Whispers of sand:
big thank you to drippingmoonwax for being my beta and looking over my meager morsels of writing :)
Under the burning sun, she exhales heavily, feeling the weight of her lungs pressed deeply against her chest.
There is a clutter of noise, both inward and out, from the whispering breeze, the rustle of leaves, the scent of dry grass and clover, to the hum of a nearby rabbit, its chakra twitching slightly.
In the center of her own mind, Sakura searches through her reserves, the rhythm of her chakra pulsing to her heartbeat.
Her chakra system, for the moment, seems consistent enough. She twists her fingers under her shirt, resting against the Byakugō seal on the small of her back.
The seal remains quiet, a thin line of chakra linked between its completed form and herself. On command, she could theoretically heal torn muscles, ruptured blood vessels - even replace her own limbs - in an instant.
(These days, Sakura dares to ask - could she do it all without it?)
The memory of finishing the Byakugō for the first time flashes in her mind: the sheer rush of unrestrained chakra, the seal's marks crawling along her skin, pride welling in Tsunade-shishou's eyes -
Sakura exhales, dragging her fingers away and back to the center of her chest, to her second seal.
A second Byakugō seal had, admittedly, been an ambitious move. Sakura is well aware of the choice words Tsunade-shishou would have said in another world.
But the dangers of constant travel, without a safety net, without Konoha, outweigh the risks.
She prods the second seal to test the lock she had hastily put on it, weeks ago. The panic that came after her fiasco with the Sand ninja had left Sakura haphazardly slamming her connection with it temporarily shut.
It had been easy to believe - to hope - that her newfound ability to heal came from an error in the seal.
But no, Sakura realizes, a frown settling on her face, there's no way she could mess up the Byakugō when she could write in her sleep.
This, she thinks with a growing sense of dread, is going to be a problem.
She looks over the seal one last time. No errors or faulty lines - just a temporary lock brimming with energy, waiting to be released.
Releasing a heavy sigh, Sakura dissolves the lock with a prick of her fingertip and unsurprisingly, there is a sudden, massive drop in her reserves -
Wait a minute, she thinks, squinting down at her hands.
The drain on her body, unexpectedly, is not as steep as what she's used to.
She brings her hands even closer to her face. Waiiiiiit a fucking minute.
Sakura is well aware her reserves have grown over the years. It's a natural part of growth - with age, chakra can dig deeper and wider into a person's system.
More importantly, the constant pace of her travels has pushed her chakra in ways she didn't have to before. Sakura, by all rights, should have larger reserves.
So there's no reason to panic, she tells herself, glaring at her hands, in hopes that staring them down will bring actual answers. You've done this for almost a decade. Your body's just used to it by now.
(But what if that isn't it? What if, along with every other problem she has to deal with, the change to her body goes beyond physical matters?
Or what if - )
Already familiar with this spiraling descent of fear, Sakura grabs her backpack, shoves it into her face and, against her better instincts, lets out a blood curdling shriek.
She falls onto her back, bag still firmly planted on her face.
"This is fine," she says aloud, though the words come out muffled through the fabric. "I am perfectly fine."
In the end, there's hardly a point to her questions - she won't be getting any answers until her trip to Konoha goes successfully.
I have to pick up my papers, she thinks, groaning as she turns to her side. And send another letter to Sayuri.
(And, like the silence after a roaring storm, hidden between the whisper of winds, a presence abruptly vanishes).
In the blink of an eye, Sakura is on her feet, eyes trained south, shuriken tucked between her fingers. She waits, breaths silent for a moment, then another, then several more.
Her lips curve downward. There had been no sound, no signal, no chakra, but for some strange reason, she could've sworn -
A set of quiet footsteps approach from behind, clear as a river.
Releasing a muted sigh, she turns slowly back around, far too aware of the thick swath of trees behind her.
"Took you long enough," she says, placing her hands on her hips. A pause later, a figure slinks through the foliage and into the clearing.
The revealed boy runs a hand through his dark hair, a scowl on his face.
He crosses his arms petulantly. "Are you serious? I was so sure I'd get you this time."
Sakura grins under her mask and allows her shoulders to slightly relax. "Your distraction might have worked, if you paid a little more attention to your feet."
"Distraction?" the boy repeated owlishly, before shaking his head, the strands of hair whipping back and forth. He points accusingly at her. "I bet you scouted ahead, didn't you? There's no way you heard me coming."
Sakura examines her short fingernails. "Hmm, I wonder…"
The boy groans, crouching down to cover his face.
"One day," he tells her, his words strangled through his hands.
"Uh-huh," Sakura says, rolling her eyes. "So what name are you using now?"
Standing up again, the boy flashes her a grin. "I'm thinking Sadai. Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?"
"That's what you said last time," Sakura says, kicking over her makeshift campsite to hide any traces.
"Yeah, well, this time's different," the newly-named Sadai shoots back, begrudgingly joining her by the overturned ground.
Sakura makes a noise of interest. That's what he had said last time too.
"Anyway," Sadai says, running a hand through his hair. "There's been a big stir down south."
"Oh?" Sakura asks, for the sake of appeasing Sadai's need for dramatics.
He smiles smugly back. "Suna's been sneaking behind everybody's back, but that didn't fool me."
Immediately, Sakura resists the urge to tense.
"They're sending ninja out across the borders," he continues, biting the tip of his thumb. "In search of something - or someone. I haven't figured that out yet."
Alright, Sakura thinks, this might just be bad timing. What village doesn't sneak around during wartime?
(Also, what village would send out its best resources to find a person? That would be ridiculous.)
"The patterns are all over the place," Sadai says, utterly ignorant of Sakura's hyperactive imagination. "It's likely they lost it and now they don't know where to start. Sounds like they're desperate."
"Desperate," she says slowly, because that is not what she would use to describe one of the Greater Shinobi Villages.
Sadai gives her a side-eyed look, almost as if questioning her sense of awareness.
"Suna's been nearly bankrupt since the start of the war," he tells her impatiently. "Of course they're desperate."
He cups his chin with a hand. "But then again, there's been a lot going into the village. A lot of talk about traders going in."
Sakura mirrors his posture and brings a hand to her face as well. What is she missing here?
"Well, that's basically it for the southern lands," Sadai begins to say, only to catch Sakura's concentrated (and covered) face. "Or… not?"
Sakura waves away the question. "No, it's nothing. I'm just imagining it."
Not a fool after dealing with Sakura for over a year, Sadai narrows his dark eyes. "Don't tell me - "
"I said it's nothing!" Sakura snaps back, because holy fuck, what if it isn't?
(Why the hell would a village as big as Sunagakure search for someone like her? Was it because she trespassed onto their lands, or because she had left a squad of their ninja half-buried in the sand?
What is she missing?)
"That's what you said last time," Sadai says gleefully, throwing Sakura's earlier words back at her. It seems it's a skill all teenagers have.
And, because actions speak louder than words, Sakura glances down at her closed fists consideringly.
Recognizing the direction of her thoughts, Sadai immediately backtracks. He raises his hands in surrender and hastily adds, "Did I say that? I meant, that's definitely not what you said last time."
Feeling merciful, Sakura delicately brings her fingers to her forehead. She counts backward from five before asking, "Is that it?"
Sadai waits a moment longer and, when it becomes clear his body won't be pummeled today, lowers his hands. "Basically. I spent more time there than up north."
Accepting the information, Sakura digs through the pockets of her vest and pulls out a tiny pouch. She tosses it over to Sadai, who catches it easily with nimble fingers.
He shakes it curiously and says, a bit wryly, "You know I don't actually need this."
Ignoring the flash of envy (imagine not having to worry over bills - she can't relate), Sakura reaches out a hand. "Then should I?"
Sadai quickly leans away, clutching the pouch to his chest. "It's still appreciated, of course."
Sakura straightens with a hidden smile. "Consider it insurance."
Sadai leans on the heels of his feet. "You know what's even better insurance? If you gave me - "
"Nope!" she interrupts cheerfully. "Not gonna happen."
"Oh, come on!" Sadai whines, slouching his shoulders and reminding Sakura, once again, of his age. "I'm doing well, right? I got you through Iwa, I'm bringing you all this hot info - "
"Hot info?" Sakura wrinkles her nose. Generational difference, she supposes.
"And!" he says, continuing on. "I'll keep on doing it, free of charge."
He gives a flourishing bow as a finishing touch.
"Lovely," Sakura says, clapping slowly. "But it's still a no."
Sadai clicks his tongue and looks away. "Tch."
"I'll get one someday," he swears ominously, though the threat falls flat considering his growing smile.
"But why?" Sakura asks, exasperated.
Sadai swings the pouch around a finger, the clink of coins rattling through the air. "I feel like I deserve one, y'know. Imagine the clients I could get with that!"
Sakura blinks. "Clients?"
"Well, duh," Sadai says, tucking the pouch into his shinobi-grade pants. "The connections I'd get are unreal."
"I," Sakura begins, eyes crossing at the reminder of how far the situation with her wooden ducks has escalated. "I don't even know where to start."
She pauses, before studying Sadai carefully. "Are you that desperate for one?"
Sadai shrugs. "It would help, yeah."
"But I know better than to take one from someone else," he says, an annoyed look crossing his face. Under his breath, he mutters, "You'd probably chase me across the continent and rip out my spleen."
Deciding not to respond to his choice words (because he isn't wrong), Sakura gives a half-answer instead. "I'll think about it."
"Please do," Sadai says charmingly, straightening further. "I'd much prefer getting one from you myself."
… and what the fuck is that supposed to mean?
Teenagers, Sakura thinks, not wanting to pry deeper into any more conspiracy ideas, and waves him away with a groan.
Who would've thought her biggest problem in the past would be controlling the supply and demand of ass-ugly ducks?
- ah, when will Sakura be free of the woes of teenagers? the irony is not lost on her (she's not that much older than them)
- in case you didn't spot it, this takes place during the month between the "Sand" incident and Sakura's consequent visit to Konoha
- Sadai is actually a canon character! But we've seen him before in "her poor self," where he was the bounty Sakura had let go, and has been mentioned several times in later chapters. he is now working dutifully to give her information whenever they cross paths.
- lots of implications in this chapter, some we're aware of (because we've seen Sakura's visit to Konoha) and some that's purposefully hidden - it'd be a miracle if you can pick it all up. I'm terrible at writing plainly.
- theoretically, it is possible to have more than one Byakugo seal; foolish and dangerous? most likely, but still possible.
- the consequence of forming a (possible!) new religion is that Sakura can no longer give out her ducks as freely as she used to. Which is a problem, because she's got at least a dozen left on her person and now she's stuck with them for who knows how long.
i hope everyone is safe and healthy during these trying times - it's easy to feel overwhelmed or restless, especially since many people are stuck home longer than they're used to. please make sure to keep your distance and wash your hands! my tumblr is open if you want to interact, ask questions/head canons, discuss whatever is on your mind, if it helps to relieve some tension!
Thank you for your love and support to "if the shoe fits" - i hope it'll continue to spark some joy in your lives! :)