AN: So, before we begin, I'd like to say that this is my first story here on. It is far from my first fanfiction, however, and I might post some of my other fics on here later on, but for now, I believe I will be focusing on this story, which I decided to write due to a lot of nostalgia I got from reading other Naruto fanfics. I love Sakura, and I hate how useless and underdeveloped she was early on in the series, despite her personal attempts at becoming stronger, or so she would tell you I guess. I understand how disliked she is by some, and I can to a certain degree agree. Therefore, I should explain that my goal in this story is to retain as much of Sakura's personality as possible while allowing her to evolve and develop naturally, although at a far more rapid pace than seen in canon.
Guest Reviewers: Because of how I chose to keep my answers to reviews from cluttering my Author's Notes, I respond to appropriate reviews by sending the writer a DM. As this isn't possible for guest reviewers, you won't receive any reply for me, with the exception of the first guest review I got before adding this note to the first chapter. A great example as to why I won't be answering reviews in Author's Notes can be found in chapter 8's Author's Note. I urge those that do want to see me possibly answer to a review that you please leave one with an account I can DM. Thank you.
Proofread by: NightFire and Imp.
Chapter 1: Another Fate
This day was turning out to be one of Sakura's worst ones ever. She had known the Chūnin exams weren't anything to scoff at, and even though they had passed the first stage, the difficulty had suddenly shot through the roof in the second one. She knew they had all signed the waivers concerning their understanding that they might lose their lives in this test, but she had only in hindsight realized that it was the same as giving everyone else in the test permission to try and kill them. They had quite literally signed their lives away, and she had foolishly believed that Sasuke was strong and smart enough that no other team would be a problem. That was until that woman had shown up.
Of course, by this point, it was revealed to Sasuke and her that it was no woman at all, but a man disguised as one. Not only had he managed to put Naruto out of the fight with some odd seal to his stomach, but he was fast enough to keep Sasuke on the defensive and had even survived Sasuke blasting him straight on with his Fire Style: Dragon Flame Jutsu, with nothing more than a ruined disguise. His clothes weren't even charred, while the tree behind him had been turned into charcoal, with a hole blasted through it from the force of the Jutsu. He proceeded to burn their heaven scroll in front of them as he told them his name. Orochimaru.
Sakura hadn't been able to do anything to help Sasuke. Heck, she could barely even keep up with the fight, all she had managed to do was save Naruto as he was about to fall to his death, while Sasuke had been paralyzed. She wanted to help, but she couldn't, she knew all she would do was get in the way, get hurt and then become even more of a burden. Sasuke was the only one of them who even stood a chance, so the most important thing was that he remained standing.
Those were the thoughts in Sakura's mind as she had done what she did. She couldn't tell what the cause was, or what had changed to let her be so lucky as to spot and react to it in time, but as Orochimaru put his hands together and formed new hand signs, Sakura could tell that with Sasuke still paralyzed, he wouldn't be able to dodge. Assuming that Orochimaru might have omitted her from his paralysis considering she hadn't done anything threatening yet, she took the chance and threw herself at Sasuke who couldn't defend himself.
It was fortunate that she had been right next to Sasuke, as a verbal warning would have been all but useless, and any action slower than what she managed would have been useless. Orochimaru's head barely missed Sasuke, and even as Orochimaru tried to change his direction to adjust and still latch on and bite him, he found his fangs sink into something else, Sakura's bare upper arm. Wide-eyed and surprised, he released the injection meant for Sasuke and let go, his head retracting back to his body where he could see Sakura's body shaking in pain as his cursed seal of heaven appeared on her skin in the shape of three tomoe, similar to the ones appearing in a fully formed Sharingan.
Paralyzed with pain, Sakura couldn't help but double over, while Sasuke took hold of her, demanding to know what Orochimaru had done to her. Sakura didn't hear the answer as she tried to instead focus on not losing her mind. Her skin was burning where she had been bitten, and her whole body ached as she felt something spreading within her. She was vaguely aware of Sasuke now shaking her, trying to snap her out of it while she was wondering what was going on. Was she dying? Had she been poisoned? She couldn't help but scream out in pain and confusion, before passing out, her last thought being that at the very least, Sasuke was there to protect her, a lot more favorable than if she had been the one to remain unharmed instead of him.
Suddenly, as if she hadn't just been falling unconscious, Sakura found herself standing in a black space, feeling none of the pain she had been just feeling, and her mind clear as day. Naturally, her first thought was "Where am I? What's going on?" Sakura asked herself while trying to look around, only to find that the unnatural darkness stretched on in every direction. However, wherever she was, it was beyond odd. While she couldn't see anything in any direction, her own body was clear and visible to her, as if she was standing in some kind of stage-light even, and her voice didn't echo, so she was clearly in an open space, with neither walls nor ceiling, yet there was no wind. "Genjutsu!" She concluded, bringing her hands up in a tiger seal and shouting "Kai!" in order to release herself from it, only for nothing to happen, besides a pained grunt coming from her left.
Snapping her head in the direction of the grunt, Sakura finally saw something new, something she recognized. "Inner!" She exclaimed in elation, as she finally realized she must be in her own head. Considering what had happened, it wasn't too far fetched of an idea. However, immediately after this revelation came to her, she frowned, as she realized Inner Sakura was seemingly bent over in pain, grunting with effort as to try and stand up. "Inner?" She tried, not getting any response from her beyond further pained grunts while her body shook on the ground.
Concerned, Sakura moved to try and help her, only to stop as she heard another voice behind her, one that chilled her to the core, "Well, this is interesting." Orochimaru!
Whipping around to face him, Sakura saw Orochimaru standing there with an intrigued look on his face. "To think there was already another one in here. This will be entertaining." He spoke before chuckling, taking a step towards Sakura, who couldn't help but take a step back. However, any further advances on Orochimaru's part stopped as Sakura suddenly found herself looking at a black and white version of her own back, or rather, Inner Sakura's back.
"Don't you dare lay a finger on her, you snake!" She hissed out, her voice sounding raspy and pained, and her entire body shaking. Sakura couldn't help but feel thankful and in awe, as she saw the lengths Inner went to protect her.
"Oh, this is going to be entertaining. I wonder how this will affect the seal. You'll make for an excellent test subject… if you survive that is." Orochimaru cackled, smiling to himself before darting forward without any warning, intending to strike Inner in the solar-plexus, only to find his hand caught in Inner's right palm.
"Bad move." She spat, before throwing him backward, only to fall down onto one knee. Worried, Sakura went over to her Inner self trying to see if she was alright. It was clear that she wasn't. With her breath labored, her body shaking and a cold sweat breaking out across her body, Inner turned to look at Sakura, managing a strained smile. "He's weak, we need to take him out." She told her, before turning back to look at Orochimaru, preventing him from trying anything while their attention was on each other.
"Take him out? Sasuke could barely do anything to him, what are we going to do?" Sakura asked in horror, her gaze flicking back and forth between her Inner self and Orochimaru who seemed content with watching the two for the moment.
Frowning, Inner spared Sakura an annoyed glare, before turning back to Orochimaru who had taken the opportunity to begin running at them again. Standing up, Inner managed to counter his attack once again, protecting Sakura by stepping in the way of Orochimaru's Taijutsu. While she did manage to blow Orochimaru back, he had managed to get a few hits of his own on Inner, who this time fell victim to her condition and fell over, coughing violently.
"Sakura, he isn't the same! He's weaker, much, much weaker! Besides, so far, he's only using Taijutsu. This is our mind, we have the advantage, so stop being afraid, and just beat his ass!" She tried to encourage Sakura, despite her own condition. "You can do this, you're me, and I'm you. You saw that I can handle him, and you're in a much better condition than I am." She tried to reassure Sakura who was looking at her Inner self in disbelief, wondering to herself if what she was saying was really true. Looking up at Orochimaru, she suddenly realized that it must be right. Orochimaru was, in fact, moving slower. She could easily follow his movements. Could she perhaps beat him?
Sparing her Inner self one more glance, she grimaced at the sight of how weak her Inner, stronger self looked, only for Inner to chuckle at the expression. "I'll be fine if you defeat him, it's because of him I'm like this, don't worry about me and just beat his ass." She told her, getting a determined nod from Sakura who drew a kunai and stepped in front of her Inner self, intending to protect her, and defeat the Orochimaru who had somehow found his way into her mind. With a shout, she met Orochimaru's next attack with her own.
Sasuke cursed himself. He had been caught in Orochimaru's Paralysis Jutsu and been unable to avoid his last attack. Instead, Sakura had somehow managed to overcome it and saved him at the cost of taking the attack meant for him. In fact, it was even worse. Orochimaru had placed some kind of seal on her, now visible on her right shoulder in the shape of three tomoe. Sakura had then passed out from the pain before Orochimaru had disappeared, and now he was stuck with two unconscious teammates.
He had been lucky to find a small, cave-like opening beneath the roots of one of the trees, allowing him to retreat from the relatively open forest and lay Naruto and Sakura down to rest. Sakura had since then developed a fever, and he suspected it had to do with the seal, or maybe some kind of poison. Either way, the only thing he could do was try and help her alleviate the fever and hope she would wake up after fighting off whatever it was that plagued her. Naruto, the idiot would wake up himself, he hoped. He wasn't sure what Orochimaru had done to him, but he seemed to be in a much better condition than Sakura.
Changing Sakura's wet towel once again, Sasuke got up and set up a few more traps. Using his wire, he hid shuriken and kunai under moss and bushes around the clearing surrounding the tree-cave. It wasn't ideal, but trying to change the scenery to hide more traps would have the opposite effect, as the unnatural scenery would give away the traps. Hiding the cave they were hiding in however had been a lot easier.
Once he had run out of shuriken, and kunai, he returned to Naruto and Sakura, frowning at the sight of Sakura shivering, tossing and turning while her body trembled from pain, obvious in the grimace she wore. Looking at Naruto, he contemplated what he had seen Naruto do during the fight, where had that strength come from, and why had his eyes changed? Was Naruto perhaps a Kekkei Genkai wielder like him? Sasuke wondered. It might explain the fact why Naruto was favored by the Hokage, despite being a clanless orphan. Had Sasuke lost his clan home together with his clan, he could see himself being favored by the Hokage the way Naruto was, although, without all of the poorly hidden dislike the rest of the village seemed to have for the idiot. Naruto had brought it all on himself with his pranks after all.
Moving his gaze to Naruto's weapon pouch, he went over and opened it up, checking it for kunai and shuriken he could use. Naruto wouldn't need them while out of commission, and once he woke up, he would get them back. Once all of them were awake, Sasuke could disarm his traps and take back his own as well. Frowning, Sasuke glared at the kunai he was holding, before turning his glare on Naruto. The idiot had done a pretty shabby job of sharpening his equipment. Sighing, Sasuke brought out his wet stone and sat down to at the very least do something productive while he waited. He hoped that Naruto at least would wake up soon so that he could keep watch, while Sasuke got some rest. He'd rather not be sleep-deprived when an enemy team showed up. Especially if it was Orochimaru again. Sasuke shuddered before distracting himself by sharpening the kunai, casting a worried glance to his teammates again. "You two better make it through this alive." He muttered, wondering if every Genin was going through the same difficulties they were.
AN: So, this is a thing I thought of and decided to write.
Now, some people may question the BS of how Sakura can fight Orochimaru's seal so easily, this will partially be explained in the next chapter, but it has to do with how the cursed seal of heaven and earth work. The short and sweet of it is that in this story, I consider the existence of Inner Sakura the first stage of a Kekkei Genkai. To my knowledge, Sakura never interacts with Nature energy before Inner Sakura stops appearing in canon. Here, however, it will act as a catalyst.