I was in a writing rut for a long time when college, work life, and the whole sudden storm of having to worry about bills and rent and all that terrifying stuff caught up to me. It's taken me a long time to come back to writing, and if any of you out there still follow Naruto or this story, I very much appreciate you taking the time to read. I've missed you guys.
If I Knew Then
Kakashi blew out a sigh, long and slow, running a hand through his gravity-defying silver hair. By all appearances he might have aged twenty years. Here sat a delusional girl with improbable pink hair, spouting out conspiracies about Kyuubi powers and chakra splitting from the body and time travel. He put on his best "I'm listening attentively" face, but the downward tilt of her lips that conveyed her frustration said he wasn't fooling anyone. At one point she simply stopped in the middle of a sentence and merely looked at him, seemingly realizing she was getting nowhere.
He sighed again. "You know how this sounds. You sound like a mental case."
"I understand that," the girl replied immediately, looking at him with calm, level eyes.
He always got the crazy ones. Or the stupid ones. Every year, some idealistic kids would come up to him hoping to form a team, and all he would see were hopeless cases. Kids who would never be able to handle the gritty reality of combat, of death and loss. So he failed them, again and again, and they were either sent back to the academy or made to find more harmless professions, ones that wouldn't put them in the line of fire. But if he were being honest, it wasn't because the kids were weak. It was because he saw the innocence shining from their faces, bright and earnest, and he knew that when they entered the ninja world that would quickly be snuffed out. He hadn't yet met a pack of kids who he could bear to face that with. Now, this one wasn't stupid. From what he had heard she had top marks in her class at the academy. But apparently she had completely gone off the deep end.
Sakura gazed back at her old sensei's tired face impatiently, knowing he was just a hint away from carting her off to the mental wing of the hospital. The ultimate irony, considering she knew every employee in the ward from her days as the top medic. She had spelled out her story to Kakashi, as detailed as she possibly could, but it was just too incredible. And she couldn't blame him. Granted, some things a child shouldn't know, such as details of the Kyuubi's existence, but those were too easily explained away, perhaps from an adult who broke the unspoken code of silence. The rest would sound preposterous to any sane person's ears.
She wished she was talking to the old Kakashi. The Kakashi that knew her. The old one knew Sakura was a terrible liar. She could only be telling the truth. In fact, when under stress her lies came out shaky and had a question mark at the end as though asking permission to lie. To get herself out of it she usually resorted to telling the truth—a quality that never improved over time and irritated Tsunade to no end in deception training.
Her entire story had tumbled out, every single detail from her attempted suicide to the present. She had startled herself with the length of her story. Here she sat, twenty minutes from where she had started, pouring her heart out, and it hadn't made a bit of difference. If she got herself kicked off the team now, the entire course of history would be changed and she had no idea what would happen. So he had to believe her. It was the only option she had.
Kakashi sighed again, lifting a pale hand lazily to his forehead protector. In a sudden quick jerk he yanked it off of his head, and Sakura found herself staring into Sharingan. Kami, it had been so long since she had seen it.
"Then you know what this is?" he asked her, clearly intending to scare her. Any other child might have screamed; it was not well known what the Sharingan looked like, and children of her age weren't terribly known for their ability to research old textbooks. Sakura just stared at the glimmering red circle, feeling a pang of nostalgia.
"Of course," she replied without a moment's hesitation. "You possess an eye containing the Sharingan, an eye obtained from Uchiha Obito at the time of his death." Taken aback, Kakashi's eyebrows rose a fraction, but he showed no other sign that she had caught him by surprise. Silently he secured the forehead protector back into place, his eyes transfixed on her.
"However," she continued. "Your eye has been used too much for long periods of time. It's starting to become strained. I could possibly restore it—" she instinctively reached out a hand to analyze the damage, and Kakashi swatted it away, obviously taken aback and looking at her as though she were trying to scramble his brain.
She frowned. "It's just as well. I don't know whether I have complete control over my chakra just yet, given that my chakra pathways are smaller now." She noticed this did not comfort him. Perhaps she really would have scrambled his brain.
He looked at her, long and hard, certain she was crazy. But within the solid gaze was just a glint of doubt. That was something. She would have to ramp it up if she were going to truly get his attention.
"Sensei, I realize this is a lot to swallow. But you can ask me anything. If you need me to show you a jutsu, I'll happily meet you at the training grounds. If you want to test my knowledge, please, ask any question you can think of."
She could see him deliberating, deciding if he should entertain her claim for a while. She saw the light bulb over his head when an already unanswered question came to the front of his memory.
"That display of strength at the bell test," he started, and she knew where this was going. "There are only a few people in the world who know how to harness their chakra like that. Tell me who taught you."
"I studied under Tsunade-sama for five years, sensei," she promptly replied.
His retort was swift. "She wouldn't return to Konoha unless forced. How could you possibly have trained with her?"
She mulled her response over in her mind, trying to find the most gentle way to answer. In the end she decided it didn't matter; Kakashi was never one for sugarcoating.
"Kakashi-sensei…Sarutobi-sama dies this year." She noted the quick rise of his eyebrows and took that as a good sign. "Tsunade-sama was convinced to take on our village as the next leader. Funny enough, it was Naruto that did the convincing. He becomes quite a force of nature when he grows up. Don't discount him just yet."
She read his thoughts as they scrolled through his head. The yellow-haired boy, he would recall. He could convince Tsunade-sama when no one else had succeeded before him? That had to be made up. Sakura found herself pressing forward before he could formulate a rebuttal.
"Sensei, you have to keep our team together. Naruto, while he has a wonderful heart, needs guidance that only you can provide. The seal that contains the Kyuubi is weakening, and it's only through the bonds that he forms on this team that keeps the demon under control. Even then, sometimes it leaks out, one tail at a time. If we weren't around him to keep him safe from himself, he could potentially level the village."
Kakashi went still as her words registered, then attempted to brush it off as though this were old news, leaning casually back into the couch cushion. "We already have ANBU watching him at all times."
"That's not going to help. But I know him, I can watch over him. And once we all become good friends, and you decide to accept him—and you must," she said forcefully, "you can call off the ANBU. He will be able to control it himself, for the most part, even utilize it when he can't manage on his own. He might sound just like any other kid, talking all big right now, but if the village hadn't—" she cut herself off, and swallowed. The pain she had forced down earlier was threatening to make a reappearance. She shoved it away.
"He would have been Hokage," she whispered.
Kakashi was no Morino Ibiki, but he was an expert in deception and body language. His quick eye caught the freeze in her shoulders, and the way she lowered her chin as though fighting back deep emotion, and he heard the desperation in her voice. Sakura saw him perk up slightly at her outburst, and knew she had said too much.
"If the village hadn't what?" he asked softly. Delusional or not, this was clearly a touchy subject for her and he would tread carefully.
Sakura's hands shook, and she took a deep breath to steady them. She wasn't ready to think about her past just yet. She was barely keeping it together seeing all of her dead friends today. And now he wanted her to turn around and face it all at once?
Just like that, it hit her. The simple question opened the floodgates containing painful memories she had fought so hard to keep concealed, beating her mind with a barrage of recovered images. Suddenly she could not breathe.
The Hokage's death.
The attack on the village.
The death of her parents.
The night everything changed.
"We will bring him back no matter what!"
"Aah!" Sakura whimpered as her head pounded. Kakashi watched, startled, as she doubled over trembling, leaning forward so far she almost toppled off of the couch. He grasped her arm before she fell to the floor and raised her up to sit next to him. Lacking the strength and control over herself to keep herself upright, she fell against him, a fresh wave of sobs wracking her body. All of her carefully polished restraint over her emotions came crumbling down inside the heart of a twelve-year-old.
"I couldn't save any of them!" Sakura choked out as her tears soaked into the collar of her shirt. "I tried so hard to get stronger, trained nonstop for years, became the best medic this village had, and in the end I did nothing!" Kakashi felt her small fist as it struck his vest, but instead of hitting him again it remained there clutching at the fabric. "I couldn't do anything…the village just crumbled, and everyone…everyone died. Everyone but Naruto and me. And a few people who fled. I don't even know how I survived myself."
For a few minutes Kakashi simply held her there like the sensei she needed, and let her cry, settling a gentle hand on her back in awkward comfort. At any rate, the girl believed what she was saying. Despite every logical cell in his brain crying out in denial, that massively destructive move she had pulled out during the bell test had sparked his curiosity. Tsunade certainly could have taught her, but someone pulling the woman from her own depression, drunkenness and gambling addiction was a feat he believed no one could accomplish. This girl had extensive knowledge of the Kyuubi, mastery of her own chakra, and even had knowledge of his own Sharingan. He felt the strain in his eye that she had spoken of. And he knew for a fact that that particular side effect went undocumented in any textbook she would find at the library.
"You said you could heal. That you were one of the best."
She hiccupped once, but a smile was on her lips. "The best," she said with a small trace of pride.
She knew what he wanted. He wanted her to show him. Well, she would give him two demonstrations. Concentrating her chakra to just the surface of her skin, she focused it to the outer edge of her right hand, all the way down to her pinky finger and extending over the other fingers. Then she tightened it, and it formed into a small but effective chakra blade.
Kakashi watched, amazed, as she ran the blade down the length of her upper left arm. Blood ran down and hit her dress, blending into the red fabric, but she didn't seem to care. Then, fluidly, the blade changed into healing green chakra that flowed across her open palm, and she passed her hand over the wound.
Now Kakashi had avoided hospitals all his life, hating the perfectly sterile rooms and the sick people wheeled around in the hallways. He could get by just fine on his own, thank you. After all, all wounds healed eventually if you bandaged them up and left them alone long enough.
But he had been there a few times in his life, once to treat a large gash in his thigh from an enemy's katana. The healer at the hospital had been gracious and thorough, and the work had taken almost thirty minutes. Even though she was very accomplished, the healer still left a faint scar twenty centimeters long that he had to this day.
Watching Sakura heal herself was nothing short of a miracle. No one her age could possibly have the knowledge, the control, hell, the focus to pull off such an efficient healing. Yet she was done in less than a minute, the skin a clear cream color, perfectly unblemished.
If he hadn't seen it for himself, he would have thought her insane.
And it was this small miracle coupled with the dead serious gaze she now gave him even though tears were still running down her face that gently tipped the scale. Just for a second, only a moment, he allowed himself to try believing.
When Sakura lowered her hand, Kakashi took her by the shoulders. "How old are you, Sakura?"
She sniffled as she swiped her fingers across her red-rimmed eyes. "I'm twelve, sensei."
"No, I meant how old are you…" he struggled for a word.
"O-oh!" Her eyes grew wide as the anguished twitching in her shoulders subsided, and he saw the hope there. "I'm eighteen," she whispered. "I'm a jounin-level medic-nin, worked directly under Tsunade-sama, and it seems that through all of this I still have the same chakra levels as before." She wiped her nose with her sleeve, clearly embarrassed to look such a mess. "My theory is that my chakra pathways are bound to my soul, so when I traveled to the past, my larger chakra stores went with me."
His grip on her shoulders released, and Kakashi's head spun. There was no possible way. Well, perhaps there was. They were discovering new hidden jutsus every day. But a time-traveling jutsu? How was that possible? Could the Kyuubi really have that kind of power?
He needed confirmation. There was just too much to suggest that her story was laughable. But he had to know. "I will have more questions for you. If what you're telling me is at all possible, it will take some time for me to process this."
Sakura cleared her throat, frowning in an attempt to reclaim her lost dignity. Top medic-nins didn't cry, for Kami-sama's sake. "I would hope so. You are the only person I could possibly tell; anyone else would misuse what I know about the future. You cannot tell anyone."
He stalled for a second, and she knew he intended to do just that—run to the Hokage to report what had just occurred. "No!" she urged, grasping his hands. He just barely refrained from pulling them out of her grasp. "If history is changed far too soon in the beginning, I won't be able to tell what will happen next. I'll be going in blind, and if I'm going to change anything for the good I have to know what will happen."
Kakashi opened his mouth to protest, then shut it again. Assuming any of it was true—he had to reserve some doubt after all—her reasoning was solid.
"And what exactly do you hope to achieve then?" he asked, purely out of curiosity.
She looked at him with that same steely determination he had seen when they had exchanged introductions and shared their goals, and he had his answer. "Well, isn't it obvious? I've seen nearly everyone I've ever cared about killed, countless people right before my eyes and some even directly because of my actions. I have my theories on how I was sent back to this particular point in time, but I can't just let it all happen again. I couldn't bear it a second time." Her gaze lowered to the floorboards.
Kakashi was never one to be especially curious; after all, curiosity killed the cat, and he had grown rather fond of that old cat. But he had to ask.
"Did I die as well?"
Sakura had to blink quite a few times, but this time she managed to keep herself in check. She was strong. All of those years of toughening up after Sasuke's capture and death had not gone to waste.
"Yes. Yes, you did," she breathed. "There weren't many left by the end."
Kakashi regarded her carefully, as if she were a particularly difficult jutsu to copy. He had every reason to dismiss this petite girl before him, with a head of vibrant pink hair that begged not to be taken seriously. However, the defiant expression stood out from underneath her bubblegum strands, and he was forced to take a second look. There was something…older about that kind of expression; a kind of world-weary attitude that only came with years of battle. His expression now held compassion; no one understood seeing that kind of death over and over again quite like he did.
"Well." He stood up from the couch, getting ready to leave. This was too much all at once, and he needed to think. He still wasn't sure if he could really believe any of it. "I have things to attend to, books to read, plants to water…" She looked crushed for a moment, and he let out a long breath.
"Sakura…if any of this is correct…you may end up being very useful to this team."
Sakura's head snapped up to look at him, hardly daring to believe that he might accept what she had told him, but he was already out the door, swift and silent.
Somehow, after all those years of feeling useless, those words meant the world to her.
So…Kakashi knows everything now, Sakura thought after her sensei left as she attempted to organize her racing mind. Well, of course not everything. But he might possibly be able to cover for me if something happens. That's all I can ask for.
Everyone would want to know what would happen to them in the future. She could hear their voices now. Naruto would insist over and over again that he'd beat fate and become the future Hokage. Ino would of course demand to know what kind of man she snagged, and just how much more attractive she became at eighteen. "So, I was a gorgeous kunoichi, right, Sakura? How did I look?" "Um, dead. Pretty much sums it up there." Somehow the conversation didn't play out very well in her head.
And Sasuke…Sakura was afraid for him the most. If he knew the lengths he went to find and kill his brother, it would shock him. He wouldn't be able to wrap his mind around all of the things that he went through. But once he accepted it…Sakura was sure he would do the same damn thing he did last time. It had worked then, didn't it? He had accomplished his goal. Losing his own life in the process didn't matter. Perhaps he would grill her for the specifics, believing that armed with this knowledge he could escape the same fate this time. His arrogance would lead right to his death again.
There was no way Sakura was going to let him throw away his life a second time.
Sakura ultimately decided to lay low for the time being as they started their training, careful to keep herself in check and not reveal anything beyond the normal range of a twelve-year-old girl. Her heart would jump each time Naruto broke a bone or Sasuke received a scrape from sparring with Kakashi, and had to fight the nearly irresistible urge to heal them on the spot, Naruto especially before his rapid healing caused his bones to set incorrectly. Instead she clucked about them like a mother hen and immediately sent them to the hospital. Fortunately this was only necessary a couple of times, as sending Naruto was just for show, as he was always magically fine after an hour of a bone being broken. She had to laugh awkwardly and state loudly that it must have only been a sprain in the first place before anyone could run a chakra analysis.
The training was boring and tiresome to her, having to relearn the things she had perfected years before. She was a jounin—and as such, it felt a little ridiculous. Kakashi often pitted the three against each other in no-chakra sparring sessions, and it made her positively squirm knowing she couldn't unleash even a bit of the strength lurking just beneath her chakra tunnels. Without it, her taijutsu was still pretty good, but they had cut off her main source of power. Still, she was good enough to take down Sasuke fairly easily. She merely parried every single attack he threw at her, allowing him a hit or two to boost his confidence, and then finally she would send one punch into his gut and he would go down, doubling over as the wind was knocked out of him.
She had to giggle at the face Sasuke made as he hit the ground time and again. Wide-eyed and frustrated to no end, she could see the mental war raging inside his mind, and felt just a tiny bit of sympathy. He beat himself up over the smallest things. Even at twelve he had astonishing speed, as good as anyone at her level. Had she not trained with him so many times in the past, she might not have been able to keep up. But she had, and after being humiliated by him so many times (the Uchiha wasn't big on showing mercy, even in sparring), she couldn't resist besting him again and again. Petty revenge.
Naruto was of course much easier to beat, having raw strength but no focus and no direction. She was happy to see that he learned from her, though, even though he told her he really didn't want to hit a girl. She showed him a few grappling moves in secret after the others had gone home, and Sakura saw Naruto gleefully put Sasuke in an unexpected headlock the next day.
Thanks to her increased skill, the boys were learning much more quickly. She couldn't bring herself to feel worried that they were advancing faster than they had the first time around. After all, if it made them into a better team, she would need that later on, wouldn't she?
Before she knew it a month had passed by, a month of playing this game. For a while it was comforting, sliding into an old routine where the most she had to worry about that day was keeping her chakra in check. Every day she would get up, train hard, then go home and hug her parents and sit down to a home-cooked meal. It was heaven, and she felt her old wounds begin to close up. She would never fully heal, and she didn't want to if it meant not keeping a sharp eye on the moment things needed to be changed. But for now it was peaceful, and she basked in it.
Later, another problem surfaced. She hadn't fully trained in her new body at all to test her limits. Her skills would turn as rusty as an old swingset if she didn't work them, but she had no time during the day to steal away to an empty training ground for fear of being discovered. So when Kakashi declared one day a day off to rest, she knew exactly where she was going. Kakashi never took days off, so his decision was obvious to her. His doubts were greatly diminished, especially after seeing her sparring so easily with Sasuke, but there were some things he still had to see for himself.
"Go train," he said quietly as he passed by her to leave. "I know you're itching to."
The training grounds were blissfully clear that morning, with nothing but the cool silent air to greet her as she arrived. The morning sun filtered gently through the trees, and although the grounds were empty there was motion everywhere, in the rustling leaves on the branches above her and in the quick darting of the bluebirds in the bushes. Sakura allowed herself a small grin. This would always be one of her favorite places.
She prepared herself to start, but then halted. Really, he gave her no credit.
Kakashi was actually using all of his stealth techniques to try to follow her undetected.
Whatever. It made no difference to her. The natural show-off in her couldn't help parading in front of him a little. She wouldn't tell him outright that she knew he was watching, but he would find out soon enough anyway.
She leaped forward, ten kunais drawn out at once and hanging relaxed from her fingers. In a graceful twirl she released them all; they hit all five of the closest trees, two kunais embedded in each. Good, her coordination was as good as ever.
Kami, it felt good to release her chakra. Over and over again she attacked trees one at a time with every basic jutsu she knew, starting off with simple water and fire jutsus and gradually building until the helpless trees began to show the strain of her attacks.
Unable to stop herself, Sakura released the Katon no jutsu and completely engulfed one tree in flames within seconds. The blast of heat pricked her skin with sweat, and she reveled in the release of her power.
The trouble with setting such a massive fire jutsu on very flammable trees was that it attracted attention like nothing else. Kakashi noticed with alarm that the fire was quickly spreading to nearby trees, crackling and filling the clear sky with curling smoke. What on earth did she think she was doing?
This is just for you, Kakashi-sensei, Sakura thought with a slow smirk. Confidently she summoned water to engulf the area, and it rose up from a reserve underground and splashed onto the forest floor, swirling around her ankles and filling the dirty area with brown water.
Kakashi watched, perched atop a high branch some distance away. She knew he recognized the rapid hand seals she now made, his Sharingan surely out to more closely watch her.
A single twister of water rose from the center of the pool, gaining in height in width until it began to curve gracefully in the air in a delicate arc. Twisting and angry, the form writhed until finally Sakura directed it at the fire now beginning to catch on adjacent trees. Shocked, Kakashi stared as the water dragon he was so fond of using, the first technique she had ever seen from him, collided with the fire and chasing down the spreading tendrils, effectively dousing it entirely. Too transfixed to move, Kakashi barely even noticed when a stray bit of water reached his hiding spot in the tree and splashed him in the face.
If he didn't believe her by now, there was no ignoring this.
She continued training for a few hours more, this time focusing on her genjutsu and stretching the limits of chakra that could be used at once and also testing her precision control. She felt his presence leave halfway through, and smiled to herself.
"Come on, old man, all you're giving us is stupid, boring missions!" Naruto whined loudly as he stomped a foot to the ground in emphasis. "We're not kids anymore!"
"You're still the same height-challenged brat as you were months ago, kid," Sarutobi declared from behind his desk in his office. His old academy teacher Umino Iruka scowled at Naruto from across the table.
Sakura took note of the place as being very different than she remembered. That wasn't a big surprise, considering Tsunade had had a tendency to destroy parts of the office when in her drunken rages. Everything in the room had been replaced at least twice, most knickknacks and priceless vases never reappearing. Even the Hokage's chair had been damaged beyond repair once when a team of ANBU sent to the Fire Country's border had turned up dead. She had set the thing on fire.
Naruto drew himself up to his full height (which still wasn't much) and puffed out his chest. "We deserve better missions than this! All we do is babysit and chase stupid cats! Choose something else!" His voice was loud and demanding, and Sakura winced. He was really going to get it now.
For his efforts, Naruto received an earful from Iruka and a wallop to the head from Kakashi, a physical warning to be respectful in the presence of the Hokage. Then they were all treated to a lecture from Sarutobi regarding the mission ranks, and why Naruto was still stuck fetching groceries. Fortunately the boy was far too busy being distracted thinking about ramen to pout, a fact that earned him another shouting from his superiors.
"Hey, hey! I'm different now! I'm not the same little kid who used to pull pranks all the time!" he insisted. "I worked hard for this!"
The tiniest of smiles worked its' way onto the Hokage's lips. Sakura knew he had a soft spot for Naruto, and recognized that in his own way, the kid was trying. Perhaps he had earned his way up. Just a little.
"All right, maybe it's time for something a little more challenging," Sarutobi pretended to grumble. "Just one C-rank mission. Then we'll see how you do. One escort mission."
The excitement emanating from Naruto was palpable. The blonde jumped into the air, his face shining like a beacon. "Really? Then who is it? Are we taking a lord, or a princess?"
The Hokage waved his hand. "All right, all right, calm down. Send him in."
The doors behind the group opened, and a drunken, grizzly man stumbled in, a grumpy frown on his face as he set eyes on the diminutive children in front of him. He took three swigs of a suspicious-looking liquid in a bottle and glared at them. The Hokage had planned to give them the mission the whole time, Sakura realized. Why else would this guy be so conveniently waiting out in the hall for them?
"Seriously? The little spiky-haired brat is my guide? Is this short thing really a ninja?"
It only took one hand for Kakashi to hold Naruto back as he declared that he was going to kill the very man they were supposed to escort to safety. Sakura and Sasuke sighed, Sakura hiding her giggle behind her hand.
The man had introduced himself as Tazuna, and he and Naruto hated each other at first sight. Their constant bickering was driving Sakura to madness on the journey to the Wave country, with Tazuna's incessant use of the word "brat" and Naruto's endless assurances that once he became Hokage one day he would kick this guy's ass.
Sasuke showed a respectable amount of patience, or perhaps he was just very talented at tuning them out. Sakura for one didn't know how he did it. She was going to smack Naruto upside his little head if he didn't shut up soon. She had forgotten just how much energy twelve-year-old Naruto possessed. It would never end.
Now her memory of this mission was a little spotty. Granted it was their very first one, so she knew it much better than the many that followed, but she realized the importance of keeping her memory as sharp as possible. She would probably have to write out all the details somehow. Fortunately, she had thought of this before they had left on their journey and kept a leather-bound journal in her pack just for this. She pulled it out now and retrieved a pencil.
She wasn't stupid. She knew the journal could fall into the wrong hands and that would be the end of her secret. But she had a method of protection: a simple, one-handed jutsu would wipe the words of the journal blank, locked by her chakra. Only her chakra could unlock it. She would do this after each entry, and if anyone ever encountered the book, they would find nothing but blank pages. If her team ever asked about it, she could giggle and tell them her diary was a secret.
Mission One, she wrote.
Journey to the Wave country to protect Tazuna-san, a bridge-builder, from enemies while he completes his project. Sometime along the journey there we are attacked by ninja with chains, and soon after encounter nins named Haku and Zabuza.
She wasn't perfectly clear on when or how they would appear, so this would have to make do for now. One thing she did remember: Zabuza wasn't entirely an evil man. And Haku's only crime was owing a debt to someone who had saved his life. She knew she shouldn't change too much, but she did make a promise. She was going to stop her precious people from dying. But all of human life is precious. Shouldn't that include people who aren't necessarily on the same side?
She vowed right then to try to do what she could to save their lives. Attempts One and Two.
She was so engrossed in her journal that it took her a second to feel the malicious intent permeate the air. Someone was here! She sent a pulse of chakra outward from her body, and it collided with another's directly behind the group. There.
Without even thinking, she took a kunai and threw it with her full chakra-enhanced force at her target's head. In an instant, it had pierced the intruder's skull, a tall figure wearing a long black cloak, and he crumpled in a heap to the ground. A second opponent was next to him, temporarily stunned by the quick death of his accomplice, but he recovered quickly and raised strange weapons from his body, what looked like a long chain of razors that he flung out like a rope. He aimed for Kakashi, but Sakura was quicker. Leaping gracefully into the air, she vaulted over the chain while twisting in midair and stabbed her kunai directly beneath her, pinning the chain to the ground in its' middle.
Immediately, Kakashi swept in and took over, delivering one blow to the head and effortlessly knocking her opponent unconscious. After a brief struggle the enemy sagged, and Kakashi caught him with one arm. He gave Sakura a sharp look, one filled with warning, before he hoisted up the body onto his shoulder. Carefully he set the man against a tree and bound him there to interrogate him when he woke.
Silence filled the clearing.
Sakura froze in shock as the reality of what she had done sunk in. She, supposedly a fresh genin from the academy, had just skillfully killed a man without emotion by a direct hit to the brain. No one of their level should have been able to do that. These men, though dependent on the element of surprise, had to be at least B-rank.
The one thing she was supposed to do at the moment was not reveal her skills. She had reacted instinctively, and now a man lay dead on the ground. What did she do last time? She racked her brain, but the details were fuzzy. She knew Kakashi had stopped them, but…oh, right. She had moved to protect Tazuna, and Sasuke had as well, then Kakashi waited until the last minute to save them. Kakashi must have known long before she did that these men were waiting in ambush. Had she been paying attention, she would have realized this and known that he had deliberately waited. This was a test, an experiment to see how his team would react in the face of immediate danger.
Well, she had just failed that. She was supposed to step in front of Tazuna, nothing more. Now that a man was dead, and it was her fault, she supposed a genin should be bursting into tears and losing her grip in this moment. From the look Kakashi gave her, yes. She needed to act.
Crap. She was always horrible at acting. And lying.
"Kakaaaaashi-senseiiii!" she wailed, sinking to her knees and plopping onto the ground. "I can't believe…I don't know—what happened! Waaahhh!" Naruto and Sasuke, who had stood frozen during the last ten seconds when all of this had occurred, finally seemed to gather themselves.
"Sasuke, did you see that?" Naruto exclaimed, his voice going very high. "Sakura just killed that guy! He came out of nowhere! And she was like—" he hit his fist with his other palm, "Bam! Took him out!"
Sasuke wasn't listening. He had quickly recovered from the shock and was narrowing his eyes at her, trying to see something in her that explained what she did. She realized belatedly that he would have had to have noticed her at least a little back at the academy, fawning over him like she did. And now she was a cold-blooded killer. She pretended not to see him, as overcome as she was in her terror and grief, and bawled some more.
"Sasuke, seriously!" Naruto said. "That guy almost killed us, and he went for Kakashi-sensei, but she was all—"
"Now, now, everyone, calm down," said Kakashi in a soothing voice.
"Shut up, Naruto," ordered Sasuke.
"I—was—so—scaaaaared!" hiccupped Sakura.
"It was just so cool! But what are we supposed to do with him now?"
"All of you, settle down…"
"Naruto, shut up!"
"I can't believe—just—totally by accident—wahhhhh!"
"All right, ALL OF YOU!" Kakashi roared, interrupting each of them.
"Now," he continued, brushing off his jounin vest from where his unconscious opponent had been, "It's obvious you've all been through a traumatic experience."
Having decided that enough was enough on the crying, Sakura glanced at the other two. Naruto seemed to be having some sort of internal conflict, most likely berating himself on the fact that he didn't do anything when the evil men showed up. Sasuke was now looking at Kakashi, his suspicion of her all but gone. She was a little affronted until she realized the tears and the sobbing probably weren't all that out of character for her twelve-year-old self. He must have come to the conclusion that she had gotten a lucky hit with the first one. Her pinning the chain to the ground was something else, but she was sure he would have been able to do the same had he been closer when it happened.
Even so, when his eyes flickered over to her while Kakashi attempted to smooth things over, he was looking at her with a newfound respect. While Sakura felt she should have enjoyed that moment, all she could really feel was a fear that he would find her out.
She would have to be much more careful from now on.
Unfortunately they hadn't gleaned much from the surviving enemy when he awoke, only that they had been targeting Tazuna and hadn't expected a group of ninja to be with him. Immediately after, he released a suicide jutsu, and was gone before Kakashi could attempt to stop him. Kakashi sent out a dog summon to alert Konoha of the bodies, and that was that. Sakura tied not to think too much about how Naruto and Sasuke had been affected by the fight, or she would drive herself crazy with worry. It would all sort itself out, she was sure.
Tazuna had some explaining to do on the boat ride to Tazuna's home, an island populated by a small village. He described his situation where the evil billionaire Gatoh was after his life, wanting to halt construction of the bridge. The other three listened intently, but Sakura had heard it all before. Instead she turned her attention to her journal again, and focused on remembering what came next.
For Zabuza and Haku, I must not interfere. Despite Naruto and Sasuke's injuries, neither are ever in mortal danger, as Haku is holding back as much as he can from killing them. This is the first fight where Naruto and Sasuke work together, and they need to form a bond.
"…but don't worry, if I'm killed you shouldn't feel bad. My cute eight-year-old grandson will only cry and cry and cry. And my daughter will live a lonely life and hate Konoha ninja."
That did it. Sakura snapped the book shut and slammed a palm on her seat. "So you would rather us, twelve-year-old kids, die for you, who lied to us and put us in a situation far over our heads? How dare you!"
Tazuna had the grace to look a little embarrassed, but she noticed he couldn't help but defend himself.
"From what I saw you handled yourself just fine back there—"
"That was a lucky hit!" Sakura interjected hurriedly. "I could have died! All of us could have died! You don't feel guilty about that at all, do you?"
"You see, we don't have much money, we're a very poor country, and couldn't afford a higher-ranked mission…"
Sakura opened her mouth to give him a further piece of her mind, but thankfully Kakashi stepped in.
"That's enough now. Tazuna-san, we will continue to escort you, out of goodwill. But from now on we will need full disclosure. Do not leave anything out again."
Tazuna bowed his head. "Of course, Kakashi-san."
Sakura was about to grin in satisfaction when out of the corner of her eye she saw Tazuna make a gesture behind his back. A peace sign. A silent, 'I win.'
Why that cheeky little—no. This is not how we conduct ourselves. I have inner peace. Whoosah. She felt a little frustrated that her quick temper had never been more controlled over the years, but then Tsunade hadn't exactly led by example. In fact, after one too many nights at the office where a failed mission ended up with terminated soldiers, she had joined a few of her mentor's drinking binges. She was sure Tsunade had even handed her a couple of small items in the office to throw around to abate her anger.
Yes, come to think of it, it was a surprise that she wasn't actually worse than before.
It was probably best to distract herself until the rage went away. Quickly she flipped open her journal and forced herself to concentrate on the next portion. What else was significant about the battle at the bridge…oh!
Sasuke's Sharingan is awoken during the final battle with Haku, she wrote. Protect Tazuna and aid Kakashi. Stay out of Naruto and Sasuke's fight.
There. Simple enough.
Now if only she could follow her own instructions.
AN: Thanks everyone for reading! I'm going to try to get back into writing, although when you're not quite feeling the passion for writing you once had, it can be very hard. For now, I'm forcing myself to write even though I feel like I'm totally rusty. But I'm happy with the end result, and that's what counts, right? Looking forward to your thoughts!