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before you

Chapter Text

Sakura never thought she would see the day that seeing another human face would cause her more dread than hope. 

They have been running for years, leaping in and out of pocket dimensions,  running, peeling across the world on bleeding feet. They separated then reunited then separated again, never able to stop for longer than a breath to regroup and then disperse. 

They are sparse with chakra when they can be, they nearly blow out their reserves in the fight against Kaguya and her one million white and black minions. There is no time, no chance to fight any way other than completely. They have to fight to kill, but they have to conserve energy and use it as sparingly as physically possible. Sakura's chakra control quietly slips into being so precise she can skin a Zetsu with barely a flicker of chakra coating her fingertips. 

Kakashi had fallen first, out of all of them. She tries not to remember the atrocities that she's become used to. There had been no time to mourn him, no time to weep. They loot his body for his weapons. Obito is the only one who weeps. Sasuke destroyed Kakashi's body with his hideous black flames, and they moved on. 

The Zetsus got to Karin. Carried her off to Kaguya, who sucked the chakra from her throat until the girl was a husk. Lee was after that. Then Hinata. Temari. The Mizukage, Terumi Mei. Sakura wanted to stop counting, she wanted to stop thinking of how many lost to death. But she could not forget. If they survived this, someone needed to remember the names of the dead. She mumbles them to herself in between snatches of sleep and waking, pressing herself to remember surnames and villages. 

There are no other survivors. No villages, no families to inform of their losses. Still, Sakura remembers. 

Ino fell with a thousand White Zetsu minds under her control. She severed her own brain stem to take all of them to death with her. Sakura held her body like a broken doll in her arms, weeping. Naruto had to drag her away from her as she insisted on mouth to mouth, on trying to heal the precise, permanent wound while Sasuke destroyed the body. Sakura nearly killed him for that, nearly wasted her chakra tearing her fist through Sasuke's stomach. It took Naruto and Kankuro, tearing her off of him and dragging her halfway across the remains of Kiri for her to calm down.

She didn’t make it a habit to look at him very much after that. She was enraged in a petulant, childish way. But there is no time for her to be angry. Not when Sasuke pierces the white body of a dangerous creature before it has the chance to drag her to her knees. Not when he uses those same black flames to destroy the things that wish her dead. Not when both of his arms are broken and he can’t wield a sword with his teeth.

She amputates Naruto’s right hand in the field when an All Killing Ash Bone pierces it, heals the damage with a wipe of her hand and covers him as he teaches himself how to fight with only his left in the middle of battle.

Tenten holds her forearm and kisses her the only way there is to kiss anymore; like saying goodbye. She runs into the fray to draw fire away from Sakura, the last healer among them, so she has enough time to keep them alive. She doesn’t see her again after that.

She was a brief moment of respite after Ino died. Ino had been Sakura’s battlefield wife, and she and Tenten had crumbled into each other after she lost Temari, too. It had been a measure of comfort; a warm mouth, dirt and blood under the nails, a bruise not from fighting but from desperate teeth and mouths and want.

They keep running.

She doesn’t see Chouji go down. She doesn’t see Tokuma either. There are too many dead and dying for Sakura to save.

She was with Obito when he went down. He dragged them into a pocket dimension, then into a pocket dimension within that one, then into the real world, moving them just too quickly to be tracked. 

"Take it," he said. "Take it so she can't find it."

She does the surgery herself. The Sharingan takes an immediate toll on her body, sucking up the little chakra she has. She shuts the eye, binds it with bandages. She gives Obito her green one. When Kaguya tears a hole in space and time and crawls into the dimension, her many Zetsu tumbling in after her, Sakura sets the whole damn thing ablaze with Amaterasu's black flames, and Kamui's herself away from the destruction. 

It is seeing Kaguya’s face on repeat, watching Obito stand and fight and fall down and die, on and on and on, that makes her think a wild thought.

When she tells Naruto, he tells her something similar. When they find Sasuke, after he is suitably shocked by her new left eye, he mutters something like what she and Naruto had mumbled to each other.

Wild thoughts, they run in Team Seven’s blood.

They go to Uzushio because it has been abandoned, and it’s one of the last places on earth that hasn’t been raided over again because there is no one there alive to steal chakra from.

They study for days, two of them often running off to fight to draw attention away from the one designing the massive sealing array.

They bicker between the three of them who should be sent back. Sasuke thinks it should be Naruto, because he’s got a heart as big as the world, and if anyone could change the past it’s him.

Naruto thinks it should be Sakura because she’s a battle medic, and if anyone could survive the jump back in time it’s probably her.

Sakura thinks it should be Sasuke, because he’s the only one who could stop the Uchiha on their side of the war. They’ll need another Sharingan to stop Madara, if he goes through with his machinations.

Sasuke points at her covered left eye and says with that logic, she’s the perfect one to go. She tells him she’s not sure how to use it, and that he’s the only one who could beat his anscestor’s ass; their chakra is the same anyway.

That stops them. The fact of the matter, is that they don’t know how the world will react to having two incarnations of the same chakra in the same timeline. The only reason the world didn’t rip itself apart when Hashirama, Naruto, Madara, and Sasuke all inhabited it, was because half of them were technically dead.

There was the off chance, that with Madara and Sasuke or Hashirama and Naruto both alive, any techniques they used on each other would be moot. Alternatively, they could tear the world apart.

Sakura was no one’s reincarnation. And she had Obito’s eye. It’s almost as if it’s by design.

There isn’t time to say goodbye. Sasuke returns one day with blood spilling from his eyes, and tells them that it’s now or never.

The seal takes up most of the island, and Sakura is at its center, pouring chakra into it. She unleashes the full power of her Byakugō. It’s not enough. Her new Sharingan constantly pulls on her chakra because she can’t deactivate it, and she marvels at her dead sensei’s reserves, at his strength, to live almost forty years with thirty of them in a constant, insistent sense of drain.

What a terrible irony, that their last chance at survival is what kills her and not the rabbit eared goddess approaching across the water.

Sasuke has gone to fight, and Naruto is caught between protection and aggression. She is ready to tell him to go, ready to tell him that he’ll survive without her even though she knows that Kurama’s healing factor won’t protect him forever and that Sasuke will fall victim to the degenerative effects of the Sharingan with his extended use if Sakura is not there to counteract the damage.

Sakura is ready to be left behind again.

She feels it when Naruto slams his only hand onto the ground and pours Kurama’s chakra into the array. It snakes up her tenketsu, inside of her, wriggling around, and finding a home in the white diamond on her forehead. Her body draws in his chakra like it's starving, and it is, and stores it, hides it away.

She hears Naruto scream, a blood curdling sound. A battle sound. Sakura looks up just in time to see Kaguya pierce him with something pale and hard and Sakura’s Sharingan opens behind her eyepatch made of bandages and if this is what the Mangekyou feels like, how did the Uchiha survive?

She doesn’t get a chance to find out. She opens the dimension because Obito’s eye knew how to do it, and Sakura is filled with chakra so sharp and corrosive it feels like it’s burning her from inside out, but the world is being torn away from her, ripped out of her hands, and the last thing she hears before the silence is the sound of Naruto dying.

“State your business.”

She is on her stomach on the sand, and her eye is on fire. Her tenketsu are on fire. Everything, everything burns.

Her left eye is weeping blood. She looks up with her right. There is a woman of her same age, maybe twenty, perhaps younger. Her hair is the color of a Tsukuyomi moon, and her eyes are dark.

She has her sword to Sakura’s throat.

“Your business, intruder.”

Sakura can hear the ocean. She can taste salt. She gets her hands beneath her, green eye darting back and forth.

She’s exactly where she was when the seal was activated. Only she’s many handfuls of years in the past. She’s in Uzushio, and there are arrows and blades aimed at her as she twitches on the ground.

Oh. She did it.

Naruto is dead. Sasuke is somewhere, maybe. There is a strange corrosive chakra making itself at home in her body behind her forehead and in her reserves.

The girl’s sword digs the barest bit into Sakura’s throat.

“Your name,” she snarls, “and your business.”

She can only think of Ino. Of flowers, when the world was still full of them. Red and yellow and white. Perishing with grace. Remembering. Waiting. Longing.

This girl’s hair is red as the camellia’s in the academy garden. Red as the flowers in the Yamanaka shop. Red as living, and losing love.

“Tsubaki,” Sakura rasps. “My name is Tsubaki. And I am a traveler.”

The girl sneers at her, and Sakura can feel the cut her blade begins to make.

“A traveler?”

“A very, very lost traveler.”