The maniacal laughter still rung in the pinkette's ears as she replayed the scene over and over in her head, the memory still vivid.
Sakura knew that it was the moment everything was lost. It was the moment the world labeled Uchiha Sasuke as an international criminal and stared at him with cruel judging eyes but Sakura knew better.
She knew that it wasn't Sasuke's fault that he turned out this way. Behind those cold and inexorable eyes lay unimaginable pain and loneliness. Sasuke was just another tortured soul, a victim of the shinobi world. But nobody saw him that way.
They never would.
They never would understand how much Sasuke was suffering. He seemed cruel and bloodthirsty, but that was merely what he showed to the world to mask his pain. Sasuke had always been withdrawn and reclusive, never sharing his troubles and pain, always coping on his own. There was a time when Sakura had thought that that was what made him so cool, but now, she thought ruefully as tears cascaded down her cheeks, now; she understood that it was a defense mechanism. After the Uchiha massacre he had put up a thick stone wall around his heart to keep people out of his world because he didn't want to feel the pain of losing somebody he cared about again.
Sasuke's soul was permanently damaged. And the tragic reality was that there was nothing she could do about it. She smiled bitterly as she thought, how painfully ironic. She was a medic nin, for God's sake, it was her job to heal the wounded but yet again Sakura found herself to be absolutely powerless. It wasn't even about bringing Sasuke back to Konoha anymore. It has gone past that stage.
Bringing Sasuke back to Konoha was merely a selfish illusion that she cast upon herself as a former pathetic fan girl. No, she didn't care about that anymore. She just wanted, more than anything, for Sasuke's soul to heal, even if it meant he would never return to Konoha. But after seeing how empty and hollow his eyes were, all hope had abandoned her and not even Naruto's strong resolve could convince her otherwise.
Sheets of heavy rain began to pour down as though the sky was lamenting Sasuke's loss of humanity. The droplets of rain fell, licking at Sakura's body perpetually. The cold raw air bit at her bones and Sakura's lungs ached from breathing it in. Her vision was obscured with wet pink locks that clung desperately to her face and neck and the air came out in puffs of white smoke from her mouth but she paid no mind to it.
She deserved to suffer anyway.
Delicate fingers wove their way through the lengths of clammy grass in calm soothing movements as her mind drifted off. Sakura didn't know what to do anymore.
'How could I've been so blind and selfish? Why wasn't I there by his side, acting like the friend I should've been? Maybe if I was there for him, he wouldn't have left the village.'
"If only I could turn back time and change things. I would've been there for him if I had another chance."
"No…if only the Uchiha massacre didn't happen in the first place." Sakura mumbled to herself as she hugged her knees but she knew that she was dancing into another illusion if she really thought that things could be reversed.
She wished she was as strong as Naruto and sometimes she wished she had the 'mysterious power' to change people that she heard Kakashi mention. But, she thought sadly, even Naruto's 'mysterious power' isn't enough for Sasuke.
The young Uchiha was broken beyond repair.
Thin streams of tears ran down her face, mixing with the rainwater, as Sakura sobbed quietly. Nobody would see her pathetic state in this heavy rain, in the middle of an abandoned Konoha training ground, so she could let all her sorrows out by crying like a baby.
"You seem to be quite down, dear. Do you want to talk about it?"
Startled, Sakura seized her kunai and threw it in the direction of the amorous voice. An enemy? How could she have not sensed her? Ah. She was so engrossed in her self-pity that she let her guard down; how pathetic.
"My, my, aren't we quite violent? But I expected nothing less from such a highly revered kunoichi."
Sakura spun round to face the enemy, muscled tense, ready to take strike if necessary but was flabbergasted when a brown-haired stunning woman that smiled kindly at her came into view.
"Wh-who are you?" Sakura asked, stupefied. The compliment and the amiable aura radiated from this woman clearly took the pink-haired medic by surprise.
The woman cracked her eyes open and Sakura's viridian orbs met warm honey ones that seemed vaguely familiar. In fact Sakura had a feeling she had seen this woman somewhere before.
"May I sit down?" The woman asked politely.
Sakura nodded dumbly. The woman drifted ethereally towards Sakura and plopped down next to her. Something seemed slightly…off about this woman. She didn't seem suspicious, not that Sakura was letting her guard down, but there was something that made her seem…different. Maybe it had to do with the fact that the kunai had passed right through her or that she seemed to be almost glowing.
Or possibly the fact that she seemed almost transparent; droplets of rain splattered through her and if she was aware of this oddity she didn't appear to show it. She seemed almost like a…
"A ghost?" The woman offered.
Sakura's stomach dropped. Had she just read her mind? And what the hell was the woman spouting? Ghosts didn't exist; it was a mere speculation on Sakura's part and one that she deemed absurd.
The woman chortled, her laugh music to the ears.
"No, but I did read your facial expressions which told me everything ,after all, reading body language is crucial for a shinobi such as myself."
This made Sakura's muscles tense with caution and viridian eyes narrow with suspicion. The pink-haired kunoichi unconsciously fingered her kunai; a quirk she had when she was nervous.
It was a genjutsu, she was certain. No wonder the woman appeared preternatural.
"Don't worry I am not going to hurt you."
Sakura's distrust was noticed.
"Who are you?" Sakura asked her voice even.
The woman smiled wanly but a melancholy emotion dawned over her amber orbs – she had a faraway look about her. It was the kind of expression that people wore when they indulged in a particularly nostalgic reminiscence, one that was full of regret. Sakura knew the feeling of remorse all too well and somehow she started to feel culpable for causing this woman to recall such an unpleasant memory.
But that did not mean Sakura had to let her guard down.
"Who are you?" She repeated.
The woman glanced at her, as though contemplating whether to answer the question or not, then turned back to stare at the weeping sky.
"I am Sasori's mother."
Sakura blinked. Her heart skipped a beat.
"I am sorry I think I misheard you-"
"No, I believe you didn't. I am Sasori's mother." The woman who claimed to have given birth to that homicidal puppeteer repeated.
Sakura froze. Eyes widened in bewilderment.
"B—b-but…I heard from Chiyo-baa-sama that Sasori's parents-"
"Died. Yes I know." It appeared as though the kunoichi seemed to be quite keen on finishing off Sakura's sentences for her.
"Then…was she lying?" Sakura whispered.
"No she wasn't." The woman replied, making eye contact with the pink-haired medic to will her to understand.
She watched the frown melt into a look of utter horror and confusion on the young medic's face. Sakura backed away slightly and the brown-haired kunoichi noticed that the pinkette began to tremble but she doubted it was due to the cold.
Sakura's throat went parched and she felt as though her stomach dropped a few inches.
"B-but h-how is th-that possible? You're a ghost? W-wait, i-if you are th-then h-how is it that I can see you? H-how is this possible? Am I d-dead myself?" Sakura stammered. Her tenor was laced with fear and uncertainty.
The woman reached out her hand to try to soothe the hysterical girl but it caused Sakura to recoil in fear. She's a wild-eyed thing scrambling away from the woman like she was the devil. The woman's eyelids came down in a melancholy motion and her hand dropped by her side.
"Rest assured kunoichi, you're still alive but unfortunately I am not. I have no intention of hurting you." She said sadly.
"Th-then how can I see you?" Sakura asked, petrified. She tried to sound demanding but apparently she did a poor job at hiding her fear.
The woman sighed.
"Life is a strange thing you see, not everything has an explanation to offer and sometimes things just happen. I am not too sure myself but perhaps it has something to do with the fact that we share something in common," the brown-haired woman took a deep breath, "the feeling of regret."
Thick silence enveloped both women like a blanket as they indulged themselves in remorseful memories, only the soft pitter patter of the rain, which had subsided to a drizzle, could be heard.
A flash of lightening streaked the dark sky, causing shadows to darken and kaleidoscope colors to glow. Beyond the Konoha training ground, children, terrified, ran to the safety of their homes, abandoning the wet playgrounds and murky streets.
But Sakura, drenched to the bone, was used to harsh weather conditions because being a shinobi meant having to endure many predicaments.
But dealing with dead people certainly wasn't on a shinobi's job description. Frankly, Sakura was overwhelmed. She had just freaking talked to a dead person and a mother of her former enemy, for Kami's sake.
Speaking of which, what did she want? How could Sakura see her? Why could she see her? Weren't dead people supposed to be burning in hell or rejoicing in heaven or reincarnating? Not interacting with the living about remorseful memories!
The mahogany-haired woman eyed the kunoichi, she was clearly aghast, if her bewildered expression and uncanny silence was anything to go by but who could really blame her?
After all it's not a common occurrence to have a phantom of a mother of a psychopath to casually approach and fraternize with you. It was bound to leave a sane person confound and stupefied.
Sakura swallowed the painful lump that gathered in her throat.
There was no use remaining petrified, she had to get some answers.
"B-but, assuming that you are…well what you say you are," Sakura whispered, "Wh-why aren't you going to heaven o-or hell or whatever. I-I mean I thought when people…die they go to an afterlife or something like that."
"That's the customary routine for the dead but as with everything, there are always exceptions, me being one such example," the woman shifted in her sitting spot to get a more comfortable position, then continued, "when a soul still lingers in the world of the living that means that he or she is bound by something or someone. It could be some unfinished business but in particular case, as I have already told you, its regret. I have too many regrets to move on."
Somehow Sakura knew what was coming next.
"…And I was hoping you could help me."
Help her? Sakura laughed humorlessly.
"How can I help you? I can barely help myself, let alone somebody else. Last time I tried 'helping' someone…" she trailed off, not wanting to talk about it, it was too painful.
"I know…it's the Uchiha boy right?"
Sakura whipped her head round to look at the woman.
"H-how did you-"
"Being a ghost has its perks, no one can see or hear you, so gathering Intel is effortless." She replied.
Sakura shook her head.
"Never mind that, the point is that I can't help you. Your regret obviously has something to do with Sasori but he's a criminal and he's dead! I can't do anything for him or for you. He was a psycho; he turned himself and dead people into puppets to use for battle without a second thought. He deserved to die."
The woman flinched visibly at the harsh reality and Sakura felt guilty for saying that, she really did, but it was the truth.
"I know that," Sakura was startled to hear how the woman's voice trembled, a staggering contrast to her usual strong tenor; "I know that my son, Sasori, was heartless and cruel and he probably deserved worse for what he did. I am not proud of him, I am ashamed of him and I am ashamed of being ashamed of him. But nevertheless he is still my son and it was all my fault that he turned out that way. If only, if only…"
Then she began to cry leaving Sakura guilty beyond measure and at loss for what to do.
"If only I hadn't died like the weak pathetic kunoichi I was. Sasori has been alone for a long time and…and I know that things would've turned out differently with him had he not been…so lonely and deprived of love. Please," the woman choked on her sobs, "please understand. You know that Naruto, your friend, if only Sasori had someone like Naruto with him, I know he would've been different. He didn't know anything else except the life he lived; he wasn't aware how wonderful friendship and relationships could be. He became so cold because…"
'It was his defense mechanism…' Sakura finished for her because Sasori's mother began to cry harder and couldn't bring herself to finish.
It then occurred to Sakura that she was just a mother looking out for her child that had lost his way. Belatedly Sakura wondered: how was she any different from the S-class criminals if she was seriously rejecting this grieving woman? And, she realized with horror, she was judging Sasori the same way that everyone else judged Sasuke.
That did not sit well with Sakura because she had always considered compassion to be one of her personality traits.
Though Sasori's tragic past hardly atoned for all crimes he committed and thinking back to their battle: the blood, the shredded puppets abandoned and strewn across the ground, the fear, the exhaustion, the unbearable pain, the adrenaline, and Sasori's cold, taunting voice; made Sakura shudder visibly.
She couldn't help him. He was a criminal, she was a devoted Konoha kunoichi, and most importantly he was…
Something didn't quite add up with this request. Even if Sakura wanted to…ehrm agreed to help, he was dead and gone. It was obvious that the mother was asking for something unrealistic, perhaps her heartache had fueled her ignorance about this slightly important factor.
So Sakura's answer to her request was obvious.
"I am so sorry but I just can't."
This caused the woman's sobs to stop suddenly.
"…Can't?" She whispered, disbelieving.
"I-I am not like Naruto, I can't change people and anyway he…I just can't do it and he's dead. What am I supposed to do? Bring flowers to his grave and pray that he goes to heaven? I doubt that'll atone for his deeds and even if he was alive I refuse to-"
"Have you ever heard of time travelling before?"
Sakura froze. Time travelling? What was this woman spouting? She heard of time-space ninjustu before but never something as absurd as time travelling. Sure, it was often written in fiction novels she had read as a child but was she actually suggesting that it was possible?
"A-are you saying that you can do that?"
"You care about the Uchiha child right? If you could get one more chance to change his fate, would you do it?"
"Yes! I would do anything for him; I don't want him or Naruto to suffer anymore." Sakura answered immediately. Her heart sped up at the thought that maybe she could change his tragic fate.
"Yes? You would trade everything you have just for his happiness?"
"Even if changing the Uchiha boy's fate included helping a criminal like Sasori?"
Sakura blinked but nodded without hesitation.
The amber-eyed woman grinned.
"You know, I think that we can help each other. In answer to your previous question, yes, I am capable of taking someone back in time," this caused the young medic's eyes to widen considerably and utter a gasp, "but there is a price to pay."
Sakura was shocked. She could time-travel? She could reverse the Uchiha massacre? His suffering? His pain? His loneliness? All this could be reversed? She would pay any price for that.
"That's alright, I am willing to pay anything."
Sasori's mother eyed the kunoichi, her emerald orbs blazed with determination and the woman knew she had made the right choice in picking this kunoichi.
"In exchange for taking you back in time, you'll have to help Sasori and show him that there is more to life than just eternity or whatever that blasphemy was. Promise that no matter what you'll stay by his side and become his friend."
Sakura nodded. She was a prideful kunoichi and she would keep that promise. Naruto suffered both because of her and Sasuke, he sacrificed so much for them, and Sasuke was a complete wreck. She would do anything for them even if it meant she had to befriend a psychopath, that's the least she could do.
Besides, she thought positively, maybe Sasori will turn out to be a good person in the end. One less crazy Akatsuki member was a good thing.
Seeing her strong resolve the woman proceeded to speak.
"And…there is another thing," Sakura looked at her attentively, "once I take you back in time, there is no going back to this time ever again. That means…you won't have your parents or anybody else, are you willing to sacrifice that?"
The thought made her blood run cold but that was still not enough to deter her resolve. She would never be able to see her parents ever again. But she refused to cry and she was willing to suffer that. Anything for Sasuke and Naruto. Perhaps she would come to better understand their pain.
Sakura nodded because she could not trust herself to speak lest her voice cracked.
The woman's heart ached for the girl but there was a price to pay for everything, as a shinobi she was supposed to know that. And she did.
"Alright, here's how things will work. When you will go back in time, you will be 7 years old but you will still have the same level of skill and combat as you do now. Be aware that you and Sasori are 20 years apart so I am tweaking things slightly.
"Sasori will be 8 and you will be the same age as Uchiha Itachi. Sasori will be taking his chunin exams then and since Chunin exams are always held in Konoha that will be the time that you will meet him, your golden opportunity. You will have 6 years to prevent the Uchiha massacre from happening, plenty of time I am quite sure."
Sakura's eyes lit up with joy.
"I am going to assume that you're going to take your Chunin exams at the same time as Sasori, you passed them once already, so that should not pose as a problem for you. Since I am tweaking things with the past quite a bit, it requires further payment – your blood."
Without hesitation, Sakura whipped out a kunai and slashed her finger; crimson liquid oozed out, dripping onto the outstretched slender fingers of the Suna kunoichi. Once a small puddle of warm blood gathered in the woman's hands she began executing the hand seals.
"Your blood signifies your agreement and it also means your soul now belongs to me as payment. So here goes. By the way, my name is Kamiko."
"Nice to meet you Kamiko-san." Sakura smiled. She decided to ignore the comment about her soul belonging to Kamiko because she had no idea what that meant.
Sakura felt cold hands, which glowed with immense blue chakra, rest on her head.
"This will hurt. And…Sakura? Don't fail."
Something about the way the woman's eyes flashed with warning and her serious tone unsettled Sakura. She felt that Kamiko hadn't told her something but it was already too late to say anything as the pink-haired medic suddenly felt immense pain settle in her head as though some external powerful force was squeezing her body with all its might.
And then everything happened at once.
She couldn't breathe. She felt bile rising in her throat. Nausea took over. Swallowing was painful; it felt like she was swallowing 1000 needles. Her body ached. The world began to spin. Suddenly all the colors began chip and crawl away from their substances, as though the colors were alive, into one concentrated kaleidoscope ball. The colors were like liquid paint.
Kamiko dissolved into nothingness. The large ball, that was a fusion of all bright splashes of color, soon began to shape into some kind of uncanny form; into a large streamlined dragon. The dragon roared, the loud sound ringing in Sakura's ears, and wrapped itself around Sakura's lithe from. Then it sunk its large fangs into her stomach.
Sakura lacked the strength to screech from the pain.
Even though her vision was blurry, when she looked down at herself, she could see that her form was shrinking. Long fingers and limbs diminished; emerald eyes increased in size; chubbiness settled into her cheeks; her chest flattened; she was looking more and more like her 7 year old self.
Then everything went black.
Oooookay…that was bad…This took me forever to type, what do you think? I kept editing and re-editing and re-editing and did I mention re-editing all this because by God I didn't particularly like this chapter. Especailly with the dragon thing, you're probably gonna think. WTF? And I'll be like IKR? That was totally random but hey I just needed to think of something neh? So please tell me what you think because review means love and I really need to know what you think by the way I'll hopefully be posting the next chapter for Solace.
Alright I know you want to kill me cuz of solace and I can't blame you but I have to tell you that I was swamped with school work, it got to a point where I didn't have time to sleep let alone continue to write. There were times when I had to stay up 30-40 hours at a time and then when weekends came I just slept for 18 hours per day. And it's not only school work I am on the football team and I have a job, due to financial difficulties, so please understand that tackling all that was very difficult and because I have a job I came late home and had to start doing homework and studying at like 1 am. But you may be enlightened, or not, to know that I have 2000 words typed up for solace.
So thank you.