Okay, before I start, a lot of you might notice that Sakura in this chapter is really cold. I'm not trying to make her all angsty or anything, but trying to show that she's matured as a woman and a ninja. She's faced death before and also has been forced to cause it, and while she's still kind and open-hearted and still Sakura on the inside, she's no longer idealistic and unrealistic about the world and how it works—i.e., when she comes across the nearly dead medic-nin, Sakura doesn't try to heal her because she knows it's impossible, and she also has no mercy on the rogue-nin that was attacking a child. So, to reiterate, Sakura's much more mature now and more realistic, though she's still kind at heart, of course.

Oh, and I suppose their ages are somewhere around twenty. I hope you enjoy this. And one more thing—when Sasuke defeats Itachi, he inherits all of his powers, right? So Sasuke has Mangekyou Sharingan? Well, whatever, if he doesn't just pretend he does. This is a fanfic, after all.

Sakura's thoughts

Inner Sakura's thoughts


Chapter One

Konoha was falling.

Sakura quickly dodged the falling debris around her as she frantically made her way to the Hokage tower, channeling extra chakra to her legs to speed herself up and draining her already strained chakra supply. She ignored the suffering around her, the screaming of the civilians and bawling of the children, though it pained her to do so. Her first priority, she knew, was to protect the Elders, her Hokage, and Naruto.

The Akatsuki had planned their invasion well, thought Sakura bleakly. Slowly, strategically, the ruthless group had cut off all of Konoha's links to the outside world, so carefully that by the time the Hidden Leaf village had noticed the subversive attack it was far too late to do anything about it but pray. Then they had systematically reduced and taken out the number of chunnin and gennin, effectively rendering the bulk of Konoha's ninjas useless. Now all that remained were the village's elite nin, the few jounin that could do little against the inhumanly skilled Akatsuki despite their best efforts.

Sakura was momentarily chilled. That perfectly constructed, crippling plan had required an intimate knowledge of the interior workings of the village—the sort of knowledge that only a fellow ninja would have. But what sort of ninja would launch such a ruthlessly crushing invasion of Konoha? What sort of nin would hold so much hatred for a village that had nurtured them and protected them?

Sakura had heard the whisperings, of course. She knew that more often than not, the Council and Tsunade suspected Sasuke to be behind these attacks—but Sakura refused to believe that. Sasuke had turned his back on them, of course, broken his bonds or at least attempted to, but he had never hated Konoha itself. He had no reason to—or so she thought.

She deftly dodged a massive block of concrete as it dislodged itself from a building and began its inevitable journey downwards. Somehow, somewhere, the Akatsuki had managed an alliance with countless bloodthirsty rogue and missing-nin, and they delighted in the complete and utter destruction of Konoha and everything in it. It twisted her heart to see her home in such shambles, to see such coldblooded viciousness around her.

Hardly even slowing her stride, she brandished her katana and drove it through an oblivious rogue nin's eye. She had long become immune to the sickening sound of the cartilage and bone snapping and shattering, the sick mushiness once the katana reached and pierced through the brain, and the spattering of the vitreous humor of the eye. He slumped backwards, an expression of surprise forever etched onto his half-ruined face, and Sakura continued on, not bothering to clean her katana and hardly noticing the horrified look of the child that the rogue nin had been harassing.

She passed by one of her fellow ninja, a brown-haired, blue-eyed young chunnin she recognized as a medic in training from the hospital, already cataloguing her physical condition as good as dead. There would be no point in attempting to heal her; a horrid gash had wrecked her stomach and Sakura saw the girl's intestines were spilling out. Sakura knew the medic-in-training would not live for two minutes longer and quickly prayed for the girl as she continued to the center of Konoha.

She drew in a sharp breath as she neared her final destination. There—she recognized Ichiraku's, the place where she and Naruto and, once, Sasuke, had had so many good times. It was little more the a burning wreck now and, biting her lip, Sakura continued on. Her eyes were dry, and she felt an almost twisted sense of pleasure at that fact. She had sworn never to cry—never after that night by the bench when Sasuke had abandoned her.

But what she saw right after shocked her even more than anything else in her life.

"S-sasu… Sasuke-kun…?" she heard herself whisper dully.

The scene in front of her was supposed to be impossible—it was impossible, and she had no idea how he had managed to accomplish it.

Naruto lay, unconscious, with cuts littering his body. With just a glance, Sakura could already tell by his labored breathing and slightly bent right arm that he had at least two broken or fractured ribs and that his arm was broken. She also noticed the fox-like markings on his face and the ugly red chakra still pulsating around him, and concluded that he had called upon the Kyuubi.

Not too far from him was a woman on her knees that looked vaguely familiar, an old, exhausted woman, with blond hair and brown eyes, and Sakura recognized her as Tsunade—though this woman was clearly older than fifty, and Sakura had never seen her shishou looking a day over thirty. And what was even more shocking—Sasuke was holding his katana, Kusanagi, to Tsunade's throat, surrounded by three unfamiliar people. He looked worse for the wear, of course, but still relatively unhurt.

Sakura took no notice of that. For a second, he stopped being Sasuke-kun, her crush and her love and one of her most precious people. Now, he was the man who was to blame for Naruto's pain, the man who dared put a blade to the throat of her teacher. Unthinkingly, uncharacteristically of her, she gathered chakra to her fist, preparing to fight him, and determined not to be robbed of her chance as she had been that one time long ago. She let Inner Sakura take over.

"Sasuke!" she cried out, full-throated, full of fury, and rushed as quickly as she could at him. She saw Naruto stir desperately, saw Tsunade's eyes widen as the Hokage tried desperately to warn Sakura to run, as far as she could, that this was not the same Sasuke she had fallen in love with. At that point, however, Sakura was beyond caring; she wanted revenge, and by Kami, she would get it.

He stared impassively at her, his Sharingan activated, but did not bother to remove his katana, and it infuriated her even more that he considered her so little a threat. She wanted to make him hurt, make him agonize and scream for all those eight years of pain and crushed hopes and abandonment. But even in her infuriated state, Sakura knew she was no match for the sole remaining Uchiha. At the last moment she directed her chakra to her feet, and stomping decisively on the ground, didn't wait for it to crack and crater as she knew it would. Instead, rushing as quickly as she could, she made a split second decision and slung Naruto over her shoulder. With Sasuke's inhuman she knew there was no way to get both Tsunade and Naruto out of Sasuke's reach in one go.

She was perversely satisfied and not at all disappointed when she saw Sasuke appear in front of her, seemingly out of thin air. Her sharp mind concluded he had seen fit to trust her weakened Hokage with his new teammates and now had decided to pursue her.

Quickly, she swerved to the right, and when he appeared in front of her once again, she aimed a chakra-enhanced kick at him. If he dodged, then she would follow up with a punching and kicking combo Lee had taught her; if he attempted to block her kick he would receive an unpleasant surprise: a shattered arm. His eyes narrowed suspiciously at her kick and he dodged, so she followed with a punch that would have broken his neck had it reached him. He disappeared again and Sakura took a precious moment to curse his superior speed before quickly releasing the transportation jutsu she had been planning while fighting him.

She came to somewhere on the border of Konoha; she was not sure where. Her first order of business was to hide Naruto's unconscious body somewhere safe until she could return to him and heal him, but her normally sharp mind blanked out. Sasuke was a genius, and she would need some sort of birlliant epiphany and for him to be unthinkably careless before she could even think about fooling him.

By then she was frantically running on chakra-propelled legs, attempting to put as much distance between herself and where she assumed Sasuke to be as possible. Naruto had taught her his Kage Bunshin no Jutsu, and though Sakura could produce a passable shadow clone, it drained near half her chakra and in any other circumstance would be an absolutely ridiculous idea.

But not in this circumstance. Bracing herself, Sakura put Naruto down and began the hand signs that would complete her jutsu, pouring her mind and chakra into it. Next to Naruto's unconscious body, another poofed into existence and Sakura nearly lost consciousness herself at the strain. Gritting her teeth, however, she ignored the faintly nauseous feeling and gray lightheadedness that were telltale signs of chakra exhaustion and slung the fake Naruto over her shoulder. Nearly crying with frustration and exhaustion, she forced herself through the hand signs of yet another genjutsu and disguised Naruto as a particularly unruly clump of bushes. She knew it wouldn't stand a chance against Sasuke's advanced Sharingan, but didn't plan to be around long enough to let Sasuke find out about it. Sakura just hoped that an overzealous rogue nin wouldn't try to set fire to the bushes or something equally boneheaded, but there wasn't enough time to think about that.

So. Now she had a decoy that was hopefully skilled enough to fool Sasuke, at least enough into chasing her. Allowing herself a moment, Sakura took a deep breath to calm her exhaustion, wiped her forehead of the sweat that had accumulated there, and thought back on the irony that for once, she was attempting to run away from him rather than follow him.

Bracing herself once again, Sakura forced herself through another transportation jutsu and found herself near the long abandoned Uchiha compound and, for a split second, once more considered the irony. Though it was derelict due to long years of desertion, it was the only part of Konoha that had been relatively untouched by the rogue nin currently invading Konoha.

What do you think you're doing here?

Sakura growled. Her alter ego, Inner Sakura, rarely showed up these days to the point where Sakura almost forgot she was even there.

Simple. It isn't likely there'll be any nin here, so I won't be forced to fight any. You know I can't in this condition. And I'm familiar with the area anyways.

It was true. On days when she felt particularly nostalgic, she had taken to walking through the maze that was the Uchiha compound. Only the long dead and gone Uchihas were more familiar with the compound than she was these days.

She shifted so that the Naruto clone was straddling her back rather than slung over her shoulder and concentrated what little chakra she had remaining to her legs. She wasn't nearly stupid enough to think that she would be able to escape Sasuke, and quite frankly was surprised she had been able to evade him for so long.

He appeared in front of her and aimed a kick that was so inhumanly fast that she barely dodged. It glanced off the side of her stomach, near where Sasori had impaled her, and she went flying towards the wall. Jackknifing frantically, she used her momentum and sprang off the wall.

"Sasuke-kun! Why are you doing this?" she called out desperately, if even just to buy more time.

His flinty obsidian eyes stared unflinchingly and impassively at her, but he didn't answer.

"P-please… Sasuke-kun…! Stop it! I—I don't know what happened, but—!" She quickly dodged his series of blows, but they still grazed her and left several bruises.

"Sakura… don't be annoying."

For the first time Sakura felt tears prick her eyes. It was ridiculous how one word could undo all of her years of work, those years she sweated and hurt to improve and to do something other than watch the backs of her teammates.

"I—am—not—annoying!"she exploded suddenly. Using the last remnant of her chakra and a good deal of her monstrous strength, she punched the wall behind her and attempted to escape in the rubble.

Sasuke appeared directly in front of her. "Did you think I'd be fooled by the same trick twice, Sa-ku-ra?"

Sakura, staring innocently at him, asked guilelessly, "What trick?"

And then she disappeared.

It took Sasuke a moment to put together what had happened—yet another transportation jutsu. Honestly, it was ridiculous how often she was using that simple jutsu… and how often it was effective. He followed where he felt her chakra ruthlessly. Cornering her at a dead end, he noticed that Naruto was gone.

"Where did you put Naruto?" he demanded in a monotone voice.

"Like I'd tell you!" retorted Sakura defiantly.

He had to admit that he was impressed in an annoyed sort of way. He could feel no traces of Naruto nearby. "Tch. How annoying," he said instead—and activated his Mangekyou Sharingan.

Sakura, who had been staring insolently at him, gasped, and the next thing she knew she was trapped in a sea of red and surrounded by a black sky, tied to a cross, and in front of her Sasuke stared at her impassively holding Kusanagi.

There was a feeling in her gut that told her something very, very bad was going to happen.

"Wh—what—?"

"This is Mangekyou Sharingan," he informed her tonelessly. "I will ask one last time—where did you put Naruto?"

"No—why do you want him so badly anyways?" retorted Sakura desperately. "I thought you'd severed your bonds with us eight years ago!"

Quicker than she could blink, he had Kusanagi pressed against her throat and drew a thin line of blood. "Don't test me, Sakura."

"Sasuke-kun—please—," she broke off as he stabbed his katana into her stomach and her world exploded into white hot shards of pain. When she came to, her throat was sore from her screaming and Sasuke stared impassively at her still.

Is it some sort of unwritten agreement in the Akatsuki to stab you in the exact same place in your stomach each time?Inner Sakura tried joking weakly.

Sasuke-kun… You… no, you aren't Sasuke-kun any longer. Revenge changed you, made you into a monster.

Sakura. We won't be able to survive this much longer without going insane.

But what will we do? It's impossible to escape Mangekyou Sharingan.

But we're crazy! And crazy people can do anything!

Sakura laughed weakly, coughing up blood, and decided that Sasuke probably thought she was a masochist by now.

What? What changed Sasuke so much that he's willing to kill the people he considered his precious people so long ago?

Orochimaru.

No. Not just Orochimaru. Something else must have happened. Orochimaru could never have convinced him to actually invade Konoha and kill us.

Itachi.

Yes—Itachi could have convinced him.

But how will we escape?

I… I don't know.

"Where is Naruto?" repeated Sasuke, seemingly unaffected by the sight of his old teammate in front of him, bleeding and broken.

"He—no!" Horrified, Sakura had felt herself disclosing Naruto's location and bit herself to keep from letting the words that were trying so hard to escape free.

The tomoe of Sasuke's Sharingan spinning, Sakura saw thousands of herself and Sasuke suddenly popping out of nowhere, and before she could make sense of what was happening he stabbed her once more in the stomach and twisted his blade.

The pain was infinitely more worse this time, and Sakura was quite sure she would die or go insane trying to cope with the agony. There was no time to scream, though, and no strength either; all Sakura do was let the pain pass hopelessly over her. It would be so easy to let go, so easy to just give up and give in, especially if it stopped this terrible pain…

NO! We will not give up! Quick—Sakura—do you want to fix this all? Do you want to set everything right again?

What…? Sakura's mind was in a daze from all the pain, and her inner self's words were little more than disconnected sounds.

Answer me!

Yes… yes, I would like to set everything right…

Good.

But—what are you doing? What will you do?

Just stay quiet and hold on for the ride! SHANNARO!

There was a flash of white light and then utter blackness—and then Sakura's world disappeared.


edited 9.15.08