Summary: Six years have passed since the Chuunin Exam and everyone has of course grown up quite a bit. Sasuke overcame his fears and never left for Sound. He never received the cursed seal. Naruto left on his journey with Jiraiya so he could prepare for the Akatsuki. Sasuke left with Kakashi to refine his skills and prepare for the fight against his brother.
In the meantime, Sakura has been left alone with Tsunade to study and become a great medical nin like her shishou. Though she has not surpassed her in skill, Tsunade has taught her everything she knows. Currently, Sakura works along Shizune as a codirector in the hospital.
Kakashi and Jiraiya's paths have crossed and both Sasuke and Naruto have been working together to find information on Itachi and the Akatsuki. They are on their way back to Konoha to collect the team mate they left behind and finally achieve the peace of mind all three of them require to move on in life.
On their way home something... odd happens in Konoha. A large electric beacon of energy the color of black and blue sudden manifests itself in the Valley of End. Tsunade has sent Shikamaru and Temari to scout it out to determine what exactly it is. The question remains... what will this oddity mean for our three heroes? And what does it have to do with the changes of time?
Hartdegen: My question is why can't one change the past?
Vox: Because one cannot travel *into* the past.
The Time Machine (2002)
Her hand was clutching his, she cried, tears running down her face. He could feel the enemy coming. Sounds electrified the air. Smells killed his senses. Blood mixed with sweat, sweat mixed with tears. He'd learned a lot that day. And from the least likely source; at the most painful of sacrifices.
They were going to lose Obito.
He blinked a few times, growing accustomed to the eye. A gift... given to him, to an unworthy comrade by one of the greatest men he knew. They were just kids. He was only twelve and still trying to sort out his life in this mass of bloodshed and pointless destruction.
"Obito..." Rin whispered, his mind going hazy.
If he'd only thought this through, if he'd only been sooner; then half of his best friend's body wouldn't be crushed under some waste of a rock. He couldn't even see the other half of his face. He knew it was imply hidden in the shadows of the bolder. So much blood... how much of him was ruined beneath?
He felt them coming and he knew his time was limited. He jumped up into the opening of the cavern created by the Rock nin. He reached for Rin. "Rin!"
She didn't want to move, he could see that. and it finally took Obito telling her to go for her to take his hand. The last thing he remembered was fighting for his life with the Sharingan and flinging the kunai sensei gave him at the enemy...
Kakashi woke with a start, sweat trailing down his body. His one good eye not covered by the headband was wide with fright and pain. The night air pricked at his senses and realized he had only been dreaming.
He looked around the camp, taking in the three sleeping bodies and exhaled slowly from where he sat up. He placed a hand behind him and his fingers spread in the dirt next to his sleeping bag. His other hand went to the place where his Sharingan was covered by the headband. His other eyes went lazy with pain.
Memories... that's all they were. Ceaseless nightmares that had wrought his existence for years. He'd only been twelve. Obito and Rin thirteen. The Third Great War had many casualties; but, none were ever as greatly engraved in his mind as that one death.
His eye closed and he lay back down, covering his body in the warmth of the sleeping bag. The fire, or the remains of it, crackled in the background of his thoughts. If he'd only been stronger, smarter, wiser. If he'd only listened to Obito and formed a plan before the young Uchiha had run off carelessly into the night.
His life was wrought with regrets and what if's. Nothing would ever change that. You couldn't change the past. It was something he'd long ago accepted.
After the death of their team mate Rin had gone off to become an ANBU black ops. She was out of his reach and he could no longer claim to take care of her like Obito wished. Whether she wanted to get away from Kakashi, wanted to get away from her own maddening grief or simply couldn't handle the former love triangle she'd been blind to... he didn't know.
He knew she'd once loved him. And because of that she'd never really seen Obito. He'd never seen either of them until it was too late. A burden, he'd called them. Tools, he proclaimed they all were. And to him, at that time, Rin was just a purpose, a good tool to keep him patched up. How many times had he laid on the ground, beaten bloodied and cut up? And how many times had her soft hands put him back together?
Why had he never been thankful for that?
He'd through the conversation over many times in his head. What he would say to her if he ever chanced to see her in more than passing. The words came clearly to his mind when he thought of them. He'd apologize and tell her what a burden she never was, never had been. He'd thank her. And then, even though it would never make up for it, he'd apologize for not getting it right the first time.
However, everytime he passed her in the village, knowing her scent even behind the mask of a tiger, he just walk by. Everytime he tried to muster the courage on that single date in his life, on the death of a good friend, to ask her out for drinks to speak of him... remember him... he lost words and kept going the long path past her apartment.
She was always home on those nights. He knew because he always did the same thing each time. First, buy a bottle of sake. Second, try to convince himself to knock. Third, stand outside her door for an hour. Fourth, finally leap into a tree outside her window and into the shadows. Fifth... drink himself to oblivion as he watched her cry herself to sleep...
He was pitiful...
How could he possibly expect her to welcome him with open arms? After what he did? She had to blame him. Part of him wasn't afraid of just knocking, asking or even talking to her. What he was really afraid of is her eyes. He knew she would never say it to his face. But, seeing her without the mask... and looking at her pain filled eyes because of what he'd failed to do... it would crush him completely. It would be the final stepping stone in utterly blaming himself for what he could do, what he'd failed to do.
"I thought I told you to take better care of yourself. I expect this kind of behavior from the boys. But you, Tenten? Come now." She pulled the bandaging tight, causing the young woman sitting on the hospital bed in front of her to hold back a wince. Her top was off and she was left in her bra, pants and shinobi sandals.
The wound in her abdomen had been deep. However, with a little bit of chakra healing and some bandages with tape, she'd be good to go by tomorrow.
"I know, I know. Neji tells me all the time I push myself too hard." Her voice was a mutter as she looked to the side, her dark eyes idly wandering over some charts about the human eye.
Sakura chuckled. "He's just as bad as you though. Always so headstrong and just as willing to jump into a fight with everything he has left." She finished the bandaging by tying it off with some white medical tape.
"Tell me about it. How do they all have the energy to do it, Sakura?" Her face looked a mixture of amusement and irritation.
She shrugged. "Oh, I dunno," she stepped back as she said this and picked up the clipboard. She made a few notes about the woman's wound and treatment. "I think we've got just as much energy as they do. And we're just as good at hiding it. I'm sure they say the same things about us to each other."
Tenten laughed. "I guess that's one way of looking at it." She jumped off the mattress and grabbed her shirt. "I'm done, right?"
Sakura nodded as she set down the clipboard on the small desk in the room. "Yes, you may put your shirt back on." She reached for a large bottle of pills and a small empty one. The tiny white objects were placed in the smaller one. She handed the container to Tenten. "Here, these should alleviate the pain and help the healing process. I know it'll be gone by tomorrow evening with little scaring, but this will help move it along."
She took the bottle and nodded after her shirt was buttoned back up. "Alright. Any side affects I should be aware of, oh wise and powerful Sakura?"
The pink haired medical nin chuckled. "Ego boost noted. And yes, only minor ones. You'll be drowsy so I recommend taking a good bit of rest after you swallow the medication. No alcohol either until the day after tomorrow." She shook a finger at her.
Tenten laughed. "Yes, ma'am. I'll be sure to stay away from training."
Sakura half smiled. "I'm sure Neji won't mind keeping you company."
"Hm," she blushed only slightly, "if you only knew."
"Speaking of Neji, how's Hinata doing? I hear from Hiashi she's been very depressed lately." Her father worried about her quite a bit. Everytime he came for his monthly check up he spoke about Hinata. It become something of a custom with them in the last few years. The initial few times he'd spoken very little and it was always formal. But as time passed she'd easily become his 'therapist' as she would any other patient who saw her.
It was funny how they all did that. And they knew Sakura would never breathe a word of the details.
Tenten nodded, her expression a mixture of sadness and worry. "We all are."
"What's got her so upset?"
"You don't know?"
Sakura shook her head.
"I guess you wouldn't." She sighed. "Although I figured you'd be the same way after Sasuke left."
"The same?" What was she talking about.
"Yes. You are in love with him aren't you?" Tenten blinked. Then she shook her head. "Nevermind. About Hinata. She's not seen Naruto in six years now since he left with Jiraiya-sama. It's only natural she's worried considering her feelings."
"Oh..." Sakura finally understood. She supposed she would have sooner. But she was not Hinata's regular doctor. And with Hinata being so... distant, Sakura being so busy and time flying by as it always did she rarely saw her.
Tenten nodded. "She's got it bad. And who knows when they'll be back? Sasuke and Kakashi too. You's think six years would be long enough to do whatever it is they intend to do out there. Aren't you worried? They're your team mates."
Sakura shrugged. "I am. I love them both like brothers. I spent my whole young Genin career making sure they kept from killing one another."
"Brothers?" Tenten smirked. "Is that all Sasuke is to you now?"
Sakura gently shoved Tenten with a half smile. "You're such a tease. Yes, brothers. You try waiting six years for one man and see how long your heart holds onto him? Hm?"
Tenten arched a brow. "That's kinda..."
"No, I was going to say pessimistic." Her brow furrowed. "You said you'd always love Sasuke."
Sakura sighed. "Yeah, well, times change as the years fade on. I'll always love him because of what we are to each other. But I'm a young woman now. I'm eighteen Tenten. I've been on numerous dates with numerous men in the village. And I've discovered I'm not going to wait of Uchiha Sasuke anymore."
Tenten shrugged. "Not that I'm arguing with your sense of logic or feelings here.... but you can't really hold him responsible for being gone so long. You had things to do here with Tsunade and he had things to take care of with Kakashi."
"I know that..."
"So what changed, Sakura? How can you wake up one day and not love someone anymore? I love Neji and I always will."
Sakura sighed and sat down. She let her elbow lean onto the top of the desk as she used the hand attached to rub her forehead. "Hell if I know... I just don't love him that way anymore. I've grown up. It took time, but I realized I never really did." She sighed and sat back, dropping her hand as she looked up at the weapon's mistress. "I suppose I've just realized I don't want a boy in my life anymore. Sasuke is too wound up in his own ideals to see me for me. He doesn't hate me nor I him. But we have an understanding. And no offense... but he has enough fan girls waiting on him without his team mate adding to the number. No thank you. I'm happy enough just being his friend. I'm sure the feeling is mutual for him.
"You'll see. He'll come back and when he does someone, somewhere out there will be good for him. But it won't be me."
"If you say so." Tenten shrugged. "I'm going to head out and take these pills. I need a nap anyway." She headed for the door.
"Say hello to Neji for me. And remind him he still needs to check in from that mission. Tsunade wants that report."
"Righto, boss." She gave a mock salute before shutting the door.
After the door shut Sakura relaxed back into her seat and stared up at the window across the room. Outside birds were avid in flight, dancing in the air with a flirty manner. It was spring in Konoha. After such a long a dreadful winter the season change was a welcome one. Dew from the lingering snow hung on the tips of leaves and there was still a cool air wavering about outside. For the next couple of weeks people would be opening out their houses to allow the stuffiness of winter breeze out. She'd be doing the same thing on her day off tomorrow. And this time she was taking it. No one was calling her on duty unless a war broke out or Tsunade called her with an ANBU herself. That was all there was to it.
Her fingers touched her lips as she continued to watch the birds.
Six years... six happy yet devoid years they'd been gone. In that time she'd risen above the rest and made Jounin. He master was proud and her family, though civilians, were prouder still. The party had been fun. She'd drunk herself silly with the many of rookie nine in the usual pub. The only two who hadn't drank were Neji and Lee. Neji because everyone secretly knew he'd pass out after the first shot and Lee... well, he was a bloody power house when drunk. He now only carried around alcohol to use in dire situations on missions.
And despite all the fun she had... there'd been one thing missing, three if she wanted to be precise... Her team. Kakashi, Naruto and Sasuke. Tenten was right. Six years? Did it really take that long to hone oneself outside the village? Had Sasuke already killed his brother? No, that couldn't be right. If that was true she would have already received word by hawk. He told her he would before he left. He'd taken the best flight bird with him to ensure she'd get the message as soon as possible.
And what of Naruto? How much had he improved since their last meeting? Had he finally surpassed Sasuke? Was he ready to take the role of Hokage from Tsunade? He was Eighteen too now after all. It was a decent age for any young man to take on the role. And Tsunade had more than once complained to her she was sick of waiting on the boy so she could retire with a good bottle of sake and Jiraiya by her side. Of course she'd been drunk when she revealed the slip about Jiraiya. But Sakura had always known there was something there between those two. And as the years passed the slip turned into a full blown confession.
All the threats and the punches to the old perv were done out of love. She felt sorry for her shishou. How could she pine after a man for six years with no contact?
Sakura sighed and stood up. She couldn't just sit here and reminisce about the good old days. Sooner or later they'd be back. They were too stubborn to die on her and too good hearted to never return. And anyway, her old sensei would never let anyone take him down. She didn't think a ninja existed that could take down the great copy nin Kakashi.
She blushed slightly as she recalled the time they tried to see his face. Ayame had gone into a fit of blushes herself when it had been revealed to her at the ramen booth. Was he really that good looking?
Feh, get a hold of yourself, Haruno, she scolded herself. He was fourteen years her senior. And adult woman or not she had no more reason to foolishly pine after him even only with lusty thoughts than she did Sasuke in a love forlorn manner.
He was almost as bad as Sasuke at times too. Even worse with his cryptic responses and half answers about life. Even after all this time she still had no idea why the man was so notoriously late to every damn thing. Sexy or not, she did not need to be thinking about him or her team mate in that fashion. There was too much she didn't understand about Kakashi. Too much baggage. Whatever he had in his past that left him alone and reading porn till he died was none of her concern.
She would care about him like she always did. As a friend and as a former student.