Title: Equal & Opposite
Chapter: 01 - Stop & Rewind
Summary: Kakashi dies on a mission. With Ino's help Sakura goes back in time to save him by insinuating herself onto the mission team. But for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction and changing the past doesn't mean that everything will work out perfectly. The more things change, the more they stay the same-and death is not an easy enemy to thwart.
Pairings: KakaSaku, InoSaku (But note that while the pairings are present but neither is the focus. This is primarily a mission-fic.)
Warnings: Character death
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, or any characters from it.
Notes: Written for the Kakasaku Community's Give Me Some Sugar chat on the DW branch. crunchysunrises's prompt was: "Four strikes of the clock". This is chapter 1 of ?
Sunlight filters through the springy green curtains of Sakura's bedroom to spill across a tangled bedspread (also pale green) and warm the room. Ino sits, legs pulled up and tucked under her chin on a narrow chair, with her hair loose and spilling down over one shoulder to hit the ground, and tilts her head up at the ceiling.
The ceiling, being plain off-white and inanimate besides, says nothing.
Sakura, drowsing only because of a sleep aid that Ino has talked her into taking, says nothing either.
It's just Ino and the sunlight and her eyes are cold as she realizes that, again, she's going to have to figure out what to do by herself. Shikamaru and Chouji can't help here. Naruto, who has been more of a help than she would have guessed, is sleeping in the living room, on Sakura's couch.
Besides, she's the only one with an answer that isn't 'grieve and support Sakura'. Ino glances over at Sakura, who even in a drugged sleep looks miserable, and wishes again that Hatake hadn't managed to get himself killed while out on a mission.
It's not that she cares about him.
If it was up to her, and he was lucky it wasn't, he'd have died a long time ago. As far as Ino is concerned, the fact that he's gone now just means that Sakura will finally be able to fully move on from the tattered and tangled threads of a team that failed that have been strangling her for years.
Ino is aware her opinion is an unpopular one. Though she doesn't understand why, she's well aware that Hatake held some level of popularity amongst the shinobi populace and that Sakura is hardly the only one grieving.
But Sakura is the only person whose grief she cares about. That makes a difference.
It doesn't change the fact that she's not, well, happy that he's gone but she's almost glad all the same.
If only Sakura were less devastated. Ino sighs quietly and stretches languidly, arms going up over her head, legs going out at precarious angles as she balances on the narrow chair with a kunoichi's deadly precision.
That's the crux of it. Sakura is devastated.
Ino can help.
The fact that she doesn't want to doesn't change that. It just makes her decision that much harder. The clock beeps the hour-three in the afternoon-and she knows she's got to make a decision soon.
There are some jutsu that have time limits.
The least she can do is give Sakura the option.
"Sakura," Ino says, softly so as not to rouse Naruto and leans over to shake Sakura awake.
Sakura wakes in a mess of sorrowful green eyes, a low moan that brings a lump to Ino's throat, and tangled hair. "Ino?"
"Shhh," Ino says, clamping one hand over Sakura's mouth. "Be quiet and come with me."
Grief-stricken and numb, Sakura listens to her. Ino doesn't fool herself into thinking that Sakura would listen to her without question under any other circumstances, but this is a special case.
She hates that she's going to help. If it was up to her… but it's not. One look at Sakura's face, pale and drawn and clouded, and Ino knows she has to help.
"It's okay," Ino says reassuringly. "We're going to make this better."
It's a promise.
Slowly, Sakura nods.
Sakura has loved Ino since they were both very little-still in the Academy with years and years of schooling to go before they were set free as kunoichi and told to soar. If it hadn't been for Ino, Sakura knows that she would never have managed to take off.
Because it's Ino who tells her it's going to be okay, that it's going to be made better, Sakura believes her.
Ino has always had a gift of saying outrageous things, things that would cut her like a knife because of how utterly and impossibly untrue they were, and make them sound plausible.
Even better, she's always had a way of making her words the truth.
Now that they're older, now that she and Ino have grown up, Sakura has other friends and other interests, ones that don't involve her first friend.
But Sakura still believes her, unquestioningly, when Ino promises something outrageous. There's no possible way that Ino could make Kakashi's death better (and his being is a seething injury that burns and bleeds equally) but Sakura still believes in Ino.
Once they're outside, the air cool and brisk, making the hair on her arms stand on end, Sakura gropes for words and finds they come to her. "Making it better," she says, her voice hoarse from crying and grief, "doesn't involve wiping my memories, does it?"
It's the only thing she can think of.
Ino's hand tightens around hers. "No," Ino says, a peculiar smile on her face. "Do you know how much trouble I'd get in for that? Unauthorized memory wipes on the scale that you'd need to forget him? I'd be raked over the coals by ANBU for sure and that's if I survived Dad's displeasure and Hokage-sama's."
"You'd do it though," Sakura accuses, "if you thought it would help."
Ino is silent for a long, breathless moment as they dart and weave through busy streets. Sakura follows Ino's grip on her hand and nothing else.
"Yes," Ino says, "I would. If I thought it was the only thing that would help."
"But there's another way?"
Ino doesn't say anything else after that and Sakura, reassured that she's not going to suddenly forget everything she's ever known about Kakashi-that he even existed-is trusting enough to let Ino just guide her to wherever they're going.
It takes them forty minutes of winding through the village before they're at a nondescript little apartment building. The paint is peeling, the windows are broken, the doors look like they don't fit right... and even through her grief-hazed numbness, Sakura feels the sheer power of the security jutsu warding the place. Part of her shrivels up and hides from the thought of even attempting to attack the building.
"Where are we?" she asks.
"It's my building," Ino shrugs. "It doesn't look like much but..."
"You own it?"
"Yeah, in a manner of speaking," Ino says, like that's totally normal and that Sakura hasn't been missing the part where Ino owns an apartment building. "It's mine."
"How do you manage this, your missions, and helping at your dad's shop?"
Ino smiles slightly. "I've always been good at time management, Sakura."
If she were less hazy, Sakura would point out that's not a proper answer at all. But she doesn't care that much. It's Ino's place, which means it's safe for her.
"Come on," Ino says, tugging her forward, "before we're discovered as having left your place."
"Are we going to be doing something illegal?" Sakura asks because she can't think of any other reason that Ino would be worried about pursuit.
Ino's smile is light and brief and not at all reassuring. "Illegal?" she says. "I suppose it might be, if people knew about it."
"This is experimental?"
"Most of life is," Ino retorts blithely. "Full of mistakes and new attempts and eventually getting it right. It'll be fine. Don't worry."
Sakura finds none of that reassuring and worries anyway. Ino is right, she knows and she believes, because Ino has never steered her wrong no matter how ridiculously extravagant the claim is, but right now she cannot see how Ino can possibly be right.
It's a little discomfiting, under the grief haze.
They enter the building, which is so swathed in security jutsu that Sakura feels like her breathing is being constricted just by standing in the hallway. She can't imagine that she'd have missed a building like this in the village during an ordinary day, which is another question to ask Ino.
Ino tugs her along, her grip warm and reassuring and strong. Everyone always forgets how strong Ino is, because she chooses to specialize in gathering intelligence rather than bashing heads in all the time. Sakura pities them because they're the sorts of people who will always, without fail, be caught off-guard by Ino.
"How is this your apartment building?" Sakura asks, her voice coming out peculiarly muffled. She knows, then, that each apartment is soundproofed. Whatever she says now, no one can hear unless they stand out in the hallway.
And, likewise, a war could be raged in this hallway (which is plain and pale and even the floors are a stark, cold white; it's unsettling) and no one inside the apartments would hear it.
Ino smiles at her, over her shoulder, her blue eyes nearly glowing and Sakura catches her breath because abruptly she understands. Golden light twines around Ino's hair, around her arms and legs and body, in tiny tendrils, hardly noticeable and yet present.
Ino looks strange and fey and immensely powerful.
Sakura knows where they are.
They're inside Ino's mind. The apartment building is Ino's, in a way that only a construct made of thoughts could be.
"What are we going to do here?" she asks, instead of asking when they'd arrived here and how had she managed it. Where were their bodies on the outside, in the real world?
Those questions should matter and they did, sort of, but more importantly Sakura wanted to know what Ino had in mind, quite literally. She trusts Ino too much to be worried overly about their bodies.
"When I was eleven," Ino says, "just before we graduated, I made a mistake with a jutsu that I was trying to create even though Dad said I wasn't advanced enough to make up my own jutsu."
Sakura nods. She can only imagine how the elder Yamanaka would have taken that. "A variation on a family jutsu?"
Ino wrinkles her nose. Light spangles down her back, harmless and glorious and mesmerizing. "Sort of," she says, "that's what I started with, that's not what I wound up with."
"But what you wound up with will help me?"
"Yeah," Ino says, "yeah, it should. You see, Dad never found out about my broken jutsu."
Sakura narrows her eyes. She knows Yamanaka Inoichi and there is no one more sensitive to mind jutsu than he is. "Why not?"
"Because the jutsu took me backwards," Ino says, "to a time before the jutsu. My experimentation never happened as far as he was concerned, even though I knew the jutsu. More importantly, I knew that it worked."
Sakura is horrified at the implications. Ino had been twelve, at most. Possibly only eleven. She can't say that's the same as being a civilian eleven or twelve, because it's not, but it's young enough that playing with timejust leaves her aghast.
"You told your dad after, right?" she says, but doubtfully. It's what Ino should have done.
But if Ino had done that, Ino would not have snuck them out of the apartment to enact a jutsu that would definitely be forbidden—except that it can't be forbidden if no one knows it exists.
Sakura has to admire Ino's cleverness.
"No," Ino says. "I thought about it but Dad would legally have to tell the Hokage and then it would be consigned to the scrolls of 'really fascinating jutsu no one is allowed to use'."
"Legally have to?" Sakura echoes. "You can't stick it behind the Clan Confidential?"
"No." Ino gestures them into a room that's rounded so that it appears to have no corners even though the floor is flat. Sakura is pretty sure that's an impossibility but then, they're in Ino's mind, so anything Ino can imagine goes. "Anything to do with warping time or dimensions has to go through the Council and the Hokage. It didn't used to be like that but, well, since the Uchiha…"
Sakura grimaces. "That includes all the powerful genjutsu too."
"Definitely. I don't envy Kurenai-san the amount of paperwork she's got to wade through in order to experiment with her craft."
"Warping perceptions is fine though, right?"
Ino nods, her ponytail sending glittery light through the room with the movement. "Yeah, that's fine. No one wants to deal with regulating every piddly twist of a basic genjutsu people come up with, you know?"
"That makes sense to me," Sakura says, shooting Ino a look as she realizes that the ground is only flat because there's a thin, see-through layer flooring laid out to make walking easy while not detracting from the illusion. "Of course, there's still the expectation that people who experiment will do so under proper supervision."
"Pah, supervision," Ino says dismissively. "I told you, I made this jutsu by accident. If I'd been trying for it, I'd have had supervision and you'd never get this chance."
"You could have killed yourself," Sakura says apprehensively. "How do you know this is safe? Have you done all the proper control tests?"
Ino sits down, cross-legged on the floor, pale golden light glowing around her. She looks like an angel and Sakura wonders if that's how Ino sees herself or if it's just a reflection of her power. "It's thoroughly tested."
Sakura takes a seat more gingerly. The see-through floor is slightly spongy and very soft. Good, she realizes, for falling down on. "I've got a few more questions."
Ino settles back, looking comfortable, and more than a little otherworldly, which Sakura supposes makes sense, since this isn't the real world. "Good," she says. "I'd be disappointed if you didn't." Ino tilts her head. "And if you didn't, I wouldn't be so sure about doing this at all. If you weren't thinking-this could get ugly fast."
Sakura grimaces again. She still hurts. It's like a giant ache where Kakashi used to be but being in here has dulled that pain. She can think. That has to be Ino's doing. "Okay," she says, choosing to ignore the words and focus on the feelings. Ino is doing this for her. That matters. "If you can do this, reverse time and bring back someone-why didn't you do it when Asuma-sensei died?"
There's other questions, more theoretically important questions, but that's, emotionally, the most important one.
"I didn't want to," Ino says, her eyes like chips of ice. "I could have. I thought about it a lot when Shikamaru and Chouji started talking about revenge."
"I didn't want to." Sakura watches as Ino lifts a strand of her hair and toys with it, studying the light that emanated from it. "That's ugly, isn't it?"
Sakura, wisely, says nothing.
"It's not that I didn't like him," Ino says. "But once he was dead, I had no inclination to bring him back. For a long time I wondered if there was something wrong with me that I didn't want to."
"What did you decide?"
"That I was fine." Ino's eyes are very blue, very clear. This is a truth she's come to terms with, Sakura realizes. "I don't love very many people, Sakura. I'd have to love someone to do that. Asuma-sensei didn't make the cut."
It's on the tip of her tongue to ask Ino who makes the cut, to know who Ino would destroy the integrity of the timeline for, but Sakura swallows those questions down.
The answers to that are private and likely painful and if she doesn't make the cut, as Ino refers to it, then Sakura doesn't want to know. If she'd had the jutsu, if it had been hers, if Ino died... Sakura would use it. She knows that.
If Ino wouldn't, for her, Sakura doesn't want to know.
But it bodes well that Ino is here and now telling her about it, just so she can save Kakashi.
Ino has never liked Kakashi. She's not doing this for Kakashi. Sakura knows she's doing this for her.
"Okay," Sakura says, nodding. Ino relaxes and, as she does so, Sakura realizes how tense Ino had been. "Couldyou have saved Asuma-sensei?"
It's a similar question but the meaning is different.
"Yes," Ino says, "and no. It's not that easy to just go back in time and have everything work out. There's time limits to how far I can go back—I tested it—and even if you go back, the only thing you change is you."
Sakura's eyes narrow. "That means, if I went back, Kakashi would be alive—but he'd still be sent on the mission that killed him."
"Then how…" Sakura frowns. "You think I should go on the mission with them?"
"I know you were given the option of doing so," Ino says calmly. "They wanted you on that mission."
Sakura pauses. That's true but Ino shouldn't know that—information like that is always classified. Either Ino went prying or… "They asked you as well?"
"Yeah," Ino says, letting her hair drop into her lap. "They wanted both of us—when you turned it down, I did. I don't mind working with you, Forehead, but given the option I wasn't going to go working anywhere with him sans you being a filter."
That, too, makes sense to her. Sakura has never quite understood Ino's extreme antipathy towards Kakashi but she accepts it, mostly in the interests of keeping the peace. Kakashi has never treated Ino badly that Sakura has seen but, too, over the years he's picked up that she doesn't like him.
Both of them were probably relieved to not have to work together.
But if including Ino and herself on the mission would change the team significantly… possibly significantly enough make a difference. "If we went," Sakura says, "who won't be going?"
Ino names them. Sakura doesn't recognize either of them. "Have you worked with them before?" she asks instead. She suspects that this mission is more Ino's line of work than hers. Medical ninja are sent more as backup or support but most missions, especially the deadly ones, tend to run without support. Ino is good at cheating death.
So was Kakashi, before death caught him.
"Yeah," Ino says. "They're good at what they do."
"We're better at it." Ino hesitates. "Neither of them had any formal medical training either."
That, Sakura knows better than anyone, makes a huge difference to every situation. Ino isn't as good a medic as Sakura is and both of them know it but she's good enough to make a difference in a pinch. Sakura's better.
"If I go back in time and join the mission, will you join it too?"
Sakura thinks that, if Ino had told her that this jutsu had been invented by design, she wouldn't have believed her. It's too unreal. Too convenient. But she can believe it having been made because of a mistake. When mistakes happen, anything that can go wrong will go wrong and that opens up all sorts of possibilities.
Ino looks amused. "It works," she says. "I swear it. Life ain't safe, however. We this mission might wind up killing either of us which makes it rather distinctly not-safe. We could stay here, in this time, both of us alive and him dead."
"Or we can risk fate and go and change it."
Bring him back.
Sakura's fingers clench, her nails digging into the palms of her hands. "How long do I have to decide before it's past your time limit to go back?"
Ino looks pensive. "A few hours," she says, "no more."
"What's the cost for this jutsu?" Sakura asks, her last question. "What do you have to pay?"
"That'll depend on how it falls out." Ino gets up, light sliding off her like a rain shower. "Either way, it'll be me who pays it, not you. I've done this before, Sakura. The prices aren't ever anything I'm not willing to pay. If I hadn't been willing to pay the price for this, I wouldn't have offered."
"You swear that too?" she asks.
Ino nods. "I'll be fine." Then she hesitates for a moment before adding, "Just remember, if we do this, I'm not going back with you—it'll just be you back in time. I'll be there, but it'll be the me of before this. I'll support you the best I can but I won't know the future with him dying and you going back. To me, that will be the reality. The one true timeline, if you will."
Sakura understands the warning. She'll be all alone with her knowledge. She licks her lips. "Can you make it so that I can't talk to anyone about the time travel?"
Letting Ino mess about in her mind makes her uncomfortable. But not nearly as uncomfortable as it would be for all of them if someone found out from a careless slip of her tongue or from Ino's family reading her mind.
"I'll be able to tell I've done something to you," Ino warns. "I might wind up prying."
"If you pry," Sakura says, "you'll find out that this was all your idea. I think I'm okay with that. Will you need an excuse to come up with to tell other people?"
Ino shrugs. "Maybe. It'll have to be past-me that comes up with that though. Just try to avoid my dad before you talk to me, would you? I've invested quite a lot of time in making sure he doesn't find out."
That makes Sakura laugh despite herself.
"Think about it," Ino advises, before she can agree to it. "Really think about the fact that, if we go on this mission, people are probably going to die. Those people could be us. Decide if that's worth it to you. A risk you're willing to take."
Sakura stands up. "I've got a few hours to make my mind up, right?"
"Is there another room that's good for me to think in?"
Ino brushes that off. "I'll go. Stay in this room," she says. "It's the safest for you, since you're non-Clan. I'll come see you when you've made a decision." With that, Ino sweeps out leaving Sakura to make a decision that becomes more impossible the longer she thinks.
Should she save Kakashi at the risk of losing someone else?
It takes her two hours to make up her mind, pacing back and forth in a room that's empty, oddly-shaped, and peculiarly comforting.
Sakura realizes she's made her mind up only when the door behind her opens.
Ino stands there.
"How long will it take to send me to the past?" Sakura asks. "And prevent me from being able to talk about it?"
"Most of the prep is done. You're absolutely certain?"
Sakura's laugh is sharp. She's scared. She's hopeful. She's both. "You know better than I do."
"It's what I specialize in."
Sakura hesitates a moment. "You're sure you can pay the price for this?"
Ino's eyes soften. "I am," she says. "I told you, I knew I was willing before I offered you the chance."
"Okay." She has to trust Ino. Sakura steels herself. "Do it, then."
The glow around Ino expands as she takes two steps over, just within touching range, and presses the fingers of her left hand to Sakura's forehead.
Her fingers are ice cold.
"Good luck, Sakura."
The world spins and spins and disappears. Sakura wraps her faith in Ino and her hope for saving Kakashi close around her and lets the fall take her.