Turns out, having eighty percent of all shinobi lives in the combined Great Countries get wiped out over all of three days is actually a pretty destabilizing event.
One might even go so far as it say it’s a bad thing to have happen.
One might also be the master of assholish understatement, because things aren’t bad - they’ve gone to hell in a handbasket addressed to Satan himself and, surprise! The basket’s full of shit and now Satan’s offended and then he lights you on fire.
You might say that things aren’t going so great.
It starts with the Land of Hot Water and the Land of Frost. Yugakure and Shimogakure, respectively, are displeased about the war.
To be fair, they have every right to be. They weren’t invited into the Allied Forces. It actually wasn’t intentional - believe it or not, a month of warning before a World War wasn’t really long enough to work out all the details, and the Great Countries had been scrambling to get it together in that time without throwing in diplomacy with minor countries they had, frankly, never cared to deal with much beforehand.
Which sucks for Yugakure and Shimogakure, because even though the Allied Forces didn’t draw them into the war, Obito and his White Zetsu army certainly had.
So they fought.
They fought, with the Allied Forces and the Zetsu’s causing widespread damage and, in some areas, widespread civilian death with their battles. The Land of Hot Water was hit the worst by that, with almost five times as many attacks in their country than in the Land of Frost - but it didn’t matter, really.
The fact was, they both got screwed over by the Allied Forces, and they weren’t happy.
It didn’t help, either, that it was a long standing fact that when the Great Countries clashes, it was always the minor countries they ended up fighting in - because there’s a minor country between every Great Country, except between Kiri and Konoha, and Kiri and Kumo.
Much like the end of the Second Shinobi World War, the war had devastated the shinobi forces of the Great Countries, and on an even greater scale. The minor countries had taken advantage of that, as well, but they had done it alone. They struck out against the Great Countries, igniting the Third Shinobi World War, and they had, ultimately, lost.
They’d also learned from that defeat.
So what do you think they saw, when they realized that only sixteen thousand shinobi were left in all of the Great Countries, when it had started at eighty thousand?
Opportunity for revenge, yes, but more importantly, they saw the opportunity to never again be used as the welcoming mat for the Great Countries wars.
It started with Shimo and Yu’s alliance.
It ended with Sunagakure’s fall.
The most infuriating thing is that they’d been relieved when they heard that Yugakure and Shimogakure had allied together.
“Good.” Tsunade had said, relieved. “If they work together, they’ll be able to recover faster.”
Except then they allied with Otogakure as well.
And then Kusagakure caught on. They hadn’t been hit by the war, not even a little, but the Third War? The Third War had left them devastated. It had been disgustingly easy for them to convince Amegakure to join hands, and from there, the smaller country of Ishigakure eagerly joined in. Takigakure joined with the Yugakure Coalition, and they struck.
Konohagakure, with all of their land borders shared with the allied minor countries, was doomed from the start. They didn’t have the men to cover half the border, not anymore - not even close. They’d had twenty thousand shinobi on their own. They left the war with four thousand.
Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura immediately leave for the north border. They do their damndest to slow the assault. They cleave a bloody path through the combined forces so their own men can follow without so high a risk of dying, and they do whatever they have to to protect their people, even if it means giving up more and more of themselves as they go.
They lose, but they buy Konoha the time it needs. Iwa and Kumo lend what aid they can, but their own forces aren’t much better than Konoha’s. In Kumo’s case, they’re even worse, because part of Kumo had been obliterated when the Juubi’s massive bijuudama had taken out the HQ during the war. Kiri sends supplies by ship, but they lost as much as Kumo had, so they don’t offer the few shinobi they have.
Naruto leads the charge into Otogakure. Team Seven doesn’t leave it until there’s nothing left.
It kills them inside. Even Sasuke, who had thought he’d suffered all the mental anguish any one person could, manages to lose even more in the assault. They’re brutal, they’re relentless, and they do not stop until it’s done.
It buys Tsunade the time she needs. It pulls the minor countries’ forces northwards, their attacks on the west and north-east border ease, and Tsunade safely guides her people through the neutral Land of Rivers and into the Land of Wind.
It’s the most unbearable thing Sakura has ever done. Her hands were meant to heal, but she uses them to crush buildings on top of shinobi, to break skulls, to slice hearts with chakra scalpels, to-
To do what it takes.
It’s worth it. They’ll never regret what they did, not even Naruto. They’ll never regret the brutality they wielded.
They’ll always regret that they had to do it, though - and they’ll never be the same again.
They don’t stop until Tsunade sends word that they’re crossing the border, and then Naruto turns around and leads the charge back out of the ruins that one was Otogakure.
And after one too many nights of watching Sakura stare at her own hands with empty, uncomprehending eyes, Sasuke presses a beautiful, brand new chakra sword into them.
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself of you’ll stay useless forever.” Sasuke scolds her flatly, and then completely obliterates her in kenjutsu when she lunges at him.
It’s then, she thinks later on, that she forgives the man for everything he’s done - and he’s done quite a lot. Taking the arm of her best friend, though? That had been a hell of a line to cross. That had taken until then to be forgiven, even if he had lost his own arm as well.
They settle in there in Suna. It’s nothing like Konoha - but it’s what they have, and they take it without complaint. So Sakura trains with Sasuke in swordplay, gets her ass kicked by a one-armed man a few thousand times, and she gets a little bit of herself back.
Naruto works with Gaara and Tsunade for a while, and then, when they’ve all had time to recover a bit, they get sent off.
This time they don’t go together. Naruto, who is by far hit the hardest by their brutality towards Oto, goes to Tanigakure in the Land of Rivers. They’re the only minor country left now who hasn’t joined a coalition, and they’re also the largest of the minor countries, to boot.
Sasuke and Sakura go to the front lines, except this time, it’s not Konoha’s northern border they’re defending - it’s Suna’s. Temari and Shikamaru run the front, but it isn’t until the third week or so that they actually have time to speak to each other.
“A sword, huh?” Is what Shikamaru asks, and if it wasn’t for the calculating gleam in his eye, she would have passed it off as a mere observation.
He’s fishing, though, in that too-smart and too-curious way of his, and Sakura opens her mouth to say something, only to realize she has no idea what to say.
They’ve lost their homes, and now they’re fighting to keep their new one.
She feels weak for the fact that she isn’t determined to do it through any means necessary. She feels weak for the fact that, somehow, there’s one thing she can’t bring herself to do again.
Maybe that’s why he’s asking, because he thinks she might have lost her nerve or something.
Well, she hasn’t lost her nerve. Sometimes, though, she wonders if she hasn’t lost her mind.
“Got sick of having brain stuck between my fingers.” Sakura manages to say eventually, offering a faint shrug like the reminder doesn’t make her want to vomit, want to never look at her hands again, want to never touch anything. She ignores those feelings and grips her sword even tighter, feeling the leather of her gloves, not brainmatter, around her fingers now.
To her surprise, Shikamaru just arches an eyebrow and snorts a little. “Yeah, figured it was something like that. Can’t imagine why someone wouldn’t want to feel that.” He says dryly and Sakura can’t help but snort a bit herself, her lips twitching. “Chakra blade, huh?” He asks next, jutting his chin curiously at the sword.
“It’s pink, you realize.”
“It’s an ongoing process.” Sakura says mildly, and takes the opportunity to ease a little more chakra into the sword. “It’ll take a few years to get there. I suppose I’ll somehow live with the pink until then.” Sakura adds pointedly, and Shikamaru’s lips give a twitch of their own, his gaze darting to the bun her hair’s locked in. “It’ll be worth it when I get to incinerate people with every stab.”
Shikamaru switches out a month later, and Sakura and Sasuke go a month after that.
They enjoy a short break to breathe in Sunagakure again, somewhere without the constant fighting, and after a week they figure out what Naruto’s been up to.
He returns to Sunagakure for apparently the third time since they went to the front, and he isn’t alone.
“I understand why my fellows have chosen to go down the path they have,” Sukari, the female Daimyo of the Land of Rivers, addresses Sunagakure at large. She stands to the left of Gaara, with Tsunade to his right, and it’s a bittersweet thing that both Kage look perfectly at home atop the Kazekage building. “It is an undeniable fact that when the Great Countries have warred, their collateral damage has devastated any minor country in their way. My own country is no exception to this.” Sukari says solemnly, her hands carefully folded into the opposite sleeves of her soft blue and silver kimono.
“However. It is also an undeniable fact that the Great Countries lost far more in the Fourth Shinobi World War than any of the minor countries have lost in the first three wars combined.” Sukari pauses to let that sink in for a moment. “While I cannot blame them for feeling the need to fight back, their tactics are underhanded to the point of cowardice, brutally violent to the point of disgusting, and morally lacking to the point that I feel there is no other choice to make.” Sukari lifts her chin. “Tanigakure and the Land of Rivers stand with you.” She declares.
The applause is deafening. The cheering is even worse, and it takes several seconds before Gaara lifts his hand and the crowd quiets down just enough for Sukari’s half-shouted words to carry clearly.
“My borders are now our borders. My resources are now our resources. My land is now our land. My shinobi are now our shinobi. May we share peacefully until the end of our days.” Sukari calls, and Gaara preemptively lifts his hand again, keeping the crowd from getting too loud, even if nothing can stop the applause entirely.
“Your borders are now our borders, and we will defend them with our lives.” Gaara calls loudly, his commanding voice carrying without him having to shout. “Your resources are now our resources, and we will use them wisely. Your land is now our land, and we will protect it whenever it is needed.” He says, his voice steadily rising, until he’s almost bellowing the next line. “Your shinobi are now our shinobi, and together we will fight to protect this peace, until there are none of us left standing!” Gaara takes Sukari’s hand in one and Tsunade’s in the other, and lifts them in time with the last cry.
The crowd roars.
Naruto goes with them at the end of their allotted month.
Temari and Shikamaru look painfully relieved at Sakura’s return, so she doesn’t even stay to listen to their new assignments - she heads straight for the field hospital and gets to work.
When she can finally take a moment to breathe, two days later, Shikamaru finds her at dinner and grimaces at her. “I’d like to request you be placed here permanently. We’re losing too many without you here.”
“I’ll think about it.” Is all she’ll allow herself to say in response to that.
Shikamaru nods and they both return to their meals.
When she’s done, she looks up at him, questions her sanity, and reluctantly says, “Give me the numbers.”
He doesn’t even hesitate to set four scrolls down on the ground between them. “Right one is the month before you came, middle two are the months you were here, left one is this month’s casualty reports.”
She opens them knowing she’s going to regret it.
Two hundred more deaths during the months she’s gone than the months she’s there.
And, well. There’s no real choice, is there.
“I’ll think about it.” Sakura forces herself to repeat, like she hasn’t already decided, flicking the scrolls back at him. Shikamaru catches them and lifts an eyebrow at her.
“Right.” He says dryly, because he’s too damn smart and somehow knows better already. They'd barely ever spoken to one another before the War, and afterwards, well... they've both already become very different people than they were when it started.
“Where are Naruto and Sasuke?”
“Ishi border, covering Point G and Point H. I need you at the Ame border, Point J. They’re getting hit the worst.” Shikamaru informs her.
She leaves immediately.
It is, she finds, much easier to kill without hesitation when she doesn’t have to worry about feeling them die.
Her hands are meant for healing.
But her sword?
Not so much.
She summons Katsuyu the second she arrives at any of her assigned Points. Katsuyu spreads out onto any and all shinobi it can get to, and allows Sakura to heal them while she fights. It also provides them all with easy communication.
She gets better and better as using her sword, and gets better at using her left fist for widespread, devastating attacks to protect her people. Even if ‘her people’ now applies to Suna shinobi and Tani shinobi as well.
At one point she gets utterly sick of the unrelenting barrage of attacks on Points J and K on the Ame border and uses her heel to put a massive chasm down the border.
“Assholes.” Sakura mutters, watching several dozen unlucky sons of bitches plummet down into the depths she’d opened up under their feet.
Sometimes she wonders how much of her is left.
She certainly remembers that she used to be nicer. She used to care about people, even enemy shinobi to an extent.
Now, not so much.
When the time comes to return to Suna, Sakura doesn’t go with them.
“I’ll stay as well.” Sasuke decides once he finds out, and Sakura shakes her head.
“Don’t. I’m fine.” She tells him, and that’s definitely a lie, and a bad one at that. Sasuke arches an eyebrow at her, managing to look like he thought she was a complete idiot and was judging her heavily for it while not actually doing anything else at all with his face. “Shut up.” Sakura snaps, rolling her eyes. “I’m okay enough.” She says instead, and that’s much more accurate. “Now go with Naruto and make sure he’s okay, too.” She instructs, and he studies her for a long minute before reluctantly nodding.
She hugs Naruto tightly before they go. Maybe too tightly, but he hugs back just as hard, so it’s fine. Then she orders him to give her a hefty chakra boost, which she uses to refill her Yin seal a bit.
She spends the first week they’re gone back on the Ame border, then heads back to the base camp to heal up their latest batch of injured from the various defense points. The third and fourth week, she spends on the Ishi border, and is two days from returning to the base camp when Naruto and Sasuke return with an invasion force.
“We’re up again.” Naruto tells her with a grim, twisted smile, and her heart sinks into her stomach.
She pushes herself to her feet and sheathes her freshly-sharpened sword and nods. “Ishigakure?”
“Ishigakure.” Naruto confirms, and they settle in to wait for Shikamaru to arrive with even more shinobi from the base camp. “Iwa contacted Suna. They’ve lost their eastern border to the Kusa Coalition. We’re here to pave the road for them to take to Suna.”
“Diplomatic way of putting it.” Sasuke notes dryly.
“Yeah, well, somehow I didn’t think I should just say ‘go that way and kill literally everything’.” Naruto retorts, actually jabbing a finger vaguely in the direction of Ishi.
It’s horrible, but Sakura laughs, and after a moment, even Sasuke’s smiling a little bit. “Man, we got fucked up, huh?” Sakura asks, biting her lip to hold back another giggle, and Naruto shrugs lightly.
“I think we’ve probably earned the right to be fucked up by now, don’t you?” He points out.
“Maybe a little.” Sasuke huffs out a soft, amused breath, and Sakura snorts at that understatement.
“You know what the worst part is?” Sakura asks, looking into the sparse trees across Ishi’s border, and Naruto offers a small questioning hum. “It doesn’t seem as bad this time. Doing this all again.”
For a moment, they’re all silent at that point.
“That’s because it isn’t.” Sasuke decides, frowning at the distant trees as well. “When we did this to Otogakure… we’d been fighting for five months. Nonstop fighting. People were dying left and right, every day, and even when we returned that damage tenfold to our enemies, we still lost more and more territory.” Sasuke pauses for a moment, exhaling slowly through his nose. “Otogakure was the result of an exhausted people pushed too far. It was an act of desperation. Most importantly, it was an act to weaken the army and distract them so our people could travel safely.”
“This?” Sasuke gestures at the distance, shaking his head. “This is an act of war. This is an act of protection. Ishi has spent a year and a half attacking this border relentlessly, killing more and more of not just us, but Suna’s shinobi and Tani’s as well. We’re doing this to stop a slaughter, and we’re doing this to protect the people of Iwagakure, so that they can travel safely as well.” Sasuke pauses again, pressing his lips together, and Sakura glares down at the ground as she considers his words. “Oto was a ruthless and brutal massacre as an entirely necessary distraction. Ishi will be a ruthless and brutal massacre in response to the war that they started, the lives that they’ve taken, and it will be for the protection of our allies.”
It is, Sakura thinks, a very honorable way of looking at it.
It doesn’t make it feel okay, even if it still doesn’t feel as bad as Oto.
She figures that’s probably a good thing.
“I’m supposed to be bringing peace to the world.” Naruto says suddenly, breaking the silence, and Sakura looks over to see him staring intently at the ground. He looks… miserable, but in a calm, controlled kind of way. Resigned.
I’m supposed to be a medic-nin, not a murderer. Sakura thinks, but doesn’t say, and she doesn’t let herself dwell on that for long. If she did, she’d start crying, and at this point she doubts she’d ever be able to stop.
There’s no crying now, though. She’s not an eleven year old girl anymore.
She’s an eighteen year old kunoichi who has taken countless lives. She can take a few thousand more.
“I’m supposed to be reformed.” Sasuke says blandly.
She can’t stop the laugh that escapes her, and even Naruto grins at that point.
Ishigakure’s fall is easier than Otogakure’s. To start with, it’s only connected to one other minor country, which meant reinforcements were much slower than in Otogakure, who was connected to two different minor countries along over about sixty percent of its borders.
It also helps that this time, they have Shikamaru on site.
Sakura connects them all through Katsuyu, giving Naruto two portions of the slug, and the attack goes like this:
Naruto leaves on his own. It is, in fact, Shikamaru who is in charge of the attack. Naruto leaves at night, entering his ridiculous glowing Six Paths Mode, and he flies over Ishigakure using one of his black balls to shield him from obvious sight, and he reaches the Iwa border by morning.
Once there, he passes a slug to Onoki, the Tsuchikage, and leads the charge down from the north. Shikamaru leads the charge from the south. Sasuke and Sakura attack, alone, from the west and the east respectively.
They cut their way to Ishigakure, and when they reach it, it’s a bloodfest.
It’s easier than Otogakure, but in the end, it’s not by very much.
It hurts less, but she still leaves the ruins feeling cold and empty.
“What do you think they’re going to call this war?” Sakura asks quietly, when they’re finally back at base again. She lays on her side with her head on Naruto’s thigh, a rock stabbing into her hip, and her sword kept carefully close to her chest. Sasuke prods the fire once and then sighs.
“I have no idea. The Fifth Shinobi World War?” He offers, not quite sarcastically but something edging towards that.
“Doubtful.” Shikamaru mutters, staring at the fire a little more intently than the rest.
Of course, for him, this is his first time obliterating a hidden village.
And it’s pretty fucked up that she can’t say that about the rest of them.
“The Great Uprising.” Sakura suggests halfheartedly.
“The Minor Uprising, really.” Naruto hums, sounding a little distracted,
“That would be a misleading name for it.” Sasuke points out and he and Shikamaru both snort unpleasantly at that.
“The Majorly Successful Minor Country Uprising, then.” Naruto shoots back, frowning at the last Uchiha.
“Ah. No, I’ve got it.” Sakura calls for their attention. “The Great Downfall.” Sakura says, throwing her arms out like it’s something grand instead of something incredibly damn sad. Naruto grimaces, and Sakura can’t quite help the sharp, biting laugh that escapes her.
“...Yeah.” Shikamaru finally offers, sounding almost as world weary as she feels. “That’s much more accurate.”
They took out Ishi, but they don’t take the land. The fact is, even with Iwa now joining them, they still barely have the forces to hold the borders they already have. They can’t add more, not even just the small amount they’d gain by taking Ishi’s land.
So they keep the same border, they get ready to face the extra forces that will now be approaching from the Land of Earth, and the bunker down.
And for a few months, they even manage to convince themselves it’ll work.
But the war’s been going on for just over two years when Naruto suddenly staggers with a horrified gasp and a grief twisted expression. “What?” Sakura demands in alarm, grabbing his arm to steady him, and Naruto starts to cry.
He starts to cry, and for a moment, all she can do is stare at him in helpless confusion. Then logic kicks back in and she seizes him, yanking him into a tight hug and reaching up to guide his head down into the crook of her neck, and she holds him as he sobs.
Sasuke’s there a moment later, and it’s a testament to how much of a better person he’s managed to become that he doesn’t hesitate to drop down beside Naruto and set his hand on the blonde’s shaking back. And then they wait.
Neither of them have any idea what happened, what set Naruto off, so they can’t comfort him with words - so they wait, and Sakura hugs him tight, and Sasuke rubs his back, and eventually Naruto’s sobs start to taper off.
“What happened?” Sasuke dares to ask, low and soft, and Naruto’s breathing hitches against her neck.
“Kumo’s gone. I felt B die.” Naruto chokes out.
Sakura exchanges a wide-eyed, shocked glance with Sasuke, and then he shunshin ’s away, presumably to tell Gaara.
Sakura stays right where she is, running her fingers through Naruto’s hair as he continues to softly cry, and tries not to let the helplessness get to her too much.
They get called back to Sunagakure. It is, unsurprisingly, not good news.
“Kumogakure had the good luck of having a choke point as the sole entrance into their country.” Tsunade begins grimly.
Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura, Shikamaru, Temari, Kankuro, Gaara, Tsunade, Onoki, Kurotsuchi, Kakashi (who had spent all of the last two years leading the eastern front with Kankuro), and Tetsuya (the shinobi commander of Tanigakure, their version of a Kage), are all gathered in Gaara’s council chamber, four days after Naruto’s… breakdown, more or less.
“The Land of Lightning is a peninsula, and the only land border is an eighty mile stretch of land. Easily defensible even with limited numbers.” Tsunade pauses and Gaara clears his throat, quietly gaining the attention of everyone in the room.
“What this means is that for Kumogakure to have fallen, they had to have been overwhelmed to an incredible extent.” Gaara explains slowly. “We all know that at the beginning of the Fourth War, Kumogakure was the village highest number of shinobi of the Great Hidden Villages, and that by the end of it, it was the least. They had only two and a half thousand shinobi left out of twenty-three thousand.”
And wasn’t that a horrible reminder of just how devastating the Fourth War had been?
“We all know how skilled Kumo was, as well.” Kakashi interrupts grimly. “Every one of their shinobi was worth three of one from a minor country,” he says, shooting Tetsuya a faintly apologetic shrug at that, but the man just shrugs dismissively. It was true, after all.
“Which means for them to have not only pushed Kumogakure back into their village, but to have killed the Raikage and Killer B?” Shikamaru shakes his head. “Even if it took them two and a half years to do it, they would’ve had to outnumbered them five to one. Maybe even six.”
“So what you’re saying is,” Sakura starts slowly, “We’re looking at our enemies suddenly having upwards of thirteen thousand reinforcements within the next five to six weeks, depending on their injured numbers.”
There’s a very long, silent moment as they all take that in.
“We are, in a word, fucked.” Tsunade confirms.
Sakura leans back in her chair and bites the side of her thumb, gnawing on it thoughtfully.
“The northern front holds approximately three thousand shinobi. At any one point in time, an average of four hundred of those are injured. Since Ishi’s destruction, we hold a rate of ten deaths a day, down from the earlier numbers of sixteen a day.” Shikamaru informs the gathering at large.
“The eastern front has approximately two thousand and seven hundred left.” Kankuro announces, and Sakura closes her eyes, pained.
The eastern front had started at five thousand.
It only added insult to intense injury to know that the eastern border was with Konoha.
Their enemies were slowly killing them from within their own damned home.
“We lose an average of twenty-two a day.” He adds quietly.
Dead silence, and this time, it lasts more than just moment. It lasts several minutes, and none of them seem to know quite how to break it.
“...Is surrender an option?” Sasuke, somehow, is the one to ask.
“Are you-” Kurotsuchi starts, furious, but Onoki quickly swats at her.
“Sit down, you stupid girl. This is about more than just revenge!” Onoki barks, and his granddaughter shoots him a vicious glare.
“They destroyed our home! And yours, too!” She snaps accusingly at Sasuke, who simply frowns at her. “How can you even suggest that?!”
“Because at this rate they’ll destroy all our people, too.” Sasuke says quietly, but no less condemningly, and Kurotsuchi flinches at that.
“Unfortunately,” Gaara interrupts smoothly, folding his hands on the table in front of him, “we have already explored that avenue.”
Kurotsuchi hesitates for a moment before she sits down, biting her cheek, and Temari looks at Gaara darkly.
“I’m assuming they said no.”
“Oh, no.” Tsunade snorts loudly. “They agreed. At the cost of the public executions of us three Kage, Tetsuya, and all of our families. And then they demanded that any shinobi that doesn’t want to join us to swear fealty to them instead.” Tsunade says dryly, holding her hands out wide to gesture to the room at large. “You understand why we said no.”
“Yeah, I suppose I can see why that would be a poor choice.” Shikamaru huffs sarcastically. Like any damn one of their shinobi would be willing to do that. “So what are we here for, then? Because frankly, I don’t see us winning this.”
Neither does Sakura.
They were surrounded on all sides, and always had been anyways, but now they were officially the primary target of every country on the continent.
“Neither do we.” Onoki informs them all, and that brings another silence, this one worse than any of the others.
Sakura’s heart plummets to her stomach and she feels horribly, horribly ill. Naruto slumps forward to rest his elbow on the table, covering his face with that hand, and Sasuke… shifts his weight idly from one hip to the other.
Because that’s how Sasuke expresses extreme emotional distress. Or something.
“So… there’s nothing left?” Kurotsuchi asks, slow and hollow.
It was one thing to think there was no hope left.
It was a whole other level of shitty to hear your leaders tell you so.
“No.” Gaara confirms, quiet and utterly calm, and Sakura looks at him wearily. His chin is still held high, like he’s completely untouched by the world he’s carrying on his shoulders, and there’s not a hint of grief or regret in his expression. Just… calm, quiet confidence.
This is why, she thinks, he’s going to go down as the best Kage in history.
Only the most incredible of Kage could face the actual end of their world with so much damned confidence.
“There is nothing left. That’s why we’re here to discuss how to get the most of our people to safety, and then how to take the most of our enemies with us when we fall.” Gaara concludes, his seafoam green eyes slowly sweeping them over, silently daring anyone to argue while also managing to convey the utmost confidence that they wouldn’t.
It’s a strange combination.
It’s even more strangely an inspiring one, which has Sakura straightening up and lowering her hand from her lips.
“We need to abandon the Land of Rivers.” Shikamaru says, and Sakura immediately shakes her head.
“Except for the southern edge.” She says quickly. “We hold the shore. The rest, we surrender.”
“Fuck the north border.” Naruto instantly adds in, dropping his hand from his face and down to the table. “We pull back, eighty miles.”
“A hundred.” Shikamaru corrects, both of them nodding at that.
“Sunagakure’s, what? A hundred and fifty miles from the north border?” Sakura asks, looking at Temari who nods curtly.
“We can scrap another forty miles from the Land of Wind’s east border.” Kakashi adds thoughtfully. “That’ll leave a fifty mile radius north and east of Sunagakure, and it may be wise to do the same with the west border.”
“It’ll be easier to conserve our strength.” Tsunade says reluctantly, glancing at Gaara.
“We have no natural defenses in that vicinity. Sunagakure is protected by her walls, but all that lays in a fifty mile radius of her is desert sand.” The Kazekage points out with a considering frown.
“Then we build them.” Onoki says, lips twisting into a feral grin. “We build whatever we need.”
Sakura sits upright at that, looking at Tsunade for a long moment. The Hokage’s eyes glint and her lips twitch, and for a second, Sakura can’t help but mirror Onoki’s vicious smile. “You build a wall, we’ll make a damn big canyon around it.” Sakura promises darkly.
It is, she thinks, the first time she’s smiled in months.
It’s also the first time she’s had hope.
The Kyuubi was reputed to be the world’s deadliest natural disaster. He was said to be able to destroy mountains and raise tsunamis with the single swipe of a single tail.
It turns out that that’s pretty damn accurate.
Onoki and Kurotsuchi gather up all the Doton users left, and with Naruto infusing them all with Kurama’s chakra, they build a hundred foot wall around fifty square miles of Sunagakure.
And then they booby trap the ever loving fuck out of it.
Chakra seals, chakra suppressors, chakra drains, chakra poisons, chakra eating bugs, chakra repellants, you name it, the wall’s covered in it.
And then Tsunade, Sakura, and Kurama-Naruto get to work surrounding the entire wall with a quarter-mile wide chasm. Gaara laces the outside edges with his own sand, carefully hidden beneath the natural sand, so that anyone who steps within ten feet of the edge will be grabbed and swept down into the chasm. Then they cover the bottom of the chasm with traps as well.
It not even remotely close to subtle, but it isn’t supposed to be - it’s a barrier, not a trap. It’s to stop the army from getting over the wall, and it will be very effective at that.
“We’re officially in a war of attrition, I suppose.” Sakura says to Shikamaru, a month after their return to Sunagakure.
They’re still fucked, of course. The first point that comes to mind is that having a war of attrition in a desert is a pretty stupid fucking idea. They don’t exactly have crops or livestock.
But they know they’re fucked, and they’ve embraced it, and it’s… weirdly inspiring. She thinks she might actually be happy again, and that’s pretty damn fucked up, but at the same time, she’s not exactly going to fight it.
Way she figures, they’ve got less than a year left, and she’s going to enjoy it. If that means embracing imminent starvation, then so be it.
“Ah, well. At least it’s something different.” Shikamaru hums lazily, staring up at the sky.
Some people have adapted to being back in the village better than others.
“Naruto used Isobu to contact Mei.” Sakura shares, and Shikamaru turns his head to peer at her curiously from where she sits a few feet to his right, cross legged and relaxed for once. “She’s sending eighteen ships. They’ll be able to carry a hundred and fifty people each. Gaara thinks we’ll be able to hold Tani’s shoreline long enough for two trips.”
“That’s a third of the civilians.” Shikamaru muses, frowning softly. And it’s true.
There’s fifteen thousand civilians from Iwa, Suna, Tani, and Konoha, and in two trips, Kiri will take five thousand and four hundred of them. Enough for the women and children, at least. Possibly enough to preserve their Clans. Which was pretty ironic, once she thought about it.
They’d be sending their Kekkei Genkai carriers (or child wielders) to Kiri for safety. Oh, how times change.
“We’re leaving, Shika.” Sakura informs him and he blinks hard once before sitting up, frowning at her. “Naruto, Sasuke and I, we’re going into Tani. We’ll give Kiri three trips.” Sakura tells Shikamaru confidently.
It’s strange to be able to do that now. To say something like that with confidence and pride, but something’s changed in her since the Kage’s meeting.
Perhaps it’s because she doesn’t have to worry about living with the guilt anymore. Maybe it’s the knowledge that she’s going to give everything so her people can be safe, instead of the knowledge that she was taking everything for their safety.
She’s giving her life now, instead of just blindly taking them.
“...When?” Shikamaru finally asks, studying her face intently, and she smiles a little at him.
Shikamaru blinks slowly, then huffs. “Troublesome woman. You couldn’t give me more time to pack?” He bitches, and then flops back down to stare at the clouds.
“...Aren’t you needed here?” Sakura inquires, a little uncertainly, and Shikamaru frowns deeply.
Then he reluctantly pushes himself back up again and turns to face her fully, his eyes narrowed. “Sakura.” He starts, utterly serious, and it feels… strange to see him like this without there being a battle going on around them. “After the last two, nearly three years of our lives, I think we’re allowed to indulge in a bit of selfishness.” Shikamaru says firmly, his lips pressed together.
She blinks at him, her brow furrowing a little. “But why-” She starts to ask, except then Shikamaru rolls his eyes and leans in, lifting a hand to cup the right side of her face.
Ho-o-oooooly shit, Sakura spends the next approximately five minutes thinking, because god damn, for a guy so ridiculously lazy, he sure doesn’t slack off with that mouth.
When they finally part for breath, Shikamaru stares at her for a long moment, then leans back and arches an eyebrow at her.
It takes her a second, mostly because she’s a little bit oxygen deprived.
Even then, all she can really do is clear her throat and offer, “Well how can I argue against solid logic like that?”
In the back of her mind, she can almost hear Ino accusing, Stealing my own teammate now, Forehead?
But Ino’s been dead for nearly three years.
So she pushes back the voice, ignores the sudden punch of grief to her chest, and leans in to make sure that wasn’t just a five minute long fluke or something.
And when she triple checks fifteen minutes later, well, that’s just because three time’s the charm, of course.
They don’t hold back.
They didn’t really to begin with, but they did stagger their powers so not to burn through them too quickly.
Now, they don’t bother.
They get to the front lines. Sasuke opens a giant portal above the army and dumps a metric fuckton of straight up acid on them all.
Shikamaru plays spiderweb and catches any shinobi who gets too close to the frontlines, holding them still so their men can kill them from a safe distance.
Naruto lets Kurama loose, Sakura goes full on Strength of a Hundred, charges, and they don’t stop until the battlefield is silent.
In the course of one night, Team Seven alone transforms the southern half of the Land of Rivers from green, fertile wetlands, to broken rubble covered in ash.
They sleep well that night.
The frontlines had taught them well who the enemy was, and what they were capable of. They learned there that the decision to show mercy, to show hesitation, to look at the enemy and see even a hint of humanity in them, was a decision they’d pay for in the blood of their fallen allies. They learned the hard, painful way who really paid for their weaknesses, so they culled those weaknesses, for the sake of their allies.
Sunagakure had reminded them of just what they were fighting for. Not their fellow shinobi, no - but for the children, who were too naive to even understand what war was. For the civilians, who supported the shinobi life with their hard labor, and who stood utterly helpless in the face of anyone with chakra.
So it was with them in mind that they attacked, and they destroyed, and they slaughtered.
And it was with them in mind that they slept peacefully, proud in the face of their continued survival, instead of crushed by the guilt of the humans they’d slain.
It takes two weeks for the first round of ships to arrive.
In that time, Sasuke starts coughing.
He doesn’t come to her. He’s too stubborn, and probably too resigned, to do something like that. So she checks him when he’s asleep, and then she stays up the rest of the night, silently curled into Shikamaru’s side. He doesn’t ask.
But he also doesn’t sleep, and she appreciates his silent support far more than she could ever come close to expressing in words.
When she starts to subtly pass Sasuke blood replenishing pills, he stares intently at her and then pokes her in the forehead and goes back to fighting.
It really says a lot about their relationship that that’s the single most touching thing he’s ever done towards her.
Miserable circumstances or not, it makes it impossible for her to stop smiling for a straight day after.
She finishes her sword a month after their arrival on the front.
It’s a deep crimson color, like clotted blood, and it leaves red streaks behind with every move. It’s beautiful, it’s catching, and it’s stupidly deadly.
The first time she laces it with chakra during a battle, she incinerates the guy she was trying to stab. Straight up incinerates. He actually turns to ash around the sword. It’s awesome, but it’s also a little too chakra demanding, so she uses less the next time and only ends up cooking someone’s insides when she stabs him.
It’s deadly, it’s ridiculously efficient, and when she sees Sasuke next, she hugs him so hard he coughs blood.
It’s totally worth it.
“He’s planning something.” Sakura shares with Shikamaru, both of them watching Naruto in the distance with narrowed eyes. He’s talking with Sasuke, but both of them are wearing unusually severe expressions.
“Planning something?” Shikamaru echoes questioningly and Sakura nods, setting her sheathed sword down until the tip touches the earth. She slowly rolls the hilt back and forth between two flattened palms, anxiety gnawing at her chest.
“I don’t know what. I keep waking up to him meditating, though, and he keeps getting lost in thought. Anytime we aren’t talking to him, he goes quiet, have you noticed?”
“...Truthfully, only recently.” Shikamaru admits slowly, squinting even more at Naruto now. “He doesn’t look tired.”
“No. But he does look like he’s planning something.” Sakura determines, glaring at the side of Naruto’s head like it’ll somehow give her the answers she wants.
“Does he know about Sasuke’s illness?” Shikamaru asks thoughtfully.
“I’m actually not-” Sakura starts to say, blinks, and then turns her head to frown at him. “Do you know about Sasuke’s illness?” She asks incredulously.
He sends her a flat look for that.
“You just admitted to missing something I think is obvious about my best friend, but it’s too much to think you wouldn’t notice something about my other friend?” She demands and Shikamaru rolls his eyes.
“I share a tent with you three. I hear him coughing - which means Naruto does, as well.” Shikamaru huffs. “And the fact that you haven’t done or said anything about it makes it clear to me that it’s terminal. I’m not sure that’s occurred to Naruto, though.”
“It probably has,” She admits, and it’s true.
Naruto’s still not the sharpest kunai in the pack, but he’s come a very long way from the clueless, unobservant idiot he used to be.
Which makes this all the more worrying, in her opinion. Sakura shifts her gaze back to Naruto and grimaces. “I don’t like that he isn’t talking to us about it.” She confesses.
They’re the two smartest people of their generation - and Shikamaru’s probably the smartest person on the planet, after the Fourth War. The fact that Naruto isn’t even consulting them on whatever’s going on in his head is… concerning.
“Maybe it isn’t something we can help with.” Shikamaru says in a carefully neutral kind of tone.
It’s only because she’s gotten so close to him that she hears it for what it really is. Tense displeasure.
It doesn’t help that the implication there is exactly what she has a problem with.
“Yeah.” Sakura agrees, reaching out to grasp his hand and thread her fingers through his. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
Which begs the question.
What are the bijuu planning, then?
It takes a full five weeks for the Kiri fleet to leave with the first wave, drop them off in Kiri, restock the ships, return to Tani, and then leave again with the second wave.
It’s another two weeks after that when it happens.
The wall, the chasm, the traps - they were all deterrents. They were obstacles meant to buy time. They were disruptive enough that the shinobi forces had to stop and puzzle out their way around them before they could attack Suna with their full force.
The chasm was trapped so anyone who approached the edge fell through into open air, with nothing to catch themselves on.
If, somehow, a shinobi was able to cross that quarter-mile wide gap and reach the wall, the second their chakra coated feet touched it, they’d trigger one of the many various trap types on the wall. Ultimately, no matter what they triggered, they’d plummet and die.
The wall was too high to jump, as well.
But it inevitably falls.
The minor countries were competent enough to gather a large amount of Doton wielders, and they bridge the gap. The Allied shinobi on the wall use long range weapons to slow the enemy down, and the Raiton users send lightning crashing down on the bridges to break them.
It takes them three months, but they take down the wall.
Gaara sounds the evacuation. Everyone left in Sunagakure - and at this point, almost no shinobi aren’t on the front lines, even Gaara himself had been at the wall - gather in the open courtyard just inside the gates.
Two thousand shinobi stay at the wall, with Temari and Kakashi leading them. The wall was truly was the last defense, and they stay to hold it as long as they can.
When they die, they go proud and without hesitation, knowing that their sacrifice bought Gaara the time he needed to lift each and every last one of his people high into the sky and fly them to the Tani outpost.
The second the enormous sand cloud appears in the horizon, Naruto lights up like a miniature sun, Six Paths Sage Mode activated, and throws himself into the air. He flies there, and if he hadn’t, Gaara would’ve died from the chakra exhaustion before he could quite reach the outpost - but his people would have been safe regardless. As it is, he lives to see another day.
Even if it’s an incredibly dark one.
“We’re adopting the southern border of the Land of Rivers as our own.” Gaara informs them shortly after, when the civilians have settled in.
There’s too many, but they don’t need to be here long - three weeks, and the fleet will return.
Just three weeks.
Until then, they hunker down in the southern quarter of the Land of Rivers, and only five hundred Allied shinobi are left.
She very firmly doesn’t think about the fact that Kakashi isn’t one of them.
“We’re going out there now.” Tsunade adds in, announcing the camp at large. “Onoki, Gaara and I - we bided our time before. Loathe as we are to admit it, Onoki and I aren’t at the best age for long term battles.”
“But don’t think that means we’re any less strong!” Onoki cackles and Tsunade nods sharply at that.
“We had to hold back before, but only so that we can really let loose now. We’ll buy you time.” Tsunade adds the second part more gently, because many of the civilians left are utterly terrified. Understandably. Only twenty-seven hundred of them would be getting on those ships, and that leaves over seven thousand of them behind.
“Make no mistake,” Gaara agrees, and even in the face of everything - the loss of his sister, the destruction of his home, the approaching doom of his own end - his confidence is unwavering. “We will hold this land for as long as we can to ensure the most of you are evacuated safely. If we need to hold it for another two months, then we will.”
It says a lot about the strength of their people, and it says everything about the strength of their leaders, that even now it’s civilians can cheer uproariously for their Kage.
That night, when they’ve all dragged themselves into their tent for a short rest before the next battle, Naruto clears his throat.
Sakura glances at him and immediately sits straight up, because his expression is deadly serious - and sees that Sasuke does the same. Even Shikamaru does, though he does it slower. Naturally, because some things never change, and Shikamaru’s laziness is one of them.
“I have something to share with you.” Naruto says, low and entirely severe.
It’s strangely frightening to see him look so… well. Deadly serious, as accurately stated earlier.
“Kurama and I have been talking with the other bijuu - excluding Gyuki, who still hasn’t reformed - and they’ve come up with something. But I need you three to help me plan, and I-” Naruto pauses, taking a slightly too shaky breath, and then says, “I need you to tell me you’ll do it.”
It’s not a command. It’s a plea, and Sakura’s stomach twists a little.
“Tell us.” Sasuke commands, settling in and resting his one arm on his raised knee.
It’s all Naruto needs to hear. He takes a deep, shuddering breath and begins to explain the strangest, most insane thing Sakura has ever heard.
And she used to have voices in her head!
(Sometimes, she thinks Inner might still be in there, digging around and proposing her usual bouts of disproportionate violence, but Sakura’s just glad she doesn’t have to listen to her yell all the damn time anymore.)
It’s a proposal.
To time travel.
...It says a hell of a lot about their situation that they don’t even hesitate to agree.
“I go where you go.” Is Sasuke’s official response.
“It sounds insane, Naruto, but I assume the bijuu know more about this than I do. I’m willing to at least ride this out.” Is Shikamaru’s doubtful one.
“Fuck it, why not.” Is Sakura’s shrugged one.
They spend most of the next two weeks plotting whenever they can meet up. Unsurprisingly, that isn’t often, so mostly Sakura and Shikamaru meet up and they plan, being the brains of the operation anyways.
“Sasuke’s lungs are fucked. We’ve got seven months at the most, and four at the least.” Sakura explains, shaking her head irritably. “That’s not a lot to work with. He needs to be alive at the end, obviously, or he and Naruto won’t be able to do the whole, y’know,” Sakura demonstrates by clapping her hands together loudly.
“There’s too much ground to cover.” Shikamaru grimaces darkly. “The end game is Madara and Black Zetsu. Madara’s mostly just in our way, since we’ll need to seize the Juubi’s corpse and destroy any White Zetsu’s forming under Madara’s cave.” He says and Sakura nods in agreement, gnawing on the side of her thumb. “But Black Zetsu’s fast. Too fast, and the second he touches anyone- well. We don’t have time for hesitation. We’ll seal anyone he latches onto if we have to, assuming it’s not Naruto or Sasuke.”
“That’d be a really irritating twist. We go through all this shit just to get there and have Zetsu yank out Kurama and instantly kill Naruto.” Sakura snorts at that and Shikamaru hums a quiet, distracted breath.
“So how can we draw out and isolate Black Zetsu?” He asks, glaring down at the ground like it’s hiding the answers from him.
It takes three days for her to have a brainwave, at which point she hunts down and drags Shikamaru away from a discussion with Kankuro and Kurotsuchi. “We wake the Juubi up.” Sakura hisses excitedly, and Shikamaru stares at her. “No, no, listen - not all the way, right? Remember the impartial form Obito had it take, when he only gave it a little bit of the Hachibi and Kyuubi’s power? We do that, but with all of them.” Sakura explains and the light dawns in his eyes.
“And by doing that it’ll wake up enough to project malevolent chakra across the entire continent.” He says in realization. “Black Zetsu will be on us immediately, the second he feels his ‘mother’s chakra.”
“Exactly. And then we’ll play our endgame. We’ll have Sasuke suck us all up and spit us somewhere no one exists to get killed by the Juubi, Sasuke and Naruto will hit Black Zetsu before he can do anything and seal him up.”
“Except.” Shikamaru starts, his lips twisting down and his eyes narrowing. “Except, we can’t wake up the Juubi without giving it some of every bijuu.”
“...Shit.” Sakura grimaces, lifting a hand to rub her thumb over her lip. “Well. If we go back early enough, we can just grab the Sanbi before it can be sealed in Rin - it’ll be in a container, presumably, so we can just stick the entire thing into the statue. When Gaara was still a psychotic twelve year old, he mentioned that Shukaku was kept in a tea kettle before it was sealed in him, and it might already have been sealed into that around the same time.”
“Which means…” Shikamaru grimaces even deeper now, tilting his head back to glare up at the sky. “Which means we need the Rinnegan.”
It takes her a second to follow that train of thought. The Rinnegan controlled the statue, which is how Pain sucked the bijuu out of all the jinchuuriki.
“Fuuuuck. This is going to be such a pain in the ass.” Sakura groans.
“And there’s still the matter of getting the six jinchuuriki to agree to willingly let the Juubi eat part of them.” Shikamaru points out. “Excluding the Kyuubi, as we’ve obviously got that covered.”
“Oh my god.” Sakura moans despairingly.
“Then there’s the fact that the Rinnegan will be in the hands of Nagato, and if we accidentally distress him enough to activate the Rinnegan the entire way, he’ll crush us into pulp.”
“I hate you.” Sakura mutters into her hands.
“With Sasuke’s deadline, we won’t have the luxury of a diplomatic approach. That would take too long - far too long, and it would be overall better to just not even interact with them. Time travel isn’t a possibility we want getting around. We’re going to have to become international criminals.” Shikamaru adds as an afterthought.
Sakura pauses for a moment, then looks up at him with narrowed eyes. He stares right back down at her with raised eyebrows, his lips fighting a tiny smile.
“Don’t try to tell me you won’t enjoy that.”
“I take it all back. You’re my soulmate.” Sakura swears, then stands up onto her toes and gives a valiant go at sucking his brain out through his tongue.
On the nights they can all get together (only twice in three weeks now that there’s such a desperate scramble to hold what little land they occupy), they hammer out the details.
“Rin needs to be saved, for Kakashi.” Naruto says severely, and Sakura nods immediately.
“That’s fine. The way I figure, our best bet to find Isobu is to wait until Rin gets kidnapped by Kiri. I’ll break down the door, free her and nab Isobu.” Sakura says, then pauses and curses. “I forgot about the stupid curse seal on her heart. Didn’t Madara say Kakashi’s Chidori was what removed it?”
“Yes, but who knows if that was the lightning or the hand-through-the-heart bit?” Naruto wonders with a grimace.
“Fuck it, we’ll do both. I’ll break down the door, nab Isobu, and then Sasuke, you come in with your Raikiri sword thing that you do and stab her in the heart. I’ll heal her, you Sharingan her unconscious - maybe do that before the stabbing - and then we’ll drop her off somewhere Kakashi will find her quickly.” Sakura says decisively, and when no one offers up an argument, she nods curtly.
“Alright. Let’s make that our starting point. From there, it would be-”
“I want to save Obito as well.” Naruto interrupts.
This one, they don’t agree so much on. It takes a few minutes of arguing, then a few minutes of shouting, and then Naruto cuts them all off angrily. “Listen to me!” He snaps, and it’s almost a shame he never got to be Hokage because he’s got the voice down pat, Sakura thinks. “If we prevent Rin’s death then Obito will be the same Obito that Kakashi idolized.” Naruto says tightly, grief creeping into his tone, and Sakura grimaces at the ache in her chest. “I won’t leave that Obito to die. For Kakashi, if nothing else, but also because that Obito won’t deserve it. He won’t have done any of the things we hate him for, and isn’t that the whole fucking point?”
And, well, yeah. It is. So Sakura looks at Sasuke, and they spend a moment communicating through very minor ticks of their eyebrows before they both tilt their heads and shoot Shikamaru a conceding nod.
“Then that’ll be the next step.” Shikamaru says smoothly, scribbling into a notebook. “From there…” He pauses, staring down at the paper for a moment, then clears his throat and looks up. “I propose we split up immediately.”
“What? Why?” Naruto asks incredulously.
“We have too many tasks and not enough time.” Shikamaru explains grimly, which makes Naruto shoot Sasuke a pained, understanding look. “So here’s what we’ll do. Our best bet is for Naruto to handle all the jinchuuriki recruitments. You can speak to them easily enough, can’t you?”
“Eh. Well, sure. Once I can get them into my mindscape, Kurama and I can even go so far as showing them the War.”
Sakura snorts loudly. “That’ll convince them pretty quick.” She points out bitterly and Naruto grunts his agreement.
“So then Naruto, you’ll have to go after the other Kiri bijuu. Utakata, right?”
“Will Utakata be the jinchuuriki?” Sasuke wonders, and they all have a moment of horrified realization.
“Oh, shit, that’s right, he was a few years younger than Kakashi. Damn, he’s going to be a little kid.” Sakura grimaces, pained, and Naruto bites his lip hard.
“...As far as I know, all jinchuuriki are made when they’re still in the single digits, so their chakra coils can adapt easier. So he’ll probably be the jinchuuriki - and if not, Kurama and I will just sense out whoever is and grab them instead.” Naruto decides after a moment.
Shikamaru nods and scribbles away at that, too. “Then Naruto and I will do that. I’ll grab the jinchuuriki with my shadows, Naruto will do what Naruto does best, and you two will… Well, do what you two do best.”
“Kenjutsu bump.” Sakura holds her fist out at the same time Sasuke does, bumping without even looking at each other. Now that’s friendship.
It’s a good thing no one told twelve year old her that some dreams really do come true.
...She had been bad enough at that age without that kind of confirmation.
“When Rin’s delivered, go straight to the Mountain’s Graveyard, kill Madara-”
“Dibs.” Sasuke mutters.
“-remove Obito’s curse seal and deliver him to Konoha as well.”
“You can kill him, Sasuke, but dibs on his head.” Sakura offers in compromise. He nods, but looks curious, so she elaborates. “If we’re letting the kid go, we should make sure people actually believe his story. Besides, who knows what kind of shenanigans a Yamanaka can pull with Madara’s decapitated head? I bet he’s got loads of secrets to dig into.”
“Hmph. Speaking of Konoha, I want Danzo dead.” Sasuke informs Shikamaru flatly.
Naruto opens his mouth to automatically counter argue anything to do with Sasuke and vengeance, then pauses for a moment, tilts his head thoughtfully, and huffs. “Fine. I guess that’s probably a good idea - we all know Jiji kind of shit the bed on that one.”
The unusually crude saying (coming from Naruto, at least) startles a laugh from Sakura.
“It does sound like a good idea.” Shikamaru admits, frowning down at the notepad. “Alright. So you’ll handle all three of those tasks, then, while Naruto and I find Utakata or whoever and convince them to help us. Then we’ll smuggle him out of Kiri and meet you at the Mountain’s Graveyard when you two are done pissing off the Sandaime?”
“Sure. Then what?” Sakura asks eagerly.
“...Well. Geographically speaking, it would be wise to backtrack to Kumogakure once we’ve met up. For the sake of time management, we ought to split up again once there.” Shikamaru narrows his eyes intently. “It’d be best for Sakura and I to go for Yugito Nii. She’ll be a little older than Utakata, but I’m sure she’ll still present some challenge. I’ll paralyze her, Sakura will either convince her there or we’ll just take her back to the Graveyard and then Naruto can convince her. Naruto, you will, of course, get B.”
“Sounds good to be. Then Taki, I assume?” Naruto suggests and Shikamaru nods.
“Fu, she was younger than us - I remember her taking the Chuunin Exams after we did. She won’t be born yet, so I have no idea who their jinchuuriki will be.”
“Eh, I’ll figure it out.” Naruto shrugs mildly.
“No, wait.” Sakura says sharply, a particularly bad idea hitting her. “Once Madara’s dead and Obito’s gone back to Konoha, if Black Zetsu checks in and sees any of that, his next stop is going to be Nagato.” She says urgently, getting a round of winces at that idea. “So- okay.” Sakura takes a deep breath, then looks at Shikamaru. “Okay, here’s the outline.”
“We can’t waste too much time running back and forth across the entire continent, so we’ll stick with the first bit. We’ll get B and Yugito because they won’t be too far out of the way from Mountain’s Graveyard, but then we’ll split up another way. Sasuke, Shikamaru and I will go get Nagato. Sasuke and I will knock out him and all his people, and then Shikamaru will grab his shadow so he doesn’t go crazy fucker on us, agreed? While we’re doing that, Naruto, you hit Taki and grab whoever the fuck. Then we’ll meet back up in Iwa, get those two, and then Shikamaru and I will get Shukaku or his jinchuuriki while you get everyone settled in in the Mountain’s Graveyard.”
“From there, I’ll- sorry, Naruto, I’m volunteering you and that’s what you get for having your disgustingly deep chakra reserves - I’ll knock Naruto out, switch his eyes out, and he’ll use the Rinnegan to suck up the Sanbi and Shukaku, assuming Shukaku is, in fact, in an object and not a person. Obviously.”
“Wait, what about Nagato? We can’t just take his- Oh, right, fuck, I forgot, I can just do the glowy thing.” Naruto curses under his breath and Sakura shoots him an incredulous look.
“You can restore organs with a fucking touch and you forgot ? That’s beyond ridiculous - that’s downright offensive to medic-nins everywhere. You’re a dick, Naruto.”
“I’m sorry! It just… I wasn't thinking.” Naruto coughs awkwardly and shoots Shikamaru a very subtle look asking for help.
So subtle Sakura totally doesn’t notice or him in in the head for it.
“Anyways.” Shikamaru says flatly. “We’ll meet up at Akatsuki and then head into Iwa, then, so Naruto can restore his eyes. Once the bijuu have been sealed into the Juubi, the jinchuuriki will feed a sliver of their chakra into the Juubi to wake it up. Once it’s awake, Black Zetsu will rush to you, and once he climbs out of the ground you, Sasuke, will pull us all into an isolated dimension.” Shikamaru explains, taking a deep breath. “Once there, you’ll have to immediately seal Black Zetsu, and then the Juubi afterwards.”
“It occurs to me,” Sasuke interrupts, in the slow drawl of a man who knows he’s about to irritate a lot of people with some stupid point he thinks they should’ve already noticed themselves, and Naruto scowls at him preemptively. “That we have no plan if the Juubi reacts too strongly to the chakra and simply grabs the bijuu from the jinchuuriki.”
Dead fucking silence.
“Fuuuuuuck,” Sakura groans, throwing herself backwards to splay out on the tent floor. She glares up at the ceiling of it, because she needs to glare at something.
And then it occurs to her, and she pauses for a moment before propping herself up onto her elbows and frowning at the others. “...So here’s a weird question. Do any of us actually want to live in this new timeline we’re building?”
The second time they’re able to meet is four days before Kiri’s due to arrive, and the day after Tsunade dies from chakra exhaustion.
They’ve all come to the same conclusion.
“Well I literally can’t live in it, so,” Sasuke shrugs uncaringly.
“I’m with stupid.” Naruto jabs a thumb at Sasuke, but looks at Sakura intently enough that she knows he’ll only mean that if she’s in agreement, too. “It’s too weird. We’re going to be super villains to these people. To my parents. And Jiji. And we won’t even be able to defend ourselves against that. ‘Oh, no, we didn’t kidnap and kill your jinchuuriki, we just talked them into killing themselves for super not evil reasons revolving around the fact that, by the way, we’re from the future’? Yeah right. Better to die with the whole time-travel thing a secret, first of all, and second of all, if the jinchuuriki do all get sucked dry, then it’d be better for me to die in the dimension with the Juubi so all the bijuu are together.”
That was… a grim but not inaccurate outlook. “What about Kushina’s Kyuubi, then?” Sakura points out dubiously.
Naruto pauses, going distant eyed for a second, and then comes back to himself with an irritated face. “Apparently it’ll ‘work itself out’, whatever the hell that means. Whatever, not our problem. My Kurama will be taken care of and he’s the one I care about.” Naruto offers with a shrug. “So, there.” He pauses again, for just a second, and then looks stunned. “Oh my god we’d be older than our parents.” He whispers, horrified.
“I would never be capable of blending into the Land of Fire.” Shikamaru, who may as well have ‘Nara’ and ‘Shikaku’s Scarless Twin’ stamped across his entire body in big red letters, points out blandly as he blatantly ignores Naruto’s existential crisis. “Plus it sounds exhausting to try and get a new life while being hunted down as S-Class international criminals.”
“You all have very sound and reasonable arguments.” Sakura praises. “Mine is that, frankly, it sounds downright awful to live in a world where we’d be constantly be surrounded by ghosts wearing our family and friends’ faces. Fuck that, life’s shitty enough as it is already, the last three years have proven that soundly, so here’s my idea.” Sakura claps her hands together and sets them into her lap. “Naruto. I’ll implant the Rinnegan in you, as previously detailed, and you’ll seal the jinchuuriki-less bijuu. When that’s done, I’ll switch them back out, and when the Juubi is primed and ready to go, I’ll implant them into myself.”
She gives them a moment to process that but sweeps on before they can interrupt her thought process. “Even with the Yin seal, I wouldn’t be able to use it as long as you, so I’ll wait until the last minute. Then, if the jinchuuriki die, I’ll use the Rinnegan to bring them back.”
“But that’ll kill- wait, right, fuck damn it.” Naruto curses, glaring at the ceiling. “It’s automatic, okay? I know we just agreed we’d rather not be stuck living it out in the past and stuff, but it’s instinctive when you just outright say you’ll sacrifice your life.”
“Wow, it’s almost like you don’t like the idea of me dying. Shame on you.” Sakura says as dryly as she possibly can. “Anyways, once they’re back, I’ll probably be dead, and Sasuke - it’ll be up to you to zap them back to the right reality.”
“Should be easy enough.” Sasuke offers with a small shrug.
“Oh, uh.” Naruto starts, reaching up to scratch sheepishly at his nose. “We should probably have suicide tablets on hand, then.” When everyone stares at him blankly, he huffs and explains, “Because of the sealing thing. Chances are, we’ll get sucked up with the Juubi during the whole seal-it-into-a-moon thing. If we’re still alive, our souls will get sealed too, and that would… really suck. So suicide tablets.”
“Ah.” Sasuke acknowledges.
“...Good call, damn, that could’ve been bad.” Sakura winces at the very thought of being sealed for the rest of what would hopefully be eternity. “I’ll teach you guys the ANBU suicide jutsu, it’s even better. It’ll punch a hole in your brain, too, just in case we die somewhere a Yamanaka can get us.”
Silence fills the tent, and then Sakura sighs heavily and pushes herself to her feet. “I better go see… Ah, fuck it, why should I bother healing anyone, we’re only really holding on for another week, right? I’m going to go see how many people I can incinerate with this sword if I let my chakra go wild.”
Unsurprisingly, when she steps out of the tent, Sasuke’s right behind her.
Onoki dies two days before the ships are set to arrive, and the fighting takes a brutal turn without him there. For all the man’s faults - and he did have many - his kekkei genkai had been pretty ridiculous.
Pretty much all the guy had had to do was fly around and make hand seals and he turned twenty people at a time into dust.
But, well, even the most powerful of people can flag under enough force, and the minor countries had that in spades.
It gets bad. It was never good, but instead of the average of about thirty deaths a day they’d been carrying, it gets to the point of about seventeen deaths an hour. Sakura does what she can to slow that down, and misses Tsunade with an intensity that makes it hard for her to breathe. But they’re insanely outnumbered, a few hundred again a few dozen thousand, and at one point, it gets so brutal that a lucky wind user manages to get a good hit in.
A well aimed wind jutsu sends her hips and legs flying away from the rest of her, and a panicked Shikamaru hastily uses his shadows to grab and snap the necks of anyone who gets close to her. She uses that time to crawl back to her other half (which, really, how fucked up is that) and fuse herself back together with the Strength of a Hundred.
She ends up retreating from the fight after that one, perching herself on Gaara’s sand cloud, and focuses her full attention to summoning Katsuyu and empowering the slug.
No one gets to sleep that night, not even the wounded.
Thankfully, because apparently there’s a deity out there who hates the shit out of shinobi but is feeling merciful towards the civilians, the ships arrive a day early, with the Sanbi pulling them along in it’s wake to speed things up. Gaara’s sand makes the transition quick, simply using his sand to grab most of the civilians and cart them to the ships, and it lets the others focus fully on the fighting.
The Kiri shinobi don’t even get off their ships.
Even they can see there’s no helping them now.
Sakura doesn’t stop, even after the ships turn back around and the Sanbi guides them hurriedly along, until Naruto drops down onto the sand cloud and puts a hand onto her shoulder. “We’re leaving, now.” Naruto says urgently and Sakura grits her teeth and forces herself to release Katsuyu.
“Leaving?” Gaara demands sharply, turning his head to frown at them, and Sakura reaches up with a shaky hand to push her hair out of her sweaty face.
It’s been awhile since she last had to heal like that. Usually, the stationary version was more Tsunade’s style.
“Yeah, Gaara.” Naruto confirms, pulling his hand off Sakura and turning to face the Kazekage grimly. “We have a plan. There’s no guarantee it’ll work, so we waited until everyone was safe, but we have a plan.”
And Gaara’s perpetually calm mask cracks.
He looks out over the battleground, lips pressed together so hard they turn white, and the corners twitch with suppressed grief. “I hope it’s a hell of a plan.” He says quietly, with just a hint of a tremor to it, and Sakura kind of feels like she’s just been punched in the gut.
Even if it’s still mostly controlled, even if the reaction is subtle, she’s never seen Gaara look or sound like that.
Naruto reaches out and pulls him into a quick, but firm hug. “It is, Gaara.” Naruto says fiercely, and there’s that determination that’s been missing for a while now. “It’s a hell of a plan, and we’re going to fix this.” Naruto swears.
Sakura forces herself to her feet, and when Naruto releases his tight hold on the Kazekage, Sakura gives Gaara a small, confident grin.
It’s about time someone puts him at ease, instead of the other way around.
“It’s going to work, Gaara.” She tells him warmly, reaching out to clap a hand to his bicep. His seafoam eyes meet hers for a moment, going soft and incredibly, painfully relieved.
“Save my people. Whatever your plan is, save them.” He plea is soft but desperate, and Sakura has to swallow against the sudden lump in her throat.
“We will. We’ll save them all.” Sakura swears.
Gaara nods curtly, once, and then steps back and to the edge of the sand cloud. Sakura lets her hand drop, one of Naruto’s gudodama flattening into a small platform in front of her. Two more dart away from his back, no doubt seeking out Shikamaru and Sasuke, so Sakura quickly steps up onto hers.
Suddenly the knowledge that this is the last time she’s going to see any part of this world again is almost unbearably painful. Tears sting at the corners of her eyes, but she blinks hard and forces it back, forces the grief away and locks it into the little box she’s had in the back of her mind since she was seventeen and the war first broke out.
Maybe one day she’ll get to open that box and let go of the grief, the loss and the misery.
But probably not. They are planning to die, after all.
Gaara kneels down on the edge of his sand cloud and bows his head, lifting his hands to shape a tiger seal as his cloud carries towards the ground.
Naruto’s gudodama flies her away, Sasuke and Shikamaru joining them in the sky moments later, and they’re gone long before the suicide strikes begin - but the enormous pillar of dust, smoke, and ash they leave behind them is irrefutable proof that the hundred and fifty or so shinobi left had followed through with the plan.
Nothing says ‘fuck you’ quite like taking everyone in three square miles with you when you go.
“Alright.” Naruto pushes himself to his feet and brushes his hands off on his knees. The finishing touches are in place, and the large seal takes up almost thirty square feet. “That… looks right. Apparently.” Naruto says doubtfully, biting his lip. “Kurama says it’s solid, and to pick a corner.” Naruto gestures to the four spaces carefully left clear in the seal.
“Great.” Sakura agrees.
None of them move.
Eventually Naruto gives up. He drops down and perches on the balls of his feet, lacing his fingers into his hair. “Oh my god this is such a bad idea.” He groans despairingly.
“Not as bad of an idea as standing here in the open in enemy territory.” Shikamaru points out blithely, apparently deciding to take his place in the north circle. He sits down, looks up at the sky, and then frowns, disgruntled when he can’t recline without laying on the carefully etched seals.
“Man’s got a point.” Sakura agrees, clapping a hand on Naruto’s shoulder.
Sasuke, ever ready to be a bro (hah, yeah fucking right) goes to Naruto’s other side and sets his hand on that shoulder, then takes a deep breath. “Get it together, dumbass.” He says flatly.
“Hey, fuck you, Sasuke.” Naruto huffs, but he doesn’t get up. “You guys are my only friends and I’m about to get you killed. Oh god, this thing is going to just, like, fling us into space or something, isn’t it?”
“Maybe it’ll take us to the moon.” Sakura suggests thoughtfully.
“Right? That would suck.”
“Actually my point was that it would be really cool.” Sakura admits, and Naruto lifts his head to glare at her.
“I am being serious here.”
“So am I! I mean, if I had to pick a way to die, getting teleported to the moon would be… memorable.”
“Well we certainly aren’t memorable enough as it is.” Sasuke mutters.
Both of them ignore him.
“The moon, Sakura. Oh, god, it’ll probably just rip us apart and make us… I don’t know, space dust or something.”
“Again, unique if nothing else.” Sakura points out. Naruto apparently decides to ignore her, too.
“We are so fucked.” He moans, fisting his hair.
“Naruto.” Sakura says, firmly, and when he continues to ignore her she turns around and crouches down in front of him. “Look at me or I’m going to hit you really hard.”
He drops his hands and snaps his head up quickly.
“We are totally fucked.” Sakura informs him.
“I know.” He breathes out, horrified.
“No, no, Naruto. Embrace it. We’re fucked. No hope. Nada. We are space dust and we just don’t know it yet, okay?” Sakura says patiently. He nods along with every other word.
“A-huh. So, since we’re so totally entirely fucked, let’s just activate this jutsu and hope it kills us in a super cool way.”
Naruto pauses, then blinks, looking up at her a little glassy eyed.
“...I won you over with the ‘super cool’ part didn’t I.”
“Space dust would be super cool.” Naruto says in the tone of a revelation.
“Obviously that was my entire point.” Sakura mutters sarcastically and it goes right over his head.
Naruto hops to his feet and walks towards the seal. Sakura shoots Sasuke an exasperated look and the Uchiha just offers her a one-armed shrug, looking at her like it’s all her fault for putting the thought in Naruto’s head to begin with.
Which - kind of, yes.
Naruto pauses after three feet and turns back around doubtfully. “What if it does work?”
Sakura rolls her eyes to the heavens, takes a breath for patience, and looks at Naruto again. “Then we follow the plan. We go in, we fuck stuff up, kill all the bad guys, confuse all the good guys, kidnap all the jinchuuriki, become the bad guys, and then kill ourselves to stay on track with the previous goal of killing all the bad guys. Agreed? Agreed, let’s go.” Sakura steps into the circle to Shikamaru’s right, not waiting for a single reaction to anything she says.
Sasuke sits across from her and Naruto hesitates for a moment longer before sullenly stepping into the remaining circle. “Right. Okay. I guess we’re doing this.” Naruto takes a deep breath, mutters a quick, “so fucked,” and makes a hand seal. Sakura does as well, quietly releasing the Yin seal and letting the chakra flood back into her system. She used up most of it during the last battle, but it’s still worth three times her usual chakra reserves.
She looks over at Shikamaru as the seals light up, intending to flash him a confident grin, only to pause. He’s not watching the clouds anymore, or even reacting to the way the seals are starting to rise out of the ground and swirl in a way that is, in a word, puke-worthy.
... No way.
Her angry thoughts stick in her mind even as the jutsu sucks half her chakra right out of her and makes her head spin disorientingly.
Shikamaru doesn’t seem so heavily affected.
Because the asshole’s somehow asleep.