Tales have been retold of the greatest heroes and their untimely demises. The greatest, most memorable and extraordinary heroes of all time are remembered for their accomplishments and brave feats, but they are truly celebrated due to the circumstances in which they die protecting something precious, whether on a large scale or otherwise.
Senju Hashirama is praised for building Konoha from scratch and becoming the first of a line of many Hokage, but he died in the First war. Namikaze Minato is remembered for saving the village from the Second war by sealing the Kyuubi inside his son and ultimately sacrificing himself. Itachi, too, is remembered as a great Konoha Shinobi who devoted his life to protecting the Leaf village; dead, as well. During the first few years after the truth behind the Uchiha massacre travelled around the village, there were doubts in civilians and Shinobi alike, yet he has been regarded as a formidable hero for many years now.
All heroes die but are kept alive through history, and their admirable stories pass down from generation to generation throughout the world.
Sakura passes away peacefully.
Mama, fifty, radiant, and beautiful, spends most of her days at the hospital. The land of Fire is not as it used to be in her time, and there are better, more efficient machines in the world that can do a healer's job in a second, but her mom still uses her perfect chakra, takes her time, exhausts herself daily, and still follows what she has learnt is the best way to heal someone—because to her, there is no technique or machine great enough to beat the human touch.
That determination, specifically, has earned her the respect of the Great Five Nations throughout the years, and she has been training different schools of thought who want to follow the more traditional path of healing straight from under her tutelage for about ten years now; in Suna, Oto, and even the smaller villages nestled between countries who have the most basic healing abilities ever known to man.
In a way, Sakura is a hero herself by definition. She has saved countless of lives, helped defeat Kaguya in the Fourth Shinobi War, held the same respect and power as her equals—Sasuke and Naruto, only the most powerful Shinobi to ever have lived, still holding the title decades after the war—and has opened several mental health, as well as pediatric health, centers around Fire. She's always put others before herself, she wears her heart on her sleeve, and she loves with as much as her heart is capable of.
In Sarada's eyes, Sakura will always be a role model, a hero, and a mother. She overworks herself into the late hours of the night, back when papa wasn't around long enough, doesn't take care of herself unless Sarada reminds her of how important it is to eat and take regular showers, and has been prone to fainting due to chakra depletion; which is why, when she gets a call in the morning from the hospital saying her mother has passed out yet again and for the second time in the month, and is currently being held in a room until she wakes, Sarada doesn't think much of it.
She gets dressed, kisses her husband's cheek as he sleeps by the edge of the bed, and heads out to the Hokage tower.
So when she spends the entire day at the tower signing off requests and reading through very mundane, repetitive paperwork, she doesn't expect her mentor to barrel inside her office with the saddest pair of blue eyes she has ever seen on him.
Sarada stares at him, eyes blue and hair of a lighter shade of yellow from his older age, until she knows there is something off—something terribly, mind-numbly off about the way in which he holds himself, as if his knees are about to buckle and his life force is threatening to spill all over the floor.
And that's when she knows.
She's up in a second.
"Lord Seventh," she breathes, taking off her treasured Hokage hat and laying it on the desk in between them. "What is it?"
Naruto has his hands in fists, mouth pursing as if he's barely containing the tears. And he looks so tired, so, so tired, that she only sees what her brain makes her see—her mother, on a hospital bed, this time not waking up.
She barely has time to react as she disappears in a flash with him tailing behind her.
The position of Hokage is more than she had ever expected, and even better, but being five years in and in a world reigning with peace and increasing amounts of new contracts for building, it gets harder by the day to uphold all of her responsibilities. Shikadai helps her with her work, but it's not enough.
Ever since she became Hokage at the age of twenty-five, though, she has made sure to abolish the idea that her father has to go into the wilderness as a shadow Hokage, something encouraged by both Naruto and Konohamaru alike, the leaders preceding her.
In light of having none of the Otsutsuki presenting themselves in at least one decade, she didn't think twice and finally sent him home. She will never forget the look on both mama and papa as he finally accepted this would be for the best; joy, happiness, but most of all relief. As such, he helps her manage her workload too when he's not on the occasional mission here and there.
He's getting old, after all, and she's been slowly but surely decreasing the number of missions she gives him, and decreasing the rank as well. He's smart, however, and she knows he notices what she's doing but, even then, he says nothing. Perhaps it's because, then, he gets to spend more time with mama, making up for all the years lost, and taking care of her little sister, Kin, the golden child who was born exactly thirteen years after Sarada and at a time where no one was expecting it. She's seventeen now and on missions away from home, which has made her parents bond even more lately.
She remembers, once not too many days ago, walking to her parents house with a basket full of tomatoes she had grown in her own backyard—something none of them can ever accomplish, something so trivial as gardening, which makes no sense to Sarada—arriving at the door ready to knock, only to stop her hand at the last moment.
Next to the door, peering into the unopened but unobstructed window, she'd seen the back of her parents' heads as they'd rested on one of the couches. Her mother had been with her head on his shoulder, and they'd been talking in hushed voices about things Sarada hadn't the the need to hear, and then, when she'd been about to knock anyway, she had seen her father turn his head slightly toward mama, and she'd seen him plant a long, drawn out kiss at the top of her head. And it had been so gentle, so unlike the world believes her father is like, so much with love and affection, so much like he only shows her and his daughters, but different. Different because it's Sakura, it's his wife, it's the woman he loves, it's them alone in the living room, talking and laughing and being together. She had wisely come back the next day instead.
When Sarada arrives at the hospital, it's the most quiet it's ever been. The air is thick with misery and dejection, and it makes it harder to breathe when the entire staff, anywhere she walks, looks at her with sorrow. And it's not because she's the Hokage. It's because she's her mother's daughter.
Tsunade has long been dead, but one of her mother's most trusted apprentices greets her and the Seventh outside one door on the third floor. She has tears in her eyes but is trying her hardest to be professional, and it breaks Sarada's heart in a million pieces more.
There's confusion in her voice when she tries to tell them it was sudden; it was painless; tries to tell them that her immune system had been down for a few days and, after the second time being chakra depleted to the point that they had to get her on an IV drop, she didn't improve; her chakra never came back, she was too weak, and she stopped breathing less than an hour ago.
They tried to reanimate her. They pumped chakra into her in hopes that she would wake once more, to no avail.
Her mother passes away one Tuesday evening, as ordinarily as it comes, while her oldest daughter is filing paperwork and her youngest is away on a week-long mission.
And her father, probably already contacted, away to escort an important businessman into somewhat-dangerous territory on the other side of the country, and due to come back in two days.
Sarada goes inside the room alone, and cries for three hours straight while holding onto her hand by the bed.
Her father takes it the hardest, as she was only right to suppose.
When her tears have dried and her heart has stopped aching so hard she thought it would explode at times, and when she gets up on wobbly feet and opens the door of the room to find a distraught Naruto on the floor, elbows resting on his knees and hands on his eyes and eyes red and puffy, she feels it.
In fact, the entire hospital feels it. Some attendants even go outside a few rooms to check on the chakra signature, but Sarada knows it well: it's her father.
Tumultuous and wild as she's never felt it before, bursting with almost palpable pain, his erratic chakra signature comes to life inside the hospital from one second to the next.
And then, briefly after she feels it, she sees him rushing through the halls, looking at every room number and trying to find the one where his wife resides in. When he notices Sarada and Naruto in the back of one of the halls, he strides toward them, and Sarada doesn't miss the blood seeping from one of his eyes. Clearly, it's a sign he has irresponsibly used his Rinnegan to get to them, in the middle of a mission no less, and it has taken a toll on him already.
He seems to not mind as he gets to them, panting and with dried blood on his dark clothes, a result from fighting bandits during the mission not long ago.
With the panicked way in which he had appeared out of thin air at the hospital, and with the way he had rushed to find his wife, Sarada expects him to come barreling in the room like some kind of maniac. But he doesn't.
Instead, he stops in front of the room, opting to look at Naruto for a second, then lock eyes with Sarada's own, red eyes; red from the crying and red from the Sharingan—the Mangekyō Sharingan, he takes note, but now is not the time nor the place.
She's only ever initiated physical contact with her father a handful of times during her lifetime, but now she doesn't care about the repercussions. She hugs him to her, tightly, channeling all the pain she's been feeling from her mother's sudden, quiet death. She feels like it shouldn't have happened. She feels like it was too soon, too soon to take away such a brilliant, beautiful soul from this world. She feels like she's left her and she's left her other daughter and she's left her husband with no goodbye, with no closure, and now she feels lost.
Her father doesn't hug her back, only placing one hand on the small of her back in support, but otherwise only waits for the embrace to end.
She lets go after a few more seconds, finding her eyes are filled with tears once again, and looks at him with a small, knowing smile.
"I'll leave you two alone. If you need anything, I'll be at my house. Or, if you'd prefer, I could go to your house so you're not alone, I know mama used to tell me you like sulking on your own but it's not good for you and-"
"Sarada," he murmurs, his voice raw and almost breaking, and Sarada looks at him with wide eyes at the vulnerable state he's really in. "Go home, don't worry about me."
She releases a shaky breath and nods, glancing at Naruto and seeing as he gets up from his position on the floor, and gives Sasuke's shoulder a squeeze.
There are no words needed as they share one look, and then Naruto is walking away from them, and Sarada follows.
Sasuke enters the room and closes the door behind him quietly.
She doesn't see what happens in that room, well into the night and well into the morning, well up to a point when a few doctors advise him it's best if they move the body somewhere more appropriate; telling him he can arrange the funeral or have someone else arrange it for him; telling him Sakura was loved, and anyone would do anything for her.
She doesn't see and she never finds out, but she imagines it all the same. She imagines her papa, tough and rough around the edges, walking closer to the love of his life as she slumbers in an eternal dream. With hesitant steps, he approaches the bed, looks down at her as she has her eyes closed, her once-again-long hair now matted with white tendrils but a pretty hue all the same surrounding her heart-shaped face, her lips closed and her head slightly tilted to the side.
She imagines him bending down, placing a kiss on her forehead, caressing her now-cold and lifeless face, paler than usual and already starting to become hard from rigor mortis. She imagines him grieving, but she doesn't see it.
She doesn't see the way her papa breaks down, tears spilling over the sheets, one hand holding onto the railing for support and the other hovering over her still form, in between touching her or not, if only for the reminder that she's really, truly not coming back.
She doesn't see him activate his Rinnegan with as much hope as he can muster, trying hard, so hard, to activate the time travelling technique he once learnt with Boruto, wanting to reverse the time far enough back that it would just be enough to not go on his last mission; to stay and take care of her just as he's supposed to, knowing quite well how she had been stressing herself over a brand new wing opening at the hospital she directs; God, and he hates himself for it, he blames himself for her death, so quiet and so soon, like it never happened to begin with, that he can barely see anything through the blurry image his tears make.
She doesn't see her papa try everything in his power to bring her back, and even though he's one of two of the most powerful people in the world, he can't accomplish it. She's been dead for a few hours already, after all, and it's too long of a time interval to bring anyone back to life. She doesn't see him risk his Sharingan altogether by thinking of activating Izanagi, but knowing that he has to activate it as injury is about to happen in order to twist reality and avoid it, not when it has happened long ago.
As it is, he has nothing to do but sit and cry, wondering why it is that she is dead so soon, why she has left with no other reason than just pure exhaustion, stress, and a weak immune response. First cursing, then telling her to come back, then being silent for the rest of the night—silent but otherwise heartbroken, the agony rendering him mute and helpless to do nothing but fester with regret.
Sarada doesn't see as he sits by his wife's side all night long, not bothering to touch her in fear that she will be cold and hard, brittle like a puppet, but she imagines it. She knows her father, in spite of not being together for many years during her childhood, and she knows he will take this the hardest out of anyone.
Sakura, the love of his life, his wife, the mother of his children, the girl who's loved him ever since they were kids, now dead and gone in circumstances no one thought possible. But her mother, for as great and strong and powerful as she is, is also human. She's only human, and her risky, careless behaviour has led her to a point of no return.
Sarada has to forcefully pry her papa away from the lifeless, doll-like body of her mama the next morning.
The funeral takes place a few weeks later, if only to let everyone take the time to travel to Konoha. And that's because, as Sarada would hope, everyone Sakura has ever healed or remained in close contact with attends, and there are at least fifty people from each nation alone who come to say their goodbyes. Her mama has always been lovable, a sweet person, caring beyond belief. It's no wonder so many attend.
The streets outside the cemetery are filled as they make a line to come up to her coffin, ready to say some parting words or leave a flower, and it takes hours for the whole procession to be over.
Sarada stands next to her father, and on his other side is Kin, who had to rush from her mission back home after the devastating news. Naruto stands to the side, but he still stands with them with a solemn expression on his face. Kakashi, who spends his days from village to village with Gai-sensei in order to find some vacation time during his old age, stands next to Naruto with his hands in his pockets, and she has never seen so much despair in his eyes; maybe, he had never thought his female student would be the first to go.
The remaining members of the Uchiha family hold hands as they lower her into the ground—right next to Tsunade's tombstone, behind her parents' graves, and right in front of the symbolic names without actual bodies of Uchiha Itachi, Mikoto, and Fugaku—but there are no tears. They have cried enough, and Sarada would rather remember her with a content feeling than a sad one, even if her constant lack of presence does hurt.
They start the funeral at eight in the morning, and they each go home after everyone has finished saying goodbye, hand in hand, at eight at night.
She visits her parents' home on her mother's fifty-first birthday, only two weeks after the funeral, if only to make sure her father's doing well, or as well as he's expected to be doing.
She knocks on the door but, when nobody answers, takes out the spare key she was given once and opens the door with ease. Inside, and even though it's plain morning, the entire house seems dark and quiet, and worry builds up in her gut at the possibility of her father doing something reckless. She had not given him missions ever since thatday. He had to be home.
She searches the house and finds no one there, however, and so she steps out in hopes of finding him somewhere else around the village; training, maybe? But when Shikadai drops from one rooftop to stand in front of her, telling her there's someone who wants to see her at the tower, she makes it a goal to at least find him by the end of the day.
It dawns on her, as she spends her day fulfilling her duties as Hokage, that there's one place he could be, if not at home. Late in the night as it is by the time she finishes working, she still walks toward the cemetery and she still finds him there, sitting with his head up, looking up at the stars, hands behind him to support his weight and legs open in front of him. It's a careless position, a free-spirited moment that makes him look younger again under the moonlight.
She walks toward him with flowers in her hands—mama's favourites—and she sits next to him, leaving the flowers on the cement of her stone and looking up as well.
She remembers, though the memory is hazy and blurred from her childhood, how she once sneaked outside her bedroom because she was so excited papa came home for a few days in the midst of his long-lasting mission, only to find them both outside in the backyard, hand in hand and looking up at the stars the same way he's doing now. Her father had said something back then that had made her mother laugh. And he had looked down at her with amusement, probably with a small smile of his own, probably thinking she's achingly beautiful and as lovely as when they were just kids. He had kissed her sweetly after she'd stopped laughing.
Sarada had thought it disgusting and had run back to her room.
She only remembers that with fondness now.
He breaks down two months after her death.
She thought it would be sooner, but upon no big, emotional response from him, she had just assumed he would grieve quietly and on his own terms. She had been utterly wrong.
She gets alerted of some commotion at one of the training grounds, but when she gets there, he has already left. She knows it's him from the hundreds of burnt trees, the damage irreversible just like her mother's death. She tells two of her Shinobi to take care of the repairs, and then she leaves in a rush.
She runs and jumps from rooftop to rooftop, something like panic settling itself in her stomach as she gets closer to her childhood home.
Sasuke is inside, she knows, because she can feel his once-more erratic, wild chakra spiraling out of control.
She opens the door, fingers fumbling with the key and dropping it twice in her haste, and she comes in as fast as her feet let her.
Sasuke's on the floor of the living room, books all around him and red eyes quickly scanning through but, upon not finding what he's looking for, he closes it loudly and keeps looking somewhere else.
"Papa?" She asks, stepping closer to him. "Where did you get all these books?"
He doesn't even look up from the new book he's looking through.
Sarada sighs and sits on one of the couches, looking at him with a tired gaze.
"Why did you burn Training Ground Eleven?"
Sasuke gives his firstborn no answer, and then she hears Kin walking to the kitchen from her bedroom, sparing them a disinterested glance before making herself something to eat.
"Kin! Come here, do you know what he's doing?"
She pokes her head from the kitchen and shrugs her shoulders, her long, waist-length tar black hair swaying with the motion.
"No idea. He's been reading since yesterday, though," she comments, then goes back to the kitchen.
Sarada sighs once more and looks down at her father. Her hopeless, mourning father who's clearly in denial about all that has happened.
"What are you reading?" She asks, but picks up one of the books without expecting an answer. The title reads Essentials for Perfect Chakra Control. She picks another one and it reads Forbidden Techniques for Reanimation. The next one says Chiyo, and How She Saved Sabaku no Gaara. She widens her eyes, the reason for his strange behaviour finally dawning on her.
And she feels pity for him, not angry for doing this, for taking mama's own written books from a restricted section of the hospital for a reason that is futile in every way possible.
She has heard the tales of Chiyo and her mother fighting one of Akatsuki's members, Sasori. She has heard of the technique Chiyo used to save an already-dead Gaara.
"Chiyo did something only seen once in the history of Shinobi, papa. You know the consequences and risks that come with this technique; she gave up her life so he could live."
Sasuke stops reading and looks at her, but he seems to not like the emotion displayed on her face, for he looks back down toward the book and starts reading again, cursing under his breath when he doesn't find what he's looking for there either.
"Why are you so willing to give up your life for someone else's?" Her voice is small and quiet, only for him to hear.
The response is almost instantaneous.
"Not someone. Sakura."
This silences her, and her heart starts aching like it hasn't in a while at the implications of his words.
Sakura's different. He would give up his life for her own. He wants her to live again.
But it's no use.
"Papa," she whispers, coming down to the floor with him and placing a hand on his own to stop him from changing the pages. "It's been two months, do you know what that means?"
He stays quiet and, although the bile is rising up her throat with what she's about to entertain, he needs to hear the cold, harsh truth.
"After only forty-eight hours, most of the skin is eaten from a dead body. If you were to attempt this, it wouldn't work. Mama is no longer skin and bones, papa."
She sees his hands tremble slightly before he shuts the book and stands, disregarding her comment. He looks around the mess of books and scrolls and she sees the desperation pooling in his eyes, eyes so much like her own, holding so much emotion in them.
Hands in tight fists, he enters his bedroom—which, as Kin has been telling her, he hasn't gone into since Her death—briskly, grabs a bag which he slings over his shoulder, grabs his infamous cloak, and walks past her. He walks out of the house with no other words.
Sarada's not having it.
She saw the emotion in his eyes, the way he was driven by ambition, and she knows whatever he plans to do next is no use either—but that doesn't mean it's not dangerous or that she doesn't have to stop him.
"Papa! Where do you think you're going?" She runs after him and grabs him by the arm, her enhanced strength keeping him in place.
"I'll be gone for a while, I need to find something," is all he lets on.
But Sarada knows him. She shares half the same genes as him. She knows what he's thinking, and she stops him before it can get out of hand.
"You won't find the same artifact that took you and Boruto to the past. It's long been destroyed, remember?"
If he's surprised by the way she had read his exact thoughts, he doesn't show it, preferring to puff out air from his nose and frown as if upset by the statement itself.
"Then I will find a new one."
"What are you planning to do anyway? You can't stop her chakra depletion, or will you forcefully keep her home? What if it was just another type of sickness? What if her sickness, coupled with the chakra depletion, caused her death? What if-"
"I'll bring her back," he says, with such determination and confidence that she almost believes him.
There's a moment of quiet between them as they look at each other and, even though her voice breaks as she speaks and her eyes water, she still says it.
"She's dead," she murmurs, and she sees the way he flinches. "She's not coming back. Please, let her go."
Something crosses his eyes, then, and she sees the way his posture falters, the way his shoulders hunch, the way his lips quiver and the way he sucks in a breath. She lets go of him, and the moment she does, he dashes past her.
He turns around, cloak ruffling with the motion, and gives her a stern look.
"Sarada, don't follow me. I'll be back, but I have to do this," he states, his face set and his moment of vulnerability gone.
Sarada wants to reason with him, wants to show him that this is not the way, wants to tell him that he won't find anything but solitude and pain in this pointless journey. She wants to tell him he's trying to cope and failing miserably, and that he hasn't admitted to himself that she's truly never coming back, as much as he wants her to. She wants to scream at him to turn back, to find something to do to fill in the void in the meantime while he processes this; maybe gardening, finally? Maybe training? Maybe hanging out with uncle Naruto? She wants him to stop.
It hurts, but she knows how to manage her pain.
Her papa, though, is another story. He stares at her as a warning, but the eye contact is all she needs to break down his barriers.
She activates her Sharingan and, in less than a second, sees his eyes widen and his body fall to the ground.
She traps him in a Genjutsu, and although a strong, powerful one perfected for years, he should have been able to get out hours ago.
Instead, he's still lying on his bed with eyes closed where she left him, two hours gone by since she cast the illusion on him so that he wouldn't leave.
It would make no sense for him to stay in the illusion, only that she had had one clear scenario in mind for him when she had projected the illusion, and it involves her parents, once more together, sitting on the couch like that one day she had seen it happen from the window. It was a memory, and she had let it run according to her father's wishes, not knowing what else happened that day to continue the deception on her own's thoughts.
The fact that he hasn't woken up only makes her heart ache, hand coming to hold his own for a few seconds, leaving the room after gazing upon his face.
He'd had tears streaming from his closed lids, down his face and onto the sheets below him for what was once there, and is now no more.
It's Himawari's birthday, and everyone gathers in Naruto's home to celebrate, if only because it's bigger.
Sarada's standing next to her father, who's talking to Naruto about this or that—really, just nonsense blabbering. Cradled in his arms is a baby with black hair and the greenest of eyes, toying with his hair and laughing on her own at just one year old.
Her mother would say something about dominant recessive genes, skipping one generation and passing on to Sarada's child, if she were here. It was a shock to everyone, and it still is, so much so that her father had taken one look at the hospital and had teared up immediately in front of everyone in the room.
To say they're inseparable would be an understatement, but maybe it's for the best.
Five years after her mother's death, he's definitely better than back when it happened. Ever since the day she had cast a Genjutsu on him, he has been sleeping in his own bed, has eaten more properly, and has taken care of himself as much as possible. Ever since that day, he has asked her to cast different deep-leveled illusions on him—of which she knows nothing of, for privacy reasons, but she makes sure to think of them both together in some memory before casting it and leaving him to his own fantasy.
And it helps. She knows it still hurts, but with the weekly sessions, he's—somehow, as contradictory as it sounds—much more in the present than in the past.
She laughs at something Boruto tells her, then turns to her father and tells him the same story, watching as her papa, looking much older than ever before but still with the same kind, kind eyes reserved for her, only nods with an amused smile stretching his lips, hoisting her baby up slightly so she doesn't fall off and turning to keep arguing—about which kind of tree Naruto should plant in his yard, she overhears—with Naruto.
Sarada looks into the distance, remembering her mama smiling, laughing, scolding her, kissing papa when she thought there was no one near, healing patients with professionalism, slapping uncle Naruto for being a reckless idiot, and being the most beautiful, wonderful mama she could have ever had. She looks back at her papa, and she knows, even if it will never stop hurting, they will be fine. They have to.