Chapter 2: In Sickness and Health

There were certain advantages to knowing exactly when and how you were going to die. I'd spent my entire previous life preparing for the inevitable tomorrow, often sacrificing today in the process. But all of my hard work, my preparations, everything I'd ever done or wanted or hoped to one day be had been erased in a single moment. I'd already daydreamed about building my new life in this world, plotting out everything and not making the same mistakes I had last time.

But apparently that was unnecessary, as I wouldn't live long enough to make the same mistakes anyway. It was a kick to the teeth, sure, but it was also a workable deadline, a reminder that I still had today, and that I could still make the most of it despite, well, everything.

I admit that I had a few brief (very brief) fantasies of swooping in and righting the wrongs of this world, of preventing the massacre, befriending Naruto, and saving everyone. But when I tried to work out exactly how to do that, things started to fall apart rather rapidly. The massacre hadn't been Itachi's fault. It was the result of a complicated web of slights, suspicions, and fear that had ultimately culminated in the death of the entire clan. Events had been set it in motion before Konoha's founding with the feud between the Uchiha and the Senju.

I couldn't change the past. I couldn't prevent the suspicion or the surveillance. And with those things in place, I couldn't change the clan's collective minds. I could see it all laid out before me in its horrible inevitability. And I thought that maybe the rest of the clan could see it too. Maybe they'd never wanted to fight, but they were afraid that suspicion would bloom into fear, and that fear would lead to their annihilation.

They weren't wrong.

So that was it. Stopping Itachi wouldn't stop Danzo or Fugaku. And stopping Danzo from killing Shisui would only be a temporary measure before things boiled over again as suspicion and fear continued to grow unchecked.

As I lay beside Sasuke in his crib, I came to the reluctant conclusion that I was truly powerless to change his fate. And, for several of the same reasons, I highly doubted that I would be able to help Naruto either. Even assuming that I had seven or eight years to work with, I doubted anyone would allow an Uchiha child near the village Jinchuuriki, not after what had just happened.

If I sought him out, if I tried to befriend him while supposedly knowing nothing about him, what would that look like to the villagers?

It would look like I was trying to get access to the Kyuubi. If the village elders didn't stop me, my clan certainly would. They couldn't afford more suspicion, certainly not when they were actually up to something.

As for everything else, what use would I be against the Akatsuki, let alone against Obito, Madara, and Kaguya? Despite the manga's emphasis on the power of hard work, the two main heroes were reincarnated near-gods with the power of a bijuu and an Eternal Mangekyo Sharingan/Rinnegan combo. Even the Kage fell well short of Naruto and Sasuke's strength and had done little to change the outcome of the final battles. The only thing I had to offer was information, but who would believe a child? What did it matter when I would be long dead by the time these enemies appeared?

It didn't.

I didn't matter at all. I was just another background character sacrificed during the hero's origin story. But that, in a way, was freeing. I didn't matter. Nothing I did mattered. So I could do anything I wanted with the time I was given. And I was a child too, so playing around, having fun, and decidedly not thinking about the future wouldn't even be that unusual. I wanted to get out and learn as much as I could in this magical, fantastical world…that currently consisted of a single room and a reincarnated demigod in diapers.

As far as roommates went, Sasuke wasn't bad. He was a happy baby who got used to my presence soon enough and often cuddled up by my side to nap. He slept for most of the day and night, but he was always wide awake when Itachi came to visit.

It didn't take long for me to realize that Itachi adored Sasuke. It was written in the way his face lit up when he looked at his younger brother, in the way he spoke softly to Sasuke and bounced Sasuke on his knee. And Sasuke adored Itachi right back, smiling when he arrived and crying when he had to leave. Itachi always laughed quietly at Sasuke's clinginess, poking Sasuke in the forehead when he had to go and saying "Sorry, Sasuke. Next time."

Itachi was a kind and cheerful child, always smiling at Fugaku and Mikoto. But with Sasuke, it was different. Itachi had latched onto him, a tiny and defenseless innocent that needed to be protected no matter what.

No matter what, Itachi would protect Sasuke.

It would have been easy to resent him for what he would do, but I didn't. He spent his days smiling, playing with Sasuke and me, and reading us books. He balanced Sasuke on one leg and me on the other, slowly tracing out the words in picture books and making exaggerated sounds as he read the stories. There was no malice in him, no anger, and no spite. He was just a little kid with his little brother and his little sister. No, I didn't hate him.

I felt sorry for him.

He was cursed by being a prodigy. And if I wasn't careful, I risked following in his footsteps. I didn't want any part of that fate and so I watched Sasuke, using him as the gold standard for what my progress should be. When he started rolling onto his belly, so did I. When he sat up, so did I. When he started crawling, so did I.

It was good for maintaining my cover, but it didn't leave me much to stimulate my mind. Limited as my options were, I spent much of my waking time playing with the 'warmth' I'd noticed before, which I supposed was my chakra. I attempted the leaf-sticking exercise with some success. I used whatever was in reach including my clothes and blankets and occasionally Sasuke, though I was careful never to mold chakra where anyone else might see. It was a good way to spend those early days, even if it was a little monotonous.

All the while, I was carefully listening and doing my best to pick up on the local language. I was absorbing new words rapidly, and after a few months, I was able to follow entire conversations with relative ease.

Eventually I gathered that Fugaku and Mikoto weren't my actual parents. My father, Uchiha Seiichi, was Fugaku's distant relative and had died during a mission almost six months ago. My mother, Uzumaki Ryoko, had died during childbirth. Apparently they'd had to induce labor five weeks early in an attempt to save us. They had saved me, but my birth mother hadn't made it.

Instead I'd been given to Mikoto, the only Uchiha mother who was still nursing. She named me Uchiha Kiyo after an old pre-Konoha ancestor, and she treated me as if I was her own. Mikoto was a good mom, gentle and attentive, not even showing any obvious favoritism toward her actual child rather than the interloper who had been dropped unexpectedly into her lap. In fact, if anything, she seemed thrilled to have a little girl. While Mikoto smiled and cooed at me, Fugaku remained rather stoic, rarely showing any obvious affection, though he did still smile at us occasionally.

I could see why Sasuke would struggle to earn his praise in the future.

I also noted the differences in their chakra. Fugaku was like a white-hot blade that sharpened whenever he focused on something. Mikoto was softer, like candlelight. Itachi was like a campfire, warm and inviting. And Sasuke…well, he was like the sparks from a piece of flint striking steel. Given time, I knew that those sparks would one day become an inferno.

One day…

I grew a little impatient waiting for Sasuke's first word, so I eventually bowed to boredom and beat him to it. Itachi was playing peek-a-boo with Sasuke and me, and Mikoto came in to ask if he'd done his chores.

"Hai," he said. Yes.

"Hai!" I echoed, figuring it was as good a first word as any. I clapped my hands and grinned. "Hai! Hai!"

Mikoto vanished, reappearing a moment latter with Fugaku in tow, and I repeated my first word for him too. He smiled and commented about my early verbal skills. Sasuke was also smiling and laughing, not understanding the commotion but enjoying it anyway. I felt a brief flare of chakra and realized that Mikoto had activated her Sharingan. For a moment, I wondered if there was a threat nearby, but she was merely smiling down at me.

Oh, well, I supposed that the Sharingan was used to memorize things. So maybe this was the Uchiha version of a photograph, or maybe a home movie? I repeated my words a few more times, still smiling and clapping for her. It felt strangely heartwarming that there was someone here who cared enough about my first word to remember it. I saw her Sharingan again a few more times like during birthdays or when she dressed us up for the New Year's festival.

Soon enough Itachi began attending the academy, leaving Sasuke and me to our own devices for most of the day. It was pretty dull without him around, as Fugaku was always off at work and Mikoto was running the house and various clan affairs by herself. She tried to make time for us, playing games and giving us toys, but there was an odd undercurrent to many of them. Several of the dolls were ninja-shaped with vital organs marked with large black "X"s that Mikoto trained us to poke. The clapping games were filled with what looked like jutsu hand signs. And there were various targets around the room that she taught us to hit with beanbags.

Then there were the stories she read to us. They were filled with great ninja, samurai, and rogue warriors fighting for clan and country. They tended to include a lot of fighting and death. And I mean a lot. Although the subject matter of the books was disconcerting, I focused on learning how to read, tracing the symbols and reading them back to her over and over again.

When Mikoto was busy, I toddled around with story books and held them up at anyone who made eye contact with me. Itachi was always willing to read, and Fugaku could be convinced with puppy-dog eyes. Visiting family members and guests occasionally fell victim to my guilt trips if Mikoto wasn't careful to keep the doors closed. Once when she was hosting a dinner party and had locked the dining room door, I even managed to escape the house and found a pair of old men playing Shogi who readily obliged in reading to me. A harried Mikoto burst out of the house an hour later and hauled me back inside, but I merely waved at the men with a happy "bye-bye!"

Mikoto, apparently deciding that I had far too much energy, started teaching Sasuke and me basic stretches and exercises to build muscle and flexibility. She turned it into another game, adding new movements regularly as we memorized the old ones. We also started doing stamina-building, which I thought was a little strange considering our age, but maybe she just wanted to tire us out now that Itachi was away for most of the day. Stamina-building consisted of running.

Lots and lots of running.

Sasuke and I were told to run laps around the back yard, taught things like push-ups, sit-ups, and lunges. We weren't quite two yet, so our stamina was virtually nonexistent, but I was sure that a normal two-year-old from my previous world wouldn't have had the strength for most of this. I chalked it up to the chakra flowing through our bodies, strengthening muscles and speeding reaction times far beyond what a normal human child should be able to accomplish.

This was hampered greatly by my asthma, one of the side effects of my troubled birth. Dust and strenuous exercise were enough to leave me gasping for air, and ninja apparently hadn't invented inhalers yet. It felt unfair that I was half-Uzumaki and still suffered from health complications, but apparently I hadn't inherited the famous Uzumaki constitution. I probably shouldn't be too upset, though. Bloodlines weren't a guarantee of perfect genetics. Traits could die out or skip a generation, like how Boruto wouldn't have a Byakugan even with Hinata as his mother.

My physical limitations weren't enough to completely deter me, however. I went as far as I could go, and then I took breaks while Sasuke continued to train. Well "train". We were still toddlers, after all. But I was a little surprised and unsettled by how early they were starting us down this path. The Uchiha really were ninja straight out of the cradle.

Less than a year into our training, Itachi graduated. We had a grand feast that night where most of the clan turned out to offer congratulations, more to Fugaku than Itachi, oddly. Sasuke and I were dressed in tiny blue kimonos and we were allowed to sit at the table beside Itachi, who seemed embarrassed by all the attention. I occasionally slipped sweets onto Itachi's plate, which he ate surreptitiously when no one was looking.

Afterwards, Itachi started taking D-rank missions and training more often. When he played with us, he started using reflex games and even taught us a few throwing techniques with rubber balls. Sasuke and I managed to pick up some of the basics easily enough. Sasuke had far better aim, which didn't surprise me at all. In my former life, I'd never played sports because I was terrible at just about anything involving aim and coordination. My asthma only served to widen that gap further since I could only train for a fraction of the time, but that didn't bother me too much, as I wouldn't live long enough for those skills to be useful. Sasuke, on the other hand, ate up whatever Itachi was willing to teach and often spent hours upon hours practicing in the back yard.

"I wanna be like Nii-san!" he said excitedly when he managed to hit the target for the third time in a row. Sasuke's verbal skills were coming along nicely. He was now at the point of speaking in complete, simple sentences, though I couldn't always understand what he was saying. I tended to be quieter to disguise the fact that my verbal skills were far beyond that of a normal toddler, but it meant that my pronunciation suffered from lack of practice, and Mikoto often prodded me to speak more often and clearly.

"You will be," I assured him, throwing my ball. It went wide, just barely grazing the edge of the target. I frowned and tried again, missing the target entirely.

"No, like this," said Sasuke, showing me the stance Mikoto had demonstrated a few weeks ago, taking a moment to aim, and throwing the ball in a perfect arc towards the center of the target. I did my best to mimic him, but I only managed to bounce off the outer ring. Sasuke shook his head. "No…like this."

Toddlers weren't the best teachers, but Sasuke had no problems showing me the stance and motions over and over again until I started hitting the target consistently. In fact, he seemed to enjoy being an authority on the subject.

It was an easy, fun way to spend an autumn day.

That winter I discovered that Konoha did, in fact, get snow. We had an extremely temperate climate, and the previous winters had been cold and wet as far as I could recall, but this year we had actual bona fide snow.

Sadly, I couldn't enjoy it because I was cooped up inside with pneumonia.

I'd had on and off colds and infections for the past year. No one seemed particularly surprised by this. Apparently I'd been diagnosed with a weakened immune system in addition to my asthma. I'd been bundled up in a heavy blanket and planted under the kotatsu, a type of table with a blanket skirt and a heater. Mikoto sat across from me mending Fugaku's torn uniform, Sasuke was outside training, Itachi was off on a mission, and Fugaku was at work.

Coughing and sniffling, I worked my way through my picture books again, my eyes often straying to the window where I could see Sasuke playing. It looked like a lot of fun, more so than reading about the sounds made by barn animals.

"Kaa-chan, can I…?" I began, but stopped as I was interrupted by a fit of coughing. Mikoto poured me a sippy-cup of tea. My eyes strayed again to Sasuke, who had started making snowballs. Mikoto tracked my gaze and sighed.

"I'm sorry," she said. "The doctor said you need to rest and stay warm."

I nodded and drank the tea.

Mikoto hesitated for a moment before standing and leaving. She returned a moment later with a book.

"It might be a little early for you, but I thought you might like this," she said, placing it on the table in front of me.

"Kumi…Kunoichi," I read slowly. It wasn't a picture book.

"Why don't we read it together?" she asked, smiling and pulling me into her lap and flipping open the first page. "What does this say?"

"There was once a…" I began and then stopped at the unfamiliar word.

"Beautiful," Mikoto supplied.

"There was once a beautiful kunoichi named Kumi," I said. And we worked all the way through chapter one before Sasuke returned sniffling and rosy-cheeked for dinner.

It never ceased to amaze me how easy it was to learn things as a kid. In my previous life, I'd been a quick learner, but that was nothing compared to how information would just 'stick' now. Memorization was as easy as breathing. It might have had something to do with the malleability of a child's brain, and I was going to take full advantage of it while it lasted.

I also theorized that it might be an Uchiha thing. The Sharingan was famed for its copy technique, but eyes didn't remember things. So I wondered if perhaps the Sharingan was just unlocking a mechanism that existed in the minds of all Uchiha and gave them chakra-powered eidetic memory. It might explain why they were famed for their geniuses as well as their eyes. Itachi was brilliant without the Sharingan, and I was pretty sure that Sasuke was advanced for his age too, though I didn't exactly have much to compare him to.

Speculation on the nature of the Sharingan and intelligence aside, I devoured whatever reading material I could get my pudgy hands on. I spent a full two months cooped up inside with pneumonia, so I never lacked for study time. And when I grew bored with reading, I worked on dexterity, usually by drawing.

"Oh, what's this?" Mikoto asked, peering over my shoulder at my admittedly childish doodle.

"It's you, Kaa-chan!" I said, holding it up. My fine motor control was…a work in progress.

"Oh, this pretty lady is me?" Mikoto asked, feigning surprise. "Well, why don't I put this up on the fridge?"

And so she did.

She returned to the dinner table as I cleared away my art supplies and picked up Kumi Kunoichi. I'd read it eight times already, and each time it became easier. I was just about to ask for an even more advanced book when Fugaku came home from work looking drawn.

"Oh, are you reading that all by yourself, Kiyo-chan?" he asked. He'd been busy at work, and I was often in bed by the time he came home, so I shouldn't be surprised that he hadn't noticed until now. "That's very advanced."

"I need lots of help," I hedged. The first reading had required Mikoto's input at least once or twice per sentence, but by now I could read the entire thing cover to cover.

"Still…" he said, rubbing his chin speculatively. "Even Itachi didn't learn to read until he was four…"

Okay, being gifted was one thing. Outdoing the prodigy of all prodigies was something else entirely.

Thankfully Sasuke, who had been playing just outside, peeked in through the open back door and pulled Fugaku into the backyard to watch him practice with the rubber balls. I trailed after him with vague notions of showing off my lackluster skill with throwing. Sasuke demonstrated throwing three balls at a target on the back will. Each one landed in the exact center.

"That's amazing, Nii-chan!" I shouted, clapping. His aim and dexterity were, in my opinion, at least as impressive as my story-book reading.

Fugaku grunted.

"If you keep training, you may live up to your brother's example one day," he said. I winced inwardly at the lack of praise and at the way Sasuke's face fell. Sasuke's display was truly a remarkable feat for a toddler, but maybe Itachi had warped Fugaku's expectations for reasonable development.

"O-okay," Sasuke mumbled. Fugaku looked like he wanted to say something, but then he just returned inside, leaving us both in the yard.

I tugged at Sasuke's sleeve. His eyes were suspiciously wet.

"Nii-chan…will you show me how to do that?" I asked. "That was so cool!"

Sasuke reached up and rubbed his eyes hurriedly before giving me a smile.

"Sure," he said. "It's like this…"

We practiced until dinner when Itachi arrived home. Sasuke showed off his aim, but I still lagged well behind. Itachi wasn't terribly bothered by my lack of throwing ability and instead asked me about my book. I gave a brief explanation of Kumi Kunoichi before asking him to read it with me. Itachi obliged and tucked me under one arm. Sasuke wiggled under the other, and we read together until bedtime.