Prologue

'mono no aware'
a sensitivity toward things;
the impermanence-
the transience
that is at the root of life


It's a thunderous cough that shakes their bodies, rattling in their lungs, permeated by desperate gasps for air. The flu that her father caught while doing the tailoring for some prominent Uchiha clansman spreads to her mother within hours–maybe days–and they send a note to the school to tell her to stay at her aunt's until it passes as a last resort. Just for a few days.

But it doesn't pass.

The doctor tells her that it's deadly for her parents' weak constitutions. Weak? They've always been healthy, fit, and strong. But yes, their civilian, non-shinobi systems can't handle the intrusions. The hospital captures them in pure white rooms and Sakura is allowed only glimpses through dirty glass separations of her withering parents.

Nobody tells her anything anymore, but Sakura listens anyway. What drifts to her on quiet, sanitized whispers are breaths of "too little time" and "short-staffed" and "it would take a medical miracle" - and sometimes, very rarely, a mention that "only Tsunade-sama could fix something like this," followed by bitter, sarcastic laughs.

Tsunade, Sakura learns in the hospital, is an icon and a legend and a joke told with the utmost derision. She is exalted and at the same time she is regarded as a waste, because she was too human for the myth she became.

What flies to Sakura on silent wings drives her between the white rooms and the library, because not all hope is lost and "something like this" can still be fixed–if only, if only somebody had the power; the knowledge; the skill.

But between pages and hours and the ticking clock, something gives.

It passes too quickly, as a child's rushed storytelling, as a catnap dream–as death's swift flight often does. There is no thunder, no herald, no sign. Sakura is sitting outside the room watching them sleep and then she is watching her father's corpse. Her mother's, soon afterward.

It is sunny, and her namesake is blooming into spring.

The funeral is a quiet, private affair. Her parents are cremated and stowed away in little glass cubicles bearing their names and yet none of them. Her aunt stumbles in smelling of alcohol, and flowers arrive from "Mikoto and Fugaku Uchiha," which Sakura surreptitiously throws out. Sakura thanks the priest through snot and tears as her parents' "closest friends" dissipate without a word and her aunt drags her to a house and calls it a home.

Haruno Sakura is six when death destroys her life.


On her good days, Haruno Misaki wallows in pensive misery. On those days, few and far in between, Misaki sits under burnished copper skies with Sakura and only a couple empty bottles and talks.

Haruno Misaki lives in the past, in the golden bygone days of her youth when the heavens were accessible and the future open and the world, while heavy on her shoulders, still utterly beautiful.

On those good days, she relives first her little brother's apprenticeship to Tsuruki Yuri, the weekly visits to the pastry shop on the corner, and her first dance with him. But those halcyon days are tainted, and her tears and words always slur swift at first with half-remembered happiness when she speaks of Before.

On those good days, Haruno Misaki is only broken. She pets Sakura's hair and braids it, thin hands trembling, and her eyes, so often cast to imaginary places, reflect only Sakura. In those moments, Sakura is Misaki's best friend, and Misaki confides everything with equal measures of love and care, her words weaving stories in the sky.

In those moments, Haruno Misaki loves Sakura as much as she can still love.

And on those good days, Sakura listens.

Misaki's parents died in a mining accident shortly after the birth of Sakura's father. They lived in a quarry town two days' walk from Konoha, and their grandparents looked after them for a while there. But Misaki had always been smart and independent, and her grandparents were old and tired and barely capable of supporting themselves, so she herself raised Haruno Ryuusuke like a son. When she was seventeen, she found a secretarial job in Konoha and brought seven-year-old Ryuusuke with her.

Life was good. Misaki rose up in the ranks; she was intelligent, reliable, and pretty–if not stunning. Ryuusuke finished school near the top of his class, and his nimble hands secured him a place at a small tailor shop, and later, an apprenticeship to the famous Tsuruki Yuri.

There was food on the table, a roof over their heads, and plenty of love.

Misaki never talks long about the good times. It breaks her down. It ruins her. Remembering the days when hope was a given and not something irretrievably lost crushes her more than the later, harder years. Remembering hope is what drives her on her bad days beyond the first couple glasses, beyond the point when she can stand to see Sakura or talk at all.

Those good times began to burn when Misaki fell in love.

She says love like it is the name of her worst enemy; as if, should emotions live and breathe, she would murder it with her bare hands. She says it with malice and loathing in her face but in the set of her eyes and the lilt of her voice something still yearns. Hate is, after all, its neighbor, and there is no picket fence between their lawns.

Love.

She was twenty-nine and he promised her the world. He was witty, creative, and incredibly handsome. He made her heart falter and her blood rush and her world revolve entirely around him. That he saw her–that he even noticed her at all seemed a dream so wonderful she never wanted to wake up from it.

That he loved her was unfathomable–and yet somehow, wonderfully, miraculously true.

After work, he waited at her office with handpicked flowers. He would take her places she'd never been: to see the view from the top of the Hokage mountain at sunset; the forests at the outskirts where they'd catch glimpses of ninja speeding by; upper-tier restaurants where they'd sip wine and talk and laugh until the day rose up again.

Those late nights, they would go out to clubs. Drinks and drugs and flashing lights inflated their bodies. They rose up like balloons on a chemical haze, with not a care in the world except for the pleasure of the beating of their young, living hearts thrumming like music in their very bones. He lived life on the edge, and though she'd always been so careful, Misaki rushed to join him there because she couldn't bear to be apart.

On their first year anniversary he cooked her a spectacular dinner, and his friend played the piano while they danced. He proposed on one knee with a silver heirloom ring.

When she talks about him, her voice becomes softer. Her eyes seek the sky and her hands clutch at Sakura. Tremors shake her body and voice. Inside her breathe fury, longing, devastation, and a thousand more emotions without names. When she talks about him, Misaki's heart becomes a battlefield.

He wanted to wait to marry–'the right time,' he said–but to Misaki it was already a reality. She gave herself and her whole life completely to him. She even moved Ryuuske, who was like a son to her, out to another apartment and began living with him instead.

She was thirty-one and still waiting for the vows when she found out. Her office contracted with a better insurance provider, so Misaki went to the doctor for the first time in years. Secretly, she visited the gynecologist beforehand.

(Part of her golden dream had been a house with children and the two of them; a dog and maybe some goldfish and a beautiful garden outside.)

There, she found out.

Chlamydia–long enough to leave her scarred and infertile with pelvic inflammatory disease. No signs, no symptoms–no children. Liver cancer, rooted in chronic hepatitis.

Sexually transmitted diseases. Not incurable, not fatal–but discovered too late.

She had never slept around. She'd been monogamous. Faithful. It must have come from him. Before or after didn't matter. The part that tore her up was that he didn't tell her; if he'd told her, they could have been treated. She could have still had children. She could have still held on to her dreams.

The worst part (and inside it killed her that this, of all the many horrible wrongs, was what hurt the most) was that he didn't trust her.

Misaki went home to confront him and found the same lazy slow golden days she'd loved: flowers and delicious food and the sweetest promises. Affection and intimacy and the connection of one heart to another. She couldn't bear to confront him, to break it off–she couldn't bear to break them.

Only it could not be the same.

She saw things now. The lithe skinniness to his body was unnatural, the paleness of his skin unhealthy. The powders and drugs ate at their money, burning it up faster than the shots he drank.

She could not bring herself to contend it, could not bring herself to even contemplate letting him go. He was the best thing that ever happened to her, she believed, except she couldn't believe blindly anymore. Her eyes had been opened.

Misaki does not tell Sakura much about the addictions, about the withdrawals and the sores all over and the trail marks left by dirty needles. Sakura sees all these for herself, for Misaki has never been good at letting things go - only at being left behind.

Sakura only hears of his death once, when Misaki does not mourn him but rather rages at him. She was a fool, she says, and she was used, and he ruined her life so he could live his to the end happily. He was a bastard, an asshole, a multitude of cuss words, and, when those run out, horrible keening noises that describe pain far better than any human language.

Misaki loathes with the passing fervor of a summer thunderstorm, but what she ends up with are tears and grief and the desire to escape to where he is. To be with him.

Love.

Misaki loves him still, and it kills her slowly.

Afterward, she says, there were more drugs and more drinks and more chemical escapes. For a while her brother came to support her - honest, faithful Ryuusuke. For over a year he held her up and the chemicals dwindled.

But thirty-three was too late for the unwilling to be born again.

And Ryuusuke had fallen in love with Miyamoto Tsuki, a stunning young thing. Miyamoto Tsuki, who looked at her crowd of suitors and saw Ryuusuke among the wealthy young heirs and dashing shinobi. Tsuki, who saw him and loved him.

A fairytale love. Misaki was equal parts proud, jealous, and hurt.

Tsuki tolerated Misaki for a while. They even liked each other for a time, the young beautiful butterfly who loved him and the jaded older sister who raised him from childhood. But after their marriage and Sakura's birth and Misaki's lonely relapse, she would not have the sexually diseased and chemically ruined addict near her precious daughter.

Love, Misaki sneers with derision. Out of love for Sakura, they left her behind. Out of love, they left her to rot.

Between her thirty-fourth and thirty-sixth birthdays, Misaki lost everything to love.

On the good days, her tired eyes close and she falls asleep in her chair. Her spider thin arms fold across her stomach, clutching what little warmth she can produce to her chest. Her lank and sparse hair wafts in the wind, the tracks over her arms and thighs glimmering in the dusk light.

On the bad days, there is no sleep–only chemical escape.

Sakura becomes adept at listening at the doors, carefully considering all the signs and deciding whether or not to leave for the library to return home later. She cleans up the mountains of cracked glass bottles, the blooded needles, and the smoke that clings to the walls.

On the bad days, Sakura escapes to books until the library closes, and then she wanders until she thinks it's safe. Some days, she finds Misaki passed out.

Others, Sakura is not so lucky.

On the good days, Misaki loves her with what is left of her heart, but on the bad days, she hates her with the full force of the weight of her world. Sakura is the knife that cut her brother from her and a reminder of the love and dreams she can never have. On the good days, Misaki is merely broken, but on the bad days, she also wants to break the world.

At first it is with her hands. Open-palmed slaps, and then fists. Then her elbows and knees and feet. Weak blows, compared to Academy spar hits. Not directed. Not intentful. Not malicious. Instead, a childish fit against the world, of which Sakura happened to be a part.

More dangerous are the hits of surprising strength when Misaki struggles in a chemically-induced haze, knocking furniture over onto them.

Most hazardous are the broken pieces of glass that litter the floors when Sakura loses her balance, and she learns to shift herself to stay upright. She learns the art of never falling, always moving, and staying just out of reach.

The storms come sparsely and then more often. Sakura learns to hide and then she learns to heal, sinking her own chakra into her skin to feel around. Sometimes the nerves move in the wrong ways, and her skin changes into terrifying simulacrums of normality. The medical chakra isn't difficult to generate, but it is finicky. It is life, and alive in its own way. It requires immovable direction and steel-boned control to guide its rampancy.

Too frightened to experiment on herself and cause permanent damage, Sakura traps insects, then birds, then small mammals. Squirrels and foxes and rabbits pass under her hand. She feels with her chakra the way things are supposed to be, and then viciously disrupts it until it is all wrong.

Then she tries to fix it.

A small animal graveyard grows in her backyard–small lives she once would have shed many tears for, but now regard as necessary in exchange for her own bruises. All the while, the money dwindles and her aunt puts on face paint to hire herself out for several grams more, another release–just one more escape. In between decent days of grieving aloud there are days of unmitigated anger at everything, at the world–and at Sakura.

Misaki is not strong enough to break the world in her grief, but there are things she can break still.

At school and on the streets she tells them she fell down the stairs, tripped into a door, dropped the dishes. Finally the rainbow under her clothes overwhelms her fear of messing up.

Sakura attacks the bruises and cuts with chakra every afternoon at the library, pouring over anatomy tomes and medical theory books to recreate jutsu she cannot access at civilian clearance. At night she tends to the chakra burns and the deformations that come from messing up. Before she learns to heal each bruise, Sakura suffers for every mistake.

She learns quickly not to mess up.

There are no guiding hand signs to help control it, no techniques or clear-cut instructions. Those are locked up for clearances higher than her own civilian designation. But there is a thorough explanation of the theory behind medical chakra, itself a subdivision of normal chakra. And there is Sakura's iron will to survive.

She doesn't have the confidence to leave or the bravery to do something, but somewhere between the thunderous coughs and the needle trail marks Sakura learns, as thoroughly as she learns anything, the will to survive.

And then it happens.


Haruno Misaki loses strength. She doesn't paint her face and head out at nights anymore, but rather curls in on herself and crawls around on hand and knee desperately seeking something.

One day she asks Sakura if she loves her. "I've been good to you haven't I?" Misaki murmurs, gathering Sakura into her arms. "Not always, but I've tried. I've loved you, haven't I?" And then, in a harsh, guttural cry, "You love me, don't you Sakura! You love me too!"

In the night Misaki's cries of pain wake Sakura. When she feels with her chakra, afraid death is coming, she finds infections along the trail of needle marks. Misaki's liver is hanging on by a thread, and her entire body is spasming and shaking. She vomits intermittently all night, even on an empty stomach. She will not see a doctor, and refuses the hospital.

Instead, she asks for a phone.

"It's me," she croaks into the mouthpiece when it connects. "Yes. I want… I need more." A desperate sob. "No, please, I don't, but I'll make it up to you, please. Mercy, please. I can't…"

She sounds so broken that Sakura instinctively reaches out for her. Their eyes meet, and for a moment they are both still.

A heartbeat–Love.

Then something distorts in Misaki's face.

"Wait! I have… There is a girl." She laughs, a harsh and ugly sound. "She's ten. Pretty enough, in an exotic way. Just like Tsuki." The vague dislike that has always tainted Misaki's voice when she talks about Sakura's mom sharpens. "Now. No, that's too little. Of course she's a virgin! Yes."

And then with a sudden strength she hasn't possessed in days, Misaki clutches Sakura's hand and pulls them to their feet.

"What are you doing!" Sakura screams. It's not a question, but a cry, for deep in her heart Sakura knows already. She struggles, trying to tear herself from Misaki's iron-boned grasp. Somehow, in a moment, all her hold-breaking training slips her mind. In that moment there is nothing in Sakura but the panicked wish that this is all a mistake, a misunderstanding, that it will smooth over like green light over broken flesh and leave something blemishless. "No, stop!"

She feels neglected glass shards tear into her feet, breaking hours-new flesh yet again. Desperation rushes up her lungs, a mix of angry loathing and weakness and bitter old love and there is only one thing left in her mind, so Sakura does something she has never done before to a human being.

A pulse of chakra travels between their connected skin, so quickly and suddenly that Misaki loses her grip. But Sakura persists–she knows the theory, all in her head, chakra like air waves and the magnitude and the will–and jumps the air in thin strands, connecting will and body through atmosphere.

Tear.

Sakura knows the exact placements of the 78 organs. The 208 bones in the adult body, each fitting perfectly into the next. She knows the arteries and muscles and blood vessels–she knows them so intimately she can heal them. She knows them by book and she knows them by the proof of her own blood.

Break.

She can break them too. And she will, if it means this will all stop. Because in that moment, Sakura cares about nothing but making it okay.

End.

Her chakra rushes through the woman's body, not bothering to follow the correct, insulated channels. First to the cerebrum, and though she means to let her down gently, Sakura miscalculates and the woman drops to the floor in a tangle of limbs.

Then the liver, already failing, fumbles and stops as delicate strands of chakra and will push it past its lifetime and well into its deathbed, speeding up the toxification and aging process and recycling the chemicals already polluting it.

It is different from the birds and the squirrels and the rats in the backyard. There is a fading light in Misaki's face, a disappearing strength in her hands, and an onslaught of memories in Sakura's mind.

It is the same and yet it is not similar at all.

Sakura rearranges the cerebrum as best as she can to what it was before, sits, and breathes. Her lungs shake, her throat a violent contraction of parts, and something burns behind her eyes - no, everywhere. Everything burns.

Sakura breathes shallowly next to the corpse.


The official diagnosis is liver failure. It's a clear-cut case of drug addiction and overuse, the remnants of liver cancer, and basic misuse of the body.

An Uchiha genin burns her body by Katon without ceremony, and the winds take her ashes the way they could never carry her burdened body. In death, Haruno Misaki nurtures the new lives of trees, rides the swift rapids of the Naka River, and makes her way to the further reaches of the world. In death, Haruno Misaki accomplishes what she never could in life.

In death, Haruno Misaki leaves behind her a house no longer hers swallowed by debt, not a penny to her name, and the beginnings of a legend.


Sakura arrives at the orphanage with three changes of clothes and a toothbrush. She leaves everything else behind without a goodbye: the dilapidated house, the neighbors she didn't know, the friends she never had the time or energy to make. Perhaps, if her heart wasn't so tired and her time so precious, she would have made friends and enemies; stored up memories and regrets; been hated and loved.

But Sakura cannot be concerned with being loved. She cares more about surviving.

And so there are no goodbyes when she reluctantly arrives at the cramped, full orphanage. The social worker is sympathetic but unbendable; the Yondaime's administration is notoriously strict regarding minors.

However, when pushed Nakamura-san admits that 'minor' is a nebulous word. By law, all participants in the military are considered legal adults.

It will take Sakura another two years to graduate the Academy–two years of devoted studying to graduate with honors–only to join the ranks of traditional Genin, whether it is in the teams of three apprenticed to a lauded Jounin instructor or the rank-and-file 'career Genin' who receive no such high instruction.

But, Sakura thinks as she stands before the administration building of the Konoha Hospital Complex, she has other options.

Two years ago, the village rang with the celebrated homecoming of esteemed Sannin and medical prodigy Tsunade. Sakura remembers with clarity the blonde legend's hunched form and furrowed brow and the shadows of the silent, wary ANBU passing through the midst of the cheering crowd.

It was a spectacle. The Yondaime, ever serene, met her within the gates and walked her to the Hokage Tower. A week later, the Konoha Hospital began adding more buildings to its complex and launched the lauded new medic-nin training academy, rumored to be the best program in the land, under the watchful gaze of the world's finest doctor.

But Sakura also remembers the derisive envy in white-cloaked voices as they spoke of Tsunade, the broken miracle worker, too human to bear the crown of her own legend.

The accelerated program involves instruction from qualified medic-nin, and turns out into the force combat medic-nin of various ranks. From her calculations, Sakura believes she can pass the Genin benchmark qualification and receive her legal rights within a year.

After a six-hour wait, at four in the afternoon, a doctor sweeps into the room. "Applicant Haruno Sakura," he calls out, and when she stands she watches him visibly scan her and lose interest.

They walk down the halls, moving out of the way of rushing nurses, and his disinterested eyes flit around them as his mouth moves robotically.

"As you are applying to transfer two weeks after the start of the semester, things will be a bit difficult for you. You are not eligible to choose dormitory rooms or select classes if you are accepted," here, a barely veiled glance of pure skepticism, "at this time, but must follow administration's decisions."

He pauses in front of a solid oak door. "I do feel a bit bad for you, kid. You've picked a bad day to come here and try to test in. I hope for your sake that you know what you're doing, because she hates wasting her time."

And then the door opens on Senju Tsunade.


Pink, is the first thing Tsunade thinks. Pink like crayon or flowers or washed out bloody cotton shirts his breath dying in her ear failure tastes like death she turns her eyes away–

Pink.

She smiles at the girl–a child really, with that bloody ridiculous hair and wide innocent green eyes that can't have seen failure the way she has–and her smile is all teeth and angles. But the girl doesn't flinch back, not like even seasoned doctors do, and Tsunade credits her with that at least: foolish bravery.

It is, of course, not a compliment.

"So you want to be a medic-nin," she taunts. The child stares her in the eye.

All the words rise up: the mocking questions and the sarcasm and all the bitter burnt edges of scars that haven't faded yet. But words have never done more for Tsunade than the fading lifeblood of a man, so she cuts them off on her tongue and, with the speed that hasn't deserted her life yet, slashes her arm with a kunai.

A faint dribble of blood (Namikaze Minato's cold expression and she wonders what happened to the boy with the vast heart that loved everything even as old failures well up and she freezes and Shizune is crying in the corner begging him and the blood just everywhere, the blood) splatters across her papers. The cut is deep but misses anything vital, and her chakra wells up around it, prepared to work when the child fails.

Because the child will fail.

Because Tsunade knows, better than anyone, how difficult success is.

Tsunade draws herself up and walks around the desk. "A fish or animal is more traditional but I find that there's nothing like encountering a human life." She looks at the kid's glassy wide emerald eyes and scoffs. "Ready to run back to Mommy now? This isn't a game, kid."

And then pink hair shifts and a small hand rises to her arm. There is no hesitation, no preparation. The green glow of medical chakra comes without hand signals or technique, but rather pure control and exertion of will and the fine concentration of knitting vessels and reuniting muscle.

"I don't have a mother," the child says as the most primitive, difficult, barbaric form of healing Tsunade has ever seen somehow leaves no trace of injury on her arm.

Tsunade has seen dozens better walk through her doors with the intent to impress, those who expect special exceptions to be made for them, those who know the basic techniques and the hand signs and the medical advancements made past the meat cleaver of pure medical chakra. And yet there is a prodigious talent in the fine, steel-chained control and knowledge the child has in wielding, by all accounts, a butcher knife with the precision of a senbon needle.

This is the healing of centuries past, before anything resembling modern day invention, and yet despite its barbarism it is complete, refined, and beautiful. It's amazing, but Tsunade does not react. She does not look again at her arm. She does not feel it with her chakra.

"Tsk," she tuts, instead. She allows herself that. Just one noise to encompass it all.

She continues the tests quietly, her eyes always sliding past the child's face and her voice cool and detached. She takes notes and makes the class selections herself, quickly, efficiently.

Usually Tsunade takes great pleasure in memorizing the names and faces of the students she signs into the combat medic-nin training academy, particularly those who apply outside of the regular application times. She memorizes name and technique and calculates failures, careers, and breakdowns. She bets on their lives.

Tsunade knows better than anybody that the higher they are, the further they fall–dangerous, for a profession that deals in debts to Death. (Better to fall early than to fall like her.)

But she takes great care not to even glance at the child's name. Not even as she loads up the child's schedule to breaking point and files the acceptance forms, complete with her scrawled signature.

Tsunade does not want to know the name of the child. She does not want to recognize her crayon pink hue of hair. She does not want to remember the look in the child's eyes–the expression on her baby-fat face and the twist to her lips as she looked at Tsunade's bleeding arm. Like a mirror.

Alone in her office, Tsunade sets down her pen and rubs her eyes. "Shadows make light," she murmurs, "as death makes life."

Alone in her office, Tsunade remembers her kunai sinking into flesh - the first time she stole a life - and the blinking light dying - the first time she lost a life. "We are killers," she says, "all of us."

Alone in her office, Tsunade hopes for the child's sake that she fails. That she falls. That she stumbles and cannot walk the path she has turned to, the path that Tsunade stands on.

(But it's already too late.)


Author's Notes:

Fast-paced, and, if you haven't already caught on, Sakura-centric.

Single point of departure: Namikaze Minato lives; Sarutobi Hiruzen is the one who performs the ritual to seal the Kyuubi into Namikaze-Uzumaki Naruto. The reign of Namikaze Minato results in things such as the survival of the Uchiha Clan and Tsunade's reappearance, both of which will be explained in greater detail later in the story.

Last Updated: Oct. 29, 2015

Liffae ^-~