(Day Twenty-Two of SasuSaku Month.)
She blinks, and instead of seeing the desolation that stretched from miles and miles, Sakura's view is filled with greenery. Although she hasn't stepped in Training Ground 44 since the Chuunin Exams, she recognizes the landscape. You would if it had been the subject of your nightmares for years.
The voice makes her freeze, and Sakura whips around to see her best friend.
It was a terrible thing, she reflected, for people who have died for you to be able to come back and smile in your face, real and breathing and unaccusing. It made the guilt unbearable. Sakura knows that it's not Naruto's fault though – he doesn't even know it, because it won't happen for another four years - so she stops her eyes from tearing up and instead smiles back at him.
Seeing Naruto in his twelve-year old self is enough confirmation for her. The jutsu, against all odds and doubts, had worked. It was all Sakura could do not to just collapse on her knees and cry.
"What is it, Naruto?"
Seeing his blonde eyes glow because of a mere acknowledgement hurt her so much Sakura was surprised she wasn't bleeding. She didn't know how depraved her best friend was of affection until she had relived her life again and saw it in her own eyes. How could someone so inherently good like him be treated like an outcast?
Her smile must have wavered, because Naruto's smile contorted into a frown. "Are you alright, Sakura-chan? You look funny."
Had she been the normal twelve-year old Sakura, she already had him crashing against the dense shrubbery. But she was actually much, much older, so Sakura laughs instead and shakes her head. Naruto always had trouble on knowing what a compliment was and what was not, and it was one of his endearing traits.
"I am, Naruto."
He looks unconvinced. "Are you su-"
"Stop bringing us down and do your job, dead last."
The sudden, unexpected voice takes her off-guard, and Sakura almost drop the canteen of water she's been holding. Suddenly she's having a difficulty in swallowing, and Sakura slowly moves her head to the right to see the last Uchiha across from her and Naruto.
He doesn't look pleased. "Are you done resting?"
Sakura, thankfully, has brought her emotion to something resembling control, and no one senses anything amiss. Seeing her two teammates makes her realize what she has come here for, the full implication of what she would have to do and the knowledge of what she would lose was a knife to her gut.
She would never see them again.
"Stop being such a bastard!" Naruto growls, pointing an accusing finger at Sasuke. "Can't you see Sakura-chan isn't done yet? You insensitive-!"
"It's fine." Sakura speaks up, and she's thankful that she sounds stronger than what she feels. "I was just done, anyway. We can go."
"Naruto…" Sakura injects a warning in her tone, the way she did back when there was still a Naruto to talk to. Her voice very nearly breaks at the thought. "I'm fine. Can you drop it?"
Naruto clams up, but in her peripheral vision Sakura sees the sudden furrow of Sasuke's eyebrows. She inwardly curses. Had he noticed something different from her?
"Let's go." She speaks above Naruto's apologies and jump to the trees, not even bothering to look back if they followed her or not.
She was aware of her boy's questioning glances behind her back, but Sakura doesn't have the time to reflect on it. Her time was running up, and she had to utilize what hours she had left to do her mission.
Doing a quick inventory, Sakura discovered that her chakra reserves were back to base one, which was pathetically small. She winced; she really had been weak. No wonder Sasuke and Naruto had the tendency to always protect her – she was nothing but a burden.
Not anymore, though. She was different now; she wasn't even the Haruno Sakura they knew. But the matter of chakra would be a problem; the only fighting chance she had on changing the timeline was to hold Orochimaru off long enough for reinforcements to arrive.
She had no hopes of coming out of this alive, but Sakura didn't have any choice.
They've been traveling towards the direction of the tower when Sakura feels it: the sheer wrongness of the Snake Sannin's chakra – he didn't even bother to hide it properly. He was so confident that their capabilities was so low that he didn't even stop to think that there would be a time-travelling pink haired kunoichi who would make sure that he wouldn't leave Konoha alive.
Using shunshin, Sakura tackles Sasuke and Naruto to the ground. "Look out-!"
The tree they've been standing not three seconds before shatters to a million pieces, and in its place is a gigantic snake that easily dwarfs the three of them. Behind her, Sakura heard Naruto's spluttering.
"My, my." Orochimaru's amusement resounded on his voice, and Sakura's skin crawled. "A mere genin noticing my presence, as well as knowing the shunshin? Wonders never cease."
Instead of replying, Sakura fingers her pouch and sinks in an offensive crouch. She could feel Sasuke's surprise: this particular stance was never taught in the academy.
"When I say go, run." Sakura whispers.
"What the hell?" Sasuke returns, and his annoyance is palpable.
"We can't leave you here, Sakura-chan!"
Sakura doesn't even bother to turn around. "This is not an enemy you can handle. I'll distract him, but I can only hold him off for long. You and Naruto run towards the tower, as fast as you can. Tell them that Orochimaru is in Konoha."
The name brings no reaction, and Sakura mentally sighed. How sheltered were they, as children? It was ridiculous.
"On my mark."
"No." Sasuke snapped.
Her patience was wearing thin; they didn't have time for this. "Please do as I say-"
"Stop being heroic, Sakura."
"You're not strong enough to handle that guy alone!"
"Oh, and you think you are?"
The cruel remark makes something inside her snap, and Sakura whirls around and slaps Sasuke. The sight of his astounded eyes along with Naruto's doesn't help simmer her anger and her frustration.
"You have no idea how strong he is. None." Sakura hisses. "He will have you dismembered and your limbs strewn across the ground with both his hands tied behind his back in a blink of an eye. You have no idea of what he can do, Sasuke, so shut the fuck up and do as I say!"
Sakura feels a momentary satisfaction on seeing the eyes of both her teammates widen. She had omitted Sasuke's suffix, as well as cursed in his presence. She must have been projecting her fear too, because she could see that the direness of their situation was finally sinking it.
Orochimaru laughs somewhere above them, and disregarding the completely gobsmacked faces of her teammates, Sakura launches herself above and shouts. "Now!"
Sakura leaps over the summoned snake and punches the head with a chakra enhanced fist, and as expected, Manda crumples from the sheer force and disappears in a cloud of smoke. Being given a momentary reprieve, Sakura only has a second to look back and see both Naruto and Sasuke sprinting towards the tower when Orochimaru recovers from the shock and starts to form hand signs. Sakura recognizes it as the kage bunshin.
"Oh, hell no." Sakura growls, and flowing through hand signs, she slams her palms to the ground and an earth-made hand sprouted from the ground and nearly flattens the Snake Sannin with it. "You are not laying your hands on the Sharingan, you traitor!"
Orochimaru, instead of being angered, raises an intrigued eyebrow. "I see that my intentions have breached the walls of Konoha, but to have a genin know it? Not to mention that punch… As far as I know, Tsunade has never taken another apprentice."
She doesn't answer, and instead drops into a stance and tries to forget the drastic sinking of her chakra levels. Sakura winced when she felt feathery light sensations traveling on her upper arm, and when she looked down she realized that her hair was still long. The extra weight feels so foreign that Sakura impulsively drew a kunai and cut her hair, letting the pink strands fall to the ground when she ran to intercept Orochimaru.
Sakura can only hope that Sasuke and Naruto will have reached the tower by now.
Orochimaru has a hand deep in her thoracic cavity when the cavalry finally arrives. The only indication that makes her realize her sensei is here is when the familiar sound of chirping birds fills the area, and she's too far gone that for a second she thinks it is Sasuke.
The Sannin realizes that he has another opponent, and with a viciousness that personifies his chosen summon, Orochimaru wrenched his arm from Sakura's and leaps away. There's a brief amount of satisfaction to see him wincing – she's dealt him some good blows, too – but the splatter of her own blood blinds her for a second and the next thing she knows, she's in someone's arms.
She whispers, "Sasuke-kun," and there's really nothing else she can say because she's seeing him again and she hadn't dared to hope for that.
"Don't talk!" Sakura hears bits and pieces now, and she's finding it difficult to see him. Sasuke's face was above her, and vaguely she felt his hands staunching the flow of blood from her chest, and if she wasn't already severely depleted of chakra then she could have helped him. Why was the world so dim…?
Naruto. Where was Naruto? She started to struggle, ignoring Sasuke's commands to stay still. "Na-Naruto… Where-?"
"He's fine, he's with the Sandaime!" Sasuke says. He whips his head, looking for someone, anyone. He and Naruto had stumbled upon Kakashi, who had felt the fluctuating chakra of their teammate and had rushed towards the Forest of Death. Their teacher had sent Naruto to the tower while he and Sasuke assisted Sakura – but it was too late.
"Dammit, Naruto!" Sasuke swore, hoping to see the other instructors and help his teammate. Why was he always so damn late?
Sakura would have breathed a sigh of relief if she could. As it was, she could only look gratefully at Sasuke. If he would be the last thing she'll ever look at, Sakura thinks that it wouldn't be a bad way to die.
He didn't have a curse seal. His mind wouldn't be poisoned by Orochimaru's ideals. He was safe and the same Sasuke-kun she loved and… And he was worth it. Sakura would gladly lay down her life for that, over and over again if needed be.
The sound of the battle nearby is slowly fading, and her vision was narrowing. Sakura tries to smile. "S-sorry if… I can't make it…"
"Don't." Sasuke chokes, and he can't bear to see her losing that spark in her eye so he buries his face on her hair. "Just don't, Sakura. Save your strength."
Sakura shakes her head, dislodging his spot from it. "Won't last…"
"Hang on, Sakura. Help is coming. Do you hear me? Don't you dare die on me. Don't you dare leave me. You'll be fine, okay? You'll be fine. Just keep fighting. Please. Please, don't…don't leave me." His voice drops to a desperate and choked whisper, helpless and pleading. "What'll I do?"
Sakura smiles, because she knows that knowing that Sasuke cared, even if a little bit, had eased her fears. In her time, Sasuke had died before any words could be exchanged. Naruto had followed soon after, and in a desperate attempt to return things to the way it was Sakura had used a jutsu she discovered in the bowels of the Hokage tower, made by the Yondaime himself.
She couldn't feel anything anymore. Mustering up the last of her strength, Sakura grasped the hand stopping the flow of blood from her chest and let out her most sincere smile. "Thank – thank you…"
When Naruto finally arrived along with the Sandaime and a handful of Anbu, they saw Kakashi's head bowed and his hand plopped on Sasuke's head, Sakura lying almost peacefully on the Uchiha's arms. A few feet away was the dead Orochimaru.
Nobody could forget the heart-wrenching scream that tore from Naruto's throat.
I know, I know - I keep on killing Sakura. It's not that I want her to die though, make no mistake, but because I like writing how Sasuke would take her death. And don't blame me, the prompt for today was screaming angst! and tragedy! to be written.
I hope you like the time-travelling concept, because I love reading those - especially if its Sakura. There are some good stories in FFN about time travelling Sakura, but unfortunately they don't update as often as I would like. Still, those are gems. I'm sure you guys know how obsessed I am on Minato though, because his name keeps on cropping up in my fics. Meh.
Oh, and I wouldn't be able to post a new fic for tomorrow since I have yet to write one. Sorry. Feel free to look at the last twenty-one days though, it's on my profile. AND WHO SAY THE FULL TRAILER OF CATCHING FIRE?! ASDFGHJKL. MY EVERLARK FEELS.
[Day Twenty-Two: Numb]