Author's Note: Okay! I am so sorry for the long wait! Reincarnation has finally entered 2017! Woo-hoo! I have not given up on my stories, simply moved on to other things. I appreciate all of the love and support of you guys for this story and I will continue this story until the end, please don't worry about it. 1,500 reviews? Oh my goodness! Thank you all so much! Please forgive that the chapter is a little short and enjoy!
Disclaimer: I own nothing!
Warnings: Nothing much, maybe language, un-beta'd and OOCness.
Word Count: 5,228
Sakura made especially sure to stand next to Tobirama, feeling like she's come to know him well enough that he'll be the first to go flying into a group of people without a second thought if it appeared as though his brother was in danger. Sakura honestly didn't believe that Hashirama was in any sort of danger, but she could understand Tobirama's fear.
Hashirama, slowly and calmly, walking into the series of medical tents where their injured were waiting to heal or be treated. The rest of the clan leaders from both Konoha's are around them, also watching mutely. Kakashi and Tsunade didn't appear to see any problem welcoming Hashirama into their medical camp, just as Sakura suspected that they wouldn't. She was just glad that nobody disputed her decision.
Some people would look up at Hashirama, curiously, before looking away, not recognizing him right off the bat. It's at that moment that Sakura wondered if this entire thing was going to blow up in her face. She knows that they aren't just going to attack him or anything out of the blue, but if they don't really react to him, it's not that much better. Sakura kind of imagined that it would be different somehow.
Maybe... maybe she was just wrong...
Someone steps into Hahsirama's path, causing the long brown haired man to stop. Tobirama tenses up a bit and Sakura wraps her hand around his wrist in hopes of keeping him in place. It wasn't so much to hold him down, but for him to know that he's not alone. He doesn't have to be worried for Hashirama. Especially from the person who stepped in Hashirama's path.
"My lord?" The person says, looking up at the tall man.
Hashirama stares down at the short woman in front of him. "Yes..?"
The woman smiles daintily. Her eyes are surrounded by dark circles that are the only blemish to her beauty, but she wears it proudly and there is a bundle in her arms. "Lord First," the woman says, bowing as deeply as she can, holding the small baby in her arms, "forgive me for stopping you."
Hashirama shakes his head. "No, no. May I ask what your name is?"
The woman lifts her head slowly. "My name is Kurenai Yuuhi, my lord." She looks around for a moment, as if suddenly misplaced before beautiful red eyes rise up to Hashirama's. He looks a bit taken back by the sight. It must be unusual to see someone with dark hair and red eyes without the sharingan in them. She could pass off as an Uchiha, if she tried hard enough.
"It is a pleasure to meet you, Kurenai-san," Hashirama says.
Kurenai blushes, her dainty smile filling with a bit more life. "There is no need to be so respectful with me, my lord. It's an honor to meet you. I have been a shinobi for Konoha since my twelfth birthday. It's truly been an honor." She bows again.
"The honor is mine," Hashirama says respectfully. He eyes the bundle in her arms. "And this is..?"
"Mirai Sarutobi, my lord," Kurenai says. "My daughter."
"Sarutobi," Hashirama says softly.
Kurenai's smile is sad. "Yes, her father died protecting Konoha around the time she was conceived, but the Sarutobi clan has been very open and understanding. They have been very kind to me."
Hashirama smiles faintly. "I am happy to hear it."
Kurenai looks around at everyone else who was slinking closer, finally seeing Hashirama and realizing who he was. They weren't moving quickly and they appeared very hesitant, not wanting for him to just vanish. Hashirama looks around for a moment, a bit nervous, but he doesn't let it show other than a subtle shift of his weight from one foot to the other.
"Thank you, my lord," Kurenai says, looking back over and Hashirama and smiling kindly, her eyes telling him she saw the nervous shift and she didn't blame him. He was surrounded by stranger, and while most of them were in a rough way, the threat of danger is always looming. No matter who you are, or where, one must always be careful.
Hashirama stares back in confusion. "For what?"
"For coming to see us," Kurenai says, adjusting Mirai in her arms a bit. "There is a lot of people here who are in deep pain, and in many different forms," Kurenai says, lowering her head a bit to smile sadly at her baby. "You being here is soothing, my lord. So thank you."
Those able to walk, and those able to fake it well enough, begin to move toward Hashirama. Sakura can feel Tobirama's anxiety going through the roof. He looks like he wants to run over to his brother and push everyone away from his big brother, but Sakura grips his wrist tighter.
"Do you trust me?" Sakura asks, looking up at Tobirama's pensive face.
For a moment, when he finally managed to pull his eyes away from his brother, Sakura thought that he was going to say no. He didn't trust her. He didn't know her. Then he would shove past her and to his brother. But he nods his head slowly, jaw muscles working under his skin. He does trust her, he wants to trust her, but he's scared. This is his brother. It's one thing to risk his life, but it's another to risk the life of his brother.
They all just stand back and watch as those injured and broken move around Hashirama, circling him and reaching out to touch him. They don't pull on him or jab at him, but they touch him, like somehow they can absorb his strength into themselves just by being able to touch him. Hashirama's pensive look dies away as he looks around at the people surrounding him, actually listening to their mournful pleas to look after them, or broken thanks for being there for them.
People from around their camp either felt Hashirama's chakra, or heard the growing din from the medical tents for more and more people slowly approach to see what is going on. Ninja and villagers that are healthier or not nearly hurt enough to be at the medical tents approach cautiously.
Tobirama was starting to calm down, seeing as Hashirama's anxiety started to lower again, but now that even more people were gathering around, he's starting to tense up again. Especially when his eyes lock onto members of the division that he created; ANBU, appeared a few feet away from the circle, dropping down from the trees above. Hashirama's eyes dart up at the sight of them, a perfectly uniform team of five with a female captain in a white cloak in the front.
The people quiet down, breaking apart a bit so that they can look at the ANBU. The captain looks over at her companions for a moment before stepping closer to Hashirama and kneeling down on one knee. She brings her fists down into the dirt and bows as low as her stiff armor would allow, holding the position strongly.
"My lord, thank you for coming to see us." Her voice is muffled by her mask a bit. Her teammates all lower onto a knee behind her, bowing their heads as well, murmuring their thanks as well. As if realizing how rude they were being, all of the people surrounding Hashirama step back and lower down in various states of bowing, some able to go down further than others based on their injuries.
Hashirama quietly looks around at all of the bowing people, eyes wide. Sakura can feel the tension in Tobirama's body finally melt away again, his eyes locked on his older brother as Hashirama turns to look over at them. Hashirama lets out a long, slow breath, his shoulders slump a bit and he blinks deliberately, trying to communicate something to his little brother with just his eyes. Sakura can see the muscles along his jaw working as his eyes lock with Tobirama's.
Tobirama lets out sigh, shaking his head slowly. "Shit."
Sakura glances up at him, curiously. "What is it?"
Tobirama doesn't pull his eyes away from his older brother. "I know that look on his face."
Sakura looks back over at Hashirama, not sure if she's seen that look on his face before, to be able to decipher what it means. "What does it mean?" She asks, when the answer doesn't come to her.
"You win," Madara says, stepping up to Sakura's other side. "That's Hashirama's I-want-to-help-them look."
Sakura smiles faintly. There is just something so special about the elder Senju brother. She thoroughly enjoys his heart. Hashirama is such a beautiful soul.
"You are a bleeding heart," Tobirama says to Hashirama as soon as they are back in the meeting building.
Hashirama quirks his eyebrow a bit toward his little brother, his large brown eyes are soft and sad. "Perhaps," he admits, "but I sensed much sincerity in them. Those people are hurt and afraid and are looking for someone to give them a break. They are hurt, homeless and scared. I don't blame them. I don't pity them, though, it's a show of strength that they are able to push on despite all that is working against them. I don't believe that we should add to it."
Madara rubs at his face slowly, letting out a long winded sigh. "You are so weak, Hashirama."
Hashirama smiles guiltily over at him. "I know." He reaches up and pushes the long strands of brown hair that fall into his eyes, behind his ears. "Come on, Madara. You should have seen their faces! Heard the pain in their voices! They need our help! I think they're good for it, too."
"You're right," Kakashi says, watching Madara shake his head with an eye roll that Sakura knows is just his way of bending knee to Hashirama without making it look like he's being pushed over, but to someone else, who doesn't know him, might see it as more of an angry brush off. She's worried about what Kakashi thinks of Madara. He's not a bad man, and in some ways, probably one of the kindest, but his mannerisms are rough around the edges.
It's not Sakura's place to worry about what others would think of Madara, but she hopes that they hold their tongues long enough to get to know him. Maybe she should say something to them, but later.
"About?" Hashirama asks, looking at Kakashi.
"We are hurt," Kakashi admits, reaching out and pulling his blue, fingerless gloves, more securely on his left hand before looking back up at Hashirama. "We are hurt very bad. We lost our home, security, and maybe even our hope, but all of those things can be repaired somehow. Homes can be rebuilt, or relocated. Security can be mended and hope can be built back up, but there is things that we lost that we will never be able to get back. Pieces of our history that existed around us that we took for granted, and the people we loved and lost."
Sakura chokes a bit at his words. They hit home to her. He's so right. So much of what was lost can be replaced, but the super important things can't be. Her parents aren't going to come back, and any number of people that Sakura still doesn't know isn't accounted for too.
As much pain as Sakura's in living in the world of not really knowing who to expect and who to always wonder about, she can see the look on the little bit of Kakashi's face. The creases between his eyes have increased, or maybe they are easier to see because his headband doesn't cover them along with his eye, but it's mostly his eyes that bely his actual pain. His voice is strong and even, the crease is there, but there is a level of haunting in Kakashi's eyes that exceeds anything Sakura has ever seen.
He was speaking to them in person, but his spirit was back in time. Er, back in their own timeline. It's at that place, at the very moment he realized that they had lost Konoha. Not the moment of the attack, not the moment it started looking bleak, but the exact moment when either someone said it, or he realized it himself, that Konoha was lost to them.
Kakshi doesn't fail. It's such a rare occurrence that Kakashi doesn't fail is the only way to say that. But when he does fail, he takes it so badly. Not at the moment, when everyone is around, but later, when he's alone. Sakura hasn't seen it in person, not the full force of it, but as she has grown older and gotten to know her sensei better, she's come to realize why he always looks so tired. He's haunted. Deeply, deeply haunted. He's haunted by his failures and the people that he's let down because of them.
Losing Konoha is probably the largest failure that Kakashi could imagine. And to make it worse, he's Hokage. He would have taken it bad as a Jounin, but as Hokage?
Sakura is worried about him. She's going to have to talk to him when this is over. She doubts that he'll open up to her, but just knowing that she's on his side and knows that he did what he could to protect Konoha, might be enough to help alleviate some of his pain. Maybe.
"I'm sorry," Hashirama says, but Kakashi shakes his head.
"No, the point of that, is that we have lost things that will never be returned to us, and we are hurt, but we aren't destroyed," Kakashi says. "We are strong. We will make it through this. We appreciate any and all help we can get, but we are strong, and united."
"If we can live unified," Tsunade says, nodding at Kakashi, "that would be the best, but if not, we will be able to look after ourselves."
Hashirama nods slowly, looking over at Madara. The dark haired man stares back, their eyes locked together for a moment. Madara's eyebrow quirks a bit and Hashirama smiles faintly before looking over at Izuna, his lips pressed together in a thin line. Finally, Hashirama looks to his other side, locking eyes with his younger brother. Tobirama's eyebrows are separated by a little crease, but his eyes are still wide. If they were narrowed, he'd disapprove. Wide, must be something else.
"Okay," Hashirama says, looking over at Sakura and offering a kind smile before turning his gaze to Kakashi and Tsunade. "Friends, today has offered us much to talk about. I would like to speak with my fellows about our next course of action."
"Of course," Kakashi says, smoothly moving to his feet. "Thank you for your time, gentlemen."
Taking their Kage's lead, Sakura's friends all climb to their feet, offering low, respectful bows before following Kakashi and Tsunade out of the room. Sakura hesitates before leaving to turn and stare down the dark wooden table to her friends on the other end.
"Sakura?" Izuna calls out.
Sakura smiles at him, bowing one more time. "My lords, I appreciate for at least hearing us out."
"Sakura," Hashirama says, waving her polite bow away, his kind eyes locked on her. "There isn't a need to be so formal with us."
"My friends..." Sakura says softly, straightening up. "Thank you." With that, she turns and leaves.
"Sensei," Sakura calls, catching up to her illusive male teacher wondering the forest. Since their meeting with the Founders, Kakashi quickly, and quietly, slipped away when he finished speaking with Tsunade about something. Sakura made to follow but was stopped by Ino, who asked how she was doing. Sakura spared a few moments to assure that she was fine. She was just trying to focus on anything and everything else, other than her pain of losing her parents. She just doesn't want to keep thinking about it.
She appreciated Ino's concern and wanted to know how her best friend was doing too, but she was worried about Kakashi. Her sensei wasn't like her or Ino. He kept everything bobbled up and let it destroy him quietly, until he felt like he was drowning in despair. Sakura couldn't ease her own pain over the loss of losing her parents, but maybe she could help her sensei. Ino was in pain, and would probably never truly heal, seeing as she was so much closer to her father than her mother, but Ino was already starting to move on. Her pain was real, but not as fresh. And Ino knew how to release her pain in a healthy way.
Kakashi kept it inside.
Finally, she gets away from her best friend to go and see her sensei. He' walking around the forest, looking around at the trees as if trying to put them to the trees he was used to traveling to. Sakura never thought about the trees like that. She didn't see them as sentimental, like it appeared that Kakashi did, but she could appreciate that some of these trees could have been the trees she and her team traveled on leaving Konoha on one of their many missions away from the village. It's an interesting concept.
"Sakura?" Kakashi turns to look at her, hands stuffed into his pocket.
"Sensei," Sakura says, looking up into his two black eyes. A flash in her mind, Obito with both of his sharingan eyes. Sakura blinks it away. "How are you doing?"
"I'm fine," Kakashi says smoothly, voice airy. Thirteen year old Sakura may have believed that, seventeen year old Sakura doesn't.
Sakura raises her eyebrows a bit. "Are you sure? I can only imagine how you must be feeling." Sakura grabs her left elbow with her right hand, shifting her weight from one hip to the other, trying to find the right words. "About Konoha-"
"Sakura," Kakashi cuts her off. He holds his hand up to stop her from going on. "I don't need you to worry about me, Sakura. I meant what I said. We are strong. I'm not worried about us."
Sakura stares at him, looking deep into his dark eyes, feeling that connection again. Stronger than ever. Something that she doesn't remember but feels in her heart, still lurks there. Despite his words and strong face, Kakashi is in pain. He doesn't express much on his face, but his eyes are so sad.
Sakura tilts her head to the side a bit. "Sensei..." She looks around the forest, listening to the sound of the life around them. It's so peaceful and loud with the life of the forest in the midday light. Birds are chirping, bunnies and squirrels are running about the forest floor. Bugs are buzzing about. The bushes are rustling with other small creatures. Sometimes, with the hectic goings on in her life, Sakura forgets to take a moment to just stop and listen to the world around her. Sakura doesn't remember the last time, back in her time - err, timeline? - that she just stood around and listened to the world.
Then again, much of the end of the world and how she got to this point is still a lot of mystery all wrapped up with a neat bow. Easily presented before her but somehow out of her reach.
Now she can just ask, though. "What happened after the war?" Such a simple question, yet for some reason, Sakura can't bring herself to do it. Maybe it's the pain of losing her parents and way back to her Konoha that has made her want to pull the blinds over her eyes a bit and pretend that it's not happening. Maybe, in a way, it doesn't matter what really happened after the war, because here they are. They are away from Konoha and somewhere in the past... of a different timeline.
Maybe it doesn't matter so much about how they got there, just that they are. Sure, Sakura would like to know what happened, but it feels like it's slowly coming back over time. Not as much as she would like is back, but it is coming. Even as small as a flash of images is enough. It's coming back to her. She can wait, she supposes. There is just something awkward about asking others how they got to this point.
"How did our relationship change?" Sakura asks, looking over at her sensei, figuring that was a good question. It's obvious he didn't want to talk about how he was feeling, but it did offer Sakura a bit more knowledge about what happened after the war without just asking how it all happened. She doesn't just want someone to tell her everything that happened, she wanted to be able to remember it as a memory, not someone's rendition of what happened.
Kakashi stares back at her without so much as a twitch in his facial expressions. He's really good at the poker face. Sakura always knew this, but it's somehow a bit easier to pick out the small twitches around his eyes to read his mood a bit more. There is a slight pull of the muscles right under his right eye that moves the lower lid a bit. He knows exactly what she's talking about. He's just playing ignorant.
"What do you mean?" Kakashi asks.
Sakura places her hands on her hips. "You know what I'm talking about. Something is different between us. What is it?" Kakashi raises his eyes up, looking over the top of her head off to the thicket beyond her. He looks like he's considering her words carefully, maybe even debating on lying to her, but then seems to give up on that notion. Suddenly alarmed by that, Sakura asks, softly, "Did I do something bad?"
"No," Kakashi says immediately, eyes narrowing. He takes a step closer. "I'm just... not comfortable talking about it. It's nothing bad or for you to be ashamed of. I just... needed help and you gave it to me, is all."
Slightly less alarmed, and more deeply curious, Sakura asks, "What happened?"
Kakashi lets out a long, exasperated sigh, reaching up to scratch the back of his head roughly. "Nothing terrible. I'm an old man, Sakura, I had a bit of a midlife crisis. It was nothing major, or dramatic. I just needed someone to kick me back into gear so I could stop holding myself, and Konoha back. That's all."
Somehow, Sakura doubted that. She doubted that she would be able to say or do something that would be able to pull someone as level headed and calm as her sensei from some kind of "midlife crisis" as he so calls it. Honestly, if Sakura was to really think about it, Kakashi might be desperately trying to avoid the term "panic attack". Something that Sakura can't even imagine him having, but somehow is more believable than a midlife crisis to her.
Sakura stares at him, wondering what to say next. "Are you okay?" Sakura asks slowly.
Kakashi laughs dryly. "Sakura, let me tell you something, okay? Between you and me." He walks over to her and puts his hands on her shoulders. "You don't have to worry about me. I know you do because that's the type of person that you are, but I need you to know something; I am in a much better place now, than I was for a long time."
Sakura's eyebrows pull together tightly. "I don't understand."
"When my father died, I knew that being a shinobi was a death sentence. I knew that one day I was going to die in a way that wasn't natural. Whether that be on the battlefield, because of my injuries or being poisoned by another. I wasn't going to get sick and die quietly of old age. It was going to be young, dramatic but inevitable. I always knew that," Kakashi says, his voice matter-of-factly.
Sakura wasn't a fan of this conversation.
"Okay..." Sakura says slowly.
The corners of Kakashi's eyes crinkle a bit with his smile, no matter how small. "I knew that being a shinobi was a death sentence, Sakura. In a way, we all do. You enter this life knowing that you are going to die young and if you don't, your denying yourself to live your life to the fullest. I didn't care, all those years ago. I didn't care that I was going to die young, and that it wasn't going to be a pretty sight. As a Shinobi, I am meant to die. I meant to die for my village, my name, my honor and pride. I understood that."
Maybe it was because of the recent discovery of the death of her parents, but just talking about another important person in her life dying, is making Sakura's vision blur a bit with tears. He's talking about himself dying like it didn't bother him one bit. He wasn't even thirty years old yet and he was talking about death like it was coming for him tomorrow. Sakura didn't like it.
She didn't cry, though. Kakashi's not a fan of tears. Especially when they are for him.
"But it's different now. You helped me realize it," Kakashi says, giving her shoulders a squeeze, seemingly appreciative for her trying not to cry for his sake. "You helped me realize that my mindset as a shinobi isn't all that wrong. A Jounin is meant to serve his village and die for it when the time comes."
That is what Sakura taught him? What a shitty friend!
"But I'm not a Jounin," Kakashi says, looking down into her eyes. "I'm Hokage. A Jounin is meant to live and die for the sake of his people. A Hokage is meant to live for as long as he can to continue to protect his people. I can't afford to die young. I have to keep living for as long as I can so that I can protect my people. It is my duty to do that until I find my successor. I won't give up. I won't let despair destroy me." Kakashi's eyes narrow, staring deeply into Sakura's eyes. "And I won't stop until every one of those bastards are dead. I swear it. Don't worry about me. I have a lot to live for. My people, my honor, my responsibility, and admittedly revenge."
Sakura nods slowly. "It's not the purest motivation, but I can appreciate it," she says, nodding.
Kakashi smiles, looking tired. "Good." He pats her shoulders before pulling away. "I'm alright, Sakura. I promise. I just need time to think about the future."
Sakura nods, respecting her sensei's wishes and backing off. She does feel a little bit better about this situation. She knows how strong her sensei is, and it makes her feel better that he has no intention of giving up anything any time soon.
Sakura stands a few feet away from this large lake. It's the only think in the middle of this large opening in the forest. Trees completely encircled the lake, like some kind of first line of defense. Sakura is getting a strange feeling from this place. It's nothing bad, just strange. Unusual, even. Sakura takes a moment to look around at the circle of trees, feeling the forest around her. She felt at home here. This was where she belonged.
Sakura closes her eyes and tilts her head toward the sky. It's cloudy and the sun hides behind the large balls of cotton in the sky. The breeze grabbed hold of her hair and pulls at the strands softly, caressing her scalp with the gentle ministrations. She could just sit in this moment forever. She felt at complete and utter peace. It feels like she hasn't had this feeling in a long time.
"Who are you?"
At the sound of someone's voice, Sakura spins around to see the empty space just before the treeline. There was no one there. Then she felt the wind pull at her hair a bit, back toward the lake. She turns to see the Rabbit Goddess standing a few feet in front of her. Like before, she doesn't seem deranged or maddened like Sakura first saw her. She appears to be calm and composed. Her large white eyes stare back at Sakura like she's made of glass. Sakura doesn't like it. It's so much harder dealing with your enemies when they are rational and sensible.
"Who am I?" Sakura asks, surprised. "I'm Sakura."
The Rabbit Goddess stares back at her, a crease forming between her three eyes, the one on her forehead still closed. "And what are you doing with my grandsons?"
Sakura stares back at her. "I don't understand. I'm not doing anything with them."
"Again and again, when will you learn? It will always end in disaster," Kaguya says, shaking her head. "You are just hurting yourself, girl. When will you open your eyes and see the truth?"
"Truth?" Sakura spits out the word, insulted. "What truth are you talking about?"
Kaguya sneers, her beautiful, ethereal face twists into this terrible, ugly face that belies the terrible personality underneath. "You silly girl. I have already told you to stay away from my grandsons."
"Or what?" Sakura asks, angry at her dream. She doesn't know if its because she's become pretty protective of Hashirama and Madara, or because she terribly worried about Naruto and Sasuke, but she wasn't happy about being told by Kaguya to stay away from her friends. No one is going to take her away from her friends, especially when they need her.
Kaguya's sneer darkens the sky and the space around them. Sakura can feel the anger crackle around them like lightning. The pink haired girl's heart starts pounding hard in her chest. She's scared of this woman, but she's not going to back down from her. She is strong. Very strong.
"How many times must we go through with this?" Kaguya asks, her eyes widening, enhancing the dark look. "You're going to die a horribly, painful death. Just as you always have."