Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. All rights belong to Masashi Kishimoto.
There was something so disgraceful, so disgusting and unappealing about being the one left behind.
Hidden villages were smart enough to place genin in groups of three – two boys, one girl – and this was obviously for a reason. A damn good reason. Two left behind if one should fall down. One left behind to tell the tales of the two deceased friends. One left being to trace their fingers down a long, long list of names carved into stone until they finally found their teammates' names and somehow be thankful, be fucking grateful for their sacrifices. For leaving them alone and cold in the world and have to tell themselves every morning that yes, you do have to get out of bed today, because he died for you. He died to protect you and for you to have the chance to live.
It was not selfless to die a martyr. It was selfish to jump in front of a kunai or jutsu if that meant you'd be leaving someone behind.
Do what was necessary to save others, but if that meant only being the one to die in exchange for someone else, well, sometimes it really wasn't all that selfless after all. And that becomes abundantly clear in the aftermath, when the one left standing was forced to go on living when they knew very well they should have been the one to die.
The hidden villages didn't make teams in groups of three because three was a lucky number or because having three genin in a team was a better chance of one becoming a medic, maybe one being especially good at genjutsu or one good at taijutsu.
No, the hidden villages learned quickly that three was the right number because it held the best chance of one being left behind.
And Sakura Haruno would be the first in line to sucker-punch anyone who dared to say the one left behind – the one left standing – was the lucky one.
It was hurtful the first time Naruto and Sasuke fought at the Valley of the End. It was guilt that ate at her gut when Naruto came back wrapped in so many bandages that he resembled one of the dead come back to life. It was terror that seized her when Naruto smiled at her under all those bandages with that tell-tale glimmer in his eyes, the one she had come to understand as the one telling her he would never give up, believe it! and understanding that she had made an irreversible mistake when standing at the gates to the village, crying like the weak girl she was, and making Naruto promise, no matter what, to bring Sasuke-kun home.
It was sadness when Naruto came back from training with Jiraiya, stronger than ever, and with the realization that even though she'd worked her ass off training with Tsunade to have impossible strength and ridiculous healing skills, she still wasn't even close to Naruto's level.
It was pain she felt when she watched her two teammates struggle to tear each other apart and piece each other back together every time they saw each other, again and again and again, until Sakura was sure that when the day came when they really went for each other's throats, no amount of healing skill in the world would be able to save them again.
She promised herself that the next time all three of them were together, whether it be as friend or foe, she'd be stronger. And it wasn't just because of being called useless and weak and selfish that she wanted that. That she fought for that.
No. Sakura swore to herself that she wouldn't be sidelined the next time they all met because she was pissed off.
Useless, because she wasn't born with the determination of Naruto and Sasuke, because Kakashi-sensei was more interested in the last Uchiha and the Kyuubi vessel. Useless, because it took her a little longer to understand exactly what she signed up for. Useless, because her parents were civilians and she never had reason to ever feel the need to know how to be strong, because she had never been anything but safe before.
Weak, because her greatest talent was her brain and chakra control. Weak, because killing didn't come naturally to her. Weak, because helping others was in her nature.
Selfish, because she cared. Selfish, because she saw what Sasuke's departure was going to do to all of them, especially her, who wanted nothing more than a family in her team. Selfish, because, yes, she would stand in front of Sasuke when he was on his war-path to a revenge that would never bring him happiness. Selfish, because she had made a few mistakes when she was young and naïve.
Yes. Sakura Haruno was all those things.
Yes, she was a very, very selfish girl.
Sakura Haruno had been angry before.
Many times, in fact. She had been mad enough to punch craters into the earth, so vas and great that many generations down the line would be able to see them. She had been angry enough to scare even the most war decorated of ninja. One look of hers could send the toughest men screaming.
But she never understood what anger could truly be. She never understood, that was, until she was knocked unconscious by Sasuke while he and Naruto went to resume the second part of their battle at the Valley of the End.
She awoke in Kakashi's arms. He was weak and could barely support her weight, but there she was, head in his lap, him running idle fingers through her dirty, bloodied pink hair. Even as dizzy as she was when she awoke, she immediately noticed the slow heartbeat, the dragged out breaths that seemed to want to wither and stop at any time.
Without thinking about it, Sakura unconsciously sent healing chakra into Kakashi, finding all his wounds, seeing that there were no real life-threatening ones, not then, but still cleaning up as much damage as she could manage.
His eyes crinkled, just a bit, as he looked down at her, confused. "How do you even have any chakra left?"
It was a good question. One that she wasn't all that sure about herself.
But she felt . . . full. Not like she was used to before, when she had a decent night's sleep to re-gather her chakra, but . . . something else.
"Nar . . . uto?" she croaked. Good god, her throat. It felt like it had been molested by a cheese grater. "Sasu . . . ?"
Sakura watched as Kakashi's throat moved as he swallowed with difficultly.
He didn't even have to say it for her to know.
They had left her again.
What hurt the most, strangely enough, wasn't that they left her behind once again, but was that she wasn't even surprised.
She could punch craters into the earth, could level the strongest of men with no more than a flick of her pinky, had surpassed Tsunade in not only strength but in healing as well, and was the most revered poison master of her time, but her two teammates would never see her as anything more than the stupid little girl she once was.
She sat up.
Kakashi tried to push her back down, saying something about her being weak and tired and that there was nothing they could do for Naruto and Sasuke now, that they needed to do this themselves.
But she was done listening. She'd listened her whole life. Listened to the lectures in the academy so she'd get some of the highest scores, listened to Kakashi-sensei even when it was clear to a blind man he couldn't have cared less about her, not until she badgered Tsunade to teach her and not until after she punched him straight out of the ground. She listened to Naruto and Sasuke and let them take the lead all this time, thinking to herself that this was between the two of them, that this was their fight, and that even though she was the third part of their team, and without her there would not be a team, just a them, everyone had taken a step back and let those two deal with each other.
Listening hadn't done her any damn good.
Kakashi had stopped talking at some point. He was now staring at Sakura, and if the situation had been different, she would have laughed at his expression.
Because at some point since she woke up, a strange sensation had been spreading out from her diamond shaped seal in the middle of her forehead.
The forehead she had hated. Still hated, in a way. Because it was too big. Because it gave her a nickname. Because it was like one big bull's-eye for enemy shinobi, a sign that said, Throw kunai here, please.
But not now.
Sakura was so very, very tired of hating things about herself.
She was fast.
Somehow, Sakura had gotten to the last battleground of Naruto and Sasuke's. She was carrying a weary Kakashi on her back, who didn't have even enough chakra in him right then to walk, let alone run through trees. And she needed to be fast enough. This couldn't all end because she hadn't been fast enough, hadn't been in time.
But she was on time. Because there was Sasuke and Naruto, beaten and bloody, not from the war they had just waged and won against Madara and the ten tailed beast, but from each other.
It was almost fitting, really, and had she had time to really think about it, Sakura would have laughed at the irony. That these two men had grown to be so strong that they could play major roles in winning the greatest shinobi war this land had ever seen, yet they still were able to beat the living crap out of each other right after. Because this was what was important to them. Deciding who was stronger, who had a greater will to overcome their once friend, once teammate.
If Sakura was selfish, then what did that make these two?
Even in her rush, Sakura was careful in setting down Kakashi. He had been looking at her oddly ever since she awoke, and Sakura had been careful to watch the array of emotions in his eyes during this time. He was too tired to cover his emotions now.
He went through the stages of astonishment, worry, dread, and fear, respectively. Fear being last and what he stayed on.
And she knew why. Her diamond shaped seal on her forehead was growing. It had turned white, ice white, and had grown marks down her face, and was still spreading down and around her body. She remembered what it had felt like before, during the war, and that feeling was still there, but now it just felt . . . more.
She should be dead, really. She should be out of chakra. She knew that she was out of chakra . . . at least she had been, back when Sasuke knocked her out cold.
If Naruto and Sasuke had been paying attention, they would have noticed Sakura and Kakashi. Sakura took no measures to hide themselves. Her chakra wasn't covered and Kakashi didn't have enough to warrant needing to cover. She even landing near the waterline and had Naruto and Sasuke been able to take their eyes off each other for even one moment, they would have noticed them.
But that had always been the problem, hadn't it? Neither was ever really able to look away from each other.
Sure, Naruto loved Sakura. She knew that. Understood that. She wasn't blind to his feelings for her, and at some points had been expecting his childhood crush to fade away with time, to be replaced with something – or someone – else during his time away with Jiraiya, at the very least.
But then he was back. And he was older and tanner and still the same baka, but he was still in love with her. Still asked her out on dates even when she knew very well he didn't have the money or time to. He still picked her up from the hospital as much as he could, when he was around. Still made sure she got enough to eat – or anything to eat, really – when she'd have a particularly brutal day in the hospital, seeing too many dead or almost dead or about-to-be dead ninja and civilians alike.
And Sakura knew she would never be able to properly repay him for all that. She didn't believe she was good enough for Naruto, even when he was being a practically selfish little brat. Even when he was still trying to protect her even though she begged and bleed and pleaded to come with him. To come with him on missions and to look for Sasuke.
And then there was Sasuke.
Let's get one thing straight: Sasuke was a little shit and had been for quite a while.
While Sakura understood that Naruto was too good for her, she also understood that she was too good for Sasuke.
She liked him when they were genin and stupid. She didn't deny that. At the time, she would even had said she loved him.
But it was never that. It was infatuation, surely. It was the result of being picked on as a child for her too-large forehead and then finally being let into the girl group. And when that girl group set their little eyes on someone like Sasuke Uchiha, who was the icon of a moody, poor, lost, broken soul, who lost his family in such a graphic way, well, who could really blame Sakura for behaving like she did? She did what was expected of her at that age. It wasn't a question of whether she actually liked Sasuke or even Naruto. In fact, she never gave Naruto a chance. Not until they were older, at least, and Sakura had already gotten to see the ugly side of all her stupid, naïve choices.
It was fascinating, really, how fast Sakura got over her infatuation with Sasuke after he left. It could have been argued, even, that there was never an infatuation to begin with.
What Sakura always wanted was the same thing Naruto always wanted: a family.
She wanted one because she didn't have a ninja family. In fact, she was the first shinobi in her family, ever. They hated what she did. There had been more times than she could count where Sakura would leave the hospital after an insanely long shift, wanting nothing more than a hot shower, and run into her mother or father instead, both trying to bribe, force, and coerce her into leaving her line of duty and doing something else.
She hadn't seen her birth family in a very long while, actually.
She wasn't even sure if they were still alive.
Sakura wanted the same thing as Naruto, but she just hadn't known how to show it.
She still wanted that. Very badly. Because she still loved them both, despite everything they had done to each other over the years.
But she was no longer that naïve, stupid little girl that hoped for nice things and long, pretty hair.
Sakura made sure Kakashi wasn't at death's door one more time. But then she heard the distinct bird chirping and war cry, respectively.
Her seal was done spreading.
A gloved hand grabbed hers. Kakashi. "I'm sorry," he said, bluntly.
She gave him a quizzed look, and Kakashi would swear her eyes were glowing. "For what?"
"For not being there for you. For leaving you." How did he say this? How did he explain that she always reminded him of his first female teammate, the one who died by his hand, the one he had always been in love with?
Sakura's eyes softened. "I have never blamed you."
And wasn't that just the worst part? That Kakashi knew Sakura was never truly angry with him for his sins against her. That even though she never knew the why of how he treated her, she always just seemed to seemingly understand?
Something broke in his chest, and not for the first time, Kakashi Hatake wished that he wouldn't be the last one left standing, not again.
But then again, no one ever said life gave you what you wanted. Quite the opposite, really.
She really shouldn't have been so fast. It really shouldn't have been possible for her to be so fast. But she was. She was fast enough to reach both Naruto and Sasuke, was fast enough and smart enough to take one look at them both and understand that they had murder on the mind and nothing to stop them.
Nothing except her.
It took them both a moment too long to register her appearance. Another moment to understand that it was actually her, the girl who they'd left behind, again and again, and who had somehow been able to magically appear in between them both at the worst time possible, when both had their mostly deadly jutsu's cast, and who had those strange, icy white markings wrapped down and around her body and, oh . . .
They were glowing.
The marks from her diamond shaped seal looked to be coming alive, and Sakura wasn't reacting. She just stood in that central spot, between Naruto and Sasuke, her sun and moon, who both were on a war path meant for each other but had always been dragging her right into the middle.
At some point, Sakura had ripped off the other black sleeve of her shirt away, so the marks were more visible. And for just a moment, Naruto and Sasuke forgot their panic at seeing their female teammate there, between them like that, and lost breath at the sight of those markings.
And then Sakura Haruno smiled, bright and sharp, at her two male teammates.
This snapped them both out of their stupor. Both felt that moment of pure panic and dread seep into their chests, the moment that they knew would haunt them for the rest of their lives and, oh, god, Sakura get out of the way get out of the way getoutofthewayohgod–
She grabbed them both by the arms used to cast their jutsus and flung them both into the ground.
The earth shattered.
After the war was long over, children wouldn't remember the exact location of where the ten tailed beast was conjured up, but they would always know exactly where the craters in the earth were, in the place once home to the statues of the founders of the Hidden Leaf Village, but was now home to the spot where the earth cracked in two.
"Are you two done being morons yet?"
Both morons in question just looked up at their female teammate, who was smiling wickedly at them both, the marks on her arms still moving like moving water, and for all the attention Sakura was giving them, you would think it was a common occurrence.
Both Naruto and Sasuke were deep into the group, their path being carved by Sakura's strength. She must have pushed some of her healing chakra into them both, since neither had a scratch on them and only felt relatively sore. If she hadn't, they'd both be dead.
They both just gaped up at her, stupidly.
What did you say to a petite woman who just literally almost split the earth in half?
Sakura stood there, quite a ways above them, and waited for an answer, arms crossed over her chest.
She raised a delicate eyebrow.
Both morons nodded slowly, finding it extremely difficult to breathe.
Sakura smiled, and it was so bright it almost blinded them. "Good," she breathed. "Finally," she said, and it almost sounding like a prayer.
She looked down at them one more time, and both teammates would swear to their graves that there wasn't a single tear or trace of fear in her eyes. "Looks like I really was the selfish one after all, huh?"
And then the light in her markings went out and she dropped to the ground.
The children post-war would also always know that the craters in the ground where the earth split in two was also the resting ground of one Sakura Haruno, teammate and family member to Naruto Uzumaki and Sasuke Uchiha.
There was something very justified about those craters, where future generations would swear up and down that they could see the body imprints of Naruto Uzumaki and Sasuke Uchiha where Sakura Haruno buried them into the ground. Two craters in the ground, so large that together they connected and looked to become one massive hole.
The statues of the two founders of the Hidden Leaf Village were destroyed that day, never to be reconstructed.
Instead, a small shrine was placed by Naruto Uzumaki, Sasuke Uchiha, Kakashi Hatake, Yamato, and Sai right above the craters and where it was said Sakura Haruno stood and died.
It was nothing extravagant, nothing over-embellished. It was simply a stone marker next to a planted cherry blossom tree, said to have been planted and cared for by one Yamato, one of two later teammates of Sakura Haruno during life.
Nothing adorned the small stone, not even Sakura Haruno's name, because she did not want to be remembered through a name carved into a memorable stone, something for the ones left behind to mourn over. She did not want any fingers tracing over her name.
Instead, a quote was left on that stone, one that simply read:
"I refused to be the last one left standing."
Both Naruto and Sasuke were next to Sakura in an instant. Despite their injuries, despite the injuries and pain they had gifted upon each other before Sakura stood in each other's way, they moved faster than they ever had before.
It would be much later, when both were being treated, that they understood Sakura had healed them of much more than they initially realized when she threw them into the ground.
Kakashi was there as well. Stumbling in quirky movements until he landed at her side. He shouldn't have been able to move either, but then again, they always had underestimated exactly what Sakura could do, what she could push them and help them to do.
Naruto was touching her face and hair, frantically, murmuring incoherently. Because he loved her. He loved her more than life itself, and if he had been given the choice between losing the greatest shinobi war with Madara and the ten tailed beast and watching his beloved Hidden Leaf Village fall to the ground, and in return, Sakura would live, even if she hated him for the rest of his life, he would have gladly made that deal.
Because there was no one else. There would never be anyone else. He wanted a family, in his team, in his life. And that just wasn't possible without her.
Sasuke was different. He held her hand as the dobe lost himself physically, but Sasuke, rather, lost himself on the inside.
He could not move. He gripped Sakura's hand so tight it would not surprise him if he broke it.
But that didn't matter anymore, did it? It didn't matter if he broke her hand, because she didn't need it anymore. It didn't matter in the grand scheme of things, because he had already broken so many things in his life, so what was one more?
She was so bright. From her cherry pink hair to her sea green eyes, she was so bright compared to him. And he had always hated that about her. That she could forgive and be happy without much difficulty. That she could wear her emotions on her sleeve and still be strong because of it.
He really did hate her.
And you know what they say about hate and love, and how one cannot exist without the other.
Kakashi just cried. He sat on the ground and lost his mind, quietly.
He kept staring at Sakura and seeing Rin. And then she'd be back to Sakura, no blood in sight except a small stream tracing its way from her mouth, down her chin. Her eyes were closed, unlike Rin, who died with her eyes wide open, who died splatted with her own blood.
Compared to Rin, Sakura died nicely. Softly.
So then why did it feel so much worse?
Kakashi Hatake had hated himself for a very long time. He had hated himself that he was never strong enough to save Obito, to save Rin. He hated that he kept a mask over not only his face, but his emotions as well, tried to distance himself from everyone, but it still hurt, still hurt so fucking much when he saw others die.
He hated that he had ignored Sakura for so long. That it wasn't until she was on the ground, and ohgodshewasreally,truelydead, that he understood that he loved her. He was old and damaged beyond what even Sakura's healing powers could fix, but, dear god, he loved her. Had loved her, ever since she punched him out of the ground like it was nothing, like her cherry pink hair flying around her face and that small smirk on her face wasn't just god's gift to every man.
Kakashi hated a lot of things about himself.
But more than anything else, he hated that he was always the one left behind.
No one had ever expected Sakura to die like this. No one had really ever expected Sakura to die, period.
But she was.
And they were the ones left standing.
And they would never, would never fully recover, when they all knew that it should have been Naruto or Sasuke – or both – who died.
So, yes, Sakura Haruno was a very selfish girl, indeed.