Sakura feels ethereal.
She feels powerful, as if she can transcend time, space, all of the universe.
As if she already has.
Sakura is dead.
Her head is light, her body bubbly, and she feels wrapped in a cocoon of something precious, delicate, and effeminate. Even though her eyes are closed, she can feel the overwhelming warmth of the white light shining upon her, engulfing her being.
It is a comforting feeling, one she has not felt in a very long time.
Sakura opens her mouth and breathes again, taking in the clean air. It's free of smoke, and dust, and ash, and nothing smells of decay and death. Rather, she can feel spring tingling on her toes, the scent of roses and old lavender.
Old lavender – like the perfume her mother used to love.
Sakura takes in another guttural breath, inhaling the sweet scent. It's been awhile since she's seen her mother – she had made sure to move her parents away from Konoha once the war started, to a town far far away from the fighting. Are they even alive now? She hopes so.
She'll visit them once the war is over, once the fighting stops. When Madara is dead and gone-
She remembers the Final Battle.
Not the battle which ended the war. That one was tame compared to this one. This battle which which Sasuke started that CAUSED ANOTHER FUCKING WAR WASN'T ONE ENOUGH FOR HIM-
Sakura's eyes snap open.
A lone bulb sways above her, but there's a string of toys arching over her cradle, casting millions of shadows across her vision, dancing like stars.
I'm dead, she realises.
This is my heaven.
So she cries, and cries, staring at the toys which dangle above her which seem all too familiar but unreachable at the same time. Vaguely she hears footsteps, but fuck if she cares after all Sasuke's just been a fucking twat and who knew if Naruto was alive or not but what would Konoha do without their Hokage-
The footsteps reach a stop. Right next to her.
Suddenly, a face encompasses her vision, young, full of life and smiling.
Sakura freezes, and stares up in shock.
It's her father.
"Hello Sakura-chan," he coos, and her eyes dance over his features, memorising every contour, every colour illuminated in her vision. She's dead – yes, but he's here – so is he dead too? But that would mean that they'd been found, and her mother-
Sakura starts crying again.
"Oh no," her father sighs, "Don't cry."
Then he reaces down and scoops her up, and through the tears Sakura can make out the other features of her old room, but why is everything so big-
"Nanami!" her father calls, "Sakura's crying again! I think she's hungry!"
A new onslaught of tears break through at her mother's name, flowing and flowing down her fat cheeks, clouding up her face and ears till she can't hear a single word that's being said.
Another face appears above her, and this time it's her mother.
Sakura barely has time to process the shock, the love, before her mother takes her from her father's arms and snuffles her in her chest.
And Sakura realises –
I'm a baby.
I could change things. I could change the future.
Sasuke feels tired.
He feels wise, as if he's lived through beauty and horrors, seen all the magic of the universe.
As if he's lived and died.
Sasuke is dead.
Sasuke has always been a pragmatic child.
"Fugaku," he hears his mother say, "Don't push him. You know Itachi was a prodigy. The chances of it happening again are slim to none. Don't do this to Sasuke."
"Mikoto," his father replies politely, but his tone has a hint of warning. "You don't need to worry."
The statement comes out as more of an order than a reassurance.
Sasuke sighs and turns around abruptly, heading back to his room. Despite his efforts to remain silent, his parents still drop the conversation. Silently, he curses his young body for being so inexperienced and clunky – you'd think after all he went through at least he'd be able to control his own body properly.
"He's only one," his mother resumes in a quieter tone.
"I know," Fugaku replies. "And he will be two soon. I will administer the same test I gave to Itachi. That is final."
There's a beat of silence, and Sasuke can almost see his mother's look of frustration.
Finally, there's a sigh. "I'm going to take Sasuke to the market."
"Of course," Fugaku replies graciously, "We need eggs."
Sasuke sighs and leans back against the wall. A second later, his mother emerges.
"Come Sasuke," she says gently, "Let's go to the market."
He follows her down obediently, head high and shoulders squared. He may be a quarter the size of Fugaku but he will refuse to let this man rule his life second time around. This time things are going to be different. He's going to change things, fix things for the better.
He knows what to do now, even if it's taken a death.
His mother unlocks the door, not sparing his father another glance. Sasuke steps out after her and glances at Itachi, reading serenely on the porch.
"Going to the market?" His otouto asks, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes," Sasuke answers back evenly.
Itachi nods before turning to their mother. "Don't forget to buy tomatoes."
"I won't," Mikoto says firmly. She turns to Sasuke, a corner of her lips tilted down in a frown. "You must eat all your vegetables Sasuke, they'll help you grow big and strong, like Itachi."
Sasuke's lips curl down into a deep frown. He hates tomatoes, hates what they remind him of. Of a past life, a failed life, and shared tomato soup with Sakura and Naruto with the campfire blazing brightly or was it a campfire was it just a fire that destroyed and destroyed and destroyed-
"Otouto," Itachi says gently, leaning down and clasping a hand on his shoulder. Sasuke snaps out of his reverie and locks onto his brother's eyes – eyes that he had once gouged out.
"Otouto," Itachi repeats, "Vegetables are good for you. You should eat them."
Sasuke smiles sardonically. That was always like Itachi – looking out for everyone else. He never cared for himself. But that didn't matter. Sasuke would fix it this time around. Pulling the strings from the edges, he'd change things.
This would be a new life.
Naruto feels lonely.
He feels empty, as if all the bonds, the magic he had made, have disintegrated.
As if he's back to being hated.
Naruto is dead.
Naruto sits in the back of the Academy classroom, surveying the class.
It's the first day of his school, the Hokage's gift for him on his fifth birthday.
He looks down at the people he's seen live and die. People he's seen betray him, people he's seen love him. He looks down at his people.
Except he is not Hokage anymore. He is just a little boy.
Naruto chuckles softly.
In front of him, a civilian boy looks back and snarls, revolted. Next to him, Sakura plays with her hair, staring at the back of Sasuke's head.
Naruto swallows harshly. Sakura he killed. Indirectly, but killed nonetheless.
She's so young now, full of life, green eyes wide, romanticising Uchiha Sasuke in a way her older self would never be able to do so again.
He would do things right this time. Sakura would not die. Neither, as a fact, would Sasuke.
He risks another glance at his old (future?) teammate. He sits tall and proud next to another Uchiha boy, a cousin of some sorts. His posture is impeccable, as expected of Fugaku's son, but his eyes occasionally drift this way and that, betraying his inattention.
Sometimes they flicker to Sakura, Naruto notices. Did they do that before? He can't seem to remember.
He looks back at Sakura. For a second her green eyes flash, replaced by something dark, sinister, festering with hate-
But then it's gone.
Maybe I'm imagining things, Naruto thinks. After all, that's a look he's seen plenty of times. On older Sakura, on older Sasuke, even on himself. He must've projected his thoughts onto Sakura. The girl at this age – even the bumbling twelve year old – would never be able to muster up enough emotion for something that deeply entrenched.
Naruto glances back to Sasuke. For a second they meet eyes – had he been staring at him? – but then Sasuke looks away again. There'd been a flash of recognition – he's sure of that-
Or maybe he was dreaming again.
After all, he's alone this time around, just like always.
Except he won't be soon. This time around, he'll fix things, make things better.
I can change the future. This will be a new life.
Within his belly, Kurama stirs.
"I have to keep up appearances-"
"They must not know I came back-"
"But I'll have to train, in secret. I can't be-"
"-unprepared this time around. That won't do."
"Chidori's good but it's not enough. Maybe-"
"-a new version of the rasengan? But I can't do that with-"
"-this body. Medical jutsu is it then. Though it'll be useful knowing-"
"-all those stupid missions Team 7 always seem to get."
"I must keep my secret though."
"I will show no weakness-"
"-or mercy, so that I may-"
"...time travel. What a curious, curious seal. Who'd have thought Kurama's little trick really worked?"