°∴✿° ·°✿∴° .·°∴°·. °∴✿°· °✿∴°

❤❀~Fate: The Lonely Shinobi~❀❤

°∴✿° ·°✿∴° .·°∴°·. °∴✿°· °✿∴°

Promise me that, when this moment's over and we meet again,
e can put everything in the past
And stand by each other

"What are you going to choose? Sadness or love?"

At the sight of a terrible car accident, one girl stares at her bloodied body. Her husband — they just got married this morning — is being held back by the paramedics and is screaming her name is tears. She wants to run to him, to tell him she's alright, but a man dressed in all black with ebony locks and dark eyes stands in her way.

The Grim Reaper holds up a card and reads in a monotone drawl, "Hidaka Haku. Age 24. Born February 1st, 1990. Died in a car crash, March 2nd, 2014. Cause of death: blood loss."

When he's done reading it, he looks at her and says, "Come with me."

And Haku follows with one last look at her crying husband.

✿∴° .·°∴°·. °∴✿

The Reaper pours the tea with a precision that seems otherworldly to the newlywed. The tea also because, even just after brewing it, there is no steam rising from the hot liquid.

The Reaper places one cup in front of Haku and then one cup in front of the empty seat next to her.

"What is it?" she asks him, her wavering with fearful curiosity.

"Just drink it," the Reaper says, not unkindly. "It will remove all your memories from this life."

Haku stares apprehensively at the amber liquid. Her hands wrap around the cup, but then just as quickly, her hands return to her side. "What if I don't drink it?"

"You'll regret it," the Reaper answers, not once raising or lowering his voice. "To move on to your next life, it's best if you leave your regrets behind."

"I can't leave him."

The Reaper had expected this answer. As a being cursed to ferry souls to the afterlife, the Reaper remembers all the souls he's ferried, and with a memory as great as his, the Reaper can see the patterns each soul has in all their individual lifetimes. Haku is no exception. Though always jumping between genders in all his/her lifetimes, Haku always ends up loving a guy named Zabuza and always ends up dying either for Zabuza or before Zabuza. This lifetime, however, was the first time the two have ever ended up married, and so the Reaper wonders if their reincarnation cycle will soon be broken.

"You won't have to wait long," the Reaper says before going to check his watch.

And as soon as the long hand reaches the twelve, the door to the tearoom opens, and Haku stands in shock at the sight of her husband. Tears well in her eyes, and her face is stuck in an expression between sadness and happiness. And when Zabuza rests a hand on her cheek, she doesn't miss a beat and embraces her husband.

Haku isn't much of a mystery — and in the Reaper's opinion, Haku is basically a boring book that's easily predictable — but Zabuza is a different story. In all of his lifetimes, Zabuza has never lived long after Haku dies — though he never kills himself, he always winds up dying soon after Haku does. The Reaper, however, isn't sure how Zabuza manages (and manages to repeat) this feat without killing himself in all his lifetimes.

The Reaper would love to ask, but he's on a tight schedule and so does his best to ignore the interesting circumstances surrounding Zabuza's death once again.

"It is time for you both to start your life anew," the Reaper announces, gesturing to the two cups on the table in front of him. "Drink this tea, forget all your suffering, and may you live a life filled with happiness."

Even with her husband next to her, a teacup in his hand, Haku glances warily at the drink. "Don't want to forget you," she tells him.

A rare smile graces the grim man's face. "Don't worry," he reassures his wife. "I'll find you again."

It's not an I-Love-You, but it placates Haku whose smile is marred by the tears flowing down her face. After clinking their cups and after drinking their tea, the Reaper ushers them back out of the door they came in through. And as the door closes, the Reaper catches the beginnings of Zabuza's last kiss to Haku in this lifetime.

For a moment, the Reaper wonders what life awaits the two of them in their next lifetime, but his thoughts are soon overpowered by the loneliness of the tearoom and a feeling in his chest he can't quite name.

"I'll always love you."

He clutches his aching heart, but the pain shoots through him until tears well in his eyes. He can't remember who the voice belongs to, but this voice that has plagued him for the last millennia elicits an immense sadness in him that he can't even begin to describe. Who is it, this girl? Is it someone he had loved? Someone he's supposed to find?

"Oy, I never knew reapers could have heart attacks. You must be getting old, Teme."

The Reaper stands straight — he hadn't realized he had fallen to the floor — and glares at the obnoxious soul. "Dobe."

"You say it like an insult, but we both know you missed me!"

The Reaper has the urge to smack Naruto's goofy grin off his face. "No one other than Hinata would miss you, Dead-last."

The atmosphere completely freezes as Naruto's smile falls, and he glances back at the door he entered through. "You think she'll be okay?" The worry seeps into his voice as he continues staring at the door.

"Don't worry," the Reaper reassures him. "It's not the first time you've died before her." Most of Naruto's lifetimes end before his love's, but the knucklehead always fusses over it. "Plus, this time, Boruto and Himawari are there to take care of her."

"Yeah, but like..." Naruto tries to shrug, but the worry is still plastered all over his face. "Boruto isn't that great at taking care of people. Himawari, yeah, but Boruto..."

"He gets his cluelessness from his idiot father."

"Yeah, but — HEY! What did you say, Teme?"

"Nice, you're back to normal. Worried you were broken for a moment." The Reaper gestures to the seat across from his. "Sit down, idiot. You know the drill. The sooner you drink this tea, the sooner you can start your life and the sooner you can find Hinata again."

"You mean the sooner I smack the cup away?" The cheeky grin is back.

"How you get away with not drinking the tea, I'll never know, and you do it every single time." The Heavens favor Naruto, the Reaper deduces almost enviously.

"Hey, someone has to remember everything, you know."

Again, the mood of the room drops, the atmosphere chilled to freezing.

Naruto scratches his head awkwardly. "Sorry, Teme."

"It's not something you have to apologize for. Having no memories means I can't miss anything."

"Yeah, I guess that makes sense." Naruto drops onto the uncomfortable stool. "You've always been one to list out the positive side of things in a brooding drawl." As promised, he slaps the cup of tea onto the floor.

"You should drink the tea. Memories are just filled with regrets."

"Regrets aren't the only things memories have."

The Reaper is nonplussed. "Why do you choose to suffer over and over again?"

Naruto crosses his arm and, looking more serious than the Reaper's ever seen the blonde, answers blithely, "Life isn't all bad, you know? And choosing to repeat it doesn't mean I choose to suffer." For once, Naruto doesn't exude his usual happy-go-luckiness. Instead, in a rare occurrence of solemnity, his gaze holds the wisdom of the millennia he's lived through from child to adult countless of times. "It just means I choose to watch over all my friends and family — including you, no matter what you've done."

The Reaper doesn't know why, but the knucklehead's words annoy him, bringing out a deep-rooted angry pang in his chest. "The fact that I don't remember means that I committed a great sin, maybe even more than one since I'm cursed to ferry lost souls to the afterlife." He uncurls his shaking fists after a long, tired breath. "I don't remember anything," he says, "But I know that I'm not worth all the suffering you're putting yourself through. I'm not worth saving."

"To some people, you are."

For a while, Naruto stares at the Reaper with a gaze that seems to pierce through the brooding male, but moments later, Naruto rises from his chair and crosses the room. He rests his hand on the doorknob before turning back to look at the Reaper with the saddest eyes the Reaper's ever seen on him.

"All this suffering doesn't even come close to all the suffering she went through."

When Naruto leaves through the door he's gone through at the end of all his multiple lives, the Reaper is left alone with his tumultuous thoughts and aching heart.

"A sad love."

This is what we call fate,
It's something we can't deny
Will I ever experience another day
As glorious as today?

"Life is a mixture of all sorts of genres. What genre was your day today?"

Even with all his memories, each life Naruto lives is always vastly different from the one preceding it. Sometimes, he's an orphan whose parents have died, either of illness or in an accident, but more often than not, he has parents that live with him until their deaths at an old age and who always love him unconditionally — the Reaper wonders if this unconditional love is something Naruto had missed out on in his first life because fate seems to favor that family life for the knucklehead. Sometimes, Naruto becomes a highly popular celebrity, famous due to his appearances in sports or martial arts movies, and other times, a widely-liked politician — though there was this one lifetime when Naruto had tried his hand at becoming a ramen chef (but this only happened because the family that ran Ichiraku Ramen for generations finally decided to call it quits).

And yet, no matter what life Naruto is living, there are always the same few things, including finding the Reaper and annoying the heck out of him, that remain a constant in Naruto's lifetimes. One, Naruto always has an unhealthy obsession with ramen. Two, he always manages to change the lives of the people he's met for the better. And three, he always manages to find Hinata, the love of all his lifetimes.

However, even though finding Hinata may be a given, their love story varies. Sometimes, the love is short-lived, especially if one of them dies early. Sometimes, the love lasts their whole lives, and they live to a ripe old age and die in their sleep. Sometimes, Naruto finds Hinata while they're kids, and they grow up as the best of friends. Sometimes, he finds her as a divorced woman — and once, as an unhappy woman in an abusive marriage. Sometimes, Hinata has a brother named Neji, sometimes a sister named Hanabi, and depending on the lifetime, her father switches between being strict and stern to being gentle and loving.

But the constant given in Hinata's lifetimes is that she always has no recollection of her previous lifetimes — this is expected since she always drinks the potion she's given at the end of each of her lifetimes.

This memory loss, however, doesn't deter Naruto from loving her all the same. He has enough memory for the both of them, and one time when he was grossly drunk, he had admitted to the Reaper that it's a good thing Hinata doesn't remember how she died in their first lives. Actually, there are many instances where Naruto slips up about the lives he's lived — for example, the idiot always tears up whenever he first meets Hinata in each lifetime — but Hinata usually remains clueless. And yet, though she has no recollection of any of her past lifetimes, she seems to always sense the connection between her and Naruto that spans more than a millennia now. And very rarely does it seem as though she sees glimpses of her first life, though these glimpses are nothing permanent.

Oftentimes, the Reaper wonders whether he was a part of their first life. From all the times Naruto's slipped up, the Reaper is very sure he was but in what capacity and frequency, he's not completely sure. Cursed as a grim reaper, he knows that he committed a great sin, but with no memory of his life, the Reaper has found himself constantly wondering if he ever hurt them. Loathe as he is to admit it, but after all these centuries with only Naruto as a companion, the knucklehead has grown on him. Naruto is his only friend, maybe even his best friend, but the Reaper will never admit it out loud.

Still, there are many endless days during which the Reaper can't help but wonder what it is he's done — especially after he had first met Naruto and Naruto had lifted him by his collar and then promptly, before learning the Reaper had none of his memories, pummeled him bloody, screaming at him, "How could you betray us like that!? How could you do that to us!? To her!?"

The only consolation the Reaper has is that, had he actually been evil during his first life, Naruto wouldn't have been fool enough to seek him out...right?

And yet, the Reaper can't shake off the guilt he's felt after what Naruto had told him. After all, the Reaper can't help but feel sorry for the person who's suffered more than Naruto in all his lifetimes combined.

"A rom-com? A strange but beautiful fantasy? A sad melodrama?"

You're a gift upon this exhausting path of life
I'll continuously polish our love,
So it won't ever rust away

"On this rainy night, what's your umbrella? The voice that responds when you call? The memories of seeing the same thing at the same time? The first time you matched each other's pace?"

On one random day, five lifetimes after Naruto's comment about her suffering, the Reaper meets her on some pedestrian bridge in front of a peddler's makeshift store — or at least, one of her reincarnations.

Honestly, it's by pure chance that he met her — the Reaper had only stopped in front of the peddler's makeshift store because the peddler bore some eerie resemblance to him that made his heart hurt and ache in a painful way. But that pain was nothing in comparison to what he felt when his eyes fell on her.

The Reaper has no idea how he missed her in his initial scan of the area — she has pink hair, for gods' sake — but she had brought him out of his brooding thoughts by asking him whether he was going to buy the red and white trinket he picked up from the peddler's shop. When his dark eyes landed on her, his heart seemed to explode in his heavy chest, and fat tears rolled down his cheeks.

Unlike Hinata who's always considerate enough to ask Naruto whether he's alright whenever he cries upon his first meetings with her, this pink-haired girl just stares at the Reaper and asks if the Reaper, who she doesn't know is a grim reaper or she'd probably be a lot nicer to him, is some nut job.

He must have worn some funny expression when wiping his tears away because afterwards she bursts out laughing.

"You must really want that," she continues, though her giggles haven't fully subsided. When he has no idea what she's talking about, she points to the trinket in his hand. "It's a nice trinket." She doesn't even realize the longing on her own face. "Kinda looks like a traditional Poké Ball."

"It's an uchiwa fan, not a Poké Ball," the Reaper grimaces, not at all sure why he took offense to her innocent comment.

She shrugs. "Looks similar enough." And then, she holds out her hand.

The Reaper doesn't really understand why. And after a long moment of him staring at her palm, she rolls her spring-green eyes.

"Your cell phone," she says. "Give it here."

"Cell phone?" he asks. He's not sure what that is.

She seems shocked. "Oh wow, I guess there are people in this day and age that don't have one..." She rummages through her purse, taking out a small notebook and pen. She jots down something quick and then rips the page out. "My name's Sakura. Haruno Sakura."

When she grabs the Reaper's hand, his heart skips a beat, and it leaves him in even more confusion.

"When you get a cell phone, make sure you call me," she winks, putting the ripped paper in his hand. And then she turns away. "See ya!" she says with a wave of her hand, not once looking back.

The Reaper doesn't understand why seeing her walk away makes him feel so empty. And as he watches her go, so entranced with her parting image, he doesn't hear the peddler mutter under his breath, "Foolish little brother, you haven't changed a bit..."

"Did someone come to mind? Yes, that's the person…"

Our meeting was as fleeting as a dream,
But I embraced it with open arms

" I fear what I was in your previous life."

Naruto helps the Reaper get a cell phone — after bugging the Reaper so many times that the Reaper regretted asking the knucklehead for help in the first place. After maybe the thousandth time Naruto asks why and after the Reaper's third meeting with Sakura, the Reaper finally gives in and tells Naruto about her. Naruto was excited, to say the least. ("TEME, WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME EARLIER?")

Naruto tags along on the fourth meeting — Sakura calls these meetings "dates", but the Reaper continues to call them meetings because he wants to get to the bottom of the weird feeling twisting his stomach every time he's near her — and ends up taking over the meeting.

"Sakura-chan," Naruto ends up crying the moment he lays eyes on her. "I've been looking everywhere for you! Where have you been? I missed you so much!" His sobbing face is devastatingly ugly, his eyes swollen and snot running down his chin, but Sakura lets this stranger hug her nonetheless, partly because she pities him — and also because no one has ever been this happy to meet her.

The Reaper watches the encounter play out with a heavy heart, heavy for a reason he doesn't know, but he begins to wonder if Sakura is the girl Naruto was talking about lifetimes ago. The girl who had suffered more than him. The Reaper becomes convinced of this theory when Naruto, after calming down, begins to shower Sakura with various different gifts that he claims she used to like in her first life. ("Here, anmitsu was your favorite! Here, I got you your favorite anko dumplings covered in extra syrup! Here, this umeboshi was really expensive, but it's the best one on the market! You still like these, right, Sakura-chan?")

When Naruto begins to shower Sakura with clothes and jewelry, however, the Reaper decides enough is enough, and the meeting ends there.

✿∴° .·°∴°·. °∴✿

During the next meeting, Sakura tells the Reaper that Naruto was cute. She doesn't really understand, but she believes in stuff like reincarnation and past lives, and so she had just let Naruto, who she assumed could remember his past life, do as he pleased.

"You shouldn't just assume things like that," the Reaper chides her. "You could easily be taken advantage of."

For a moment, it looks like Sakura would get mad, but then she giggles. "Are you jealous?"

The Reaper feels the tip of his ears turn pink. "Annoying..."

Her giggles stop, and she puts a hand on her hip. "If anyone's annoying, it's you!" she says, pointing a finger at him. "Just when are you going to tell me your name?"

The Reaper doesn't have the heart to tell her he doesn't remember his own name.

✿∴° .·°∴°·. °∴✿

It's around the tenth date — Sakura had convinced him to use the word date, around the seventh meeting — when the Reaper senses a dangerous, foreboding presence following them. He excuses himself for a moment, and it doesn't take him long to find the source of the malignant presence.

A bloodied ghost with ragged hair, red armor, and glowing red eyes mocks the Reaper. "Worthless boy, I see you've found your little flower again. I'll make sure to destroy her so completely this time that even the Heavens won't be able to accept her soul."

Before the Reaper can attack, the vicious ghost vanishes.

When the Reaper mentions this to Naruto, the blonde pales so much that he looks as though he's gone and died. Once Naruto regains himself, he punches the wall. "Dammit!" Again and again, he punches the wall until the Reaper stops him.

"Just when things are going so well for you two this time..." Tears streak down Naruto's face. "Why can't Madara ever let you have anything good in your life? Why can't he just leave you be and let you be happy for once?"

The Reaper lets Naruto bawl, his own mind devoid of any comforting words. This is just one those moments the Reaper can't understand, not without his memories, and so he lets Naruto vent. But even though the Reaper doesn't really understand, he's grateful he has a friend like Naruto who cares about his happiness.

✿∴° .·°∴°·. °∴✿

It's the next date when the Reaper decides to break things off with Sakura. To keep her safe. To protect her. After Naruto explained how dangerous Madara is, the Reaper couldn't in good faith continue to hang out with her, especially because him being near her would put in her constant danger.

His plan is simple. Erase her memories of him and keep out of her life.

He had not factored in the fact that she'd kiss him. Had not factored in the fact that he'd kiss her back.

And he certainly had not factored in the fact that all his memories would come rushing back to him with that one kiss.

He leaves her so abruptly, so spontaneously, he doesn't realize he disappeared in a puff of smoke right in front of her — doesn't realize that she too had regained her own sad memories of their first lifetime together.

The Reaper collapses against the wall the moment he lands at his destination.

"Oy, what's wrong?" Naruto runs up to him, Hinata staying where she is in utter shock at the Reaper's sudden materialization. "Oy! What happened?"

There's a lot of things the Reaper wants to say. Wants to apologize for. So many wrongs he has to right. But the only words he can manage are, "I fell for her even in this lifetime..."

Naruto barely hears the murmur, but when the words hit him, he realizes that the Reaper finally remembers who he was. The knucklehead doesn't know if he should be happy or sad, but just by looking at the Reaper's face, Naruto knows very well how heavy the guilt his long-lost friend is being crushed under.

The blonde rests a reassuring hand on the Reaper's shoulder. "Sasuke..."

As soon as he hears his name, the Reaper — no, Sasuke — crumples to the floor. "I ruined her life again..."

"But I wish somehow you're left only with good memories."

Even though this cannot last,
I won't resent it because nothing lasts forever

"To the one who thought that oblivion would bring me peace of mind.. The moment our eyes met, I knew that you too, retained your memories."

The fire Sasuke made to burn Danzo and Karin's bodies was still burning strong when Sakura arrived. She had winced a bit at the disgusting stench, maybe even winced a bit at the harshness with which Sasuke addressed her, but she still asked to join him like she did on that night years ago. Still offered to do anything for him.

Of course, Sasuke knew it was all a rouse to make him drop his guard and so, when she let her guard down, he aimed a chidori at her. She was an easy target — he could've killed her right there and then, but he didn't. His chidori just barely grazed her cheek. In her shock, her legs gave out on her.

"Liar," he spat at the girl kneeling in front of him.

It was when he was walking away when she whispered, "I've never once lied to you."

He didn't look back. He was barely within earshot when the rest of Team 7 arrived.

"I must have missed him," he heard her lie to them. His smirk grew.

✿∴° .·°∴°·. °∴✿

Barely a month later, he found her easy enough. He had never been to her home, but it was terribly easy to track her chakra even without any inherent tracking talent. The annoying girl hadn't even realized there was an intruder in her own home until she entered her bedroom.

She retained her wits, though, not screaming or even moving from her bedroom door — she was blocking the easiest access to her parents, he knew. He could have scoffed — if he really wanted to, her parents would've already been dead by now. Fortunately for her, her parents weren't who he came for.

He walked up to her until she was pressed against the door. "Were you serious when you said you'd do anything for me?"

Her eyes widened. Obviously, she wasn't expecting the question, but nevertheless, she nods once and doesn't even put up a fight.

✿∴° .·°∴°·. °∴✿

Their series of secret meetings continued on like that, but Sasuke never let his guard down — every time he visited her, he would wonder if that night would be the night he'd be met with a group of ANBU when he walked into the room, but every time, she would be there waiting. Not obediently all the times. Sometimes, she'd give back as good as she got. And other times, she would try to convince him out of his plans.

She didn't know why he was so set on destroying Konoha — he was surprised when he found out, having been so sure that either Naruto or Kakashi would've filled her in on what Madara told them. But then again, it was just like those two to leave her out of things, thinking she needed protection. Funny how she danced with death almost every night and no one was none the wiser. Sasuke toyed with the idea of telling her the truth, of the horrors his brother was forced to commit for the stain that was Konoha, but he never did. It was the least he could do for her, for what she meant to him all those years ago and for using her the way he did now, he convinced himself.

Two days before his planned invasion, she had an uncanny feeling in the pit of her stomach. He hadn't let her know about any detail of his plan, but somehow she knew that that night would be the last night they'd meet. As he opened the window ready to leave her, she said to him, "I'm sorry I couldn't save you..."

Her words made him pause. What a stupid thing to say, he was going to retort without even a glance back at her, but then he heard her sniffle, and something made him look at her for the last time.

"I'm not worth saving, Sakura." Had he meant it as a consolation? He didn't know.

He left just as she confessed once again, "I'll always love you, Sasuke-kun."

✿∴° .·°∴°·. °∴✿

Somehow, word got out about their secret meetings because the next day she was arrested, much to her shisou and Naruto's dismay. There wasn't even an interrogation, much to her best friend's chagrin who had pulled strings to try and get herself assigned to Sakura's case. No. Sakura was arrested and tried the very same day.

The evidence was stacked against her as if the Elders had planned it so perfectly to ensure her downfall. "Will you stand with your home, the very home that raised you and the very home you grew up in?" they asked her in a fake show of mercy. "Or will you stand with that traitor? Are you a Konoha shinobi or are you a traitor's whore!?"

The crowd that had gathered to watch was in an uproar — many of them were and had been patients of hers, but though there were some who came to her defense, many others cried for her execution. Her parents and the few friends of her that had been allowed to attend her trial were being forcibly held back by ANBU Root members.

"I'm a Konoha shinobi," her words rang clear through the atrium. The uproar seemed to die a bit at her proclamation, and even the Fifth Hokage sighed a breath a relief. But then, Sakura caressed her stomach, and her friends and family realized then that her fate was sealed. "But if loving him means betraying Konoha, then I'm also a traitor."

Even with her shisou's political sway, the sentence was passed. Haruno Sakura and the baby she carried were sentenced to die the very next day.

Only Naruto was allowed to visit her in her lonely cell but only under careful watch and under chakra constraints — even he, the hero who had saved Konoha, could do little to stave off her sentence.

"I feel like I'm being ripped apart," Sakura would confide to him, tears running down her face, her hand in his through the bars of her cell. "I love Konoha with all of my heart, but I love him with all of my being."

"I know, Sakura-chan." Naruto pat her hand reassuringly. "I wouldn't have it any other way. That's what makes you who are you. It's not your fault." He was unable to keep his own tears from falling. "I'm sorry, Sakura-chan, I'm so sorry. I thought I could change things and keep you safe, but I was blind to how power-hungry the Elders were. I'm sorry..."

Sakura gave him a smile, his sadness and guilt multiplying her own sorrow. "I know you've been trying to keep me safe, and I don't blame you for anything, but I've always been a shinobi, Naruto. You could never have kept me out of danger."

He held her hand for as long as he was allowed, even as the ANBU Root members dragged him out. The chakra restraints had been the only thing keeping Kurama at bay that day.

✿∴° .·°∴°·. °∴✿

Her execution took place on the roof of the Hokage building, almost as if to mock Naruto whose dearest dream was to become Hokage. But honestly, that dream was taking the backseat right now — the position of Hokage wasn't as important as the life of one of his most precious peoples.

"Don't step closer," the Elders commanded him when he appeared by his teammate's side. "If you take another step, we will see it as treason. If you back down now, you can survive as the only member of your team to live in Konoha's glory."

His choice was already made — the only thing holding him back was the wellbeing of his teammate, his sister.

But as if reading his mind, Sakura with that same smile as yesterday told him, "Go on, Naruto. I'm alright."

"Sakura-chan, I..."

"I know, Naruto." She placed a comforting hand on his cheek, the smile still on her face. "I know everything. You did everything you could to help me, but if this is my end, then it's my fate, so go on and complete your mission. Forget about me. Save Konoha. Save him."

"Sakura-chan —"

An arrow pierced her heart, its tip laced in a chakra-inhibiting poison. Not Tsunade or Shizune or even herself would be able to heal the wound before she died. She didn't hit the ground, though — Naruto's arms held her, holding her close to him, as her blood mixed with his tears pooled around them both.

"Sakura-chan..." Naruto couldn't recognize his own voice as he tried to stop the bleeding, but when that cry turned into a feral scream, he realized he hadn't been the only one to cry when Sakura was hit.

"Sasuke-kun..." Sakura's eyes searched for him, but her vision blurred too fast. She couldn't see as a sword stabbed through the female elder. Her eyes closed forever just as the other was beheaded. Her hand dropped, and the most anguishing cry sounded throughout Konoha.

"I pray that in our next life the waiting will be short and the meeting shall be long... That next time, we won't need an excuse to see each other..."

This is what we call fate,
It's something we can't deny
Will I ever experience another day
As glorious as today?

"Leave only the shining, happy memories and forget all the sad & hard moments whether they were in your past life or present…"

With Naruto's help and with the aid of the peddler AKA Itachi in disguise, Madara is easy to defeat. And yet, even though the evil specter is gone, the Reaper, or rather Sasuke, still can't bring himself to face Sakura.

His memories haunt him. The pain of seeing her die the way she did, all because of him, remembering everything he did to her and the love she gave him despite it all, and then the rest of his sad existence after her death... When he didn't have his memories, he had wondered time and time again what sins he could've committed to earn him the position of a grim reaper — and now he knows.

After her death, after his revenge, his world had been bleak, empty. Itachi had been right — revenge got him nowhere, got him nothing but sorrow. He had no purpose after his revenge and especially not after Sakura's death because deep down, no matter how hard he tried to deny it, he loved her — still loves her — and he couldn't live in a world without her.

After he slew the Elders, he didn't put up much of a fight after he saw Sakura's body, the blood that oozed from her chest even after she long passed, the arrow that pierced her heart. It had been almost ironic that she died from such an injury. He didn't put up a fight when Konoha threw him in a cell, didn't put up a fight when the consensus was to sentence him to death. Naruto, as always, had argued for him, had argued that he needed Sasuke to defeat Madara back then, but no one thought so, not even Sasuke himself.

And then, somehow, Sasuke didn't get the death sentence. Tsunade had thought it'd be a better punishment for him to rot in a cell for the rest of his life, the loss of her apprentice having hurt her so much that she wanted him to suffer for it. He had spent months in that cell, and then the Yamanaka girl had sneaked in to visit. She had been Sakura's best friend, and so she did what she thought was best in order to let her best friend's soul rest in peace. She had given him a small vial of poison — it'd be painless, she had told him.

They say be careful what you wish for, and now Sasuke knows exactly what sin it was that landed him his centuries-long job — he had killed himself. There had been nothing left in the world for him, and Sakura's smile, her love, her devotion to him, had haunted him to no ends.

And he missed her terribly.

Even now that ache in his heart pains him so much that sometimes he can't breathe, but he knows he can't face her. How can he when he did everything he did? How can he face her knowing that she also remembers everything he did to her?

"Ah, I thought I'd find you sulking here."

His brother's voice, his brother's very presence, still shocks him. Sasuke never thought he'd ever have the chance to speak to his brother again.

"You made a lot of bad choices in your life, foolish little brother. Don't continue to make them."

"You don't know the whole story, niisan." Sasuke was never one to wallow in self-pity, but there's a first time for everything, he supposes. The weight of his regrets crushes him, even more so now after what Madara revealed to them — even after Naruto had become Hokage and changed Konoha for the better, he had never managed to find out how the Elders found out about Sakura's secret liaisons with Sasuke, but in their showdown with Madara, the specter had revealed he had been the one to leak the information to the Elders. It had made Sasuke's blood boil and made him regret not being the one to end Madara in that lifetime.

"I know enough." And then, he hands Sasuke a letter. "From Sakura. She gave it to Hinata-san to pass on to you, but with Hinata-san's memories back..."


Sasuke doesn't blame the Hyuuga. Thanks to a strange butterfly effect after Madara's defeat, Hinata had gained back all the memories of her past lives — not even Itachi is sure why, but his best guess is that it's because with Madara's defeat, this will be the last lifetime both she and Naruto will have, now that Naruto's purpose has been fulfilled. And along with her memories also returns her wariness of the younger Uchiha.

Sasuke takes the letter hesitantly, but he doesn't read it. "I can already guess what she has to say to me."

"Yes, I suppose you can," Itachi sighs. "But you should still read it. If not now, then later. You might end up being surprised."

Sasuke almost raises an eyebrow.

"I may have taken a peek."

That eyebrow is raised now.

"Okay, I did peek, but only because I want to ensure your happiness before I leave."

The younger Uchiha brother's heart sinks. How many times does he need to part with his brother?

"Don't look so sad." Itachi flicks his brother's forehead. "We'll be brothers, no matter what lives we lead. And who knows? Maybe we'll get to have a normal life together for once."

"I would like that, but after everything I've done, niisan, it's not something I deserve."

"Luckily, that's not up for you to decide. Forgive yourself, Sasuke. That is the only way you can move forward and atone for the wrongs you've committed. Only then will you be able to walk together hand-in-hand with Sakura-san."

"She deserves better than me."

Itachi sighs again, knowing fully well that his foolish younger brother has made up his mind and has chosen to go down yet another foolish path — it may be the most selfless thing Sasuke's ever done, but him staying out of Sakura's life isn't going to make either of them happy.

"...And forget about me."

There's so much I want to say,
But you probably already know
When we meet again some time in the future,
Please don't let go again

"Have you heard this? Humans have four lives."

Many years have passed since the final showdown with Madara, but Sasuke's sorrows don't stop with the end of Madara's existence. Today, though he won't admit it, is one of the saddest yet happiest days Sasuke will remember for all time.

Today, Naruto and Hinata will end their long cycle of reincarnation and enter the heavens.

"Teme, I want some alone time with Hinata, so don't you dare think about joining us too soon!" his knucklehead best friend says, pumping a fist into the air.

"As if I'm in a rush to lose my peace and quiet again, Dobe," the Uchiha smirks before stuffing his hands in his pockets, his face not once betraying his emotions. "Besides, I have to do enough good in my next life to counteract all the bad I did, so there's no guarantee when I'd join you."

Naruto's eyes are wide. "You mean you can finally stop being a grim reaper!?" He's flabbergasted, and he can't stop smiling. He's glad his best friend doesn't have to be stuck in this accursed existence for the rest of his eternity.

"Ah, after one last job." Sasuke takes out a sealed envelope from his pocket, twisting it in the air.

"You're not going to read it to find out who it is?"

Sasuke doesn't deign the knucklehead with the obvious answer and stuffs the envelope back into his pocket. "Not like it'll matter..."

Able to read his friend's mood for what it is, Naruto lets out a long sigh. He feels terrible leaving the jerk to fend for himself, but Naruto knows he can't keep holding Sasuke's hand forever — the Uchiha needs to have room to grow on his own.

"Did you ever find her, Sasuke-san?" Hinata asks tentatively. She's long since got over her fear of the Uchiha and would dare say she knows how to read him almost as well as Naruto does.

The Reaper shrugs. "She asked me not to look for her, but every once in a while, I'd try to sense where she is and how she is." He doesn't say anything else, not wanting to reveal the many times he went to secretly check up on her and how happy she seemed during all those times, oblivious to his presence.

Hinata smiles comfortingly at him before walking around the table, and to Sasuke's utter embarrassment, she gives him a peck on the cheek. "She loves you, Sasuke-san, so don't worry so much. She'll come back to you when she's ready. Waiting is the least you can do for her." She doesn't add after everything you did, but Sasuke feels as if she said it, his guilt gnawing at him.

"She's under no obligation to return to me," he says very reluctantly. "After all I did, after all the things I did to her, I'm lucky enough that she doesn't hate me." In his moment of self-wallowing, he doesn't hear the door open. "I'd have to burn for all of eternity just to get her to smile at me again, let alone love me."

"Burning for all eternity might be a bit too dramatic, don't you think?" A sardonic smile rests on a face framed with pink locks. "Maybe burning for a fraction of the time might suffice?"

Sasuke's so stunned he's speechless at the woman's entrance, but Naruto and Hinata recover quickly and run to hug their long-lost friend. "Sakura!" they both cry in happiness.

"I missed you guys too," the pinkette replies, returning the hugs. "But what are you guys doing here?" she asks after her initial joy at seeing her friends again. But even before they answer, she already knows what they'll say.

"We're leaving today, Sakura-chan," Naruto answers with tears in his eyes. Though they've finally put everything in the past, Naruto still feels a terrible pang in his heart remembering how she died in her first life. He really wished he could have done so much more for her... "With Madara finally gone, Hinata and I don't have to reincarnate anymore."

Sakura smiles, but her eyes grow wet. "That's great! I'm so happy for you! You and Hinata have gone through enough as it is!"

"We'll miss you, Sakura-san." Hinata can barely keep the tears in her eyes anymore, and she's trying desperately to wipe away her tears. She envelops the pinkette in another tight hug, leaning close so that she can whisper in Sakura's ear, "You deserve happiness too."

It's Naruto's turn to hug her again, and after the hug and a bit more small talk (and a few more hugs), the knucklehead ninja loudly says, "Don't get into too much trouble, okay? Hinata and I are going to watch over you both, but there's only so much that we can do, you know?"

"Tch, speak for yourself, Dobe," Sasuke finally finds his voice again. "You'll probably cause trouble anywhere you go."

"What did you say, Teme!?" And then Naruto lunges and catches Sasuke in a vice grip. "You're just trying to hide the fact that you'll miss me!"

"As if!" Sasuke scoffs and pushes the blonde off of him. He's surprised when Naruto doesn't continue rambling and even more surprised when he meets Naruto's serious face.

"Take care of yourself, Sasuke," Naruto says. "I was serious before when I said I didn't want to see you in the afterlife again so soon. Make the most out of life and live to your fullest potential or I'll tattle on you to your brother!"

"Tch, how can I take you seriously when you're resorting to some playground bullying tactic?"

Naruto replies with a Cheshire Cat grin and throws his hands behind his head. "Take care of Sakura too, okay? Or I'll really tattle on you!"

In an uncharacteristic display, Sasuke stutters. "Sh-shut up, Dobe!" He's saved when Naruto hugs him quickly and then holds out his hand.

"Friends forever, right, Teme?"

The Reaper scoffs again but reaches for Naruto's hand and shakes it. "Brothers, Dobe."

Naruto's smile seems to grow even wider, and then he grabs Hinata's hand and pauses at the door. "Good-bye, Sasuke. Good-bye, Sakura-chan. No matter how many lives I lived or how many families I had, you two will always have a special place in my heart."

After a polite bow from Hinata, the couple walks up the stairway. Moments later, the door closes behind them. They're gone, finally done with all their suffering.

"I'll miss them."

Sasuke doesn't expect it at all when Sakura begins talking to him again. His day continues with unexpected surprises when Sakura sits and pours herself a cup of the memory potion.

"How have you been?" she asks him finally looking at him, her eyes watery from Naruto and Hinata's departure. When he doesn't answer, a small smile graces her face. "I guess no number of years is going to turn you into a talkative fellow, huh?"

"What are you doing here, Sakura?" Sasuke can barely look at her. He must have overlooked something or someone dangerous during all his check-up visits because the only reason for her to be here is...

Her smile turns into the same comforting one Hinata had worn just a while ago, and she puts down the teapot. "I died," she says simply.

Sasuke expects the answer, but he doesn't expect the sorrow he'd feel at her answer.

"Come on, don't look like that," Sakura tries to lighten the mood with a laugh. "I lived to a ripe old age and died in my sleep."

"I'm sorry," he doesn't just mean it as a condolence. "Your kids must —"

"I didn't have any kids, Sasuke," she interrupts him with a look he can't read. "I didn't marry — didn't really date all that much either. The kids you saw, I was just babysitting for Ino and sometimes Karin. Did you know she and Suigetsu tied the knot in this life?"

No, he didn't but, after what he did to Karin in their first life, he's happy she's finally found someone who deserves her love and who will treat her right.

Sasuke knows he should be sorry that Sakura didn't find someone to start a family with, someone to live out her life with, and he knows he should feel guilty for not feeling sorry, but he feels a happy flutter in his chest when he realizes she hadn't moved on. And then he realizes, "You know I visited you?"

She nods. "You're not as sneaky as you think. I never saw you, but my neighbors did. I'm a little mad you didn't come say hello."

She's joking, he knows, but he apologizes anyways. "I'm sorry. I just didn't want to ruin your life again."

"You ruined my first life," she says blithely. "I'm not going to cushion it, you really did a number on me, but you didn't ruin this life."

"I'm glad."

Sakura hums a thanks, and the conversation dies there. Sakura doesn't speak again, and Sasuke doesn't know what to talk about, but when he sees her bring the teacup to her lips, his brain stops, and his mouth just blurts out, "I missed you."

One of Sakura's eyebrows is raised in thought, but the teacup is still in her hand, still too close to her mouth and Sasuke's not sure if she already drank some or not.

"I missed you," he says again, this time more firmly and not so rushed. "Please. Don't leave me."

That gets her full attention and gets her to put down the teacup, but now she's leaning back in her chair with narrowed eyes. "I asked, begged, you not to leave me in our first life. You left anyways — even left me on a bench the first time for all of my efforts."

"I'm sorry for that, and I'm sorry for so much more. I'm sorry for everything, Sakura." He missed calling her name, he realizes in that moment. He turns away from her, not able to face her. "I know it might not make up for what I did, but I'm truly —"

He's interrupted when a hand rests on his cheek. "I've already forgiven you, Sasuke-kun, and I can only hope that you'll forgive me for leaving you years ago and for leaving you now." But when she takes back her hand, she takes a step back, her face twisting with unshed tears. "It's time for me to go." She raises the teacup in a mock cheers. "Find me again in my next life, okay?"

Before she has a chance to raise the cup to her lips, the impact of strong arms wrapping around her knock the cup out of her hands. "This is the last time I'll be selfish," Sasuke promises her in a barely audible murmur, "so don't leave me."

Sakura doesn't answer.

"I was lonely without you, Sakura, not just during my time as a grim reaper but also when I first left Konoha and then after you —" He can't bring himself to say it, the memory of that traumatizing emptiness after her death haunting him. "I missed you, even then in my first life."

He doesn't expect her to hug him back, but she does, whispering, "I was lonely, too..."

He dips his face down towards hers, but she puts a finger to his lips.

"You can do that in our next life," she smiles. And then she pouts. "Although, I have to say I'm not really looking forward to making you fall for me again. It was such a hassle the first time around." She's just teasing, but he still feels guilty either way.

"I won't drink the potion," he states ever so firmly. "I'll remember so that I can find you, no matter what it takes and no matter how long it takes."

Her eyes soften, watering just a bit. "What if it takes an eternity?" she asks.

"Then, I'll search for you for all eternity. I'm not losing you again."

The smile she gives him stretches across her whole face, a smile he wants to see more of. "Good answer," she tells him and then closes the gap between them.

"A life of planting seeds, a life of watering the seeds, a life of harvesting, and a life of cherishing the harvests"

The love we couldn't have in this life
The fate we couldn't live in this life
When we meet again some time in the future,
Please don't let go of me...

Ending notes: The story's modern world is based on the world from the K-drama Goblin: The Lonely and Great God and the translated lyrics (in bold) are from Lee Sun Hee's song, "Fate" (인연). The lines in italics are quotes from Goblin. Oh, the quote said humans have four lives, but in this story, they have a great number of lives, depending on whether they have an attachment to life and whatnot.

There was a fan-made video with the song using clips from Goblin about the second main couple, and that video made me watch the drama and thus inspired me to write this fanfic.

I hope you guys enjoyed it! I wanted to post this in early 2021, but I got lazy and procrastinated on this fanfic, and so it took me one whole year to actually finish this. I'm pretty sure you guys can tell because my writing style changes throughout the story. I tried to fix it as much as possible, but I just really want to just be done with this, so hopefully you guys enjoyed it!