chan, you're not very bright in the morning, are you?'
Sakura spends a long moment gathering her reeling thoughts, which are currently all over the place as she takes in her surroundings.
"Where am I?" She asks aloud, and then immediately closes her mouth with a near-silent click. She is confused and on edge but she is fairly certain her voice is not supposed to be so... high-pitched.
Inner snickers in her mind and Sakura feels a familiar annoyance mix with her confusion.
'Don't you remember?' Inner asks flippantly. 'Death and destruction? The Kyuubi? Back to the past? Am I ringing any bells here?'
And just like that, the last memory clicks back into place and Sakura stares around her room with new eyes. That's right; when she still lived with her parents, her bedroom had been pink.
"I'm back in the past," She feels a smile spread over her face before a frown takes over. "What's wrong with my voice?"
'Ah, well,' Inner hedges like she always does when she knows something Sakura doesn't and also won't like. 'There might've been a slight... problem.'
And that is how Sakura finds out she isn't twelve, as the Kyuubi promised in its final moments after Naruto dies and her world burns around her, but four, tiny and short and about as useful as her shishou in the rare occasion when she is actually completely drunk out of her mind.
Well, Murphy's Law has always hated Team Seven more than any other.
But Sakura doesn't dwell on this miscalculation for long because she is home and her parents are alive for the first time in ten years.
Sakura remembers what a deep sleeper she has always been before her ninja life drilled it out of her so it isn't a surprise when her parents look taken aback to see her up and dressed at seven-thirty in the morning.
What does come as a shock are the tears that instantly spring into her eyes as she sees her mother standing by the stove and her father sitting in his chair at the table with a newspaper cracked open in front of him. It makes her heart ache because she hasn't seen either of them like this since she was sixteen and fighting a hopeless war.
Her mother is quick to scoop her up and Sakura wastes no time in snuggling into her, clinging to her like she used to before she started growing up and thought hugs were uncool.
And Sakura simply spends the next few minutes crying and crying and has she always been this much of a crybaby at four? Because the tears won't stop even though Sakura the Medic-nin, Sakura the Battle-hardened Kunoichi, long stopped crying in the future.
Sakura eventually manages to convey to her parents that she was merely upset over a nightmare and she sits and enjoys her father's comforting arm around her shoulders and listens to her mother's reassurances.
Sakura is four and prone to crying and feels a thrum of fear every time her parents leave her line of sight, but it is the happiest she has been for a very long time.
Soon enough though, her parents are off to work, and Sakura, who even at four can take care of herself for the most part, is left alone in the house with Maki-san from next door checking in on her every few hours.
This suits Sakura just fine because for all that she is four in body, she is also twenty-six in mind, and being babysat is mildly embarrassing.
So she spends her morning pondering her present place in time. She grudgingly forgives the Kyuubi for tricking her or lying to her or simply making a mistake, because at four, the Uchiha Massacre has not happened yet and she could save one of her boys from a lot of grief and hate.
It would also give her over two years to build up her chakra reserves because even though her mind retains all her medical jutsus and various genjutsus and ninjutsus, she still can't perform half of them. She is somewhat comforted when she flicks out a few Bunshins and realizes that her taijutsu skills and reflexes are still there, though her shorter limbs make her overreach more than once.
In the end, after a short workout that leaves her half-dead on her feet and soaked in sweat, Sakura takes a quick shower, whips up a hasty lunch enough for two, and Shunshins out of the house, leaving a clone behind to satisfy her next-door neighbour.
Sakura is four and tiny and unassuming, but she is still as determined as ever and her first act in the past will be to find one of her lost boys.
Sakura checks Ichiraku Ramen, two parks, and four playgrounds before she finally finds her past-future teammate alone on a swing set. The other children give him a wide berth, playing at the other end of the playground, and she feels a deep-seated shame when she realizes how lonely Naruto looks.
She starts by clambering half-heartedly on a nearby jungle gym because it would just be plain weird if she marches right up and offers to eat lunch with the blond. And Sakura has already decided to stick to her shy persona; it is the only way to throw off suspicion when someone notices her 'prodigal' skills sooner or later.
She spends the next fifteen minutes playing even as she meanders closer and closer to where Naruto is sitting. Quite a few times, the parents or babysitters standing around the playground shoot her worried looks and Naruto dirty glares and it takes everything Sakura has not to blow up at them. She has always had an explosive temper, large enough to rival Tsunade's, and she has no patience for people who look down on her future Hokage.
But Sakura is supposed to be shy and reticent so she keeps her anger in check and makes her way to the swing next to Naruto's instead. She knows the exact moment he tenses as if waiting for barbed words and unfriendly sneers but she ignores this and kicks her feet a couple times to try to get herself moving. For once, she is glad she is so short and her toes barely touch the ground because it gives her an excuse to turn to the boy next to her and blurt out timidly, "Hi, I'm Sakura. Do you mind pushing me?"
The stunned expression on Naruto's face and the way he looks around first as if he thinks Sakura is talking to someone else is almost physically painful. But she pushes this aside and waits patiently for Naruto's answer, beaming openly at him when the blond finally nods, slowly and carefully as if he is waiting for the punch line to a very cruel joke. When Sakura only shifts in her seat expectantly, Naruto gets to his feet and circles around her.
The nervously gentle way his hands press against her back makes her four-year-old tear ducts want to fill. She really is a crybaby at heart.
So Sakura laughs to take her mind off how generally unfair the world is to her surrogate brother, which isn't all that hard to do when she catches a glimpse of the brightening light in familiar blue eyes and the tentative grin that answers her.
Only once does Sakura's plan to befriend Naruto threaten to fail. Half an hour after they have taken turns pushing each other on the swings and are taking a breather, one of the adults, a man with dark hair and an even darker scowl comes over and begins berating Naruto for tainting an innocent girl with his evil.
Naruto immediately shrinks in on himself but his chin juts out defiantly and his hands clench at his sides, and Sakura doesn't know whether she wants to punch the civilian or cry from the injustice of it all more.
So she picks neither and reaches out to grab Naruto's hand instead.
"Naruto's my friend! Leave him alone or else!" She declares in true four-year-old fashion before spinning on her heel and dragging a completely dumbfounded Naruto after her, leaving the civilian with his mouth hanging open.
Her face warms as she storms away and she wonders if a part of her is actually four because some of her reactions thus far have been that of a child's, but she knows the side-effects of travelling back in time are well worth it when she finally stops by a cherry blossom tree and turns to find Naruto staring at her with heart-wrenching gratitude.
"Let's eat," Sakura says, sitting down on the ground and not caring that her pale pink dress will probably stain as she brings out the lunch she has packed. "I made sandwiches today but I don't think I can eat all of them by myself. Wanna share?"
This time, Naruto agrees readily, plopping down next to her, and Sakura is content to listen to the blond chatter through mouthfuls about what he likes – ramen – and his latest prank – painting the front entrance of the Hokage Tower pitch black – and how he wants to be a ninja.
When Naruto turns to her, swallowing a large bite of sandwich as his gaze turns somber and his shoulders square, Sakura pauses as well and tilts her head curiously at him.
"I've a dream too," Naruto reveals, eyeing her intently. "I'll tell ya if ya don't laugh."
Sakura nods without hesitation. "I promise."
Naruto believes her because he continues, leaning closer as if divulging a secret. "I'mma be Hokage one day. I'll train and become the strongest ninja ever and then I'mma be the greatest Hokage Konoha's ever seen!"
He stares at her like he expects her to burst out laughing even after she promised, but Sakura doesn't think this is funny at all because she knows Naruto will become Hokage, and yes, he will be the greatest one to go down in Konoha history.
She nods instead and tells him, clearly and without guile, "I have a dream too. I wanna be a medic-nin. When you become Hokage, I'll be your head medic."
Maybe it's because there is nothing but honesty in her words, or because she has told him her own dream, or even because she said 'when' and not 'if', but she can visibly see Naruto's last defenses fall as he beams at her and grins so widely that she is sure his cheek muscles are sore.
His happiness is contagious though and Sakura finds herself smiling back, and they spend the rest of the afternoon chatting about everything and nothing. At six, when she has to head home, she suggests with only a hint of uncertainty, "See you here tomorrow?"
Naruto instantly nods, waving cheerfully at her as they part ways.
Sakura turns a corner, hurrying home as fast she can the civilian way and counts it as a win when the ANBU she sensed the moment she entered Naruto's vicinity earlier withdraw as she slips into her empty house. They have deemed her a non-threat to Naruto which means her last option of defying older ninja and maybe cracking some heads (which, admittedly, is one of her more reckless ideas) would not have to be carried out.
That night, she welcomes her parents with a modest dinner - she sticks to rice and egg and some fish because anything more complicated than that might have them enrolling her in culinary school or something - and a warm smile when they get home. They are surprised but do not question her sudden interest in the kitchen.
But when Sakura goes to sleep, she is submerged in dreams drenched in blood and bodies and she wakes up screaming loud enough to wake the dead. She chokes on sobs and clutch at her parents when they come running. As she drifts off into a restless doze between her parents, she thinks it is time to invest in a few privacy seals, preferably before she is signed up for therapy.
She is up at five the next day and she leaves another clone in her bed as she slips out of the house for a walk.
Her feet take her to the memorial stone and she finds it ironically amusing that she of all people has taken over Kakashi's ritual. With a sigh, she traces the empty spaces on the stone, the places where the names of her friends have once been in her timeline.
She says it like a promise, an oath, a vow. She will keep it; die trying isn't even an option.
She leaves when she feels a familiar chakra signal approach; it wouldn't do to let the Copy-nin see her here, no matter how much she misses him.
Sakura meets up with Naruto again and he is more like the hyperactive ninja she grew up with, mischievous and enthusiastic as he realizes Sakura really is his friend now.
In return, Sakura, after buying a few kunai with the pocket money she has saved up, teaches Naruto how to throw them. She can't quite help the pride that runs through her at the blond's obvious awe. In her timeline, Naruto has always been the one she depends on. It is nice to give a little back.
Two weeks after she has returned to the past, Sakura finally stumbles on her best friend.
She remembers, even before she enters the Academy, the way other kids tease her for her hair and her forehead. Keeping to her character, she shies away from them, and one day, when Naruto is busy – visiting the Hokage, he tells her, and a small part of her is guiltily happy at how reluctant he sounds – she spends the day by herself wandering the streets of Konoha, memorizing the shops and restaurants that stand where once a battlefield had razed everything to the ground.
"Hey, there's Forehead!" A childish voice jeers. A smatter of laughter follows.
Sakura feels her face warm and mentally curses her four-year-old body. Outwardly, she backs away from the approaching crowd of children, led by a purple-haired girl that Sakura remembers being tormented by but can't quite remember the name of.
"So," The girl comes to a stop in front of her, hands on her hips and a superior smirk on her face. "Still showing your face around the village? I feel bad for the people who have to even look at you."
Sakura isn't sure whether to roll her eyes or scoff but she continues staring at the ground as she backs away.
"What, can't talk either?" The girl steps forward and shoves Sakura, startling her enough to make her trip and fall to the ground. "You really are dumb. Can't even-"
A bell chimes as a door flies open and someone dashes out onto the street. "Hey!"
Sakura stares wide-eyed at the pale-blonde hair cut stylishly to frame the girl's face and can't help thinking of the parallels between the first time she met Yamanaka Ino and now.
"What do you think you're doing?" Ino is scowling at the group, fierce even at four. "Honestly, don't you have anything better to do than pretend you're better than everybody else?"
The purple-haired girl sneers, her eyes flickering to the flower shop before returning to Ino. "What do you know? I'm a kunoichi. You just sell cheap flowers."
Ino somehow manages to make the girl look insignificant in comparison even though she is slightly shorter than the bully. "Not as cheap as you," Ino retorts, eyeing the clothes the girl is wearing. "With those clothes, other ninja could find you from a mile away."
The girl flushes with embarrassment, the dull red rising in her face. Ino doesn't wait for a reply, turning to Sakura instead.
"Are you okay?" Ino crouches down in front of a wide-eyed Sakura, holding out a hand.
Sakura knows Ino is tough and often exudes her own bossy arrogance but there is a kind side to her that she shows only to her friends and Sakura has always been thankful for it.
She lets Ino lead her inside the flower shop, leaving the fuming girls on the street.
"Here," Ino passes a slightly dazed Sakura a white flower with a splash of yellow on the inside.
'Euphrasia,' Sakura's mind provides, recalling all the things her time's Ino once taught her about flowers.
"It's a Euphrasia, or Eyebright," Ino tells her, smiling encouragingly. "It means cheer up."
One finger pokes Sakura in the forehead. "I suppose it is a little big," The blonde continues matter-of-factly. "But who cares?" She taps a finger on her chin before nodding decisively.
"Wait her," She instructs, before dashing up the steps in the backroom.
Sakura obeys and fiddles with the flower in her hands. She doesn't care if she ends up broke; she is going to buy a preservation seal for this if it kills her.
Ino soon returns and Sakura recognizes the bright red ribbon trailing from her fingertips. The one her Ino gave her has long since faded and was even shredded in battle when she was nineteen. She ended up taking a single thread of it and sewing it into her headband. It reminded her of what she was and still is fighting for; her village and her friends.
"There," Ino finishes tying Sakura's hair up and drags her over to a mirror. "You look beautiful, just the way you are. There's no need to hide."
Sakura is four and small and the things she needs to do to save her precious people seem like an unending list.
But when Ino takes her hand and smiles like Sakura has been her friend since forever, Sakura can only smile back and hope Ino can see how much their friendship means to her.
Sakura will save them all this time. She swears this to herself and the people who are all counting on her. Failure is not an option.
Finished! Tell me what you think!