Sakura knows a handful of things for sure.
One: Yamanaka Ino is currently an S-ranked missing with flee-on-sight warnings in two elemental nations, and an engage-and-capture notice for Konoha shinobi.
Two: Yamanaka Ino left Konohagakure at age twelve, after the Konoha Crush due to several "delusions" (according to the official story, the kind that Sakura has always been suspicious of) and conspiracy theories, that the Konohagakure government had imprisoned her elder brother Yamanaka Fū in a splinter ANBU faction.
Three: Yamanaka Ino's father, Yamanaka Inoichi (and another avid believer of these so-called "conspiracy theories") had been convicted of attempting to stage a rescue option for his son, resulting in his death and the indiscriminate slaughter of over half of the Yamanaka clan. This slaughter caused Yamanaka Ino's psychologic break, which would have capped her at chuunin for the rest of her shinobi career.
Four: Yamanaka Ino had been approached by the Snake Sannin Orochimaru during the Chuunin Exams, offering to show her the truth of Konohagakure in exchange for her Yamanaka clan jutsu and her body as a vessel when his current one grew too frail with age.
Five: Yamanaka Ino has somehow managed to kill the Snake Sannin, Orochimaru.
Six: Yamanaka Ino has taken another known traitor (Yakushi Kabuto) as her partner, and has joined the (terrorist) organization, Akatsuki.
Seven: The Godaime is an idiot for sending Shikamaru and Chouji on this mission.
Sakura knows a good amount about Oto shinobi and the way they operate, the way they fight, so of course she's sent out to scope Orochimaru's base. The one that's apparently been firebombed. Or something.
She had been the one to lead the Ino Retrieval Mission, with Hinata, Naruto, Kiba, and Shikamaru for some idiotic reason. Shikamaru had all but demanded to be allowed to retrieve his teammate; Chouji was laid up in the hospital with injuries sustained in the Konoha Crush, otherwise, he probably would have gone as well.
Sakura had led that mission, and it had nearly snapped her in half. Naruto had been in critical condition after his fight with one of the Sound Four. He had absolutely depleted his massive Uzumaki chakra reserves, and Sakura was further ahead, fighting in tandem with Sabaku no Temari to pummel that red haired flute playing demon woman into the ground.
She didn't know that Naruto was close to death until she got to him, and by then, she was already weakened herself. She had stared at his broken body, carefully laid down by Kankurō. Sakura thought of Sasuke, further ahead, buying time with some fucker who could pull his own bones out of his body with the Kazekage's youngest son for back-up. Seeing Naruto like this would've snapped Sasuke's spine like a twig.
So Sakura grabs the two emergency Hiraishin kunai she knows Minato-oji keeps in Naruto's weapon's pouch. She buries one to the hilt in the earth beside her, then takes the second one, focuses harder than she's ever had to in her life, and she drags herself to the sprawling Uzumaki clan compound in the Uzushio quarter.
One of Naruto's cousins sees them first, hollers loud enough to wake the whole quarter, and then he is upon them, asking questions about his condition. Sakura waits only long enough to see Kushina running out of her beautiful house before she sags in relief, gives a brief report to her auntie, and whirls back to the Sand Siblings in the heart of Fire Country.
She sends Temari and Kankurō back to help with recovering the rest of the battered Konoha shinobi, and then Sakura presses forward. She wonders, enraged, whether or not it was worth it. Whether or not Yamanaka Ino was worth it.
She ends up arriving not too shortly after the battle has been won, obviously in Yamanaka's favor if Shikamaru's prone form is anything to go by. Their sensei Asuma gets there before Sakura does, and carefully lifts his student into his arms. Sakura stares at him, at the blood that stains the Meadow of the End, and wonders if he, too, thinks his sole kunoichi student was worth all of this.
Now, as Sakura breathes in and then out again in the cold underground air of Orochimaru's base, she wonders again. Shikamaru and Chouji had run far ahead of her; their temporary sensei Uzuki Yūgao had split them up to search the base, but they had all come back to one another in the breezy maze Orochimaru had crafted beneath the sunlit world.
Uzuki was a nice enough woman, whose solid swordsmanship pointed in only one direction, and that was ANBU. Asuma's paternity leave had kicked in right when Kurenai's maternity leave had ended. While he was off active duty for a year, Team Asuma couldn't afford to be. Uzuki was temporary, but there was something about her that Sakura didn't trust.
There's the sound of something being detonated, and it's a noise that Sakura is intimately familiar with. It's far enough ahead that it only sends a wall of sound at them. It doesn't deter Chouji or Shikamaru. It seems to make them run faster.
This base had been firebombed only a week ago, after news had come in of Yamanaka's defection from Orochimaru and her newly found alliance with Akatsuki. Team Asuma under Uzuki's lead (with Sakura's advice) was only supposed to glean what information they could from the base, and then report back to Konohagakure.
Much like many other things in Sakura's life, this has somehow managed to go horribly wrong.
The light at the end of the hallway gets brighter and brighter still as the two boys run towards it. Sakura hangs back, keeping pace with Uzuki in case there is an attack or a second explosion from behind.
When they bolt into the day, Sakura skids to a stop, only watching the way Shikamaru's breath heaves, and the way Chouji's armor catches the sunlight. Standing above them, with her new partner at her side, is Yamanaka Ino.
Shikamaru freezes, and so does Chouji. Ino's long blonde hair has grown in her absence, but is let down freely over her shoulders and down her back. It's an invitation, if anyone could get close enough to grab it. She's dressed in a purple bodysuit, one that closes in shiny purple buttons around her neck, and slopes down into her slim black pants.
At her shoulder is a sheathed nagitana, from whose shaft hangs two silver bells on a purple cord. Tied neatly about her hips, is the red clouded black cloak of Akatsuki.
The name rips itself out of Shikamaru, and Sakura can feel the hurt that comes off of it. The Yamanaka looks at him like he's nothing but a memory, and one faintly recalled at that. Yakushi stands at her side, pushing his glasses further up his nose.
Sakura purses her lips; Uzuki had a better chance of disarming Yamanaka if it came down to basic swordsmanship. Sakura could use the light bouncing off Chouji's armor to blind Yakushi for a handful of seconds before she could move in to gut him.
"Ino-chan," Chouji murmurs, breaking Sakura's reverie.
Ino's gaze flickers to him, then over the two kunoichi that have accompanied her old teammates. She smiles, lips pink and cruel.
"Shikamaru-kun, Chouji-kun," she coos. "Have you come to retrieve me?"
The Yamanaka were master manipulators, and Sakura can see the way Ino uses her power, her words, her appearance. She's already landed the first blow in this fight, and Sakura and Uzuki are the only two who haven't been sucker punched by it.
"Whether you like it or not," Shikamaru says, voice low and dangerous.
"Come with us," Chouji pleads, countering his teammate's barely suppressed rage. "If you come with us, Tsunade-sama can work something out. The Yondaime remembers you, he can put in a good word -,"
There is a flicker, and then Ino is standing in front of Chouji. Her hand is on his cheek; he's much taller than her, but Ino seems to loom over him.
"Do you really think," she asks, the bells on her nagitana chiming sweetly, "that I want that murderer to vouch for me?"
It makes Sakura flinch; Uzumaki Minato was a good man. He had killed during the war because he had to, because they all had to. He had no part in the Yamanaka Slaughter. That had been during the Sandaime's second reign, occurring in a small pocket of time when Minato had been comatose after fighting back the contingent of Kumo shinobi that had nearly kidnapped Hyūga Neji and Hyūga Hinata when they were children.
He had nothing to do with what happened to Ino's family.
Shikamaru turns, knuckles straining into fists. Sakura clocks it, wonders if this time, he'll fight his teammate like he did at the Meadow of the End. If this time, he'll win. Sakura looks to where Yakushi has stayed standing, eyes narrowed with humor in his gaze. He finds this funny.
"Chouji-kun," Ino purrs. "You were always so sweet."
Sakura doesn't miss the way Ino's hand moves for a second blade, a tantō resting at the dip of her lower back. Shikamaru doesn't either. Chouji looks like he's on the verge of tears.
"You were always so stupid, too."
She draws the blade with the kind of drama only a woman who knows she's faster, stronger, and more deadly than those who oppose her can wield. It's almost farcical how she does it, drawing her blade and her arm out and bringing it down towards Chouji's throat.
Uzuki stops the strike with her own weapon, hazel eyes hard as steel cuts against steel. Ino lifts an eyebrow, as if this is not the most interesting thing that's happened all day to her.
"Pawns," Ino murmurs. "All of you are his pawns. And you don't even know it."
She lets Uzuki disarm her, but Sakura watches Kabuto move to leap into the canyon created by their bombs. She forms the seals for Hikari: Summer Fireworks, tugging at the sunlight above her head to flicker and reflect on itself in Kabuto's glasses. It stops him, slows him down, and Sakura darts upward to meet him as he comes down into the valley to help his comrade.
She dispels the light she's thrown into Yakushi's glasses, and when she gets a good look at his startled pupils, she tugs on the sun and her chakra.
"Hikari: Pupil Detonation!"
She slams her hand onto his forehead, and floods the tenketsu on his face down to the ones that surround his eyes with light. He screeches, writhing against her, and throws out both of his own hands, covered with his chakra scalpels. She pushes herself back, but not before he manages to cause organ failure.
Sakura couldn't say which organ is now exactly failing, but from the way blood fills her mouth, it was probably one of the important ones. Which. Y'know. Typical.
"Goddamn, this is lame."
Ino turns from her halfhearted battle with Uzuki when she hears her comrade go down. She looks at Sakura with undisguised rage in her eyes. Her pretty mouth pulls back in a snarl. She pulls her nagitana off her back, expertly slamming the butt of its staff into Uzuki's forehead before she comes for Sakura.
She's stopped by a fist slamming into her cheek.
Ino takes the hit like a dancer. She recovers like it's nothing. From the way she shakes it off, it's clear the punch was pulled a little bit towards the end.
Shikamaru is heaving, fist still outstretched from where he hit his former teammate. Sakura's eyes narrow; it's that kind of half hearted bullshit that let Yamanaka leave the village in the first place.
"If you won't understand," Ino growls, cracking her neck. "I'll make you."
She forms the circular seal of her family jutsu, aiming for Shikamaru, and Sakura doesn't have to think before she throws another hail of shimmering fireworks into the air, distorting Yamanaka's vision. Sakura bolts, knocking Shikamaru out of Yamanaka's line of fire.
She sends both of them to the ground. Shikamaru grabs her, covers her with his body, and takes the brunt of their fall. Chouji's on them in a minute, coming in front of them to shield them from further attack. Sakura coughs blood onto Shikamaru's green chuunin vest, and the medic nin's face goes grave.
Chouji's voice grabs both of their attention, to where a clearly recovered Yakushi has grabbed Ino around the waist. She leans on him, enraged, but allowing the other missing win to lead her away.
"When you want to know the truth," Ino spits, "you come find me. But if you only come around again to take me back, I won't hesitate next time."
Then, as quickly as Sakura's team had found them, they are gone.
Sakura sits up and starts coughing harder, suddenly unable to breathe around the breath filling her lungs. Shikamaru breaks from his daze and hovers, pulling her down onto her back and cutting open her bright red Haruno qipao to assess the damage that Kabuto's chakra scalpels did.
Before she passes out, Sakura stares at the tidy furrow in Shikamaru's brow as he curses, green chakra coming to surround his hands as he fixes her insides and drags the blood from her lungs. He's on the verge of tears.
"Don't you die on me, too, Haruno," he grumbles. "I've put too much work into your damn eyes for you to throw it all away now."
Sakura laughs wetly.
"Man," she wheezes. "What a pain."