The loud cheers from the remaining shinobi ring in Sakura's ears as she stood, holding up her injured sensei, staring down at the two prone forms of her teammates, listening quietly to them talk. They are smiling, laughing - albeit painfully - and bleeding profusely from the holes in their bodies where their arms used to be. Each one now missing an arm. Yet they can still laugh and smile at one another as if no one else in the world mattered at that moment.
In some ways, Sakura was beyond happy that they had finally finally settled their differences and Sasuke would finally come home after so long of being away, but at the same time, the pit in her stomach that seemed to always be there whenever the situations involved Sasuke and Naruto seemed to deepen. They were a team, all four of them, but whenever something seems to involve Sasuke coming home, or really getting through to the Uchiha, it was only Naruto that could do it. Sakura, and even Kakashi, were always brushed aside. They just couldn't get through to him like Naruto could.
And in the same breath, Sasuke seems to be the only person alive that can drive Naruto to such unbelievable extremes. Naruto is willing to sacrifice just about everything for Sasuke, and while Sakura's sure that he would do so much for her too, it's not the same. No matter how hard Sakura tried, it seemed like she could never bust through this barrier that surrounded them. She would never be fast enough, or strong enough, or smart enough. Nothing she did would ultimately be enough to get her to the place where both of them were. There was a bond there that could never be severed, no matter how hard Sasuke tried to sever it. But he was able to cut ties to Sakura with a simple flick of the wrist.
When Sakura was finally ready to give up on Sasuke, telling Naruto that he didn't have to uphold the promise to her anymore, he shot her down. Sasuke was his friend and he'd never go back on his word. In a way, Sakura began to wonder if that was Naruto's vain attempt to keep Sakura part of the reason to bring Sasuke home. It was a promise to Sakura to bring him back.
But while that may have been the case in the beginning, it didn't feel so much so after a while. Sakura almost felt like his promise to her was a way of justifying his intense desire to save Sasuke and while that isn't a bad thing, it opened Sakura's eyes to the fact that neither of them would ever be hers. Forever and always, it would be about Sasuke and Naruto. Two wayward rivals-turned-friends-turned-enemies-turned-friends again finally being reunited. Two brother spirits that finally found each other and peace.
Since the beginning it's always been about them. They were the important ones. They were the ones that always mattered. Sakura was just one of the lucky ones to be part of their stories. A means to an end.
The more she thought about it, the more cruel her thoughts became. When she searched deeply into her soul, she couldn't really see anything important. Anything that someone would cling to and see as amazing or awe inspiring. She wasn't something that people strived to be with or become. She was just... just... Tsunade's student. She was just Kakashi's student. She was just Naruto's and Sasuke's female teammate.
Naruto and Sasuke were children of destiny. They were saviors.
In the end, Sakura helped them defeat Kaguya, but she can hear the people cheering the two names of the two boys in front of her. She tried to help as much as they did. But she didn't have a godly optic nor an endless amount of vitality. She was just... average.
"Sakura," Kakashi's voice pulls her from her pity party. She glances up at his now two black eyes. "Naruto and Sasuke need your help. They'll bleed out with the rate their going, dumbasses. Can you help them?"
Sakura nods mutely, pulling away from her sensei, waiting a moment to make sure he doesn't collapse before jumping down into the crater that her two teammates made and dropping down between them, putting a hand over both of the two missing appendages and sending healing chakra into them.
"We messed up, huh, Sakura-chan?" Naruto asks through a pain grimace, but that smile never left his face.
"Royally," Sakura says with a touch of forced mirth. "I don't know what to do. Your arms were more likely obliterated in that attack rather than just blown off. I can't repair a limb that no longer exists," Sakura says slowly, frowning deeply. In her mind's eye, she's studying the charging boys armed with a Rasengan and a Chidori, slamming into each other. But she couldn't tell if their arms survived the attack. She looks around to see if maybe she could see them. If they did survive and were in better shape than the rest of Naruto and Sasuke, she may be able to reattach them.
"That sucks," Sasuke mutters, coughing up a bit of blood. He turns his head away from Naruto and Sakura and spits it out.
"Our bad," Naruto says jokingly.
"You mean 'Our fault'," Sasuke corrects, looking over at him.
Naruto lets out a pained laugh. "That too."
Some of the tension leaves Sakura. "Idiots," she mutters.
"I'm getting a little light headed," Naruto says through delirious giggles, forcing Sakura to focus on healing the holes in their bodies.
"That's because you're dying," Sasuke grumbles, blinking quickly as if to keep himself awake.
"Hold on, morons," Tsunade commands, walking over to them. She peers down at them with a pair of analytical brown eyes before coming up with some kind of conclusion, nodding to herself. "Sakura, seal up those wounds. We need to bring them back to the medical tents for emergency surgery."
"What are you going to do, granny?" Naruto asks, looking at her through one squinted eye. Tsunade turns around and calls over some more people to come and help out before turning and looking back at Naruto, arms crossing over her busty chest.
"I'm going to recreate arms for you two, now shut up and stay awake," Tsunade says, all business, but after a split second she offers him a kind, loving smile. "But aside from that, good job today. For everyone. We won. Congratulations!"
That brings back the cheers, louder than before, and Naruto blushes with a boyish giggle. "Gee thanks, granny."
"Yeah..." Sasuke says, blinking slowly.
People come forward, and pick up Naruto to move him toward the medical tents. Sakura was about to help them pick up and move Sasuke when he physically pulled away from her touch. At first, she thought it was an accident and reached for him again when he pulled away, again.
"Sasuke..?" Sakura says softly, eyebrows pulling together. "What... what are you doing?"
"Just heal me," Sasuke says, pulling away from everyone else that reached for him. "I don't need another arm. Just close up the hole in my arm."
Sakura starts to shake her head, unable to believe what she was hearing. Why was he turning down the opportunity to get another arm? She moves around his body to his side, so she can look into his eyes - one being pitch black and the other being his own version of the Rinnegan - and waits for him to begrudgingly stare back at her before asking, "What? Why? Lady Tsunade said-"
"I heard her," Sasuke says stiffly, grunting a bit in pain as he shifted.
"Then why don't you just-" Sakura tries again.
"Because I don't want to," Sasuke says, staring at her levelly, despite the pain he must be feeling.
"But-" Sakura tries once more, only to be interrupted again.
"Sakura," Sasuke says sharply, making her jaw snap shut immediately. Once he's sure that she won't say anything more, he continues, "I don't want it. Respect my wishes for once and give me this."
His words stung, but instead of letting it show, she just nodded, looking over at one of the medical ninja. "Let L-Lady Tsunade know of Sasuke-kun's decision. I'm going to take him to the medical tent to heal his wounds per his request. I'll be there if she needs me." She hopes no one heard her vocal slip up. She really hadn't been expecting Sasuke to say that to her.
The medical ninja around Sasuke and Sakura bow in submission and disappear. Sakura can't even raise her eyes to Sasuke's as she walks him over to his tent, since he had no interest in being carried. Naruto seeming blissfully alright with finally being allowed to be off his feet, but Sasuke appeared to want nothing to do with that. Even though Sakura can't even fathom why Sasuke didn't want Tsunade to make him an arm, she knew he would only end up hating her more for trying to force him into this.
While healing him, Sakura couldn't help but think about his words. She respected his wishes, didn't she? Well, the only one she can think of not respecting could be about his desire to leave the village, but how can he expect her to just nod and go along with that? He was freaking betraying their home and he wanted her to just hold the door open for him and wish him luck? He would have to be insane to think that she would have done that. But other than being completely against him leaving Konoha, she can't imagine another time she purposefully went against what he wanted.
He had said it often whilst still in the village and once more before he left, but his words returned to her at that moment. Annoying. He thought she was just plain annoying. And while in some aspects, she could begrudgingly accept that because she even annoyed herself at points, but there was just one thing that she just couldn't wrap her mind around.
Naruto was more against him leaving Konoha. Fought harder to bring him back and was far more annoying than her. So, why was she the enemy? How did she suddenly become the bad guy? To be honest, Sakura loves Naruto. When she told him she loved him, it was the truth, but just not the way that he maybe wanted at one point in his life.
When Sakura was younger, she loved Sasuke and had the hugest crush on him. Lee and Naruto both had crushes on her, as far as she knew. She would have had of to been blind not to notice, but she knew who she wanted. She wanted Sasuke because he was the strong, cool boy that she was always encouraged by her mother to go for. And she did grow to like him. Love him even. She was willing to sacrifice her life and live as a rouge with him when he was leaving. She begged him to let her go with, which was probably the stupidest thing she has ever done. Konoha was her home and she was willing to leave it for a boy that didn't even have the slightest bit of love for her.
As soon as that thought crossed her mind, Sakura knew the truth. It wasn't that Sasuke didn't love her. He didn't like her at all. Telling her that she annoyed him was - in some ways - his nice way of saying not a snowball's chance in hell, sweetie. And it took until just now for her to realize it. Had everyone always known that was how he felt? Did they all just pity her and think, he might grow to like her, we'd never know and just hope for the best? Were they too embarrassed to say anything on her behalf?
"Sakura-sama..?" A voice calls out to her. "Sakura-sama, are you okay?"
Sakura blinks into reality, realizing that she had paused healing Sasuke's arm somewhere in the middle of her thoughts. She looks down at Sasuke, whose pallor is nothing favorable, to see him staring forward vacantly, too deep in his own thoughts to even notice that he was practically still bleeding out. Sakura's hands, hovering over his stump, start to shake a bit at her realization.
"Sakura-sama?" the medic next to her steps closer. "Are you alright? You're trembling... do you..." she hesitates. Sasuke seems to suddenly realize he's dying because he looks down at his stump before looking up at Sakura.
"What's wrong...?" he asks slowly.
"I..." Sakura started, not wanting to say what was on her mind. She didn't want to admit that she had finally acknowledged her rejection from two years ago. And instead forces herself to swallow the pain coiling up in her chest like an angry snake. Which is a really unsuitable term at this point. Sakura looks down at Sasuke for a split second - unable to look over at him a moment longer - before looking over at the medical ninja. "Um no... I'm okay..." She's a professional. Her job right now has to be Sasuke's safety. She has to make her Sasuke - her patient - lives.
"Okay..." the medical ninja from Kumo says doubtfully but steps back, given them space. Sakura doesn't miss the other woman watching a little closer now.
Sakura tries to force everything away so that she can focus. She manages to ignore the medical ninja and silence her thoughts, but she was painfully aware of the tightness in her chest and the unease in her gut. That, she couldn't ignore. It was almost like it was mocking her, daring her to reach out and touch the thing - the person - that would never be hers. Daring her to try and continue to be as blindly ignorant as she had been since the beginning. It was the bitterest pill Sakura has ever had to swallow.
Once Sasuke's life was out of danger and the healing needed was something that someone else could have managed, Sakura couldn't have ran out of there fast enough, claiming that she was low on chakra and needed to rest a bit. Which thankfully wasn't a complete lie.
Sakura felt bitter and low down. She didn't want to be around everyone who was blindly celebrating their victory and setting up camps to begin recuperating before the long trek home was to begin. Sakura wanted to talk to someone - anyone! - about her woes, but no one she could talk to about it would like to hear about her problems. Ino, being her primary choice, had just lost her father, and Hinata and Tenten had lost Neji. Sakura's love life was at the bottom of everyone's list of things to worry about, yet it was at the top of her own.
And it pissed her off.
She was suppose to be different now. Better than this. She wanted so badly to show everyone that she changed. That she was better, and stronger than before. That she was able to stand side-by-side with Sasuke and Naruto. But she didn't feel that way now. She felt no more significant than the dirt they stand on. Even though she wanted to complain and cry about how shitty her love life has been up to this point, in her rational mind, she knew where she was needed and went there despite what she wanted.
"Hey Ino," Sakura says, stopping beside the remainder of Team 10. The blond looks up at Sakura, smiling wanly, obviously trying to be festive, despite having just experienced a tragic loss.
"Hey," Ino says. "We sure kicked ass out there, huh? I mean, I knew we would win, it was just a matter of time, but it was... it was still pretty awesome how we... how we... did..." she trails off lamely, as if she didn't really know what to say. Thankfully Shikamaru and Choji were too engrossed in their own conversation, probably about anything other than Shikamaru's own lost father if Sakura knows the Shirker as well as she thinks she does, to jab at the blond in their usual friendly banter. While it is a time for celebration, too much has been lost for actual jubilation.
Sakura lowers to the dirt next to her best friend and without saying anything, she puts her arm around the tall blond's shoulders and pulls her close. It was all the blond needed to break down and cry, burying her face into Sakura's neck and shoulder, letting it all out. Tired and heartbroken, Sakura knew this was the right choice. As depressed as she was right now in regards to Sasuke, she would of ended up hating herself if she had let Ino go through this alone. This was her best friend. Sure they fought - and over Sasuke of all people, go figure - but they would always look out for one another and protect one another from as much of the painful shin in the world as they could.
Sakura was needed here, with Ino. For now, that could be enough. Sakura could be useful here, with her best friend.
Sakura managed to calm Ino down, get some food in their bellies, then get a few hours of sleep - albeit restless sleep - before heading back to the medical tents to see how Naruto's surgery went. She decided that until she got over the overly dramatic hurt she was feeling, probably fueled by the lack of sleep and low chakra levels which only serving to make her feel more vulnerable and moody, she would stay away from Sasuke.
No, scratch that. If she needed to be by him for a professional reason, then she would. All business, no pleasure. But not Naruto. She could go see him. She's come to realize that no matter what happens, she could never hate the goofy blond. It was just impossible for her. And she doesn't feel bad about not being able to. Besides, he's a big kami-damned hero. She needed to congratulate him still. Hopefully he would be awake, it was still nighttime. He could be sleeping, she wouldn't mind, she would find solace in his light breathing and occasional jutsu-yelling, and even more occasional jutsu creating. Hopefully he'll be so out of chakra that he won't be doing anything but sleeping.
As Sakura approaches his tent, she reaches out and touches the door flap only to stop when she hears voices inside.
"Stop grinning at me like that, idiot," Sasuke grunts.
There is a little giggle from Naruto before he says, "You look super stupid with just one arm, Sasuke."
"Well," Sasuke says in his condescending tone Sakura knows well, "at lease all of my body has the same skin pigment. That arm looks like it's been devoid of sunlight since the beginning of time."
"Sasuke," Naruto says, obviously still in a chipper mood, "you look like you've been devoid of sunlight since the beginning of time."
There was a long pause where Sakura couldn't imagine was going on before there was a strange noise from inside the tent. It took a lot longer than it should have been possible before Sakura could finally identify the noise. It was laughter. Sasuke and Naruto, both laughing together. Sakura slowly retracts her hand from the tent flap, unable to ignore the deepening pit in her stomach. She doesn't want to make a scene, though. She was beyond that. She'll just quietly retreat from the tent and act like she was none the wiser about their late at night conversations.
"I must be really high on their painkillers if I thought that was funny," Sasuke says breathlessly through his laughs.
"I know what you're saying," Naruto says, still giggling. "Kurama practically absorbs everything that enters my body, even the good shit that makes me not feel pain, and while I'm in great pain, he's high off his ass, it's hilarious."
Sasuke chuckles at that. It a soft, soothing sound that makes Sakura's heart melt a bit at the sound of it. "That must be hilarious to see."
"Trust me, it is," Naruto laughs.
Sakura steps back and away from the tent, figuring she wouldn't be able to face them feeling the way she does now. Maybe once she's well rested and the stress of the war is over, she'll be able to hold a good conversation with them, but for now, she can't trust herself and heads back to work, not sure she'll be able to sleep otherwise. Let exhaustion take her, instead.
It's early morning when Sakura heads to the tent Ino and her were sharing. She stumbles in to see the blond curled up into a ball on her side, eyes puffy from more crying, but otherwise sleeping peacefully in a pool of silky blond hair. Sakura takes off her battle garbs and shoes and quickly changes into a large t-shirt to go over her battle shorts and lays down on her sleeping bag, rolling onto her side, facing Ino, staring at the back of her head for a long moment before closing her eyes and letting exhaustion take her.
There was a flash of red and a spinning sharingan behind her eyelids, before it fades away into blackness.
Sakura's head is pounding. Her entire body is cold and shaking. Her clothes are heavy and wet, clinging to her form like a second skin. When she tries to move it's like her muscles are concrete, not wanting to move at all. She knows her body well enough to know that she's been in the same position for a long time but her brain has been completely active. She must have been dreaming so vividly that her sleep wasn't restful at all. Again. Shit.
Sakura tries to open her eyes but they feel like an Akimichi is sitting on both eye lids, keeping them closed. An unintentional groan escapes her followed by a whoosh of breath.
"Princess? Can you open your eyes for me?" A soft voice asks.
As much as she didn't want to, she opens her eyes. She wanted nothing more than to just keep sleeping, forget the world for a bit - they should be able to handle the injuries without her for a while - but if duty called, then it called. Tsunade would crush her for trying to get out of saving lives because she wanted to catch up on her beauty sleep.
Sakura's eyes are blurry and crusted closed. She puts her arms beneath herself and sits up slowly, her arms feel so painfully weak. It takes a lot longer than she would like to finally push herself into a sitting position, rubbing her throbbing temples, squinting through the darkness. It was at the noise of footsteps around her that made her realize she wasn't alone. Her protective shinobi instincts feel hampered, but by looking around in the darkness Sakura now notices that she is no longer in her tent with Ino.
She is in some kind of large, dark, dank, cave. There was a lot of people walking around and the strong smell of blood surrounded them. Sakura feels all of the blood drain from her face as she looks around, trying to locate the blond of her best friend's hair.
"Woah, Princess, it's okay," a soft voice says, trying to calm Sakura down, but it was a foreign voice, standing right next to her so it only served to raise the hairs on the back of her neck. She can see the figure in the darkness, shifting a bit back and forth on his hunches just a foot away from her.
Sakura quickly scrambles back, putting as much distance between them as possible. He reaches out toward her with a "oh, wait!" but only manages to grab at air as Sakura got out of his range, before her right hand lands in a puddle of warm water, making her freeze. Her mind said it was water, but her instincts said something else entirely.
Sakura pulls up her hand, looking down at the dark liquid coating her hand in the dim light. The tang of iron hits her nose and while the shinobi side of Sakura's brain is forced into immediate danger medic mode, the bigger, more prominent part of her brain - a strange part that never existed before this day - just shut down. Sakura knew what it was immediately, her body just went into complete shock, for practically no reason. She knew it was blood and was able to calmly process the information, but her body seized up.
The figure shifts closer, but thankfully doesn't touch Sakura yet. "Princess?" He says. "I know this may all seem like a shock to your right now, but I need you to trust me, alright? Your father hired us to come and get you. You were kidnapped from a friend's home almost a month ago. Do you remember that?"
Sakura's eyebrows pull together, her hand, along with her entire body, started to shake. "Wh-what..?" Sakura rasps, voice strained from disuse. "No... I... I don't remember any of that... where... where am I..?"
"A cave outside of Reicone province in the Land of Lightning," another voice says. This one was sterner, but painfully familiar.
It was Madara Uchiha.
Sakura's entire body cycled passed shock and all the way to panic. Her rational mind took that moment to shut down and all that was left was the flight instinct. She flew to her feet, stumbling from the force and from the cold of the cave sinking through her wet clothes all the way to her bones. She stumbles backward, bare feet scraping against the uneven rock floor. After a few steps there was a sudden drop but before she fell, the man lunged forward and grabbed her arm, holding her in place.
"Princess," the soft voice says again, "please relax. There is nothing to be afraid of now, you're safe."
"Ino... Naruto... Sasuke..." Sakura mutters, sprouting panicked nonsense before her brain can compute what it is really saying. All she can see is Madara, slaughtering the Shinobi Alliance as if they were nothing as he made his way to Obito.
"Are those your friends?" the man asks. "I'm sure they are alright. You were the only one that was taken."
"M-Madara..." Sakura gasps, wanting to pull away from the gentler man's hand, but the warmth from his body was seeping into hers, reminding her of how much she was shivering.
"Madara?" The man echoes. His form shifts slightly toward the dark figure next to him. "Do you two know each other?"
"Nope," Madara says simply. "At least, not that I remember."
The man holding Sakura's hand lets out a little laugh. "Well, my bad, Madara. That could mean anything!"
Madara's form shrugs. "Well, we should hurry it up. Weren't you the one who was worried about her getting sick? I'm sure that shaking isn't from the over abundance of heat."
The man turns back to Sakura. "Oh right. Princess, may I carry you out of here? It's sort of a strange climb down here - and out, I suppose - if you aren't a shinobi."
But Sakura was a shinobi. Even if her entire body and mind didn't really feel like it. Sakura wanted to slap the person's hand away, demand that someone explain to her what Madara-fucking-Uchiha was doing alive. Again. Why she was in this deep dark cave? Where her friends were? And even who are these people that "saved" her from kidnappers. None of this made any sense to her.
The man pauses for only a moment before stepping closer and scooping her up into his arms. She could feel his body heat surround her, enveloping her in his warmth to deliciously, she started to fall asleep almost immediately afterward. Sakura could feel her heavy, wet clothes seeping into the man holder her. He doesn't seem to mind as he carries her easily through the dark cave. Somehow, he was able to see where she could not. Her regular shinobi senses should have allowed her to see enough of the colors and shapes in the darkness, but she can't see anything.
What was going on with her?
As much as she wanted to send chakra to her eyes to give her the boost she needed to see, she couldn't. Not with her head pounding as violently as it was. Even though Madara was there, there was something relaxing about this other man. His soft voice, joking nature, it was all appealing to Sakura. It reminded her of Naruto a bit and that disarming feeling she gets from him could be the death of her. She'd be stupid to trust these strangers, but she was becoming aware of the fever that she must have had before this.
"What..." Sakura rasps, closing her eyes, unable to form another coherent thought.
"Shh, Princess," the man says soothingly. "You were under a very powerful jutsu. Madara had to use his Sharingan to break it. Don't worry, your head will be in a fog for a little while, but I'll take a look once we are out of the cave and you're in warmer clothes."
Sakura's arm is awkwardly pinned between her body and his, but she didn't have the strength to move it. She suddenly felt like a limp noodle. What was going on with her? Sakura's eyes droop closed. It may be stupid to trust this person blindly, but at this moment, she has no choice. She's too weak to protect herself right now and has to believe that if these strange people would go out of their way to "save" her, that they wouldn't just suddenly turn on her. Those bodies in that cave - and something in Sakura's gut told her that they weren't her friends - were people that stole her away from her friends.
But why? Why her? And how did they sneak passed the rest of the alliance?
Sakura's head hurts too much. She has to get warm and get over this fever. She'll figure out what's going on once that is all said and done.
The sunlight hits Sakura's eyes, making her turn her face into the man's shoulder for a moment to block it out before realizing that this was her chance to at least see the person who was with Madara Uchiha. When she squinted up at the man holding her, she didn't expect who looked back down at her, smiling reassuringly.
It was Hashirama Senju.
"Don't worry, Princess," he says kindly, "I'll protect you."