Sakura was in the markets when the city shook.
She dropped her bag of goods, dropped her groceries for the week, and ripped a pair of civilians away from a falling object. She hurled them over a food cart just as the item exploded, sending her flying back with the shock wave, her clothes smoking. Screams rose and Sakura tossed another civilian out of the way as he nearly trampled someone. She ripped away her smoking burnt top leaving her in a plain tank-top over breast bindings and the billowing pants tied sharply at her ankles and waist with bright red wraps. She tossed her sunglasses aside and pulled her goggles out knowing she would need eye protection in the sand and against explosives.
Sakura looked up as she felt chakra flare and watched as multiple bombs exploded across the sky and city sending dust and screams into the air. Each explosion was smaller than an explosive tag but it could be because whatever the things were, they were the size of her finger. The shinobi of Suna were quick at least, she’d give them that, as she saw them hurtle themselves into their job, evacuating civilians and heading for the valuable points of the city like the wells and the hospital and the academy.
Sakura took off as well, neatly dodging rubble and panicking people, flying across colorful brick as she honed in on the sound of battle. She rounded a corner and exploded through a puppet, demolishing the wood and sending shrapnel in every direction as she narrowed her eyes through her goggles.
There was a suna-nin down, a lance through his heart, there was a civilian pinned to a wall via a metal cord, there was a platoon of ANBU-like operatives with puppet style masks retreating with blood and sand clinging to them. And in the center was a tall, humped thing with dark eyes and a cloak of black and red clouds. Facing him was the Elder Chiyo, puppets framing her on either side and steel in her eyes.
Sakura wasted no more time; she demolished another puppet, splintered it beneath her gloves and leapt for the hunched figure. He tried to move, tried to dodge but Chiyo was a quick woman for her age and Sakura felt chakra strings attach to her and didn’t fight them. Sakura let her body go with the flow as Chiyo’s chakra strings hurled her in the new direction, her fist hit wood instead of flesh and Sakura fractured the hunched man.
What emerged was a young red headed man with a dull gleam to his skin and a smirk on his lips.
“Take point, Chiyo-sama,” Sakura said as she saw the ANBU-like platoon dragging themselves for cover in the building next to them.
If they were smart enough they would cover them with projectiles. Sakura focused on her breathing and on her fists. There was dialogue happening, but she barely heard it. The red head was Chiyo’s grandson or something, but Sakura only cared for the poison and weapons he spewed indiscriminately. Sakura was grateful for Chiyo’s assistance. Any time Sakura needed a hand there were chakra strings guiding her. Three times she was poisoned, but Sakura had been studying with Kankuro for weeks now and had distilled more than one antidote to most general poisons. What felt more dangerous was how she bled out, widening wounds to hemorrhage the tainted blood before stitching herself back together.
Sakura thought maybe she should feel more adrenaline, more worry than she was. But Sakura had spent almost a year behind enemy lines. It was good to have someone she could actually render to pieces, to finally attack.
The ANBU covered them, even with explosions rocking the city and their own man downed. The help of wind and metal projectiles kept the red head dancing inside the square they occupied. Chiyo was helping Sakura keep one step ahead of the game as the man pulled more and more puppets out. Sakura was fighting an army of dead people turned into weapons and her blood sang.
A kunai caught the edge of his cloak, ripped it away and Sakura realized why none of her hits were dealing damage. The boy was a puppet himself.
Sakura felt something like disgust fill her. Powerful men and their quest for immortality; there were too many stories and to many real-life ones like Orochimaru and it made something in Sakura snarl.
Sakura cleared a coiled spool of steel that went for her throat, Chiyo pulling her back to safety and thought about the fight.
“His heart,” Chiyo said, nodding to the tube in his chest, “It will be the only thing to bring him down.”
Sakura wiped blood off her cheek and spit some into the sand. She was not unscathed, but she was not experiencing any of the poisons she burned or cut away so far.
“Throw me in,” Sakura said grimly.
The nice colorful square was gone, instead there was rubble and death and Suna was not her home but Sakura was mad anyways.
“He’ll get you with something. And the poisons on him personally, well, they’ll all be more than deadly,” Chiyo said and it was not a disagreement but a warning.
Sakura had two general antidotes she’d made still in her pouch. One was for the most deadly poison Kankuro had created and which she should not have even seen, but she supposed Kankuro liked her. The Elders would throw a fit if they knew he’d let her make an antidote for his best poison but it might save her life right now.
In the sky an explosion of sand stretched, blocking the clouds. An explosion rang out and smoke and sand covered the sun for a minute.
“Do it,” Sakura ordered, “Your Kage needs us and we can’t waste any more time.”
Chiyo made some sharp gestures at the ANBU like platoon, or those still alive, and they all unleashed a torrent of wind at Sasori and his dead-kage puppet forcing them into the center of the square even as they did no real damage. Sakura started running, feet sure even as she leapt rubble and bodies and puppet splinters. The chakra strings on her limbs buzzed and when she was almost there they threw her forward with just that much more speed. Sakura launched into the red-head's defense, getting up and close in an instant.
The steel cable went through her gut. She grit her teeth around the pain and grabbed the cable with one hand, holding it steady so it didn’t tear out of her. With that grip she hauled Sasori even closer and briefly engaged in some hand to hand combat. He got in a few good hits and Sakura felt poison already slowing her down, but he couldn’t escape her hold still tangled up in her.
A puppet of Chiyo’s came down on her from above and his distraction lasted long enough for Sakura to shove her hand through the cavity on his chest.
Sakura had held many hearts for her studies, had held them in training, had even held them in surgery and massaged life back into them.
This time Sakura wrapped it in her fist and crushed it. The red head faltered, face almost comical in his surprise. He went to say something, but Sakura, with her fist still covered in his heart blood, punched his head so hard it splintered.
The puppets around them collapsed, strings cut and only Sakura was standing at the epicenter.
Chiyo caught her before she fell. Sakura gasped at the fresh wave of pain but tried to keep her hands steady as she applied the antidote. She widened as many cuts as she could and Chiyo helped draw as much poison as she could out before they closed the small wounds and cauterized a few others. Then they turned to the cord through her gut.
“If it pierced your intestines...,” Chiyo said softly trailing off.
“I redirected it,” Sakura said with gritted teeth, “It missed them at least. Get it out of me.”
And so they both slowly pulled it out, trying to heal the damage as they did so. The wound was a nasty thing, and in the middle of a battle-field Sakura didn’t have time to heal it nicely. They burned it shut.
Sakura was sweating and gasping by the end and even Chiyo was panting, spent. Sakura stumbled to her feet and winced at the pull of the burn and the new healing. If she pushed it, that would reopened despite their healing.
“Take her to the hospital. She’s suffering chakra exhaustion,” Sakura told the hovering ANBU, “The rest of you with me. We need to save the Kazekage.”
They obeyed with no hesitation and Sakura decided she’d worry about what that meant later as they leapt to the nearby roof. Sakura made an extra high leap trying to get a layout of the battle. There was explosion damage everywhere and squads of nin sweeping through the village to deal with more of the bombs. She saw very few civilians left on the street and remembered how quickly the streets had emptied for a sandstorm. Suna had practice battening down the hatches.
The Kazekage and the other invader were both fighting high above Suna on a cloud of sand and what looked like a white bird respectively. Explosions and archs of sand bloomed everywhere, and Sakura’s breath caught as she realized Gaara was on the defensive. He was trying to stop the bombs this blonde man was raining indiscreetly down on Suna.
His ninja weren’t just watching though and Sakura spotted a platoon all on the kazekage’s tower with bows, their arrows guided by wind jutsu they were using to harry the blonde. Someone had bird summons and a large eagle was trying to bring the white bird down despite smoking feathers. Two kunoichi with battle fans were sending blasts of wind blades when the fighting pair swooped low enough.
And there, high above was Temari on her fan riding a wind up with a weasel at her side. Kankuro was below her, puppets spread around him and repressing every bomb that got past Gaara often at his own puppets sacrifice.
“Can any of you get me up there?” Sakura asked flatly.
A platoon member pulled his own battle fan out and grabbed her. He took a large leap and one of the kunoichi throwing wind blades must have seen the plan because she turned to them and with a sweep of her fan sent them flying upwards. The platoon member held his fan out and Sakura held onto it even as they peaked in their flight. Midair he twisted with all his strength and threw her further upwards, a blast of wind chakra behind her.
Temari must have seen her coming because she harried the blond and distracted him. She got thrown back and down towards Kankuro but it was enough that when Sakura came down on him like an arrow, he looked completely caught off guard, spinning to her.
Sakura held her fist out and remembered how desperately Kakashi had worried about her. She remembered how desperately he had tried to train her enough to secure her own survival. She remembered how he had made her train and train and train. And she remembered how one day he had turned to her and told her there was a jutsu that could punch through the sand defense; a technique he’d already taught to someone else for that purpose and it had worked if still ended badly. Sakura remembered Sasuke and how he had seemed leagues above her and whom she realized later had just had a head start and that Haruno Sakura was not lesser.
The sound of a thousand chirping birds filled the air and Sakura rose like a hunter, lightening in her grasp.
She had been given this technique, taught it by a teacher with grim eyes and a fear of past mistakes but more afraid for her. Sakura had promised to use it correctly, had promised to never turn it one anyone but her enemies. He had given her the chidori because it could hurt a monster, could kill a demon. He had given it to protect herself from the evils of the world.
And now, with lightening sheathing her, Sakura used it for its first purpose; protection.
Below her Suna fought off this invasion with grim faces, every man and woman turning their blades and chakra on the enemy to save their home and their Kage. Suna was not her home, was not some place she even felt welcome. Suna was not a place she loved or should have put her all into defending.
But teal eyes watched her like she was the world, like she was beautiful . And even if their love was of fear and anger and desperation, Sakura didn’t really want it to end in blood. Gaara was staring at her now, desperate and furious and fearful as he panted, sand dripping like blood. She looked at two monsters, one who had tormented her, dragged her about at his whim, and one whom had done no wrong to her. She looked at Gaara, bowed and defeated, brought low like he had pulled her down.
Sakura had already made her choice before she’d lit her hand with lightening. The sound of a thousand chirping birds clouded her senses.
Sakura screamed with the birds, screamed her raw fury over the entire situation and knew she’d never scrub the sand from her soul, but maybe she could stop the abrasiveness with blood. One blue eye widened, as the battle hungry grin slipped away in raw terror as they both saw the path of her fist.
And then she was sheathing lightening in the man’s heart. Deidara of Iwa fell with shock on his face and a hole ripped through his mouth and heart.
“Gaara,” Sakura rasped, shoulder deep in a man’s chest, his heart in her hand and lightening arching away.
Gaara looked up at her, eyes wide and frantic. There was blood up to her shoulder and Gaara’s desperation thick in the air.
“Sakura,” he whispered.
There was something there…something in his voice.
He looked up at her and she saw desperation and adrenaline, she saw respect, she saw lust. Sakura thought of the way Gaara pinned her down, pulled her low. Thought of the way she had allowed it. Sakura could crumble a mountain with her fist. She could kill a man the same way. But she hadn’t ever fought back, not truly. So was she allowed to claim Gaara a monster for the sweet kisses and the terror she felt sometimes?
Sakura had her arm shoulder deep in a man’s chest, Gaara kneeling at her feet. She had a man’s heart in her hand, literally and figuratively.
And then they were falling.
The explosion of the bird the dead man had been riding was terrifying but Gaara had had enough strength to encase it in his sand and shield the village, even if doing so had been the last of his strength. Gaara and Sakura hurtled towards the ground, no more strength left in their bodies. Gaara reached for her, stretched out his hand, eyes locked on hers and…
Kankuro caught her gently, plucked her from the air and Sakura rolled into his hold with only a faint groan of pain.
“You stupid brilliant woman,” Kankuro breathed, paint smudged with sweat, sand and blood, but eyes wide and bright.
“Hey,” Sakura managed a weak grin.
She caught sight of Temari curled around Gaara in both a catch and a hug as the blonde desperately held her brother.
“I think,” Sakura said, “I think I’d like to go home.”
Around them people were flocking, crying and cheering over the Kage who was strong enough to raise a hand in acknowledgement of all the help. Kankuro stood, holding her close and more people waved and bowed and cried to her, thanking her for saving their village and their Kage.
“Home, eh,” Kankuro said, “I think we can manage that.”
“You leave it to me,” Kankuro said, “I’ll get you home.”
Sakura decided for the first time in Suna to really trust someone.
“Okay,” she agreed even as the world faded away