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Believe Me When I Say I Carry All My Sins

Chapter Text

“No medic ninja shall ever die until they are the last of their platoon."

Sakura never thought she would end up following that rule.
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Sakura woke up covered in blood.

Except Sakura had been killed last night – ambushed – and that meant she wasn’t supposed to wake up.

But Sakura was an expert at death and its aftermath by now, and so she did what she always did after taking a lethal injury: took stock of her body.

With a shaking arm (why does it look so odd?) she did a basic medical check. The results made her head spin, and she studied the room around her to confirm she wasn’t in a genjutsu.

Bathroom. White tile, small shower, lots of lotions stacked around. The floor was tacky with dried blood. The sink only had one toothbrush and two orange pill bottles. The air was dank and stale, but realistic considering the state of her injuries. She could hear the faint sounds of Konoha foot traffic and general chaos outside her door. She licked her upper lips and tasted salt – sweat or tears? There was a dull knife lying on the floor beside her.

It was too detailed to be fake, but that didn’t change the fact that her body wasn’t her own. Because this body’s only wounds were two deep cuts on the wrist, not usually consistent with a ROOT assassination, and her chakra levels were those of a child. Or an eleven-year-old genin with a below-average chakra pool but excellent control.

She grabbed the porcelain sink above her head and hoisted herself up with a bloody grip. She was incredibly lightheaded, probably from the blood loss, and it reminded her to seal up the cuts on her wrist. It wasn’t a difficult procedure, but it drained her. She ignored that in favor of studying the mirror.

She saw Sakura. Not her, but Sakura, the Sakura that she used to dream of as a child. This Sakura had long, beautiful pink hair. Her makeup was immaculate, though she could see black bags under her eyes. Her brows were tweaked, eyelashes elongated, and her ears were covered in golden, dangling jewelry. Her forehead was as large as a billboard and

Empty.

She shouted “Kai!” multiple times to no avail. Sakura poked at her forehead and sensed no pocket of chakra waiting for her. There was no storage of chakra anywhere in her body. She no longer had her seal.

She studied the bathroom once more to find a weapon and only found a woman’s razor. She dismantled it and hit the blades along her body. A cursory inspection of the pill bottles revealed medications for depression and insomnia. Sakura knew she had the same problems, but she had refused medication for them. Shinobi didn’t use medication.

Behind the mirror, she found Band-Aids, more razors, pads, and the like. No soldier pills, or sutures, or high-grade painkillers like usual. She closed the mirror before opening it again and looking at it critically. The dimensions were off when comparing the inside to the outside. She rapped the back of the cabinet and, as she expected, discovered a small cubby hole containing a single note.

“Laying low for now. Snakes have keen senses. Will wait for more news.”

She recognized it as her own handwriting, or a version of it. More flowery than she was used to. Also not encoded, which put her on edge.

Back in the mirror, she studied her clothes. A dress – red, short, and better for dancing than fighting. Her legs and arms had little to no muscle definition, and her only visible scars were the ones on her wrist.

It was the body of a civilian. A dead civilian, really, but Sakura wasn’t too worried about that part.

She took a step to the door when she heard the sound of paper crumpling. Lifting the bottom of her foot she found a small monitoring tag, the kind she would have used on her patients in the medical tents to watch them from afar. She was able to trace the chakra signature of the person on the other end to an area outside of building she was in, but she couldn’t pinpoint it exactly. Tags like these were mostly made to be a one-way street.

It wasn’t a hospital tag. She knew that. And she also knew that it would be very hard for her to have made those deep cuts herself with a blade that rusty. So Sakura hadn’t died, she had been killed. Fair enough, given the state of Konoha these days, but that didn’t explain her body or her chakra.

On top of that, there were few shinobi strong enough to stand a chance of killing her, and those who could wouldn’t stop at a few measly slices on the wrist and a tag. Sakura was nigh immortal these days. They should’ve gone for the head.

Except she wasn’t immortal without her seal and now half of her body’s supply of blood was lying useless on the bathroom floor. Whoever tagged her wasn’t right outside the door, which meant she had a small window of opportunity to find food.

She created a clone, or tried to, but her chakra and blood levels protested. Left with no other options, she simply tore the tag off (along with a few levels of skin) and dumped it in the sink.

Sakura masked what little chakra she had and poked her head out of the bathroom.

It looked like she was in a typical Konoha apartment. A civilian one, based on the fact she couldn’t pick up on any traps or seals. There were a few scattered pictures, mostly of Sakura when she was younger, sometimes with her family and one with Ino.

Except Sakura had burned all her photos and lived in standard shinobi housing. And her apartment was full of traps.

A stalker? Possible, but the pictures were all in frames and placed around the apartment naturally, no effigies or shrines in sight. There were medical textbooks on the shelves, floors, and counters. Looking through another doorway, she saw there were some on the only bed on the apartment.

The kitchen was small. There were unwashed dishes in the sink and a mug of tea – still steaming – on the countertop. Sakura used to love tea, she remembered, but coffee had been better for her thirty-six-hour work days. She drowned the tea in seconds and moved on, vowing to have more after securing the apartment.

She cautiously moved towards the window in the bedroom and looked out to see -

To see Konoha, but not. It was big, bigger than it should be. Civilians were laughing on the street, and it looked like there was a police force roaming around openly instead of skulking on rooftops and in alleyways.

The police force all had black hair.

Sakura burst out the window and scrambled to the rooftop of the building. She was conscious of the other end of her monitoring tag but now the need for information outweighed the danger of one lazy assassin. If she couldn’t trust the streets, she still had one thing to center her. The heart of Konoha. Hokage Rock.

Except Hokage Rock had four faces, ending on Minato, Naruto’s dead dad. No Tsunade, no Danzo. It was wrong. Was she in the past? It wouldn’t explain her body, however, or the recent appliances in her kitchen.

“Kai,” she shouted, but nothing changed. Could it have been the Sharingan? Danzo himself might have come to kill her but she doubted it - he was a coward, through and through. But there was no one left who had those eyes. The Uchiha were dead and burned.

She knew the Sharingan, though, knew it well. She would have seen the signs of its effects on her. So what else?

One of the Uchiha down below looked up, did a double take, and hopped to the roof in record time. Sakura had been totally exposed in her bloodstained outfit as she had gaped at the Hokage Rock. Amateur as always, Rat.

She didn’t recognize the Uchiha on her rooftop, no surprise, but the concern radiating off of him made her think that he knew her. He had the classic Uchiha looks, with some especially high cheekbones. He was expressive, uniquely so, and he flashed across the roof to study her arms and steady her as she swayed at his arrival. She hadn’t actually gotten to that food, had she?

She thought the care in his face was honest, as was the panic in his voice as he cried her name, so she decided to play the victim to find out more about him. She swooned in his arms, only half faked, and allowed him to carry her.

She tried recalling her childhood memories when she followed Sasuke around in loving worship. Didn’t he occasionally get picked up from the academy by a cousin with high cheekbones and a sunny disposition? He was young but already so talented, so fast. Older than Itachi, she remembered.

What was his name? Shino? No. Shinto?

They flew into the apartment through the open window and he lowered her onto her bed with a careful amount of slowness. The juxtaposition was confusing, but she wasn’t confused as her mysterious Uchiha was as he flitted through her rooms looking for bandages.

Shang? God, no.

“What happened, Sakura? Did you – did you try to heal? Is Orochimaru doing something to you in the hospital?” He was in the bathroom now, and probably had a clear view of all the blood. If he found the tracking tag, he didn’t have an outward reaction. That’s right – most Uchiha were either in the police force or in ANBU, right? So either way, her mysterious friend was trained.

Not good for her. What would he do once he discovered who she was – who she wasn’t? She was Sakura by most definitions, yes, but she doubted she could act out a role she didn’t understand in front of a trained shinobi.

He was in front of her in an instant, a reminder that he was more dangerous than she could likely handle with this body. He wiped down her arms in silence but stopped short at the healed cuts.

“Wait, Sakura what did you do-“

She slapped a hand over his mouth and at the same time he turned to the window. They both sensed the same thing:

Kabuto. Heading fast to her apartment. Probably the other end of her tracking tag. His chakra wasn’t as putrid or mutated as it had eventually become but she could still recognize it.

He was supposed to be dead - she clearly remembered killing him. But the Uchiha clan was also supposed to be dead and one of them was standing in her apartment so...

So she couldn’t dwell, just deal. She just had to deal with this. The Uchiha (Sora?) had already lept to his feet. “I need to-“

“Leave. I’ll distract him.” She tried to sound soft, calming. It came out in an old woman’s croak.

“Was he the one who-“ A kunai was already in his hand, but Sakura forced his wrist down. He looked surprised at the strength but put it away. Protective, apparently, but still smart.

She didn’t fancy their chances against Kabuto when she was half-dead and allied with an Uchiha she didn’t know. On top of that, Kabuto and her had the same annoying ability to get stabbed and get back up again, which meant any fight with him was a fight of endurance; she had no chance of lasting after losing all that blood. Besides, dueling to the death in the middle of Konoha wasn’t a great way to stay quiet and get her bearings. “I don’t remember, but I can deal with it.”

Well, she thought she could deal with it. She was hoping. Her ally gave a decisive nod, cloaked his chakra so completely she couldn’t sense him from two inches away, and disappeared.

Kabuto was climbing the stairs. Sakura raced to her closet and threw on the closest jacket she could find that wouldn’t put her at too much disadvantage in a fight. She went back to the bathroom and stuck the knife, what looked to be the only weapon in the apartment, to the inside of the jacket with chakra. If she needed it quickly it would be there. She closed the door behind her but the scent of blood lingered.

Taking stock, she had the knife and any medical textbooks on the ground, as well as her own two hands. Her Uchiha might be around, might not be, but she had no guarantee he would be on her side if she slipped. Niceness before knives, then.

She heard a knock and composed herself, throwing on a smile. The knock meant he was going for a guise of friendliness, his usual methods, and she would return it in kind. She opened it a crack, face held back enough to dodge any kunai or senbon thrown in. Kabuto looked worried and confused for a second before kindly smiling, hands thrown up in a classic sign of surrender.

She tried not to glare and sent out another pulse of chakra. She pinged a few shinobi on the ground, but no one she recognized.

Kabuto motioned to come in and she let him with a smile. He perused her dirty floor and sniffed at her shut bathroom door. His smile never faltered. “Ahh, Sakura-chan, I know things might be a bit awkward between us, but I hope there are no hard feelings! In time, I have no doubt you’ll be welcomed back to work.”

Work? Uchiha said something about the hospital, she remembered, and it would explain the medical texts lain haphazardly. But why was Kabuto comforting her about being let go? So, she was fired from a hospital that Kabuto and Orochimaru worked at?

She shook her head slowly. Whatever this was she, she couldn’t understand it. Too much was wrong. A genjutsu, or something even worse? The environment was fully realized, every detail as real as the next, and her head felt completely clear.

The only other explanation she could think of was an alternate universe. A world different from her own in too many ways. Like, for example, the attack of the Nine-Tails on the night of Naruto’s birth.

If that never happened, or it had been contained, it would explain Minato being Hokage instead of being dead, the village being full and clean, the Uchiha clan surviving. Danzo had orchestrated the massacre under Sarutobi’s nose, but it’s possible Minato was able to prevent the incident.

If Danzo was dead or neutered it would explain Kabuto’s presence as a hospital worker in Konoha, but she couldn’t rely on Danzo’s death anytime soon. Her enemies always had a way at coming back in the most inconvenient moments.

But if Minato was alive and Orochimaru was working for Konoha, that meant no Tsunade. Her shishou would have had no reason to return to the village. Sakura would have never had her teacher, would have never learned from the most talented Sannin.

So she was fired from the hospital, friends with a mysterious Uchiha, and writing hidden notes about snakes. Orochimaru?

And did her Uchiha find the note? More importantly: was he supposed to?

So, alternate world. At least she had a working theory, but she still didn’t know how to deal with Kabuto or Uchiha.

She was distracted by her thoughts when Kabuto mockingly knocked on her forehead. “It’s unlikely for you to be so heartbroken. Missing more than the hospital? Why don’t I take you out to lunch to cheer you up,” he teased. Was this how Kabuto acted when he was genuine? Because it was exactly the same as how he looked when he was lying his pasty little ass off and she hated it just as much.

“Look, Kabuto-san,” Was that what she called him? Safe enough, regardless. “I understand you’re trying to be kind-”

“Trust me, it’s really no hardship to take a pretty girl out to lunch, and my only motivation isn’t necessarily kindness.”

Sakura threw up in her mouth, just a little bit. She was ready to refuse again when Kabuto’s eyes sharpened on the wrists of her jacket and he took a small sniff. Medic-nin always knew the scent of blood, didn’t they?

“Look, Kabuto-san, if you insist I won’t say no again. Just let me get ready.” Sakura gave a fake giggle and retreated to the bedroom. She couldn’t find any more weapons so all she did was put on a solid pair of boots and brushed her hair a bit more. If all she had was a knife she would make it work, she just wouldn’t be happy about. She sprayed an outrageous amount of perfume around and hoped it was enough.

Kabuto was smirking when she opened her door - either because he could tell she was covering up the scent of blood or because she said yes to lunch. Either way, he was a creep and she wanted this to end quickly. The walk out of the apartment and then the building was silent, Kabuto walking slightly in front of her. It was curious that he didn’t perceive her as a threat but it worked out well. Every shinobi’s greatest weapon was the element of surprise.

Still no sign of her Uchiha.

The market outside of her apartment building was bustling, full of food stalls and children. Elders sat playing shogi, vendors shouted their wears, and color burst from every corner. Sakura couldn’t remember the last time Konoha had been alive like this.

For a moment she was lost, eleven again, happy enough to burst. She had so much love in her heart for her family, for her village, for Sasuke. She was thirteen again, abandoned but hanging on, knowing her life wasn’t over. Fifteen, stronger, a page in the Bingo Book, her mentor and her best friend by her side. Seventeen, in the ruins, Sasuke dead at her feet and Naruto shouting curses by her side. Eighteen, alone. Nineteen, dead.

Kabuto was silent as she stared at Konoha for what looked like the first time. She tried to reign it in, but she hadn’t seen a miracle like this since Naruto had died.

All the sights and sounds and smells were familiar. Fantastical. Impossible.

“Beautiful,” she whispered, sincere for what felt like the first time in years. It was beautiful. Kabuto stopped for a minute as well, turning to see what she was looking at but not looking at anything beyond the ordinary for him.

“You’ve lived here all your life, Sakura-chan,” he said. His voice was mild but she knew he was suspicious. She didn’t care.

“But have you ever taken the moment to appreciate it, Kabuto-san? Stopping can let you see things like never before.” She could smell dango in the air, hear small backyard fireworks going off in the alleyways.

This is why Sakura had never gone missing-nin. Konoha would always be special, her only love. The village could be dark and messy and destroyed but it would be hers.

Kabuto sighed faintly in her peripheral. “You do like making my life difficult, don’t you Sakura-chan?”

She turned at that, and in her peripheral she saw a flash of silver. She tracked the kunai’s progress only to see it lodge itself in the leg of an old man.

The elders who had been fussing over their game of shogi were now pointing at the victim, who was holding his leg and making pained noises. The weapon lodged in his thigh, perilously close to the femoral artery.

Just what was Kabuto’s plan here? It didn’t matter, she wasn’t going to let an innocent bystander die for the sake of one of his games.

He reached to take it out and she grabbed his wrist in a vice to stop him from being hasty. Her knees crashed into the road as she knelt, rough texture scraping the skin bared by her dress. So fucking impractical.

The old man, probably called Goro according to the surprised shouts of his friends, was obviously a civilian. His shaking arms and dropped cigarette spoke of a life relatively free of surprise kunai attacks, which would only making healing him that much harder. People unused to pain were equally unused to chakra healing, leading to plenty of struggle and frustration on all ends.

“Sir, if you pull that out right now you will bleed to death. Let me handle this.” Sakura lost track of Kabuto as the crowd surged around her. There was a cry for police and she felt the return of her Uchiha (she had to stop calling him that) as he started making space around her. With the extra room, she was able to focus on a diagnostic.

The kunai wasn’t poisoned and the cut wasn’t jagged or tearing anything internally. A slow pull should work, as clean as possible, and then a massive burst of chakra should staunch the bleeding with the jacket as support.

Goro was still panicked, however, wiggling back and forth. “Where’s a doctor? Are you a doctor?”

The bystanders offered no support, simply crowding around in a big circle and making vague exclamations of “Get a doctor!” or “Help him!”

There was a clap of thunder and the street went silent. Her Uchiha was standing on a table in a full police uniform. “This woman is a medical professional,” he shouted, “Please give her some room and some quiet.”

She gave him a thankful nod and he gave her a small smile back. Too intimate - who was he? She couldn’t focus on that now.

Sakura put on her best calming voice and started cutting at the clothes around the man’s wound. “Sir, please stay calm and still. I’m going to numb the nerves in your legs just a little so this won’t hurt a bit. My name is Sakura and I’m here to help.”

The familiar glow overtook her hands, drawing a gasp from the crowds around her. She carefully laid them on the man’s legs. He froze and then relaxed.

“Okay, I’m going to take the kunai out, and I need you to be absolutely still. Can you be still for me, Goro?” Sakura had taken to treating all her patients, whether they be civilians or even ANBU, like children when healing them. Most people became senseless when injured and it was really the only way to wrangle them. Some of them didn’t like being patronized to, but they found it hard to complain with their lives in her hands.

Inch by inch she dragged the weapon out. He was still, fingers trembling ever so slightly, but Sakura couldn’t notice at a time like this. One hand on the kunai, one hand on the leg, she healed the internal damage left behind from the weapon, avoiding the artery to the best of her ability.

The process took about two minutes in total, and by the end, the man was really no worse for wear. Kunai injuries were as common as a cold in Konoha and twice as easy to take care of. His pants would be difficult to clean, of course, but that’s what life was sometimes. A spider had crawled up her leg while she had been concentrating and she brushed it off. The street was a lot quieter now, had been close to silent during the healing.

Sakura sent out a pulse of chakra but she couldn’t sense Kabuto. Was he searching her apartment? Did she clean the blood?

Her Uchiha hopped down from the table and helped her up from the ground. He leaned in close, wary of the people around her. “Kabuto?”

“Most likely, but you won’t be able to prove it.”

“Of course not, why should my job be easy?” He chuckled and then gently picked up her hand, studying the blood that wasn’t hers for the first time today. “Good job, back there. You’re getting better at this.”

She flushed unexpectedly. She couldn’t help it, really, because it had been so long since she had been around people who cared for her. But this Uchiha cared for the Sakura who used to be her, not really her, and the thought made her rip her hand away.

The crowd suddenly pushed a little-redheaded boy to the front, a kunai pouch on his leg. The supposed culprit, then, or whoever Kabuto found easy to frame. She tossed the bloodied kunai at the boy and he managed to catch it with minimal fumbling.

“Please don’t tell me you’re tossing around kunai in the marketplace, Menma,” her Uchiha scolded lightly. The small bump to her shoulder let her know that he realized Memna was Kabuto’s fall guy, he just couldn’t publicly do anything about it.

“Well, maybe, but I totally didn’t throw it at that man, you know! I was throwing it at a spider to protect Hana-chan!” He exclaimed. A black-haired girl with white eyes burst through the crowd to hold Menma’s hand as she nodded in agreement, body shaking with the motion. All eyes were on the two of them.

Which was good, because Sakura was experiencing a bit of a crisis. All she saw was Naruto standing in front of her, refusing to be guilty for any prank he pulled. Naruto, always trying to protect someone, anyone. Naruto and Hinata, walking side by side trying to save the world. Hand in hand. Together until the end.

Red hair - Naruto’s mom had red hair, didn’t she? And if Minato was alive and kicking, it stood to reason she could still be alive as well. She could have had more kids than Naruto. Naruto could have a little brother, friends with Hanabi Hyuga, who practiced kunai throwing in the marketplace with the same foolish attitude.

Kyuubi's flaming ass, she couldn’t handle this. The scars on her wrists itched and she only had one knife on her. Her hands were covered in blood and had been since she got to this place. This Konoha was a nightmare even if it was leagues ahead of her own.

It was a nightmare because a shinobi’s greatest weapon was information and now Sakura was completely in the fucking dark.

She didn’t speak. Couldn’t speak. She let Uchiha lead the farce of a little interrogation, letting the Hokage’s son away with a slap on a wrist. The crowd dispersed and Sakura was frozen.

Kabuto slid back through the crowd and gave her and the Uchiha a once-over. “Ah, Sakura-chan, you handled that pretty well! It’s amazing,” he grinned sleepily, hands waving. The crowd dispersed slowly, some helping the old man stand up and patting her on the back. The street would be back to normal in a few minutes, Sakura was sure.

He gave the Uchiha a smirk. “And protecting the streets as best as you can, Shisui. You’re doing well in your new job.”

Shisui. A recent policeman. Transferred from ANBU? Sasuke’s cousin. Her ally. She could work with this.

Now Sakura was sure Kabuto had disappeared to check her apartment. He would have found the blood in the bathroom, but the only real reason he would have thought to check is if he had known there would be blood in the first place.

So Kabuto had slit her fucking wrists then and tried to make it look like a suicide. That, or he arranged for it to happen. Fan-fucking-tastic. He realized she survived when ripped the seal off. He caused the kunai incident for a distraction, then, and to possibly test her healing abilities.

He wanted to know why she had survived the attempt, to see if she had done it herself. She knew how Kabuto thought after studying his journals and experiments, and he would have no qualms about killing a citizen just to see how advanced she was in using medical chakra.

Now she needed to know why he tried to kill her. She didn’t know much about the Sakura of this world, but she doubted she caused too many waves. She didn’t have the power to.

Something to do with the hospital, perhaps? Any place where Kabuto worked was sure to be full of shit, and if she had discovered something in the hospital it would explain why she got fired and then got murdered.

And if she was investigating the corruption from the inside, it would explain why she had a policeman buddy.

Kabuto could have also used her firing as a probable motivation for her “suicide.” All of Kabuto’s actions always had three motivations and twelve contingency plans, and she doubted that changed from her Konoha.

So, Kabuto was evil. Now she had information. Sakura could work with that too.

“Thanks, Kabuto-chan,” she squealed, “I learned from the very best.” She wrinkled her nose in disgust at the blood on her hands, wiping them on a napkin she plucked from the table. She didn’t look at the policeman by her side.

Kabuto’s smile only grew as Sakura fawned over him and she could feel her Uchi- Shisui tense beside her. Why did he have to be so obvious about it?

She didn’t have to feign her chakra exhaustion and begged off their lunch date in favor of a nap and a package of instant ramen. Kabuto offered to come back to her apartment and watch over her, disgustingly enough, but the reappearance of Menma and Hanabi stopped any further offers. Thank god for small, annoying little favors.

A tug on her elbow prompted her eyes downward to the Naruto look-alike, tears in his little blue eyes. Carbon copies of Naruto’s eyes, really, and it felt like another punch to the gut.

“That was so cool Sakura!” He was shouting, of course, but it was sweet. “You should come by the house again and prove to my big brother that you’re so much cooler than him! There’s no way he’s the best shinobi!” His nose wrinkled and Sakura giggled at the sibling rivalry. She wished her Naruto could have had a little brother.

She played nursemaid with the kids, patching up odd little abrasions and papercuts, long enough for Kabuto to realize she wasn’t going to her apartment with him. He gave a jaunty way to her and Shisui before heading off.

“Why don’t I escort you, miss? I don’t want you falling over and getting hurt.” His tone was light and Hanabi blushed. A heartbreaker Uchiha, just what she needed. Menma noticed his friend was being distracted from his antics and dragged his friend away, screaming something about a rematch at Shisui.

She chuckled under her breath. The Uzumaki would never love the Uchiha, apparently.

Shisui was also laughing as he so gallantly placed her elbow in his grip and walked her to her apartment. Both were still on alert for Kabuto, but either he had gotten extremely good at chakra masking or he had left.

Sakura, in the absence of anything other to do, starting to come up with a plan:

If the hospital was fucked then her first step would be to find Tsunade. After that, she could start on where this universe’s Danzo was and kill him. Then she would kill Akatsuki. Find Obito, find Orochimaru, find Madara, find Hanzo, find anyone who had ever hurt her family. Easy enough.

She would also dismember Kabuto, just for her own piece of mind.

A tug on her elbow prompted her eyes to Shisui, telling her to unlock her door. She really must be tired if she hadn’t noticed.

She opened the door but Shisui stopped at the threshold. Careful, then. A good trait for a shinobi.

He grimaced before leaning in close. “Things are escalating. Stay away from the hospital for now. I’ll think of what to do next.” His breath was hot as it fanned against her cheek and his eyes were worried.

Sakura had to decide now whether or not to trust him. Sakura hadn’t trusted anyone since she had burned Kakashi’s body, so the answer should be obvious.

Except Sakura had died anyway. Had been murdered by her own village, even though she had been prepared, even though she hadn’t trusted anyone.

So Sakura took a breath, grabbed his hand, and thought about what Naruto would do if he were still alive.

“I have a plan, Shisui.”

He started, grip on her hand tensing.

“I’m going to find Tsunade.”

She just wouldn’t trust him with everything else.

Chapter Text

The first time Sakura saw Itachi, she didn’t scream. She wanted to, felt it rising in her throat like bile, but she held it in with the same force of will she used to make her first kill. She couldn’t scream, because this Itachi had never murdered his clan and become a terrorist and the old Sakura would know that. Would trust him. Would partner up with his cousin for some unknown, probably not nefarious purpose.

Still, even now Sakura trusted the ever-unknown Shisui to Itachi. Even standing on opposite sides of the weapons store she could tell he was dangerous, and Sakura would never trust anyone that had the ability to hurt her.

Tenten was also in the store with them, sharpening some kunai, but she didn’t seem to recognize Sakura. She offered no friendly wave, no kunoichi discount. It had been jarring to realize that she couldn’t rely on her previous interactions to guide these new ones. If Sakura didn’t know Tenten, it’s possible she hadn’t even made it to the Chunin exams. Hadn’t faced a legendary Sannin and lived, fought Ino and tied. It was bizarre here.

So the first time Sakura saw Itachi she didn’t scream - but it was a close thing. Here, Sakura was the interloper, the snake in the grass. Itachi, along with the rest of the Uchiha, had a name that weighed more than she did. Any move against him would have her killed.

With all of her training - kunoichi to jounin to ROOT - she didn’t react except for a stiffening of the limbs and a surprised blink. She was trained to be better than screaming at someone just because they were supposed to be evil (and dead). She had faced dead shinobi before and lived to tell the tale.

So things had been under control -

before Sasuke entered the store.

Fuck

Sasuke, tall and beautiful and deadly, no lines on his face or madness in his eyes. She would never use the word innocent to describe her estranged teammate, but in this universe, it would almost fit. She could love a Sasuke that looked like this, she thought, and she had so long ago.

Sakura, very bravely and very gracefully, disappeared behind the sword rack. She grabbed the nearest pointy edge and rammed it into her hand just to check but no, Sasuke was real and yes, he was talking to his brother peacefully in a store. She had to stop lying to herself about this being a genjutsu. It had been a full night and day since her rude awakening, and as far as she could tell she was here for the long haul.

 

Sakura healed her cut quickly and wiped off the sword as much as possible with her shirt. Still, seeing Sasuke hurt more than any sword wounds she had ever sustained - except for maybe the ones from Sasori. The fight with Sasori had been a real bitch.

Sakura debated just leaving quietly, avoiding any chance of confrontation, but she couldn’t find any weapons in her house besides kitchen knives - no kunai or senbon or exploding tags. With her chakra the way it was (fucking weak) she needed weapons more than ever. So she stayed.

Sakura took another look, just to check, of course just to check, and found herself staring at the boy she had loved so long ago.

The last time she had seen him, though, there was no love between them. Just the aching void vengeance left behind. He had left her, left Konoha, and had gotten nothing for it but an early death and an unmarked grave somewhere in the Lightning Country. She had burned Itachi and Sasuke together, the last of the Uchiha, a tragedy to the end. She hadn’t wanted their eyes to remain, wanted to destroy them utterly, but Danzo had several generations of Sharingan still in his possession. It had barely mattered.

She could still feel the dirt under her fingernails. She had used an Earth Jutsu to dig the graves but she had lain down the last few feet of dirt herself. It was the only goodbye she could give. The bodies might have been ash but they still deserved a final resting place.

He had asked her, begged her and, well, she was in love. What was she supposed to do but listen? In the end, he wanted a death beside his family more than a life beside his friends. Sakura was beginning to understand the sentiment.

“Stop staring at me.”

Sakura was ripped back into the present moment.

Weapons store. Tenten behind the counter. Sword in her hand. Wound healing. Wrists itching. Hair brushing too low against her chest.

Sasuke was glaring at her from across the aisle, scoffing at the look on her face. Itachi was standing behind him, as pensive and unreadable as ever.

She shook herself and gave him a smile, practiced and fake. She had smiled like this hundreds of thousands of times - she had perfected it the same way every kunoichi had to perfect a smile. She showed her teeth, wrinkled her eyes, and acted like a girl in love. She had a lot of practice in the area.

She expected Sasuke to frown, of course. It was probably the same across every universe: Sasuke was an unsmiling bastard to everyone unlucky enough to interact with him. Let him think her annoying, irritating, unremarkable. Let him treat her like the Sakura Haruno was never reached chunnin, never amounted to anything. Who she was before would become the best armor she could use now.

“Sorry, sorry,” she said with a giggle. It fell a bit flat in her throat. She couldn’t remember the last time she had laughed. Well, it likely wouldn’t matter.

Except Itachi was there and Itachi was frowning. ANBU Itachi. Genius Itachi. Overprotective Itachi. Killer Itachi. Itachi who she had to avoid no matter what.

“I was lost in thought again.” She giggled, again. It sounded better, more natural. Look at me, she said, a dumb little girl, an idiot in love. Look at my smile and not my trembling hands, look at my big eyes and not the knife strapped to my thigh. Look at what I want you to look at.

But Itachi and Sasuke knew how kunoichi worked, were raised by and beside kunoichi, and they didn’t take the bait.

She couldn’t rely on past history or inside jokes, she couldn’t attack or run, and she couldn’t pretend she hadn’t tried to work them just a second ago. She had gotten cocky, thinking she could play them. Whoever Sakura was before was close enough to Shisui to make him trust her, but that relationship didn’t extend to the rest of the family. Not even her old teammate.

Fucking Uchiha; they always threw her off, made her weak. Even when they were dead.

It had only been a month working for ROOT, a month after Naruto had fallen, when she broke into the records room and found Itachi’s file. Found the real reason for the massacre. She cried like a fucking child in the base of killers and liars. She cried for Sasuke, who hated and killed his last bit of family. She cried for Itachi, a child given a choice that would damn him for life.

So Sakura was understandably jarred looking at the two of them now, undeniably close and alive. It was stranger than Kabuto, then Tenten, then her fragile chakra. It was another reason this Konoha seemed so much better than the one she left behind. Another reason she didn’t belong here.

She stopped smiling, forcing herself to be genuine. She could still do this. They didn’t know her, not really, and she could still use that.

“Okay, you got me, I’m having a bad day Sasuke-kun,” she demurred. Her voice was low and she brushed her bangs off her forehead with her still-shaking hands. I’m weak, look at me, fragile and breakable and not a threat in the least. I couldn’t possibly do anything to threaten the great Uchiha family.

Itachi looked to her and seemed to soften. “Is this about what happened yesterday?” He wasn’t smiling, of course, but he was as polite as she remembered, even more so now that he wasn’t pretending to be a terrorist. She still couldn't look him in the eye.

Yesterday. The marketplace. The old man and the kunai. Hero Sakura, rejected from the hospital, managed to save the day.

Sakura laughed, faintly, because he was right, it was about yesterday for all the reasons he wasn’t thinking.

“It was crazy. I can’t stop thinking about it and I still feel panicked. I had no idea what I was doing.” Too truthful by half, but Itachi looked kind and Sasuke looked like he was already bored and she would have said anything to make them leave. She would dance naked or trash the store or play with her own entrails just so she wouldn’t have to look at the two brothers any longer. She had left that day, that battle, behind years ago but now she was still there.

Sakura, for one second and one second only, wished she hadn’t healed her wrists. She gave herself that second, revealed in the despair she was allowing herself to feel, and then boxed that shit up.

She had a job. She would die when she was done.

Her other hand twitched towards her knife, a response to all the adrenaline in her system. Sakura normally would have taken care of her enemies by now, but this really wasn’t normal and they weren’t her enemies. Both brothers glanced down and their gazes stuck. The blood. Fuck.

“Mishandle a kunai?” Sasuke drawled, amused with some amount of sharpness in his eyes. Jesus, in the time he was dead she had really forgotten what a bastard he was. She missed it and hated herself for missing it.

“Yeah, well, you know me.” That was a safe response, right? She was hoping his answer would be “yes,” because then it would at least make one of them.

Sasuke reached inside one of his many pockets and withdrew a bandage. “Do something about it, and stop bleeding over merchandise you’re not going to buy.”

Yeah, he had worked with Kabuto. Same beautiful bedside manner. She laughed, almost uncontrollably. This was the first time he gave a shit about her in so long and it wasn’t even for her.

“Save your bandages, Sasuke-kun. I’m sure you don’t want to waste them on somebody like me.”

She couldn’t stop laughing. This boy still brought out every single one of her emotions like no other. The bandage hung in the air between them, a white flag. Sakura had been fighting for so long. She couldn’t stop now.

She wiggled her fingers at him, the cut on her hand healed before they had even seen her.

“You healed it yourself, then? Impressive,” Itachi said, appraising her in a new light. In his mind, she was one step closer to a medic and one step farther away from a one-time fluke.

But Sasuke got angry, for some reason, grabbing her wrist in a crushing grip that had to have been fueled by chakra. Sakura reflexively grabbed the knife from her thigh and struck at his hand. He dodged but she managed to graze him before she darted away. She couldn’t go brute force, not without her seal, so she needed distance.

Except Sasuke wasn’t going to attack again, wasn’t reaching for his sword, he was staring at her like she was the crazy one, like he hadn’t just grabbed her. She lowered the knife a bit but her grip was as tight as before.

Tenten had come by to see the commotion, of course, armed already and severely pissed off. “What the hell is going on here?”

Itachi, the only one calm in the situation, drew her back to the counter, muttering in a low voice. That left Sakura, armed, with Sasuke, wounded.

“Did you do it again?” he asked. His voice was low, dangerous, and he looked like he was ready to tear her apart. She had no goddamn idea what he was talking about. She decided shaking her head was the safest option but he just seemed to get angrier. “Don’t lie to me, idiot. Is that why you came here? Is this because of yesterday?”

“I came to a weapon’s shop to buy weapons. That’s all I want to do.” She pitched her voice low, soothing. She didn’t know this Sasuke, didn’t know how he knew her, and she was a bit scared. Itachi didn’t seem to think they would kill each other, though, and that was a comfort.

“That’s the fucking problem, Sakura. I can’t believe you would insist on being an idiot like this, especially now,” he hissed. He was holding his cut hand loosely, and it was an old instinct to take his hurts and try to make them better. He let her grab his hand and heal it, chakra dim and warm, but he kept hold of her hand when she was done.

“Why would you do this again?” He asked.

And it hit Sakura like a fucking freight train. Why Kabuto choose to stage her death as he did, why healing chakra came so naturally to this body, why Sasuke reacted to her bleeding and healed hand. What Shisui had been talking about when looking at her bloodied wrists.

Because it made sense, didn’t it? It made perfect sense, everything fitting together neatly. Sakura wanted to be a medic. Sakura didn’t have a teacher. Sakura learned how to heal to only way she knew how - by herself. She had done the worst thing a medic could do.

Because once someone starts, it's hard to give up. It’s the perfect practice, right? No one has to get hurt but her. Slowly, you lose the pain, the feeling, the fear. Tsunade had warned her time and time again never to go down that path.

But Tsunade wasn’t in this Konoha.

Someone had found out, obviously, Sasuke or someone who told Sasuke, and they stopped her from being a shinobi for it. A shinobi who hurt themselves more than their enemies was as useful as a sword without a handle: no control and all sharp edges.

That’s why she had “quit” being a shinobi - it was a kinder story to tell. And that meant that if Kabuto had succeeded, no one would have thought it strange. No one would have thought twice about the weak girl who couldn’t help but hurt herself more than she could heal.

With sudden clarity, Sakura realized that even civilians in Konoha had weapons in their homes. Not Sakura, though, she had nothing but blunted utensils. Did she remove the temptation herself, or was it someone else’s decision? And then how exactly did she get that knife?

No matter what, she had to deal with the Sasuke problem first. He was still holding her hand, gaze dark. Was he worried or annoyed? Probably the latter.

“Sasuke, I didn’t relapse or whatever you think. Why would I do that in a public store? No, I just wanted to look at some weapons and I was too clumsy. It’s been a while, you know.” She winked, smiled, drew her hand back before she could think about how long it had been since he had touched her kindly. Years. A lifetime.

Sasuke looked away, frowning. Well, the wink had probably been a bit much. Whatever, she would work with what information she had, and all she had right now was that Sasuke probably didn’t want to kill her. It was a great foundation for a relationship.

“Look, Sasuke, I know what I did was wrong. It was the worst thing I could have done. But healing that man in the marketplace, just thinking about it makes me what to do things the right way.”

He glared. Opened his mouth. Closed it with a snap. Looked at his hand where she had cut him, entirely healed, no scar remaining.

“You still want to become a medic?” His voice was a bit disbelieving, yes, but she could work with it. In fact, telling him (and by extension Itachi) was perfect. She was laying seeds within Konoha that gave credence to her quest to find Tsunade. If everyone believed she was seeking out the legendary Sannin to become a better healer it wouldn’t look suspicious in the least when Sakura brought her back. This was fucking perfect.

“More than anything,” she said, looking at his face and blushing. He looked uncomfortable. Some things never change. “And I know I was let go by the hospital, but I have a new plan.”

“And that is?” Itachi was back, Tenten by his side. She looked less angry, more interested. She was glancing at Sakura, and her hands and her knife, a wary look on her face. Sakura, with great effort, put the knife away. Itachi kept his eye on where it had disappeared on her body. She had cut Sasuke and he wouldn’t forget that.

Well, time to do this with an audience then. “I want to find Tsunade and ask her to train me.”

Sasuke fucking laughed at her. Typical as shit. Tenten was holding it in, points for her, but Itachi did look like he was taking her seriously. That could be a bad thing - if he started to consider her a threat, she would lose the only card she was holding.

She grinned, scratched the back of her head, and blushed. A cute little genin chasing her dreams, even if she was nineteen and also an assassin. Semantics.

Sasuke gave her a look of complete derision, which she found more familiar and comforting than his previous expression of worry. “You think you can find Tsunade and convince her to train you?”

“Well, why not? Anyone could find her easily enough through her gambling debts, and I think she could take me on given the right persuasion. I’m from Konoha but no longer a shinobi, which means I’m comforting but not truly representative of what she left behind. On top of that, I already of some measure of experience in healing, excellent chakra control, and enough dedication to track her down. I think I can do it.”

Well, Sakura hoped she could do it. She knew it would be easy enough to find Tsunade, Naruto had done it, but she didn’t know if Tsunade would take her on or return to Konoha with her. And Sakura was still debating telling Tsunade the truth of her circumstances. It ran the risk of Tsunade thinking she was crazy, but if Tsunade ended up believing her then she would have a stalwart ally by her side. They could return to the village, fix whatever was happening in the hospital with Kabuto, and then Sakura could fuck off to live in the woods or under a waterfall. Perfect.

Sasuke raised an eyebrow. “And if you can find her, how do you expect to get to her with the skills of a genin?”

Itachi quickly brushed his brother back and stood in front of him with the ease of a man who has had to cover for his brother’s rudeness many times. “What he means, Haruno-san, is that you might consider asking for an escort and hiring a few shinobi.”

“I’m not going to make this a C-rank. I can go on my own. I don’t have any obligations here to hold me back, and if I’m not even a shinobi than the Hokage can’t declare me missing-nin.” She shrugged. Looking at the two Uchiha looking at her in disbelief (and Tenten no doubt listening in the background) Sakura decided that buying weapons just wasn’t worth it. Not right now at least.

---

She ended up in the Hokage’s office a week later.

She had more memories here than she could count, painful and sweet and heartbreaking. Tsunade and Sarutobi and fucking Danzo. But instead, Minato Namikaze was in the chair, his wife Kushina by his side. Sakura didn’t know how to feel, staring at the man who had chosen to seal a demon in a newborn and had been her teacher’s teacher, but she didn’t think it was good.

Sakura was glad Naruto and his brother weren’t in the room. Seeing Naruto after all this time, after what happened - she didn’t know if she could keep her composure. And the little one was just annoying, so there was that.

Itachi was in the room, she could tell, hidden in the rafters and wearing an ANBU mask. She pretended not to notice him, but she could tell he was somewhere between amused and concerned by her request.

“You want to find Tsunade and bring her back? Really?” Kushina asked. She was staring at Sakura like they had never met before, which might have been true.

Sakura so far hadn’t gotten much more information about her team days other than she had been on a team with Sasuke and Naruto but she had not become a Chunin like they did, leading her to eventually stop shinobi work entirely. Certainly an illustrious career.

In her own world, the exam had been the kick in the pants to apprentice herself to Tsunade, but if Naruto had never been tasked to find Tsunade after the death of the Third Hokage, then she really would have nowhere to turn.

Sakura was truly a flower that bloomed in war. Only in hardship did she become the strongest Kunoichi in the world, a brilliant front-line medic that could heal with one hand and kill with another. This Sakura apparently wasn’t anything at all. In the end, it would be smarter to lay low, but Sakura was tired of being smart. She wasn’t in ANBU or ROOT anymore, she didn’t have to worry about her own Hokage killing her, and she missed her shishou more than she could say.

Sakura was on uneven footing with everyone in Konoha due to a past she had to part of, but Tsunade and her had never met in this universe. Now, Tsunade would only know her, not the weak Sakura who had been ignored. Sakura would do anything to start fresh, even draw undue attention to herself.

“I do. I want to track her down and see if she will take me on as an apprentice, and as a loyal citizen of Konoha I would request the permission of my Hokage.” She bowed low, etiquette she had been forced to learn for Danzo. She could physically feel the surprise of the people in the room, bar Itachi who was never surprised by anything, but she kept her head down. It was in Minato’s hands now. Either she got his blessing and went with grace, or she would go on the journey more quietly and return with some degree of resistance.

Before he decided, the door behind her opened explosively. Fucking Naruto, she knew, without a doubt, along with two other chakra signatures as powerful as the ANBU agent above her. With her luck, it would be Sasuke and Kakashi - all the people she was trying to avoid in one room together; ANBU agents were at the ready to destroy her if she made one slip, and escape was not an option.

“Sakura-chan? What the hell?” Naruto exclaimed off to the side. To rise or not to rise? The Hokage hadn’t given permission yet, which was a convenient excuse to hide the fact that she would burst into tears at the sight of her old friend and teacher. And also Sasuke, who she at least knew was still a complete asshole.

“Haruno-san, please lift your head, there’s no need for such formalities between friends,” Minato eventually said, embarrassment seeping into his voice. A weak Hokage then, another reason for Sakura to fetch Tsunade.

She lifted her head only to find Naruto had joined his parents behind the desk and that Kakashi and Sasuke were now leaning against the walls on opposite sides of the room. Kakashi was inscrutable but Sasuke was openly sneering at her. Joy.

Naruto was, for want of a better word, young. Blond-haired, blue-eyed, familiar whisker marks on his face with his heart on his sleeve. He was beautiful, carefree, unhardened by war. By death. This Naruto had a family and a village that loved him. She hadn’t seen Naruto in so long, she thought, and she had never really seen him like this.

“Hokage-sama, if this is a bad time I will leave and come back at your convenience. However, I ask you to take my request seriously. I have already compiled information about Tsunade’s last known whereabouts and habits, as well as information about her apprentice Shizune. I am determined to make this mission a success and bring her home.” Sakura brought the file out of a sealing scroll and lightly dropped in on the desk, far away enough from the Hokage that the ANBU wouldn’t worry. No need to alarm any Uchiha, though she doubted that they thought she was any threat.

She was still poor little genin Sakura, weak and directionless, in love with any boy that crosses her path. Chasing dreams after being fired from her last chance.

Naruto was the one to grab the file, flipping it through it so rapidly that she doubted he read a word. His face became shocked as he realized exactly how much information she had compiled but the library, old records, elders in the village, traveling merchants, and her own experiences. Sakura never forgot her beginning as a paper ninja.

Credit where credit was due, however, because Shisui had also been a gigantic help. He had access to records she didn’t have a change in hell in seeing, and after the confrontation with Kabuto, he seemed to support her plan whole-heartedly, even as he did grow tenser around her. He was catching on, she knew, but his resources would serve her for now.

“Sakura-chan this is incredible! How do you know so much?” Naruto exclaimed, still flipping through the dossier that weighed about as much as an academy student. He looked at her with a new appreciation mirrored by his mother standing beside him.

“Well, a good mission requires good information. I did a lot of research in the past week, and it will all be worth it if I can track her down,” she laughed, scratching the back of her head. Sasuke scoffed, she heard, but she could tell that Kakashi was getting interested. Him and the ANBU agent still silently staring at her.

It must have been out of character; Sakura had only learned the true value of preparation after joining ANBU. Team 7 had always been punch first, immediately get beat down and have Sakura heal you. After she started to work alone she realized that was a good way to get killed.

Old Sakura would never have known that, though, but it’s not like she could take the folder back.

“Sakura-chan this is so cool! Let me take the mission, dad, c’mon. I can bring Jiraiya, just the two of us like old times. Thanks so much, Sakura-chan,” Naruto gushed, stars in his eyes and voice booming across the room. Sakura did not flinch. She was better than that.

Ok, Sakura did flinch. Naruto had never tried to exclude her like that before - they were a team. Even as Konoha felt apart around them, even as Sasuke turned traitor, even when Tsunade died they were a team. Not anymore.

She wanted to hit him like she would before - that’s how they talked. But now he was the son of the Hokage, a stranger to her, and she couldn’t touch him.

“Hokage-sama, I am requesting this mission for myself. In the front of the file, I have listed the reasons she may respond well to my request.” She bowed again to hide her face, her emotions spilling out like they only did around Naruto. She never had this problem alone. “If asked by the son of the Hokage and her old teammate she may run due to her skittish nature and her well-documented hatred of Konoha. However, I have shown the potential to be a healer and my status as an inactive genin makes me a non-threat entirely. There is a chance she will take me on as an apprentice and return with me.”

Her voice was flat, calm. She forced her hands to relax. Sakura was professional, was the best goddamn shinobi in the world, and she wasn’t about to lose her chance to find Tsunade due to a Naruto that wasn’t even her friend. She put up with a lot of shit but she would not go down this road without a fight. And Sakura always won her fights. Well, she always survived them, at least.

Kakashi made a noise behind her, something questioning. She didn’t look. (She did.)

He looked good. Less burdened than she remembered. Same mask, same hair, same orange book in hand. Same familiar eye patch, which didn’t really tell her whether Obito had given Kakashi his eye or not. If Obito was running around with murder on his mind she would have to deal with that sooner rather than later,

Back in her Konoha, her relationship with Kakashi been complicated. He had failed her as a teacher, but he had made a good partner when she needed one. They had been the last two members of Team Seven standing.

Now they were all in one room and it was both better and worse.

He caught her eye and winked. She tried not to react, but she couldn’t stop the flinch that shook her. Ghosts all around her, each more deadly than the last.

“Ah, well,” Kakashi said, still staring at her, “Apparently she did help heal someone last week in the marketplace.”

Sakura turned away and went back into a bow. She couldn’t trust her own face not to reveal her secrets.

“Ah, yes, my son told me about what happened. You really saved him.” Kushina sounded like she was smiling. Naruto dropped the folder, judging by the thump, and started to furiously whisper about “That’s who he was talking about?” and “No way it was Sakura-chan!”

It hurt, but he wasn’t wrong. From the outside, the old Sakura had been a failed shinobi and a fired medic. She had few friends, few allies, and no influence in Konoha. Who was she to save lives?

“I believe that the panic I felt helped me access my chakra like never before,” Lie, lie, lie in a room full of killers. “And I think that training with Tsunade can help me more than staying in Konoha would. Especially given that the hospital let me go.”

The scars on her wrist burned. She could feel them itching, rubbing against the bandages she wrapped around herself this morning. Sakura had been killed in the worst way possible. And no one would have cared, not her old team and not her village.

Sakura was angry. Sakura was going to drag Tsunade back here and then tear Kabuto apart with her bare hands, would destroy his heart using the techniques she had stolen from him in the last world.

This Sakura had died, alone and bleeding out and terrified. Barely a shinobi. Betrayed. It was made to look like she was a dishonorable coward. No fucking more.

Sakura dared to look up, met the Hokage’s eyes with a burning glare. “I will do anything to take this mission, Hokage-same. I wish to help Konoha anyway I can and bring its princess home. Please let me do this.”

It had been so long since she had felt that famed “Will of Fire” burn within her but now she did. She felt it from her long hair to her blank forehead to her weak arms to the scars on her wrist. She was burning alive in front of the most powerful people in Konoha and she knew she could burn them down with her. She could take down this tower with one hand behind her back and laugh. She was Sakura Haruno and she wouldn’t die again.

Kushina and Naruto visibly gaped at her changed mood, sensing her chakra filling the room. She stopped trying to control it. Kakashi was tensed up, as silent as ever but hands out of sight, most likely gripping a kunai or two. Sasuke was silent, remembering the cut on his hand. Wounds she caused and healed. Sakura was a walking contradiction, one Sasuke was just discovering.

Itachi, still in his mask, landed on silent feet behind Minato, but the Hokage was smiling broadly. Sakura thought she might just be able to respect the fourth Hokage she had never had a chance to meet.

“You certainly have changed from your early days, Haruno-san. I can tell that sending you on this mission can only be a good thing, though I know Konoha will miss you dearly.” He smiled at the end but Sakura could only grimace. No, no it would not.

She turned her grimace into a smile with little effort, realizing that he had agreed to her request. She would find her shishou and save the hospital and kill Kabuto and prove herself as the strongest shinobi in both worlds.

“Thank you, Hokage-sama, I can leave-”

“But you won’t be going alone, of course.” He continued, smile fixed firmly in place. Right. Of course. She gave a short nod but it didn’t look like he was looking at her anymore. “Would bringing back the old Team 7 work? They could deliver you and let you talk to Tsunade in peace. You might not know this, but Naruto can be quiet.”

He and Kushina laughed at Naruto’s outraged yells but Sakura was more focused on what he had said. Team 7? Fuck that. Fuck Minato. Fuck her life.

Calm, calm, calm.

Sasuke chopped Naruto in the back of the head and accepted the mission. It started a fight between them, but she knew Naruto would agree to come with. Just like she knew Sasuke was wondering what the fuck was up with her.

Kakashi had crossed the room, picking up the folder Naruto dropped. He hummed as he flipped through it, more carefully than Naruto, and also voiced his assent.

It was happening, then. For the first time in years, for the first time in either universe, Team Seven was back together again for one last mission. And they were strangers.

Chapter Text

Sakura didn’t sleep the night before she left for the mission. Instead, she paced, obsessed, planned ahead, and made contingency upon contingency. Sakura was scared for the first time in a long time, for the first time since she laid the last of the Rookie Nine to rest, for the first time since Danzo took office and Sakura realized the only thing she could feel was tired.

Sakura was tired, before, pissed off on the good days. It was difficult to feel anything. But now, here?

Sakura, younger Sakura, hadn’t appreciated being weak when she was young. Who would? But being weak meant your enemies didn’t care, didn’t try, didn’t notice. Sakura was able to kill Sasori of the Red Sands because he thought she was weak and she hadn’t stopped there.

The only problem was, being weak only worked when Sakura knew what made her enemies strong. And now she didn’t, not really. She knew war-torn versions of her comrades, whose skills were sharp and whose bodies were broken. She didn’t know how to fight them anymore.

And she wanted to, a little bit. Because here was a perfect world, a better world, a world where her teammates were happy and Konoha was safe, and yet the old Sakura had still suffered. Still died. Even in a fucking utopia, she couldn’t find happiness.

So yeah, Sakura was angry about what happened to her, whether the old her had committed suicide or whether she had been murdered. Either way, why hadn’t anyone cared?

(But in her mind Sakura wondered if maybe it had been her fault. See, old Sakura had been the first to die here out of anyone, and this Sakura had been the last. Maybe she had dammed the other Sakura by daring to live when the others couldn't. Maybe if she hadn’t agreed to fight under Danzo this Sakura could have been happy. But she would never know for sure and she couldn’t ask anyone around her).

Sakura was old, older than she should be, and bitter. She would never be normal or fit into this Konoha. But if she knew one thing would remain constant in any world, at any time, it’s that Tsunade cared. Cared about Sakura and cared about Konoha. So she would find her teacher, befriend her again, maybe challenge her to a drinking game or two, and save Konoha all in one mission.

Then she could be done. Sakura was still so tired.

-

Sakura didn’t want to admit it, but she has had worse things happen to her. It just didn’t feel like it, standing next to the gates of Konoha, Kakashi a silent presence on one side and Naruto on the other.

No, this definitely felt worse than getting stabbed, burned, poisoned, and torn apart. Just seeing them without them knowing anything about her past hurt more than sewing herself back together had felt (and that had really hurt).

And, to top it all of, Kakashi had shown up earlier than Sasuke. This universe was a goddamn mess.

“Hey, hey, Sakura-chan! It’s been too long, huh? Years, right? I didn’t even know you were still a kunoichi, ya know,” Naruto said, hands flying everywhere and grin fixed firmly in place. But for all he was acting friendly, Sakura had the sense they hadn’t been close friends in this world for years. Maybe they’d never been close, which really was just great.

“Once a shinobi, always a shinobi. Even if it has been a while.” Sakura didn’t look for his reaction, already predicting the embarrassment he would show, but instead subtly looked at her old teacher. This Kakashi was about as expressive (not at all) but she could sense he was paying attention.

Sakura was confident in her ability to fool her old teammates, but Kakashi was smart. He would eventually be able to tell she was different, and that was dangerous.

Was that why he showed up early - to test her? To protect Team 7 from an unknown quantity? He didn’t seem suspicious, still holding that little yellow book of his.

If it came down to it, he would attack first with the kunai on his thigh, aimed for the throat. By the time she blocked it, he would have already moved, leaving a clone in his place. It’s possible he would go underground, even likely given that this Sakura had never shown any particular amount of strength. Would he reach up directly or go behind her and attack with a jutsu? Regardless, destabilizing the ground would be her first priority to get him off-center. She could attack him directly, letting his attacks hurt her and then heal them off, and that would give her a good opportunity to get close and go at him with a chakra scalpel. But she would be in trouble if he used his Sharingan. She could pull out her exploding tags at that point, but she had so few, and she was hopi-

“Maa, Sakura, do I have something on my face?” Kakashi asked lightly. Shit, she had been staring at him.

“Only your mask. I was just wondering why you got here so early.”

“Ah, yeah, about that…”

“I dragged him out of bed, Sakura-chan! Now if only that bastard wasn’t late,” Naruto trailed off, scuffing the ground with his shoe. So Kakashi told Naruto where he lived in this world? Back home, he had only told her after they were the only two members of Team 7 left, when he felt she would be in too much danger sleeping in a house alone.

But it didn’t matter how much he tried to protect her. He died first and she died in the forest. She missed him. She wanted to tell her Kakashi that he had been right, that she had been attacked in her house, even if it really wasn’t. She wanted to tell him that she missed him, that she forgave him for being a shitty teacher even if he didn’t forgive himself, that in the end they really had worked well together.

She wanted to tell Kakashi so many things, and he was standing right in front of her and worlds away. A world and six feet of dirt, really.

Sasuke finally showed up five minutes later, Itachi and Shisui by his side. Sakura couldn’t understand why this world’s Sasuke wasn’t as happy as Naruto: his family was alive, his brother was by his side, and he was well-respected in the village. Maybe he was like her, in a way, someone who needed war to live.

It was a sobering thought, mostly cause she fucking hates him, but she wasn’t blind to the similarities.

Itachi and Shisui were two steps behind Sasuke, carrying his bags and gently reminding him of survival tips and whatnot. It was weird, seeing him babied after she had looked up to him for most of her life because he was so strong. If not an Avenger, what was he?

He looked at the rest of Team 7 that was already assembled. His skipped over her, nodded at Kakashi, and smirked at Naruto. The usual, then. She was glad the dysfunction remained true in both worlds or she really would have difficulty adjusting.

“Sakura-chan,” Shisui greeted, “You look practically radiant this morning!”

She did not. Her hair was short again, cut last night by a civilian hairdresser who had lamented over her “looking like a man” the entire time. She was wearing black with one red ribbon as a final callback to her old outfit. Her gloves were chakra-conducting and had cost all of the savings in her account. She looked like she was going to war.

Shisui had told her last night he was going to try to follow her on this mission, making sure Kabuto didn’t try anything. She had no idea why he thought he needed him along with the rest of Team 7 but she couldn’t deny she wanted him there. Even if they didn’t know each other, even if she was still lying to him about almost everything, he was kind to her.

He cared about her, or about the old Sakura, or maybe both. It had been a long time since someone had smiled at her like Shisui did, like he was just simply happy to see her.

“Uchiha-san, you’re much too kind. In fact, you’re looking prettier than I do!” She smiled sweetly and then smiled again for real at Suishi’s choked laughter. It was good idea to plant the idea they were flirting - if worse came to worse and she and Shisui were caught on the mission together they could try to pass it off as some youthful love affair. She seemed empty-headed enough and he seemed flirty enough to make sense.

“Sakura-chan, please, please call me by my name before you depart on your epic and awe-inspiring journey! What if Tsunade-san kidnaps you and you’re never seen again? What if you save Suna from a giant monster and they name you the newest Kazekage? What if-”

Sakura couldn’t help it when she burst into loud peals of laughter. It echoed through the morning streets, more noise than she had made in years, and she was helpless. This wasn’t like her small breakdown in the weapon’s store - this was actual joy. Goddamn, she missed being happy.

No one had joked in her Konoha. Not the civilians, not the councilmen, and not the shinobi. She had read somewhere that the first casualty of war was fun. And like every other casualty, it stayed dead.

God, that was sad.

Regardless, Shisui looked enchanted from where he lay on the packed ground, on his knees and fake pleading with her. In fact, he looked like he had never seen her laugh before. So this Sakura was also sad, even when they were friends. Important to remember.

She helped him up, still giggling, lifting his entire body with one hand. She was too happy to remember to hide. “Now, Uchiha-san, I must be really nervous about this mission if I found your joke that funny.”

“Do you want backup? I’ll protect you!” He waggled his eyebrows at her and winked, another step to their cover. Or maybe he just liked flirting in front of his stiff cousins, who were both getting increasingly annoyed as the exchange went on.

Itachi was better at covering it up, of course, but she knew he was on to her somehow. There was no chance he knew the whole truth but he knew she was off somehow and he didn’t appreciate her flirting with his cousin before going on a mission with his brother. Itachi, like her, would do anything to protect what he loved and she was starting to get in the way of his mission. She would have to make sure Sasuke didn’t even cough while he was gone.

Kakashi was a silent presence behind her. She had never once thought that her sensei behind her could be a threat instead of a blessing, but things changed. Sakura changed.

He was on the same level of Itachi when it came to detecting potential threats and falling into that category never ended well. But he didn’t see her in the weapons store, hadn’t really seen her since she was a young girl, most likely. She could work with that.

“Oh, Sensei, please! Could we bring Shusui? He’s so cute, so much cuter than Naruto!” She wrinkled her nose in fake disgust and pulled Shisui into a hug, turning away from Itachi at the same time to face Kakashi. The lovestruck expression was easier to make than ever, making Sakura think that this version of her was A. actually in love or B. also a giant fucking liar.

Naruto squeaked in protest in the background as Sasuke shot her a disdainful look but Kakashi merely snorted in amusement. Good, or bad? Shusui seemed content enough to be used like this, also adopting a pleading expression, but he was also tense besides her.

Kakashi stepped away from the pillar he had been leaning against and came closer, close enough to see the facial expressions behind his dammed mask. He studied her, eyes crinkled in faked amusement, before making a put-upon sigh and patting her on the head.

“Unfortunately, your sensei is getting too old to adopt any more children, even one as cute as Shisui, You’ll just have to settle for us, Sakura-chan.”

He probably knew something was up then, but not all of it. And he didn’t look like he distrusted Shisui, so even if he was caught following along Kakashi wouldn’t hurt him. Would he attack her if she acted to off?

Without hesitation, meaning if things started heading in that distraction she would have to find a way to separate from the group entirely.

Well, Sakura had learned that she had always worked better alone regardless. She had learned to live without a team and grown stronger for it, and she had faced worst odds than an Uchiha, the Kyuubi container, and Kakashi of the Sharingan.

Well, maybe not. But she would learn to.

Sasuke, apparently fed up with a circus act that didn’t revolve around him, picked Shisui up to separate him and Sakura and then threw his cousin at Itachi. “Leave us alone and stop encouraging her stupid behavior. Let’s just get this joke mission over with.”

Shisui picked himself up and started complaining to Sasuke but Sakura still felt Itachi’s and Kakashi’s eyes on her. The same question arose in her mind - should she tell them? Could she? On one hand, less chance she would be treated as an enemy all the time, but there was also a chance that she would be thrown into the bowels on T.I., never to be seen again. Or someone higher up would hear about it, the same someone who arranged her murder, and would try again. And Sakura for all her strength was not infallible, especially with this undertrained body.

No, she had to keep quiet and explain herself in a different way. She just didn’t know how. What could adequately explain the sudden and all-consuming change she went through except for what actually happened?

Fuck. Long ago Sakura had been a paper ninja, able to plan and plot well enough to get herself to the top of the class. She could still do that, given time and privacy, but she had a feeling Kakashi would be keeping both of his eyes on her in the near future. It's what she would do when faced with an unknown quantity.

So she didn’t have a convincing lie, not yet. She would think of one, probably, hopefully. Maybe if Kakashi left her alone long enough for her to think. She didn’t think he would.

“Are we gonna go yet? I want to find Tsunade already!” Naruto yelled in the background. It broke the tension that had surrounded the group and soon enough it seemed like they were going to go. Before they passed through the gates, however, Sakura felt her pocket grow heavier, almost as if someone too fast to see had slipped her a letter.

-

Sakura had decided covering up her ability wasn’t worth the lost time, so despite the fact that it gave her chakra control away, she kept pace with her three teammates. She could tell that everyone, even Naruto noticed, but she just gave a grin and said she had done some practice in preparation for the journey.

Camp that night was silent, broken up by Naruto and Sasuke fighting over who caught the most food or who made the best tent. She ignored it and crawled in her tent early, confident in the fact that she would be left alone until her turn for watch.

In the privacy of her tent she was confident enough the open the letter. She tested it with her chakra first, waving her hand over it and waiting for a spark, but it wasn’t trapped. She settled in her bedroll and opened it, still slightly bracing for an acid spray. Nothing.

Well, not nothing.

“Dear Sakura,

I promise I’m only coming into your tent to talk!
I’ll be the one in black.

Shisui.”

She snorted against her will. What kind of shinobi left a paper trail like that just to confirm an already agreed upon plan? Maybe one who was trying to make her laugh, and she didn’t know what exactly to think about that.

Her tent jostled and Kakashi came through the front flap. In a second he took in her sleeping bag, her weapons laid out neatly waiting to be counted and cleaned, her armor, her scrolls, and the silencing seals drawn on the tent. He probably expected flowers or fairy lights or something.

“Ah, Sakura-chan, I hope this isn’t too inappropriate,” he grinned.

“Of course not, sensei, it’s been too long since we talked!”

“You’re right. In fact, I can’t even remember how long.” His hand drifted to his headband covering his Sharingan, So, they were doing this now, here. Private enough without her teammates, but if a fight broke out they would be immediately involved.

Then out of his jacket he pulled out a crow. “Mind explaining this, Sakura-chan? Getting midnight visitors on a mission is pretty naughty. I expected better from my adorable kouhai.”

The crow pecked at Kakashi’s hand before jumping out and landing next to Sakura. It squawked disapprovingly but was forced to jump when Kakashi threw a kunai at it. Sakura blocked it with a kunai of her own, hating that fact that the tent really only allowed her enough room to move on her knees.

Next, a senbon was thrown, then a knife, then three kunai at once. Sakura did her best to block all of them, but the small space meant that the last kunai thrown would either hit the crow or they would hit her. It wasn’t really a decision.

They lodged themselves in her upper right arm, not poisoned and sharped enough that she could barely feel it. Kakashi reared back, almost as if he hadn’t expected her to move in the way, and with a rush of wind, the crow transformed into a very angry Shisui. The tent was getting pretty fucking crowded.

“What the hell, Kakashi?” Shisui shouted, trying to launch his own senbon. Sakura, who was quite tired of being in the middle of a firefight in a tent the size of a small broom closet, decided to also take those to her other arm. Also not poisoned, thankfully.

“Can we stop?” She shouted. With her right arm she dug out the senbon, healing as she went, and then with her left, she dug out the kunai, She rotated her arms to get rid of the stiffness but it was mostly her shirt that was left worse for wear. She didn’t put on armor to go to sleep and that was probably a failing on her part.

Shisui and Kakashi both managed to look contrite and suspicious at the same time, probably because a ninja was always suspicious in some way, shape, or form, and once again Sakura was left with the question of what the fuck she was going to do. Shisui knew more than Kakashi but that didn’t mean he didn’t harbor his own suspicions about her sudden change. Kakashi was already pulling off the covering over his eye. Both were looking at her like she was a mix between an ally and an enemy. Like how her teammates in ROOT and ANBU looked at her. Like Naruto looked at her after she had finished burying the last of the Uchiha line. She didn’t like the look all that much.

The look disappeared quickly and was replaced by a frantic search for bandages that Sakura endured for all of five seconds before she chopped the two of them in the heads.

“They’re healed, okay, now can we discuss why my tent has turned into a fucking war zone?”

“I want to know why your dear ‘Uchiha-san’ followed us on this mission, and I want to know why the hell both of you are trying to pass off a foreign shinobi as my former student.” His voice was deadly and the way he was looking at the two of them had Sakura ready to bodily protect Shisui.

“This is Sakura,” Shisui insisted, palming some more senbon. Even she could hear the doubt in his voice, and she knew that she was about to find herself allyless caught between two of the deadliest shinobi in Konoha with backup for them right outside her door. Fighting wouldn’t be an option and she would never be faster than Shisui. So, talking it was. And considering both men had a Sharingan that could detect all her tells, it seemed like she would have to tell the truth.

“I’ll explain everything, but if the two of you keep fighting then not all three of us will make it out of this tent.” Her palms were up and open, her scars peeking out from beneath her bloodied sleeves.

Kakashi snorted but minutely relaxed against one of the tent poles. Shisui awkwardly crawled out from behind her to sit next to him, granting her a little ease without an enemy at her back. She could tell they were both primed for a fight but their experience as ANBU agents meant they valued information over action, thankfully.

She didn’t want to think about the expression on Shisui’s face, between betrayed and broken. It wasn’t easier to deal with the absolute distrust in Kakashi’s expression but it was something she was more used to dealing with, so there she focused.

“I’ll start with this. Three weeks ago, I was an elite ANBU agent, trained by ROOT, working for the Hokage himself. Two weeks ago I was killed in action and found myself waking up in an unfamiliar bathroom with unfamiliar wounds.” She revealed the extent of her scars, the ones she had neglected to fully heal even when she got her new chakra under control. She left them as a reminder - she couldn’t forget the Sakura who came before her.

“I healed them and noticed both a monitor tag on my ankle and a dead man at my door - Kabuto.”

Both Kakashi and Shisui raised their eyebrows at Sakura for calling Kabuto a dead man but didn’t react beyond that. They were both incredibly still (don’t think dead) and Sakura was doing her best not to think about escape routes. She was failing.

“I found myself in a Konoha I don’t recognize, confronted with past actions I have no memory of. I found myself an ex-shinobi, a failed medic-nin, and with slit wrists. I concluded that-”

She hesitated. What she was about to say sounded crazy and she honestly didn’t know how to get it out. She could barely put it together in her own head, how was she supposed to explain it to strangers?

Shisui touched her wrists then, almost a guilty look on his face. She let him study the scars and decided to forge on.

“I concluded that I am not in my Konoha, just another Konoha, with another Sakura who died at the same time I did, albeit in different circumstances. Except when I came here I could do what your Sakura couldn’t - heal my wounds. I somehow ended up in a different world, a different timeline, with all the same players but a very different history, a different Hokage, a different everything.

“I want to find Tsunade because as far as I can tell the circumstances around the old Sakura’s death are beyond suspicious: the monitoring tag, Kabuto arriving directly afterward, the fact that she committed after trying to apply for a hospital job-”

“Then what do you think happened?” Kakashi asked, knuckles tight around his weapon, eye spinning wildly. She couldn’t tell if he believed her or if he was humoring her but either way he sounded interested enough.

“I think Sakura found something going on in the hospital, something wrong having to do with Kabuto, and she was murdered and made to kill herself. Maybe the scene was staged or maybe a Yamanaka got into her head. Either way, she wasn’t meant to survive.”

Shisui made a stained sound and seemingly collapsed on the floor then, still holding on to her wrists.

“I can collaborate with that much. I was working with you - or her - to get access to the hospital. Then she got fired and I thought you changed because you were scared or because -” he stopped abruptly.

The tent was silent, a loud silence, for a minute before Kakashi pinned Shisui to the floor, kunai to the eye. “If what everyone has said so far is true, does that mean you got a civilian killed doing your dirty work, Shisui?”

For a second, the tense scene around her faded away, until nothing was in her head but the echo of “civilian.”

Civilian. Nobody. No relation or history. Kakashi, her failed sensei, her stalwart partner, her last ally, called her a civilian. And Sakura knew, of course, that this Kakashi wasn’t hers, didn’t belong to her, didn’t know her, but it ripped through her heart like a fist regardless.

In this world, she truly had been nothing. And maybe that was kinder, in a sense. Sakura was strong, stronger than everyone else it seemed, and it meant that she was the one forced to survive them all. Forced to remember. Even now, she wasn’t dead.

She was too good at introspection these days.

With a pinch to the ribs, she brought herself back and shoved Kakashi’s weapon away. Shisui was still lying prone on the floor but the blood from the cuts she received to her hands dripped on his face and made him flinch. She didn’t bother healing them before turning to Shisui and helping him up. He flinched away from her touch minutely and she flinched right back.

Kakashi wiped the blood off onto his parents and did not apologize in the least for pinning Shisui. “Explain everything about this ‘mission’ the two of you had been on.”

“What I’m about to tell you is top secret-”

“I’m loyal to Konoha!” Kakashi practically snarled, weapon once again raised.

“Are you loyal to whoever killed Sakura? Our Sakura?” Shisui pressed. “I’m loyal to my village, to my Hokage, but something is rotten in the hospital. I only know because the police force continues to get reports of missing children, orphans and urchins, from the surrounding provinces. Some genin, even.”

He sat up then, rubbing his eyes with tired hands and smearing the blood on his cheeks. He saw the stain on his palms and flinched. “There’s been suspicion for some time about how Orochimaru runs the hospital, about the councilman in charge, Danzo, and I wanted to see if I could get a way inside.”

“So you went to a civilian?” Kakashi’s voice was biting, and Sakura could tell how emotional he was by the way he was turned to Shisui and away from her, a potential enemy.

“Sakura has, fuck, had medical experience and enough kunoichi training to lie. But, more than that-”

“She came to you, didn’t she?” Sakura asked softly, mind awhirl. It made sense, in a way. Sakura would always want to best for Konoha, would always fight even without weapons.

“Yo- she did,” Shisui said, “And she was pretty insistent about it. I don’t know why she came to me though, why she chose me instead of Itachi or Sasuke. Maybe if she ha-”

“It’s simple, really. Sakura knew Sasuke would never take her or her accusations seriously, and she also knew telling Itachi meant Sasuke would find out. However, she still needed to go to someone in the police force she knew wouldn’t be involved, so you were the clear solution. Trusted by her old team and teacher but not too close to any of them. You were perfect for her.”

Sakura waved her hands to demonstrate, appreciating the logic of the other Sakura. Shisui would have been the best choice and she could see why she trusted him. He was good and kind, a rare thing for a shinobi and an invaluable trait in a partner.

Waving her arms around meant her hand bled again and Kakashi tossed her a roll of bandages, still barely looking in her direction. She ignored them and healed herself again.

“So,” Kakashi drawled dangerously, “You sent a civilian to spy upon one of the legendary Sannin, one who you’re accusing of treason, without any backup?”

“She thought up the plan! She said if we had too much contact that the operation would be compromised!” Shisui shouted defensively.

“It was anyway.”

Shisui once again turned away at Kakashi’s comment. Sakura rotated her arm, looked at her wrist, and decided that this tent was getting a little stuffy.

“So she died. Let’s find out why.”

“And you’re her, but from another world?” Kakashi turned to her, the attention off Shisui.

“Basically, yes. I'm Sakura Haruno, born March twenty-eighth to Hizashi and Mebuki Haruno. Blood-type O, second in my genin class, known as the rookie nine, and part of Team 7. I was a paper ninja, first and foremost, best friends with Ino Yamanaka before we split over our mutual infatuation with Sasuke Uchiha. My teacher was Hatake Kakashi but he dismissed me and my lack of motivation in favor of training Sasuke to use his Sharingan and Naruto to control his massive amounts of chakra.”

She shrugged her shoulders defeatedly. “In this world, I decided to become a medic-nin and was forced to become my own teacher, trainer, and victim. I was discovered and summarily dismissed from the genin corps. I had few friends around Konoha. I must have discovered something wrong in the hospital and went to Shisui about it, only to be killed for my efforts. That’s what I know.”

Kakashi made a complicated expression behind his mask and drummed his fingers on his book. “You could have discovered that by spying.”

Sakura shook her head. “You were my teacher and Shisui was my partner. You can tell my chakra signature is slightly different but still the same at its core - you know I'm Sakura, just not the Sakura you knew.”

“And you expect me to believe you were in ANBU?” he questioned, shifting to the side. She could tell he was in full interrogation mode now, and her answers now would either save her or put her in a torture cell. She did notice, however, that he didn’t mention ROOT. She filed that away for later.

For now, she nodded and traced on her upper arm the tattoo all ANBU agents received. “Codename was Rat.” Kakashi raised his eyebrows. “I wasn’t well-liked, I suppose.”

“And how did a medic-nin end up in ANBU? Assuming you were a medic-nin.”

“In my world, I was trained by Tsunade. I was more than just a medic-nin.”

Shisui pounced up from his defeated sprawl on the floor, still reeling, to stare intently at her forehead. “Did you have the seal?”

She nodded and tapped at where it had been. “I did by fifteen after training for a few years.”

Kakashi stared at her intently. “Fifteen? After only a few years of training?”

“I was a good student, and Tsunade an even greater teacher. She made me who I am.”

“And that’s why you want to find her,” Shisui said, staring at her bloody hands, but Sakura shook her head.

“I want to find her because your Sakura died trying to fix whatever is happening in Konoha and I know Tsunade is the only person strong enough to finish what you two started. Especially if it's against a Sannin.”

Shisui nodded and opened his mouth, probably to ask about her training or her seal, but was interrupted by Kakashi shoving him to the floor and stabbing three senbon into Sakura’s heart.

Chapter Text

Her first thought upon being stabbed in the chest with a couple of senbon is “Man, I’m glad he didn’t use his hand.”

Hands are always the messiest, she’s learned, hard to clean and even harder to forget.

Her second thought upon being stabbed in the chest with a couple of senbon is “Well, this is Kakashi.”

And that’s the crux of the matter, really, because Sakura was expecting to be killed days ago, weeks ago. In her Konoha, an interloper like herself would have been discovered and dismantled within hours. So, when telling two ANBU agents point blank that she’s wearing old Sakura like a meat suit, she expected the attack.

She was pleasantly surprised, however, when the three senbon in her chest didn’t touch her heart. Kakashi had gone nonlethal in his approach, meaning this was possibly just a test of her healing capabilities. Sakura had undergone worst tests.

So, with Shisui’s shocked exclamations in the background and Kakashi’s stare penetrating into her forehead, she pulled the senbon out and healed herself, just like the other day in the marketplace. She could feel the hit to her reserves now, after a day of traveling and an unexpected night of healing, but Sakura was unparalleled in her ability to ration to the smallest amount of chakra possible to heal a wound. As Tsunade put it, she went beyond chakra control to just being plain stingy. It had been funny at the time.

She tossed Kakashi’s senbon back at him (which he lazily blocked with his book) before patting her chest solidly enough to show it’s newly healed state. “Happy now?”

“Maa, you really were a student of Tsunade, hm?”

Shisui then delivered a solid kick to Kakashi’s stomach, folding the older man in half. “You tried to kill her for a stupid test?”

“If it’s any consolation, Uchiha-san, they weren’t actually lethal.” She tried patting him consolingly on the shoulder but it seemed like he was still tense. She tried to picture an ANBU agent not being used to violence before she realized he wasn’t used to violence between teammates, friends. Konoha was a village where teamwork was everything and Kakashi was the poster child for it.

But this Sakura wasn’t Kakashi’s teammate. This Sakura took Kakashi’s teammate’s life, body, and soul and paraded it around. This Sakura wasn’t just a stranger to Kakashi, she was an enemy.

So Sakura wasn’t mad. Sakura remembered the fourth shinobi war, the dirty trenches, and the bloodstained shinobi, remembered seeing old friends and enemies jerking their way across the battlefield, puppeted around even after their death.

Sakura was controlling Kakashi’s teammate like a puppet, and in his shoes she would have done much worse than throw some nonlethal senbon.

“If she’s being honest, it wouldn’t hurt, and if she’s not, we could easily take her to Torture and Interrogation. Which is still an option,” Kakashi drawled as he unfolded himself from the floor. He was stuck between serious and ambivalent, too shocked by Sakura to decide upon a persona.

So Sakura got it, she did, but she was also angry, the kind of angry special to being stabbed in the chest. So, with a charming grin, she turned to Kakashi and said “Extra credit!” before taking a chakra scalpel to his Achilles Tendon.

He was up with a curse, face twisted into a snarl, but just as quickly as she had cut him she healed him right up, still grinning.

Shisui from his spot in the tent looked very unhappy.

“Maa, I deserve that, don’t I?”

“Don’t you want me to show off the full extent of Tsunade’s teachings?” The tent was silent for a moment, each occupant wondering who was going to get stabbed next, before Sakura started rooting around for her notebook. She undid the seal she had layered over top of it and opened to the next blank page, pen in hand.

“So, Shisui, tell me about what she, or I, was investigating in the hospital. I have some idea based on my own world but I need to know the details for when I talk to Tsunade.”

So Shisui told her. It wasn’t pretty. By all accounts, Orochimaru was the perfect head of the only hospital in Konoha, turning the once unorganized building into a well-oiled machine. He was efficient, he was committed, and he was good at what he did. The bureaucratic oversight was done by Councilman Danzo, who used to advise the Hokage but was mysteriously given a new position by Minato.

According to Shisui and the records in the Uchiha police department, several missing persons cases all lead to the hospital. On top of that, some workers reported discrepancies in drug inventory - those same workers were soon fired and refused to talk to the police again. Danzo had neatly consolidated power around the hospital and any rich citizens who helped fund it, making it so even Minato couldn’t see deep into what went on within the hospital. All in all, it was exactly what Sakura feared it would be.

Shisui’s report finished within about an hour, all of it recorded by Sakura and most likely memorized by Kakashi. She tapped her pen against the paper, thinking hard before she was interrupted by Kakashi taking the notebook out of her hands and studying the page.

“ROOT mentioned again. What exactly is it, then?” He asked, nonchalantly flipping through the earlier pages. She tore the notebook out of his hand and whacked him over the head unconsciously, a move she often repeated in their time as partners together. They both froze, staring at the journal between them before Sakura cleared her throat.

“In my world,” she said carefully, parsing out what to reveal and what to keep hidden, “Danzo retained his position as one of the most powerful men in Konoha and used that to form a secret offshoot of ANBU called ROOT, almost exclusively filled with children he took, brainwashed, and experimented on in order to make them perfect soldiers.”

Shisui startled next to her. “You were a part of that?”

“After Danzo became Hokage every shinobi was subject to his whims and orders. ROOT was his personal army and we were all made his soldiers.” She practically spat out the words. She remembered the cold underground hallways, the empty dorms they were forced into. She hadn’t a part of ROOT for long before her inability to be controlled was covered and she was killed, but it was long enough to make her stomach turn. There was no place farther from Konoha than ROOT, buried in her village’s own heart.

Kakashi was stone-faced during her tirade but Shisui looked almost sick. Once again, Sakura thought him too kind by half in a world where a heart is a blazing target. She liked him all the more for it, liked him how she loved Naruto’s infallible goodness. Sometimes, being kind can be a shinobi’s greatest weapon. It’s almost never enough.

“How could an organization like that exist without us knowing?” Shisui whispered and Sakura thought:

Well, it was mostly white noise going through her head. The giant toad summons in the room - the Uchiha Massacre. Possibly the most important difference between the two worlds. How was she supposed to explain it? Could she?

She decided no, not now. Probably never. It was one part her being unable to explain it and one part wondering that if telling Shisui the truth could destroy him. She couldn’t imagine how he would react knowing he gave his life to save his family and Danzo destroyed them anyway. Sakura was many things, make into a weapon and a murderer and a liar, but she wasn’t cruel. In the mornings she would wake up, look in the mirror of an apartment that didn’t belong to her and never would, and told herself she would be better. Would at least try to be what this Konoha deserved. So no, she wasn’t going to tell Shisui until Danzo was already in the ground.

“He had too much power in my world,” she concluded would be the best truthful workaround, “And he was very good at using it.”

“So now he’s using what he has to build an army out of experiments in the hospital with the help of Orochimaru and Kabuto,” Kakashi finished for her.

“Bingo.”

Kakashi chuckled then caught himself and she had to mentally catch herself as well. The two of them were really the last ones standing when all was said and done, and that meant they knew each other better than anyone. Or they did. The two of them in the tent were the last ones left, an unmatched set, a Sakura who knew her partner too well and a Kakashi that forgot his student entirely.

Shisui ground his fists into his eyes in frustration. “Goddamit, how long has this been going on?”

“We can’t really know. Maybe since he started working for the hospital. Maybe since Orochimaru was appointed the head,” Sakura shrugged. Kakashi started twirling a senbon between his fingers distractedly, searching his own memory for anything he could dig up about ROOT or Danzo.

“What I don’t get,” he eventually said, “Is how the real Sakura found out before even the Hokage.”

Sakura and Shisui both paused to consider it before Sakura’s gaze was drawn back to her wrists. “Kakashi, was it common knowledge among shinobi why Sakura was dismissed from the genin corps?”

He picked up on her train of thought immediately. “No, but Orochimaru was the one she originally asked for training.”

“And I’m assuming she had to go to the hospital when she hurt herself more than she could heal.”

“So,” Shisui interrupted with dawning horror, “Danzo actually came to you knowing you someone with a skill for healing-”

“But no formal training, and no longer a shinobi of Konoha” Sakura concluded. “Perfect to work in the hospital and perform illegal experiments.”

“And Sakura immediately went to Shisui about it and tried to act as a spy inside the domain of the best liar in Konoha. And that’s why she was killed.” The senbon Kakashi had been holding was thrown into the ground with such force that it buried itself. Sakura couldn’t even see the top of it.

And there’s was Kakashi’s infamous sense of guilt. Over Sakura’s fate, over her time as a genin all those years ago, and over the fact that in her time of need she didn’t trust her old sensei. On one hand, Sakura was worried for Kakashi, she couldn’t help it, but on the other hand, she knew that this guilt would cement him as one of the most formidable allies she could find. She would get her partner back, even if it was just a shadow of him.

“Shit,” Shisui swore viciously. vocalizing what the other two occupants in the tent were too trained to say. “So, now Tsunade then. You think she can fix this?”

“And how did you meet Tsunade in your ‘world,’ Rat?” Kakashi asked. Sakura inwardly flinched at the name but accepted the reasons for why it was given and decided it wasn’t worth fighting about. He didn’t want to see her as Sakura, maybe couldn’t, and so reducing her to just another nameless ANBU was how he was going to cope. Far be it from her to judge his methods.

But she did find it funny that Kakashi could barely say the name ‘Sakura’ at all, either calling her a civilian or reducing her to an agent. Then again, Naruto would sooner give up on his dream of being Hokage than Kakashi would stop being a village full of issues.

“She became Hokage when I was twelve and I asked her to be my mentor. That’s how I met her. And she was one of the strongest, bravest, most honorable shinobi I ever knew. And she is the one person I trust to destroy Orochimaru, Danzo, and Kabuto.”

“Was?”

“Most everyone from my world is a ‘was,’” Sakura said softly. Shisui reached for her hand then, barely brushing the top of her palm. She tried to grasp his hand but her fingers wouldn’t answer and eventually, Shisui drew back.

Kakashi also seemed softer, more of a tired soldier than a wary ANBU agent. “You were the last of your team?”

“I was the last of every team in the Rookie Nine. I was the last truly loyal shinobi in Konoha.”

Shisui gasped. “How?”

“It’s the price of immortality, I suppose, and that’s what the seal grants to a user strong enough.”

“But you did die. That’s how you’re here.” Kakashi was blunt and Shisui hit him for it but Sakura appreciated the clinical tone. It wasn’t easy to talk about her own death.

“I had used my seal full up just weeks ago trying to save Suna. There had been an incident with some missing nin and a jutsu that nearly buried the village. Danzo didn’t care for his allies so I went alone to save as many as I could.”

“Could it have been done deliberately to deprive you of your seal?” Kakashi wondered aloud. Sakura shrugged in response - the world had gotten beyond fucked up in her last few months, and while she wouldn’t put it past Danzo to destroy Suna for his own ends she also wouldn’t put it past anyone else. When Gaara and his siblings died the power vacuum in the sand village was vicious and the entire region was destabilized.

Shisui punched the ground. “How could someone like that every become Konoha’s Hokage?”

“He murdered anyone who could oppose him and bought the civilian citizens, those left of them, with a combination of money and fear.”

“And what’s stopping us from taking this to Minato now? Why haven’t you?” Kakashi looked poised to throw some more senbon at her but she didn’t break.

“There’s no scenario, no world, where Danzo doesn’t have contingency upon contingency. Without solid proof and a Sanin on our side we won’t have enough to take him down.” She pressed the advantage by looking to Shisui who was nodding along. He was part of this, he must have had some inkling to the power Orochimaru and Danzo held. Kakashi was not as happy.

Sakura snorted. “You’ve already trusted me with something impossible, why stop? Konoha will always be my priority, no matter what. Not the man wearing the Hokage’s robes but the village. What it stands for. Who stands with it.”

Her hands were shaking again, she noticed, and she clasped them together. Shisui let out his breath in a whoosh, chuckling slightly. He turned to Kakashi and they did a bit of silent communication, the kind earned through years of partnership. Sakura did her very best not to feel bitter. She, as always, failed.

“Okay,” Kakashi finally said, “We’ll find Tsunade. I’m assuming you’re telling her?”

“Yes. She’ll know if we try to pull something over on her.”

“Okay. Once we tell her, we’re revisiting this conversation.”

Sakura’s sigh of relief almost made her collapse. This was a better outcome than she could have expected, honestly. Shisui gave a small laugh, the kind one makes after experiencing an adrenaline high. She gave a grin in return that only made him laugh harder. She hadn’t experienced that kind of teasing in a while and, hoping she wasn’t too rusty, threw his own letter at him.

“What kind of secret ninja,” she said, laughing, “Tries to sneak a secret message about a secret meeting past a shinobi with the Sharingan?”

Kakashi whack Shisui upside the head and the poor man let out a wounded yelp.

“Kami, Shisui, how are you a police officer, much less a shinobi?” She kept laughing but petered out after she noticed the tent hadn’t laughed with her. Instead, Shisui was looking at her in curiosity and fear.

“Who was your Shisui, Sakura?” he asked. Sakura didn’t know how to respond so she just shook her head no and tried to change the subject.

“Isn’t your shift coming up, Kakashi?”

Kakashi nodded and turned to Shisui, giving him the eyebrows again. Shisui nodded then turned to look sadly at Sakura again. “I’ll follow you in crow form for now. As far as Konoha is concerned, I’m on an extended visit to some outer towns to talk about the disappearances. So, you know, I’m not lying.”

Sakura nodded, still not trusting her voice, and in a flash, Shisui was gone with one parting touch to the hand. That left Sakura and Kakashi alone, something she both would kill for and something she would die to avoid. It wasn’t going to be fun, basically.

“Rat, why did you ask Tsunade to be your teacher?” He finally asked, positioned to be out of the tent in seconds if he didn’t like her answer.

“You know why,” was all she could say, but as he nodded and moved out of the tent she couldn’t help calling after him. “I forgave you for it.”

He didn’t reply.

-

She woke herself up the next morning three hours before dawn. It was cold, as summer mornings are, with the sense of impending rain hanging over the small camp. She took time to put on her clothes - black, nondescript, and which covered every inch of her skin - before she forced herself to face the outside world.

In the confines of a tent, nothing had to be what it was. Sakura could be home, or in the past, or maybe in a future where the world is a kinder place for children with dreams. Where young girls don’t have to burn their friend's body in the woods or in a trench. Where she never learned to be so cold.

But outside the tent, she saw Naruto and the fantasy was forced to end. He was sitting in front of the campfire, a luxury they would soon not have during the nights, and looked like he was concentrating intently on a kettle. It was odd for him to be making ramen at the end of his shift but she didn’t want to draw attention to herself, so instead she just quietly sat down across from him.

That seemed to have the opposite effect of what she had been going for and the instant he realized she was there he was up with a shout.

“Sakura-chan, when did you get so sneaky?” He mimed crying, or maybe he was actually crying, and sat back down again in a huff.

The kettle started to steam but didn’t whistle, confusing Sakura until she caught the edge of a seal. It was silenced as to not wake anyone else. It was kind of Naruto to do that and unexpected as well.

Her Naruto was kind, of course, all kindness and heart even to the end. He turned his humanity and compassion into a shield and a sword, could have saved the world with it in any other scenario. Her Naruto was kind enough to make her cry, but he was loud about his kindness. His kindness was over-the-top, something seen coming from a mile away, and so unsubtle in its approach it was charming.

So the silencing seal surprised her. What surprised her even more is when Naruto poured the hot water into a mug, stared at it intently until the tea inside steeped, and then handed it to her with a sheepish grin.

“I forgot milk and sugar, but I remember you bringing tea to training sometimes, and I thought it would totally get you ready for the mission!”

Sakura - who was an ANBU agent, who survived a war, who took three senbon to the chest last night, who looked in the eyes of dead men and smiled – started to cry. Silent tears because nothing could make her scream out loud anymore, but tears nonetheless. She didn’t even grab the mug she was too surprised because this was Naruto, her best fucking friend, her hero, giving her tea when he didn’t even know her, not really. Her Naruto had fought for her, with her, had bandaged her wounds when she ran out of chakra healing him, had died trying to give Konoha the Hokage it deserved. But she couldn’t remember if he had ever made her tea.

So Sakura grabbed the mug and cried and Naruto panicked in the background and she couldn’t find it in herself to be composed. She was a world away from year and what felt like a decade away from happiness and she hadn’t cried in so fucking long so she cried now, in some small throwaway camp in the middle of the forest. She cried because she missed her family more than she could say and even in this mirror of her reality she would never really get them back. She cried because she really did like tea.

“Thank you, Naruto. I’m excited to be on this mission with, with you.” Her voice only marginally cracked, something she was proud of. Naruto was staring at her with concern, eyes broadcasting every emotion, before he lunged around the fire to give her a big hug. The force of his affection nearly made her spill her tea but a hand pressed against the mug and offered a counterbalance. Naruto had planned to be so enthusiastic then, but still wanted her to have her tea.

Was it his parents that allowed him to be so consciously kind? That gave him tools he never had before? Was it his parents that gave him kindness he could turn on and off, so dismissive in the Hokage’s office and so sweet in camp?

Sakura didn’t know. She didn’t even know if she cared. Naruto had made her tea. Shisui trusted her. Even Kakashi knew the truth and was still going to find Tsunade. Naruto had made her tea.

She would give herself this cry. She really hadn’t slept in the past few weeks, or years, and she deserved it.

Naruto rubbed the back of his head in the familiar way he always did and gave her the same smile he always gave. “You’re welcome, but if you’re so happy I can make you tea whenever, Sakura-chan!”

“Really?” She asked, smile teasing the edge of her lips. Naruto’s ability to say impossible things and believe in them wholeheartedly was something she had missed.

“Yeah, believe it! I know we haven’t talked a lot cause I’ve been training hard to be the Hokage but you were so cool the other day! I bet you could be like the Vice Hokage if you wanted to be!” Sakura laughed at that and she couldn’t even tell if he was choking. But he was nice and the tea was warm and the morning was quiet. Sakura had never had so many nice things happen at once in the longest time and she was going to treasure this, goddamnit. Because Naruto wouldn’t lie to her, not in this universe and maybe not in any universe. Naruto wouldn’t interrogate her in a weapon’s store or try to kill her to prove a point – Naruto trusted her. And she knew it was dangerous for him to trust so easily, knew he shouldn’t, but Sakura reveled in it. Though she could stay in this Konoha once all was said and done if that meant she could have her best friend back.

Sakura gave herself plenty of allowances that morning, until the tea ran cold and Naruto went back to his tent. Sakura let herself be happy.

Then she got back to work.

-

They traveled for four days on the way to Tsunade’s most likely whereabouts. It was silent for the most part, for which Sakura was thankful, but she could tell things weren’t really perfect.
Kakashi and Shisui had another few meetings in her tent trying to hammer out a general plan, but the conversations weren’t as productive as they could have been given Sakura’s reluctance to reveal too much detail about her world and Kakashi’s reluctance to acknowledge her existence. It was getting pretty fucking annoying. Shisui was trying at the very least, but she had a feeling he was wary of her as well.

He should be, she knew, but it still hurt.

Third night, third meeting, he had asked her what she planned to do when they won. Never if, with Shisui, always when. Kakashi then gave her a look, almost the first time he had looked at her all day, and in an instant their language was formed. Because Sakura was more like Kakashi than ever before - a child soldier, carrying remnants of dead friends - and both of them knew that Sakura didn’t have a plan for after. Or, more accurately, she did and it involved dying or leaving forever.

And then Shisui saw the look and understood what it meant because despite everything he really was an ANBU agent, and then he got angry because why would Sakura waste her life like that anyway? And then Kakashi got pissy and started yelling because she wasn’t Sakura, and then both started yelling at each other and Sakura left the fucking tent.

So it could be better. (Kakashi, despite being one of the fastest ninjas alive, did end up with bird shit on his uniform the next morning, and Sakura laughed so hard that even Naruto told her to be quiet. Sasuke was silent in such a way that everyone knew he was silent and it was for a very important reason.)

Team Seven was left in a surprisingly quiet mission until the small village of Jecho rose out of the forest. It was a small place, surrounded by woods and bisected by a river; it subsisted mostly on trade and travelers, which meant the three biggest buildings in town were the inn, the brothel, and the gambling den.

They stopped about 500 feet from the perimeter, hoping Tsunade wouldn’t sense Naruto’s monster chakra, and tried to come to an agreement about who would go in and who would stay behind.

“I’m going!” cried Naruto.

“No, I’m going, idiot,” snarled Sasuke.

“We’re both going!” cried Naruto, and on and on and on until Sakura wished Kakashi would throw a chidori her way instead of some measly senbon.

Sakura sent a pulse of chakra to Kakashi and caught his eye, hoping he would work with her as an operative if not a person. He tapped his finger on the edge of his book - twenty five. She would have twenty five minutes then, to find Tsunade, before Kakashi would lose control of the boys. She could do that.

Her substitution with the log twenty feet below was seamless, and she was confident enough in her shadow clone to be a believable Sakura. One who was quiet, didn’t talk, didn’t fight.

She was in the town, chakra masked and hair up, not thirty seconds later. Another half a minute after that and she was in the casino. No time to waste and all that.

The building had one floor and was about as big as Sakura’s childhood home. There were only a few tables and from first glance Sakura could tell Tsunade wasn’t here. She released a heavy sigh before letting her hair down, unzipping the front of her shirt a bit, hiding her weapons, and sauntering over to the barkeep.

He was young, mostly staring at the waitresses walking around, but seemed confident enough behind the bar to make Sakura think this had been his job for quite a while. With any luck, he had seen Tsunade pass through and maybe even heard her drunkenly ramble about her next destination.

“Sake, please,” she asked, bending over the bar just a bit. He took a peak and winked at her before turning around and sighing.

“I’m afraid we’re out, miss. Can I get you anything else, something fruity, perhaps?” His hand moved to touch hers on the table and she giggled at the contact. Her other hand toyed with an empty shot glass on the bar as she pouted.

“Did my sister drink it all up again?” She collapsed on the bar in exasperation and she knew she already had him, plus every other patron of the bar, hooked. “Tsunade always drinks too much and never leaves anything behind for me!”

“You mean the bust- beautiful blond who was in here a few nights ago?”

“The same.” She pouted again and leaned back on her bar stool. She had about fifteen, maybe twenty minutes left before she could report it was a bust and she wanted as much information as she could find. “Hey, do you know where she’s going? We’re supposed to travel to Suna together for a wedding but she always breaks off on her own to gamble and now I need to find her.”

The barkeep looked a bit skeptical but another flash of cleavage won him over. She loved civilians. “Well, I heard her say she was planning on staying till the end of the week, but she split town when some ex-boyfriends of hers showed up and she hasn’t been here since.”

 

Sakura froze for a millisecond before smiling again. “Oh Kami, which one was it this time?” She giggled again, waved her hand, took a sip of the fruity drink he ended up giving her and immediately purged it from her system. At least it didn't taste poisonous.

The barkeep smiled when she drank and started to make another one. “It was two guys, actually, both in some dorky cloaks - black with red clouds. Weird, right?”

“Oh,” she said, staring directly at the crow on the building across the street, “That is weird.”

Chapter Text

Sakura went through the seven (eight? nine?) stages of grief in quick succession when she realized the weird guys in cloaks were most likely Akatsuki. The next five minutes were a fun game of multitasking as she tried to both questions the absentminded bartender and stave of her panic attack at the same time. She had more success with the latter. She realized the man would give her nothing, which meant the next logical step would be to stop at the inn and see if she could tell which Akatsuki members it had been. Unfortunately, she was waylaid by Shisui dropping down from the rooftops and pulling her into an alleyway, a move that nearly made her take his head off. She thought she saw a flash of red out of the corner of her eye as she was pulled away and rechecked her masked chakra.

“I think I have some ba-” he began before she slapped a hand over his mouth. His eyes were darting around and she could tell he had seen what she had.

“If it’s that members of Akatsuki are apparently after Tsunade as well, I already know.” Shisui gaped at her before sheepishly scratching at the back of his head.

He leaned in closer, peeking around the corner. “I guess I should have expected you to be good at espionage.” He glanced back and gave her a thumbs up before scouting again.

“I’m passable,” she said, checking the rooftops, “But the Fourth Shinobi War involved more open attacks than hidden espionage, so that’s what I became really good at.”

Shisui started and turned to her, forgoing stealth in his shock. “Fourth?” Sakura winced, realizing that she shouldn’t have given that much away. She shrugged her shoulders, probably not the best response, but the quickest and quietest ones.

 

She felt a massive chakra signature heading down the street, one she would recognize in her sleep, and made the hand signal for camp at the shell-shocked Uchiha. He was already running right next to her, and once again she was forced to marvel at his speed.

She didn’t feel a pursuit, nor did she hear anything that might suggest they had been spotted, and she let herself hope. She still took the most winding path back to camp as she could and Shisui followed her lead. He was tense when they ran back to the forest and he split off from her about halfway back. They were going to have a long conversation tonight, she could tell.

Getting back to the tree where her clone was provided her with no difficulty, and she decided to be open about going on ahead to the village. If they knew Tsunade wasn’t there, Naruto and Sasuke probably wouldn't investigate for themselves, and that meant no chance of them running into Akatsuki members. Sakura didn’t know if this Akatsuki wanted to hunt the tailed-beasts but she wasn’t going to take any chances.

She dismissed her clone before hopping to the tree and met Kakashi’s raised eyebrow with a shake of her head. Naruto and Sasuke rounded on her immediately but she raised her hands in fake surrender before the yelling would start. “She’s not there.”

“Excuse me?” The following conversation went about as well as could be expected, but Kakashi had the decency to pretend to be on her side when she started tapping out “enemy” in code on the tree branch. He ordered everyone back to camp to plan their next move but lingered a moment with Sakura.

“Enemy?”

“Two Akatsuki members in town asking after Tsunade. Identities unknown. Shisui might know more,” she reported. Kakashi tensed for a second before nodding and running back to camp. When they got there, it was to Sasuke and Naruto wrestling a bit away from the still lit campfire, apparently having gotten into an argument in the ten seconds the group was separated. Kakashi tasked them with hunting for food and whatnot before covertly but quickly ducking into Sakura’s tent, where Shisui was already waiting.

“My barkeep only knew about the cloaks,” she started, “Do you have any idea what members are hunting her?”

“An idea has to why now would be good as well,” Kakashi commented lightly. At odds with his tone was the fact that his porn book was gone and his posture looked ready.

Shisui wasted no time. “One apparently had blond hair and an abrasive tongue, and the other had red hair and a creepy stare.”

Kakashi cursed. Sakura knew Kakashi cursed because she heard him do it, saw his hand clench, but she couldn’t really tell what he said. In fact, she didn’t even know what Shisui said. She heard a rhythmic clicking in her head, and she couldn’t help but think that in the right light her tent almost looked like a cave.

The thing about Sasori, more than any of her other opponents, was that he was really the first ninja to kill her. She could think of some unfunny joke about kunoichi and their first times, but every time she thought of Sasori she thought of the sword going through her chest. She thought of him lunging forward. She thought of Sasori “letting” Chiyo kill him after the poison master saved her life.

Sasori was her first real opponent, the first time she really fought back against the world. It was one of the most intense fights of her life, even to this day. No one involved was a reincarnated god or had a bloodline limit that transcended reality or some bullshit. It had been three ninjas in a cave (or two, or two hundred, depending on what was counted) fighting to the death. She still remembers Sasori saying she would be a fine puppet. She was horrified.

Then, in no time at all, she made herself Chiyo’s puppet. Ninja had no right to be scared. Ninja had no right to own themselves in a fight.

And Sakura had never said it, not really, but Sasori acknowledging her by the end of it all was one of the worst things he could have done. Now she was a real kunoichi, a real threat, and hiding would do as much good for her as it did for Tsunade. The best ninjas are the ones who are never allowed to be invisible, and the day she walked out of that cave and Sasori didn’t was the day people saw her.

Now, all these years later, after being stabbed more times than she could count, she could admire Sasori. He killed his kage, and she wishes she could have done the same. He was his own master by the end of his life, something Sakura had never achieved. She was always serving Konoha, and when it died she served its ghost. Sakura was incapable of controlling her own strings.

Sakura was roughly torn out of her cave by Kakashi shaking her shoulders. “You know Deidara and Sasori?”

“Know them?” She laughed, feeling off, feeling like a cross between a murder victim and an evil mastermind at the same time. “I killed one of them.”

That was, of course, when Naruto was thrown into the side of her tent.

Sakura, who now realized that she was entirely remiss in not warding her tent against her allies, did her best to tear a rip in the fabric to let Shisui escape. She practically leaped across Kakashi’s lap to do so, which was unfortunate considering he was trying to shove Naruto out of the tent at the same time. In the midst of all this, Shisui flashed out of the hurricane, right into the trap of Sasuke’s waiting arms.

Shisui gave a yelp but recognized his own cousin quickly enough to not make an offensive move. Sakura found herself in a tangle of limbs with Kakashi and Naruto, possibly creating the least graceful moments in all of their lives. They all tried to subdue each other, but the lack of actual malice meant most of their practiced moves were off-limits. Elsewhere, Shisui had managed to tackle Sasuke to the ground and was now fending off his younger cousin’s ire.

Kakashi and Sakura eventually substituted themselves out for the two logs around the campfire, only to find Naruto already there - apparently it had been a clone, albeit a sturdy one. He grabbed the two of them by their collars and started the shake, ranting the whole time, the same as Sasuke. Neither of them were very happy that their teammates had been keeping secrets and that there was a hidden ANBU agent trailing them.

So they had planned this then, which was impressive, and something she should have accounted for. Sasuke never left the village young, never betrayed their team, of course Naruto and he would know how to work together. They were always partners, even across sides of a war, and they would always work better together than they ever had with her.

Sasuke used a minor fire jutsu to escape the sheepish Shisui and glared at his two team members. “What the hell is going on here, and why does a civilian know before I do?”

“And me!” Naruto added. Sakura glanced to Kakashi hoping to get a signal as to how he wanted to place this considering he probably knew the two of them best, but he had already dragged out a porn book. Nonchalance, then?

Shisui was making some covert hand signals, but the sign language used by ANBU was constantly changing over time, which meant it also heavily differed over universe. She could only guess at a few, most likely “lying” and “team,” before Sasuke slapped his hands down roughly. Shisui allowed the abuse and sent a beseeching look to Kakashi, who discreetly noticed and then obviously ignored it. Sakura snorted against her will and Shisui’s wounded sound before disengaging her collar from Naruto’s hold.

“So,” she started, before realizing she wasn’t really going anywhere. The thing was, by the time Sakura had gotten good at lying and killing (gotten good at being a ninja, basically) both Sasuke and Naruto had been dead. She couldn’t recall ever having to go on a mission with the two of them that involved her lying. That was pure ANBU, pure ROOT, and she didn’t know if she was capable of toying with her original teammates.

Because Sakura could fight gods and monsters and herself all damn day but she was never really going to be anything more than a weak little genin when it came to her teammates. Always on the sidelines, always letting them take charge. And here and now, with her palm more calluses than skin, she didn’t know if she could touch them, much less hurt them. “So,” she said, and she didn’t say anything else.

Shisui was beside her in an instant, trying to comfort her, some remnant of his relationship with the other Sakura. She moved away, but she could never be as quick as Shisui, and she still felt the phantom touch on her shoulder. Kakashi also managed to disentangle himself from Naruto and only clasped his book with one hand. He was preparing for something, but she couldn’t tell what. She hoped it wouldn’t involve launching more weaponry at her; with Akatsuki involved, Sakura had to begin storing and conserving as much of her meager chakra supplies as she could.

Shisui, hands grasped into her fists after Sakura stepped away, put on a charming smile. “Looks like the mission parameters changed, little cousin, and it’s going to be me, Kakashi, and the Tsunade expert from here on out.”

Sasuke growled at Shisui but Kakashi stopped him with one look. “Shisui’s right, things have changed, and I’m sending both of you back to Konoha.”

Naruto was visibly hurt by all this. “But Tsunade’s my family! And if it’s dangerous, Sakura won’t be able to protect herself,” he cried. With things at camp heating up, Sakura did another chakra pulse, but still detected nothing in the forest around her. However, once again, she underestimated her older and alive teammates, and Naruto caught her in her act.

“What are you checking for, Sakura-chan?”

“And don’t give me some ‘it’s classified’ bullshit, sensei, Sakura’s a civilian and I’m a jounin!” Sasuke bit out. Despite his apparent rage, Sasuke also started scanning the area around camp.

Sakura was stuck at an impasse. The question remained: could she take on two members of the Akatsuki - both stronger than their known iterations - with only Shisui and Kakashi as backup? The two of them were powerful, yes, and they would have a medic on their side, but Sasori was almost immortal and Deidara had a bomb for a body. The safest bet would be to include Sasuke and Naruto in the fight, but that meant she either didn’t fight or she would be forced to reveal her battle prowess, something not easily explain to her teammates that saw her get booted from the genin corps.

Not to mention, if the Akatsuki had found Tsunade, who probably still had a crippling fear of blood, and Shizune, who was a poison expert and not a fighter, they would have to defend the two of them.

Sakura needed time to think, pages to scribble on, and probably the ability to see into the future. This was Tsunade, her shishou, and Sakura couldn’t fail her. Not again, and especially not here.

So could she trust Naruto and Sasuke to fight in her place, or could she trust them to keep her secret? That was the choice she had, really, and she didn’t want to make it without confirming with Kakashi and Shisui. Except now she couldn’t because all three of them had underestimated Naruto and Sasuke and fallen for their stupid trap. Amateur to the last, Rat.

She tried to speak again over the yelling. “How about-”

“Great idea Sakura, let’s let the two boys pack!” Shisui grabbed both her and Kakashi and sprinted to the treeline, managing to carry the both of them without a hitch. Wasn’t just speed, then.

Naruto and Sasuke both tried climbing the tree after them (well, Naruto actually just performed an eight-feet vertical leap) but Kakashi silenced them with a stern “That’s an order!”

Sakura hurriedly carved some silencing seals into the bark before the conversation began and turned around to see her two partners doing the same. She giggled, nervously, but truer than her laugh had been before. Shisui also noticed and chuckled, but Kakashi merely put away his kunai and his porn. At least he was taking her seriously.

“You think we need to other two to face the Akatsuki agents,” he stated without preamble.

Sakura nodded and started fidgeting with her fingerless gloves. “The way I see it, Akatsuki’s been hired to hunt her down now of all times because for the past week I’ve been publicly gathering information on her. Being visible about it helped my case with the Hokage, but now I see it probably means Orochimaru knows.” She couldn’t help the mountain of guilt rising in her at the thought of leading Akatsuki to her shishou.

Shisui cracked his knuckles as he thought over what she said. “It’s probable,” he said, “Considering everyone knows Tsunade’s the best medic out of the Sannin. Orochimaru’s more of a scientist.”

“So if Tsunade came back, he would lose his position,” she concluded, daydreaming about ripping out the man’s tongue and choking him with it.

“And,” Kakashi drawled, “They know that the girl who is onto Danzo’s conspiracy is now hunting down the one woman capable of taking down the head of the hospital. They know you’re onto them-”

“So their orders are probably to kill both Tsunade and me.” Silence fell over their group as they considered Danzo’s angle.

Shisui let out a grunt of frustration and glanced down at the camp. Naruto and Sasuke had packed everything up efficiently and it looked like Naruto was now laying down traps. “He couldn’t possibly want everyone on the mission dead - Naruto is the Hokage’s son!”

And then Sakura had a terrible thought, a terrifying thought. Because Danzo wanted to be Hokage - he always wanted to be Hokage. And Minato loved his son - he always loved his son. And if Minato’s son died on a mission with an Uchiha child and one of the most powerful and trustworthy ninja Konoha had to offer, the entire village would be thrown into chaos. Danzo and Orochimaru could make a perfect opening.

So Danzo could very well want them all dead, and now Sakura’s managed to set Akatsuki on her best friend’s tail the second time in her second world. .

“You’re wrong, Shisui,” she said, and her voice was strong but her hands were shaking. She was shaking apart. “Danzo would do anything for a chance at power-”

“And the ultimate power in Konoha is the Hokage’s seat. Killing Naruto would only help destabilize the Fourth.” Kakashi’s voice was low. He looked at her, a glance, and a nod was all he needed to know that Danzo was the Hokage that had gotten Sakura killed. Which meant his plans went far beyond a hospital. Which meant the three enough wouldn’t be enough to stop him, even if they did get Tsunade.

The tree started shaking and Sakura looked down to see Naruto leaping up the branches. “Two chakra sources - coming in five minutes!” he shouted. Sasuke was already staring westward with his Sharingan out, looking for the danger.

The three of them lept for the tree and gathered in a huddle. Shisui braced to run in the opposite direction, ready to be a hidden weapon, before Sakura caught him.

“Sasori and Deidara are a puppet master and a bomb expert, respectively. Sasori most likely has command over three hundred puppets by now, and he does have a puppet for a body. He’s functionally immortal until his heart is pierced.” The tension in the camp was rising drastically as the clock ran down. “Deidara’s tricky as hell and can make powerful bombs at will. His left eye makes him immune to genjutsu, even the Sharingan, and he can make his body a bomb as a last resort. Sasori killed the Third Kazekage and uses his body as a puppet. In my world, Deidara was able to kill the Fifth.”

Everyone in camp turned to stare at her in shock and Kakashi made the fastest recovery, giving a firm nod and sending Shisui off. Sasuke and Naruto were less accepting.

“Sakura-chan,” Naruto said. He floundered for a minute, a minute they didn’t have, before shaking his head. “Sakura-chan?”

Sakura knew what he was asking and neither she nor Kakashi knew what to answer with. In the pause, Sasuke fell into a fighting stance.

“I am Sakura,” she finally said. “But there are some things you don’t know about me.”

“Like how you have intel on Akatsuki members, know my cousin, and the fact that you’re talking about a different ‘world?’” Sasuke scoffed but his gaze was sharp. Now even Sakura could feel the chakra signatures of the approaching mercenaries.

Kakashi put away his book and removed his eye patch, adopted eye spinning away. Sakura briefly wondered about the Obito of this world before locking the thought in a box.

“She’s on our side,” Kakashi finally said, “And we’re going to need all the help we can get.”

Chapter Text

When Sakura was younger, young enough to let her parents swing her between their arms when walking down the street, she used to think ninjas were so cool. Who wouldn’t? They got to run on rooftops and handle all sorts of pointy knives and they could even disappear.

She saw a lot of ninjas in her first few years of growing up, shinobi forced to keep the peace inside of Konoha in the absence of their police department. They weren’t meant to be seen, of course, but the nice ones would wave at her, would flip around to amuse some kids. Mostly genin, the younger ones, but she distantly remembered jounin like Genma playing peekaboo in the park and petting dogs. The only version of therapy they were willing to accept, most likely.

Konoha was built on the backs of its shinobi, both clan and clanless, and they only way to consistently fill up the ranks was to make it every child’s dream. Soldiers were soldiers, no matter how young, even in Konoha.

Sakura didn’t feel cool standing in the remains of their camp, left as the obvious bait. Naruto’s chakra still coated the area like a thick storm but that could also be used to their advantage, covering for the two Uchiha in the trees and Kakashi hiding beneath the ground.

She knew the sight of her would throw Akatsuki off - pink hair, soft skin, fat tears. They would never see her as a threat even if she tried to pull a knife on them. But a knife wouldn’t work on Sasori or Deidara anyway, tricky bastards that they were. This fight was going to be tough, might destroy the forest around them, and more likely than not end with someone getting hurt. Should she save her strength to heal her team? Could she, facing against these enemies?

Worst comes to worst she could drag her teammates to Tsunade for healing, killing two birds with one punch.

Sakura did her level best not to think about the last time she was caught in a fight, did her best to forget how exhausted her reserves had been, how sluggish her limbs. She had always been a bit of a shit sensor compared to others and she barely noticed when two full squads surrounded her.

None had been masked. They planned to kill her or die trying on their Hokage’s orders. They did both, in the end. Sakura had lost her temper - badly - had raged like a tempest against those agents who had come to kill her. She had used every bit of her power tearing them to shreds and died from her wounds still snarling like an animal. Viciously satisfied and wishing she had just enough energy to get to Konoha and tear out Danzo’s throat with her teeth.

The fact that she had bled out in both worlds wasn’t lost on Sakura, and the number of times she had revisited both of her deaths was only equal to the number of times she revisited the deaths of all her friends. But a part of her didn’t want to think about her old world, couldn’t, because that might mean going back, and she would never do that until she ensured Konoha’s safety.

All the wrong people had died in her world but here they were alive, they were here for Sakura to protect. Here was a Konoha she could still believe in. No part of her wanted to go back.

But if she lost focus during this fight she might just end up going somewhere worse.

When Sasori and Deidara entered the clearing they weren’t masked either, just wearing their idiotic oversized coats. They melted out of the shadows into the clearing languidly, already cocky. The worst part was they had good reason to be. Any and all Akatsuki were dangerous, and she knew Sasori and Deidara actually made for a pretty killer team. In any other world, they would have nothing to fear.

In any other world, Sakura wouldn’t have to fight and lie every day for a village that betrayed her, but now they were all in this world together and Sakura wasn’t about to leave a job unfinished.

Sasori was scanning the treetops, looking for the source of all the chakra, but Deidara was looking exclusively at her. Made the whole thing worse by whistling. “Well, your boobs are too big to be the Hokage’s brat and too small to be that old lady we’re looking for.”

At least that meant they didn’t have Tsunade yet. It wasn’t the first time an enemy taunted her just using the fact that she was a woman but she let herself blush this time, Deidara wiggling his eyebrows at her.

“Don’t bother with the bait. Let’s just get this over with.” Sasori slapped Deidara’s arm and didn’t bother looking at her as he reached inside his robe for a scroll. Was he double checking the parameters of the job? Confirming she was the target? He gave it a glance and then destroyed it.

Sakura let out a giant sob, reaching out with her hand to the bomber. “Please, it’s the Hokage’s son, I’ll let you have him, just let me go!” Behind the bangs that covered her eyes, she glimpsed Shisui and Sasuke moving into position behind Deidara now that he was focused on her. Naruto was probably still at a distance, providing cover with all the energy he was putting off.

When this was all said and done she would have to ask Shisui why Naruto was still the Kyuubi container if Kushina was alive and well. Maybe there were still problems with the birth even without Obito fucking about? Either way, it served her well now.

Deidara spat in her general direction and giggled when she flinched away. Sasori, apparently tired of the diversion, waved his hand. The chakra strings on his fingertips were sharper than any blade Sakura had ever seen and cut off her outstretched hand like it was made of paper.

‘So’, she thought as her mud clone exploded, sending clumps across the clearing, ‘this is how things get started.’

Sasori let out an outraged yell as the dirt hit his head and Deidara was already throwing bombs into the forest surrounding the area. Shisui dodged between the smoke, faster than even the air around him, and went to cut off Deidara’s arms with his sword. Sasori blocked, his own puppet arm reinforced by chakra, and Shisui turned into a flock of crows and escaped before the two Akatsuki could retaliate.

Kakashi and Naruto both appeared on the scene, her mentor coming from below and Naruto flying in, landing a Chidori and what looked to be a mutated Rasengan on the forest floor, separating the two mercenaries on either side of a chasm.

“So it really is the Konoha’s demon container we’re hunting, then. It’d be interesting to try and make a puppet out of him.” Sasori raised his arms and the sky filled with his dolls, hundreds of them cracking their joints and readying their weapons.

Sakura, from her position still in the trees, saw no sign of the third Kazekage yet, which meant Sasori still wasn’t truly concerned. And, she conceded, it didn’t appear he needed to be with over three hundred other puppets surrounding him. Numbers wise, they were fucked.

But Sakura just needed to be fast enough, small enough, invisible enough to get to his heart. Shut him down and everything fell apart. She had more than enough strength to crack his shell, the trick was getting past his guard.

Deidara let out a loud whoop at the appearance of Sasori’s army. “I hope you don’t mind if I damage your merchandise, but these guys are kinda pissing me off. What’s up with being so quiet, yo? You think you’re better than us?” He tossed out a few more bombs and moved to engage Naruto up close.

Naruto dodged neatly, eyes boggling at the flying bodies around him. “Just who are you guys anyway? And what do you want with Tsunade?”

A clone of Kakashi’s ripped Naruto away from a barrage of spears at the last moment. Shisui and Sasuke started to fly between the puppets in the sky, dismantling them with weapons and fire, but it seemed to make no difference to the sheer numbers.

Likewise, Deidara was playing with Kakashi now, having small explosives that moved like bugs crawl up his legs whenever he got too close. Naruto was having no luck either, battling a large clay tiger that he was unable to hit lest it blow up in his face.

It was a shit show, one that would probably drag on for five hours unless Sakura did something. First step would be Sasori, ridding them of their army and throwing Deidara off. Sakura didn’t know how she would fare against Sasori as weak as she was, even weaker than when she last faced him, and without many tricks up her sleeve.

She had no poison on her given she was barely able to grab bare essentials for this mission and she doubted a clone would work twice - Sasori would recognize the chakra signature again.

She could go underground but Deidara might have had his explosive bugs burrow into a minefield to make sure Kakashi didn’t pull the same trick twice, which meant going underground would either kill her or severely ruin her element of surprise.

She considered waiting for one of her teammates to pull out one of their more bombastic moves or a giant summon before she realized that they wouldn't know most of that shit. They'd probably never been in the middle of gigantic battlefields throwing around the forces of nature.

Sasuke was a jounin, which meant he would probably focus on the quieter moves. And there was no way in hell he got any giant snake summons from Orochimaru. Which meant this might be a case of Akatsuki being stronger than they were in her world while her team is slightly weaker.

It made sense, it just pissed her off. Made keeping Naruto and Sasuke around worth it, especially for when Sasori whipped out his trump card. But then what advantages did they have for certain?

Just Sakura, and the fact that she knew more about Sasori than he had probably told anyone else. She knew his grandmother, his parents, his puppets, and where he kept his beating heart safe. Sakura might not be able to get close enough to tear through his chest, but his grandmother would be. She might not have Chiyo fighting alongside her now but she didn’t need her old partner - just her face.

Whether or not Chiyo was even alive here and now didn’t matter, she just needed to surprise the bastard. The henge was easy enough; she hadn’t know Chiyo for long, but the woman and her grandson had left lasting impressions on Sakura.

The tricky part was Chiyo’s chakra strings, one of the only ways to make her disguise believable. She had looked into them, once upon a time, knowing that she had the chakra control necessary, but ultimately decided they went against her preferred fighting methods. But she knew the theory well enough and had even dealt with throwing chakra scalpels, something similar. Could she link her chakra scalpels into a chain, forming a string? It was possible, but something she would only be able to use with planning. That meant she could make a flashy opening move at least, but she wouldn’t be able to wield them in battle like Chiyo had been able to.

Regardless, she wasn’t about to hide in the bushes any longer and risk Shisui or the rest of her team getting hurt. With that thought, and an eye where she stepped, she waddled onto the battlefield and with a grand motion sliced through the strings connecting about thirty of the puppets surrounding Sasuke, letting them clatter to the ground.

And Sakura’s hunch about Deidara was correct because as they landed the ground erupted, destroying the dolls and ensuring Sasori wouldn’t be able to reconnect his strings.

Sasori, and all his puppets still in the sky, froze at the sight of his grandmother. Deidara even took a break from his and Kakashi’s slap fight to gawk at Sakura as she picked her way across the wreckage. It was as if time stood still in that moment, the way it sometimes does during battles. As if the results of this confrontation could change the world entirely, as if the gods were just now playing their cards.

Sakura knew this feeling, both hated and loved it in equal measure, but she didn’t pause. She marched her way to Sasori, fingers still twitching, scowl in place, and didn't bother to look at the surprised Uchiha.

“I should have known you would be the one causing this ruckus, grandson.” It was a strain on her throat to rasp as hard as she did but all her thoughts were on Sasori’s face. Its usual expression of indifference was rapidly shifting, eyes flitting between his grandmother and his enemies.

Whether he called her bluff now or let her get closer was pivotal to her play but Sakura was getting ready for anything. If the puppets blew whatever mines were in this area when they landed she could disappear below and safely backtrack to her hiding spot as long as Deidara didn’t send any nasty surprises after here. It was likely he would leave things to Sasori, given his respect for his partner, but playing Sasori’s emotions like this would probably enrage him enough to bring out his dead Kazekage, which meant she wouldn’t be safe anywhere.

But Sasori wasn’t lashing out, wasn’t doing anything. Sakura remembered Chiyo saying she had recluded herself for years after she lost her grandson, meaning this would be the first time he saw her in a decade or so. She sniffed in disdain at the two Uchiha suspended between puppet strings, balancing between the dolls. They didn’t make a move either, content to see this play out. If there’s one thing shinobi craved more than death it was information - drama. They wanted to know everything, always, which meant there were no distractions from Sakura’s performance.

“And just what are you doing here, old woman?” Sasori sneered and lashed out a wooden tendril from his back, spikes oozing poison. Sakura sidestepped neatly, the same way she remembered Chiyo doing so. Chiyo did bare minimum dodging, both to preserve her energy and to keep an eye out for the next projectile.

“I’m hunting that idiotic slug brat, same as you.” With each move, Sakura got closer. The idea was to get close enough to strike without him having time to pull out his Kazekage puppet. By cycling chakra through her legs she could propel herself forward with the same force she would use for a forest-destroying punch, making her almost as fast as Shisui in small doses.

She wouldn’t need to keep it up; Sakura knew that with her chakra reserves she would stand no chance with a one-on-one or Sasori or most of his tricked-out dolls. She had one chance to strike, one chance to use her knowledge to kill. If she failed, well, she could always try to release Kurama and see where the chips fell then.

Sasori couldn’t leave this fight alive, no matter what.

She could see Shisui in the background, quiet as a ghost, flitting over to where Deidara was still staring at his partner in no small amount of amazement. She realized he was leaving Sasori to her, and the amount of trust he was displaying almost threw Sakura to the ground.

She couldn’t recall the last time anyone had trusted her like that in a fight, not someone she cared about at least. Danzo was more than happy to use her as a weapon, but now Shisui was trusting her as a teammate. As a partner. As someone strong enough to hold their own.

“Man, what the fuck is going on here Sasori?” Deidara called from across the battlefield.

Sasori didn’t turn away from Sakura once. “I don’t know, but it’s pissing me off.”

“You’re losing your eyesight in your old age, boy.” She let out a cackle and took another step forward. Off to the side, Kakashi replaced himself with a clone. She felt the familiar substitution, a move he had used so often in their partnership that she knew it as well as her own chakra, and readied herself for his interference. He had to know it was her, but whether or not he helped was up in the air - it really depended on how much he hated her.

His clone leapt across the battlefield, hopping on rubble to ensure he wasn’t caught on a mine, and Sakura thought she knew what his game was. His approach gave her enough time to fake her chakra strings with scalpels again and she was able to neatly cleave him in half from a distance. The clone lasted, long enough to make a corpse instead of poofing into thin air, making the whole thing seem real. He had gotten better at this little trick.

“Konoha dogs,” she spat. “I’m surprised you couldn’t handle it on your own, boy.” A glance to the side showed Naruto was angry but not exploding at the seams, which meant he was also in on the trick. Deidara was laughing hysterically, hopefully fooled, but Sasori just looked thoughtful.

He just had to believe it for a little longer. Just believe it.

One of Sasori’s puppets wobbled in the air, hesitating between the two of them. Sakura was only ten feet away now - just ten. “And what do you want with me, grandmother?”

His voice still sounded scornful, he wasn’t hooked yet, but it was enough.

Sakura didn’t bother with a one-liner, didn’t drop the disguise for a dramatic reveal, didn’t tell Sasori all she knew. Sakura didn’t owe him anything but a quick death and a shallow grave.

She pushed in her heels, looked him in the eyes, and lept.

And she was right: hands through the chest are the messiest. From over his shoulder when she was pressed against him almost cheek to cheek she could see his heart still pulsing in her fist, the final vestiges of his humanity fighting against her. He didn’t choke, didn’t move - with the heart removed, his puppet body shut down entirely.

Sasori was dead and she had killed him all by herself with nothing but a henge and her hands.

Across the battlefield, Shisui and Kakashi swept past each other and through the shocked Deidara in a flash of lightning. Kakashi went through his heart and Shisui went straight for the neck.

All the constructs, the clay animals and the puppets hanging overhead, crashed to the earth like meteors. Shisui grabbed her across the waist on his way by, the other hand on his bloodied sword, and moved her clear of the blast zone. Kakashi had done the same for Naruto, and Sasuke was already far enough removed from the action to handle himself.

The clearing was decimated, dirty, probably still filled with bombs, but it was quiet now. It was over.

And that’s when things got difficult for Sakura.

It was Sasuke who started yelling at her first, garbled exclamations, hands flying. It was almost funny, in a way. She had only ever seen Sasuke react emotionally when it came to his family or Naruto, never really her.

But now he was grabbing at her clothes, fingers tangled up in the real fabric of her shirt past the henge she still wore. “Who exactly are you?”

Shisui grabbed him by the shoulders and forced him off while Naruto stood stock-still in Kakashi’s arms. Sakura consciously unclenched her body, trying to calm down from the adrenaline high of battle, only to hear a wet plop as the heart dropped to the ground from her relaxed fingers.

Opps.

Kakashi raised his eyebrows at the sound but Sakura didn’t flinch, merely dropped the henge and wiped her hands on her pants. It was going to take forever to get clean enough to face Tsunade now.

“Sakura,” Naruto began haltingly, “Why…..” He trailed off. Naruto had never been one for extreme violence, for killing without compromise, but that had never done Sakura any favors.

Sasori, Deidara, and any Akatsuki members posed a risk if Danzo was funding them to hunt down Tsunade. They didn’t have the luxury of mercy against the enemies they were facing now.

“Let’s sit down,” Kakashi suggested, already on the ground with his nose in his book. She had expected him to abandon her for this conversation, but his part in her ruse against Sasori meant she wasn’t angry with him. He didn’t trust her, not really, but he did rely on her to get the job done. He helped her, even if he hated her, and that meant she wasn’t going to burn that stupid porno. Yet.

Shisui forced his cousin to the floor and practically sat on his lap to keep him there. Sakura delicately kneeled in front of the heart, making sure Naruto couldn’t see it, and pulled up the sleeves of her shirt. The sight of the angry red lines on her wrist, still so glaring against her unmarked civilian skin, brought Naruto to his knees.

Sasuke started violently, grabbing her wrist and practically yanking her across her lap - or, more realistically, he tried and failed to move her, and only succeeded in pulling himself over.

“I knew it! I knew you were lying before,” he crowed, pulling himself back up.

Naruto reached a trembling hand out to her other wrist, the most hesitant she had seen him since Sasuke’s death so long ago. “Sakura, what happened?”

“I died. I died and then Sakura died and I took her place. And now we’re here.”

-

The hours after she explained what happened passed in silence. Naruto and Sasuke were processing, possibly grieving, and there was also a deep sense of betrayal between the two cousins. Sasuke never loved her, not in any world most likely, but he was the possessive sort and hated the thought of Shisui working with his old teammate.

She didn’t know how he felt about her death. She didn’t want to care. She did.

Naruto was pouring over the notes she took down when Shisui was detailing the investigation into the hospital. The other portions of her journal, the ones describing her world, were under separate seals.

She had never seen her friend so silent, so solemn, but she wondered if this was some strange kind of grief. He was mourning a girl who was his friend but not, who died without staying dead. It was no wonder he didn’t know how to react.

Kakashi had searched the bodies but there were no notes, nothing to indicate what their orders had been or where Tsunade had gone. Just a scrap of green fabric lost in Deidara’s robes.

“Some professionals don’t keep notes with sensitive information around,” she said, elbowing Shisui. He gave a flash of a smile before dropping it when some of the blood got on him. Her entire arm had gone through Sasori so most of her shirt was covered in the gore. She hadn’t even noticed, so used to being covered in blood because of her work as a medic. The healer always has the bloodiest hands and all that.

Kakashi and her teamed up to do a complicated maneuver that basically flipped the forest floor. The result was messy but if they had gotten it right it meant the Akatsuki and their “art” was buried about ten feet underground. No way to recover their bodies or the bodies of Sasori’s puppets.

It was difficult on Sakura’s end to muster up the chakra after everything that had happened and difficult on her mentor’s end to connect with her well enough to perform the jutsu together. It was also obvious how uncomfortable he was with how comfortable Sakura was working with him. It was an awkward ten minutes.

The travel to the nearest stream didn’t take long but Sakura was flagging. She hated feeling weak like this, hated feeling so young and helpless again, but there wasn’t much she could do in this situation. She had used so much chakra today and she thanked whoever could be up there that no one had gotten seriously injured besides a few scrapes on Naruto that healed themselves.

They hadn’t managed to recover their camping supplies which were most likely destroyed in all the explosions. Rather they were forced to lie on the riverbed beneath the sky.

Rough terrain and pebbles everywhere but it could be worse. They put enough traps around to satisfy their paranoia and tried to rest.

Shisui popped up from around a tiny campfire he had made, “Do we know where Tsunade would have run to away from Akatsuki?”

“Opposite direction of Konoha?” Sakura hazarded, but it didn’t feel right. Where would Tsunade, gone so long in her self-imposed exile, go when faced with danger like the Akatsuki?

If they had let slip to her they were also hunting Naruto then it’s possible she would try to warn Minato out of her own sense of justice. She wouldn’t let him get hurt just for an old grudge, something she had proved in Sakura’s world.

But did the Akatsuki tell her? And were Deidara and Sasori the only ones assigned to follow her or were there more members on her trail that Sakura didn’t even know about?

Fuck, even Naruto didn’t have this much trouble finding her when he was twelve.

But she had something Naruto didn’t have - Kakashi and his Ninkin.

She grabbed the fabric scrap from Deidara she had held on to - in her clean hand, thankfully - and shoved it in Kakashi’s face. “If this belonged to Tsunade could your Ninkin track her down?”

Kakashi hummed and picked up the scrap of fabric between his thumb and forefinger before sniffing it himself. “Smells like alcohol. Probably hers.”

Shisui let out a yelp of excitement and the flames danced in their firepit. Even Naruto rose from his funk to do a little fistbump.

Kakashi halted all celebration with a single raised hand. “My dogs are asleep. We’ll try in the morning.” He tucked the fabric into a pocket in his uniform and went back to reading his book, departed from his immediate surroundings.

Sakura was ready to stand up beside Shisui and Naruto to raise a little bit of hell, ready to call Kakashi a lazy bastard like she’d done so many times before, when she realized why exactly he was being a lazy bastard.

He knew she was exhausted, was pushed beyond her limits. He was giving her time to rest.

She caught Shisui’s eyes and tried to send a message via telepathy to let this go, knowing she really did need the rest to find Tsunade. Shisui just kinda looked confused and made weird motions with his eyebrows, so, not that close a partnership yet.

Well, if they weren’t going anywhere and she didn’t have any other clothes to change into then the river was her only option. She stood up and stretched, cracking her back after she had hunched it, and started stripping her weaponry so she wouldn’t get it wet.

“I’m cleaning off, cover me while I’m gone.”

“But Sakura,” Naruto shouted, red in the face, “You can’t just get naked in the river! What if there are perverts?”

The thought of any pervert first getting past the four shinobi around her and then daring to peak at her sent her into a fit of laughter. Then again, around Jiraiya, Naruto would have to deal with perverted behavior quite a bit. Gross.

“Naruto, if someone tried to peek at Sakura I would worry more about them,” Shisui said with a laugh. Sakura smiled at him but was thrown out of her mirth when the fire jumped up.

So Sasuke had finished sulking then.

Even Kakashi sat up and Sasuke stood up and pointed a finger straight into Sakura’s throat. “So we are going to talk about your fight with Sasori then?”

Sakura didn’t back up in the least, stepping forward and forcing Sasuke to almost back into the flames. “I told you that I was a shinobi-”

“So am I, but you don’t see me ripping people’s hearts out of their chest with my bare hands!”

The sheer irony of the statement, of Sasuke daring to say that to her face, almost had her backhanding him into the fucking stratosphere. Instead, she laughed, long and loud and without any trace of joy.

How was she supposed to tell him? Should she? She wanted to, wanted to tear it out of her mouth and shove it down his throat so he would be forced to carry the weight she had held for so long. Sasuke had torn her into pieces so many times, with his words and his hands and his twisted sense of justice, until there was almost nothing left of her except a shell for Konoha to control.

She would never win with him, not really, not anywhere. She would never be anything to him but a problem.

Naruto dragged Sasuke away from her with a muttered “Bastard!” and a worried glance in her direction. The whole camp was staring at her, of course, and unless she wanted to do a deep dive into the Uchiha massacre and Sasuke’s subsequent murder spree she would have to find something else to talk about.

After all, why shouldn’t they demand her traumas after everything else they had taken from her?

Sakura forced herself back from the edge of bitterness and came up with the next best thing to tell them. “Sasori, the other one, we had fought when I was fifteen. I was separated from you guys, trapped in a cave with just his grandmother - a poison expert from Suna named Chiyo - to fight with me.”

The river was so close but she couldn’t leave just yet. They were still looking at her, still waiting for her to pop out and say, “Hey, no, it’s okay, I definitely don’t kill people. I’m still the cute girl you ignored for years whose only failing is being too weak to fight!”

They would rather her be weak than vicious, dead than victorious. Or maybe she was projecting; it had been a long day.

“The fight was close, really close. He did have a puppet of the Third Kazekage and he was able to use all of the man’s abilities. I managed to trick him, using an antidote for a poison I let him hit me with but-”

But she was weak. But she wasn’t enough, not without Chiyo. She couldn’t possibly fight him on her own.

“But he got the better of me. Ran me through with his sword. If not for Chiyo I would have died.”

She left then, walking towards the river and whatever judgement her teammates would pass. She had done what she needed to today and she would do it again, but if her teammates found it more comfortable to think she was acting out a revenge scenario then she would leave them to it.

She didn’t need their approval or their friendship, just their skills. She would find Tsunade and fix Konoha and then she could leave them all behind, content with the knowledge that she had saved them. They would probably be happier without her anyway.

And she would be okay with that. Her heart had handled so much already - she was about to let this break her.