Selfishness, Sakura thought, truly knew no bounds.
As a shinobi who swore her life to her village and had killed and bled and lost for it, Sakura was not ignorant to the notion of the greater good. As a medic who often spent hours non-stop healing and still ended with death on her hands, she was also not ignorant to the fragility of a single life, and the incalculable value that it brought with it. But the truth remained that one life meant nothing against the whole - a tragic, utter insignificance when compared to hundreds and thousands of lives.
It was rule many shinobi lived by - their reason for their sacrifices, the refusal to break under torture, the acceptance of missions they themselves knew they would not return from. It was in their loyalty to their village and to their Kage - their lives might not matter but their actions did, and to many ninja, the anything they might accomplish for their village mattered more than their survival. And it was a rule mirrored by the Kages, in the grim distribution of possible deaths handed over the desk in the form of scrolls. They were given with no hesitation, with no appreciation nor guilt, but each carried an implicit trust for the ninja to return, and an unspoken assurance that even if they didn't, the village would be safe.
No shinobi was one. When a shinobi was selfish, he was selfish for the village, selfish with the village – for no shinobi was one, but the village itself. A speck of insignificance that combined with other specks of insignificance and created something significant.
It was a sentiment that had boosted morale during the war, and one Sakura found to be utter bullshit as she looked down at Naruto and Sasuke's bloody faces.
The two laid at her feet, unmoving, unresponsive and in a lake of blood, matted with so much dirt and gore that she thought if she hadn't been looking for the particular blond hair and red Uchiha fan, she might have passed them as simply two other ninja lost in battle. The disbelief had been so potent that she, for a few moments, had almost believed she was under a genjutsu. Then she had noticed the twin, gaping holes in their bodies where their hearts were supposed to be, and reality had slammed into her like a sledgehammer.
She had leaped to their sides, directly into their puddle of blood, grabbing at their limp, lifeless arms and bringing their hands to her face and screaming, sobbing as their blood drenched her pants, the liquid frighteningly warm around her legs as if it was supposed to be comforting, the last embrace of the dead. Even with his heart ripped out, eyes closed and lips quirked Naruto had an oddly satisfied look on his face, and once she wiped the dirt away with trembling fingers, found that Sasuke's expression was similarly calm. Not smiling like Naruto or obviously peaceful, but it had been so long since she had seen him sport even a neutral look, for his face was always contorted in anger or vengeance or the other. It was a look that reminded her of the times Sasuke had stood for Konoha, had stood for Team 7, had stood for her – that she somehow couldn't stop shivering.
Even as tears continued, the cynic in her couldn't help but think the scene morbidly fitting. Sasuke had always been the largest part of, if not, Naruto's heart itself and Sakura had no doubt that it must have been the same for Sasuke even if he refused to acknowledge it. Their deaths had been unfathomable to Sakura because they had been so strong, so steadfast, so blinding like both the sun and the darkness were, and somewhere along her efforts to catch up to them, the chase had begun to feel futile, like chasing the sunrise or the sunset, and trying to stop the day and night from warring. Somewhere along the way, they had become unreachable, unbeatable, and damn it, so glorious - in the back of her mind she had secretly resigned, for she was neither a star nor a force of nature, and wouldn't be able to make a speck of difference even if she had reached the skies. How completely fitting it was, she thought, then that the ones to kill the two heavens of her world would be each other, two of whom she couldn't stop from fighting, two of whom she had almost willingly taken a step back from because she knew she would never be able to understand them like they did one another.
A white-hot emotion raced up her spine and burned her face, and as she looked down at her hands drenched in blood and interlocked with Naruto and Sasuke's, she identified it as shame. Their fingers felt cold against hers, dotted with callouses and rough patches of skin, and she thought, how long has it been since she held their hands like this? She had been incapable, incompetent, ineffective, at least to her team – and as she considered her developments from when she was genin, her achievements as the Godaime's apprentice, her services at the hospital, she thought with no little frustration, what did that matter? What did that matter, whatever she might have done for her village, when she ultimately ended up holding the hands of her teammates' dead bodies, unable to do anything, utterly useless?
Then she remembered Kakashi, and the shame burned twofold. She had left him a way back, chakra exhausted and bleeding dry, and before she left she had put her hands on his bloody chest and desperately pumped green chakra through her hands – No, Kakashi, you can't go like this, can't leave me like this, the war's practically over – and she had pretended she wasn't crying, and he wasn't looking at her all sad, like he had been the one who disappointed her, instead of the other way around, when she had been the one who couldn't fucking fight and needed her teacher to come running to save her and now couldn't even fucking heal him-
Sakura, he had wheezed, leave me. Don't waste your chakra. Go find Naruto and Sasuke. And she had protested, shook her head, screamed her refusal, and he had looked with her with eyes full of sadness and guilt and she thought, why are you looking at me like that? You didn't do anything wrong. You didn't do anything. And Kakashi had shook his head minutely, and another line of blood made its way down his face, soaking his battered mask, and he slowly wrapped his fingers around hers, pulling it away from his body – please, and he had smiled – his eyes crinkling like they always did when he ruffled her hair and called her his favourite student – and said, let me at least do this for you.
So she had run, in the direction Naruto had gone to chase Sasuke, and she had passed Lee, crumpled under a tree and missing a leg, then she had passed Kiba and Hinata, he, face down in his own puddle of blood with a row of kunai imbedded neatly into his back, and she, with her hair sheared short to her ears and her arm blown off, but judging by the way the stump faced, she must have been trying to reach out to Kiba-
Then she found Sai's picture book soaked in gore and she felt a part of her world distinctly tilt and-
Yes, the war was won. Madara was dead and Obito was dead and everyone that mattered was dead, and the majority of Leaf's forces had been obliterated and Sai was dead and Sasuke was dead and Naruto was dead but the war was won, and Konoha was still standing. Tsunade was dead and Kakashi was dead and no one of merit to take the title of Hokage was left, but there was enough ninja to eventually rebuild the village and there were the civilians and the genin and maybe, she thought, with enough time, slowly, very slowly – the lands would recover from the war and the villages would aid each other and Konoha would return to normal.
Currently, however, Sakura found that she gave no two shits about Konoha.
For all her loved ones had died, she considered this war not won, but lost. For all her loved ones had left, she considered Konoha not her home, but a graveyard. For her, Konoha had fallen.
Yet that was surely not enough, Sakura thought, that Tsunade would forgive her for what she would do now. For the final wall, Tsunade had said. When there is no hope and there is no salvation. When we have fallen and future awaits none but death. Our last stand.
Why not Naruto? She had asked. He's so much more powerful. He'll connect to Sasuke better than I ever will. And he has that bond with everyone- Tsunade had shaken her head. Too emotional, she had said, cutting Sakura off. I don't deny Naruto's light nor power, but as shinobi, sometimes rationality must take precedence over emotions. She fixed Sakura with a sharp look. Are you saying Naruto wouldn't go slaughter Orochimaru, Itachi, or whoever that stood in his way right off the bat to save Sasuke? Do you have any idea what that level of change might amount to?
Slowly letting go of Naruto and Sasuke's hands, she took out a kunai with one hand while she touched the skin right above her heart with the other, where a black seal thrummed under her jōnin uniform. A seal that had taken Tsunade a pain-staking six months to ink, spanning the entirety of her abdomen, like a jinchūriki's seal, Tsunade had joked. You're smart, Sakura, you'll be fine. And when this activates, she tapped Sakura's forehead that was yet unmarked, but soon to be, you'll have both enough chakra and chakra control for the jutsu to work. She had grinned. Let's hope that it won't come to that though, eh?
Sakura trembled, and her hands sinking into the blood, crawled between Naruto and Sasuke, lowering herself down between them and feeling their blood envelop her body. She should have shivered, been sick at the slick, iron smell of blood that overwhelmed her, been disgusted at the sight of burned and slashed flesh at her sides. But Sakura found that at this moment more than any other, she felt at last together with the two. She loved the them, she really did, loved her team, loved them more than she had ever loved anyone, loved them more than she had ever believed a human could love – in truth, she had made her decision a while before, the moment she heard Tsunade had fallen, when Kakashi had smiled at her, when she had picked up Sai's picture book from the tangle of organs.
With Naruto on her one side and Sasuke on the other, dead and unmoving, there really hadn't ever been any need for contemplation.
You made a mistake, shishō. If it was Naruto tasked with this, he might have held himself with responsibility. He might have not thrown all of himself into the battle so recklessly like he did. And if it was he who was alive and I who was dead, he might have made the choice to make peace with it. He would have cried and screamed, but in the end he might have stood up and carried everyone's bodies back home and smiled a tired smile and found peace in the fact that he tried his hardest, and Sasuke had tried his hardest in his own way, and that they had met, fought, and understood each other and if he ended up alive and Sasuke dead, well, then, perhaps it was meant to be. And he would have picked up Konoha by the roots and rebuilt it ground up. He would have become Hokage and led the people, and Konoha would not only recover but prosper, and this war would be but a dark, stained page in Konoha's history, a disastrous, abominable page where thousands died and the great Sannin died and two Hokages died and the last Uchiha died, but a page where still the best of Konoha rose, survived, and saved the village.
It's people like me, full of regrets and self-pity who makes the worst decisions, because we can't live with our incompetency, can't live with our failures, can't live with the fact maybe, we could have been better. It's people like me who keeps wanting more, doesn't know when to make peace, can't make peace.
Can't deal with being the only one alive because I stayed back. Can't handle being left behind even in death.
This is why I'm sacrificing Konoha, and the hundreds of lives of ninja who survived the war and revoking thousands who gave their lives to protect it.
This is no last stand.
This is selfishness.
Raising her hand high, she drove her kunai into the seal.
AN: So – yes. A time-travel fic. As expected, this will turn AU some time along the later chapters. I hope you enjoyed the first chapter, a prologue, really – and I hope to see you in the next chapter. Please feel free leave your thoughts in the review section below. I've found that it's extremely motivating and enlightening to receive feedback on my works.