Actions

Work Header

In Pursuit of Sunshine

Chapter Text

Stepping over yet another body, Sakura forces herself not to look down. Forces herself to avert her gaze from an ally, one of thousands that litter the battlefield. They deserve recognition, she whispers to herself. The tiny part of her that is still human. The rest of her knows, knows, that if she allows herself even a moment to acknowledge the fallen, she will fall apart and never stop. Choji, Ino, Kiba, Kakashi, even Shikamaru. Especially Shikamaru her traitorous mind supplies and she forces it away. She can't think about them, about him, or she will lose the last two comrades she does have. Steeling her meager remaining chakra, she looks ahead to the last alive. Her team, her boys. Traitorously, she remembers a shock of grey and white hair, blood spilling over his lips as her smiled at her, as her sensei... No, she can't think of that.

Naruto and Sasuke are engaging Kaguya, and Sakura can see Rasenshuriken and Susanoo warring with the goddess. It's impossible to see who has the upper hand, if there is even an upper hand to be had anymore. Feeling the familiar ache that comes from scraping the bottom of your chakra reserves, Sakura pushes herself forward anyway, she can't, she won't leave Naruto and Sasuke alone, no matter what. As she draws near, she can feel the searing heat that comes from Sasuke's flames, and for a single second, Sakura imagines she sees Kaguya take the hit, sees her cringe at a burn from a Uchiha fireball, but then the whole world explodes into white.

Shielding her eyes, Sakura realizes she hasn't felt any heat from an attack, and forces herself to open her eyes, blinking at the after-image of such a blinding light. Kaguya is gone from sight. For now... Naruto and Sasuke shoot twin glances back towards Sakura, and both relax slightly at the sight of her. She finally catches up, and takes in the condition of her teammates. Sasuke looks... rough. Blood drips from his Sharingan and he holds his left arm awkwardly. Naruto looks like, well, Naruto, but even the usually energetic ninja looks weary. Eyeing the two of them warily, Naruto speaks up:

"Guys, we need to talk."

"No, Naruto!" Sakura would have punched her idiot teammate if she had the strength to move, which she doesn't. That doesn't stop her from shooting him a deathglare. Naruto ignores her, and looks to Sasuke. Sasuke, looking pensive, gives a soft "hn", in Naruto's direction. Sakura switches her glare over to the Uchiha,

"Sasuke, you can't possibly be okay with Naruto KILLING himself at just a CHANCE to send us to the past! Who know if it would even work!"

Naruto holds up his hands placatingly, as if he honestly thinks if he smiles bright enough he can win over Sakura.

"Sakura, think about it. You'd have a chance to change things. It wouldn't REALLY be killing me because I would still be me and okay in the past, and present me won't even exist anymore, ya know? Think about Kakashi sensei, and Shikamaru-"

He's cut off by Sakura finding the strength to actually slap him upside the head.

"DON'T bring them up to try and guilt me, Naruto! I know what we've lost. Believe me, I know what we've lost..."
She can't stop herself from starting to cry, remembering, loving, all those people she's currently trying to push out of her head. Taking a deep, shuddering breath, she continues,
"and I love you too, Naruto. I can't just sacrifice you for the chance for it to work, no matter who we've lost."

Sakura looks imploringly at Sasuke, hoping the most frustratingly logical of their team sees reason.

Sasuke lets out a huff, and opens his mouth to speak. Whatever he was going to say, they'll never know, because at that moment, Kaguya returns. Sakura had been right before, Sasuke HAD hit her with a fireball, or at least grazed her, if the bubbling skin on Kaguya's right hand is anything to go by.

"We're out of time, ya know!"

Naruto says and he begins to glow. Kaguya laughs lightly, gliding toward them with supernatural grace.

Sakura knows this is the end. Her teammates seem to know it too, because instead of fighting, Naruto grabs her hand with his left and Sasuke's with his right. His chakra is comforting, and Sakura closes her eyes, waiting for the end. Any peace she may have felt at finally being at the end shatters as it feels like her body is being ripped apart. She screams but can't even hear it, the roar of it all surrounding her so completely that there is no room for anything else. The pain seems to go on unendingly, her body, if it can even be called a body anymore is ripping and knitting itself back together and ripping apart and it hurts and Sakura hurts and she begs for the end.

The first thing she registers is that it's finally, finally quiet. No one is screaming, she can't smell blood anymore. In fact, she can smell grass and trees, and it makes her think of home, of Konoha. Feeling a gentle breeze on her face, grass beneath her legs and arms, and no pain, she doesn't bother to open her eyes yet. If this is truly the afterlife, Sakura thinks she can be happy here. She already feels so at peace, and it's been so long that everything has felt okay that she feels herself get drowsy, and gives into it, falling asleep to the feel of a breeze on her face, and grass beneath her hands.

Sakura wakes up with a slight jump to someone shaking her shoulder, grabbing for a kunai that isn't there and cursing herself for letting her guard down, Sakura jerks upright, eyes open and looking for the threat. She registers a grassy hill, surrounded by trees, and the night sky above her. More importantly, she sees a small figure in front of her, a child of perhaps 5 or so, with dark hair and even darker eyes, looking expectantly at her. She relaxes, and smiles at the little child, he looks kind of what she remembers Sasuke looking like when she started the Academy, all those years ago. Her smile wanes a little, when she takes in the serious look on the boy. He is tense, and considering her very calmly. The little boy's face stays serious as he speaks, and it's so adorable she can hardly register what he is saying to her.

"Sakura,"

he says, in as serious a tone as a little boy can sound.

"Sakura, we're in the past."

Chapter Text

"Sakura, we're in the past."
Sakura gapes at the small, dark haired boy. It can't be true, it just can't. Looking down, she notices for the first time her hands are much smaller than she remembers them. Quickly, she checks her chakra reserves, noting absently that they are full for the first time in years, and Sakura feels how small her chakra reserves are. Almost, child sized. Her first thought is terror, followed by joy, then settling into some mix of both. She raises her gaze to meet the boy before her. He's been silent through her self revelation, though Sakura sees a slight smirk at her flood of emotions, she didn't bother to hide any of them, she notes belatedly.

Sakura whispers,
"Sasuke?"
The boy, Sasuke, she reminds herself, smirks again.
"We're really in the past? Naruto..."

Her heart stutters at the thought of Naruto, her brave, stupid, idiot, wonderful friend. If she is really in the past, and it seems to be true, that means Naruto, her Naruto, is dead. The world's most unpredictable, knucklehead ninja had sacrificed his life to save his two teammates. To more than save us... To give us a second chance. Sakura takes a quiet moment to mourn the teammate she will never see again. At least, not as himself. She imagines young Naruto, wild and crazy and full of pranks and life and yes, this is what Sakura would have wanted for him anyway. A second chance. This time, she wouldn't let him be lonely, she would be his family earlier on. She would make it up to her Naruto by making sure this Naruto has someone who is there for him. Whatever she and and Sasuke can do to save this world from pain, she knows they will.

Thank you, Naruto
she sends out into the universe. She imagines that he has heard it. A quiet sense of awe overwhelms her. She is in the past, with Sasuke. They can change things. They can change things! Looking back to Sasuke, she smiles brightly at him, tears of joy sparkling in her eyes.
"Sasuke, we're in the past."
Clearly amused with her, he simply gives her a "hn" in response, and she can see light dancing in his eyes again too.
"So, what will we do, Sasuke? We need a plan."

Sakura immediately starts imagining training regimens, missions to kill the people who had caused so much pain in the past. She imagines crushing Danzo's heart in her hands, what it might feel like to crush Madara into dust in the ground. She imagines herself as strong as she was in the future, no, more powerful, and isn't that a trip in itself, because she can do it. She, Sakura Haruno, former weakling of Team Seven, changing the world, Sasuke by her side. She opens her mouth to tell Sasuke all the plans, all the strengths that are running rampant through her mind, but he beats her to the punch.
"We need to fix the people."
Everything crashes to a halt in Sakura's head. If she hadn't seen Sasuke's mouth move, she would have never believed he would have said that. Her jaw drops,
"What?"
Sasuke grunts, a little frustrated.

"We need to fix the people Sakura. Revenge won't work."

Sakura does gasp at this. It feels for a second as if the world is flipping on its axis. Sasuke Uchiha doesn't want revenge? Doesn't want to just kill off everyone that has ever hurt them or those they love and rip their souls from their bodies and be heroes? Shaking her head, Sakura knows she needs to hear him out. Whatever would cause Sasuke to think this way at least needs to be heard, if she can get him to talk. She can always talk him back into revenge later.

"Can you explain that a little more, Sasuke?"

He shakes his head again, looks her dead in the eye, and begins to speak.
"Look Sakura, I know what happens if we go for revenge. We could do it, too. But we can't. I can't. It won't help. If we want the future to actually be better, we have to help our people be stronger."

He grunts, as if speaking this much is a burden on him. It probably is, Sakura doesn't think she has ever seen Sasuke say so much at once.

 

He continues

"If I learned one thing from our future, it's that revenge isn't worth it. It just makes it so you don't have anything to come home to. We have to help them Sakura. Our people. The people we... the people we..."

 

He trails off, no longer looking at her.
Sakura finishes for him, softly.

"The people we love."

 

Sasuke gives a terse nod, and continues looking at the ground.

Sakura realizes, belatedly, her teammate really had changed. Naruto really had brought Sasuke home. Home in the way that mattered. And now it was her, Sakura, that wanted revenge. Ooh how she still wants it, Sakura still wants so badly to crush those who hurt her loved ones, the people that had hurt her parents, and Kakashi-sensei, and Shikamaru... How badly she wanted to tear those people limb from limb. In that moment, Sakura understood child Sasuke more than she ever had in the entirety of her past life. Her treasured people were important darn it! She wanted to avenge them so badly that it hurt. Looking at Sasuke, finally really looking at him, she found she understood. Even more importantly, she saw him now.

Someone who had finally had as much power as he had ever wanted, and found it lacking. Sasuke was trying to make their second chance truly, a second chance. As much as she still wanted blood, and as much as she wanted to become someone powerful, someone people would respect and not look down on, she owes Sasuke this. She owes him to try. As many years as she spend in her last life trying to get him to finally notice her, notice their home, to remember them. Sakura owed Sasuke the chance to save those people. His people. Her mind started drifting to her loved ones, and Sakura thought with a flash of shame that she would have abandoned them, still kind of wanted to leave them behind, if only to kill the people who had hurt them.

Sasuke was right, they needed to love and fix their people. She huffs a small laugh.

"You're right, Sasuke. You're right."

At the acknowledgement, Sasuke relaxed, and Sakura realized he had been afraid she wouldn't agree with him, and felt shame flood her veins. Covering quickly, she kept talking,
"So, we can't possibly fix everyone. We need a plan, which of us is working on helping who. And we will have to meet up, to check on progress. We can't be seen as close right away because we weren't last time. We should start by introducing ourselves publicly sometime soon though..."

Sakura folds her hands, pensive, but Sasuke has clearly thought this through already.
"I'll take Itachi, and..."
He trails off, and Sakura can see embarrassment color his cheeks.
"and the Dobe."

To save him the embarrassment, Sakura nods quickly.
"You're right. His crush on me would be a little problematic at this point."

Seeing Sasuke relax once more, Sakura thought through everyone. Who, at this point in time, who needed her, who could Sakura help. She remembered Ino, the most popular girl at school, and Choji and Shikamaru, and oh how her heart ached at the thought of not running to Shikamaru instantly, to never leave him again. But this wasn't her Shikamaru, and he would be okay for now, having Choji as a best friend. Besides, Sakura told herself, it would be hard to see him. Thinking harder, Sakura frowned, she herself had been so lonely before the Academy. She had no friends and no connections. Who would even need her?

Unbidden, she remembered Kakashi standing by the memorial stone, alone, how the other Jounin had told her he had always been like that. Then she remembered Yamato, no, Tenzou, how he had opened up once, sitting around the fire with her and Sai, during the war. How he had been kidnapped as a child, experimented on by Orochimaru and abandoned, only to be picked up by Danzo and trained until he had no emotions left. Sakura remembered how Kabuto had kidnapped Tenzou, how no rescue mission had ever been planned, and the pinched look on Kakashi's face the one time she had brought it up to him. She remembered how they'd found Tenzou's corpse, lying abandoned and forgotten in Kabuto's lab. She remembered how long it took for Sai to understand that she and Naruto loved him, and what love meant. She remembered Sai's frustration as he tried to figure out how to be a person. A person.

Tears came unbidden to Sakura's face, and she looked up at Sasuke. She knew who she needed to save. The ones who had been forgotten last time.
"I'll take Kakashi-sensei, and Tenzou and Sai."

"No."

Sasuke shook his head at her.
Sakura started seeing red, and she trembled and she questioned Sasuke, yet again he was throwing her expectations out the window, and she was beginning to grow tired of it. Maybe he was being contrary on purpose! That'd be just like, him, to get her going and throw her feelings back into her face.

"N-no??"
She demanded an answer from Sasuke, and he could feel her rage, and put up a hand to settle her.

"We can't take down Root just yet. We will, I promise. I remember them too. But we can't, not yet. It's too suspicious. Besides, we need to start making inroads on some of the other clan kids, if we are hoping to inspire them to train and get stronger so they'll live this time. You can help Sensei though."
He shot her a sly look,
"Maybe Shikamaru?"

Sakura gasped, and smacked his arm lightly, rage forgotten.
"Sasuke!"

He chuckled lightly, and it was such a long forgotten sound that Sakura instantly forgot her embarrassment. He was right. They couldn't take Root down right now. As much as it burned her to leave Sai and Tenzo with Danzo, she shoved her rage down deep inside. She would save them, she would. In the meantime she turned her own sly smile on Sasuke.

"Okay, I'll take Kakashi, Shikamaru, and Choji. But you should take Ino."
Sasuke snapped his head up to look at her so quickly Sakura thought his neck might snap, and she laughed.

To her surprise, he nodded his assent.
"I'll take dog boy too. He should help balance them out."

Sakura again allowed her thoughts to think of revenge, about how much she wanted to hurt people right now. Then she looked over at Sasuke again. She couldn't betray him the way he had betrayed her in the past. She needed to be better. Sakura didn't want to be better though. She wanted to cover herself in blood and power, she wanted to be Shinigami, the God of death, dealing out rage and pain freely as it been given to her. She imagined herself standing above it all, and shaking her head, she also forced herself to imagine the look of fear on her friend's faces, and the loneliness that could consume her. Sakura imagined, that if she had come alone, just her in the past, that she would have become that monster, killing everyone and everything in her wake as revenge.

She looked at the boy beside her, remembered the sincerity in which he reminded her of the person she used to be, the person who fought for the people she loved, not for revenge. This time, she would have to depend on Sasuke, to keep her sane. They sat in silence like that for a while, Sakura and Sasuke, just looking at the stars, shining through the trees of Konoha. For once, it was calm, it was bright. Everyone was safe, everyone was alive.They were home, and they were going to save their friends.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Sakura woke up in her own bedroom. Well, her childhood bedroom anyway. It had been a relatively easy matter for her to sneak to her parent's home after meeting with Sasuke. After all, her parents were civilian merchants, and often weren't even home, even when Sakura had been young. They hadn't been home when she returned, so Sakura had the house to herself, and the time to marvel over all the little details she had forgotten over the years. After the Chunin exams in her own time, she had moved into an apartment to be closer to the hospital once Tsunade had started to train her, and her parent's home had been demolished in the attack by Pein.

She had marveled at her pale pink bedroom, before dropping off to sleep, feeling more at peace than she could remember. As she cooked herself breakfast, she started mentally making a game plan. How would she even befriend Kakashi? Shikamaru and Choji would be easy enough, Sakura well remembered the place they went cloud watching almost every single day. Kakashi was his own problem though. For all Sakura knew, he was still in Anbu, and besides that, Sakura was 5, and Kakashi was 19. How does a 5 year old befriend an adult anyways? Even more troubling, how was she to find an Anbu? Sighing, Sakura ate her breakfast. She would need to test what abilities she still had. She could, of course remember all of the things her past self could do, but application would prove differently. After some slight stretching, Sakura got to work.

Luckily for her, or perhaps unluckily, Sakura could still do almost everything she could do in the future. Sort of. She could still tree walk and water walk, she still had her sensory abilities, although her range was much smaller. She could still punch with chakra enhanced strength, and perform medical ninjutsu, but her chakra reserves were so incredibly small she could only punch a handful of times, and she likely would be unable to heal anything larger than a fracture or bruises and cuts. It was frustrating, because a part of Sakura still wanted to be that powerhouse she imagined herself as. If she wanted to get back to strength, she was going to need to grow her chakra reserves.

Thinking to Sasuke, and the seriousness of his face as he had told her it wasn't about getting stronger personally, she heaved a sigh, and resigned herself to slow growth. She would go looking for Kakashi today, using her sensory abilities, and while she walked on the street, she would use chakra, as if she was walking on water. It of course wouldn't take as much chakra, but it would slowly drain her, and hopefully that would be enough to start growing her reserves again. They were so pathetically tiny, Sakura thought, she would probably run out after walking even a mile. It was depressing, honestly, but Sakura had put up with her own weakness for so long, she wouldn't let it bother her after this moment. Taking a deep, calming breath, she started walking towards the market district of town, hoping somehow, she would find Kakashi.

Sakura allowed herself to wander Konoha with wonder in her heart. Her home was here, Konoha was whole. There were people milling around the markets, which were standing tall as merchants hawked their wares at passerby. Excited chatter and gossiping ninja and civilian alike filled every corner, and Sakura soaked in it, in the joy of knowing her village was alive again. It wasn't in tatters, destroyed by Pein and Madara and Kaguya. The buildings stood, the people lived, and Sakura was here. Here to see it all, here too change it all, so that some day in the future, this Konoha would still stand, proud and strong. Full of ninja and civilians and children and laughter. So involved was she, in taking in her new, old, surroundings, she almost missed the flicker of the chakra signature she was looking for.

Stopping suddenly, Sakura focused on her sensing, and she felt it, much more turbulent than she remembered, but the swirling mess of Kakashi's chakra signature was nearby. Inwardly, Sakura cheered at her good luck. She had found Kakashi-sensei on the very first day! And within a few hours, even! Opening her eyes excitedly, she scanned the crowd, looking for her old Sensei. She found him immediately, because villager and ninja alike were suddenly shifting away from the middle of the market, and the loud laughing and gossiping suddenly died down, replaced with whispers and thrown glances, and dark looks. It could not have been more different. At the epicenter of the commotion, and it was a commotion. A civilian may not have even noticed, but a ninja couldn't not notice: people were actively trying to get away from someone.

It was Kakashi, young, so much younger than Sakura knew him, without the familiar book gracing his hands. Even without the book, he appeared to be distracted, and nonchalant, but his chakra signature showed the truth: he was well aware of the stares and whispers. Sakura had never considered the village might actually be afraid of Kakashi, she knew he was the best the Anbu had ever had, but she had never seen such a reaction to a ninja before, usually people respected them far too much to fear them. She quickly decided to listen in to the whispers, hoping to pick up some useful info as Kakashi strolled slowly down the street. He was still a bit away yet, but was walking in Sakura's general direction. The old couple just behind her, who had just a moment ago been engaged in a lively conversation about the appropriate price for fish, and haggling with a merchant, were staring in Kakashi's direction, hate evident in their gaze.

"There goes that Hatake boy. Disgraceful."
Her husband nodded.
"I can't understand why they let him walk the streets like that."

Sakura's confusion grew. He wasn't even reading his porn, what could Kakashi could have even done? Suddenly she heard it, from nowhere and everywhere all at the same time, and Sakura felt her heart tear in two.

"Friendkiller..."
"Kakashi Friendkiller..."

Tears immediately sprang to Sakura's eyes. She remembered being told this once, she had gone to Tenzou, asking why Kakashi always spent so much time at the Memorial Stone. She knew something had happened to his team, but she didn't know what and Sensei had been so private then, he never would have told her. Tenzou had taken her aside, quietly and explained. About his teammate Obito, who Kakashi had gotten his Sharingan from, and who had died on Kakashi's first mission as a Jounin, about Minato, his sensei, who had died in the nine-tails attack. Sakura had gasped at that, she hadn't known that Kakashi had been trained by the Fourth! Tenzou had shaken his head when she started to talk, telling her about Kakashi's final teammate, Rin, who had been in love with Kakashi, how something had happened, something only Kakashi and the Hokage had known, and it had ended with Kakashi killing Rin with his Chidori, impaling her on his arm.

Sakura had gotten angry then, angry at Kakashi, and again, Tenzou had silenced her, and told her that while Kakashi had never told Tenzou what had happened, Tenzou had heard it was an accident, and that Kakashi blamed himself for it. He had sworn Sakura to secrecy then, and she had never said a word. She had almost forgotten about all of that. She had no idea when Rin had died, but clearly, now that she was in the past, it had happened, and people knew. People knew that her sensei had killed a teammate, but they all thought it was his fault. They were whispering about it in the marketplace! Sakura had never imagined that sensei would have earned such a nickname, and not even earned the nickname he'd been given. No wonder he started reading porn in public. Sakura immediately felt the urge to kill everyone in the immediate vicinity, but refrained when she imagined Sasuke's face if she killed half the village in a rage. She snorted, he'd be one to talk! Still, Sasuke was trying, and she was going to have to try too.

Suddenly, Sakura knew what to do, she would play the innocent 5 year old girl she was supposed to be! She put a confused look on her face, and "happened" to wander up to Kakashi. It was too easy, honestly, he was paying so much attention trying to prove he wasn't paying attention, he didn't notice Sakura's approach. She gently tugged on his sleeve, and looked up at him with the best puppy eyes she could manage.

"Mr. Ninja?"

Kakashi startled slightly, Sakura noticed, and turn to look down at her, apprehension all over his face, pulling his sleeve out of her grasp. Sakura tucked her arms behind her back and rocked back and forth on her feet,

"Mr. Ninja, could you help me? Mama says she wants me to buy my book for school, but I can't read that good, so I don't know which one it is!"
Sakura let a little of her actual despair at Kakashi's situation bleed through, trying to make it look more legitimate that she was upset about needing a book for school. She even let the tears come back to her eyes. She absolutely refused to acknowledge any of the villagers stares that were now pointed at her.

Kakashi took in her tears, her pouting lip, and looked around, clearly trying to foist her off on someone else. He was out of luck, though. People had shifted so far away to be away from the "friend killer" that there was now no one nearby. Kakashi looked pained at the thought of helping her, and Sakura grinned a little on the inside. She had him. She could always win over Kakashi with a good enough puppy face. To add affect, Sakura added a little pout to her lip, and she could see the moment Kakashi gave in.

CHA! She thought to herself.
Woah...
It's been a long time since Sakura had heard that from herself.

Abruptly, Kakashi nodded at her, and walked towards the bookstore that was conveniently right next to them, not bothering to wait for Sakura to follow.
So follow she did, and started babbling about the Academy the second they entered the door.

"Mama let me join the ninja Academy! So I gotta get the first year book for school. I'm gonna learn to hide and fight and be so cool! Daddy says they even let first years throw wooden shuriken which is like this ninja star and it's so cool!"
She continued to babble on, and though Kakashi looked a little grieved about the troublesome situation he found himself in, Sakura found his chakra signature was a little calmer.
Interesting...
He's so annoyed by me he doesn't have time to be upset about other things.

Sakura smile in true pleasantness, her plan was working. A five year old couldn't befriend a 19 year old, but she could bother him out of his other problems for a little while. Her babbling was interrupted by Kakashi forcing a book into her hands and stalking away.
Looking at the cover, Sakura found it was the correct book, and called out,

"Thanks Mr. Ninja!"
To Kakashi's retreating back.

She hurried up to the counter, still having to pretend to be excited about getting her book. The boy running the desk, probably the shop owner's son, frowned down at her.
"What's your name?"

She smiled
"Sakura!"

Her smile broke a little of the stern look but he continued seriously.
"Well, Sakura, you shouldn't be hanging out with scum like that ninja. He's dangerous, you know."

Sakura cocked her head curiously, pretending she had no idea what he was talking about.
"He was a nice ninja! He helped me find my book!"

The shopkeeper shook his head.
"My dad says he is a traitor to the village."

Sakura looked seriously at him. The boy looked to be about 11 or 12 years old. Right around the age she had been when she graduated the Academy. She frowned.
"I think your dad is wrong. He was nice! He helped me."

The boy took offense to this.
"My dad is never WRONG, so you're just stupid then!"

Feeling tears, Sakura decided to give into her childish instincts and just yell back.
"No! You're a meanie! That Ninja is my friend now and I'm going to ninja school and I'll kick your butt if you're mean to him!"
Whatever Sakura had thought he would say to that, she did NOT expect the older boy to throw himself over the counter and attack her.

"Hey! Stop it meanie!"
Sakura could easily take this child down, but she was in the middle of town, and she couldn't show off her monstrous strength against a civilian child! Sakura wasn't even supposed to be a ninja yet. So she just let him pull her hair and kicked at him uselessly, hoping an adult would step in and yell at the "older" boy so she could leave.

An adult did start walking towards them, so Sakura felt safe.
"Stupid little girl. He's not your friend and you're never going to be a ninja."

That did it. All the stress Sakura had been pretending she didn't feel, about being in the past, about protecting her friends, about pretending it didn't hurt how Kakashi was in pain and ignoring her like she was nobody, like she didn't matter. Her anger at the villagers. Sakura started screaming.
"Take that back! Take it back you jerk! I hate you!"

Anything else she might have said was drowned out by a feral scream that let out of her throat, and she punched the boy in the arm holding her hair, and she heard a crack. She should have cared that she was actually 20 and was fighting with a civilian child but at the moment all she wanted was for him to not be there. All she wanted was her Kakashi back, and her Naruto, and so Sakura continued to scream, tears streaming down her face. The boy dropped her in his own yell of pain, and he swung back at her. Unwilling to block, Sakura underestimated his revenge punch, and the ensuing blow to her face made everything go black instantly. She never saw a certain grey haired ninja listening to the whole exchange just outside the door.

Chapter Text

Sakura awoke to a pair of ebony eyes staring down at her. Doing a quick mental check, she tried to remember how she got here. She and Sasuke and Naruto were fighting Kaguya and then... That's right, I'm in the past Sakura remembered, and man did her head hurt. Suddenly, she remembered the boy at the bookstore, and groaned aloud. She was so stupid! She lost control, and worse, she'd gotten in a fist fight with a civilian on her first day back! The first time she had been 5, Sakura hadn't even been brave enough to stop bullies from hurting her until Ino had stood up for her, but here she was, getting in fist fights with civilians. Just great... The eyes above her blinked, and Sakura focused on who they belonged to. Dark hair and eyes, Uchiha crest on his shirt...

"Are you okay?"
A voice came from her other side and she turned to look at him. He also shared the dark hair and eyes, and the Uchiha crest as well. Apart from that, he couldn't have looked anything less like an Uchiha. The speaker had curly hair and a bright smile.

She nodded at him questioningly, which he clearly took as an opening.
"Good! I'm Shisui, and this is Itachi!"

Looking back at the first boy, Sakura supposed he did look quite a lot like Sasuke, but she couldn't recall ever having seen Itachi as a child, which probably accounted for her not recognizing him. Sakura had never heard of a Shisui Uchiha before, and, as he seemed the more talkative, she turned back to him.


"What happened?"


Shisui laughed merrily, a very un-Uchiha like quality in Sakura's opinion. She decided she already liked him.


"I was hoping you could tell us that, little petal. Itachi's senpai showed up half an hour ago, handed you to Itachi and said 'take care of this' and left! Course, Itachi is much better at taking care of kids than his senpai cause of little Sasuke but 'Tachi here freaked out being handed a girl and called me and here we are! 'Tachi took you home and little Sasuke said he had seen you around before so we figured-"


Shisui continued to ramble, so Sakura looked around, suddenly realizing she didn't know where "here" was. It looked like the inside of a home. Based on what Shisui was saying, it was probably Sasuke's home. Past me would have been soooo jealous right now she thought a little smugly. She had never been in the Uchiha compound before, much less Sasuke's house. It was the grandest home she had ever been in, aside from the various Kage residences she had visited with Tsunade as part of her training.

Her thoughts were interrupted by Shisui's shout,
"Oi! Sasuke, your girlfriend is awake!"

The door to the room slid open and Sasuke entered, scowling at Shisui,
"She is NOT my girlfriend."

Shisui took it in stride, looking saucily at Sakura and raising an eyebrow suggestively,
"Hear that, little petal? You aren't his girlfriend."

Sakura heard Sasuke sigh, and she giggled a little. Sasuke shot her a glare, which Sakura returned with a smile.

"What happened, Sakura?"
Sasuke demanded, rather than asked.

Sakura noticed Itachi and Shisui watching, Itachi with faked ambivalence and Shisui with undisguised interest.

Time to put on the 5 year old role, but maybe not as intense this time, 


"Well I was trying to go to the bookstore to get my book for ninja school and I couldn't read the shelf names so I asked this ninja who was nearby and he helped me but then the boy at the register was mean and said the ninja was bad! But he wasn't bad he helped me! So I told him the ninja helped me and he yelled at me and then I yelled at him and then..."

She trails off, embarrassed by Sasuke's look, then barges on anyway, he's going to have to hear it.

"And then he JUMPED over the counter at me and grabbed my hair and I was kinda scared but then he told me I would never be a ninja and the nice ninja who helped me was trash and I was SOOOO mad so I punched him really hard and then there was this CRACK sound and he dropped me and I was so mad I started screaming and then he punched me and now I'm here and I hate him!"

She finished with what she thought was a truly adorable pout. It certainly would have won over her parents and probably Kakashi-Sensei. Itachi and Sasuke raised identical eyebrows at her, Itachi with slight interest and Sasuke with exasperation. Shisui, however, started howling with laughter as if it was the funniest thing he had ever heard in his entire life.

"What a fighter, little petal!"

She frowned at Shisui which seemed to make him laugh even harder. What an enigma of an Uchiha. His laughter was contagious though, and Sakura found she could no longer hold on to her pout and giggled alongside him.

Itachi looked calmly at her, and asked,

"Sakura, what did the ninja that helped you look like?"

Sakura scrunched up her face as if trying to remember what he looked like, as if she couldn't describe Kakashi-Sensei down to the last detail.

"Well... He, uh... He had this grey hair that stood straight up super tall but he wasn't OLD like an old person and he had a mask over his face but not like an Anbu mask it look like this!"

Sakura put her hands over her mouth and nose in a simulation of Kakashi's signature mask. Itachi gave her a nod, Sasuke sighed in the background, giving her a slight headshake when she shot him a little grin. Shisui nodded like this explained everything.

"Hey 'Tachi, guess that explains why Kakashi was the one that dropped her off, hey?"

Itachi nodded, and Sakura was shocked into silence. Kakashi had been the one who had dropped her off? But that meant... He saw everything. Kakashi had seen Sakura get in a fight with a civilian over whether or not Kakashi and Sakura were friends. Sakura wasn't sure she had ever felt so embarrassed in her entire life. Her sensei had seen her lose control and scream at a civilian like the child she was. However, he had cared enough about her to bring her to Itachi. Maybe she hadn't totally screwed this up. It all depended on how Kakashi saw it. Either he would be so irratated by her he would avoid her like the plague. She already hoped no one had seen him carrying her around. She didn't want people to think he had punched her. No matter what, Sakura was in a little bit of a mess and she was extremely embarrassed at her own lack of composure. She was 20 for crying out loud!

Sakura felt sure that she would be hearing about this from Sasuke later, but for now, things seemed to have blown over, at least in the Uchiha home. Shisui had invited her to stay for dinner, to which Itachi had slapped him upside the head and noted it wasn't even Shisui's house, but then Mikoto Uchiha, who was apparently Itachi and Sasuke's mother, had invited her for dinner anyway, and Sakura had readily agreed. Which brought her to where she was now, on the Uchiha's porch, watching Shisui and Itachi spar. Sakura didn't even have to pretend to be impressed by their fighting, because it was beyond anything she had ever seen. Shisui might be the fastest ninja she had ever seen and Itachi was definitely almost as good as Sasuke had been in the future, and Itachi was nowhere near that age. Prodigies indeed.

Mikoto had left her and Sasuke alone on the porch with a plate of Dango and tomatoes. Amused, she ate Dango while Sasuke savored his tomatoes. Sakura supposed Sasuke still loved tomatoes more than sweets, and it warmed her to see him interact with his mother. Sasuke looked so, happy in a way she had never seen him. Of course, she realized, she had never seen him around his family before. Sakura had been right to think that Sasuke would give her a talking to about Kakashi, but luckily it had been brief, mostly just warning her to be more careful with her strength, and he had informed Sakura he had found Naruto at the playground and had played with him a little while. She had giggled at this, and Sasuke absolutely refused to elaborate on how he had played with Naruto, but Sakura decided the mental image of 20 year old Sasuke, trapped in a 5 year old's body, playing on swings or making sandcastles was probably the funniest thing ever. She laughed and teased him, elbowing him.

"Seriously though, Sasuke. How is he?"

Sasuke looked at her thoughtfully, then a little wistfully
"He's, as you might expect. Just as annoying as before, but still.."

Sakura nodded. Naruto always just played off the fact that he was all alone, never showed anyone how much it bothered him. She was sure Sasuke had noticed, she was also sure Sasuke would never say anything about it.

Dinner at the Uchiha compound was a very formal affair, and Sakura was very glad for the training Tsunade had given her on dealing with clan meals, because she needed every manner she had ever learned to eat with Fugaku Uchiha. He was stern, imposing, and terrifying, Sakura thought. Luckily for her, and for everyone, Shisui lightened the whole thing up by consistently joking and messing around. Sakura saw Itachi's straight, stony silence around his father, but she also noticed that when Shisui made a joke or messed around, his eyes looked lighter somehow. She also noticed that while Sasuke made quite a show of being annoyed by Shisui, he seemed a little glad for him as well. Sakura decided Shisui Uchiha was definitely someone to protect at all costs.

After dinner, Sasuke, Itachi, and Shisui walked her home, and she giggled and joked with Shisui all the way back, causing him to declare her his "Favorite of Sasuke's girlfriends!" Which caused Sasuke to scowl and "hn" unappreciatively all the way there. When they got to her door, she turned and gave them all a formal bow, and then decided, Ah, screw it and hugged all of them one at a time, even Itachi. She would treasure the stiff look on his face for the rest of her life. Maybe being in the past wasn't so bad after all...

Chapter Text

Sakura stood on a wide, barren field, the smell of fire and sulfur choking her as she tried to breathe. Ahead, Madara Uchiha was destroying huge swaths of the Allied Shinobi Forces, but that was not something Sakura could deal with, no, Sakura was dealing with the bodies, the injured, left in his wake. Looking quickly, desperately, through the bodies, Sakura searched for signs of life. Again and again, she would find a shinobi choking on their last breaths, would kneel beside them only to realize that it was too late, and she could only comfort them as they passed. As much as she pretended otherwise, Sakura remembered the face of every patient she had ever lost.

There were too many, she couldn't heal them all. She approached another shinobi, and when she reached out to heal them, her hands weren't her normal calloused medic hands. Instead, they were the hands of a 5 year old child. Quaking, Sakura placed her hands over the fallen shinobi anyway, trying to heal them, to save them. Her chakra stopped responding to her, and she cried out in frustration, only to have bloody hands placed over her own. Sakura looked tearfully at her patient, into the eyes of Neji, watched as the light left his eyes and then flickered and turned into Lee, then Kiba, Ino, Kakashi, Sai, Shikamaru. All dead, all dying, under her incapable hands. Her tiny, 5 year old hands. Sakura starts to scream, but it doesn't end. It will never end. Not until everyone she has ever loved has gone, not until it is just Sakura, alone, forever.

Sakura jerks awake with a scream still on her lips. Wet, wracking sobs shake her too little body as she shakes with the remnants of a nightmare still fresh in her mind. Is it even a nightmare if it really happened? Or just some sadistic fate that Sakura has to remember all of the deaths. Had to hold all her precious people in her hands as they took their last breath, watched the life leave their eyes. Forcing herself to calm down, Sakura slowly regains control of her breathing, but it doesn't stop the tremor that runs through her whole body. She raises her hand to wipe her tears, and only sees blood on them. Walking shakily to the bathroom, Sakura washes her hands, washes them over and over and over, trying to get rid of all the blood from her nightmare. When she fully comes back to herself, Sakura sees that she is still washing her hands, and they are covered in blood, only, it's her blood from all the washing.

Forcing medical chakra into her hands, Sakura heals the raw redness, and the oozing of blood. There's no way she is going to get any more sleep tonight, Sakura knows, and glancing at a clock, she sees it is 4:30 am. Guy-Sensei is probably up at this time anyway, she reasons as she puts on some clothes and leaves her house. Her parents are due back today or tomorrow, and she can't let them see her yet. She isn't ready for this. Training briefly runs through her mind, and she puts it aside, she couldn't even if she wanted to. So instead, Sakura wanders the dark streets of Konoha, not really having any particular direction but somehow feeling pulled along.

Stopping, Sakura takes a slow breath when she realizes where she is: on top of the Hokage monument. It figures she would end up here, Sakura had spent many long hours and longer nights up here. After Sasuke had defected in the past, the future she supplies unhelpfully to herself, Naruto had taken her up here, and told her that he came up here whenever he could, so he could look over the whole village. It was peaceful, he had told her. Looking over the twinkling lights of the village, as the sky slowly lightened for the dawn, Sakura couldn't help but remember his face. Her Naruto. Always helping, never thinking of himself. Tears sprang to her eyes again, but this time they were softer, less desperate. The gentle tears of someone who missed one of her best friends. A soft "hn" caught her attention, and she looked over to see that Sasuke was sitting nearby, curled up around himself as if the whole weight of the world weighed upon him. Sakura could relate.

"You're here too, Sasuke?"
It was rhetorical, they both knew that, and Sasuke didn't even "hn" at her. Sakura walked over to where Sasuke was sitting, and sat down next to him. Below them was the face of the Third Hokage, and the village still sparkling below.

Looking over at her teammate, Sakura found Sasuke shooting her a questioning glance, his way of giving her an opening to speak, if she chose.
"I dreamed about them. About everyone we lost. Dying again..."

Sasuke nodded, then, surprising her slightly, although nothing should surprise her about Sasuke anymore, he spoke too.
"I couldn't stay in the house with Itachi."

He looked away, staring off in the distance.

"Are you still mad at him?"

Sasuke shook his head violently.
"No! I mean, no. Itachi, he... loved me. And I killed him. When we were kids, he was always so... good. Yet, when our whole clan died, I believed he did it, instantly, unquestioningly. And I spent my whole life hating him. Training to kill him. And I succeeded. I killed him. I killed my brother. And he doesn't even know. I can't look at him, Sakura. I can't."

His shoulders hitched, and Sasuke drew his knees up and buried his face in them, trying to still save face somehow, to not show that he was crying. Sakura had never really seen Sasuke cry, and she was sure he didn't want her to now either. So she did the only thing she knew how to do: Sakura looped her arm through Sasuke's and laid her head on his shoulder, ignoring the trembling that she could feel under the surface. She knew she couldn't say anything that would help. She felt similarly lost. How could you make something up to someone who no longer remembered it? The people they'd loved, the people they had hurt. They were gone, and now the only thing that was left was people that wore their faces. Sakura assumed she would get used to it eventually. She would have to, or she was sure she would go crazy. Eventually, these faces would be the "correct" faces, and her and Sasuke's past, future, people, would be but a sad, broken memory that only the two of them would share. Sakura wasn't sure she was ready for that, and she pushed those thoughts aside for now, she would deal with it all later. For now, she just sat, holding onto her trembling teammate, broken together over people that were gone, watching the sunrise over a beautiful village that they felt like they no longer had the right to belong to.

Chapter Text

Sakura smiled to herself as she made some snacks to take with her, and she couldn't deny she was a little excited to see Shikamaru today. and Choji too, of course she reminded herself. The morning with Sasuke she had pushed as far out of her mind as she could, telling herself she needed to get used to being in the past, needed to regain some semblance of her past happy-go-lucky self. What had Ino always told her? Fake it till you make it, her mind supplied helpfully. She hoped her Ino was right, but Sakura had always been more than willing to go along with just about anything Ino came up with. Wrenching her mind from Ino before it turned sad, Sakura reexamined the food in front of her. She had made some of Choji and Shikamaru's favorites, and was hoping she could play it off as accidental. Giggling a little as she imagined their faces as she interrupted their cloud watching, Sakura placed the snacks into a bag and walked out the front door of her house, turning back to call,

"Bye mama!"
Sakura's parents had indeed returned that morning, and were currently sleeping after their long journey, but she knew her mother would appreciate Sakura giving some sort of sign she was leaving.

When she heard no answers, Sakura was confident they were still asleep, and locked the door behind her. She walked towards the rooftop she knew Shikamaru and Choji frequented, trying to measure her pace so that it wouldn't seem as if she was running in that direction in particular. Sakura couldn't decide whether or not she was excited or dreading seeing the Nara heir again. In her time, her Shikamaru had been, well, they had been together. They hadn't put a label on it, it had felt useless to do so in the middle of a war, they would figure it out later. Neither of them had known that later wouldn't come. Sakura smiled softly as she remembered the day when Shikamaru had walked into her medical tent, and told her about his plan, about the dangerous mission he was about to undertake. She had nodded along, having known about the plan already, since Sakura had recently earned a seat on the tactical planning council, due to her quick identification of a white Zetsu.

After waiting patiently for Shikamaru to finish telling her about the mission they both already knew he was going to be on, Sakura had asked him why he was telling her this. Shikamaru always had a reason, he never expended energy or time just because. Then Shikamaru, had looked more nervous than Sakura had ever seen him, had leaned in and kissed her. After that, they spent every stolen second they could together, which were precious few, in the middle of a war. They hadn't labelled things then, it seemed unspoken, that they would figure it out after the war was over, would figure it out together. Shaking her head to drag herself back into the present, Sakura realized she was approaching the correct building, and made her way to the top.

Her breath caught in her throat as she saw them, Choji and Shikamaru. A little smaller than she had ever remembered them, but their chakra signatures were old familiar friends, and Sakura felt them warm her spirit. They were laying side by side on the balcony, Shikamaru with his signature arms behind his head, and Choji with his familiar bag of chips. Putting on her slightly more timid, 5 year old persona, Sakura tentatively approached them. Choji sat up, eyeing her warily, and Shikamaru cracked an eye open.

"Hello, I'm Sakura. If, you don't mind, why are you up here?"
She directed her question at Choji, and gave him what she hoped was a shaky but kind smile.

"Cloud watching, what are you doing up here?"
Choji looked a little apprehensive, and Sakura realized that she hadn't actually made up an excuse for that yet. Wracking her brain, she remembered Ami, from her childhood.

"W-well, I was trying to make some friends, and this girl... She told me I had too big of a forehead, so I couldn't play with her friends or her. So I came up here to hide for a while..."
It wasn't exactly the truth, Sakura had no idea where Ami was at this moment, but Ami had told her she had too big of a forehead, and that Sakura couldn't play with her, although that was in Sakura's previous time. She hoped Choji and Shikamaru never met Ami to figure it all out. Shikamaru opened his other eye to look at her, although he still didn't make a move or acknowledge her presence in any way.

Choji nodded though, looking a little more accepting of her presence. Sakura decided to lay it on just a little bit thicker.

"I can, um, leave, if you like. I'm sorry to bother you."

Choji looked to Shikamaru for support, and Shikamaru let out a sigh.
"Troublesome... You can stay, if you want. I'm Shikamaru, and he's Choji."

Sakura nodded slightly at Shikamaru, then looked to Choji again. She needed Choji's permission for this, Sakura felt certain. She would do this right.
"Do you want to be my friend? I'll cloud watch with you?"

Choji smiled at her, and nodded, offering her a chip from his bag, a sure sign of friendship from Choji. Smiling widely, Sakura accepted the chip, and let the warm feeling overtake her. She had Choji and Shikamaru again. They were here and they were okay. They weren't her Choji and Shikamaru, but she would do her best to love these two versions of her friends until she loved them just as much, and it could start again today.

As she sat down next to Choji, she felt her bag rustle at her side, and suddenly remembered the snacks she had made earlier in the afternoon.
"Oh! I have snacks, if you want. I was going to share them with my friends, and you're my friends now, right?"

Choji shot up straighter, fire in his eyes.
"You brought snacks, Sakura? Awesome!"

Sakura grinned as she opened up her bag, and started distributing her snacks between the 3 of them. Even Shikamaru sat up a little and showed some interest when Sakura pulled out his favorite flavor of Dango, though he still shot a "troublesome" at her when she gave him her most blinding smile. After they snacked for a little while, they returned to watching the clouds, calling out interesting shapes to one another. Sakura used this time in a different way, as well. She meditated while they watched the clouds, focusing on her inner chakra levels, knowing that if she meditated enough she could increase her chakra reserves. Probably not as much as she would like, and not as much as training herself to exhaustion every day, which Sakura was still tempted to do, though the temptation had decreased for the moment as she allowed herself to relax and focus in on the chakra signatures of her two new friends.

Soon, in just a month or so, they would all start at the Academy. Then, Sakura knew, she could start trying to get her friends to train with her, but for now, she would have to simply build friendships again, and meditate to build chakra. Part of Sakura still burned to tear everything to the ground, and ached at the knowledge that these weren't even her versions of her precious people, but the logical part of her knew that no matter what she burned down or who she killed, she could never bring her precious people back, and she needed to focus on remaking new ones, out of their younger versions.

Sakura slipped deeper into a meditative state, and probably appeared asleep to Choji and Shikamaru for the moment. She was trying to pull out her innocent side. The Sakura that she had had to put away when easy friendship and happy-go-lucky days were replaced with steely professionalism and blood . Where was the part of her that was still human, still kind and soft. Sakura knew she still had to have that part of her, otherwise she would never have cried so much and so often over all the death, and she simply couldn't afford to be steely, professional, Sannin-strength world breaking Sakura right now, in her past. As she examined her own psyche, Sakura felt overwhelmed with all the blood and rage she felt. It seemed like fire burned in her veins, fire telling her "be stronger, be better. Kill Danzo, Madara, Pein. Get revenge for the people they killed. People you'll never see again."

Taking a slow, deep breath, Sakura went deeper, slowing her chakra and heart rate and looking underneath the underneath, as Kakashi-Sensei always said. What was underneath the blood and the rage and revenge and the pain. Sakura imagined a house, surrounded by a field of blood, but the house was pure, the house was kind, Sakura told herself. She would get to this house, and she would find the human side she had shoved away, the emotions she pretended she didn't feel. As Sakura approached the house, she ignored the calls of the dead from her mindscape, begging her to spill blood to avenge them, to be stronger. She ignored the ghosts of herself, yelling at her for being weak and telling her she had to get stronger or they would all die, and didn't she realize by being weak she was killing them all? Sakura pulled closer and closer to the door of the pure white house. Reaching out a hand, and calming her chakra and breathing even further, Sakura reached out in her mindscape and opened the door. Inside was something, someone, she hadn't seen in a long, long time.
"CHA! It's about time you came back!"
Inner Sakura was back.

Chapter Text

The next few weeks, Sakura sets herself a sort of rhythm. In the morning, she wakes up, greets her parents, and plays their perfect 5 year old daughter, excited about starting school. At first, Sakura had forgotten how much she missed her parents, and she had basked in their comforting presence. After the first few days, Sakura begins to remember how annoying it is to have parents that treat you like you are 5 years old, which, Sakura supposes, she is. However, convincing her mother that she has finally made friends proved to give Sakura the freedom she needs, although her mother made her promise she would invite Shikamaru and Choji over sometime soon. Sakura knows she won't get out of that one, so she agrees, and her parents let her leave each day after breakfast to spend the day "hanging out with her friends."

It's not totally a lie, not really. At least that's what Sakura tells herself. She spends the late mornings using her chakra sensing to walk around Konoha, hoping to catch another glimpse of Kakashi, but to no avail. Either he's avoiding her, which Sakura thinks is unlikely, due to the fact Kakashi thinks she is 5 and shouldn't be hiding his chakra signature from her, or he's on a string of missions outside the village. Sakura hopes it's the latter, and avoids the ache that runs through her at the thought that Kakashi doesn't know her and has no reason to want to be around a "random" 5 year old. He'll come back soon, she tells herself. After a quiet bento lunch, Sakura heads over to wherever Shikamaru and Choji are cloud watching that day. Ever since the first day she introduced herself, the two clan heirs had made an easy space for her, and much to Sakura's surprise, she was beginning to look forward to it as the best part of her day. The pure youth of her two old friends still tugs at Sakura, but when she lays back to "cloud watch" and sinks into her meditative state, the smaller, but still achingly familiar chakra signatures of Choji and Shikamaru are the closest to home that Sakura feels.

Finding Inner Sakura had been a surprise the first time, and Sakura still wasn't quite sure if Inner had been there the whole time, or if Sakura had somehow brought her back, either by force of thought or simply by travelling back to her 5 year old body, but it hadn't been a fully unpleasant surprise. Inner was a little different than Sakura remembered, and a lot quieter, probably because Sakura is so much stronger of a personality herself, this time, so when Sakura wanted to hear from her, she had to reach down inside and look for her, but with meditation, Sakura was finding it a little easier with time. The main difference that Sakura found with Inner was that Inner, while still fairly violent and vain, as Sakura remembered, she was innocent in a way Sakura no longer was.

It was as if Inner had never progressed beyond her childhood self, and that made her an invaluable resource, because Inner remembered what it felt like to belong to this time. Sakura didn't meditate to find Inner every day, because Sakura knew that it would be dangerous to rely on a separate personality, and the last thing she wanted was to split herself in two. She vividly remembered shutting Inner away the first time, when she was training with Tsunade, and learned about personality disorders. On that day Sakura had tried to either shut Inner away and forget about her forever, and Sakura thought she had succeeded. If she was honest with herself, she had sometimes missed the energetic "CHA!" that she felt when Sakura had done something right. Even with all that in mind, it was a little comforting to find a version of herself who was comfortable in this timeline, and she would shut Inner away again later. Probably.

After cloud watching and meditating with Shikamaru and Choji, Sakura would go home for dinner, chatter excitedly at her parents, and then practice medical ninjutsu alone in her room until bed. Sleep was probably the most difficult part, and Sakura was plagued by nightmares which woke her up crying or screaming. She'd gotten much better about quieting her screams before her parents could hear it, though. After waking up in a cold sweat, or tears, Sakura would wash her hands until they bled, knowing she could never wash the blood of her friends off, but unable to stop herself from trying anyways, then either go back to bed and force herself to lie there until the sun rose, or more often than not, she would head out to the Hokage monument and look over the village. Sometimes Sasuke joined her, silently coming up beside her and sitting in absolute silence until after the sun had risen, and sometimes Sakura sat alone, blessing Naruto's name for giving her a second chance while cursing him for leaving her without him. On this particular morning, Sasuke joined her, and after the sun had risen, and Sakura rose to part ways and sneak back into her house before her parents noticed she was gone.

Sasuke turned to her.
"Come over for dinner."

Sakura graced him with a gentle smile, and leaked some Killing Intent in his direction,
"Is that a request, Sasuke dear?"

Sasuke stiffened slightly, and shot Sakura a sour look,
"Please."

Sakura nodded at that, and withdrew her Killing Intent, and Sasuke relaxed again and stood up himself, ready to part ways until later.
"I'll let my parents know, and I'll be over sometime in the afternoon."

Now it was Sasuke's turn to nod, and they parted silently, but not unpleasantly.

Sakura had been over to the Uchiha compound exactly twice since the day Kakashi-sensei had dropped her off with Itachi. Both times Itachi and Shisui had been gone, off on a mission Sakura supposed, and Sakura had been there only long enough to bow and exchange pleasantries with Mikoto before she and Sasuke had left to "play", which was code for "status updates". This would be a little different. An official invite to the Uchiha compound. Sakura knew she would have to be on her best behavior, and she couldn't deny she was a little interested to see how the Uchiha were progressing. Sasuke and she hadn't made any official inroads on stopping or preventing the Uchiha massacre, although they would need to at least formulate a plan in the near future. They only had a little over a year before it had occurred in the original timeline. Sakura knew Sasuke was paying a lot closer attention than he had as an actual 5 year old, and hopefully soon he would have some idea of what they could do.

When Sakura informed her parents at breakfast that Sasuke Uchiha had invited her over to the Uchiha compound for dinner, her parents were estatic. Her father in particular was overjoyed with the thought of the sheer connections Sakura would make as a friend of the Uchiha clan, and Sakura's mother spent the better part of the morning bustling around trying to dress Sakura in a way "befitting eating with the Uchiha, Sakura, goodness why didn't you tell me you were making friends with an Uchiha!"
As much as Sakura pretended her parents fluster over her, Sakura was secretly pleased with the happiness in her parent's eyes.

Finally, after lunch, Sakura's mother presented Sakura to her father, who immediately declared Sakura,
"Ready to represent the Haruno clan!"

Sakura giggled in her brand new kimono, black with pink highlighting it throughout, with green leaves woven all about, which Sakura's mother had assured her brought out the best in her eyes and hair.
"Daddy, we don't even have a clan!"

Her Father smiled at her and ruffled her hair gently.
"Sure we do, sweetheart. All we need is you, me, and your mama."

Sakura grinned and hugged her father tight, then her mother. Saying her goodbyes, Sakura set off toward the Uchiha compound.

Chapter Text

As Sakura approaches the wide, sturdy gates of the Uchiha compound, she spares a moment to worry that she might be a little overdressed. I should have asked Sasuke when I saw him what I should wear, she stressed. On consideration, would Sasuke even know what she was supposed to wear. A mental image of Sasuke helping Sakura pick out a dress or kimono for dinner entered unbidden in Sakura's mind, and she smiles at the thought of it. She supposes her nerves are getting to her a little bit, since her hands have started to minutely tremble. Frustrated, Sakura huffs. She's been here before, for dinner even! She shouldn't be worried about this.

"Nervous, little petal?"

A voice from behind startles Sakura, and before she can stop to think or be more aware of herself, she throws a chakra laced punch aimed directly at the voice. Laughing, Shisui Uchiha easily catches her punch, but his bright smile turns strained as Sakura's punch lands, and she distinctly feels two small snaps in the bones of his hand. Mortified, Sakura gasps and pulls back her hand.

"Shisui! I-I'm so sorry!"
Turning bright red, Sakura bows quickly, stilling her hands from their instinctual reaction to reach out and heal the break. It was bad enough she broke composure and chakra punched him, it would be much worse if she showed that at 5 years old, she could already use medical ninjutsu. Still, she itched to heal his hand. Way to make an impression, Sakura, she chastises herself. As if sensing her inner turmoil, Shisui pastes a grin back on his face, though Sakura can tell it's covering a wince and also not the smallest bit of awe.

"Little petal, who knew you could pack such a punch! I'm sorry I startled you, I didn't realize.."
He laughs a little as he gingerly hold his broken hand with the other.

"But I should have realized, Sasuke told me you were going to be a ninja, and no one should sneak up on a ninja!"
He gives Sakura a wink, and Sakura knows she is forgiven. She breathes a sigh of relief, but she still feels bad, and she lets that show through, looking at the ground instead of the kind Uchiha's face.

"A ninja should also not hurt their friends..."

Sakura feels a hand rest on her head, and ruffle her hair, and for a second it feels so Kakashi-sensei that it almost brings tears to her eyes, but she forces them back.

"Aww, little petal! I'm glad to hear that we're friends! Don't you worry, Mikoto knows some medical ninjutsu, and she will fix me right up. I'm here to walk you in."

Bemusedly, Shisui makes his way into the Uchiha compound, seemingly at ease, but Sakura can see he's still favoring the hand, though he's trying not to show it. Sakura follows closely behind him, hoping the rest of the night goes better than this.

 

"By the way, little petal, who taught you to do that? That was quite a punch, and our little Sasuke tells me you're from a civilian family?"

There's only one possible person who could have taught Sakura to chakra lace her punches, and that's Tsunade, and there's no way she can tell Shisui that. Choji and Shikamaru have never done anything resembling training with her, and Shisui already knows her family is civilian.

"Sasuke did. We've been training for the Academy and he showed me how to punch! I've never punched that hard before, though... You scared me a lot, Shisui."

Sasuke will cover for her, Sakura feels sure, and it's better for Shisui to think her chakra lacing was a mistake. She's got such small chakra reserves at this point, and that should be on her side for this. Sakura will simply have to pretend she can chakra enhance when she's scared, and as long as she's careful, she feels sure she can pull it off. Shisui accepts her excuse with a nod and starts commenting about how well Itachi has trained Sasuke, and suddenly they're at the Main Uchiha house. It's still just as imposing as Sakura remembers it, and this time she won't be simply picking up Sasuke. Before she can overthink it, Shisui practically flings open the door, calling out:

"Aunt Mikoto, 'Tachi, Sasuke! Sakura is here!"

Grinning, he leads her towards the dining area, where Sasuke is sitting with Itachi, engaged in some sort of intense Shogi match, Sakura can see from the entryway. Sasuke and Itachi look up to greet her, and Sakura can see the second they both notice the awkward way Shisui is holding his hand. Itachi raises an eyebrow at Shisui, and Sasuke gives Sakura a look which can only be interpreted as,

Really, Sakura?

a bashful shrug from Shisui has Itachi fixing his gaze on Sakura, and he nods politely at her.

"Hello, Sakura. Please feel free to join us."

Sakura nods demurely, and sits near Sasuke, drawing her attention to their game of Shogi. With a flash, Shisui is off to the kitchen and Sakura can hear his sing-song, "Aunt Mikoto" from behind her. Looking at the board, it looks like Sasuke is about to lose badly to Itachi. Sakura wonders if he realizes this or not. Her old teammate shoots her a questioning look, and then refocuses on the board, to his losing game. Knowing she will have to explain it at some point, and Sakura would much rather explain it without Fugaku Uchiha in the room, thank you very much.

"Shisui landed behind me and surprised me, so I hit him like you taught me, Sasuke. I think I punched a little too hard though, and I think I hurt his hand..."

Sakura trails off, as if ashamed. She is, kind of. Sasuke takes her hint and gives her a slight "hn" that she interprets as acceptance in her cover story, which Sakura is glad for. Itachi looks at her with interest flashing in his eyes. He looks at Sakura kindly, though, and Sakura can see why Sasuke adored him as a child. Even though Sakura knows Itachi is already in the Anbu, is already capable of murder, the look in his eyes is so gentle and comforting that Sakura feels herself relax a little despite herself.

"I'm surprised you could even hit Shisui, Sakura. My mother can fix whatever injury you could have given him, don't worry yourself."
Then Itachi smirks, downright smirks! over Sakura's shoulder, and continues.
"He must not have been paying attention, and I'm sure he deserved it for startling you."

A loud voice booms from behind Sakura,
"Itachi! My poor feelings!"
Clutching a hand over his heart, Shisui goes to sit by Itachi, knocking shoulders with him mockingly as he drops down by his side, looking at the Shogi board.

"Hey, 'Tachi, you trying to kill little Sasuke over there? This game of Shogi qualifies as a murder."
Sasuke glares, Shisui and Sakura laugh, and the night continues.

After 2 additional games of Shogi, neither time ending any better for Sasuke than the first, Mikoto calls them all for dinner, and Fugaku joins them as they all sit around the low table. Sakura's nerves come flaring back as she takes in the two adults before her. Just as before, the dinner is stiff and formal excepting for Shisui forcefully lightening the mood, and Sakura giggling at his antics. Near the end of the dinner, Fugaku looks at Itachi and frowns,

"Itachi, you've been neglecting clan duties, I understand that you are in *ahem* Special Forces now, and have certain, responsibilities, but neglecting your role as clan heir is unacceptable. You must meet with the clan elders tomorrow."

Sakura is shocked that Fugaku would just casually bring that sort of thing up at dinner, out of nowhere, and she subtly looks around at the other members to judge their reactions. No one at the table looks particular shocked at this outburst. Sasuke picks at his food angrily, as if he wants to say something but can't, Shisui's shoulders drop, as if he's disappointed but not surprised, and Itachi stiffens, inclining his head toward his father.

"I apologize, Father. I will strive to make it up to the Elders tomorrow."

Fugaku nods briefly, conversation seemingly over.

Ever serene, Mikoto changes the subject with the skill and grace of a clan head's wife.

"Speaking of tomorrow, Sakura, isn't tomorrow the entrance ceremony for the Academy? I know Sasuke is very excited to start. How about you?"

Doing some quick mental calculations, Sakura realizes the first day of the Academy is tomorrow. She had forgotten it was coming so soon. Politely, she smiles at Mikoto.

"Yes, I am very excited to start. I know tomorrow we don't actually learn anything and it's a ceremony, but I am the first ninja in my family, and I hope I make my family proud."

Mikoto gives her a gentle nod, and the graceful air of this woman makes Sakura want to imitate her while knowing she never could.

"I'm sure you family is already very proud of you, Sakura. I will look forward to hearing from Sasuke about what you two are learning."

Shisui, regaining his trademark grin, points his chopsticks at her from across the table,

"Yeah Sakura! You can just punch your way through the Academy!"
He gives her a wink, and Sakura just shakes her head, but she's smiling.

Soon afterwards, Fugaku takes his leave, to which Sakura gives a polite,
"Thank you for having me in your home, Uchiha-sama."
Fugaku nods slightly at her and exits, and the mood in the room lightens considerably.

Itachi, Shisui, and Sasuke once again walk Sakura home. This time, instead of the light joyful mood they shared last time, she notes that Sasuke is practically boiling with rage, although he's trying terribly to hide it. Sakura supposes he knows something she doesn't about his clan history, and knows they will have to meet soon to talk about this, and make a plan to prevent the future. The Academy represents a lot of things to Sakura, but to Sasuke, it probably reminds him of what is to come. Well, if Sakura and Sasuke don't stop it, that is. Itachi is stormier than usual, although his polite air and calm presence affect even Sasuke. Shisui, if possible, gets louder to cover for it, and Sakura is so vividly reminded of Naruto she has to stop herself several times from just slapping the jolly Uchiha upside the head. They make it back to her home though, and once again, Sakura decides to hug each one of them. Shisui isn't as surprised by the hug this time, and hugs her back tightly.

"See you later little petal!"

Sasuke remains stiff and doesn't really reciprocate the hug, though he does allow it without complaint. Itachi is much the same, though is Sakura isn't mistaken, she can feel his chakra signature swirling just a little less violently. Man, Sakura thinks to herself, does ANYBODY hug these Uchihas? They need it. Sakura supposes it wouldn't be any great imposition on her part. She smiles, bows, and heads back into her home, already making plans for the Academy, and for plans to stop the slaughter of the Uchiha. She has a LOT to do.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Sakura's parents come in to "wake her up" for the Academy entrance ceremony. Sakura has been awake for a while, pushing back nightmares and memories and trying to focus on some sort of plan for the future, but she pretends to brightly awaken when her parents enter her room, so excited for Sakura that Sakura can't help but be a little swept away by it and join in their excitement for her, at least for a little bit.

"Sakura, darling! The entrance ceremony is today! Rise and Shine!"
Sakura's mother pulls out some new clothes for Sakura, a red long shirt and short black shorts, all made for ease of movement. Her mother's best attempt at ninja clothes. The familiarity of it makes Sakura's heart twist, and she smiles, a tad wetly.

"Thanks mama."

From downstairs, Sakura can smell breakfast, a sure sign that her father is cooking. Smiling at her, Sakura's mother leaves her to get dressed, and Sakura does, slowly. She is trying to stay present, to enjoy what Sakura remembers to be a good day, but her mind keeps wandering to the future. To all the things she needs to do to prevent pain, and war, and hardship. Sakura remembers how weak she was in the Academy. How she had spent all of her time practically memorizing her textbooks, while not paying any attention whatsoever to the physical side of actually getting better. Sure, Sakura had made above passing grades in taijutsu and throwing weapons, but she had never really trained to get better. No, the old Sakura was happy when her teachers were happy with her. She never even imagined pushing herself beyond a teacher's expectations, to get stronger simply to get stronger. Sakura hadn't seen the need. At least, not until the Wave mission. By then, it had felt too late, and she had fallen so far behind her teammates Sakura had felt she would never catch up. In many ways, she never had.

Now she was here, back in the past, and she had a chance to be better. Stronger, faster, smarter. The feeling was tantalizing and Sakura yearned for it. To put her all into training, to spend all day and night honing her body and mind to the place where no one could touch her or her precious people ever again. But then Sakura remembered Tsunade, remembers Pein, Kakashi, Guy, Obito, and even Naruto. People who had spent their whole lives training, to overcome weakness and to protect everyone. They hadn't, though. They had all fallen, every single one, fallen trying to protect their missions, their precious people, their visions. Even Naruto, who had always seemed so untouchable, had died. Died for Sakura. Sakura tries to shake off the greed, the almost lust to get power. Power alone wouldn't be enough, unless Sakura truly thinks she could train hard enough to be better than Naruto, better than Madara, better than everyone.

Teamwork was what really worked. Sasuke was right, if they really wanted to win, they would have to get all of their precious people strong enough to stand together, united. No pure power ever did stand alone, Sakura thought. Traitorously, the back of her mind says but maybe YOU could. Shaking her head to rid herself of her thoughts, Sakura pastes a bright smile back onto her face and heads down to eat breakfast with her parents before the entrance ceremony.

The Academy is bright and full of happy, cheerful children and their parents, milling about, finding seats next to neighbors, friends, and clan leaders socializing. Everyone is so excited, the children to finally get into the Academy, to become ninja and bring honor to their families and clans, and to their village. The leaders of the village are there too, assessing the newest crop of Academy attendees. Sakura knows less than half of the new students will make it to Genin. Now that she has noticed them, Sakura notices that there are a LOT of village elders and leaders here, as well as clan heads, and it takes her a moment to realize there is a clan heir or main house clan member of almost every official clan in Konoha in this class. No wonder it's such a big ceremony today, a class of this size and with so many clan children is a prosperous sign for the village. Sakura is shaken from her thoughts by a happy shout,

"Hey, Sakura!"

She turns to see Choji, smiling widely and coming towards her, a slouching Shikamaru just behind him. Returning his greeting with a bright wave, Sakura pulls on her mother's hand,
"Mama, it's Choji and Shikamaru! Can I go say hi?"

Her mother nods, smiling at Sakura's two friends. She rushes over to them and gives them both a quick hug.

"Choji, Shikamaru! Hi! I'm so excited about today, aren't you? We are going to learn so much stuff!"

Choji nods happily, while Shikamaru lets out a quiet, "troublesome...", but Sakura knows he's excited too. Choji catches her attention by grabbing her hand. He has gotten a lot more comfortable with Sakura over the month that she has spent cloud watching with them almost every day, and Sakura is overjoyed at watching the larger boy come out of his shell to befriend her.

"Sakura, let's introduce our parents, since they've never met!"

She agrees, and Sakura practically drags her parents after Choji, who walks to where his dad is standing, with Shikamaru and Ino's dads, naturally. Suddenly, Sakura remembers that she's technically never supposed to have met these clan heads, and so she shouldn't act too familiar with them. Choji smiles at the adult InoShikaCho trio and announces,

"Dad, this is Sakura! She's the girl I was telling you is friends with me and Shikamaru! Oh, and these are her parents!"

Sakura gives a brief bow and smiles,
"Nice to meet you!"

Sakura feels her parents bow behind her,

"Hello, I am Kizashi Haruno and this is my wife Mebuki. It is good to make your acquaintance."

Choji's dad smiles and returns the greeting, pulling in Shikamaru and Ino's fathers as well.

"The pleasure is ours! I am Choza Akimichi, and this is Shikaku Nara, and Inoichi Yamanaka."

Sakura ignores further pleasantries, instead trying to covertly study the clan heads. Choza is smiling pleasantly, and laughing loudly at something Sakura's father has said. Inoichi is polite, but his attention is drawn elsewhere, and Sakura follows his gaze to see Ino practically drooling over Sasuke on the other side of the clearing set up for the ceremony. Stifling a smirk at the thought of Sasuke's certain pain at already having attracted a fangirl, Sakura drags her gaze back to see Shikaku Nara looking at her with interest sparking in his eyes. Sakura remembers Shikamaru having few friends in the past, and she's relatively certain that's what has drawn Shikaku's attention, but all the same she will have to be careful around him. He's smart, much too smart if Sakura remembers correctly, and she forces herself to return his look with as bright of a smile as she can. Looking to Shikamaru and Choji, Sakura makes a request,

"Hey, the ceremony is starting soon! Can we sit together? That way all the adults talking won't be soooooo boring."

Choji nods excitedly at her,

"Sure! I'll ask my dad! Shikamaru?"

Shikamaru looks as if he's going to find this ceremony boring regardless of who he's sitting with, and if Sakura has judged correctly, was planning on napping through the entire thing. Still, the lazy Nara smiles a little, taking in his two more excited friends,

"Alright."

Sakura grabs her parent's hands while Choji does the same to his dad, tearing their parent's attention away from whatever pleasantries they were discussing, likely Academy material.

"Mama, Daddy, can I sit with Shikamaru and Choji? Pleeeeaassee?"

Her father smiles down at her,
"Okay sweetheart, but only if their dads are okay with it too."

Choza nods his assent at Choji, and Choji pumps his fist,

"Yessss! Let's do this!"

Shikakau merely raises an eyebrow at Shikamaru, who shrugs in return, in a forced, nonchalant I couldn't care less sort of way. Shikaku and Sakura see the smile tugging at Shikamaru's face, and seeing through his son's act, Shikaku just smirks at Shikamaru. Shikamaru huffs pleasantly, knowing he's caught, and turns back to his two friends.

"Alright, where will we sit then?"

The ceremony is long and boring, in Sakura's opinion, especially since this is the second time she has sat through it. First, the head of the Academy thanks them all for coming, and waxes poetic about how wonderful the Academy is and how successful their graduates are, and then he introduces the teachers for the first year students. There are so many this year there are actually 3 separate classes for first years, but by the time they get into the last year, Sakura knows so many will have dropped out they will only need one class. Next, the Hokage comes forward and gives a long speech about how important and valued the children of the village are, and how wonderful it is to see so many wanting to protect their village by becoming ninja. The Hokage thanks every clan with an attending child by name, and then tells a tale about the value of ninja, and a brief history of the leaf village. Sakura notes at this point Shikamaru has in fact gone to sleep, and even Choji looks a little glazed over. Sakura spends her time looking closely at the Third Hokage. It's been a long time since she has seen him, since he died in her previous timeline. Sakura had always loved and respected Hiruzen Sarutobi as a child, in awe of the great Professor of Shinobi, her Third Hokage. Looking at him now though, Sakura sees just how old he actually is, and remembers all the fires and political issues Tsunade had run into because the Third had spent so much of the years since the Fourth trying to be pacifist, he had actually let a lot of things go, and Sakura had seen a lot of those things hurt the village, mainly Danzo.

Sakura supposed she still respected him, trying to keep the peace and protect the village, but she can't help but feel a little resentment towards the old man, for his treatment of Naruto, the Uchiha clan and Sasuke, and letting Danzo run wild all those years. It's not like Sakura can fight the Hokage, so she decides to let it go. She and Sasuke can move in the shadows now, like Danzo but with better purpose. She will try and fix some of the problems that had plagued her timeline during Sarutobi's rule. After the Hokage finishes his speech, everyone politely applauds, as the head of the Academy returns to the podium, and announces the names of the students, and the teacher they will be under during their first year. Sakura already knows which teacher she is going to get, but listens anyway.

"Sakura Haruno, first year teacher Yukiatsu Honma."

She looks over at the Chunin she will be learning under this year. He is smiling pleasantly, and Sakura remembers him being a pretty good teacher, although she doesn't remember seeing him after her first year. The head of the Academy continues until all names have been called, and then releases the students and parents to go meet their new teachers, wishing them a good year at the Academy. One thing surprised Sakura, although she is loathe to admit it. Unlike in her time, Shikamaru and Choji are in her first year class. If she had to guess, she would have said that Shikaku or Choza had managed to pull a string to get their son's friends with them in class. It shouldn't surprise her that the timeline is changing already, but it does. Sakura pushes it down and scans the crowd for Sasuke. Catching his eye, she gives him a team 7 specific handsign.

"Meet up as soon as possible."

Sasuke returns the handsign with a simple

"Affirmed."

Then putting a smile back on her face, she follows Choji and Shikamaru to meet their new teacher.

Chapter Text

Sasuke finds her sitting by the Memorial stone, the one meeting place Team 7 could always find each other. Sakura nods at him in acknowledgement as he sits down near her.

"Are we alone, Sakura?"

Extending her senses, Sakura checks the perimeter of the Memorial stone, and, not finding any signatures, gives her teammate a nod.

"We're alone, for now. Sasuke, we need a plan. There's too many things to do, too much we can't leave uncertain. Talk to me about your clan. According to my timeline-"

Sakura pulls out a scroll she marked for just this purpose: a timeline of everything that went wrong, and points to the Uchiha clan massacre.

"We have a little more than a year until this happens, and I don't even know where to start with all of it. What intel have you gathered?"

Sasuke crosses his arms, pensive, and begins to speak.

"My clan is already plotting their uprise. I eavesdropped on a few clan meetings, and a rebellion is already in the works. I don't think Danzo has started manipulating Itachi yet, but I can't really tell. I don't know when that started happening, and there's no way for me to eavesdrop on Itachi while he's on an Anbu rotation or near the Hokage, which is when I assume Danzo got to him last time."
The boy looks frustrated, and Sakura knows Sasuke wishes he could eavesdrop on Itachi wherever he goes, to protect him from Danzo. Tentatively, Sakura decides to offer her preferred plan.
"Well, you know Sasuke, there's one way for sure to know that Danzo isn't getting to Itachi..."

Sasuke scoffs at her,
"Sakura, no. We can't just assassinate Danzo."

Feeling a little frustrated herself, Sakura decides to push a little further.
"Well, why not? If we killed him, so many problems would solve themselves! Tenzo and Sai would be free, Itachi wouldn't get manipulated, and there would be no one to orchestrate your clan's slaughter except maybe Madara, but Itachi won't fall for it if Danzo isn't around. It's not like anyone would miss Danzo, Sasuke! He wouldn't steal Uchiha eyes, we'd get one poisonous scumbag off the council, free some of our friends, what on earth is worth keeping him alive for!?"

Heat flushes Sakura's face, and although she tries to keep her voice down to an extent, her rage is building in her. Sakura wants Danzo dead. Wants to feel his heart crushed in her hand, wants to see his blood spill and his head roll. If she didn't have other people she wanted to kill in the future, Sakura would kill Danzo in broad daylight any second of any day. She couldn't blow her cover though, her second chance, to get caught killing him in public. But stealth? Sakura could live with that. Except that her frustrating teammate is shaking his head at her again.

"If we kill Danzo right now, my clan will go through with their uprising, and it will start a Civil War in Konoha. That is exactly why Itachi went through with killing our clan in the first place. If we kill Danzo, a war will start, and people are going to die anyways. We have to think of another way."

Sakura swears silently at all the politics. Somehow, even though it cost more lives and was bloodier, war was easier. There were clearly drawn lines of bad and good. You kill people who aren't on your side and that's that. This subterfuge of politics, of keeping enemies alive so that a different evil wouldn't come to pass... It makes Sakura's blood boil. She'd rather just scream and punch her way out of problems, but she sees Sasuke's point, and sighs.

"Okay, okay... So what do we do?"

The "plan" ends up being much too calm for Sakura's tastes.

"So, let me get this straight: You'll simply start talking about other clans, and inviting non-Uchiha clan kids over, and hope your dad starts realizing that other clans matter too, and smooth out clan relations just by hanging out with other kids, and you'll start 'dropping hints' at Itachi that's there's more than one way to solve a problem?"

Sasuke glares at her, then just nods,

"Pretty much."

Sakura is about to point out every single flaw in his plan, to tell him "friendship" wouldn't do anything to help and they should be making a battle plan, dang it, when Sasuke speaks again, much quieter this time, and not meeting Sakura's eyes.

"It's what the Dobe would do."

Sucking in a breath, Sakura remembers a bright smile, as bright as the sun itself. She remembers Zabuza, who remembered he loved Haku, because of that sunshine smile. Gaara, whose mighty Bijuu wrath couldn't overcome the sunny optimism and strength of friendship, Pein, who reversed death itself at the cost of his own life, for the sake of that sunshine smile, and his dream of peace and friendship. Sakura herself, who was bitter and weak, and had found strength within herself thanks to the brightness of his love and friendship, and Sasuke, who had come back home because her sunshine, Naruto, had never stopped lighting his way home, even when everyone else had given up. Sakura had never believed in the power of friendship, she had given up Ino just for a chance at Sasuke, and even if Sakura had briefly dabbled in the power of romantic love, that had also broken when Sasuke had shattered her heart all those years before. Naruto though, he had always believed in friendship, believed in others, believed in her. It was because of Naruto's belief in friendship and never giving up that had brought Sakura and Sasuke back where they were today: in a past that was not as broken as the future, in a past that still had hope. Sakura had never much believed in friendship, but she had believed in Naruto. All the air seems to leave Sakura's lungs in a rush, and she looks at Sasuke, and realizes that maybe, just maybe, she was starting to believe in friendship, because of Naruto. She owed her Naruto this, the Naruto that had given up everything just so she could sit here and argue with Sasuke, instead of dying on a battlefield with no one beside her. Sakura still wanted blood, still wanted revenge, but for her sunshine friend, she would at least try friendship first.

"...Okay, Sasuke. For Naruto, I'll try."

Sasuke nods, and for a while they sit in companionable silence, looking upon the Memorial stone, and Sakura knows they're both imagining their Naruto's name on it, etched for the world to see what he had sacrificed.

Musing about how to go about making these friendships, Sakura tosses out,

"So, Sasuke... Who do you have in your class. I noticed we aren't in the same class this year, not like last time. I'm in class with Shikamaru and Choji, which I wasn't before. I assume it is Shikaku's doing."

Sasuke snorts at her.

"A Nara go out of their way to do anything? Yeah right. Choza would though, he's gentle on Choji. Anyway, I have the Dobe, dog boy, and the fan girl in my class."

Sakura pauses thoughtfully, trying to remember who was in her class last time, and who was missing.

"Wait, I think I had Shino in my class last time. You don't have him either though? And what about Hinata?"

Sasuke shakes his head thoughtfully.

"Hyuuga and Uchiha rarely end up in the same class until the class size is much smaller. I'm not sure which clan instituted that, but the Hyuuga and Uchiha have never gotten along."

This puts a small roadblock in their plans, but Sakura supposes a solution will work itself out at some point.

"Okay, so maybe we should just start with the people in our classes, and then try and work together to merge those friend groups. I'm sure if Naruto has his way he'll befriend Hinata and Shino on his own, and then we can work from there? Maybe we should try and train with them once a week or something, and maybe you could invite us to train at the Uchiha compound sometime soon?"

Sasuke nods, but it's a painful nod, and Sakura thinks it might because he will have to admit to himself he has friends and tell his mother he wants to actually invite people over, and Sakura smiles at his grimace.

"You're the one that brought up friendship, Sasuke. I'm sure you'll be fine."

She says sweetly, too sweetly, and Sasuke shoots her a glare and a "hn", and Sakura laughs.
"That's the friendly Uchiha I know!"

Sasuke gets up then, and starts to head home. The sun has begun to sink low in the sky, and Sakura knows she will have to head home soon too, but she wants to stay a little longer at the Memorial stone, lost in memory. Running her fingers gently over the smooth stone, Sakura feels for the carved names. Most she doesn't know, will never know, but she feels loss all the same. All the people she has lost will not make it onto the stone, and Sakura herself will ensure that. All the same, Sakura still wants to feel the cool, carved names of the people she's lost in her past. Kneeling in front of the stone, her forehead barely pressed to cold stone surface, she whispers to her dead,

"Kakashi-sensei... I miss you. I know I always acted upset at the way you read porn in public, or were always late, but... Now I wish you were late, just one more time. The you that's here, he's so messed up, Kakashi-sensei. Did you really feel like that, back now? Who helped you, then?
Tenzo, Sai, I'm sorry I can't help you yet.. I want to. I am coming, I promise.
Shika... I wish we had more time... I wish.. I wish I could have told you I loved you.."

Tears start slipping down Sakura's cheeks, and she doesn't even care. Voice shaking, little more than a breath, she continues,

"Naruto... I haven't even seen you yet, back here in the past. If I'm honest, I don't know if I can bear seeing you. I miss you so much.. The you I know... Why did, why did you have to do this? Sacrifice yourself... Why did you have to die?"

She's sobbing now, tears dripping down onto the soil, joining the many that have gone before them, and Sakura's pain is so overwhelming she doesn't even notice someone come up behind her, silently. Not until she hears a very soft cough, as someone clears their throat, to announce themselves. Jumping up, partly out of surprise and partly out of a sudden desire to compose herself in front of whoever saw her breaking down. Turning, and wiping her eyes, Sakura apologizes,

"I-I'm sorry."

She's not sure what she's supposed to be sorry for, but it feels right all the same. Who expects an almost 6 year old to be sobbing at a memorial stone at sunset anyway? Looking up, she sees a familiar mask, and a shock of grey hair, and she stills.

Kakashi-sensei!

Kakashi gives her a brief eye-smile,
"Yo. Sorry to interrupt."

Sakura bows quickly,
"Ka-Mr. Ninja, you didn't interrupt, it's okay. I-I need to go home now anyway, the sun set."

Kakashi squints suspiciously at her, but nods. He seems to be fighting with himself about saying something, if his chakra is any sign. Outwardly, Kakashi appears just as nonchalant as always, but Sakura learned long ago that her sensei has too many layers of masks, physical and mental, to tell what he's really thinking, and chakra sensing is the only sign she'll get to what he's actually thinking. So she doesn't leave, not right away, letting Kakashi decide whatever thought he's working out. Just as Sakura starts to think maybe she should just leave, he speaks again.

"Who were you here for?"

Darn it, the only question I couldn't answer honestly,

Sakura thinks. If she answers a random name, it wouldn't make sense for her to have been seen sobbing over them, but she can't tell him the truth either.. Or, can she? At least, a version he might believe..

"Oh... Well.. Once, a really long time ago, I was really scared, and this man saved me. But, he got really hurt, and I never saw him again. So I wanted to... Thank him, for saving me that day, and I know that ninja that save people get put on this stone. So I came here to thank him, and tell him I'm sorry... and to wish that wherever he is, he's really happy."

Wherever you are Naruto, I'm sorry that I wasn't strong enough, and I'm sorry I didn't believe enough. I hope I see you again someday. I hope, wherever you are, that you are happy.

Kakashi inclines his head at her, and Sakura sniffles a little, wiping the rest of her tears off her face. Looking at her old sensei, young again and trapped in his own vicious memories, Sakura hopes he's going to end up okay, too. In the wake of the mess of chakra that reveals to Sakura just how conflicted Kakashi actually is, she isn't sure she can even help her sensei, as much as she wants to. She wishes she could believe in herself like Naruto always had. Naruto would know what to do to make Kakashi better, but Sakura is just... Sakura. She turns to go home, the sun has long set and soon her parents will start worrying about her. As she starts to walk away, she hears quietly behind her,

"Kakashi. My name is Kakashi."

Turning back to look at him, Sakura can't help the wet, but hopeful smile that makes its way onto her face. Maybe, if Naruto could be so brave, she can be to. Steeling herself and channeling as much inner Naruto as possible, she looks into the eyes of Kakashi. She sees a glimmer of her old sensei in them, and she takes a deep breath. For Naruto. and for Sensei..

"I'm Sakura. We're friends now, okay?"

Mortified at seeing Kakashi's response to this outburst, Sakura books it back home as fast as she can, ignoring his chakra signature and unwilling to look at his face, she runs all the way home to greet her parents with an apology for her lateness.

I hope you're happy, Naruto.

She imagines Naruto laughing at her, sunshine in his smile, and she smiles too.

Chapter Text

Any excitement Sakura may have felt to be back at the Academy was quickly dulled as the teacher started talking, and Sakura reaized she was going to have to hear the same lessons again. The history, the basics, the multiple weeks of lectures on what chakra was, beginners exercise class filled with monotonous exercises such as "how to run properly", and "how to hold your first for a punch", not anything Sakura would find useful, she could do all this in her sleep! The only redeeming quality of being here at all, Sakura thought, was being with Shikamaru and Choji. The first time Sakura had gone to the Academy, she hadn't had any friends her first year, until the kunoichi classes halfway through the first year, where she had met Ino. She still hadn't had regular classes with Ino, but Sakura had made do with the few times she could spend with Ino.

Now though, Sakura sat beside Shikamaru and Choji every day. The first couple days, trying to force excitement in a boring environment, Sakura had whispered to Choji, making jokes and just trying to keep her mind on something in class. It became clear that Choji actually preferred to listen to the teacher most of the time, and Sakura was unable to force herself to distract her people-pleasing friend. Much like Sakura had been in her past life, Choji was a little bit of teacher's pet. Unlike Sakura, Choji didn't seem to be motivated by being the best, rather, he seemed to take genuine pleasure in being told he was doing a good job. The smile he got on his face when a teacher complimented him warmed Sakura's heart, so she strove not to distract him, and only to talk during class to help Choji if he didn't understand a topic, which wasn't terribly often. Sakura tried daydreaming, but far too often her thoughts strayed to harder topics, and Sakura had to keep a much closer watch on herself after she accidentally released Killing Intent on the row in front of her, causing all three students to instantly burst into tears. She meditated, frequently, but even so, school was so long and there's really only so much meditating she could do. So Sakura started sitting by Shikamaru, and by the start of the second week of class, the pair began to be found more often than not sleeping through class. This actually ended up helping Sakura in her other pursuit, which was training.

Every night, after her parents bid her goodnight, Sakura crept out of her window, and stayed out most of the night, training anywhere she could find that was abandoned, and only returning to her room when the sun was just beginning to peak over the horizon. This was one of those such nights.

You're simply being practical,

Sakura tells herself as she puts herself through another round of squats, while hanging upside down from a tree by her chakra enhanced feet.

Sasuke may think that friendship will work, and maybe it will. I HOPE it will. But I have to be ready to fight, just in case.

Feeling her chakra reserves growing low, which doesn't take long, much to Sakura's chagrin, she drops to the ground and begins doing pushups, and intermittently running around the small field she found herself in. Besides, Sasuke and Shikamaru and Choji and Ino and everyone else have clans that are already training them, and sharing their secrets with their children. But Sakura doesn't have a clan, she doesn't have parents who want to or even know how to train with Sakura. There are no secret jutsu for her to pick up, and no one to learn from except herself. There is always, only, Sakura. Feeling justified, Sakura pushes herself a little harder, and shoves all the worries to the back of her mind, to be thought about later, or never, hopefully.

Breathing heavily, Sakura stops running laps for a minute and collapses, staring up at the stars while she catches her breath, before she makes herself go for another round. Sweating and absolutely disgusting, chakra levels low and muscles shaking, Sakura finally feels calm, in these moments, where she knows she has pushed herself as far as she can go. She is going to make the best of her second chance, and it didn't mattter what anybody said to her, Sakura would get stronger than last time. With her breathing starting to calm down again, Sakura focuses on the stars for just one moment longer, then she'll get up and go again...

Sakura wakes up suddenly to a hand shaking her shoulder. Bolting upright, she grabs the one of the kunai she has managed to scrounge up from an abandoned training ground, and turns to cut her attacker. They catch her hand easily, shunting her kunai away from them and harmlessly stabbing into the ground.

"What are you doing out here, little petal?"

Shaking the sleep from her eyes and cursing herself for letting her guard down and falling asleep in the first place, Sakura looks up into the bemused yet very concerned eyes of Shisui Uchiha.

"Sakura, I said, what are you doing out here? It's 4 am. You should be at home."

Meeting his unusually serious face with her own fiery eyes, Sakura huffs,
"I was training. I shouldn't have fallen asleep. I'm sorry to worry you. You can go now."

Raising his eyebrow, he meets her with an even look.
"Nope, not good enough, little petal. Why are you, a first year Academy student, training in an empty training ground at 4 am?"
If possible, his gaze turns somehow more serious. With this look on his face, Sakura finally sees the resemblance to Sasuke and Itachi.
"Is something wrong at home?"

She shakes her head vehemently.
"'No! No, of course not, Shisui. I just.. I just.."

A dam somewhere inside of her breaks, and Sakura blurts before she can think,
"All my friends are clan kids and they have people that train them and stuff. Sasuke already knows a fire jutsu! Shikamaru says his dad plays Shogi with him so he's good at strategy and Choji knows stuff too and I don't know anything! I'm good at books and stuff but when it really matters I'm not good at all! No one depends on me or thinks I am strong, but no one ever tried to help me either! I want to be a strong ninja, as strong as you or Itachi, and so I have to train, and no one helps me so I train by myself. And don't tell me not to cause I'm not going to stop. I'm going to get strong. Strong enough to protect everyone. I will!"

Sakura would like to say that her little impromptu speech was untrue, or that she had planned for it to sound so childish, so immature, like the almost 6 year old that she is supposed to be, but that speech was all Sakura. It would have been utterly humiliating if Sakura had looked a day older than her short years. As it is, she still flushes with embarrassment from having blurted that out. It seems to reassure Shisui though, and he drops to sit next to her, and pats her head softly. He sits and looks up at the stars for a moment, and Sakura waits for him to tell her that's she stupid, or she's too young, or worse, that she will never be as strong as a clan kid.

"I know what you mean, little petal. You know, I'm the useless Uchiha."

 

Sakura jerks a little.
"You? But you're so fast! You even beat Itachi the other day, I saw you!"

He shrugs, and continues looking up at the sky, as if Sakura isn't even there.

"That's true, but no one in my clan thinks I deserve it. You know our clan's special ability? The Sharingan?"

Sakura nods, she knows a lot more about the Sharingan than Shisui would ever suspect.

"Well, I got a special one. We were in a fight, and something really bad happened. I was a coward, and because of it, one of my teammates died, and I got the special power of my clan. I'm the clan goofball, so nobody wanted me to have it, and nobody knows what to do with me now. They never did, really. I don't deserve it, the power I have, little petal. I was too weak, and my weakness somehow made me strong, but I have to live with the knowledge I was never good enough for it, that I may never be good enough for it. Do you understand?"

Sakura had never heard this story before, and she would guess Sasuke hadn't either. She had also never heard the usually lighthearted Uchiha be so serious, and she got the feeling Shisui's mind was somewhere else, otherwise Sakura probably wouldn't be hearing this at all. Feeling out with her chakra, Sakura senses a deep well of sadness in the Uchiha's chakra, calm and deep, and Sakura can see it practically eating him from the inside out.

and he's only 13... Sakura thinks sadly.

H e's still a child too..

In absence of saying anything, Sakura gently reaches out and places her tiny hand on Shisui's larger one. He looks at her then, looks her in the eye, and he must see the sadness Sakura herself holds there, because he turns his hand so that it's holding hers, and gives it a slight squeeze. His voice is very quiet, and Sakura senses his chakra shift slightly, and realizes he must be fighting back tears.

"Thanks, petal."

The enormity of the moment isn't lost on Sakura. She knows by the way Shisui has told her this that she might be the first person he's said any of this to. That he's probably been carrying this sick feeling of weakness and not good enough, just like she has. Her monstrous strength and medical ninjutsu had never been enough for her in the face of her constant weakness, and she feels the same impression coming from Shisui, no matter how fast or strong he is, to him, it isn't good enough. Sakura suddenly recalls that Sasuke had told her that Shisui kills himself sometime in the next 4 months. Maybe, just maybe, Sakura can help make him stronger, and maybe he can make Sakura stronger too. She feels something inside her resolve, and harden.

Yes, I'll help Shisui. And maybe that'll help me too.

"Shisui?"

He takes a breath, but before he can slide his falsely happy mask back on completely, Sakura asks,
"Will you train with me? Don't tell Sasuke though... I don't want him to think I'm weak..."

Shisui gives her a soft grin, and Sakura feels relief at seeing some of the happiness she's used to return to his face.
"As long as you don't tell 'Tachi."

He gives her a wink, and Sakura rewards him with a small smile of her own, and extends her pinky.
"Pinky promise?"

He grabs her pinky with his own much larger one.
"Pinky promise."

Chapter Text

One morning, as Sakura is eating breakfast with her parents, her mother asks her what she would like to do for her birthday, and with a slight shock, Sakura realizes her birthday is in a week. She remembers her last birthday, when she had turned 20.


The war had been raging for years at this point, and Sakura hadn't even remembered it was her birthday, had spent the entire day in her medical tent, patching up shinobi after shinobi, healing wounds, bleeding her own chakra into them until she has none left of her own, hoping they would be alright for one more day, one more night, and knowing many of the people she released from her tent would not survive to visit her again. The fact that something as unimportant as her birthday was occurring hadn't entered Sakura's mind, until she had finished patching up a bloody and broken Lee, and he had given her his thanks, and added a quiet "Happy Birthday, Sakura." It had stunned her, a little. Covered in other people's blood, and her own sweat and tears, chakra constantly scraping painfully at the bottom of her reserves, Sakura had forgotten her own birthday. not that it really even mattered, she had told herself. We ARE in war, after all. All the same, the thought of another year spent on a battlefront had depressed Sakura, and when she finally had the time to collapse into her tent, she had been near tears.

She had stripped her blood soaked clothes off, and gotten as reasonably clean as Sakura could hope, but before she'd crawled into her bedroll, to get a few precious hours of sleep before doing this all over again, she'd noticed a scroll on her pillow, and a small box by her bedside. Opening the scroll, Sakura read a hastily written note,

"Happy Birthday Sakura! You didn't think I'd forget just cause we're in a war, you know! Sorry I didn't get you anything, I'll just have to win the war for you! - Naruto"

Her teammates sloppy scrawl was hardly legible, but Sakura cradled it carefully all the same. It had been a few weeks since she had seen Naruto, which was good, for him, because it meant he hadn't been injured enough to warrant a visit to Sakura's tent, but Sakura still missed her rambunctious teammate. It seemed like everyone who came into her tent had a story about how Naruto had saved their lives, or cut down an enemy they hadn't seen coming for them, and she was so proud of her knucklehead teammate she could have burst. She had carefully rolled the scroll back up, trying to protect a little bit of sunlight in her dark day. She had turned her attention to the box then, wondering who could have sent her something, could have gotten into her tent without anyone noticing. Opening it and gently upturning the contents into her hand, Sakura saw a silver hair pin, with a flower blossom delicately unfolding from the tip, a sakura blossom, and Sakura had traced its design gently with her finger, enjoying the way the metal ridges felt under her fingertips. She had fought the urge to put it in her hair instantly, knowing she was going to sleep right after this, but promising herself she would get to wear it tomorrow. It was thoughtful, actually. Sakura's hair was too short to pull up fully with a tie, and loose hair always found its way into her face while she was working, and she constantly had to push it back and out of her face. Looking into the box once more, Sakura spied a small note at the bottom, and pulling it out, read the tiny, neat handwriting.

"A bright spot in your day, for the bright spot in my life." Was crossed out, though Sakura could still read it.

"Troublesome... Happy Birthday, Sakura". Clutching the note to her chest, and placing the hairpin gently on her pack, Sakura had fallen asleep, hoping the next year would be better, and that she could spend it with the people who loved her, and who she loved back.

Shaking her mind back into the present, Sakura smiled up at her mother, who was impatiently waiting for Sakura's answer.

"Would you like to have your friends over?"
Her mother practically beamed at this, and Sakura realized she never had invited her friends over like her mother had made her promise before. Besides, it might be nice to see them all, alive and well.

"Okay mama, can I?"
Sakura's mother clapped her hands excitedly,

"Oh! Invite all of them! All the friends you want, Sakura!"
Warmed by her mother's clear excitement at Sakura finally making friends, she nodded, and finished her breakfast and headed to school. Mentally, she was planning on how exactly she was going to ask some friends she had never even met yet. She brushed her long hair out of her face as she entered the Academy for the morning, and instinctively ran a hand through the top of her hair, where a single hair pin had stood for a long time. Now, it was simply a headband, holding her hair back like Ino had taught her in the past.

This hair has got to go, and soon.

Sakura thought maybe she would ask her mother if she could get it cut for her birthday. Her 6th birthday. Plopping down dramatically beside Shikamaru, Sakura still has trouble believing she's supposed to be 6, instead of 21. Shikamaru turns a sleepy glance at her, and Sakura wonders if he even woke up when he walked himself to school this morning, or if he's so used to being tired he just sleepwalks everywhere he needs to go.

"You're being troublesome this morning. Why?"

Choji leans in to hear Sakura's answer, and she smiles at her two friends.
"My mama says I can have a party for my birthday, it's next Friday, do you guys want to come? Please say you'll come, you guys are my best friends!"

Choji twitches excitedly in his seat, eating his potato chips with more vigor than usual.
"Of course, Sakura! That's so cool, a party at your house with friends? I've never had one before!"

Nodding back, Sakura stage whispers as their sensei enters the classroom,
"Me neither!"

Both of them look expectantly at Shikamaru, who shoots her with a piercing gaze.
"Okay, but you have to learn to play Shogi."

Sakura tilts her head at him,
"But Shikamaru, I already know how to play Shogi!"

Sitting straight up in his chair for the first time since school started 3 weeks ago, Shikamaru blurts out,
"You can play Shogi? But why didn't you- ugh. Troublesome. I'll bring my board tomorrow, we're playing at lunch."

Sakura nods seriously, accepting his terms, but she winks at Choji, and then their sensei starts his lesson. Sakura spends the lesson planning on how she's going to introduce herself to her friend's in Sasuke's class. Can she really just invite them to her birthday if she hasn't even technically met them yet?

What would Ino do? Sakura wonders.

Ino had always been popular and made friends easily.

Ino would definitely just invite them and not even be embarrassed about it.

With a sigh, Sakura comes to the realization she will never have as much self confidence as Ino did, not in as many lifetimes as she could possibly live. Maybe, though... An idea begins to form in Sakura's mind, and she smiles. She knows just what to do, and all she has to do is wait for lunch. It was time for Sakura to introduce herself to Naruto Uzumaki.

Lunchtime at the Academy has all the first year classes eating together, likely in an attempt to encourage the classes to mingle, but Sakura has never seen the classes mix at lunch, and each classroom usually claims one side of the lunchyard and sticks to that. No one has ever been "uncool" enough, in the present year or Sakura's past memories of her first year of the Academy, braved the distance to talk to a student in a different class. If you happened to have a friend in a different class, you spoke to them after school, or maybe in the special training sessions that find classes blended together, but never at lunch. Which is why, even though Sakura has killed people on in battle, has held beating hearts in her hands, to heal them, and sometimes, to stop them, she still gulps at the prospect of crossing the yard to Sasuke, where he is surrounded by his own classmates. Taking a deep breath, Sakura stands up, and starts to head across the field, towards Sasuke. Shikamaru squints at her, then just shakes his head at her.

"Troublesome.. It's just a lunchyard, Sakura. Go talk to him."

Stupid Shikamaru, Sakura thinks to herself,

why does he have to be so observant?

Nodding at him, she stalks across the field, with purpose. She gets a few looks thrown her way, but they all resolve in simple headshakes when it becomes clear Sakura is headed for Sasuke, and she feels sure her classmates have simply labelled her a "fangirl" of Sasukes, and no one pays her any more attention.

a few years ago they would have been right, too.

Sasuke is sitting with Naruto, Kiba, and Ino. Well, sort of. Sasuke is leaning against a tree while Ino talks at him, which Sasuke clearly is paying the minimum attention to, and Kiba and Naruto are yelling, no, wrestling each other close by, in a way that would be threatening if it was anyone except Naruto and Kiba. They just look, goofy. They stop rolling around and yelling when Sakura walks by, looking up to see the stranger, and Sakura purposefully doesn't look at Naruto's face, at least, not yet. She goes straight up to Ino, and Sakura gives her the bravest smile she can.

"Hi, are you Ino? Sasuke talks about you all the time. I'm Sakura!"

Ino's jaw drops a little, then she brightens. Sasuke shoots Sakura a death glare that would probably kill her if she let it, so Sakura meets his gaze with a smile, and a twinkling of her eyes. Sasuke huffs at her, but Ino looks estatic.

"Yeah! I'm Ino, nice to meet you! I've heard about you too! Shikamaru and Choji's dads are friends with my dad and Shikamaru talks about you too!"

Sakura flushes a little at this, but continues smiling. It's nice to know in this new timeline, Shikamaru has already liked her enough as a friend to mention it to Ino. In the commotion, Kiba and Naruto have joined them, and Sakura forces herself to look Naruto in the face for the first time since she has been back. His lack of recognition at her stings but Sakura shoves it deep down to deal with later.

"I'm Naruto Uzumaki, ya know! I'm gonna be Hokage someday! This is Kiba, he's going to work for me!"

Kiba growls at this, and so does Akamaru, and Kiba jumps up beside Naruto, elbowing him to the ground.
"I'm Kiba, and I'M going to be Hokage, so watch out! This is Akamaru, he's my ninja dog!"

Sakura laughs, she can't help it. Kiba and Naruto are so full of energy that they're practically explosive with their combined friendliness and joy.
"Hello Naruto and Kiba, Sasuke's told me about you guys too! Actually, that's kind of why I came over here. In a week, I'm having a party for my birthday, my first one ever, so I want to have lots of friends there! And, Sasuke thinks you guys are so cool, so I thought maybe we could all be friends, and maybe you would want to come to my party?"

Naruto jumps up, so excited he pumps a fist into the air, or at least he tries to, what he actually ends up clocking Kiba in the face, and Kiba's jaw clicks together, and he hits the ground, but he pops up immediately and punches Naruto back, and they start wrestling on the ground again. Before Sakura can interfere, Ino yells, shaking her fist,

"Will you two KNOCK IT OFF?!"

Kiba and Naruto separate quickly, looking like they've been hit by Ino one too many times. They all turn to Sakura, smiling. Naruto speaks first, naturally,

"Of course I want to be your friend, Sakura! I've never been to a party before, it's gonna be so great, ya know!"

Kiba agrees, and he and Naruto start fighting over who would be Sakura's best friend. She looks to Ino, and Ino smiles at Sakura, and Sakura hopes oh, she hopes that this time, boys won't get between them, and Ino and she will be friends again.

"Yeah, Sakura, Sasuke and I will be there, right Sasuke?"

Sasuke 'hn"s at Ino, frowning,

"Don't speak for me, Ino. Yeah, I'll come."

Sakura claps her hands together,

"Great! I'm so excited!"

Naruto stops fighting Kiba long enough to yell,

"Hey, Sakura! Since we're friends now, do you wanna train with us after school? Me an Kiba meet almost every day and Ino and Sasuke show up most of the time too!"

The sunshine in Naruto's smile draws Sakura in, and she wasn't planning on refusing him, could never refuse him her friendship, not after what her Naruto did for her, but this younger Naruto has the same magnetic charm that hers did, if a little rougher.

"Sure, Naruto! Uh, can I bring my friends Shikamaru and Choji too?"

Sakura points them out across the school grounds. Choji waves at her, bag of chips in hand, Shikamaru is rolling his eyes. Naruto nods his assent, and whatever he was going to say is interrupted by the bell ringing for classes to start again, so Sakura waves goodbye and heads back over to Shikamaru and Choji, and tells them everything on the way back to class. Choji looks a little nervous at the prospect of meeting new people, but happy enough at the idea of training with Sakura and Shikamaru at least. Shikamaru, however, groans loudly.

"Troublesome woman... Why do we need to train? We're first year Academy students, it's not like we're actually expected to do anything amazing. Can't I just, cloud watch or something instead?"

Sakura considers this for a minute, and then an idea strikes her, and she smiles innocently at Shikamaru, to which he instantly looks suspicious.

Good for him she thinks,

but I've got him.

"How's this Shikamaru, when we play Shogi tomorrow, if I beat you, we all train with them at least twice a week, and if you win, you can spend those days cloud watching instead."

Shikamaru gives her an evaluating look, then nods.

"Deal."

Sakura wins their Shogi match, of course. She's played him enough times in the future to know his playing style inside out, and even though he's a genius at 6, he can't beat a Sakura who has been playing Shogi against him at least that many years already. Groaning loudly over his loss, Shikamaru had looked to Choji for help, only to find none.

"Fine, I'll train with Uchiha and his friends, but you owe me a rematch!"

Sakura smirks at her friend,
"You're SO on."

That week, Shikamaru, Choji, and Sakura find themselves training the two times Sakura could talk Shikamaru into it, with Sasuke, Ino, Naruto, and Kiba. This "training" wasn't really training as Sakura knew it, mostly just spars in a tournament style. This would probably be good enough, since they are first year students after all, Sakura thinks. However, there is one special tournament rule in place, and that is if Shikamaru didn't at least make the second round, or if Sakura and Ino decided he was holding back too much, he had to run pushups and laps during the second round of matches. This spurred Shikamaru into at least trying, and Sakura knew even this little amount of effort would grow and grow if they all kept up on it, so she or Sasuke refereed most matches. Unsurprisingly, Sakura and Sasuke almost always won, with the other five generally fighting for 3rd. Shockingly enough, either out of fear of Ino and Sakura or actual interest, Shikamaru tied Kiba for 3rd on the very first day they all trained together. His only response was a grumble, but Sakura could tell he was secretly pleased when Naruto said he was "cool enough, for a lazy ass," and Sakura and Sasuke had nodded.

The week passed all too quickly, and between training with the other pre-Genin after school, doing enough homework to actually pass her classes, and training at night, occasionally with Shisui when he was not on missions, but more often than not by herself, the week passed by quickly for Sakura, and before she knows it, the day of her party arrives. Sakura's mother had planned for her friends to all come after lunch, so Sakura has the morning to herself, and she uses it sitting in front of the memorial stone, talking to the people in the past long gone, and pretending like she's not, definitely not searching for a hint of Kakashi's chakra. It's been a while since she's sensed his presence in the village, and she hopes whatever mission he is on, he's doing alright. Soon enough, it's noon, and Sakura hurries home to eat a quick lunch with her mother before her friends come. Her father had left on a business trip. Actually, Sakura's mom was supposed to go too, but she was staying until tomorrow, so she could be here for Sakura's birthday, before she left on the month or so long trip they would be on. Nervously helping her mother wash the dishes from lunch, Sakura wonders if her party will go alright. She really has never had one before, she's not sure how to even play hostess. Luckily, she's only supposed to be 6, so she supposes no one expects her to be perfect at this.

Naruto is the first one to show up, and he's nervously twitching by the door when Sakura opens it. He nervously smiles up at Sakura, and thrusts a scratched up kunai into her hands. It's clearly one Naruto found out in the woods or in a training ground, like where Sakura got hers, but Naruto has meticulously cleaned it so it shines brightly, and he has tied an orange ribbon around the base.

"Happy Birthday Sakura!"

Sakura smiles and thanks him, inviting him into the house. Naruto enters, freezing up in anticipation, and Sakura realizes she never had her Naruto in her house either, and this Naruto must be really nervous. He freezes completely still when Sakura's mother rounds the corner, and Sakura takes Naruto's hand and smiles at her mother.

"Mama, this is Naruto!"

Her mother looks at Naruto, and Sakura can see the moment she realizes who Naruto is, but to Sakura's relief, her mother lets it pass.

"Hello, Naruto. I'm Sakura's mother."

They are interrupted by a knock at the door, and when Sakura opens it, Naruto hot on her heels,

sticking close, she realizes, and sees Kiba and Ino on the doorstep.

"Happy Birthday Sakura!"

They chorus in unison and hand her two small bags as they enter the house. Sakura opens Kiba's to see a book about chakra strengthening exercises, and shrugs, saying,

"Sasuke said you liked books."

Sakura had not been aware Sasuke knew that she liked anything but she covers a surprise by hugging Kiba and thanking him. He blushes and then immediately starts talking animatedly with Naruto, and Sakura can see Naruto relax, and leave her side to go chat with Kiba. Ino watches Sakura carefully as she opens the bag Ino has brought, to see two identical headbands, one in a bright green, the same color as Sakura's eyes, and one in red, to match the red shirt that Sakura wears almost every day.

"I noticed you always wear a headband to keep your hair out of your face, and I-I think your eyes are really pretty, so I wanted you to have a headband to match!"

Sakura throws her arms around Ino. A red headband,

maybe some things are fate Sakura thinks to herself as she hugs her friend.

"Thank you so much, Ino."

Ino laughs, flipping her long golden hair over her shoulder,

"Don't worry about it!"

The door opens again to reveal Sasuke, Itachi, and Shisui. Sakura grins, she hadn't thought Shisui and Sasuke could force Itachi to come, even at 10, he's so stand offish, it doesn't seem like you'd ever find him at a party willingly, yet there he is.

"Sasuke, Shisui, Itachi! You all made it!"

Sakura runs to the door, Ino beside her, and she throws her arms around Shisui.

"Hey there, little petal. Of course Itachi and I made it back from our top secret mission in time for this! We wouldn't miss it. You know, Itachi and I were fighting this huge dragon the size of a building and-"

Itachi elbows Shisui hard, and Shisui laughs.

"Shisui, we did nothing of the sort. Happy Birthday, Sakura."

Sakura gives a quick bow to Itachi, and then hugs Sasuke too.

"Thank you Itachi, thanks for coming, all of you."

Itachi nods at her, and before Sasuke could say anything, Ino drags him into the house and starts chattering away about her day.
Itachi hands her a bag, saying awkwardly,

"It's from Sasuke and I."

Opening it, Sakura finds a wooden hand carved bell, and a book, "Tales of a Gutsy Ninja". She wonders again if Sasuke really had been paying attention all along. The bell looks just like the one Kakashi had used in their Genin Bell test, and she can guess why it's made out of wood, instead of metal, the book, the one Naruto is named after... The only thing missing is inked drawings. She turns to look at Sasuke, and he meets her gaze with an even nod.
Itachi enters the house to give a polite greeting and introduction to her mother, and Shisui hands her a small bag, containing exploding tags, but there's something.. Odd about the way they're written.

Shisui winks at her,
"They explode into flower petals, little petal. Perfect for a getaway. I can't give real explosives to a 6 year old, 'Tachi would kill me!"

Sakura hugs him again,
"Thank you, Shisui. They're wonderful."

Shisui hugs her back, and then goes and introduces himself to Ino, Sakura hearing a loud,

"Why if it isn't Sasuke's girlfriend!" And Ino's resulting squeal and Sasuke's growl fill the house.

Choji shows up right afterward with a bag of special treats from his clan, and the party begins in full swing. They start eating the snacks Sakura's mom made and playing some word games in the living room. After a while, Sakura hears the final knock on the door. Of course the lazy Nara would be the last to arrive. Opening the door, Sakura sees Shikamaru shifting in the doorway.

"Sorry I'm late."

Sakura shrugs it off,
"It's okay, I'm glad you're here!"

Shikamaru hands her a box, and when Sakura opens it, she sees a handmade Shogi board, and engraved on the sides are swirling, delicate Sakura petals, and she runs her fingers across the carvings, and it feels, almost, like Shikamaru's handwriting looks. She remembers the same gentle tracing patterns she used to feel on her arms, when she'd stolen moments with his older counterpart, out under the stars, ignoring the war raging around them. Sakura looks at Shikamaru in awe.

"Shikamaru, did you... Did you make this?"

His cheeks redden a little, and he looks to the ground.
"Well... You're going to need a good Shogi board, for when I start beating you. You still owe me another rematch."

Sakura forgets that her friends are in another room, forgets that she is 6, that Shikamaru is 7. She leans forward, and kisses Shikamaru on the cheek. She draws back, and flushes bright, heat rushing to her cheeks as she realizes she just kissed Shikamaru! Shikamaru blushes deeper, and in lieu of saying anything else, she quickly blurts,

"We're playing word games in the living room, come in!"

She takes in Shikamaru's small smile with a shy one of her own, and drags him into the circle of her friends. They all play all afternoon, and Sakura even hears Itachi laugh once or twice, which has to count as some sort of miracle, in her book. After sunset, and dinner, her friends leave one by one, smiling and laughing and with happy birthday wishes thrown Sakura's way. It's one of the best birthdays that Sakura has ever had, maybe the best day she's had ever.

Chapter Text

The next few weeks seemed to fly by for Sakura, and she was starting to relax a bit in her new timeline. She still slept through lectures at the Academy, accompanied by Shikamaru, but Sakura still managed to get good grades, though she was careful not to get perfect ones, in case her teacher started to suspect why she knew everything even though she slept through every class. After school, most days were spent hanging out or training with Naruto, Sasuke, Ino, Kiba, Shikamaru, and Choji. Sakura still felt bad that she hadn't figured out how to invite Hinata or Shino to their group meetups, but she resolved that it would happen soon. You can't focus on everyone at once, after all. At least, that's what she told herself. The 7 of them sometimes trained, and sometimes played games or simply cloud watched. Or, rather, Shikamaru, Choji and Sakura cloudwatched, and Naruto would drag everyone else into a new game or challenge he had designed. The nights, Sakura still spent training, by herself of with Shisui. Shisui was still gone on missions occasionally, but more often than not he was there, and he gave Sakura helpful tips or sparred with her, and although Sakura hid her chakra laced taijutsu, she could go all out otherwise, and Shisui ended up noticing holes in Sakura's style or helping her get faster, and Sakura wondered if this was what it would be like to have a normal Jounin sensei, instead of a Hokage who threw boulders at her, or a Jounin who had to spend most of his time dealing with a jinchuuriki who was always getting into trouble or a self proclaimed Avenger who always teetered on the fence of revenge.

When she got tired, which was still much faster than Sakura liked, though she was getting better, she would watch Shisui go through his forms, and jutsu, and at first, Sakura had just watched in awe, but eventually she helped out too, throwing shuriken or kunai at Shisui randomly while he trained, to "keep him on his toes" he said. Shisui had never gotten completely serious with her again, always smiling, and often joking, but he wasn't quite as exuberant in the quiet hours they spent training together, and Sakura felt pleased that he trusted her enough to let his guard down, somewhat. After training, Sakura would sneak back home if her parents were in town, or just walk through the front door if they weren't. Sakura finally started to feel like she could belong here, maybe. She still spent a few hours a week at the Memorial stone, talking to her people, and keeping a sense out for Kakashi's chakra, but she never did see it again, and Sakura finally decided, on her next day off of school, she was going to find a way to see Kakashi again. And she knew just how to figure it out.

When the day came, Sakura woke up with the sun, made easier by the fact that's she had actually slept last night. Shisui was away on a mission, and Sakura felt she could sacrifice one night of training so that she could have the energy to get up this early. Rising and making her way to a training area known for upper level taijutsu training, she crossed her fingers that the person she was looking for would be there. Peeking into the gate around the stone walls surrounding it, Sakura let out a sigh of relief as she saw the person she was looking for. A green blur was practically flying around the training grounds, training dummies spinning wildly all across the training ground at once. Knowing it wasn't safe to enter yet, Sakura observes, or at least she tries to. Guy sensei is so fast that Sakura can't track him with her eyes, even when she covertly chakra enhances them.

In her time, Sakura had never seen Guy fully in action, having never been on the same front in war as him. As a student, she'd gone on her fair share of missions with Guy, but never ones where he had needed to employ his full speed. Looking at the blur knocking down dummies in front of her, she wonders if this is Guy's full speed, without using the gates. Maybe, and maybe not. She had also not been there when Guy had fought his last battle, though she had seen the after effects, and she slides into the past before she can stop herself.

T he cries of shock from outside Sakura's medical tent reach her ears, and she automatically prepares a new bed, knowing that hearing the reactions mean either the wounded in question is famous, or really bad off. She sees a shock of grey hair, a blackened bundle in his arms, and Kakashi has a tear on his cheek and Kakashi never cries and Sakura rushes forward, even knowing that there's probably nothing she can do, and she pries the person from Kakashi's arms, and places the person on her bed, and it's Guy, and it's bad. It's so bad, Sakura thinks. Guy is covered in 3rd degree burns, and she can't even see his face, and a preliminary check of his chakra network tells Sakura all she needs to know. He opened the 8th gate, he's burnt himself from the inside out, and all Sakura can do is ease his pain as he takes his last few breaths but he shouldn't even be BREATHING and Kakashi is CRYING and all Sakura can smell is burnt flesh and-

Sakura comes back to herself only to find she's sitting against the wall of the training ground, and she's crying, and someone's hand is on her shoulder, is talking to her. She forces herself to breathe in and out, to push away the panic that came with her memory, the anxiety of being useless and watching Guy die right in front of her, and tries to get the smell out of her memory. Deep breaths, in and out. Slowly, her vision stabilizes and she looks up into the concerned face of Guy Sensei. He's talking to her, and Sakura tunes in.

"-your most Youthful Vigor! Come my Young and Youthful Friend, it is alright when I, the Youthful Beast of Konoha am here!"

Swallowing down the memory, Sakura looks up at Guy,
"S-sorry about that, Guy Sensei."

Guy bursts into a million watt smile, and booms joyously in her ears.
"Sensei! Yes, of course your Youthful Spirit has recognized my own Youthful Prowess! I accept your nomination as Sensei! If I cannot live up to the title of Sensei, I will run 100 miles on only my hands!"

Sakura grimaces a little, Guy is exactly how she remembers him.

okay, I'm going to have to interrupt this before it goes too far.

"Actually, Guy Sensei, I came to ask you a question."

Guy laughs,
"Of course! What can the Great Beast of Konoha do for you?"

Rising to her feet, Sakura looks earnestly at him.

"I made a new friend recently, his name is Kakashi. But I can't seem to find him anywhere. I heard maybe you could be able to help me? Would you help me?"

Immediately, Guy bursts into tears, and Sakura would have been alarmed except for the fact that this was more than a daily experience being around Guy.
"You seek out my Eternal Rival! What unmatched Youthfulness! My Rival is lucky to find a friend with such ardent flames of Youth burning in them! Of course I will help you, and I will not fail!"

Sakura swears a sunset appears as Guy gives her a thumbs up and a huge smile.

Yup, Guy hasn't changed at all.

He's willing to help her though, Sakura smiles back and him and nods encouragingly. Her smile only grows as she imagines what her Kakashi would say to her seeking out Guy Sensei to find him.

Guy leads Sakura on a merry run all around Konoha. Well, Guy appears to be walking, but even walking he moves so fast it's practically a sprint for Sakura, but she follows along as Guy shows her Kakashi's apartment building,

oh, Kakashi would definitely kill him for that if he knew,

and Sakura doesn't sense him, but Guy checks to see if Kakashi is home, by breaking into Kakashi's window. After a few minor explosions, Guy emerges, smile still in place. to tell her Kakashi isn't at home, but not to go to Kakashi's apartment alone, due to the amount of traps that he "Youthfully Avoided". Sakura thinks if the scorch marks on Guy's sleeves are anything to go by he didn't manage to "Youthfully Avoid" all of them, but she says nothing as Guy resumes his sprint walk across Konoha. They check several training grounds, the market, and the Memorial Stone. Sakura is about to give it up as a lost cause for the day when Guy leads her to one final place. Konoha's hospital.

"My Young and Hip Rival often exerts so much Youthfulness on his missions that he ends up here, in Konoha's hospital! His Dedication is to be Admired!"

Sakura almost facepalms, of course Kakashi could be in the hospital. Hadn't he spent most of her past life bouncing from mission to hospital most of the time? Sakura had supposed her formed mentor might have taken better care of himself in his youth, but who was she kidding. It was still Kakashi. Guy leads her into the front desk and asks the receptionist in a friendly boom,

"Is my Eternal Rival Kakashi here on this fine day?"

The Receptionist sighs, and Sakura understands that this must be a common occurrence for her, Guy busting down the doors to talk to Kakashi, and Sakura is glad someone is paying attention to Kakashi, even if Kakashi likely sees Guy's presence as more obnoxious than anything else. Flipping through her ledger, the Receptionist finds what she's looking for, and looks up at Guy,

"Hatake is in room 318, but he's not to be bothered with loud guests."

She shoots Guy a meaningful look, but Guy only laughs
"It isn't I who has come to see Kakashi today, but my new Youthful Friend! My Friend uh-"

He looks down at her, and Sakura realizes she has not introduced herself. She saves Guy by cutting in and politely responding,

"Sakura, ma'am. Sakura Haruno. Can I see Kakashi, please?"

The Receptionist looks at Sakura carefully.

"I can vouch for this young lady! Her Flames of Youth have caught my attention and her reasons are most pure!"

The Receptionist sighs again.

"Alright, miss Haruno. Please sign in, and don't stay too long. Hatake is in for chakra exhaustion, among other injuries, and he really can't take too much visiting."

Sakura nods seriously, and Guy pats her shoulder, promising she can always find him for help again, and leaves, shouting something on his way out the door.

Sakura carefully makes her way up to room 318, trying not to seem too much like she knows exactly where that is, but she does. Sakura knows the layout of this hospital like the back of her hand. Actually, considering she's in a younger body, better than the back of her own hand. Finding the room she's looking for, Sakura flares her chakra subtly before opening the door, a long held habit trained into her by Shizune, to keep twitchy shinobi from freaking out when their medic enters their room. Kakashi appears to be asleep, but reaching out with her chakra, Sakura can feel that he is faking it, likely waiting to see who she is or what she will do. Now that's she is here, Sakura isn't sure exactly what it is she planned to do. So she settles for sitting in the chair by his bedside, like she has so many times in the future. He seems a lot smaller, in this bed, it seems to dwarf his smaller form. His mask is of course, present. He doesn't look to be all that injured at the moment, so Sakura assumes his main problem is chakra exhaustion, a condition she's all too familiar with dealing with, especially where Kakashi is concerned. With nothing else to do, Sakura talks to him, playing along with his sleeping facade.

"Hi Kakashi. It's me, Sakura. It's been a while since I saw you. I was worried that maybe you weren't taking very good care of yourself, and someone told me I might be able to find you here, so I guess I was right. If you don't mind, I can sit here and talk to you a while, so you won't be so lonely?"

Sakura pauses, giving Kakashi an opportunity to pretend to wake up and tell her to leave, but he doesn't. So Sakura begins to tell him about the Academy. About Naruto and Kiba always fighting and how funny it is that Ino is flirting with Sasuke even though Sasuke hates it and who won the most recent sparring tournament and her most recent Shogi match with Shikamaru and how Choji makes the best snacks. She talks about Itachi and how he always seems sad and how her and Shisui's training sessions are going. She tells Kakashi just about everything, talking uninterrupted for almost an hour. Finally, she runs out of breath, she'd forgotten how much she enjoyed talking to Kakashi, how he always pretended like he wasn't paying attention, reading Icha Icha or pretending to sleep in a hospital, like he is now, but Sakura always felt like Kakashi listened. Reaching out her chakra again, she finds that Kakashi may actually be falling asleep at this point, so she decides its time to go. Sakura fights against the urge to touch his hand, to promise to come back tomorrow. Instead, she simply says,

"I hope you feel better soon, Kakashi. Good afternoon."

As she exits Kakashi's room, Sakura realizes she skipped lunch searching with Guy sensei, and her stomach growls. Heading down the halls of the hospital, Sakura is barely paying attention when she feels a chakra signature that makes her freeze. Backing up a few steps, she reaches out her chakra senses to be sure, Sakura feels it again. She looks left and right, checking to make sure no nurses or medics are around to tell her no, and enters the room. Inside the room, laying pale and small on the bed, is Tenzou. He's young, so young Sakura thinks, and his room is pale and empty, with no flowers to signify visitors, and not even a chair beside the bed where he is laying. She realizes with a small start that Tenzou is awake, and she decides she wants to talk to him anyway, can't stand not talking to him now that she's here. He watches her warily as she approaches, and Sakura does her best to look unimposing. He's a little older than Shisui, she decides. Maybe 14 or 15? She realizes she never learned how old Tenzo had been, and that she'd never asked. Well, she would have to change that in this timeline. Tenzou looks more and more anxiously by the second, and Sakura can feel his chakra starting to churn. She thinks with a start, if she had been a Root agent, she would be more than old enough to be sent here to kill him, so she raises her hands nonthreateningly.

"Uh, Hello. My name is Sakura . What's your name?"

His shoulder is in a sling, and he has a long bandage across his chest, but his face looks unharmed. He opens his mouth, then closes it, then opens it again, only to close it.

"It's okay, you can tell me your name, I'll keep it a secret, if you want."

Still regarding her as if she is testing him, he responds,
"Tenzou."

She smiles, and walks a few steps closer to his bed, slowly, leaving a good distance and keeping up as nonthreatening as a presence as possible,
"Hello Tenzou, it's nice to meet you. I know I don't know you very well, but you look like a really nice person, and I think-"

Sakura pauses, I am absolutely out of my mind. Even Naruto wasn't this crazy. Well, maybe he would be.

"I think we could be friends. You don't have a chair here or anything for visitors, so no one visits you? That's really sad. I will be your friend, and I will visit you. Okay?"

Tenzou looks like he's never been more surprised in his entire life, and he doesn't even answer her, either verbally or with a nod. Sakura realizes she may be overstaying her welcome with the wary boy, and after all, he's still connected to Root. She should probably wrap it up and get out of here before she attracts attention, so she doesn't wait for his answer.

"Okay, then it's settled. I'll be your friend. I have to go now, I hope you feel better soon!"

With that, Sakura turns and leaves the room without another word. Best not to push that relationship too far just yet. Taking note of his room number, Sakura decides to do the only thing she thinks she can safely get away with, order a single flower to that hospital room from Ino's shop. She smiles when she thinks about Tenzou's reaction to a friendship flower in his room, maybe the first he's ever had.

Leaving the hospital with a smile on her face, Sakura runs face first into none other than Itachi Uchiha. Before she can even say hello, Itachi speaks to her.

"Have you seen Shisui today?"

Sakura shakes her head, looking up into Itachi's serious gaze.

"No, he told me he was on a mission."

Itachi nods solemnly.
"He was, he got back last night. Sakura, Shisui is missing."

The whole world stops.

Chapter Text

"Sakura, Shisui is missing."

The world stops. Sakura looks up Itachi, and reaches out with her chakra, hoping to find amusement, a joke, maybe one of Naruto's insane henges, but she finds nothing. It is really Itachi, and Itachi would never joke about something like this. The Uchiha heir's serious gaze continues to pin her down, and Sakura meets his gaze, shifting herself from panic into mission mode. She has to find Shisui, he has to be found.

"Sakura, when did you last see Shisui? Did you train together last night?"

Sakura opens her mouth to deny that she even trains with Shisui, after all, you DID promise you wouldn't tell Itachi.

"No need to hide it, I know Shisui trains with you sometimes. Did he last night?"

Sakura shakes her head firmly, glad she doesn't have to say anything to break Shisui's trust.

"I was at home all last night, he told me he would be on a mission and I needed to get up early this morning."

Itachi gives a curt nod, and turns to leave, and Sakura grabs his sleeve.

"Wait! Itachi, I want to help. What can I do?"

She's pretty sure Itachi will say something dark or brooding like "you can't" or, "stay out of it", expects him to react like Sasuke would in his place. Itachi has always seemed so aloof and untouchable to Sakura, and the only people she's ever seen break into that facade are Sasuke and Shisui. Itachi surprises her though,

darn these Uchiha and their hidden traits.

"Keep an eye out, if you like. I'm sorry to have worried you, Sakura. I will let you know when we have found him."
In flash of leaves, Itachi is gone.

Well, at least he didn't say no... Maybe he's less like Sasuke than I thought...

Sakura wants to go everywhere at once, search every house in Konoha. She has to find Shisui, there is no other option.

Mission mode, c'mon, Sakura! she chides herself when she starts to feel panic rising in her throat, ignoring her minds blaring reminders that in the last timeline, Shisui had killed himself, might be trying to commit suicide right now. She needed to go home, get whatever ninja tools she had, and then she would launch her own personal search for Shisui Uchiha. As she makes a few steps towards her home, Sakura feels her stomach grumble. Okay, add lunch in to that, Sakura amends. Considering the consequences, Sakura decides speed is worth the risk of being under examination for being able to channel chakra, and she takes to the roofs, running along the ninja paths on her chakra enhanced feet. She heads towards home, and then, Shisui.

As Sakura finishes her hastily prepared and eaten lunch, the front door opens, and Sakura turns, fake smile already in place to meet her parents who must be back from their trip early, only to find Sasuke standing in the entryway. She lets the smile drop from her face and searches Sasuke's face for a sign that Shisui had been found, but wasn't surprised when she found none. Uchiha were, in Sakura's opinion, masters at impassive faces that revealed exactly nothing.

"Sasuke, did they find him?"

Her voice betrays more hope than she had wanted, and Sakura silently curses herself for her weakness.

Stay in mission mode!

Sasuke doesn't respond right away, and simply walks forward and stops right in front of Sakura. His eyes flickered with some deep thought, Sakura wasn't sure what.
"No, they haven't. That's why I'm here though. Sakura, we need to talk."

Nodding, Sakura motions to the living room, and she and Sasuke take seats opposite each other.
"Did you remember something more related to the massacre? Do you remember something about Shisui, did you learn something new?"

Her dark-haired teammate sighs at her.
"Look, Sakura. In the future, Itachi told me he received his Mangekyou around the time Shisui died, and I remember when the clan leaders came to our door the last time, to tell Itachi that Shisui had committed suicide."

Sakura impatiently waves a hand at Sasuke.
"I already knew that Sasuke, so what? You think I don't know Shisui could be killing himself right now? I do know that! That's why I need to be out there looking for him, I need to stop him!"

Sasuke shakes his head once, firmly.
"No, Sakura, what I'm saying is, I think Itachi needs to be the one to find Shisui, to awaken his Mangekyou. I think we should stay out of it. This is already slightly wrong. Itachi was supposed to be on mission, the only reason Shisui went instead is because Itachi said his team leader is injured. The timeline is already altering slightly, and we need to be careful to watch it, or it's going to spiral."

Sakura remembers that Itachi was in the Anbu at this point, and she remembers visiting Kakshi in the hospital earlier this afternoon.

Kakashi must be Itachi's squad leader... I wonder why he's in the hospital this time if he wasn't last time. As Sakura sorts through that thought, it suddenly clicks what exactly Sasuke had just said to her. Wait, Sasuke said WHAT?? She sees red.

"No, Sasuke, YOU listen. YOU were the one that said we needed to put friendship first, and not just straight up end Danzo for his crimes. I agreed with you then. I know he wasn't on my original list of people to help get stronger, or protect, but Shisui is my friend now, and I'm not going to just sit back and let him kill himself, Sasuke, I won't!"

Chest heaving, Sakura has more to say, but at the moment, she can't force a single word out of her mouth. She feels like she's choking on her emotions, on her words. She clenches her fists in rage and waits for Sasuke's response, since she can't formulate any more words at this second.

"That's foolish, Sakura. You can't just stop someone from killing themselves. Sure, you might prevent this one incident of it. But if Shisui wants to die, he will, and there's nothing you or I or anyone can do about it. Let him make his choice, and let Itachi find him, because he's going to need the Mangekyou to protect himself in the future."

Stuttering, Sakura tries to make the words go.
"Tha-that isn't-that isn't true, Sasuke. I can help him. I will help him! How dare you say I can't!"

He scoffs at her for that, actually scoffs in her face. How had she ever loved this boy? This frustrating, pig headed teammate who's looking at her now with the same pity and disdain that he had as a child. Sakura wants to make Sasuke hurt for that. How can he never believe her, believe in her?

"How you know that letting Itachi find him would even fix the timeline in any way, Sasuke? How do you know that Danzo didn't use Itachi precisely because of his Mangekyou? You don't. You don't know that!"

It's Sasuke who starts to get red now, shaking very slightly in what Sakura presumes is rage.
"Listen, Sakura, I've been helping Itachi. I've been stepping between him and my father more often, I've gotten my father to admit that other clan kids might help me get stronger. Itachi won't fall this time, I won't let him. We've got this under control, Sakura, so let. it. go. There is NOTHING you can do. Nothing you SHOULD do. We have to keep the timeline in place, just stronger this time. Let Shisui go, I have a plan."

She jumps to her feet, and all she can see is Sasuke, turning his back on her, over and over and over, leaving the village, joining Orochimaru, making his own team with Jugo and Suigetsu and Karin, abandoning her and disbelieving in her at every turn, and she can't take it anymore. Naruto may have brought Sasuke back to the village, but he sure as hell hadn't brought Sasuke back to her.

"I'm stronger than you think I am, Sasuke! I always have been. The timeline is ALREADY out of place, Sasuke, and that's because of US. Not just you, not just me, US. We are different and things are going differently, and the only thing we can do is keep getting stronger and hope everything ends up okay! It's stupid to pretend we can leave things the way they were, because they're already different! This isn't Itachi from our time, and no one is the same. You can't tell me what to do, to shut me out. To say 'Listen, Sakura' and expect I'll just jump to do whatever the great Sasuke's plan is. I'm sick of your plans and I'm sick of YOU! I'm not sacrificing Shisui to your stupid plan. So get out. Get out of my house."

She's shaking with rage, and she feels a traitorous tear. Sakura hates that she cries when she's mad, but she always has, and she's crying now. Sasuke stands, but doesn't leave.

"I will not let you sacrifice Itachi's chance at surviving this massacre, or civil war, or whatever this turns into, just so you get a shot at playing the hero you always wanted to pretend you were. Stop pretending, this is real life, and I won't sacrifice Itachi for it."

With that, Sasuke moves to block Sakura's way out of the room.

So, that's his plan? Sacrifice anything and everything to protect Itachi? I should have known. Well, two can play at this game.

Sakura takes a moment to calm herself, forcing her chakra to slow down, willing herself to stop her impulse to pummel Sasuke into the ground until there's nothing left but a bloody smear. She takes deep, measured, shaky breaths. When she feels that she's in reasonable control of herself, she allows herself to speak.

"You-you're right, Sasuke. We have to protect the people that we love."

She makes a show of looking at the ground, chest still heaving slightly, tears falling down her cheeks. Sasuke nods at her.

"Good. I'm sorry, about Shisui."

Sakura clenches her fists a little, nods.

"Could you start me some tea, Sasuke? I think- I think I need to sit down for a while."

Sasuke nods, and turns towards the kitchen to start some tea for her, seemingly accepting of Sakura's change of heart.

Fool, you may have never believed in me, but you should NEVER turn your back on an enemy.

Sakura sweeps forward, faster than a blink, and shoves a concentrated amount of medical chakra at the base of Sasuke's skull, and he drops, unconscious.

"Sorry, Sasuke, but you're wrong this time. I'm going after Shisui, and I WILL save him. You'll see."

On the off chance her parents happen to come home early, Sakura drags Sasuke up the stairs to her bedroom, which takes a lot longer than it would if she used her chakra strength, but she needs to save the little reserves she has for finding Shisui. Tucking him into her bed, Sakura uses the slightest bit of medical chakra and puts Sasuke into a temporary coma, from which he should awaken in a day or two, unless Sakura makes it back before then to wake him up. Then she weaves a simple genjutsu, and lays it over where Sasuke lays, making it look as if Sakura is asleep in the bed. Any ninja would notice it in a second, but if her parents come home, they'll think Sakura is asleep in bed, and leave Sasuke's unconscious body alone. Leaping to her windowsilll, Sakura turns her face from her old teammate.

Shisui, I'm coming for you.

Chapter Text

Sakura begins her search for Shisui Uchiha by taking stock of the places he can't be.

He can't be in the Uchiha compound, otherwise Itachi would have found him. He can't be in the Hokage tower or the hospital because Itachi will have looked there too.

At least it's a start. It would be easier if Sakura knew for sure why Shisui was missing in the first place. She knew that in the past Shisui had committed suicide around this time, but is he this time? Did he get hurt on his mission, or upset by it, and is simply trying to train it off, like many high ranked shinobi do after an emotionally taxing mission? Sakura doesn't know, has no way of knowing until she finds him. Hoping for the best, and expecting the worst, Sakura starts by checking out the training grounds. This is no easy feat, Konoha has dozens of training grounds scattered all over Konoha, but Sakura resolves to check every one, so she does, stretching her sensing chakra into the largest web she can without hurting herself.

She goes to the Memorial stone, and the training ground nearby where Team 7 used to meet in her future. She goes to the Taijutsu training grounds which are all bunched up next to each other, for different forms of Taijutsu and thus for ease of movement between for masters like Gai and Lee. Sakura examines the Genjutsu training rooms which always seem empty until they're not, and the Academy training rooms, even though the thought of Shisui hanging out in an Academy training room is ludicrous, Sakura checks anyway. The general purpose training grounds are next, just an empty field, or a patch of trees, or a fake mountain pass, and still, no sign of Shisui. Sakura even checks the Forest of Death, running around the edges and pushing her chakra net as far inside as it will go, and trying to keep her focus on Shisui and not her own memories of this forest, this forbidden training ground. Feeling sure Itachi would have checked them, Sakura double checks the Chunin and Jounin training rooms that she's not even supposed to know exist, but does, because while Sakura may look all of 6 years old, on the inside she is actually a lethal 21 year old Jounin.

With training grounds ruled out, Sakura swallows a sob of despair that rises in her throat.

Stay mission focused, now we know for sure that this is probably a suicide attempt.

Sakura knows from her medical training with Shizune that shinobi who commit suicide generally go to a quiet, remote place, usually close enough to the village they can be found eventually, and spend quite some time sitting and thinking, or pacing, before they actually commit to ending their lives. It's been a long day already, and Shisui has already been missing for quite a long time, but Sakura can't help but wish, pray to Kami and any other deity that might hear her, that she or Itachi would find him in time to stop him.

I already changed the timeline. Just by forcing Kakashi to meet me, it started a chain of events I can't even follow that ended with him in a hospital when in the past he would have been on a mission with Itachi instead. Maybe it's also changed enough that Shisui will end up okay. Kami, I hope he's okay.

Sakura notices that the sun has already more than set, and it's the middle of the night, but it hardly matters now. Most of the quiet, forested or otherwise peaceful areas inside of Konoha's walls are training grounds, so Sakura leaves the walls of the village behind, looking for the right place, before it's too late. She goes to the Hokage monument, and finds nothing. She goes to the river she's herself sat beside and wondered about life, about Sasuke. She forcefully doesn't think about Sasuke right now, that obnoxious, arrogant teammate of hers. He can't matter right now. She runs through the forests of Konoha, searching, constantly, always, on the lookout for the warm, familiar chakra signal of Shisui Uchiha. She has to stop, a few times. To catch her breath, to meditate for an hour here or there to pull enough chakra back into her achingly empty system so that she can continue her search. She catches herself a fish at one point, noticing that the sun has risen yet again, and she hasn't eaten since lunch yesterday. She can't force herself to stop long enough to make a fire, to cook it, to rest her weary body and low chakra levels, so she eats the fish raw as she runs, desperate for the calories she needs but even more desperate to find Shisui. Somewhere around midday again, Sakura forces herself to take a little longer of a break, knowing if she keeps this up she's going to collapse, and what good would that do Shisui, really?

For two solid hours, Sakura meditates, allowing herself to gather chakra and rest her body slightly, but her mind whirs with possibilities, with locations. She's checked all the major landmarks, the streams and copses of trees that she's familiar with. She's probably run around the length of the village two or three times at this point. Frustrated, Sakura pretends it's not Shisui. It's just anyone. A powerful ninja who has gone missing in Konoha. Knowing what she knows, where are they likely to be? She runs through a mental list, checking off all the places she has already been. She wishes she had enough chakra reserves left to make a shadow clone to check in with Itachi, but she doesn't, and she doesn't want to stop looking long enough to find Itachi and be brought up to date. Besides, something inside Sakura tells her if she goes to find Itachi, she won't like what she finds. So, she ignores it in favor of her own search. A powerful ninja, missing. Orochimaru could be involved, maybe? Sakura discards this idea, Orochimaru had planned for years to invade the Leaf in the past, he wouldn't do it so far ahead of schedule. Then it hits Sakura. Just who exactly would take or attack a Uchiha in his own village. Danzo.

What if, Shisui hadn't committed suicide on purpose? What if he was talked into it, manipulated into it. What if someone who desperately collected Uchiha eyes... Sakura's heart shatters, and she fills with rage in the same second. Danzo has to be involved, she knows it. Jumping to her feet, the sun sinking ever lower in the sky, Sakura takes stock of what she has and what she knows. She has 5 kunai, mostly in good shape, that she's scrounged up from various training grounds. She has the fake exploding tags Shisui had given her for her birthday, and she has about half of her reserves of chakra back, which is still less than Sakura had even as a Genin, but Sakura knows how to use chakra better now, knows how to twist and scrape and save that chakra in a way her younger self would never dream. This amount of chakra, given the element of surprise, should be enough to take down a Jounin. She just has to find the hideout. She knows where 3 of them are, thanks to Sai. So which one would Danzo be at with Shisui.. With a snap, she recalls Sai telling her about one that opens up underneath a cliff face about a mile out from the Uchiha compound. That must be where Danzo was, where Shisui is. It makes perfect sense for Danzo to force Shisui into suicide there, no one would question a shinobi taking his life so close to home, and it sickens her how much sense it all makes.

It doesn't matter that this is just a theory with no current facts, this is the truth, Sakura can feel it. She makes it her truth, because if she's right, Shisui still has a chance. Sakura feels sure Danzo would try and turn Shisui to his side before he talked him into whatever happened to him, probably would torture him. Sakura hates herself a little for actually hoping her friend is being tortured, actually tortured by a horrible, power mongering man, just so that there's a chance that friend is still alive. Sakura begins to run towards the Uchiha compound, from the forest side. She wants to use up all her chakra and more, to run there so fast, to check on Shisui right now, but Sakura knows if there's a fight of any sort she will be next to useless with no chakra left, and it's so far to the hideout entrance she's thinking of, because of course Sakura realized where she needed to go when she was on the absolute other side of the freaking forest!, that if Sakura ran there with chakra she would be likely to pass out from chakra exhaustion before she even got there.

So she runs using just her own small, too slow body. Runs and runs and runs and watches the sun sink lower and lower in the sky as she wishes for her friend to be okay. He HAS to be okay. Finally, Sakura makes it to the hideout in question, and forces herself to stop, to hide, and to feel things out. She's a Jounin, not a child, and she has to remember that right now. Perching on a tree by the cliffside, Sakura extends her chakra sense around her, and then underneath the cliff below. Anyone with good sensing capabilities would see the few shinobi milling about under the surface of the cliff, Sakura muses. Danzo only got away with this because most shinobi would assume it's the Uchiha themselves, and the Uchiha don't generally produce sensory ninja, and would be too prideful to admit that even if it all came out. Sighing, and focusing in, Sakura searches for the familiar signature of her friend. Sakura grows more and more tense, waiting for a sign of her friend. But she needn't have bothered searching the hideout with chakra, because a moment after the sun has set, Danzo emerges from the treeline, Shisui in tow.

She wants to scream, to call out to Shisui and tell him to watch out! Even more, Sakura wants to dive out of her tree hiding place and slice Danzo's head off of his shoulders for even touching Shisui, but she waits instead, taking stock of the situation. Shisui, doesn't look so great. His eyes are glazed over, and Sakura thinks he's probably been drugged by something heavy. He's limping, barely even walking as Danzo practically drags him along, and its easy to see, even from her tree some one hundred meters away, that Shisui is covered in injuries.

I was right. They DID torture him.. Shisui, I'm so sorry.

The pair stop walking as they reach the cliffside, and Sakura sees Danzo mouth begin to move, so she enhances her hearing to listen in, to find the right moment to interfere. She may hate Sasuke at the moment,

and doesn't that bastard deserve it,

but he might have been right about the killing Danzo thing, so Sakura waits and listens to see if Danzo will leave or not.

 

"-can see you never deserved your eyes. That your clan doesn't need a shinobi like you. You would do them all a favor by pitching yourself off the cliff. You know you would, you've thought about it already. But why waste those special eyes of yours, young Uchiha. Who would you give your eyes to, if you could? Who would you trade for your gift, who actually deserves it?"

Sakura hears a quiet whisper, a slurred voice.

"'Tachi. 'Tachi deserves them."

Danzo pats Shisui comfortingly on the back.
"Yes, of course, the Uchiha heir. He surely deserves the Mangekyou more than you do. What if, I could do that for you? What if I could give Itachi your eyes. You'd like that, wouldn't you, Uchiha?"

Shisui slowly, so slowly, nods his head. Sakura can't see his face clearly from here but she imagines that she saw the glimmer of a tear running its way down his cheek. Oh, Shisui... Sakura wants, needs, to go to Shisui, to tell him he's strong, and he's worth it, and that Danzo is a liar, but still, she waits, to see if Danzo will leave, feeling more like a traitor to her friend every single second she lets this go on.

"I will do this for you, as a favor. If you give me your eyes, I will give them to Itachi. But, I don't do favors for nothing, boy. In return, you have to throw yourself off this cliff, and rid the village of your failure. It's for the good of the village. We don't need ninja who would watch a comrade die, just out of childish spite. We don't need shinobi like you, Uchiha. For the good of this village, you should die. You know this, yes?"

Again, Shisui slowly nods his head.

He is DEFINITELY drugged

Danzo smiles, and Sakura is sure it's meant to be a comforting smile, but all she can see is evil in it. How dare he? From what he said though, Shisui let a comrade die, even drugged, Shisui surely would have contested it if it was untrue. For a moment, Sakura can't believe it. Danzo must be lying, but what if he wasn't? Sakura imagines Shisui watching a rival, or a comrade die. She sees Sasuke in his place, though, watching Naruto die. Sakura remembers how torn up Sasuke is that Naruto died for him, how much he misses Naruto even though Sasuke himself had tried to kill Naruto before, and she imagines Shisui in his place. How torn up, how desperate Shisui must have been, if he'd seen a teammate die, if he'd known it was his fault. She remembers how Shisui spends most of his time trying to lighten Itachi up, how he carries the burdens of the whole Uchiha Main House on his shoulders, and how he'd told Sakura, that first night he found her training, about how he still felt that he was useless and undeserving. His smile, and laugh, that he must have been using to hide his own pain, to help the others around him, and Sakura remembers that Shisui is 13 years old, hasn't even turned 14 yet. He is a child, Sakura thinks. A child who made a mistake and has been paying for it ever since. Danzo, that rat bastard, is trying to make a child pay for a mistake with his life? Trying to make her friend atone for a mistake with his life? Sakura knows if Shisui gives Danzo his eyes, they'll never make it to Itachi, they'll go right into Danzo's arm, or in his eyes. Yet another black mark on Danzo's already immensely black record.

Tuning back in, rage and unfairness fueling her, Sakura sees Shisui turn, sees him flash his Mangekyou at Danzo, sees Danzo's hand reach towards Shisui's face, and Sakura is moving.

Danzo jumps back a little as her kunai hits the ground right where his hand had been, and Sakura swears, but races forward anyways.

"Leave him alone, you BASTARD!"

Sakura yells, her cover is already blown, maybe she can snap Shisui out of some of it if he hears her. Danzo turns to face her, and his always serious face breaks into a slight smirk as Sakura runs toward him.

"Ah, a little girl, come to save her friend. Listen girl, you should run along home now, stop playing ninja, this is adult business."

Sakura is on him with a flash of fists, all of which Danzo blocks easily with one hand.
"LIKE HELL IT IS!"

Sakura chakra enforces her hand and punches again, and again, Danzo goes to block it easily, underestimating her, and she shatters the bones in his forearms, rendering his non-bandaged arm useless, and Danzo hisses in pain at her, and then he gets serious. With no hand signs Sakura can see, Danzo releases a huge fireball, and Sakura is forced to roll to the side to escape it, feeling heat singe her hair and arm as it blows past her. Sakura rolls back onto her feet, but as she does, Danzo lashes out with a kick, a fist following swiftly behind it with his bandaged arm. Sakura jumps over his kick and deflects the fist with her own, the force of it still blowing her back a little. Sakura knows she'll never be able to keep up with a grown man with Taijutsu alone, so she forms a small medical scalpel in her hand and goes to town, blocking every kick and punch and trying to land as many slices as she can, but Danzo is taking her seriously now, and he avoids almost every blow, and so Sakura scores only the most glancing of hits.

"I see, there's more to you, little girl, than meets the eye. Very interesting, we could use someone like you in my organization."

He's barely even broken a sweat, even with one arm out of commission, so Sakura fights harder, makes her scalpel bigger. How dare he have energy to taunt her in a life or death fight! She finally lands one good slice on his leg, severing a muscle, and Danzo hits her, getting past her block and punching her squarely in the chest. Sakura goes flying, hitting the ground a distance away with a loud crack, and Sakura feels the world spin. Standing in a spinning world is no easy matter, but Sakura manages it.

"Sorry, little girl, but I have other business here."

Danzo shoots another fireball at her, and Sakura falls to the side, as the fireball grazes her arm, and she cries out in pain at the bubbling flesh melting on her left arm. With the world still spinning, and her left arm out of commission, Sakura gets herself on her feet again and stumbles forward, towards Danzo, but he's so far away now. Too far away. Danzo is paying her little mind, though she supposes he's still watching her out of the corner of his eye. Shisui has not moved once during all of this, his Mangekyou still spinning, which means if he manages to survive this he will remember it all later. With his bandaged hand, Danzo shoots forward and rips Shisui's Mangekyou out of his right eye. Shisui yells out in pain then, and it tears Sakura's heart to hear it, and he falls to his knees, clutching at his empty eye socket, blood pouring from between his fingers.

"SHISUI!"

The world twisting and turning around her doesn't matter, nor does the ruined flesh on her left arm. Sakura screams, and keeps screaming, a wordless, angry scream. A warcry, a desperate call to a wounded friend, and she charges Danzo, using a little chakra to make sure her feet actually hit the ground, and she stabs Danzo with a kunai, in his stomach, a terrible place to get hit, as it won't kill you right away but hurts like hell, Sakura knows, but she doesn't care. She doesn't see anything but red and Shisui kneeling on the ground in pain, and his eye in Danzo's greedy hand. She screams and stabs out over and over and over and somehow none of rest of her blows even hit Danzo. One of his kicks, however, catch her in the gut and she hits the ground hard, and Danzo puts his knee into her chest, crushing her. Kneeling down, increasing the pressure, which makes Sakura start to choke, she scrabbles for purchase, but the world is spinning and going black and she hurts and she can't stop Danzo and Shisui is going to die. Coughing blood right onto her face, Danzo's twisted visage appears before her.

"You have been much more trouble than you would have been worth, little girl."

And she sees, in what she thought was his useless arm, a kunai, coming slowly down to her throat. It must hurt terribly for Danzo to use it, and Sakura distantly feels like she should be a little proud that she's worth killing this way. The kunai makes its way down, down, down and Sakura knows this is the end. Unwilling to die a coward, Sakura glares at Danzo, keeping eye contact with him. Just as the kunai touches her throat, it stops. The pressure on her chest lessens, too, and Sakura wonders what this bastard is doing, dragging it out like this, doesn't he know his stomach wound will kill him if he doesn't get it checked out? Keeping her gaze locked onto Danzo's, she can see confusion in his eyes, too.

Wait, it isn't him? What is happening?

The pressure beginning to leave her chest, Sakura knocks the kunai out of his hand, grabbing it for herself, and then she slits his throat, cutting so deeply her kunai scrapes his spine, and Danzo scrabbles at his throat for a few seconds before the light leaves his eyes. Just to be sure, and because she hates him so much, Sakura takes an extra couple of seconds, and saws through the spine, beheading him completely. The blood splashes over Sakura's face, covering her from head to toe in Danzo's blood, but she doesn't even care. He deserved so much worse. Looking up for Shisui, Sakura sees Danzo's shadow retreat and-

wait, his SHADOW retreat?

Sakura looks straight into the setting sun and sees a very familiar outline.

"Shikamaru?!"

Sakura chokes out as the boy in question steps towards her, tentatively. She can't see his facial expression because of the shadows cast by the sunset and because the world is nothing but one big blur, and she's barely hanging onto consciousness, and she must be dreaming.

"Sakura, what the hell?"

Chapter Text

"Sakura, what the hell?"

Looking into the face of her unlikely savior, Sakura bursts into great, heaving sobs. The weight of everything that's happened in the last two days, the last hour alone, are too much for Sakura to take at this particular moment, Jounin or not, and Sakura is so glad in that moment that Shikamaru is there, so relieved. Because Shikamaru means safe, has always meant safety to Sakura.

"Sh-Shikamaru..."

He walks toward her carefully, but Sakura starts to crawl towards Shisui, still sobbing. Touching reunions will have to wait, she's got to check and make sure he's okay. The world is spinning much too fast for Sakura to even try to stand, which tells her she probably has a pretty bad concussion, and the aching from her ribs tells her she's broken a couple, not to mention the arm. But she will live, and at this moment, Sakura doesn't know if Shisui will, so she crawls, one handed. The world spins so fast for a moment that Sakura throws up, mostly bile since she hasn't been eating while on this search. As she drags her good hand across her mouth, she feels Shikamaru slide his hand under her shoulders, supporting her. Leaning into his help, she lets Shikamaru guide her over to Shisui, who has fallen from his knees over onto his side, and who isn't moving, though his remaining Mangekyou is still active, whirring.

"You're not getting out of talking about this, Sakura. I hope you know that. Troublesome..."

She gives Shikamaru a half nod, but even that makes the world bursts into stars, and she nearly throws up again. Falling to Shisui's side, Sakura pulls Shisui's head gently into her lap, and conjures up her mostly empty chakra reserves, and places her hands over Shisui's face. Seeing the way Danzo took the eye, there will be no reattaching it, and the eye is likely unsalvageable, not that Sakura could do a thing about it in the state she's in. Checking his internal and external injuries, Sakura is relieved to see there isn't anything life threatening, though the bleeding through his eye is worrying. So Sakura uses the last of her chakra, pushing every little bit she has, and plugs the two major bleeds. He's so drugged up that even though he's technically conscious, he isn't moving, and might as well be unconscious, but the drugs will wear off. Hopefully, they're helping him from feeling pain. Everything else will hold until he gets help. The world blurs worryingly, and Sakura tries to force herself to stay conscious. She HAS to stay smart, has to stay in control, or everything is going to go wrong. It's all going to go sideways. Without looking up from Shisui, Sakura begins to talking to Shikamaru.

"How did you find me and who did you come with?"

Shikamaru doesn't question her, and Sakura is grateful, he deserves answers, Sakura knows this. But Shikamaru has seen fit to trust her without any answers, and Sakura was so grateful.

"Kiba. You and Sasuke didn't show up to school, so after it was over, we all went looking for you. Kiba was tracking you with me, I sent him to find Itachi when we saw you fighting. Choji is at home, some important clan ceremony, Ino and Naruto are looking for Sasuke. Kiba should be back any second"

Okay, Kiba is getting Itachi, Sakura can work with this. She starts thinking through solutions, through damage control, trying to force coherent thoughts through her incoherent head, breaking off her tears.

Shisui is going to be fine. I have to fix this fast.

As if called by the mention of his name, Sakura hears Akamaru barking and knows Kiba is right beside him, and Itachi is by her side in a flash. Sakura knows what she needs to do, but she's going to have to convince Itachi, and Sakura knows he's definitely going to be freaking out at the sight of Shisui in her lap, of Sakura herself.

"Sakura, what happened."

Sakura looks up at Itachi, ignoring the waves of nausea,

"Itachi, I know everything looks terrible, but Shisui is going to be okay. I am too. I need you to listen to me, Itachi. This is important. Listen."

Itachi looks at her, and gives her a nod to continue.

"Itachi, I need you to go get Shikaku Nara. Right now."

Itachi starts to shake his head, but Sakura interrupts, this is important,

"Itachi, I just killed a council member. We need an adult, a non-Uchiha adult to witness this so that no one can blame you, so that no one can blame your clan. Itachi, do you understand?"

Itachi looks at her, and shock flashes across his expression, and Sakura knows its because she isn't supposed to know that the village elders hate the Uchiha, isn't supposed to know that Danzo has been pushing against the Uchiha so long that the Uchiha are planning to revolt, isn't supposed to notice such intense unrest but Sakura can't pretend to be ignorant. Not right now. Shikaku is the only adult Sakura can think of that will believe her, that can sway the other council members, let them know a 6 year old girl killed Danzo, and not the Uchiha. She needs someone smart, someone powerful, someone she can depend on. She needs Shikaku. Sakura tries to convey all of this in a single glance to Itachi, and Itachi takes a long look at Shisui.

"He'll be okay?"

Sakura knows he's willing, and she exhales. This can still turn out okay, everything might be okay.

"Yes, Shisui will be okay. We do need help though. Get him fast, Itachi."

Itachi nods again and disappears from sight, only leaves left in his place. Kiba rushes forward, and Sakura can't deal with Kiba right now, can't deal with the energy, knows she needs to put him somewhere else. Kiba would never go for that though, Sakura needs to make it seem like an important mission, or he won't leave her side.

"Kiba, I need you to go help Naruto and Ino. Sasuke is in my bed, he's... Asleep, for the time being. He should wake up in a couple hours. Go get Naruto and Ino and tell them I'm okay and then go get Sasuke, I'm sure Itachi will start worrying about him soon. I'm counting on you, Kiba."

I'm sorry Kiba, I just can't get you involved in this.

Sakura thinks sadly. Kiba perks up instantly.

"Of course! Akamaru and I are on it! Aren't we boy?"

Akamaru barks, and she hears the pair running off in their newfound mission. Sakura notices that Shikamaru is still beside her, propping her up, and decides that, to keep herself awake for this, she should give Shikamaru some of the answers he deserves. She needs to fully trust someone right now, and she needs to straighten out these thoughts that keep slipping around her brain like they are wild, not staying or sticking in any one place.

"Shikamaru, you deserve the truth. Can you trust me?"

He straightens, a little, Sakura can feel it through his arm that he still has wrapped around her, holding her up.

"Yeah."

Sakura tries to straighten out her thoughts, to get some kind of timeline, to make all the jumbled words and thoughts and plans swirling around her head into a coherent sentence. She starts stroking Shisui's hair, trying to comfort herself and him, if he can even feel it. Hoping the repetitive motion will bring some balance, some order, to her thoughts.

"I'm from the future."

Sakura feels Shikamaru stiffen, and she knows he doesn't fully believe her. Who would, it was crazy. Also, why the hell had she just told him that? Sakura must be in worse shape than she thought. She keeps talking, desperate to stay awake until Shikaku shows up.

"I know, I know, it seems impossible. But it's true. I'm from about 15 years in the future. I'm really 21, a Jounin. Shikamaru, I came back because me and Sasuke were the last ones alive, and we needed to change it. I've got to make it better this time, Shika. I've got to. You can't all die this time, you can't. None of you. I have to be stronger. I have to save people. I can't watch them die again. I can't do it."

She's shaking with the weight of it all, all the things she has to fix but she hasn't, of all the terrible things that could happen, did happen for her.

"Danzo, he.. He killed so many people Shikamaru. He's such a.. such a bad person. Sasuke told me I couldn't kill him. But I had to, Shika, I had to. And, and, I might have ruined everything. Whatever happens, you have to tell your dad, you have to tell Inoichi, the Hokage. Tell them I did it. I did do it, Shikamaru, you saw me. He was hurting Shisui, Shikamaru. He was hurting him and he was going to make Shisui commit suicide and steal his eyes. Danzo had to die. I had to kill him. You believe me, right Shika?"

Suddenly, Shikamaru's approval seems like the most important thing. The Uchiha can't be blamed for this, and Shikamaru has to believe her, has to believe in her. Anything else is unacceptable, unthinkable. Sasuke didn't believe in her, had never believed in her. Naruto had believed in her but he was dead. Dead, and unable to help Sakura, unable to believe in her anymore. Shikamaru has to believe in her. He has to. Sakura realizes she had never really stopped crying, stopped shaking. The world is spinning so fast and nothing makes sense except that Danzo is dead and Sakura killed him and that should be good. It should be right. Shikamaru will tell her, tell her if everything is alright.

"Please..."

She feels his hand squeeze her shoulder.

"I believe you, Sakura. You might want to keep the whole 'I'm from the future' thing on the secret side of things, though. I'll keep your secret, but we are talking about this again when you can think straight."

Sakura sags against Shikamaru, strength gone. She doesn't have the strength to speak anymore, so she just lays against Shikamaru, running the fingers of her good hand through Shisui's hair absentmindedly, trying to reassure herself that he's still there, that he's going to live, and lets the world spin around her. She isn't sure how much time has passed, but eventually, she becomes aware that Shikaku is there. She can feel Shikamaru's chest rumbling as he says something to his father, and Sakura looks up into the blurry face of Shikaku Nara, and thinks

Thank Kami, he made it.

Then she blacks out.

When she wakes up next, Sakura is in a plain, white, sterile room of Konoha's hospital. She takes a deep, calming breath, relieved to feel that the world has finally stopped spinning. Why is she in the hospital again? She tries to think. She remembers Itachi telling her Shisui was missing, and deciding to look for him... It comes back suddenly, in a rush, and Sakura jerks up in bed. Too fast Sakura thinks, and the room starts spinning again. Nothing like it had been before, though. She had passed out! She needed to get to Shikaku, to Inoichi, to the Hokage, right away! She had to tell them what she did and why she did it. That she was simply protecting a friend, that the Uchiha clan had nothing to do with it, that Danzo had been hurting Shisui. She had to tell them right now, dizziness be darned. She starts to swing her feet over the side of the bed, when she feels a not exceedingly gentle force pushing her down, back into the bed.

"There, there. I was told you needed to stay in bed a while longer, and to guard you so no one gets in or out, so try and let me do that, will you?"

Sakura wants to fight back, but something about her "Guardian" makes Sakura want to do what he says, so she settles for a nauseous glare, and her eyes travel up the Jounin standard vest, and take in the mask, and grey hair.

"...Kakashi? What.. What are you doing here?"

Kakashi gives her a small wave and watches her warily, nothing like her Kakashi, who would just throw the peace sign and eye smile at her. Kami, Sakura misses her sensei.

"Like I just said, I'm supposed to guard you or something. I'm not totally convinced that the reason I was given this role was actually to guard you. I suspect a secret plot to keep me sitting in the hospital longer so the nurses can keep an eye on me..."

He squints suspiciously at the door, as if daring a nurse to come in here and check on him, right now. So, he wasn't as lighthearted as her Kakashi, but he was still Kakashi, and he still liked to make jokes instead of have a serious discussion.

Or maybe he does seriously think it's a conspiracy, That'd be just like him, the paranoid bastard.

Well, one thing was for sure, Sakura was going nowhere anytime soon. Settling down with a sigh, Sakura's mind whirred and she replayed everything that had happened. Could she have done it differently, was there a way she could have not killed Danzo, and still saved Shisui? No matter what way Sakura thought about it, she couldn't muster up even the littlest spark of regret for killing the councilman. In Sakura's opinion, Danzo had deserved much worse, and as it was she would have to be content with the fact that Danzo had died with the indignity of being killed by two 7 year old Academy students. Shikamaru... Sakura feels a wave of warm thankfulness wash over her. She remembered him sitting with her, Sakura covered in blood, and letting her talk. She'd even told him-wait. Sakura facepalms.

I must be the biggest moron to ever live.

She had told Shikamaru she was from the future?? In the future, there wasn't enough pain or disorientation in the world that would have stopped Sakura from keeping important secrets, she must be slipping. Or... She admits to herself, or it was because it was Shikamaru, and Shikamaru was safe. He'd promised to keep her secret, hadn't he? Even at a time in his life when he'd never been serious before, he'd gotten serious when she needed him, and Sakura had trusted him with her secret.

It could have been worse, I suppose.

Sakura spares exactly one thought to Sasuke's well being, imagining the amusing mental image of Naruto, Ino, and Kiba trying to slap him awake. He's really not been put under that hard, she feels sure enough slapping would have woken him, or a glass of water... She dreads seeing Sasuke again, he is going to be so angry with her, but Sakura can't bring herself to care all that much. Shisui is alive, thanks to her. She would do everything in her power to make sure the Uchiha massacre or revolt happened, but she would never regret helping Shisui, no matter what happened.

Speaking of massacres and revolts...

Glancing over at Kakashi, Sakura finds that he is still watching the door, although he looks kind of tired himself, Sakura settles into her hospital bed, and starts planning exactly what she's going to say when someone inevitably comes in to question her.

Chapter Text

When Sakura wakes up again, Kakashi is gone, and instead, in the room, staring out the window, is none other than Shikaku Nara. She doesn't remember falling asleep again but at some point, lulled by Kakashi's comforting chakra signature, and whatever drugs she's receiving in the hospital, she clearly had. Sakura panics a little, even though she had asked for Shikaku's assistance with this, she was still intimidated by the man. The only person who ever matched him intellectually was Shikamaru, but Shikamaru is still a child now, and Sakura knows she has to manage to say all the right things in all the right ways during whatever conversation ensues or she is royally screwed.

The Nara head isn't looking at her, instead choosing to look out the window, a bottle of sake in hand. Sakura wonders how he got a bottle of sake past the nurses, imagining Shizune's face if she saw it. Then she remembers that there is no Shizune in Konoha hospital right now, and won't be for likely another 5 years at least, and her heart sinks a little. Shikaku clears his throat, and Sakura knows it's his signal to her that he's noticed her wakefulness. She needs to take the first step, say the first thing.

Control the conversation.

Yeah right, controlling anything around a Nara is almost useless, they see through everything. Regardless, Sakura takes a deep breath and speaks first anyway, letting her voice be a little shaky and unsure, just like a 7 year old in the hospital, right? It's been too long since Sakura worked with kids...

"Nara-sama, is Shisui okay?"

A fair starting question, Sakura thinks. It's one she actually does badly want to know the answer to. Shikaku turns to her and sighs, looking for all the world like her grown up Shikamaru when she asks him a question he finds "troublesome," which is pretty much all questions.

"Shisui Uchiha survived."

Great, that answers pretty much nothing. She wants to say something, anything else, to break the silence, but refrains, waiting. After a moment or so of silence, Shikaku raises his eyebrow at her.

"That's it? That's all you wanted to know?"

Sakura feels a little indignant, and her first reaction is to rise up to the complaint, then she tells herself not to let herself get worked up, she needs to stay focused. Then she realizes she needs to at least act indignant because a 7 year old shouldn't know how to resist interrogation. ugh... This is going to be more troublesome than she thought...

"I do have more questions, but you're the adult. Aren't you supposed to ask me questions? Or are you really here to answer all my questions because I will ask them if that's okay with you, Nara-sama!"

That seems, reasonable, right? Sakura can probably come up with some inane questions, but she's correctly guessed that the Nara head doesn't actually want to answer her questions, so he sighs again and nods.

"You're right, Sakura. I do have some questions for you. You just, surprised me. I guess my son was right, you really are quite intelligent, or he's just rubbing off on you.."

Shikaku trails off a little here, looking like he's lost in thought, but Sakura can see his eyes are still sharp, and he clearly hasn't drunk enough sake to dull his thoughts. He's just biding his time.
"Will you tell me what happened, Sakura? Details would be appreciated."

Sakura nods as the older man drinks a swig of sake, and she starts her tale.

She tells him all about how Itachi had run into her at the hospital, and how he had told her Shisui was missing, and how she had resolved to go looking for him right away. Sakura embellishes a little, saying she was worried he might have been hurt on his mission, and that she'd noticed he was kind of sad recently. She talked about looking through all the training grounds, conveniently glossing over the training grounds she isn't supposed to know about, for Anbu and Jonin. Knowing that surely she's going to be asked about why Sasuke was unconscious in her room, since Sakura knows Kiba and Naruto can't keep a secret and probably half the village know by now, she tells Shikaku about how Sasuke was "so stressed" about his missing cousin that he had freaked out, and Sakura had knocked him out to keep him safe, and tucked him in her bed. She embellishes her timeline a little so the Nara doesn't ask her how she managed to knock Sasuke out for two full days, or what she assumes is two full days. Sakura tries not to worry about it too much, and focuses on her retelling.

She tells about how she decides to look around in the forest, because Itachi hadn't told her they'd found Shisui yet and she knew that meant they couldn't find him. She tells Shikaku she was simply "taking a break and leaning against a tree" when she happened to see Danzo come out with Shisui behind him. She embellishes a little more here, making Danzo seem much more threatening and talking about how terrified she was. She tells Shikaku about how Danzo tried to convince Shisui to commit suicide, how he was going to steal Shisui's eyes. At this point, Sakura forces herself to cry, reminding herself little kids did not give emotionless mission reports full of perfect facts. She says how upset she was that Shisui had agreed to commit suicide, and how Sakura had wanted to protect him, so she had attacked Danzo. Shikaku gives Sakura such an intense glance at this point, she finds herself almost trembling under the weight of his gaze. Sensing her discomfort, he gives her a nod to continue, so Sakura says how she just hit Danzo as hard as she could, because she was afraid. Sakura takes the time to relate she broke Shisui's hand by accident as well, so Shikaku can have some sort of pattern of strength to go off of.

She tells the Nara about a fireball that she rolled away from but melted her arm, and how much it had hurt, and that she had been offered a place in Danzo's organization. She gets a raised eyebrow for this comment, but needs to continue, so she finishes her story by telling Shikaku that Danzo had ripped Shisui's eye out, and how scared she had been, and relates how Danzo had almost killed her for trying to stop him again, and how Shikamaru had saved her life, carefully avoiding actually saying she killed Danzo, as if she's terrified of what that would mean, to kill someone. She finishes her tale, continuing to force tears, but really, carefully watching Shikaku's reaction to all of this. She needs him on her side. In response to her drawn out tale, the Nara head gives a great long sigh, looks mournfully at his bottle of sake, then places it aside.

"Okay, Sakura. But why did you send Itachi to come find me? The boy came tearing into my house in a panic, saying I needed to be there. Why me in particular?"

Now for the careful part... Sakura thinks to herself.

Then she wraps her arms around herself in a comforting gesture that she imagines an innocent child would want to do. It's kind of what Sakura actually wants to do, so that helps.

"Well... Shikamaru says you're the Jounin commander and the smartest person in the whole village, so I think I can tell you. I don't know if you know this, but..."

Sakura lowers her voice as if telling a secret. Shikaku's eyes flash with interest, though outwardly he appears unmoved.

"The village hates the Uchiha."

Whatever he was expecting to hear, it clearly wasn't that. Shikaku blinks at her.

"What makes you think that, Sakura?"

typical, spin it back on me. I hate Naras.

"Um... well, none of them get to be real ninja except Itachi and Shisui. They have to be police, and that's not a ninja really. Also, they live far away from everyone else and they're always alone... and Danzo said it would be good for the village if Shisui died, but Shisui is a good ninja, and a good person! It couldn't be good for the village if he wasn't around. Itachi and Shisui look so sad sometimes, when they think I don't notice. I think it's because people hate them. But it's a secret! I don't think they'd like it if I told people! I thought maybe since Danzo was mean to Shisui, they'd blame Shisui or Itachi that he died, but I... I killed him. Someone important had to know so Shisui wouldn't get into trouble, cause it wasn't his fault! And, Shikamaru is really smart, but he's still nice to Sasuke, even though Sasuke is a jerk sometimes! So I thought, maybe since you are Shikamaru's dad... You'd be nice too? You are nice, aren't you?"

Sakura added that last bit just for a bit of secret fun. Kids are petulant, Sakura knows this, and it's secretly a little hilarious watching Shikaku mentally figure out if he will need to defend himself as a "nice person" or not. He pins Sakura with a glance, and sighs.

What is with these Nara and their dramatic sighing?


"You're a troublesome girl, Sakura Haruno. You're going to need to say all this again in front of Inoichi in a day or two. Can you do that?"

Sakura makes a big show of pulling back,
"Who is that? Can I trust him with the secret? What if he hates me because I-I killed someone!"

It's actually kind of nice to be able to display my distrust and wear my emotions on my sleeve like this again, even if I have to come up with stupid reasons for why I'm paranoid and everything is awful.

"Inoichi is Ino's father. He is also the head of the Interrogations department, and because you killed someone in our own village, and because you are young, Inoichi will make sure he knows what happened, that you are mentally okay. What you've said about Danzo could be a serious security breach, so we have to make sure to follow through on that. Do you understand?"

Sakura nods, as if it only now makes sense to her why she would need to do this.

"When can I go home, Nara-Sama?"

Shikaku shows surprise for the first time.

"Sakura, your parents are still on their trip, and you may know sensitive village information. You can't go home."

She is not surprised, but still displeased.

"Do I have to stay in the hospital? I wanted to check on Shisui, and Shikamaru and Sasuke and-"

Shikaku raises his hand to silence her, and Sakura falls silent obediently.
"You won't be allowed to see any Uchiha until you've been cleared by Inoichi, and you're a security risk, since you know too much right now. I was going to set you up a guard rotation in the hospital. Hatake says you woke up while he was guarding you, so I know you've seen them. However, my son informs me that it would be "definitely uncool" to leave you here, and he got my wife, Yoshino, on his side. So, you're coming home with me, Sakura. Please get dressed, I'll be outside your door."

With that, Shikaku picks up his sake bottle and exits the room. Sakura's heart melts a little at the thought of Shikamaru, who maybe wants to see her as badly as she wants to see him.

No, that's not like Shikamaru, is it? He probably just wants more answers on the time travel thing, that I DEFINITELY can't give him while under watch from his father!

Sakura lets herself pretend it's simply because Shikamaru wants to see her and for no other reason. On the other hand though... A sleepover at the Nara's??

That's trouble just waiting to happen.

The whole situation of guards and the odd way Shikaku responded troubles Sakura, and she feels like she's missing something big. She can't imagine what it is though, and she can't wheedle it out of the nurses or run her own reconnaissance while trapped in the Nara house. She briefly considers trying to weasel it out of Shikaku, then shakes her head. That would raise so many more questions than answers. Sakura will just have to make it through her interrogation with Inoichi, and she can figure out what exactly is being hidden from her.

Chapter Text

Entering the Nara compound, Sakura feels a strong sense of wistfulness, she'd never spent a lot of time in the Nara compound in her last timeline, she'd only gotten close to the Nara family on the battlefield, in a war. Shikamaru had talked to her about his home, what it had been like before the Pein invasion, their rebuilding efforts. He'd promised he'd take her after the war, introduce her to the Nara clan deer, and his family home. But for the Nara clan, there had been no "after the war." The only two people to survive the 4th Ninja War had survived it by travelling to the past. So it's with mixed feeling that Sakura walks through the tall white walls surrounding the Nara compound, trailing quietly after Shikaku. Her wounded arm aches, a bit, but Sakura's concussion is gone. Honestly, if they would all leave Sakura alone for 5 minutes, she could finish healing her arm so that it wouldn't even scar, and the ache would go away, but apparently she couldn't be left alone for any meaningful period of time, and even if she did manage to get a few minutes alone, in the bath or something for a moment, Sakura feels sure that they are monitoring her chakra usage and would sense it and come running. All things considered though, the hospital had done a good job fixing up her burnt arm. It had gone to a melted, blackened mess, to a red, raw patch of new skin, that itched and ached because it didn't fit quite right yet. Sakura could probably live with that, and its not like she didn't have any scars in the future, so she supposes she will have to let this arm scar, though she'll heal any internal damage so it doesn't interfere with her mobility.

In front of her, Shikaku climbs the steps of what must be the Main House of the Nara clan, and Sakura follows him inside. Shikaku hasn't said a word to her the whole trip, carrying a bag of what she thinks might be her things, and she wonders who packed the bag. She's hoping for Ino. The thought of Kiba or Naruto rooting through her house to get a change of clothes for just seems... Too chaotic for Sakura right now. A woman stands in the doorway, and Sakura recognizes Yoshino Nara, Shikamaru's mother. She smacks Shikaku for not introducing their guest, grabs Sakura's bag, and introduces herself to Sakura. She seems kind, unlike Shikamaru's descriptions of her antics, though she probably was being nicer to Sakura because Sakura is a guest, and a child, and injured, and she takes Sakura through the house to the room she will be staying in for at least a few days, if Yoshino is to be believed.

"Right here is your room, Sakura. The bathroom is down the hallway to the left, and Shikamaru's is down the hallway and to the right. Why don't you get your things settled in, and then come join us for dinner. Shikamaru should be home from school soon."

Kami, school was the last thing on Sakura's mind right now, and she wondered if her friends were all okay, if Sasuke was back yet and if he was, what he was saying about her. She shakes her head, clearing it, and nods politely at Yoshino.

"Thank you for having me, Nara-sama."

Yoshino smiles at her,
"It's no problem, Sakura. It'll be nice to have a girl around, even if its only for a couple of days. You can call me Yoshino, if you like."

Sakura nods politely again, and Yoshino leaves her to it.

By the time she's unpacked some of her things and cleaned up for dinner, Sakura finds Shikamaru sitting at the table already, and she's relieved to see he looks okay. Sitting down beside him, she gently nudges him with her shoulder.

"Hi Shikamaru. I'm glad you're okay. How is school? Did I miss any tests?"

Shikamaru gives her a gentle nudge back, and looks up at her, and Sakura can see he's reading every detail of her, trying to read her, figure out what's going on.

"Choji didn't wake me up for any tests so I assume you're in the clear. Everybody is worried about you and Sasuke though. Troublesome..."

Sakura jerks her head up, looking Shikamaru dead in the eyes, looking for her own answers now.

Had she actually knocked Sasuke into a deeper sleep than she thought? Did he not wake up? Did he get hurt?

"Why isn't Sasuke at school, Shikamaru?"

Shikamaru shrugs his shoulders at her,

"Didn't they tell you anything in the hospital? The whole Uchiha clan is on lockdown."

"WHAT?!"

Sakura jumps to her feet, and looks for Shikaku to confirm, but he is conveniently for him not in Sakura's sight. This explains so much. Why Shikaku only told her that Shisui had survived, why she's being put under surveillance, why she isn't allowed to check up on anyone. Sakura starts pacing, thoughts racing through her mind at a million miles an hour. Is this my fault? Of course it's her fault, it has to be. She killed Danzo right in front of the Uchiha compound! Well, a mile or so out but basically on their doorstep. The number one person pushing to make the Uchiha less and less, and Sakura had killed him to save an Uchiha right next to Uchiha land. Mentally berating herself, Sakura continues to pace the floor. Of course they don't believe a 7 year old girl killed an esteemed council member, personal friend of the Hokage, alone. They probably think...

Kami, they probably think Shisui or Itachi put me under a genjutsu with the Sharingan so I could kill Danzo for the clan.

Things were worse than Sakura thought. So much worse. Sasuke had been right, she had screwed everything up. Sakura hadn't said a word about the potential revolt though, so why lock down the whole Uchiha compound? Unless, unless Inoichi had accidentally found out about the revolt through some of the people he had already interrogated... This was such a mess. Sakura groans aloud. She had tried to fix it, though! She had tried so hard. She had gotten Shikaku there and Shikamaru had seen her take down Danzo himself, which Sakura admitted was more luck than planning on her part. Would the revolt still happen? It wasn't due for another 9 months or so. Would they put it off, speed it up? The village is going to hate the Uchiha even more than they did already if the ENTIRE CLAN is in lockdown. Sasuke was right, Sakura had no idea what she was doing.

Wait, slow down.

Her teammate may have been right that she didn't have a good enough plan, but Sasuke was wrong. Wrong about her, and Sakura would not regret helping Shisui, no matter what happened. Isn't that what Naruto always did? Loved his friends and did everything to save them, accepting the cost of whatever that took? If only Sakura was as charismatic as Naruto, she felt like things might end up better for her that way. But still... Wait, are they interrogating Shisui right now? He's in no condition to be interrogated, he might get hurt more, and it's not like most people care enough about the Uchiha to actually spend time making sure they're okay before they get their answers! Sakura feels something grab her arm, and she whirls around to strike, and stops when she sees Shikamaru's concerned face, Yoshino behind him.

"...Sakura?"

She realizes she's hyperventilating and the room is spinning a little bit, and slows her breaths down.

"Thanks, Shika. I'm fine."

Shikamaru and Yoshino do not look the slightest bit convinced, but Sakura sits down calmly, as if she wasn't just pacing their floor, hyperventiliating, as if she isn't still having her thoughts pour into overdrive. Shikaku takes that moment to enter, and Yoshino and Shikamaru all sit around the table, though their glances at her are not very subtle and show very little belief in her ability to remain okay. Sakura isn't going to be okay until she knows Shisui is, until she knows she didn't ruin everything for Sasuke. She at least owes Sasuke that, jerk though he can be. She politely thanks Yoshino for the food, and they all begin to eat. Yoshino breaks the silence first, demanding to know about Shikamaru's day at school, and he relates it begrudgingly, and she yells at him for continuing to sleep through class. Then Yoshino asks Shikaku about his day, which is of course constantly classified, so he just gives a general answer and Yoshino starts talking about her day and eventually the meal comes near the end. Sakura tried to keep her thoughts to herself, but she can't stop herself from blurting out, as Yoshino clears the dishes away with Shikamaru,

"Nara-sama, why didn't you tell me that they arrested Shisui! Is he really okay? Promise me he's okay, do it! I need to know!"

Shikamaru goes to Sakura, but Shikaku waves him off.

"What makes you trust me even if I say it's true?"

Sakura wants to shake him, shake the frustrating stupid man who is too smart and too lazy and she needed him for help and he's just warily treating her like some piece in a game, some specimen for him to study!

"You WANTED me to think that Shisui was okay, and he's not, is he? He's not okay and you used me! I trusted you! I needed your help, I still need your help! Shisui is my friend, not some piece on a Shogi board! He's a person! And he's only 13! That's practically a child!"

Sakura is screaming now, losing control. She's not sure she could stop now even if she wanted to.

"I KILLED Danzo to protect Shisui, so he would be okay! I knew that killing him was bad and that bad things would happen but I had to do it to protect my friend! I almost died! I made Itachi go get you because.. because.."

Because you wanted grown up Shikamaru, and thought Shikaku would have to do in his place. Sakura She doesn't need Inner's input on this and she pushes Inner aside.

"Because I thought I could trust you and you would tell me the truth. That you would help me, because Shika helped me. No one helps Shisui, they just leave him alone to figure out stuff all on his own! I have Shikamaru to help me, and Choji, and Ino, and Kiba, and Naruto! But Shisui only has me! Itachi is his friend but only because Shisui is trying to help him. Danzo TORTURED Shisui, I saw it! And if you guys picked him up you saw it too! And I thought he was safe I thought he'd be okay but you guys are torturing him too, aren't you? Aren't you!"

Yoshino comes around and scoops Sakura up into her arms, into a huge hug, and Sakura wants to fight her, but Yoshino is also sort of crushing her, so she can only stay in her hold, shaking with rage, and now with tears. Sakura isn't screaming anymore, but she can't stop herself from saying,

"They took Shisui, they're hurting him. They're torturing him. They're hurting him."

She says it to herself, over an over, like a mantra, inside Yoshino's firm hug. This is her hidden leaf village. Danzo might be gone, but they still aren't above torturing a child for information he might know. This is Sarutobi's leaf, Sakura thinks. All calm and happy on the outside, the picture of peace. But the same village that looks calm left Naruto abandoned from childhood, and Sakura knows he already lives alone. This is the village that forced Itachi to kill his entire clan, and ignored his only request, that Sasuke would be okay, by forcing him into the same situation as Naruto. Sakura suddenly hates Sarutobi. Hates the 3rd for pretending he loves peace while he lets innocent children suffer for things they didn't even do. This is the village the 3rd built, and Sakura sort of wants to tear it apart at the seams. She misses Tsunade desperately. The strong kunoichi who had said "screw you" to all the rules and made sure people were valued, taken care of. She had been soft to the people who needed it while been harsh and impassible to everyone else. She hadn't made pretend peace, she had made war when it was necessary.

Well, Tsunade had always said she was training Sakura to surpass her. And right now, Sakura thinks, imagining Shisui being tortured underneath the Leaf, of Naruto alone in his apartment, of Sai and Tenzou being forced to strip themselves of emotions and attachments, of Sasuke who might lose his family for the second time, of Kakashi being followed down the streets with disdain and a label of "friendkiller" that he doesn't deserve, now might be time for Sakura to take on the mantle that Tsunade had left for her. It's time to follow in Tsunade's footsteps, Sakura thinks. It's time for her to step up and help build a better village. It is time to wage war on Sarutobi's Konoha, and stand up for all her precious people that have been crushed down, have been beaten down by what life, no, Sarutobi had made possible for them. Sakura thinks of all of her precious people and promises,

I'll do everything I can to help you.

Chapter Text

The rest of the evening is a blur, but at some point, Yoshino had guided Sakura into the bedroom, with a gentle pat on the head and some words of comfort that Sakura didn't catch, and left Sakura alone. She sat on the bed and just stared at the wall for a long time, mind whirring so quickly it was actually just more of a blur. There were so many things wrong, Sakura had no idea what was going to happen in the future anymore, but still felt the unmistakable desire to fix it all.

The weight was simply too much, Sakura had lost everything, regained a second chance, and was losing everything again. Eventually, the blur of her mind wears itself out enough that Sakura feels the need to sleep. She'll need whatever sleep she can get if she's going to have to face Inoichi tomorrow. Shoving all of her thoughts away with the practiced competence of a Jounin who's trained to sleep at the drop of a pin, Sakura goes to sleep. She had forgotten why she had started training at night but she soon remembers.

Sakura is standing on the battlefield, chakra depleted, and surrounded by her precious people crying out to her for help. This is her punishment, Sakura knows. For not being strong enough, for not building enough chakra stores, for not training enough to defend these people, and she knows what she needs to do. She holds each dying friend in her arms, feels every second of their chakra flickering out, the light leaving their eyes. She smells their coppery blood filling the air, the burnt flesh, hears the screams and cries of her friends, feels the field of chakra signatures flickering out before her. It's too much, and Sakura drops to her knees and screams, her screams mingling with the dead and dying around her.

A hand grabs her shoulder, and she turns to see Shisui Uchiha, and she wraps her arms around him, burying her face and sobbing. His voice floats down to her, accusing, yet the hug remains comforting, "Sakura, look at what you did." She looks up, and Shisui is missing both of his eyes, blood pouring out of their empty sockets. "Look at what you did, Sakura." She puts her hands over her mouth and turns away, unable to look at Shisui's ruined face, and sees a grown up Shikamaru stumbling towards her, a huge hole through his chest. "Sakura..." She takes quick steps back from both of them, horrified. She hears the chirping of birds, and then her own chest explodes, and she sees the Chidori come through her chest, where her heart should be. A smooth, sultry voice whispers in her ear, a mockery of the tones she'd so wanted to hear as a child, and Sakura hears Sasuke say, "You deserve this, Sakura."

Waking up with a start, Sakura finds her fist in her mouth, which she must have shoved in her mouth to stop herself from crying out. Removing it, Sakura shakily uses her medical chakra to mend the damage she did to it by biting it. Trying to shake off the nightmare, she heads down the hallway of the Nara home and washes her face in the bathroom, looking at herself in the mirror, reminding herself she's 7 now, she's in the past. She's in the Nara home, and everyone is alive.

For now...

Sakura wishes for a moment she could go to the Hokage monument, like she had when she had first dropped into the past. She hadn't been in quite a while, having traded calm sunrises on the monument for late night training to ward off the nightmares. She was being watched by the Nara clan, though, and Sakura knew she couldn't get away. So she made her way back to her temporary bedroom, preparing herself to sit on the bed and meditate until it was reasonable that she could be awake. Entering the room, she finds Shikamaru sitting on her bed, leaning back against the wall. She hopes he's not stupid enough to bring up the time travel thing now, in the house where his father had been tasked with watching her. Too tired to do much thinking, with the promise of a busier day ahead, that will test all of her mental strength, Sakura climbs onto the bed next to Shikamaru, sitting beside him and leaning back against the wall herself. The young Nara speaks in barely more than a whisper, breaking their easy silence,

"So you get them too. I was wondering."

Get them too. What? ...oh.

Sakura whispers back softly,
"Nightmares? Yeah. Do, you want to talk about it, Shika?"

Shikamaru shrugs a little.
"It's troublesome. We're going to be ninja, of course we're going to see people die, even kill them ourselves."

Sakura nods, shifting a little closer to Shikamaru so that their shoulders are touching.
"Nothing prepares you for seeing death for the first time, and we haven't even gone over how to deal with it in the Academy yet."

They're quiet for a few minutes, leaning against the wall, shoulders touching. It's kind of nice, Sakura thinks. Companionable in a way she misses. She feels herself start to get a little sleepy, and just when she's drowsy, Shikamaru speaks again, his head turned away.

"When I close my eyes, I see Shisui losing his eye, and I see the fireball hit you, and you looking at me, covered in Danzo's blood. It's only been two days, but I already hate it."

Sakura takes Shikamaru's hand quietly, and he lets her. Another casualty of her changing the timelines. Giving Shikamaru something to fear before they're even technically ninja.

"But we're both okay, because of you. I didn't even know you had learned the shadow possession jutsu yet, but you saved my life. That's what we have to remember, I think. That we see horrible things so that we can save the people who are precious to us. Before you ask me, no, it doesn't really get better."

Shikamaru nods, and relaxes a little bit more against the wall.
"I'm going to get stronger. For next time."

Sakura nods back.

F or next time.

The two lapse into silence, and to Sakura, it's a sacred silence. Two friends, post battle, sitting quietly in the dark, keeping tabs on the other and waiting for the dawn. When she wakes up in the morning, Sakura isn't surprised that she managed to sleep again, considering she had a friend watching her back. Shikamaru appears to still be asleep, so she gently untangles her hand from where she had left it in his, and stands, grabbing a change of clothes and heading to the bathroom to get ready for a day of interrogation with Inoichi Yamanaka.

After breakfast, Sakura finds herself following along behind Shikaku Nara, headed to Interrogation, in relative silence. Unlike with Shikamaru, it's a distinctly uncomfortable silence. After literally screaming at the head of the Nara clan last night, Sakura hadn't said a word to him, nor he to her. Sakura had thought through a lot last night, and she had decided she still needed Shikaku on her side, as much as she was still upset with him. You can't blame him for not being Shikamaru Inner reminded her as they walked along. Clearing her throat as they near interrogation, Sakura decides to take the first step and ask forgiveness, though Sakura still doesn't fully believe she was in the wrong.

"Nara-sama? I'm sorry for yelling last night. You didn't have to take me into your home, and you did anyway, and so, I'm sorry."

Shikaku gives her a nod, and Sakura swears she hears him mutter "troublesome" under his breath.

"It's alright Sakura. You've been through a lot the last couple of days. I'm not trying to hurt you, or your friends. This is a very serious problem, and we're all just doing what we can to keep the village safe. I'll talk to Inoichi for you, though, and see if we can at least get you visiting rights for your friend."

Sensing that this is Shikaku's best try at an apology, Sakura accepts as graciously as she can. Too soon, they find themselves in front of Interrogation, or as Sakura knows it's actually called, Torture and Interrogations, and they head inside. The front desk waves them through to a room as soon as they see Shikaku, and Sakura all too soon found herself in an interrogation room. Inoichi joins them after a moment, and introduces himself to Sakura, who gives him a brief bow. He motions to the chair, and while Sakura sits down.

"Alright Sakura, what I'm going to do is one of my clan's special jutsu, it will let me see your memories in your mind, and then you won't have to talk to me about all of it and we can be done pretty quickly. I might ask you a few questions afterwards. Does that sound okay?"

Knowing the consequences if she said no, Sakura nods her head in agreement. With a brief hand sign, Shikaku signs something to Inoichi, and the latter excuses the two of them, making an apology to Sakura and a promise that he will be back soon and not to worry.

Yeah, right. We have more to worry about than he even knows, Inner smirks in her head.

Shikaku and Inoichi leave the room for a few moments. Sakura knows Shikaku is filling in Inoichi on their conversation yesterday, and giving him a brief of the explosive rage she had last night. Sakura uses the time well though, and enacts her plan to help avoid Inoichi from finding out she's a time traveler, or just how much she actually knows about the Uchiha. She barely finishes her meditative work when Inoichi comes back into the room, without Shikaku. He is smiling gently at her, Sakura can tell that Inoichi sees her as a traumatized young child his daughter's age, and Sakura knows her rage outburst at Shikaku actually helps her on that front.

"Okay, Sakura. Ino said to tell you that she misses you at school and hopes you can come back soon. I hope that after this conversation we can everything all set up for you so that you can go back to normal life, okay, Sakura?"

Again, Sakura simply nods, checking her mental fortitude. She's as ready as she's ever going to be. Inoichi asks her to take a deep breath and relax, so Sakura does. Then, there is someone else in her mind, and all senses outside her head disappear.

Sakura's mental space is the Memorial Stone, the place where she first met her team, which became her family. Inoichi doesn't know that, and it must seem pretty morbid to him, but Sakura is at peace here, and that much is obvious. Inoichi looks around at her mental space, and tells Sakura that she is doing a great job, and would she please show him what happened with Shisui? Sakura complies, and some of the trees turn suddenly into memories, playing like a video for and Inoichi, her thoughts and perceptions projected into this field of her mindspace. It's heavily edited, however, and Sakura has left out all the thoughts that contain her knowledge of the future, and some carefully chosen feelings. She knows Inoichi will catch it, that's part of the plan, and Sakura hopes it works. Inoichi does not comment on the empty blanks of thought, but watches the entirety of Sakura's memories of the day leading up to the death of Danzo. She stops the memories as she gets to the portion where she's waiting for Shikaku, making it seem as if she'd passed out at that point. No use trying to show and then hiding a whole chunk of conversation in which she had revealed her secret. Inoichi turns to her after its over, and Sakura, who has been working her mental self up on purpose the entire time the memories played, looks stressed and tearful, and Inoichi's gaze remains soft.

He's totally buying this. CHA!

Sakura prepares Inner for the next step mournfully, knowing what's coming next.

"You did a great job Sakura, I know that must have been very difficult for you."

Sakura nods, as if it was the hardest thing she'd ever done and sniffles, maybe a little too dramatically, but Inoichi buys it.

"I did notice some of your thoughts and feelings were missing though, and those are important. They might give us more clues to important things, can you show them to me?"

this is it, the moment of truth Sakura thinks.

She shakes her head pathetically.
"I don't know how. I-I'm ashamed of them.. They're of me being weak.."

Inoichi looks sadly at her,
"Okay, Sakura. I'm going to have to dig a little bit for them. This might hurt a little, but I'll try to be as gentle as I can."

As if he wasn't going to hunt through my memories anyways..

She nods at Inoichi and tries to look sad and fearful all at the same time. Inoichi makes a handsign, and begins to search rapidly through Sakura's memories, looking for ones she has locked away from him. Some time passes, but here in her mind space she has no idea if it's been 5 minutes or several hours. Inoichi seems to find what he's looking for, and Sakura lets out a mental breath, he found the "safe house" where Sakura found Inner Sakura. Inoichi has fallen for her bait. She has trapped this house up to make it appear that it's the memories she least wants him to see, guarded by Inner. It's the perfect trap, and she's left the memories she actually doesn't want Inoichi to see hidden in plain sight amongst the forest of her regular memories. Hopefully, Inoichi will find what he thinks he needs to see in Inner's house, even though Sakura knows what will happen when he does.

Inoichi, finding the house, attempts to enter it, and Sakura can hear Inner screeching, but she walls her true self out from it. The trap house is full of embarrassing memories Sakura legitimately has, as well as memories from her fight with Danzo that she has edited over with feelings of being terrified and afraid. Hopefully, Inoichi will exhaust himself taking down Inner's domain, and think her false memories of simply being scared are her real memories, and he won't go looking for any memories that reference her time travel. From the place within her mind that she has barricaded herself, Sakura can hear Inner screaming in rage, and knows it'll soon be pain, because Sakura knows that by digging as hard as he is, Inoichi is likely going to destroy Inner, and Sakura feels guilt at her old friend, the old part of herself that remembers what it is to be careless and young and angry just to be angry, the voice that had been in her head, safely tucked away all these years. Sakura wishes she didn't have to sacrifice Inner in this way, but she couldn't think of another way out. And Inner is just an imaginary friend, right? She will tell herself that's the case until the day she dies.

Sure enough, Inner's screams turn to those of pain, and Sakura sees the little white house in her mindscape, burning to the ground with Inoichi inside. Sakura curls up and turns away, pretending she can't feel the burning screams of Inner brush the edges of her conscious. Eventually, after some unknown amount of time, Inoichi comes back over to Sakura, he's panting a little, calm exterior gone, and he looks singed at the edges. Sakura gives a final,

Thank you for everything, Inner. Great work

and she pretends she can hear a faint "CHA!" echo through her mindscape one last time. Sakura looks sadly at Inoichi, playing as if he's seen her most terrible moments. Inoichi tries to look composed, an act he largely pulls off, and says


"Sakura, I found everything that I needed. You have a very strong mind, and you should be proud of that. Your memories are also nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone is scared when they fight a really scary fight, and you shouldn't be afraid of that. You've done a great job, and I know you tried your hardest. We're going to leave your mind now, and you might feel a little dizzy for a minute, but that's just because we've been in here a long time, okay?"

Inoichi has talked to Sakura like she's actually 7 this whole time, comforting and kind, as if he's trying to help his own daughter through a difficult experience, and Sakura knows that his unintentionally condescending tone is actually a sign that she won, she tricked him, and he doesn't know she's a time traveler. She nods along with him and with a small popping noise, Sakura is back in the chair in the interrogation room.

Dizzy was a bit of an understatement, and Sakura immediately feels like she's going to throw up, and tries to steady herself. Sakura is proud to see that Inoichi is actually singed in real life. He again reiterates that she's done a great job, and Sakura dares ask if she can go home now. Inoichi tells her she is clear to go home, but that it is already very late in the evening, and she needs to go home with Shikaku again to make sure that she didn't suffer any ill affects from his jutsu, but that she can go home tomorrow. Just one more night, then I can figure out my next step. Her stomach chooses that moment to rumble, and Inoichi smiles and makes hand signs, and Sakura recognizes Ibiki, who is young and not yet scarred, as he comes in and brings some food for her. Inoichi excuses himself, and says he will be back with Shikaku soon, and Sakura knows he is going to make a report.

She spends the entirety of her dinner pestering Ibiki about going to see Shisui, to which he refuses, over and over, until finally, out of frustration, he tells Sakura he isn't even allowed to let anyone see prisoners and would she please stop asking him. Haha, I broke the Interrogator Sakura thinks with glee. She finishes her meal, and waits for Shikaku and Inoichi to return, realizing she's actually very tired, and wondering just how long she had been under for. It was certainly a lot of mental work, and Sakura is not surprised she is exhausted. She can feel the hole that Inner has left, and knows it's going to take a lot of mental energy and probably some medical chakra to heal the hole she left. She won't have enough mental energy to banter or have a conversation with any Nara tonight, she knows she is mentally worn enough to let something slip and that would be a disaster. She spends pretty much all the energy she has left continuing to pester Ibiki until Shikaku and Inoichi return. When they do, Ibiki looks so gratefully towards the door that Sakura almost laughs aloud. It's clear that Ibiki is not good with children.

When they enter, Sakura begs, absolutely begs Inoichi to see Shisui, and he shakes his head, but with a look from Shikaku, he amends that she can see Shisui tomorrow, if she comes back to T&I and follows the rules. Sakura promises as earnestly as she can to follow all the rules, meanwhile promising herself to only follow the rules that won't get in the way of her helping her precious people. Inoichi accepts her declaration with a tired air, and Sakura dutifully bows goodbye to Inoichi and follows Shikaku back to his house.

She notices as they walk home that the sun has set, though very recently, and realizes she must have been in Interrogation a very long time. When they finally make it back to the Nara compound, Sakura is dead on her feet. She manages a bow and greeting to Yoshino and Shikamaru, and then falls into the bed they've provided for her, and even though she could fall asleep instantly, she chooses to use the perfect amount of medical chakra to essentially put her into a dreamless, healing sleep for 10 or so hours. This is a very poorly looked on medical technique, as it puts you completely out of commission for the entirety of the time slot. Nothing will wake her, not an attack, not someone shaking her. It's practically a coma, which makes it totally inappropriate for missions, or even for home use, honestly, as a ninja should always be on their guard, but Sakura knows she is under a careful guard tonight, and no one will attack her here. Also, she needs to heal the mental hole in her mind so she can be back up to full capacity tomorrow, so she puts herself under, and falls instantly into a dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

Sakura wakes the next morning feeling better rested than she has in months. Seeing as it is still relatively early in the morning, Sakura decides to take a moment to fully examine herself and see what kind of shape she is in. Her arm is pretty much healed, it still aches a little, but that's to be expected for a few days, as Sakura can't heal the surface damage without looking suspicious to adults, her ribs are back to normal, and she takes a moment to be grateful that even without Tsunade and Shizune running the hospital the medics can fix ribs seamlessly. Her concussion had subsided before she even left the hospital, so Sakura checks her subconscious out, and sees that the hole where Inner was ripped out has sealed, though in the forest of her mindspace there's still a barren patch of ground where the house once stood. Sakura removes all of her delicate mental channels and blocks and lets her memories flow back into the places they belong.

Having to reorganize her thoughts for Inoichi's mental probing hadn't really affected her too much, but it's always easier and quicker to access memories and make plans and thoughts if all the pieces of your head are in their natural place. And Sakura is going to need all the mental strength she can, if she is going to fight to save the Uchiha clan. She sighs in relief as all of her thought processes and memories lock into their normal positions. It just feels right, and Sakura feels truly ready to go now, so she grabs her clothes and changes for the day.

Arriving at breakfast, Sakura notes that Shikaku is absent, and she guesses it's probably because he's having to make reports and shuffle around ninja and cover for the police force since they're all in lockdown. She does not envy that job right now. Yoshino smiles and greets her, and tells Sakura that if she would like, after breakfast, Yoshino will take her back to Interrogations to visit her friend if she'd like. Sakura nods gratefully, because she's desperate to see Shisui, to make sure he's okay. Yoshino then tells her that after she's done visiting, she should probably go to the Academy and pick up any work she's missed by being out of school for almost a week. Sakura also agrees with this, also it will be nice to see everyone and let them know herself that she's okay, and she lets Yoshino know that she plans on going home this evening, as her parents will definitely be back from their trip today, and they are going to be very worried about her. Shikamaru gets smacked on the head at this, and after an irritated look from Shikamaru meets a knowing look from Yoshino, Shikamaru offers to walk her home from the Academy after she sees everyone. She smiles and nods, and with the conversation over, they finish their breakfast.

Yoshino and Sakura make their way to T&I while Shikamaru heads to school, still looking for all the world like he's still asleep. As they walk along pleasantly, Sakura decides to make some conversation,

"Yoshino-sama, thank you for having me in your home. I'm very grateful to you."

Yoshino smiles down at her, a warm, real smile.

"It was no problem Sakura. I always wanted a daughter, so you're welcome back any time! Also, the men won't say anything to you, because they're men, but they enjoyed having you too."

Sakura nods and enjoys the way the sunlight warms her face.

I'm going to see Shisui and figure out what's going on, and everything will be okay.

"Sakura?"

Yoshino has gotten a little more serious, and Sakura wonders why.

"Yes?"

"It's very hard, after you kill your first person. You see their face in your mind, and wonder what you could have done differently, or you're ashamed for killing. Sakura, I want you to know, it's okay to be upset about this, but you shouldn't feel guilty. Shikamaru says you defended a friend, and that's something to be proud of. If you ever need to talk about it, you can talk to me if you'd like. Or I can help you find one of our ninja counsellors, and they'll help you too. Don't struggle too hard alone, alright?"

Sakura gapes a little, unsure how to feel about that. When Sakura had actually made her first kill, on a mission with Team 7, she had trembled all night, and when she had woken from a nightmare for the second time, Kakashi-Sensei had sat next to her, ruffled her hair in that annoying yet endearing way of his, and told her some odd story that didn't seem to have a moral or a point in general, and Sakura had realized he was distracting her from her fear, and she had felt comforted at the time. She had still struggled with the weight of her kill for a while, and seen his face in her dreams for years afterwards. It had never occurred to Sakura that someone else might see her first kill as something that needed talking about, something that you might want to see a therapist about. Thinking back, she supposes it makes sense that Kakashi-Sensei wasn't exactly the picture of mental health, and probably hadn't known quite how to help her. Hearing Yoshino offer personal help, and tell her that the feelings that came with it were valid was warming, and Sakura appreciated it deeply, even though she had in actuality seen death thousands of times and killed more than she cared to count. Yoshino must take Sakura's silence as proof she was right about Sakura feeling torn, and she gently places her hand on Sakura's shoulder. Sakura warms under the touch. Yoshino might be tough and angry and scary in a fight, but to have her on your side, that was something very valuable too, and Sakura knows it.

"Thank you, Yoshino-sama."

They arrive at T&I, and Sakura goes in alone, waving goodbye at Yoshino, and walking up to the receptionist.

Honestly, why is there even a receptionist here who even goes here on purpose? Well. I guess I am.

"Hello, my name is Sakura Haruno, and I'm here to see Shisui Uchiha."

The receptionist, a man in his late teens, if Sakura is correct, raises an eyebrow at her.

"Uchiha are off limits for visitors."

Sakura tries to make herself look a little taller,

"Inoichi said he would make sure I got to see Shisui, so I won't leave until I see him."

She crosses her arms stubbornly to prove her point, and the receptionist sighs, shuffles through his papers, sighs again. "I'll go ask and see if that's true. You wait right there." Sakura nods her assent. She could probably sneak in if she wanted to, but it was unnecessary and she didn't want to draw unnecessary attention. The receptionist comes back in a moment, looking at her with interest, Ibiki Morino in tow.

"Well, Sakura Haruno, it seems you were correct. Ibiki here is going to take you to the right cell. Ninja tools and weapons are not allowed, and any jutsu or chakra channeling is cause for immediate expulsion."

He recites this in a practiced way, and Sakura nods, and lays her two remaining kunai she'd kept on the counter. Both the receptionist and Ibiki look more than a little surprised she actually did have ninja weapons on her, and Sakura just smiles sweetly at Ibiki. He looks distinctly uncomfortable. Sakura loves it. He abruptly turns, heading towards the door to where Sakura knows the holding cells are.

"Come along then, and be quick about it."

Sakura follows Ibiki through a maze below the streets of Konoha. She isn't sure if the reason they're keeping Shisui so far back is because they're hiding him specifically, or because the other cells are all full and they actually have this many prisoners. It's impossible to tell, because the cells are made in such a way that those in them can't see out, and you can't see in from the hallway, unless you activate a specific seal. This is to keep prisoners from knowing how many of their team have been caught, as well as for keeping visitors like Sakura from knowing who is in prison and how many there are, Sakura knows from the few times she's had to make medical visits to the prisons. Eventually, they stop in front of a door, and Ibiki turns to her.

"I'll be watching from back here, and listening to whatever goes on, so you'll be safe. Don't try anything crazy. Knock twice on the door when you're done."

Sakura nods along, and Ibiki opens the cell door, and Sakura steps inside. All of her breath catches in her throat and she gasps at just how bad Shisui looks. He's chained to the wall with chakra chains, which is standard for ninja prisoners, but his chains are shorter than Sakura has ever seen, and he's essentially chained in a standing position to the wall behind him, though he's slouching as much as the short chains allow. He's absolutely covered in blood, dried and fresh, and his shirt is in tatters, showing holes and rips where they've... Well, Sakura doesn't want to think too hard about what they've done, and how many times they've done it for his shirt to be essentially some loose threads. His eye is bandaged, and Sakura is at least grateful for that, but the bandage looks a bit dirty, as if it hasn't been changed often enough. The skin she can see is riddled with healing cuts, and perfectly round burns that tell Sakura they were intentional. She wants to cry, she wants to wage war. Shisui hasn't acknowledged the door opening in any way, and Sakura wonders if he is even conscious. She runs the couple of feet to him, and touches the side of his face with his good eye. Her voice is a shaky whisper, and she hates it, but can't stop it.

"...Shisui? It's me, Sakura."

He flinches violently at the touch, and opens his eye, and its dull, but she can see he isn't drugged, unlike last time she saw him. Sakura isn't sure if that's good or bad at this point. His skin is hot under her fingers, and Sakura knows he's probably running a fever. Shisui takes her in, and gives her a little smile.

"Hey, petal."

His voice is rough, and Sakura is absolutely ready to kill everyone in the village. Knowing Ibiki is watching her, Sakura knows she can't use any medical chakra at the moment, so she settles for giving Shisui a very careful hug. He still flinches a little bit, but Sakura knows he needs one. She chokes out her words the best she can.

"Shisui, I'm... so sorry. This is all my fault."

He shakes his head a little at her.
"Nah, it isn't. It's okay, petal."

Even in the shape he's in, trying to protect Sakura and make her feel better... That's it. Sakura lets go of Shisui carefully, marches over to the cell door and gives one sharp knock. Ibiki opens the door, and looks at her curiously.

"It was two knocks when you were ready to leave, are you ready now?"

Sakura shakes her head vigorously.

"No. Ibiki, bring me a bucket of water and a clean rag and do it right now."

She uses all the authority of her hospital voice, and Ibiki straightens, then looks at her, looking concerned.

"I don't think I'm allowed to do that, Sakura."

Sakura pierces Ibiki with her absolute meanest stare.

"I am going to the Hokage after this and I will WIN that conversation. You can either help me, and get a good review to the Hokage, or I'll tell the Hokage you refused to help me and you can get punished with every other person who allowed this to happen in Konoha."

She forcefully pronounces every word, so Ibiki knows she means it. And she does. The second she's done here she's going on the warpath to the Hokage tower. Ibiki takes her in, two feet shorter than him and bristling with rage, and considers.

"Well, I suppose normal prisoners are usually allowed a bucket of water, and it's not like you can do too much with a rag... Alright. You'll have to be trapped in here till I come back though."

Sakura nods her assent, and Ibiki closes the door. Reaching out with her senses, she can tell there is no one there except Ibiki's receding chakra signature. She has a little time, but she'll have to hurry. She rushes back over to Shisui, putting her hand on his face once again, and starts using her medical chakra. She uses just the tracest amount, so that the seals in the prison don't start an alarm, but prison seals don't react to medical chakra unless there's a ton of it, and Sakura is unlikely to set them off with her still small chakra reserves, but she's still careful, keeping a sense out for anyone coming. She can't do too much, or she'll get caught, but she has to do something. She can't, she won't leave Shisui like this.

The first thing Sakura does is get rid of the fever. It takes a little longer than she would have liked, but she gets it done. Shisui, focus coming back into his eye, shoots her a confused glance.

"What are you-" Sakura shushes him quietly with her other hand.

"We can talk about that later, once I make the Hokage let you go."

Shisui huffs a laugh, but it turns into a cough.

"Petal, the Hokage isn't going to let me go. Thanks for trying, though. The thought is nice."

Sakura shakes her head firmly, moving her chakra to get rid of the infection brewing in Shisui's empty eye socket, and oh how it's a raw mess in there. He must be in a massive amount of pain.

"I will get you out of here. I will. It's my fault you're in here, and so I'll be the one to get you out."

She trembles a little, rage and guilt mixing like fire inside of her, burning her from the inside out.

"It's not your fault. You saved my life. Sakura."

He says her name and she looks at him. He looks so sad, and he's hiding his pain so well, so Sakura does her best to hide her breaking heart from him. She can't believe that this would happen to a Leaf Shinobi in their own village. She has just finished eradicating the infection in his eye socket when she feels Ibiki coming, so she quickly withdraws all of her medical chakra. She would curse Ibiki for being so efficient except that she's actually starting to run low on chakra anyway, and she curses her tiny reserves. Ibiki cracks the door, and Sakura heads over to see that he has indeed brought a metal bucket of water and a cleanish rag for her, and she takes it, giving Ibiki a grateful nod, and drags it over to Shisui. The bucket is not that heavy, but Sakura acts like it's more of a struggle to carry than it is, for show.

Dropping it by Shisui's feet, she dips the rag into the water, getting it nice and wet. Then, she considers, and looks at Shisui, who's looking at the bucket with barely hidden need.

"Do you need some water, Shisui?"

He nods,
"If you wouldn't mind, petal."

As if.

Dropping the rag to the edge of the bucket, Sakura lifts it up carefully to Shisui's face, tipping it carefully against his mouth so that he can drink from it. He drinks greedily for a long moment, and Sakura adds "deprivation of water" to her list of things to yell at the Hokage about. After a moment, he pauses, and Sakura lowers the bucket back down before she accidentally chokes him with it. Then, dipping the rag into the water once again, Sakura starts to clean the blood and dirt off of her friend.

"I'm sorry that you have to see me like this."

His voice is quiet, not as rough, but mournful. She shakes her head matter of factly.

"I'm not, only sorry you ended up this way. I wanted to make sure you were okay, I was really worried about you."

"I was worried about you too, petal. I saw what happened to you, what Danzo did to you. I was sort of out of it at the time, I'm sorry I didn't help you."

"Don't be sorry, it wasn't your fault."
Seeing his face, she insists,
"It wasn't."

The more blood and dirt Sakura cleans, the sadder she becomes. She can see older marks, where Danzo had probably gotten to him, but the sheer amount of new marks, purposeful burns and cuts and slashes, is infuriating to Sakura, but she cleans the dirts out of his wounds the best she can, and the bucket of water slowly turns red, then black, from the dirt and blood she washes away. Finally, Sakura has gotten most of the blood and dirt off of her friend, and she knows she needs to leave him soon, she can feel Ibiki twitching behind the door, and besides, Sakura needs to start her fight to get Shisui the hell out of here.

"Shisui, I have to go now. I'll get you out though. I will."

Shisui gives her one of his brilliant smiles, but its hollow, and they both know it.

"Don't worry too much, Sakura. It's okay, I'll be fine."

Sakura hugs Shisui again, avoiding the worst of his wounds, and she tries to communicate all the feelings she can't put together into words, her sorrow and guilt and rage. She's not sure if he understands or not, but he gives her a merry farewell, pretending he isn't chained to a wall, being tortured in his own village. Sakura drags the bucket back to the entrance of the cell and knocks twice. Ibiki opens the door, takes the bucket, and closes the door behind Sakura, starting to walk her to the front of T&I.

"Thank you for your help, Ibiki."

He simply nods, but Sakura can see he's a little thoughtful, and she wonders what's going through his mind. Somehow, by the time they make it to the front desk, the bucket and rag have disappeared, and they exit the cell block. Sakura takes her kunai back from the receptionist with a quiet thanks, and leaves T&I. Her first instinct is to storm Hokage tower right the heck now. But she needs to plan first. She could try and blackmail the Hokage, of course. That would put her at risk of revealing that she's from the future though. The Hokage could also pretty easily have her killed or otherwise silenced, and no one would be able to fight it. She's clanless, she has no political clout to back her up. After that close call with Shikaku, Sakura knows she probably can't trust all the clan heads to help her...

Wait a second

Sakura may not know the clan heads, but she does know every major clan heir, with the exception of the Hyuuga and Aburame, and she curses herself again for not befriending Hinata and Shino already. All the clan heirs she does know, they're her friends. If she tells them about Shisui, they might be willing to go to the Hokage with her, and then he couldn't silence Sakura without looking bad in front of most of the clans of Konoha, and he definitely can't silence so many clan heirs at once. Also, didn't the Hokage see Naruto as some sort of grandson figure? Plan in place, Sakura sprints towards the Academy.

As she arrives, she sees that she's just in time for lunch, so she enters the lunchyard, finding all of her friends sitting together. Naruto and Kiba leap to their feet when they see her,

"Sakura!"

She smiles at them, glad to see her friends, but gets deadly serious quickly.

"Listen you guys, I need your help."

After she explains the situation, the outright shock on all of their faces shows Sakura she's got them on her side. So she tells them her plan.

"I want to go to the Hokage and demand that they release the Uchiha. Or at least, most of them. Shisui didn't do anything wrong, and the way they're treating him is terrible. I think we have a shot of getting Itachi out, but I'm not sure. Sasuke and the civilian Uchiha we should definitely be able to demand freedom for, they're kids and not even ninja, why do they need to be on lockdown or in prison? The Hokage shouldn't do this to his own people! I'm asking you guys for help because you guys are clan heirs, and he can't say no to so many clans at once, right?"

Kiba, Ino, and Choji roar in approval, and Shikamaru gives a thoughtful nod, but Naruto looks troubled.

"The Old Man... He's, not that bad Sakura. Maybe he just doesn't know what's happening?"

Sakura can see that Naruto is struggling to see the 3rd doing any of this, and she feels bad for him, and takes pity.

"You're right, Naruto. Maybe the Hokage doesn't know it's going on. He still needs to know though, then he can fix it!"

Naruto perks up at that, and pumps his fist,

"Yeah! We'll tell him, ya know!"

"So we're all decided then, we'll skip the last part of school and go to the Hokage tower?"

Ino, Choji, Naruto, Kiba, and Shikamaru nod. Then Kiba shouts,

"Wait a second! I think I can do something else to help."

Sakura looks at him impatiently. She wants to be at the Hokage tower yesterday.

"I'm not actually the clan heir for my clan. My big Sister Hana is. She's a Genin, and I know where her team trains, we can go get her? I know she'll help."

In her rush, Sakura had actually forgotten that Kiba wasn't the clan heir, and she nods at Kiba. The more clan heirs for this, the better. So they all get up, leave the schoolyard, and run behind Kiba, to the training ground where his sister is.

"You guys wait here, I'm going to go grab her!"

With that, Kiba is off, and Naruto goes with him with a loud
"You can't leave me behind!"

Ino and Choji bend over, panting from the run.

Shikamaru pulls Sakura to the side,

"This is a big political move, Sakura. Are you sure? You don't have a clan, and neither does Naruto, are you sure you two will be safe?"

Sakura nods,

"Naruto will be okay, Sarutobi sees him like a grandson. I think I will be okay because I will have all of you with me."

Shikamaru doesn't look totally convinced, but nods anyway.

"Alright, but if it goes south, you're staying with one of us until everything is clear. Got it?"

Sakura just nods, appreciative of Shika's decisive protectiveness. Even at almost 8, Shikamaru's intelligence is at the average Jounins. Kiba and Naruto come back to the group, Hana behind them, fire in her eyes.

"Kiba and the brat here told me everything. I'm in, let's go."

And they all head to Hokage tower. They blow past the front desk and start ascending the tower. A chunin or two attempts to stop them but they just blow on by, eventually reaching the Hokage's door. Naruto throws the door open and yells,

"Hey there Old Man!"

The group enters the room, and Sakura sighs to see that Inoichi and Shikaku are here,

Just great. I did NOT want to have this fight in front of them

The Hokage looks bemused at Naruto, but as the group of them enter the room, his gaze turns more towards alarmed. Shikamaru shuts the door behind them, as Naruto, Kiba, and Hana start shouting all at once.

"I can't believe the village would-"
"Why the HELL is-"
"Sasuke can't even-"

"QUIET!"

The Hokage yells, and they all fall silent.

"What on earth is going on. You are all skipping school, please explain. ONE of you."

As one, the whole room looks to Sakura, and she steps forward, anger pulsing through her veins.

"Hokage-Sama, we are here on behalf of the Uchiha clan, and specifically Shisui Uchiha's treatment in T&I."

 

Sakura finishes describing the conditions she found Shisui in, as well as her absolute disgust that he would be treated this way by their own village. The Hokage chews his pipe thoughtfully.

"You are all but children, but you must understand. The Uchiha clan knows some secrets that we need to know for the safety of Konoha. I know it's... unsavory. But it is necessary."

The room starts to explode again, but Sakura holds up a hand and her friends all fall silent, respecting her leadership.

Thank you, guys.

"I understand your position, Hokage-sama. Would you mind telling us if Shisui Uchiha, Sasuke Uchiha, or any of the civilian Uchiha have proven dangerous to the village, or, after multiple days of 'Interrogation', can you prove that Shisui Uchiha knows more than you've already gotten out of him?"

The adults in the room pin Sakura with a sharp gaze, and she knows she sounds too old, too smart, but she doesn't care. Shisui's life is on the line, and the whole Uchiha clan. She may as well reveal herself as a "prodigy", as they'll likely see it. The Hokage does not answer, but to Sakura's surprise, Inoichi does.

"No, Sakura. We can't 'prove' it to you. The two you mentioned, and the civilians, are being held on suspicion."

It's Ino that speaks next, in a whiny cry that's so bossy and just so, Ino, and nobody stops her.

"Daddy, you can't be okay with this! They can't keep Sasuke just because they 'think' he's suspicious or might know things! You know almost all the village secrets, so why don't they just take all of our clan too! Put me in jail since I'm related to you! That's not fair to Sasuke!"

Hana nods, and she yells,

"Kiba and I know all kinds of secrets about ninja hounds, and other ninja animals, and everyone looks down on our clan too for being 'wild'. Are you going to take all of us next?!"

Hana's dogs and Akamaru bark in appreciation. The Hokage interrupts,

"Of course we aren't going to arrest your clans or put them on lockdown. This is a special circumstance."

Shikamaru speaks up next.

"Sounds like a weak position to hold to me, Hokage-Sama. I'm sure the other clans would be thrilled to know that in a 'special circumstance', their whole clan could be put on lockdown, and some of their members tortured for Clan information."

Shikaku smirks from the side, and Sakura isn't sure if he's proud of his son or just appreciative of the general havoc their group is causing. Inoichi has his hands to his head, rubbing his temples as Ino gives him a look of utter betrayal. The Hokage looks tired, so tired, but he also looks secretly pleased, and Sakura wonders why.

"Do you mean to tell me that all of you, the Akimichi, Inuzuka, Yamanaka, and Nara clan heirs, are here in my office to defend the Uchiha clan?"

They all nod, and Naruto yells,

"And Naruto Uzumaki, Future Hokage, ya know!"

The Hokage does smile a little then, and his next words relax Sakura slightly, then set her on edge.

"It seems the Will of Fire carries on strongly in the new generation. I admire your teamwork, and willingness to defend your fellow Leaf. If you put all of this in writing, and all of you sign it, I will allow for your demands to be met. We will release the Compound from lockdown, and release all persons who have so far been innocent, or are found to be innocent. But you also have to acknowledge that any traitorous knowledge will be punished to the full extent of the law, and you will not interfere."

Sakura motions, and all of the Academy students, and Hana, huddle up to discuss the terms. After a few minutes, they all straighten, decided. The terms are as good as they are going to get, and even though Sakura has a deep sense of foreboding about what "punished to the full extent of the law" means, but she knows that if she and Shikamaru write the terms together, they'll only allow punishment to those who had solid plans to betray the village, and Sakura can only hope for the best.

"Hokage-sama, we agree to your terms."

Then they all sit and watch as Sakura and Shikamaru work out the terms of their agreement, right there in the Hokage's office. Hopefully this change will help the Uchiha clan, and prevent both the massacre and an uprising. Sakura is very on edge, but there's only so much she can do, she makes sure that they put that no Uchiha can accidentally or incidentally die in T&I, and she puts a special clause in which essentially guarantees Shisui's release for sure. She wishes she could do the same for Itachi, but as a legal adult and clan heir, she knows she can't argue her way out of that one, so she sadly leaves it. The scariest part is, if there are repercussions to this term, all of their signatures will be found on the document, and Sakura dearly hopes it doesn't start another incident in the future. Once Shikamaru and Sakura have both approved it, all the young clan heirs, and Sakura and Naruto, sign the document, and hand it to the Hokage, who signs it and stamps it, as well as forcing Shikaku and Inoichi to sign as "witnesses".

"All Uchiha who are free from reasonable suspicion will be released tomorrow, so you should see Sasuke back at school tomorrow."

They all bow deeply, and then take their leave. That had gone so much better than Sakura had expected, and when they leave the office as the sun sets, she lets out a whoop of joy. The others follow suit, celebrating their victory. Naruto turns to them all and yells out,

"Let's celebrate with Ramen!"

With mixed groans and excitement, they all agree, and off to Ichiraku's they go, glowing with hope for tomorrow. Sakura couldn't be more proud, and she stoutly shoves the foreboding away.

Chapter Text

The celebration at Ichiraku's goes on for a long time, and after everyone finally departs, Sakura decides it's time to go home for the first time since she left to look for Shisui. Walking along the streets in the dark, Sakura takes in the twinkling stars above her, and the calm streets, quiet except for faint laughter and speaking coming from different homes as she makes her way towards her parent's house.

Everything seems so peaceful here, on the surface


This is the Konoha that Sakura wants to fight for, a Konoha that can be calm and quiet, but without the sinister underbelly going on underneath the city. She turns her thoughts to Root, and wonders how they're dealing with Danzo's death, and Sakura secretly hopes she can find Sai or Tenzou sometime soon, seal free and in the regular ninja population. She tries to imagine a Sai who hasn't had to watch his brother die yet, a Sai who has free expression of his emotions and art, but she can't imagine it. Sakura hopes she won't have to imagine it for too much longer, and that she'll see a Sai like that sometime soon. Seeing her home, Sakura notices the lights are off, and bites back a little disappointment.

I thought for sure my parents would be home. Weren't they worried about me? I thought someone sent word to them?

Perhaps her parents had been farther than they thought. After all, they were merchants, they can't run at ninja speeds across the elemental nations. Opening the door and seeing that the house is indeed empty, Sakura tries to shrug it off, knowing they'll be back soon. When they do, she knows they'll have been worried sick about her, and she should prepare for a little, no, a lot of coddling. Climbing the stairs and falling into bed, Sakura resolves to get back to training, tomorrow for sure.

She wakes from a nightmare half way through the night, and gives sleep up as a lost cause. She'll just have to sleep through class again today. Sakura feels a little bad for sleeping through all of Yukiatsu-Sensei's lectures, since it isn't his fault she already knows everything. She remembers how engaged she was in his class in her other life, when she was a brand new student excited to be a ninja. She trains through the remainder of the night, right until the sun rises and she can start the day off, as if she hasn't already been awake for several hours. She's midway through breakfast when her brain finally catches up to her enough to remind her,

Sasuke should be at school today

Remembering their last interaction, where they'd fought, and Sakura had knocked him unconscious for two days and left him in her house under a genjutsu, she shudders a little at seeing him again. On one hand, she had prevented Danzo from getting to Itachi, so even if a massacre does occur, it wouldn't be Itachi, or would it? Would someone else step up to take Danzo's place in manipulating Itachi? The whole thing makes her head hurt. Sakura hates political moves and intrigue. She'd much rather just punch her way through every obstacle, but Tsunade had trained to her to be at least aware of political ramifications, even if Tsunade herself often recommended punching your way out. Well, okay, at least Danzo won't get to Itachi, so they'll just have to keep an eye out for anyone else doing it.

Sasuke's going to be so mad about Itachi's imprisonment, though...

Sakura hopes they'll release Itachi soon. Itachi had of course known about the plot by the Uchiha, but he'd also been attempting to play double agent, and Sakura hopes they see that Itachi is loyal to the village, and let him go soon.

He's still just 11 years old...


So, maybe the future is a little muddled at the moment, but Sakura had killed Danzo and saved Shisui from death, so hopefully Sasuke will forgive her.

Yeah, cause Sasuke is SO good at forgiveness.

Shaking her head to clear herself of her thoughts, Sakura cleans up the dishes from breakfast and heads towards the Academy. She will just have to face Sasuke and see what happens from there.

Her morning classes go about as expected. A "surprise" pop quiz that covers the material that Sakura, Choji, and Shikamaru had skipped because they'd ditched the back half of school yesterday for the Hokage tower, which Sakura decides to ace perfectly just out of spite, then spends the rest of the class sleeping on her desk. When lunchtime rolls around, Sakura begins to feel a little nauseous, but before she can come up with an excuse to duck out of going to the lunchyard where she knows Sasuke should be, Choji grabs her wrist and says,

"Yes! Lunchtime already! Let's go see Sasuke and EAT!"

Sakura sometimes wonders why Choji can still find joy in eating when he literally eats all day every day,

Doesn't he ever get tired of it?

but she allows Choji to pull her along to the lunchyard, Shikamaru trailing lazily behind. They enter the lunchyard to see practically every student in the Academy surrounding Sasuke, asking him how he is and why he's back at school. Sakura groans, this is the absolute worst cast scenario. Sasuke hates being the center of attention like this, and she does not envy any of those people who are about to receive the wrath of Sasuke. She hears Naruto shouting,

"Sasuke is fine! If you want to talk to Sasuke you have to talk to me first, ya know!"

Sakura had never considered that Naruto was aware enough of his general hatred by the village to actually weaponize it in a social situation, but it works, and all the students except their friend group practically flee from Sasuke's side, not willing to risk being the person seen talking to Naruto. Sakura notices Ino whispering into Naruto's ear, and Naruto blushing and giving her a thumbs up.

Ah, so it was Ino's plan. Nice one, Pig

Sakura can't call Ino pig to her face anymore, but she still fondly thinks it sometimes. It might be worth instituting again, Sakura sort of misses the familiar "Forehead!" from her friend as well. Finally alone, Sakura and her friends finally sit together again at lunch. Sakura can't seem to quite meet Sasuke's eyes, and everytime she catches a glance at him, he's not looking at her either. It would probably be awkward, but between Ino and Naruto talking Sasuke's ear off, and Kiba and Choji ravenously devouring lunch, it's not actually too bad. Finally, Sasuke speaks up a little, aiming his words at Naruto.

"I heard that you guys stormed the Hokage tower yesterday, and that's why the compound isn't under lockdown anymore."

Naruto pumps his fist,

"Yeah, we told the Old Man, ya know! Sakura told us we needed to rescue you and your brother and cousin, and so we all went and skipped school!"

Sasuke shoots Sakura a look, and she can't quite meet his eyes, but she nods all the same. Kiba, never one to let Naruto be the only one to get a word in, pipes up,

"Yeah, my big sister Hana went with us too! I've never been in the Hokage's office before, and the Hokage talked to us, and Sakura and Shikamaru like wrote a law or something and we all signed it! The Hokage even let Akamaru sign it!"

That was true, the Hokage had graciously allowed Kiba and Hana's ninja hound partners to place an inky footprint on the agreement. Ino throws her shimmering hair over her shoulder, smiling sweetly at Sasuke,

"It wasn't a law, Kiba. It was an agreement from clan heirs, like myself, to free Sasuke from the lockdown."

Sasuke nods at all of this, and to Sakura's surprise, Shikamaru speaks up, asking Sasuke the question Sakura has been wondering this whole time.

"How many of your clan have been let out from the lockdown? Did your brother or cousin or parents return home?"

Sasuke's face turns stormy, what Kakashi-Sensei had always fondly referred to in the past as Sasuke's "murder face".

"All the civilians and children in ninja school have been released. All active police, the village elders, and my parents and Itachi, are being held at T&I for questioning."

Sasuke turns his gaze onto Sakura, and she meets his eyes for the first time since their fight. They are angry, vindictive, and there's some slight hidden satisfaction there, as if he knows a secret Sakura doesn't.

"Shisui is no longer an Uchiha."

Sakura gapes, and Naruto asks, through a mouthful of potato chips Choji had offered him,

"Why is that? That doesn't make sense. If you're born into a clan, you're part of a clan."

Shikamaru speaks before Sasuke can, probably to make sure Naruto gets a fair answer instead of an Uchiha "hn".

 

"Well, actually-"

Ino interrupts him, and Sakura feels sure she's trying to woo Sasuke with her knowledge of clan affairs.

"Naruto, you can get kicked out of a clan, disowned, for breaking clan laws, remember? We learned this in class already! They usually kill their members instead of disowning them though, for breaking clan laws or other clan reasons."


Choji nods thoughtfully through his chips, but Naruto still looks confused.

Sakura takes her chances, and asks Sasuke herself,
"Why, Sasuke?"

Sasuke gives her the tiniest smile, and it's so vindictive, so full of pleasure at the pain Sasuke is sure he's going to cause her, Sakura flinches.

"My Father disowned Shisui for giving away clan secrets. He will never be welcome in the Uchiha compound again."

Sakura's mind races.

Why does Sasuke think it's so painful that Shisui isn't a Uchiha, I mean of course it's terrible, but if the Uchiha start a revolt anyway, it'll actually end up good in the long run. Sasuke wouldn't be happy about that, so why..

The bell rings, and they all head back inside for the last part of the day. Shikamaru comes alongside Sakura, and answers her question without her even voicing it.

"Disowned family members are not allowed to speak to anyone back in the clan, and no other clan will usually talk to them or even work with them out of fear of clan retaliation, so they usually commit suicide to free their name and family from the shame. Additionally, with no clan to politically back them up, and without the anonymity of being civilian born, disowned Shinobi are basically free game for foreign Shinobi."

Sasuke thinks Shisui is going to be murdered, or kill himself... He's also now homeless and isn't allowed to talk to Itachi and Sasuke anymore, and has a good chance at not being a ninja ever again.

Sakura sinks into her blackening thoughts through the rest of the lessons, and it feels like a heavy cloud is hanging over her head. Was this any better than being dead? Being alive but an outcast through most of the village? Losing your friends and family and work, could anyone survive it? Sakura thinks for a minute it probably would have hurt Shisui less if she had let him die by Danzo's hand, then she immediately gets rid of that thought. She has to fix things, she has to have a plan. The second the final bells rings, Sakura wants to sprint to the hospital and talk this all out with Shisui, so she gives her apologies to her friends for not training that day, not that she's even willing to see Sasuke right now, and books it towards the hospital. When she arrives, she asks the front desk for Shisui's room number, and is told he isn't in the hospital.

They really just let him out of T&I and turned him loose?

Sakura goes to T&I next, as it's very close to the hospital, and sees the receptionist again, and asked him where Shisui went after his release.
The receptionist flips through his papers, then looks up, confused at her.

"Why would Shisui be released, he's being held on suspicion of treasonous knowledge?"

Sakura shakes her head impatiently,

"No, the Hokage told us that everyone who had no proof of treasonous plans would be released."

The receptionist nods condescendingly at her, as if she's stupid.

"Yes, that's right. All Uchiha who are found clear of plans were released. Shisui is no longer an Uchiha, and thus, was not released."

Sakura gasps and stumbles, it all hitting her at once. This is what Sasuke meant. This is the sort of political nonsense the Hokage can use to get around any agreement. Shisui is still here, still in prison. Still being mistreated, even tortured. What cards does Sakura even have left to play? She has no power, very few connections, she's stuck in a child's body. She falls to her knees, failure overcoming her, and screams.

When she finally stumbles out of T&I, being practically pushed out by the receptionist, Sakura finds Shikamaru leaning against the wall, casually.

"Shikamaru, why are you here?"

He shrugs.
"I figured out the trick. They kept Shisui, right?"

Sakura nods, not trusting herself to speak.

"Troublesome... Well, let's go then."

And with that, Shikamaru stands and starts walking. Despairingly, she calls after him,

"Go? Go where?"

Her friend turns his head to look back at her, but doesn't stop walking.

"To your house, of course. We have plans to make."

He continues ambling down the road, in the direction of Sakura's house. She latches onto his words like a drowning man.

Shikamaru is going to help her.

Running forward, she throws her arms around her friend, so grateful that after everything, Shikamaru has stood by her. He lets out a grumbling, "troublesome", and he and Sakura make their way to her house, ready to plan. She wants to talk about any plans right now, this very second. But she knows that she can't. There's too many people, too many ninja ambling about as if they don't hear every single piece of gossip that goes through the village gates. Her house should be safe enough, and she speeds up her pace a little. Shikamaru matches her, but barely, and Sakura knows he will refuse to run and she will just end up waiting for him if she does, so they walk at a somewhat brisk pace through the city towards her home. Sakura, who only last night wished her parents would be home, now wished the opposite. Her parents couldn't hear any of the things Sakura and Shikamaru were about to discuss, and Sakura knows she needs to tell Shikamaru everything.

When they approach her door, she doesn't hear any sounds of her parents, so she nods to Shikamaru and throws open the front door, ready to plan. Nothing in Sakura had prepared her for the sight that greeted her inside. Her parents had made it home at some point, because they were now swinging from the ceiling, twin nooses around their necks, and they had been gutted, from neck to stomach, blood and organs spilled out into the entryway of her home. Only Sakura's previous Jounin training stopped her from immediately screaming and wailing, or just passing out. Shikamaru had no such training, and before Sakura can stop him, he enters her home, catches sight of her parents, and sways, passing out on the spot.

Mechanically, Sakura catches him before he can hit the ground, throwing out her chakra sensing to see if there's anyone still in the house. After a thorough search of chakra, she finds none, and Sakura knows whoever was here had left. She forces herself to see her parents as strangers, compartmentalizing herself into medic mode, so she can remain somewhat calm, though her body is already on fire, nerves frayed. She gently leans Shikamaru against the doorframe and goes to check on her father-no, the man's, body. He doesn't appear to have been tortured, so whoever did this thought Sakura was a child and wouldn't notice signs of torture, which she's grateful for. A quick death, staged to make Sakura afraid, to send Sakura a message. But who, and why? Who would so callously kill two civilians to scare a child?

These people-

her parents she shoves that thought away, trying to stay calm and compartmentalized,


These people didn't deserve to suffer for choices Sakura had made. Trying not to disturb the bodies too much, Sakura notices that both of their mouths are hanging open, so, retrieving a chair from the kitchen, she stands on it and looks into the mouth of the female. There, on her tongue, is the tell-tale seal mark of ROOT. This, is the message, Sakura knows.

ROOT isn't dead, and they know I killed Danzo.

I am not safe.

Chapter Text

I am not safe

Sakura knows this changes things, maybe too many things. The timeline is totally screwed, as she knows it anyway. She needs help. Right at this particular second, she needs to think. Turning away from her parent's bodies, which is she is professionally ignoring, Sakura picks up Shikamaru with chakra enhanced muscles, and climbs the stairs into her room. She slings her friend onto her bed and then sits on the floor. Shikamaru rouses, and she looks him in the eye, before her can say anything, and simply says


"Shush."

He nods back at her, looking green around the edges, and lets her think.

Okay. So, obviously, I need some help outside myself and Shikamaru for this. I'm in danger. Shikamaru is probably not, but better safe than sorry. Sasuke... Sasuke won't help, if he even cares right now. Besides, as powerful as we are, we're also only 7 and 8. I need an adult.

She huffs a little to herself in amusement. It's been so long she's had a mentor to help her, so long since she's let herself need someone to help her.

So I need someone who is an adult right now, someone who I can trust with the whole time travel thing, someone who would believe me and help me.

She thinks of her Sensei, of telling Kakashi everything. She wants to, but she remembers seeing him in the hospital, and at the memorial stone in this new timeline.

Kakashi-Sensei is one of the people I need to help. I can't depend on him like I did last time. I have to help him, I can't force all of this on him. He's already carrying too big a burden already... So, who else...

Her next thought is of green spandex, and Sakura considers the benefits of Guy Might.

He would help me, absolutely. He probably wouldn't even question it.

Then she imagines Guy trying to help her in the political sphere that is rapidly spinning out of Sakura's grasp and control, and shakes her head.

No, Guy wouldn't be any help at all in the political setting. He's about as subtle as a brick to the face. Who do I need? Who do I NEED?"
Being a ninja has its perks, but having a long list of people you can absolutely trust is not one of them. Sakura groans. Who she really needs, is Naruto. Grown up Naruto, who had learned some measure of political diplomacy through some miracle, who was powerful but also trustworthy, kind, and had the ability to swing anyone to his side with his bright personality. Oh, Naruto... If you could see the mess I made of things.. I wish you were here, instead.

She considers Tsunade, but Tsunade is still a drunk who is currently losing money all across the elemental nations. She has very little pull or sway in Konoha at the moment, and Sakura doesn't even know where she would find her. Then it hits her. She knows exactly who she needs to help her. An adult, who's trustworthy, would believe her, has political pull, and after the Uchiha lockdown, she's sure is somewhere nearby... Jumping to her feet, she grabs Shikamaru by the hand.

"Come on, Shikamaru, we've got somewhere to be."

He has been watching her thought process with interest, she knows, and she smiles at him.

"We need to go to the women's bathhouse."

 

 

After Sakura and Shikamaru have quickly but unobtrusively made their way to the hot springs on the edge of the village, Sakura sees what she's looking for, which is lucky, because she's not overly familiar with his chakra signature. A mane of pure white hair, as someone attempts to peek into the women's side of the springs greets her eyes, and she smiles. She flares her chakra in the special Team 7 signal for "Emergency", and Jiraiya of the Sannin, past member of Team 7, spymaster of Konoha, and Naruto's mentor, turns around in alarm, looking for the source of distress.

"Jiraiya-sama. We need to speak in private, immediately."

She can see in his face he wants to argue with her, to tell her that she's a child, and put on his pervert mode, that he used to such effectiveness as a spymaster, but Sakura flares her chakra in the "Emergency" pattern again, and stomps her foot into the ground, creating a small crater, in the exact style of Tsunade, which makes Shikamaru and Jiraiya's eyes widen, and instead of arguing, he gives her a brief nod, and his trademark crazy grin,

"Wellll, a pretty young thing like you needs an escort to wherever you need to go! HAHAHAHA!"

Shikamaru looks a little affronted at the whole persona, but Sakura puts on a sickly sweet smile of her own and looks up at the Sannin before her,

"Oh, of course Jiraiya-sama. I would be honored to be escorted by one as great at you!"

She bows, and Jiraiya starts walking towards the forest talking all about the beautiful women of the Leaf, and so Sakura grabs Shikamaru by the wrist and hurries after him. They walk for a little while, the bathhouse dirt road turning to grass, and eventually into forest, and then a small clearing, and as they go Jiraiya's boisterous voice gradually fades out, and he stops and turns to look at her, smile gone and deadly seriousness in his face.

She feels a wave of pure killing intent wash over her, and Sakura has withstood some intense Killing Intent in her life, but it still almost buckles her. Shikamaru isn't as lucky, and he drops to his knees with a soft gasp, but she can't chance looking at him now.

"How do you know that chakra signal, and where did you learn that monstrous strength?"

This is it, Sakura. Don't screw it up.


She knows that if he doesn't believe her, she and Shikamaru will probably die, likely by Jiraiya's own hand.

"Because I am a member of Team 7, and a student of Tsunade, or rather, I will be. It's a very long story and I beg you to please let me explain the whole thing."

Please believe me.


Jiraiya looks at Shikamaru beside her, suspicion evident in his gaze

"A Nara, huh?"

Sakura nods, stepping forward slightly so she's edging in front of Shikamaru, and she puts a hand on his shoulder to steady him. Killing Intent from a Sannin is no joke, and he's only a child.

"I trust Shikamaru with my secrets, and my life."

The Killing Intent retreats, but the serious look doesn't.

"Please explain yourself."

Sighing with relief, Sakura knows she has a chance. She hopes Jiraiyra believes her story, enough to help her.

"You may want to sit down for this."

 

 

Jiraiya crosses his arms, a troubled look on his face,

"So, you're telling me you're from the future where everyone dies except your team which includes my godson, who died to send the two of you back to the past. Then you, a 7 year old civilian child, tried to disband ROOT and stop the Uchiha massacre at the same time and THAT is why Danzo is dead and all the Uchiha are on lockdown. And you need my help to stop ROOT, and free your little friend from prison and to prevent probable Civil War in the Leaf Village?"

"Yes, Jiraiya-sama. Do you believe me, will you help me?"

Jiraiya stares her down, and Sakura tries to meet his gaze as seriously as she can, but secretly, she's terrified.

I had to tell someone, right? It's not like I can screw the timeline up much worse?

"You know lots of things you shouldn't know, which makes you dangerous, young lady. However, that jutsu you say Naruto used, it's not a jutsu as much as it is a sealing technique. It's one of my own seals I've been working on in secret for years. No one knows about it except for me. The only way you would know about it, is if I had gotten close to perfecting it and handed it down to my godson. I believe you. I will help, on ONE condition."

Sakura knows that whatever condition he may have, it's worth whatever the cost is to have someone who can help her. She nods.

"I will be adding you to my spy network. You've given me a good overview, but if I gave you a name, or a place, you would give me any and all details that you know. You will not withhold ANYTHING to spare feelings or try and hide the future."

I can do that. Actually, it might be a relief to be able to talk about it.


"Yes, Jiraiya-sama. I accept."

He smiles then, and Sakura sees Naruto in his smile, and she feels hope.

"Here's what I can do. I will get your little friend out of prison. Shisui, did you say? I'll tell Sarutobi-Sensei that he's part of my spy network, and that's why they're not getting out of him whatever the hell they think they can get out of him. I can't do anything about the Uchiha clan right now, since they are planning a revolt, and you know that. That will be up to the council at this point, but I'll keep an ear to the ground and see what's going on. As for ROOT, I'm not sure who is behind it anymore, I trusted Sarutobi-Sensei to have that well in hand. I can at least keep them off your back for a while. Are there any active ninja in the village you trust completely?"

Sakura thinks for a few moments. Her first instinct is simply to say all of the Jounin that she's come to love in the future, but she can't depend on that. Not after everything that's happening.

"Kakashi Hatake, and Guy Might."

Jiraiya raises an eyebrow, and then bursts into laughter.

"HAHAHA, Minato's serious little student and his goofy rival? I should have known!"

Sakura nods seriously, not sure why exactly Jiraiya is laughing, but hoping it's a good thing. After a moment of laughter, Jiraiya wipes his eyes and then grows a little more serious for a moment.

"Here's what we'll do. You're going to have to be guarded from ROOT for a while. You and your little prison friend both. I'll tell Sarutobi that your friend will live with you once he's released, for his safety and so you'll stay out of his way on his other Uchiha business. And you better stay out of it, for now. I'm going to create a slightly false identity as your uncle, a Haruno, who you'll be a ward of until you become a Genin. This false identity will be easily uncovered by both Sarutobi and ROOT. This will give me access to you and your house to talk to my 'Spy', your little prison friend. But actually, you're the spy I'll be talking to. When ROOT uncovers that you are technically a ward of a Sannin, they should stay away from you. You're going to have to be on protective rotation for now, I'll let Hatake and his rival know they are to keep a watch on you and your little friend. It should be relatively easy, Hatake has already been taken off Anbu. No arguments about the guard, got it?"

Sakura follows along, nodding. It's an odd plan, but Sakura has to trust that Jiraiya can start straightening things out. Even if he is the 3rd's student, Sakura knows he won't tell the Hokage her secret, even if Jiraiya probably trusts him a little more than he should. Maybe Sakura is judging the 3rd a little too harshly as well. He is pretty old. There might be someone else pulling the strings behind the scenes. It makes sense to put a guard around her to keep up Jiraiya's story about stopping her from interfering with the Uchiha, and traditionally there's at least a preventative guard for a few days after a violent killing in the civilian sector. It makes the civilians feel safe. It also works into Shisui's new cover that he's Jiraiya's spy, of course Jiraiya would want to protect his "only Uchiha spy". Only one thing doesn't make sense.

"Jiraiya-sama, why is Kakashi-Sensei off of Anbu?"

He waves a hand at her.

"Political nonsense, mostly. Kakashi's got a Sharingan, the council is afraid he'd fight for the Uchiha. Which, if they had any wisdom at all, they'd know isn't true. The Uchiha tried to have the kid put to death when he got the eye, saying he 'wasn't a Uchiha and it was clan business'. Doesn't matter, it's a political thing, kid."

Sakura huffs,

"I'm not a kid, I just told you!"

Jiraiya laughs again at her,

"Even if you are 21, you're still a kid to me! HAHAHA!"

He stands, and before Sakura can thank him, he disappears in a fluttering of leaves.

 

She feels all the tension leave her body in a rush, and she falls back onto the grass, looking at the sky.

Everything is going to be okay, maybe. We have a shot now


A quiet clearing of a throat from beside her startles her a little. Shikamaru had been absolutely silent the entire time, and Sakura had honestly forgotten he was even there. Propping herself up on her elbows, she turns to look at her friend. He's sitting with his back against a tree, looking almost lost in thought, and Sakura wonders for a moment what's going through his head. It's a lot to take in, Sakura knows. Even though he's a genius, he's still a child. To hear that your whole family dies, that the whole village, nation, dies, that you die? That's pretty heavy stuff. He's finally heard her whole story now, she wonders what he thinks of her.

"So you really are from the future. Troublesome..."

She nods, knowing there's more coming.

"What do you remember looking like?"

That was not a question Sakura was expecting, but she supposes it is a fair question. She henges into her older self, and looks over.

"I looked like this."

He studies her thoughtfully,

"What's the mark on your forehead?"

Sakura touches her head, remembers Tsunade teaching it to her, Sakura's joy when she finally got it right.

"It's the Strength of One Hundred seal. It allows you to store up chakra every day and then when you release it you have massive amounts of chakra."

Shikamaru nods, and she lets the henge go, dropping back into the smaller shape of her younger self.

"Do you have one now?"

Suddenly Sakura wants to slap herself in the face. No, she doesn't have one now. But she knows how to make one. She could have been storing chakra this entire time. Making up for her weakness of a small chakra pool.

"No, but I'm making it the moment I get home."

They lay on the grass in silence for a little while, cloud watching through the trees. There's nothing really to be said, she's said so much today already, and she worries a little that she's broken Shikamaru, so she doesn't break the silence. They just cloud watch, till the sun starts to sink lower, and Sakura knows Shikamaru's mother probably wants him home for dinner. It is getting pretty late. She stands, and Shikamaru with her, and they start heading back towards Sakura's home. She's pretty sure her parent's bodies will be gone by the time she gets there. She could probably allow herself to break down and cry about it now, but all she really wants to do is fall asleep. She's so tired. And, in a terrible way, she's used to her parents being gone. They'd died so long before... Sakura doesn't think she has the strength to start the grieving process all over for them. Not right now. So she doesn't. She walks back home, thanks Shikamaru for his help, gives him a hug, and sends him on his way home, so he isn't late for dinner and his mother doesn't get angry with him.

Entering her home for the second time that day, Sakura sees that her parents bodies are indeed gone, and in the kitchen is Guy-Sensei. Jiraiya must work fast, it's only been two hours at most since he disappeared from the clearing. Before she can give any sort of greeting to Guy, she's wrapped in an enormous, bone crushing hug.

"My Youthful Student Sakura! I heard the news of your parents untimely passing! I volunteered myself on the spot to be your Youthful Guard this evening, so you needn't fear!"

Sakura is pretty sure Guy is crying. He called her his student, why would he-

You called him Sensei when you saw him last


Right. Hopefully being considered a student of his doesn't mean green spandex. Sakura shudders at the thought, still in Guy's hug. He must take her shudder as her own tears, and he manages to somehow hug her tighter. Sakura is sure she feels her bones creaking at this point.

"Thank you, Guy-Sensei. I'm okay, though."

He lets go and looks at her, smiling his mega-watt smile.

"Of course you are! Such a Youthful Person could not be made afraid by any Such Event! For my presumptiveness, I will do One Thousand Push Ups!"

Sakura shakes her head,

"There's no need for that. Would you like some tea, Guy-Sensei?"

He starts crying again, and Sakura just heads over to the kitchen to start heating the water.

"Such Youthful Spirit! It's no wonder My Eternal Rival chose you as a Friend!"

She considers acting annoyed for a moment, a trait she must have picked up from Kakashi at some point, but instead, she allows herself to be grateful. There's no ROOT agent within the village that won't know Guy is here tonight, and she can trust him. As boisterous and over the top as he is, Sakura knows she will be safe with him around. And Shisui will be too. Sakura hopes Jiraiya can get him out soon. After tea with Guy, which is an experience Sakura isn't sure she needed, she excuses herself to her room, saying she'll need lots of sleep for the Academy, and she doesn't even wince when Guy rattles the walls of the house with his praise over the merits of her good habits.

When she goes to her room, after a few hours of careful work, she has a new diamond seal. So that it's less obvious, Sakura puts it behind her left ear. It might make it a little less easy to use, but that's well worth the cost, considering otherwise she'd have to explain to people why she had Tsunade's trademark seal on her forehead. She really doesn't need any more attention right now. She hears pushups going on above her, and concludes Guy must be working out on the roof.

Well, nobody makes it to Jounin without being a little crazy.


Feeling calmer than she has in what feels like an eternity, Sakura lays down in bed, and goes to sleep.

Chapter Text

The next day goes about as normally as Sakura could expect. She gets up, gets ready, and heads of to the Academy. She greets Choji and Shikamaru at the door and sits down, ready to sleep through class like she does every day. At lunch, she doesn't go over to sit with Sasuke, but instead spends the time cloud watching with Choji and Shikamaru. It's nice, relaxing even. No one mentions that her parents are dead, and Sakura doesn't mention it to anyone else, either. Sakura resolutely does not think about the swirling, overwhelming political forces that she's gotten herself into.

Classes end in the afternoon, and Sakura starts to walk home, when she hears Naruto's loud voice calling after her,

"Sakura! Dontcha wanna train with us! It's been forever, ya know!"

Sakura actually does not want to train with them today, knowing Sasuke will be there, but hearing Naruto's call, she knows she's beat, and she turns.

"Well, alright, Naruto. I guess it has been a while."

I'll just have to avoid Sasuke

Heading back, Sakura walks up to her group of friends, who are already figuring out who is going to fight who today. Kiba and Naruto of course with the loudest excitement, Ino yelling and whacking them over the head when they get too loud, Choji listening excitedly, and Shikamaru and Sasuke off to the side, looking bored by the proceedings. By the time Sakura gets over to them, it seems Ino has sorted out the fighting order today, and the first round will be between Choji and Naruto. They ask Sakura to referee, and so she does, watching their match carefully.

It's amazing, really. Even with only a couple months of practice, Choji and Naruto's Taijutsu is nearly as good as Sakura remembers it being when they had all made Genin. Sakura can't help but be glad that they're both stronger already, and starting to cover their weaknesses. Naruto is much faster than Choji, but Choji hits much harder, and after a while of watching them dance around, trading blows, Sakura finally calls it in Naruto's favor when Choji forfeits due to exhaustion. Naruto whoops loudly, but bows to Choji, who returns the formal gesture meaning "good spar." Choji then makes his way over to Shikamaru and opens a bag of chips, ready to watch the next few rounds. Ino gets up and calls out for the next match.

"Sakura and Sasuke!"

Sakura groans. The one person she just did not want to deal with today. She won't back down, though. Sakura was done backing out of fights a long time ago. Ino volunteers Naruto to referee, which means Sasuke and Sakura will basically have to look out for themselves, since Naruto rarely actually referees, preferring instead to narrate the match, punctuated with yelling in support for one person or another. Sakura stands at one end of the small training area, and sees Sasuke at the other. They both give stiff, formal bows, and when Naruto calls "go" they fly at each other with Taijutsu, keeping it light as a warmup. Sakura tries her best to not look Sasuke in the face, but in a spar, that's unavoidable. A few blows in, Sasuke casually calls out, a sly smile on his face,

"How's Shisui?"

Sasuke is trying to make her mad, she knows. Sakura is willing to get mad, but not unless she can drag Sasuke down with her.

"I'm not sure, Sasuke dear, how's your brother?"

They pause in their blows, locking eyes, and Sakura realizes at the same time Sasuke does this is no longer going to be a friendly spar. She gives him a silent look

Don't show off any jutsu you'll regret.

Sasuke returns her looks with one of his own.

I won't if you won't.

With a shared nod, they fly at each other again, this time much faster, at full speed and pulling no blows. They are no longer two pre Genin having a friendly spar. They are now two Jounin having an argument with fists rather than words. Sakura starts lacing her punches and kicks with chakra, and the next time she lands a blow on Sasuke, she hears a rib crack. He jumps back, forming handseals, and Sakura dives away as she hears

"Fire Style: Giant Fireball!"

A roar fills the training ground and heat slashes by her. Rolling to her feet, Sakura kicks the ground, hard, causing a small fissure to open directly underneath Sasuke's foot. He dodges to the right and backflips as Sakura's fist swings to where his head had been a second before. She hears their friends gasping or cheering in the background, but tunes it out. Throwing a kick at Sasuke's midsection, he catches it and launches her high into the air, before jumping up himself.

"Lion's barrage!"

Sasuke's kicks come fast as he pushes her toward the ground, and Sakura loses her breath in a swoosh as Sasuke's foot makes contact with her gut, and then they're plummeting towards the ground. Sakura grabs the foot planted in her gut and spins so that Sasuke is below her, and they hit the ground in a huge crater. Sakura senses, rather than sees, a fist coming through the dust at her face, so she dodges left, closing her eyes and allowing her chakra sense to guide her, she throws a punch of her own, and feels the crack as she makes contact with Sasuke's jaw, but before she can congratulate herself on a knockout, her legs get swept out from under her, and she starts falling, only her ankle is pinned, and she hears and feels the snap of the bone, and she cries out. Dust clearing, Sasuke stands over her, his jaw already an ugly color, and Sakura knows she probably fractured it.

"Giving up already?"

She growls back at him,

"Not on your life."

Punching the ground, she knocks Sasuke off balance and pulls herself upright using only her one good leg. Sasuke recovers quickly, and then the punches come and go so fast even Sakura can hardly keep track of the two of them as they trade blows, the rhythm of their spar so familiar to her that she doesn't have to think, just move. Naruto had told her once that he understood people by fighting them, could feel what they feel as they traded blows. Now, she imagines Naruto was right, as she feels Sasuke's rage at her inability to stay on script in the past, his fear of losing Itachi again, his desire for things to get better, and she knows Sasuke can feel her terror at not being enough this time, her will to prove herself, and her desire to protect her friends. Sakura feels that they're finally coming to an understanding again, but because they're both Team 7, the trainwreck team that never knows when to stop, things take a turn for the worse. Sasuke coats his hand in pure white flames, and Sakura is vividly reminded both of the Chidori and Rasengan, except, it's fire.

If that hits me, I could die.

She puts all the remaining chakra into her fist, and it begins to visibly glow with the amount of chakra she's laced it with.

If I hit his wrist hard enough, it should put the flames out

They jump toward each other, and Sakura doesn't stop to consider that it will also break Sasuke's wrist, if not his arm, just like he hopefullyhasn't stopped to consider he could seriously injure her with the white flames hot enough to melt through skin and bone alike. She hears Naruto shouting, but can't make out what he's saying. Suddenly, something catches her fist, and she goes flying into a nearby tree. Catching herself with chakra so that she doesn't snap her spine on impact, Sakura bounces off the tree, feeling a few of her own ribs snap in the process, and hits the ground hard. Groaning, she sits up to see Sasuke in the tree next to her, fist buried up to the shoulder in a tree near hers, a huge welt on his head where he must have smacked his head against the tree.

Good, I hope it knocked some sense into him.

Sasuke removes his wrist and slides to the ground, looking dazedly over at her, and Sakura feels a shadow over her, and shivers, looking to the source of the interference.

"That wasn't a friendly spar, Sakura."

She looks into the unyielding face of Kakashi, and she winces, ashamed.

Yeah, that got a little out of hand... I'm glad I didn't actually hurt Sasuke too badly... I was just so mad at him!

Sakura reminds herself that anger is no excuse for trying to kill a teammate, and Kakashi is unlikely to accept the excuse that Sasuke has tried on multiple occasions to kill her before, so this isn't really that bad. She'd already forgotten she was on a guard rotation, and of course Kakashi wouldn't announce himself like Guy did. And he'd just seen Sakura attacking a comrade.

What a great impression you're making on your old Sensei

"I-I'm sorry, Kakashi-Sen-uh-Kakashi."

He squints at her, then picks her up with one hand and tucks her under his arm, walking over to Sasuke.

"That wasn't a very friendly spar-?"

Sasuke grunts, clearly in some pain but more alarmed at seeing Kakashi again more than anything else.

"Sasuke Uchiha."

Kakashi nods,

"Sasuke Uchiha, Sakura, you should know better."

He picks Sasuke up with his other arm and tucks him under his other side.

How absolutely humiliating

Kakashi then turns to her friends, who are all staring, aghast, at the spar they just saw. Naruto in particular looks near tears, and Sakura feels bad all over again that she made Naruto witness that fight. It must have terrified all of them.

"Yo. They'll be fine, I'm taking them to the hospital."

 

With that, Kakashi springs to the roofs, making no particular effort not to jostle Sakura or Sasuke with their multitude of injuries. Sakura looks over at her teammate, and Sasuke looks back at her.

"Teammates?"
"Teammates."

They share a look that lets Sakura know she's forgiven for knocking Sasuke out, for killing Danzo, and she decides to forgive Sasuke for telling her not to go looking for Shisui, and for throwing her failure in her face. Kakashi doesn't say a word to either of them, just runs along at an even speed, clearly unworried and probably trying to drag out the humiliating feeling for them, of being carried under his arms like disobedient toddlers. Sakura feels her face flush with shame as Shinobi and civilians alike send them odd glances and bemused looks. She sees Sasuke, who looks much the same, though his blush is much more subtle. Finally making it to the hospital, Kakashi dumps them off on medics citing a simple "training accident", and as the medics separate the two teammates, they exchange a final look and nod, one that says,

We are absolutely never speaking of this again.

 

 

They fix her up easily enough in the hospital, though Sakura knows she will be sore for another few days, from all the breaking and knitting back together of her bones. She's also not supposed to put her weight on her ankle for a week, and she hates it, but knowing it's the best that can be done, complies sulkily. When the medic releases her not too long later, Sakura uses her new crutch to walk out the door. Sitting outside of it is Kakashi, holding Icha Icha in his hands. From the looks of it, it's brand new. He gives her a look, and starts accompanying her home.

"You know, I hate hospitals. If it wasn't for the favor for... an old friend."

Kakashi shakes his head at her, and Sakura hides a grin from him. She knows Kakashi hates hospitals, probably every ninja or medic in the Leaf Village knows how much Kakashi hates hospitals. Sakura guesses that a certain "Pervy Sage" had dropped that book off for Kakashi, as a gift for standing guard while she was in the hospital. Knowing she will be seeing a lot more of those books in Kakashi's hands, she shakes her head. She wonders how Kakashi started the habit the first time around. She subtly watches him, as they walk home and Kakashi reads his new book. She sees his eyes widen in shock on occassion, and realizes she is definitely seeing the first time her old Sensei read porn. Of all the momentous times in a person's life, Sakura isn't sure she wanted to be here for this one of Kakashi's, exactly. When they get back to her house, Sakura thanks Kakashi for his help, promising him it won't happen again, and invites him inside, which he declines. If Sakura leaves a bento box and a cup of tea on the roof, and finds it empty later, who's to say?

After dinner, Sakura hears a knock on the door, and she grabs her crutch to go open it, expecting one of her friends, worried about her. Instead, she opens it to find Shisui Uchiha.

"Shisui!"

She wraps her arms around him. He looks mostly fine, if a little tired. He must have been in the hospital as well. In her rush to hug him, she accidentally bangs her crutch against the door, and winces a little at the shockwave through her ankle.

"Hey there petal, mind if I come in?"

Sakura nods and opens the door wide, crutching her way over to the kitchen to start some tea.

"What did you do to yourself, petal?"

Lost in her excitement of Shisui finally being free, she just answers honestly, a little more bluntly than she intended.

"Oh, this? Sasuke and I beat the shit out of each other to settle an argument. It's all good though, I gave as good as I got."

Shisui raises an eyebrow at her, then shakes his head.

"Why would you- oh, never mind. Good for you, I guess. You're a constant surprise, petal. In the future, you may want to reconsider your policy of 'beating the shit' out of people, just to settle disagreements."

She grins at him,

"I'll take your opinion under advisement."

Shisui makes a comment about her becoming "so sassy" in his absence, and sits at the table while Sakura pours the tea. They drink their tea, happily teasing about nothing in particular. But Sakura finds she can no longer keep her questions to herself after a little while.

 

"Shisui, why did they keep you so long?"
He sighs, clearly having expected the question, and makes a handseal. The room muffles slightly, and Sakura recognizes it as a high level silencing jutsu. To do it with a single handseal though? Sakura finds herself seriously impressed with her friend.

"I know you have a guard, petal. You may think you can trust them but all ninja are nosy as a way of life. Okay, let me answer your question, and then I have some questions of my own. Deal?"

Sakura smiles, and nods back easily, already planning a dozen stories to get out of tricky questions.

"Well, Sakura, incidentally, the T&I found out about the Uchiha revolt from me, but you already knew that, didn't you? Don't answer that yet. I shouldn't have slipped up, but I was under more drugs than I thought I was and honestly I was more than a little shocked at the way my conversation with Danzo went. Once those buzzards at T&I got their hands on that tidbit, Inoichi got the go ahead to search through my whole head with his team. Uchiha and other Shinobi who have Genjutsu type powers always require a team, because we can paralyze or even kill ninja like Inoichi when they enter our minds, and we have stronger mental blocks than most. After the revolt got out, I could have let them search my whole head and they probably would have let me go, because I was working with the Third to stop it, and they would have found it. However, I had a new secret, one that I knew I couldn't tell anyone at T&I, or even the Third. So I blocked it off. But of course those frickin' Interrogation ninja found my block, and went through every course necessary to get it to break. They didn't though. I'm better than that. I'm sure you're wondering why I'm telling you all of this, petal."

Sakura was actually wondering why Shisui decided to just up and tell her about the revolt and working with the Third, so she nods, intrigued.

"I'm telling you because you already know all of this, don't you Sakura?"

 

Of course I do but what does he mean by that?

Panicking a little, Sakura tries to figure out how she's supposed to respond to that, but Shisui frees her from her decision.

"The Magekyou never forgets anything, petal. I know you're from the future."

 

Sakura is shocked into silence. He knows?

Of course he knows you idiot, you said it right in front of him, and you knew his Mangekyou was active.

She barely gets that through her head when another, more terrible thought, strikes her.

"You... You were kept by T&I because you were keeping my secret, weren't you?"

Shisui averts his eyes. He doesn't answer, he doesn't have to. Everything that happened to Shisui in T&I was her  fault. He had protected her and kept her secret for days, even under the worst T&I could throw at him. She owes Shisui everything.

"Shisui... I-I'm so sorry! I never meant for that to happen to you, I was trying to protect you, I never thought..."

He looks at her gently,

"Never thought I'd have to protect you?"

Sakura gives a watery nod, she's near tears. She cries too much, she knows she does, Sasuke and Ino always made fun of her for it. This is too much though, and she feels her emotions well up within her, but she shoves them aside the best she can .

 

"Who am I to you, in the future?"

Sakura looks at her friend, not sure even what to say to that.

"Sakura, you put a whole lot on the line, killing Danzo, even with Jounin level knowledge, you still have pre Genin chakra levels. You risked a lot, to help me in that fight, so, petal, who am I to you in the future?"

After everything Shisui has been through, Sakura wants to lie. Wants to tell him he's her friend or a general or someone important, someone alive, but she can't. She can't lie to him now, after everything he went through to protect her secret.

"I... I never met you, before. In my time. Last time, you died that day, with Danzo."

 

Shisui folds his hands, resting his head on them, and looks thoughtfully at her.

"Ah... I see. So, why did you come after me, Sakura? Do you think it will save my clan?"

 

Tears start leaking down her cheeks, and Sakura can barely force the words out, her voice breaking, and she shakes her head,

"I wasn't supposed to.. But you became my friend, and I couldn't... I couldn't let you die, because I... I love you."

 

Her voice starts getting a little stronger, and Sakura pushes on,

 

"You're my friend, and I love you, and I saw too many people I loved die before. I couldn't do it again. I don't think I saved your clan. In fact, I may have messed everything up and made it worse.."

She sniffs, wiping her face with her hand.

 

"But I don't regret it, not really. I'll never regret sticking up for my friends. That's my ninja way."

Shisui moves over next to her, and wraps her in a hug, and Sakura really loses it then. No one has really hugged her, given her a space to grieve what she's lost and what she's done. She cries and cries and cries, and she worries it will never end. After what feels like hours, she notices a hand on her back, another running through her hair, and she can breathe again. She feels lighter, but she also starts feeling shame, after what she put Shisui through, he's comforting her?

"I'm sorry."

Shisui pulls back, and pats her on the head.

"Don't be. Tell me everything, Sakura."

So she does.

Chapter Text

The next few weeks pass without too much excitement, for which makes Sakura glad but also on edge. Shisui had moved into her house and under the watchful guard of Kakashi and Guy, as Jiraiya had said, and a few days later her "Uncle" showed up and they had a small funeral for Sakura's parents. Sakura had stayed a little after, knelt on her parents graves and apologized for failing them, but no tears had come. Sakura had grieved her parents a long time ago, and being with them again for such short time seemed more like an anomaly than their deaths. Sakura is used to the hollow place in her heart where they once lived, and she carries their memory along with everyone else Sakura has ever lost.

Soon after the funeral, Itachi was released from T&I, and Shisui had begun meeting him in secret, happily reporting to Sakura that Itachi was fine. He was stressed about the change of fate in the clan, but Shisui says there's some relief in Itachi's face, to know he no longer bears the burden of what happens to his family, and that Itachi is in negotiations with the Third over the future of the clan. Sakura also finds out from Shisui that Itachi has always been something of a pacifist, and that he is not bothered in the least to be off of active duty for the time being. She also learns that Itachi had taken part as a child in the Third Ninja War, and suffered terribly because of it, and longed for peace and Sasuke's safety above everything else. Shisui had told her this with a wink and nudge, telling Sakura that she and Itachi have a lot in common, and she may want to get to know him sometime. Sakura had spluttered, speechless at the insinuation, and now she suffers almost daily from Shisui teasing her about Itachi, and for the most part, Sakura lets him, swatting at him teasingly back.

It had been nice, Sakura thought, having Shisui around. He understood now, everything she'd been through, and more than that, he understood, because he'd lost people himself, had his own nightmares from war. She'd thought he would be upset over losing the Uchiha name, but when she brings it up, he just laughs and tells her Fugaku had done so as part of a trade to make sure Itachi would be freed, not knowing that Itachi would already be freed, because Itachi had been fighting as a double agent for some time already. Shisui seems to find great humor in it, and kindly tells Sakura that he's too hilarious to carry the Uchiha name anyway, and nothing was going to stop him from hanging out with Itachi and Sasuke anyways, so really, he'd just been freed from the Uchiha expectations of him. This brings Sakura some relief, but guiltily, she's a little glad it happened, because it meant that Shisui was with her, and he seemed to make everything better.

Sakura attends the Academy regularly again, though she finds she doesn't sleep through class quite as often, likely since she's been increasingly been getting actual sleep at home at night. She and her friends still train after school, and after the first day, when she and Sasuke had to explain that they didn't hate each other, and would be completely fine after a few days of healing up, the training goes back to usual, Shisui or Guy joining them once in a while, depending on whether Guy or Kakashi is supposed to be guarding her. The whole group is overjoyed by Jounin wanting to train with them, and train all the harder on those occasions.

The most surprising thing to Sakura is actually Naruto. She supposes she should have expected the unexpected from the world's most unpredictable ninja. The very next day after Shisui had been released, Sakura learned that Naruto had moved in with Sasuke, and later by extension, Itachi. When she had questioned Naruto, he had proudly told her he'd been on his own since he could remember, so he knew how to clean and cook, kinda, and that he'd moved in with Sasuke because "Sasuke had parents that did everything, he probably doesn't even know how to do laundry!". When Sakura looked at Sasuke, he had glared at her, daring her to defy him, but she hadn't. She didn't think she'd ever seen Naruto so happy, or try to be so mature, and Sasuke, as usual, let Naruto walk all over him with much less complaint than he would with anyone else. Their bond still baffled Sakura sometimes, but she couldn't deny they were both better off because of it, and she was glad at least some good had come out of the Uchiha situation so far.

Everyone pitched in a little, Ino teaching Sasuke, but actually Naruto, how to clean and arrange a house, and Choji went over to teach cooking, Sakura had heard. Even Kiba gave some advice, trying to help Naruto navigate "sibling life", which neither Sakura or Naruto knew anything about. Even without the benefit of a sibling, Sakura felt sure that they didn't usually wrestle, attack, or straight up bite or scream at each other during arguments, as Kiba seemed to think, but Naruto took careful notes anyway, trying so hard to fit in, that Sasuke seemed to shrug off the unusual advice from the Inuzuka. Sakura and Shikamaru helped the most by staying out of it, though Sakura caught even Shikamaru on one occasion telling Naruto how to resolve an argument without the wrestling or biting that Kiba seemed to favor. Sakura would feel like everything was going great, if it wasn't for her growing uneasiness at the continued imprisonment of Uchiha elders and ninja, and she can't help waiting for the other shoe to drop.

 

 

Sure enough, one day, Shisui comes back from another secret visit with Itachi, and the look on his face tells Sakura that something has changed.

"What is it, Shisui? Have negotiatons completed?"

He gives her a nod, and a tired smile, greeting her with a now familiar hair ruffle.

"Negotiations are completed. You'll find out more about it tomorrow, petal. Sorry, I'd tell you, but you'll be under a bit of scrutiny tomorrow, and it's best if you hear it for the first time then."

Sakura nods reluctantly. She wants to know, has been waiting to know. Now that it's right in front of her, Sakura feels almost paralyzed with it. Whatever happens tomorrow, whatever she learns. It's on her. She was the one who made the decision to kill Danzo, and whatever fallout happens is definitely her fault. She lays in bed for a while, mind racing, before realizing that there's no way she will be able to sleep, knowing she will find out the consequences of her actions tomorrow, so she slips out of bed, makes two cups of tea, and climbs onto the roof where she senses Kakashi is perched. Since the first night he'd been on watch, Sakura had made a habit of making tea or food and leaving it on the roof when Kakashi is on rotation, but she's never actually come and joined him yet. Kakashi doesn't show surprise to see her there, saying nothing as she manages to climb onto the roof with two cups of tea in her hands. Sakura takes this as an invitation to sit with him, so she does.

Looking over at her former Sensei, she sees he has a different Icha Icha in his hands, and she knows that his habit has started in full now. She wonders if she should curse Jiraiya or thank him. Probably both. He puts the book away when she sits next to him, comfortable enough to read it without fear now, but not brave enough to read porn in front of a child, At least not yet. She silently hands him a cup of tea, and he takes it from her, giving her an eye smile. They don't say anything for a while, just sip tea in silence. Or, Sakura assumes he's sipping it, Kakashi could have just downed the whole cup at once for all she knows. All this time and even though in her future she had seen her Sensei's face once or twice, she has never actually caught Kakashi consuming any drink, or eating. It's endlessly baffling to her, but she has long accepted it as one of her Sensei's quirks.

 

As she finishes her tea, Sakura gathers her thoughts enough to break the silence.

"What do you do with yourself, when people's lives depend on the outcome of a situation you made?"

 

Kakashi doesn't say anything at first, still as a statue except for his hair, rustling gently in the evening wind. Sakura's not sure what he'll say, if he'll break the silence at all. In her future, Kakashi would have eye smiled at her and told her exactly what she needed to hear, even if she didn't want to hear it at the time. But her Kakashi was more settled, had come to terms more with his losses and perceived failures, had been hollowed out until the only thing left was a desire to protect his new team, and the will to make them better than he was. But this Kakashi, he still has the swirling emotions Sakura is beginning to recognize in herself. The unsettled feelings of failure, knowing you let people down, and that for some reason, you have to live while the people you lived for are gone. She'd felt that way the most when she'd first landed in the past, but she still had Sasuke, and now she had Shisui, and she was beginning to care for her friends as they were now, instead of her memories of who she used to love, though that was still so difficult. So lost in thought, Sakura almost misses it when Kakashi shifts slightly, a sign that he's going to speak.

 

"Watch them all die and know its your fault."

His words are bitter, and Sakura knows he's not angry at her, but at himself. Sakura sighs, she should have known better, asking this Kakashi. After all, he needs help just as dearly as she does. Now that she has Shisui and Shikamaru, maybe more. She tries to answer back as gently and thoughtfully as possible, trying to imagine what the "right" answer is. 

 


"That doesn't sound right, Kakashi. If you did the best you could, maybe you're just supposed to.. forgive yourself?"

Sakura trails off, imagining trying to forgive herself for whatever happens to the Uchiha clan. It's hard to imagine doing. Apparently Kakashi feels similarly.

"Not if the dead don't forgive you."

If the dead don't forgive you? Wait, does he think Rin and Obito, and the Fourth hate him?

 

Sakura suddenly realizes she doesn't have near the training or experience necessary to help Kakashi, and she wishes once again she was better. She tries to imagine what her Kakashi would say to her if she'd said his younger self's words. He'd ruffle her hair, for sure, but Sakura doesn't think she can get away with that, so she slowly leans over, intending to gently knock shoulders with the Kakashi in front of her, slow enough he can move if he doesn't like it. He doesn't move though, so Sakura gently places her shoulder against his for a moment, and she might be imagining it, but she imagines she feels Kakashi leaning back into it, and she wonders when the last time was someone hugged him, touched him with a kind intent instead of a spar or a fight to the death. Getting sad again, Sakura wants so badly to fix just everything.

 

"I don't know who your dead are-"

A lie, Sakura knows exactly who his dead are.

"-but I think if they loved you, they would forgive you."

 

He doesn't answer that, and after another moment, Sakura slowly removes her shoulder from where it's touching his. She sits with him until the sun starts to slip over the horizon, and Sakura realizes that today is the day. She's going to discover what happens now, and her nerves come back a little bit. Turning to Kakashi, she ventures

"After today, will you still be guarding me?"

He's silent for a moment, Sakura wonders what he's thinking.

"Probably not."

 

Sakura nods, that makes sense. She doesn't technically need a guard anymore, and after the Uchiha decision, Kakashi will probably go back onto active rotation anyway. She hasn't really spoken to Kakashi while he's been guarding her, except that fateful day he caught her and Sasuke settling their differences, but Sakura had felt the comforting presence of his chakra all the same, and she realizes that she's going to miss it. Sakura weighs her options, then decides,

Screw it. I've already ruined this timeline, why not go for broke.

She puts her arms around Kakashi and hugs him. He stiffens completely, and tries to pull back, but Sakura doesn't let go.

 

"Thank you for guarding me. I'm going to miss you."

He doesn't respond, and Sakura knows he won't. So she treasure another second hugging her Sensei, who is stiff but no longer fighting her for it, and then she lets go, stands up, and grabbing the tea cups, slides back into her window.

"Goodbye, Kakashi."

 

 

 

Soon enough, Sakura gets a summon to the Hokage's office, and she looks to Shisui, who nods at her.

"Good luck, petal. I'll be here when you get back."

Sakura goes along with the messenger to the Hokage tower, and is unsurprised to see Shikamaru, Ino, Choji, Kiba, Hana, with the notable exception of Naruto as they draw near the entrance to the tower. All of them look about as nervous as she is. Kiba and Hana are shockingly quiet, and they all head up the stairs to the office in silence, worrying about what will meet them behind the door. The door swings open, and the Third Hokage sits behind his desk, smoking his pipe, as impassable as ever. Entering, they stand in a line, and bow to the Hokage, even Kiba showing some semblance of manners for this heavy occasion. Sakura can feel all their fear thick in the air, and she's sure the Hokage can as well.

"I'm sure you're all wondering why you're back here in my office. Rest assured, none of you are in trouble. However, we have a serious matter to discuss. The same matter that caused seven of you to barge into my office just a few weeks ago. The Uchiha clan.."

He trails off for a moment, taking a puff of his long pipe, and exhaling slowly, letting the smoke hover around his desk. No one relaxes yet.

"A decision has been made, surrounding them. There will be a meeting of ninja tomorrow, and all ranking Jounin and Clan heads will be asked to attend, you six will be asked as well, due to your involvement and subsequent agreement you wrote right here in my office. There were, some traitors. Among the Uchiha."

 

The whole room holds their breath,

"Those few traitors will be dealt with tomorrow, and as your agreement stands, you are not to interfere in any way. This is not the main concern I have called you here for. Do you all intend to continue your support of the Uchiha clan in the Leaf Village?"

They all nod, and Sakura hears a soft "yes" come from Ino's direction. The Hokage smiles at them.

"I'm very glad to hear it. I have an important job for all of you, in particular you, Sakura Haruno. In two days time, we will be holding, a celebration of sorts, in the village. At this celebration, we will be reminding the village that the Uchiha are a treasured clan in Konoha, and Itachi Uchiha, the clan heir, will be giving a short speech recommitting the clan to the village."

 

Sakura feels sure that Itachi would rather die than give a public speech, as he so seldom speaks, but she refrains from commenting. She's sure he's under pressure from the Hokage and Council. The Hokage continues,

"I would like all of you, as signers of this document, and clan heirs that some of you are, to stand publicly on the stage alongside Itachi Uchiha, to promote the peace of all the clans together. Your clans are all highly respected, and the citizens need to see support amongst the ninja of the village. Will you all do this?"

It's more than likely not truly a request, and if we refused, we could likely be forced because of that document we signed, and now I see why Naruto wasn't invited, since he's hated by the village...

They all nod, solemnly, as the mood in the room seems to call for.

"Now, more than ever, it is very important that the clans of the Leaf work together with the Will of Fire, which I see strongly in all of you. I fully expect all of you to be nothing but respectful, and continue working with the Uchiha clan."

 

When they all agree again, the Hokage looks to Sakura.

"Sakura, as the leader of this group, which I assume you still are-"

Nods from around the room again.

"I will be asking you to give a short speech in support of the Uchiha, the content of which will be waiting for you when you return home. Am I understood?"

"Yes, Hokage-sama."

"You are all dismissed."

 

They leave the office, and as the door shuts, there is a group-wide sigh of relief, but they don't speak until they leave the Hokage tower. It's Kiba that speaks up first.

"Hey, why does Sakura get to give the speech instead of one of us clan heirs? She doesn't even have a clan! And why wasn't Naruto invited, he was part of this too!"

Sakura gives a look, first to Hana, then to Shikamaru, which clearly says Let me handle this

 

"Well Kiba, the Hokage thinks since you guys kind of elected me leader last time, that I should be the leader that gives the speech. It also sends a message to us non-clan kids that we're important too. As for Naruto... Well, he's, Sasuke's best friend! So he's too close to the Uchiha clan to be up there with us."

Kiba and Choji nod along, buying into Sakura's quick lie. Hana gives her a look, and she refuses to see Shikamaru's look. Ino huffs and flips her hair behind her,

 

"Well, I'm going to stand on stage and show everyone how great the Uchiha are, and to show everyone else that someday I'M gonna be Mrs. Uchiha!"

Sakura rolls her eyes, as does Shikamaru. Hana busts up laughing, and smacks Ino so hard on the back Ino nearly tumbles to the ground.

"Good luck with that, brat. Good luck!"

Kiba laughs at Ino losing her balance, and Ino immediately starts whaling on Kiba, while the rest of them chuckle appreciatively. Hana smiles, but it looks more like a baring of teeth, Sakura thinks.

"I appreciate a girl who can wrestle with the best of them. If Sasuke doesn't work out, you should come round for Kiba!"

Kiba turns bright red, noticeable even from where he is taking Ino's punches on the ground, rolling left and right while Akamaru barks unhelpfully, looking for all the world like he's laughing at Kiba too, and everyone laughs a little, mood lightened.

They part ways amicably, saying they'll see the others tomorrow. Sakura thinks back to Kiba's question, why Sakura is giving the speech instead of a clan heir. It's a safe move, politically, Sakura thinks. If it goes well, many major clans of Konoha are presented supporting the Uchiha as the Third tries to reintegrate them back into the village, thus preventing a revolt. If things go wrong, however, the target will be painted squarely on Sakura's back, and she has no clan behind her, protecting her. She shudders a little. She had better give the best speech of her life, and make sure this works out.

 

 

Returning home, Shisui greets her at the door, and Sakura smells lunch.

"Hey there, petal. I was just finishing up lunch, come in and ask your questions. Your speech is on the table, you can read it later."

How he always knows Sakura has questions, she'll never know. She obediently sits down at the table, and just starts asking.

 

"How many Uchiha are getting punished, and what is the punishment? Why do the clan heads and Jounin have to be there? Is the Third really going to make an effort to reintegrate the clan?"

Shisui sets some rice balls on the table, and sits across from her.

"First off, I'm not sure exactly how many Uchiha are involved in tomorrow, but a good portion of our active services are, including Itachi and Sasuke's parents. The punishment is death, petal. Did you really expect a different one?"

 

Sakura wants to be shocked, but she isn't. Death is the standard punishment for traitors, and that answers why the clan heads and Jounin have to be there. An example for what happens to traitors in the Leaf. Sasuke's parents, though... Sakura isn't quite sure how he feels about them, as he rarely mentioned them. Of course, he rarely spoke of his family at all. She tunes back in as Shisui continues,

"As for reintegration, it looks like the Hokage is making a good attempt at least, he's dissolving the Police effective immediately, and putting all remaining active duty Uchiha into the regular forces. It stops isolation, which is good. Will it work, who knows? This village has been racist against the Uchiha for a long time, petal. I don't know if that can change or not. I'm hopeful, though."

 

He gazes into the distance, trailing off. It's not a hopeful look on his face, the one Sakura sees.

"Shisui, what is it?"

He gives a rueful smile, still staring into the distance.

"To prove to the clan heads and Jounin that the Uchiha are dedicated to the village, the Hokage has asked the active Uchiha members to be the ones to perform the executions on the traitors. Itachi will have to be the one to kill his parents, in front of all those people."

 

Sakura's jaw drops.

"What? No! That's terrible, they can't make him do that!"

Shisui laughs humorlessly.

"They can and will, petal. Politically, it's a fair move. It's no worse than you say Itachi has done before. I'm afraid it's going to hurt him terribly, though."

 

She imagines the pain of it, and her heart aches. Sasuke had so wanted to escape such a fate for Itachi this time, and after having heard so much about him from Shisui, and the few times she's spent around him herself, Sakura could never wish this upon Itachi. Tomorrow, Sakura is going to have to watch Itachi's most painful moment happen before her eyes. Is this any better than what happened in the past? At least last time, Itachi had killed his parents in private, away from watching eyes, given the space to grieve on his own. This time, he'll have to do it in front of a small crowd, and then do his grieving in the public as he will become clan head himself. Sakura clears her head a little and remembers.

This time Itachi won't have to leave the village, he will still have Sasuke, and Shisui. Even more, as clan head, he won't have to be on active duty quite as much, as he will have clan responsibilities. Still, Sakura wishes that they could have avoided more pain for Itachi, and for Sasuke. She puts her head in her hands. She's never been good at politics, at political moves. She wasn't even a particularly good ninja until it was almost too late for her to do so. She feels Shisui's hand on top of her head, and she leans into it.

 

"We'll have to do our own grieving tonight, petal. Tomorrow, Sasuke and Itachi are going to need us."

Chapter Text

When Sakura gets up the next morning, she expects to feel anxious, but she doesn't. She expected to be ready for a fight, but she isn't. Instead, on the day where Sakura is going to have to watch her teammate witness his family's deaths, Sakura feels empty and heavy at the same time. Empty of all the feelings she thought she would be experiencing, of the fight she wanted to have inside, and heavy with the burden of what she's about to witness, the weight of the hurt she will surely feel, watching a family that has become very dear to her be ripped apart.

Sakura had agreed to let the Hokage punish the traitors as he wished, and she knew this wasn't the worst possible outcome, but she still felt a little rebellious. So, instead of donning her usual ninja clothes, she wears formal funeral clothes, a sign that instead of a ninja watching an execution, she was attending the funeral of a loved one. A black kimono, with the white Haruno crest across the back, and she ties her hair back with a black ribbon. She looks herself over in the mirror, and decides it's as good a rebellion as she will be able to manage.

When she walks down the stairs, she sees Shisui still in his pajamas, and she cocks her head at him. They need to leave soon, so why isn't he dressed? Shisui looks at her, taking in her choice of clothing, and gives her a nod, clearly approving. Then, he seems to remember he's still in pajamas, and he looks a little bashfully at Sakura.

"Shisui, why aren't you dressed? We need to go soon."

He nods, and clears his throat somewhat awkwardly.

"I, Uh... Well, I meant to ask you this yesterday but I forgot.."

She waits for him to find his train of thought, he's not usually so tongue-tied, but today is a difficult day, after all.

"Err, I don't have any formal clothes without the Uchiha crest, and I'm not technically a member anymore. So I was wondering.."

Oh

Sakura smiles carefully at him.

"Do you mind being a Haruno?"

Shisui shakes his head, looking relieved, and Sakura takes him upstairs to her where her father's clothes are. Sakura hasn't dealt with any of her parents belongings, so they're all still in place, as if her parents might walk back in the door and want their things. It's stupid, but Sakura doesn't feel like she can deal with their things yet, almost wants it to be the same so it doesn't feel so much like they're completely gone. She offers Shisui any of her father's clothes. Shisui isn't fully grown yet, but Sakura's father hadn't been exceptionally tall, so it should fit alright. She tells Shisui he's welcome to any of it, and leaves him to get ready.

 

Sakura waits by the front door, and just in time for them to leave, Shisui joins her, and Sakura looks him over. He, maybe taking her lead on this, has chosen her father's formal funeral robes, they match hers, completely black excepting for the white Haruno crest on the back. It's not quite as big on him as she thought, but then again, maybe he just pinned it up himself with some senbon. She mentally shudders as she recalls attempting to hug Genma once, only to get shoved away quickly as he told her he filled his ninja clothes with dozens of poisoned senbon. Wrenching back to the present, she gives Shisui an approving nod.

"You make a good Haruno."

It's a light comment, nothing heavy would be appreciated today, and Shisui just gives her a smile and ruffles her hair.

"It's time to go, petal. Let's do this."

 

 

Sakura and Shisui make their way to the Uchiha compound, where the executions are due to take place. Sakura sees the various clan heads and Jounin starting to gather, in an open area Sakura assumes is usually for clan events, but she has never been here before. She's not sure where she's supposed to stand, but Shisui guides her gently towards the front section of standing people, just behind the clan heads. Ino, Kiba, Hana, Shikamaru, and Choji are standing with their parents, all of the students various degrees of pale and uneasy looking. Just behind them is Sasuke, with Naruto flanking his left side. Sakura and Shisui enter this row, and Sakura stands beside Sasuke, Shisui on her other side.

The various Jounin and other Uchiha members are filling up the area, and there's an strong looming air that pervades the space. They don't have to wait very long, and the Hokage takes the stage where Sakura imagines Fugaku used to conduct celebrations and ceremonies in the clan.

The Hokage starts with a speech explaining why they're all gathered, as if every single person there doesn't already know. Sakura chooses to tune him out entirely, instead focusing on her teammate next to her. Sasuke is very pale, and very stiff. He stares ahead firmly, his resolute gaze impassable to all except those who knew him exceptionally well. Sakura was glad to see Sasuke keeping his clan's pride alive. The Hokage seems to finish the introduction, and Sakura tunes back in just a little bit, still keeping most of her attention on Sasuke.

"The time has come to rededicate the Uchiha clan to Konoha. Today, those who would betray our village will die, and tomorrow, Itachi Uchiha will rededicate this clan to all of Konoha. After today, there is no Police department, only ninja of Konoha, to be treated equally as esteemed Shinobi of the Village Hidden in the Leaves!"

Sakure hears the hidden threat.

Mistreat the Uchiha, or plan your own treason, and this will happen to your clan

 

 

There is no mention of the fact that Itachi will be forced to kill them, it goes unsaid. Sakura wonders if it was the Hokage himself who had asked this of Itachi, or the council, embittered with the Uchiha, only agreed to reassimilate the Uchiha if Itachi was forced to prove himself. Sakura finds herself looking over to the council members, who all hold similar levels of self satisfied looks on their faces, and she wants very badly to wipe the look off of all of their faces.

Shisui and Sasuke stiffen suddenly even more than they had been before, and Sakura snaps her attention back towards the Hokage, and sees that the condemned had been led to the stage area. She sees a lot of who she assumes are the clan elders, old people Sakura doesn't remember ever seeing in her old timeline or this one, and a few people the age of Fugaku and Mikoto, who are led out last, along with a young girl Sakura doesn't know. She looks to Shisui, questioningly, and sees his jaw clenched very tightly, and his minute head shake. Looking over to Sasuke, she notes that he is gazing at his parents hungrily, as if he is trying to memorize every detail of them.

Naruto looks over Sasuke to Sakura at the same time she looks over to him, and she mouths

Who is that girl?

Naruto looks to the stage, and looks back to Sakura, mouthing dramatically

Itachi's girlfriend

Sakura hadn't even known Itachi had friends, let alone a girlfriend. Remembering the way Shisui looked, Sakura assumes that this girl was not involved, and is only slotted to be killed to hurt Itachi, probably by the village council. A quiet rage flicks to life inside of Sakura, a steady, slow burn that she allows herself, storing it away for now. Someday, though.

I'll make those council members regret it.

 

The Hokage had been speaking this entire time, and Sakura had honestly not heard any of it, a terrible trait for a ninja, but Sakura can't bring herself to care. She doesn't need to hear veiled threats from the Hokage, and she doesn't need to hear his excuses or how this will make the village stronger or whatever it is he's even saying. She sees Itachi on the stage, and he looks impassive. Or, at least, Sakura is sure he's trying to look impassive. It may be that Sakura is simply used to the Uchiha facial expressions, or it may be obvious to more than just her, but Itachi looks, shaky, and hunted. There were a couple of other people alongside Itachi, to help along with the execution side of things, but Sakura pushes their faces aside. The Third finishes speaking, and steps aside.

Sakura slips her hand into Sasuke's and holds him tightly. His hand is cold, and clammy, and a minute tremble runs through it, proof enough that he is struggling. Sakura isn't sure if it's a struggle of pain for his parents, or for what they're about to watch Itachi go through, or a mixture of both. To her surprise, she sees that Naruto has taken Sasuke's other hand. A sense of rightness strikes her, the three of them, standing together, holding hands in the face of pain.

How it always should have been. The three of us standing together.

 

With her other hand, Sakura takes Shisui's, and he immediately squeezes her hand back. His hand shakes much harder than Sasuke's, a reminder to Sakura that even though Shisui is a battle hardened veteran, a powerful and competent Jounin of the village, he's still very young. Shisui hasn't experienced death in the same way as she and Sasuke have, hasn't seen this many people he knows and cares for, die. Sakura's been depending on Shisui, but now she realizes: he's been depending on her too.

Watching Itachi, she sees him kneel before his father, as the other chosen executioners kneel before their condemned. Itachi shields Fugaku's face from the tense audience for a moment, and Sakura is glad for the small measure of privacy it allows Itachi. After a second, he stands, and Fugaku's neck is slit, his eyes closed. Itachi turns, covered in his father's blood, his eyes looking a little glazed, and then he walks over to his mother, and kneels before her in the same way. It takes slightly more than a second, and Sakura is sure every Shinobi present can see the single hitch in Itachi's shoulders, and Sasuke squeezes her hand so painfully she actually has to channel chakra into it so he doesn't break it. She doesn't let him go, though.

Itachi stands, covered now in the blood of both of his parents, blood slipping down his face and arms, clothes spattered beyond saving. Sakura hopes someone burns it later. The other shinobi are equally efficient dispatching the damned, and soon only one person remains, the young girl by Itachi's parents. Itachi gives a short, hopeless look at Shisui, and then Sakura has to use some medical chakra, because Shisui does break her hand, looking into Itachi's eyes. They're bleak, but he maintains his stiff and professional posture, and turns to the girl. Kneeling before her, again, Itachi shields her from audience view for a moment, and when he stands, the last Uchiha prisoner is dead.

Itachi turns with the other executioners in unison, and give a stiff bow to the Hokage, and then towards the clan heads and village council. Sakura swears she sees Itachi's left eye bleeding. The bodies are quickly cleared away as the Hokage speaks again, telling the gathered about how tomorrow there will be a celebration for the rededication of the Uchiha clan. Then it's finally over. Sakura doesn't move, and neither does Sasuke, Naruto, or Shisui. The clan heads and Jounin make their way out slowly, no one really talking, and all of their friends from school give a short nod in their direction. It's obvious to Sakura that Ino, Choji, and Kiba have been crying. Shikamaru and Hana seem a little more impassive, but Sakura knows they're affected too. They all follow their parents out of the Uchiha compound, with the exception of Ino, who breaks from her father to run over and throw her arms around Sasuke. Sakura lets go of Sasuke's hand, and is surprised when Sasuke actually hugs her back. Without saying anything else, Ino goes back to her father, and they too, leave the compound.

Releasing Shisui's hand as well, Sakura flexes her fingers on both hands, making sure they're both in working order, and they stand silently until most everyone is gone. Itachi hasn't moved an inch, and so Sakura, Sasuke, Naruto , and Shisui walk toward him slowly. Pulling on Shisui's sleeve, he leans over, and she whispers something in his ear. He nods at her, and she releases his sleeve, heading over to Naruto. The normally sunny blond looks downcast, heartbroken at his friend's pain. Sakura knows Naruto has one of the softest hearts of anyone she knows, and she is proud of her teammate for standing by Sasuke's side without making a scene. Leaning over to Naruto, Sakura quietly says,

"Naruto, I need you to do something for me. Will you help me?"

Naruto immediately nods, and she can see the frantic need to do something that she feels echoing in her own heart.

"Grab a change of clothes for Itachi, and Sasuke, and yourself. Then meet us as we leave the compound. Itachi and Sasuke shouldn't stay here alone tonight."

Naruto gives her a quiet

"On it, ya know!"

And he's off, disappearing with the speed of his movements.

 

Sasuke and Shisui have maneuvered Itachi off the stage. Itachi is still completely in a daze, and Shisui is gently guiding his friend with a hand on his elbow. Sasuke is on Itachi's other side, mirroring Shisui as they move Itachi down the stage and out near the exit of the compound. Sakura walks just ahead, guiding them and giving them a little privacy to grieve together. Just as they approach the front of the Uchiha compound, Naruto appears, bag on his back. Sakura waves him over.

"I got everything."

She gives Naruto a smile, loving him for his willingness to do anything without question for a friend. She also sees that Naruto is a little lost looking. She imagines her bright, sunny Naruto realizing that even your own village can do things you'll never understand, and not everyone is wonderful all the time, and she feels for him. Reaching out, Sakura grabs Naruto's hand and squeezes it.

"It'll be alright, Naruto. You'll see. Sasuke and Itachi will be alright, and so will we."

Naruto seems to drink in her words, and Sakura suddenly can't remember why anyone could ever hate him, why she ever did, all those years ago. He smiles at her, and to her it feels like the sun coming through the clouds. They walk like that, hand in hand, all the way to Sakura's house, giving the three Uchiha behind them the space they need.

 

 

When they enter the house, Sakura opens the bag Naruto packed and pulls out a change of clothes for Itachi, who is still covered in blood. She hands them to Shisui, who carefully guides a catatonic looking Itachi up the stairs to get him cleaned up. Sakura heads into the kitchen to make some tea, and Naruto and Sasuke settle into her living room quietly. While she waits, she picks up the scroll containing the speech she's supposed to read tomorrow. Opening it, Sakura reads a standard support speeech. It mentions friendship and being comrades and working together and standing together, it's written masterfully, appearing that it might be something a girl of about 7 or 8 like Sakura is would naturally say while still saying all the right things politically. She tries to imagine who wrote it, thinking humorously of the Hokage or Shikaku trying to write like a little girl. The mental image is worth it. It's not completely heartfelt, but Sakura thinks it's good enough, so she rolls it back up and puts it aside, she'll just read it in the sweetest voice she can muster tomorrow, and that's all she can hope for.

Tonight is much more important. She finishes steeping the tea just as Shisui pulls Itachi back down the stairs, and Sakura is relieved to see that Itachi tired, and sad, but present and aware. She pours the tea in the living room and they all sit together in silence for a few minutes. No one seems to know what to say, but something is going to have to be said to break the silence eventually. Naruto opens his mouth a few times, trying to speak. Sometimes he even gets a word or two out, then lapses into silence. It's growing unbearable, and Sakura decides she's going to have to do something to break it. She takes them all in, sitting stoically in a circle on the floor. Naruto looks distressed, trying desperately to fix things but not knowing what to do. Sasuke next to him looks like a war is going on inside his head, what it's over, Sakura can't even guess. Shisui is taking turns looking mournfully at Itachi, and clenching his jaw and fist that tells Sakura he's struggling personally as well. Itachi, well, Itachi looks like a kicked puppy. Sakura herself feels everyone in this room's grief as her own, as her fault.

What had Shikamaru told her about grieving again? In the future, when Sakura had lost her first important person, Ino, Shikamaru had pulled her aside and told her...

You need to fall apart before you can put yourself back together.

She stands, drawing the eyes of the four boys around her.

Let's all fall apart, so we can put ourselves back together.

 

She walks over slowly, not wanting to startle anyone, and kneels before Itachi. Looking up into his dark eyes, Sakura says a simple sentence, though for her it carries more weight than he will ever know.

"Itachi, I am so sorry."

Then, she gently puts her arms around Itachi, and hugs him. She doesn't let go, and after barely a second, she feels a solid thump as Naruto throws himself into the hug as well, already crying.

At least I'm not the only crybaby on this team. Naruto...

Shisui joins a moment later, and he's enough older and therefore bigger than the three of them that he can wrap his arms around all three of them, so he does. Another beat, and then Sakura feels Sasuke at her other side, reluctantly joining the group hug, and she and Naruto instantly open their arms to receive their not so wayward teammate. The next thing Sakura knows, they're all crying. All five of them, veterans to pain. The pain of village wide hatred, the pain of killing a loved one, the pain of watching your precious people die, the hollowness that never fully goes away, the pain of loneliness.

No matter how old we actually are,

Sakura thinks,

We're all just kids. Lost, torn up kids who need each other.

She drinks in this sacred moment, where none of them have to be strong, have to be noble Shinobi of the Leaf. Where they can all fall apart, so they can put each other back together.

 

Eventually, Naruto's stomach growls, and they all share a wet laugh, wiping their eyes. Naruto and Sasuke make dinner together, and Sakura, Shisui, and Itachi turn the entire living room into a huge fluffy bed, grabbing every soft thing in the entire house and pitching it onto the floor. No one will sleep alone tonight. They eat dinner, and it's delicious, and Sakura decides Sasuke and Naruto have been hiding their culinary skills from her. Even though the mood never hits fully joyful, they laugh, and smile, real smiles. Shisui regales the table with stories of his missions, and Naruto adds in some of his own prank stories, that have everyone shaking their head or laughing.

After they clean up from dinner, they all get into the living room, which by now is unrecognizable, so covered in blankets and pillows and couch cushions. They intended to each sleep in their own section, but they all gravitate together anyway, laying back to back, or like Naruto, just straight up sprawling over Sasuke and Itachi in a way that's so endearing Sakura takes a mental picture to remember forever. Laying back herself, Naruto somehow finding a way to sprawl an arm over her legs, and her back against Sasuke's, Sakura thinks, maybe, just maybe, she will be able to forgive herself for all of this someday.

Chapter Text

-The day after the Genin Graduation Exam-

As Sakura makes her way to the Academy for team announcements, she wonders if they too, will change. So much has changed already in this new timeline of hers. Will she still be with Naruto and Sasuke? Will they still have Kakashi as a Sensei? Unlike some events, Sakura is okay with being unsure about this one. It reminds her of the excitement she had the first time, getting selected to be on a Genin team. Smiling and quickening her step, Sakura recalls the last few years at the Academy. Just as she had predicted, Naruto had ended up befriending Hinata and Shino by the start of their second year, and the Rookie Nine, as they'd been called in Sakura's past time, was formed.

They all trained and played together, and their teammwork and ninja prowess had started to show. They were all proficient in Taijutsu at this point, almost to the Chunin level, Sakura knew. None of them were anywhere near Lee or Guy Sensei status, but none were Taijutsu specialists in their last life either.

 

Entering the Academy and taking her usual seat next to Shikamaru, Sakura looks around the room, how differently the friends all sit together than they had before. That was one thing Sakura could never have anticipated, and she wonders if they had all trained together as pre-Genin last time if their friendships would have developed similarly. In the row in front of her, Choji sits with Shino. Sakura isn't sure quite what happened there, but one day Shino had gotten hurt during a spar, and Choji had offered to be the one to walk him to the hospital. They'd been fast friends ever since, and rarely seen apart, though Choji still made time to cloudwatch with Shikamaru and Sakura from time to time.

To her right, Ino and Hinata sat together, deep in conversation, probably about which teams they'd be placed on. Sakura wonders if Ino had seen in Hinata the same self-doubt she had seen in Sakura, long ago, in a different life. When Naruto had dragged a blushing Hinata to their first training, Ino had hit him over the head for dragging a girl, and had immediately taken Hinata under her wing. Sakura missed being Ino's best friend a little bit, but it was worth it to watch Hinata grow more confident under Ino's tutelage.

In front of Hinata and Ino sat the remaining three boys. Kiba, Naruto, and Sasuke made about the oddest trio Sakura had ever seen, but it was nice all the same. Naruto had continued to live with Sasuke after the Uchiha executions and they behaved more like brothers than friends at this point. Naruto and Kiba bickered constantly, fighting over every single thing and seemingly having a great time doing it. Whenever things started getting out of hand, which was all the time, Sasuke stepped in and managed it. Kiba and Sasuke ended up working together as friends better than Sakura could have hoped, as they tried to one-up each other in every training area possible, to both boys benefit.

 

Iruka-Sensei enters the room, and all talking starts, and the whispering begins. They're all thrilled to find out what team they will be on. Even Shikamaru has deigned to be awake for the occasion. Sakura smiles pleasantly at their teacher. Just like last time, he ended up being their Sensei for the last year of the Academy, and taking a shine to Naruto. Sakura finds herself holding her breath a little in anticipation for the team announcements. Iruka-Sensei smiles broadly at the class.

"First off, I'd like to congratulate all of you on passing your exams!"

Some light cheering in the classroom, then a hush as he continues.

"As you all know, you will now be separated into teams of three, with a Jounin instructor, who will meet you after lunch."

Sakura and Sasuke give twin snorts from across the classroom, knowing a particular sensei was never on time.

"The teams are as follows: Team Six will be, Hinata Hyuuga, Kiba Inuzuka, and Shino Aburame."

That team stayed the same

Hinata gives a small wave at Shino, who nods. Kiba yells "YEAH ALRIGHT!" before Iruka waves him quiet.

"Team Seven will be, Sakura Haruno, Naruto Uzumaki, and Sasuke Uchiha."

Looks like some things are fate
Sakura thinks happily. She's pretty sure Kakashi will be their sensei, but she won't be sure until she sees him come through the door.

"Team Ten will be, Shikamaru Nara, Ino Yamanaka, and Choji Akimichi."

Shikamaru nods beside her. Sakura knows he isn't surprised, and that their dads more than likely orchestrated it a long time ago.

 

Iruka-Sensei gives a short speech about what it means to be a ninja, a Genin of the Leaf, and ends it by telling them all that he is very proud of them, and Sakura could swear Iruka-Sensei looks a little emotional himself. That man was born to be a teacher, she thinks. Then they're all released for lunch. Instead of eating with their new teams, knowing the Jounin aren't supposed to arrive until after lunch, the Rookie Nine had already decided to eat one last lunch together at the Academy, so they all sprawl out together on the grass, eating and sharing food and talking excitedly about their new teams.

There's a touch of a bittersweet air though. They all know that opportunities to train together are going to be harder to come by, and Sakura knows for her part she will miss seeing them every day. As they finish lunch, Hinata says as much, still blushing when she speaks, but brave enough now to talk loud enough to be heard.

"I-I'm going to miss seeing you all every day. I-I wish we could all always be together."

She shoots a not so covert look Naruto's way. The boy is oblivious, as always, but Naruto yells supportively anyway.

"Don't worry Hinata! Chunin get to work with everybody, ya know! So we'll just have to pass the Chunin exams as soon as possible so we can all work together again sometimes, ya know!"

Hinata blushes bright red, but nods. Kiba agrees loudly with Naruto, and then they immediately start arguing over who would be better at the Chunin exams, and Ino shakes her head.

"Boys. Anyway, Hinata, just because we are on different teams doesn't mean we won't see each other, and we can still have fun together. We'll do a girls night soon, right Sakura?"

Sakura nods and smiles agreeably, and they all start packing up their bento boxes, preparing to meet their Jounin senseis.

 

Kurenai is waiting for them when they get back in the classroom, and Sakura can read her excitement at having her first Genin team. Hinata, Kiba, and Shino get up and follow her, and they leave the classroom. Asuma shows up not too much later, leaning on the door in a relaxed slouch, smoking a cigarette. He calls out the names of his students, and Ino, Shikamaru, and Choji get up to follow him. Sakura briefly catches Shikamaru's eye and she smiles at him, wishing him luck. He rolls his eyes at her in a "you're so troublesome" kind of way, but he smiles too, and they parade out the door, Ino loudly telling Asuma her various strengths while glossing over her weaknesses. Only Sakura, Sasuke, and Naruto are left now. Sakura shares a look with Sasuke, and they look at the clock. Fifteen minutes late, then thirty. Then forty five. At the one hour mark, Sakura and Sasuke sigh with relief, sure now who their sensei is going to be. Naruto is bouncing off the walls, beyond ready to meet his sensei and irritated that he would be so late. When Naruto suggests pranking their new sensei, Sakura readily agrees, and even Sasuke nods, a smirk on his face. In the remaining hour before Kakashi arrives, they set up what Sakura thinks may be the perfect trap. Either way it'll just be plain funny.

Sure enough, when Kakashi opens the door, a bucket of water falls at his head. Being a heavy object, he senses it and dodges, right into a falling bag of eraser chalk. He does a quick replacement jutsu with a chair, and it's only because Sakura knows Kakashi so well that she had figured the exact chair that Kakashi would replace himself with, if he got that far. So when he replaces, his feet land on Sakura's special exploding tags, filled with random things, which Shisui still gets for her, and slime, glitter, and flower petals launch at Kakashi before he moves again. He looks at them, the slime causing the glitter and flower petals to stick to him, and sighs.

"First impression: I hate you guys."

Sakura and Naruto bust up laughing, and even Sasuke snickers a little at Kakashi's predicament.

"Meet me on the roof in 5 minutes."

 

 

Naruto dispatches a couple of clones to clean up the mess they made of the classroom, being more than aware of Iruka-Sensei's rage when it comes to his precious classroom. Sakura and Sasuke climb up the wall of the Academy with chakra, Naruto climbing it like a monkey, because despite the fact he actually recently managed to master tree walking, he seems to prefer a more "hands on" approach most of the time.
Kakashi is sitting on the roof already, somehow looking clean. Sakura thinks she still might have a lot to learn from her sensei, though she does notice his hair still sparkles slightly, and she grins at that.

"Let's see, first off let me have you guys introduce yourselves. You likes, dislikes, dreams, hobbies. Things like that."

Sasuke speaks up, seeming genuinely amused that this, at least, hasn't really changed yet.

"Why don't you tell us about you first, Sensei?"

Naruto nods,

"Yeah, sensei! Who are you?"

Kakashi points to himself, nonchalant and relaxed, as if his new students hadn't just dumped glitter on him in a classroom a few moments before.

 

"Me? I'm Kakashi Hatake. I don't feel like telling you guys my likes and dislikes."

He matches them with a slight stare at this point, and Sakura knows they aren't completely forgiven for the prank, but she doesn't care. It was hilarious.

"I haven't really thought about my future dreams. As for hobbies, yes, I have some."

 

Naruto leaps to his feet, pointing an accusing finger at him.

"Hey you only told us your name! That's not fair! I'm Naruto Uzumaki, and I'm going to be Hokage someday, ya know! I like ramen, and my friends, and I dislike how long it takes to make ramen! My hobby is training, and I'm the best at it, ya know!"

Dramatic speech finished, Naruto drops back into his seat with a pleased smile on his face.

 

"Ookay,"

Kakashi drawls,

"Pinky, you go next."

 

Sakura scoffs at him,

I know just how to make him pay for that comment

"You already know my name, Sensei! I'm Sakura Haruno. I like you, sensei! And all my other friends-"

Kakashi raises his eyebrow minutely at her.

Victory, sucker! We're friends, deal with it!

"I dislike bullies and people who hurt my friends. My hobbies are-"

Oh no, I don't think I actually have hobbies besides training.

"-I have hobbies, to be sure. My future dream is peace!"

 

Kakashi crosses his arms thoughtfully, nodding at Sasuke,

"Alright, and you?"

 

Sasuke crosses his arms, sitting up straight and looking Kakashi right in the eye.

"I'm Sasuke Uchiha. I like training, I dislike people who get in my way, my hobby is cooking, and my future dream is to restore my clan."

 

"dislike people who get in my way"?

Sakura sighs, Sasuke always has to be a drama queen about everything, doesn't he? Kakashi claps his hands together.

 

"That's good. You're all unique with different interests. Meet me tomorrow at the bridge by the Memorial stone at dawn, for survival training. Oh, and don't eat breakfast beforehand. If you do, you'll throw up."

With that, he eye smiles at them and disappears in a fluttering of leaves.

 

Sasuke, Sakura and Naruto have a quick team meeting before they leave to go their separate ways home.

Meeting Sasuke's eye, Sakura decides she should be the one to start.

"Sasuke, Naruto, I think we should still eat breakfast. If he's at late as he was today, we'll need the food."

 

Naruto nods at her sagely,

"Also, we should pack lunch! Who knows how long we'll train for, we might get hungry again!"

Sasuke's eyes widen marginally, and Sakura thinks,

That is an absolute stroke of genius, not that Naruto knows it.

If they pack their own lunches, then Kakashi-Sensei can't deprive them of lunch if they don't do well enough. Since Naruto came up with it, it's not even cheating with her and Sasuke's foreknowledge.

Sasuke nods,

"That's a good idea, Dobe."

 

 

 

They agree to meet at the bridge the next morning, and go their separate ways. Sakura takes the ninja path home, leaping from building to building with ease, and she thinks about their upcoming test. It would be unfair to let it play out exactly the same way as last time, so Sakura hopes they can figure out how to actually work together in a way to get the bells, instead of having to rely on tricks and feeding each other, especially if they have packed lunches. She also finds it nice to see Kakashi again. She hasn't really seen or spoken to him since that night on her roof. He stopped guarding her, as did Guy sensei, and every time after that Sakura went looking for him, she never found him. Sakura knew he was avoiding her for a while, but he probably had gotten busy at some point.

 

Shisui had told her that he'd heard through the grapevine that Kakashi had been taking back to back long-term missions. Sakura is glad the Hokage saw fit to make him a Jounin sensei again. She had worried a lot about Kakashi on those missions, worried he was throwing himself into danger, almost tempting fate to die. She knows he had very little survival instinct last time, until after the Wave mission, when he'd realized that the three of them would die if he did, and pulled himself together enough to start protecting them. Now that he's finally her sensei again, Sakura can breathe a sigh of relief. She'll have his back, even if he doesn't know it.

Plus I can finally start referring to and thinking of him as Kakashi-Sensei again.

 

 

 

Arriving home, Sakura takes her shoes off and yells a pleasant, "I'm home!" through the doorway. A moment later, she feels a hand on her head, ruffling her hair, and she looks up and grins at Shisui, who grins back at her in turn.

"I assume from your lateness you got Hatake as a Sensei again, petal?"

Sakura bounces happily on her toes, it's hard to describe just how right it feels for the four of them to be a team again.

"Yup!"

 

She asks Shisui about his day, and he goes into length about how boring all the clan paperwork Itachi is working on is going, walking towards the kitchen. Sakura isn't quite sure why, but after the Uchiha Executions, Shisui had not returned home with Itachi and Sasuke, and instead stayed living with her. She had felt sure Itachi would give him his clan name back, and one time she'd even caught Itachi and Shisui talking in low voices, but Shisui didn't return home and still didn't take up the name of Uchiha again. That wasn't to say he still didn't practically live there. Every day when Sakura went to the Academy, Shisui went over to the Uchiha compound and stayed with Itachi until after the Academy let out, when he wasn't on missions of course.

She'd asked him once, why he didn't return home or ask to become a Uchiha again, and he'd just grinned at her, ruffled her hair, and told her it was none of her business. So she stayed out of it, it wasn't as if Sakura was upset to have him around. In fact, she found herself more relaxed and in control, knowing most days she would come home and Shisui would be there to talk to and laugh with. She missed him sometimes when he was on missions, but he always came home eventually, sometimes a little worse for the wear, but always with at least a tired smile and a "I'm back, petal," on his lips.

 

 

Sakura has to shake herself back into the present when she sees that she and Shisui aren't alone in the house, but her "Uncle Haruno" is at the table. "Uncle Haruno" of course being Jiraiya in probably the laziest henge Sakura had ever seen on a ninja. He just makes his hair appear a similar shade of purple to what her fathers was and erases the red paint from his face. He has come around no more than twice in the last few years, each time to ask Sakura about some ninja or organization or some other such thing. Sakura unfortunately hadn't been that helpful as of yet, because he'd asked her about people she'd never heard about before, and can only assume they died or the organization had been dismantled before she was old enough to know anything about the larger ninja world. She hopes she can be a little more helpful today.

 

"Well if it isn't my favorite niece!"

Jiraiya booms merrily, as if Sakura is actually some favored niece. She gives a polite smile and a

"Hello, Jiraiya-sama."

 

He stands, pushing his chair back as he does.

"Is that any way to greet your favorite uncle!"

He throws his arms out dramatically and squashes Sakura in an extremely uncomfortable hug.

"You didn't think I'd forget the day you graduated and became a ninja, did you? HAHAHAHA"

 

Sakura eventually wriggles out from the hug. He was right, she'd forgotten she was his temporary ward, but now that she was a Genin, she was considered an adult in the eyes of the village, and thus, no longer his ward. She bows respectfully.

"Of course, Jiraiya-sama. Thank you for taking me under your protection for all of these years, I will continue to strive to pay you back."

Sakura is grateful, of course. Jiraiya had single-handedly kept ROOT off of her back all these years, though all intel on what ROOT was up to had been frustrating and unfruitful so far.

 

Jiraiya laughs and sits back down,

"I'm sure you will, kid, I'm sure you will. That being said, I'm sure you don't need my protection anymore, since you have Shisui here-"

He slaps Shisui on the back, who looks a little pained but gives a firm nod of agreement.

"-and your own proficient strength at this point. I did come for another reason, however. I'm beginning to hear whispers of a group called the Akatsuki. You mentioned them before. Tell me about them again."

 

Sakura nods and goes into detail on every member she can think of, noting that the lineup may be different since Itachi isn't part of the group this time. She tells Jiraiya that while all the members are powerful, only three of them fully get into the grand plan of the group. Pein, Zetsu, and Madara, who's wearing Obito's body. Jiraiya nods along, taking a note here or there. Eventually, Sakura exhausts everything she knows, and Jiraiya nods. They both know that the information may be incorrect at this point, as some of the members may not have joined yet, or won't join at all because of changes in the timeline, but some shaky intel is better than none, and they both know it.

Conversation seemingly finished, Jiraiya pulls a package out of his pack and hands it to Sakura with a wink.

"A little graduation present for my favorite niece, eh? HAHAHAHA"

He's never given her anything before, and Sakura had never expected anything from him, so she nods in thanks, not sure what to say or what to even expect, and opens the gift. Inside lays twin elegant knives, about as long as her forearm. They're silver, gently tapered, and the handles are wrapped with black cording. Picking one up, Sakura channels a little Chakra into it experimentally, and chakra glows around the edges immediately, forming wave-like patterns. Her mouth drops open.

Wow. these must have cost a fortune, and not only do they channel chakra, it seems to be suited to water type natures specifically.

 

She looks up at Jiraiya, who's watching her, a smile on his face.

"Jiraiya-sama... I don't know what to say. These-these are wonderful! Thank you so much!"

Jiraiya does that booming laugh of his again,

"Of course! Protect my godson, will you? According to you, I get to train him soon, but until then, you watch his back for me!"

Sakura nods vigorously, speechless at such a gift. Jiraiya slaps Shisui on the back again, takes his leave, and leaves the house, dropping the henge.

 

 

 

She hands one of the blades handle first to Shisui, who looks them over with interest.

"A pretty powerful gift from a very powerful man, petal. You sure know how to pick allies! I mean, you picked me after all."

He gives her a saucy wink, and she rolls her eyes at him, smirking,

"A mistake I'll be sure not to repeat."

Shisui clutches a hand at his heart, mock offended.

"You wound me with your words!"

They laugh and Sakura begins to get ready for the bell test tomorrow, and she can't help the excitement that floods her.

 

Team Seven is back.

Chapter Text

Sakura arrives at the bridge the next morning bright and early, knowing full well Kakashi won't be there yet. Sasuke and Naruto arrive just after her. Naruto looks absolutely thrilled and ready for the test, practically bouncing up and down.


"Sakura, did you eat breakfast, because we did, ya know! We're going to ace this exam!"

Sakura smiles at Naruto, feeling his excitement warmly.

"Yeah, Naruto, I did. Do you guys want to stretch while we wait for Kakashi-Sensei?"

Sasuke gives a nod, and all three of them head to the grassy area between the bridge and Memorial stone, and start going through the Academy stretches. Sakura would be lying if she said she wasn't a little bit nervous. She knows she can't use her full abilities against Kakashi, and that she'll have to work them in slowly as if it was a natural progression of her training. But Kakashi was a paranoid and highly perceptive Jounin, and Sakura couldn't hesitate for even a split second while fighting him. Kakashi would absolutely see it, and become suspicious, and that's honestly the last thing Sakura needs right now. Despite the small worry that she'll slip up physically, Sakura has to admit she's a bit excited to spar as Team 7 again, and even stretching with Naruto and Sasuke while waiting for Kakashi to show up was so familiar, and felt so much like home, her heart filled up to the point Sakura thought it could burst.

After some light stretching, Sakura knows she has at least an hour more before Kakashi should show up, and an odd thought strikes her. Usually, Kakashi was late because he spent so much time at the Memorial stone, though in her past life, that had faded a bit with time. But he'd asked Team 7 today to meet him right near the Memorial stone. Was he here watching them? Had he the first time they'd taken the test? Or was his lateness so engrained as a habit that even though he didn't visit the Memorial stone, he still showed up late? Naruto begins practicing tree walking nearby, and Sasuke is standing on watch, in case Naruto falls off due to inattention, so Sakura closes her eyes and extends her chakra sense. Her reserves have grown immensely from when she had made Genin in her past life, and Sakura knows she has about as much chakra as she'd had as a Chunin at her fingertips. She had also spent quite some time training her chakra sensing capabilities, and now had quite the range. More than enough to cover the training ground, the Memorial stone, and the bridge, and still pick up a hidden chakra signature like Kakashi's.

 

She actually senses him, standing by the Memorial stone, and it should surprise Sakura that he had literally been standing in plain sight such a short ways from the bridge and training ground, but Sakura also supposed Kakashi didn't think they would go looking for him. Last time, they hadn't. This time, she calls out to Naruto, who instantly falls out of the tree he was climbing, Sasuke catching him with a grunt.

"Hey, you two! Come here for a minute!"

 

Sasuke shoves Naruto to his feet, and they walk over to join her. Sasuke puts his hands in his pockets, and looks her over, trying to read her before simply asking,

"What is it, Sakura?"

 

"Well, you guys know how I can chakra sense, right?"

Naruto nods vigorously, and she continues before he can interrupt.

"I sensed Kakashi-Sensei. He's by the Memorial stone."

 

Naruto gives her a feral grin,

"Should we jump him?"

 

Sasuke slaps Naruto upside the head,

"Dobe, because the three of us could get the drop on a Jounin."

Naruto shoots Sasuke a dirty look and sticks his tongue out,

"It was worth a shot, anyway, ya know!"

Sasuke gives Naruto a look, and then just sighs. Sakura privately thought she and Sasuke might actually have a shot at getting the drop on Kakashi-Sensei if they wanted to, but Sakura knows that as far as bonding with their touchy, PTSD riddled Jounin sensei would not be helped by them jumping him while he's trying to sort himself out. She gives Naruto an apologetic smile,

"Sorry, Naruto. Sasuke's right, there's no way we could surprise him."

She turns her smile a little playful,

"We could distract him though, let him know we're here and know he's there."

 

Naruto leaps into the air, punching his fist.

"Yeah! We'll show him for being late."

 

The plan is easy, they hide, making their way towards the Memorial stone, staying just out of the range Kakashi could probably sense them, and he's not quite in their sightline yet, but it's perfect. Sakura gives Naruto her headband, and nods. The plan begins now. Naruto starts running wildly towards the Memorial stone, cackling,

 

"Sakura, I got your headband! Bet you can't get it back!"

 

Sakura puts on her best mock rage,

 

"NARUTO YOU GIVE THAT BACK RIGHT NOW!"

She screams and runs after him, fists raised and ready for a fight. Sasuke walks along behind them. With a flying leap, Sakura punches Naruto, no chakra strength necessary, and they brawl right into the area where Kakashi is, and while he may not have sensed them right away, he definitely heard them and had the chance to escape. Sakura is secretly pleased that he didn't run. Naruto acts shocked to see Kakashi, and it's honestly a pretty good act, and Sakura would have bought it if she hadn't literally just told Naruto that Kakashi was here.

 

"Sensei! There you are! You're late!"

 

Naruto point his finger accusingly at Kakashi's back, and he turns around apologetically, as if he had just noticed his Genin team.

 

"Oh, sorry. I just got lost on the road of life."

 

 

"YOU DID NOT!"

Sakura and Naruto chorus together. Sasuke rolls his eyes at them, but stand beside them all the same. Kakashi raises his hands in surrender, eye smiling at them. Then he explains the exam to them. It's definitely the same as last time. Get the two bells before lunch or fail. He says "start!" and disappears in a puff of smoke. Unlike last time, Naruto hadn't attacked him immediately, instead waiting for Sasuke's lead. They huddle up as a team, but Naruto looks a little worried,

 

"There's only two bells, you guys! What if we don't all pass?"

Sasuke shakes his head,

"It's a teamwork test, Dobe. He's trying to trick us into not working together."

Sakura nods, agreeing,

"We just need to work together to fight him. Here's what I think. Naruto, you should send in some clones. Sasuke and I will disguise ourselves as two of Naruto's clones and Sasuke can shoot a fireball at him when we get close. I will make a grab for the bell while he's distracted. As long as we work together, I think it'll be fine."

Naruto nods knowingly, as if he anticipated this all along.

 

Moron Sakura thinks fondly.

 

It's a simple strategy, but an obvious one for Genin to come up with. She's afraid to show too much of her strategic hand right away, she's worked with Naras far too long not to have picked up some high leveled strategy. Not today though, today she just wants to have fun sparring as a team and proving themselves to Kakashi-Sensei.

They call break and hide, making their way separately into the trees, searching for Kakashi. It doesn't take too long, and then they all find him, and with a signal from Naruto, they run for their sensei. Naruto's ten or so clones are all screaming and yelling nonsense, and Sakura henges into one and joins the mob, screaming random things herself to fit in. She can't tell which of the clones is Sasuke, and that's all the better, Sakura thinks. Kakashi is ready for them by the time they converge, though he hopefully thinks they're all Naruto clones. He starts dispatching them with ease, but the number of clones doesn't seem to decrease, so Sakura knows Naruto is pumping out more and more to keep a cover.

 

One of the clones yells "Fireball jutsu!"

Kakashi doesn't look particularly startled, but he dodges quickly enough Sakura knows he's at least a little surprised. She punches the ground with her fist, making a tiny fissure, nothing crazy, which causes Kakashi to stumble slightly, and then she dives for the bells. What she ends up with is a log when Kakashi replaces himself. Joy courses through her veins at the adrenaline she's experiencing during the spar, and she shouts to the Naruto clones,

 

"Let's find him!" to which they all agree and they all start streaming through the woods.

 

 

Sakura doesn't see Sasuke, so she assumes he blended back in with the rest of the clones. So filled with joy and adrenaline as she is, she doesn't stop to remember what Kakashi's plan had been during the last bell test, and she hadn't counted on him figuring out that she wasn't a Naruto clone, so when she turns the corner, and sees Kakashi laying on the ground covered in blood, she doesn't question it immediately.

"KAKASHI-SENSEI!"

She runs for her fallen sensei, but he's so still, too still. Sakura knows she's too late again. She pauses as she gets closer. Something is wrong here. Kakashi looks exactly like he had when he'd fallen in the battle vs Kaguya.

Genjutsu, stupid!

She tells herself, and she disperses the illusion with a quick "kai!". It did its toll though. Sakura is no longer henged as Naruto, and she feels off balance. It's enough for the real Kakashi to grab her ankle and drag her underground in the headhunter jutsu.

 

"Lesson one, Genjutsu!"

He calls cheerfully as he disappears in a swirl of leaves. Sakura wonders if Kakashi had thought it was at all strange that he'd used a nightmare jutsu on her and the person she'd seen had been him. If Sakura is honest, she's disappointed in herself for falling for it. She's supposed to be better than that, darn it! Smashing her way out of the hole, she re-henges as Naruto and simply follows the noises of her teammates various warcries.

What Sakura thinks is the real Naruto is hanging from a trap upside down in a tree, so she cuts him down, receiving a grunt in response that lets her know it's actually Sasuke.

Really, out of the three of us it's Naruto who hasn't been tricked?

Bregrudgingly respecting Naruto's superiority in this area, Sakura and Sasuke drop their henges together and go back after Kakashi with all the Narutos. Kakashi plays a cat and mouse game with them for a while longer, and both Sakura and Sasuke touch the bells at one point or another, but neither grab them. Eventually, Naruto runs out of chakra and his endless clones for the moment and they all three collapse, panting.

Kakashi looms over them, still eye smiling, though Sakura can see he's breathing hard too, and she's proud of that. Even though she, Sasuke, and Naruto had trained so much more than they had in their last life, they were still slightly limited by younger bodies, and Kakashi always seems to be in top form. The only time Sakura had ever beaten him in a spar was the one where she and Naruto had tricked him by telling him Icha Icha spoilers. Of course, Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke hadn't had the chance to spar with him full on during the war. There had just been too much going on.

This time it'll be different, Sakura tells herself.

One day I'll beat him in a spar fair and square, even if I have to wait until he's 60!

Kakashi, Kakashi-Sensei she reminds herself, holds the bells out in front of him.

"Well, it looks like none of you managed to get a bell. Tell you what, though. You did a satisfactory job with the fight, so I've decided that I'll pass two of you. You can decide which two. You have five minutes."

 

Before he can disappear, Naruto gets enough energy back to leap to his feet.

"None of us are going back! You take us all or none of us, ya know!"

 

Kakashi raises an eyebrow.

"Really now? What do the two of you think?"

 

Sakura crosses her arms at him, trying for petulance.

"Naruto's right. We got put on a team for a reason, so we're sticking together. No matter what."

She shoots a look at Sasuke, who simply nods firmly.

 

Kakashi leaks killing intent at all of them, and his looming presence seems to get even larger somehow. Then, as soon as it appears, it dissipates and he eye smiles at them.

"You pass."

Naruto falls over onto his backside.

"What?"

 

Kakashi patiently repeats himself.

"I said, you pass."

 

 

Cheering loudly, Naruto pulls out a scroll from his pocket, opens it, and floods it with chakra, and a huge bowl of ramen appears.

"Yeah! Let's eat lunch then. I'm starving, ya know!"

Kakashi looks a bit startled at their foresight, as Sakura and Sasuke also pull out storage scrolls with their lunches tucked away inside. Kakashi starts to say,

"Meet me to-"

When Sakura interrupts him.

"Stay and have lunch with us, Sensei? We're a team now, after all."

 

He very much looks like he would like to disagree with her and just leave, but after a long moment, he resigns himself, pulls one of his bento boxes off of the Memorial stone, and sits. As they eat, Sakura and Naruto chat and gush about training and missions and how exciting it's all going to be. Sakura doesn't have the heart to tell Naruto just how mind numbing D-ranks can be, so she pretends she is excited as well. Sasuke stays quiet for the most part, but he's engaged in his own way, snorting a laugh at one of them when they say something funny, or putting in his own comment when Naruto's training plans become unrealistic.

"Dobe, there's no way you can learn one hundred jutsu in a week."

This starts a flow blown bickering match between Sasuke and Naruto, and Sakura is content to sit back and watch her teammates.

 

Kakashi sits slightly off the to side, not participating or joining in, but watching them carefully. When he doesn't think anyone is looking, Sakura sees a wistful look cross his face. If Sakura could say anything or do anything that would force Kakashi into their circle, she would do it. She just isn't sure how to without spooking the Jounin. Him passing them was a big enough hurdle, likely. Sakura knows that Kakashi hasn't let anyone get close to him, get important to him, since the last member of his team, Naruto's father Minato, had died. That had been twelve years ago. She also knows that Guy and Tenzou area secretly important to him, though he'd never admit it. That means that for the most part, Kakashi has been alone for twelve years.

She'd been trying every since she landed in this timeline to befriend Kakashi, but her efforts so far hadn't been very fruitful. Sakura recalls the first time she realized Kakashi was fond of them. It had been while he was fighting Zabuza, on their Wave mission. He had promised not to let any of them die, and Sakura had known then that her sensei would protect her. She had hoped when she landed in the past she wouldn't have to wait that long, but she supposed at this point the Wave mission was only a couple weeks out, and if she had to, Sakura could wait that long. Of course she could. It might be worth not spooking her sensei, to let him realize on his own that he cared for them.

 

Last time, even though Kakashi had decided to protect them at all costs after the Wave mission, Sakura didn't think any of their team had actually made any effort to get close to Kakashi until Naruto had returned from his training trip with Jiraiya, and they'd restarted the team. Sakura refused to wait that long this time. No, she'd let Kakashi-sensei decide on his own that he cared for them, but then she was going to do every single thing in her power to be there for him back. He deserved somebody, he deserved family. Even a crazy, screwed up family like Team 7. Sakura isn't even sure if two of them being time travelers makes the top 5 list of why Team 7 is messed up, and that's saying a lot. Sakura zones back in to notice that Kakashi-sensei has caught her staring at him, and he gives her a guarded eye-smile. She smiles back, genuinely, and then makes an effort to drag her gaze away from her sensei. She still had time. Things would get better, and Team 7 will be the team they were always meant to be.

soon, she promises herself.

She thinks of the future, and groans slightly.

We just have to get through these D-ranks, first.

That, is not something Sakura is looking forward to.

Chapter Text

Sakura had been right. D-ranks were still terrible. It was mind numbing, honestly. Spending all day painting a fence, or pulling weeds, or chasing that wretched cat. Naruto was somehow still energetic, always. He insisted on doing the D-ranks as fast as possible, and it never ended well for Sakura and Sasuke. For weeks Sakura came home each day dirty, tired, and irritable, which Shisui inevitably found hilarious. She even caught him and Itachi hiding in a tree one day taking pictures of their team catching Tora the cat! Well, to be fair to Itachi, he had looked very embarrassed and like he would rather be anywhere else in the entire world, whereas Shisui appeared to be having the time of his life making fun of Sasuke and Sakura. In all fairness, it was kind of funny to see Tora the cat perched on Sasuke's head, the only place the cat had deemed tolerable. Sakura had later forgiven Shisui in exchange for a copy of the picture, which she planned on keeping forever.

Kakashi simply watched his team struggle through D-rank after D-rank, porn book in hand. Whatever qualms he had before about reading it in public, he had none of them now, and her sensei could be found more often than not with an Icha Icha novel in hand. After another long day of D-ranks, where they had pulled weeds from an entire field, which would have gone smoothly, except Naruto had picked every growing thing he had seen, and Sakura had to spend the next 3 hours sorting out the good plants from the weeds before they had to then replant all of the wanted plants back into the field, Naruto apologizing and flinging mud all the way, Sakura had enough.

"I wish we could do something more useful than a D-rank."

She complained at Sasuke, who gave a rather agreeable "hn", to her suggestion.

Naruto had loudly agreed, begging Kakashi for a better mission. Kakashi, however, was a master at pretending you weren't talking to him, and ignored Naruto easily. When they got to the office to turn in their report on the weeding mission, Naruto begged the Third for a C-rank. While they were talking, Sakura did some quick calculations, and realized the Wave mission should be soon. Sure enough, once Naruto had finished begging the Third for a "real mission!", a door had opened and Tazuna had stumbled in, drunk already. Sakura realized, looking at him, that soon she'd have her chance to bring the team closer together.

 

Going home that night, Sakura packed everything she thought she would need for the mission. Last time they'd gone, they'd run out of bandages because so many of them had gotten so seriously injured, so Sakura packed quite a few more than the usual standard. She also packed a light cloak, which she hadn't before. Last time, she'd wanted to show Sasuke she was brave, and maybe show some skin in the process. But being so close to the shore, Sakura had shivered more often that not on the bridge before dawn, mist soaking her skin. This time she didn't really care what Sasuke thought, and she was unwilling to be cold for no reason. The last thing she did was write a note to Shisui, who was on a mission, explaining that she would be leaving for her own mission and didn't anticipate returning for two or three weeks. Then she passed out, too tired from the weeding fiasco to worry about anything else that night.

 


The next morning, Sakura went to the gate at the predetermined time, only to find she was the first to arrive. She didn't have to wait long for Naruto to come bounding towards her, Sasuke in tow. Naruto chattered away excitedly at the mission, but before Sakura could answer, she saw Shisui waving her down from across the street. He must have gotten home and wanted to see her off. Waving back, she parts from Sasuke and Naruto, who are waiting impatiently for their sensei and client, and goes over to greet her friend. Shisui looks a little more serious than usual, and Sakura wonders if his mission went badly.

 

"Everything okay, Shisui?"

 

He ruffles her hair in that obnoxious yet endearing way of his.

"Sure is, petal. I had to come see you off on your big mission!"

Shisui knew exactly what went down on this mission, Sakura had told him. He would know how much this mission had the potential to change their team.

 

"Thanks Shisui, I'll see you when I get back. Unless you needed something else?"

He looks dodgy for a second, and Sakura knows there must be something else.

"Shisui, what is it?"

 

He shrugs,

"It's nothing, it'll keep until you get back."

 

She gives him a glare, trying to threaten him into telling her. She knows a true threat would never work on Shisui, but her glares usually get him to talk to her anyway.

"Shisui."

 

He puts up his hands in mock surrender.

"Okay, okay petal. You got me. In the other time, was Itachi sick?"

 

"What like a cold?"

 

Shisui shakes his head.

"I know he was a missing nin and whatever, but did he or anyone mention being sick? He had a sort of coughing spell while we were on mission. I didn't think anything of it, but he tried to hide it from me. That makes me suspicious. He's hiding something."

 

Sakura wracks her brain, trying to remember every time she had ever run into Itachi in her past timeline, and everything Naruto and Sasuke had said about their respective encounters. She couldn't think of anything. So she shakes her head at Shisui.

"Sorry, I'm not sure. No one ever mentioned it, so if he was, Itachi didn't tell anyone that we know of."

 

Shisui looks a little troubled, but smiles at her anyway. In the distance, Sakura can see that Kakashi and Tazuna are making their way up the street.

"Don't worry about it, then. I'm sure it's nothing."

 

Sakura punches him in the arm, infusing a little chakra so it hurts.

"Shut up, Shisui. I know if you're concerned enough to ask, that it's a problem. When I get back, I'll check him out. Tell him I'm practicing medical ninjutsu and you said he had a cold or something."

He relaxes his shoulders a bit at that.

 

"Thanks petal. You're the best."

Sakura doesn't deign to answer that, instead giving her friend a hug.

 

"Get some sleep, I've got to go now. See you when I get back!"

Shisui hugs her back, then gives a mocking salute to Kakashi, who's looking at them, disappearing in a flash of leaves. Sakura makes her way back over to the team, where Tazuna and Naruto seem to be in a verbal fight of some sort. Kakashi does an exasperated headcount, then they leave the Leaf village, starting their walk towards Wave. Sasuke shoots her a worried look.

 

"Why was Shisui here?"

 

Sakura gives a nonchalant shrug.

"He and Itachi got back from their mission and he wanted to see us off. He said Itachi was tired and Shisui forced him into bed, so good luck from Itachi."

Sasuke looks mollified. It's exactly the kind of thing Shisui does when he and Itachi get back from Itachi's rare missions outside of the village. Shisui is definitely quite the mother hen.

 

 

Sasuke rejoins Naruto, making a partial flank of their client, while Naruto asks a million questions about Wave that Tazuna sometimes answers, sometimes looks so incredulously at Naruto that Sasuke steps in and answers. Kakashi-sensei walks just behind them, reading Icha Icha. It gives Sakura time to think about Itachi. The more she thinks about it, the more worried she gets. So worried, in fact. She partially forgets where she is, where she's going, and what's going to happen. There's a clink of flying metal, and before Sakura can process what this means, two chains wrap around Kakashi-sensei, and before she or anyone else can move, he gets pulled into pieces by the chains.

 

The logical part of Sakura should tell her that this happened last time. That this is a genjutsu Kakashi used to check on information. That she should protect Tazuna. But Sakura doesn't seem to possess her logical brain at the moment. The second she sees Kakashi-sensei's body rip to pieces in front of her, she isn't on the Wave mission anymore, and time stops. The world gets fuzzy, blurry almost. Someone is screaming, someone is terrified. She thinks it might be her. She drops to her knees, and all she can see is Kakashi's blood, staining her hands, staining his white hair. She can see her sensei telling her it's okay, and that he's sorry, with a wet wracking cough that covers his mask in blood. She feels his body weight in her hands, the way it looks when the light leaves his eye, she can see the second where her sensei leaves her forever. Someone is still screaming. She might be sobbing, she doesn't even know. She's paralyzed, looking into the lifeless eye of her sensei. There are no coherent thoughts, just Sakura, frozen in time, her dead sensei, her friend, in her arms, lifeless. There is so much blood. There is alwaysso much blood. Sakura will never be able to cleanse the amount of it from the world. Vaguely, Sakura swears she can hear someone calling her name, scratching at the edge of her mind. But she can't find it, can't think. There's only blood, and only Sakura. Then everything goes black.

 

 

When Sakura wakes up, all at once and instantly alert, as she's trained herself to be, she finds that she's in a small clearing in the woods. Her head is on something soft, and she turns her head to see that her head is resting on Sasuke's legs. She sits up, looking at him.

"What happened?"

Her voice is rough, ragged, and painful, and she has to force the words out.

Her teammate looks at her, and Sakura is surprised to find concern there in his dark eyes.

 

"The demon brothers attacked. Kakashi pulled a genjutsu, and you started screaming. Naruto and I took care of the Demon brothers, but you didn't stop screaming. Kakashi knocked you out. I think he's interrogating the demon brothers to ignore us and figure out what's going on. You should talk to the Dobe, he's been freaking out for the last thirty minutes or so."

 

Sakura nods, resolving to find Naruto as soon as possible. Sakura should have suspected that this might happen to her. She's seen it before, worked on ninja who have it. PTSD. She thinks of the Jounin, even the Chunin, who've seen too much. The ones that are twitchy, and irritable, and their nightmares, and they way they occasionally freeze up in combat. She can overcome this. She's going to have to, she doesn't have another choice. She can't leave her team unprotected, she has to be there for them. Luckily, for the most part Sakura thinks she can deal with it. She's had the training, to shove all her feelings aside and complete missions, so you can fall apart at home. She can and will do it again. She's just gotten soft, the past couple of years with nothing traumatizing happening. She gets to her feet carefully, and Sakura finds she's still trembling a little.

It's one thing to know it, and another thing to feel it.

She's still having a little trouble wiping the image of her dead sensei out of her mind, and she's desperate to see him, alive. Even if he's still not quite her Kakashi yet. Sakura finds Naruto guarding Tazuna, with Kakashi nearby. Naruto takes one look at her and comes running, throwing his arms around her.

 

"Sakura! Are you okay? Teme said that you-"

 

Sakura cuts him off before he can go any further,

"I'm fine, Naruto. I'm sorry I worried you. Bad memories, that's all. It won't happen again."

You can't promise that

The fine trembling in Sakura's body dies down as she lets Naruto hug her.

When she feels like she's back in control, she lets go of him, and walks over to Kakashi-sensei. At some point Sasuke has also rejoined the group. Kakashi fixes her with a stare that lets Sakura know he realizes what happened was a flashback, and Sakura is extremely grateful he couldn't see what she saw.

 

"Kakashi-sensei, I apologize for interrupting our mission. I'll do better in the future."

 

Kakashi ruffles her hair, and Sakura leans into it a little. She missed this from him.

"Actually, Sakura. I think we should go back to the village. This has turned into a B-ranked mission, and none of you are ready for that."

 

Sakura meets Sasuke and Naruto's eyes, and they nod. As one, they make their case to Kakashi, insisting they continue the mission. Kakashi clearly doesn't really want to put up with this, but with all three of them insisting they help the people of Wave, he eventually caves, and they continue on their way. As they walk, Naruto explains the rest of the fight with the Demon brothers to her in great detail. He enthusiastically describes how Sasuke and he had fooled them with shadow clones and then trapped them against a tree with ninja wire. He looks so proud of himself, and Sakura can't help but be happy for him. Last time he'd gotten injured, and in the process found his ninja way. This time, Sakura thinks he's had his ninja way in him along, even if he hasn't officially voiced it yet.

 

When they stop that night, setting up camp, Sakura volunteers herself and Sasuke to gather the firewood, and when they go into the woods, she pulls him aside.

"I don't think we should interfere with Kakashi's fight with Zabuza."

 

The gaze he shoots her is even,

"Why?"

 

She sighs, fixing her headband, and gathering kindling in her arms.

"Well, I've been thinking about it. I think that fight with Zabuza is a turning point for him. Before that, he was never active with our training, and he hasn't been this time. He's also been doing that stupid, 'I don't really train that much and take suicide missions because I want to die' thing, and after that fight with Zabuza, he promised to take care of us, then he started actually training all of us. Remember?"

Sasuke gives a short nod of acknowledgement, his own arms full of firewood.

"I've been trying for years to get through to him, but nothing has really worked yet. I think we need to let him have this fight as a wake-up call. We can interfere when he gets trapped in the water prison again like last time."

 

She waits for Sasuke to answer, to give her some sign that he agrees or something, but her teammate is silent. As they're almost back to the camp, firewood in hand, he gives her a simple,

"Fine."

She nods back, and they set to making the fire for the evening.

 

 

The next day passes easily, unremarkable, and they sail towards Wave without issue. Just like Sakura remembers though, as they make their way towards Tazuna's, the air begins to get thick with fog. Sakura tenses up a little, and maintains razor focus, unwilling to get lost in this fight. She hears a sharp,

"Get down!"

from Kakashi, and she tackles Tazuna to the ground just as a giant sword flies over their heads and lodges itself in a tree.

 

"Guard formation!"

Kakashi calls, and Sasuke, Sakura, and Naruto make a three way guard around Tazuna, just as they feel Killing Intent flooding the area. Naruto is trembling slightly from the sheer weight of it, and Sasuke, taking notice and seemingly unable to help himself, whispers,

"What, are you afraid, scaredy-cat?"

 

Sakura wants to tell him off, but before she can, Kakashi-sensei's calm voice filters through the mist.

 

"Don't worry Naruto. I won't allow any of my team to die."

 

Naruto straightens, braver, then the fight begins. Water clones come after Tazuna, and the three Genin fight them off as viciously as possible while Kakashi fights the real thing. Sakura doesn't know if Zabuza can sense their general strength level, but she suspects at least Haku can. Last time, Zabuza hadn't sent nearly this many water clones, and they're much harder to fight. Naruto and Sasuke take the lead on attacking and Sakura lets them, protecting Tazuna, and keeping an eye on the fight between Zabuza and Kakashi, which has moved near the water, the mist lightening as they trade blows. Zabuza gets in a lucky shot to Kakashi's temple, which he blocks, but not enough, and the slight dizziness is enough for Zabuza to take the upper hand, and create the water prison. Sakura's mind races, she can't remember if Kakashi had taken any sort of blow to the head last time or not, she'd been too terrified to pay full attention. She hopes it all turns out okay anyways. Sasuke and Naruto take down the last clone, and they hear Kakashi yell,

 

"Take Tazuna and go! Zabuza can't go after you while he's holding me captive!"

 

Sakura was prepared for this, but all the same, she's tired of watching her sensei try and die to save others, like his life doesn't even matter. It's always the same, was always the same right up until Kakashi actually had died last time. Well, this time, Sakura isn't going to stand for it.

 

"No, Kakashi-sensei! You said never to leave a teammate behind! Well guess what? You're our teammate too!"

She exchanges a look with Sasuke, and he gives her a long-suffering look, and moves into guard position by Tazuna. Sakura turns her gaze to Naruto.

"Let's go save our sensei."

 

Naruto grins, wide and feral.

"Let's do it, ya know!"

 

 

Together, she and Naruto charge at Zabuza. Naruto makes a dozen clones, and half of them henge into Sakura. Then, they attack. Naruto sends wave after wave of Naruto and Sakura clones, and Sakura drops under the water while Zabuza dispatches them with ease, even one handed. Touching the bottom of the river, Sakura pulls out the two knives Jiraiya had given her, gathers chakra to her feet, and pushes herself off the bottom, rocketing toward the surface at immense speed. Zabuza senses her, as she knew he would, but with the clones coming from one side and Sakura coming after the other, the only way he'll be able to dodge is if he physically moves. So he does, and Sakura flies out of the water, twin swords aimed at Zabuza's hand as he releases the water prison, jerking his hand out of the way just in time, other arm busy dispatching clones. He kicks out at her, landing a blow to her chest which flings her, and she goes flying through the air, back towards the shore. She lands on something soft, all the air whooshing out of her as she tumbles. She hears a satisfied

 

"Gotcha!"

From underneath and knows Naruto caught her.

"We did it! We were so cool and saved sensei, ya know! My Sakura clones were awesome!"

 

Sakura nods at her excited teammate.

"Yeah, they were pretty good."

 

Sasuke is rolling his eyes at her from his position guarding Tazuna, and she shoots him a mocking salute. Turning back to the fight, Sakura sees Zabuza get stabbed by dozens of senbon, and go limp. Soon enough, Haku comes and collects him, much to Naruto's chagrin. They disappear, and Kakashi walks back across the water towards them, chastising Naruto, and then between one breath and the next, he passes out, falling towards the water. Sakura shunshins over and catches her sensei before he can sink underneath the waves. Doing a brief diagnostic jutsu, Sakura confirms her suspicions it's simply chakra exhaustion. Reinforcing her muscles with chakra, Sakura pulls Kakashi across her shoulders, and starts walking back to her team. Naruto looks worried,

 

"Sakura, what's wrong with Kakashi-sensei?"

 

Sasuke answers for her, which is good, because all of her focus is on carrying her sensei, who weighs at least twice what she does.

"He's just out of chakra, Dobe. He'll be fine once he sleeps it off at Tazuna's."

Tazuna nods at this, though he still hasn't close his jaw from the shock of seeing Sakura pick up her sensei like it was nothing. It's not nothing, it's actually draining a constant but not extreme amount of chakra, but Sakura knows to an average person it appears to be superhuman. She grunts at him,

 

"How far to your place, Tazuna?"
Collecting himself, Tazuna leads them the short distance to his house, Sasuke and Naruto arguing about the extent of Naruto's "awesomeness" all the way there.

 

Wave is off to a good start, Sakura thinks. Well, as good as you can hope when you're a member of Team 7.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Kakashi wakes up as Sakura had anticipated, and he calls them all over when he does. She has to do her best to act shocked that Zabuza is still alive, covering her mouth with her hand and gasping as her sensei announces it gravely. Naruto, as anticipated, insists that they train and get powerful enough to beat them this time. Just like in the past, Naruto is unsettled by the fact Haku is stronger than he is. Sakura thinks it's one of the most endearing yet headshaking things about Naruto, that he thinks a single week of training can overcome any shortcomings he has against Haku. Yet, he had beat Haku in Sakura's past life, so perhaps his stubborn determination isn't as entirely unfounded as it usually sounds.

When Kakashi takes them out to train them, to finally start training them, Sakura can't help a small skip in her step. She wonders, since they're more advanced now, what Kakashi-sensei might teach them. He attempts to start them on the tree walking exercise, but they all walk up the trees no problem, each of them, including Naruto, having learned it before Genin graduation. Kakashi seems unaffected by their success, and simply gives an eye-smile.

"Good. Then we will start on the next phase of chakra control: Water walking."

 

He walks them close by to a flowing river near Tazuna's house and crutches out onto the water. Naruto crows in appreciation and excitement for the possibility of learning to do this. Sakura busies herself instead watching her sensei's face as he does this. Kakashi-sensei's chakra is very low, Sakura knows, and she realizes he must be trying to impress them, in his own way. She shakes her head, smiling.

Way to be dramatic, Kakashi-sensei.

She knows Kakashi-sensei secretly enjoys shocking other people, and especially impressing his students. Sakura is pretty sure there isn't anything he can show her she hasn't seen from him before. That doesn't mean, however, that she doesn't still feel deeply impressed by her sensei every day, even though it's less hero-worship and more fondness and respect. When Kakashi walks off the water and asks them to give it a try, Naruto loudly declares he will try first, and runs straight at the water, chakra flaring to life on his feet. He makes it about two steps before plunging face first into the river. Sakura laughs as Naruto comes up spluttering, but her laughter does nothing to dampen her teammate's spirit, and he bounds out of the water, ready to watch Sasuke and Sakura try. Seeing the expression of mirth on Sasuke's face, Naruto yells,

 

"I'd like to see you do it, Teme!"

 

Sakura is interested to see what Sasuke will do here. She knows full well Sasuke can water walk, just like she can. Will he show his ability, blame it on Itachi for teaching him? Sasuke smirks at Naruto, then walks out towards the water. He slows once he reaches the shore, and puts one foot carefully on the water, then the other. Sasuke takes slow, careful steps, and about four or so steps in, he tumbles into the water as well, though he just drops to about knee level, unlike Naruto who had literally tripped. Sakura is impressed with his acting ability. If she didn't know full well that Sasuke could already water walk, she would have thought he had stumbled and fallen in. Sakura wasn't sure what his plan was about that, and she'd be sure to ask him later, but as for herself, Sakura had no qualms about showing her ability. She had perfect chakra control in her last life, she could do the same now. After all, she'd water walked on the second try in her past. She could afford to do it in one go in her new time. So Sakura calls out,

 

"Good job Sasuke!"

 

As her wet teammate shakes his head at her, looking like he's disappointed with himself. Sakura knows he's actually just expressing his disappointment at her cheering for him when she knows full well he's pretending. So she smiles, looks at Kakashi, who gives her a nod, permission for her to try, and Sakura walks out onto the water easily, stopping in the middle of the river and turning to her team.

 

"Well, it looks like Sakura here has perfect chakra control."

Kakashi-sensei says mildly to her two teammates.

Sasuke scowls, and Sakura shoots him a grin. Sasuke may think he's better than her, and in many ways he would be right. As far as chakra control goes, though, Sakura is still on top of that contest. Naruto shakes his head, clearing some of the water off and splashing Sasuke in the process, and cheers,

 

"Nice job Sakura! I'll come join you! I'll learn this in no time, ya know!"

And her knuckleheaded, orange wearing teammate charges the water again, pretty much instantly falling in yet again.

 

Sakura walks calmly, but slowly off the water and back to her sensei and Sasuke, followed by a sopping wet Naruto. Just like last time, Kakashi tells Sasuke and Naruto to train until they get it, night falls, or they run out of chakra, and places himself and Sakura on guard duty. Last time, Sakura had felt so proud that her sensei trusted her to protect the bridge builder with him with him being chakra exhausted and all. Though she had felt disappointed that she wouldn't be allowed to stay with Sasuke. This time Sakura knows it's actually because while there is little to no danger to the bridge builder until Zabuza recovers, but Tazuna doesn't know that, and he didhire them to guard him while he built the bridge. She parts from Sasuke and Naruto with a smile, and a tip for Naruto on how to stay on the water better, which he listens intently to. As excitable as he is, Naruto is actually a very good student, if you let him practice, with little tips and help from time to time.

 


She and Kakashi-sensei follow Tazuna to the bridge in a comfortable silence. If Naruto progresses around the same way as last time, he will learn water walking by the time Zabuza comes back, maybe even a little faster this time. It follows that if Sasuke decides to stay with him the entire time, that means Sakura has a couple days in front of her with just Kakashi-sensei and herself. She wonders about the merits of telling him about her chakra sensing abilities. He hadn't helped her with them in her last life, she hadn't even known she had the potential to develop them until she'd met Tenzou. Sakura recalls the friendly man's gentle instructions and calm afternoons before the Pein invasion, sitting on a training ground and practicing her chakra senses on Kakashi and Naruto while they worked on his shadow clones.

Kami, I miss Tenzou.

She'd had heard from Shisui that he'd somehow gotten out of ROOT, and that he was on the same Anbu team as Kakashi, which fit with what she knew from her past life. Sakura still wished she could take down ROOT, but Jiraiya hadn't been able to figure out exactly who was spearheading it now, and had told her to lay low until it was figured out. She had reluctantly agreed, but she was growing more restless about it. Sakura was jarred from her thoughts when she stepped onto the bridge and Tazuna announced her and Kakashi's presence to his workers, as the ninja guarding the bridge. Nodding politely, she and Kakashi-sensei took up guard positions by the end of the bridge. Going back to her original thought, Sakura decided to chance it and announce her chakra sensing ability to her sensei.

 

"Kakashi-sensei?"

He turned his head towards her slightly, a sign he was listening, so she continued.

"I can, um, see chakra signatures. I always thought it was normal to just be able to kind of know where people were, but I was reading about it recently, and the book said not all people can do that, that it's called 'chakra sensing'? What do I do with it, can I get better at it?"

 

Sakura had thought it was normal in her past life to have a 6th sense for where people were around you, but she had chalked it up to being a trained ninja until Tenzou had said something about it. With training, she had gone from a general sense of knowing, to being able to actually sense where people were with a little more precision, though still blurry if she didn't know them well, as well as being able to translate the chakra flow of her precious people into what their emotions must be. She'd never been able to take it farther than that. The war had started, and Tenzou...

Blank eyes, strapped to a table in Orochimaru's lab, staring at her, through her, looking for a rescue that had never come.

well, she hadn't trained her chakra sense after, actually, she'd never even been able to tell Tenzou about her progress into the seeing some range of feelings. Maybe Kakashi-sensei would know something more.

 

Kakashi looks at her appraisingly,

"Well, that's interesting. Close your eyes and tell me, what do you sense from me?"

 

Sakura closes her eyes obediently, but before she pushes her senses out, she cracks an eye open,

"Everything I sense about you, sensei?"

Kakashi gives her a short nod, so Sakura reaches out her sense and examines her sensei with chakra alone, narrating what she finds,

 

"Alright, it's a little harder than usual, but that's probably because your reserves are still low, sensei. Your, chakra, I guess, is flowing in a calm sort of way, like the surface of water, though there are little jumps, maybe peaks? I feel like that's supposed to mean you're calm, but maybe interested, probably by what I'm sensing?"

 

Kakashi-sensei gives a long "hmm" before saying,

"Anything else?"

 

Sakura focuses once again, and this time she takes a deep breath, trying to feel as well as look.

"You feel like the air before a storm, sensei."

She leaves out the part where he feels like safety to Sakura, feels like home. She's pretty sure that's just her associations with her sensei more than it is what his chakra actually looks and feels like.

As she keeps her eyes closed, feeling only the chakra, Sakura starts feeling emotional, which sure, she's a crybaby, but she also, oddly feels like not all of the emotions are hers. Focusing in on that feeling tightly, she explores the foreignness of the emotions, trying to put her finger on why they feel so odd. She feels sentimental and bittersweet, but that's expected, thinking of her past Kakashi while looking at this one, but that's not what's bugging her. She goes deeper inside of herself, and these emotions, chakra sensing all the while, and takes a deep calming breath, trying to allow herself to see the unseeable.

The deep breath, along with the focus on Kakashi-sensei and not herself, unlocks something, and Sakura can feel the chakra modulations as if they were her own. She feels the calm inquisitive feelings of her sensei as if they were her own. Sensing something beneath the surface, Sakura reaches for it, trying to see, and all of the sudden she's drowning. She's no longer on the surface, on the outside, feeling. She is the feelings, and she can't get out, can't breathe, and she gasps for breath. There's no way out, no exit or solution, just darkness and drowning and Sakura feels utterly hopeless. It's familiar, too familiar, yet somehow it's not quite the same. She panics, fighting against the feeling, desperate to get out. Something flares painfully before her, sharp and hard, and Sakura snaps back into herself. She withdraws her chakra instantly, opening her eyes and dropping to her knees, coughing.

 

what the hell was that??

 

Kakashi-sensei regards her curiously, hand over his Leaf headband, so Sakura catches her breath and tries to explain it the best she can.

 

"I tried to see your chakra better, and I was sort of able to immerse myself in it, and I felt the same calm with peaks of interest except this time I felt them instead of sensed them, if that makes sense. There was something else, but when I tried to reach for it, something went wrong. It felt like I was drowning, like I'd never see the surface again. But I'm not sure what I even mean by that but it made sense somehow? I'm sorry, sensei, I know that didn't make sense."

 

Sakura gets back to her feet, waiting for Kakashi-sensei to give her some sort of verdict. He gives a "hmm..." and is silent for a moment. She feels kind of shivery and awful all over, the feelings of drowning, of being alone in the dark, are still fading. Sakura has no idea what she did wrong but she's pretty sure she never wants to do that again. She wonders what that flare she'd felt was.

 

"Well, Sakura. You were wrong, you are not a chakra sensor. Not in the traditional sense anyway."

 

Not in the traditional sense?

Sakura looks quizzically at her sensei.

 

"When a chakra sensor reaches out their chakra sense, they see the form of another's chakra, kind of like you said. However, chakra sensors see chakra flow, and if they are trained enough, can distinguish chakra colors, natures, and some special chakra properties, depending on the sensor. You did accurately guess my chakra nature, which is lightning, however, chakra sensors are able to tell them apart by chakra flow, not because it 'feels' that way. It may seem like sensing is a field where one 'feels' things, but it's really more of a 'seeing' trait. What you just did and described to me doesn't fit into that at all."

Kakashi has his arms crossed, staring into the distance, contemplative.

 

Sakura honestly feels a little lost at this point. If she isn't chakra sensing, she has no idea what to label what she can do, if there's even a label for it.

"And.. What is it that I did, Kakashi-sensei?"

 

He turns, seriousness in his gaze,

"Sakura, I'm not sure exactly what to call that. I've never seen it before. You didn't see the flow of chakra, you saw, essentially, spiritual energy. You were able to accurately decipher my current spiritual state, that's why you could guess at what I was feeling. Additionally, you said you felt them as if they were your own. I didn't feel your chakra presence poking at mine at all, which is usually the case when a chakra sensor tries to sense too hard. They flood the person in question with their own chakra by accident."

 

Now she feels a little panicked. She isn't a chakra sensor, she's sensing spiritual energy?

"What does that even mean, sensei?"

 

She looks at Kakashi-sensei, worried she's somehow upset him and also because these kind of things don't happen to Sakura. They happen to someone like Naruto, or Sasuke even. But not to Sakura. Sakura doesn't just develop weird powers that no one knows about. Without Tsunade she wouldn't have any sort of skill set at all, right? Kakashi must catch her rising panic, because he loses the sudden serious look and gives her a reassuring eye smile, crossing the short distance to ruffle her hair.

 

"There, there Sakura. It's nothing to worry about. You may even have a new Kekkai Genkai, that's nothing to worry about. I'll see what I can find out when we get back to the village, okay?"

 

Sakura nods, steadying herself with even breathing, trying not to gulp air and panic like she wants to. After a few minutes it even works, and she passes the rest of the guard shift in peace. As they walk Tazuna back towards his house, Sakura thinks about what she's going to tell Sasuke about this. She has to tell him, there's no question of that. While she's mentally running through her earlier conversation with her sensei, something stops her in her tracks.

 

Kakashi-sensei hadn't been at all upset or concerned that she'd said she felt like she was drowning while feeling his "spiritual energy", and he hadn't brought it up afterwards. She had just dismissed it as unimportant at the moment, but what if Kakashi-sensei had just been deflecting? It dawns on her,

 

He wasn't worried about that sensation because he knows what I saw. That's what's underneath the underneath of Kakashi

She recalls the darkness, the feeling of drowning with no escape, the hopelessness. Sakura recalls her past life, recalls how she felt seeing Shikamaru's dead body, Ino's, Kakashi-sensei's, Sai's. The hopelessness and despair she'd felt at all of her loved ones being dead. The hopelessness of the fight against Kaguya, knowing no matter how hard she fought, there was really not much left to even fight for. She'd felt like that then, the drowning and the hopelessness and unending dark. But Naruto had saved her, and Sasuke too, given them a ray of hope. Sent them back to fix things. And that feeling of hopelessness had faded, replaced with a burning desire to do better, though she would never forget the pain and the loss of her past. Her current situation of spacing out during battle was proof enough that the pain of the loss hadn't faded with time.

Kakashi-sensei...

 

Sakura realizes she has actually stopped walking, and Tazuna and Kakashi-sensei have turned, probably wondering why Sakura stopped in the middle of the road. She runs to catch up, playing it off like she was fixing a sandal. If her thinking was correct, her sensei was drowning, little by little, day by day, right in front of all of them. Sakura had known things were not great for him, with all of his self sacrificial plays to save others, his tendency to avoid relationships with others, his amount of time dedicated to talking with the dead. Sakura had her own dead, a lot of them. But come hell or high water, she wasn't going to lose them this time.

 

Kakashi-sensei may be drowning, but I'm going to learn to swim

Chapter Text

During dinner, Naruto gets into a fight with Tazuna's grandson, just like last time. When Kakashi goes to talk to the boy, and Naruto storms away to train, Sakura grabs Sasuke and drags him outside for a meeting. They find a quiet spot and Sakura keeps watch for Kakashi or Naruto's chakra, or whatever it is she senses when they come near. Sasuke doesn't look the least bit questioning about what she's trying to hold a meeting for, just waits quietly for her to start talking. She relates everything that happened with her "chakra" sensing abilities, including a slight theory she came up with during dinner.

 

"Sasuke, I've been thinking about it some, and I'm pretty sure it was chakra sensing, at least mostly, in our last timeline. Do you think maybe Naruto did something to me when he sent us back? Can you do anything you couldn't before, or have any of your abilities changed?"

 

 

The Uchiha crosses his arms, pensive. After a moment's thought, he stiffens a little, looking to meet Sakura's eyes in the dark.

 

"My Chidori is a little harder to use. I thought it was because of the smaller chakra pool. It's still harder to use now, though."

 

 

Sakura frowns slightly.

 

"What could that even mean?"

 

She receives only a shrug in response. So she decides to put the topic aside for now, and ask the other questions that are pressing.

 

"Okay, we can deal with it when we get back to the Leaf. Why are you training with Naruto? I know you can already water walk."

 

 

Sasuke turns his head away from her, and Sakura knows it's a sign of embarrassment. He gives her a 'hn', but she waits for him to vocalize it.

"Dobe learns faster when we're rivals. Also, last time, when he finally accomplished it he fell out of the tree, and I had to catch him. This time-"

 

 

Sakura imagines Naruto, stubborn and training alone, desperate to catch up to his two teammates and falling behind.

 

"He might drown. I get it, Sasuke. I should have remembered that from last time. Okay, so you're planning on staying just a couple steps ahead of Naruto to encourage him until he trains with Jiraiya?"

Sasuke nods, and Sakura asks the final question, the one that's looming on their immediate horizon.

 

"Are we going to change the way this final battle goes?"

 

 

They both stay quiet for a moment, running through what if scenarios. Sakura knows they're beginning to run out of time before Kakashi-sensei or Naruto come looking for them. She opens her mouth to say so, when Sasuke speaks.

 

"I don't think we should change the battle. We can't risk Zabuza or Haku joining the Akatsuki. Also, I want to beat Haku this time. Additionally, that'll give me a reason to know Chidori, since I'll likely see Kakashi do it during this fight with my Sharingan."

 

Sakura nods in agreement, but she feels a twinge of guilt. If Naruto knew, their Naruto, he'd be so disappointed in them for not trying to save everyone. Sakura can't save everyone, though. She's not Naruto. She's much more selfish. She would rather sacrifice Zabuza and Haku in the hopes that she can keep her precious people safe. Maybe that makes her a bad person, but Sakura can't find it in herself to care that much. Sasuke doesn't seem to have more to say, and neither does Sakura, so they make their way back to Tazuna's. Kakashi raises an eyebrow at them but says nothing, so Sakura finds her bedroll, and goes to sleep.

 

 

 

The rest of the week passes quickly, and without note, which Sakura is grateful for. On the last day before the confrontation with Zabuza, Sasuke and Naruto stumble into the house for dinner, and the smile on Naruto's face is contagious.

"We did it. We can water walk now."

Having said that, Naruto basically collapses, and Sasuke catches him, dragging him up the stairs to bed, and Sakura feels relief. Things are going much the same way so far. Sakura hopes that it continues, that their luck will hold out. She knows that being part of Team 7 usually means bad luck and disaster at every turn, but she's hoping that it'll at least be the same disasters this time. She finishes dinner, heads upstairs, double checks her pack, and prepares for the fight the next day.

 

 

 

On the bridge, Tazuna behind her and the fight ahead of her, Sakura knows she got a little too ahead of herself hoping things would go smoothly. Unlike last time, when Haku had refused to kill Sasuke because he was a child, he seems to have no such restrictions this time, and he's fighting Sasuke much more seriously. Once again, Sasuke is trapped in a chamber of ice mirrors, but Naruto hasn't shown up yet. Hadn't he shown up already last time? Kakashi-sensei's fight seems to be going alright so far, and Sakura reminds herself that her sensei is one of the strongest ninja in the Leaf, if not in all 5 elemental nations. Still, she can't help but worry about him, watching the intensity of the two fights going on right before her eyes.

 

Sakura hates this a little, standing and protecting Tazuna, forced to watch her teammates resolve their own fights, but she knows it's their mission, to protect the client, so Sakura's job is important. Important enough that she chokes down the shiver, the terror that she feels, watching her teammates. Sasuke is doing better than last time, having unlocked his Sharingan already, but Haku is throwing needles at much more vital spots this time as well. She can't really see clearly what's going on in the mirror prison Haku has trapped her teammate in, but she has seen at least one mirror shatter, then get remade. She got a glimpse of Haku at one point as well, and he looks a little worse for the wear.

Tazuna shifts behind her, nervous. Sakura can't blame him, she's nervous too. She feels the fear rising up in her throat, not because of Haku or Zabuza, really. Just watching, knowing her teammates could die and she isn't protecting them, might have to watch them die again. Sakura isn't sure she could handle it, isn't sure she wants to handle that. She shakes her head, getting rid of that train of thought. Sakura is a ninja, and ninja sometimes watch their friends go down. She can't stop being a ninja, there's far too much she needs to protect. She takes slow, deep breaths, and just when Sakura feels like she is getting a measure of control, Naruto shows up , and Sakura breathes a sigh of relief. While Sasuke, Sakura, and Kakashi are all technically at the Jounin level, not that everyone is aware of that, Naruto's mere presence brings a measure of calm to Sakura. Naruto never gives up, and he can help Sasuke.

 

"Naruto! Help Sasuke!"

 

Naruto turns to her and gives her a thumbs up and a blinding grin.

 

"I've got this, ya know!"

 

Sakura thinks maybe she does know. Naruto charges at Haku's ice prison, forming a dozen clones as he does so. This Naruto is slightly better trained, and Sakura wonders for a moment if she's witnessing history changing, if she's going to see Naruto make the smart move and attack the mirrors from the outside. He appears to, and Sakura wants to cheer. One by one though, his clones pop against the ice, and Sakura realizes with a groan that the real Naruto is once again inside the ice mirrors with Sasuke.

 

Once a knucklehead, always a knucklehead...

 

Confident for the moment that Sasuke and Naruto will finish their fight, and unable to see most of it even if she wanted to, Sakura turns her attention towards her sensei. Kakashi and Zabuza are both shrouded in a deep mist at the moment, and Sakura can't see them either. She extends her chakra sense, or what she's come to think of as her chakra sense, out across the battlefield, listening for the impressions of her teammates. Naruto is easily felt, a flame of brightness which draws Sakura's spirit. She senses his resolve, his energy, and it takes a lot of her own energy to tear her attention away from him, Naruto's spirit is magnetic, it almost draws her in, but she forces it on to her next teammate. Sasuke feels a mix of frustrated, amused, and determined. There's no panic yet amongst them, and Sakura feels a little more confident.

She's a little more hesitant to reach out to Kakashi again, knowing what she found before, but she does anyway, promising herself she won't lose herself, just scrape the surface. Kakashi-sensei feels laser focused, no emotion at all, really. There's a feeling of power there, not the kind that Naruto puts out, large and overwhelming and so thick you could almost choke on it, or even like Sasuke, all cold rage, and the sensation of burning, burning from the intensity of his hate. Kakashi in a fight feels, terrifying. There's no emotion, just cool, calculated moves. No fire or burst of energy to feel his presence. There is nothing, and then there is an attack. It's a silence that almost has a weight of its own. Actually, now that Sakura looks a little closer, there is a slight air of desperation about Kakashi, and Sakura realizes he's worried about them. His team. 

 

Something is rumbling, something big is happening. Sakura whips her head to look back towards the ice mirror prison, and she looks just in time to see the entire thing shatter. Naruto has red around his eyes, and Sakura knows what that means. He's standing over Sasuke, who is laying beneath him. Still conscious this time, Sakura sees. Haku must have caught Sasuke off guard. Naruto is growling at Haku, and their fight is brief. Naruto hits him hard enough to shatter his mask and knock Haku to the ground. Before he can regain his feet, Naruto is on him, and Sakura can see the moment Haku surrenders. She can also see the moment the Fox leaves Naruto and  Naruto sags a little, unwilling to kill someone he had seen as a potential friend. Then it all changes. Sasuke appears behind Haku, and slits his throat, easy as anything. Sakura's jaw drops. Haku drops to the ground, a puppet with its strings cut. Everything on the bridge just stops, as if holding its breath.

 

Naruto springs into action first,  Sakura is too far away to hear words but she can tell Naruto is yelling at Sasuke. In fact, judging from his shaking posture, Naruto might even be crying. Sakura wants to run to them, to intervene in this budding fight. But she isn't the only one, and before Sakura can leave Tazuna unguarded, before Naruto and Sasuke see it or put up their guards, Zabuza appears between them, standing over his apprentice, and stabs Sasuke with a kunai, who crumples to the ground. Distractedly, Sakura notices that Zabuza only has the use of a single arm, and she wonders where his sword went. 

 

 

Sasuke is down. Sasuke is down. The words pound through Sakura's head and it takes a couple seconds for the rest of her to catch up. When it does, Sakura breaks into a run, abandoning Tazuna, abandoning the mission. As if any mission could stand between Sakura and getting to her fallen teammate. As she runs, Sakura hears the chirping that only comes from Chidori, and her sensei's hand comes through the front of Zabuza's chest. Sasuke is still down, and Sakura is still running. She dodges around Kakashi and Zabuza, Naruto looking on in horror, and slides to her knees next to Sasuke, hands already stretching out with medical ninjutsu. It's bad, Sakura can tell already. Sasuke is choking on blood, each breath spitting more and more of his precious lifeblood, and Sakura can see it pooling under his body. Zabuza stabbed him in the chest, and it's nicked his heart, Sakura can feel it.

She pours her medical chakra into him, finding the tear in a vital artery, the nick in his heart that's sucking in air, and she pushes chakra at it, knitting him together with practiced ease. Sasuke is still conscious, eyes blown wide and terrified, he's grasping at her hands, and Sakura can hear him making small pained noises, tiny little cries that betray that her teammate, after witnessing the literal end of the world, is still afraid to die. And he's going to die, if Sakura can't stabilize him. She knits the hole in his heart closed, as if it was never there at all, and moves on to the artery, pumping his blood out into the world with every frantic beat of his heart. Using her chakra like a needle and thread, she stiches the artery, closing it slowly, one little mistake could cost her teammate his life. When he's stable for the moment, though not out of the danger zone, Sakura allows herself to notice Naruto hovering, Kakashi on her other side, and she looks to see a veritable army of Gato's, marching towards them. Naruto is panicking over Sasuke, yelling, but Sakura can't hear it. Can't afford to hear it. Kakashi is panicking too, though his panic is completely silent. She takes a deep breath. 

 

C'mon Sakura. Tsunade trained you for this. Give orders, save the patient, get out of here.

 

 

Sakura takes a deep, steadying breath. Pushes her own panic away, and enters an emotionless leader role, one she's watched Tsunade play for so long.

 

"Kakashi-sensei, Sasuke is going to be fine. You and Naruto need to handle that army. Now."

 

There is no room for argument in her voice, no hesitation or weakness, Sakura can't afford to feel any of it. Kakashi snaps to attention, and Sakura hears a sharp slap as Kakashi hits Naruto, and Naruto stops screaming, starts focusing. Which means Sakura no longer has to, and she focuses back in on Sasuke.

 

She's stitched the artery shut, but there are quite a few more major bleeds to go. Sakura loses herself in the stitching, and in her own chakra. The world narrows to vein, stitch, artery, stitch, push the excess blood out of his body cavities. Repeat. The world blurs around her as Sakura continues, and she only comes back to herself as she realizes she's almost out of chakra, bordering on dangerous.

 

Taking another quick stock of Sasuke, Sakura finds he's alright on the inside, and the only thing left is to stitch up the clean deep slice into his skin. Sakura doesn't have the chakra to close it, unless she uses her Seal Strength of One Hundred. But she can't do that yet. Not while Kakashi thinks she's a Genin. She and Sasuke are going to have a tough enough time explaining how she saved him from death. So Sakura pulls out her medkit, and stitches the top layer of muscle, then the skin, back together with plain old medical cord and a needle. Sasuke can get the scar taken care of at the hospital in Konoha. Sakura uses just the tiniest bit of chakra to hide her work on his heart, and the biggest artery tear. That way when they take Sasuke to the hospital, it'll look like Sakura merely stopped some internal bleeding and stitched a few minor veins and arteries together. That's still far beyond Genin level, but it's at least not at Sannin-level, and that will have to be good enough.

 

Sakura ties off the medical thread. Sasuke mercifully passed out at some point, and Sakura leaves him that way for now, choosing instead to take stock of the battleground before her. It looks like Tazuna's grandson, Inari, managed to get the townspeople together to fight against Gato, and Gato's army is gone. Sakura also sees that Gato no longer has a head, and she can't find it in herself to be sorry about that. Kakashi has his hand on Naruto's shoulder, and the red is receding from Naruto's eyes. He must have let the Fox take him again. And so soon after the last time. Sakura knows he's likely to be chakra exhausted at this point. Still, the second Naruto shakes the Fox off, he is stumbling across the bridge, toward Sasuke, Kakashi not far behind him. Naruto falls to his knees in front of her, in front of Sasuke, and he looks desperately at her, tear tracks on his face.

 

"S-Sakura?"

 

It doesn't look like he could get out another word even if he wanted to. Sakura reaches out an arm to steady him, but withdraws it when she finds she's drenched in Sasuke's blood up to the elbow.

 

 

"He's going to be okay, Naruto."

 

Naruto searches her gaze, looking for a lie. She looks back steadily, letting Naruto see that she's telling the truth. He nods, then topples over. Sakura would reach over to catch him, but she feels a little dizzy herself. As an adult, that surgery would have taken a third of her stores, maybe half if she'd healed the wound opening on the chest. Now, it took her from full chakra stores all the way to zero, and Sakura is feeling it. She looks up at her sensei, and he looks like he's weaving on his feet too.

 

"Kakashi-sensei?"

 

His uncovered eye drifts over to her, and he gives her a lazy eye smile, as if he isn't about to pass out on Sakura for the second time in a week.

 

"Maybe you should sit down for a minute, too."

 

 

He gives her a small salute, as if he's only taking a break because Sakura asked it of him, not because he's about to fall over, and then sits down heavily next to Sakura.

 

"Status report, Sakura."

 

 

Sakura nods, pulling her pack back out and removing an energy bar, she opens it, tears it in half, and starts munching on one, not caring about the blood still coating her hands, and extends the other half to her sensei, who takes it quietly, waiting for her to speak. She knows he wants to know why she can do medical ninjutsu, but first he wants to hear about Sasuke too. Lying to a Jounin is no easy task, luckily, Sakura has done it many times before, even though she wishes she didn't have to lie to her sensei, who'd always been her rock.

 

"He took a kunai to the chest. It missed his vital organs, but he was bleeding inside his chest cavity. I closed off the worst of the bleeding, and drained the excess blood from the cavity. I ran out of chakra before I could fix the muscles by the surface, and the skin. Plus I-I'm not sure how to do muscles so well, Kakashi-sensei. Mikoto, Sasuke's mom, only taught me how to fix cuts and things. I've never had to close more than one bleeding thing before... I stitched it up with medical cord the best I could... I'm sorry, sensei. I'm still working on it..."

 

She hadn't totally lied. She was sorry she had run out of chakra, and she was upset she didn't have the chakra stores to heal a single teammate fully. Mikoto had seemed like the most obvious option to blame the knowledge of medical ninjutsu on, since Kakashi can't follow up with her, because she's dead. She also knows Shisui and Sasuke will back her up, if he asks. Kakashi, nods, clearly thinking it over for a minute, his energy bar gone. Then he puts his hand on Sakura's shoulder, and gives her another eye smile, tired, but sincere, Sakura can tell.

 

"Good job, Sakura. Looks like you're full of surprises too."

 

She glows at the compliment, just because it's Kakashi, and he so rarely doles them out.

 

"Thanks, Kakashi-sensei."

 

They sit in silence for a little while, while a raucous celebration of freedom goes on around them. Sakura finishes her energy bar, but she still feels exhausted. Eventually, Tazuna ambles over to them, and once he learns that Sasuke's alive, he tells them to head on home for the night, and thanks them for their help. Sakura stands, groaning. Behind her, she feels Kakashi doing much the same. Looking at the ground, Naruto and Sasuke still unconscious, Sakura sighs as she realizes she and Kakashi are going to have to carry them. Kakashi wearily kneels, and scoops Sasuke into his arms, very carefully. Sakura is glad, she probably couldn't carry Sasuke gently enough, what with her chakra basically gone, so she drags Naruto onto her back, and she and Kakashi stumble back slowly to Tazuna's home. 

 

 

 

Once she's dropped Naruto off in the bedroom, as carefully as possible, tucking him into his bedroll and trying not to get too much blood on it, she goes to the bathroom, and starts trying to wash the blood off. Sakura hates this part of being a medic. The part after it's over, when the adrenaline is gone, and it's just her, the memories of people she loves with their lives hanging in the balance, and the blood on her hands. She starts scrubbing them, hard, willing, forcing Sasuke's blood off of her hands. She knows he's going to be fine, knows she did the right thing and everything will be fine. She knows this, so why does her traitorous mind still bring up Sasuke's cries, the sound of blood bubbling in his throat, the feel of his heart in her hands. Why, if she saved him and everything is fine, do her hands never wash clean? Why, if Sakura is supposed to heal people and save them, does it feel like the only thing she ever does is lose herself?

 

 

Kakashi's hands gently close over hers, and Sakura realizes that her hands are raw, red, and bleeding. She also realizes she's crying. It's not Sasuke, she thinks. Well, not just Sasuke. It's everyone's blood, always on her hands. She hadn't done this in a while though, scrubbed and scrubbed until there's no skin left on her hands, and she hates herself for backtracking enough to do it again. She looks up at her Sensei's tired, concerned face. She wants to open her mouth and apologize, for her weakness, for crying, for how completely stupid she's being, but the words just don't come. Kakashi tugs her hands gently, and wraps his arms around her.

Sakura can't remember Kakashi ever hugging her before. She can count the the number of times she's hugged him on one hand. It's so surprising that Sakura loses track of the words she was trying to form her mouth around, whatever it was she was trying to say. Instead, to her own dismay, Sakura starts crying harder, and she hugs Kakashi back, clinging to her sensei like he's the only person left in the world. Why is she even crying this much? She is supposed to be better than this. She was supposed to grow out of being the crybaby, was supposed to grow out of crying after a difficult surgery, or putting a comrade back together on the battlefield, but here she is. She remembers Shizune telling her that Sakura caring so much was a benefit to her, that Sakura should never grow out of her tender heart. Sakura wishes Shizune were here now, because she misses her, misses Tsunade. Misses everyone. Well, maybe not everyone. Here in Kakashi's careful hug, Sakura reminds herself that her home is here now, and it's really not so bad. She also realizes Kakashi gives really comforting hugs, and she's definitely got to take advantage of that once in a while.

 

Sakura slowly becomes aware that she's calmed down at some point, and she takes a deep breath. Kakashi releases her, but doesn't say anything. He doesn't have to, and neither does Sakura. She follows her sensei back to the sleeping quarters. Crawling into her bedroll with Kakashi-sensei on one side and Sasuke on the other, Sakura lets herself relax a little bit. Wave is over, everyone is okay. The bridge should be done in a few days, and then they can go home. Kami, Sakura misses Shisui, and the safety of the Leaf village, where she doesn't have to worry about her precious people. Not yet, anyways.

Chapter Text

Over the next several days, Tazuna and his crew finish the bridge, while Team 7 recovers from chakra exhaustion. Well, in Sasuke's case, a little more than chakra exhaustion. All the same, when the bridge is completed, and Tazuna has named it "the Great Naruto Bridge", Sakura is restless to get back to Konoha. Finally, they say their goodbyes and start heading back. Naruto crows the whole way home, replaying his fight blow by blow, over and over. Sasuke, Sakura, and Kakashi-sensei take turns nodding along to Naruto's spiels, they've all learned by now it's better to let Naruto go on than the trouble it's worth to stop him. There's a deep tiredness in all of their eyes, even Naruto when he's inbetween bouts of energy, and Sakura knows they will all be happy to fall into their own beds when they get back.


Sakura sighs in relief when she sees the tall gates of her home village ahead, still strong, still standing. Entering, Team 7 make their greetings to the gate guards wearily, and head towards the Hokage tower to make their report. If it had been a normal C-rank, they could have gone home and made their report the next day, but any missions gone wrong or unexpectedly must be reported right away, which means that just about any mission Sakura has ever been on has had to do immediate reporting. She spares a thought for what it might be like to be on a normal team, where things go the way they're supposed to. Seeing Kakashi grab Naruto by the collar so that he doesn't bound up the stairs before the rest of the team, and Sasuke throwing verbal barbs in the young Uzumaki's direction, Sakura decides that her team is worth all the trouble, even if they never go on normal missions.

They enter the Hokage's office, and Kakashi barely gets out a weary "Mission report", still holding Naruto by the collar, before Naruto launches into a loud and dramatized retelling of their C-rank turned A-rank. Iruka sensei, who's standing just behind the Hokage, along with another council member Sakura recognizes but couldn't name, look shocked as Naruto starts explaining the second fight with Zabuza. Naruto only sobers slightly when he recalls the end of the fight, with Sasuke down. He shifts uncomfortably, describing the way Sasuke had slit Haku's throat, the way Zabuza had nearly killed Sasuke. When he finally finishes his tale, all the jaws in the room drop. Even the Hokage puts down his pipe for a moment, pinning Kakashi-sensei with a disbelieving stare. Kakashi gives a half-hearted salute.

 

"It's true, Lord Third."

 

The Hokage stills a little, then relaxes, and gives a fond look to Naruto, putting his pipe back into his mouth.

"Well, Naruto, sounds like you had an exciting trip out of the village."

 

Naruto smiles, punching the air. Sakura will never understand how he always has this much energy.

"That's right. We're the best, ya know!"

 

The Third inclines his head slightly, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

"Naruto, could I entrust you to take Sasuke to the hospital? He's going to need to be examined by a medic, although I'm sure Sakura did a wonderful job."

 

The Third gives her a look that Sakura feels sure is meant to look encouraging, but she finds condescending. She almost snarls, but restrains herself, reminding herself that as a mere Genin what she had done should seem impossible.

Naruto shouts his assurance that the job will be done, and he drags Sasuke out of the room, chattering all the way about ramen. Sakura stands a little straighter, knowing they are going to be questioning her next. She may as well preempt it, prove she isn't as stupid as the Hokage thinks she is.

 

"Should I go too, Hokage-sama? After all, I might need to tell the medic what happened."

Again, the Hokage gives her that condescending look. Sakura wonders if it actually works on anyone, if he's trying to rile her up on purpose. She considers that it might actually be on purpose, and tamps down her temper. A little...

 

"That won't be necessary, Sakura. The medic will be able to figure it out. Would you mind telling us here what happened, and how you know medical ninjutsu?"

 

She's been preparing this very speech all the way home. Sakura takes a deep breath, and starts,

"To answer your first question, Mikoto Uchiha taught me how to use medical ninjutsu. Well, medical chakra anyway. She told me that even if you can make medical chakra, you can't be a good medic until you know all about the body so that you know how to fix it."

Tsunade and Shizune were actually the ones that told her all of this but Sakura hopes they buy it. It's not like they can prove she's lying, anyway.

"So I've been studying medical texts ever since because after... After Shisui almost died, I never wanted a friend to get hurt and me not be able to help ever again."

She sniffles, a little dramatically. Iruka-sensei's face is filled with compassion, and the Hokage looks accepting so far.

Such suckers for a sad little girl act. It's kind of pathetic.

"Anyway.. What happened with Sasuke was.. Well... I saw him get hurt, and I ran as fast as I could, and I thought he was going to die, and I freaked out a little bit. I even yelled at Kakashi-sensei..."

Sakura tries to look a little abashed here, as if it was something to be ashamed of to freak out when a teammate almost dies. It's not a sign of weakness, Shizune always told her, but a sign of strength. But Sakura knows at this age she wouldn't know that, would see her emotions as something to be ashamed of, so she pretends.

"I poured my chakra in and I tried to heal the broken bits back together. He stopped bleeding so much, so I think I did okay. But I almost ran out of chakra and I was getting dizzy so I had to use real stitches on his muscle and skin. I don't really remember too much else until Kakashi-sensei came back."

 

 

Everyone in the room accepts her story without question, and Sakura isn't sure whether to be impressed with her own acting skills, or angry that they all assume she's as naive as she is acting. The Hokage congratulates her on saving Sasuke's life, and then Sakura too is dismissed. Sakura knows her story was good enough she's been dismissed in more ways than one, and maybe it's because she's so tired, or maybe it's because she resents a lot of the Third's actions, but Sakura feels angry at all of them. She shoves it down inside, tells herself that everyone here loves the village, and they're simply doing their best.

Turning around, fully anticipating simply walking out and going straight to bed, she catches her sensei's defeated posture. The heavy implication is that Kakashi will have to give a more full report the second Sakura walks out of the door. Kakashi-sensei doesn't particularly look like he's about to give a report, he looks like he's staring down the gallows. Sakura wonders if the Third is going to chew him out for letting the mission continue, or if her sensei will meet with any trouble for his reckless ability to get chakra exhausted at least once on almost every mission he attempts. Sakura knows Kakashi is at least as tired as she is, and Sakura is feeling kind of spiteful, and she knows Kakashi hates to give reports anyway, so she ignores the implication that Kakashi should stay, and says, all innocence,

 

"Kakashi-sensei, will you walk me home? Shisui will want to hear about the mission, and, and I don't think I can talk about it again."

She stifles another sniffle for the benefit of the Hokage behind her, and the council member and Iruka behind that, but to her sensei in front of her, she winks.

 

Kakashi eye smiles at her, posture relaxing minutely.

"Of course, I have to look out for my cute little students."

He throws a peace sign at the Hokage, and then he and Sakura walk out the door of the office.

 

As the door shuts behind them, Sakura can hear Iruka-sensei spluttering, and she can't fully stop the laugh that comes out of her. Kakashi-sensei chuckles beside her, and ruffles her hair. They leave the tower, and to her surprise, Kakashi does start walking home with her. Maybe she played it up a little too hard.

 

"Kakashi-sensei, I don't actually need you to talk to Shisui. I know you're tired too."

 

Kakashi shrugs nonchalantly beside her, giving her an eyesmile again,

"I know, but the Hokage can see pretty far out of those windows of his, we can at least get out of eyesight."

 

Sakura had so missed the sight of her sensei smiling, and feeling his good humor beside her, Sakura starts feeling relaxed again. Sure enough, as soon as they round a corner or two, Kakashi turns to her and gives her a little salute, before disappearing into a swirl of leaves. She smiles a little, happy to have made her sensei truly smile, and looking forward to seeing Shisui and telling him everything, and she hurries home. When she gets home, she finds a note pinned on the table with a kunai,

"Gone on a mission, see you when I get back!
-Shisui"

 

Sakura hopes for her own sake that it's a short mission Shisui is on, but resigns herself to an evening without him. As she trudges up the stairs, she realizes that might not be so bad, she could absolutely use a long shower, and she feels like she could sleep for a week.

 

 

The next morning Sakura finds Shisui sitting at the table, eating breakfast. Hearing her enter, he flashes her a bright smile.

"Hey there, petal! How was the mission?"

 

Sakura sighs dramatically, throwing herself into a chair at the table, happy to abandon the young girl persona, and her strong teammate mask, and talk about her mission.

"It was a shitshow from start to finish, Shisui. Team 7 luck still holds strong."

 

Shisui busts up laughing at her dramatic entrance and proclamation, and Sakura can't help but laugh herself. Once she has her laughter under control, she tells Shisui in detail about the mission, and he listens attentively. When she finally finishes, Sakura pours herself a cup of tea from the kettle Shisui had placed there at some point, and waits for his response.

 

"So, let me get this straight, petal. You had a traumatic episode on the very first day of the mission, learned you may have some sort of sensory Kekkai Genkai, which you think may have been caused by Naruto's interference in the future, Sasuke almost died and you had to save him by doing open heart surgery on the battlefield?"

 

Sakura takes a sip of her tea, and nods.

"Yeah, that about covers it."

 

He shakes his head at her, smiling sarcastically.

"I see what you mean by Team 7 luck. Do you know why Sasuke killed Haku instead of letting it play out like last time?"

 

Sakura hadn't really considered that in too much depth, so she shakes her head.

"That's actually a good question. I guess I just got so overwhelmed by Sasuke almost dying I hadn't considered why he killed Haku. Plus, it's not like it's anything new for Sasuke to surprise me by killing someone. I'll ask him about it later."

 

Shisui hums thoughtfully,

"Sounds good, petal. Actually, I was wondering if you might check Itachi today, if your chakra has recovered? You can ask Sasuke your questions while we're there?"

 

Sakura checks her chakra levels, and finds she's fully recovered, if a little emotionally tired. She won't deny Shisui this, however. She takes another sip of tea, thinking,

"Okay, but how am I going to convince Itachi to let me do this? What if I actually find something? It'd be hard to explain why as a Genin I can do any of this."

 

Shisui shoots her a puzzled glance,

"Sakura, you don't have to worry about it. Itachi knows you're from the future. Sasuke told him."

 

 

Tea come out of Sakura's nose and she splutters and chokes. Sasuke told Itachi? Did he tell him everything? Sakura wants to demand answers from Sasuke, ask why he thought that would be a good idea. Hadn't they come to protect Itachi? Surely knowledge of what he became the last time wouldn't help. Looking over at Shisui, who still looks a little confused, Sakura realizes she doesn't really have a leg to stand on. After all, Sakura had told Shisui, Shikamaru, and even Jiraiya. Not for the first time, Sakura wishes she had the kind of relationship with her teammate that they at least told each other things. At least Naruto doesn't know. Sakura would have definitely heard about it from her orange clad teammate if he had known.

 

Taking a deep breath, she nods at Shisui,

"Alright, well that's one less obstacle in my way. Let's go talk to Itachi."

 

 

Itachi, as it turns out, knew they were coming, and had taken a day off of his Clan Head duties for the occasion. When Sakura and Shisui arrive, Itachi meets them at the door, and ushers them inside. Polite and calm as ever, Itachi thanks Sakura for her assistance in keeping Sasuke alive during their Wave mission. When she asks where Sasuke and Naruto are, Itachi tells her they've gone out to spar, and the implication that he didn't want Sasuke in the house for this examination hangs in the air, unspoken.

 

Itachi leads them into a bedroom, and turns to Sakura,

"Please, tell me how you'd like to do this."

 

Sakura steadies herself a little, letting herself slip into medic mode,

"Shisui tells me you know everything?"

 

Itachi nods,

"Yes, and he also told me that if I didn't submit to your examination, he would turn me in to the hospital."

 

Shisui affirms unapologetically,

"Yep. Sure did. You don't get to hide things from me, 'tachi. If you're hiding it I know it's serious."

 

Sakura smiles at Itachi at what she hopes is a reassuring and competent way,

"Understood. If you would just sit on the bed, and take your shirt off, we can begin. I assume Shisui will be here as well?"

 

Itachi gives a short nod, and follows Sakura's instructions. Sakura has to admit, she's very nervous. She knows Itachi is a very private person, and she's sure he's at least a little upset with Shisui for forcing this on him, even though he's too polite to show it in front of Sakura. Walking forward, Sakura calms herself, draws medical chakra into her hands, and places them gently on Itachi's pale back. Closing her eyes, she visualizes where her chakra is going, focusing in first on the lungs.

 

"Itachi, please take a slow, deep, breath for me."

He does so, and Sakura feels the intake and exhale of a breath. There isn't anything out of place. At least not yet. That just means if Itachi is ill, it's not a normal disease, and it might be chakra related.

"Okay, can you please activate your Sharingan? I need to see your chakra channels, and that'd be the easiest way."

A second later, and Itachi's chakra hums to life under his skin. Following the channels with her own chakra, Sakura notices Itachi's feel sort of, well, burnt. Following the trail as the burns to his chakra channels worsen, she finds herself behind his eyes, his Sharingan eyes. The nerves and cords, chakra and non-chakra, are looking almost fried at this point. But there's something else pulling at her attention. The channels aren't experience distress right now, even though he has his Sharingan unlocked, which can only mean...

She draws a slow breath.

"Itachi, you've unlocked the Mangekyou, haven't you?"

 

 

Shisui gasps somewhere behind her, but Itachi nods shortly.

"Itachi, I didn't know! Why didn't you tell me?"

 

Itachi just shakes his head, but Sakura has an idea anyway.

"It happened when you killed your parents and that girl, didn't it?"

 

He stiffens, and she knows she found the right answer. Double checking her theory with her medical ninjutsu, Sakura withdraws it, taking a breath and opening her eyes.
Ignoring all the stifled Uchiha emotions in the room, Sakura goes right for her results.

 

 

"The Magekyou Sharingan, as I've been told, is only unlocked through great pain and trauma. I've never studied it in depth, because honestly the only people I knew with one were either war criminals or.. Not inclined for medical treatment. But it looks like, in addition to degrading your regular eyesight, it must be incredibly painful to use. Additionally, it's slowly burning up your chakra channels, and it's currently in the process of spreading to your lungs. Itachi, your chakra endings near the lungs are swollen, as they're trying to heal themselves from the burnt effect. This is causing the blood vessels in your lungs to burst. You're coughing up blood, aren't you?"

 

Itachi meets her eyes, and Sakura meets his gaze evenly, seeing the swirling emotions he's clearly trying to hide. He must find some sort of answer in her eyes, and he nods once. Sakura then turns to Shisui,

"Is any of this happening to you too? Don't you dare lie to me."

 

Shisui's mouth is hanging open, but when Sakura fixes him with a no-nonsense stare, he closes his mouth and answers.

"The eyesight thing, a little bit. It also does sting quite a bit to use, but no coughing fits or blood for me."

 

Sakura gives him a look that clearly says

I'm examining you later

and Shisui seems accepting of it, but he looks meaningfully at Itachi.

"So, petal, can you do anything to help Itachi?"

 

Sakura sighs, thinking it over. She knows what is causing it, but Sakura honestly doesn't know why. And for a medic, that's a problem.

She turns back to Itachi,

"I can relieve some of your symptoms, heal up some of the damage. But you need to not use your Magekyou except as a last resort right now. I'm sorry, but I don't know why it's affecting you specifically in this way, so I can't fix the problem entirely right now. I will help you manage it, however."

 

Itachi looks very much like he's going to thank her and turn down her help, but Itachi and Shisui lock eyes, and after a moment of intense eye contact, Itachi looks back to Sakura and gives her a polite,

"I appreciate your help, Sakura."

 

Nodding along, Sakura brings her medical chakra to the surface again, and heals as much of the damage to Itachi as she can. She manages to soothe his lungs for now, and removes some of the burns from his chakra channels. Sakura knows she doesn't have quite enough chakra stores to restore his eyesight on top of the lungs today, so she settles for that, making sure she relieves pain in every area she can. She feels Itachi start breathing easier under her hands, and she's glad for that. The whole time she works, Sakura's mind is whirring. She has to figure out what's going on with this Mangekyou, a lot of her precious people could be depending on it. She thinks of Sasuke, Shisui, and Kakashi-sensei, as well as Itachi in front of her. She mentally adds it to her ever growing list of things she needs to fix in this timeline. Take down ROOT, save Sai, befriend Tenzou, help Kakashi-sensei, prevent a Great Ninja war, stop Madara, and now, solve the mystery of the Mangekyou. Sakura has a lot to do, but she has to do it. Somehow. The consequences if she doesn't will be devastating.

Chapter Text

The next day, when Kakashi-sensei tells them he would like to sign them up for the Chunin exams, Sakura has mixed feelings about it. Naruto, of course, is thrilled and swears to Kakashi that "the whole team will pass, ya know!" Sakura isn't quite as confident as Naruto that the whole team will pass, but she knows she'll be entering either way. There is no way she can stay out of it, knowing all the things that happen. Well, that might happen. Things have changed enough in the timeline that Sakura has no idea if the Chunin exams will be the same or not, and for that reason alone, they scare her almost as much as they did last time.

Looking over at Sasuke, who is smugly telling Naruto he'd never stand a chance in a fight against him, Sakura remembers the last Chunin exam, watching Sasuke get overtaken by the curse mark for the first time. How terrifying it was to watch her teammate succumbing to a bloodlust she had never seen before. Sakura has seen more than she ever wanted to of Sasuke's insatiable desire for revenge and power, and even the memory of it makes her shiver a little. Things will be different this time, they have to be. She doesn't think she could bear losing Sasuke to a power trip a second time. He's different now though, right? Remembering her dark haired teammate slicing through Haku's throat, she resolves to talk to Sasuke. To try and determine for herself if he still has his loose cannon tendencies. If he does, well. Sakura isn't above telling Naruto and Itachi to keep an eye on him.

Kakashi-sensei gives them the day off to "think" about whether or not they'd like to enter the Chunin exams. Sakura interrupts him, however. She doesn't want a day off, to stew and worry about Sasuke and the exams and everything else. She wants to proactively learn. To make herself stronger so that she can protect Naruto, and Sasuke, and anyone else that needs her.

 

"Sensei?"

 

Kakashi-sensei turns to her and gives her a little half salute that Sakura knows means "I'm listening", so she asks, loud enough that Naruto can hear.

 

"Sensei, I think we all know we would like to enter the Chunin exams. Would you teach us a jutsu instead of giving us the day off? If we're going to enter... Well, I want to be ready."

 

 

At the very idea of being taught a jutsu, Naruto runs up beside Sakura and gives a loud

"Yeah! Learning jutsu is so cool, ya know!"

And Kakashi sweat drops, taking them in. Sakura gives her sensei a pleading look. No matter her rank, no matter how many years she's actually lived, no one knows more jutsu than her sensei, and she would much rather learn from Kakashi than on her own. She's done with being foisted off on other people, to be other people's burden to teach. She wants to learn from her sensei, one of the strongest ninja she knows.

 

Kakashi rubs the back of his head, chuckling nervously.

"Well, how could I deny a request from my cute students?"

 

Naruto cheers, slapping Sasuke on the back, and even Sasuke can't help smiling. Sakura beams. She won't be left behind, won't let Kakashi-sensei hide from them this time. They're Team 7, and they'll act like a team!

Kakashi-sensei motions for them to sit, so they gather around their sensei, waiting eagerly for whatever the Jounin has to teach them. Naruto practically bounces up and down, and Sakura can tell it's taking all of his self-control not to burst out and ask impatiently what Kakashi plans on telling them. A sign of a different Naruto, to be sure. In their last life, Naruto wouldn't have bothered even attempting to wait to ask, he'd just do it. Living with Sasuke and Itachi all this time and having had friends all the way through the Academy had certainly produced a more well-adjusted Naruto, if no less excited. Producing chakra paper from out of thin air, Kakashi carefully hands them all a slip of it.

 

"This is chakra paper. It's easiest to learn jutsu of your own chakra nature, so I'll need to know what yours are before we do any jutsu work."

 

 

Naruto shoots his hand in the air, as if to ask a question, then clearly unable to wait to be called on, blurts out,

"Kakashi-sensei, what's a chakra nature?"

 

 

Sasuke huffs, and Kakashi looks amusedly at Naruto, then shifts to Sakura,

"Sakura, would you explain what a chakra nature is?"

 

 

This is a test, Sakura knows it is. Well, she's not a paper ninja for nothing. Naruto looks at her impatiently, so Sakura speaks quickly before he can interrupt.

 

"Naruto, chakra natures are the kind of element that you are most affiliated with. A Jounin can use several of them, if they're. Kakashi-sensei can use all of them, but it's a lot harder to learn jutsu that is not your natural element."

Sakura could have added her own personal theory that your chakra nature depended on your soul and personality, but keeps that bit to herself.

 

 

Naruto nods importantly, as if he'd actually known this all along,

"So my chakra nature will be all of them, ya know! I'm going to be the best ninja in the village, and that's how I'll become Hokage, believe it! Sensei, what do I do with this paper?"

 

 

Sasuke shakes his head exasperatedly at Naruto, but before they can get into a fight Kakashi holds up a hand, effectively silencing them.

 

 

"Just channel your chakra into the paper. Look carefully to see what your paper does. Naruto, you go first."

 

Naruto focuses for less than a second, it seems to Sakura, then his chakra paper slices itself in half so hard that both halves fly violently out of Naruto's hands. Naruto looks slightly shocked at the result, and Sakura thinks he may not have actually known what would happen when he channeled his chakra.

 

Kakashi eye smiles at Naruto,

"That was a little more chakra than necessary, Naruto. In any case, we can clearly see that your primary chakra nature is wind. Sasuke, you're next."

 

 

Sasuke channels his chakra a little more carefully than Naruto, and his paper catches fire and splits in half at about the same time. Sasuke raises his eyebrows, which is Uchiha for absolute shock. Sakura finds herself shocked also. She wasn't there for most of Sasuke's training with Orochimaru, but she felt sure that Sasuke's primary element had been lightning in their past life. Judging by the look on Sasuke's face, it certainly wasn't wind and fire equally. 

 

"Sasuke, yours is fire and wind. We'll work with wind right now, since you already know a fire jutsu."

 

 

Sakura can't help but speak up,

"Sensei, isn't wind the rarest element in the Fire country?"

 

 

She already knows the answer, but she feels the need to hear it from Kakashi, as if his saying it will make it more real somehow. Her sensei gives her a nod of affirmation,

"That's right, Sakura. In fact, I only know of one other natural wind affinity in the Leaf, Asuma Sarotubi. Two on the same team is practically unheard of."

 

 

Naruto punches Sasuke in the arm,

"We're the strongest team in the village, ya know! It makes sense we have the rare elements!"

 

Her bright, smiling teammate turns to Sakura, still beaming.

"Your turn, Sakura!"

 

 

Sakura takes her paper, wondering if hers will end up being the same or not. After Sasuke's result, she feels a little unsteady about it, but she wants to know, so carefully, she channels her chakra into the paper, and the paper becomes wet, while crumbling away. She releases a pent up breath she didn't know she had. Her natures are the same. Water and Earth. She never really learned any jutsu in her last life, save medical ninjutsu, so she's interested in changing that this time. She looks up Kakashi, looking for approval, acknowledgement, Sakura isn't quite sure. Her sensei nods pleasantly at her though, and Sakura realizes she may have let some of her insecurity onto her face.

 

 

"Sakura, you are Water and Earth type."

Kakashi claps his hands together and stands up, and an identical Kakashi clone stands next to him.

 

 

"Now that we know your chakra natures, we'll just split into two groups and work on a jutsu. I don't expect you to learn it before the Chunin exams, so don't worry about getting them perfectly today. Sasuke, Naruto, with me please. Sakura, if you'd go with my clone." 

 

 

Sakura nods, she's probably the least likely to damage Kakashi-sensei's clone, unlike Naruto, who's already bursting with chakra, trying to channel it without even knowing a jutsu to do with it yet. Before she turns and leaves with Kakashi's clone, she gives a look to Sasuke, trying to tell him without signs that they need to talk, and soon. Sasuke gives her a brief, tiny nod, and Sakura turns without a word to go with her Sensei's clone, to learn her very first elemental jutsu.

She's trembling a little bit, and it takes her a moment to realize she's actually excited. Excited to finally learn elemental jutsu, to actually catch Kakashi's attention before she's powerful enough to smash a mountain all on her own. Privately, Sakura thinks if she applied herself, she has enough chakra at this point to level a mountain, though maybe only a small one. She just hasn't had the opportunity yet.

 

Kakashi leads them to a small clearing, then turns to her.

"Okay, Sakura. Since your two teammates are more offensively based, it would be good to round out the team with some defensive jutsu. Watch my hand signs carefully."

 

Kakashi slows down his hand signs a dramatic extent, so Sakura can see him shape the various signs. Then he calls out,

"Earth wall!"

 

And a wall of dirt about 8 feet tall appears between Kakashi-sensei and Sakura. It disappears just as quickly, and Kakashi stands back, nodding at her to try it.

Sakura recalls the hand signs he had made, and carefully makes them, without molding her chakra. One at a time. Even though the Academy taught you the hand signs so much it was practically second nature, Sakura still feels like she needs to bring her best, so she focuses. After she's made each sign three or four more times, Sakura gets the pattern memorized. Then, one hand sign at a time, she practices molding the chakra through each individual hand sign, without releasing them at the end just yet. She tries to get a feel for the way her chakra flows from one hand sign to the next, visualizing the way the chakra flows through her body, feels the way it turns to earth, to ground and stability.

After doing this until she feels confident, Sakura goes through the hand signs, molding chakra, when she gets to the final one she slams her hand into the ground and calls 

"Earth wall!"

Releasing the chakra she's molded, Sakura watches as a spear of dirt, about a foot wide and only as tall as her grows from the ground right in front of her. It's disappointingly tiny, but maybe that's to be expected when learning a new jutsu for the first time. Sakura has always had smaller chakra stores than her peers, though she's worked hard to rectify that this time around, she knows she still only has an average at best chakra pool to draw from. She waits a moment, looking at her pathetic little burst of dirt, and it doesn't fall over on it's own, so she pushes it over herself.

It didn't fall over on its own, that was a good sign, right?

Looking over to see if Kakashi is paying attention, or if he's pretending not to see that tiny earth wall she'd just attempted, she finds that not only is her sensei paying attention to her, he's actually looking considering. The sight surprises her enough she catches her breath. Would he scoff at her efforts, pull his book out and turn away? Sakura takes a deep breath to steady herself and push back her sudden emotions. Kakashi gives her an evaluating glance, 

 

"That was good for a first try, Sakura. What did you do wrong?"

 

Sakura forces herself into the present, into analysis.

"I... didn't add enough chakra?"

 

Kakashi smiles encouragingly, giving her an eye smile.

"Try again."

 

She's learning an elemental jutsu, and Kakashi is helping her. The very thought makes Sakura feel a little dizzy. She's not in the background anymore, not simply the shadow behind Sasuke and Naruto. She's a ninja, a shinobi worth her salt, and her Sensei has noticed. Kakashi, oblivious to her emotions, nods at her fallen earth wall, and Sakura takes a deep, steadying breath, and gets to work.

 

After what feels like hours and dozens of tiny earth walls of varying sizes later, what Sakura had originally seen as encouragement by her sensei now seems like sadistic joy in Sakura's failure. When Kakashi nods at her and tells her to try it again, she almost snaps at him. She is covered in dirt and starting to run low on chakra, and her temper rising as she continues to not get it. Why can't she do this, this simple Chunin level jutsu? Kakashi trusted her to learn this. She has to learn it. Sensing herself going down a dizzying path of self pity and despair, she forces a deep breath, and thinks.

She's been focusing on what the earth wall should look like this entire time, what should it look like, what should it feel like? Kakashi-sensei had said this wall was for defense, had clearly believed she could do it, because Sakura refuses to think Kakashi would show her something she wasn't capable of. He wasn't so cruel. She can do this, somehow. Maybe Sakura is looking at this the wrong way. She stops for a moment, puzzling.

If it doesn't matter what the wall looks like, or what it feels like, what should she be focusing on? She thinks about earth style, how grounding it is, and she tries to imagine someone who is ground to her. She thinks of Shikamaru, the Shikamaru that she lost in a future that's now a long time ago. She remembers how it felt to hug him, how when everything in the world turned itself inside out, what it felt like to seek him out and have him tell her everything was going to be okay. What it felt like to know she was on solid ground, if only for a moment. Of Naruto, and his bright smile and his promise to never go back on his word. Of Rock Lee, who never backed down for even a moment, all the way until the end. Sakura remembers Tsunade, standing tall and strong on behalf of the Leaf village, even when there was no village left to protect, only broken people looking for a leader. Ino, who never left Sakura's side. That's what earth feels like, like safety and strength.

Then Sakura considers the defensive aspect, remembers her own promise to never stop protecting her precious people. Maybe she doesn't need to think about the wall, maybe Sakura needs to think about protecting. Wiping the sweat off of her forehead and dragging herself into the present, Sakura walks so that she's standing in front of Kakashi-sensei, with her back to him. Taking a deep breath, Sakura lets herself remember her sensei, dead on the battlefield. Remembers the despair she felt at seeing him fall, remembers her promise to protect him this time. Instead of fighting the rising emotions, she channels them into her chakra, chanting to herself,

protect them, protect them, protect them!

She finishes the hand sign and slams her hand on the ground, 

"CHA!"

 

 

Sakura feels the huge drain on her chakra instantly, and the ground rumbles as an enormous wall of dirt thrusts itself free, climbing higher and higher. Trees creak and fall, Sakura has to channel chakra to her feet to stay on them as the earth shakes violently from the force of the wall. When the dirt clears, Sakura gapes. In front of her is a wall that must be thirty feet tall, and at least twenty feet wide. She did it. Sakura can protect her precious people. She can. She turns excitedly to Kakashi, tears in her eyes, and an exclamation of joy on her lips. Kakashi-sensei's eyebrow is raised and his eye is wide in surprise.

She smiles widely at him,

"Sensei, I did it!"

 

Then Sakura pitches forward, collapsing from exhaustion, with not enough chakra left to keep her feet or even to keep standing. Before she can hit the ground, Kakashi catches her on his shoulder, picking her up in a piggy-back.

 

"Looks like it. Nice work, Sakura."

 

Hearing a compliment, especially from Kakashi-sensei, and feeling her sensei supporting her, literally, makes Sakura feel like her heart could burst. A grateful tear or two slip down her cheeks, but Kakashi has the good grace not to say anything. 

 

"Thank you, Kakashi-sensei."

 

He doesn't say anything, but his grip on her tightens just slightly, and Sakura isn't sure she's ever felt happier in her life. Kakashi carries her past the clearing, back into town, and Sakura realizes he's taking her home. She opens her mouth to tell him to just put her in the clearing, because she wants to hear how Naruto and Sasuke's training went, and she really needs to talk to Sasuke. Kakashi's strong back and easy carry are comforting though, and Sakura feels his chakra like a physical thing, and she is so tired. Maybe a short break at home before she talks to Sasuke wouldn't be so bad... Her eyes drooping, Sakura falls asleep, laying her head on Kakashi's back.

Chapter Text

Sakura wakes up to Shisui shaking her.


"Hey there petal, rise and shine! You've got a big exam today, and if you don't get up you're going to miss breakfast!"

 

Sakura startles, rolling out of bed and blinking the sleep from her eyes. Was it really already time for her to go to the Academy for the first part of the Chunin exams? She hadn't even gotten the chance to talk to Sasuke yet, she hadn't even packed for the Forest of Death! Panicking, Sakura goes to grab her pack, but stumbles sideways, sleep still pulling at the edges of her awareness and making her slow. She can hear Shisui laughing at her from behind.

"Man, Kakashi said you tired yourself out, but I didn't know he meant you were 'sleep through dinner, the night and still be tired the next morning' levels of tired."

 

Groaning, Sakura throws a shoe at Shisui, missing widely, while she staggers around packing.

"Very funny, I'm awake now."

 

Whatever effect the statement could have made is ruined by Sakura breaking into a yawn in the middle of it.

 

Shisui's laughter only increases, and he hands Sakura her shoe back, ruffling her hair,

"Sure, Sakura, I believe you. Come down for breakfast before you go, okay? No exams on an empty stomach!"

 

Sakura throws her storage scrolls into her pack, and turns to stick her tongue out at Shisui.

"Yes, mom."

 

She finishes packing quickly, double checking her inventory, and then she looks at the clock.

Crap!

Little more than an hour before she needs to be at the Academy. Sakura finds herself more than a little shocked that she managed to sleep for so long. Proof that she's getting soft, she'll have to train that back out of herself eventually. Slinging her bag over her shoulder, Sakura descends the stairs to find that Shiui has made an enormous amount of breakfast.

He really is such a mom, I bet he does this to Itachi too.

She thanks Shisui vigorously, and eats as much food as she can stomach, knowing she needs whatever calories she can store for later. Dieting is definitely a thing of Sakura's past, this time around, she just works to build muscle instead of counting every calorie. Sakura finishes breakfast in a record time, and rises, ready to run to the Academy so that she won't be late. Making her way to the other side of the table where Shisui is sharpening a kunai, she hugs him tightly.

 

"Thanks again for breakfast. You're the best! I'll see you in a couple of days. Wish me luck."

 

He hugs her back, messing with her hair in the process. When they let go, Shisui winks at her.

 

"Luck? Since when have you ever needed luck? Have fun, though!"

 

Smiling, Sakura heads for the door, still feeling a little behind, but much more settled. She leaps to the roofs and starts making her way rapidly towards the Academy. It would have been nice to be able to talk to Sasuke and level with him, but the sleep has done her a lot of good, she knows. Maybe she can catch Sasuke alone while they're on watch in the Forest or something. If they talk in semi-code no one should be able to understand them. Her spirits lift even higher when she remembers that the other Rookies of the Leaf will be there, and today she'll get to meet Rock Lee, Neji, and Tenten.

 

Dropping from the roofs just in front of the Academy, Sakura makes her way in to find that Naruto and Sasuke are already there. Sasuke is leaning impatiently against a wall, and Naruto is bounding all over the place, full to bursting with energy.

"Sorry I'm late, guys. I forgot to set an alarm."

Sasuke hns at her and Naruto starts talking immediately about what the exams might be like and how he's definitely going to win them. They make their way past the fake floor with no problems, entering the correct room on the 3rd floor and signing in. Upon entering the waiting room, which seems even more full of ninja than the Chunin exams of her past life, Sakura catches sight of Shikamaru, and waves. She's about to make her way over when a blur of green enters her field of vision.

 

Rock Lee stands before her, jaw dropped open, and adoration in his eyes.

 

"You, are the most beautiful girl I have ever seen! I swear on my life I will protect you! I am Rock Lee! Please, do me the honor of going on a date with me!"

 

Sakura had almost forgotten Lee had asked her out literally the first time they'd ever met. She'll have to let him down more gently this time. She's not the girl so obsessed with Sasuke she can't see other people's feelings. Not anymore. She smiles carefully at Lee,

"Hi Lee, I'm Sakura. I, er... I'm not really interested in the date thing, but we can be friends, right?"

 

Lee looks crestfallen at first, then Tenten appears at his side and jabs an elbow into his ribs. He straightens back up, and his eyes sparkle with determination.

"YOSH! We will become friends, and then one day, when I have proven myself to you, you may find me worthy of a date! Until then, I will continue to guard you with my LIFE!"

 

Sakura knows he really would protect her with his life, and she doesn't particularly want him to, so she chuckles nervously, putting a hand behind her head.

 

Luckily for her, Tenten intervenes, punching Lee upside the head.

"Knock it off, Lee!"

 

Turning to Sakura, Tenten smiles, and Sakura returns it. She always liked the older girl, and admired her for her powerful weapon skills.

"Hi Sakura, I'm Tenten. As you know, this here is Lee. Over here-"

She yanks an arm and suddenly Neji Hyuuga stands in front of them, looking bored and slightly perturbed that Tenten has grabbed him.

"-is Neji! This is our first time taking the exams, what about you?"

 

Sakura turns to introduce her teammates to Team Guy, but Naruto is already halfway across the room, with Kiba, hands flying animatedly as he tells Kiba something. She spies Ino hanging off of

Sasuke's arm nearby, and shakes her head slightly. Turning back to Team Guy, she nods with what she hopes is enthusiasm.

"Yup! It's our first time taking the exam too. I'm on a team with Naruto, who's over there"

Sakura points him out,

"And Sasuke, who is being used as a jungle gym over there."

 

Sasuke, hearing his name, gives a grunt in Sakura's direction that either is acknowledgement of her saying his name, or a cry for help to get away from Ino. Sakura decides to leave him where he is.

"It's so great to meet you guys! I hope we all do well in this exam, and then maybe we'll get to see each other on missions sometimes!"

 

Tenten opens her mouth to respond, but before she can, Sakura hears a commotion on the other side of the room, and whips her head around to see Kabuto clutching his ears, his glasses broken on the floor. In front of him is a Sound Village ninja, and helping Kabuto up is Sakura's own teammate, Naruto. Sakura hates the fact the Sound ninja are back. She had kind of hoped that since Jiraiya knew most of what would go down in these exams that the Sound village would be excluded. Sakura assumes it's some sort of political thing. Worse than that though, is that Naruto has already met Kabuto. It'll be incredibly hard to keep him away, since Naruto is unlikely to believe that Kabuto is a bad person, and Sakura can't exactly break the news of her time travelling to her loud mouthed teammate.

 

She is saved from her indecision by Ibiki calling for silence, and the beginning of the written portion of the Chunin exams.

 

 

The exam goes much how Sakura remembers, and this time she doesn't waste time worrying if Naruto will get any of the answers right, because she completely believes that her teammate will pull through in the final question where it counts. Instead, Sakura takes the time to do reconnaissance of the foreign ninja participating in the exam.

Glancing covertly around the room, Sakura sees the expected teams from Konoha, including her own, team Asuma, team Kurenai, team Guy, and whatever team Kabuto has put together of Leaf Genin who have taken the exam before and failed, which Sakura is interested to see has a Uchiha on it. She doesn't remember the Uchiha having a lot of active ninja, and she spares a thought wondering if Orochimaru would go after this unknown Uchiha. Should she and Sasuke and Naruto stick near to him, to protect him, or should they leave him to his fate? Would it even be his fate? Sakura considers it, and considers Kabuto. It would put her team in too much danger to be around Kabuto any more than necessary, so she probably needs to leave the other Uchiha alone. She feels a sting at what her last life's Naruto would have said about her abandoning a comrade, but Sakura doesn't even know for sure if Orochimaru will go after this Uchiha, or hers. She assumes Orochimaru still wants a Sharingan, and revenge on Sarutobi, so he's likely going to be part of the exams, but Sakura can't protect everyone. So she chooses to save her own team, and stubbornly pushes down any guilt she feels. She can't afford to be weak.

 

The Sand siblings are present, as expected, and it's hard not to shudder at the sheer amount of bloodlust rolling off of Gaara in waves. Naruto's speech and fight with him can't come soon enough, in Sakura's opinion. There are the assorted teams from the other main ninja lands, but Sakura doesn't recognize any by sight, so she feels free to overlook them for now. The amount of Sound ninja is suprising to Sakura, but there might have been this many last time, she doesn't remember. Maybe some of them die in the forest? Or perhaps Orochimaru has a greater amount of Sound ninja in his village than he did before. Either way, it's worth keeping an eye on.

Before she can commit all of their faces to memory, Ibiki announces the final exam question. As before, several teams leave and give up, and Naruto gives a short speech about never giving up. Then just like that, they've passed, Anko arrives and gives some dramatic speech that Sakura is convinced she came up with on the spot. It is probably meant to scare them, but Sakura finds it more amusing than anything else. She gets to know Anko a tad better in the future, and seeing her now, Sakura is fairly certain the entire speech is to cover up the fact she may have forgotten where the exam was, and is actually nervous and trying to make a good impression. Leave it to Anko to try and make a good impression with death threats. Soon, too soon, it's on to the Forest of Death.

 

This is the part that Sakura has feared. If Orochimaru comes after them again, and Sakura feels relatively certain that he will, will Team 7 be able to hold him off? Sakura and Sasuke are at a Jounin level mentally, but physically neither one of them could be considered more than a high leveled Chunin at best, and Orochimaru is a Sannin. As Sakura makes her way towards the forest, she finds herself walking alongside Shikamaru, and she can't help the relief she feels just being next to the Nara again. Bumping into his shoulder gently, she greets her friend.

"How's training been going?"

 

Shikamaru knocks her shoulder back,

"Troublesome. My dad figured out I was actually putting in some effort training, so he's slave driving me. At least Asuma lets me play Shogi once in a while. You?"

 

Sakura hums thoughtfully,

"Well, our first C-rank was a disaster, so Kakashi-sensei taught me an elemental jutsu yesterday, and my medical ninjutsu isn't terrible anymore. I'm worried about the Forest of Death though."

 

Shikamaru looks at her carefully,

"Bad experience?"

 

She knows what he's actually saying is "did this go terribly last time?" Sakura tries to put into words without revealing anything crazy just how bad it had been last time.

"I... Yeah. You could more than say that."

 

She shudders as she remembers the utter fear she'd felt facing down Orochimaru for the first time, and tries resolutely to ignore how painful it had been to start losing Sasuke, her teammate and friend, and how it all started here. The end of the original Team 7, and when being a ninja went from an exciting and important job to an unendingly painful hellscape, at least for Sakura. Reflexively, she reaches out and grabs Shikamaru's hand briefly.

 

He squeezes it, then drops her hand carefully.

"Don't be troublesome, Sakura. It'll be fine."

 

She hears the unspoken, "You'll be okay," lacing his tone, and she forces herself to take a deep breath. Yes, Sakura will be fine. She's not the same scared little girl she was then. She's stronger now, she can fight, and this time her team is going to come out whole. They approach the Forest of Death, and Sakura stays by Shikamaru's side while Anko gives her explanation, and up until Anko demands that they go sign in and pick up their team's scrolls.

She turns to Shikamaru as she goes to join her team,

"Good luck, Shika! I'll see you on the other side!"

She purposely has never told him that his team helps save her in the Forest of Death. Team 7 can fight this time, and she doesn't want Shikamaru, Ino, or Choji anywhere near those terrible Sound ninja that had ambushed them last time. She genuinely hopes his team will stay safe, and for most people, that means staying the hell away from Team 7. Bad luck seems to follow them wherever they go.

 

She meets up with Sasuke and Naruto, and they retrieve their scroll. Sakura carefully hides it amongst the other scrolls she keeps in her bag. As they head to the gate that will be their starting line, Naruto pipes up in a dramatically loud whisper,

"So, what's our plan?"

 

Sakura makes a shushing motion, and then says back quietly,

"We attack whatever team we need to get the other scroll, and we get to the tower as quickly as possible. We don't attack other Leaf teams, and we help them out if we find them in trouble. No matter what, we stay together"

 

Sakura looks at Sasuke, waiting for his approval or disapproval of the plan. He gives her a little bit of an odd look, then nods. Sakura has got to corner him soon and talk to him. This lack of communication is not helping. The whistle sounds, and the exam begins. Sakura runs alongside her team, straight into the Forest of Death. 

Chapter Text

Almost immediately upon entering the forest of death, Team 7 gets attacked by another team. They aren't even subtle, they simply drop out of the trees, three of them, and start throwing shuriken at Sakura, Sasuke, and Naruto. Jumping back and blocking a few shuriken that get too close, Sakura sees her two teammates have done the same. Sakura takes to the trees just as Naruto conjures a dozen clones who immediately throw themselves into the fight.

Observing her foes take down Naruto's clones, Sakura can see that the enemy are Kiri-nin, judging by their headbands. They also don't seem to be using any jutsu, just throwing punches and weapons to dispel the clones. It's either a sign of inexperience, or they're hiding their true abilities. As a short ranged fighter, Sakura is at a disadvantage if they suddenly produce a large or powerful jutsu, so she continues to hang back, and starts signing tactics at Sasuke, who she spots hanging back with the real Naruto, who is currently henged as Sakura. It's a good idea, actually, and Sakura wonders if Naruto or Sasuke came up with it. Sasuke signs back at her, and the last of Naruto's clones dispels.

Sakura leaps from tree to tree, circling behind the enemy ninja. Sasuke and Naruto, and a clone henged as Sakura, advance from the front towards the Kiri-nin. The enemy ninja seem strangely unaffected by the fight thus far, displaying no signs of nervousness. Sasuke blows a fireball at them, causing them to jump together, weaving handsigns in unison. Three identical water dragons rise seemingly out of nowhere and attack towards Sasuke and Naruto, graceful and terrifying in a way only water jutsu can be.

Sakura's earlier guess had been right, they are experienced. It's incredibly difficult to produce a water dragon not near a body of water. Sasuke and Naruto must dive out of the way, for the moment Sakura can't see them, circled behind as she is. She'll just have to trust her teammates. The water dragons weave in and out of the trees, and Sakura finds herself impressed against her will at the amount of chakra this must be taking from the Chunin candidates.

 

She feels rather than sees Sasuke's chakra flare on her left, and she knows it's time. Leaping forward and slamming the ground with her fist, Sakura opens a fissure underneath the Kiri-nin, while their backs are still to her. They stumble, dropping their jutsu. The opening is small, only a couple of seconds, but that's all Sasuke and Naruto need. A fireball hits one of the ninja squarely in the side, and they drop to the ground, clutching at their burning clothes and rolling to put it out. The other two ninja are just as instantly swamped with Naruto clones, and the ensuing dust cloud covers the battlefield from Sakura's vision.

She charges forward, eager to enter the fray and help her teammates, when she's assaulted with the smoke and smell of burnt flesh, and Sakura finds herself not in the Chunin exams, but on the battlefield of the Great Ninja war, death and dying and burnt flesh all around her. Her world narrows, and no thoughts enter her mind. She feels trapped in a photograph, a singular moment of witnessing agony that neither moves or acknowledges her presence in it. In the back of her mind, Sakura knows she doesn't have time for this, doesn't have time for a flashback, that she needs to drag herself out of this.

 

 

After what feels like only a second, Sakura jerks back into the present, her cheek stinging. Naruto and Sasuke are knelt before her. Naruto looks affronted at Sasuke, and yell whispers,

"Sasuke! Why did you hit Sakura?"

 

Sasuke shakes his head at Naruto,

"She needed it. Are you present?"

 

Sakura raises a hand to her stinging cheek. Sasuke must have slapped her to snap her out of her flashback. Which means Sakura was out of it long enough for her teammates to finish the battle and find her out of commission. She's so incredibly angry at herself for falling into her own mind again, but she also feels utterly drained. Remembering Sasuke's question, she nods.

"Yeah. Thanks, Sasuke. What scroll did they have?"

 

Naruto produces the scroll with flair. It's a second Heaven scroll. Great. She pastes an approving smile on for Naruto, and comments mildly, trying to channel Kakashi-sensei,

"Looks like we've got at least one fight to go before we can run for the tower then."

 

Naruto stows the scroll, flashing Sakura a bright and happy smile. Sakura hopes he never loses it, then tries to shake the sudden dark thought from her mind.

"We'll beat them all, ya know!"

 

His bright and unquenchable spirit manages to lighten Sakura's heart, and she feels more confident this time, when she says,

"Yeah, you're right, Naruto."

 

 

 

 

They rest for a little while, gathering as many of the Shuriken as they can carry and repacking their packs and scrolls accordingly. After eating a light meal, Team 7 stands and carries on through the forest. They head in a roundabout way closer to the tower, keeping an eye out for other teams. They don't run into any, however, and so the end of the first night in the Forest of Death begins. Team 7 makes camp, and decide on shifts to keep watch. Sasuke takes first shift, so Sakura and Naruto bed down, and Naruto falls asleep in what feels like moments. Sakura waits until she's certain he's asleep, then softly makes her way over to Sasuke.

 

She stretches her sensory abilities out, and not feeling anyone besides her teammates, decides now would be as good a time as any to talk to Sasuke.

"Sasuke?"

 

He makes no outward sign that he's heard her, still steadfastly keeping watch,

"Hn?"

 

Crawling up beside him and sitting next to him, Sakura asks the question that's been sitting on her mind the most.

"Why'd you kill Haku, Sasuke? Zabuza almost killed you."

 

He shrugs slightly,

"Haku was going to die, right? I was in position to do it, so I did."

 

It couldn't be as simple as that, could it?

 

"But last time-"

 

He cuts across her sharply,

"I wasn't awake for last time, Sakura. Haku almost killed me, remember? I wasn't going to let him get the same chance again, with me or Naruto. I'm strong enough to handle it. I won't back down."

 

Sakura sighs slightly, she hadn't meant to offend her raven-haired teammate.

"I know, Sasuke. I'm sorry."

 

Sasuke drops his shoulders, and shakes his head slightly,

"Sakura, you're always waiting for me to screw up again. To run, to jeopardize the lives of the team. I deserve it, I guess. Itachi said I shouldn't expect you to trust me, or want to work with me. I just..."

 

He trails off, making his hand into a fist. Carefully reaching out with her chakra sense, Sakura can feel the waves of regret rolling off her teammate. She hadn't even considered that Sasuke would pick up on her hesitation, her underlying anger at him, for abandoning the team, abandoning her, for never believing in her. To think that he'd not only noticed, but asked Itachi about it... Shuffling a little closer, Sakura winds her arm through Sasuke's, ignoring how he tenses up at the touch. If they're going to talk about feelings, Sakura thinks they may as well talk about it all.

 

"I'm sorry, Sasuke. I want to trust you, and I want to be real teammates again, friends again. I have regrets too, you know. I was so weak, last time. I spent so much time trying to get your attention that I wasn't strong enough to be able to defend anyone when it mattered. I still feel like you see me like that weak little Genin, Sasuke. I'm different now, too. I want to believe in you, and I want you to believe in me, too."

 

They sit quietly, on watch in the Forest of Death. Sakura feels tears prickling at the edges of her eyes. How had they gotten here, her and Sasuke? Once, in a former time, they could have been equals, friends. But Sakura had been obsessed with Sasuke, and stayed weak, and Sasuke had become obsessed with being strong, and seeking power. Now, here they were, in the Forest of Death once again, Genin again. Yet, there were still wounds from a whole other life just festering between them. Sakura wonders if it's something they'll even be able to fix. Naruto might have been able to fix it, once upon a time. He always believed he could, anyways. With his optimism and cheeriness, he might have even succeeded. That answer was taken from them, by that same teammate, who sacrificed himself to send Sakura and Sasuke here, in the past. Her morbid thoughts are interrupted by Sasuke.

 

"You are different, Sakura."

 

The admission surprises her, and Sakura considers her teammate. She takes the peace offering, and responds gently,

"So are you, Sasuke."

 

 

 

 

A few hours later, Naruto wakes Sakura up for her shift, and she groans, rubbing the sleep from her eyes and forcing herself alert. Moving to the front of the group, Sakura extends her chakra sense, and not feeling anything, she settles down for the last shift, seeing the sky start to lighten at the edges. Day two of the Forest. They need to get that Earth scroll today, and make it to the tower as soon as possible. Sakura does not want to wait around to see if Orochimaru or Kabuto interfere this time. She bides her time on watch repacking their things, getting out some rations for them to eat for breakfast. Soon enough, she's able to wake her teammates up, and they eat quickly, ready to find their missing scroll and get to the tower.

Once they're all ready to travel, they continue on the route they started yesterday, a roundabout way through the trees that leads them in circles around the tower, closing in slightly each time, essentially hunting for teams. Occasionally, Naruto gets bored enough that he sends out a couple of clones in random directions, as scouts to see if they can find anyone. So far, besides the team attacking them at the entrance, the forest has been quiet. Too quiet for Sakura's liking. As if tempted by fate, just as that thought crosses Sakura's mind, Naruto calls out that there's a team nearby. Before they can even turn in the direction Naruto indicates, Sakura feels a sweeping sensation of Killing Intent, about the strongest she has ever felt, and she knows what that means.

Orochimaru found us.

Swearing lightly, Sakura forces the Killing Intent out of her system and moves into a guard position in front of Naruto, seeing Sasuke do the same on her other side. Sasuke is trembling slightly, and Sakura knows he's fighting off his own memories at the moment, so she surges her chakra to help steady him. He shoots her a grateful look, then they both snap to attention when the hear the feminine voice of the Snake Sannin,

"Well, well, if it isn't a little group of Leaf Genin, out in the woods. Would you like to play?"

 

A woman walks towards them from the treetops, only a dozen yards or so away. Sakura curses herself for not picking up his signature before Naruto's clone. The woman is definitely the body Orochimaru was using last time, and she shudders at the thought of what happened to the original owner of that poor body.

 

Naruto manages to shake off the Killing Intent behind them, and leaps to a branch just in front of Sakura and Sasuke,

"We're not here to play, lady. We're here to fight, and you're going down! Surrender your scroll or we'll take it from you, ya know!"

 

Orochimaru laughs, a high pitched, bone chilling laugh.

"You children will be fun, I can tell."

 

Then the battle starts, as a huge snake lunges in, and swallows Naruto whole. Sakura throws a shuriken at it, but it doesn't even pierce its thick scales as it slithers down the tree.

"NARUTO!!"

 

She makes to jump off the tree after the snake, desperate to save her teammate, but Sasuke stops her with a hand, nodding towards Orochimaru, who has finished laughing and is looking at Sasuke hungrily. Sakura hates that look, wants to punch it right off the creepy Sannin's face. She throws a handful of shuriken, knowing they'll never make the target but hoping for a distraction, and a huge fireball follows behind them. Sakura feels air rush behind her and turns just in time to block a punch from Orochimaru. They start trading blows, and Sasuke joins in, throwing punches and kicks as fast as they can, trying to find an opening, any opening.

Sasuke's Sharingan spins, red eyes blazing during the fight, but Orochimaru looks neither winded or bothered. He looks like he's having fun, a thought which makes Sakura feel sick to her stomach. She finally sees an opening, and as Sasuke throws a kick at the Sannin's head, Sakura punches with chakra enhanced through the torso. Her fist meets flesh, which she quickly realizes is actually mud as it melts away around her arm. It must have been a replacement, because Sasuke hadn't caught it, yet when Sakura turns again, Sasuke is blowing a huge fireball at their enemy, hitting him squarely in the face. The flesh melts in a disgusting way that Sakura both remembers and hates, and Orochimaru simply laughs as his borrowed face melts away to reveal his true self underneath,

 

"Very good, Sasuke. Shame about what happened to your clan. I could help you, you know."

Orochimaru purrs in Sasuke's direction.

 

Sasuke visibly flinches.

"I don't need any help. Especially not from you."

 

The Sannin chuckles softly, as if Sasuke is an amusing new toy,

"Don't worry, my boy. If you impress me, I'll give you a gift anyway, and we'll see if you change your mind."

 

Sasuke leaps back as the Sannin sends a wall of mud at him, and Sakura dodges to the right and throws another round of Shuriken. If only she could get close and land a hit... Unfortunately for her, Sakura's style is too much like Tsunade's, and Orochimaru is bound to be familiar with it's weaknesses. A gust of wind shatters the branch that the Sannin stands on, and he leaps to a higher one. Naruto, in all his orange glory, triumphantly lands next to Sasuke. He seems to be covered in some sort of goo, Sakura doesn't really want to know.

 

"Take that, ya know! There's no way I'd let some stupid snake eat me, Naruto Uzumaki! I'm going to be the next Hokage!"

 

The next thing Sakura knows is that the whole forest is full of orange, and what must be over a hundred Narutos throw themselves at Orochimaru.

 

 

Through the mayhem, Sakura sees a long neck extending towards Sasuke, and she jumps, kunai in hand, and lands a hit on the Sannin's neck as he attempts to bite Sasuke, who dodges the bite. Sinking her kunai deep into flesh, Sakura hears the Sannin hissing in pain, then the head and neck withdraw. After another handful of seconds all the Naruto clones are gone, and Orochimaru stands before them, bleeding freely but not dangerously from the neck, and Sakura hopes he'll leave them alone. They make formation, Sakura in the front, Sasuke and Naruto flanking her sides.

The snake summoner does not leave, but instead charges straight at them.

 

Sasuke calls out,

"Clone!"

 

And Sakura knows what she has to do. Making the signs as quickly as possible, Sakura forces herself to think about how badly she wants to protect her teammates. Then just before the clone is within arms reach she slams her palm into the ground, and a huge wall of earth forms. Not a second later, an explosion rocks the entire clearing, and the earth wall Sakura made shatters before her. An exploding clone, then. She flips around to try and find the real body.

 

Orochimaru appears just behind Sasuke, before the smoke and dirt can even clear, and Sakura can see what's going to happen, knows she'll never get to Sasuke in time, so she does something illogical, and crazy. She throws a kunai straight at her own teammates neck. Orochimaru leans in quickly to bite Sasuke, but before he can, Sakura's kunai slices through his cheek, and slicing a line in Sasuke's neck at the same time. Blood pours from the ragged wound in the Sannin's face, and he pulls his head back, hissing.

He locks eyes with Sakura, and she's never seen so much hate in all of her life, as she does in that moment, looking into those yellow eyes. It seems to stare into her soul, but she stands strong. He smiles, or attempts to, and it's the worst thing Sakura has ever seen, and Naruto looks like he might be sick at the sight of it. His torn cheeks hang limply from the upper half of his face, and the lower half flop raggedly down his chin. Blood streams into the Sannin's mouth, down his neck. He looks like a nightmare. Nodding, in a "You win, this time" gesture, Orochimaru disappears in a puff of smoke, and in his place, an Earth scroll.

 

Sakura leaps forward, grabs Sasuke and pours chakra into his neck wound. Luckily, it's not deep at all, since the Snake Sannin had taken most of the blow. But neck wounds bleed terribly, so Sakura wants it closed as fast as possible.

"Sorry, Sasuke."

 

He shakes his head.

"Don't be."

 

It takes only a moment to seal off the wound, and in that time, Naruto seems to recover from the sight of that wretched face, and has grabbed the earth scroll.

"We did it! An Earth Scroll! We can go to the tower now, ya know! That was awesome!"

 

Sasuke nods his assent, and off they go, racing to get as much distance between them and that battlefield as possible. Sakura is so relieved that they've finished that fight. She wants to get to that tower as soon as possible, to tell people that Orochimaru was in the exam, to get away from the possibility of him attacking a separate time. Her chakra is running low, under a third, but not nearly as bad as she thought it would be. As they leap from tree to tree, she reaches out with her chakra sense, which takes little to almost no chakra, and checks on her teammates. Naruto is quickly regaining energy, though at the moment he seems low on chakra. Sakura finds it hard to believe he has any at all, after all of those clones. Sasuke is running very low on both chakra and energy. They'd be pretty easy to pick off, right now. As low on energy and frantic as they are, so Sakura stops the team.

By forcing them to take a short break and eat some ration bars to replenish energy and chakra, Sakura hopes they present less of a target. She also feels the need to calm her racing heart after that encounter. They decide as a team to wait until none of them are breathing hard, and all of them could use a little chakra if necessary in a pinch. Well, Sasuke and Sakura agree and Naruto exasperatedly plops down, as if he isn't also exhausted from all the clones and chakra he's used in the last fight.

It's hard to wait, but Sakura knows there will be more teams the closer they get to the tower, and she wants to avoid them at all costs. There's no way they'll be able to do that if they're running on fumes. She knows they were terribly lucky with Orochimaru this time. The Sannin had underestimated them to be mere Genin, and only because they weren't, were they able to escape. Sakura knows if Orochimaru had come after them full force, they probably wouldn't have made it out whole. They can't let there be a next time.

 

Soon, Team 7 are all breathing regularly again, and they decide it's time. Time to make the final run to the tower.

Chapter Text

It's about half a day's journey, to get the to the tower while remaining alert for the other teams. Sasuke takes the lead, on guard in case of surprise attack, Naruto takes the middle place, so that he can easily back up either Sasuke or Sakura if necessary, and Sakura brings up the rear, using her chakra sense to try and keep an eye out for other teams. Whatever's going on with her chakra sense, it's much harder to feel the chakra of teams she is unfamiliar with, and Sakura remembers Kakashi-Sensei mentioning that she might be able to sense spiritual energy, and wonders if it's connected. In any case, even with a diminished chakra sense, Sakura can still sense more than either of her two teammates, as tired as they all are.

They keep to the tree route, mostly. The closer they draw to the tower, the more teams they have to avoid. Luckily, between Sasuke's sharp lookout, and Sakura's chakra sense, they only have one close call, where they leap right over the heads of a team from Lightning, but they don't look up into the trees, so Team 7 escapes relatively easily. They're drawing near to the tower when Sakura gets her first sense of a team she actually recognizes, and it stops her in her tracks.

She flares her chakra in the secret pattern Team 7 worked out, and when Naruto and Sasuke turn to see what she's sensing, Sakura focuses on her chakra sense. It's Ino that she senses, that vibrant, fiery aura unmistakable to Sakura. More importantly, Ino is terrified. Sakura has never in her life felt Ino this scared, and that thought alone tells Sakura all she needs to know. Sasuke and Naruto are still looking questioningly at her, so she fills them in, before she can take off running towards Ino with no regards for the consequences.

 

"It's Ino. She's in trouble. I can't feel anyone else yet but there's got to be someone else there to scare her like this. We're going."

 

With that, Sakura pulls on her chakra sense, and makes a sharp right and starts sprinting, leaping tree to tree with a speed that wouldn't be out of place on an Anbu strike squad. A hundred yards or so, and Sakura can hear Ino, as well as sense her. Ino is screaming, a long, blood-curdling cry echoing through the forest. Sakura pushes harder against her top speed, needing to get there faster. To get to Ino. The scream falls silent, and that's somehow even worse.

Pushing back panic, Sakura makes it to the clearing where her chakra sense says Ino is, and she stops in a treetop to get a good view before diving in unprepared. Sasuke and Naruto land behind her a second later, Naruto breathing hard. Looking into the clearing, Sakura sees what is causing Ino to scream, and Sakura wants to scream too. A team from the Sound Village, the same team that had attacked Team 7 in her past life, if Sakura recalls correctly, is fighting Team 10.

 

 

The big one, Sakura can't remember his name, covered in furs, has Choji pinned to the ground by several kunai, and Choji isn't moving, the enemy above him frozen in the act of trying to stab Choji in the heart. Sakura follows the shadow to Shikamaru, who is sweating and looks close to tears himself. He has two of the enemy trapped in his shadow, the one trying to stab Choji, and another who looks like he was about to spring some attack on Shikamaru, though he's now frozen into the pose Shika has them all in. Judging by Shikamaru's face, he won't be able to hold them both for much longer.

Sakura looks behind them both, trying to get eyes on Ino. The girl from the Sound Village, that Sakura remembers as being the one who'd held her by her hair and laughed at her, has Ino trapped against a tree. Has Sakura's friend pinned to the tree with a knife of some sort, and is carving deep ridges into Ino's face with another one. The terror and pain on Ino's face is agonizing. Sakura knows this is the screaming she heard, silenced by a Sound ninja hand around Ino's throat. She makes a half turn back to her own teammates, and they speak one right after the other. Sasuke is physically holding Naruto back from jumping straight into the fight, hand over Naruto's mouth, and the other around his waist.

 

Sasuke gives a terse,

"Ino"

 

Right as Sakura says,

"Shika."

 

Without even looking, Sakura knows Naruto will go for Choji. They break apart, moving in one fluid motion, flying at the Sound ninja with everything they have left. Sakura adds a burst of speed so she can strike the enemy in front of Shikamaru at the same second Naruto hits the one over Choji, trusting that Shikamaru will drop his jutsu at the right second. Sensing Naruto's attack behind her, Sakura launches a chakra loaded roundhouse kick at her enemy's jaw. She sees the shadow retreat just as she makes contact. The resounding crack would have broken Sakura's leg if she hadn't reinforced it with chakra as well. She shatters the jaw and cheekbone of her enemy, and he falls to the floor with a wet, crunching sound. He doesn't move, and Sakura's not sure if he's dead or not, but either way, he likely will be in a moment, since Sakura just shattered his skull. She doesn't even attempt to care as she rushes towards Shikamaru, intending to guard him and take in how her teammates are doing. He crumples, and Sakura doesn't quite make it in time to catch him.

Kneeling quickly, and doing a quick check of his vitals, and finding them acceptable, Sakura decides Shikamaru isn't in dire need of medical attention at the moment, he's likely chakra exhausted. She turns to Naruto, and sees a dozen clones have the enemy, Dosu, she remembers now, on the ground and are just kicking at him to keep him down. Choji likely needs medical attention, but Sakura doesn't want to leave Shikamaru unguarded for even a moment.

I'll have to take him with me.

Bending down, she sticks her arms under Shikamaru's shoulders and drags him over to Choji. She'll just have to guard both at once while performing medical ninjutsu.

yeah right.

She'll just have to hope Naruto and Sasuke can keep the enemies down.

 

Running her diagnostic chakra through Choji's system, she finds, mercifully, that he isn't mortally wounded. Both his eardrums are ruptured and bleeding, and he's got a concussion, and several deep lacerations where the kunai have cut through his light chain and pinned him and his clothes to the ground. Sakura is relieved to realize the reason he's unconscious is the blow he took to the head, and not blood loss. Remembering what was happening to Ino, Sakura knows she has to save some chakra, so she leaves Choji's eardrums alone for now. He'll be deaf until he gets them fixed, but it isn't life threatening. She reduces the swelling on Choji's brain, trying her best to remove the effects of the concussion. Once she's satisfied that Choji will not suffer permanent mental damage, she sits up and takes stock.

Dosu is tied to a tree, with two clones guarding him. He looks beat all to hell, but is still alive. Naruto is kneeling in front of Choji, watching Sakura. Good, she could use her teammates help. Choji's bleeding isn't life threatening now, but if they don't stitch him up soon, it will be. He's going to need more medical attention than Sakura has chakra, but she thinks they can put it off until they get to the tower. They'll have to.

 

"Naruto, grab the first aid kit out of your bag. I need you to stitch up Choji wherever the kunai have him pinned."

 

Naruto's eyes open wide, and he shakes his head,

"Sakura, I'm not a medic. I might screw it up. You should do it. I-"

 

Sakura interrupts him firmly, looking her teammate deeply in his blue eyes,

"Naruto, I know you can do this. We were all trained to do it. I have to help Ino, she's going to need chakra. I need you to do this. Choji needs you."

 

Naruto takes a breath, then nods.

"Okay. I never abandon my friends, ya know!"

 

Sakura smiles,

"I know you don't. I'm leaving Shika over here for the moment. He's fine though, just exhausted."

 

As she starts to stand to see how the situation with Sasuke is going, she feels Shikamaru grab her ankle. The Nara looks at her, and he looks scared too, and Sakura wants so badly to wipe that look off of his face, to wipe that feeling from all of Team 10, but this is just part of being a ninja. The constant fear of losing everything and everyone, even if you do everything right. She bends down, and places her hand on Shikamaru's face.

 

"It's okay, Shika. I'm coming back. I have to help Ino."

 

She sees the struggle in his face, but he lets her ankle go, so Sakura turns and takes in the scene. The female ninja that had pinned Ino to the tree is laying on the ground, eyes closed. She doesn't look dead, but she's covered in fairly serious burns, so she has to be pretty bad off. Ino has slumped into Sasuke, and he's hugging her, letting her bury her face into him. Sakura wonders at her teammate, whose expression looks fierce, and protecting.

Maybe he's starting to grow a soft spot for Ino after all...

 

She cuts herself off, shaking her head. She has much more important things to do right now. As Sakura walks over to Ino, Sasuke spots Sakura coming, and lowers himself and Ino to the ground, so Sakura can take a good look at her. Ino slowly pulls her face away from Sasuke, and Sakura's heart breaks for her friend. Ino's beautiful, flawless face is criss-crossed with two deep cuts, and her right cheek has a kanji carved into it, making her face read "ugly". On her left shoulder is a huge gaping hole where the knife had pinned her, and her right hand looks broken, to say nothing of the hideous bruising on her throat. Sakura's running so low on chakra, but she's got to use whatever she has for Ino. Her former best friend sobs in front of her, beautiful face and innocence ruined.

 

Sakura wants to kill that Sound ninja, wants to wring all of their necks. She has to focus, however, so she forces herself into medic mode and kneels by Ino's side. Taking a deep, calming breath, Sakura brings medical chakra to her hands, and starts on Ino's shoulder. It's an ugly wound, and Sakura can feel the ragged edges where Ino must have struggled against the blade, but she pushes her feelings aside. Carefully, using as little chakra as possible, she knits the muscles back together, grateful no major arteries or veins have been cut, so she can afford to be slower and ration her chakra. After carefully knitting the different layers of muscle, she moves on to the flesh, and Sakura encourages Ino's cells to help her along in the process, slowly melding the flesh to join together again. After the edges are healed, and it's nothing more than a red, raised scar, Sakura moves on. She doesn't have the chakra in her right now to remove any scarring. She'll have to do that on a later day.

 

Her chakra stores are just about to scrape the bottom of her reserves, so she ignores Ino's broken hand, as it isn't life threatening, and they can set it until Ino gets to the tower. Moving onto the throat, Sakura eases the bruising only enough so that it won't affect Ino's airways, lightening the edges of it. Sakura wishes she had the chakra to do more, especially as Ino's breathing gets easier and calmer as Sakura lessens her pain. Getting to her face, Sakura knows that none of it is life threatening. But even though it isn't life threatening, Sakura can't bring herself to leave that cursed kanji, can't bring herself to let Ino's face bear the word "ugly". Using the last of the chakra it would be safe for her to use, Sakura wipes the carved word from existence, easing the cut and the scarring so that Ino's cheek looks as unblemished as it had before, though she's forced to ignore the criss-crossed knife wounds.

Sakura is sweating, and shaking slightly now, if she continues to use medical ninjutsu, she'll pass out. That would be disastrous, so she pulls back her medical chakra, and falls back onto her knees, breathing hard. Ino looks at Sakura with heartbreaking gratefulness. When Ino opens her mouth to speak, it's little more than a rasp.

 

"Thanks, Sakura."

 

Wordlessly, Sakura takes her friend's uninjured left hand and squeezes it.

 

Their moment is broken by Sasuke, who is startlingly still supporting Ino, arm wrapped around her back.

"We've got to move. Night is falling, and we won't make it another night."

 

Meeting her teammate's eyes, something unspoken passes between them.

We're taking Team 10 with us.

It's not even a question, just an understanding.

 

Sakura nods,

"Wrap Ino's hand to keep it steady, I'll check on Naruto."

 

Standing takes a lot more effort than Sakura thought it would, and she fights off the grey that seeps into the edges of her vision. She's closer to chakra exhaustion than she thought. Sasuke's right, they have to get out of here. She trudges the short way over to Naruto, Shikamaru, and Choji. Choji is awake, by some miracle, and Naruto seems to have finished with the stitches. Nearly collapsing, Sakura falls to her knees in front of them.

 

"Naruto, how are things over here?"

 

In the dimming light of the fading day, Naruto looks a little older, maybe after this exam, he is a little older. He still smiles, and Sakura loves him for that, but it's a weary smile.

"I finished the stitches on Choji. It wasn't easy, ya know. He woke up, and Shikamaru decided to take a nap once Choji woke up, and Choji and I realized that they already have both scrolls, so they're done too, ya know. Leaf teams stick together, that's what you said, Sakura. Choji's deaf though, he's just lip reading."

 

She nods, grateful that particular hurdle won't be too difficult. She forms her words carefully so that Choji can see them,


"Yeah, his eardrums burst. It's okay, Choji. I'll fix it when I've got chakra. You're right though, we stick together. Naruto, Choji, we're only a little ways from the tower. We have to get there. Everybody is hurt or chakra exhausted or both, and we won't make it if another team comes after us."

 

Choji shakes his head, and Sakura turns her attention to him. He talks a little too loudly,
"You guys would only get weighed down with us. We'll just set up camp for the night. You guys should go to the tower, we owe you guys that much. We'll follow tomorrow."

The large boy looks a little scared as he says it, but fierce in his conviction.

 

Naruto shakes his head fervently,

"Team 7 doesn't leave friends behind. Believe it!"

 

Choji looks at Naruto, then at Sakura, who nods,

"We're not leaving you guys. We're all going to the tower, tonight."

 

The firm look on Choji's face wavers a little bit, and Sakura sees hope flare to life in his eyes. A groan from Sakura's left signals that Shikamaru is no longer asleep. He raises his head enough that Choji can see his mouth,

"It's okay, Choji. Let's get to the tower."

 

The Akimichi nods tearfully, and Sakura looks to Naruto, giving Choji a moment to collect himself.

"How much chakra do you have? Enough to make another clone or two?"

 


Naruto frowns thoughtfully, makes the hand sign, and two clones pop into existence. Then he nods. Sakura sighs,

"Did you even know or did you just try it?"

 

Naruto puts his hand behind his head, which his clones mimic, and they all chuckle. That's answer enough for Sakura.

 

What a knucklehead.

 

 

Sasuke takes that moment to walk up, supporting Ino, who leans heavily onto him. Shikamaru and Choji both let out relieved breaths at the sight of their third teammate. The three of them share exhausted smiles, and the relief in Team 10 is palpable. Taking a deep breath, Sakura processes the situation, and makes a plan.

 

"Naruto, have your two clones help Choji. You'll have to guard all of us. I'm sorry, but no one else has any chakra left. Shika, you're with me. We'll have to help each other, neither of us are in much better shape than the other. Sasuke, you take the rear guard with Ino."

 

Everyone agrees, and Naruto's clones help Choji to his feet. Sakura and Shikamaru stand shakily, leaning on each other for support, as they both waver in energy. Sasuke sweeps Ino into his arms, ignoring the beginning of a protest from the Yamanaka. Then they all start limping towards the tower.

 

 

It's slow, terrifying work. Every step, every snap of a branch puts everyone on edge as they look out for other teams. Sakura and Shikamaru stumble once or twice, both of them so low on chakra and energy that sometimes they're leaning on each other, and sometimes they stumble, dragging the other over. Naruto's clones and Choji seem to be doing alright, but even Naruto's clones look tired, and Sakura can't help but feel a little bad for her teammate, knowing he'll receive two more full sets of exhausted memories from this last leg to the tower. Sasuke doesn't complain, and doesn't stumble, but Sakura can feel his strength waver from time to time as well. She knows it's sheer stubbornness that's keeping the Uchiha moving forward at this point.

When the tower finally comes into sight, Sakura feels like she might cry in relief. Naruto, however, stops the group. He makes a shushing noise, and then incredibly produces three more clones, two of whom henge into Sasuke and Sakura. Sakura has no clue how Naruto found the chakra to make those last clones, and she isn't sure whether to thank the Uzumaki genes or the Nine tails, but at this point she's open to thanking either.

The clones of Team 7 run ahead, and Sakura sees an enemy team leap from the trees to attack them. The real Team 7 and 10 hold their breath, hoping against hope this new enemy buys the clones and doesn't spot their real counterparts, who are now hiding in the shadows of the trees. The clone Team 7 makes a break to the left, running flat out. The enemies follow, hurling shurikens and kunai. This is the opening that they need, and Sakura knows they'll have to run too, to make it to the tower before the enemy notices they're following clones.

The real Naruto gives a nod at the front of the line, and they all run, as fast as they can, energy gone, a flat out terrified sprint for survival. The tower gets bigger and bigger and then they're almost upon it. Shikamaru grabs Sakura's head and pulls, and a kunai sails through the air where her head was a moment before. Naruto wrenches the doors open, and they all make it inside the door, Naruto slamming it behind them. Sasuke immediately slumps to the floor, Ino still in his arms. Naruto's clones dispel, and Choji sinks heavily to the ground as well.

Knowing they need to make the end of the exam official, Sakura drags her two scrolls out of her pack, and opens them. Next to her, Shikamaru mimics her motions. A poof of summoning, and Iruka-sensei stands before them. At the sight of a safe teacher, Sakura and Shikamaru collapse and pass out, right there on the floor of the tower. The last thing Sakura hears is Iruka-sensei's startled shout at the sight of them, as she lets the grey take over. The second part of the Chunin exam is over. 

Chapter Text

Sakura wakes up to Naruto yelling. Without opening her eyes, she can tell the yelling isn't aimed at her, and isn't even angry yelling. She wants to ignore it, to go back to sleep. She's so tired. Doesn't Naruto know how tired she is? Feeling the cot under her fingertips, Sakura prepares to launch a pillow at Naruto to get him to shut up and let her sleep.

Wait. Cot? Where is she?

Forcing her eyes open, Sakura takes in a plain, dorm-like room. There's a small window, but she can't see out of it from her vantage point, laying on the cot as she is. Moving her eyes without turning her head, she takes in Naruto, who is animatedly yelling about a battle sequence, to a unimpressed looking Kakashi-sensei.

Well, if Kakashi-sensei is here, then everything is okay.

 

 

Closing her eyes again, Sakura lets herself slip back into sleep.

When she wakes up the second time, Sakura remembers where she is and why she's here. The tower in the Forest of Death. Team 7 and 10 had arrived two days before the exam ended, so they must have just stuck them in cots until the preliminaries of the next round, if there are enough ninja this time around to hold preliminaries. Groaning, Sakura stretches and sits up in the cot, to find Sasuke sitting beside her, sharpening a kunai.

"Sasuke, what day is it?"

 

Her teammate flicks his eyes to her, then back to his kunai.

"Last afternoon of the exam. Couple hours left."

 

So she'd slept for over a day. Sakura checks her chakra stores to find them almost fully restored. That's lucky, if the preliminaries are to be held this evening.

 

"I saw Kakashi-sensei, last time I woke up. Did you tell him about Orochimaru? How is Team 10?"

 

Sasuke sighs dramatically, as if it's a pain to be asked questions. As if he wasn't sitting at her bedside waiting for her to wake up.

"The Dobe told Kakashi everything and then some. You know how he gets. We aren't really supposed to interact with the other teams in the tower."

 

Sakura smirks at her raven-haired teammate.

"I didn't ask what the rules were. I asked how Team 10 was. You don't listen to rules you don't like. I know Naruto's probably with them too."

 

Sasuke "hn"s, then gives a brief smirk of his own.

"They're better. Won't let us see medics except for major things. Set Ino's hand. Fixed Choji's ears. Naruto's probably talking him to death right now."

 

Getting out of bed, Sakura grabs her pack, sliding it over her shoulder, opens it, and grabs a couple of ration bars.

"Take me to Team 10."

 

Sasuke raises an eyebrow at her, so Sakura sighs dramatically.

"Please?"

 

 

 

He shrugs and stands, and Sakura follows, wolfing down ration bars as she follows. Instead of walking to the door, Sasuke walks to the window, pops it open, and chakra walks out onto the walls of the tower. Sakura follows suit, closing their window a little, so it's not as obvious that it's open.

Okay, it's still kind of obvious, but at least I can get back in, in case it automatically locks.

 

Sasuke walks around the edge of the tower, and up about a floor, until they reach another window that's slightly propped open. He pushes it inward, and then hops inside easily. Sakura almost laughs, entering after him. She knew he'd gone to visit Team 10, and her teammate's nonchalance at breaking into their room proves it. An identical small dorm to the one Sakura woke up in lays before her as she enters. Four cots a window, and a door. The first person Sakura takes in is Naruto, who is, in fact, talking Choji's ear off. The larger boy waves at Sakura and Sasuke as they enter, and Sakura gives a happy wave back, glad to see that Choji is looking okay.

A flash of blond, and Sakura has Ino hugging her around the neck. Automatically, she hugs back, and sinks into the embrace. It's been too long since she hugged Ino, and she's so glad her friend is here, and alive. Ino doesn't break the hug right away, and by the time she pulls away, both girls have watery eyes.

 

Sakura manages to speak first, rubbing her eyes,

"Ino, I'm so glad you're okay."

 

The Yamanaka heir laughs wetly, wiping at her own eyes.

"I'm only okay thanks to you. Sasuke told me you were the one that came for me. I thought I was going to die... I never imagined... And then..."

 

She sniffles a little, and Sakura feels so much warmth, so much love, for her former best friend. They may not be best friends in this life, but Sakura will always love Ino, for who she is and who she was to Sakura. So Sakura takes both of Ino's hands in her own, looking the other girl in the eyes, ignoring the crossing wounds that mar her perfect features.

"Ino, I'll always come for you. No matter what. We have to stick together. After all, we're friends. Right?"

 

Ino nods, then throws her arms around Sakura again, and Sakura hugs her back tightly.

 

"Do you want me to take care of those wounds on your face, so they don't scar?"

 

 

Ino pulls back, and runs a finger gingerly over the x shaped cuts in her face thoughtfully.

"Actually... I think I may keep them, for now anyway. It's a reminder to me to get stronger. And..."

 

Ino smiles shyly, first at Sasuke, then at Sakura,

"And that I have friends that will come for me, when I need them. If I change my mind, can I let you know?"

 

Sakura smiles back, and she feels like she's a little girl again, hearing Ino say that Sakura is her best friend in the whole world.

"Of course, Ino."

 

 

Ino abruptly turns, and kicks the bed next to Sakura, hard enough the frame rattles. Shikamaru shakes awake, but refuses to get up or even open his eyes, even though Sakura can feel his alertness.

"Wake up, Shika! Sakura's here to see you."

 

Sakura flushes from her cheeks to the tips of her ears, and splutters. Judging by the dusting of pink on Shikamaru's face, he heard his teammate.

 

"Troublesome woman..."

 

Ino gives Sakura a wink, then walks over to Sasuke, who's been awkwardly watching Sakura and Ino's entire exchange, hands in his pockets, effectively giving Sakura and Shikamaru a measure of privacy.

 

 

 

Sakura, still flushing, decides to sit on the foot of the bed, pulling her legs up underneath her.

"How are you feeling, Shikamaru?"

 

The young Nara opens his eyes, no longer pretending to sleep, and pulls himself into a sitting position.

"Alright."

 

Sakura meets his eyes gently but firmly. Shikamaru turns his gaze to the floor.

"Better than my teammates. It's.... Troublesome."

 

Reaching out, she puts a hand on his shin, but he stubbornly continues to look at the floor.

"Shika, it wasn't your fault. You know that, right? You saved Choji's life. You held two ninja at bay at once. That's nothing to be ashamed of."

 

Shikamaru chokes, and Sakura is sure he meant to make a more nonchalant sound than that.

"We all would have died if you hadn't felt Ino screaming."

 

Sakura sighs, and pulls herself more fully onto the bed, leaving her hand on Shikamaru's shin.

"Yeah, that's true. And I almost died fighting Danzo, except that you were there. That's the worst part of being a ninja, sometimes your best just isn't enough. But that's why we have friends. That's why we Leaf ninja look after each other, why we're considered such a strong village. We look out for each other."

 

Silence meets her comment, and when she closes her eyes and reaches out with her chakra sense, she feels Shikamaru's broken, twisted feelings of shame and fear. She pulls back the chakra, not wanting to invade too deeply, and opens her eyes.

 

Grabbing her pack, which she'd carried along with her into this room, Sakura opens it, and pulls out a scroll.

"Hey Shikamaru? Do you want to play some Shogi?"

 

The Nara's head moves toward her, and even though Sakura can still see him holding back some emotions, there's genuine amusement on his face.

"You brought a Shogi board into the Forest of Death?"

 

Opening the scroll and touching it with her chakra, Sakura unlocks the sealing and there lays a Shogi board, along with some of Choji's favorite chips, and Ino's favorite cookies. She smiles wickedly at Shikamaru, and gives him a wink.

"As they say, 'Fortune favors the prepared', Shika."

 

He shakes his head, smiling a little at the corners of his mouth now.

"I'm not sure this is what they had in mind. Sure, I'll play."

 

The rest of the room tunes in instantly when they realize Sakura brought snacks, and she pulls out the scroll containing Team 7's favorite snacks as well. Sakura had pretty much packed a scroll for every team weeks ago, just in case they were ever on a mission with them. In Sakura's opinion, as long as you have storage scrolls, there's no such think as overpacking. Team 7 and 10 spend the rest of the afternoon laughing, snacking, and playing Shogi until the sun sets.

 

 

 

 

 

Shortly after the sun finishes setting, Asuma opens the door, cigarette in hand, already speaking.

"Alright you guys-"

He blinks, taking in Team 7, who are unashamedly sitting with Team 10 on the floor, still playing Shogi. Then he laughs, a hearty laugh that makes Sakura remember why she'd liked Asuma so much the few times they'd met in her last life.

"Why am I even surprised Kakashi's team is breaking the rules. All of you are supposed to go down to the main floor now, so they can announce the official end of the exam. Team 7, I'd say Kakashi was waiting for you, but..."

 

Sakura, Sasuke, and Naruto chime in unison,

"He got lost on the road of life."

 

Asuma laughs again, and takes a drag of his cigarette.

"You got that right. Go ahead down, everyone."

 

Sakura quickly seals the Shogi board back into its storage seal, and shoves it back into her bag as she stands, along with everyone else. They file cheerfully out of the room to head downstairs, Asuma smirking good-naturedly at all of them as they pass, and attempting to ruffles Sasuke's hair, just to piss Sasuke off, Sakura is pretty sure. The Uchiha ducks and scowls, but there's no real heat behind it, and they all know it.

 

 

 

When they arrive downstairs, they find all the remaining teams already gathering, sensei circled around the walls, and Anko, Hayate, and the Hokage himself standing at the front of the room. There seem to be around the same amount of ninja left as last time, but Sakura notices that some of them are different than she remembers. Dosu's team is nowhere to be seen, and Sakura wonders how many of them survived Team 7. In their place is those weird Ame ninja Team 7 had fought in Sakura's previous timeline. She doesn't know their names, only that they all wear matching jumpsuits and strange gas masks.

Once the participants all fill the center of the room, Anko starts off by congratulating them on passing this portion of the exam. She then springs on them all that due to the large amount of ninja passing the second stage, they would be holding preliminaries to the final rounds, and that Hayate would explain them. The room seems to groan in unison. Sakura knows everyone is tired. She's been asleep for over a day and she's still tired.

Hayate explains the battle tournament style, and that the winners will be able to participate in the finals, which will be held next month. Sakura notices the sickly cough the Jounin has, and wonders if she might be able to help him or not. She recalls that he dies pretty soon after this, as Genma ended up proctoring the Final exam, and the thought saddens her slightly. Sakura wonders if she can prevent it or not. She's in the middle of walking through what she remembers hearing about Hayate's untimely death when the Hokage walks forward to give a speech.

At this point, Sakura could honestly not care less about what the Third has to say, and she tunes him out completely, in favor of looking around at the crowd of ninja, trying to decide who might fight who, or if it'll even be the same. Eventually, the Hokage finishes, and Sakura tunes back in when Hayate asks all of them who wish to drop out to do so. Kabuto, to Sakura's displeasure, has somehow made it through to this round, and gives up again, saying he's too tired, and he'll try again next time. It takes everything Sakura has to not openly roll her eyes at his antics. How anyone bought his act last time or this time baffles her. No one else gives up, and Hayate explains the random selection process, then all of the Chunin prospects take to the balconies, alongside their respective sensei.

 

 

 

 

By this time, Kakashi-sensei has shown up, leaning casually against the back wall near Guy. Team 7 joins them, and Sakura gives a polite,

"Hello, Guy-sensei. Kakashi-sensei, I'm glad you made it."

 

She receives a mega-watt smile and thumbs up in return from Guy. Kakashi looks innocently at her, all eye smile. The board which holds the names of combatants starts making noise, and Sakura turns to see who will be in the first fight. The screen reads out

 

"Sasuke v Yoroi"

 

Interesting. No changes to the fight lineup yet. Sasuke leaps over the railing, landing gracefully on the floor below. Beside Sakura, Naruto bellows out,

"Good luck Sasuke!"

 

Yoroi jumps from the other side of the room. Once they're in the center, in their fighting stances, Hayate gives them the go ahead, and their battle begins. Yoroi springs back, kunai in hand, and storm of kunai fly at Sasuke, who dodges. Sakura can't see Sasuke's face from here but she imagines his Sharingan blazing, anticipating the movements and blows of the traitorous leaf ninja. The fight really begins then, a fierce barrage of fire and weaponry, interspersed with physical combat. Yoroi and Sasuke dodge and whirl, Sasuke flinging fireballs and fists, Yoroi blocking and returning the favor with dangerously strong showers of blows.

Naruto cheers boisterously, and it's so loud Sakura can't hear exactly what is going on in the battle below, but they seem to be hurling sarcastic comments towards each other. Neither seem to have an edge over the other, at this point, and they trade blows faster and faster, until the whole battlefield looks like a blur. Then, just like last time, Yoroi get kicked airborne somehow, and Sasuke appears beside him, and performs his "Lion's barrage", kicking the man down with brutal blow after blow, until Yoroi strikes the ground so hard that the floor underneath him spiderwebs.

Hayate calls the match at this point, in Sasuke's favor.

 

 

As Sasuke makes his way back to the balcony, and Yoroi gets pulled out on a stretcher, Sakura suddenly remembers the other Uchiha she had seen during the written portion of the exam. He'd gotten into the second part of the exam, Sakura was sure of it. She'd thought he was on Kabuto's team, as she'd seen them talking. But no, Sakura realizes now, Kabuto's entire team is here, with the notable exception of Kabuto, who withdrew. So where was the Uchiha? The one she'd chosen not to protect, betting on Orochimaru coming for Sasuke instead. Turning from the battlefield, she considers her sensei. He probably knows the answer, but will he tell her?

 

"Kakashi-sensei, there was another Uchiha in this exam. Did his team fail?"

 

Kakashi scratches his temple with a finger, looking slightly uncomfortable.

"The other Uchiha? He, erm.. Died. His whole team got wiped out in the forest."

 

Sakura feels the blood drain from her face. Behind her, the screen announces the next fight, but she isn't paying attention enough to notice who, at the moment. All she can think of is that unknown Uchiha. The one she had seen and consciously decided to let fend for himself. Was it her fault?

"Do you know, who killed them, sensei?"

 

Kakashi shrugs slightly, seemingly ignoring the look of abject horror on Sakura's face.

"You mean, was it the same person who attacked your team? There's an ongoing investigation."

 

The avoidance of giving her a straight answer tells Sakura all she needs to know. Orochimaru had attacked another Leaf team, tried to get to another Uchiha. But the other Uchiha had died, along with his whole team. She'd known this might happen. She had known there was a chance the unknown Uchiha would get attacked, and Sakura had done nothing. His death, is on her. Remembering Kakashi's gaze, Sakura gives a brief nod, and tries to force her guilt away. If she'd made a point to try and save this other Uchiha on the chance Orochimaru would attack, Team 10 might have died. Everything requires sacrifice.

Still, Sakura knows she owes something now, to the unknown boy who she'd left up to fate. She knows after this exam she'll be visiting his grave to apologize, to beg forgiveness.

 

 

Turning back to the battlefield, Sakura is just in time to see Hayate declare Shino the winner against one of the Ame ninja with the face masks. She rejoins her team, trying to tamp out any feelings she has other than exam related ones. At least for right now. It takes her all of Rock Lee's fight against Choji, which Lee wins by a landslide, to settle herself down. Sakura feels a little bad for Choji, because she knows he could've fought harder if it had been against a foreign ninja. Choji has never been one to hurt a fellow Leaf ninja, which gave Lee the clear advantage. It wasn't even a particularly good showing of Lee's talents, because Choji had all but given up when he saw he was faced with a comrade. It did, however, last long enough for Sakura to regain control over her emotions, and even work herself up to be a little excited to fight soon herself. And she doesn't have long to wait. The next fight appears on the screen, and Sakura sees her own name.

 

"Sakura v. Kankuro"

 


She is determined not to fail this fight. She jumps from the balcony, hearing Naruto cheering her name behind her. Kankuro looks at her and just smirks, joining her on the battlefield. Sakura cannot wait to wipe that smirk off of his face. She'll win, this time. She's never directly fought Kankuro before, but she isn't going to lose to him, either.

When Hayate calls start, and Kankuro leaps back, sending a puppet sailing Sakura's way, she's ready. Rolling to the right, she dodges the puppet, and tries to remember everything about her fight with Sasori, in her last life. It seemed like direct hits on the puppet were her best bet, but she'd best be careful. Kankuro is likely to have poisoned his puppet's weaponry. Sakura continues her dodge tactics for a moment longer, grateful to Tsunade for drilling them into her over and over. Finally, she sees her moment. The puppet swings at her from the left, and Sakura dodges into the puppet, instead of away, and punches it with a chakra laden fist. Kankuro manages to dodge the blow, but Sakura still manages to blast one of its arms off before the puppet master can yank it away. The dodging game starts again. Sakura rolls and dodges and waits, then when an opening presents itself, lands a shattering blow that breaks bits and pieces off of the puppet each time.

She can't dodge forever, she'll definitely run out of energy before Kankuro runs out of chakra. The next time she gets an opening, Sakura punches the ground hard enough to fissure it. It makes Kankuro stumble, and she darts forward, using the opportunity to completely destroy his puppet in a final punch, and heading towards Kankuro as fast as she can, hoping to catch him off guard before he can string another puppet along. She doesn't make it in time, and a second puppet that looks sort of like a coffin comes at her. Swearing, Sakura dodges, hand brushing the sheathes at her side where she keeps the knives Jiraiya gave her.

Wait. That might work.

Quick as a flash, Sakura draws the knives, and imbues them with chakra. She's seen Neji and Hinata cut chakra strings before. Sakura may not know the gentle fist, but a chakra imbued slice from a knife should do the trick. She launches herself high into the air with a leap, and when the puppet flies up to meet her, Sakura spins to the side and slices through the chakra strands. She is now between the puppet and Kankuro. Still falling, Sakura cuts through all of Kankuro's attempts to make new connections to his puppet, and she hits the ground running towards him, still severing chakra strings left and right.

Just before she reaches Kankuro, she sees that smirk again, and feels a stabbing pain in her side. Somehow, he'd gotten an attack in with the puppet, but Sakura can't stop now, she doesn't know what sort of poison the puppet is covered with. This is her only chance to make a blow, poison stab wound or not. Sheathing one knife, Sakura gathers chakra in her fist and punches at Kankuro as hard as she can, and they both go flying, hitting the ground hard. Kankuro seems to be in a crater, and Sakura knows all she needs to do is rise to claim the victory. She tries to move her limbs, only to find they're much heavier than they were just a moment ago.


Great. A paralytic. Just what I need.

She sees Kankuro out of the corner of her eye, and he's not gotten up yet. This is her chance.

Come on, Sakura. Power through!

 

Sakura cycles all the chakra through her body faster, trying to get rid of the paralytic, but its hold is terribly strong and getting stronger by the second. She can hear Naruto and Ino cheering her name. She has to get up. She has to, she can't fail this time. Slowly, painfully, Sakura forces one foot flat on the ground, then the other. Using her arms, and imbuing her muscles with as much chakra as she can without hurting herself, she painfully forces her way onto her feet. Rising feels like it takes an eternity, but she does it.

 

One inch at a time, Sakura stands against the paralytic, and when she finally finishes straightening, she sees Kankuro is actually unconscious, and she internally winces when she remembers how hard she hit him. But when Hayate calls her name out as the winner, she doesn't feel bad, not at all. Sakura feels victory. She'd scream and cheer herself, if she could. But the second Hayate calls her name, Sakura sinks back down, unable to fight the paralytic anymore.

 

Two stretchers appear, and Sakura gets loaded up onto one, Kankuro having the same done on the other side. She tries to tell the medic that she wants to just sit up in the balcony so she can watch her friend's fights, but she can't make her mouth form words yet, so she gets wheeled into the medical ward all the same. The medics flitter around her, giving her localized anesthesia, then sewing up the wound in Sakura's side. She hears them discussing the poison she's been hit with, and she's relieved to hear that it's one that Konoha has an antidote for. Kankuro must have used that one in the prelims on purpose, so Konoha wouldn't suspect him of anything.

It takes forever, but eventually a medic comes back with the antidote. It takes even longer before Sakura gets herself under control enough to start regaining control. Literally the second Sakura can start to talk , she requests that she go back to the balcony, so she can see her friends fight. The medic tells her she can, if she can walk there herself, then smiles at her. Sakura belatedly realizes it's kind of a dare, since her limbs are still too heavy, and it's nearly impossible to move. Sakura does it anyway, limping back to the balcony.

 

Kami, I feel like I weigh 500 pounds

When she gets back to the balcony, she drags herself over to where Sasuke is sitting, and sits beside him near the railings.

"Fill me in?"

 


Sasuke does so.

"Ino took out that ninja on Kabuto's team. Just mind transferred and gave up for the other guy. Misumi. Temari beat up one of those Ame ninja. Shikamaru was just declared the winner against Tenten."

 

Sakura feels bad that she missed so many of her friend's fights, and wasn't able to cheer them on. Looking down at the battlefield though, Sakura sees that she at the very least made it in time to see her teammate fight. Naruto is currently engaged in combat with the 3rd Ame ninja. At some point, someone has covered the floor in a few inches of water, and when Naruto's clones get close to landing a blow, the Ame ninja slips in and out of the water, looking almost as if he's teleporting from one place on the water to another. Sakura watches her teammate, notices how he's only sent out three clones, and how they seem to be working together somewhat, trying to drive the enemy ninja into a corner. Every time a clone dispels, another takes its place.

 

"C'mon Naruto! You've got this!"

Sakura feels no shame cheering for her friend, just like he'd felt no shame in cheering for her. Naruto lands a blow, then the Ame ninja does. Clone after clone after clone dispel, and Sakura can see the wear it's starting to put onto Naruto. If he doesn't call on the fox, which he likely won't, since he isn't angry, he's going to run out of chakra soon. Naruto looks like he's noticing that too, and his strategy, if there was one, changes abruptly. All four Naruto's run to the edge of the battlefield, making a spear formation. Then Naruto makes some handsigns and yells,

 

"Wind Style, Great breakthrough!"

 

And the water parts before the huge gust, flying up the sides of the arena and absolutely drenching everyone spectating. The Ame ninja no longer has a place to hide, and goes full attack style. Naruto and his clones charge, and when the water starts clearing from the air, the Ame ninja is maskless, laying on the ground. Naruto, weaving on his feet, looks incredibly proud of himself. Hayate calls the match, and Sakura cheers loudly for her friend.

 

"Yeah Naruto!!"

 

Naruto shoots Sakura a bright grin, then runs up the stairs and joins them at the balcony, dropping down beside them.

"I knew I'd win, ya know!"

 

 

Sakura hears money being exchanged behind her, and finds Kakashi-sensei pocketing some coins while Guy looks stricken.

"Looks like more of my Genin made it to the finals, Guy."

 

Her sensei's "I couldn't care less" demeanor clearly grates on Guy, who mutters,

"Curse you Kakashi, and your cool youthfulness!"

 

Sakura shakes her head at the two of them. Their rivalry hasn't changed one bit since Sakura's last life.

"Kakashi-sensei, did you bet on us with Guy-sensei?"

 

Kakashi smiles at her,

"It wasn't gambling. It was an investment."

 

Guy groans, and Sakura laughs, but she's a little touched Kakashi believed in her enough to bet on her. She feels sure he wouldn't have last time. Still grinning, she turns back around to watch the next match. The screen reads,

 

 

"Neji v Hinata"

 

Sakura wonders if this fight is simply fate, or not. She remembers what happened last time, and it makes her not even want to watch. But watch she does. The fight goes much like last time, with Neji berating Hinata, and Hinata drawing more and more into herself as the two Hyuuga trade lightning fast gentle fist blows. What does change, this time, is that Naruto isn't the only one cheering for Hinata. Ino, from somewhere on Sakura's right, is screaming profanities at Neji in between telling Hinata she can take him.

 

Ino starts yelling such terrible profanities that after a moment or two Asuma steps forward and covers Ino's mouth with his hand. Hinata blushes at the cheering, but Sakura can see her spine straightening. She knows what will happen to the young Hyuuga next, and she's not sure she even wants to see it. She can't tear her eyes away, though. She sees Hinata, standing strong and fighting, sees her take the blow to the chest. Sees Hinata cough up blood onto the floor, and then rise again to tell Neji he was wrong about her. When the Jounin finally interfere, and Hayate calls it for Neji, its a mercy. Sakura hates to see the Hyuuga heir get hurt so badly, but she still finds herself impressed with Hinata's strength of character. To keep standing up even though she knows she isn't strong enough to win.

Like last time, Naruto leaps to the floor, this time joined by Ino. They both swear separate oaths to avenge Hinata. Neji looks wholly unimpressed by the whole thing, but Rock Lee's eyes shine with tears as if he's just heard the most moving speeches of his entire life. Naruto's, maybe. But Sakura can't understand why Ino's "I'll kill you for this, bitch." warrants a similar reaction.

After the Jounin and Hayate clear everyone out of the battlefield, Sakura realizes with a shock what the last fight is going to be, who it's going to involve. If her legs still didn't feel like they weighed a hundred pounds each, she would be running right now. Running with a warning. Because the last match comes up on the board, and her blood runs cold.

 

"Kiba v. Gaara"

Chapter Text

Kiba v. Gaara

The words glare on the screen, and Sakura knew she would hate this fight, no matter who fought it. Gaara is still bloodthirsty, Naruto hasn't befriended him yet. She knew that whoever entered this fight would have a rough time, Sakura simply finds she doesn't want to witness it. Doesn't want to witness Gaara potentially crippling another one of her friends.

 

Kiba howls happily, and bounds onto the floor, calling out,


"All right! Finally, Akamaru. Let's do this!"

 

Akamaru's bark sounds a lot more unsure than Kiba looks, and Sakura is so glad. Akamaru is smarter than anyone would give him credit for, being a ninja puppy. More than that, he and Kiba trust each other completely, so Kiba will hopefully be more likely to come out of this fight relatively unscathed. Gaara descends dramatically, slowly. Sakura tries to swallow down her fear at the sight of the Sand ninja. She knows Gaara. He's actually a very kind, and thoughtful leader. Or, rather, he will be. Right now, Sakura feels much more like she's staring at fear itself. Gaara joins Kiba in the arena, and inclines his head towards Hayate, in a bored manner.

Bored is definitely better than the alternative...

Then the match begins. Unlike most of the other matches so far, which have involved the combatants immediately distancing themselves or testing the limits of their opponents, Kiba immediately and instantly goes onto the attack. Gaara doesn't move, doesn't even uncross his arms. The cork falls from the gourd on his back, and he simply waits for Kiba to strike. Sakura has to hand it to Kiba, he's much faster and better at combined taijutsu than she remembers him being before. He and Akamaru strike, only to hit a wall of sand that hadn't been there a second before. The Inuzuka recovers without so much as a second wasted and strikes again, in conjunction with Akamaru, to the same result. A wall of sand impedes their progress.

Kiba gives a wide, fanged grin, and hand signals Akamaru. A staggering series of attacks fall on Gaara, one side, then another, until they're a random series of patterns, trying to find an opening in Gaara's sand. The walls of sand are faster and noticeably thinner now, a sign Gaara isn't able to put up a full sand wall in the time between blows. Unfortunately, it's still enough to block Kiba and Akamaru.

 

"You got this Kiba!"

Naruto cheers happily beside Sakura, blissfully unaware of how badly this could go.

 

Kiba takes a step back, looking Gaara over. Then he performs his clan's signature jutsu, Fang over Fang. It's not a terrible idea against someone like Gaara, Sakura thinks. The quick spinning may scatter the sand enough for Kiba to get close. Sakura scoots closer to the edge of the balcony, trying to get a better vantage to see if Kiba and Akamaru will get through. Looking closely, Sakura notices how Kiba spins one direction, and Akamaru the other, and appreciates the drilling motion as they fly towards Gaara, who once again does not bother to move out of the way. A much larger wall of sand appears, and Kiba hits it full force, drilling into it with a powerful slam that sends so much sand flying that the entire battlefield appears to become a sandstorm. When the sand draws back to Gaara, Sakura is shocked to notice Gaara's "Ultimate defense", a literal skin of sand, is cracked all over his face.

Kiba had hit him.

 

Naruto cheers even louder, and Sakura joins him.

"Nice one Kiba!"

 

Kiba and Akamaru are several yards back from Gaara, panting almost identically. Gaara looks about as shocked as Sakura feels, and uncrosses his arms to lift a hand to the cracks in his armor. Then, he smiles. Not the soft, careful smile that Sakura remembers from his older counterpart, but a bloodthirsty, feral grin.

 

The room falls silent, so silent that everyone present gets to hear Gaara's soft spoken rasp,

"My turn."

 

 

 

The tide of the battle changes as quickly as that. Sand snaps out in tendrils, grabbing for Kiba and Akamaru, who have to go on the defensive. Dodging, cutting, punching the sand arms away from them. The sand fluidly reforms, returning to Gaara to strike out over and over. Kiba keeps dodging, running. The strain is starting to show on his face a little, and it becomes clear he'll tire himself out and have to give up soon, if he doesn't do something. Grabbing Akamaru and dodging a sand spear, Kiba makes a hand sign, yelling,

"Man Beast Clone!"

Akamaru and Kiba both transform, into two identical Kiba's, with extended claws, and wild looks in their eyes. They dodge another sand strike, and it's clear they're both faster now. They both run straight at Gaara, dodging towards him this time, instead of away.

 

When a wave of sand throws them into the air, one Kiba grabs the other, and flings him full speed at Gaara, and then a hand sign. The Kiba that gets flung at Gaara gets overwhelmed with a wall of sand, but before Gaara can do anything with it, the second Kiba flies in, doing a one man version of Fang over Fang. With most of his sand occupied with the first Kiba, the second one drills directly into Gaara, flinging Gaara back across the field and into a wall, which cracks. Sakura notices the sand around the first Kiba has loosened, and he's free of it.

Gaara, caught partially by a cushioning bed of sand, looks a little stunned. His sand armor is cracked again, and this time, Sakura sees a small cut on his cheek, and blood running down from it. She moves her gaze up to Temari, who looks absolutely shocked, and horrified. Kiba and Akamaru both dispel into their natural forms, and Gaara puts a finger on the blood, and observes it. Then, he looks at Kiba, wide eyed and terrifying.

 

"No one makes me BLEED!"

Gaara's soft rasp is now a hoarse scream,

"I'm going to validate my existence, I'll kill you! You are nothing. NOTHING! I'll show you just how much your life is worth!"

 

 

There's an actual, physical rumble as Gaara's sand returns to him and starts pulsing. Akamaru whimpers pitifully, looking to Kiba, and Sakura wants to yell to Kiba to give up, but she knows if she says anything, he'll do the opposite.

 

Please listen to Akamaru, please listen to Akamaru. please listen...

 

 

Kiba looks at Akamaru, and rubs his dog partners head gently with one hand.

"It's okay, boy."

 

Sakura holds her breath, and it feels like the room holds it with her. Kiba, Akamaru at his side, standing against a swirling, deathly orb of sand, filled with a madman with the intent to kill. No one breathes, no one moves. They just watch. Kiba straightens, and smiles, his fanged grin tired. but confident.

"We've got this, Akamaru."

 

 

Then, he charges right at the swirling sandstorm encompassing Gaara. The sand launches itself from Gaara's side, and wraps Kiba entirely in it's embrace. Akamaru barks, a single panicked sound, the only sound in the room. Gaara, hunger in his eyes, and blood on his face, holds out his fist.

 

"Sand coffin"

The words echo around the silent arena, as Gaara clenches his fist. The sand contracts, and blood spatters the arena, flying through the air and hitting spectators and Gaara alike. There's dead silence for a beat, like the world itself is blinking.

Then the room explodes.

 

 

 

 

Sakura screams, rage overtaking her, and strikes the balcony, the entirety of which shatters, shaking the building and sending all the candidates and their sensei hurtling towards the floor. At the same moment, Naruto roars, an inhuman, Nine-tails sort of roar and launches himself directly at Gaara, and Sakura can see 3 tails sprouting on her teammate already. The walls of the building start cracking, fire dancing out of the edges, the lights flicker, then go out, and pandemonium ensues.

Sakura can't see her teammates, can't see anything but smoke and fire and screaming. She charges towards where she last saw Gaara, chakra coating her fists to protect herself and fend off everyone. It might be her imagination, but some of the flames even seem black, colored like the thick black smoke filling the room. She's still moving a little slow after the paralytic, but right now getting to Kiba and saving him is the only thing on her mind. Arms grab her around the middle, and her chakra senses tell her "Kakashi-sensei" even as her emotional senses tell her it doesn't matter who it is, they need to let go so she can get to Kiba, she has to get to Kiba.

Her sensei's grip tightens,

"Sakura, you can't help him."

 

She must have been screaming aloud. Kakashi is wrong. He's wrong. Kiba needs help and Sakura has to get to him.

She stomps on the ground, hard. a crater opening beneath her, and she feels the supports of the tower start cracking. Kakashi doesn't even stumble, he just grabs her tighter, and leaps backward, Sakura in tow. She screams for him to let her go, punching at her sensei, though not with her chakra. Even half crazes, she can't bring herself to purposely hurt Kakashi. She just needs him to let her go. They exit the tower through a hole Sakura knows wasn't there before.

 

 

Kakashi puts her down, grabs her by the shoulders, and yells at her.

"Sakura, calm down. Now!"

 

 

Sakura has never been yelled at by Kakashi.

Ever.

 

 

 

The shock of it causes her to stop fighting, at least for the moment. Kakashi hasn't let go of her shoulders, and his look is intense.

"Sakura. The tower is collapsing. The other Jounin are trying to restrain Kurenai. I need you to focus and follow my orders. Got it?"

 

Sakura nods. She'll follow Kakashi, she can trust Kakashi.

"We are going back in, and we are getting Genin out. Don't stop to heal them, don't stop to argue with them. Understood?"

 

 

She takes a deep breath, subconsciously matching her sensei's rhythm. He's not sidelining her.

She straightens.

"Yes, Kakashi-sensei."

 

Kakashi lets go of her shoulders, and leaps back into the tower, Sakura a step behind.

 

 

 

 

The tower is definitely collapsing, they have minutes at most. Before she even makes it fully into the tower, she's overwhelmed with thick, black smoke which chokes her and makes her eyes water.  Through the thick smoke, she can see Kakashi-sensei wrestling Shino and Choji towards the hole in the wall, so she dives forward through the smoke.

 

She passes Shikamaru and Rock Lee, who seem to be trying to get the Ame ninja out, so she waves her arm frantically, and when Lee catches sight of her, Sakura points toward the hole, the exit point, and Lee nods, shouting something to Shikamaru that can't be heard over the roar of the fire and the sounds of fighting.

 

Driving deeper, Sakura sees the team of medics, carrying Hinata and Kankuro on stretchers, helped along by Ino. Hearing another roar, Sakura knows Naruto is too far into Nine tails mode for her to help him right now, and Sasuke is bound to be with him, so they're somewhat accounted for.

 

The building heaves a huge cracking sound, and shakes dangerously. Sakura finally finds herself in the back of the arena, and she knows she has less than a minute to finish her search and get out. A huge beam has fallen, cracking the fallen balcony into two, further destabilizing the building. She's looking, looking for anyone. She doesn't see anyone, can't see much of anything at all.

 

 

It's time to get out, or this building is coming down on top of me.

 

 

 

 

Sakura turns, but the smoke is so thick, and she's coughing so hard, she doesn't actually remember which way the door is. She'll have to blast her way through the back wall. Through the fire roaring and the faint sounds of combat, Sakura hears a quiet cough, that isn't her own. 

 

Hayate!

 

He has to be close. Dropping down to her hands and knees, Sakura crawls, looking for him. She can't see anything she'll never find him she's just useless and-

 

Idiot! Chakra sensing!

 

Sakura flings out her chakra sense, and the building shakes harder, a huge piece of the ceiling falling behind her. She doesn't feel anyone, at first. Then, a faint signature, just ahead, under the broken balcony. She crawls forward, knowing that the lower she is, the less smoke she'll inhale. When she reaches the fallen balcony, she spots their proctor, who's pinned at the waist underneath what used to be the edge of the balcony. The smoke is so thick she can't even see his face. Kakashi said not to talk.

Channeling chakra to her hands, Sakura reaches out and punches the concrete over the proctor, shattering it. Then she kneels, grabbing his arm, and hooking her other arm through his newly freed leg, in a fireman's carry. She can't tell if he's conscious or not. That's not important right now. Now they need to get out. Doing some quick calculations, Sakura realizes they must be at the side wall of the tower, the exact opposite of the hole she came through. That means if she can knock a hole in this wall, she can get out.

The smoke is overwhelming her, and if she stays in here much longer, she'll likely pass out herself. Gathering the barest amount of chakra she can spare, trying not to knock the building down instantly, Sakura kicks a hole in the back wall. The building trembles violently, and she hears the top floor start to collapse. Tightening her grip on Hayate, she ducks through the hole she's made, and emerges into the Forest. Clearing the smoke, Sakura lays Hayate down and collapses heavily next to him, coughing. Before her, the tower collapses, one floor falling into another, then another. As the final floor falls, a tremendous clanging fills the clearing and a wall of smoke and flames shoots outwards.

Sakura turns away, shielding Hayate's upper body with her own, turning her face from the flames. She feels it all blow over her body, the smoke and heat burning and choking. Then, it's over. A cloud of dust and smoke hangs in the air, and the fire dulls to a crackle, the embers of the tower being all that's left. There's no one on this side of the clearing, which makes sense, since Sakura was the one to knock a hole in the wall. She turns her focus to Hayate, summoning medical chakra to her hands, but it won't come.

She's out of chakra.

Hayate is very pale, and his skin is clammy to the touch. He's in bad shape. Sakura tries again to summon medical chakra to her hands, but fails. Remembering the way the balcony was laying on him, he's probably bleeding internally. Sakura wonders how he got pinned under the balcony in the first place. Then it hits her like a physical blow. 

She was the one who knocked the balcony down. She was the one who'd crushed Hayate.

 

 

 

Desperation fills Sakura, and she knows she has to fix this. There's probably other people hurt, too. Even though only Hayate is directly her fault, probably. This is an emergency. Lives are on the line. Sakura knows what she has to do. Making a hand sign, she unlocks the seal behind her ear, the one she's been filling with her extra chakra for years. The strength of One-hundred seal. She planned on only using it in emergencies, since it eats some of your lifespan every time you use it. But this is important, people could die without her help. So Sakura unlocks it, and lets the power and chakra flood her veins, trembling as she feels the power of it rip away some of her life span, overfilling her chakra channels.

 

The first thing she does is henge away the visible affects of the seal. Then pulling medical chakra to her hands, she sets to work on Hayate. The damage is awful. Sakura is surprised he's even still alive. His entire pelvic bone is crushed. Normally, this would take a full team of medics several rounds of healing to fix, but Sakura is the apprentice of Tsunade, and even more than that, she has six years of stored chakra in her. She pours chakra in, fixing everything in her wake. Once the seal is open, it empties one way or another, so there's no use trying to reserve anything. She sweeps her medical chakra into Hayate, fixing everything in her path. He gurgles, choking up the blood Sakura is clearing from his system. He jerks awake with a strangled cry, as Sakura finishes her sweep.

 

She stands, and instead of explaining the situation in any way, Sakura just runs to the other side of the tower, needing to use her excess chakra while she has it, before it starts burning her up inside from not using it. As she runs, she sweeps her medical chakra through herself, ridding herself fully of the paralytic she'd received from Kankuro, and wiping the smoke from her lungs. As she rounds the corner of the ruined tower, she starts seeing people, and she intends to fix them all.

 

Guy sensei, trying to do a head count of students. She runs up to him places her hands on his chest in the middle of him speaking, and sweeps her medical chakra through. Broken arm, smoke inhalation, fixed. Guy doubles over and coughs hard, then thanks her, but she's already moving on. Tenten and Lee are fine, just smoke inhalation, which she quickly dispels, causing them to cough up the damage. Neji fixes her with such a stare she doesn't even bother with him, instead running to the next group.

 

The medical team is swarmed around Hinata and one of the Ame ninja, Kankuro is nowhere in sight. Sakura decides to leave Hinata and the Ame ninja to the medics. If they see how much she can heal, they'll get suspicious. Next she finds Team 10, who are sitting with Shino, who looks more upset than Sakura has ever seen him. She grabs Choji first, pulsing the smoke from his body, as well as the bumps and bruises and cuts he still has from the exam and ensuing fight. Ino's next, and Sakura completely fixes her hand, but has to forcefully stop herself from healing Ino's face. With this much chakra at her disposal, it's harder to keep it back than it is to heal, at this point.

 

Shino is next, and Sakura easily wipes the smoke damage from him, his bugs have already done most of the hard work, he doesn't even cough. Grabbing Shikamaru next, she notices during her sweep that he has several fractures including a crushed foot which Sakura has no idea how he was walking on. He cries out a little when she sets the foot, but Sakura's got too much chakra to be able to do something about how quickly the healing is taking place. She knows it must be uncomfortable. Without even stopping to say goodbye, Sakura leaves the group and continues. She can't stop, she can't think or speak, not yet. Not yet.

 

 

She still has a lot of chakra, though not as much as before. Sakura makes her way onward. She finally finds her team. Naruto is no longer in Nine tails mode, and is laying on the ground, raw and red, skin torn and burned from the Nine tail's toxic spirit. Sasuke is sitting beside him, looking tired, but mostly unhurt. Kakashi-sensei is standing over them, looking extremely tense, but he softens when he sees Sakura, and Sakura knows he was worried about her, though he'd never admit it. Sakura walks over to Naruto first, medical chakra spilling over her fingers. Kneeling, she puts her hands on Naruto's shoulders, the place that looks the least burnt. It's almost relaxing to heal Naruto. His entire body is burnt, and Sakura has so much extra chakra, it's a relief to rid herself of so much of it.

New skin grows, and Naruto's burns fade away, and she eases his overstretched muscles while she's at it. She knows Kakashi-sensei is watching her, and she'll have to come up with a good excuse for why she was able to heal Naruto in this state, but at the moment, she isn't worried about it. Healing burns and skin is so chakra intensive that when she finishes, which takes only a few moments, her chakra stores are only slightly over her normal chakra pool.

 

She moves to Sasuke next, and clears the smoke damage from his lungs and eyes. Finally, she turns to her sensei and holds her hand out questioningly.

 

Kakashi shakes his head, giving her a shrug,

"Save your chakra, Sakura, I'm alright. You just healed Naruto, it's a wonder you're on your feet."

 

Sakura gives him shrug in return,

"Naruto doesn't really take any chakra, if you know how. I just used the Fox's chakra to do it."

 

Kakashi gives her an odd look, and Sakura fixes a pleading gaze on him. Sighing, he relents, and coughs as he sits down. Sakura carefully places her hands on her sensei's shoulder blades. His lungs are more damaged than most she's seen today, but worse, he has a very painful looking fracture in one leg. Guiltily, Sakura remembers the crater she'd made fighting Kakashi-sensei when he'd pulled her from the tower. She'd thought he hadn't even noticed, but apparently, she'd hurt him. She also sees that all the chakra channels from his Sharingan are inflamed and must be terribly painful.

 

Sakura is pretty sure that's been a long term thing, and he's just putting up with it. Carefully, trying to seem like a young medic, instead of a Sannin-level, battletorn healer, Sakura starts healing.

 

She takes care of his lungs first. Then, she heals the break in his leg. On the pretense of doing a final sweep, Sakura floods her medical chakra through her sensei, easing the inflammation in his eyes. She knows he'll notice, but hopefully he'll think it was unintentional. Finally, blessedly, the seal mark behind her ear fades, and Sakura is down to her regular chakra stores. She drops the henge, and sinks down to her knees, feeling a bit of her life slip away. It was worth it, though.

She had listened to Kakashi, she saved everyone she could. Everyone except... Biting her lip, she remembers the battle, the way Gaara looked as he clenched his fist and announced the doom of his opponent. Sakura knows what she saw, she knows how it ended. Still, she doesn't want to believe it. It doesn't seem like it could be real. It can't be real.

 

She looks to her sensei, not sure if she wants to hear the truth, but needing to hear it all the same.

"Sensei, is... Is....?"

 

 

Kakashi exhales heavily. Naruto is awake now, stirring from the ground, and all three of Team 7 look to their sensei, needing to hear from him for it to all make sense.

"Kiba Inuzuka is dead."

 

 

 

Sakura hangs her head, letting the news wash over her. She wants to be devastated, wants to react by crying or screaming or denying it. She doesn't, though. She just feels... empty. Other ninja start arriving, having seen the smoke. Bustling movement starts happening all around her. Voices and mission reports fly all around her, but Sakura doesn't raise her head, doesn't hear whatever it is people are saying.

Someone takes her by the hand, leads her away from the tower, back towards the village. She goes. Whoever it is talks to her, but Sakura can't hear what they're saying, doesn't even feel like trying to listen. Eventually, minutes, hours, days, Sakura arrives home. Whoever is with her walks her inside. Sits her on her bed. They say something to her, but Sakura doesn't hear the words, just noise. She doesn't react, just sits dumbly in her bed, staring at the floor.

At some point, someone turns the light out. Mechanically, Sakura lays down in her bed, staring blankly at the ceiling, now.

 

Outside, the sound of howling dogs fills the night air. The grieving, pained keen of dogs and perhaps their humans too, are heard all across the otherwise silent village.

Chapter Text

The funeral is unlike any Sakura has ever been to. It starts normally, for a mass funeral. Everyone arrives in their black mourning clothes, and they gather around the grave, just like any other funeral. Sakura wonders darkly what they've buried of Kiba, of the Uchiha and his team, if anything. It's traditional to stand with your clan or family at funerals, unless you are a teammate of the deceased, and Sakura spies Sasuke and Naruto standing with Itachi, surrounded by the smaller, but still proud Uchiha clan.

Sakura herself stands between Shisui and Kakashi, three ninja without a clan or family to stand by them. Sakura doesn't feel bad about it though. Instead, she feels her heart lighten a slight bit, considering the occasion, seeing that Sasuke and Naruto both have a family standing behind them. It's a big move, politically, to let someone like Naruto be associated with your clan, but Itachi stands proudly, almost daring someone to question Naruto's presence amongst the Uchiha. The funeral starts, as it normally does, with the Hokage. The Third makes his way to the front, and begins his speech about why ninja are so important to the Leaf. As much as Sakura resents the Third for his political policies, at least in Sakura's lifetime, she has to admit, he makes good speeches. Once Sarutobi announces that all four fallen ninja will be inscribed on the Memorial Stone, he steps down, opening the floor to any who have something to say. Generally, nothing more is said, and the ninja slowly filter out, as showing emotion is frowned upon for ninja in most of Konoha.

That's when the funeral becomes different, because Tsume Inuzuka, Kiba's mother and Clan Head, takes to the stage. Her voice is low, gravelly and rough, as if she's been howling along with the ninja dogs. For all Sakura knows, she has been.

 

As wrecked as her voice seems to be, the dead silence helps carry Tsume's voice across the graveyard.

"In the Inuzuka clan, we treat each other as pack. Our dogs are our partners, and we bond with them and with each other, and we mourn each loss equally. We strive every day to make this village a safer one, a prouder one. Inuzuka and their dog partners are proud to call this village home, and we sacrifice for it. Today, we mourn the sacrifice of my son."

Tsume breaks a little here, and she takes a shaky breath before continuing.

"More importantly, we mourn the loss of the bonds we all shared with him. In the Inuzuka clan, there is only one bond that is stronger than family. That of our dog partners, who grow to become an extension of self. When a partnership is torn, it's traditional for the partner left behind to be shown respect for his or her sacrifice."

 


With those words, a small puppy joins Tsume on the stage, and Sakura gasps, hand covering her mouth, eyes filling with tears. She'd had no idea that Akamaru had survived. The small dog is limping, and even from a distance Sakura can see his drooping ears and tail. He stands on the stage, looking up at Tsume. Tsume nods at Akamaru, and then does something Sakura has never seen before. Tsume drops, bowing, to Akamaru. The entirety of the Inuzuka clan follows suit, a sweeping motion filling the clearing as Inuzuka fall to a knee, one fist over their hearts, head bowed. Their ninja dogs incline their heads with them. Hinata, who Sakura can see is barely standing, along with Shino and Kurenai follow suit, lowering themselves to a knee.

Akamaru throws back his head and howls. A long, high pitched song of pain. After a moment, the other ninja dog join in, howling along with Akamaru. Sakura expects the sound would be horrendous, dozens of dogs howling at once, but it isn't. Instead, the howls blend together, making a single, loud call. The Inuzuka humans join in next, and their howls blend into a complement. It's haunting, and one of the most beautiful and devastating sounds Sakura has ever heard. Tears stream freely down her face, and her shoulders shake. She feels Shisui's hand on one shoulder, and Kakashi-sensei's on the other, but Sakura hardly feels she deserves the comfort.

Eventually, the sound stops, and everyone begins to leave, until the only people left are the family and teams of the deceased. Sakura leaves as well, knowing it's not her place to insert herself into this grief. Kiba had been her friend, and she mourned him. But this was a place for his best friends, for his mother and sister, for Akamaru, and Team 8, and Naruto and Sasuke, who had been Kiba's best friends and family. Sakura promises to herself to visit soon, to say her own goodbye to Kiba, to apologize to the Uchiha and the team that died in the Forest.

 

 

As she nears the city center, Kakashi turns to head for his apartment, which is the opposite direction of Sakura and Shisui. Sakura guesses that Kakashi is probably going to spend the day thinking about his own ghosts. Unlike Sakura, who now has Shisui, he's alone.

 

Reaching out, Sakura grabs Kakashi's sleeve.

"Come home with us, Sensei?"

He pauses, likely to try and let Sakura down gently, so she adds,

"Please?"

 

He shakes his head slightly, gently pulling his sleeve out of Sakura's grasp.

"Sorry, Sakura, I promised someone I'd pay them a visit today."

 

Sakura lets it drop with nothing more than a nod.

"Okay, Kakashi-sensei."

 

 

 

She and Shisui head home. When they arrive, Sakura starts a pot of tea and Shisui drops heavily into a seat in the kitchen.

"Shisui, did you know the Uchiha who died?"

 

Shisui shakes his head,

"No, I didn't. He was Itachi's age, so I didn't go to the Academy with him, and since I outranked him by a lot, I never worked with him. Why do you ask, petal?"

 

Sakura slumps her shoulders in relief. It shouldn't make her feel better that Shisui hadn't known him. Shouldn't even make a difference. Somehow, it does. Taking the kettle off the heat, and pouring tea, Sakura joins Shisui at the table, mugs in hand.

"It's my fault his team died. I knew Orochimaru would be attacking, looking for Uchiha. I assumed he'd come after Sasuke. He did, but he gave up to easily. We may have surprised him, but he's a Sannin. I should have known he'd just go for the other Uchiha, and I didn't go to help. He died because of that choice, and his whole team with him."

 

Taking a cup of tea from Sakura, Shisui sighs.

"Did you kill him, Sakura? Did you find his team, hunt him down, and kill him?"

 

Sakura splutters, a little frustrated.

"Well, no of course not. But I-"

 

Shisui interrupts her, holding up a hand.

"Then it isn't your fault. It doesn't matter that you knew what might happen beforehand. You can't control everything. You can't save everyone."

 

Shaking her head firmly, Sakura feels the deep need to make Shisui understand.

"No, Shisui. I am supposed to save everyone. Naruto sent me and Sasuke back so that we could fix things. Naruto wouldn't have wanted me to let that kid die. Kami, Shisui, that kid was younger than me! I mean, real me. He was young, and he didn't deserve it. He deserved the chance to live, and to love. To grow up. If I wasn't such a colossal screw up. If I wasn't so weak, I could save everyone. If Naruto was in my place, he would have found a way!"

Sakura realizes she's cracking the mug in her hands, and she forces herself to loosen her grip on it.

 

Shisui takes one of her hands in his own.

"This isn't really about the Uchiha, is it, Sakura?"

 

The mug in her free hand shatters under her grip, and she just grips the shards tighter, like the physical pain of it slicing into her palm and fingers will hold her together.

"Of course it isn't! But, it should be. He was my fault too! Kiba DIED! I just watched a comrade DIE and I didn't do ANYTHING! Don't you understand? I should have jumped down there, interrupted the match and forced him to quit! I should have known Gaara would take him out given the chance! Kakashi-sensei says those who break the rules are scum, but those who abandon their friends are worse than scum, and I did BOTH! I abandoned my mission of saving everyone just to save my team and a whole other team died, and then I abandoned a friend, who died. Kiba's dead, and I'll never get him back! He's never coming back!"

 

 

Sakura stands and throws the shards in her hands at the sink, the porcelain and her blood spattering onto it. She feels Shisui walk around behind her, and wrap his arms around her from behind. Grabbing his arms to steady herself, Sakura screams. She screams out, anger at herself, at her own weaknesses coming out in a blind rage that pours from her lips. A ragged sound of "failure" and "not enough".

The rage subsides a little, and Sakura finds the real beast underneath it. Grief. Even with all the death she experienced in her last life, she'd finally come to hope that she alone could save this timeline. Could save every single person she'd ever met. Losing Kiba feels like losing everyone all over again. The anger subsides fully into sorrow and grief, and Sakura continues to scream, as if that alone will fix everything. She can't save everyone. She hadn't saved Kiba, and now, no one ever could again.

 

 

Shisui doesn't hush her, or tell her everything is going to be okay. He just lets her hang onto him and scream at the universe. At some point Sakura is unaware of, she stops screaming. She becomes more aware when Shisui gently guides her into a chair, grabbing some bandages from under the sink and beginning to wrap her hand, gently. Looking at her friend, Sakura feels a little guilty, always falling apart in front of Shisui. Surely she should be stronger than this.

 

"I'm sorry, Shisui."

Her voice comes out as little more than a rasp.

"You didn't deserve me dumping that on you."

 

Shisui ties off the bandage, and ruffles her hair, looking at her with a look Sakura can't decipher. After a moment, the look fades, into careful amusement.

"Don't worry, petal. Believe it or not, you're not nearly as emotional as Itachi. And at least you express your emotions. That's a good thing, Sakura."

 

Sakura scoffs a little bit, and gives her friend a fragile smile.

"Why are you so perfect? Don't you have any flaws?"

 

The teasing lightens the mood a little bit, and Shisui rises and puts on another kettle of water.

"Course I do, petal. Don't you know I'm devastatingly handsome? Too handsome, in fact. I should be fined. Hauled off to jail, to save the ladies in the village."

 

At the return of her teasing comment, Sakura's smile becomes a little more real, and a little less fragile.
After a moment, Shisui returns with a new cup of tea for Sakura, and takes to cleaning her blood off of the sink, gathering the shards of her last mug into a neat little pile.

 

"On a more serious note, Sakura. I know you're planning something. If you haven't already, you will. Planning some way to avenge your friend, or pulling off some crazy stunt to save one from something the rest of us don't even know about. Whatever it is, I want in. Okay? I know you already know things and that's fine, but you picked me to help you. Out of everyone in the village, you trusted me to help you, so I want to do that. I want to help you."

 

Sakura wants to argue that she doesn't even have a plan at the moment, but as she opens her mouth to say it, she realizes she does have something she wants to do. A plan that's been cooking beneath the surface for a while, but she hasn't voiced to anyone yet. She'd been focusing too hard on the exams, on making them go right.


"Well, actually. Remember how I told you Orochimaru was going to attack during my Chunin exams?"

Shisui nods, so she continues,

"I wasn't sure if he was still going to or not since I told Jiraiya about it. I'm not sure if it's for political reasons or for something else, but Jiraiya hasn't interfered with the exams in any way yet, so I assume the invasion is still going to happen."

Sakura takes a sip of her tea, letting it soothe her sore throat.

 

Shisui rejoins her at the table, nodding like he understands.

"You want to stop the invasion."

 

Sakura clears her throat a little nervously,

"Actually, no. The Third Kazekage is a dirtbag, and honestly it's time for the Third to retire one way or another. Sorry, I know I'm supposed to care about that. About them. But I really, don't. I actually want to use the invasion as a cover, and take down the ROOT bases. All of them. I'm done waiting for Jiraiya's intel. I want to go in and kill everyone at the top, and disband and free everyone beneath."

 

Shisui stares at her, blinking silently.

 

Sakura pokes at her bandaged hand cautiously.
"Uh.. Kind of crazy, I guess. Sorry, I guess that's stupid. It's just, now that Kiba... Now that he's gone. I don't want to take the chance that I could lose someone else. I have to get Sai out of there. If something happened to him too, I'd... I'd..."

 

Clearing his throat, Shisui shakes his head.

"No, no it's not. It just. Surprised me. I'm still in. Let's do it. Let's tear down ROOT."

 

Sakura nods, relieved. If she took down ROOT, she wouldn't have that weighing on her conscious anymore... Sai would be free...

 

 

 

 

With that, they finish their tea in silence. As afternoon begins in full, the sky darkens, and it begins to pour down rain. Fitting for a day of funerals, she thinks, trying not to dwell too much on who the funerals were for. The people buried beneath the ground. She's finally calming down from it all. Able to think a little more clearly, after expelling so much energy through her emotions. She feels a little more settled. A bit less like a loose cannon, and with a plan in motion to free Sai, with some of her confidence to help her friends returning. She wouldn't let Kiba's death break her. She can't. She has people she can still help.

 

Sakura thinks back to her parting with Kakashi earlier in the day.

"I promised someone I would pay a visit"

He had said. Sighing, Sakura stands, and grabs a large umbrella and a blanket from the hall closet. When Shisui raises a questioning eyebrow, Sakura just gives a soft smile and says,

"There's someone I need to pay a visit to."

 

Shisui stands also, and when Sakura opens her mouth to tell him she's going alone, he speaks first.

"I need to see Itachi anyway. He's going to be thinking this is all his fault too, since he's a Clan Head and all, now. I may stay over, actually, if you'll be okay."

 

Sakura suddenly sees how tired Shisui looks, and she imagines the strain he's under himself, taking care of Sakura and Itachi both. Crossing the room, Sakura hugs Shisui tightly, trying to convey all of her gratitude for him. He must understand somewhat, because he hugs her back and gives her a squeeze.

 

Sakura returns it, and says,

"You're a wonderful friend, Shisui. Make sure you take care of yourself too."

 

He ruffles her hair fondly, and Sakura lets go, walking to the doorway.

 

 

Then she steps out into the rain, tucking the blanket under her arm and opening the umbrella. Making her way purposefully across the village, Sakura wonders if Naruto and Sasuke are still at the graveyard or not. She supposes it doesn't matter too much. Across the village center, rain pounding steadily onto her umbrella, Sakura walks. Over the bridge towards the training grounds, and past the regular Team 7 meeting place. The Memorial Stone comes into view in front of her, and standing in the rain, completely soaked, Sakura's sensei.

She sighs. Of course after a difficult funeral, Kakashi would be unable to pull himself away from his old team. He makes quite the miserable picture, actually. Soaked, grey white hair sticking to him, head bowed slightly. Walking up behind him, Sakura doesn't say a word. She knows there's really nothing to be said. So she stands at her sensei's side, and raises the umbrella so that it covers them both. When Kakashi neither speaks nor visibly reacts to her presence, or the sudden lack of rain falling on him, Sakura shifts slightly, moving the umbrella to her off hand. Removing the blanket from under her arm, she gently spreads it over her sensei's shoulders. Summer has only just recently ended, but with the rain and darkness from the storm, it's cold outside, especially if you happen to be soaking wet. Returning to her stance at her sensei's side, Sakura keeps watch over the Memorial Stone, over her sensei.

When she slips her hand carefully into his, he doesn't pull away, so Sakura leaves it there. Time passes, and sometime around sunset, the rain lets up, and Sakura can see stars starting to blink into place in the sky, as the sun's rays leave. Folding her umbrella carefully with one hand, Sakura takes the time to examine the stars. Not for the first time, Sakura hopes that somehow, some way, that there is a next life. That in that next life, she'll see Kiba again. As she's thinking this, Sakura feels Kakashi begin to droop slightly, and she wonders if his vigil is over, for the night. She wouldn't put it past her sensei to stand here all night, staring at the Memorial Stone.

 

Kakashi feels unsure to Sakura, somehow. Thinking, she imagines what Shisui would do if it was her, and she takes a chance. Carefully, as if testing his reaction, Sakura takes a step back, pulling slightly on Kakashi's hand, which is still in hers. He moves with her easily, letting her guide him, and Sakura can see the empty, lost look on his face. Taking it as a sign, Sakura turns, and starts walking slowly away from the Memorial Stone. Kakashi ambles along beside her, so Sakura just heads home, sensei in tow. She's more surprised than anything else, that Kakashi would trust her enough to let her in, at least this much. Not wanting to break the fragile trust she feels, she stays quiet, but present. No one seems to be out in the village this evening, either from the funerals or just from the rain, Sakura isn't sure, but she doesn't spot a single soul on the way home. She's grateful for it either way.

When Sakura arrives at her house, Kakashi does stop, seems to take in his surroundings. Sakura considers making a case, asking him to come in, letting him know he doesn't have to be alone. Then she thinks better of it, and simply squeezes her sensei's hand, and opens the door, tugging him inside. He doesn't fight her, and Sakura is relieved. Seeing that the house is empty, she supposes Shisui did end up staying over with Itachi. Probably for the best, since she doesn't know how Kakashi would react to him, since they likely don't know each other all that well. Gently depositing her sensei into a seat at the kitchen table, Sakura starts up a pot of Ramen. It's already late, so she doesn't necessarily want to cook a difficult meal. But Ramen, with its steaming broth, is easy, quick, and might warm them both up.

It's finished in no time, and Sakura makes sure to add eggplant to Kakashi's, since she knows it's his favorite. Setting it down in front of him and taking her own seat with a bowl for herself, Sakura begins to eat. Kakashi follows suit, and Sakura sees him slowly seem to come back to life over the warm noodles. He doesn't eat the whole bowl in a single gulp like Sakura is used to him doing, but somehow she never does see him without the mask as he eats alongside her, and she makes a point not to look at his face too often, to give him the space to do so. They eat peacefully and quietly.

After they both finish, Sakura finds that her sensei looks a little lost again, though he hides it quickly. Feeling a tad uncomfortable herself, Sakura finds herself at sort of a loss of what to do. After all, her mentors had been Tsunade and the man in front of her, and neither of them were very good with emotions, theirs or others. She thinks of Kakashi, all alone at the Memorial Stone, and she thinks of herself, alone with her thoughts tonight, without Shisui's comforting chakra signature in the house, reminding her everything is okay. Clearing her throat sort of awkwardly, Sakura prepares to give speaking a try. Kakashi gives her his full attention, and Sakura wilts under it, suddenly unsure.


"S-sensei... After the... After the Forest, and the preliminaries.. I..."

The "after my string of decisions which caused at least three deaths, and caused me to watch a fourth" remains unsaid.

 

Kakashi continues to look at her, face all calm, but Sakura can feel his chakra starting to shift uncomfortably. He's still wearing the blanket Sakura draped over him though, and that gives her a measure of hope.


C'mon Sakura! Finish a sentence!

"After everything that happened.. I don't really want to be alone in the house.. At least, not right now. Shisui is over taking care of Itachi. Would... um... Would you stay, sensei?"

 

Sakura flushes ashamedly. In her past, if Sakura had ever suffered a hard loss, or had a hard night, she'd just crawled into bed with Ino, who never cared, and sometimes did the same with Sakura. After Ino... Well, after Ino. In the final stages of the war, Sakura had been too busy, too overwhelmed to be alone with her thoughts. Even then, though, when she woke up from a nightmare on the rare chances she got to sleep, Sasuke and Naruto were always there, a grounding presence.

 

Thinking of being alone in the house suddenly does terrify Sakura a bit, being alone with her ghosts for too long. Biting her lip, and preparing to paste on a fake smile and tell Kakashi it was okay that he was leaving, she looks up to find her sensei give her a careful nod.

She might be imagining it, but he looks a little bit relieved, too. 

Chapter Text

Sakura soon found out that the final round of the Chunin exams would go as scheduled. Not that she really expected it to go differently. After all, Anko and Ibiki and Hayate had said death was a possibility. A notice is posted on the Hokage tower with the random pairings for the next round, and the day it is released, it's all the village can talk about. Sakura had considered staying away from it, not wanting to deal with the next fights, or the invasion that will follow, but she knows Naruto will come bounding up to tell her anyway, and she might as well read it for herself so she's sure she gets the correct information. She had pushed through the crowd to get to the board, ninja and civilian alike crowding around to see what the lineup will look like. The lineup is written simply, in large font. The Hokage presumably knew once it was posted everyone would go to look at it. Peering at it from under a taller ninja's arm, Sakura reads:

 

Match 1: Sasuke v Temari
Match 2: Shikamaru v Shino
Match 3: Ino v Lee
Match 4: Neji v Sakura
Match 5: Naruto v Gaara

 

Her eyes immediately seek out Gaara's name, fearing to read the name of another friend who could die, and Sakura can't help but breathe a sigh of relief that Gaara's opponent will be Naruto. Naruto had beaten Gaara last time, Sakura feels confident he could do it again. Her next instinct is to search out her own name.

Oh man, I have a LOT of training to do.

Her next thought is worry. In her last life, Naruto had fought Neji in the first round, and the fight had helped Neji move beyond his whole "fate and destiny" mindset. Can she do the same for Neji? Sakura tries to recall what Neji had said to Naruto in their fight. She thinks it might have been about Naruto being an underdog. Sakura could do that, she can be an underdog. Technically, she already is, since she's not from a clan, and has no kekkai genkai of any sort.

Unless you count this weird "soul energy" thing that I still don't know what to do with.

Sakura sighs. Even with all the knowledge of her future, Jounin self, Neji will still be a hard fight, and Sakura feels both dread and excitement at the amount of training she's going to need to put into this.

 

Nervously, she remembers her last life, when Kakashi-sensei had taken it upon himself to train Sasuke specially, leaving Sakura to flounder. At least Naruto had Jiraiya last time. Kakashi hadn't even bothered to get her a substitute teacher. Sakura knows it's unfair of her to be upset over it. Gaara had been on the roster to fight Sasuke, and having seen firsthand what he'd done to Lee, anyone would have wanted Sasuke to get special training. Being the last of the Uchiha and also recently having received the curse mark only added to that. Sakura had never faulted Kakashi for taking Sasuke on a special training trip. She'd only been stung by the lack of interest in her own career. Of course, Sakura hadn't even made it into the finals in her last life. She'd proven herself now, right? The nerves she's experiencing only intensify. She could always ask Shisui or even Itachi for help. Still, being overlooked by her sensei a second time...

 

 

 

 

 

Steadying herself with the lie that she absolutely does not care, Sakura goes to meet Team 7 at their normal training ground. She arrives a mere thirty minutes late, which should be plenty ahead of when Kakashi should be there. Unfortunately, it seems like her sensei has taken it upon himself to arrive closer to the actual agreed upon meeting time, and Team 7 is already assembled. Along with them, Sakura is interested to see, is Jiraiya. She considers stuttering out an apology for her lateness. Then, she reconsiders, and decides to have a little fun instead, at her sensei's expense.

 

Approaching the group, Sakura rubs the back of her head as if she is apologetic.

"Sorry everyone. A black cat crossed my path, and while I was taking a shortcut around I had to help a little old lady with her groceries, and then a second black cat crossed my path and...

 

 

Naruto cuts her off with a roar of laughter, which Sakura joins in with. Jiraiya slaps Kakashi-sensei on the back and makes a comment that Sakura can't quite hear, but it makes Kakashi sweat drop, so she smiles widely at her sensei, shoving her nerves down deep inside.

 

Kakashi just shakes his head and starts their meeting.

"Alright, now that everyone is here..."

He shoots Sakura a sarcastic eye smile, which she returns with no shame whatsoever. Underneath the surface though, her nerves are growing. Kakashi continues,

"As you all know, the finals are in a little less than a month. Usually, you receive one on one training with your Genin sensei at this time. However, since all three of you passed, I called in some additional help to train you. Naruto, let me introduce you to-"

 

 

Sakura's heart sinks as she sees the obvious. There's only two potential sensei here, and three Genin. She digs her nails into her palm, trying to keep a steady exterior, bracing herself. Naruto shouts with excitement when he hears that Jiraiya trained the Fourth and was "willing to train" Naruto as well. Jiraiya does his best to look indifferent to the whole situation, but Sakura knows he's actually pushed extremely hard for the Third to let him finally meet and train Naruto. Naruto bids Sakura and Sasuke goodbye, and she gives Naruto a cheerful wave as he walks off with Jiraiya, and Sakura manages to give a kind wave in response. She is glad for Naruto. The relationship between Jiraiya and Naruto is something Sakura knows Naruto treasures for a long time.

 

Once Naruto's shouts have died off into the distance, Sakura turns back to Kakashi, and she thinks she might be sick, but she keeps it together.

 

Kakashi smiles at them,

"As for you two... Sasuke, you will be training with me. Th-"

 

Sakura's heart drops down into her shoes, and she clearly doesn't keep the entirety of her emotions off of her face, because Kakashi immediately interrupts himself with,

"Sakura, don't think I forgot about you. I asked one of my Anbu connections to train with you, but he's on duty until this evening, so you can start tomorrow."

 

 

She nods mechanically, posting a smile, but inside, her traitorous heart breaks. She's absolutely supposed to be better than this. Kakashi hadn't forgotten her, he'd ensured she got a sensei, at least. Besides, Sasuke needs him and has the Sharingan and everything...

 

 

All the same, Sakura feels left behind once again.

 

 

 

 

Before she can take her leave and walk away, Sasuke starts talking.

"Actually, sensei. I had someone in mind already for training. I want to learn Kenjutsu, and I've already purchased a blade for it. I asked Hayate to train me and he agreed, Itachi says he's one of the best swordsman in the village. My apologies for not bringing this up sooner, things have been... Hectic, in the Uchiha compound recently."

 

If Kakashi is hurt by Sasuke choosing another sensei over him, he doesn't show it. He simply nods his acknowledgement. Sakura looks sharply over at Sasuke, wondering... No, there's no way he picked up her devastation at being left behind by Kakashi again, had he? Sasuke meets her eyes with a look that says "later", before turning and giving a deep bow to Kakashi.

 

With a respectful,

"Sensei, Sakura"

Sasuke takes his leave.

 

 

Sakura notes as he goes he does in fact have a sword strapped to his back. She wonders why she didn't notice before. He looks shockingly like his older self for a moment, and Sakura shakes her head to clear her mental image of grown Sasuke walking into battle with a similar sword strapped to his back.

 

She's broken from her thoughts by Kakashi clearing his throat and saying,

"Well, that changes things slightly. I'll let my Anbu connection know his training is no longer necessary. So, Sakura-"

 

 

This should have been what Sakura wanted, right? For Kakashi to train her. Hearing that she will be training with her sensei, Sakura suddenly realizes what she wanted wasn't for Kakashi to train her, it was for him to want to. She's literally the last Genin Kakashi wanted to train with, and that thought is so unexpectedly cutting. Sakura had thought she was used to her place in Team 7. That'd she'd never be a focus, that she would have to do all of her growing on her own, that she would keep the team together as they all tried to run in different directions.

 

You thought this time it would be different. That Kakashi would want you on his team.

 

She shakes her head to clear it but only ends up getting slightly teary, so she glances down for a second and forces them away. She won't cry about this in front of Kakashi, she won't. Belatedly, Sakura realizes Kakashi has been talking this entire time and she hasn't heard a word he said. He's looking at her expectantly, waiting for an answer. Searching desperately for a hint of what Kakashi had been saying to her, Sakura comes up with nothing.

 

She intends to apologize, and say she wasn't listening and could he repeat it, but instead, she blurts,

 

"You don't have to train me, sensei. I'm sorry!"

 

 

She feels tears pricking at her eyes again, and Sakura's skin feels too tight, and she feels like she might burst, so she turns, and Sakura runs. She doesn't know where she's going, only that she can't stand in front of her sensei for a moment longer and pretend that everything is okay.

She's so angry with herself. She's supposed to be so much better than this. It's childlike, getting upset over something like this. She's already made Jounin once, for goodness sake. What's making Chunin a second time? What does it matter who her sensei is. She'd grown close to Kakashi in her last life, a bond through blood and battle, and the events surrounding the Chunin exams hadn't bothered her this much then. She's weak. The weak link in Team 7.

 

Looking up from her sprint, Sakura realizes she's fairly deep into the forest of Konoha. She looks for the tallest tree in the area, climbs until she's as well hidden as she can be, and then kills her chakra signal entirely. With her level of skill, no one should find her in this tree, and she can sit in it and sort herself out as long as she needs to uninterrupted.

 

Sakura lets herself cry, telling herself that she'll be more clear-headed after she does and she can figure out what to do later. So she forces all her feelings about being left behind, being so weak she's unnoticeable, for needing to even cry in the first place, into tears to wash it all away.

She also finds she's missing Tenzou. When Kakashi had been training Naruto specially, in her last time, Sakura had tried to be as helpful as she could, but sometimes the feeling of being unneeded or even unwanted on Team 7 had been strong enough Sakura had walked away and sat quietly for a while. Sat in this very tree, even. Tenzou found her, somehow, every time. He never said anything. Never brought up anything. He simply noticed Sakura's absence. So he'd sit with her for a while. Tenzou and Sai had been the only ones to ever question her absence, and at this moment, Sakura misses them both desperately.

 

 

 

 

 

Eventually, her tears dry up and Sakura begins to feel much calmer. She switches to long, deep breaths, face buried in her knees. Calming, bracing breaths to focus her so she can start figuring out her next move. She begins to feel embarrassed. She'd thought she had a lid on it, but there's no way Kakashi didn't see that she was upset. She'd literally run away from her sensei. Before Sakura can freak out about this fully, she registers a presence very close to her, and she looks up to see Itachi Uchiha perched across from her, head cocked as if he's puzzled by her. Rubbing at her eyes, Sakura finds them swollen, and she guesses they're probably all red and puffy looking as well.

 

What a flattering look in front of the Uchiha Clan head, Sakura.

 

With a composure she absolutely does not feel, and ignoring the embarrassed flush that's spreading across her face, Sakura politely says,

"Hello, Itachi. What brings you, uh, here? Can I help you with something?"

 

 

Deep eyes look at her, and Sakura wishes she had more experience reading Itachi's emotions, because he looks completely impassive.

 

Steadily, Itachi replies,

"Hello, Sakura. I'm here on behalf of Shisui. He's, indisposed at the moment."

 

 

 

Shisui's indisposed? What does that even mean?

 

Sakura's mind immediately flashes to the worst,

"Is he hurt? Is he okay? Itachi, please tell me he's okay."

 

 

 

Itachi holds up a placating hand, and Sakura releases all of her air in a rush. Shisui's okay. So, why would he want Itachi to come get her?

 

Before she can ask, Itachi answers.

"Shisui is fine. Kakashi came by your house, looking for you. They had a brief discussion, and I thought it would be best to come get you."

 

 

 

Sakura feels even the tips of her ears go red. Kakashi had told Shisui about her outburst. Since Itachi is here, that means Itachi knows about it.

 

Sakura has never felt so childish in her entire life.

"Thank you, Itachi. I'll go, apologize to sensei and Shisui."

 

 

 

 

Something that looks remarkably like amusement crosses Itachi's face briefly.

"I don't think that will be necessary, Sakura. However, it would be best for us to return with some haste. When I last left, Shisui was attempting to, as he put it 'teach Kakashi a lesson'. They were leveling a training ground when I decide to come get you myself."

 

Sakura had not imagined she could even be more embarrassed than she already was. This had turned into a mess. Nodding at Itachi, who takes off immediately, but doesn't seem to be in any kind of real rush. Sakura wonders if he's afraid to see what Shisui and Kakashi have done to each other, but she remembers the flash of almost amusement that had crossed Itachi's face at the mention of it, and Sakura considers that Itachi might actually be enjoying the fight and not wanting to interrupt. Even with Itachi taking a downright leisurely pace for a Jounin, they arrive at the training ground in question, or rather, what's left of it.

The training ground as Sakura recalls it used to be flat and green, a basic training ground for Genin and fresh Chunin. Now, it's a field of craters. It looks very much like someone burned the field, made several defensive earth walls, knocked them over, and punched half a dozen holes in the ground before flooding the area. In the middle of it, Sakura spies Shisui and Kakashi trading blows at such a rapid pace she has to chakra enhance her vision to even follow.

Both have their Sharingan active, and are trading blows and making handsigns at a rate that is honestly phenomenal. Sakura catches her breath as she sees Shisui's face. He looks angry with Kakashi, and Sakura can't imagine what Kakashi could have even said that would set Shisui off like this. She's never seen Shisui angry before, and the speed and violence of the fight makes Sakura certain she never wants to see it again. If they don't stop soon, someone might get seriously hurt.

Sakura turns to Itachi, helplessly, hoping the Uchiha will have some idea of how to stop this fight. Itachi meets her gaze, and then very deliberately shrugs. Sakura reads that Uchiha expression like a book. Itachi is enjoying this fight. Sakura isn't sure who he's rooting for, but he's clearly enjoying it. Itachi gives her a slight smirk, and continues to watch the battle.

 

Oh, so it's up to me then? Thanks a lot, Itachi.

 

 

 

 

Looking back to the battle herself, Sakura feels a little desperate. They haven't slowed down a bit, and Sakura is worried. Proving to herself she hasn't learned a single thing since her original Genin days, Sakura decides to run in between them to stop the fight, with only the trust that they aren't as idiotic as Sasuke and Naruto and therefore won't hurt her to protect her. Sliding across the mud, Sakura flings herself in front of Kakashi, arms outstretched, and faces Shisui.

 

"Stop! Don't!!"

 

 

Shisui slides to a stop in front of her, turning his head to the left and releasing a giant fireball. Behind her, Sakura feels the heat of Kakashi doing the same.

 

Shisui turns back, still angry, and rounds on her.

"What the hell were you thinking, Sakura?! I could have killed you just now!"

 

 

Shrinking a little at Shisui's rage, Sakura's voice catches in her throat. She clears it with a cough.

"I knew you wouldn't, Shisui. Please don't hurt Kakashi-sensei. It's not his fault. I ran in the middle of him speaking to me, I should have been listening. I should have been more in control."

 

 

Her hopes of calming Shisui go out the window as he gets even angrier at the sound of her words. His eyes flash dangerously, and Sakura feels a terrifying sliver of Killing Intent come from the Uchiha as he looks over her shoulder.

"You hearing this, Hatake? She's here defending you?! You-"

 

 

Sakura reaches out towards Shisui, ignoring the paralysis of the Killing intent, and puts her hand on his arm.

"Shisui, please. Please stop."

 

 

Shisui pulls back the Killing Intent with some visible effort, but his eyes are still angry as he looks back to Sakura.

"Sakura, I know he's your sensei, and you think this is normal. But it's not okay for your sensei to pull you out of burning buildings just to run missions when he needs you, only to drop you into someone else's lap when you need him."

 

 

Sakura tries for a placating tone,

"Okay, Shisui. Kakashi-sensei's only doing what's best for the team, though. Sasuke has a pretty tough fight, and Kakashi-sensei has the Sharingan. Plus, I might end up battling Sasuke, so it only made sense..."

 

 

Shisui pins her with such a piercing stare Sakura feels like he's looking straight into her soul.

"Sakura, listen to yourself. Do you even believe that?"

 

 

She stutters, trying to defend Kakashi, but Shisui knows her too well, somehow knows what she's thinking or feeling without her even voicing it. Sakura looks at him desperately, wanting him to stop. She can't deal with hearing this right now, in public, with Kakashi himself listening in.

Shisui shakes his head, cutting off her non-existent words. He gently takes her hand and removes it from his shoulder, and Sakura sees the rage leaving his eyes, and she's relieved, and sad all the same. Shisui looks into her eyes as the Sharingan fades, and she can see he's a little disappointed, and sad, too. Sakura wonders why. Why this is happening, what she did to make Shisui look like that.

 

 

"You win, petal. I'll leave your sensei alone."

Shisui turns to walk off the field, and Itachi walks forward, looking letdown somehow, maybe because Sakura stopped the fight.

 

As he goes, Shisui looks back over his shoulder at Kakashi and says,

"You'll never deserve her as a student, Hatake."

 

 

 

Then he and Itachi leave, just like that. Sakura feels so overwhelmed by all of this, she doesn't know how to feel or what's even going on. She turns, finally, to her sensei. Kakashi looks quietly disappointed as well, and Sakura just doesn't know what's going on. She wants to yell and run after Shisui, shake him until he explains everything to her. But Kakashi is weaving slightly on his feet, and Sakura puts her confusion aside and goes to Kakashi.

Checking him over visually, Sakura sees he's forgotten to pull his headband back over his Sharingan. He doesn't seem to have noticed, though. He's looking intently at Sakura, searchingly. So Sakura reaches up carefully, and pulls her sensei's headband back down, so that he doesn't lose too much chakra and pass out. Kakashi flinches bodily when she does, and Sakura takes a step back, raising her hands in apology.

 

 

"I'm sorry, Kakashi-sensei. I didn't want your Sharingan to drain all of your chakra. Is everything-"

 

Kakashi is still weaving on his feet,

 

"-Are you okay, sensei?"

 

 

Kakashi looks intently at her, no longer searching. Sakura sees the disappointment of a moment ago, mixed with sadness in a way that is purely Kakashi. Sakura has no idea what it means. He takes a step backward, and Sakura reaches for him on instinct, and he disappears in a flash of leaves. Dropping to her knees Sakura strikes the ground in her own rage, making two new craters as she yells angrily. Why does nothing make sense?

 

What did she do that was that disappointing, that both Shisui and Kakashi would look at her like that? Why can't Sakura ever seem to do the right thing when it needs to happen! Then she forces a deep breath. She can at least clean up the training ground so Kakashi and Shisui don't get into trouble. It only takes her around forty minutes to even everything back out, having had loads of practice after she and Tsunade had broken dozens of training grounds in a similar way. After she finishes, she decides to go to the only person who might have some sort of answer for her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

She finds Sasuke finishing up training for the day with Hayate, and she hangs back until they've finished. They seem to be going over some sort of warm down forms, and it's soothing to watch. Sasuke isn't holding back his skills from Hayate, Sakura sees. He looks just as graceful as he had before, in their last life. After the two bow to each other and part, Sasuke walks over to her, and gives her a grunt and head nod in greeting. When Sakura offers him dinner, he accepts, and they head into the civilian area of the village, and Sakura takes them to a barbeque restaurant her parents had frequented. She'd never seen a ninja there, ever. That's exactly the kind of atmosphere Sakura wants. Ninja gossip more than any civilian, and Sakura wants to keep this conversation private.

After they both order, Sakura spills every single thing that happened to Sasuke, who raises an eyebrow and hns from time to time as she goes along. She can tell she has his attention, though. And she's so grateful for it. For all his impassive silences, Sasuke can actually be quite a good listener. Their food comes before she finishes, and they eat as Sakura talks. When she finishes, breathless, they've almost finished their meal.

 

Sasuke sits in silence for a moment, then asks,

"So, what's the problem?"

 

 

Sakura barely contains herself from exploding. It won't help, and Sasuke may refuse to help if she does. Her next words are a little clipped, but she manages.

"The problem is that I don't know how I screwed up so that both Kakashi and Shisui are upset with me. How do I fix it? You know both of them about as well as I do, what am supposed to do?"

 

 

Sasuke sits in silence for a few moments. Their bill comes, and Sakura pays it. As they leave the restaurant, Sasuke breaks his silence.

"You should tell Kakashi you want him to train you."

 

 

That was not the answer Sakura was expecting.

"I...What?"

 

 

Sasuke huffs,

"Kakashi needs to hear you say you want him to train you."

 

 

Sakura pauses, considering.

"Are, you sure?"

 

 

Sasuke just nods. 

"Shisui, he was sticking up for you, and you made him look like the bad guy."

 

 

Sakura thinks it over, and her heart sinks. She had made Shisui out to be the bad guy, even tried to protect Kakashi from him. And all he'd done was stick up for Sakura. She owes Shisui, big time. Her heart hurts a little at what Shisui must think of her now. She has to make it up to him as soon as possible. Turning to Sasuke, Sakura gives him a grateful shoulder bump. She knows from experience her teammate isn't really a hugger.

 

"Thanks, Sasuke. You're the best."

 

 

Sasuke just hns in response, but it's a pleasant one, so Sakura knows he accepted her praise.

 

 

"One last thing, why'd you ask Hayate to train you anyway?"

 

 

Scoffing, the Uchiha gives her an "are you stupid" look. After today, maybe she is.

"Hayate can't spy on Kabuto and die if he's training me to use a sword. Besides, after this I can actually use a sword again without raising suspicion."

 

 

 

She hadn't even considered that Sasuke would have noticed that Hayate had died last time, much less cared enough about it to do something. She takes her teammate in, seeing him in a slightly different light.

"Wow, Sasuke. That's, really great. Honestly."

He simply shrugs his shoulders and heads off towards the Uchiha compound with a simple flick of a hand in her direction.

 

 

He definitely picked that up from sensei.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to Sasuke, Sakura knows what she needs to do, now she just needs to fix things. Thinking of Shisui, Sakura imagines what on earth she could do to adequately apologize for today. Seeing that the sun is just about to set, Sakura makes her decision and runs to towards the shopping center. Entering Yamanaka flowers, Sakura is relieved to see Ino behind the desk, cleaning up.

 

 

"Ino! Thank goodness you're here. I need your help."

 

 

Ino snaps up to look at Sakura, and smiles.

"What's up, Sakura! I'm just closing up shop!"

 

 

Crossing over to behind the counter, Sakura just tells it straight to Ino.

"I screwed up. How do you apologize to someone, a friend, for being a jerk?"

 

 

Ino puts a finger to her chin, thinking.

"Girl or guy? And what kind of friend?"

 

 

"Guy. Uh, like best friend?"

 

 

"How much did you screw up?"

 

 

"A lot, Ino. Like, really bad."

 

 

Ino brightens, and sticks her finger in the air.

"I've got it! Let's get to work."

 

 

First, Ino helps Sakura make a bouquet of flowers. When Sakura protests that it's a guy, Ino just shakes her head and tells Sakura to trust her. Sakura does, so a bouquet is what they make. Sakura picks blue hyacinths, white orchids and lilies, and yellow roses, and Ino expertly wraps them into a gorgeous looking bouquet that means, "I'm sorry, friendship, and sincerity". After they bundle it all up and Ino wraps them, Sakura pays for them, and Ino drags her out the door and down the street.

Bouquet in one hand, Ino's hand in the other, Sakura gets pulled into a small sweets shop. Once inside, Ino helps Sakura pick out some fancy dango, and the shopkeeper wraps it up for her. Once Sakura has paid and they are once again in the street, Ino looks Sakura straight in the eyes, all sincerity.

 

 

"Now, when you give these to him, you have to apologize. I mean really apologize. Men need to hear it too, and if you screwed up bad enough that you let me talk you into buying flowers and sweets, you owe it to this guy."

 

 

Sakura nods, she hadn't planned to do anything less. Shisui deserves it. Sighing with relief, Sakura throws her arms around Ino.

"Thank you so much. I don't know what I would do without you."

 

 

Ino smiles and flicks Sakura.

"You'd be fine. Now go apologize!"

 

 

 

 

As she approaches the door to her house, Sakura starts getting nervous again. What if Shisui isn't even here? What if he was so upset he left and stayed with Itachi? Worse, what if he doesn't forgive her? Starting to feel a little frantic, she shoves the door open before she can convince herself not to. Shisui sits at the table, alone. Sakura relaxes a little. If he's still here, she still has a chance to apologize. He looks up when he sees her, and looks puzzled at her arms.

 

Oh, right. Her gifts.

 

 

Drawing a deep breath, Sakura crosses the room, and hands Shisui the bouquet, setting the specialty dango on the table in front on him. Then, she sinks to her knees in front of him.

"Shisui, I'm so sorry. I wasn't thinking earlier. I was freaking out, and I know I was awful to you, and you were only sticking up for me! It means so much to me, Shisui, that you would be willing to fight my sensei for leaving me behind. I've never had anyone fight for me before, not like that. I... I didn't know what to do. But that's no excuse! You deserve better from me, Shisui. I'm so sorry. I love you, and I'm so grateful for you. You're my best friend. Please don't leave."

 

 

Sakura looks at the floor, taking deep, ragged breaths. She hopes Shisui doesn't hate her too much. As unexpected as he was in her plans for this second chance at life, Sakura has no idea what she'd do if Shisui wasn't around anymore, if he wasn't there supporting her. She recalls the look of disappointment and sadness on his face from earlier, and the shame of it all fills her. Shisui deserved so much better than Sakura. He spent all that energy sticking up for her. No one ever stood up for Sakura, and she'd come to accept there was probably a reason for that. Shisui had broken all of those unspoken rules, had thought Sakura was worth it. And she'd ruined it.

The scuffing of a chair being pushed back enters her ears, and through her vision at the floor, Sakura sees knees, then she's wrapped in a hug. She feels the crinkle of the flower paper on her back, meaning Shisui hadn't even set the flowers down before he hugged her. Sakura doesn't deserve his friendship.

 

 

"Petal, you didn't have to go through all this trouble. It's okay. I forgive you. I probably went too far trying to beat up your sensei in the first place. He just said what he said and that you'd run off and I saw red. If you hadn't stopped us, who knows what I would have done? Besides, I owe you an apology for yelling at you."

 

 

Shaking her head, Sakura returns the hug tightly. She definitely  doesn't deserve his friendship.

"I did need to do this. Shisui, you deserve so much better than me. You have nothing to be sorry for."

 

 

Sakura feels her hair ruffle as Shisui puts his hand in it. He pulls back, and smiles at her, and she sees forgiveness in his gaze. It's so incredibly relieving, and Sakura sinks back onto her heels.

 

Shisui shoves her shoulder playfully.

"What's this about deserving better? Sakura, you're awesome! You kick butt in the future and the past. Or I guess it's the present. Whatever. If anything, you deserve better than little old me."

 

 

Sakura gives a playful smile back, and they rise.

"Little 'old' you? I may not look it, but I'm older than you, young man!"

 

 

Shisui laughs, and Sakura joins him. She puts on a pot of tea while Shisui puts the flowers in the vase, oohing and aahing over them. He bemoans loudly how men should receive flowers more often, and praises the Yamanaka name for their exceptional green thumb. They have their tea, and Shisui tries the dango, and makes Sakura try some as well. It's delicious. At some point, Shisui quietly tells her she never needs to worry about him leaving. That makes her emotional all over again, but she contains it expertly. Joy and relief is a much better feeling to experience anyways. More importantly, Sakura feels like things are going to be okay with Shisui, and she can breathe again.

 

Next mission: Kakashi-sensei.

Chapter Text

Sakura had considered her options in trying to confront Kakashi-sensei, to ask him to train her. She knew Kakashi too well to try anything simple like trying to talk to him at the training grounds or surprise him at the Hokage tower when he next tried a mission. Which is why Sakura currently found herself knocking on her sensei's apartment door. Technically, he had never told Sakura where he lived. However, years ago when she'd gone looking for him, Guy had broken into Kakashi's apartment trying to help her, and she knew from her past life that he was unlikely to have moved in that time.

 

So she raps on the door and calls out,

"Kakashi-sensei? It's Sakura. Can I talk to you for a minute?"

 

 

Sakura does not anticipate that this will work, but she thought for politeness reasons she should at least attempt a nice easy conversation. After waiting a moment, Sakura sighs and uses her chakra sense. She feels a faint signature from Kakashi. He's clearly trying to hide his signature from her. Sakura rolls her eyes, even though there's no way Kakashi can see that. She supposes the easy way is out.

 

Calmly, as if she is talking out loud to herself, Sakura comments,

"I guess I'll have to try again later."

 

 

Then she walks outside of the apartment building, dimming her own chakra signature as she goes, as if she's rapidly going looking for her sensei. Once she's dimmed her chakra signature to almost nothing, she turns back to the building and starts scaling the wall. She can't use chakra to stick to the wall or Kakashi will feel it, to say nothing of the traps he has laid. Unfortunately for Kakashi, Sakura has a wealth of experience in dismantling her sensei's traps, not that he knows that.

Using kunai as silently as possible, Sakura pulls herself up to Kakashi's third story apartment. Hanging just underneath the window, Sakura sets to work dismantling traps. Paper bombs, chakra sensitive seals, Sakura undoes it all. It is taking her a little longer than she'd like, since she knows Kakashi is extremely paranoid and at any sign of her presence, he'll make a break for it before she can even get in. Her only chance is to make it into his apartment before he notices her. And sneaking into the home of one of Konoha's most talented and paranoid Jounin is no easy feat.

 

 

Sweat rolls down Sakura's forehead, and she makes no move to wipe it off. She's holding onto the side of the aparment building with a single arm clinging to a kunai, while her other hand is occupied trying to remove a seal. It's a lot harder than Sakura is used to, because she used to only break into Kakashi's apartment if he was away on a mission or sick, and those times it didn't matter if she used chakra or not. She wants to breathe a sigh of relief when she finally breaks the seal, but she settles for a grin. With her newly freed hand, Sakura picks the lock on the window with a second kunai.

 

Now's your chance, move fast before he bolts!

 

In a single motion, Sakura slides Kakashi's window open and rolls inside. Her sensei is sitting on his couch, facing the window. Icha Icha in hand. He raises an eyebrow at Sakura, as if he's been completely aware of her presence this entire time. It's meant to throw her off, Sakura feels certain. Unfortunately, it does work a little, though she stuffs it down. Wiping the sweat from her forehead and smiling sheepishly, Sakura realizes she didn't actually plan her exact words for this conversation.

 

"Uh... Sensei? I... Well.. Sorry about yesterday. I do want you to train me, if you're willing. Will you?"

 

Kakashi-sensei doesn't move or react in any way to Sakura's statement. If she hadn't seen the eyebrow raise earlier, she might have been under the impression he hadn't noticed her at all. Twitching nervously, Sakura tries again.

 

"Please, sensei?"

 

Still, nothing. Sakura starts to panic a little. What if she made him mad? What if he just didn't want to deal with her? She had just broken into his apartment. After a second of panicking, Kakashi-sensei looks at her, eye smiles, and then dispels.

 

A clone?!

 

So Kakashi had heard her attempt to break in, and had fled, leaving a clone in his place. The only comfort Sakura has is that clones transfer their memories to the original, so at least Kakashi will get his clone's memory of her asking. Now she has to hunt him down again, though. Sighing, Sakura writes a quick note restating her desire to train under Kakashi, and pins it to his kitchen table with a kunai. Then, she meticulously replaces his traps and exits the apartment, thinking all the while.

 

Where would he go?

 

 

 

 

 

All of the usual places are out, because Kakashi knows she might go looking for him there. If she was Naruto she'd just send out a couple dozen clones to hunt him down. Unfortunately, Sakura has nowhere near the chakra reserves for that. At best she could likely make two clones, and it would ruin her chakra reserves for the day. Dropping to the ground, Sakura considers her options, then heads to the most unlikely place to find Kakashi-sensei willingly: Konoha Hospital.

 

When she arrives, she scales it to the roof, and does a chakra scan, searching for her sensei. It's a little bit like a needle in a haystack, but it eventually becomes clear that he isn't hiding out in the hospital. Sakura should have realized that even her sensei has limits of how far he's willing to go. Then she recalls the day before, when Kakashi had said he had contacted an Anbu to train her before the exams. That gives her another idea. She'll just get into the Anbu headquarters.

 

Yeah, simple, just break into the place where all the elite Jounin hang out. No big deal.... Yeah right.

 

Heading across the street where it's conveniently located only a street away from the hospital, which Sakura knows is not a coincidence, Sakura takes in the unimposing headquarters. It just looks like a normal building, unless you know. And Sakura knows. From all the times in her last life, where she'd had to go visit the Anbu to perform healing ninjutsu on a paranoid Anbu. There's no way she can just walk in the front door. She doesn't technically have a reason to be here, and if she told whoever was on lookout that she was looking for Kakashi, they'd be likely to tell him, if he was there. Well, it's not like Sakura doesn't have any experience breaking into places she isn't supposed to be.

 

 

 

The main building has way too many traps for Sakura to simply scale it, like she did Kakashi's building. So she scales the building two doors down, and hops over the roof to the building closest to Anbu headquarters, and kills her chakra signature. She scans the building visually, then with her chakra sense, on the off chance she'll find some weakness. There are no hidden openings or weaknesses that Sakura is aware of. She'll have to use her brains to get in, then.

She spies two windows on the side. One of them is at ground level, and is unlikely to truly be a window at all. The second is about three feet higher than where Sakura is perched on the nearby roof. A perfect window to jump out of to start a mission. Sakura quickly deduces that window is likely the most unguarded spot on the tower. Next, she considers the possibility of her getting in in a single jump, and quickly dismisses that as well. There's little to no way Sakura can break whatever seals or traps in the time it takes her to get to the window by leaping, but she can't possibly scale the building. What she needs is a way to buy herself the time to break in without anyone getting paranoid. She scoffs a laugh at that. This building houses the most elite and paranoid ninja in the entire village.

No one would be stupid enough to break in if they didn't know exactly how to do it. Sakura figured you'd have to be Guy Sensei to be crazy enough to even try it...

 

Wait.

 

 

 

 

In what has to rank as one of the stupidest plans of her entire life, Sakura henges into Guy Sensei, forcing her chakra flow to change as well, just slightly enough so that it feels more like Guy, and less like her own natural signature. Then, without thinking too hard about it, Sakura leaps for the window, grabbing the ledge and pulling herself up. She feels the hiss of paper bombs activating, and punches the window with her chakra strength, shattering it. She rolls into the tower just as the bombs go off. The tower must be primed against this, because the interior of the building doesn't even shake. Leaping to her feet, Sakura pumps her fist in success. She made it in the building! Turning, Sakura sees the incredibly amused face of Genma.

 

Remember, you're Guy, not Sakura.

 

Sakura gives the biggest, most disturbing smile she can to Genma, and speaks in the loudest whisper she can manage.

 

"Yosh! Successful again. Is my eternal rival in this tower?"

 

 

Before Genma can answer she interrupts him,

 

 

"No wait, don't tell me! I, the Blue Beast of Konoha, will figure it out!"

 

 

 

The nonthreatening way Genma shrugs and turns away tells Sakura that he's bought her act. She considers chakra sensing, but in a tower with this many security measures, it'd probably result in some sort of trap. So Sakura just heads to the common room she knows most of the off-duty Anbu hang out in, hoping her sensei is hiding in plain sight. She tries her best to walk confidently, projecting as much of a Guy Sensei air as she can manage, but when she sees all the people in the Anbu common room, she wants nothing more than to flee.

This was a horrible idea, why had she done this! It's completely full of Anbu, milling about. Even worse, Sakura spies none other than Shikaku Nara talking to a small group of them on one side of the room. If she falters in her facade at all, she's probably dead. Gulping, Sakura strides into the room and starts peering around for Kakashi. She spies her sensei reading Icha Icha in the corner, almost the exact same position she'd found his clone in earlier in the day.

 

Striding over, trying to project confidence, Sakura points her finger at Kakashi and loudly announces,

"Rival! I have found you and thus you must grant me a challenge!"

 

 

Kakashi looks up at her, and his eye widens slightly.

"You're not Guy. Drop the henge, now."

 

 

His tone is dangerous and brooks no argument. Sakura notices that the whole room is looking at them now, and the tension is rising fast. Sakura quickly drops the henge, and the fake chakra signature, hoping that enough people will realize she's a Genin that no one tries to kill her. The room, which was once full of talking Anbu, milling about and relaxing together, is now dead silent, and staring at her.

 

Kakashi, sounding no less dangerous, demands,

"How did you get in here, and why?"

 

 

At Kakashi's obvious alert, Sakura begins to feel a dozen very pointed counts of Killing Intent, and she starts to shake a little bit.

"S-sensei... I... I broke into your apartment because you weren't answering the door, and I asked your clone if he would train me, thinking it was you. He dispelled, but I'm guessing you know that. So, I.... I needed to find you sensei. To ask you to train me."

 

 

Giving a polite bow now is far too late, seeing as she'd infiltrated one of the most secure compounds in Konoha, but Sakura does it anyway.

"I want you to train me. Please, sensei..."

 

 

 

Sakura holds herself carefully. Sasuke had said that Kakashi needed to hear that from her, and she hoped he was right. Sakura didn't think she could take another rejection. Especially not in front of all of these ninja. She does feel all of the Killing Intent retreat, and Sakura thinks she's beginning to receive pity, which she hates. Kakashi carefully closes his book, putting it away, and leans forward. Before he can say anything, Shikaku Nara speaks up, and Sakura turns to him, as does the rest of the room.

His intelligent eyes pierce her, but Sakura refuses to quaver under them.

 

 

"You're telling me, Sakura Haruno, that you, a Genin, broke into Kakashi Hatake's apartment, which some of these very Anbu have attempted unsuccessfully. Then decided that since he wasn't home, you would simply break into one of the most secure facilities full of the most dangerous ninja in Konoha, disguised as a Jounin, just to ask Hatake to train you? Even more so, you actually managed to accomplish this and infiltrate a room of Konoha's best?"

 

Sakura starts to sweat, but she's not going to back down over this. She's backed down too much in her life already. Enough for a lifetime.

"Yes, sir. That is correct."

 

 

Shikaku stares her down, raising an eyebrow, and Sakura stares at him back. After a beat, his lip twitches into a smirk.

"Quite the student you're training there, Hatake."

 

 

At that, all the tension in the room leaves in a flood. Some ninja start laughing and clapping Kakashi on the back, either teasing him for hiding from a Genin or praising him for having students talented enough to break into Anbu headquarters. A couple ninja Sakura doesn't really know give her a nod of respect. Continuing to gaze at Shikaku, he gives her a wink when no one is looking, and Sakura realizes he was helping her out. She gives him a thankful smile, and turns back to her sensei. Kakashi looks bemused at all of the attention he's getting, so Sakura feels brave enough to sass him a little bit.

 

"So sensei, will you train me?"

 

Kakashi dramatically throws up a hand and pronounces that his Genin will be the death of him, which is met with laughter and further teasing from the Anbu.

 

After a moment, Kakashi rises and walks out the door, and Sakura follows. She's unsure what her sensei will do next, but whatever it is, she feels sure she can handle it. Kakashi walks out the front door of Anbu, Sakura on his tail, and he leads her across the village. They finally end up at Team 7's normal training ground. Turning around to face her, Kakashi nods at her.

 

 

"Your training begins today."

Chapter Text

The month seems to pass in the blink of an eye, and soon enough, the finals of the Chunin exams wrap around. Sakura is confident her actual Chunin exam fight will go easily enough. Neji is by far the strongest Leaf Genin of their generation, but Sakura has years on him in terms of experience, and she's trained harder than she ever has this past month. Getting Kakashi's full attention as a sensei had been thrilling at first, and finding out he could actually be quite the intense trainer, which would have killed past Sakura, caused her to flourish now. After long days spent honing a few new jutsu, and applying them all correctly in combat, Sakura would head home and work with Shisui on their plans to take out ROOT during the invasion.

That was what Sakura felt she was actually training for, and the thing she was most worried about. Danzo's methods were cruel, but he had produced many high ranking Shinobi under his terrible reign, and Sakura knew she'd have to be ready. A few nights a week, instead of planning, Sakura and Shisui would spar, trying to get to know each other's fighting styles well enough that they could work in tandem. Sakura could only hope the invasion occurred mostly as planned, so she and Shisui would have enough time to dismantle ROOT without anyone outside noticing.

 

Today was the day Sakura would find out.

 

 

She headed into the stadium where the finals were being held, and headed towards the other Chunin candidates. Sakura was relieved to see that Naruto and Sasuke had both made it on time, and she waves happily to them, having not seen either of them in nearly a month. Sakura notices that Genma is the proctor waiting for them, and she takes her place next to Sasuke, leaning over and whispering,

 

"Why isn't Hayate here proctoring? Is he okay?"

 

 

Sasuke nods,

"He trained me, so he's biased."

 

 

Sakura finds herself relieved. She didn't know Hayate all that well, but saving more Leaf village lives can only be a good thing, and he seemed kind. Refocusing on the proctor in front of her, Genma catches her eye, and winks at her. Ever since Sakura had broken into the Anbu tower, she'd had multiple Jounin stop her in the street and congratulate her, or try and watch her training sessions with Kakashi. When Genma had stopped her last week, he'd told her with no little glee that Kakashi was being teased by the entirety of Anbu, and he'd sincerely thanked her for the opportunity to tease Kakashi. Sakura hadn't known what to think about that, but when she'd brought it up to Kakashi, he'd just waved it off and said not to worry about it.

 

Sakura refocuses when she notices that the participants are all heading up to the balconies, with the exception of Sasuke and Temari. Sakura wishes her teammate good luck, and makes her way to the viewing area. Naruto is chattering away with Lee about their various training methods for the exam, and so Sakura makes her way to where Shikamaru is sitting, right in front of the railings so she'll get a good view of the battles going on below. She doesn't say anything to the Nara heir, just knocks her shoulder against his in a friendly way, which he returns.

 

Whatever the speech or introduction that was happening for the finals is over, and when Sakura peers down onto the battlefield, it's to Genma calling the first official match to start. Sasuke and Temari are smirking at each other, that much is obvious even from Sakura's view. When Genma calls go, they leap apart, sizing each other up. Sasuke has a sword strapped to his back, but Sakura can't imagine he'll find himself able to use it in a match with a long distance battler like Temari.

Whipping out her fan, Temari makes the first move, blowing a strong gust of wind Sasuke's direction, with he dodges and returns with a small fireball. Temari bats it away easily, and then the fight begins in earnest. Sasuke runs at Temari, trying to close the distance between them. Temari sends sharp winds at Sasuke repeatedly, which he has to continually dodge, sending increasingly large fireballs in return. They dodge back and forth, a deadly dance of fire and air, fan and sword. It's clear to Sakura that both of them are easily Chunin level, and they're playing with each other to show off their individual strengths, before they get serious.

Temari makes the first mistake, jumping high into the air to send a wider ranged blast of sharp air at Sasuke. Sasuke dodges, rolling under her and getting in her guard. With his sword in one hand, he carves a straight slice through the air at his opponent, and Temari is forced to block with the metal edge of her fan. The battle takes on a different tone, and they trade blows with weapons, Temari using her giant fan as a club, and Sasuke trying to get in with his much faster, but much shorter sword.

At close range, Sasuke has the advantage, that much is clear. Sasuke dives into Temari, and Temari slams her fan hard into Sasuke, and the snap of his arm breaking is audible. It doesn't deter Sasuke from his route, however, and he stabs Temari through the shoulder, pinning her to the ground. Genma calls it there, with Sasuke kneeling on top of Temari, one arm useless, the other holding the sword that has penetrated through her shoulder and into the ground.

 

 

"The winner is Sasuke Uchiha!"

 

 

 

The stands go wild, and Sakura and the other Genin cheer along. It was a great battle, and a good look for both the Leaf and the Sand to have presented such a fight. Sasuke pulls the sword out of Temari and sheathes his sword, holding out his uninjured hand in an offer to help Temari up, which she takes. Medics meet Temari at the edge of the stadium. Since Sasuke is the winner, he'll be denied all but emergency medical treatment, to even out later rounds.

Shikamaru shakes his head and mutters a "troublesome" when his name is called, though he leaps into the arena all the same, Shino right behind him. A moment later, Sasuke joins Sakura, taking the space where Shikamaru had been a moment before. Sakura congratulates him, and he gives a grunt of acknowledgement before starting the process of setting his own arm.

 

Shikamaru and Shino's fight is long, tense, and what most spectators would consider "boring". Shino and Shikamaru are both master strategists, and neither are willing to make a move until they have a plan in mind. This results in a silent standoff that goes on for so long that some of the audience starts complaining, yelling at the two Genin to "hurry it up". Shikamaru sends out a shadow or two, but they don't reach Shino. Likewise, Shino sends out a wave or two of bugs that don't make it to Shikamaru, and the stand off continues. After a little while longer, Shikamaru makes a move, jumping back into the shadow of the stadium, and sending out a lengthy shadow that catches Shino successfully in its clutches. However, after the briefest of moments, Shikamaru raises his hand and gives up. Genma raises an eyebrow at Shikamaru but calls the match.

 

 

"The winner is Shino Aburame!"

 

 

The cheers from the crowd are mostly just relieved that the battle is over, and as Shikamaru and Shino are neither one injured, they both make their way back to the balcony as Ino and Lee leap down into the arena next. Shikamaru drops down heavily next to Sakura, and she smiles at her friend. She had fully expected him to give up, though she had thought he might have accomplished a little more in the battle first. Shikamaru explains himself unprompted to her.

 

"Shino managed to get a couple of bugs on me early on. Drained my chakra slowly throughout the standoff. My shadows didn't work on the bugs effectively."

 

 

Sakura nods, understanding that Shikamaru is a little embarrassed himself he hadn't had the upper hand during the battle. She nudges the embarrassed Nara gently,

"Don't worry about it, Shika. You did your best. It was a hard match up."

 

 

At her non judgement, Shikamaru relaxes slightly next to her.

 

 

 

The next match begins down below. For all that Shikamaru and Shino's match was slow, this fight couldn't be any more the opposite. Ino has clearly been practicing her taijutsu, and she and Lee are blurs on the field, Lee mostly striking, and Ino mostly blocking. To Sakura's surprise, Ino really is blocking, not just trying to avoid the blows. Every few blows from Lee, Ino gets one in herself, which Lee blocks. Noticing her astonishment, Shikamaru tells Sakura that Ino has been training with Hinata. The Gentle Fist style of taijutsu is a good match up to Guy and Lee's Strong Fist method. Ino hold her own for quite some time, which is impressive, considering Lee's unmatched prowess among the Genin for taijutsu.

Eventually, Ino visibly begins to tire, while Lee looks just as energetic as he did before. The constantly raining blows on the Yamanaka eventually take their toll, and Lee gets in a couple of very hard hits. On a particularly hard hit, Ino misses the block, and the resulting blow throws her across the stadium, where she lands flat on her back, eyes closed. Lee looks her over, then turns to Genma, waiting for him to call for Lee's victory. While Lee walks with his back to his fallen foe, Ino's eyes snap open, she smiles, takes aim with her hands, and mind transfers into Lee in a smooth motion. Lee stiffens oddly as Ino's mind enters his, and Lee slowly, shakingly raises his hand.

 

"I, Rock Lee, give up."

 

The stadium goes silent with shock. Genma cracks a grin, and announces,

"The winner is Ino Yamanaka!"

 

 

Ino drops back into her own body, and rises, looking sore, but steady. Rock Lee looks absolutely shocked. He doesn't react beyond staring open mouthed at Ino. Sakura sees Ino laugh, and say something to Rock Lee, that looks suspiciously like "don't turn your back on an opponent". Then Ino is pulling him by the hand out of the stadium, while Lee continues to look absolutely stunned at the turn of events.

Then, and only then, the stadium explodes with cheers for Ino. Sakura has never felt prouder of her friend. Ino had clearly worked extremely hard for this, and even though Sakura feels bad Lee had to lose, she can't help but be happy for Ino.

 

 

 

It's now her turn to fight, so Sakura jumps from the balcony, landing gracefully on her feet, Neji landing beside her. They take their places, and then Genma starts their match. They leap apart instantly, and Neji just as immediately begins to try and trash talk her.

 

"You should give up now, Haruno. You may have gotten this far, but fate and destiny will prevail in the end, and you should accept it."

 

 

Sakura can't help but laugh a little, though she doesn't drop her guard in the slightest.

"Seems to me the only one here fighting fate is you, Neji."

 

 

Neji purples slightly with rage, and he continues to berate Sakura, saying things about Sakura's family background, and how fate has ruined his life, and on and on. Sakura tunes it out neatly. It's no more difficult than tuning out Naruto when he's telling the same exact story for the eighth time on a mission. She can wait it out. Neji eventually gets fed up with her not answering, and makes the first move, flying at her with Gentle Fist.

Sakura lets him come, and trades blows easily. Neji is angry enough that his blows, while still deadly and precise, are projected so easily Sakura wonders if she could block them with her eyes closed, but decides against doing so. She bats his hands away easily, once in a while slipping in a little chakra of her own for Neji to dodge.

 

Seeing an opening, Sakura kicks Neji, hard, and he flies back a bit. Sakura takes the opportunity to start showering the Hyuuga in shuriken and kunai. As expected, Neji begins to rotate quickly, forming an impenetrable shield against her projectiles. Sakura had counted on this, hoped for it, even. Neji needed the chance to show to the Hyuuga head that he was capable and talented, so that the man would finally start showing Neji some attention and training him.

After a few more throws, Sakura stops, and jumps back, once again putting some distance between them. Time to end the battle, so that she'll have the energy and chakra stores to take on ROOT. Neji starts monologuing again, and Sakura lets him. She wonders if railing about his difficult clan is therapeutic for him. All the same, the battle needs to end. He's beginning to embarrass himself and his clan, whether he knows that or not. 

 

Sakura interrupts with a soft,

"Neji, you can be better than this."

 

She was hoping maybe it would get through, but judging by the rage that returns to the Hyuuga's face, her words were taken as a taunt, instead of the truth, which is Sakura begging Neji to stop making a fool of himself in front of the entire village by spewing hateful words.

Neji runs toward her again, and Sakura sighs. She stomps on the ground, sending a fissure right into Neji's path, all the while weaving handsigns. As Neji dodges the fissure opening beneath his feet, he's unable to sense or dodge the rock wall that thrusts it's way out of the ground, straight into Neji's path. He hits it head on, and falls to the ground. He could very well be unconscious, but Sakura can't take that chance.

She runs over to his prone form, and forms a chakra scalpel. Neatly, she slices the muscles connecting his wrists to his hands, rendering them useless. Sakura isn't cruel, so she makes it easy for even a low level medic to reattach them.

Neji opens his eyes, grunting in pain. He leaps to his feet, and tries to attack Sakura again, but finds he can't control his hands. To stop him from hurting himself, Sakura kicks him hard again in the chest, and kneels on top of him, pinning his arms to the ground, and looking to Genma.

 

"The winner is, Sakura Haruno!"

 

 

Neji's eyes are filled with so much hatred. Sakura wonders if this is how he looked at Naruto too, or if she'd just failed the young Hyuuga. She tries to help him up, but the angry look on his face gives her pause, so she allows the medics to handle him. She hopes against hope that Neji still comes around somehow. Maybe the Hyuuga head will help. Maybe not.

Turning to the stands, which are just now beginning to cheer, Sakura gives a smile and salute to Kakashi-sensei, who she sees hanging out with Guy in the back of one of the seating sections. Then she heads upstairs to rejoin the rest of the Genin. The last match is about to start, and Sakura hopes dearly that Naruto comes out unscathed. He'd fought Gaara and won before, that's just what she'll have to keep telling herself.

 

 

Sitting down between Sasuke and Shikamaru, the latter of which congratulations her on her win, Sakura watches the match between Gaara and Naruto begin.

Naruto seems apoplectic with rage, and she knows how he must feel. She remembers how angry Naruto had been with Neji last time, how angry he was this time. Then she recalls Gaara killing Kiba, right in front of all of them. If Naruto was mad on Hinata's account, he must be absolutely losing it on behalf of Kiba. She's proud of her teammate, though.

Even though Naruto is obviously boiling with rage, he doesn't seem to have gone into nine-tails mode at all, and Sakura is proud of his restraint. She's less proud of the fact Naruto is screaming at Gaara about Kiba and the match hasn't even started. Genma just sighs and starts the match over the sound of Naruto yelling. Gaara appears to be trading back remarks, in that cold, calm manner of his, but Sakura can't hear whatever it is that Gaara might be saying, especially not over the sound of Naruto's yells.

The actual fighting begins soon after, and Sakura finds herself impressed that Naruto can keep a running, yelling commentary while in the middle of a fight. Whatever words he's saying, no one can hear. Because Naruto has made about a dozen clones, and ALL of them are yelling at Gaara as they attack and dispel one after another. Gaara, for his part, looks absolutely baffled that Naruto would care so much about a comrade, and is mindlessly dispelling clone after clone with his sand, all the while his eyes fixed on Naruto like he's never heard such a thing in his entire life.

He suddenly changes posture, and Sakura wonders if Naruto finally said something that hit too close to home. Gaara's eyes start to lose their baffled look, and the bloodthirsty air starts to return, and he attacks her teammate in earnest. Sakura wonders how Gaara knows which Naruto is the real one, or if even he is just guessing. There's some dozen Naruto on the field at any given time, and Gaara goes after each of them with rage in his eyes. She crosses her fingers, hoping Naruto doesn't get hurt.

The battle continues, and Gaara gets angrier and angrier. Sakura is beginning to wonder if the invasion is going to happen or not, when Naruto and two clones jump into the air, aimed down at Gaara. In the middle Naruto's outstretched hand is a jutsu Sakura has come to know very well.

 

"RASENGAN!!!"

 

The middle Naruto which Sakura guesses must be the real one, smashes his Rasengan into Gaara's sand shield, sending sand everywhere as her teammate buries his hand into Gaara's shoulder. Naruto gets thrown backwards as a wall of sand surrounds Gaara. The Sand ninja begins to scream in pain, and it's such a terrifying noise that Sakura shivers up where she sits. Naruto gets up, looking a little stunned, but ready to keep fighting. The ball of sand condenses around Gaara more as his screams fill the arena.

Sakura is in the middle of trying to remember if Naruto had known Rasengan in the last Chunin exams or not when she notices the feathers falling from the sky. Feeling drowsy, Sakura dispels the genjutsu and leaps to her feet.

 

The invasion has begun.

Chapter Text

The invasion has begun

 

For a second, Sakura freezes. She knows what she's supposed to do. Join Shisui and take out ROOT as fast as possible. At the same time, fighting has broken out all around her. Can she really abandon all of these Genin, Chunin, Jounin, and civilians to the war to fight her own personal war? Beside her, Sasuke has no such hesitation. The second her dark-haired teammate throws off the genjutsu, he leaps into the center of the arena, to break Naruto out of the Genjutsu. Turning to her right, Sakura looks down at Shikamaru, who blinks back up at her. Steeling herself for what she has to do, she manages a soft,

 

"Stay safe, Shika."

 

Before she can change her mind, protect her friends, she makes a break for it, leaving the stadium behind her. On the way to the determined meeting place, Sakura takes deep, cleansing breaths. Taking down ROOT is going to be hard enough. She can't spend the entire time worried about what will happen to everyone else. The distraction could prove fatal. Taking side roads, Sakura weaves through the village, trying not to hear the explosions and yelling that are coming from every direction. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, Sakura isn't sure, she makes it to the outskirts of the Uchiha compound without running into a single ninja, Leaf or foreign.

Once she exits the village, Sakura slows her pace and looks around. The village isn't being attacked at this sector, and Sakura isn't completely sure why, but she would guess it's because the Uchiha clan is still the least populated of all the sections of the village, and Orochimaru is probably going for shock factor. Sakura has a suspicion that if Orochimaru had actually wanted to destroy the village, he would have done so.

 

 

She's shaken by her thoughts by the arrival of Shisui, who appears out of thin air at her side. Sakura looks at the curly haired ex-Uchiha, and he gives her a grin and a nod, which she returns. It's time to start tearing down ROOT. They start with the old base that used to be outside of the Uchiha compound. Neither Sakura or Shisui anticipate that there will be anything or anyone in this hideout, but if they're going to take it down, they need to destroy all past and present bases. Shisui leads them to the door, the very one Sakura had seen Danzo drag him out of all those years ago, and she shivers slightly at the memory.

Just as expected, the base is abandoned. No paper trail, no people, alive or dead. After a brief overview to make sure it's completely empty, and the planting of carefully placed paper bombs, Sakura and Shisui exit the base, and with a flick of chakra, blow the area up. Hopefully, the explosions of the battle that's going on around Konoha will disguise the purposeful demolition of the first ROOT base.

 

 

The second base, which Sakura had recalled from Sai in her past life, is not as easy. Most of the ROOT ninja are deployed in stopping the invasion, but there are guards placed just inside. Sakura's stomach turns as she sees the young age of the guards. Unwilling to kill them, Sakura cloaks her chakra signature to almost nothing, and surprises the two guards with medical chakra to their necks, dropping them unconscious. Before they can even hit the ground and make a noise, Shisui catches them and binds their hands, so that if they by some chance manage to wake up, they won't be able to weave handsigns. Shisui takes the lead, entering deeper into the underground compound, this one in the forest near the Academy. It's a long, curving hallway, and as Shisui rounds a corner, he stops up suddenly, and Sakura nearly bumps into him from behind.

Peering over Shisui's shoulder curiously, Sakura sees what stopped him so suddenly. The hallway is full of cells, lined up the right and left sides. The one immediately to Sakura's right is empty, but the one to the left holds a young boy, no older than 6. His blank stare at Sakura and Shisui tears Sakura apart inside and fills the hole with rage at whoever has continued letting this happen.

Tapping Shisui on the shoulder, Sakura signs to him that they'll have to knock out any children they find, as well. There's no telling how brainwashed they are, and they can't afford to lose the operation to take down ROOT just because they assume a young child is innocent. In ROOT, there's no such thing as innocence. Shisui looks at Sakura, nodding in agreement to the plan to knock the kids out as well, but his eyes are full of so much pain, for a moment Sakura feels terrible for asking Shisui to help her with this. She shakes it off. They've got to knock this child out before he sounds an alarm.

Almost like the ghost of Danzo wanting to prove his point to Sakura, she finds the cell door isn't even locked. She can just open it, walking right in. Which means.. this young child wouldn't even try to escape, even though he has the chance. She ignores the way that makes her feel, and walks up to the child, who neither flinches or attempts to fight, and knocks him out with a quick burst of chakra. Gently, she lays the boy on the bed in the back of the room, and binds his hands together.

 

I'm going to destroy ROOT, and you're going to have a better life.

 

The cells, thankfully, are not even halfway full. All the same, Sakura and Shisui have to knock out a dozen children or so. Some of them aren't as well trained as the first child they had run across, and Shisui has to break the lock, while the children flinch or silently cry at Sakura's approach. But none of them try and fight back. Sakura checks one of the children, a little girl who's no more than a toddler, and finds that even though Danzo isn't in charge anymore, the girl has been marked with a seal on the back of her tongue. There is someone in charge. Someone still running ROOT. Sakura starts itching to kill them as they make their way through, and judging by the way Shisui practically vibrates next to her as he leads the way from one room to the next, he's in agreement.

Shisui takes down three more guards, but the rest of the base is empty, a few training areas Sakura doesn't want to think about the implications of, and a room full of paperwork. Sakura does a quick once over to make sure it's nothing vital and chakra infused, like perhaps the secret to the seals, but she finds nothing. This base is cleared, for now. As Shisui leads the way to the last base Sakura knows about, her friend breaks his silence that they'd kept out of necessity back in the base.

 

"Sakura..."

 

 

Running beside him, as quickly as she can, Sakura tries to comfort Shisui in the only way that matters now.

 

"We'll kill the leader, free them. Even if the Third survives today, he'll have to take notice."

 

 

Shisui nods, and Sakura thinks that if she wasn't present, he'd be running so fast the whole world would blur. Shisui isn't the fastest ninja in the village for nothing. Sakura's presence is slowing him down, but it's necessary, since Sakura is the one with the most knowledge about ROOT, even though that is limited. Sai hadn't really liked to talk about it, and after seeing what could only have been ROOT's training facility, she can't blame him one bit.

 

 

 

The final base Sakura knows of lies deep underneath the woods behind the gates of the village. Fortunately for them, the invasion is so close to the village gates that there's no one this far out in the woods, and while Sakura is glad for it, she also kind of wants to beat up and kill somebody.

It takes a little while for Sakura and Shisui to find the entrance to this one, despite Sakura having basic knowledge of its whereabouts. In the distance, she can hear the sounds of Orochimaru's invasion dying down, and she selfishly hopes that none of the ROOT ninja try and come back to base before she and Shisui are finished. Shisui catches her attention with a handsign, and she runs over, ready to take this base down. Hopefully this one has some clue to where the other bases are, if there are any. Carefully busting into a ROOT hideout is no easy task, but they manage. Breaking through the door, Sakura and Shisui stumble into a corridor, which seems to open up at the end.

Staying on their guard, they run for the end of the corridor, knowing their time is limited. The corridor opens up into what Sakura can only find herself describing as a throne room. A single chair sits in the middle, behind a table, a mockery of the Hokage's office. This room has to be three times bigger than the Hokage's office though, if not more. In the chair is an old lady, with an old man behind her. Sakura gasps as she recognizes them from the Hokage's advisory board. Homura and Koharu, Sakura recalls. Danzo's friends.

 

Of course...

 

 

Worse than the two elders, are the four ROOT surrounding them, their blank faces not even bothered to have masks. Which is why, when Sakura looks closely, she has to bite her tongue to keep from calling out. Because there, at Koharu's side, is Sai, standing guard blankly. Homura chuckles lightly.

 

"Ah, Haruno, Shisui. Welcome. We had wondered if you two would return one day."

 

 

To her left, Shisui stiffens. Sakura prepares for a fight herself, but can't stop herself from saying,

"ROOT was supposed to die with Danzo!"

 

 

Koharu answers, looking like a grandmother kindly telling her grandchild why the sky is blue,

"Dear child, ROOT could not die with Danzo. It's far too important. We protect the village in a way the average shinobi cannot."

 

 

Sakura shakes her head angrily,

"We don't NEED a shadow organization pulling all the strings!"

 

 

Koharu answers her again, and her sickly sweet tone sets Sakura's every nerve on edge.

"Of course we do! Clan councils, Hokage, bah! They never get anything done. You need us, and we in the shadows serve Konoha."

 

 

Shisui answers this time,

"You kidnap CHILDREN! That's unacceptable, and ROOT ends here, and now."

 

 

Homura sighs,

"Well, we had hoped it wouldn't come to this, that you'd come around to see our side. Very well, then. Keep your morals. You can die here in the shadows, to protect the village!"

 

 

 

 

At his words, three of the ROOT guards advance towards them, and Sai kneels, pulling out his scroll. Sakura and Shisui get into their own position, their training kicking in. As the first wave hits them, Sakura turns, and punches the doorway she and Shisui just came through, collapsing what Sakura identifies as the only exit or entrance to this place, effectively trapping them all. Now the elders won't be able to escape, unless someone clears a way out. Flipping back around, Sakura kicks off the wall and heads straight for Sai, leaving Shisui with the three ROOT, trusting him to be able to handle them for a moment. An inky black lion roars its way to life in front of her, and Sakura simply punches a hole through it, dispelling it into black spatters of ink. Advancing on Sai, she throws a punch at his head, which he dodges, and sends a kick back her way. Ducking under it, Sakura gets even closer into his guard, and pulls a chakra into her finger. Sai's punch she blocks, and she hits him with a concentrated blast of chakra that knocks him out, ink spilling everywhere. It won't hold him for long, Sakura knows. But maybe long enough.

Leaping to the center of the room, where the desk and chair reside, Sakura draws her twin long knives, and imbues them with medical chakra, making them into incredibly long scalpels. They glow green as she dives at Homura, who attempts to block her attack with a kunai. The force of her chakra reinforced blow knocks it out of his hands, and her next blow leaves Homura's head laying beside his body.

 

Then she turns to Koharu, who is looking at her with a sickly smile that reminds Sakura so much of Danzo.

"I wouldn't kill me if I were you."

 

 

Sakura snarls, baring her teeth, but hesitates. Danzo always had a plan, it stands to reason these two terrors did as well. Shisui grunts in pain in the background, and Sakura needs to get to him, and fast.

"Why shouldn't I?"

 

 

Koharu pulls aside her hair to reveal a small tattoo behind her ear. It appears to be the same kind that's on the tongues of all the ROOT agents. Pressing her glowing knife to the old woman's throat, Sakura demands,

"Who's controlling you?"

 

 

Cackling, Kohura shakes her head, slicing a thin line into her own throat.

"No one, dear girl. I hold the key to all the seals. If you kill me, they all drop dead. A way to ensure the line of ROOT continues unbroken. We all die, or we all live."

 

 

Sakura growls. She has no idea whether to believe Koharu or not, but time is running out quickly. Shisui needs help. Striking Koharu hard with the hilt of the knife, knocking her out, Sakura quickly ties her to the chair. She can figure this out in a minute. Shisui needs assistance. Checking briefly to see that Sai is still unconscious, which he is, Sakura turns to Shisui's fight. She sees two ROOT agents, unconscious or dead on the floor, Sakura can't tell. There's a lot of blood around.

Shisui has one hand wrapped around his middle, blood seeping through his fingers, and he's fighting with the other hand, blocking a short knife from his opponent with a kunai. Sakura dives into action, sheathing one knife as she rushes forward. Whoever this ROOT agent is, he surely doesn't deserve to die for simply following orders. She prepares to strike him in the neck, rendering him unconscious just like the others. Before she gets within range, the ROOT manages to deflect Shisui's kunai, and stabs him in the center of his chest. Shisui grunts, eyes wide.

 

Sakura cries out for him, and loses her tight control of her chakra for just a second. But it's one second too long, and when she taps the back of the ROOT agent's neck to knock him out, his spine snaps instead, killing him instantly. His body crumples to the floor, lifeless. Shisui looks at Sakura, and she stares back at him, frozen. Shisui coughs, and blood leaks from the corner of his mouth. That's enough to spur Sakura back into action, and she closes the last step, grabbing Shisui and letting her medical chakra flow.

 

Knowing she has limited time before Sai wakes up, before the invasion outside ends and their window of opportunity is shot, she shakes her head sadly at Shisui and says softly,

"This is going to hurt. I'm so sorry."

 

 

He grunts his approval at whatever she's planning on doing, evidently too injured to speak. He's still standing, somehow. Sakura grabs the knife implanted in his chest, and pulls it out, pouring medical chakra into the path it leaves behind. Shisui chokes, and makes a small sound of pain. Sakura wishes it didn't hurt, but she has to get that knife out. She finishes pulling it out, closing off all the major sites of bleeding and torn muscle and bone, but leaving behind what Sakura is sure will become major bruising soon. Dropping the knife on the ground, she gently pulls Shisui's hand away from his stomach, and replaces her hand over it almost as quickly.

Whoever got in the lucky shot tore through the lining underneath the skin, and Shisui is literally holding his own organs inside his torso. For such a serious injury, it's actually fairly easy to fix. Mend the abdominal lining, and close up the skin. Shisui's lucky in that none of his organs got nicked in the process. Having finished that, and determining no more life threatening injuries for the moment, Sakura turns and heads back to Koharu. She'd prefer to stay by Shisui's side until she's absolutely sure he's okay, but she knows failing the mission is too important. She saved his life, the rest has to wait.

 

She slaps Koharu hard across the face, waking her.

"How do I remove the seal from the ROOT ninja?"

 

 

The old lady spits blood at Sakura's face.

"I will never tell you. As long as someone lives to carry on the purpose of ROOT, the village will be safe."

 

 

She continues to sneer at Sakura as Sakura tries to think wildly of what she can do to remove this seal. Closer examination shows that the seal is slightly different from the one on the child's tongue that Sakura had seen earlier. So how does Sakura break control from this woman without killing them? Shisui comes up beside her, and Sakura tells him everything she's learned. Koharu continues to sit there and mock them while Sakura tries to think of what on earth to do. She's running out of time. Soon, the ROOT's she's knocked out are going to start coming to, and the invasion is more than likely over at this point.

 

Koharu laughs, telling Sakura yet again,

"You'll never do anything without my seal."

 

 

A disgusting, morbid thought crosses Sakura's mind. She turns to Shisui, needing to hear someone else tell her they were desperate enough for this.

"Shisui, I've got an idea. But it's crazy, and terrible, and I don't know if it'll work."

 

 

Shisui meets her eyes, his curls splattered with blood, his and others.

"Do it."

 

 

Sakura takes a deep breath.

 

I'm out of my mind.

 

 

She turns back to Koharu, knife in hand. Koharu meets it with a steady look,

"You've decided to kill us all, I suppose?"

 

 

Sakura shakes her head angrily.

"No, it's just like you said. I need your seal to be able to do anything."

 

 

Then, before she can change her mind, Sakura imbues the blade with medical chakra, and slices the skin bearing the seal off of the old woman's face, while she howled with pain. Sakura carves a patch of her own skin off of her shoulder and places the intact seal onto her own skin, using medical chakra to bind the old lady's skin to her own, cleaning the blood so that their types match enough to not kill Sakura, and seamlessly integrating the seal into her own chakra network. She feels the seal make its mark on her, feels the dirtiness, and the power, that comes from having people's lives in her hands. Focusing in on the seal, Sakura can suddenly feel forty distinct life forces besides her own, and she feels absolutely certain that all forty, or any section of them, would follow her command. Sakura is the puppet master of ROOT now. The feelings of wrong, of tainted spirit, threatens to overwhelm Sakura, and the room spins for a minute. When it stops, she finds Shisui looking at her with horror in his eyes.

 

She gasps,

"I've got to check and make sure this works before we finish."

 

 

Stumbling over to Sai, Sakura wakes him with a small touch of chakra. His eyes snap open, blankly staring Sakura in the face. She hates it, wishes she saw Sai's sarcasm or his judgmental look he used to have more often than not. Activating her seal with her chakra, Sakura looks down at Sai,

 

"I need you to hand me all of your inkwells."

Sai obeys immediately and instantly. Sakura feels sick at the mindless obedience, and she gives the inkwells back as soon as Sai hands them to her.

"Thank you, Sai. You should hang on to these for now."

 

 

He nods agreeably and puts them back. Sakura goes back over to Shisui and Koharu, who is still hissing with pain, and hate in her eyes.

"The seal works. We can figure out how to break it without killing all of ROOT later."

 

 

Shisui beheads Koharu without another word. Sakura waits a moment to see if it affects the seal on her arm, and looks over to Sai, to see if he seems affected by the death, but he just sits blankly to the side where Sakura left him. She is now, the head of ROOT. Instead of worrying about the implications of that, or letting herself feel the tainted seal that stains her upper arm now, she simply smiles at Shisui.

 

"We did it, Shisui. They're free. Well, mostly. But now we can free them. ROOT is done. "

 

Shisui gives her a careful squeeze. Sakura feels relief flood her. Sai is free. Tenzo, who has probably been free for a while, actually, won't have to look over his shoulder anymore. Sakura can't wait to tell Sasuke.

 

Hold up, the invasion!

 

 

"Shisui, we've gotta go back to the village! The invasion is probably over now. They might need help!"

 

Shisui says nothing but follows Sakura to the doorway she collapsed. She's low on chakra, but not terribly so. Nothing like she had been in the war, where every scrap had to be used every day. With all the training Sakura has been doing, she's grown her chakra capacity to beyond what she'd had even as a Jounin in her last life, even though she's nowhere near someone like Sasuke or Naruto's reserves. Blasting her way out of the door, Sakura and Shisui emerge to see the utter destruction that's been wrecked on their home village. The walls are completely shattered from what Sakura can see, and she dearly hopes that only the walls took damage, and that the people inside are still okay.

 

She makes to run, and then realizes Shisui is not following her. Turning, she sees him on his knees, gasping.

His eyes are foggy, and Sakura rushes over to his side, dropping to her own knees. She should've noticed that the chatty ex-Uchiha had stopped talking.

 

"Shisui!"

 

 

Sakura grabs for his shoulders, running a diagnostic chakra as fast as she can. Besides the heavy bruising in his chest, Sakura can't find anything wrong with him.

"Shisui, what's wrong?"

 

 

He looks at her, grimacing, and shakes his head. His foggy look has cleared, but Sakura wishes it hadn't. The amount of pain she can see in his onyx eyes is enough to push her to the edge of freaking out herself.

"Shisui, Shisui talk to me, what's going on? I-I can't see anything wrong. You have to tell me what happened."

 

 

Shisui gasps, and then makes a sound Sakura could only call keening, a whine from deep in his throat.

 

 

He can't talk, so what do I do? How do I know?

 

 

She wants to start freaking out, to scream for help. But she can't. The village is in shambles at the moment. Sakura is the help. Shisui lifts a hand, and starts moving it, shakily.

 

 

"Sign language? Okay, Okay, I'm listening."

 

 

Shisui shakily makes the signs for "poison", and "pain".

 

 

"Poison? Someone poisoned you during that fight?"

 

 

Shisui gasps again, and his eyes get watery. Sakura's never heard of a poison so painful that it can make a Jounin cry. At least she has somewhere to look. Searching Shisui's system for poison, Sakura doesn't find it in his blood, or even his vital organs. So whatever this toxin is, it's just meant to hurt, not to kill. Sakura steels herself for the ethical code she's about to break, then calls on her new seal, summoning Sai to her side. He does so, appearing almost instantaneously.

 

"Sai, what kind of toxin does ROOT have that causes pain?"

 

 

Shisui's breaths are coming more and more shallow, and Sakura knows he's struggling to keep the pain management under wraps. Sai looks at her blankly, and answers her question.

 

"It is not a toxin. Rather, a harmless serum meant to help new ROOT in their training."

 

 

HARMLESS?

 

 

Sakura forces a measure of calm into her voice. It isn't Sai's fault.

"Please explain to me what this does then, please?"

 

 

Sai nods, and continues as unemotionally as before,

"Depending on the amount given, the serum increases the amount of pain a person can feel until they reach their limit. It also affects the emotional center, causing emotional pain. This is what helps us at ROOT to put aside useless feelings like pain or emotions."

 

 

Sakura looks deeply at Sai, and if she's not mistaken, she sees a tiny bit of fear flicker in Sai's eyes, before he shuts off again.

"Sai, I'm not going to use this on you, ever. You'll never have to experience this again. But, can you tell me, how long will it last? And can I stop it or finish it?"

 

 

She almost sees the shadow of relief in his eyes, and then he looks at Shisui, who's now trying his hardest and failing not to writhe on the ground. Sakura wants to cry herself, looking at him, but forces her attention back to Sai.

"He seems to have received a heavy dose, like we use for combat. I am unsure of when the effects will wear off. I am told that once given, the effects cannot be stopped until the serum has run its course. The more pain relief the subject is given, the longer the serum will work."

 

 

That was not the answer Sakura wanted, and she's so frustrated she wants to scream, but she doesn't.

"Thank you for your information Sai. Would you please go to all the bases, gather every ROOT operative you can find, and ask them to wait for me in the base near the Academy?"

 

 

Sai nods and disappears in a flash. Sakura refocuses her attention on Shisui, who is now openingly weeping and writhing on the ground in pain, though he's mostly silent, except for pained, agonized gasps that come from him. He must have been feeling growing pain all this time. Sakura hopes in vain the "serum" as Sai called it, has almost run it's course. A soft, sobbing,

 

"Sakura..."

From Shisui breaks Sakura's entire heart.

 

She can't believe they regularly used this on ROOT agents. On CHILDREN. Actually, Sakura can, but she pushes all of that aside to focus on her friend in front of her.

Gathering Shisui up into her arms, Sakura holds him and runs her fingers through his hair. From what Sai said, it won't help Shisui at all, but Sakura can't stand to see her friend in this much physical and emotional pain. As his quiet gasps turn into choked screams, Sakura considers knocking him out. Somehow, she feels like Danzo or whoever would have planned for that though, and she can't fathom putting Shisui through a round 2 when he woke up to find no difference in the pain, so she just hangs on tighter.

She keeps running her fingers through Shisui's curls, promising him he'll be alright soon, and praying to anyone that will listen that soon would come faster. The shaking turns into seizing, and the choked scream turns into a long, agonized unending one that pierces Sakura's soul. She hears something rip, and then Shisui falls silent, unable to scream, blood pushing through his mouth in choking motions.

 

 

Kami, he ripped his vocal chords.

 

 

Sakura squeezes him tighter, and after what seems like eternity but is likely only a few minutes at most, the seizing turns back into shaking. The shaking slowly fades out until Shisui is very, very still in Sakura's arms. She continues carding her hand through his hair a few minutes more, until he's so slack Sakura becomes sure he's unconscious. With the hand on his back, Sakura sends medical chakra to her friend's vocal chords, knitting them back together. Her extremely talkative friend isn't going to be talking for a few days at least. Her own emotions feel wrung out, and Sakura belatedly realizes she's been crying this entire time too.

What a mess.

Sakura curses Danzo in his grave, and hopes that if there is an afterlife, Danzo is suffering greatly. Sakura figures she has enough chakra to carry Shisui home, so she does, carefully lifting her friend in her arms bridal style and walking through the ruins that used to be the front gates to Konoha. Just inside the gates, she sees Sasuke, who's carrying Itachi on his shoulders. He looks about as desperate as Sakura feels, and the second he meets her gaze, he calls out,

 

 

"Sakura! Itachi needs help.. I-we were helping Naruto with Gaara, and he started coughing up blood and collapsed!"

 

 

Great.

Chapter Text

The trek back to Sakura's house is filled with tense silence as Sakura and Sasuke take in the destruction done to the village. It's not quite as horrific as Pein's invasion was in their future, but it's still a lot. Fortunately, Sakura has not seen a single Leaf casualty on the streets as she trudges as quickly as she can home. Shisui's weight in her arms drives her home, and even though with her chakra strength, the extra weight is practically negligible, the emotional drive to get him someplace carries her forward. It doesn't help matters a bit that Sasuke is silently losing his mind next to her, Itachi on his back.

Sakura knows Itachi will likely be fine, and his collapse is due to whatever disease he has, that Sakura shamefully still hasn't figured out. But Sasuke wasn't supposed to know about it, Sakura could tell that much. Well, if Itachi had collapsed for that reason, there will be no hiding it from Sasuke now. Entering her home, which thankfully is still standing, as is the street around it, Sakura quickly and carefully deposits Shisui onto a couch, and motions Sasuke to place Itachi on the other. He does so, and Sakura pulls up her medical ninjutsu, wincing at her now nearly depleted chakra stores. Still, it's more than enough for some basic treatments. Placing her now glowing hands onto Itachi's chest, she finds part of the problem fairly quickly, since she knew where to look. Just to be sure, Sakura calls to her teammate,

 

"Sasuke, explain the collapse as best you can."

 

Sasuke scoffs, and Sakura cuts across impatiently,

 

"It's important, Sasuke. Do it."

 

 

Looking at his unconscious brother, Sasuke stiffens and begins reporting,

"We were following along with Naruto in his fight with Gaara. Gaara started transforming, one of his sand limbs caught me, threw me into a tree. Itachi used his Mangekyou, and I moved to try and launch a side attack. Next I saw, he was coughing up blood, then he fell over. I caught him, and brought him back here."

 

 

Sakura inclines her head shortly, accepting Sasuke's report. There is blood in Itachi's lungs again, and his chakra channels around his Mangekyou are swollen as well. It doesn't explain the lack of consciousness, however, so Sakura starts searching for a source. The amount of blood in the Uchiha's lungs is sure to be uncomfortable, but not immediately life threatening. Following his respiratory system up, Sakura feels what caused the lack of consciousness. Itachi has a blood clot lodged in his throat, restricting most of his airway. She has no idea why he's still getting air at all, but it hardly matters at the moment.

 

Sitting Itachi up, she barks at Sasuke,

"Sasuke, get over here and hold Itachi upright."

 

 

Her teammate doesn't question her this time, just propping his brother up. Gathering her medical jutsu in one hand, pushing against the clot, Sakura chakra enhances the palm of her other hand, and thumps it against Itachi's back, hard. The blood clot flies out of Itachi's mouth, and he immediately starts making choking sounds. Sakura figures if he's already choking, she may as well push the rest of the blood out of his lungs, so she does so, forcing it up and out of his mouth. She feels rather than sees Itachi regurgitate the small amount of blood remaining, and she frowns in sympathy. After a moment, the choking subsides, and she nods to Sasuke the OK to lay his brother back down, which he does.

 

 

"He'll be fine now, Sasuke."

 

 

Sasuke hns disapprovingly.

"What caused it, Sakura? Itachi's too powerful to just collapse like that."

 

 

 

Oh, there's no way I'm getting in the middle of this.

 

 

"I think you should ask Itachi about it when he wakes up, Sasuke."

 

Her teammate looks very much like he wants to continue the argument right then and there, so she speaks up first.

 

"Did Naruto win again? Did he talk Gaara down?"

 

 

 

Sasuke averts his gaze immediately. Sakura's heart skips a beat.

 

"He didn't... I mean he couldn't have?..."

 

 

 

Died remains unsaid, and Sasuke jerks his head suddenly.

 

"No! I mean, I'm not sure. Itachi collapsed, so I... Well, I just took him and ran."

 

 

 

 

The terror gripping her heart turns to rage so incredibly quickly Sakura feels like she has whiplash. Leaping to her feet, she practically screeches,

 

"You left Naruto ALONE?? Fighting Gaara in the forest ALONE?!"

 

 

 

Sasuke meets her eyes again, and there's some defiance there,

 

"Of course not, Sakura. I'm not stupid! Kakashi-sensei showed up."

 

 

He says this as if that answer solves everything, but it causes all the blood to rush to Sakura's face,

 

"Kakashi-sensei? You MORON! You KNOW Kakashi-sensei isn't smart enough to back out of a fight he can't win if his students are involved!"

 

 

 

 

Sasuke's voice rises, and he stands to yell back at her,

 

"Sakura, he's a Jounin, you can't worry about him like some little kid! Itachi was hurt, and I knew Naruto and Kakashi-sensei could handle it, so I left!"

 

 

 

 

Sakura reaches over and grabs Shisui's pack off of his sleeping form, knowing she's going to need the chakra pills inside. She's so mad she's still seeing red. She knows she should stop yelling, but finds that all the frustration from the day, from not being able to help Shisui, from not being able to free all the ROOT members, all pouring out at once.

"Sasuke, Kakashi-sensei is our teammate just as much as Naruto is, and you know he's got no self-preservation instinct! It's a miracle he hasn't gotten himself killed yet, and you LEFT him to fight a Jinchuuriki!"

 

 

 

Sasuke opens his mouth to retort, then looks to the door instead and shuts his mouth.

 

 

Good, at least he feels a LITTLE bad about leaving them out there.

 

 

 

Sakura thinks triumphantly. She suddenly imagines the aftermath of Kakashi and Naruto having fought Gaara, and she feels sick.

 

"I'm going to go get them, both of them. If Kakashi-sensei got himself killed with that stupid sacrificial shit he does, I'll personally kill you in front of that brother of yours, Sasuke, and that's a promise."

 

 

Angrily, Sakura turns to run out the door and retrieve her remaining two teammates...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And immediately bumps headfirst into Kakashi. She hits him so hard she actually bounces back onto her butt on the floor. All the rage drains from Sakura instantly, as well as all the blood from her face. Kakashi has Naruto slung over one shoulder, and he looks tired, but whole. He rubs his grey hair awkwardly.

 

"Well.. What touching faith in your old sensei. I was hoping to find you all here."

 

 

 

He looks down at Sakura, who's sitting on the floor, her jaw hanging wide open, wishing she was anywhere else but here at this moment. His awkward looks morphs into a nonchalant smile, and Sakura wishes the floor would swallow her whole.

 

 

How much of that did he hear?

 

 

"It's nice to hear that you care, Sakura. We should probably talk about the 'threatening to kill your teammate' thing, though."

 

 

 

Sakura forces her jaw closed, averts her eyes, and gets out,

"Sorry, sensei... I-erm.. well..."

 

 

Kakashi waves his hand, brushing aside whatever apologetic comment Sakura was attempting to make. She isn't even sure. She's mortified. Kakashi simply shifts Naruto's body on his shoulder, and asks,

"I'm going to take Naruto to the hospital now. Any other takers?"

 

 

At the increasingly awkward silence that follows, Kakashi shrugs, and pats Sakura on the head, before leaving with Naruto, presumably for the hospital. As soon as Kakashi is out of earshot, Sasuke gives a short laugh in her direction. Sakura shoots him with the best death glare she can make.

 

"You were lucky nothing happened to them."

 

 

Sasuke sobers a little, but still smirks at her. Sakura no longer wants to disappear into the floor, but she's a little worried what Kakashi thinks of her now. She hopes this doesn't come back to bite her.

 

 

 

 

Standing, Sakura makes her way to the kitchen. If they're going to sit here awkwardly waiting for Itachi and Shisui to wake up, they may as well have tea. Just as Sakura's about to put the kettle on, she hears a knock at the door, and then it swings open. Sakura hopes it's not Kakashi-sensei again. She doesn't know if she can handle the awkwardness of it again so soon. When she turns to the door and the two people in the doorway, the kettle drops out of her hand, crashing onto the floor.

 

"L-lady Tsunade?!"

 

 

Tsunade and Jiraiya stand in her doorway, and Sakura blinks, unsure if her eyes are telling the truth or not. Tsunade looks at her oddly, then gives a brief laugh.

"You're right, Jiraiya. She does know me."

 

 

Jiraiya bellows with laughter, and they shuffle into her house. Sakura quickly picks up the kettle, wiping it off and refilling it, and putting it on the stove. What a day of emotional whiplash this has been. Sakura can barely keep up with it all. When she finishes mopping up the water that spilled when she dropped the kettle, she raises her head to find Jiraiya and Tsunade sitting patiently at the table, watching her. And doesn't that make Sakura uncomfortable.

 

Jiraiya tilts his head and says,

"Is this a good time to talk?"

 

 

His gaze says "does everyone here know?" So Sakura nods.

"As good a time as any. What brings you both here?"

 

 

Sasuke had poked his head in, watching her, but Sakura hears Itachi take this exact moment to start to stir, and her raven-haired teammate shoots her a look before abandoning her to have a talk with his brother. Sakura couldn't be happier to miss whatever conversation is about to take place in that room.

Jiraiya has drawn a privacy seal on the table, and when Sakura sits to join the two Sannin, he activates it, and Sakura feels the chakra flow through the house. It would be polite to wait to hear what the Sannin have to say, but Sakura can't bring herself to be polite when faced with her old mentor, who'd meant so much to her.

 

 

"Lady Tsunade, why are you here? I mean, in Konoha, of course."

 

 

Tsunade looks at her shrewdly,

"So you're the one I make the heir to my legacy, huh?"

 

 

Sakura flushes slightly under the attention, and nods, before turning to Jiraiya,

"You filled her in?"

 

 

Jiraiya nods seriously.

"I thought it might be best. Naruto and I found her during our month of training, and I convinced her to come back in case the worst happened during the invasion."

 

 

Tsunade gives a sharp laugh and knocks Jiraiya in the arm,

"You could never have brought me back. I'm only here since I lost a bet to that Uzumaki brat."

 

 

At the mention of her sunny teammate, Sakura can't help but smile fondly.

 

 

Oh, Naruto.

 

 

Recalling why Tsunade's presence might have been needed, she sobers and looks and the two Sannin before her.

 

"The Third?"

 

 

Jiraiya averts his eyes, and Tsunade states simply,

 

"He's dead. But you knew that, didn't you?"

 

 

 

Sakura shrugs,

 

"I wasn't sure. A lot has changed this time around, I didn't know if that would be one of them, though. I'm sorry for your loss."

 

 

Sakura actually isn't sorry at all that Sarutobi is dead. His weak presence as Hokage had caused more problems than it solved, all in the name of peace. She can tuck her bitterness away though. She knows intimately how it feels to lose a sensei, having lost both Kakashi and Tsunade and Shizune before, and she can sympathize with the loss. Tsunade and Jiraiya accept her comment gracefully, and Sakura rises briefly to pour them all some tea, giving the two a moment to gather their thoughts while she pours.

While she's busy with the tea, Itachi and Sasuke join them at the table, and Sakura pours them some tea also. Jiraiya, if he's surprised by Itachi being included on the inside of Sakura and Sasuke's secret, doesn't show it. Once everyone has tea and Jiraiya has repeated why Tsunade has returned to the village, Jiraiya turns to Sakura.

 

"Tell me, Sakura. What'd you do to ROOT? Didn't think you'd get that past my network, did you?"

 

 

Feeling no shame about it whatsoever, Sakura goes into detail with what she and Shisui had uncovered. When she gets to the part about having killed the leaders, Tsunade cuts in, looking incredulous.

 

 

"You killed TWO council members?"

 

 

Sakura meets her eyes carefully,

"Yes. They deserved to die. I don't regret it."

 

 

Tsunade cracks a smile.

"I like your attitude, girl."

 

 

Sakura continues her story, and everyone around the table raises an eyebrow when she tells them about the ROOT seal, and how she'd transferred it to her own arm, to avoid killing them all. She shows them its placement on her arm. She can tell Jiraiya wants to say something, so she holds up her hand, wanting to get it all over with as quickly as possible.

When the Sannin gives her a nod to continue, she quickly tells the table about the compound that Shisui had gotten injected with. She glosses over it as lightly as possible, the memory of her friend's screams still echoing too freshly in her mind. Beside her, Sasuke looks a little sick, though Itachi only looks slightly disturbed. Sakura isn't sure she even wants to know the terrors Itachi has seen. When she finishes, she takes a deep breath, and looks again to Jiraiya and Tsunade.

 

"I actually... Would like to ask both of you a favor. Jiraiya-sama, would you please take a look at the seal and help me figure out how to break it? and Lady Tsunade? Would you or maybe Shizune help me figure out how this serum toxin thing is made so we can try synthesizing some kind of antidote in case we ever come across something like it again."

 

 

Jiraiya nods, an almost lustful look in his eyes, and Sakura guesses the seal master is dying to figure out the puzzle laying on her arm. Tsunade for her part looks Sakura over carefully, before inclining her head.

 

"You will, of course, owe me a favor for this, Sakura."

 

 

Sakura nods quickly,

"Of course, Lady Tsunade. Anything I can do to help."

 

 

She smirks, and Sakura realizes she must have something in mind already.

"You can start by agreeing to be an advisor to me, when I take the hat. I'll need as much knowledge as you have to protect this village."

 

 

An Advisor?

 

 

The position is such an honor, Sakura has trouble even seeing it as a favor, and she agrees to the position, trying to sound like it was something she could have expected. Then Jiraiya and Tsunade start talking plans. It's all so political it flies right over Sakura's head, but she tries her hardest to pay attention. She gets the understanding that Tsunade is going to try and win the Clan Heads over during rebuilding, and then she'll start her campaign to save the village.

Sakura has no idea where she fits into any of this, so she just nods along. Itachi agrees to help Tsunade as a Clan Head insider, and to put her name forward in the upcoming council of all the Clan Heads to pick the next Hokage, which will surely have to be held soon, since the Third has gone. Sakura doesn't even noticed she's mostly tuned out until she catches herself falling asleep. Jerking herself upright, Sakura hopes she hasn't drawn attention to herself. Of course, she has, however, and Jiraiya laughs that big booming laugh of his.

 

 

"Of course we should leave and start doing some leadership in the village. This can wait! Sakura, give me the coordinates for the ROOT building you asked all the members to meet you in, and meet me there with you at sunset."

 

 

Sakura nods agreeably, and explains how to get in. It's still about two or three hours until sundown, and Sakura knows getting some sleep will definitely help her mental state. She considers what she'll say to all of them, to ROOT. She can't imagine giving a convincing speech to any one of them. She needs someone with her who understands. She gives Jiraiya a considering look, then brushes it aside.

 

 

There's no way Jiraiya can come off as helpful to people as emotionally damaged as ROOT. He'll probably scare the life out of them.

 

 

There's really only one person Sakura can think of, one person Sakura would want to help her with this sort of thing.

 

"Jiraiya-sama, if I could make a request. Would you bring Tenzou along with you? He's... Well I think he's in Anbu."

 

The thought of her old captain and friend makes her smile, and she hopes he's still as kind and commanding as she remembers.

Jiraiya agrees heartily, and he and Tsunade stand to leave.

 

Tsunade motions for Itachi to come along with her, still talking politics, when Sasuke interrupts, standing up abruptly.

 

 

"Tsunade, take me on as your apprentice!"

 

 

Tsunade narrows her eyes at him,

"Oi, brat. Try showing some respect, why don't you? What makes you think I'd want a brat like you as an apprentice? I apparently already have one?"

 

 

She jerks her head Sakura's direction, and Sakura feels her heart warm a little. Tsunade would take her on as an apprentice again? But why would Sasuke want to learn medical ninjutsu? That seems so unlike her teammate, but her tired brain isn't coordinating well enough to give her any answers.

 

 

Sasuke gruff apology breaks through her thoughts.

"I.. Apologize.. Please, Lady Tsunade, I beg you to take me on as your apprentice. I need to know everything there is to know about medical ninjutsu!"

 

 

Itachi sighs, and turns towards Sasuke.

"Sasuke, I told you to leave it alone. It's fine."

 

 

Sasuke shakes his head angrily. The puzzle pieces slowly click into place for Sakura.

 

 

Oh.

 

 

"It's not fine Itachi! One way or another, I'm going to learn how to fix this, and Lady Tsunade is our best bet!"

 

 

Tsunade arches an eyebrow mischieviously.

"A mystery, is it? I suppose you wouldn't want to tell me what this is all about?"

 

 

Sasuke turns bright red and shakes his head.

"I.. Can't. I'm sorry. I promised. But please, take me on as an apprentice!"

 

 

Tsunade looks him up and down judging him, then turns to Sakura.

"What do you think, Sakura?"

 

 

 

 

Surprised at being included in the conversation, Sakura stumbles a little before she catches her words.

 

"Lady Tsunade, I-well.. As you advisor, I wouldn't need to be apprenticed to you. I don't mean to sound prideful or anything, but in my time.."

 

Sakura flushes a little, remembering the compliment,

 

"You told me you'd taught me all you could."

 

Sakura turns her head and pulls her hair back, revealing her seal Strength of One Hundred. A look of begrudging respect enters Tsunade's eyes, and just having her mentor here looking at her again like that fills Sakura's heart up to the brim. She'd missed Tsunade so much.

 

 

"Looks like I really did teach you, kid. We'll have to come up with some kind of cover story to explain why you can do that, but that's for later."

 

 

Looking back to Sasuke, she snaps,

"Brat, you've got yourself an apprenticeship. I hope you're ready to work for it. I don't take just anyone, and I'll throw you out for being obnoxious, just ask Shizune!"

 

 

Sasuke gives a bow, and Sakura can tell it's mostly perfunctory, not out of actual respect. Not yet anyway. He'll learn. She hides a smirk of her own. Then Tsunade sweeps out of the house, Itachi beside her and Sasuke in tow. Jiraiya trails behind them, giving Sakura a frankly appalling wink before disappearing out of her door.

Looking out the window, Sakura judges she has about two and a half hours to sleep, so she goes into her living room and climbs onto the couch across from Shisui. Things were about to change at a crazy rate, and Sakura would be ready for it.

Chapter Text

Sakura makes it to the ROOT base near the Academy just after sunset. Nervous doesn't even begin to describe how Sakura feels. She's been planning, dreaming, of tearing down ROOT ever since she had landed back in time, but now that it's here, Sakura realizes she doesn't really have a plan for what to do. Everything had seemed so simple: destroy the infrastructure of ROOT, and the Shinobi trapped by the organization could.. She doesn't know. Trying to wrap her head around this is only causing her to panic more.

What was she supposed to do now? Sakura realizes she's been naive, to think that killing off the leaders would be enough to fix all the problems ROOT training has caused, and help the Shinobi bound by it. Just as Sakura feels the panic rising to a peak within her, she spots Jiraiya arriving, with a member of Anbu with him. Feeling the chakra signature of Tenzou from beneath the mask, Sakura draws a deep breath. She trusts her captain, that Tenzou will know what to do, even if she doesn't. Giving a brief bow, and trying to calm her nerves, Sakura waits for Jiraiya to say something. To give her some direction, Kami knows she needs it. Jiraiya's normally booming voice is softer, more commanding, and it snaps Sakura to attention instantly.

 

"Sakura, this is Tenzou. I've been informed that he has previously been a member of ROOT, and I've enlisted him to give us some insight into the situation. He's been briefed on the current situation."

 

 

Sakura gives a brief bow in Tenzou's direction. Before she can introduce herself, Tenzou, mask gone and hidden and Oh, is Sakura happy to see that familiar face, speaks first.

"You're the flower girl. The one from the hospital."

 

 

A memory of a teenaged Tenzou rises in her mind, and Sakura remembers the man in front of her, then a boy, stuck in a hospital bed after a mission. She smiles, recalling the flowers she had sent from the Yamanaka flower shop, the declaration of friendship she'd made.

 

"Yes, that was me. I'm glad to see you again, Tenzou."

 

Sakura wants to be professional, wants to seem like she's in control, but at the moment she feels far removed from any semblance of control, and she blurts words before she can talk herself.

 

"I don't know what to do. I wanted to set them all free, but they're still all bound by this seal, and I don't want them to have it and now I'm in charge of it all and I don't know what to do."

 

 

Jiraiya looks at her, but Sakura only has eyes for Tenzou. He'll know, he'll fix it, somehow. Sakura has blind faith, has to have some faith, because right now, she can't believe in herself. Tenzou sighs, and shakes his head slightly.

 

"You can't talk to them like that. They've been trained from a young age to believe that they're sacrificing to save the the village, that they're doing an important job. And they've been trained out of any emotions. Rip all that away from them at once, and it's not going to end well for anyone."

 

 

This information is so utterly confusing that Sakura is dumbfounded. It hadn't occurred to her that they might be so incredibly brainwashed that her attempts to give them freedom would backfire. Any footing Sakura felt like she had on the situation virtually disappears in a rush.

 

 

Jiraiya speaks into the silence,

 

"Here's what you're going to do, Sakura. You're going to go in there, and you're going to have to be the one that speaks, because with the seal, you're their authority, and you need to act like it. You need to tell them that nothing is wrong, that we will be instituting new training initiatives under your new authority, that it's time to reintegrate into the village, to make it stronger. Most importantly, tell them they work directly under the Hokage now, which is going to be Tsunade. Can you do that, Sakura?"

 

 

Sakura realizes at Jiraiya's tone that she's hyperventilating a little bit, and she forces herself to calm down, to focus on what Jiraiya has said to her. She has to be in control. If Tenzou is right, none of the ROOT shinobi will respond well to their new commander freaking out just speaking to them. Nodding, as much to herself as to Jiraiya and Tenzou.

 

"Yeah, yeah. I can do that."

 

 

She tries to get control over her breathing and spiraling terror. She mentally brings up an image of her sensei. What would Kakashi-sensei do? She imagines her sensei, when he broke up the fight between Sasuke and Naruto, in her past life. The way her sensei commanded his unit in the Fourth Ninja War. Straightening, she puts on a facade, imagining herself sliding into Kakashi's personality, his nonchalant and always outwardly calm way of leading. Sensing her newfound courage, Jiraiya and Tenzou follow her, as Sakura walks as calmly and confidently as she can, into the base.

 

 

 

 

Just as she'd asked, Sai has untied and gathered all the ROOT into one of the main rooms that Sakura seems sure that were meant for training before. There's something like forty Shinobi in the room, and they range in age from toddler to young adult. Sakura can't help but notice none of them seem older than twenty. She tries not to think about how many Shinobi ROOT has already thrown away, and she privately swears not to let any more of them get thrown away. Not ever again.

As she enters, the gathered ROOT rise to attention, and that says to Sakura that either Sai has given them all a description of her, or they can somehow sense her seal. Still forcing herself into her Kakashi-sensei mindset, Sakura casually makes her way to the center of the room. There's no need to call attention to herself, as all eyes are already on her.

Looking at all of their blank yet somehow intense faces threatens Sakura's facade, so she finds herself looking for Tenzou and Jiraiya. The ex-ROOT member looks distinctly uncomfortable, and Sakura decides she'll speak to him. After all, he's at least half of the reason she's here today, standing in front of this organization, trying to spark a change for the better. It's for Tenzou that Sakura finds herself giving a speech to a group she never wanted to exist in the first place, so it's him she will direct her speech at.

 

"As you all know, I have taken over the leadership of ROOT."

 

Silence meets her.

 

 

What would Kakashi-sensei do? C'mon, Sakura.

 

 

Sakura suddenly realizes she doesn't want to give this speech the same way Kakashi-sensei would. She needs Kakashi-sensei's subtlety, his decorum. But, Sakura wants to have Naruto's passion. These are people that Danzo has pulled from the village, forcing them to abandon families, people no one would miss. These are Konoha's family-less, underappreciated ninja. Sakura recalls the way Naruto used to light up when he realized that people saw him, and she tries to hold that feeling, while maintaining a calm and professional veneer.

 

"There are changes coming, in the village. The Third Hokage is dead, and I have on good authority that Tsunade Senju will become our new Hokage in a matter of days, if not hours. It is time for ROOT to come out of the shadows, to be the protectors and defenders of the village in a more public way. From the day Tsunade takes office forward, you will all be reporting under the Hokage for missions. Your work is very important to the village, and it will continue to be so. For the rebuilding of the Leaf, all hands are needed on deck. We need you. I know you will all rise to the occasion. Things may begin to change around here, but your importance will never diminish."

 

As she speaks, Sakura feels her straightened posture become more natural. She means what she's saying, to these people. These people that are now her people. She looks to Tenzou, who gives her a nod, his eyes warm. Next to him, Jiraiya winks. Sakura knows she's in the clear now. That she's said enough for now.

 

"With the exception of Sai, you are all dismissed. Go and rest, we will need you all in the morning."

 

 

 

The ROOT file out in straight lines, headed purposefully to get whatever rest they can get. Sai stays behind, as requested, and he has a slightly puzzled look on his face, that he's trying and failing to hide. Sakura approaches him, trying to look as nonthreatening as possible. Jiraiya and Tenzou join her.

 

"Sai, you seemed to know a lot about that compound from earlier today. The, uh, 'training' compound. Tsunade and her assistant would like to research it further, and I was wondering if you would help them?"

 

Sakura phrases it like a question on purpose, trying to give Sai an opening to back out if he wishes, although Sakura knows he won't be saying no to any of her requests for a long time, as he sees her as his superior now.

 

 

Sai nods immediately, and says,

"Will that be all?"

 

 

He looks just the tiniest bit confused still, so Sakura asks,

"Did you have a question, Sai?"

 

 

She doesn't expect him to answer, she isn't even sure if questions are allowed in ROOT. Tenzou is giving her a puzzled look, so she'd guess that they do not. Sai straightens to an uncomfortable degree, and Sakura raises her hands nonthreateningly,

"It seems like there's a question you'd like an answer to, that's all. If you wouldn't mind telling me what it is?"

 

She knows she probably shouldn't interrogate him, since he doesn't know how to say no, but Sakura doesn't know how she'll be able to help if she doesn't know what he's even hesitant about.

 

 

Sai answers her immediately, 

"Why do you call me Sai?"

 

 

He immediately drops into a deep bow, as if he's deeply regretting asking a question at all, and is ready to receive punishment from Sakura, regardless of the fact she had made him ask her in the first place. Ignoring that for now, because Sakura can't go down that road yet. The question stops Sakura in her tracks. Why would she call him Sai? Why wouldn't she call him Sai? Is there a name she's supposed to call subordinates in ROOT that she's never heard about?

 

She decides to go with the truth.

"I called you that because it's your name?"

 

 

Tenzou's puzzling look deepens and Sakura looks to Jiraiya for support but sees that he looks as confused as she does. Sai straightens again and nods, as if this clears things up for him.

"I see, my name is to be Sai."

 

 

Was his name a codename the entire time I knew him??

 

 

Startled, Sakura stutters a little,

"It, uh, it doesn't have to be your name. What is your name, and I can call you that instead?"

 

 

Now it's Sai's turn to be caught off guard, if his minute twitch is anything to go by.

"I don't have a name."

 

 

Sakura looks to Tenzou, completely lost at this point. Did they take Sai so young he hadn't even remembered his own name? She can't imagine Danzo would have called anyone by name.

 

 

Tenzou shakes his head slightly at Sakura.

"ROOT operatives don't have names of their own, Sakura. Danzo used to say it got in the way of the mission, having emotional ties like that."

 

 

Jiraiya looks absolutely shell-shocked, and Sakura is glad someone else here is as freaked out as she is.

 

The Sannin blurts,

"You can't be serious! None of these people have names?"

 

 

Tenzou and Sai nod together in a smooth, identical motion that makes Sakura sick.

"I'm only called Tenzou because Kakashi-senpai deemed it fitting."

 

 

Seeing a Sannin having a private crisis over this makes Sakura feel marginally better about her own reaction. The Sannin looks disgusted, and disturbed, and is rubbing his chin thoughtfully, looking from Tenzou to Sai. Sakura can't even guess what his emotions might be. All she can think of is the pale boy before her. Sai, her friend for many years in the past, had never had a name of his own, besides the one he must have been given to join Team Kakashi. And she had never known. Never known that the emotionless boy that would eventually become her friend hadn't even been given a name of his own, had never told them any of this had happened to him.

Still, all things considered, Sakura can't imagine him with any other name. Guessing by Jiraiya's continued troubled reaction, either the Third didn't know about this particular aspect of ROOT, or hid it from his students. Meaning this is up to her. Turning back to Sai, Sakura gives him a small smile.

 

"If you're okay with it, I'll name you Sai."

 

 

Sai nods his assent, as Sakura assumed he would. She'll have to worry about the rest of the ROOT operatives in private, once she gets home. The more she learns about ROOT, the more lost she feels. But, she also continues to feel more confident that she did the right thing, trying to take it down. Every ninja deserves to have a name, and someone to call them by it. No matter how hard or crazy this undertaking becomes, she'll have to hold onto that.

 

Sai is still here, still waiting for her to dismiss him. Sakura doesn't want to dismiss him, she wants to hug him and take him home and tell him he has a name and people who care about him. She knows she can't do that, can't try and force Sai to be the person she'd grown to love before. He'll grow into his own person again soon, Sakura knows. She'll just have to wait. For now, though..

 

"Sai, you're dismissed. I'll make sure you get the summons when the time comes."

 

 

Sai disappears without another word, and Sakura looks helplessly at Jiraiya and Tenzou. She wants to say something, but she doesn't know what to even say. Where to start. Jiraiya looks troubled, but pats Sakura on the shoulder,

 

"You did good, kiddo. We'll figure this out."

 

 

Sakura nods and releases a breath she didn't realize she was holding. The three of them exit the base, and Sakura hears Jiraiya thanking Tenzou for his assistance, the two of them polite but professional. She doesn't feel like joining in, her mind swimming with all the things she's learned in the past day. She thinks of going back home, and explaining all of this to Shisui, dredging it all back up again, and suddenly, she dreads it. Shisui will have to know, and of course Sakura wants to tell him. Not right now, right now she needs to process, think through all the things that happened to her, to Shisui, to all of these ROOT agents.

She waves goodbye to Jiraiya and makes her way back into the walls of the village, or what's left of them.

 

 

 

 

Considering her options, Sakura rules out Shikamaru, and the Nara compound. She trusts Shikamaru with her life, but in her current state of shell shock, the emotionless hole she finds herself in, she knows she can't do that to him right now. Besides, being under the eye of Shikaku is a lot more mental work than she can come up with. She realizes her feet are already taking her where she wants to go, and she allows herself to follow her instincts.

 

Shortly, she arrives in front of Kakashi-sensei's apartment building.

 

Or, rather, what used to be Kakashi-sensei's apartment building.

 

The whole thing is basically rubble at this point, and Sakura sighs. This day has already been one of the longest of her life, she should have expected something like this to happen. Though it's dark, Sakura can see several people digging through the remains of the building, no doubt trying to claim any of their precious belongings that they can salvage. Carefully picking her way across the rubble of it, Sakura makes her way to where she estimates Kakashi-sensei's apartment would have been. She knows better than to worry that Kakashi was inside, this clearly happened during the invasion, and she's seen him since then.

She finds her sensei there, digging listlessly through the rubble of his own apartment. He looks exhausted, covered from head to toe in the white dust that only digging through rubble gives. Sakura's not quite sure what he's digging for, what he's trying to find, and Kakashi does not acknowledge her presence in any way. That's fine with Sakura, who doesn't have the emotional energy for any real conversation anyway.

 

Instead, she just starts digging through the rubble along with him.

 

 

In a way, it's sort of nice. It drags Sakura's mind away from everything that's been bothering her, giving her some repetitive work to do while she works through the day. After her previous brief period of rest before she'd gone to ROOT, Sakura has regained enough to chakra to be of help with pieces of rubble that were too large for the average person to lift.

So she shifts rubble, ruined pieces of building shifting easily under her chakra enhanced touch. It's a bit like a chakra control exercise, and meditation mixed together. Sakura grabs a piece of building, uses the exact amount of chakra necessary to shift it, pulls it aside, searches for salvageable things, and moves on. It's cathartic, in a way, letting Sakura work off the fear and sense of being overwhelmed that she's felt all day.

She picks up a bent kunai here, or a trinket there, most of the latter clearly don't belong to Kakashi, and must have come from a different apartment. Kakashi's things, Sakura places in the pouch around her waist. The things she's sure don't belong to him, she makes a careful pile of, on the outside of the rubble, so their owners can hopefully come back for them. A woman's dress, a child's doll. Sakura hopes whoever lived here is okay, that they all got out safely.

There are precious few intact things to be found, but Sakura continues anyway. Kakashi-sensei must be here for a reason, still picking through the remains of his apartment.

 

Or maybe he just doesn't know where else to go

 

Stealing a glance at her sensei, Sakura sees the exhausted, determined set of his shoulders. He may not have anywhere else to go, but the determined set of his shoulders tells Sakura he won't be leaving until he's scavenged what he can, so she continues as well. Not a word has passed between them yet, and Kakashi-sensei is so far into his own world, Sakura isn't wholly sure he's noticed her yet.

Finding a shredded pillow under the next piece of rubble she shifts, a kunai bent almost beyond recognition under it, Sakura deduces she's standing in the remains of her sensei's bedroom. She wonders if she should just leave this bit to him, but quickly dismisses it. That would require verbal communication, and Sakura isn't sure either she or her sensei are up for talking yet.

The next piece of rubble is larger than most, and Sakura carefully shifts it to reveal a shattered lamp, and a crushed bedside table. Kneeling, and sifting through the wooden fragments, careful to avoid the sharp glass of the lights, Sakura finds two photo frames, face down and side by side. The wood of the frames is cracked, and one is broken entirely. Carefully flipping the less broken one over, Sakura smiles to see Team 7 looking back at her. Their team picture. Sasuke looking indifferent, Naruto with his arms thrown around Sakura and Sasuke, right in the middle of it all, and Sakura on the right, smiling widely, with Kakashi-sensei ruffling Sakura and Sasuke's hair, and eye smiling at the camera. Sakura carefully pulls the picture from the broken frame, unwilling to put broken glass into her pouch, and places the picture securely in a side pouch.

Then she goes for the more broken frame, handling it as carefully as possible in case it's ripped. The picture it contains Sakura recognizes as Kakashi's genin team. There's only a slight hole in the picture, right next to where Minato's shoulder is. Even more carefully than before, Sakura extracts it, placing it with the other photo. These are the only two personal things she's seen of Kakashi's yet, and she thinks that must mean they're very important to him.

The only other thing she finds in the bedside table that's even recognizable as a 'thing' is a broken pair of orange goggles. They're broken beyond usability, but she tucks them in her pouch anyway. They're at least recognizable, and Kakashi can decide what to do with them later.

 

 

The rest of the bedroom goes easily, for Sakura. She finds a couple of shirts and pants, and a single Jounin vest that's salvageable out of her sensei's closet. She also finds a small wooden box, which is remarkably untouched considering the pieces almost everything else is in. She supposes the extra structure of the closet along with the softness of all the clothes helped to protect it. She doesn't open it, knowing whatever is inside is none of her business. 

Tucking it under an arm, Sakura looks up to find Kakashi sitting in the ruins of what is probably the kitchen, looking at the ground. Whether he sat to look at something or dropped due to exhaustion is unclear. Either way, Sakura has finished with most of the apartment, and she's beginning to tire and run low on chakra. Her head feels much clearer than it did before, the calm motion of digging and retrieving settling her spirit more than any conversation could have.

Walking over to her sensei, Sakura kneels in front of him, and holds out the box she found with both hands, for Kakashi's inspection. He looks up, and Sakura realizes her sensei really hadn't sensed or seen her yet. His eyes lock onto the box, and he takes it carefully from Sakura. The way he cradles it tells Sakura it also contains things which are precious to him.

 

"Sensei, I also found some clothes, a couple weapons, and..."

 

Carefully, she pulls the photographs from her pouch.

 

"These photos from your nightstand. I'm sorry, but there wasn't much else worth saving."

 

 

Kakashi's eyes lock onto the photographs, and his shoulders drop in what Sakura could only describe as relief. She'd never thought of her sensei as sentimental, but she supposes she should have.

 

"If you'd like, I'll put the pictures back in my pouch, to keep them safe for now?"

 

 

Her sensei looks carefully at them, as if they'll disappear into dust at any second. He gives Sakura a brief nod of assent, and she tucks them away carefully. Standing, she offers a hand to Kakashi, and he takes it, so she pulls him to his feet. He looks a little more steady than he did before, box cradled under an arm. She notes with a look his pouch looks full as well, so he'd likely found some things in his apartment he could keep as well. She looks at the sky, and is startled by the lateness. It's the middle of the night at this point. The rebuilding, the missions, the ROOT problems, it all starts tomorrow. Sakura finds suddenly that she's very tired. She could use some rest, and a shower. Shooting a look at her dust covered sensei, Sakura guesses Kakashi does too.

 

"Alright, Sensei, it doesn't look like you can stay here tonight. Let's head to my house."

 

 

Kakashi gives her a tired eye-smile, and ruffles her hair. It's nice. A month ago, Sakura would have been embarrassed or unsure of making such an offer to her sensei, with the exception of that one day where she'd found him at the Memorial Stone. But after a month of one on one training, Sakura finally feels close to her sensei again. The companionship she'd treasured in her past life had started to flicker back to life, and at this point, it was no big deal to suggest to Kakashi that he come with her. His apartment building is rubble, and she's got a standing, working home. It makes sense, and neither of them are uncomfortable for it.

 

Together, they make their way through the dark streets towards Sakura's home. Along the way, Sakura notes the places where houses and complexes have taken damage. The fact that no street lights shine, meaning at least some of the power grid is down as well. The Shinobi districts and areas at the edges of the village are the worst, with civilian areas like the one in which Sakura lives almost untouched.

Orochimaru had definitely hit them where he knew it would hurt the most. The physical damage looks about as serious as it had the last time, perhaps a little worse even. Sakura hopes that with the addition of two Sannin, at least the loss of life is much lessened. Knowing Tsunade, some of the damage can probably be directly attributed to her. The thought is soothing to Sakura. The Sannin are almost unmatched in their power of destruction, although they were renowned for saving lives, and Sakura trusted Tsunade and Jiraiya implicitly.

 

 

Kakashi-sensei and Sakura make it to her house with no incident. Sakura's home, being in the civilian district, still has power and everything. She points Kakashi to a shower and bedroom he can use, and she retreats to her own, washing the sweat and blood and dust off of herself, and collapsing into bed. A quick chakra sense tells her that Shisui is here, still sleeping off his own difficult day. Sakura doesn't manage to have any more thoughts than that as she passes out into a deep sleep.

Chapter Text

Rebuilding efforts begin bright and early the next morning, as Sakura had anticipated. Tsunade has taken an interim seat as Hokage, but it's common knowledge throughout the village that she'll be officially taking the hat as soon as the Third is buried. Sakura and the rest of the available ninja had shown up at the mission office, and been assigned to taskforces. Her job was easy enough: haul away all the rubble from within the village, and take it outside of the village. There are several dumping sites, all handled by craftsmen and a few ninja skilled enough to break down the rubble into something useful.

Sakura doesn't have to worry about what happens to the rubble, however. She only has to cart it. The work is simple, but Sakura manages to turn it into training by utilizing her chakra enhanced strength to carry much heavier loads than an average shinobi. If Sakura had to guess, she'd say that Tsunade placed her on this task because of that very reason. It's a fitting task for her, and she enjoys the look on the higher ranking ninja's faces as she strolls by with carts full of more rubble than an average three man team.

The village is buzzing with activity, and Sakura takes comfort in the lessening amount of rubble in the village. By the end of the day, Sakura and the team with her have cleared the rubble from two buildings, and the first one is already in the process of being rebuilt. She arrives home that evening exhausted, covered in dust, but satisfied. The next few days are much the same. The village begins to take shape again in front of Sakura's eyes. Walls going back up and homes reappearing day by day.

 

 

Tsunade had told her privately that she needn't worry about ROOT or anything else during rebuilding, and that she'd be taking care of it. Sakura had been right about one thing: With Jiraiya and Tsunade near the village for the invasion, the casualties in the Leaf village are minor. The Third Hokage was the preeminent loss on everyone's mind, and Sakura still can't find it within herself to be very sorry about it.

Soon enough, the funeral for the Third Hokage comes and goes, exactly as Sakura remembers it. The whole village takes the day off to mourn their leader. The very next day, Tsunade takes the hat and is sworn in as the Fifth Hokage. Foreign visitors from the Chunin exams go home, leaving Konoha to celebrate their new Hokage and the village rebuilding in peace.

 

 

The day after Tsunade becomes the Hokage, Sakura gets a special summons to the Hokage tower. Arriving, Sakura finds Kurenai, Gai, and Asuma, as well as Kakashi-sensei, along with all of the Genin finalists waiting outside the office door. It's not too difficult for Sakure to discern that this meeting is Chunin exam related.

Greeting her teammates, Sakura stands in front of Kakashi alongside Naruto and Sasuke, and Shizune beckons them all into the office. The teams file in, and the tension and excitement is palpable. They're all quiet, for once, waiting to see what their new Hokage has to say to them.

 

 

Judging by Tsunade's face, she's already had some to drink today, although Sakura suspects that isn't apparent to anyone except for her and Shizune, who's hovering close behind Tsunade. The newly minted Fifth Hokage clears her throat, preparing to speak. The room seems to tremble with excitement, and Sakura suspects that Naruto and Lee are most likely to blame.

 

"You all know why you're here. You're the Chunin exam candidates."

 

 

Tsunade's blunt forwardness is a breath of fresh air to Sakura, a reprieve from the tired political speech she's used to hearing. Just the crossness of Tsunade's 'Hokage voice' nearly brings tears to her eyes. Tsunade continues, not one for dramatic pauses, and Sakura listens intently.

 

 

"You all want to know who passed. I went over the notes the Third left from watching the exam. I also heard from Jounin and Chunin from around the village about your individual contributions to the fight against the invasion. Based on that evidence, I have reason to promote some of you to the rank of Chunin."

 

 

The room holds their breath, each of them wanting to hear their Hokage call their name. Tsunade cocks an eyebrow at them all, clearly amused by their eagerness.

"Shino Aburame, the Third noted your excellent strategic and battle skills in the exams. Congratulations, you've been promoted to Chunin."

 

 

Naruto gives a whoop in support of Shino, and Sakura smiles happily for the boy as he takes the vest from Tsunade, giving a nod, before returning to Kurenai's side. When Shino steps back into line, Tsunade starts again.

"Sakura Haruno, the Third noted that your fight was impressive, and I received recommendations from multiple Chunin about your conduct during the invasion. Congratulations, you've been promoted to Chunin."

 

 

Sakura steps forward, and takes the vest that Tsunade offers out. She's surprised, a little. Sure, she knows she's made Jounin once before, but at some point, Sakura had fallen back into the habit of being underestimated, so to hear Tsunade call her name sparks a reminder that some people do see her, see Sakura and her potential, and believe in her.

As she returns to her team, Naruto meets her eyes and gives her a huge thumbs up, which she returns. As she steps back into place, Tsunade begins to speak again, like before.

 

 

"The rest of you, good attempt, and you can try again at the next exams in six months. On behalf of the village, I thank you all for your participation in the exams, and your individual roles in helping to stop the invasion. Y-"

 

 

Naruto interrupts Tsunade, and Sakura only sighs. She'd hoped the lack of interruption so far was a sign of Naruto's maturity, but she should have guessed her orange-clad teammate would have to get the last word.

"Grandma Tsunade! Why didn't ya make me a Chunin! I'm super powerful, ya know!"

 

 

Tsunade stands, and yells back,

"You aren't ready for it yet, brat!"

 

 

Naruto looks very much like he'd like to argue, but Sasuke puts a hand on Naruto's shoulder, and Naruto stops, although he does cross his arms grumpily. Tsunade huffs, and sits back down.

"AS I was saying: you are all dismissed, with the exception of Kurenai. Get out of my office."

 

 

They do so in short order, and the moment they're out of the tower, Ino runs up to Sakura and hugs her, squealing

"Congratulations, Sakura!! We should all celebrate!"

 

Ino turns to look at Shino, who's standing awkwardly at the side of the group.

"You too Shino! Congratulations!"

 

 

Shino ducks his head in acceptance of the compliment. Rock Lee and Naruto immediately agree to join in the celebration, and Ino somehow manages to plan an entire party in the span of a minute or so. She tells Lee to tell Tenten, and Shino to tell Hinata, saying she'll grab Choji and meet them all at the Barbecue restaurant that Team 6 frequents. Amazingly, Ino even manages to get the sensei to agree to come, telling Asuma in a not so subtle way he should be the one to invite Kurenai when she finished speaking to the Hokage.

Neji scowls at all of them, and stalks off, clearly enraged. Sakura thinks she may have been the only one that noticed, and should maybe say something, but she sees Guy Sensei looking wistfully after his student, so she stays silent.

 

Less than an hour later, they all meet up at the Barbecue place Ino suggested, with the notable exception of Neji. They then proceed to have a loud celebration of Shino and Sakura's advancement to Chunin. They also use the opportunity to describe their individual feats during the invasion. Unlike her previous life, all the Rookies had managed to break the genjutsu and had helped the village in some way, which makes Sakura so proud of all of her friends.

Choji and Hinata had evidently evacuated several streets of civilians to safety. Shino quietly mentions that he had taken down an entire squad of Jounin alongside his father. Ino dramatically describes a fight with herself and Shikamaru where they had fought Temari and Kankuro to help Sasuke and Naruto get to Gaara. Lee describes in great detail how he and Tenten had saved Neji and some others in the infirmary by defending it from a Sand ninja. Sakura manages to talk her way around it for the most part, mentioning mostly her use of medical chakra on Itachi and Shisui, and glossing over everything else.

The laughing and talking and joking warms Sakura's heart and she enjoys the party immensely.

 

There's a moment, about halfway through, where Kurenai gets up, congratulates Shino and Sakura, and then leaves. At that moment, they all remember Kiba somberly, and the mood dies for a moment. Ino, who Sakura continues to be grateful for every day, reads the room, and holds a toast to Kiba's memory, which they all do, including the sensei. No alcohol is drank by the Genin, as they're all underage, but they toast all the same. After they toast their fallen comrade, Asuma slips out, with an admirable attempt at being subtle as he goes after Kurenai.

Eventually, the mood lifts again, and they're talking about their new Hokage, and the rebuilding efforts. Overall, the celebration is a resounding success, and all the Rookies leave the restaurant happy and full.

 

 

When Sakura arrives home, she gets a second round of congratulations from Itachi and Shisui, who are having post mission tea together when she arrives to tell them the news. Altogether, it's a wonderful day, and Sakura feels herself letting her guard down, just a little.

Things might start to be okay, now. At the very least, Sakura is looking forward to not having the weight of the world on her shoulders for a little while longer. Knowing Tsunade is here, and is on her side is immeasurably relieving to Sakura. The village is rebuilding, her people are safe for now, and things are looking up. Sakura should have known it wouldn't last.

 

 

 

Sakura is woken just after dawn by an Anbu in her window, giving her an urgent summons to the Hokage tower. Sakura can't imagine what it's for, but you don't get a summons from an Anbu unless its urgent, and immediate. The appearing in her window instead of using the door also gives no little amounts of alarm to Sakura. So Sakura wipes the sleep from her eyes and starts running for the tower, trailing the Anbu who'd appeared to summon her. She makes record time to the Hokage's office, and she slips in the window instead of bothering to get to the door. Sliding the window down behind her, she hears Tsunade snort,

 

"You're definitely Hatake's student. Haven't you ever heard of a door?"

 

Sakura knows Tsunade is trying to defuse tension, which in turn actually makes her more anxious. She sidles around to the front of the front of the Hokage's desk, noting the presence of the gate guards, as well as Tenten in the room. Maybe she's interrupting another meeting.

 

"Sorry, Lady Tsunade, I thought the summon was urgent. I hope I'm not interrupting."

 

 

Tsunade waves her off with a hand,

"Nonsense, the call was urgent, and here's the emergency. Tenten, tell her."

 

 

Sakura turns her attention to the older girl, and notices for the first time her eyes are red rimmed, and she looks shaken. Still, she nods at the command,

"Last night, after we left the restaurant, I went to go find Neji. And... well... He was trying to sneak out of the village, so I confronted him. I asked him why and where he was even going but he just got angrier. I tried to stop him, but he surprised me and knocked me out..."

 

Sakura's jaw drops open. Tenten looks so embarrassed at her inability to stop Neji, but she also looks a little broken around the edges.

 

No. Not this.

 

One of the gate guards, Kotetsu, says they'd found Tenten laying in the street on their way to start guard this morning. The sinking feeling in Sakura's stomach turns into a pit, and she turns back to the Hokage.

 

Quietly, she asks,

"Why did you summon me, Lady Hokage?"

 

 

Tsunade fixes her with a stare, intertwining her hands and resting her chin on them.

"You are to lead a rescue mission for Neji Hyuga, beginning as soon as possible."

 

 

Sakura short circuits a little bit.

"Me? Why?"

 

 

Looking a little more cross, Tsunade snaps at her,

"I can't spare any Jounin right now, we need to present a strong front to the other villages. You're a Chunin. So, you're assigned the mission. You three, out of my office while I discuss details."

 

 

Izumo, Kotetsu, and Tenten leave the office, and the second the door shuts, Tsunade continues.

"Did this happen 'before' and was it important? It's exceedingly rare for a Genin to leave the village."

 

 

Sakura sighs, and nods.

"It happened before. Well, not exactly. Last time, it was Sasuke who left. Orochimaru offered him power, and he accepted. The Sound village four kidnapped him once he left the village. It ended in Orochimaru trying to take his body for his Sharingan, and I didn't see Sasuke for two years afterwards."

 

 

Grabbing a bottle of sake out of her desk, Tsunade starts drinking.

"Do you think that's what happened to the Hyuga boy?"

 

 

Sakura doesn't have to think long. If Orochimaru couldn't get a Sharingan, it'd make sense for him to want another of Konoha's powerful eyes. Bitter, angry Neji would make an excellent target. The question is how. How had Orochimaru gotten to Neji? And when? Does Neji have a curse mark? She recalls suddenly, being in front of the burning building, trying to heal everyone she could, and Neji staring at her like he'd kill her if she tried. 

 

Oh, Kami. He may have a curse mark and everything.

 

 

"Yes, Lady Tsunade. I think Neji has gone to join Orochimaru."

 

 

The new Hokage takes a large swig out of the sake bottle.

"You better get to it then, Haruno. Take as many Genin as you need but leave right away. You can't fail, not when you already know the cost if you do."

 

 

She nods, mind racing. Before Tsunade can dismiss her, Sakura practically runs out of the office, prepared to grab her friends. She remembers that last time almost all of the members of the rescue squad had come close to death. Sakura hopes that she can grab a few extra Genin, hopes that it will reduce the chances of death. She sees Tenten, just outside the Hokage tower, and calls to her.

 

"Tenten, you're on mission, grab your stuff and meet me at the gates in half an hour. Grab any other Genin you see."

 

Tenten looks surprised to be asked, but nods immediately and takes off. Sakura heads the opposite direction, hoping to find at least one Genin in particular.

 

 

Leaping into the Nara compound, Sakura decides not to bother with pounding on the door and waiting for Shikaku or Yoshino to answer. She only gave Tenten half an hour to meet her, and time is passing quickly. She wants to leave the village. Every second they waste, the farther away Neji is. So she leaps through Shikamaru's window, and starts shaking him.

 

"Shika, wake up! Now!"

 

He groans, and rolls over, looking warily at her.

"Emergency rescue mission. Meet me at the front gate in twenty minutes."

 

Shikamaru's eyes snap open, and as Sakura leaps back out through his window she yells,

"Hurry it up, Nara!"

 

She thinks she hears a faint 'what a drag' follow her out the window.

 

 

 

Her next stop is the Yamanaka flower shop, and she sees Ino, and calls to her immediately.

"Ino! Emergency rescue mission, meet me at the front gates in ten minutes!"

 

Ino's eyes widen, and she salutes Sakura and starts frantically grabbing things. Sakura doesn't have time to waste to watch her friend, so she leaves.

 

 

 

She swings through the busiest part of the market on her way back to the gates, hoping to bump into at least one more Genin. She finds herself in luck when she spies Naruto hanging out with Choji. Leaping down from the rooftop and interrupting what appears to be a passionate discussion about potato chip brands.

 

"Naruto, Choji, emergency rescue mission, meet me at the front gates right now."

 

Choji immediately sweeps an entire row of chips into his arms and heads to the checkout. Naruto starts shouting questions at Sakura, but she's already headed to the gate.

 

 

 

 

 

She makes it to the gate with a minute to spare. Tenten is waiting for her, Lee in tow, and also, surprisingly, Hinata. The Hyuga stands straighter suddenly, stuttering,

 

"I-I heard about Neji. We may not be c-close but I w-want to bring him b-back."

 

Sakura only nods at her. She understands completely what it's like to want to bring your family home. Within the span of a minute, Shikamaru, Ino, Choji, and Naruto show.

 

That's everyone. Well, everyone except Sasuke that is. No time to get him now.

 

Standing tall in front of her friends, Sakura finds them already paying attention to her. Being a Chunin is weird. This never would have happened to her before. The trust her friends are showing in her to lead... Sakura shakes it off, the mission is most important right now.

 

"Neji has been kidnapped by Orochimaru. We're going to bring him back."

Chapter Text

Sakura starts the mission immediately, filling in what she knows to her team as they start making their way in the right direction. She's banking on the fact that she knows somewhat the path the Sound Village Four took in her previous life. Sakura has Hinata running point alongside her, using her Byakugan sparingly to preserve chakra, hoping to find a solid trail of the people that they're pursuing. Pushing as fast as they can, the Genin under Sakura's command all look varying levels of concerned. But she can't deal with that right now. Sakura throws herself into her memories, trying to remember everything she's ever heard about the Sound Village Four. In Sakura's past life, Naruto hadn't been able to tell her much, as he'd gone on his training trip with Jiraiya directly afterwards.

The only information she has is a brief conversation she'd had with Shikamaru. He hadn't said much, that day. Choji and Neji had almost died, and Shikamaru hadn't wanted to talk about it much. If Sakura is totally honest with herself, she hadn't really cared to know back then, either. Back then, it was all about Sasuke, and what happened to Sasuke and why couldn't they bring him back. She could not have cared less about the people who took him. Oh, how she regrets that now.

So Sakura only knows the basics, and she doesn't hold out hope that the situation will go similarly this time. She recalls that there were actually five, not four. The original four being some huge guy that had nearly killed Choji, a spiderlike ninja who had nearly killed Neji, a girl who played the flute who Shikamaru had fought with Temari, and a set of twins sharing a body that Kiba and Akamaru had fought. The mysterious fifth that Lee had ended up fighting was someone called Kimimaro, with a unique bloodline. Sakura cannot remember, no matter how much she digs into her memory, what the bloodline was.

 

 

 

Doing mental headcounts and balancing strengths and weaknesses of all the Genin with her, Sakura starts running scenarios through her head, trying to figure out the best solution, if there is any.
Suddenly, Sakura feels the weight of every Genin beside and behind her. Their lives, all of their lives, are in her hands. Her decisions, her battle strategy against Jounin outside of most of their skill levels, will directly lead to life or death for her comrades. She runs battle strategies through her head, faster and faster, trying to find if there's even an ideal situation, and if so, what it is. Panic starts to creep into the edge of Sakura's vision, and she viciously shoves it down. She can't afford weaknesses. Remembering Kiba, who should have been here, should have been on this mission, Akamaru at his side, is proof enough.

 

At that moment, Hinata signals that she's found the chakra trail, and the group picks up even more speed, showing the desperation of the group to get one of their own back. Neji isn't particularly loved by any in this group, not yet anyway. Of all of them, Sakura is the only one who knows the brave and kind person that Neji grows into. Still, even with the negativity that Neji has sown thus far, the tension and and strong desire to bring him back home, safe, is felt and shared easily. Sakura imagines that Kiba is the one that's tied them together like this. They've lost one of their own before, they've seen the hurt and devastation that losing a single Genin can cause, and none of them want to repeat it. Even if Neji is being, well, Neji, right now.

 

Within moments, they spot the group ahead. Sakura supposes they either thought no one would miss Neji, or that they wouldn't have been able to tell which way they had gone, because the Sound Village Four aren't making any particular effort at speed, which is why the Leaf have caught up so quickly. Her stomach churns, and Sakura tries her best to focus. No more time for long planning, it's the time to act, and Sakura intends to bring every single Genin home, whole. Sakura spots each of the Sound Village Four, and the larger one seems to be carrying a barrel of some sort on his back. Signing at Hinata as they run, Sakura asks,

 

Is Neji inside that barrel?

 

 

Hinata looks at her, pale purple eyes wide, and simply nods. Sakura would swear, except she's trying to keep quiet as they get closer. One of them, Sakura isn't sure which, must somehow notice their presence, because the Sound Ninja pick up speed suddenly. Sakura sees the barrel get tossed into the air, and her heart leaps into her throat.

 

Are they abandoning Neji?

 

 

Another member catches the barrel though, and Sakura feels a brief flare of disappointment. The big guy turns around, facing the Leaf, and stops running, while the rest continue. He has a calm smirk on his face that sets Sakura on edge immediately.

 

Did this happen last time?

 

She supposes it doesn't matter how it happened last time. It only matters how she does it this time.

 

She makes a hand signal for a battle formation, and the Leaf Genin land in a semi-circle around the large Sound ninja. Sakura notes the grounding way that the enemy carries himself, and decides he's likely an earth type jutsu user. He crosses his arms, eyeing them like he's just received a wonderful present, not at all like he's facing down eight enemies. Sakura can feel the eyes of all of her teammates boring into her, but she waits for the enemy to make the first move. It would be foolish to do otherwise. Without a single move by him, Sakura has no certain way of guessing his capabilities, and thus no idea who to pit against him. As if he senses he will need to make the first move, the enemy speaks,

 

"What a wonderful meal the Leaf has sent me. I'll be sure to savor all this chakra before I make it back to the group."

 

He licks his lips, as if eyeing their chakra.

 

 

Well, that's not disturbing at all.

 

 

The enemy starts making hand signs, and at a single one from Sakura, her group scatters, narrowly missing a giant dome that grows out of the ground.

 

 

He must absorb chakra somehow and needs to trap us..

 

 

That counts Naruto out as a potential opponent for sure. With his massive chakra stores and general inability to have a solid strategy, there's no way Sakura can leave her teammate to fight this ninja.

 

"I'll just have to make sure you all can't walk before I get my meal!"

 

That's all the warning they get before the enemy starts lobbing enormous boulders at the Leaf nin. Sakura jumps to the side. She needs to make her decision, and make it NOW.

 

If Choji could take him before...

 

She can't leave Choji alone, though. Last time he'd almost died. Sakura can't afford to take that risk again. As a short distance ninja, Choji is going to need someone mid or long range. It's clear who it needs to be, but Sakura hates doing it, worried as she is about failing. She has to, though. If Sakura herself stays behind for every fight, they'll never save Neji in time. Already hating herself, Sakura calls out,

 

 

"Choji, Shikamaru, handle this! Catch up with us after!"

 

 

Shikamaru gives her a lazy salute from across the field, and Sakura forces herself to take a mental snapshot of her friend. The lazy yet confident way he's holding himself, his hair pulled back into a ponytail, looking like everything in the world is too bothersome to be dealt with. Sakura can't see Choji at the moment, but she has to trust that Shikamaru will take care of him, and strategize a way to keep them both safe. She'll see them again. She has to see them again.

 

There's no guarantee that they'll both be in good enough shape to catch up, but the whole group needs the hope that they can, and Sakura makes for the trees, the remaining Genin following her. Naruto is making some sort of argument about how they're running away from a battle, but Ino seems to have it well in hand, already yelling at Naruto about it. Which is good, Sakura isn't sure she can spare the brain power to argue with Naruto, not when she's already so torn up herself about leaving Shikamaru and Choji behind. She realizes as they begin to catch up with the remaining Sound ninja that Sakura is following the same strategy Shikamaru had, in the past. She can't help but crack a half smile. Even though she's had years of experience, when push comes to shove, she still finds herself using the Nara's strategies and strategic style more often than not. Sakura may be Shikamaru's match on the Shogi board, but in battle, she still finds herself trying to do things the way he would.

 

With the enemy closing in on their sights again, Sakura considers that they may all break off one by one, and perhaps that's what they'd done last time. She had always assumed they'd been trained to work in a squad of three or four, like Leaf ninja are, but it seems that the Sound ninja either haven't trained that way or don't like each other enough to battle as a group. Even with all the Genin she'd brought, Sakura doubts they'd have been able to take on all Four at once, if they worked together. She counts her blessings that so far they have not. Just as before, when the Leaf ninja begin to draw close, a member of the Four split off and turn to face them.

 

 

Their next foe looks a little bit like Iruka sensei, except that he has six arms, instead of two. He also has a haughty look on his face, as if all of them are merely insects, trash to be observed. Sakura wants to wipe it off personally, but she knows she can't. Before Sakura can even signal for formation, the enemy nin opens his mouth and spits what Sakura can only describe as spiderlike thread at all of them. Sakura and Hinata, being in front, manage to dodge out of the way. Ino and Naruto aren't so lucky, and they get hit full force by the fluid. It seems to stick them to the trees they were leaping from. Ino looks absolutely disgusted at this turn of events, and Sakura can't blame her. She would feel the same way in Ino's place. At least, because Ino looks only disgusted, Sakura can rule that the fluid is not poisonous.

 

Lee and Tenten manage to avoid all of the fluid, and are hacking away at the bonds tying Naruto and Ino to the trees, and Lee shouts,

"It's not cutting through!"

 

 

Sakura, who's keeping one eye on the enemy, who is watching them struggle with undisguised joy on his face, yells back,

"What?!"

 

 

The enemy smirks at Sakura, and it's such an insufferably smug look.

"My special jutsu can't be simply cut through. You all are beneath me. Simple pawns in a much larger game."

 

 

Sakura considers for a moment, trying to think through a solution.

What had worked last time? Why did Neji end up fighting him?

 

 

Before she can think through a solution fully, while still looking at the enemy in case he makes a further move, Naruto calls out,

"Nice one Hinata!"

 

 

Turning her face for a quick moment, Sakura sees that Naruto and Ino are now freed, and Hinata's Byakugan is active.

 

Of course. The fluid must be chakra activated in some way, and Hinata's Byakugan can see through it.

 

Sakura can't leave the Hyuga heir alone to deal with this, terrible and smug monster. Who should she leave with Hinata? Who can Sakura afford to leave with Hinata, in this fight? Certainly not Lee, who's too headstrong to listen to anything Hinata would say, he'd steamroll her. Sakura dodges another blast of fluid. If weapons won't cut through it, Tenten isn't a good choice either. Sakura's thoughts are interrupted by the enemy taunting them as he continues to spew that disgusting fluid at them all.

 

"Ah, but they couldn't even be bothered to send a man. Only two boys and little pathetic ladies."

 

 

Sakura no longer has to make the decision herself, as this basic taunt causes Ino to fly into a rage, launching herself at the enemy.

"You're going to pay for that, you good for nothing-"

 

 

Ino continues to yell as she throws a punch which the enemy blocks, sending Ino into a controlled roll. Sakura knows there's absolutely no use trying to bring Ino along once someone has insulted her femininity. Her decision is made for her.

"Hinata, Ino, you've got this! Join us after!"

 

 

Ino doesn't bother with any sort of reply since she started screaming profanity and throwing punches at a faster rate than Sakura thought her friend could manage. Hinata looks nervous, but gives Sakura a nod. Sakura feels her heart clench at the look on the Hyuga's face. Hinata is trusting Sakura with her life. Neji had beaten this guy in a past life... But Neji was the genius of the Rookie twelve, as they'd come to be called.

Starting the sprint after the Sound ninja ahead, Sakura can't get Hinata out of her mind. The timid, often nervous girl, up against someone that spiteful and powerful... Sakura hopes she hasn't made a mistake.

She's doing such a terrible job at hiding her anxiety at leaving Hinata that Naruto himself joins her at the front.

 

"Don't worry about Hinata, Sakura! We just have to believe in her, ya know! She and Ino can take that guy down."

 

 

Oh Naruto, your faith has no bounds.

 

 

Giving her bright teammate a nod, Sakura forces her worries about Ino and Hinata down. If Naruto can believe in them, she can too. She will believe in them. Besides, being distracted by who she's left behind will only hinder them as they go ahead. It's at this point, where Sakura's hopes start to fall apart, because just in front of them are both of the remaining enemy, and the barrel containing Neji is nowhere in sight. There's only four Leaf ninja left, so Sakura either has to spend time fighting this two and hoping they can still catch up with Neji, or she has to leave one or more of her teammates to fight alone with a member of the Sound Village Four. Both sound like terrible options to Sakura. It occurs to her that they may have wanted her to make this exact choice by both staying behind at once, leaving Neji free to finish making his way to Orochimaru.

 

The stand off begins, with neither group saying a word, just looking at each other. Or more accurately, all of the ninja looking at Sakura, waiting to see what she'll do.

 

 

Looking quickly at Naruto, Lee, and Tenten, Sakura makes the decision to trust her teammates. That's what Naruto had just said, right? That Sakura needed to have more faith in her teammates. Well, that was going to be tested right here and now. There's only one teammate she can trust to fight off two heads at once, she realizes. The presence of two people in the same body doubles the ability to see the field and make decisions, so they're likely extremely good strategically. Only one thing can beat superior strategy. Sheer dumb luck. But who to send after the girl that plays the flute? She recalls Shikamaru needing help from Temari, so she must be long ranged, which is Shika's weakness, Sakura knows. Between Lee, Tenten, and herself, there's an obvious choice for long range battling.

 

Decision made, Sakura only has to call it out, and then the final stretch will begin. The two enemy are eyeing their group with a slight bit of caution now, and Sakura supposes they've realized at this point that the Leaf aren't to be messed with, even their Genin. She makes the call.

 

"Naruto, take the twins. Tenten, take the girl."

 

 

The remaining Sound ninja make an attempt to block Sakura and Lee from going after Neji, but a literal storm of Kunai stops them from pursuing them. Tenten yells,

 

"You got it!"

 

Just as Naruto yells,

"Alright! Let's do it, ya know!"

 

 

Sakura is pretty sure she knows what awaits her and Lee in the next field, and she also knows what she needs to do. There's no more room for fear. Sakura realizes with a slight start she hadn't told Tsunade to call for the Sand siblings, and the crushing wave of fear that follows almost overwhelms her, but she quenches it. She can be afraid later. For now, Sakura has to be the leader, has to be fearless. Sure enough, her fears are realized when she and Lee enter a large clearing to see a slightly disoriented looking Neji, and Kimimaro, a terrifying and pale ninja, who stares blankly in their direction.

 

 

Lee sees Neji a second after she does, and calls out,

"Neji! We have found you, help us fight and we will return home to the Leaf together!"

 

 

Neji, who still looks slightly dizzy, manages to scoff across the field at Lee. Then he breaks into a sprint and starts running away from Lee and Sakura. Sakura had fully expected this turn of events. If the startled gasp that comes out of Lee's mouth is anything to go by, the boy had not been expecting Neji to turn down his offer. Sensing the internal struggle of Lee next to her, Sakura places a hand on his shoulder.

 

 

"Beat the crap out of him Lee, and bring him home. I've got this."

 

 

To his credit, and Sakura's eternal relief, Lee doesn't make some statement about how it would be unchivalrous for him to leave her to fight an enemy alone, or argue with her. He simply straightens, and salutes her.

"I will strive to bring my teammate home, no matter the cost!"

 

 

Sakura swears she sees a sunset behind Lee, and she notices that tears are streaming down his face. A brief glimpse at Kimimaro tells Sakura her enemy is also stunned and confused at the excessive display of emotion.

 

 

Maybe he sees the sunset too?

 

Lee gives her a thumbs up and a dazzling smile that's nearly as blinding as the sun itself, then he takes off after Neji at an insane speed.

 

 

Kimimaro makes no move to stop Lee, and Sakura walks forward, towards her enemy, towards the fight. Part of her is glad she doesn't have to leave anyone else behind. This fight is hers and hers alone, and the only person that can get hurt based on her decisions now is her. Her enemy tilts his head curiously at her, and Sakura likewise sizes him up. Judging by his terribly thin frame, he's seriously ill. So the fact that he's standing here is likely due to a strong personality, and if he is able to put up a fight, which Sakura knows he's more than capable of, his bloodline limit must be insanely powerful. He doesn't make any move to be first, so Sakura takes it upon herself to do so. Launching forward, chakra on her fist, she makes to punch Kimimaro in the face. He raises an arm to block her, and a bone grows out of his arm to protect it.

 

This must be his bloodline limit.

 

Deciding to test its strength, Sakura doesn't change the direction of her punch at all, instead throwing her fist into the bone growth. The the bone cracks, and breaks off, but otherwise stops almost all of her forward momentum. A hand covered in bones comes at her, and Sakura shifts, and ducks under the blow, sweeping a leg under the enemy's feet. He jumps, and throws a blow downward, and Sakura rolls to the side and back up onto her feet to dodge. The bone she broke gets pushed through the skin and falls to the ground, a new one growing in its place.

 

So the bones are breakable, like regular ones, but he has a potentially unlimited amount of them?

 

Sakura's only chance is if she can outlast the opponent. Punches and kicks continue to be traded, and soon enough, the ground becomes littered with bone chunks and shards, making footing more treacherous. At some point, Sakura had given an opening that had allowed Kimimaro to grow literally an entire sword out of bone, which Sakura is now contending with. Block with her fists, throw a punch, dodge a slice, a sweep of her legs, a stab downwards. Pushing off the ground Sakura flips over his head, throwing a kick at the back of his head, which the enemy blocks, sweeping her legs to the side to ruin her landing. She lands on her hand, throwing a flying roundhouse kick as she regains her footing. The crack of another protective bone as it breaks and joins the growing pile on the ground.

No attack Sakura can throw seems to cause actual damage to the man behind the bone armor, and her frustration mounts as they continue to exchange blows silently. It's one of the quietest battles Sakura has ever been a part of. Usually there's some banter amongst friendly fights, and some trash talking or angry yells during an enemy fight. But in this field, it's deadly silent, broken only by grunts of effort, the sound of bones cracking, and the dull thud of fists landing.

Sakura decides a change of strategy is in order. They've been fighting a while now, and Sakura isn't getting the upper hand like she'd hoped for. However ill this enemy ninja is, he's hiding it well, or he has more hidden strength than she'd given credit for. Kimimaro stands tall, not doing more than breathing a little more heavily. If Sakura keeps up at this rate, she's not sure who the victor will be. Seeing the bone sword her enemy continues to use, Sakura decides it might be time to use his own weapons against him. She throws a series of punches that get blocked, and when the retaliation stab comes her way, Sakura doesn't swirl out of the way, and flow into her next blow.

Instead, she steps into it, trapping the blade between her arm and side, hissing as it digs into a rib. With her free arm, she reaches out and snaps the bone off at the base of Kimimaro's hand. He looks slightly surprised but still unhurt. Sakura grabs the blade that's still trapped against her side. She may have taken a slight blow, but now she has a weapon too. Her enemy easily grows another sword, while Sakura applies a little bit of healing ninjutsu to her side, so the bleeding doesn't become too severe.

 

The fight begins again, this time a fight between two swords. Sakura had hoped that this plan might turn out to be more fruitful, but it quickly becomes apparent that Kimimaro is a much better swordsman than she is, and Sakura growls in frustration, dropping the bone she'd scavenged as she narrowly misses yet another blow from her opponent. Sakura's fighting style has always tended a little more towards feral, and Sakura decides perhaps its time to lean into that some more, instead of trying to be good at things that she's not. Drawing her two knives from their sheathes, Sakura goes to work again. Except instead of sword on lesser sword, or sword on shorter fists, its a single bone sword against Sakura's light, chakra enhanced blades.

 

She's able to be much quicker in this way, stabbing viciously in and out with her knives, almost as at ease with them as she is with her own fists at this point, weaving in and out, extending her reach. The downside is that Sakura is unable to break any bones by usage of the knives. On the plus side, with her quick dodging and weaving, Sakura draws her first blood of the fight by stabbing into an opening as she rolls to the right, going under Kimimaro's guard and opening a line of blood across his chest. She grins, allowing a feral fire to enter her style. The blows continue again, harsher this time. Sakura takes a small cut here, deals a glancing slice there.

 

 

After a while, she has to draw back temporarily, breathing heavily. Sakura sees that her opponent is doing the same. They seem fairly evenly matched at this point, and it's beginning to become a problem for Sakura's continued well being. She's panting now, sweat dripping down, getting into the numerous small cuts and wounds she's sustaining. Her chakra is under half, and she knows if she needs to heal anyone, she needs to conserve some chakra. But to win this fight, Sakura thinks she may need to use all of it. That thought scares her a little. Chakra exhausted, not knowing what's happened to any of her team. She's supposed to be in charge, she can't run out of chakra. But keeping the blades sharp and powerful is slowly draining her reserves, and Sakura is getting tired.

Before she can think her way out, Kimamaro comes at her first, swinging. Surprised, Sakura tries to sidestep, but doesn't fully accomplish it, earning her a blow on her already injured side, slicing through muscle and causing her to hiss in pain. Sakura defends herself one-handed while applying a little more healing ninjutsu to her side, trying to keep herself in working condition a while longer. Shifting as quickly as she can back to two hands, she goes on the attack, needing to land a serious attack before she runs out of usable healing chakra levels. A flurry of attacks does next to nothing. A glancing blow to her enemy's cheek. She parries his next blow, but her blood slickened hand loses her grip on her knife, and it goes flying out of her grasp, leaving her with one.

She drops into a roll, trying to get to her knife before Kimimaro can get to her. She's not fast enough, and a stab in her leg causes her to choke as her hand closes around the handle of the knife. It's not a serious wound, but Sakura doesn't know if she can put weight on that leg for the moment. The next stab from the bone blade comes right for her heart, and Sakura blocks it with both of her knives, trying to push the blow away from her heart. Kimimaro leans into it, and the blade drops closer to her heart. Sakura pushes back harder, pushing more chakra into the blades, and desperation starts to color the edges of her vision.

With a strong push, almost emptying her reserves of chakra, she shoves the blade up and rolls to the side. A graze in her shoulder makes her hiss but she's still alive, so Sakura will take it. She forces herself up onto one leg, and as she brandishes her knives, she notices that Kimimaro is no longer paying attention to her. Instead, he seems to be trying to fight off a wall of sand.

 

Sand?

 

 

A gravelly voice speaks behind her,

 

"Are you alright?"

 

 

Gaara, of course...

 

Sakura's heart leaps and sinks in equal measure. She's grateful Tsunade sent help for her. At the same time...

 

 

Why did it have to be Gaara?

 

 

Sakura wishes it was almost anyone else. She hasn't forgiven Gaara for what he did in the Chuunin exams. The wounds are still too fresh. She can't help the bite that comes out at her tone, though it's harsh enough even she flinches at it.

 

"I'm fine. Unlike my friend Kiba."

 

 

Gaara doesn't flinch, but his voice holds a hint of what might be remorse when he speaks again.

 

"I... apologize."

 

 

Sakura can tell from his tone that Naruto had gotten through to him, and Gaara was well on his way to being the thoughtful leader that Sakura knows from the future. All the same, she selfishly doesn't want to forgive Gaara for what he did. Luckily, she doesn't have to answer right away, as Kimimaro pulls off an attack that looks somewhat like a literal FOREST of bones, and Gaara is distracted. Walls of sand combat bones, and Sakura seizes the opportunity to patch her leg to stop the bleeding, and ensure she can stand on it to make an escape if she needs to.

 

Sakura sees a blur of orange, and Naruto lands behind her.

 

"Sakura! Do you need help?"

 

 

Naruto already has his hands in the sign Sakura recognizes as the one her teammate uses to make clones. She finds herself impressed with her teammate, for having taken out a member of the Sound Village Four and gotten here so quickly. Looking at Gaara, who's immersed in an intense bone vs. sand fight, Sakura shakes her head. She can't imagine Kimimaro being able to stand against the One tails Jinchuuriki for long.

 

 

"I think we're good here. Run ahead and help Lee with Neji. I think they're at the Valley of the End."

 

 

Naruto nods and runs off without another word. How he can trust Gaara around one of his teammates after what happened to Kiba astounds Sakura, but then, Naruto has a way of doing that. Believing the best in people, even when others can't see it. He's usually right too, though whether or not he actually sees the good in people or his unflinching faith in others inspires them to change, Sakura isn't quite sure. She can only hope that he can work his magic on Neji, and bring him home. Sakura isn't sure she could handle seeing the same depressed look on Naruto's face again if he failed to bring Neji home. It'd been hard enough to see him after Sasuke, and Sakura had been blinded herself with so many negative emotions she'd hardly the capacity to notice others.

 

Turning her attention back towards the battle in progress, Sakura finds herself just in time, as a bone forest starts sprouting under her feet. Looking up, she sees Gaara has a floating cloud of sand, and is looking at her. Shaking her head in frustration at being forced to be close to the boy, Sakura chakra enhances her feet and leaps to the sandy platform, which clings to her and prevents her from falling. Looking below, the bone forest grows thicker and thicker, and it becomes clear to Sakura that this was a suicidal last move attempt by Kimimaro.

After a moment, the forest stops growing, but no sign of Kimimaro remains. Sakura reaches out her chakra sense carefully, looking for a sign of him, and she almost pitches over at the small usage of chakra required. She's lower on energy and chakra than she thought. She doesn't feel her enemies presence anymore, so she feels safe to sink to her knees on the floating sand platform. Gaara guides his sand to gracefully float over the bone forest, towards where Naruto, Neji, and Lee had gone.

 

The silence between Sakura and Gaara starts to feel deafening, so she breaks it.

"You know, you caused me and my village a lot of pain, killing Kiba in combat like that."

 

 

Gaara doesn't answer right away, but Sakura can tell he isn't ignoring her, maybe thinking his words through carefully. After a brief time, as the sand begins to lower towards the ground and the bone forest ends, he answers her.

"Naruto explained it to me. In my village... We don't care for Genin that way. Life isn't... sacred to us. Naruto taught me...."

 

 

He trails off, unsure what to say, Sakura supposes. How would somebody put into words what Naruto is, though? She doesn't blame the Sand ninja for that much. She sighs.

"Naruto has a way of digging into your heart and staying there."

 

 

The sand deposits Sakura and Gaara gently on the ground, and she struggles to her feet. He looks contemplative, then finally gives a sort of nod. Sakura knows this is supposed to be her chance to be like Naruto, to forgive Gaara for what he did in hopes he'll be a better person. She keeps trying to find the words, the ability to let Kiba go. She can't though. It feels like a betrayal of Kiba, to just let his death go. To forgive and even befriend his killer, the person who had extinguished Kiba's life, and long with it, all the dreams and promises and friendships that the Inuzuka had.

At the same time, Sakura doesn't want to hate Gaara, to see him as a monster forever when she knows very well that he just isn't. Gaara doesn't interrupt her thoughts, just stands awkwardly, like he's waiting for her verdict on him.

 

 

"I-I still don't know if I can forgive you for what happened to Kiba. But, you're not a monster, Gaara. Naruto told me that much, and I believe in Naruto, even if I don't know if I can believe in you, yet. You can change, can be better. I just... I just need some time to accept that. I'm not as good as Naruto is, I'm not sure any of us are. He forgives and believes and moves on. I'll, I'll try and believe like Naruto does."

 

 

Gaara crosses his arms, giving a more definitive nod this time. Sakura lets out a sigh of relief. That will have to be good enough for now. The next pressing thing, is to see if Naruto and Lee managed to stop Neji or not, and then Sakura has to check on the rest of her team. She takes a step, and the world wavers. She is dangerously low on energy and chakra, how didn't she even notice? Sakura notices her chakra knives are still in her hands, still glowing with chakra. Growling at herself, she quenches the chakra flow and tucks them away. Even straightening has her weaving on her feet. Swallowing her pride, she turns to Gaara.

 

"Would you mind, uh, helping me to Lee and Naruto? I need to check on them, and see if Neji is with them."

 

 

She doesn't say anything about going after Neji, isn't sure if she even could if he isn't there. All the same, she knows she would run after Neji, for the same reason she's trying to force herself to forgive Gaara now. Naruto believes in him, and she knows from her past that they can be better, that they live up to her teammate's belief in them. Gaara, for his part, motionlessly commands his sand, and the sand props Sakura up and helps her move as she makes her way towards the Valley of the End, terrified of what she'll find, but hopeful all the same.

 

 

 

It's long and slow work, since Sakura can barely walk, and the Valley isn't exactly right around the corner, but eventually, Sakura and Gaara make it. The Valley looks like a bomb went off. Trees are knocked over, there's huge holes in the ground. It looks like they damaged the giant statues some. But where are they? Sakura looks around for them, desperate for a glance of any of the three of them. Gaara nods his head toward the other side of the river, and Sakura allows his sand to carry her across. On the other side, laying on the ground, are Lee and...

 

Neji!

 

 

Sakura feels like crying. Neji isn't gone, he's right there. Naruto is sitting right next to them, looking beat all to hell, but still conscious. Run stumbling towards them, sand supporting her every move, Sakura makes it over to the three of them, dropping to her knees. Naruto looks at her, and though he looks exhausted, he smiles at her, that bright, incredible smile.

 

"We did it, Sakura. We saved Neji."

 

 

Tearing up, Sakura nods at her teammate. They hadn't failed this time. Hadn't lost a friend to Orochimaru. Neji was here, he was safe. They could all go home.

 

"We did. You did, Naruto. We saved Neji."

 

 

Forgetting herself a little bit, Sakura reaches out for Lee, calling medical chakra to her hands. Best not to heal Neji now, in case he wakes up and tries to make a run for it. The second Sakura touches Lee with her medical chakra, she starts passing out.

 

Oh yeah, out of chakra...

 

 

As her vision blackens around the edges, Sakura falls to the ground, and she spares a thought for the other members of the team. Are they all okay? Will Naruto and Gaara be able to get her and Neji and Lee back to the village? Her consciousness starts to fade, and as it does, Sakura could swear she feels strong hands flipping her over, so that her face isn't planted in the grass, and a booming voice that's fuzzy and yet so familiar saying,

 

"Ah, just what I'd expect from a student of my eternal rival."

 

 

Then Sakura knows no more.

Chapter Text

Sakura wakes up in the Konoha hospital to the bemused face of Shisui looking over at her from a nearby chair.

"You know, just because you're Hatake's student doesn't mean you have to end every mission by ending up in the hospital, petal."

 

Aside from the regular bone weariness that comes from chakra exhaustion, Sakura feels fine. more than well enough to shoot back a tired,

"It's just so much more fun this way, Shisui. You should really try it."

 

He shakes his head exasperatedly, but he's smiling and he ruffles Sakura's hair, so she knows everything is alright.

"What happened to my team? Is everyone okay?"

 

Sakura can only assume everything is fine, since Shisui felt fine enough to joke, and Tsunade wasn't waiting to chew her out. Still, she can't help but ask. Not being in every battle that occurred, ready to heal or save her friends from a tight spot had eaten at Sakura the entire mission. Theoretically Sakura knows this is what leadership is, sometimes. Realistically though, leaving her friends behind, only hoping that they'll be alright... Well, Sakura wants to know they're all okay, that's all.

"They all lived, if that's what you mean. You took way too many Genin to expect me to give you a status report on all of them. A couple of them are here in the hospital, if you want to go see them. Lady Hokage gave you permission, as long as you let me wheel you around in a wheelchair. Your mission report isn't until tomorrow, as Lady Hokage is... dealing, with a problem today."

 

Sakura wants to argue, then realizes arguing with both Shisui and Tsunade is not something she wants to deal with, so instead she just nods.

"That would be great."

 

Sakura insists on getting in the wheelchair herself though. She may be chakra exhausted but she still has some pride. a stumbling step or two, and she collapses in a way that Sakura tries to play off as graceful, into the wheelchair. Once she's settled, Shisui wheels her down the hall, talking cheerfully about some spar he'd had with Itachi recently. Sakura tries to listen, she does, but she's already starting to feel sleepy again and it's taking most of her focus to pretend she's totally awake and fine. She considers that Tsunade may have drugged her to keep her tired long enough to sleep out the worst of the chakra exhaustion, a move Sakura herself has pulled on Kakashi-sensei several times.

 

Stupid chakra exhaustion.

 

All she has to do is stay awake long enough to hear from her team, then she can sleep straight until her mission report tomorrow. She wonders idly who is in the hospital, and hopes it isn't all of them. That some of them were in good enough shape to just go home and sleep it off. Lucky for Sakura, she doesn't have to wait very long. Shisui wheels her into a room just a hallway over from Sakura's own. Inside finds Hinata, sleeping in the hospital bed. She looks relatively uninjured from Sakura's perspective, but with healers like Shizune and Tsunade in the Leaf, even life threatening injuries end up looking like nothing. By her side is Ino, who has fallen asleep in a chair next to the hospital bed. Her arms are crossed on Hinata's bed, and Ino's face rests in them. They look peaceful, and okay, though Ino looks kinda scratched up, and Sakura feels part of herself calm at the sight of them.

Shisui quietly begins wheeling her back out of the room silently, as to not interrupt the girls sleeping. However, the door squeaks when they open it, and before they can escape, Ino's head pops up from where it was laying, and she turns, and smiles tiredly when she sees Sakura. Getting to her feet, the Yamanaka rubs her eyes groggily, and follows Sakura and Shisui out into the hallway. Once the door clicks behind them, Ino heaves a yawn.

"Guess I was more tired than I thought. I'm glad you're awake, Sakura. I heard we did it."

 

Sakura can read Ino like a book, and her subtle plug for more information hasn't gone unnoticed. Smiling back at her friend, Sakura considers telling her everything, then realizes everyone she runs into probably wants to hear about it, and a wave of exhaustion sweeps through her.

"Yeah, we did. I'll tell you all about it at the mission report tomorrow. I just wanted to check and make sure everybody was okay, but somebody-"

Sakura shoots a lighthearted glare at Shisui,

"Wouldn't let me out of my room on my own."

 

Shisui shrugs unashamed, and Sakura knows he's just playing along, since they both know Sakura wouldn't be able to make it on her own, as tired as she is. Winking at Shisui, Sakura turns back to Ino,

"Are you and Hinata okay?"

 

Ino grins fiercely, and Sakura can see the pride in her eyes like a flame, dancing.

"Sure are! Hinata and I took that guy DOWN. You should've seen it, Sakura. Hinata's a total badass, when she wants to be. She takes after me, obviously. She's in the hospital for chakra exhaustion, and we both took a couple of hits."

 

Ino gestures to her shoulder, and Sakura notes that it's bandaged rather heavily.

"The guy had this creepy bow and arrow and he apparently found Hinata's 'blind spot' or something like that, so I took the arrow while Hinata did something super cool with her chakra, and we got him. I couldn't move my arm at first or access my chakra, but Shizune patched me up and said I'm good to go in a couple days, and to go home and sleep."

 

Ino looks behind Sakura, and Sakura guesses Shisui is making some kind of 'way to follow directions' kind of face. The kind Sakura and Itachi always seem to be on the receiving end of. Ino blushes a little, and waves her hand flippantly.

"Okay so I didn't get all the way through the 'go home and sleep' part. I was just worried about Hinata, that's all! I didn't expect I'd be so... Tired. I'll go home now."

 

Sakura finds herself staring softly at Ino, so relieved that her friend is safe and okay, and enjoying the satisfied glow that is emanating from Ino as she relives her victory. Ino gazes at Sakura too, and Sakura wonders if she's thinking the same things. Her eyes swim a little, and she wonders if she teared up, or maybe Ino really is glowing. No, Tsunade definitely put Sakura on something. After a moment, Sakura wonders if Ino is waiting for her to say something. Probably.

"You did great, Ino. Thank you for coming, and for protecting Hinata."

 

Ino winks saucily and flips her hair over her shoulder, a little slower than usual, betraying the Yamanaka's exhaustion, but her smile is real, and so is Sakura's. That's all that matters.

"See you tomorrow, Sakura."

 

With that, Ino heads down a hallway, limping slightly and trying to cover it, and Shisui starts wheeling Sakura down the opposite way. Sakura finds her mind wandering, and she lets it go, feeling warm and mostly content. She thinks about Ino's face, and how much she loves looking at her friend when she's happy, the way Ino seems to shine when she's done something well. Then she starts thinking of Hinata, and the quiet girl becoming her own person far earlier than she ever had in Sakura's past.

She thinks of how glad she is Tsunade is here, her mentor alive and well again. How white the hospital walls are. Sakura finds herself considering how much white paint and bleach the hospital must use each year. She can't remember every asking or knowing the answer to that question, but it seems to Sakura that it's an inquiry worth pursuing. Who paints the hospital? Sakura has never seen it painted, but someone has to for the walls to stay so perfectly white. She hopes they get paid well. The walls are SO white. Sakura has never seen a non white wall in this entire hospital. Then she wonders if anyone ever notices the walls except for her. It's a little sad, she thinks. To be the only person to notice that the walls are always white. Sakura realizes that they're currently in an empty hospital room, and that she's been staring at the white wall for a while now. Snapping herself into the present, she wonders who this room belonged to.

"It's your room, Sakura. You aren't awake enough to keep going yet. Get in bed and take a nap."

Squinting, Sakura tries to remember if Shisui had ever told her he could read minds, and why she'd forgotten it. No, that doesn't make sense. She silently curses Tsunade for whatever drug she's currently on that's making everything so fuzzy. Sakura realizes she must have wondered aloud, and they she wonders how much of her wondering was out loud. She hears a laugh.

"Enough of it, petal."

A hand at her arm guides her out of the wheelchair and into the bed. She'll go see the others in just a minute. She just has to lay down long enough to prove to Shisui she's awake. The bed is so soft though, and everyone is alive, and that means they're mostly okay, and she's so tired. Sakura lets her eyes close.

Just for a minute.

 

 

When she wakes up next, Sakura feels like a person again, with a much clearer mind. The sun is setting outside the window, and Sakura has no idea what day it is. Or rather, what night it is. Shisui is gone, and the room is empty of other people to ask. She feels so much better, now that she's off whatever Tsunade dosed her with, and with a good deal of her energy back. The only logical thing to do of course is just to go find the rest of her team and see how they're doing. The only problem is, Sakura doesn't exactly know where they are. That problem is solved easily enough, she'll just ask a nurse. Course of action decided, Sakura finds her clothes, changes out of her hospital gown, and leaves her room. Finding the way to the nurse's station is easy enough, and a charge nurse is sitting behind the desk. Sakura puts on a professional, concerned smile, and walks up to the desk.

"Hello, my name is Sakura Haruno, I'm here to check in on the Genin from my mission. I was informed some of them are here in the hospital?"

 

The nurse doesn't even give her a second glance, just pulls up a chart and flips the pages around for a moment.

"Hyuga Hinata, 308. Lee Rock, 325. Nara Shikamaru, 212."

 

Sakura inclines her head.

"Thank you very much."

 

The nurse doesn't bother to respond, just goes back to whatever paperwork she was busy with before Sakura arrived. Looking up at the sign above the hall, Sakura sees that she's already on the third floor, and the closest room is Lee's. The person she's most worried about is by far Shikamaru, as his room is on the Intensive Care floor of the hospital. None of her friends are in the Emergency floor or the Surgical floor, so that's at least a good sign. Her slow, measured pace still gets her to Lee's door in a short amount of time. Knocking, Sakura carefully slides the door open and enters. Lee is awake, and straightens as he sees her. Tenten is perched on the bed next to him, and she throws Sakura a friendly salute.

"Hi, you two. How are you both doing?"

 

Lee speaks first, unsurprisingly.

"Sakura! I am glad you have come to see me! I am doing well!"

 

Tenten reaches over and slaps Lee upside the head.

"Lee! You are not doing well! Shizune said you cracked every single rib, your leg is broken so badly that even after the healers were done you still need a cast, and you broke both of your hands at least that badly! How is that good, you numbskull?!"

 

Lee looks at Tenten and smiles brightly.

"My injuries do not matter, Tenten! We brought our teammate home, how can I not be well!"

 

Tenten huffs and shakes her head, but Sakura can see the shadow of a smile on her face. The older girl turns to Sakura,

"Unlike Lee here, I'm actually physically well. Temari of the Sand showed up to help me, and between her fan and my weapons, that Sound ninja didn't stand a chance! It was so cool!"

 

Sakura sees the passion on Tenten's face, and she has to hide a smile of her own. If Guy's team has anything in common, it's their passion for what they do. Lee's injuries do sound pretty intense. But then again, it IS Lee, and none of those are long term or life threatening. Better than she'd expected Neji to treat Lee, that's for sure.

"Tenten, Lee. I'm so glad you're both okay. I've actually just been released from my own hospital room, can either of you tell me what happened after all the fighting?"

 

Lee looks heartbroken.

"I am sorry, Sakura. I cannot tell you what happened, as I was unconscious. I was fighting Neji, and it was a youthful fight of rivalry! I was beginning to fall behind to Neji's genius..."

 

The boy actually looks away for a moment, and a flash of what looks like jealousy passes like a shadow over his face, but it passes quickly, and he continues.

"Naruto showed up to assist in our youthful display, and the second half of our battle began! Unfortunately, soon after, Neji knocked me out with his formidable Gentle Fist. I do not know any more.. I apologize."

 

He continues to look away from both Tenten and Sakura, looking honestly ashamed that Neji beat him in a fight.

Sakura approaches the bed and places a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"It sounds like you did your best Lee, and we brought him home. We couldn't have done it without you."

 

Lee's eyes shoot to Sakura's face, full of hope, but also slightly guarded, as if he's expecting Sakura to laugh at him and tell him that it was a joke. That his best wasn't good enough. Sakura used to see that face on Naruto, and she'd always hated it, and she hates it now. Hates what it represents. That at some point, Lee was treated badly enough that his base expectation is that people will laugh at him for giving his best, and Sakura hates it.

"It's true, Lee. Everyone was tied up in battles, and you kept Neji busy until you had backup. None of us won a fight on our own. That's why we fight in teams, so we have backup. You did great."

 

Sakura doesn't remove her hand from Lee's shoulder, even when he starts to tear up. She startles as a booming voice comes from behind her.

"She's right, Lee! Youthful Flames always grows Stronger with Friendship!"

 

Lee bursts into full tears at this, and Tenten calls happily,

"Guy Sensei!"

 

Sakura releases Lee, who's still crying, and turns to see Guy Sensei, who is also inexplicably crying, standing in the doorway. She finds herself glad to see him as well, as he will likely know what happened to Neji afterwards. Sakura and Tenten wait for Guy and Lee to stop crying and saying each other's names, which takes a minute. Tenten looks used to it, though, so Sakura doesn't let it bother her. After they've both finished, Sakura braves the new silence.

"Guy-sensei, would you mind telling me what you know about the end of the mission?"

 

Guy gives her a bright smile and booms happily. Sakura wonders if he ever manages quiet.

"Of course! It makes sense, since I was there at the end of the battle!"

 

Sakura realizes she hadn't imagined being turned over after she'd collapsed.

 

"I arrived home from a mission, and was informed by Lady Hokage that my student, Neji, had left the village! Of course I followed, though I worried I would be too late! All along the way, I could see evidence of Youthful Battles taking place! When I arrived at the Valley of the End, I feared the worst! Young Naruto was there, along with Gaara of the Sand and they explained the battle to me. I was so Proud to learn that my own protege, Lee, had taken Neji practically on his own in a Youthful Blaze! After I determined that the students were all alive and in no danger, I personally carried both Lee and Neji back to the village! The young Sand ninja helped you, Sakura, and Naruto. We made it back to the village in record time. When we arrived, Lady Hokage took Neji into protective custody, and her apprentice Shizune took over your healthcare, Lee!"

 

Guy Sensei gives Lee a thumbs up, and then they're both crying again, which Tenten rolls her eyes at and Sakura politely ignores. It went about as Sakura had thought, then. Neji is in protective custody, with Tsunade looking out for him. She wonders what will happen to the Hyuga. She spares a brief thought at what would've happened to Sasuke if they'd managed to bring him back, back in the day. Looking around, Sakura realizes she's the odd man out, and decides to leave Team Guy in peace. Giving Tenten a nod, which she returns, Sakura heads to the door and slips out, ready to go find Shikamaru.

 

 

When Sakura enters Shikamaru's room, the last thing she expects is for him to be awake and sitting on his bed, as if he isn't in a unit where most patients are seriously ill or unconscious. His arms are behind his head, and he looks incredibly bored. Bored is good, and Sakura is grateful for it. She does wonder, though, why he's in Intensive Care, if he appears to be just fine. There's no one sitting beside Shikamaru's bed, which makes sense, as they usually don't allow too many visitors on this floor. Shikamaru knows she's here, probably marked it as her the second she entered the room, but he's pretending he hasn't noticed her yet, waiting for her to make the first move. Just to mess with him a little bit, Sakura doesn't say anything for a second. Waits until his forehead creases in thought before breaking the silence.

"Hey Shika. How are you doing?"

 

Shikamaru looks at her fully, raises his eyebrow, and then points to his chart at the foot of his bed.

 

Lazy..

 

Sakura thinks fondly, and picks up the chart at the end of her friend's bed. Reading it makes all the blood drain from her face, and she almost drops the clipboard out of shock. Word stick out to her, words like, major throat trauma, vocal cords damaged, collapsed lung, chakra exhaustion. She also notes in the chart that Tsunade hasn't been in personally to see him yet. She suddenly feels like a jerk for expecting her friend to speak to her. Dropping the clipboard like it's on fire, Sakura looks up to find Shikamaru looking steadily at her. He shrugs, and starts signing. It takes a while, because while every Leaf ninja is taught the same basic battle terms and fingerspelling, individual squads tend to work out their own hand signs for everything else, so Shikamaru ends up having to fingerspell almost everything.

 

"Couldn't hold my shadow possession long enough. Took a blow for Choji. He's fine. Success?"

 

Unable to touch his hands or risk stopping his ability to communicate, Sakura settles for resting a hand on his leg. She assumes Choji brought Shikamaru back here, and that's why Shikamaru is even slightly okay now. He's still looking at her, waiting to hear if their mission was successful or not. Sakura can at least give him that.

"We succeeded. We got Neji home. He's in protective custody right now. Everyone made it out mostly okay. You're hurt the worst. Lee took a major beatdown, but, it's Lee. So he's fine. Everyone else is just tired. Shikamaru, your voice..."

 

Shikamaru shrugs as if he doesn't care, but Sakura knows he does. Knows her friend always pretends things don't bother him and stuffs it all down inside. He signs, with painstakingly steady fingers,

"Medics want Hokage to look at. Say she's the best."

 

Sakura nods, and Shikamaru hides the tiny flash of worry that crosses his face. She wishes she wasn't chakra exhausted so she could help her friend. Then she considers for a moment. Maybe there is one thing she can do to help, at least to ease her friend's mind.

"Shika, I don't have enough chakra to actually do anything about it, but... I can use my diagnostic chakra, and let you know right now if it's something Lady Tsunade can fix or not."

 

Shikamaru seems unimpressed, just shrugging, but Sakura can see interest in his eyes. He spells out,

"You can do what you want."

 

His body language always reads 'I don't care', but Sakura learned a long time ago that his intelligent eyes never hid anything, if you looked into them long enough. So she meets her friend's eyes, and even though he's trying to play nonchalant, Sakura can see that he's worried, maybe even a little scared. She can play along with his act though, to save his pride. She doesn't even have to pretend for the concerned look she shows on her face.

"I'd feel better if I knew, and you did too. You'll let me?"

 

Shikamaru nods simply, and doesn't break eye contact, as if looking away will prove he's scared. Moving from his legs up to his face, Sakura carefully place a hand on the side of Shikamaru's neck, and flows careful diagnostic chakra. Slowly so that she doesn't hurt her own very low chakra stores. She isn't giving any chakra, just extending her own outside of her body for a moment, so it shouldn't affect Sakura too badly unless she goes overboard. She notes that the medics have done an excellent job healing his throat, and there's not even a bruise left behind, though Sakura knows he'll still be tender for a while. It takes the body some time to catch up with what's been healed, after all.

Searching slightly deeper, for Shika's vocal cords, Sakura finds the damage. It's definitely beyond what a normal medic can fix, but as Sakura gently searches it, making sure to cause her friend no pain, she can see that it's something she or Tsunade could fix without too much trouble. The left side of the cords is swollen, and should be left alone, but the right side isn't opening or closing correctly. Sakura feels absolutely confident that even if Tsunade doesn't instantly see the problem and solve it within an hour, she herself could, given some rest to restore chakra. Pulling her chakra back into her body, she moves her hand off of Shika's neck, and ignores his heavily guarded look.

"It's a difficult fix, beyond a normal medic's capacity. But Lady Tsunade can definitely fix it. You'll just have to keep from talking for a week or so to let your throat rest."

 

The relief in her friend is obvious, though he plays it off with a shrug, spelling out

"I told you it was fine."

 

Sakura puts her hand on his, and squeezes it gently. Now that he's not trying so hard to look bored, and isn't expending so much worry, Shikamaru looks tired. Sakura decides she can probably afford to distract him a little more before she goes, so she pulls up a chair next to the bed. Explaining it away as a way to pass the time before she herself should go home and get rest before tomorrow, she relays all of what she's heard from everyone else to Shikamaru. She sits by his side, trying to weave everyone's stories into a cohesive narrative, until the Nara falls asleep.

 

Patting his hand gently, Sakura stands and makes her way home. The mission report will be tomorrow, and Sakura can't help but wonder what will happen. For one thing, she'll be greatly relieved to see everyone she couldn't today. A visual confirmation that the mission was a success, and everyone got home.

Chapter Text

The next day finds Sakura in Tsunade's office, recounting her mission alongside Ino, Hinata, Choji, Naruto, and Tenten. The other two Genin are still hospitalized or on bed rest. Nobody mentions or comments on Sakura's escape from the hospital, which she's grateful for. Sakura wonders absently who had the job of telling Lee he couldn't show up to the mission report. While Naruto relates his two fights, Sakura notes that Tsunade isn't nearly as drunk as the woman would be if she'd had to tell Rock Lee no, and concludes it must have been Shizune. Naruto finishes his dramatic tale of swooping in to save Lee from Neji, and an oddly detailed account of the conversation he'd had with the wayward Hyuga, ending with a plea to Tsunade to stop the Hyuga from using the Caged Bird seal on the branch family.

When Tsunade explains to Naruto that it's not the Hokage's job to get into clan business, and that he is under no circumstances to bring it up to Hiashi Hyuga himself, Naruto looks like he's caught between crying and yelling. Sakura wonders what about Neji affected Naruto so deeply. She doesn't remember Naruto ever being this invested in Neji before, and she resolves to bring it up to her teammate after the meeting is over.

Once all of them have recounted their individual fights, and Sakura gives the finalized version of the mission report, Lady Tsunade dismisses all of them from her office, with the exception of Sakura for "further mission detailing".

 

This seems to be the last straw for Naruto, who finally breaks his silence.

"Where is Neji? You didn't send him back to the Hyuga did you?! They're not even his family, ya know!"

 

Hinata gives a barely audible gasp next to Sakura.

 

Tsunade sighs, and throws a longing glance to the drawer Sakura knows she keeps her stash of sake hidden.

"No, Naruto, I didn't send Neji back to the Hyuga. He's under protective custody right now until we can assess that he's no longer a threat. And the Hyuga are his clan whether you like it or not."

 

Naruto leaps forward, pointing his finger accusingly at the new Hokage.

"NO! They shouldn't be ALLOWED to be his clan! You didn't see him. He's not a threat, he just doesn't want to be part of a family that hates him! Nobody even notices him, ya know! You're the Hokage, you're supposed to help people!"

 

Tsunade stands up behind her desk, and starts screaming back.

"YOU BRAT! The Hokage can't just do whatever they want! Neji abandoned this village full well knowing he would become a missing nin if he did! The only reason he isn't being executed right now is because he's a Genin and didn't manage to do any real damage! No matter my personal feelings on clan business, it's NOT the Hokage's job to interfere! GET out of my office, brat!"

 

Before Naruto can continue arguing, Tenten and Choji grab him by the arms and practically drag Naruto out of the office. Hinata looks like she's been personally struck by Naruto, and Ino looks to be doing her best to comfort her. Ino gently leads Hinata out the door while the young Hyuga stutters something about "always noticed...". Sakura feels bad for Hinata, she knows the shy young girl has never disliked Neji, not that Naruto could know that. If Sakura had to guess, she'd say Hinata was also likely heartbroken at hearing her crush say such negative things about her clan.

The door clicks shut after Ino, leaving Sakura and Tsunade the only occupants of the office. Well, the two of them and the two Anbu stationed at the back of the office.

 

 

 

 

Tsunade sits back down, opens the drawer of her desk, withdrawing a sake bottle, and takes a long swig. Sakura waits patiently, having been present for plenty of moments just like this, she knows better than to interrupt her old mentor.

 

After a long moment, Tsunade sighs and turns her attention to Sakura.

"Now that reconstruction of the village is over, we need to talk about your ROOT members."

 

Sakura splutters, surprised.
"My ROOT members?"

 

"Yes, your ROOT members!"
Tsunade snaps impatiently.

"Jiraiya hasn't figured out how to remove that cursed seal from them without killing all of you, which means they're all still loyal to you. With the curse mark we found on the Hyuga boy, Jiraiya has bigger things to worry about at the moment. That makes them your responsibility, Haruno. Congratulations, you're the leader of a small army of emotionless murder children."

 

She raises her sake sarcastically to Sakura.

"Regardless, you put them all under my command. So long as you don't contradict me, they're as good as Leaf shinobi. There's another thing, however."

 

Judging by the long drink Tsunade takes of her sake, Sakura knows she's not going to like what she hears next.

"I'm going to need to announce you as the leader of all these Shinobi. The Clan leaders are going to riot either way, but this is the best path. They're already starting to take notice we have more working Shinobi than we had before the invasion, and either I address it, or they figure it out and come after you, or me. We absolutely cannot deal with infighting right after the invasion destabilized us. And yes, this likely means people are going to know you're the one that took out the leaders during the invasion, and even if it isn't announced, I'm sure some will find out. You're about to be the public leader of ROOT. This is not arguable, and not optional. If it was that important to you to not be publicly involved, you shouldn't have spent years hunting down and killing no less than THREE high ranking Shinobi and advisory board members. Do you have anything to say?"

 

Sakura sways on her feet, trying to take it all in, but the world is swimming at the edges. Her? The public leader of ROOT? In charge of so many ninja? She'd almost lost it thinking of all the Genin on her one team, but dozens of people depending on Sakura to make good decisions? Black spots enter her vision, dancing around as Sakura sways. One of the stationed Anbu appears behind her, and grabs her arm, steadying her. She notes as they touch her that it's Itachi, so she lets him without complaint. She gulps,

"L-lady Tsunade?"

 

Tsunade's face is grim, but understanding.
"I know. I won't make the announcement for another day or two, if you come up with anything you'd like to say, a speech or a special request for a few of your new ninja or whatever. You have until then. For now, you're dismissed. Go home. Don't think I didn't notice you escaped the hospital without the required bed rest."

 

Tsunade nods to the Anbu holding Sakura up.
"Weasel, escort Haruno home."

 

Itachi nods, and before Sakura knows it, she's being deposited onto a couch at her home.

 

She barely remembers the trip here. She nods her thanks to Itachi, and he disappears in a swirl of leaves. She hears someone making tea in the kitchen, and she assumes it's Shisui, before she remembers Shisui had left for a mission last night after she'd gotten home from the hospital. Before she even has a chance to be alarmed, she hears a clatter, and a shout and 'hn' that can only belong to her two teammates. Sakura carefully stuffs down all of her emotions about ROOT, because she doesn't want Naruto to know about it, not yet. For all of his benefits, her orange teammate is not a good secret-keeper, and Sakura can't afford to have this get out before it goes public.

The tea takes several more minutes, which is punctuated by Sasuke berating Naruto for being stupid, and Naruto vehemently arguing that Sasuke is the stupid one. Their banter, which used to grate terribly on Sakura, she finds more calming than anything else. Everything in the world can change, but Naruto and Sasuke fighting over how to make tea is so unimportant, so normal, that it helps Sakura find her footing. By the time Naruto and Sasuke join her in the living room, Sasuke holding the tea tray and Naruto happily bringing sugar and spilling it all along the way, Sakura is calm enough to enjoy the sight of her team. They sit and pour the tea. Sasuke looks like he's preparing to say something, and to Sakura's surprise, Naruto has noticed, and is keeping quiet, waiting for the Uchiha to gather his thoughts.

 

Once they all have a cup of tea in their hands, Sasuke speaks.

"You didn't take me on the mission. Why?"

 

He raises his eyes defiantly to Sakura and Naruto and

 

oh.

 

Sakura sees barely disguised hurt in them, directed mainly at her.

Sasuke thinks I didn't trust him.

 

 

Naruto blunders something about not paying attention and an apology, and then it's her turn. Sakura grasps for something to say, but finds nothing.

 

"I.. Well, Sasuke. I was supposed to grab Genin as fast as I could find them, and... I didn't find you in time."

 

Sasuke continues to look at her defiantly, so she carries on, trying to find the right words as she talks.

"I'm sorry. I was so stressed about Neji.. I should have made finding you more of a priority. I just happened to run into some of them, honest. I didn't intentionally exclude you. Please believe me."

 

She ends with an apologetic look at Sasuke, trying to say without words,

I do trust you.

 

Sasuke and she look at each other for a moment, then he gives a simple 'hn', and settles. Sakura lets out a breath she hadn't known she was holding. She should have considered how Sasuke would take it that she took every Genin in the village except for him. She couldn't have helped it though, truly. In all likelihood, Sasuke had been in the Uchiha compound, which is the opposite side of the village from their mission. Sakura knows Sasuke wouldn't desert the village for Orochimaru, not anymore. A little, bitter part of herself whispers that Sasuke already learned everything he'd ever need from Orochimaru anyway.

 

Trying to shake that thought out of her head, Sakura turns to Naruto.

"Naruto, what happened with Neji? I've never seen you like that before."

 

A lie, of course. Sakura had seen Naruto this upset once before, when they'd found Gaara's body, drained of the One-tail and lifeless on the forest floor. That was a long time ago, and another lifetime altogether, and Sakura wants to know what about Neji had gotten Naruto so worked up. Her bright teammate puts down his teacup with a clatter, and his hands are shaking as he clenches them into fists. When Naruto looks at Sakura, she sees his bright blue eyes are watery.

 

"He's all alone.. That seal on his head, it can kill him, ya know?"

Sakura and Sasuke dip their heads in acknowledgement.

 

"They put that seal on people who aren't in the head family, like Hinata. And, Neji didn't even do anything for it. He just got born. His family looks at him... The way the village looks at me, ya know? I can see it in his eyes, that we're the same. Nothing he ever does is gonna be good enough for them, just because he has that seal.. and it's not fair! It's not, ya know!"

 

The first tears fall from Naruto's eyes, and he clutches unconsciously at his stomach, where Sakura knows his own damning seal lies.

"If you try your hardest, then people should acknowledge you, ya know? That's why I wanted to be Hokage, so that people would finally stop looking down at me and see me as a person. So that people like me an' Neji get seen like people, and not like... Trash. Grandma Tsunade said the Hokage isn't allowed to help with clan business. Isn't the Hokage's job to help people? The Old Man used to say the whole village was his family. Don't you help your family?"

 

Sakura and Sasuke sit in silence. She knows neither of them have a good answer for Naruto. Sakura personally holds too much bitterness to answer this question fairly. Sasuke must notice, because he attempts to fill the lengthening silence. Or maybe he just thinks he knows better than Sakura, it's impossible to tell with Sasuke.

"The Hokage's job isn't to help individuals, Naruto. The Hokage's job is to protect the whole village, and do what's best for all of them. Clans already have specific laws that are supposed to benefit that family, and the Hokage doesn't interfere."

 

Instead of looking pacified, Naruto just looks confused. He thinks for a minute, and Sasuke and Sakura both wait out their third teammate. Finally, Naruto looks up, and Sakura doesn't see understanding in her friend's eyes. She sees despair.

 

"Is that why.. Is that why the Old Man never really helped me? Clan business, ya know? But.. I don't even have a clan, I was always alone.. No one ever wanted me, ya know. Because.."

Again, Naruto palms his seal. Sakura wishes they weren't having this conversation. Wishes Naruto would say something stupid or get in a fight with Sasuke like normal, and then they'd all laugh. Watching clouds cover her sunshine teammate makes Sakura feel hopeless. Makes her want to switch the conversation back to Neji.

Naruto drops his head, and after a second, says in a voice little more than a whisper,

 

"Sasuke, why did you and Itachi let me stay?"

 

 

Sasuke blinks, and looks at Sakura for help, who tries to give him an encouraging look.

 

Say something nice.

 

Sasuke sighs.
"Because, dobe."

 

Sakura wants to put her face in her hands. That's the best Sasuke can do?

 

Naruto seems to take it seriously, though.

"Because we're brothers, right Sasuke?"

 

Sasuke 'hn's at the question, and Naruto accepts that as confirmation. His face brightens, just a little bit.
"Even though I was all alone, and everyone hated me, I have a family now. I have Sasuke and Itachi, and Team 7."

 

Sakura nods, and reaches out to take Naruto's hand, which he accepts.
"Neji's family hates him, but he's stuck there cause it's a clan. He has his team, but he's still alone, ya know? It's not fair."

 

There's nothing to do except agree with him, so Sakura just nods her head. Team 7 sits in silence, drinking their tea, all lost in their own sea of thoughts. Sakura thinks about ROOT, about how for better or worse, right now they all "belong" to her, and what's she's going to do with that. But thinking about Neji, and sitting here with Naruto, she starts getting some ideas. As the tea runs out, Sasuke eventually asks Naruto if he'd like to spar, and Naruto agrees. They ask Sakura to join, but she politely declines. She knows what she needs to do now, and being on a training ground at this moment isn't one of them, as tempting as punching things and wreaking destruction sounds.

 

 

 

Sakura arrives at the Hokage tower and politely knocks at the door. She's answered by Shizune, who looks very concerned. When Shizune calls back that it's Sakura, a very slurred voice calls to let her in. Sakura almost laughs when she enters the office. Tsunade is completely plastered, by the looks of it. No wonder Shizune looks so concerned. Sakura makes her entrance bow, and Tsunade drunkenly waves her to stand. She decides to state her business, as there's no use waiting for Tsunade to start, in the state she's in.

"Lady Tsunade, I've thought of a solution and also a request, I suppose. Regarding the ROOT situation."

Tsunade sighs heavily, and visibly sobers herself up a little, losing some of the flush in her cheeks and straightening minutely, though she's clearly still a ways from fully sober. Shizune looks gratefully in Sakura's direction, while the Hokage looks distinctly annoyed.
"I just killed a great buzz for you, Haruno. This better be good."

 

Sakura bows.
"I hope so, Lady Tsunade. I've been thinking about what I want to do about ROOT, now that I am to be in charge of it for the foreseeable future. It was always my intention to disintegrate ROOT, and even if the members of the organization are still present, I still want to follow through with that."

 

A lazy hand waves her off.
"Sure, sure. Semantics. Rename it if you please. Get to the point, Haruno."

 

Sakura stands up straight, and smiles.
"I'd like to file for a clan creation."

 

Tsunade sits up suddenly, and Sakura can see her flush the rest of the alcohol out of her system as she gets what Sakura is trying to say. Her eyes clear and sharpen dangerously as she looks at Sakura.
"That's a big step, Haruno. But a great plan. The Haruno Clan, huh?"

 

Sakura nods firmly,
"And if we're a clan, then it's clan business how we came to be, so you can seal up Shisui and I's involvement in ROOT, and you can also wipe all of their slates clean. If we're going to stick together, it's going to be as a family, not as some shadowy organization. Not anymore. Not ever again."

 

She thinks of Sai, of Tenzou, of her loved ones who had gone far too long without names or families. Sakura may not be the best person to lead, but if leading is what she needs to do, if it's the consequences of the choices she has made, then she refuses to leave anyone behind. Not ever again.

 

A sadistic gleam appears in Tsunade's eye, and Sakura can tell she appreciates her plan.
"You know, Haruno, that means you'll have a seat on the council of Clan Heads, and receive a vote in village business. That's going to get you a lot of enemies and suspicion for a while. I hope you're prepared for that."

 

Sakura can think of a hundred tortures she'd like more than sitting in Clan Head meetings, but the power of having a vote in the village is hard to ignore.

 

The ability to stick up for others. To protect people like Naruto, like Sai. Like Tenzou.

 

She nods.
"I understand."

 

Tsunade laughs at the pinched look on Sakura's face.
"We all have to deal with politics sometimes, Haruno. You can always elect one of your new members to sit in your place, but at this point I don't necessarily recommend it. Unless one of those blunt shinobi suddenly grow some manners."

 

The Hokage pulls some papers out of her desk, and scribbles something down before stamping it.
"It's done. The Haruno Clan is officially a clan of Konoha. The details will need to be worked out more, I'll need a roster of active clan members, and any specific clan laws. Itachi would probably help you if you asked, that boy knows more than he appears. Congratulations, and this time I even mean it."

Sakura bows, mentally running through the list of things she's going to have to do paperwork-wise for this. It's all going to be worth it, though. A small thrill of excitement runs through her.

 

A good change, finally.

 

As she turns to leave, a flustered Chunin Sakura doesn't know bursts into the office.

"Lady Hokage! There's serious trouble in the Hyuga compound!"

 

 

Tsunade sighs and places her hand against her face wearily.
"What kind of trouble?"

 

 

The Chunin looks absolutely terrified, Sakura notices. Sweaty and pale as a sheet. He's looking at the Hokage like there's nothing in the world he'd rather be doing at this exact moment then facing down an irritable Tsunade Senju. Sakura can sympathize.
"Well, out with it!"

 

 

The Chunin snaps to attention.
"Yes Ma'am! I'm not sure what kind of trouble exactly, but Might Guy said something about a fight..."

 

 

An outright laugh bursts out of Tsunade at this, and she grabs a bottle of sake from her desk as she waves off the Chunin.
"Yeah, yeah thanks for telling me. Come on Shizune, if Guy's involved this is going to be hilarious."

Chapter Text

By morning everyone in the Leaf has heard about the fight in the Hyuga compound. No one's stories seem to match up, though. The gate guards swear Might Guy killed a Hyuga in a single punch. The fruit merchant heard from someone who knows someone that Hiashi Hyuga killed his nephew Neji, while the fish merchant down the street heard that it was actually one of Neji's teammates. The children at the playground are convinced that the Legendary Sannin and Hokage, Lady Tsunade, razed an entire street of buildings to the ground in a rage.

The rumors build over the course of several days, and by the time Sakura is summoned once again to the Hokage's office, she isn't sure what to believe. The only thing that's she's certain of is that some sort of fight took place in the Hyuga compound, and it was such a big deal that the official declaration of the ninja clan Haruno is not announced publicly, as Sakura had previously planned for. She feels certain that's why she's been called again so suddenly to the Hokage's office. She's prepared for a lot of things.

What she isn't prepared for is to be handed an itinerary for the meetings she will be attending over the course of the day. It seems as if Tsunade is going to start taking advantage of her advisor status starting today. A bit nervously, Sakura hopes she's ready for it. Sure, she's technically lived a lot longer than she looks, but advising the Hokage is a huge responsibility, no matter how old you are. Sakura notes that the first meeting lists just her and Tsunade, and it starts immediately, so she makes her way to the office, and opens the door with more bravery than she feels.

 

 

Tsunade jumps right to it, and Sakura learns that yes, she's in for her first day of advising. For her protection, Sakura is told when she's advising live meetings, she should use a henge. The same henge each time to ensure consistency overall. If she's careful about the way she makes her henge, the only people who should be able to notice her deception would be those with a Sharingan. She'll simply have to avoid being present in meetings as an advisor for Kakashi-sensei, as any Uchiha shouldn't have their Sharingan activated in the Hokage's office. It's a little risky, Sakura thinks, but Tsunade insists.

Sakura agrees, though she adds a refusal to advise in henge when Shikaku Nara is present. The man's sharp eye and even sharper brain scare Sakura even more than a Uchiha. He would surely work out something and then the Nara would have a lot more questions than Sakura is comfortable giving answers to. Tsunade scoffs at her fear of the Nara head, but accepts Sakura's request with no further comment.

 

While Sakura works on her henge, trying to make it unremarkable, but still believable, Shizune gives her a brief overview of her day. Sakura's cover is that she is to be a former companion of Tsunade's, and that her name is to be Menma. Shizune further explains the order of meetings today. According to Shizune, Lady Tsunade wants to "light a fire" under the village as a whole, as the village had weakened substantially under Hiruzen's rule. Every area from medicine, to administration, to Genin selection is going to be covered, with the appropriate people.

It sounds overwhelming, but Shizune assures Sakura she needn't actually give input unless she has some. Sakura settles her henge by choosing a woman about a hand taller than she naturally is, making herself look as average proportion-wise as possible. She chooses a neutral hair color, black, which is very common, and brown eyes that she has to change several times due to her unconsciously picking out features that match her friends. Once Shizune and Tsunade are satisfied with her henge, the meetings begin.

 

The first meeting involves the Head Nurse and top medical staff from the Konoha hospital. Sakura learns that the Hospital is to be revamped with a new program, there will be more of a focus on training new medic-nin, as well as updating some of their previous methods. She's relieved to not have to give any input, and spends the meeting getting comfortable in her henge. The Hokage's insistence on updating and upgrading the medical sector is met with no resistance whatsoever, and no small amount of joy. This joy is not matched in the second meeting, when Tsunade reams some of the administration ninja out for things that are so entirely specific Sakura feels certain they actually came from Shizune and Shikaku Nara's experiences rather than the Hokage herself. It's no secret Tsunade hates paperwork. After a third meeting where a very distressed council member is told the council will be dissolving, they take a break for lunch.

While they eat, Tsunade reveals that the morning was actually a test to see how Sakura would handle being in an advisory position. Before Sakura can get anxious about whether or not she passed, the Hokage waves her hand and tells Sakura she had done well enough.

 

 

After they finish eating, Tsunade leans forward in her chair.

"Sakura, I assume you know more about the Genin of your generation and what they become better than anyone else, is that correct?"

 

Sakura only has to think for a moment before she nods,
"Yes, Lady Tsunade. That's correct."

 

Placing her hands under her chin, Tsunade looks on with steel in her eyes.
"Then would you agree that you were all not trained appropriately for the war that came, since your team was the only one to survive? "

 

 

Sakura's gut instinct is to fight it, to disagree with Tsunade and stick up for her fellow Genin. But the memories from the war are clear as day, and Sakura remembers how they all fell, one by one. Wasn't the whole reason she'd gotten a second chance so that she could fix things? The Genin were stronger than in her last life, Sakura knows that to be true. But... would they be strong enough, when it came down to it. When the time comes, are her friends strong enough to stand against Pain again? Against Madara, and Kabuto, against Kaguya? Tsunade must take her silence to be agreement, because she continues.

 

"I don't want Leaf Ninja to die needlessly any more than you do, Sakura. Hiruzen's training methods aren't going to be good enough. The sensei of this village have gotten complacent. They've gotten used to strength and aren't preparing the next generation to take over after them. The team lineups aren't evened out in the first place. Sarutobi grouped them by ability, even! What a peace hungry moron."

 

 

This confuses Sakura enough to interrupt.
"Lady Tsunade? What do you mean by that?"

 

 

Tsunade huffs, then visibly forces herself to explain it to Sakura.
"The Hokage picks the Genin teams for the need of the village. Generally you want ninja who will complement each other, naturally. Sarutobi took it a step farther, though, and grouped by ability. On the surface, it makes sense to group together a tracking team like Kurenai's, or an intelligence gathering like Asuma's, or even an assault team like your sensei, Kakashi's-"

 

Tsunade laughs at the look on Sakura's face

 

"You're a smart girl, don't tell me you didn't realize your team is geared toward heavy assault, with you being the cannon fodder. That's just how it works sometimes, its nothing personal against you, you're simply civilian born."

 

Tsunade waves off the look of horror Sakura feels growing on her face,

 

"Bah! You're distracting me! On the surface, it makes sense to have specialized teams. But tell me, Sakura, what happens if your intelligence gathering team gets into a fight they can't handle, and they all die?"

 

 

Sakura doesn't need to think about it, she already knows what happens when your two Shika-Ino-Cho teams get wiped off the map. Instant chaos. Confusion. Dissaray.
"You, um. Lose sight of the battle strategy and no longer gain additional intelligence, unless you send another team to do it."

 

 

Tsunade nods,
"That's correct. In a war, if you send out a team that all specializes in one thing, and they die, you've lost an entire ability. Sarutobi was so certain that peace would continue until his death that he didn't bother sorting you all into teams that had multiple abilities or complimented each other. He just put together teams that makes assigning missions easier. Bah! The short-sightedness of it all. Of course war happens. It happens again and again and only fools don't prepare for it. I'm not prepared to lose entire teams because we didn't strategize well enough beforehand. More than that, the sensei of the Leaf have severely slacked in their training of their students. That couldn't be more obvious than it was in the Chunin exams. I've been looking in on the practices of the sensei. Kurenai's a wreck, Asuma spends training days playing Shogi and hoping his student's parents pick up the rest of the slack, I have it on good authority that the only reason your sensei has taught you a single thing is because you personally manipulated him, Sakura. I assume his training methods were similar or worse before. Hell, the only GOOD sensei we have in this village right now is Guy!"

 

Tsunade takes an enormous swig of sake. Where she got the bottle, only Kami knows.
"I can't believe out of all those knuckleheads only Guy takes training his students seriously. What a weird kid he was..."

 

 

The Hokage lapses into silence, drinking periodically from the sake bottle in her hands. Sakura shifts uncomfortably, she feels sure Tsunade wouldn't have started this conversation without having a point, but she isn't sure whether or not to interrupt her old mentor. So she sits, fiddling aimlessly with the hem of her shirt, waiting to see if Tsunade will break the silence or if Sakura is supposed to say something. Just when the silence is growing unbearable, the Hokage sighs and speaks again.

"Hinata Hyuga challenged her father for control of the Hyuga clan, a few days ago. Hiashi was determined to make an example of Neji, which I had not consented to, which is why I was present, and Hinata challenged him to combat for Head of the Clan."

 

 

Sakura's jaw drops. Of all the things Sakura would have ever thought she could hear in a lifetime, hearing that Hinata had challenged her father to a duel to the death was not one of them. She makes some kind of squeaking noise of disbelief, and Tsunade shakes her head.

"I know, I couldn't believe the girl either. Hiashi has given her two years to train, and Neji two years to prove himself worthy of it. I get the feeling Hiashi is interested to see if his daughter is worthy of the title of Head. He's stated that if Hinata should lose the fight, her sister will be named heir and Hinata will be marked with the caged bird seal. That stupid girl. I admire her guts, but I sure hope she knows what she's doing."

 

Sakura finds her voice, and asks,
"Lady Tsunade, what does this have to do with the sensei?"

 

 

Tsunade snorts.
"Isn't it obvious? I'm going to do what I can to help the Hyuga girl, Kami knows she needs it. I can't in good conscious leave her with Kurenai as a sensei right now. Kurenai can't handle losing another student, and she's half shut down as it is. So... I'm going to shake things up in the village. My gut tells me this is the only way we'll make it. As tempting as it is to follow your timeline and make minor changes, the consequences could be astronomical. I can't take the easy path, not anymore. I'm the Hokage, and the lives of everyone in this village depend on my decisions. I called you here to tell you this, Sakura, because I have a question for you. What do YOU want to do? I'm not saying I'll grant your every wish, but after everything you've been through, you at least deserve a say."

 

 

 

Isn't that a loaded question. Sakura isn't quite sure what she wants. She wants to kill Madara with her own bare hands, wants to save every person that she loves, and even some she doesn't. She wants to be powerful, someone worth looking at. She wants to earn her place alongside her team. If she's completely honest with herself, she also sort of wants to hide away and let people who know better than her take care of it. She sighs, and clears away her mind the best she can. At her heart, the deepest part of her, she wants to take care of her people. Everything else could fall away, because at the end of the day, Sakura has always made the most sacrifices, given the most, to protect her precious people. Sasuke is Tsunade's new apprentice, and Sakura knows Jiraiya is dying to get his hands on an apprenticeship with Naruto again. Which leaves Sai...

 

Sakura takes a breath,
"I'd like for Sai to be put on a regular team, not on Anbu. I... I want him to have a chance at friendship. Actually, I want that for all of them, for all of ROOT, but I know Anbu may be the best place for many of them.."

 

Tsunade nods thoughtfully.
"That can be done. For Sai certainly. It isn't especially helpful to have emotionless special ops, so I'll have Shizune try and work out a way to get them all some sort of therapy. Does that work for you?"

 

 

 

Sakura nods in agreement. She feels sorrow, for a moment, knowing Sai will likely never be part of Team 7. He'll still be part of her family, though. Always one of her precious people. He'll be a Haruno soon. She'll have to settle for that. It seems like everyone is better off without her, Sakura thinks with a pang of sadness. Naruto is better off on a training trip with Jiraiya, and Sasuke will be better off apprenticing himself to Tsunade, and learning how to heal instead of destroy. Sai is going to be on his own team, with new people to love him. And where will she be?

Who is better off with Sakura around? The question makes her a little too sad to consider, but still, she considers it. She thinks of Kakashi-sensei, slipping back facelessly into Anbu, with all three of his team apprenticed to a different Sannin. Sakura recalls the long lapses between when she'd seen her sensei, back when it was Sakura who was apprenticed to Tsunade. The droop of her sensei's shoulders as she spotted him, at the memorial stone more often than not. There might not be anyone who is better off with Sakura, but there is someone Sakura can't bear to leave behind. Not again.

 

"...Lady Tsunade? What will become of Kakashi-sensei? Now that I'm a Chunin."

 

Tsunade looks thoughtful for a moment.
"Hatake? He'll probably request to be put back in Anbu. Not that it would be particularly good for him. That brat has always been good at forcing people away. Why do you ask, Haruno?"

 

 

Sakura recalls the deep sadness she'd seen etched onto her sensei's face, in his last moments. His lament for failing them.
"I... I don't think I can leave him behind. I can't let him be faceless again. Is there a way I can be placed on a team with him?"

 

 

"Haruno, we don't normally make permanent teams with mixed Jounin and Chunin. However... If you can get Hatake to agree to an apprenticeship, you'd be on the same team by default."

 

Sakura nods, vowing to get Kakashi-sensei to take her on as an apprentice. There's really only one question she has left.
"What would you like me to do, Lady Tsunade?"

 

 

Tsunade scoffs,
"Of course you'd take my opinion into account. Fine, you want it, here it is: I'd like to put you on a specialized mission to hunt down Akatsuki members, as you're likely to know the most about them, and your medic skills are invaluable when sending a team against such high levelled opponents."

 

Sakura thinks it over, imagines anyone else going against them, and thinks of the peace she would achieve by being on the team, always knowing what was going on. She nods her assent to Tsunade,
"If I can get Kakashi-sensei to agree to an apprenticeship. I'll do it. I suppose you have a third in mind already, but if you don't... Tenzou or Shisui would be my preference. I work well with both of them."

 

 

The Hokage gives a short laugh,
"Everyone gets along with Tenzou, he barely has a personality. Haruno, if you can get Hatake to agree to an apprenticeship, you've got your team."

 

 

At that moment, Shizune interrupts by telling them the next meeting is set to begin. Sakura doesn't henge for this one, as she needs to actually attend the meeting as Sakura. She does make her way to stand in front of the desk, by the door, so she appears to be waiting for the meeting to start.

Genin start filing in, with Shino appearing as well. Recent Chunin generally stay on their team, unless the entire team is made of Chunin, or the Chunin gets an apprenticeship, until all members of the Genin have either dropped from being ninja, died, or are promoted or apprenticed, as is about to happen to Team 7. Sensei file in as well, alongside their students. Even Kakashi-sensei has seen fit to show up to the meeting on time, and he looks surprised about it too. Sakura wonders if they told him the wrong time for the meeting. Who Sakura is surprised to see is Neji, though he's handcuffed with chakra chains, and in the custody of Ibiki. He's definitely the center of attention as he stands defiantly in the middle of the room. No one speaks, however. Even after a few short weeks, everyone knows to fear interrupting Tsunade Senju, and even Naruto holds his tongue.

 

Tsunade stands to start the meeting,
"Look, you all know I don't beat around the bush. I could have had several meetings to discuss all this in private, but I hate meetings, so we're doing this all at once so I can go home and drink."

 

Shizune and Sakura meet each others eyes in a silent because she wasn't drinking enough already...

 

"I've taken on Sasuke Uchiha as my apprentice. I've also decided to take on the prisoner Neji Hyuga as an apprentice. Yes, this isn't normally done. If you have anything to say about it, keep it to yourself-"

 

Sasuke, of course, interrupts angrily,
"Lady Hokage, the Hyuga doesn't even want to learn medicine so why on earth would you-"

 

Tsunade interrupts back, her temper rising already. Partially due to the copious amount she's already drank today, in Sakura's opinion.
"Silence, Uchiha! My decisions are my own. If you MUST know, apprenticing Hyuga to myself keeps him both under my thumb and gives him something useful to do instead of rotting in a cell where he's a drain on the village. Additionally, I figured one power hungry, rude teenager would be a great rival for a different power hungry, rude teenager. Your disagreement simply proves my point, so SHUT. UP."

 

Sasuke and Neji scowl equal, radiantly angry scowls, which Tsunade meets with her own. Sakura is suddenly incredibly grateful she won't have to be a part of most of this. Shizune looks exasperated already.

 

At a wave of Tsunade's hand, Ibiki frog marches Neji out of the room, presumably back to jail until he starts his apprenticeship. Sakura takes a moment to wonder if Tsunade has actually lost it. Her Hokage continues,

"That being worked out. Kurenai, Asuma, Kakashi. You all are disgraceful! I've been watching, and listening, more than you know, to your training techniques, trying to figure out the future generation of this village. You three, have failed them. Kurenai, you've fallen apart. You were doing a passable job before, or so I'm told. Losing a student is hard, it's terrible, even. But we are ninja, it happens. And you've fallen apart.

Asuma! Just because your father was Hokage was no reason for you to sleep on the job! Your students are lazy, incapable, and terrified of battle respectively. With your training methods, it's incredible none of your students have died, and the only reason they haven't is because you yourself are a capable ninja. You are beyond lucky your team has clans standing behind them, and have so far been willing to pick up your slack.

Kakashi... Where do I even start. You know very well that two of your students don't even have a clan to teach them a thing, and they're relying on you. I have it on good authority you haven't taught your Genin a SINGLE THING outside of things your students have to beg you to do. That is absolutely unacceptable for a sensei. Is that what Minato would have wanted for you? Is that the kind of team you want? You've lost one team, and you're driving this one into an early grave with your irresponsible teaching style. The one thing you've attempted to teach is teamwork, and your team currently consists of an asshole, a knucklehead who won't listen to anyone, and Haruno, who's succeeded despite your best efforts."

 

 

Tsunade is shaking with rage, and all the sensei have gone white. Every Genin and Chunin in the room looks distinctly uncomfortable, and some are quietly outraged on behalf of their sensei. No one has really seen a Jounin-sensei get yelled at before. Tsunade turns her attention to Guy, and deflates. Looking like every word pains her, she says,
"Guy... I can't blame you for Hyuga, that kid has an attitude that rivals a Uchiha. You're exempt from this. Your passion for training the next generation is exemplary."

 

 

 

The Hokage turns her attention back to them all.
"Effective immediately, I'm reforming the teams, differently. Kurenai, you're off being a Jounin-sensei, for now. Take some time to grieve, and when you're ready, you'll get a new team of Genin from the Academy. Aburame, you're a Chunin, and I'll be assigning you to a Chunin team."

 

Shino nods gravely, as he always does, emotions inscrutable. Hinata looks a little surprised, but the meek girl doesn't make any outward noise. Kurenai looks more relieved than anything else, though she gives Hinata a soft shoulder squeeze.

 

 

"Naruto, Jiraiya the Toad Sage has requested you as an apprentice, and I've accepted it for you. He will be by to pick you up for a training journey tomorrow, as he still needs to travel on village business. Kakashi, as your two Genin are apprenticed, and your last student is a Chunin, Team 7 is officially dissolved."

 

Naruto looks absolutely thrilled at the idea of a training trip. Kakashi doesn't appear to move, but his hair dips slightly, and Sakura can feel his chakra flicker just slightly. That's all she needs to know that though her sensei is hiding it, he's devastated at the loss of his team.

 

 

"Rock Lee?"

Lee snaps to attention at his named being called out by the Hokage,
"Yes, Hokage-sama!"

 

"Rock Lee, I have a request of you. I've heard from many that you are the second coming of Guy. I've seen for myself that this seems to be the case. You have taken to heart everything your sensei has taught you, and so, as your Hokage, I request your assistance."

 

Rock Lee immediately begins to tear up at the compliment, as does Guy. Before they both completely dissolve into tears, Tsunade continues,

"Rock Lee, I would like to transfer you onto Team Asuma. Someone has to knock that team in shape, and it sure hasn't been Asuma yet. Can I count on you to light a fire in that team, carrying on what you have learned?"

 

The speech is so unlike Tsunade that Sakura immediately understands that she's buttering up Lee by complimenting his training with Guy so that he's more likely to agree. He'd have to be naive to fall for it, but then again, it's Lee. Lee turns tearfully to Guy, who nods. Then they're both openly weeping and clinging to each other, chanting, "Lee!" "Guy Sensei!" Tsunade gives them a moment, and that tells Sakura she really wants this transfer to work out. Finally, Lee turns to his Hokage and gives a thumbs up,

 

"Hokage-sama, I will do it! I will carry on my flames of youth to Team Asuma!"

 

Shikamaru looks like he'd like to die instead of be on a team with Lee, and Choji and Ino look disturbed.

 

"Asuma, I'll give you a second chance with Shikamaru, and with Choji. Along with Rock Lee, this will be the new Team Asuma. Asuma, if you screw this up, I don't care who your dad is, or that he was my sensei. I'll hunt you for sport."

 

Asuma looks angry, but he can hardly disagree with the Hokage. Ino looks a little hurt, and Sakura can imagine why.

 

 

 

"Hinata, you have challenged your father to a duel for Clan Head."

 

All the jaws in the room drop, save for Hinata's. The shock sweeps through the room like an audible wave, and Hinata instantly turns bright red and hides her face a little as she stutters a soft "y-y-yes."

 

"You will need a sensei who is absolutely dedicated to your success. Hinata, you will be a part of Team Guy. Guy, take care of her."

 

Guy instantly leaps into a pose, unsettling Tenten who stumbles slightly and shocking Hinata into jumping.

"YOSH! I swear by the light of every star in the sky I will give my LIFE to train you! What incredible Flames of Youth!"

 

Hinata looks stunned, but she blushes even deeper, and nods with more enthusiasm than Sakura has ever seen on the young Hyuga.

 

 

"Ino Yamanaka, if anyone can handle a team of kickass kunoichi, it would be Guy. Would you like to be a kickass shinobi?"

Ino takes a look at Asuma, then turns back to Tsunade and gives a firm nod.

 

"Good, I like your spark, girl. Yamanaka, you will be the final member of Team Guy, along with Tenten. That settles it. Every single one of you, except Hatake and Haruno, get the hell out of my office!"

 

Everyone scatters pretty much immediately, and Sakura can hear Guy booming all the way down the hall. Once it's just Sakura, Kakashi-sensei, and Tsunade, the Hokage cracks open a new bottle of sake and begins drinking.

 

 

"Haruno, you're welcome for me keeping Hatake in place for you. You can talk in here but by Kami, let me drink in peace."

 

Kakashi turns to Sakura, slightly confused. Sakura can feel how lost her sensei feels, feels how it echoes and rattles around in her own soul.
"Kakashi-sensei... Would you take me on as an apprentice?"

 

Kakashi sighs, and it's such a sad sigh that Sakura immediately doubts herself for asking. Of course he doesn't want her as an apprentice. Shisui had to beat the shit out of him to accept her as a student for a single month, and she's just essentially asked to be the heir to his techniques. He's trying to figure out how to let her down gently, she just knows it. 
"I.. I know I'm not Sasuke... or even Naruto... But sensei, I'll try my hardest to learn. I will. I want to become someone worthy of being your apprentice."

 

Kakashi shakes his head sadly at her. He's staring at her like he's at a loss for words, and Sakura begins to cry. She's long known that Kakashi prefers Sasuke and Naruto over her, and who wouldn't? They're both powerhouses, incredible and eventually nearly unmatched in power. She's just... Sakura. A clanless kunoichi who was assigned to one of the most powerful ninja Konoha has ever produced. She's seen her sensei's loneliness, she's felt it herself, as she's constantly left behind. She might be last place on Team 7, but last place is still a place, right? She continues to weep, as Kakashi stares at her.

 

Eventually, her sensei speaks.
"I'm not the person you need for an apprenticeship, Sakura."

 

Sakura wants to ask him why. Why she's never good enough for him, for anyone. What actually comes out of her mouth is,
"Please don't leave me too, sensei... I'll work so hard...."

 

Kakashi shakes his head again and raises a hand.
"I meant you deserve a better sensei. One who will actually teach you. The Hokage was right, I was never fit to be a Jounin-sensei. I could have gotten you all killed many times."

 

 

Sakura chokes a little bit,
"A better sensei? Kakashi-sensei, you're the strongest Jounin in the village. There isn't a better person for me to ask. You taught me that those who break the rules are scum, but those who abandon their teammates are worse than scum, who helped me make protecting my precious people my nindo, my ninja way. You're my teammate too, Kakashi-sensei, and I am not abandoning you."

 

Her sensei tenses, and he gets the look of a cornered animal who wants to run but can't. Sakura takes that as a chance, a chance to stay Team 7, and so she wipes her tears with her hand, and presses.
"Sensei, please take me on as an apprentice."

 

They stand there for a moment, Sakura wiping tears that are leaking endlessly from her eyes, and Kakashi who is wavering between looking like a kicked puppy and a cornered hound. Eventually, Kakashi breaks first, sighing and releasing the tension in his shoulders.
"You don't know what you're getting into, Sakura. No sane ninja would want to be my student, you can ask around."

 

Sakura smiles wetly,
"I left sane behind a long time ago, sensei."

 

Kakashi stares her down, and nods. A bottle of sake nearly crashes into Sakura's head, and she ducks. Tsunade cackles merrily, completely drunk at this point. Sakura had honestly forgotten she was there.

 

"You two fools can sign the papers right here and then get out of my office. Hatake, you're a moron. Haruno's going to be the most influential one of us all, just you see. Haruno, you start reading porn in public too and I'm grounding you from your apprenticeship."

 

She laughs happily, sloshing around her desk handing Sakura random paper after paper until she finally hands Sakura the correct form, which she quickly fills out and Kakashi signs before he can change his mind.

 

"Meet here tomorrow for you first assignment, Hatake, Haruno."

 

 

The Hokage cracks open yet another bottle of sake and Sakura makes her escape as quickly as possible, inexplicably crying all the way down the tower.

Tomorrow, she'll start hunting Akatsuki, and everything is going to change.

Chapter Text

Sasuke likes to think that he's patient. He had waited ten years to get revenge on Itachi, in his past life. Had trained under Kakashi, who couldn't be bothered to teach, had dealt with Sakura's constant simpering and Naruto's blustering rivalry turned brotherhood that they'd developed. Sasuke could surely spend a few years now learning how to save Itachi.

Medical ninjustsu couldn't be that hard, not for a Sharingan user, anyway. Sasuke had been confident he could figure it out, and then start his research on his brother's mysterious illness. Had even looked forward to a new challenge to focus on. New training to complete.

That was all before he'd been saddled with one Neji Hyuga. The boy is completely insufferable, in Sasuke's opinion. Shizune teaches them, putting information in front of them to actually learn, every single day. And yet, day in and day out, the Hyuga complains.He mutters about fate and destiny and bemoans his "imprisonment" in the Leaf. Sasuke even catches the boy once or twice looking mournfully in the direction Sasuke knows Orochimaru resides in.

It's been weeks now since he started as Tsunade's apprentice, and Sasuke has spent every day much like all the days he has spent in this new life, with his head down, working hard. Sakura, for whatever reason, recognition, Sasuke suspects, has made quite a name for herself already, slaughtering Danzo, taking down ROOT, and then publicly creating a clan out of the remaining members, and forming an Akatsuki kill squad with Kakashi and Tenzou.

Luckily, she hasn't dragged Sasuke into it all that much, which he is thankful for. Sasuke has done his time making a name for himself, and all it brought him was undue attention to his activities. Being judged and watched at every turn is no way to forge a new future, not for him. Not when being the little brother Uchiha, unnoticed in the shadow of the great Itachi Uchiha, and the cousin of Shisui of the Body Flicker, affords him the ability to move about in the shadows with little to no oversight whatsoever.

Well, up until now.

Now it seems wherever Sasuke goes, that wretched Hyuga boy comes along as well. Sasuke isn't certain, but he feels that Tsunade is making this happen on purpose. Being shut down by adults at every turn, Neji must have decided at a certain point that Sasuke was a friendly ear, or maybe he sees him as a target who can't get away, to spew his hateful speeches. How the hell that happened, Sasuke doesn't know. It's not as if he's friendly now. And it's certainly not as if the Hyuga looks at him with friendship in his eyes.

Sasuke knows he's more open in this life, and he has Naruto to blame for that. The dobe moved in the day of the mass arrest of the Uchiha and never moved out, and it's impossible to remain unchanged that close to Naruto, for so long. But Naruto isn't here now, he's off on some training trip with Jiraiya of the Sannin, and Sasuke finds himself angrier and angrier that he has no one to vent to about the Hyuga plaguing his steps these days. He takes a moment to accept the irony that he wants someone to listen to him complain when that's exactly what Neji is using him for, but shoves it aside selfishly. It's not like it's the only reason he misses Naruto, as much as he hates to admit it. Sasuke forces his mind back to his frustation at his co-apprentice.

He's given Neji no reason to believe Sasuke would listen to him, and it takes everything in Sasuke to not beat the Hyuga into the ground every time the boy complains about his family, or the village as a whole, or the unfairness of fate. He knows nothing, nothing at all. He may know the beginnings of having your family taken away, but he's never suffered his entire family being wiped out by someone he loved, never suffered setting his fate against his allies, to commit a murder that would haunt the rest of his days. This boy knows nothing of a war that wipes out everyone, enemy and friend alike, leaving only a godlike figure on the battlefield, fighting a nine tailed fox at the end of the world. And yet, the Hyuga fills Sasuke's every day with his pathetic whining.

 

And today, he can't take it anymore.

 

They're trying to revive a dead fish, something a Hyuga and Uchiha should be able to do easily, and yet. Neither are having any success. Chakra control has never been Sasuke's strong suit, he's never needed it, with his large chakra stores and large command of jutsu. Looking at this dead fish that refuses to revive, despite his best efforts and the Sharingan, Sasuke begrudgingly thinks of Sakura with a little more respect. It is much easier to kill things than bring them back, apparently.

The Hyuga next to him isn't having any more luck with his Byakugan. Neji mutters a commentary about how free he would be, if Orochimaru had taken his caged bird seal, and given him his mark instead. Sasuke stiffens despite himself, trying to block it all out, but finds that today, he no longer can. Turning to Shizune, Sasuke fakes fatigue and goes home for the day. Or, at least, it appears he has. In reality, a shadow clone goes home, and Sasuke runs.

He's been discrete about any changes he's made in the timeline so far, but this needs to be done. And it needs to be done by him. Sasuke casts a genjutsu over himself, making him appear to be someone different depending on who looks at him. Once he's outside the village gates and outside the regular guard rotation, Sasuke summons his Susanoo, and he flies. Usually, Sasuke can remain calm, focused. But right now, Sasuke wants only one thing: Orochimaru's head, and insurance that the Sannin will never return in any form ever again. And... Maybe a good fight. It'd feel nice to kill something again, since he's evidently so inept he can't even save a fish. Sasuke had promised himself he wouldn't kill like he had in his last life. He isn't foolish enough to promise he'll never kill again, but he plans to kill only when absolutely necessary. This, Orochimaru, is necessary. Sasuke won't lose any sleep over the loss. In fact, he might even sleep more restfully, knowing one of the people that had enabled him to ruin his own life is dead and gone.

When Sasuke makes the location of the hideout, he releases the Susanoo, and takes a deep, calming breath. Naruto's capacity to make snap decisions may be rubbing off on him, more than Sasuke would like to admit, but he still has sort of a plan. Of course he does.

Sasuke has been considering, thinking of this ever since he got back into the past, when he started this new life. Ending Orochimaru. He's been carefully planning, training in secret, and now it's finally time. Slipping into the base is easier than he could have imagined, and Sasuke quickly realizes Kabuto must not be present. It had always been Kabuto who maintained such stringent standards on stealth, where Orochimaru was more willing to greet an intruder by kidnapping them. He's glad for Kabuto's absence, the man would have made this much trickier. Sasuke activates his Mangekyou, and smirks.

 

The Next Day...

 

When Sasuke shows up to his apprenticeship the next day, news has already spread like wildfire. The Sannin, Orochimaru, is dead. Neji tells Sasuke with a disappointed grimace that Orochimaru's head had landed on Tsunade's desk this morning, before self destructing into little more than ash before her eyes, and the eyes of her Anbu guards.

The lady Hokage seems slightly stressed to Sasuke, if the massive amount of boulders the woman keeps launching at her two apprentices is anything to go by. Sasuke assumes she's torn, like Naruto or Sakura would have been, if he himself had been killed for his crimes. As he dodges yet another boulder and sidesteps Neji at the same time, Sasuke takes a selfish moment to imagine his team, if he had died. Would Sakura have cried? He would've said yes before, but as angry as she was when they'd been thrown to the past, he's no longer sure if he is one of her precious people. He knows Naruto cares. If Sasuke knows one thing in the entire world, it's that Naruto cares about him, even when he's least deserving of it.

Sasuke stops paying attention for a second too long and Neji crashes into him in an attempt to dodge an entire tree. They tumble towards the ground, tangled up. Tsunade doesn't hesitate, throwing a second tree towards her two students. Evidently the Sannin actually means it when she says dodge or die. In a split second decision Sasuke isn't fully conscious of making, he grabs Neji by the forearm and flings him clear of the oncoming tree. Which, of course, ends with Sasuke taking a fully grown tree to the face.

He wakes up to the lady Hokage healing him with medical ninjutsu. By the time Sasuke is aware that he is in fact awake, and got hit by a tree, Tsunade is done healing him. He's none the worse for the wear, a little sore he supposes. All in all it could be worse. The Hyuga is sulking by the edges of the field. A quick look at his face shows a small, red mark in the middle of his forehead. Privately, Sasuke is regretful he was unconscious for whatever flick from Tsunade caused that mark, but he keeps it to himself, giving the other boy an even look when the Hyuga's eyes shoot this way. Oddly enough, there's less venom in them than usual.

 

Maybe the Dobe isn't wrong about how to make friends... 

 

The thought disgusts him less than he thought it would, and that DOES disgust him.

 

At lunch, as is becoming alarmingly normal to Sasuke, Neji and Sasuke's joint silence is broken by the arrival of Ino and Tenten. Sasuke isn't quite sure how it started, but the first full day of his apprenticeship, when Shizune had given the boys a break for lunch, a boisterous Ino had dragged a very nervous looking Tenten in. With a pointed look at the Hyuga by Ino, the girls had eventually sat between Neji and Sasuke and started up a conversation with each other.

Sasuke had attempted to ignore them, but no one ignored Ino Yamanaka when she wanted something, and soon enough Sasuke had joined into the conversation. After that, it became a ritual. Every day that the new team Guy was in the village, Ino and Tenten would join them for lunch. Neji always pretended he wasn't listening, but Sasuke knew that he was.

Today, Neji actually cracks a smile when Tenten describes one of Guy Sensei's antics, and the glow on the girl's faces makes Sasuke fight off his own smirk, shaking his head. Tenten obviously cares for the Hyuga, and his obliviousness to it all is a source of joy for Sasuke. Watching him struggle and fail to maintain his aloof manner.... Well, it's almost as funny as Naruto's increasingly crazy attempts to get Itachi to laugh out loud have always been. Not that Sasuke would ever admit to finding the Uzumaki's antics funny...

 

 

Later that day, looking at yet another dead fish under his hands, Sasuke sees the fish twitch under his ministrations, and he flushes with pride. He's done it, his first medical ninjutsu. He turns to throw a triumphant look to Neji, only to find the Hyuga doing the same to him. Both of their fish flop on the tables. Meeting Neji's eyes, Sasuke no longer sees hatred in them. In fact, he sees the fires of rivalry.

 


You're on, Hyuga. You're on.

Chapter Text

After weeks of tracking, Team Kakashi finds themselves in a small village near the Hidden Grass, on the trail of Kisame Hoshigaki. Word has it that the shark looking man is hunting a jinchuuriki in the area. It's rare for members of the Akatsuki to travel without a partner, but Kisame had yet to be assigned another partner since Team Kakashi had lured away and killed his last partner just a short time ago. After a period of rest, Sakura, Kakashi, and Tenzou had started on the trail of Kisame immediately.

Now, they were starting to close in. Today is about intel collecting, and resting from the journey here. Across the marketplace, Sakura can see Tenzou politely talking to a merchant, likely buying supplies for the way back home. Somewhere up ahead, Kakashi, henged as a small old lady, is trying to find out about "her grandson" who just happens to look like a certain shark faced man. Sakura herself is henged to look like a nondescript, civilian Nara, her go to henge for infiltration. She is simply listening to the surroundings, hoping to pick up gossip. Surely a man looking like Kisame will stir up some rumors through any  village he happened through.

 

She meets up with her team later in the afternoon, and they settle on a restaurant to eat at while they discuss the day's intel. It's Tenzou's turn to choose dinner, and as such, they've ended up at a fried food place. Sakura learned early on during their strike team training that Kakashi-sensei dislikes fried food, and Sakura is sure it isn't a coincidence that every single time Tenzou picks a place to stop on a mission, it is for fried foods. Judging by the downright evil glint in Tenzou's eyes as Kakashi whines about "little old ladies shouldn't eat too much fried food, you know", the young man enjoys tormenting his senpai enormously. When Kakashi turns his frankly outrageous little old lady eyes on Sakura, she just laughs and reminds him that he gets to pick their food next time. Kakashi mutters under his breath something about "betrayal" and "terrible, good for nothing apprentices taking his kouhai's side." Sakura can't bring herself to be bothered by it.

Over the last year or so, Kakashi has truly opened up immensely to Sakura. This means of course that he acts like a petulant child most of the time, but she knows she can rely on him for a shoulder to cry on, a partner to spar with, and someone who unconditionally always has her back, and she gives the same to him. Not that Kakashi-sensei cries. He's more the, "thousand yard stare and wish I was dead" sort, but Sakura sits with him in those moments, hand on his shoulder, grounding him to the here and now.

As they find their table in the restaurant and sit, Sakura turns her gaze to Tenzou. Tenzou has oddly been the most lighthearted member of the team. He's not loud or rambunctious like Naruto, but he has a calm and wicked sense of humor, yet his calm and grounded spirit has him acting as the adult in the group when Kakashi gets too caught up. He fits so easily into the big brother role, and Sakura loves him desperately for it. It makes her miss Shisui just a little less on long missions.

 

Kakashi casting a subtle Genjutsu catches Sakura's attention and drags her back to the present. It's a simple one, it causes anything they say in their conversation to sound like idle chatter to outside ears, which makes it ideal for talking about classified issues no matter where they happen to be.

 

"Mission report. Tenzou?"

 

Tenzou snaps to attention.

"The merchants recall selling to an odd looking man a day or so ago, and say he mentioned leaving for wetter country tomorrow."

 

Kakashi nods, then turns to Sakura.

"Sakura?"

 

Sakura regurgitates all the important bits of gossip she's picked up and compiled throughout the day.

"A shark faced man has been spotted asking around about a woman, probably the jinchuuriki. He seems on edge."

 

 

At that moment, a waitress comes and takes their orders. Once she walks away, Kakashi sighs.

"Well, that's a problem. I heard much the same. You guys are thinking it too, aren't you?"

 

 

Sakura nods, and Tenzou sighs alongside Kakashi,

"Yes. He hasn't been discreet. Very odd for a ninja of his caliber."

 

 

Kakashi hums in agreement.

"He's baiting us. The question is: why? And, do we go after him anyways?"

 

 

They sit quietly for a while, each turning over strategies and 'what if' scenario's in their minds. Sakura doesn't know enough about Kisame. She recalls his sword Samehada, that eats chakra, and that he was called a tailed beast due to his huge stores of chakra, and she knows that he was never killed, and committed suicide when captures by Guy Sensei. That doesn't give her a lot of hope, going into a fight with him. Especially if he already knows he has a team hunting him on his tail. At the same time, how could any team hope to defeat him if he had a partner? A duo which included Kisame would be nearly impossible to take down, even for Team Kakashi, arguably the strongest team in Konoha. The food arrives, and they eat in relative silence, still thinking. After they've finished, and Tenzou has paid the bill, Sakura speaks up.

"I think it's worth the risk. He knows someone is tailing him, he's leaving a trail. It may be a trap, but he doesn't have a partner that we know of meeting him here. Even if we've lost the element of surprise, isn't it still worth it since he'll be alone?"

 

Kakashi, still in old lady form, nods his head, a smile quirked on his face.

"Excellent deduction, Sakura. As it turns out, I agree with you. Tenzou?"

 

The man gives his assent. And that's that. All that's left is to get some rest, and hope for the best. Kakashi-sensei lifts the genjutsu off the table, so their conversations will no longer be private, and they head to their hotel to get a short time of rest before the fight ensues. That turns out not to be the case, as they enter the hotel, and find the front desk attendant slumped over, blood pooling under her head where it's dropped onto the desk.

Instantly, all three ninja are on alert, henges dropped. There's no use keeping them now. Kakashi takes a moment to bemoan that he's going to have to fight on a stomach of fried food, and "Thanks for that, Tenzou." Tenzou just gives a mild, "anytime" in response. Sakura isn't truly a sensory type, even with her strange ability to connect on a soul level to those she already knows, but even with her limited sensory ability, there's a strong trail of chakra leading from the dead attendant back out through the front door. Judging by Kakashi and Tenzou's faces, they've felt it too. Sakura breaks the silence,

 

"Into the trap we go?"

 

Two grunts of agreement meet her, and then they're off, running after the chakra trail in a practiced formation. Sakura takes point, running along the chakra trail, and noting how it leads outside of town. That means that either Kisame has set an elaborate trap, or, more interestingly, he's attempting to limit civilian casualties. Mentally, she plans for the former, but she hopes for the latter. It's unlikely a rogue nin would care enough about civilians to spare their lives, and he certainly hadn't spared the front desk attendant. However, the Akatsuki have some strange sense of honor, with each one having some individual unwritten code that they follow unflinchingly. Sakura supposes all ninja are like that, to some extent. They've all become ninja for a reason, and most people's reason isn't mindless killing.

 

 

The trail ends suddenly, far outside the borders of town, near a river in a small clearing.

 

I suppose that makes sense, seeing as the whole 'shark man' thing. The water probably gives him some kind of advantage

 

It also gives Sakura a slight advantage, since she's been training in water jutsu as well as earth, but she feels certain that Kisame's gain will far outstrip whatever meager advantage she receives. Kakashi flares his chakra in the signal that means "forward" and "caution", and Sakura walks carefully into the clearing. The moment she steps foot into the clearing, the water from the river begins rushing and rising, filling the small area with water. Sakura leaps into the nearest tree and watches, as the water rises and a form appears, walking along the water. A wide, grinning set of shark teeth is discernable, even from a distance. A wave of alarm washes over her.

 

We are so, so screwed.

 

 

Then the fight begins.

 

 

It's pitch black outside, which makes the black shapes moving through the water even more alarming. Sakura can only assume they're clones, or summons. Maybe actual sharks? Tenzou has made a sort of wooden bride across the water, which Kakashi is running across. Sakura tries to cover for her sensei by throwing a barrage of shuriken towards Kisame. It's so dark Sakura can't even see that he's dodging them, though he must be, or he would've fallen due to the sheer amount of shuriken imbedded in him. Or, at least Sakura hopes so. Kakashi gives a one handed signal which she feels with chakra more than she sees, and she and Tenzou snap into motion. While Tenzou and Kakashi confront Kisame directly, it will be Sakura's job to drain this newfound lake, and block off access to the water from Kisame.

Sakura feels sure that she could handle a more upfront role in fights, but Kakashi still sees her as his young student, his apprentice, and not the new Jonin that she is. Sakura knows Kakashi would rather die himself than see her get hurt in combat, especially against such skilled enemies. It frustrates her, but when she brought it up to Tenzou, the man had informed her that was just how Kakashi was, and he'd come to depend on her soon enough. Sakura tries not to complain too much. After all, it's not as if she's useless. Actually, her strategic skills and sabotage and ambush skills have turned the tide of the battle more than once. This battle with Kisame will be no different. If she can't find a way to drain this lake and rid Kisame of his shark summons, or whatever they are, Team Kakashi stands little chance of winning this battle.

 

Sakura jumps from tree to tree, expecting to see the water level slowly slope off, but she's surprised to see there's an invisible boundary of some sort, keeping the water in and intact like some sort of enormous fish tank. Jumping to the solid ground at the edge of the body of water, Sakura ignores the sound of clashing metal off in the distance, and focuses on the tank itself. When she touches the edge, her fingers get wet, but no water pours out.

 

interesting...

 

Gathering some chakra to her fist, Sakura punches the wall experimentally. Her fist hits the invisible barrier with a wet thunk, and a small shockwave flows through the water. No water spills out, however. So the invisible boundary must have something to do with the properties of the water itself. Sakura climbs a tree to get near the top of the water and kick at the surface. The splash flings water beyond the boundary of the lake and sinks harmlessly into the ground.

 

hmm...

 

So it isn't all the water that has a chakra property. There is some sort of chakra of some sort holding it together though, Sakura feels certain. The question is, how many sides is it on? It clearly doesn't extend up, but throwing all the water into the air is likely impossible due to the sheer amount of it. Dropping back to the ground, Sakura slams a chakra laden fist into the ground near the edge of the water, causing a massive fissure to open underneath lake Kisame. Time to see if there's a lower boundary. Judging by the small whirlpool that instantly appears as water gets sucked into the crevice, apparently not.

 

CHA! I've got him now!

 

All she has to do now is open enough fissures in the ground to suck down all the water. Looking to the surface, Sakura sees the water level has barely dipped, and groans. There's a lot of punching to be done here. She gets to it immediately, casting out a quick sense, and reaffirming that her two teammates are still alive. Darting around the outside of the barrier, Sakura punches the ground over and over, opening fissures and crevices and basically destroying the landscape underneath the body of water. Slowly, but steadily, the water level falls. It goes to over Sakura's head in height, all the way down to her shins. At this point, she's made almost a full circle around the water, and though she's not out of chakra yet, she's certainly starting to feel the drag of its loss. Sakura feels confident that Kisame's sharks or whatever they are, are no longer usable, as the water slowly drains down towards ankle height. Jumping onto the surface, with as much stealth as possible, she makes her way towards the fight. It's been a long time, for a ninja fight. She can only hope her teammates are holding their own.

 

Drawing close to where she can feel three chakra signatures, Sakura draws up short when she sees Kisame, smirking, Samehada on his back. Each of the Akatsuki's hands holds a glowing water prison jutsu. Inside of each, her teammates. Kakashi looks a mixture of angry and straight up annoyed. If they live through this, Sakura will be sure to tease Kakashi about getting caught in not one, but two separate water prisons, each cast by a member of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist. Tenzou, on the other hand, doesn't look so well. In fact, through the glow cast by Kisame's chakra holding the prisons together, Tenzou looks like he's drowning. The alarm Sakura feels causes her to pick up speed.

Looking to her sensei, hoping for guidance, she sees Kakashi make three quick handsigns in a row. Catching his meaning, she continues as if she's seen nothing. The less Kisame suspects, the better. She's relieved for it though. If Kakashi has some sort of plan, then things aren't too desperate yet. Gathering chakra to her fist, Sakura lets out a loud yell and throws a punch as hard as she can. Kisame removes his hand from Tenzou's water prison to block, as she expected, but what she doesn't expect is for the water prison to continue to hold.

 

This is so out of my league....

 

 

Sakura throws the punch anyway, it's not like she can stop it at this point. When Kisame's arm meets hers, she changes her fist into an open hand, and grabs the man's arm, flinging herself over his head, weaving chakra signs all the way. Kisame lets go of Kakashi's prison next, though like Tenzou's, it stays intact. He uses his free hand to reach toward Samehada, and Sakura releases her jutsu.

 

"Earth Style, Multi mud spear!"

 

Two spears of earth leap from the soggy ground, which is still steadily draining water. The spears miss Kisame, and pop her two teammate's water prisons, spilling the water and the soaked ninja within onto the ground. This was all according to plan. What wasn't according to plan was the realization Sakura has nowhere to go but down and Kisame now has a firm grip on Samehada. She can only watch in horror as the sword swings through the air, heading right towards her. The air warbles in front of her, and Samehada seems to warp before her eyes. Sakura kind of wants to close her eyes, and it's only long trained instinct that forces her to keep watching as the sword that could easily end her life swings closer.

With a whoosh, Sakura finds herself staring a stump arm, and no Samehada to be found. Kisame howls in pain, and turns toward Kakashi, hate flashing in his eyes. Sakura too looks to her sensei, and finds her answer in Kakashi's Mangekyou eye.

 

He's used Kamui. Good work, sensei.

 

 

Kakashi seems to sag slightly, and Sakura would sigh dramatically if she wasn't currently in a life or death battle.

 

 

If Kakashi-sensei wasn't out of chakra before, he definitely is now.

 

 

Sakura hasn't had the chance to attempt to fix his Mangekyou, or even study it really. She knows Kakashi only has two or three shots of Kamui on a good day, and after having been in a fight with a ninja like Kisame for the better part of half an hour... Well, it's a miracle he's still conscious, really. Sakura takes advantage of Kisame's distraction of both the loss of his arm, sword, and Kakashi's interference. Since Kisame no longer has Samehada, it's safe to attack with chakra based attacks, so Sakura draws her two short blades, and runs her medical chakra down the blades before attacking.

Even with an arm gone and his back turned, Kisame turns out to be an extremely tough opponent. Her goal was to sever the muscles in his remaining arm, but she glances off as the shark man turns and glances off his back, severing what she hopes was an important chest muscle from behind. It's Kakashi's turn to provide distraction for her now, and Sakura instantly regrets being a sideliner. Having Kisame's full attention on her is terrifying, and if it wasn't for Kakashi-sensei keeping up a steady barrage of shuriken, kunai, and the occasional exploding tag, Sakura is sure she would have died in seconds.

Kisame is a force of nature. Even one armed and bleeding, his flurry of kicks and punches come so quickly it's hard for Sakura to keep up on the defensive. She gets in a little slice here, a little there. Nothing seems to stop him. Sakura knows she has to end this quickly, because if Tenzou was really drowning, and his lack of backup at this point leads Sakura to believe her teammate is in medical trouble, she needs to finish this fight right now. Kisame seems to sense her desperation, somehow, and he closes the gap Sakura has been trying so hard to keep, and makes handsigns so fast Sakura can't even read them.

 

One handed signs... That is NOT good.

 

The good arm punches out at her, much too close to avoid, and the hand looks for all intents, to have turned into a shark. There's no way to dodge, and Sakura would be too afraid to drag this out much longer anyway. Sakura takes the blow, shifting slightly so that it won't end her life instantly. The shark hand goes straight through her side, ripping and tearing instead of slicing, and Sakura can't help the gasp that escapes her, though she hates that the edges of it sound like a scream. With Kisame's arm buried up to the elbow in her gut, he's trapped, just for a moment. It's all the moment Sakura needs. With her medical chakra covered blades, she lops the arm off.

Judging by the look on Kisame's face, he hadn't expected her to be able to move, much less fight back. Any normal ninja would have died, Sakura grants him that. Kisame has no way of knowing the second his fist made contact with her flesh, she'd started pouring healing chakra into the wound as it formed, preventing her from dying instantly, impaled on her enemy. That's not to say she isn't dying. She definitely is, just not as fast.

 

Hopefully I stay awake long enough to finish this and prevent my own death.

 

Before Kisame can open his mouth, before blood can even start spurting in earnest from his newest stump, Sakura sweeps his legs out from under him with a kick of her own. Pinning him with a knee, his disembodied arm still protruding from her insides, Sakura cuts his head off.

 

Her vision starts blacking at the edges, and Sakura knows she has mere moments, if not seconds, before she passes out from blood loss. She can only pour so much chakra in at once, and it's clearly not going to be quite fast enough. Gritting her teeth, she grabs the arm, and starts to pull it out of her. A scream, real and full this time, rips from her mouth. Of course Kisame has shark scales on his freaking arms. Tears in her eyes, Sakura does the only thing she can do. She pushes the arm the rest of the way through her gut and out the other side.

 

She can't stop the wretched, ragged sounds that come from her mouth as she does so, and the fuzziness of her vision intensifies faster, due to pain as well as blood loss at the point. Sealing herself inside as quickly as she can, Sakura knows she's still in serious trouble if she doesn't get help soon. Like, Memorial Stone levels of trouble. Looking up, trying to maintain consciousness, she sees Kakashi-sensei staring at her in horror. Or more accurately, staring through her in horror. Her sensei has a thousand yard stare she knows all too well. He's seeing something that happened a long time ago. He mouths something that looks terribly like "Rin", and then collapses to the ground.

 

Sakura wants to cry out in frustration, but she can't. Crawling over to Tenzou, Sakura feels dizzy, and she knows she has only seconds. Tenzou isn't breathing, and he looks blue in the face. Gathering whatever chakra she can, She gives one single, hard, desperate shove to Tenzou's chest. If she wasn't so injured, she'd perform rescue breaths, if she wasn't losing consciousness, she would make sure he was getting the water out of his lungs. But she's passing out, bleeding out internally, and all she can do is give one, strong, focused shove into Tenzou's lungs. Her last thought before blacking out is just hoping that somehow, it was enough. That Tenzou will be okay. Sakura isn't really sure that she will wake up, but she hopes, for Kakashi's sake, at least Tenzou does.

Chapter Text

Sakura jolts awake with a gasp, and several things clamor for attention all at once in her head. First, she's actually woken up, which she was not expecting. Before she can dwell on that too much, the amount of pain she's in registers, and she clamps her mouth shut to keep from a scream. Her whole side feels like it's on fire. Around the same time, she becomes aware it very much feels like she's been pinned to the ground. Run through with yet another weapon. The last thing that registers is that it's completely, utterly dark, and Sakura can't even see the stars. She tries to stay calm as she works through the options. Either she's been kidnapped and is being held somewhere, wait... Maybe she's blind? Putting a bit of medical chakra to her hand, Sakura can see the faint green glow, and breaths a sigh of relief that turns into a sharp gasp of pain as she jostles her side.

 

A shaky voice speaks from just behind her.
"Sakura?"

 

She jumps at the sound, and her vision swims from the instant pain she's in. She may not be dead, but she's not far off, still. At least she's awake. Forcing herself to focus, Sakura tries to place the voice. Who is she here with?

 

 

The voice begins again, with a slightly desperate edge.
"Sakura, please wake up."

 

Whoever it is sounds hurt, and upset. Even though Sakura can't figure out what's going on, instinct to protect, care takes over and she answers.
"Yeah, I'm awake. What happened to me?"

 

 

A clammy, trembling hand grabs hers, and Sakura can feel from the way she's being gripped that whoever owns this hand is freaking out, and trying to ground themselves.
"I-I don't know. I was drowning, and I woke up, and you were on the ground and so was Kakashi-senpai. I thought-I thought you both were dead. I think I got hit in the head, everything feels weird. I built this dome over us, to protect us."

 

Kakashi-senpai? That can mean only one person. Tenzou.

 

 

That question answered, Sakura reaches out with the hand Tenzou isn't gripping and runs some healing chakra through her torso. Or, she tries to. Her hand, on it's way to the wound, has hit something odd. Scratching the surface of whatever has impaled her, Sakura feels a strong, but grained surface.

 

 

wood?

 

 

If she's been impaled by wood, that partially explains why she was able to wake up. It must be pushing against the blood vessels, keeping her limited quantity of blood, inside.
"Tenzou, did you, ah, stab me?"

 

 

The grip on her hand tightens slightly, and Sakura squeezes back. She trusts Tenzou, if he stabbed her, it must have been for a good reason.
"Not exactly, but I guess so? You had this hole and you were bleeding and I didn't know what to do, I don't even know any medical ninjutsu. I didn't know how to stop the bleeding so I... I grew a tree through it? Then I did a chakra transfer like they taught us in Anbu, since we have the same chakra type. I was just hoping you'd wake up. Did I kill you? Are you going to die?"

 

 

Sakura has never heard Tenzou sound young before, and he sounds very young at the moment. He must have gotten hit in the head terrifically hard. Sakura can't recall him breaking composure ever, excepting the rare occasion he'd get mad at Kakashi-sensei. Realizing she's losing her train of thought, Sakura refocuses.

 

 

wound, right.

 

 

She moves her hand off the wood and onto her stomach, and runs a diagnostic chakra. Whether he meant to or not, Tenzou has saved her life. The tree has not only grown through the hole in Sakura's side, it's also had vines and leaves wrap around exposed vessels. Sakura is essentially stitched into the tree. She has no idea how Tenzou did it, and judging by the man's nervous breakdown, he probably doesn't either. As effective as a stopgap that the tree is, Sakura needs Tenzou to get rid of it now, or she's going to die anyway. He stopped the immediate danger, but she won't last forever, not like this. At least she's awake to heal, so she has a chance. She'll have to stay positive for her emotional teammate, though.

 

"Tenzou, I'm not going to die. You did a good job. Now that I'm awake, I need you to take the tree out so I can heal myself. Can you do that?"

 

Silence reigns for a moment, then Sakura hears a soft, "yes" and Tenzou lets go of her hand. The second he does, Sakura kind of misses it, but she figures he needs both hands to get this tree out. She definitely needs both of hers to heal.
"On three. One, two... three!"

 

Sakura screams as the tree unwinds itself from her gut, and she pours chakra into the wound, healing as fast as she can, trying to keep conscious and limit the bleeding. She has no time or ability to dampen the pain, though. It's maybe one of the worst feelings Sakura has ever had, feeling wood carefully ripping away from her open wounds, and forcing them back together as quickly as possible with no pain management. She bites down hard, trying not to throw off her chakra by screaming too much, but it hurts, and it's awful. Her vision swims in and out and she knits herself back together from the inside out. Several times she wants to give in and pass out again, but the memory of Tenzou's terrified voice keeps her focused. Her teammates are down, and they need her help.

 

Once Sakura gets out of the danger zone, she lets up on the healing chakra, and sinks to the ground. She still has wounds on the front and back of her gut, that'll need to be stitched up. But she's no longer dying. At least, she thinks she isn't. Instead of direct chakra healing, Sakura switches to cycling the chakra through her body faster than normal. It should speed her rate of healing, without expending any more chakra. And she is low, can feel the ache of nearly depleted chakra stores. Tenzou must have given her a large amount, probably more than was safe, even. But, it'd worked. She isn't going to die, not this second anyway.

 

The moment her hands leave her torso, one of Tenzou's finds hers again. Sakura is grateful for it. She needs to stitch herself up, to check on Tenzou and Kakashi, but she can't. Not at this moment. Sakura allows herself a few moments, to rest and let some of the pain ebb away, until it's merely excruciating, instead of unbearable. Her memories of the fight come back to her as well.

 

Nothing like intense, nearly life ending pain to keep your mind sharp, right?

 

Slow, deep breaths, and an unknown amount of time later, Sakura concludes she can't lay wallowing in her own pain any longer. It's still so dark in here.
"Tenzou?"

 

She hears a slight sniffling, and wonders if her teammate is crying. She wonders if it makes her a bad person that she hopes he is, since the alternative would be that he got hit hard enough to be bleeding out important fluids. She holds the hand in hers even more gently.
"Tenzou, it's really dark in here. Do you have a flashlight?"

 

She doesn't get a verbal answer, but a few seconds later, a flashlight kicks on, illuminating the small space Sakura is in. It looks kind of like an upside down boat, in Sakura's opinion. It covers her where she lays, and Tenzou right behind her. A foot or so to Sakura's left, Kakashi-sensei is sprawled out as well. Kakashi-sensei doesn't look great, but he doesn't look dead either, since even in the dim light of the flashlight she can see his chest rising and falling. Tenzou looks, well, terrible. One of his arms is twisted the wrong way altogether, giving his shoulders an uneven height. His face is swollen, and hardly looks like the man she's used to seeing.

 

"Maybe got hit in the head." Maybe??

 

He has two black eyes, and what looks like a shattered nose. The pattern of it tells her that he's taken a kick or punch directly in the face. That makes him incredibly lucky to be alive. Sakura can't believe she didn't see it all before, but she supposes literally dying might have clouded her vision. On top of all of that, Sakura can tell that the man is actually crying, which means whatever blow he took knocked the inside of his head around too.

 

okay, triage. No one is dying at this second. Kakashi looks okay, he's probably just chakra exhausted, so I'll leave him for now. Tenzou is probably the worst right now, but I can't get up to heal him until I stitch up my own wounds. No use undoing all that hard work. I have almost no chakra to speak of.

 

Everything taken into account, Sakura formulates a plan. Reaching into her pouch, still resolutely at her side, she pulls out her med kit and some chakra pills. Popping a couple pills into her mouth, Sakura swallows them and then opens the med kit. The chakra pills will force her to regenerate chakra faster, but they aren't instantaneous. She'll stitch herself up while she waits for them to kick in, and by the time she's done, hopefully she has enough chakra to fix the worst of whatever is going on in Tenzou's head. She hopes there's nothing vitally bleeding inside her teammate's brain, but even if there is, there isn't anything she can do about it right now. She threads the needle and gets to work.

 

"Tenzou, I can see that you did take a hit to the head, so I need to you to talk to me, while I stitch myself up. I'm coming to help you, I promise. I just have to stitch this up first. Can you talk to me?"

 

She starts stitching, and Tenzou starts talking, or.... tearfully rambling.
"You don't have to help me, Sakura. I'm okay. I thought you were dead. I can't believe you're still alive. When I woke up, and you and senpai were down... I thought I was alone again. senpai.... He was my only family for a long time, but, you're family now too, Sakura. I don't have anyone else. I don't want to be alone again. I-I don't know what else to do."

 

Tenzou is working himself up while he's rambling, and as much as Sakura needs him to keep talking, she doesn't need him to get worked up into a state. She pauses in a stitch for a moment, and grabs Tenzou's hand.

"Tenzou, hey. Hey. Look at me."

 

 

He does, swollen eyes sockets offering the smallest glimpse into the eyes underneath.

 

 

"It's okay, I'm not going to leave you. Kakashi-sensei isn't going to leave you. I know everything feels really upsetting right now, but it's because you hit your head. Okay? Can you talk to me about something else? Why don't you talk to me about plants. Those are happy for you, right?"

 

Tenzou nods, and Sakura regretfully pulls her hand away from his. The chakra pills are starting to work, and Sakura is nearly done with her front. Then she can help her teammate. The amount that he's freaking out is making Sakura distinctly worried about how hard he got hit, but she shoves it down. One thing at a time.

 

Tenzou takes a shuddering breath, then starts rambling again.
"It's not just plants, Sakura. It's flowers. I mean, I know I can make trees and houses and huge amounts of wood, but flowers are so beautiful. They're delicate, and bright, and they bring joy to everyone that looks at them. One day, I want to have a house, somewhere where I can have a garden. And I'm going to grow flowers. I'll grow some for you, Sakura. I'll grow Sakura blossoms just for you, and flowers for senpai too."

 

Tenzou continues on his rant about flowers and Sakura starts on the backside of her injury. Tenzou is no less emotional, but at least he's talking about something that makes him happy. Sakura wonders why he's never bought himself a house, before this. Surely a full time Anbu can afford a little house and garden for themselves. Sakura decides to ask him about it. Sometime when he isn't dangerously concussed, preferably. As Sakura ties off the stitches on her back, she assesses her chakra levels. They aren't great, but they'll do for now. They'll have to. Leveraging herself off the ground carefully, so as not to pull at her two sets of stitches, Sakura sits up, leaning back against the wood dome Tenzou has created, and reaches for her teammate. He's still rambling, now about how people never pay attention to the differences between young tulips and rosebuds but that they're "totally different".

 

Sakura takes his hand again, on his good side, and he instantly stops talking, looking at his hand where it's joined with Sakura's in confusion.

"Alright, I'm going to check out your head here."

 

 

Tenzou allows her to place a glowing hand on the side of his head, and she runs the smallest bit of chakra through that she can, trying to save up. He's definitely got a serious concussion, and the bruising around his brain has reached the point where it's beginning to swell, which is troubling. Carefully, Sakura sends tendrils of chakra through her teammates head, soothing his brain at the edges, trying to convince his body not to swell. She eases the bruising out carefully, caressing the inflammation with her chakra in a cooling way, trying to draw the heat out. The good part about inflammation is that Sakura gets to keep all the chakra she uses, as she only needs to cool it down and run it in a gentle loop through the inflamed area.

Unfortunately for Tenzou, most of the bruising and inflammation is around the emotional centers in his brain, which explains the sudden outbursts from her normally stoic teammate. After a few cycles of cold chakra, Sakura is convinced the swelling is no longer growing, and her teammate will heal in a few days on his own. It's not safe to put too much chakra near the brain, or for too long, so Sakura withdraws. She knows she should save some chakra for an emergency, since the team is likely stranded for at least a few hours before any of them can move, but she still sets Tenzou's nose, which makes him tear up instantly.

 

"You're going to be okay. You've got a pretty serious concussion, but it's out of danger. I do need to set your shoulder, though. Are you ready for that?"

 

Tenzou nods probably out of reflex, and before he can even position himself to get ready for the resetting, Sakura grabs his shoulder and pops it back in with a resounding crack. Her teammate hisses in pain, and Sakura hums in sympathy. No matter how many times you reset a shoulder, it hurts like crazy every single time. Digging through her medical pack, Sakura is pleased to find that she has a sling still in there. Slings aren't usually in her normal med-pack, but for her Jonin exams she had packed heavy. It appears she hasn't really unpacked since then, but now, she's grateful for it. She helps Tenzou into the sling, and then lets her teammate relax. His face is still swollen awfully, and Sakura knows he'll probably continue to be emotional for a day or so more, while the swelling inside his brain goes down.

 

For now, they need to rest. Not a single member of the team is up for moving right now, and it's not safe for them to just camp here in Grass country. Sakura works out a pretend shift plan with Tenzou, where she takes first shift. In reality, she's going to sleep too. They both need it. When they wake, they'll have to figure out how to move towards home. Tenzou curls up at Sakura's side, still emotional enough to not want to be parted from his team. Sakura knows the feeling. In fact, she drags Kakashi's unconscious form carefully up to her other side, so she can keep an eye on him too. Not that she's really planning on keeping an eye on anyone, as she needs the rest too. But sandwiched between her two teammates, Sakura feels safe.

Putting one hand on Kakashi's shoulder, and her other on Tenzou's, Sakura falls asleep.

 

 

 

She wakes up again sometime later. It's so dark inside this dome that Tenzou has created, she has no idea how much time has passed. She still has a hand on both of her teammates, who are sleeping. Reaching out to Tenzou's side first, Sakura checks his head. His face is still swollen beyond recognition, but the swelling in his brain is all but gone, and only bruising remains. Kakashi is, as Sakura expected, simply chakra exhausted. As for herself, she feels sore, and the pain in her side is still immense, but she's not bleeding, not in any danger.

She shakes Tenzou awake very carefully, and when her teammate asks if its his turn to be on watch, she tells him they need to see if they can start moving towards home, instead. Instead of answering her directly, her teammate takes down the dome he created. Squinting her eyes against the sudden bright light, Sakura notes that the sun seems to be in the middle of the sky. Around noon, then. Time to wake Kakashi-sensei, then.

In a perfect world, Kakashi shouldn't even wake up until this evening at the earliest, and shouldn't be moving around until tomorrow. But it isn't a perfect world. They're on a mission, in enemy territory, and all of them are injured in some way. When her sensei cracks his eye open, Sakura sees a glazed sort of look on his face. It's to be expected, since he really shouldn't be conscious at all. She hands him a chakra pill, and turns away so he can pull down his mask. When she turns back, his gaze is a tiny bit clearer, but not by much. He looks sort of confused.

 

"Good morning sensei. I'm alive, as you can see. And so are you. So's Tenzou, actually. None of us are in great shape, but we need to start heading towards home. We've been here too long already."

 

Kakashi nods slowly, and makes an aborted move to get up, before realizing he probably can't. Motioning to Tenzou, Sakura pulls Kakashi to his feet, with Tenzou's help. Kakashi is slung between them, one arm over Sakura's shoulder, and the other over Tenzou's good shoulder. Then they try to walk. It's difficult, and takes them a few tries to even get right. Sakura winces with every step, feeling the pull on her insides which aren't truly healed enough to be making this sort of trip. Kakashi is practically dead weight, though with the chakra pill he's taken, he should at least be somewhat in his right mind soon enough. Tenzou seems less emotional than before, but he isn't very steady on his feet, the concussion making him dizzy and his face so swollen there's no way the man can see straight. Limping, dragging each other and themselves, Team Kakashi starts on their way home.

 

 

One more Akatsuki member down... eight more to go.

 

There better only be eight more, Sakura thinks grimly to herself.

Chapter Text

Team Kakashi stumbles towards home in stages. They'll stumble along for a while, and then Tenzou will get confused or dizzy, or Sakura will rip her stitches, or Kakashi will pass out and his dead weight will drag them all to the ground. During these times, they'll patch themselves up, catch their breath, and then move on, slowly but surely making their way towards the border, towards Fire country. Of course, Team Seven luck doesn't work like that, and when they're only about half a mile from the border, they're attacked by a group of Iwa nin.

Sakura supposes the luck could be worse, as she carefully puts Kakashi on the ground behind her, and covers her sensei under a hail of shuriken. It appears to Sakura to be a team of Iwa Genin and their sensei, which means at the very least they aren't as lethal as they could be. Naturally, this also means there's four of them, but Sakura tries not to think about it as Tenzou constructs a half-hazard wall behind them to give them some semblance of a defense. Still, they're incredibly screwed.

Sakura has almost no chakra to speak of, having continually spent it on healing herself or trying to keep infection out of Tenzou's face. Kakashi has no chakra and isn't truly conscious at this point in any way that would help. Really, the best fighter they have at this point is Tenzou, who, while possessing around half of his normal chakra stores, is unable to see straight, and is strategically compromised due to his severe concussion.

Their enemy must be fresh Genin, because not a single jutsu has yet been used. Sakura wonders if their sensei saw how beat up Team Kakashi is and is allowing his Genin a chance to try and figure out a fight on their own. Sakura blocks yet another round of shuriken, covering both Kakashi and herself, and takes the situation in. There's three Genin, all incredibly young looking. The smallest of the group, a girl, is the one throwing all these shuriken. She's not a very good shot, which almost makes it worse, since it's unpredictable. There's two boys off to the side, arguing with each other audibly about strategy while their Jonin sensei stands behind them, looking disappointed in his team.

 

As he should be. If they'd attacked us straight on right away, we all would have been killed. Dragging it out gives us the advantage.

 

Sakura now has a sizeable stack of shuriken on hand, and she's a much better shot than the girl. Sakura throws eight shuriken. The girl blocks the first four with a kunai, but the next four hit her dead on, two in her right shoulder, one in her foot, and one slicing a shallow wound across the girl's forehead. Sakura doesn't want to make any kill shots, partially because they're just children, and partially because if she kills one of these Genin, the Jonin is going to be angry. And Sakura can't deal with an angry Jonin right now. The best she can hope for is to injure his team enough that he pulls back and leaves them alone.

They're so close to the border. So so close. As anticipated, the girl freaks out over the head wound, which is spilling blood into her eyes. This grabs the attention of the two boys on the side, and they exclaim angrily together and rush at Sakura. Sakura grabs for another volley of shuriken, but before she can, two beams of wood shoot out, and impale the two boys upon them. Tenzou, in his concussed state, had not picked up Sakura's nonlethal plan, and had only seen two enemies charging at his teammate, had just impaled them.

 

This is NOT good.

 

The boy's terrified faces quickly fall slack, and Sakura backs up, looking for their Jonin sensei, but he's disappeared from sight.

 

"Tenzou! Get to defense, now!"

 

The wood draws out of the Iwa Genin, and their young bodies fall lifelessly to the ground. Sakura feels wood wrap around her, a little too snug to be comfortable. This definitely isn't defense. Sakura can't move, she can barely breath. She's encased in wood from the shoulders down, restricted from movement. It's so tight, it's actually beginning to hurt. Casting around her gaze for the Iwa nin, Sakura doesn't see him at all. She casts a quick Kai! to break the Genjutsu, but nothing changes. For whatever reason, Tenzou has turned on her instead. Or maybe he really thinks he's protecting her with this.

 

At least he's going nonlethal right now, or else I'd be dead. Like those two boys...

 

 

 

Sakura hears the unmistakable sound of someone drawing a kunai, and she looks to Tenzou, but he's looking at her with a sort of glazed over determination. The girl on the other side of the clearing is gone, and in her place stands the Iwa Jonin, a sick smile twisted across his face. In one hand, he holds a kunai, and in the other...

"Kakashi-sensei!"

 

Sakura starts wriggling frantically, desperate to be freed from the binds of her teammate.
"Tenzou, let me go! Let me go, he has Kakashi-sensei!"

 

Tenzou's face doesn't change whatsoever. A gravelly cackle sounds across the clearing, and Sakura's eyes are drawn again to the Iwa nin.
"Your teammate doesn't even know who you are, girl. But I do. This-"

 

He yanks on Kakashi's hair, which causes Kakashi to wince slightly, but her sensei's eye remains closed, even as he's literally held upright by his shock of gray hair.
"This is Kakashi Hatake of the Sharingan eye. And you, must be his student. I think a little payback is in order, don't you?"

 

Sakura shakes her head violently, and tries to make a handsign, anything. But she's so tightly wrapped up in Tenzou's jutsu she can't move an inch.
"You attacked US! Please, just let us go! Let him go!"

 

The Jonin's eyes flash dangerously, and Sakura can see real hurt in them.
"Your teammate over there killed my students. Now it's my turn to return the favor."

 

 

 

The kunai flashes, and then it's buried in Kakashi's shoulder. With a groan, her sensei's eye flutters open. He looks more confused than anything. The Iwa nin shakes him a little, and Kakashi turns slightly to face him. The man doesn't offer any answers, simply twists the kunai, and Kakashi's face contorts in pain, but he doesn't make a sound. Sakura does, though.
"LEAVE HIM ALONE!"

 

She knows it won't help. The Iwa nin knows it, Kakashi knows too, but Sakura can't help it. The enemy removes the kunai, looking Sakura in the eye the entire time. He makes a big show of putting it back onto his belt, lifting his hands in the air in mock surrender. Then, he takes Kakashi's arm, twists it behind his back, and pulls. Kakashi makes a small choking noise, and Sakura knows that for her sensei to consciously make any sound of pain at all, it must be absolute agony.

The Iwa nin plants a foot on her sensei's back, and keeps pulling, farther, farther, and Sakura watches in absolute horror as her sensei is nearly lifted off the ground, his face contorted in pain, and then there's a crack that echoes through the whole clearing as the arm breaks. A short cry from her sensei's mouth is all it takes to break whatever measure of calm Sakura has left.

 

She flares her chakra as brightly as she can, hoping to break whatever trance Tenzou is in. The wood loosens, just slightly, but enough for Sakura to know he's confused now. She keeps flaring her chakra, and at the same time...

 

"Stop! Please Stop! I, we, killed your students, so you should be doing this to me! Take me instead, leave my sensei alone! Please leave him, take me!"

 

Between her screaming and flaring of chakra, Sakura feels the wood loosen a lot as the Iwa nin cocks his head in sarcastic thought. She doesn't move, though. Frozen, thinking through her next steps.

 

What she doesn't expect is for Kakashi to croak out,
"Don't listen to her. If she gets free, she can take you down, easy. I'm your only shot at revenge."

 

 

The Iwa ninja laughs again, and Sakura hates the gravelly sound of his laugh.
"The copy-nin has a soft spot after all. Well, Hatake, it's rude not to listen to a lady, don't you know that? Of course, you outrank her. What to do..."

 

 

The enemy pulls his kunai again and taps his chin mockingly, as if lost in thought. Then, quick as a flash, he stabs the kunai into Kakashi's other shoulder, to prevent him from fighting, probably. The man has no way of knowing that Kakashi has no usable chakra to speak of, and couldn't move no matter how desperately he wants to. Kakashi's eye goes wide with pain. The enemy Jonin grabs her sensei's broken arm, and start yanking on it, hard. Sharp, harsh gasps issue, and from Kakashi, it's as good as screaming. Sakura watches as her sensei spasms with pain, and makes a plan. 

When Kakashi actually outright screams for the first time, Sakura seizes her chance, ignoring the way her heart breaks in her chest to hear the noise. She jumps out of the wooden prison Tenzou had wrapped around her, and quickly slaps her hand to Tenzou's chest, breaking the genjutsu he's in. Before she can turn to run at the Jonin, she feels him rushing at her, rushing at Tenzou. For a split second, she freezes.

 

Now what?

 

Kakashi yells out,

 

"Sakura, run!"

 

 

I will not abandon my teammates. I won't abandon you either, Kakashi-sensei.

 

With a huge shove, Sakura throws Tenzou towards where Kakashi is. The Iwa ninja appears in Tenzou's spot, kunai out and ready to kill her teammate. Too bad for him, Team Kakashi has no self-preservation whatsoever, and Tenzou is safe, on the ground confused midway between Sakura and Kakashi. The Iwa nin recovers quicker than Sakura does, and he grabs her by the hair, kunai to the throat.

 

And I've already cut my hair short and everything.

 

It's a stupid thing to fixate on, but Sakura wishes she had enough length in her hair to cut off, to escape this grasp. As it is, she's stuck.
"Well, copy-nin. Looks like I've got your precious student after all."

 

Sakura could laugh. Precious student? What a riot. Sasuke is the favorite student by far. She's the leftovers of Team seven, and always has been. Sure, she and Kakashi-sensei are closer now than they've ever been, but Sakura knows deep down Kakashi wishes it had been one of his other two students. One of the talented ones. She's just Sakura.

 

The kunai at her throat reminds her this isn't exactly the time to think about that. Her sensei's face currently looks pained. Tenzou is looking at Sakura with the utmost confusion.
"Tenzou, take sensei and run! Don't look back!"

 

If looks of anger alone could kill, Sakura would have died based on the glare Kakashi has just given her.

"Sorry, sensei."

 

 

Tenzou looks at her again, and then nods. As Tenzou grabs Kakashi with his one good arm, Sakura feels the rage of the enemy beside her, and jumps. The kunai at her throat cuts down into her clavicle instead, taking a huge, long flap of flesh with it. The Iwa nin easily overpowers her and pins her to the ground, but Sakura hears the sound of Tenzou rushing away, Kakashi in his arms. At least her team is safe.

 

 

 

The rage on her enemy's face is immeasurable as Sakura stares defiant into his black eyes. 

"You cost me two Genin and a shot at the famed copy ninja. You're going to pay for that, girl."

 

Remembering the way Kakashi's arm twisted up behind his back, Sakura spits in the man's face. Torture and death, so be it. But no one lays a hand on her precious people. Besides, even if she dies. There is still Sasuke. He can carry on and save this future, Sakura believes it with her whole heart.

 

She gets slapped across the face for her actions. It stings, but to Sakura, it is more than worth it. Then, the real work begins. 

 

Sakura quickly loses track of where the pain is coming from. The man ignores her pre-existing injury, and is clearly well versed in torture, since he doesn't give a single wound that would end Sakura's life, or even give her the freedom to pass out. He crushes each of the fingers on her right hand, one by one, she remembers that. She doesn't scream, she refuses to give him the satisfaction. The one thing she can't help though, is crying. No matter how hard she tries, Sakura can't help but sob, tears streaming down her face. The enemy ninja laughs, and carves the tracks her tears flow with his kunai, so that every tear brings salty agony to her face, but still, Sakura cries.

 

 

Eventually, Sakura goes numb. When the Iwa nin rips her cheek open with a kunai, exposing her teeth to the open air, Sakura doesn't even flinch.  She hopes that with the numbness, unconsciousness will follow. She's tired. So very tired. She wonders if Tenzou got Kakashi to safety. She hopes he did. Hopes her sensei will forgive her, for dying in his place. If only she could stop crying.

 

 

Sakura knows death must be closing in, because she feels Shisui's chakra signature appear in her periphery. Knowing that her friend is a hallucination, Sakura doesn't try to shake it away. She lets phantom Shisui draw closer, sees him stab the Iwa nin in the back, and yank the enemy's body off of her. Sakura loses a few minutes. When she tunes in next, fake Shisui pulls open a med pack. Drawing a syringe of what Sakura would guess is some sort of stimulant, fake Shisui plunges it into Sakura's thigh. Instead of her vision going fuzzy, Sakura's vision begins to sharpen at the edges, and the numb feeling starts to recede.

Is this what death feels like? With numbness receding, Sakura starts to feel the agony of her wounds again, and she can't even bite her cheek to keep from crying out, since she doesn't have a cheek on one side, anymore. Turning painfully towards her hallucination, Sakura asks wretchedly, through a ragged, torn mouth,

 

"Why did you make it worse, Shisui? I thought hallucinations helped you die peacefully..."

 

Shisui looks wrathful, and Sakura wonders if her fake Shisui is even Shisui at all, or maybe some sort of deity come down to judge her for her mistakes. But then fake Shisui runs his hand through her hair kindly, and Sakura thinks dying might not be so terrible, after all. Shisui sweeps her up into his arms, and takes off towards home. The pain is quickly rising, and Sakura is hard pressed to ignore it. As hard as she tries, things keep coming more and more into focus, and finally, Sakura starts coming to the realization that she may not actually be dying. Next she realizes Shisui has been talking to her this whole time. Is it even Shisui? Before she tunes in to whatever the ninja carrying her is saying, she has to ask.

 

"Are you my Shisui?"

 

'My' Shisui, as if there's another Shisui. Sakura, you're an idiot.

 

 

She's so busy berating herself and pretending her whole entire body isn't on fire that she almost forgets to listen to the answer.

 

"Yeah, it's really me. It's Shisui."

 

 

The pain is so enormous Sakura almost forgets to feel relieved. She tries to talk, to keep her mind off of it.

 

"Why are you here? Is Kakashi-sensei okay? Are you taking me to him?"

 

 

The wind whistling in her ear makes it even harder to hear Shisui's answer, but Sakura focuses as hard as she can, trying to block the pain out to hear.

 

"The Hokage sent me to interrupt your mission, if you hadn't completed it yet. There's an emergency in the Leaf. It's not important now though. Hatake is fine, I left him with Tenzou, they're slowly making their way towards the village. No, I'm not taking you to him. You're going straight to Konoha hospital."

 

 

Sakura knows that Shisui's definition of 'fine' for Kakashi is basically 'not dead'. Then the last part of his words kick in.

 

"You have to take me back to my team, Shisui. They're all hurt, bad. We need help, and you can't leave them."

 

 

Shisui scoffs.

 

"Like hell I can't. Tenzou was able to walk and answer questions, unlike you, who thought I was a hallucination. You're going straight to the hospital. I'll send word for help for your team as soon as we run into someone else. Sorry, petal. You're in no shape to help."

 

Shisui's tone leaves no room for arguments, except... Shisui dislikes Kakashi-sensei, Sakura knows this. Sakura also knows he would never actually leave Kakashi to die. But that doesn't matter. Shisui is asking her to abandon her team. Suddenly, that's all that matters. The excruciating pain is nothing in comparison to the thought of abandoning Kakashi-sensei and Tenzou. With her body screaming in pain, Sakura makes her move. Jolting very hard suddenly, Sakura pulls herself out of Shisui's grip and falls at a high rate of speed towards the ground. It takes every bit of Sakura to land in a semi-controlled roll. She still ends up on her butt, but she gets up quickly.

 

She's no match for Shisui in speed, she knows. But maybe the surprise will grant her long enough to gain some advantage. She has very little chakra, but she can still move it around. So she moves it to her feet to help her stay upright as she begins to run towards where she hopes her team is. Casting out her chakra sense also costs no chakra to her, but it is limited by the amount she has, so it doesn't extend very far, but Sakura extends her net as far as she can, searching for even a hint of her team's chakra. Then she runs.

 

Her stitches start ripping almost immediately, but Sakura doesn't care. She can't care, she has to get to Kakashi, who's desperately hurt and just left a comrade behind, even though it wasn't on purpose. She can't leave Tenzou, who was so easily overcome he got trapped in a genjutsu even a Chunin should have been able to break.

 

 

Shisui catches up in mere seconds. Sakura hasn't run more than a few yards. She swears under her breath, then faces her friend. Sakura tries to look as strong and unaffected as possible.

"I won't leave Kakashi-sensei, and I won't leave Tenzou. You can try and force me back, but I'll fight you every step of the way. People who abandon their teammates are trash, and I'm. Not. Trash."

 

Sakura's tough facade starts to crack, and whatever stimulant Shisui gave her, she can feel every injury, every torn stitch, and she wants to lay down and die. But she won't back down. She can't. Shisui slams his hand onto the ground, and a crow appears. He looks at her, and Sakura can see the pain in his eyes, the desperation.

 

"Okay, fine. I will send a crow summon to look out for them, and a second crow to get help for them, and you come with me home to the hospital. Sakura, you could die, and I can't handle that. Your team will be fine, I promise you. I wouldn't leave them to die, please believe me. I'm just trying to save your life. Please, let me help you."

 

Sakura almost wavers, for a brief, selfish second. She could go home and have Tsunade heal her, be free from this pain. No.

 

"No. You can send your crow for help for all of us, and you can take me to my team. Or I'll find them alone."

 

 

Sakura weaves on her feet, but remains standing. If only she could stop crying.

 

 

Finally, sensing that Sakura would rather die than back down, and that she very well might without help, Shisui breaks first.

"Petal, you strip years off my life. I'm gonna die at thirty because of you, you know that?"

 

Sakura can't accept that as a yes, not yet.

"Promise me, Shisui. Promise me you'll take me to my team. And I promise you I will not die."

 

She knows she won't die. The Iwa ninja knew exactly what he was doing.

 

 

Shisui sighs, and looks piteously at her. Sakura sees it and waits anyway.

 

"Okay, okay, you win. But I'm carrying you. You're about to fall over."

 

 

 

 

As if to prove his point, Sakura falls over. Shisui catches her though, faster than the eye can see. He says something to his crow, and the crow takes off. Sweeping Sakura back into his arms, Shisui turns and begins running, this time in a different direction altogether. He doesn't speak much, this time. Sakura thinks it's because he's worried about her, and probably also a little mad. There's nothing to distract her from the pain this time, and Sakura passes the time they spend running circulating her chakra to speed healing, and blocking off what pain receptors she can. She finally stops crying.

 

It doesn't take long, finding their team. Shisui is the fastest ninja in the village for a reason.

 

When Sakura finally feels Tenzou's chakra signature, the relief she feels is incredible. She's not unfocused from pain at this point, since she'd blocked off nearly every pain receptor she had, leaving only the barest bit of sensation. Blocking off all sensation is dangerous, getting used to not feeling pain is very bad for ninja, but right now, Sakura needs most of her pain gone, because it's a distraction from reality.

Shisui stops dead in front of Tenzou, who is leaned against a tree, breathing hard. Kakashi draped carefully on the grass next to him. Tenzou looks absolutely wrecked, and if Sakura isn't mistaken, there is a tear stain on her friend's face. Kakashi is unconscious, though for what reason, Sakura isn't sure.