Right, this is part of the rewrite! You'll notice the beginning is most of the same thing as the previous version, but I changed the last half around... a lot. Here's what I wrote last time to explain this chapter, and I think the note still applies:
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.
Also, I know I said in the author's note in The Beginning Again that I wouldn't be changing the plot around... I've actually changed my mind. I have some new ideas for the Bell Test and other events that I feel would be more in-character and less Mary Sue-ish for Sakura. So this story may bear some superficial resemblance to The Beginning Again, but it's turning out to be much different. Like, the first half of this chapter is basically the same as it was before, but I've changed the second half a great deal and the story's only going to get more different from there. I'm keeping up TBA for now, until I reach the same point in this story, at which point I'm deleting the old story... unless of course everyone starts reviewing protesting that. But yeah, that's mostly my plans for this story and also TBA.
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. Eight years as a kunoichi of Konoha had taught her that not every innocent civilian could be saved. 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. Then they had systematically reduced and taken out the chunnin and gennin of Konoha, effectively rendering the bulk of Konoha's ninja useless. Now all that remained were the village's elite nin, the few jounin who could do little against the inhumanly skilled Akatsuki and the raw brute force the Akatsuki had recruited.
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 she couldn't understand what sort of ninja would launch such a ruthlessly crushing invasion of Konoha. What sort of ninja 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 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 hate it, after all. His only goal had been to kill Itachi.
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, mostly used as cannon fodder, 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. Even though such was the way of the ninja...
Hardly even slowing her stride, she brandished her katana and drove it through an oblivious rogue nin's eye with her inhuman strength. 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, sheathing her katana, not bothering to clean it, and hardly noticing the horrified look of the child that the rogue nin had been harassing.
She passed by one of her fellow ninja, Aiko, 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 spilling out. Sakura knew the medic-in-training was at such an advanced point that she would not live longer than two minutes of unbearable agony and considered praying for the girl as she continued to the center of Konoha—but decided Kami-sama must have long abandoned Konoha to allow such indiscriminate destruction to go on.
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 who 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. There was no Yamato-sensei to save her now, and 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 begin to stir desperately, called out of his slumber by an animalistic instinct that screamed WRONG!!! to him, and 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 once 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 he did not bother to remove his katana from Tsunade's neck and towards her, 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 realized she was no match for the sole remaining Uchiha. At the last moment she directed her chakra to her feet, and stomped decisively on the ground. It exploded as she knew it would, and in the distraction she rushed as quickly as she could towards Naruto and slung him over her shoulder. With Sasuke's unbelievable strength she knew there was no way to get both Tsunade and Naruto out of Sasuke's reach in one go.
"Karin, take care of Tsunade," he barked. Sakura was perversely satisfied and not at all disappointed when she saw Sasuke appear in front of her, seemingly out of thin air.
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 glowing leg and he dodged, so she followed with a punch and a kick that would have broken his neck had she reached him. But he disappeared again and Sakura cursed his superior speed before quickly activating 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 brilliant 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 as possible between herself and where she assumed Sasuke to be. Naruto had taught her his Kage Bunshin no Jutsu, and though Sakura could produce a passable shadow clone, the jutsu drained near half her chakra, resulted in only a physical copy with no sentience, 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, none of whom were skilled enough to see through the genjutsu, wouldn't try to set fire to the bushes or something equally boneheaded, but there wasn't enough time to worry 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 started at the voice. Her alter ego, Inner Sakura, rarely showed up these days to the point where Sakura almost forgot she was even there.
Simple, she answered back. 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 to her advantage 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 you don't have to—!" 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 had 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. As rubble flew all around her, she jerked out of the hallway and into the once-impressive Uchiha courtyard.
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. Spreading out his senses, he felt the sudden spike of soft-green chakra at the end of one of the Uchiha hallways. Beginning the signs for the transportation jutsu himself, he followed where he felt her chakra ruthlessly. Cornering her at the dead end, his eyes narrowed. She was standing there defiantly, her green eyes blazing, Naruto still on her back with no exit in sight. Her idiotically noble defiance made him angry for some reason, angry that she just wouldn't stand down so he wouldn't have to hurt her. But such thoughts were foolish. Hurting others was simply the way of the ninja.
"Give me Naruto," he demanded in a monotone voice.
"Like hell!" retorted Sakura defiantly. "Get away from me, you—you imposter!!"
He had to admit that he was impressed in an annoyed sort of way. But Naruto was so close and at the moment she was the last barrier to him, so he didn't dwell long on the feeling. "Tch. How annoying," he said instead—and unsheathed Kusanagi.
About time, Sakura thought to herself. Even if that meant her death. Even if that meant she'd lose. Because at least Sasuke finally deemed her enough of a threat to fight her, to truly battle her. Pathetic, really, her inferiority complex, her need for Sasuke's approval despite all he'd done.
Sakura quickly considered her options. Both her hands were tied. She could sling fake-Naruto over her shoulder, freeing one arm at least, but she simply didn't have the pure physical endurance for that. Her muscles were shaking with exhaustion. She could dispel fake-Naruto as well, but then Sasuke would lose his incentive to follow after her, and real-Naruto needed as much time as she could get to recover, to overcome his own exhaustion. And just placing fake-Naruto on the ground wouldn't work either; Sasuke would take his chance to grab Naruto, would realize he was fake immediately, and then all her efforts would have been for naught.
So that left fighting with only her legs, since her arms were busy holding up Naruto. The reach of her legs was shorter than the reach of Sasuke's arm with his katana combined, putting her at a disadvantage. Her own katana was still tucked into her belt, and she couldn't get it out—and even if she could, she couldn't use it, considering her arms were tied.
All rules of battle dictated that she should wait for her opponent to approach her, so that she could disarm him and then give a crippling blow while he was disoriented. Battles in general lasted only about three or four strikes in total, unless the two ninja fighting were so completely matched in strength that their abilities were equal—which rarely happened. And Sakura had no delusions about her strength compared to Sasuke's plain genius.
But if she waited for him to approach her, there was no guarantee she would dodge. In fact, there was a high chance that she would die, with her clear handicaps and slower reflexes and exhaustion. Throwing all that she had learned in the last twelve years as a ninja and at the Academy to the winds, she rushed recklessly at him. Perhaps she was simply making it easier for him to kill her, but she had no chakra left for another transportation jutsu and she saw no other option.
Sasuke rushed at her too, far faster than she. Sakura calculated his speed and his approximate position within the next three seconds, as Lee had taught her, and based on that, turned her back to him, pivoting on her left foot to bring her right leg up to hit Sasuke across the chest, hopefully knocking him down and breaking several ribs in the process. Her right leg glowed green as she directed the very last vestiges of her chakra to her feet—and suddenly she screamed as she felt something cold, something so freezing that it burned, pierce through fake-Naruto and then her back and out of her stomach. Her chakra diverted from her leg to her stomach, in a useless, reflexive attempt to heal the wound, but she simply didn't have enough to even induce clotting. Another scar to add to the one Sasori gave me, she thought abstractly, floating in the haze of pain.
Fake-Naruto, stabbed with Kusanagi as well, disappeared with a puff of smoke. Sakura looked down at her stomach with a sense of detached, clinical interest. She was impaled through on Kusanagi. Blood was dripping out of her wound, down her legs, staining her jounin-issue green vest and pants the rusty red of blood on cloth. She felt a burning pain where the katana stabbed through her, but a strange numbness in her legs, meaning Sasuke must have severed part of her spine, most likely somewhere in between the first lumbar and second lumbar vertebrae (1). Even in the astronomically unlikely event that she got to the hospital in time, she would never walk again, much less become a ninja. The only reason she was still standing was because Kusanagi was still through her.
There was a kind of irony in their position. Sakura, with her back to him, the first of her tears leaking out. Sasuke, standing behind her, close enough that she could feel his breath but not close enough that they touched. Except this time he wasn't leaving Konoha. Except this time instead of knocking her unconscious, he had stabbed her. Except this time she was dying.
"Annoying. You replaced him with a shadow clone. You didn't have enough chakra for that before."
Sakura opened her mouth, tried to talk, tried to tell him that no, I didn't, see how I've improved, Sasuke-kun? See how much stronger I've become. But blood came out instead, and she started choking on it, hating herself for the fact that she still depended so much on the approval of Sasuke. No, not Sasuke. The monster with Sasuke-kun's body was a more accurate description.
The sounds of her hacking filled the dead silence between them.
She whimpered anew as she felt Kusanagi sliding out of her stomach, out of her back, reopening the wound when she had almost become used to the katana's presence. The bleeding started again, spurting out. I didn't know I had so much blood in me. Or rather, she did know, but it had never seemed like so much until now, now when she saw it leeching out of her, being stolen and sucked up by the man who had done the same to her heart.
With nothing to hold her up, she swayed and fell forward, anticipating the impact of the hard floor, unable to do anything to stop her descent. So she would die with a broken nose as well as a severed spine. What an indignity. Was the bitter taste in her mouth the taste of blood or the taste of complete, utter failure? Or both? But suddenly Sasuke flashed in front of her, catching her by the shoulders and just under her chest, right above where Kusanagi had stabbed through her. He lay her on the ground almost gently, placing her so that she lay on her side instead of on her stomach. He kissed her and killed her with the same breath, she remembered reading once in a book (2). How strange that she should remember that now, and how appropriate.
Sakura watched with unfocused eyes as the red blood of her body stained her pink hair ruby. She was too tired to contemplate what Sasuke's sudden, inadequate kindness meant. Kiss and kill... There was already a horrific burning starting through her body, as her acids leaked out of her ruined stomach and into the rest of her body, dissolving tissues and organs. She knew from her medic training that she would be in terrible agony, as Aiko was, for the next fifteen minutes before succumbing to darkness and then death. Her spine had been severed so low that only her legs were numbed, not the rest of her body.
Sasuke crouched down beside her face, so that with her blurry vision she could make out his knees and a part of his white shirt. "It was a foolish try," he told her. "You died for nothing. I will find Naruto, and he will die as well. Annoying." He got up, and Sakura saw his feet walking off.
Sakura coughed again, spitting out blood, but summoned the last of her willpower to say, "I'm... not... dead... yet." The four words sent her into a fit of coughing again.
The sound of his footsteps paused, and then he answered, "You and Naruto were dead to me eight years ago." And then he left in a whirlwind of black raven feathers, leaving Sakura alone and dying in the Uchiha hallway, her blood staining the walls and the floor red. Like that fateful day when Sasuke had returned home to find Itachi over his dead parents...
When Sakura died, she welcomed the darkness.
When Sakura woke up, it was with a monstrous headache and a strange phantom-pain in her stomach.
Why am I still alive, she thought. Then, why can I feel my legs?
The soft bed she was in could never be mistaken for the admittedly lumpy hospital mattresses. She didn't smell the sharp tang of antibiotics in the air either. Perhaps she'd gone into a coma, and the medic-nin of the hospital had somehow devised some miraculous way to regrow her spine? That would mean Sasuke had failed, if she had been taken to the hospital and healed, didn't it? If Sasuke was in power, he would simply have let her die. She was unsure how she felt about that observation.
But if she had been in a coma for so long, her muscles should have greatly atrophied by now. She felt noticeably weaker, but it was as though she simply didn't have the muscle mass she was used to, not as though her muscles had actually degenerated.
Puzzled, she took the time to look around the room she was in to get her bearings. Her eyes fell on the frilly pink comforter... a frilly pink comforter that she had used eight years ago, a frilly pink comforter that she'd long discarded, disdaining it as too girly for a kunoichi...
...the ribbon from Ino on a much-too-familiar bedstand, a ribbon she'd lost two years ago on a mission, to her eternal regret...
...an adorable little pig-alarm clock that had finally broken down six years ago, after a long life of trusty servitude...
...a body-length mirror that she still had, but this one didn't have the crack in it from when an enemy nin had once broken into her house and thrown a kunai which she had dodged, and so which had lodged itself in the mirror...
...a bureau full of delicate little silver necklaces and earrings she had sold off seven years ago, after she realized the impracticality of such breakable jewelry for a kunoichi like her...
And when Sakura finally caught her reflection in the mirror, recognized why she constantly felt hair brushing her back, she fainted.
(1) The first lumbar and second lumbar vertebrae are located approximately in the middle area of where the spine starts curving inward... so if you split the spine into four equal parts, it'd be about the third part down. Kind of. Just search it up if you're really that curious.
(2) Very loosely paraphrased from a line in Ender's Shadow. And when I say loosely, I mean loosely. Well, you can't blame dead people for misquoting, can you? ;D
Anyways, tell me what you think! I've done a lot of editing, so I'd like to know if you people like the changes so far. :) I'm trying to make Sakura less of a Mary-Sue than she was in my previous story. And of course reviews do have the marked advantage of inducing me into updating faster... ;D AND. I've made a new resolution to reply to all the reviews I get!! So keep me busy guys, huh? ;D
If you review you MAY just happen to find a shirtless insert-hot-male-(or female if that's how you roll/if you're a guy)-person-here in your room... but only if you review...
Also, I'd like to know if you guys are intrigued by this story. Usually it's Naruto who travels back in time, or in some cases Sasuke, but I've only come across about four Sakura-travels-back-in-time stories... and of those, no offense to the others (which I won't name here), I only really liked two of them... and they both only had like two chapters and hadn't been updated in the last... idk, three to five years. But don't worry, I plan on continuing this story and I will end it eventually! That may be a long time from now, because I'm a slow writer and I'm trying the increase the length of my chapters, buuuuut I will end it. So you should keep me motivated -coughcough- -hinthint-! XD
Also, if anyone's wondering when this story is taking place... it was originally written wayyy before Sasuke actually invaded-ish Konoha in the manga, back when he was still together with his second team. I'm kind of vague about which chapters those are... but meh. Just ignore the more recent canon events, I guess.
As to how long Sakura's been transported back in time, it's about eight to nine years. I'm kind of vague on that too. xD