AN: Yes, another project that I've started. For all those who thought Sakura should be a kick-ass kunoichi in the series. Maybe now she'll win Sasuke's attention…or someone else's?

If I Knew Then (What I Know Now)

We didn't get to him in time.

Sasuke had managed to keep Orochimaru from taking his body for a year after he was ready. But by the time Sakura and Naruto had arrived to stop him, Orochimaru had transferred. The sadistic grin that had spread across their former teammate's face when they had burst into the room had broken her heart, because it was all over. Everything they had worked towards, everything they had dedicated the past four years to…

Gone.

The Sasuke they knew was never coming back.

Orochimaru stayed in Sasuke's body for a year. As a small favor to Sasuke, he killed Itachi, and Sasuke's consciousness finally stopped fighting him. Technically, his objective was achieved, since it was his own body that had done it. But the strain had become too great. Exactly a year after the body transfer, both Orochimaru and the last of Sasuke's remaining consciousness perished.

Sakura's world came crashing down the day she heard the news.

She knew that once Orochimaru had taken the body, Sasuke was out of their reach. She knew that not even a forbidden jutsu could yank him away from Orochimaru. She knew this, and yet a small part of her had foolishly kept hope, hope that maybe someone would discover a solution, a miracle. That same naïve innocent faith she had cultivated over the years became her undoing when he died. In the end, it was that that destroyed her.

Eighteen years she had lived, only eighteen, and she was ready to end it. She had hardly anything left tying her to this planet. Naruto had been broken after the death of his best friend and never quite recovered. Sakura's own father and mother had been killed years ago when she had become a jounin and was placed on the hit lists of some powerful nins around the continent. Ino had died long ago on a failed group mission, and the regret still burned inside of her at the fact that they had never made up. Their silly rivalry over "Sasuke-kun" had never halted. And now it was too late.

Sakura sat on her knees in the hardwood floor of her apartment, kunai in hand, mulling carefully over the different ways she could put an end to her life. She hadn't told anyone; Naruto would not be able to stomach the thought, and suicide letters weren't her thing. As much as Sakura hated to do this to him, he would find out sooner or later. In fact, he was the only one left here that she cared about. Everyone else had departed from this world. She smiled lightly, and her fingers closed around the kunai. She had so much more to look forward to in the next world, where all the people she had lost would be waiting.

There were several different ways to do it, she knew, and felt oddly calm. I could put the kunai through my heart or press it to my temple, she mused. Really, any physical would she created would be painful. But she had noticed lately that pain had stopped coming. She would only stare blankly at a wound caused on a mission and the blood that dripped from it, and could then simply heal herself and continue. Why was it that she could no longer feel pain? She supposed depression did that to you after a while.

Ultimately she decided to stop her own heart with a medical jutsu. Quick and effective. She wouldn't feel a thing. Slowly she began to make the seals she had learned from Tsunade so long ago. She had used this jutsu so many times during the war; never had she thought she would end up using it for her own purposes.

"Sakura-chan, STOP!"

Naruto burst into the apartment, the door actually flying off of its' hinges. Sakura's eyebrows lifted a little, surprised but unflinching. He had an odd knack for always knowing when something was going to happen to her. She wondered vaguely if he had ever signed a summoning contract with the birds to keep an eye on her; it would certainly explain his impeccable timing.

Naruto's eyes desperately found hers. He must have found a way to watch her. He knew exactly what she was trying to do.

Sakura smiled softly at him.

It was that moment that she completed the final seal and pressed her hand to her heart.

"NO!" Naruto screamed as he propelled himself forward, the desperation evident in his cracking voice.His boots slammed into the floor as he sprinted toward her, petrified that he would lose her after being so careful all this time. His now mature face was tight in terror, and his unzipped black jacket flapped as he ran. He could think of nothing but her. Nothing else mattered. The girl who was the only thing left that mattered in his life had just used her final heartbeat, and he was watching the life drain from her eyes.

Sakura began to slide sideways, and her lifeless body hit the floor.

Step.

While Naruto ran, The Kyuubi stirred.

Step.

The Kyuubi bubbled with excitement.

Step.

The nine-tailed demon inserted his claws into Naruto's stomach.

Step.

And ever so slowly, he began to pry himself loose.

The fox could sense Naruto's weakness and knew that now was finally the time that the boy could no longer hold him back. Kami-sama knows he had been damaged enough by the death and destruction around him already. Naruto could not let Sakura dominate his thoughts and keep the demon inside him at bay at the same time. If the Kyuubi struck now, Naruto might just be unstable enough to break.

"SAVE HER!" Naruto's voice swept through him, strong and commanding, the force of it rattling the demon to his very core. "I don't care how you do it, just save her!" Chakra burst from his body and swirled around the room, Naruto using every bit of his power to issue his one command.

The demon froze, stunned by the unexpected display of might. The voice of his master was so great that the Kyuubi was driven to the ground, his head bent down and his chin hitting the cage floor. He had never expected this. Naruto's force of will was such that the Kyuubi could not fight, and had no choice but to bend to his will. Although even the nine-tailed demon had his limits…

The Kyuubi grinned. There was only one way to both obey Naruto's demand and obtain another chance to overpower his container. It would be a long fight, but he could win. He had underestimated Naruto's control. It seemed that age had perfected it, and the cracks that the Kyuubi had assumed he could infiltrate were in fact nonexistent.

All at once, the demon let out his own chakra in a great tidal wave, exploding from Naruto's skin and rattling Sakura's apartment on its foundation. For a few seconds it ran rampant, bouncing off the walls and consuming the air around them, mixing with Naruto's blue chakra.

Save her. Naruto's voice once again rang with unquestionable authority.

For the first time, the Kyuubi's voice answered him.

You asked for it.

The light that filled the room concentrated on the body of the girl before them. Sakura gave a great shudder as the chakra pierced her, invading her bloodstream and working its way to her heart. Naruto watched in horror as Sakura's body jerked, then with one great flash, it disappeared.

"Sakura-chan! Sakura-chan!"

"Sakura, honey, wake up," Sakura's mother said kindly as the warm smell of apple-cinnamon oatmeal drifted through the room.

Sakura's eyes snapped open.

"There you go." Ms. Haruno set the tray containing a bowl of oats and a glass of milk onto her nightstand. "Remember: today's Kunoichi Day! I'm so proud of you." Ms. Haruno bustled out of the room, and as she opened the door Sakura could hear the faint whirring of her washing machine carry upstairs to her room.

I'd imagined the afterlife to be a bit different, Sakura thought, puzzled as she sat up. Instead of puffy white clouds floating gently around her, she lay on a strikingly familiar white bed. The pillows were engulfed in her mother's scent, as well as a few other warming aromas she hadn't smelled in a very long time. I guess it doesn't matter. I'm back where I always wanted to be.

"Remember: today's Kunoichi Day!" Ms. Haruno's words finally caught up to her. Wait. That didn't make any sense. There were no holidays specifically celebrating female ninjas, were there? She swung her legs over the edge of her bed and stood up. No feeling of floating. Just as she had been before, she felt entirely human. Odd. She pinched herself and was amazed to feel the shoot of pain up her arm. She could feel pain in the afterlife. Huh.

Sakura glanced around. She was in her old room, the one she hadn't slept in since she was sixteen. Everything seemed just as it had been, and Sakura felt a warm tingly feeling spread through her chest. It took a moment for her to realize it was happiness.

The handmade rug she padded over on her way to the floor-length mirror felt just the same, and even had the tiny hole in the middle from where Sakura had tried to move a dresser over it once. She yawned and stretched her arms above her head.

When she glimpsed her reflection in the mirror, she yelped in surprise.

"Sakura, honey?" her mother scurried into the room. "What happened?"

"Er, um…" Sakura placed a hand on her chest to soothe her racing heart. "N-Nothing, Mom, I'm fine. I just…almost tripped."

Her mother's grow creased. "Well, try to be more careful, will you, dear? If you're going to be a kunoichi, you must be more graceful. I worry about you enough already. Why you decided to enter such a dangerous profession in the first place…"

"Hai, hai," Sakura said, waving her hand dismissively out of habit. Mrs. Haruno shot her daughter one last frustrated look.

"You be careful today, dear. And don't you say a word to that Naruto boy, you know he's trouble. You hear me?" Without waiting for an answer, she marched out of the room down the hall.

Sakura gazed back at her reflection, and took in the rounder features of her face and the lack of developed curves.

She was twelve again. But why?

Kunoichi Day? Could this be the day that she first became a genin? Her mother always did have odd names for things…

Her arm was still red. She had pinched herself hard. That certainly hadn't felt like she had expected.

Wait.

Her mother had mentioned Naruto. Like he was here. But that didn't make any sense—Naruto was still alive. Naruto was the only one still alive.

Was this really the afterlife?

Was she somehow, inexplicably, alive?

But nothing explained how she ended up like this. This was her old home, and she looked nothing like herself. It was like she had traveled back through time. But that was impossible! No jutsu she had ever known could send people back in time. Logically, if it were even possible at all, it would take a massive amount of chakra, and something with the ability…

Naruto.

It was the faintest memory, like looking through a mist, but in her last moments she saw Naruto's chakra burst out of him, followed almost immediately by a rush of all-encompassing red. The most powerful creature to walk the earth was sealed inside of her best friend. If there was even a shred of possibility that this could be true, the Kyuubi would have the capacity. Its' chakra reserves were almost limitless.

Sakura's confusion settled down somewhat as her logical mind took over. In order for the demon to be sealed inside Naruto, it had to have the ability to fold space. Why not be able to fold time as well? Naruto had wanted so desperately to save her, but there was no getting back a life. So in order to do the impossible, the Kyuubi had split her soul from her dying body and flung them through time.

The result would be her waking up as her former, pre-depression self, still a twelve-year-old girl. But she could feel it; her enlarged chakra reserves flowed through her. Her chakra was so intertwined with her mind that it must have stayed intact during the journey.

But that meant…Sakura raced to her window. No damage from Orochimaru's attack lingered on the buildings surrounding her house. The sky was clear and beautiful, as opposed to the dark and blustery gray it had been for months before. And her mother was alive. Every one of the people she had seen die throughout her life would be here…waiting for her.

She didn't believe it for a second. It just couldn't be. But she had to know for sure.

Quickly she dressed in her standard outfit, that red thing she hadn't worn in years. Her very-much-missed long hair swayed behind her, having never bothered to grow it out again, and she tied it back into her standard ponytail without a second thought. When operating you never had your hair in your face. How had she managed this much hair as a child?

She flew down the stairs and bolted for the door, needing to see Naruto for herself. She was sure she'd find her answer in him. But first things first. If her mother was really, truly alive, then she hadn't seen her in years. Mrs. Haruno was severely startled when her daughter flung her arms around her. "Honey, you scared me." She patted Sakura's head lovingly at the gesture of affection. "Aw. I'm proud of you. But hurry up! You're going to be late! And don't forget to eat something!" Sakura grabbed a bagel from the toaster and held it between her teeth as she put on her shoes.

Mrs. Haruno beamed at her as her daughter dashed out the door.

She arrived at class much earlier than expected. Somehow she remembered the trip taking much longer than it did this time. Of course, back then she hadn't been jumping from roof to roof, the most efficient way to travel, instead hurtling toward the classroom with Ino on the ground. Weaving through buildings in a battle to get to Sasuke-kun before she did. Only a few others were present so far, waiting for the rest to slowly start filing into the room, ready to be assigned to teams. She caught a couple of the boys puffing out their chests and had to smile. Everyone thought they were so powerful now that they were genin. They were all so naïve back then, completely sheltered from the outside world.

Technically, she realized, she recalled everything from her "past life"—she was jounin status. Judging from the amount of chakra flowing though her veins, she contained the same amount that she had built up over the years.

She heard a shuffle of movement at the door, and her head rose. Uchiha Sasuke strode through the door, not bothering to close it behind him. He looked a little surprised to see her there, and she couldn't blame him. He was always first to class. Oh, and she happened to be standing right next to the door, about a foot away from him.

Scooting around her to give her a wide berth, he moved to the other side of the room and sat down in the seat furthest from her. His usual spot.

For a moment, all she could do was take in the sight of him. Sasuke was as beautiful as he was angsty; his dark eyes glared at the world, obscured by his raven hair so adored by the female population If there was an opposite expression for "seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses," he was that phrase personified. Now that she thought about it, Sasuke's popularity was a bit insane. He was getting hit on by women well over his age, even at twelve. Tch. Cradle-robbers.

Sasuke was well aware that she was staring holes through him, and to make her stop his eyes shifted to meet hers. Usually she would look away hurriedly, flustered that she was caught, but she was far too transfixed at seeing him alive and breathing to care. She merely held his gaze, until a deep frown etched onto his features. His stare-down wasn't working. When she still didn't move, his expression changed to apathy and his eyes slid to the front of the room. Clearly intimidation didn't work on girls anymore.

"F-Forehead Girl!" a breathless voice exclaimed accusingly, and Yamanaka Ino stumbled through the door. "How dare you get here before me? You only did it to sit next to Sasuke-kun!"

Sakura watched her with wide eyes as her ex-best friend made her way over, and slowly the other classmates came through the door behind her.

FLASH.

Ino lay in a pool of her own blood on the forest floor, her beautiful hair swirled in graceful circles around her head. Her brilliant blue eyes were opened, empty, the life sucked out of them, and Sakura could not stop her screams…

Sakura gasped.

"Forehead, what's wrong with you?" Ino asked her. She waved her hand in front of Sakura's face annoyingly, calling "Earth to Forehead! Come on now!"

Sakura snapped out of her trance and gazed up at her. Her eyes saddened, and Ino lowered her hand.

"I'm sorry, Ino," she whispered.

"Eh? For what?"

"Sa-Sakura-chan!" Naruto yelled excitedly as he stood up from his seat. She hadn't heard him enter the room over Ino's shouting. "Come sit over here!"

He had a large grin and an even larger blush, and Sakura froze. There he was. His unmistakable chakra signature glowed with happiness. Undeniable proof that this wasn't the afterlife.

What did this mean?

Furthermore, what the hell was she supposed to do now?

Before she could contemplate this too much, the inevitable guilt washed over her as she saw his innocently grinning face. The last time Naruto had seen her, she had taken her own life in front of him. She forced herself to smile at him; she at least owed him that much. Heh. She missed that outrageous orange outfit of his. It was really horrible.

"Sure, Naruto," she said quietly as she walked over to him. Predictably, Naruto's skin flushed a cherry red, as his crush had not only smiled at him, but had spoken to him and acknowledged him. He would be euphoric for days; there would be no dealing with him now.

"Sit between me and Sasuke, all right?" he asked, on the verge of hyperventilating from excitement. "That way I won't have to sit by him."

Immediately, the entire female population of the class was on its feet, glaring heatedly down at him. Sakura wordlessly sat down, watching as Naruto gulped in fear. Girls sure could be scary sometimes. As soon as he was certain that the fiery-tempered kunoichis wouldn't actually hurt him (yet), he leaped onto the desk and frowned at Sasuke in an attempt to stare him down. What's so great about Sasuke anyway? He asked himself as Sasuke glared back, and sparks of rivalry flew between them.

Sakura jumped upright. There was no erasing this memory from her mind. That nameless boy behind Naruto would knock him forward, and…she shuddered. One way or the other, she had to save both her future teammates the trauma. Neither of their first kisses would be stolen today.

"Naruto, no!" she shrieked, her hands thrusting forward and knocking poor Naruto forcefully off of the desk. The blonde boy's face unfortunately hit the wall, and he slid slowly down it, moaning. Sakura, halfway on top of the desk, stiffened. Turning her head ever so slightly to the left, she caught Sasuke's incredulous eye, and almost groaned out loud. He may as well have had a thought bubble above his head with the word "fangirl" in it. No matter what, she was going to have to live with the label. Great.

"Sakuraaa," a deadly voice growled from behind her. Sakura knew that voice, and it was daring her to turn around. Ino stood next to the desk, the dominant female amongst the crowd of faceless fangirls, cracking her knuckles. "How dare you make a move on Sasuke-kun…" Sakura gave a very Naruto-like yelp.

"Okay, class, in your seats!" Iruka bellowed over the buzz of disapproving murmurs. Whining, the twelve-year-old girls slowly trudged back to their seats. Sakura collapsed into her own, relieved. I'm saved…

Sakura wandered out of the classroom, and sat dazedly onto the concrete bench just outside the academy building. My, this spot had memories. It was almost like remembering a past life—and in a way, it was. She knew things that no one else in this time period knew.

It was real. It was all real. The wind swayed through the trees and a single leaf landed on her arm, the sensation yet another reminder. It was incredible…but possible.

Her mind reeled as she considered her predicament. Were there rules to this sort of thing? Do you change anything, or is everything supposed to stay the same? What happens to the people she knew in the future?

Could she save them all?

"Sakura-chan, want to have lunch with me?" Naruto piped up as he strode into view, interrupting her thoughts. "Since we're teammates now and all…"

Better not to change anything until she had things more figured out. And although it pained her, that included being her old self to Naruto. "Sorry, Naruto, not today," she said. Well, not completely. She just couldn't be rude to such an earnest boy.

"It's because of Sasuke, isn't it?" Naruto grumbled, crossing his arms. Sakura opened her mouth to deny it, but then paused.

"Yeah…" she said slowly as she nodded and cast her gaze to the ground, hating the way Naruto's face fell.

"I still don't see what's so great about him," Naruto muttered angrily, and stalked off. Sakura buried her face in her hands and breathed deeply. She would make it up to him later somehow.

Now that she had some time to herself…Okay. Let's be thorough about this. As far as she could tell, things couldn't get any worse than how they were when she left her broken life at Naruto's feet. So if she was careful, perhaps she could make changes for the better. She finally allowed herself to be excited at the prospect. She could change everything. She was a powerful jounin now. No one close to her would have to die, not when they had her to watch over them. Her healing skills were unsurpassed, and she had once created a fissure so deep with her enhanced strength that the earth-element users were unable to completely fix it. She could protect everyone.

She sat there silently as the minutes passed by in a blur, working through possible scenarios in which she could interfere until Sakura could no longer tell how much time had passed. When she finally rose her eyes from the cobblestones, she nearly fell off the bench.

Sasuke stared at her from across the road, his dark eyes smoldering. It was funny how years ago her heart would have skipped a beat at the sight of a gaze like that from him.

Her eyes suddenly narrowed. Years ago, she also would have been easily fooled by a simple bunshin. Thanks to Tsunade however, Naruto may as well have been wearing a paper mask.

"Naruto, what do you think you're doing?" Sakura asked tiredly, resting her back casually against the stone bench. Sasuke's image reddened, but eventually it twisted into a forced expression of confusion.

"Wh…what? I don't see Naruto around anywhere…" he said as he nervously fidgeted in a very un-Sasuke-like manner. Sakura smirked. No matter how much he aged, he never could act.

Raising her arms in an "X" position, she cried out, "Kai!" and Sasuke suddenly emitted a cloud of smoke. When it cleared, a guilty Naruto stood there, slightly cowering.

"Sakura-chaaan, how'd you know it was me?"

Sakura raised a perfectly sculpted eyebrow. "Your chakra is entirely different from Sasuke's," she explained. "Your signature is obvious."

Naruto scowled, puzzled. "I can't feel any chakra signatures," he admitted. He barely even knew what they were.

Sakura laughed. "Go home, Naruto." Still bewildered, Naruto ambled away, the confused tilt of his eyebrows still stuck in place. Sakura smiled after him.

"Oi," a prematurely deep, masculine voice called. Sakura turned. Ugh, could no one give her a moment to herself? Annoyed, she faced the real Sasuke as he stopped in front of her. "Have you seen Naruto?"

The girl fought back a grin. "I don't know," she lied, shrugging carelessly. Sasuke's face remained impassive as he continued his search.

"Oh, and Sasuke," Sakura added before Sasuke was completely out of earshot. Impatient, Sasuke glanced back over his shoulder. "When you do find him, tell him that he's not a very convincing bunshin."

For the first time, Sasuke showed surprise. Deciding he didn't even want to know how she knew, he disappeared from view.

Anticipation curled in Sakura's stomach. Her depressed mood had somewhat lifted, and now she was only apprehensive about the meeting with Kakashi later. She had the power to change whatever she wanted! If she played her cards right…

As only one person, Sakura wondered how much she could actually affect Konoha. What were the consequences of messing with the future? She ticked off just a few things to change, and vowed to set a plan as soon as possible.

Stop Sasuke from ever going to Orochimaru.

Prevent Naruto from ever feeling lonely.

Not hit Naruto so much this time around.

Not be the weakest at all…

She knew, with her jounin skill level and Tsunade-strength, that she would not be the one standing in the background. They could watch her back.

AN: Promising beginning? Not? Let me know! Come on, you all know that you wanted to see a stronger, less childlike Sakura in the series. I don't intend for this to keep too closely to the storyline. If it was too predictable, there would be no point in reading, would there?