Two Years Later
Sakura opened her eyes to a sky of clouds and blue.
Konoha was bustling, as per usual. A bright afternoon on a Saturday brought people out to peruse the market stalls, meet with friends, go out with family, or to simply enjoy the peaceful time the day had brought. The sun was especially warm that particular day as the buzz of cicadas encircled the air like a neatly wrapped bow.
"Are you wearing sunscreen? Because you're actually so pale I think you'd get a sunburn just by standing next to an oven."
Sasuke snorted into his excessively bitter iced coffee. "If you're referring to the sunscreen I found in my room with the note 'you won't be laughing when you're peeling', then yes. I'm wearing that sunscreen."
Fourteen year old Sakura laughed before popping a dumpling in her mouth. She loved days like this where she could hang out with one of her best friends as they watched people pass them by. The restaurant they often frequented stayed one of their favorites with the assortments of fried goods and barbecue, and even if they went to Ichiraku's now and again, it wasn't the same without Naruto there with them. Though it was always nice to see Teuchi and say hello.
"While it's always fun to hear about you taking good care of your skin, there's some other stuff I've been interested in too," she said. She sipped her lemonade. "How's being a Police Sergeant? I heard from Obito-san that you're a little stressed out with the platoon under your command."
"I hate all of them."
"That's not very nice."
"Uchiha are already insufferable enough as it is and it's only worse now because they don't think they should be listening to a fourteen year old, Commissioner's son be damned," he grumbled. Sakura grinned and started to roll up the sleeves of her gray regulation jacket. She didn't really work under T&I anymore, but she'd grown attached to the uniform and wouldn't stop wearing it no matter how many times Genma whined at her.
"It's hard to climb the ranks when you're a brat, but it'll get better," she winked. "You have a temper almost as explosive as mine so they're bound to listen to you one way or another. Lucky you have the next few days off, huh?"
He sighed. "I guess. Sai and I are going to the art show tomorrow, so my mood should get better. I finally got one of my works in."
"The one with the ruins?"
"Congratulations! I know you spent a lot of time on that one!" Sakura exclaimed. If she'd known art would become such a deterrent against his bottled up emotions, she would've brought it up to the Sasuke of the other timeline and hope for the best. Even if he was prone to anger much like she was, he had a healthy outlet this time and it had done him a world of good. "I almost forgot! I got called up to the Aviary earlier and we got a letter from Naruto."
Sasuke leaned against the table in interest. "What did he say?"
She pulled the letter out from the inner lining of her jacket and held it out for him to read.
Sasuke and Sakura-chan,
How're you guys? It's been, wow, almost two years now. I know ero-sennin said he'd only be training me out here for that long, but some things came up and... I think I'm going to be out another year? He already sent a letter to my dads explaining what's going on. They're okay with it, but they said they miss me and want me to come home soon.
But don't worry, I'll be back before you know it!
Ero-sennin's been teaching me a lot of new jutsu I can't wait to show you guys! I learned the rasengan. That's like a spinning ball of chakra in the palm of my hand, but I need a clone to help me do it. It's super cool and I can kick your ass with it, Sasuke.
I also tried to do the Flying Raijin technique without throwing up and passing out.
Still doesn't work. But I'll master it before I get back to Konoha, dattebayo!
I have a toad summon now too. His name's Gamakichi! He's as orange as my pants and he's really funny. He's a smartass, though. I think you'd like him, Sakura-chan.
"Yeah, he's getting a bit cheeky," Sakura said as Sasuke's lips quirked upwards. "I think my effect has done some good."
"Shut up and keep reading."
And I know I'm not supposed to be telling you guys this in a letter, but... you know about my "problem"? Ero-sennin says it isn't a good idea, but I think I'm going to try and talk to him. It sounds bad, I get it, but I came all this way to train to become an ambassador. For peace. How am I supposed to help build peace when all he does is hate?
I'll change him, then I'll help change the world.
Oh yeah, and Ero-sennin's been making me his editor for his pervy books. I told him they're gross and even I could make better books than his, but he didn't believe me.
I'm gonna do it!
Love you guys and see you soon.
Sasuke set a letter on the table and raised a brow. "A book. The dobe is going to write a book."
"Who knows? We'll see when he actually publishes, won't we?"
He rolled his eyes good-naturedly and dug his chopsticks back into his food. They went on like this for a little longer, talking about their day, their training, and anything else they wanted to catch up on. For Sakura, the experience was almost surreal. The old timeline's Sasuke would've never sat down and talk to her like this. He would've never given her the time of day and would've never shared his laughs and smiles.
This Sasuke was so different. It hurt—but he was so much more happy that it was worth every ounce of pain.
At the end of their lunch, they split the bill and walked out into the sunshine.
"Anything you need to do today?" asked Sasuke.
"Hokage-sama said he needed me to pick up something from his office," Sakura replied, stretching her bandaged arms over her head. "Probably some boring documents to fill out and turn into him tomorrow. After that I'm going to meet with Hinata and—"
"Oh? You're meeting up with Hinata?" he interrupted. His lips toyed up into a smug smile as she stuck out her tongue and reached over to flick his ear.
"I'll see you later, loser."
She waved as they parted ways and stuck her hands in her pockets as she began making her way down the busy street. Breathing in the fresh air, she tipped her head backwards. Everything was so much calmer compared to how it was a couple of years ago. True, this world had its ups and downs, but this was a world that wouldn't suffer a Fourth Shinobi World War.
She could feel it in her bones.
When Sakura slipped her hands out of her pockets to check for the Hokage summons scroll in her back pouch, she spotted Tenten up the path carrying a large armful of medicinal vials. "Hey, Ten! Need any help?"
Tenten jogged over, the vials making small clinking noises. "Hey, Sakura-chan! Thanks for the offer, but I've got a lot of errands to run today and this is just the beginning of the list." She sighed, but there was a cheerful smile on her face. "You don't happen to know a jutsu that lets you know every address in Konoha, do you?"
Sakura scratched the back of her head with a wince. "No, sorry."
"Darn. Well, with all these things I need done... you have time to catch up tomorrow? Training then breakfast?"
"Sure. Training Ground Eleven at eight?"
Tenten nodded. "See you there, Sakura-chan!" She took a step down her path before pausing and looking over her shoulder. "And you'll finally tell me about the potato incident or whatever that was, right?"
Sakura grinned sheepishly and scratched the back of her head. "I was hoping you forgot about that. Fine, fine, I'll tell you all about it tomorrow. Don't overwork yourself, Ten!"
It wasn't odd for her not to be Tsunade's apprentice this time around. She already learned everything she had to learn and had been through the motions of all those teachings—she mastered the Yin Seal, the pinnacle of medical ninjutsu. There was no point in becoming an apprentice the second time around and rid another person's chance of learning something more.
Her hand unconsciously curled over the bandaged seal on her right bicep.
For instance, she was already a sensei on two occasions. First was the poison classes she held every other Friday for her friends, and second was training Hanabi as an apprentice of her own.
Once she arrived at the Tower, she climbed the winding stairs up to the Hokage's Office, her Time dog-tag necklace bumping against her wine red ANBU undershirt every now and again. Five years ago, she stopped wearing the necklace and kept it in a box hidden under a board beneath her bed. Every day she was reminded of her circumstance, but the light weight of the silver against her neck made it take much heavier, so she put it away and tried to forget.
A year ago, she started wearing it again because there was no use in trying to forget. She would take her past and mold it into the foundation she needed to step up to the heights she could never reach before. Now, she was able to brush the stars with her fingers when before she could only comb through the grass on the ground.
Sakura approached the office door and knocked twice.
Her brows furrowed at the voice as she stepped in. "Hokage-sama's not in? That's weird."
She had to admit the sight of Itachi sitting in the Hokage's seat with a stack of papers beside him made her content with the way things played out. He wasn't a Kage yet, and was actually quite a bit a ways from being one, but he was taking the right steps to the position that would make for a brighter future—and the first one was for him to get used to the mountains of paperwork that came with the highest honor.
"He believes it will help my political awareness," he said. He exhaled softly through his nose and picked up another sheet from the pile. "Though I think it's because he can use it as an excuse now."
She chuckled. "He probably has good intentions for you. Did he leave anything for me to pick up?"
Itachi handed her a large brown envelope with the Hokage's seal of approval across the front. She tucked it under her arm.
"So where has Hokage-sama been?"
"Why do you think Tsunade-sama is making Tenten-san run so many errands today?" he deadpanned. Ah, so Dan and Tsunade were out on another date and left their work to their respective students.
Sakura offered him a sympathetic smile before waving to him and turning around to leave the office. "Good luck on your work, and I hope Hokage-sama gives you a raise!"
He returned her smile with an amused one of his own. "Doubtful, but I appreciate the sentiment, Sakura-san. Enjoy the rest of your day."
After the door shut behind her, his smile dropped some as he was overtaken by a sense of curiosity. Since confronting her on that mission, he still hadn't been able to figure her or her angle out. She'd proven herself trustworthy, yes, but there was still something about her. Something he couldn't quite put his finger on.
But he would worry about that later. For now, he would work on the tons of paperwork the Godaime cheerfully bestowed upon him.
Neji narrowed his eyes. "I haven't the faintest idea what Hinata-sama sees in you. I recommended her to the highest ranked optometrist in the village and yet she declines. Your influence it truly a terrible thing."
"Sorry you can't accept my charm, oh dull one," Sakura grinned, placing a hand on her hip. "Maybe you're the one here that needs glasses after being blinded by Gai and Lee's youthful radiance every day."
He involuntarily shivered. "You being unaffected by their machinations only further proves your inability to be normal. Heaven knows why you're even allowed to step on this Estate."
"Because Hyuuga-sama likes me?"
"A tragedy, honestly."
Neji was another person she needed to work on. Not on his personality, though—no matter how many times he voiced how much he didn't like her, they both knew they had a decent friendship after he sacrificed his life to save hers and she went on to bring him back from the dead. It was one of those things where you really couldn't hate a person after those series of events.
But, he still had a long road ahead of him in terms of capabilities. He was fifteen now, and if everything went according to plan, she would recommend him for the position of ANBU Director by the time he turned twenty-five. It would balance out Itachi taking role as Rokudaime Hokage, leaving Sasuke to head the Uchiha Clan and Hinata to lead the Hyuuga Clan and ultimately abolish what the branch members had to suffer through.
That itself was wishful thinking, but she had faith in her friends.
"A tragedy for you, maybe, but I think it's more like a comedy."
"And why is that?"
"Because your insults say you're funny but your face says you like to kick puppies," she said. Some seconds passed as he digested her words before his face screwed up and he pointed at her with an accusing finger.
"I don't kick pup—"
He suddenly surged forward from a well-aimed kick to the center of his back. Sakura stepped aside to avoid collision and watched Neji bumble onto the porch next to her. In the doorway stood Hanabi, indignant.
"Stop arguing with my future sister-in-law!"
Neji was horrified. "Sister-in-law?! As if destiny would let that horrible event smear this world!"
They started fighting. Again. Sakura leaned against the wooden doorway as the two exchanged barbs—some Hanabi shouldn't know, but she supposed Neji had a point of her influence being a "truly terrible thing". She glanced inside the Estate to see Hiashi down the hall, exasperatedly observing his nephew and his youngest. She met his eye and smiled in greeting, him merely nodding in return before he took his leave.
The next thing she knew, Hinata quickly descended the stairs, pulled on her sandals at lightning speed, and bolted past her arguing family members while grabbing her hand and running off.
"See-See you later!"
Hanabi waved enthusiastically as she held onto Neji's arm to keep him in place. "Bye, nee-sama! Bye, Sakura-sensei!"
Sakura's laughter rang clear in the air as she let herself be pulled along.
Ibiki locked the front door as he and Sakura stepped outside.
"Who the hell decides to hold a meeting in the middle of the night?" Ibiki grumbled. He stuffed his hands in the pockets of his trench coat. "Konoha Assembly my ass. Pick a time people are actually awake."
"We are awake," she quipped. He glared at her half-heartedly and knocked her over the top of her head.
"I meant for normal people. With normal sleep schedules."
Sakura chuckled. "Got me there, old man."
The Konoha Assembly was much like Clans of Konoha, but met less frequently at an undisclosed location. Once a year, all department heads, clan heads, the council, and the Hokage came together to discuss Konoha's infrastructure. There were twelve attendees at the Clans of Konoha meetings, but over forty attended the Assembly.
"But I get your point," she sighed. "It's one in the morning and this probably won't end until six or seven and... ugh I still have to get those two other permits I requested."
Ibiki's face darkened considerably as he brought his fingers up to press against his forehead. "... Two permits?"
"One for lab usage and the other to make me an official teacher," she grinned. "What? Did you think I was going to wait until you got on my case to get those? Ha! Once I frame them up next to the poison's permit, it'll spice up the kitchen even more!"
"Your poison cabinets weren't enough?"
"But they're a nice touch."
"Of course. Stainless steel makes the cabinets just shine," he drawled. Sakura stifled a laugh as they entered a building next to the Hokage Tower and hidden by a powerful genjutsu. Inside, rings of seats were organized like a circular lecture hall with the Hokage and the council's seats set in the forefront. Her and Ibiki parted to sit in their assigned seats.
Sakura took her's in the top row where three masked shinobi stood behind the chair: Cat, Boar, and Monkey.
Or alternatively: Kinoe, Shin, and Torune.
She smiled at them before sitting down and inspecting her own nameplate.
There were thirty minutes left until the Assembly began, so she took this opportunity to sift through the notes on her desk. Nearly everything was in code, as she couldn't risk exposing the organization's secrets in a semi-public place. To her right would sit the Head of Education and to her left would be the current ANBU Director, so she had every reason to be cautious.
She plucked the last paper of the pile and scanned it over, realizing it was one of her personal correspondents that wrote in a code they both developed for the instance of their missives.
Heading out with the Corps. next week to Frost Country. Need anything?
Deidara recently became the commander of the Explosion Corps.. Paired with his affinity for bomb making and swordsmanship skills, he was a force to be reckoned with and occasionally got her poisons since she couldn't go out as much anymore. Gaara did something of a similar nature as well when he sometimes sent over plants with their correspondence, but it was more of a 'because he wanted to' rather than a 'because she asked'. She thanked him every time. He told her not to worry and wrote her stories about how he was getting better at making friends.
She made a note of the list of plants she needed before tucking it away and watching as the time neared the start of the Assembly and the bulk of the attendees flooded in. A few minutes later the meeting convened and after roll call, Dan stood to make an announcement.
"I would like to introduce two more members to the Assembly," he informed. "They will take the positions of clan heads, and they will lend their ears and insight to future discussions like this one. First, to fill the Senju seat, will be Senju Tsunade."
Tsunade came through a door and took a stand next to the Godaime. Her face was stone-cold and calculating as she surveyed the rest of the room.
"And next, a person to fill the Uzumaki seat," he continued. Murmurs swept through the attendees while Sakura's brows furrowed as she leaned forward suspiciously. Naruto was the only Uzumaki she knew and he told her he wouldn't be back for another year. Even if he were to come back earlier, she doubted he had enough experience to fill in the position.
But another person did walk out and stand next to Tsunade. He was tall and slim with his shoulder-length hair drooping over half his face. His visible eye raised to look at Sakura as she covered her mouth to hold in her surprise.
Dan smiled. "Everyone, please welcome Uzumaki Nagato as well."
"You didn't have to walk me the entire way."
"Ah, it was nice talking to you, though! I just wanted to see how you were holding up."
Sakura felt the gesture warm her as she was dropped off at the training grounds. "Thanks for being good company, Obito-san. See you at Inoichi-san's session next month?"
"Maybe sooner," he grinned. "See you later, Sakura! Tell Kakashi I said hi!"
Sakura walked up the path to Team Seven's training ground and hoisted herself up onto the railing of the short red bridge. Kakashi had already been waiting for her there and was reading one of his many philosophy books, but shut it and stored it in his back pouch at her arrival.
"Sakura. I trust the Assembly went well?" he questioned. She shrugged her shoulders and blew out a dramatic sigh.
"Meetings are always going to be boring."
He raised an eyebrow expectantly. "But?"
"But the rumors about the Uzumaki representative are true," she said. "Uzumaki Nagato. Rinnegan-wielder, former Amegakure shinobi."
"... There was no mention of him being a former Amegakure shinobi."
"There's also no mention of him being Jiraiya-sama's former student, so I guess you're learning more new things today, eh, Kakashi? But you didn't hear it from me."
He nearly rolled his eyes. Why wouldn't she already know who this Nagato character was? He would've been more surprised if that stranger's arrival had caught her completely off guard. Kakashi crossed his arms and rested his back against the railing. "Anything else you want to tell me? You have that look on your face and I don't think I'll appreciate what comes after it."
"Well..." she trailed off. "Remember when I mentioned that empty Hatake seat in Clans of Konoha and the Konoha Assembly? I think it'd be a good idea if—"
"Fine, I'll back off for now, but just think about it," said Sakura. "Anyways, this year's genin assignments are about to roll out soon. Did you sign up to be a sensei this year?"
His face was completely, utterly blank and she snorted a laugh. "Okay, okay. Geez, you plan on being boring the rest of your life?"
"Is it bothering you?"
She stuck her tongue out at him. "Asshole."
Kakashi's arm shot out and pushed her into the lake. He glanced over his shoulder, unimpressed, but a small quirk to his lips was visible from beneath his mask. "Tyrant."
He blinked away the stream of water pelted at his face.
Danzo's eyes roamed over the space that once used to be his office. He could no longer say it matched the chilling interior of the rest of HQ as it appeared... homely. Lived in. The walls were painted a light green and one whole side of the room had been taken over rows upon rows of books and scrolls. The desk was cluttered, a mongoose mask hung on the wall behind it, and to its right across from the bookshelves was a simple gray couch.
He settled onto it and cast a cursory stare at the child seated in a wheeled office chair. "Why green?"
"Red is its complementary color," she smiled. "If any blood gets spilled in this room, it'll be easy to spot and clean up."
He resisted the urge to snort as he placed his hands atop his cane. This is what he got for choosing her to be his successor so he had no other choice but to put up with her.
"Decor aside, councilman, do you have any information for me? Being my number one informant inside the village, I know you don't like making trips down here when you don't need to," she said. Danzo straightened.
"Ever since Orochimaru's death, the remainders of Oto have taken things into their own hands by raiding nearby villages," he explained. "They've been trying to find his right hand, Yakushi Kabuto, who was last seen in our village's chuunin exams, and seek his counsel. Do you know his whereabouts?"
Sakura smiled. "No comment."
"... I see. Konoha would normally deal with this problem, but the Oto shinobi are no longer in Fire Country, therefore no longer our jurisdiction. How will you plan to move forward knowing you cannot deploy any of your forces?" he questioned. She tapped her pen on her desk a few times before she opened the top drawer and pulled out a stack of blank paper.
"I know some people who owe me some favors, so don't worry about it. I'll have the Oto problem cleared up by the end of next week."
She laid out two sheets: one to be addressed to Deidara and the other to be addressed to Terumi Mei.
Danzo observed her write in an interesting string of code for some time before again looking over the room. The difference between her office and his were about as stark as their personalities—here she was, young and unafraid of what was to come and willing to stand up for what was right even if she was going to be the only one standing. He, on the other hand, only worked from the shadows to go unnoticed in his work the rest of his life.
He might not have made many good investments as the first ROOT Director, but looking at Sakura as she scrawled at her desk, he saw a much brighter future than one he could have helped lead.
It was hard to live the way they did, and maybe people would never fully understand what that meant. There were always those who said they wanted to go back in time and change the way things turned out, but at what cost? They saved the world. They saved most of their friends.
But they were the only ones who would ever remember what the world used to be.
Sasori brushed his fingers across the dirt and dewed grass of a grave he once dug with his own hands. The skies were painted the peach and rose of an early morning, and the ocean waters below crashed against the cliffside with a soothing rush.
"It's almost as if we've been dreaming these last nine years."
He cast his companion an agreeable look. "Doesn't it? If you told the me in the old timeline that I would've made friends with my killer, lost half my marbles, and give up on eternity, that me would've called you crazy and tried to kill you because making you into a puppet is too good of a fate."
"Weirdly specific, but you're not wrong," Sakura admitted. "Nine years ago, I wanted to die. I'm kind of surprised I made it this far."
"Do you still want to?" he asked. She sat down beside him.
"Still want to what?"
The air held the light tang of salt, pressing against their lips with every word they spoke and filtering through the light breeze like a wake up call from a groggy nap.
Sakura tucked her legs into her chest and rested her chin on her knees. "I wanted to for a very long time, but..."
Her headband glinted in the low light.
"... I don't know. If we're talking about right now, then no."
Last they heard from Hidan, he and Juugo were trekking along the mountains in Iron Country to visit the shrines on the highest peaks. Hidan complained about the snow and cold and storms, but he didn't complain about the peace. He never did. And it made them wonder if that's all he ever wanted.
Sakura also told them both about Nagato some days ago and about how she first saw him at the Konoha Assembly. They never spoke during or after the revelation of his decision, but they shared a mutual understanding. Nagato was using his second chance to the fullest and he found it by trying to implement change through the system.
Sasori almost didn't believe her. Hidan wrote a paragraph of almost only obscenities.
"What about you? What do you want to do next?" Sakura questioned. Sasori let himself fall back onto the grass with his arms over his head, his half-lidded eyes trailing after the clouds that inched across the sky.
"I think I'm going to talk to Chiyo-baa-sama again," he said. I haven't seen her since we first got back. Maybe it's time I need to."
When she turned to face him better, he saw her dog-tag sway with the movement. "Nice necklace," he noted. Sakura spotted a silver chain gleaming around his own neck and grinned.
"Thanks," she replied. "But tell me about yours. Where did you get it?"
Their old world was far from perfect, but the same could be said about the one they were in now. People still fought and people still died—some people still went down the wrong path and some still needed help getting onto the right one.
Haruno Sakura and Akasuna no Sasori were by no means perfect people. They made mistakes, they made the wrong decisions, they had trouble finding it in themselves to believe.
But that was okay.
Because for them, this was their second chance, and they had all the time in the world to learn what it meant to get better.
:: :: :: ::
Her name was Sachiko and she was sixteen years old.
She stood at the Nurse's Station at Konoha Hospital, looking over a clipboard with a new nurse standing nervously in front of her.
"Your patient here needs to be administered medication once every two hours," she explained softly. The nurse quickly nodded his head. "As a beginning, you'll have one patient this week to ease you into your role. Next week you'll have two, and the week after that you'll have three. At twelve tonight you'll be relieved of your shift then you'll come report to me in my office, alright?"
He bobbed his head again and took the clipboard offered to him. "Yes, Haruno-sensei! I won't let you down!"
"I know you won't," Sachiko smiled. The nurse's face went red. "I wish you well on your shift."
He stammered out a 'thank you' before going off to fulfill his duties. The young doctor slid her pen into the pocket of her pink scrubs before heading over to the front desk to let them know she was taking her lunch break.
Living in a growing village for the past two years had been quite the experience for her. Being raised in such a small town the majority of her life, it took her a while to get used to all the people and enormous buildings. Before she got her own apartment and lived with Kakashi, Pakkun or the other dogs would always be there to show her around or explain how things worked in that particular part of the country. Now, she lived in the same apartment complex as Tenten and had lunch at her shop every Tuesday and Thursday.
And it wasn't like she was much of an obscure resident either. There were people—some of the older generations—that eventually came to figure out who she really was. Her last name might have been a coincidence, but they told her that her eyes were a mirror of her mother's.
Sachiko walked a few buildings down to the VA and pushed open the glass doors. "Good afternoon. Haruno Sachiko, checking in."
"Good afternoon, Haruno-sensei!" the receptionist chirped. "Here to visit the patients again?"
"Yes, if that's alright?"
"Of course! No one visits as much as you do, and it really brightens up everyone's day around here."
The Veteran's Association was comprised almost entirely of shinobi from the Fourth Shinobi World War. These were the shinobi who could no longer take care of themselves because of trauma, a decline in mental health, or physical disabilities that rendered them unable to live alone. Once Sachiko found out about the place and discovered the high suicide rate, she made it her goal to visit at least once a week and try to bring love and joy back into their lives. On one of her weekly calls to her grandmother, she told the woman of her plans and was told it was something she should keep pursuing. And she did.
At fifteen, she sought one clinical partnership with the Inuzuka Clan to bring in rescue dogs to help pair them with a veteran and another with many different orphanages to bring in children to read to the patients. The requests were odd, especially coming from a civilian, but they worked.
At sixteen, she was currently going through the motions of a residency under Kato Shizune.
At eighteen, she hoped to complete her residency and run a mental health clinic of her own to assist veterans much like the ones in the VA.
Her mother died because she found no reason to live.
If Sachiko tried hard enough, maybe she could give all these people one.
Naruto hummed to himself as he walked through the pristine white halls of the hospital. Every now and again he would drop by and see how Sachiko was doing. She'd settled into the village quite nicely, making the most of her situation and becoming one of the most respected faculty at her workplace. She was a kind, talented girl and she deserved that much.
But he wasn't going to lie—he felt an obligation to make sure she was okay. He already failed Sakura once and making sure her daughter was fine was the least he could do for her.
As for Sasuke...
He rubbed the back of his neck and poked it through Sachiko's office door. "Sensei!"
She looked up from her computer screen. "Ah, good afternoon, Naruto-sama. Are you here to check up on staff?"
"Yup," he grinned. "How've you been today? No difficult patients? No problems?"
She shook her head and blinked when his grin grew wider. The Nanadaime was always such a cheerful person when he interacted with his villagers, which was probably why his popularity was so high. It wasn't that she didn't believe him since his joy was so infectious, but it made her wonder how someone as bright as him could be wrought from the unforgiving childhood her mother briefly mentioned in her letters.
A figure made itself visible from her vantage at her office window and she leaned to look closer, some stray hairs loosening from the bun on her head. "Naruto-sama, Nara-san is walking into the building and he looks annoyed."
Naruto grew pale and she blinked again. "You're not checking up on staff, are you?"
"I was never here!" he blurted. He crossed his arms over himself to mimic an 'x'. "I was never here and Shikamaru can't prove it! Bye, sensei!"
With one last grin, he disappeared in a cloud of smoke. Sachiko sighed and shook her head with a fond smile. Shinobi.
Moments later, Shikamaru poked his head into her office. "Did the Nanadaime happen to drop by?"
"He ran away when I said I saw you."
The Hokage's Advisor mumbled some curses under his breath as he thanked her and stalked off to find his runaway boss. Sachiko always thought Konoha shinobi were so eccentric—they were truly powerful, but they still acted like they weren't a product of blood and steel.
She shook her head. Those musings she could save for later. For now, she still had work to do.
But then, at the corner of her eye, she saw something black flutter past her window. Or, at least she thought she saw something. Curious, she got up from her seat, pushed the window up, and looked around. Nothing was there.
'Must've been a bird.'
She closed the window and continued her work.
Outside, Uchiha Sasuke stood on the roof of Konoha Hospital with his black cloak fluttering around his ankles and his hair tied in a loose ponytail at his nape. His katana lay at his hip in need of sharpening after his return from a recent mission, and he was to report to the Hokage immediately after his arrival. But seeing as he wasn't there, he went on to what he normally did when he returned to Konoha: check if his family was alright.
Then, check if Sachiko was still alive.
Maybe he was just paranoid, but it didn't sit well with him that Sachiko was just a civilian. She could die at any moment from someone who held a grudge against Sakura and found her matrilineal line or found out about her Uchiha blood and decided to use her for their own gains. What then? What if she ended up dead with both him and Naruto there but being unable to do anything?
What if he let down another Haruno?
Sasuke's teeth clicked in his mouth as his jaws pressed together. So he hadn't forgiven himself since then, so what? Over a decade later and he still woke up in the middle of the night to see blood dripping down the bedroom walls.
Innocents' blood. Itachi's blood. Sakura's blood.
He probably could never look in the mirror and not see a monster.
He glanced down at the row of windows that side of the building one last time, then shunshinned away to check the Hokage's office once more. He doubted Sachiko knew how much he checked up on her.
And it was probably better that way.
That night, Sachiko went to her apartment, shuffled through the hall, and took a seat on the top of her dark green bedspread. And, just like every weekend, she opened the bottom drawer of her nightstand and pulled out a brown wooden box she polished almost religiously. She pulled the key up and over her head then twisted it in the keyhole to pop open the keepsake.
On top of all the photos was an unsealed envelope, and the letter inside held what she lived by day to day—carving the words in her heart to forgive but to never forget.
She filtered through the pages until she got to the last one.
I didn't know everything would take so long to write, but...
I hope this was enough. Not for everything, but for you to understand and to apologize for what I've done to you. Everything I've written was my truth and everything I've asked of was my will. These papers are my story and this page is its end.
I know I'll die young, and it won't be with the honor of a shinobi because I never could change the world the way everyone else could.
I know you deserved a mother.
I know you deserved better than this.
I'm sorry I was so selfish.
I don't want to see this war-torn world or the way my failures stacked up so I could no longer look at what was on the other side. I couldn't overcome what pulled me down, but to you I wish that your life will shine like the sun—brilliant and bright.
You're my Sachiko. My happy child.
When you stumble and fall, you'll pick yourself back up and keep going.
I will never get a second chance, but you'll grow up in a time where you'll have all the chances in the world. Take them, because the only way for you to grow is to move forward.
I already miss you, Sachiko, and I can't wait to see you again.
Your Mother, With All the Love She Had Left,
Sachiko smiled a watery smile and hugged the paper close to her chest before she gazed out her window into the dark and stars and whispered, "Wherever you are, kaa-san, I hope you can smile again."
Her mother said she would never get a chance, but maybe she did. And if she did...
She could only hope her mother took her own advice and lived.
:: END ::
This story's finally over, and I can say that it'll take a while for me to really come to terms with that. I've been writing this story for so long now and while a part of me doesn't want to stop writing this, another part says that it has to come to an end at some point. I didn't know when this would finally come to a stop, but this is it.
There will be no sequel.
I know a lot of you have been asking for one but if I make a sequel, the whole wrap-up to this story is going to lose it's meaning. It's meant to be resolved but with a future still in store, so I'm sorry to those that will be disappointed by this information.
But, I couldn't have made it this far without all your guys' love and support. Thank you all so much for your dedication for this story. It kept me going.
Also, if you all would like to see all the covers and fanart submitted to this story, please visit the Wattpad version, called Stumble [Rewrite] under the same username (writer168) and look at the end of these following chapters:
Omake II: The Happy Child (Chapter 26)
Challenge (Chapter 29)
Appearance (Chapter 30)
Concern (Chapter 34)
Impression (Chapter 35)
Omake III: The Flower That Wasn't Pink (Chapter 36)
Worry (Chapter 37)
Heavy (Chapter 40)
Mirror (Chapter 43)
Wish (Chapter 44)
Omake IV: Hero (Chapter 45)
Those Who Knew No Better (Chapter 46)
Information (Chapter 47)
Knowing (Chapter 48)
Hardship (Chapter 49)
Mist (Chapter 50)
You (Chapter 51)
Omake V: Hero (Chapter 52)
Crash (Chapter 53)
Interlude (Chapter 54)
The Number of Death (Chapter 55)
Eleven (1) (Chapter 56)
Eleven (2) (Chapter 57)
Eleven (3) (Chapter 58)
Omake VI: Truth (Chapter 59)
Eleven (4) (Chapter 60)
Eleven (5) (Chapter 61)
Eleven (6) (Chapter 62)
Serpentine (1) (Chapter 64)
Serpentine (2) (Chapter 65)
Rewound (Chapter 66)
Cornered (Chapter 67)
Witness (Chapter 68)
Worth (Chapter 69)
Omake VII: Ghost (Chapter 70)
Time (Chapter 71)
Stumble [Epilogue] (Chapter 72)