The wonderful lucife56 drew some fantastic fan art of Sakura in her Survey Corps glory. The link is in my profile. Make sure to leave some love if you're able to!
He hadn't been very specific in what they would be doing, but she was smart enough to know she shouldn't show up in work clothes. She put on her regular shinobi pants and chuunin jacket on top of her long sleeved shirt. Summer had given way to fall, and she wasn't about to wear a skirt and regular shirt when the weather was chilly enough to give her goosebumps on a warm day.
Sakura was a bit nervous to leave her house, and it apparently became very obvious to her dad that she wasn't going to work at the hospital because of her attire and mental state. If she told him that she was leaving to receive lessons from Uchiha Itachi, he would never let her walk outside. Even if he had been been pardoned for the Uchiha Massacre and it was well-known that he had done it to save Konoha, the majority of the general populace were still very wary of the man who could agree to murder his own family of superb shinobi for the sake of a village. Only Sakura and a handful of shinobi even dared to speak with him. Suffice to say he had become the village's pariah, a role he took very seriously.
"I'm just going to train for a little bit," she responded a bit stiffly, making sure to keep a normal amount of eye contact.
Her father blinked twice. "Train? With Tsunade-sama?"
"No. With me," a smooth baritone said from inside the house, and a man with messy platinum hair and steely blue eyes turned to the hallway leading to the door. He was already dressed in the regular jounin attire, his forehead protector shining brightly around his bicep.
Now it was Sakura's turn to be very surprised, but it quickly led way to wariness. Why would Suguru want to come train with her? There was something more he wanted, no doubt. The question was what. Her older brother had never been interested in what she did. It was hard to be interested in the comings and goings of a sibling twelve years younger.
He came to stand next to her and looked at her expectantly, arching an elegant brow. God did she hate it when he did that. "Well? Are we going or not?"
Sakura put on her best fake smile and waved at her dad enthusiastically. "Yup! I won't be back for dinner so tell Kaa-san not to make anything."
They were both out the door before their father could even formulate a reply. If there was something weirder than Sakura dressing for training on a work day, it was Suguru coming to train with her. Not only was he a powerful jounin, but he had recently taken a genin team of his own. It had only taken Tsunade a very serious threat of giving him C-Rank missions for a year for him to accept the role of a sensei.
Never in her wildest dreams had she envisioned walking down the crowded Konoha streets with her older brother in tow. She risked a sideways glance at him, and she was surprised to see him with a smooth face, seemingly enjoying the beautiful autumn breeze and sunlight. All of Sakura's memories of her brother, which were few considering he spent most of his teens on dangerous missions, always had him sporting a scowl or an emotionless face. One time, when she was six, she had asked Suguru why he didn't smile when he came home, and he calmly answered that there was nothing to smile about once anyone saw the world for what it was. Even if she didn't understand what he meant, she was old enough to know that her brother was unhappy.
"What do you want, nii-san?" Sakura asked quietly after heavy minutes of silence.
He huffed a short laugh. "Those lessons with Hokage-sama sure have made you more confident. Remember when you used to hide in your room when I came home?"
She sighed in exasperation, but decided to play along. Suguru would only answer questions when he wanted to, and she didn't want to argue at the moment. "Because you were covered in the blood of your enemies."
Suguru hummed in agreement, a whimsical smile etched on his face. Now that was even rarer than a non-frowning Suguru: a smiling one. Maybe this was one of his moods? Sakura wasn't very sure if she preferred him brooding or him being weird. "I did make quite the impression on you when you were younger, right?"
They were walking in the general direction of the training fields, and Sakura always left one hour earlier to her appointments, so at least she wasn't in any hurry. But if he got any weirder she would have no qualms in leaving him. "Nii-san, I barely saw you when I was a girl. Now, what do you want? You know I wasn't lying about training."
"True, you're going training. You just didn't tell Otou-san you were training with Uchiha Itachi."
Sakura scowled at him, but he pointedly avoided looking at him. "How do you know that?"
"You're not the only one Uchiha Itachi offered to help with training."
Sakura raked her brain for any person who might've accepted an offer from the Uchiha Itachi to train and almost came up short until a growl let her mouth. "Kakashi."
"Indeed. It seems the Mangekyou training has been doing wonders for him and he let it slip last night that he was taking Sakura-chan as his pupil. Which makes me wonder, just what did you do to make him interested?"
Her previous wariness at her brother quickly evaporated as a flash of hot anger coursed through her veins. "Look, I know you're the perfect child any parent could've ever wanted and I've been the fuck up until now, but don't think for a second I'm incapable of seeking opportunities and achieving things."
Suguru came to a stop next to her and stared at her with wide blue eyes. Perhaps today was a day of many firsts, because she had never seen him so surprised before, ever. He shook his head slowly and started walking again, joining her and continuing on their way to the training fields. "No, you misunderstand me, Sakura. I didn't mean it like that, though I can see where you would get such a sentiment. I haven't been the best brother, have I?"
"Nii-san, now's not the time to go down memory lane. You already know I have a lesson with Uchiha-san. He's willing to teach me about water chakra manipulation, and I'm not about to miss that opportunity, considering Tou-san can't help me out." When starting nature manipulation, it was best to get pointers from another person who had the same nature manipulation. Suguru had their mother's as a primary affinity wind chakra, and she preferred their father's water chakra. He just wasn't a very good teacher, and quickly lost his temper with her. "So tell me what's on your mind."
"I'm just asking what happened to you to make Uchiha Itachi interested in you. He never takes someone unless he feels indebted to them."
Sakura refrained from answering his question until they reached the first training field. Not that Suguru minded about her choice; they both preferred quiet places for their serious talks.
"His brother almost murdered me. Does that answer your question?"
Suguru's killing intent spiked a bit, but he wasn't aiming it at anyone in particular, making it a bit more awkward for her to be around. "When was this?" he asked quietly.
"Like a year ago, give or take a few months."
"And I wasn't told of this because?"
"You never asked and everyone assumed you didn't care. Oh, and I don't like talking about how my teammate almost killed me in cold blood and I needed Naruto to defend me because I was so in love with him I was willing to let him kill me."
Suguru breathed in and shakily exhaled. "Dammit, Sakura, you're my sister. I deserve to know when you're in danger."
"You've been on non-stop missions for the past ten years, Nii-san. This is the longest you've been in Konoha, and you've only been here for two weeks. And it's not a dinner topic, exactly... Whenever you visit us for dinner, that is."
"And you're still trying to defend not telling me about this? Or Otou-san and Okaa-san conveniently forgetting to tell me? Even Kakashi has done stupendously."
Sakura sighed and rubbed her own arm, feeling a bit cold all of the sudden. She could sympathize a bit with his anger at being left in the dark for the past year and a half, and admittedly she hadn't told him in the best way possible. "I told them not to tell you, so don't blame them."
A wave of hurt passed through his eyes until the anger came back to beat it back. "Why? Why would you be so unfair? You were always the warm one, the honest one. What happened?"
"I'm entitled to my secrets just as you are, Nii-san," she bit back. "You never talk about your missions. God knows how many times you've been in danger, but I've never demanded any names or to know what happens because it's your life and you choose how to live it. I'm a kunoichi now, and a damn good one. I can make my own decisions and I don't live in your damned shadow anymore."
Suguru looked ready to shoot back another barbed comment until an inexplicable wave of sadness washed over his face, leaving him oddly vulnerable. "I really did screw up, didn't I? And here I wondered why you never did well in the Academy, why you were so easy for that Yamanaka girl to befriend you and manipulate you."
Sakura rolled her eyes and looked away, trying to ignore how his words were opening up old wounds she could've sworn she had buried deep inside her heart. Trust Suguru to dig them up in a twenty minute conversation. "Don't you have a genin team or something?"
"I'm not in the mood, nii-san, and I have lessons soon. I want to warmup."
"You tested positive for wind chakra too, right?"
The pink-haired kunoichi stiffened, already knowing where this particular topic was going down to. "Nii-san, please."
"I'm fine with Uchiha Itachi teaching you about water manipulation as long as you let me teach you wind manipulation."
"I don't want to learn wind manipulation and I don't need your approval. Now, please go, nii-san."
"Why not? It's great you have an affinity for two elements."
She murmured with downcast eyes, "I preferred it when you made it a pastime out of ignoring me instead of this bullshit."
No, that was a blatant lie. She used to idolize him as a little girl starting the Acaademy and every time he avoided her gaze a small piece of her little heart would break. But at least back then his behavior had an explanation, according to her parents. Suguru was broken by his missions, hence his coldness, and Sakura had to be a very understanding girl and not bother him. She could deal with that brother easily, painfully, but she wasn't very sure how to deal with this Suguru, and that situation made her extremely uncomfortable.
The blond Haruno winced at her words, but he didn't let that stop him. "Sakura, this is illogical. You've always wanted me to train you ever since you started the Academy."
"Dammit, nii-san, I'm tired of being compared to you! Is it too hard for that genius brain of yours to understand that having you teach me won't make the comparisons go away?" she shouted at him, her green eyes lit with fire.
Suguru gaped at her, but Sakura could only continue glaring at him. Prodigy he may be, he was completely clueless when it came to relationships. It wasn't hard for her to believe that her brother was completely unaware of the self-esteem issues his existence gave her, both directly and indirectly. She had thought his earlier comment of being a bad brother was to recognize this particular shortcoming, but he had probably apologized for not being around to teach her how to be a better shinobi. Ah, how foolish they come.
"I… I didn't know you felt that way."
"Not many do," she replied quickly. "Now, can you please just… leave?"
"Fine, but this is not over, Sakura."
He body-flickered away, leaving behind a poof of smoke where he was previously standing. Once she was sure he was truly gone, Sakura sighed shakily and slowly crouched on the ground, gripping her knees tightly until her knuckles turned white. She felt her eyes burn but she willed the tears to not fall. Itachi would be coming soon and she didn't want him to believe she was a little girl scared of her first lesson with the meanie Uchiha.
"It is over, Suguru-niisan. It has been over for many years."
She jerked awake and quickly sat up, looking around the room the Garrison had provided her with dangerous eyes. Mikasa was sitting at the edge of her bed, her normally blank gray eyes colored by a bit of worry. She belatedly realized that her cheeks were wet and her hands had been harshly holding the bedsheets, probably explaining why her sister was concerned.
"Morning," she croaked, slowly unclenching her hands.
Mikasa frowned at her and heaved a sigh. "Are you okay? You were… crying in your sleep."
She had been, but she had no idea why or how that had happened. Whenever she tried to remember certain dreams, she came across a thick wall. Usually, bits and pieces of dreams were available to her, or at least she had the gist of the scenes in the dream, but some days, like this one, every single thing about the dream faded at the moment she woke up. "I don't remember what I was dreaming about. Small mercies, I guess."
The black-haired soldier continued staring at her, unconvinced, but she decided to drop the subject with a sigh. "Fine."
Sakura perked up and stood up, throwing Mikasa off the bed. She giggled when she landed on her bottom, something the younger Ackerman didn't appreciate. She crossed the room before Mikasa could retaliate violently and opened her closet, searching for her uniform in the sea of messy clothes and underwear. "Aha!" she exclaimed when she found a clean white shirt and the rest of her uniform. At least today she didn't have to put the harnesses of her 3DMG.
She started undressing and asked conversationally, "Anyway, how did you find me? I've been looking for you for days and couldn't find you."
Mikasa didn't even bat an eyelash at Sakura's naked form and and simply stood up, removing imaginary dirt from her bottom. "I bumped into… someone and asked him where you were staying."
Sakura didn't miss the dark look that crossed her face when she said someone, but decided to ignore it; she had other pressing matters. "Hm, fair enough. Is there a reason why you're here?"
"There's been something that has been bothering me about the trial."
Sakura finished wrapping her breasts and putting on her underwear and replied curiously, "Oh? Okay, I'm listening."
"Why didn't you stop him?"
She buttoned her shirt and faltered slightly at the last one. "Who are we talking about?"
"You know. Him," she repeated venomously.
The kunoichi frowned and quickly pulled up her white trousers. "You mean Captain Levi?"
"Yeah, that midget."
She snorted and had a hard time keeping her disapproving face. Her little sister had never been a stickler for rules and decorum, just like Sakura herself, but she had a new way of insulting superiors. "Now, Mikasa, I know he's a bit on the short side but you're not calling me a midget are you?"
"I'm not joking, Sakura," Mikasa replied coldly. "I'm asking you why didn't you stop that midget from beating Eren up."
Sakura raised her eyebrows at her. "I couldn't just interrupt the trial and stop my superior from beating Eren up."
"Yes, you could've. You just chose not to."
"That would've just given a bad impression about the Survey Corps, Mikasa. I talked about it with Commander Erwin and Captain Levi before the trial, about the possibility of this happening, and even though I don't fully understand the inner workings of the military, I knew that––"
"You don't need to be subjected to the military," she interrupted, walking in front of her and trying to intimidate her with her imposing height, something Sakura didn't appreciate in the least. "I remember what you did to that titan years ago, Sakura. I'm sure you can do it to everyone in that room and not have a single scratch on your face. But instead you knew before going inside that court room what would happen and did absolutely nothing to stop it."
She narrowed her eyes and met Mikasa's cold stare straight on. "Yes, I could have, but that goes against everything I stand for. Those people sitting next to me in the stands are my friends. The person who beat Eren up is my Captain. The man who gave the order is my Commander. I can't go against the people who I work for, whom I would die for. Captain Levi did it for Eren's sake."
"Your midget Captain is a sadistic person who takes enjoyment out of beating up people who would die for humanity, but look at you, defending him. Does that mean you've all learned a few things about him?"
There was a familiar chakra presence outside the door, but going to open it right now would only interrupt her conversation with Mikasa. She had a couple of points to make clear. "I won't get angry at you for how you address my superior ––I had problems with him too–– but I won't have you saying that he's sadistic and my teammates follow in his footsteps. That's uncalled for, Mikasa."
"Is that why you're siding with them over us? Because you love them more than Eren and me?"
Sakura spluttered and unwittingly took a step back. "What the hell are you talking about? How dare you say such things?"
"Eren gave us a home, Sakura. The Jaegers gave us a second chance, and this is how you pay them? You could've done something to stop it!"
She had identified the presence to be Levi, and he was still stationed outside her door. Why he would stay outside was a question she would save for another time. "You have no idea how grateful I am to them."
"Yet you've done nothing for him until now. You promised to never leave us, to protect us, but so far you've done none of that. You knew beforehand about the trial and just watched by the sidelines. Didn't even lift a finger to avoid it."
You call yourself a iryo-nin, but how many lives have you saved? A kunoichi, yes? But how many lives have you taken to protect us?
We're next, and like always, you're going to be the one to survive.
She winced as the memory of a recurring nightmare replayed in her head. Even though the words were different, the tone of voice was almost exactly the same to the Mikasa in her nightmare. "All right, you're misunderstanding, Mikasa. Life doesn't work like that. You can't just––"
"No, you're not understanding what you're doing wrong. You promised our parents, you promised us, to never abandon us and a stupid military branch gives you friends and you become their dog."
Her eyes narrowed, her rage and sorrow growing with each word Mikasa uttered. "That's outrageous and you know it."
They had never had a fight this big, ever. Mikasa had always been such an understanding, calm young lady, but whenever Eren was concerned, she turned into the most protective and smothering person Sakura had ever met. She just had never expected that her own sister would turn on her because of Eren, but maybe she had just been delusional. Love made people do very outrageous things, after all.
"I knew you never meant it. You were just saying those things to calm us down, right? What's next? Giving both Eren and me up for experimentation? I mean, you didn't even say anything to those men who thought I was the enemy too. Are you going to agree with everyone else that Eren's a traitor and a menace to humanity?"
"Are you okay with Eren being a weapon, then? Make him die a dog's death? I remember you speaking against all of that, but now you're on their side. My, how the tables turn. Or did you forget about––"
The slap was loud and clear throughout the whole room, or maybe it was the shock and adrenaline that made everything louder, clearer. Mikasa's disbelief was a thing of nightmares, for sure. The rapidly red handprint on her cheek was something she had promised herself to never do. She had never laid a single finger on Mikasa, ever, even when she had been in dire need of discipline. The whole situation was a thing straight out of her darkest dreams. Had she never woken up, then? Was she still asleep?
She was initially just as surprised as she was, but then her eyes narrowed at her hatefully and whispered tonelessly, "I'm glad to know where your allegiances lie, Sakura."
The black-haired Ackerman walked briskly past her and left the room without closing the door. Before going away, she scowled menacingly to the left, where Captain Levi's chakra presence was located, and stalked in the opposite direction. Sakura just stood in the middle of the room, staring at the open door until Levi stepped inside the room and shut the door quietly behind him.
"You eavesdropped on our conversation," Sakura pointed out nonchalantly, her stare holding no anger.
"Yes. I didn't feel like coming back later and I was already here."
"Most people would get mad about being spied on."
Levi raised an eyebrow and leaned against the door. "You're not most people and I don't care about you being angry."
"So why are you here?"
"I didn't come to yell at you, if that's what you're worried about." Sakura snorted and fought against the tiny smile that wanted to break out. "Not that you were ever afraid of that. No, I came here for something more serious than a little tantrum over Eren."
"Don't make fun of Mikasa."
"Don't tell me what to do, Ackerman." They were quiet for a few moments, each person unsure on what to say. Sakura didn't really feel like talking or arguing, and who knew what the hell went on in Levi's mind half the time. After a few minutes he continued, "I just came back from a meeting with Zackly and Erwin about my team. Zackly had no qualms about any of the members except you."
Sakura cocked her head to the side in confusion. "Me?"
"You're Eren's adoptive older sister. Zackly believes that if worse comes to worst, you will defend Eren and not kill him, potentially ruining the mission."
She sighed in understanding and nodded weakly. "So you're here to kick me out."
"Don't jump into conclusions. You know I hate when you do that."
Levi rolled his eyes and frowned at her. "I told Zackly he had nothing to worry about because as long as I was there, Eren had no chance of surviving if he went out of control. But we both know that's a lie."
She resisted the urge to smirk at the admittance that she was more powerful than him when it came to human-to-human combat, but she barely had an advantage without revealing her ninja status. "So you lied to Zackly because?"
He pushed himself away from the door and came to stand right in front of her in a move similar to what Mikasa had done earlier. But instead of doing it to intimidate her, he didn't have his threatening face or stance. "Be honest, Ackerman. If I ordered you to kill Eren, would you do it?" His stare was more heated than usual, but he was observing her features intensely, as if trying to see if he could catch her lies.
Sakura bit her lip and shook her head slowly. "I can't kill my little brother, Captain."
"Even if he attacked your teammates?"
"I said I can't kill him, but I never said anything about not stopping him."
Levi continued staring at her, his gray eyes hard and unyielding. It should make Sakura uncomfortable to have someone observe her for any sign of falsehood, but she knew Levi didn't mean anything bad about it. He had lied to the highest military authority about a very delicate mission for her. He was just trying to make sure he hadn't made a grave mistake from the beginning.
The Captain nodded slowly and stepped back to allow her more space. "I hope you understand what I'm putting on the line for you."
"Don't go against my orders, Ackerman. We're both going to be under scrutiny. One mistake and it's not only our jobs, but Eren's life."
"I know. I promise."
Levi sighed heavily and turned around to leave the room. "The only reason why I'm letting this happen is because I trust your word. We're leaving for the old headquarters tomorrow at dawn. You're riding in the rear."
He quickly left after saying that, not sticking around to hear what Sakura would reply with, and she was grateful for that. He had probably listened to Mikasa devaluing her promises and stances, so he knew the exact meaning behind his words. Quite frankly, she was touched, considering their somewhat rocky relationship. Though after two years, there were bound to be some improvements in their dynamic.
Sakura sighed and sat on her bed, running her hands through the bedsheets. She had barely been awake for an hour but she felt more exhausted than after an expedition. Not only did she have to worry about being impartial with Eren, but now she had a sister who was righteously angry at her. Mikasa had been out of line, attacking her integrity, but Sakura had physically attacked her by slapping her. Hadn't she promised to never hurt them and always protect them? Was Mikasa right, and her words really meant nothing?
Then what the hell had Levi just done?
Waking up before the sunrise had always been hard for Sakura. The past couple of weeks spend cleaning up Trost had been a much-needed reprieve from their usual days in the Survey Corps. Last night, though, she had been unable to sleep, dark thoughts plaguing her mind whenever she closed her eyes. Today marked the end of their stay in the Garrison's south headquarters, since Squad Levi would be taking Eren to an undisclosed location for safekeeping.
Nobody was supposed to know they were leaving today, but maybe that statement didn't apply to Armin Arlert.
The blond was petting Haruto quite gently, and the veteran horse was neighing in content, completely oblivious to his surroundings. Her horse had that effect on people, she had found. She loudly cleared her throat to alert him of her presence, and he jumped almost a foot in the air of the scare she gave him. "S-S-Sakura?"
She giggled and body-flickered next to him, her green Survey Corps cloak billowing from the speed. The Garrison stable was quite bigger than the Survey Corps's, even if they didn't need horses as much as them. The difference was in the quality and care of the horses, and it was very obvious which horses belonged to which branch. "Came to say good-bye?"
"Good-bye? What are you talking about?"
Sakura raised an eyebrow in confusion until her eyes widened in realization. "Oh," she murmured. "You didn't know. Damn."
"Know about what?"
She looked outside one of the stable windows. It was still dark outside, but the darkness was much lighter than when she had woken up. She had wanted to spend some time with Haruto before Squad Levi would meet at the stable at dawn, but that idea had quickly gone out the window when she saw Armin. She still needed to drive him out of the stable before someone saw them and accused her of sharing sensitive information with a cadet, but they still had a little bit of time before Squad Levi, the only group who had a reason for coming to the stables at such an ungodly hour, arrived. "So you come here before every morning then?"
Armin nodded slowly, willing to let Sakura keep her secret for longer, and continued petting Haruto. "It's the only time they're empty. You would think people would pay less attention to horses, but they're quite popular."
"More like they need a lot of maintenance."
"True. Do you come here often?"
"Only to spoil my horse."
"Your horse is in here?"
"You're petting him, actually."
He immediately stopped petting and gaped at her, horrified. "Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't know." Haruto whinnied in protest, making her chuckle and beckon Armin to continue his petting. "You don't mind?"
"You're asking if you don't mind me letting you spoil my horse? Of course not, Armin. Even if Haruto hated you, you're practically family."
His blue eyes softened and he started petting her horse much more naturally. "Family," he murmured wistfully. "Most of the cadets had at least one member alive, and none of them were from Shiganshina. Nobody understood. You must feel misunderstood too, right? For different reasons." At her questioning look, he further clarified, "Mikasa told me about yesterday."
She grimaced and put her head down, unable to handle his gaze. "I know I made a mistake."
"I'm not saying you made a mistake, Sakura. I know enough to not take sides. All I'm saying is that I know you feel lonely at times, because nobody is exactly like you. I'm sure Eren must be feeling it too. That's why… That's why it's good both of you have me and Mikasa."
Sakura was about to protest, that Mikasa was no longer willing to be there for her, but Armin quickly shut her up with just one look. The Training Corps did wonders for him if he turned out like that.
"I may not understand the reason behind your decisions or your moral code, but I will always support your decisions. And if you need someone to listen to you, I'm here too." Armin's serious face quickly morphed as a wry smile stretched his lips. "Eren and Mikasa have their own problems to be listening to someone else's."
Sakura's arms shook slightly from the restraint she placed on herself, the restraint to launch herself at Armin and bury her head on his shoulder. They were much closer, yes, but Armin always comforted verbally rather than with physically. Putting him in that awkward situation after giving her such heartwarming advice would only leave a sour taste in her mouth.
She looked outside the window and found the sky was much lighter than before. The rest of her squad would come here at any moment with Eren in tow to take him to the old headquarters. She sighed and turned back to Armin. "I think it's time for you to leave, Armin. My squad is coming soon and I don't want us accused of sharing intelligence about a delicate mission."
The blond raised his arms slightly in a placating manner, an understanding grin on his face. "No need to tell me, Sakura. I figured by the way you kept staring outside and your nervous look that you were doing something you're not supposed to." He lowered his arms and his grin quickly formed into a thoughtful frown. "Do take care of Eren, though. I haven't had a chance to talk to him after the trial, and I don't––"
"It's okay, Armin. I'm worried too. But don't worry, Eren will be safe with me. I won't let anything happen to him."
"Don't let him do anything either."
"It's a two-way street."
He nodded and saluted her admirably. "I wish you the best. Good luck."
She saluted back, her features hard to match his earnest tone. "Thank you."
Armin exited the stable from the back door, leaving Sakura standing in front of a neighing Haruto. She shook her head in exasperation and started petting him, running her fingers through his golden brown mane and coat. Even though his features were light, his eyes were a almost black, and Sakura couldn't help but feeling that she knew someone with black eyes and someone with name like Haruto's, though whenever she tried to remember she hit a mental wall, as if it was impossible for her to access her memories.
Maybe one day she would meet the black-eyed person and someone with a name like Haruto's, but maybe she should start getting rid of her expectations before she set herself up for disappointment.
She sensed the chakra presence of Squad Levi and Eren closing on the stable, and she closed her eyes with wariness and fatigue. Her fight with Mikasa and Levi's orders had made her discover an insidious problem: her relationship with Eren. She loved the boy dearly, but how was she supposed to act in a way that didn't put him in danger? For this assignment, Squad Levi wasn't on her side, but humanity's. They didn't trust Eren, and she would be surprised if they trusted her around Eren. She couldn't coddle him, because that would immediately cast Levi in a bad light, but at the same time she couldn't look at him the same way her teammates did. It was simply impossible to even fathom the idea of killing him if he decided to betray them.
Levi appeared first, followed by the rest of the squad, with Eren right in the middle. He seemed very uncomfortable surrounded by her friends, but as soon as he saw her, his teal eyes brightened considerably. Sakura purposely turned her head away from him towards Levi, the perfect picture of a soldier awaiting orders, but she could still see Eren's hurt look from the corner of her eyes, causing her heart to clench in guilt.
The Captain raised an eyebrow at her but didn't offer a comment, instead heading towards his horse Isabel and opening the door to release her from and led her outside the stable. The Survey Corps followed suit, and Sakura noticed that Eren chose Haruto's neighbor. She sincerely wished that he had ridden that horse before hand to understand his movements or else he would have an awkward ride ride.
As soon as they exited the stable, the members of Squad Levi mounted their horses and rode to the west, towards their old headquarters. Even if it was just a bit past dawn, the streets were already starting to crowd a bit, but this was a far cry from what Trost looked like before the titans attacked.
Sakura made sure to stay right at the rear, a considerable distance from Eren and almost everyone in the squad, who was riding in the front with Petra and Olou. Whenever Eren turned his head around to give her a questioning stare, Sakura would purposely look to the side, pretending to be interested by something in the forest, avoiding his gaze. It was the simplest way for her to remain impartial and thus in Squad Levi. She would never be able to look at Eren as a threat like the rest of her teammates did, but at the same time she couldn't act like they always did. Things had changed when Wall Maria fell, and now things had changed again.
She couldn't help but eavesdrop on Gunther and Eld's conversation, which was about his girlfriend Rosalind, or Rose, as he called her. Eld would propose to her as soon as their mission was done and they would move together to Karanase.
"I guess you owe Sakura some thanks for that!" Gunther exclaimed with a hearty chuckle. He slowed down Lea's trot so that he was next to Sakura and grinned at her. "Wasn't it you that got this knucklehead his first date?"
"Yup, he was too enchanted by her beauty to make a move on her," she replied with fake enthusiasm. She knew she should be happy for her friend, who was getting married and possibly starting a new life as a civilian, but right now at least she could pretend as if nothing was wrong and act with her teammates like she always did.
Maybe this would be a good time to talk to Olou about the bet.
Gunther furrowed his brow slightly before smiling and spurring his horse back next to Eld. "See? You always need a woman in your life to get things done, right Eld?"
He sighed. "Are you insinuating something, Gunther? As far as I remember, you're still single. Does that mean you can't do anything by yourself?"
"Right now I don't need a partner. My mom is the only woman I need in my life right now."
From her spot in the back she could see Olou trying to listen to their conversation, even though he was in the front with Eren and Petra. Not that it was hard, considering the whole team was quiet except for Gunther and Eld. Petra still refused to speak to Eren and wasn't in the mood to tolerate Oluo's shit; Eren had zero incentives to spark conversation with any team members except Sakura, who for some reason was ignoring him; Levi was brooding quietly with a prominent scowl on his face yet again; Olou, for all his stupidity, had finally learned when to be quiet; the pink-haired member might as well have a raincloud above her.
And soon after Eld and Gunther's conversation died down, leaving their team in a rather awkward silence.
Sakura observed each of her teammates and sighed when she realized their chemistry had been completely ruined by Eren. When they traveled, they were almost always chatting amongst each other. Even Levi sometimes joined in, though most of the time it was to tell them to shut up or that they were being annoying, but at least he talked. Today he hadn't said a single word, hadn't barked one measly order.
She didn't want to blame Eren, but having the ability to shift into the one thing that constantly ate their friends and comrades didn't win him any brownie points. Sakura hadn't witnessed his titan form yet and nobody talked about it as if it were taboo, but she dearly hoped it didn't look anything like the monster that ate Liesel and Jung, or the one that ate Kalura.
Kalura… Traitor to humanity or not, what would she think of what she was doing? Would she understand her position, or would she agree with Mikasa's words? As much as she wanted to deny it, Mikasa was right in some aspects. She was refraining from using her ninja powers against her own friends. She had never thought those promises would be mutually exclusive; if she knew she never would've made them. At any moment she could easily take Eren and run away, and she was faster than horses and 3DMG so it wouldn't be a problem to flee, and even less of a problem to remain hidden.
But Eren wouldn't want that. Eren wanted to help the Survey Corps. It had been his dream since she had met him, and he had finally reached his goal, albeit probably not the way he had envisioned. Still, he had the power to change the course of humanity, more so than Sakura ever could. He would never forgive her if she took him away and hid him. Mikasa would approve, but Eren would be resentful towards her for the rest of their lives.
And, in the end, it all boiled down to that: what did Eren want? As uneasy as he looked, Sakura knew that he was happy to be a part of the Special Operations Squad and be close to Levi, his idol. The trial, the suspicion, the pain she was giving him… It was all part of the price he had to pay for the life he wanted. Mikasa was still too young to understand that, to comprehend that no decision didn't have its fair amount of struggles, but Sakura understood that for his dream of annihilating titans, he was willing to pay anything. Mikasa wasn't wrong about her reasons for refusing to get Eren out of the trial, but at least this was the outcome he wanted.
"Keep your forehead like that and I'm sure your face will stay like that forever," Levi commented in his usual bored tone, albeit his voice lower than usual so that no one would hear them. He had abandoned his post behind Eren and was now keeping pace with her and Haruto.
Her shoulders tensed and she glared at Levi, who remained completely unperturbed by her dark look. "Oh, so you can brood all you want with a face that says 'I want to kill you', but if I do it then it's wrong?" she whispered back. She looked ahead to see if anyone was seeing their little argument, and much to her satisfaction she noticed all of her teammates remained oblivious to their little squabble. Really, did they have horrible hearing or did Gunther and Eld just gossip loudly?
"I don't brood."
Her forehead smoothed and she resisted the urge to laugh at his face. Really, what was it with this guy? "You're not fooling anyone, Captain. Even Olou has adopted your moody personality. Have you noticed?"
He grimaced slightly and he broke their eye contact to stare at Olou's back. "Yeah, I've noticed. It's a bit annoying."
"Maybe if you taught him how to pull it off, it wouldn't be such an annoyance to the rest of us."
"Teach him… how to brood?"
"Aha, so you admit you brood!"
"Tch, whatever. Anyway, you're his friend. Can't you tell him to stop, or something?"
Ah, if only he knew why Olou was imitating him. She knew that Olou had suspicions that Petra "loved" Levi, and was thus emulating his personality with the hope that Petra would "love" him too. However, she would have to teach Olou that trying to be like Levi would never work if he wanted Petra to fall in love with him, with cocky, asshole, loyal Olou. Maybe now that they were staying in a separate headquarters with a babysitting job and away from the Survey Corps she would be able to talk him out of it and help him woo Petra.
A month to fall in love… Hm, maybe she should write a novel about that.
She giggled and shook her head. No, she had ability in neither music nor writing nor art… But she could kill thirteen-meter tall, human-eating titans so maybe that wasn't so bad.
"Nope, can't tell him to stop," she replied to his earlier question in a much lighter tone. To think that Olou's hopelessness in love would help her feel better was a little cruel but at the same time quite hilarious. "I mean, the team can't handle two Captains, but those are the things we do for the people we love."
Levi grunted in assent but offered no reply, effectively killing their conversation. But he didn't urge Isabel to take his spot right behind Eren either, opting to remain in the back. She wasn't very sure why he would go against his own plans, but maybe even he felt a little stifled by the atmosphere in the front.
After a couple of hours, they reached the old base, a rather dirty and old castle. Levi immediately ordered the team to start cleaning, barely able to keep his disgust reined in. Sakura had been looking forward to a nap, considering she hadn't slept the night before, but duty called and she had learned Levi was the most irritable shit whenever his surroundings were unclean.
She was assigned the cleaning of the basement, an old and dark room made out of cold stone and filled with cobwebs. The old Survey Corps had left a couple of books and a bed behind, probably serving as a sort of study away from all the mess in the top. The Survey Corps must've sure been different back then, when they were a respectable group of people fighting for their newly-lost freedom. Now they were considered suicidal soldiers with a penchant for trouble and heroics, not people who wanted to regain their land and power.
This old basement would serve as Eren's room, so she shouldn't have been surprised when he showed up.
She stopped sweeping and remained still in the middle of the room, waiting for Eren's chakra presence to get inside. This wasn't a chanced meeting; he knew she was here because he was there when Levi assigned their posts. After being coldly ignored throughout their journey, why would he still seek her out?
Eren's chakra was now in the room, but she still refused to turn around. Her grip on the broomstick became tighter, and the wood cracked a bit under her strength. "What are you doing here, Eren?" she asked in a cold tone. Her eyes might give her away, but her voice had always been by her side. "You're supposed to be cleaning the rooftops."
He was quiet, and she sent a bit of chakra to her eardrums so that she could detect his gulp and the clench of his fingers. "I finished my duties," he replied, his voice matching hers.
"Then report to the Captain."
"This is my room." His words were becoming more heated, he was growing angrier. Good, maybe then he would avoid her until he gained the Squad's trust, the moment she had decided to drop her charade and smother him in a hug.
"Then I'm ordering you to report to the Captain."
Eren growled, "What the hell are you doing, Sakura? Don't tell me…" He sighed and was quiet for a moment until he whispered, "Don't tell me you actually think I'm like them?"
His words constricted her heart, and suddenly it was hard to breathe. Her grip on the broomstick became even tighter, and if she didn't reign in her emotions she would definitely break it. "What I believe won't influence this mission. I don't see why I should answer your question."
"Dammit, Sakura, not even your teammates treat me like this, and they don't know me at all."
Her resolve crumbled at that statement and she was about to explain why she was treating him so horribly when she felt Petra's chakra presence heading towards the basement, no doubt to listen to their conversation. She loved her friend dearly, but right now she wanted to yell at her for not trusting her. She could understand her mistrust towards Eren, but to also see if Sakura would betray them was a low blow. She didn't know her best friend could make her feel this horrible.
Besides, what was it with her teammates deciding to listen to her conversations? Did they think she would snap and betray them?
"You're a titan-shifter. Until you prove you can control your transformation, I'm unsure whether you are an enemy to humanity." There, that was what she was supposed to say to convince Petra she wasn't a danger to their mission, but she still wouldn't leave. She was still right outside the basement's door, dammit.
She heard Eren's heavy footsteps getting close to her and wasn't surprised to feel his rough hands on her shoulder whirl her around to force her to look up at his enraged, tearful eyes. Her voice she could control, but her stare would be her undoing. It took everything she had to not embrace him and coo away his fears.
"You don't know if I'm an enemy to humanity? Even after I spoke to you all those times how I wanted to kill the titans, how I wanted to join the Survey Corps? You still aren't sure?"
Petra was still rooted outside, and her hopes of being able to save this conversation died down when she realized her best friend would wait until they finished talking. Damn her and her insecurities. If it was just her position in the squad on the line she would gladly reveal her true colors, but Levi had stuck his neck out for her and she wasn't that big of a bitch to him.
She dropped her head to avoid staring at his teal eyes any longer and she whispered, "I think it's best if you leave, Eren."
His hands were still gripping her shoulders tightly, but after a few seconds he slowly unclenched his fingers and dropped his hands listlessly by his side. A few more moments passed and he stepped back, turned around, and left the room with the most defeated walk she had ever seen. She looked up just in time to see him open the door, revealing a confused Petra.
"Oh, Petra, did you need something?" Eren asked tiredly.
Her friend stared past him and at Sakura, who had such a hateful glare on her face that it made her shiver. "I was looking for you! You should report back to the Captain about now or else he gets cranky."
Eren nodded slowly and excused himself softly, leaving a shocked Petra behind. She remained rooted in her spot, unable to fathom the strain she had caused in her friendship with her best friend, who was looking at her with anger she had never seen aimed at her. "S-Sakura… I–– I––"
"I think you should leave too," Sakura quietly offered, beautifully masking her rage by making her voice sound conversational.
"Now," she growled.
Petra's head bobbed quickly and she fled, her footsteps echoing down the dimly-lit, stone hallway.
The broomstick finally snapped under the pressure, the piece falling to the floor with two clacks.
So her sister, brother, and best friend had effectively alienated her; who was next?
Sakura chuckled as she continued sweeping the room, little droplets of water falling to the floor.
Oh, that was quite the roller coaster. Seriously, what's up with Squad Levi doubting that Sakura will do something stupid for her little brother. Drama after drama stacked on top of each other, and I can't wait to get to the action, but this comes first. I know I promised a chapter for last week, but life became busy and this last damn scene was a bitch to write, for various reasons. Mostly because none of the characters or settings were agreeing with me, but I finally found the way to write it comfortably.
I would like to give my immense gratitude to AstroKitty, aj07to, Bum reviews, MiniRoonie, FairiesDescent, Basia Orci, animagirl, Tainted Heroine, SakuMulti, Aka-chansama, Sincerely Athena, AmeRaSora, lucife56, KuroAka, phoenixyfriend, catxangel, GalanthaDreams, mun3litKnight, Lady Light, dark-wolf-howl, urs-v , Bossassbitch, cherryblossom1423, cj1of4, Mesterio, dor dor dor, Love Remedy, Katy bae, BLacKxBUrN, pseudo41, bleachfan462 , TheCrazyAnimeFan, SakuraAkatsukiTaichi, HayleyComet, Dreamtraveler1313, Marx D. Soul, hotredsakura1315, Black snake eyes, Guest, and LuridLullaby. Your kind words were an encouragement to get that last piece of shit scene out of my brain.