A/N: Thank you everyone not just for your support of my writing but your support of my profession! Being a nurse and having the ability to truly help my patients and my community - especially now - is the most rewarding thing I've ever done. It's also one of the most challenging and terrifying aspects of my life. And one day, I'll earn my degree in medicine and the skills I need to do even more for the people I love.
For now, I'm taking a brief break from our pandemic-rattled collegiate system to focus on my mental health - something that has taken a significant decline with the extreme stress of 2020 and with working as a nurse. And during this little break, I've found time to actually sit back and write! Because not only do I love my patients and my city but I love you guys too! Thanks for sticking around, enjoy the final resolution of the battle with the Hagoromo clan!
At first, there was only darkness. A vast nothingness that stretched on forever both outside of Sakura and within her. There was no battle, no foes to be fought here. There was no pain, no terror, no rage. All there was was her and the quiet.
Then there were voices.
They were so quiet, so far away, their words little more than the echoes of someone whispering in a cave. They didn't need to be close to her, however, for her to tell they were upset. Even near silent as they were in this nowhere place, she could still recognize the rhythm of anger in their tones.
She listened distantly for some time but, soon enough, even the sound of their argument became a steady harmony lulling her back into the dark. At least until her descent was disturbed as one of the voices spoke loud enough to understand.
"-saved my life, my sister's life, all of our lives! She tried to save Hitomi! She just-!"
A muted response, more whispers in the dark.
"-healer and our friend, she's done nothing but-!"
The fight continued quietly, just on the edge of her perception, the sharp edges in their voices catching on the loose threads of her attention. As she drifted on the edge between nowhere and the noise, something else finally joined her. Something that sharpened the edge of her consciousness and began to define sensation.
"-shouldn't matter that she's a Senju, she's-!"
The response that came after was no longer a whisper but a roar.
"Enough, Katsurou! Leave! Now!"
Finally cut free from the dark by the familiar voice of Madara shouting nearby, the pain continued to grow. The nothingness that once surrounded Sakura slowly began to fall away, like floating to the surface from the depths of the sea. The light of consciousness shone on her as she drew closer to the surface of reality, her pain, her anger, and finally her fear rejoining her.
There was a silence that followed, one that dragged on for a lifetime, before a grim voice that brokered no argument tore through the lingering webs of unconsciousness and finally dragged her to the surface.
When Sakura finally opened her eyes, her vision spun. She had to blink back against the wave of disorientation as she was hit by the physical fallout of what had happened to her. She struggled to breathe at first, unable to articulate the movement of it as the aftermath of the battle stole the breath from her lungs.
She had never been in more pain in her life. Every inch of her body was screaming, the gravity of the wounds she received in the battle with Junshi finally dawning on her. She had been in a rage, lost to her fury after watching him murder Hitomi, and had been able to fight passed the pain. But now, with no enemy to fight, there was nothing between her and the reality of her injuries.
She was lucky she had survived at all.
When the very thought of survival occurred to her, Sakura finally found the energy she needed to sit up. Even the slight movement of pushing herself upright sent waves of white hot agony through her, the cloth of her kimono dragging against the patches of burns that covered her entire body. Her trembling fingers fanned out across the ground beneath her in an attempt at stability, her hands finding the layers of a bedroll. The weight of a blanket laid out across her - something that was once comforting - was nothing short of excruciating against her injuries.
Sakura struggled to stay upright, her entire body trembling as she finally met Madara's gaze from across the unfamiliar room.
"What time is it?" she asked, her voice cracked and faint, nearly lost from her screaming.
"Dawn," he answered, an unusual shortness in his subdued tone.
"Nonono…" she whispered, dread filling her chest like ice water, "Where is Hitomi? Is she okay? Did I-? Was I able to-?"
"She's dead," he interrupted, the coldness in his voice cutting even deeper as he answered, "She died as a result of her injuries before your rampage."
"No…" she whispered, dropping her head as heat began to build behind her eyes, "Hitomi…"
Fighting against the heat building behind her eyes, Sakura shook her head, instead reaching down with a shivering hand and throwing off the blankets. She struggled to get her feet under her, each drag of clothes and sheets against the burns lacing across her skin making it impossible to even think.
"I-I need to help everyone else, there must be more injured! I need-!" she rambled as she tried to push herself to her feet. Her vision swam as she rose, her trembling body stumbling and knocking her back to the ground. When her hands and knees made impact with the tatami mats beneath her, a bolt of agony shot through her with such power that her vision flashed white.
"You need to stay here, you can't leave yet." She heard distantly as her vision returned in patches.
"I can still help," Sakura argued from her heap on the floor, trying to catch her breath as she finally looked up at the man she considered her closest companion.
Only to find him looking down upon her with a look she had never seen before.
"Who are you?" Madara demanded, the question confusing Sakura even further.
"What…" she panted, her eyebrows furrowing in confusion and worry, "What are you talking about?"
"Who are you really, Sakura?" he repeated, his eyes narrowing.
"I don't know-"
"You know exactly what I'm asking!" he interrupted loudly, making her flinch, before restraining his anger once again, "You've been lying to us, keeping secrets. How long did you think you could hide that you're a Senju?"
"What, no! That doesn't make any sense, what are you talking about?"
"Then how exactly do you have wood style?"
"I don't know!" Sakura blurted honestly.
He scoffed at her answer. "You know our clans are at war, why would you make a deal with your family's most hated enemies?"
"I'm not a Senju, I'm from the Haruno family! You know this!"
Madara ignored her. "Are you a runaway? Was that what happened at the Nakano's holdings, was that a squadron of your clan sent to deal with you? Did you go because you knew Lady Akane was an escapee from the Uzumaki?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about! Listen, I know- I know this doesn't make sense, but I'm telling you!" she beseeched, struggling to even think with the waves of pain washing over her with each pound of her panicked heart.
"Then why are you able to use wood style? Why do you have Hashirama's jutsu?" he demanded relentlessly.
"I told you, I don't know!" Sakura gasped out, struggling to catch her breath, "I don't know why, I didn't even know until last night…"
"Are you really trying to tell me you only found out you could use wood style ninjutsu last night?" he returned sharply, his tone incredulous, "I saw the power of your ninjutsu, you massacred half of the Hagoromo army. And you expect me to believe that that was your first time using wood style?"
"I-I was desperate! I thought I was going to die! And Hitomi asked me- begged me to protect her kids before he-" she choked on her words, her eyes screwing shut against the memory of her friends murder, before she forced out, "I was just… desperate."
When Sakura opened her eyes, Madara looked down at her with a pensive expression. His anger from before faded into something almost resembling understanding but his scrutiny remained just as cutting. She looked away, her trembling hand settling against the weight that still lingered in her chest since she had awakened her wood style.
"It felt like something broke inside…" she whispered.
When Madara finally spoke, it was softer than before. "Answer this for me then: why are you here?"
"Because I'm your clan's doctor. We made a deal." she answered, her worry growing at his leading tone.
"And what was the reason you made the deal with us, what did you ask for in return?" he pressed.
"I wanted access to your library," Sakura answered, her racing heart galloping faster and faster.
"Why our library?"
"I needed information on space-time ninjutsu."
"For what reason?" he finally asked, Sakura's racing heart feeling like it had stopped.
"I needed more information to advance my medical ninjutsu."
Madara remained silent for a long moment, staring down at her with a calculating expression, as if he was looking through her. She struggled to meet his gaze, wanting nothing more than to look away as he looked at her with such severity. When he finally spoke, she almost flinched.
"You're lying," he muttered, as if to himself more than her, hurt flashing across his face before disappearing behind the mask of the clan leader.
"N-no, I've been developing a new jutsu, you know this," she tried desperately, the stutter in her voice betraying her half-lie as well as her rising panic.
He reacted to her tone, his body tensing as if pained by her response.
"You're not lying about that, no, I've seen your research. But I've suspected it wasn't your true reasoning for a long time. I let it go, I didn't ask because you were too valuable an ally. Then because I thought of you as a friend and I respected your privacy. Then because of everything you've done for us…"
Sakura could do nothing but stare, floundering for her words as he revealed how he had caught on to her earliest deception. The half truth she had concocted as an excuse to search the Uchiha library for information on space time ninjutsu. The lie she had made up to try to find a way back home.
He closed his eyes for a moment before meeting her gaze once again, a flash of something like hope barely hidden behind his controlled expression.
"Izuna is too lost in his anger and his grief to listen but right now, I need you to tell me. If I'm to trust you to be around my family after you suddenly reveal you have the Senju bloodline's ninjutsu, I need you to tell me…" he paused, turning to her with an expression that made it hard for her to breath, "Who are you?"
Sakura's heart stopped.
He had found her out. He had backed her into a corner and there was nothing left she could say, nothing left she could do to conceal this. She knew he was a sensor, he had spoken about it many times before. Ino was a sensor too and Sakura could never get away with lying to her. She had told her once that she could feel how her chakra flowed, like how you could feel the changes in the flow of the water when you swam in a river.
If she could control her chakra now, if she could make it flow steadily to hide her lying for even a moment, she might have been able to get away with another half truth. She could have leaned upon everything she had done for the Uchiha and given Madara something - anything - to make him take pause. But now, with every chakra pathway in her body burned and broken, there was nothing she could do to hide from him.
As she choked on her words, she could think of nothing but the truth: she had been caught in a jutsu that sent her to the past and she was just trying to get home. It was so easy now to come up with the words. It was heartbreaking that it was so simple now.
Now when there was no way he would believe her.
This was the worst possible outcome, the nightmare scenario she had dreaded since she first began working for the Uchiha clan. The truth was so outlandish that it would have taken hours, days, maybe even weeks to convince people as scrutinizing and protective of their family as Madara and Izuna. Even if she had decided to tell them just a week ago, she would have had to convince them of her sanity and of her loyalty before they even considered believing her. Even with as close as they were, she was still an outsider with an impossible tale that required an outlandish amount of faith to come even close to believing.
The truth was too absurd to be convincing in this moment.
He would think she was trying to lie to him, that she was grasping at straws as she flailed for any solution. He would think she was insane, that she was delusional and that she was a danger around his family. He would think she thought he was a fool, that she was mocking him with a ridiculous story.
Sakura briefly considered lying again.
She could admit she was a runaway Senju, that she was just trying to escape her family. She could say that she was an Uzumaki escapee like Lady Akane, that the Nakano's protector had offered her safe harbor following her escape. She could even say she was a member of one of the clans she had nearly destroyed during her debut in the past and her battle on Samurai Bridge.
No matter how clever the lie, nothing could change that Madara was a sensor and that she had no control over her hemorrhaging chakra. He would sense any lie she tried to offer him.
She couldn't think, her head was swimming from the pain of her injuries and her panic. She couldn't think of anything to say as she stared at the floor, avoiding his stare as her mind raced for something to say, anything. Anything. Anything!
"I'm severing our contract."
"W-what?" Sakura gasped, finally able to meet his gaze even though she flinched back against the mask of indifference on his face. Any argument she had died in her chest as she stared up at the unfamiliar, frightening expression on the man she loved.
"Our entire relationship is built on a lie and you refuse to tell me the truth. I don't know who you are or what you want. I don't know where you're from, what your goals are, or even why you're here," he explained as if he felt nothing saying it before he finished breaking her heart with a single comment, "I can't trust you."
"But wait, I-"
Sakura wanted to tell him. She would tell him anything to prevent this. Anything he wanted to hear. Anything to be able to stay with the family she loved, the friends she loved, the man she loved…
She should have told him. She should have told him a week ago, a month ago, a year ago. She should have told him when they were eating dinner together the first time or the fifth time or the fiftieth time. She should have told him on her birthday. She should have told him when she was teaching him medical ninjutsu. She should have told him after the battle against the Senju or after the battle in Sora-ku.
She had a thousand opportunities and she should have used any one of them. If she had told him sooner, in any other moment than this one right now, she might have been able to convince him. But now, all she could do was watch as he turned his back on her and slid open the door behind him.
"Madara, please wait!" Sakura cried out, desperate for him to just listen, and for a moment, he hesitated. "Just let me explain, I'm not-!"
Without another word, Madara stepped out through the doorway, ignoring her pleas. He closed the door behind him, the silence broken by the gentle tap of wood on wood and then a single footstep before there was nothing but her and the quiet once again.
Sakura had wanted to chase after Madara, to somehow prove to him that she could still be trusted. She had done so much for them; she had been their friend, their healer, even their comrade in arms. She hadn't been lying to them, she just hadn't been telling the truth. That had to be enough, that had to mean something… right?
She had wanted to chase after him but, with her injuries, it had taken minutes just to finally rise to her feet. Every movement - every footfall - dragged the fabric of her filthy yukata across her burns, her body blooming with pain like there was fire in her skin.
When she finally made her way across the dark room and opened the door Madara had exited, the only thing she was greeted with was the ruins of the Uchiha village.
Burned out buildings surrounded her, charred black mixed with the ash gray of surviving homes. The dim light of lingering embers made the crumpled outlines of collapsed houses glow. Smoke rose from the debris and drifted off into the slowly brightening dawn sky, still burning ash falling in its place and flickering in the dark like fireflies. The great tree she had summoned still remained in the heart of the village, it's bare, jagged branches towering over the village and making her shiver.
The stench of a too-close house fire mixed with the stink of gore and death, the air heavy and sticky in her lungs. The soft crackles of still smouldering fires and the creaking of collapsed and burning homes filled the air, the only sound remaining in the abandoned village. No one was left. For the first time, in a long time…
She was alone.
Sakura didn't know where to go, what to do. She was alone again, she had lost the people she thought she could depend on. Madara had sent her away because he discovered her lie, the Uchiha clan had abandoned her because of a power she didn't even know she had. The Senju wanted her dead, the Fuma wanted her dead, the Hagoromo wanted her dead.
The destruction of her Strength of a Hundred seal and the release of all her stored chakra while her jutsu had been activate had burned every last one of her chakra pathways. Her entire chakra system had been destroyed as she had been burned from the inside out, her life threatening injuries only made all the more severe by her newly awakened wood style - a kind of ninjutsu she had only ever read of in the history books.
She was in the most pain she had ever felt but she could do nothing to stop it, her chakra too drained and her body too damaged to heal itself. Her last remaining ace up her sleeve had been taken from her and her skin screamed along the same pathways that had once filled her with power and comfort.
Sakura was almost grateful when she looked down at her storage scroll sitting on the wooden porch beneath her feet, the item recovered from the battlefield and carefully placed where she would come upon it. She distantly wondered if she should be grateful to Madara for at least giving her this much.
As she stared down at her last remaining possession, the only thing she owned besides the filthy, torn yukata hanging from her broken body, she realized that she had truly been abandoned. She was alone and there was no one coming to help her.
With a bolt of fear that had her already broken heart in a vice, Sakura realized that she was in danger.
With smoke still rising from the burned out ruins and with the sheer power exchanged in the battle that previous night, there were undoubtedly shinobi coming to investigate. The Uchiha had decamped for the same reason - the secrecy they had relied on to help protect their village had been taken from them. Every second she lingered here was a second that someone who wanted to kill her grew closer. To stay here meant capture and death.
There was nothing left for her here, she needed to evacuate as well.
Reaching down, Sakura gripped the strap of her storage scroll in shaking hands. She struggled to lift it and struggled even more to secure it to her body, the once negligible weight now an unimaginable burden. Unable to do anything else, she put one foot in front of the other and began the agonizing departure of the battlefield her home had become.
Each footstep was like walking on glass, her burns expanding from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet. Ignoring the pain, she focused on nothing but her march and on putting distance between her and the ruins. By the time she finally reached the forest's edge, the comforting darkness of the treeline swallowing her up, the sky had already begun to take on the purples and pinks of the morning sunrise.
As she continued, slivers of dim, rising sunlight drifted in through the dense branches. She couldn't gather the chakra or the stamina she needed to run through the trees, barely able to put one foot in front of the other. She stumbled over roots, the natural snares invisible on the dark forest floor, and the undergrowth caught on her tattered yukata and scroll. Reaching branches dragged across her skin, slicing over her injuries and making her flinch.
Even still, she pushed onwards, chasing after beams of sunlight.
Sakura was terrified. Her mind raced as she desperately sought out the solution she needed to survive. She needed somewhere safe to hide and rest, somewhere where she could recover enough to begin to heal her injuries. If she couldn't, she was going to die.
She could think of only one option to save her own life and she wasn't even sure if she had the power left to do it.
The toe of Sakura's sandal caught on a tangled root of an oak, the snare taking her shoe and sending her tumbling into the trunk of the tree in front of her. Barely catching herself, she paused for a moment, leaning against the cool wood and trying to catch her breath.
It was now or never. She was far enough away from the ruins of the Uchiha village to justify her last resort but every step further was another ounce of energy lost. Steeling herself, Sakura took a deep breath before trying to gather chakra.
The bolt of pain she received in turn as the miniscule amount of chakra bled through her horribly burned chakra pathways hurt so badly her feet gave out beneath her and she collapsed to the forest floor with a cry.
When she slammed into the dirt, her vision and her thoughts went white.
When Sakura finally became aware of the forest around her once again and realized she had lost consciousness, Sakura found her fear returned tenfold. How long had she been like that? Had anyone noticed her? Was she still safe?
She couldn't stop the heat behind her eyes as she struggled to pull air into her lungs. She laid on the ground, motionless, as silent tears welled up in her eyes. The pain of her aggravated injuries continued to wash over her in waves in time with her own frantic heartbeat.
Reaching out, she tried to pull herself into a sitting position but couldn't, her arms shaking too badly to steady herself once again. Sagging back onto the earth, her arms falling back to the ground in front of her, she tried to catch her breath. As she panted, her mind spun.
Sakura wondered if this was how she was going to die. If she was destined to perish in the past from wounds she could not heal after being abandoned by the man she loved in a forest almost like home...
She needed to get home. Naruto, Ino, Tsunade, her parents, her friends, her comrades… They were all waiting for her! They've been waiting for her since the moment she disappeared. She needed to live so she could get back home to them. There was no option other than survival.
She couldn't die here. She wouldn't die here!
Now that Sakura knew the level of pain to expect, she could prepare. Taking a minute to brace herself, she began to gather chakra as delicately as she could. The returning agony was near blinding even while prone on the forest floor, but she fought through, the need to survive giving her the strength she needed to look past the pain. Concentrating on nothing but her breathing and her chakra, she spent minutes arduously gathering the barest chakra she needed for her last ditch jutsu.
It took everything she had to maintain a hold of her collected chakra as her filthy hands - stained with blood, ash, and dirt - formed a familiar set of handsigns. Bringing her trembling finger to her teeth, she broke open the same bite mark from the night previous, drawing fourth a droplet of blood.
Reaching out into a patch of sunlight drifting down through the canopy above, she pressed her hand into the dirt and begged, "Summoning Jutsu..."
A small summoning circle grew from the palm of her battered hand and disappeared behind an equally tiny puff of smoke. It was little time before the smokescreen cleared, revealing the unusually serious face of Kurumi.
Even though she appeared to be expecting the worst, likely already aware of the Hagoromo's attack following Kuro's return and possible death, shock still colored her face when she saw the state of her summoner.
When Sakura finally met the eyes of someone she knew was there for her - someone she knew loved her and who would never abandon her - she was unable to restrain herself any longer. Her desperate control of her sorrow finally snapped, heavy tears streaming down her broken nose and her filthy face and into the dirt beneath her cheek. Choking on her words, she fought through the heat of her sobbing to speak one word.
"Kurumi," she cried, her voice breaking.
"It's okay, big sis..." Kurumi answered softly in understanding, walking forward and pressing her forehead against Sakura's, "Let's go home."
They closed their eyes as a warm, familiar chakra overcame them both before they disappeared in a burst of smoke.
A/N: I know it's certainly not the romantic outcome that many folks were hoping for but, considering Izuna's hatred for the Senju, Madara's desperate need to protect his family, and the Uchiha's fear of Sakura as well as their grief after losing so many loved ones/their home… on top of Sakura's inability to explain her newly awakened bloodline trait and the secret she kept from everyone about her true origin... this reaction made sense. Don't worry, I promise this story has a happy ending!
For now, there is about to be a huge change in scenery and a lot of critical plot developments. The Pride is going to take center stage for a while and we're about to learn a lot about the mysterious cat summons and their world in the coming chapters. I've had this all planned out since I started publishing this story so I'm really excited to show you all what happens next! I bet a bunch of y'all were wondering if Hashirama or Tobirama was going to find Sakura first, huh? I'd love to hear some of your theories on what you think will happen next!