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, the transfer had been completed. 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…
The Sasuke they knew was never coming back.
Orochimaru stayed in Sasuke's body for a year after that. 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. Not even the most forbidden of jutsus could yank him apart from that awful man. She knew this, and yet a small part of her had foolishly kept hope, hope that someone, somewhere would discover a solution…a miracle. That same naïve innocent faith she had cultivated over the years became her undoing when he died. These days, she was nothing more than a husk of a person, existing out of necessity, alone in a world that had only fading echoes of the people she loved.
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 himself had broken after the death of his best friend and never quite recovered; his cheerful disposition would come out from time to time, hoping he could bring back a bit of light within Sakura, but it never lasted long. 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 shinobi 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, balancing a kunai on the pad of her index finger, mulling carefully over the different ways she could put an end to her life. She knew well over a thousand. She never thought she'd be the type to turn to the coward's way out; she had one of the strongest wills out of anyone she knew. But even she had her limits. Gone were the days where she hoped things would get better. Now she only wanted to feel a sense of peace, a relief from what life had left her.
I could put the kunai through my heart or press it to my temple, she mused. Severing an artery is always an option, but it'd be messy. In the last year or so, she had found that pain had stopped coming to her. If she was too slow during a fight and someone stuck her with a kunai, she would only stare blankly at the wound and the blood that dripped from it, heal herself and continue. Why was it that pain was unreachable now? She supposed that being depressed for so long did that to a person.
Somewhere outside her window, a bird chirped loudly, its warble high-pitched and cheerful. Sakura felt just a small pang that for some creatures, after all the death and destruction and sadness, life still went on. This one would be singing a happy song as she went to greet death.
She hadn't told anyone about her plan. Naruto would not be able to stomach the thought, and not many other people were around to care if she did. Leaving a letter seemed like such an insignificant gesture after everything they'd been through together; she didn't believe he'd be comforted much by some random apologetic words she spilled onto a page. He was the only one left here that she cared about. Everyone else had departed, either from their crumbling village or in death. She smiled lightly, and her fingers closed around the kunai. She had so much more to look forward to in the next place, where all the people she had lost would be waiting.
Ultimately, after a good ten minutes of deliberating, she decided to stop her heart with a medical jutsu. Quick and effective. She wouldn't feel a thing; she would simply slide into nonbeing as silently as the ripples on a pond. 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.
Finally she began to make the seals she had learned from Tsunade so long ago. She formed each one slowly and deliberately; she was not rushing toward death. She would much rather greet it like an old friend, taking her time in doing so.
The bird outside shrieked in alarm.
Naruto burst into the apartment, one of the hinges on the door snapping off roughly, causing it to swing wide with a deafening bang and settle at an awkward angle. Sakura's eyebrows lifted a little, surprised but unflinching. He always knew when something was going to happen to her. It was those damn birds; ever since he joined ANBU he'd gotten a second summoning contract for better surveillance, and she'd been followed ever since.
Naruto's wild eyes found hers, his breathing shallow and unsteady. There was no doubt; he knew exactly what she was trying to do.
Sakura smiled softly at him. I'm sorry, Naruto.
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, 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, his unzipped black jacket flapping as he ran. He could think of nothing but her. Nothing else mattered. The girl who was the only thing left in his life had just used her final heartbeat, and he was watching the life drain from her eyes.
Sakura began to slide sideways, that tiny sad smile still on her lips, and her body hit the floor.
Naruto ran, and The Kyuubi stirred.
In Naruto's frantic loss of control, the Kyuubi bubbled with excitement.
The nine-tailed demon reached out, past the bars which were never anything more than an illusion, inserting his claws into Naruto's stomach.
And ever so slowly, he started to pry himself loose.
Eighteen years the Kyuubi had waited for a sign, a tiny crack in Naruto's defenses, that meant that he had his chance at freedom. Every injury Naruto sustained, every emotional breakdown, the Kyuubi tested his strength of will for a weak spot. Naruto was virtually impenetrable. He shone as brightly as the sun, his confidence radiating out of him, and year after year the demon's claws found no purchase against the walls of his cell.
But this time, after too many years of death and despair and utter darkness, for once Naruto's mind was not focused on keeping the Kyuubi at bay. He had no room for anything but thoughts of his dead former love lying there on the floorboards, a wilted flower, broken and wasted.
Naruto's consciousness registered pain, just a faint twinge amongst all the panic, but it was enough. His attention turned sharply inwards and felt the Kyuubi revolting against him. And before the nine-tailed fox could gain another inch, the demon found himself pinned back inside his cage with a mighty crack.
The Kyuubi realized: he had never had a chance. Not even at Naruto's breaking point had he ever had a hope of breaking free. He tried vainly to struggle, but Naruto's will bound him more tightly than steel cords, immovable and unrelenting.
"SAVE HER!" Naruto's voice boomed 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 in sky blue, Naruto using every bit of his power to issue his one command and overwhelm the demon within him.
The Kyuubi was driven to the ground, his head bent down and his chin hitting the cage floor. He had never expected this. Never before had Naruto demanded something of him, and he was finding out that his container was in fact his master. He felt the pull on the edges of his mind that compelled him to obey.
Although even the nine-tailed demon had his limits…bringing the dead back to life was not something easily achieved; Uchiha Madara was the only one to do it so completely, and even then it wasn't perfect. Although the Kyuubi had vast expanses of power, and Sakura's life force still clung in wisps to her skin as it gradually left, gathering it all and piecing it back together was impossible.
The Kyuubi allowed a slippery grin to appear over his face. 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. The cracks that the Kyuubi had assumed he could infiltrate did not, in fact, exist.
All at once, the demon let out his own blood-red 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 to turn a violent shade of purple.
Save her.Naruto's voice once again rang with unquestionable authority.
For the first time that day, 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's gave a great shudder as the chakra pierced it, invading the bloodstream and working its way to the heart. Naruto watched in horror as Sakura's body jerked. The chakra swirled around her, poking and prodding, searching for the last traces of her soul.
Just as the Kyuubi thought the soul was completely gone, his chakra brushed lightly against the last tendril of it, just about to fully exit the body. There.
Then, with one great flash, the body winked out of existence like a star in the sky.
"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." Mrs. 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." The gentle older woman bustled out of the room, and as she clicked open 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 sky blue 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!"Mrs. Haruno's words finally caught up to her as her mind cleared. That didn't make any sense; there were no holidays celebrating female ninjas as far as she knew.
She swung her legs over the edge of her bed and slowly stood up. No feeling of floating. She wasn't sure what she'd expected, but she felt entirely human. She pinched herself and was amazed to feel the shoot of pain up her arm. Huh.
Sakura glanced around. She was in her old room, the one she hadn't slept in since she was sixteen. Her music box still rested delicately on her old wooden dresser, the porcelain dancers atop it frozen, waiting to be wound up. Her soft gauzy curtains fluttered in the small breeze drifting through the open window. The handmade rug she padded over on her way to the 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. She yawned and stretched her arms above her head.
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.
When she reached the mirror and glimpsed her reflection, she yelped in surprise.
"Sakura, honey?" her mother scurried into the room. "What happened?"
"Wha, um…" Sakura placed a hand on her chest to soothe her racing heart. "N-Nothing, Mom, I'm fine. I just…almost tripped over the rug."
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 automatically, waving her hand dismissively out of habit. Mrs. Haruno sent 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 dusted her fingers over the skin of her cheeks, noting with a medic's eye the absence of defined cheekbones. Her jaw was not as long as it ought to be, either; her whole face was smaller, more youthful.
She didn't look a day over twelve. 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—
Her mother had mentioned Naruto. Almost flippantly, like he was here. But that didn't make any sense—Naruto was still alive. Naruto was the only one still alive.
He was the only one who couldn't possibly be here.
Again, she stilled her mind and took in her features in the mirror. She felt her chakra circulating throughout her body, and the beat of her pulse at her wrist.
Was she somehow, inexplicably, living?
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 to a point in history. The results would be catastrophic if the wrong person got their hands on such a power. Logically, if it were even possible at all, it would take a massive amount of chakra, the ability to bend reality at will…
What if Naruto's demon could do it?
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 be the only thing she'd believe to have the capacity. Its chakra reserves were almost limitless.
What had he done?
Sakura's confusion calmed 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, not life in the truest form. So in order to do the impossible, the Kyuubi had split her soul from her dying body and flung them through time, back to a point where she was living and breathing.
The result would be her waking up as her former naïve 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 remained intact during the journey, clinging to her with her life force.
But that meant…Sakura raced to her window. No damage from the wars 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. It slowly sank in that 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 would be seeing her for the first time in years.
Mrs. Haruno gave a start when her daughter flung her arms around her. "Honey, you scared me!" She patted Sakura's head lovingly at the gesture of affection, causing Sakura to tighten her hold. "Aw. I love you too, honey. But hurry up! You're going to be late! And don't forget to eat something!" Reluctantly, Sakura realized that she had things to do. She had time later to see her mother.
She had all the time in the world.
Sakura grabbed a bagel from the toaster and held it between her teeth as she hopped about putting on her shoes. Mrs. Haruno held the door open with a beaming smile, and cautiously, Sakura stepped outside into the blinding sunlight.
She arrived at her old classroom much earlier than she needed. Somehow she remembered the trip taking much longer. Of course, back then she hadn't been jumping efficiently from roof to roof, instead hurtling toward the classroom with Ino on the ground, weaving through buildings in a battle to get to Sasuke-kun before she did.
She only stumbled once, trying to leap onto a building that wasn't there yet. It wouldn't be there for another five years.
Only a few others were present in the class so far, their faces apprehensive knowing today they would be assigned to their new teams. She caught a couple of the boys puffing out their chests in pride and had to smile. They had only graduated yesterday. Everyone thought they were so powerful now that they were genin. They were all so naïve back then, so sheltered from the outside world.
The idea that she could remember everything from her training struck her. She recalled everything from her "past life"—technically, she was jounin status. Judging from the amount of chakra still flowing though her veins, this was fact. She now possessed something that she'd never had before—an edge.
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, 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 in 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, and she'd completely forgotten what he'd looked like as a child. It was only around fifteen that he'd begun to fill out and gain some muscle definition. Here he was still just a boy, on the skinny side with messy, gravity-defying hair. Yes, he was a good-looking boy, but his shoulders hadn't broadened out yet, and he was unnaturally pale. For all his outdoor training, Sasuke looked like he'd never seen sunlight.
Sakura was well aware that she was staring holes through him, and couldn't even flinch when Sasuke's eyes shifted to meet hers. He must have expected her to look away hurriedly, flustered that she was caught, but she was far too transfixed at seeing him upright and breathing to care. When she still didn't move, his expression changed to apathy and his eyes slid to the front of the room.
"Forehead Girl!" a breathless voice exclaimed accusingly, and Yamanaka Ino stumbled through the door. "How dare you get here before me? You think you're gonna get 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.
Ino lay in a pool of her own blood on the forest floor, her beautiful white-gold hair swirled on the ground in a dull shimmer. Her brilliant blue eyes were opened, empty, the life sucked out of them, and Sakura could not stop her screams…
"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 blinked up at her. Her eyes saddened, and Ino lowered her hand.
"I'm sorry, Ino," she whispered.
"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 really was 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 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."
He should have been vaporized on the spot from the way the female population of the class glared at him. Sakura wordlessly sat down, watching as Naruto sank lower in his seat in fear. As soon as he was certain that the kunoichis wouldn't actually hurt him (yet), his expression changed to irritation and he leaped onto the desk, frowning at Sasuke in an attempt to stare him down. Sasuke only glared back,daring him to start a fight he would lose.
Sakura jumped upright. There was no erasing this memory. That nameless boy behind Naruto would knock him forward, and…she shuddered. 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 bubble above his head with the word "fangirl" in it. 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…"
Of course she would win if the horde tried anything, but to avoid an actual fight she'd have to run like hell. Completely against her will, she gulped.
"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. Saved.
Sakura wandered out of the classroom, and sat dazedly onto the concrete bench just outside the academy building. My, this spot had memories. She was remembering an actual past life. 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 with an apologetic smile. 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. Seriously, she reminded herself. Change nothing.
"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. So if she were 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 a well-aimed punch that the earth-users were unable to completely fix it. She could protect everyone.
But there was a line to be drawn. The more she changed, the less she would know what was coming next. Every change would create a ripple. Countless events could be affected just by something as simple as being in a different place at a certain time. And if too much was changed, she would no longer be able to see what was coming next.
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 her eyes finally rose from the cobblestones, she nearly fell off the bench.
Sasuke stared at her from across the road, his dark eyes burning like coals as he studied her. 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 narrowed. Years ago, she also would have been fooled by a simple bunshin. Thanks to Tsunade, 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. Sakura tried hard not to laugh at how out-of-place it looked on his face.
"Wh…what? I don't see Naruto around anywhere…" he said with a nervous fidget, eyes darting around in a very un-Sasuke-like manner. Sakura smirked.
Raising her arms in an "X" position, she cried out, "Kai!" and Sasuke suddenly vanished behind a puff of smoke. When it cleared, a guilty Naruto stood there, scratching the back of his neck.
"Sakura-chaaan, how'd you know it was me?"
Sakura raised an 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."
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. Evidently deciding he didn't want to know how she knew, he disappeared from view.
Anticipation curled in Sakura's stomach. She found herself only apprehensive about the meeting with Kakashi later, and the emotion was somewhat unfamiliar. This body didn't seem to come with the chemical imbalances that made depression possible. While she had all of the emotional damage of her past self, this body and brain had never seen true emptiness, and she didn't feel it as consistently and deeply in her bones as she had as an adult. She could have sobbed from relief from the lifted weight of it.
As only one person, Sakura wondered how much she could actually affect Konoha. The question of what was pre-decided as destiny and what wasn't was a very real issue. 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.
Save the village from the war that would tear it apart.
Repair her friendship with Ino.
Save as many lives as humanly possible.
Not hit Naruto so much this time around.
Never be the weakest again…
She knew, with her 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! 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?