Author's Note: Thank you all for the support that you have offered me and this story! I really do love hearing from you! I am sorry about the really long wait, though. This chapter isn't very good, and I've rewritten it enough times that I've grown to really hate it, but it's necessary, so forgive me. I'll try to get the next chapter out as soon as I can! Thanks!
Disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot.
Warnings: Language and OOCness.
Word Count: 4,581
Sakura looks around the room, squinting her eyes, trying to see through the genjutsu that she knows is there. She knows she has to be in a genjutsu, she can feel it in her bones. But she can't figure out why she doesn't see a way out of it! This is impossible. There isn't a genjutsu that she couldn't see through! She's been able to see through everything. Er, well, mostly. She was able to see through Tsukuyomi - Itachi Uchiha's - even if it wasn't all of his strength, Sakura is going to take it as a compliment of her skills. Infinite Tsukuyomi is an entirely different matter, though. So... that doesn't count.
So while she can understand how she didn't see through it when she didn't have any training, she can't believe now that she knows that she's in a genjutsu that she can't break it.
Unless... it's not a genjutsu.
Her life as a princess was all just a dream. A strange concoction of the mind while she slept. But if that's true then that means... Sakura's home.
A smile breaks across Sakura's face as she throws the covers off of herself and swings her legs over the side, jumping to her feet and running from her room, down the hall and pushing open her parent's room door without bothering to knock. Her mother jumps, a few feet away from her bed, looking like she was about to fall back into it.
"Sakura? What in the world?" Mebuki snaps, her thin blond eyebrows pulled together tightly in annoyance. "What is wrong with you?"
Sakura throws herself into her mother's arms, hugging her tightly. She buries her face into her mother's shoulder, surprised by the swell of emotion bubbling in her chest. It was only a dream, yet it felt like so much more than that. It felt like she spent days in that dream, not just a few hours. As nice as the founders were, and the idea was, Sakura is so happy to be home. To be able to hold her overbearing mother in her arms.
For all the differences that they have, Sakura is so glad that her mother is there in her arms with her. She wasn't a fan of Lady Daimiyo so she's glad to be back with her own mother. Not have some strange, unexplainable mystery around her mother's disappearance. Amongst other things. She's glad to be home.
"Sakura?" Mebuki says, wrapping her arms around Sakura's shoulders. She gives the pink haired girl a tight squeeze before pulling back, now looking more concerned than annoyed. "What's wrong? Did something happen?"
Sakura shakes her head. "No. I'm sorry. Thanks for getting me up this morning." Sakura pulls away and heads out of the room, slowly closing the door behind her.
"Okay," Mebuki says slowly. "Have fun at school. Don't be late."
Sakura smiles to herself, happy to be back. "Thanks, mom!"
What a crazy dream Sakura had. Waking up the Princess of the Land of Fire? Back before the village was founded? How crazy! More self centered than anything, but still crazy. She can't believe that she actually dreamed that! Being a princess? Waking up from this life as a genjutsu? Becoming friends with the founders? How crazy was that dream? Everything she knows being a lie? Her brain is messed up. Royally. No pun intended.
She could laugh. She isn't a princess. She's a shinobi. Not a very good one, but still a shinobi. She isn't royalty. She's a Haruno. Everything is exactly as it should be. She's in Konoha with her family and friends. Sure, they were all young - still in school, so it's obvious that she must have heard about her fellow Leaf Shinobi; Neji, Lee, TenTen, Guy, Asuma, Kakashi and Kurenai from people around the village, or saw them, and made up everything else. It's insane what the brain can come up with in such a short amount of time.
Sakura blinks, pulling from her thoughts to looking down to the front of the classroom at Iruka. His brown eyes wide and curious. "Are you alright, Sakura?"
The pink haired girl looks around the room, confused. She looks at Ino, Shikamaru, Choji, Hinata, Shino, Kiba. Then her eyes land on the two boys on either side of her. Naruto and Sasuke. Naruto is staring at her with wide, goofy blue eyes, while Sasuke is barely giving her a side glance. Dark eyes would flicker over momentarily, but look away soon after.
In some ways, it hurt. That in her dream she came to realize that Sasuke's love would never be hers. Maybe her mind was trying to help her understand that by some odd, convoluted dream that real doesn't make sense to her, but dreams don't always have to. But it has taught her something very important that she's going to bring with her throughout her days as a shinobi - probably the rest of her life.
Sakura is going to cherish the people who love her more than anything else. She's going to focus on herself and not on a boy who isn't going to love her. She's not going to be dramatic. She's going to be realistic. She's not sure what happened and if by making this drastic life change that she is ultimately being dramatic, but she thinks that this could be for the better. This could be something good for her. Like, a whole new Sakura.
"I'm okay, Iruka-sensei," Sakura says, smiling. "I just... made a realization, is all."
Iruka looks interested. "Oh? Do you mind sharing it with the class?"
Sakura smiles a bit more. "I realized what really mattered in life, Sensei. I realized that people are important, more than anything else. Our friends, our family, ourselves. By cherishing who we are and those around us, we can overcome anything. We are stronger, together as one, then apart. It's less about them and us, but just us. Leaf Shinobi. Shinobi in general. We are a people that lives in a dangerous world. We have to look after one another and each other. So long as we are together, pushing toward the same goal, there isn't anything that we can't do. We just have to start by believing in each other."
Iruka smiles back, crinkles forming around his eyes. "That's wonderful, Sakura. I'm glad that you learned that. It's something that we should all think about and strive to understand about ourselves and others. We need to work together in order to succeed - in anything. No one person can do everything on their own."
"Eloquently put, Sensei," Sakura says.
Iruka laughs, scratching at the scar across his nose bashfully. "Well, thank you. You've shown great wisdom today, Sakura. Thank you for sharing."
Sakura leans back in her seat, closing her eyes. If she focuses hard enough, she can hear Naruto and Sasuke breathing next to her. She wasn't going to screw this up. She was going to make sure that everyone she loves knows that she loves them. She's going to treat them all with the respect that they deserve. She isn't going to take them for granted. She will never know when they would be gone. They are all special, and they are going to know it. Without a shadow of a doubt.
"You really inspired me, Sakura-chan!" Naruto says in a harsh whisper, his cheeks reddening in embarrassment. His smile is bright and joyous, what Sakura is coming to expect from him.
Sakura smiles back at him, feeling a sinking feeling of all of the terrible things she's ever said to him wash over her. Sakura hadn't been anything but cruel to people like Naruto every since she met him. But it's a new day, a new Sakura. She knows that while Naruto might not be the person in her dream, he's still a person. She has to learn to look past her preconceptions and see the people around her for what they are. Because that's the kind of shinobi that she wants to be. That's the kind of person that she wants to be.
"Thanks, Naruto," Sakura says. "You really inspire me too."
Naruto blushes, letting out a little, happy giggle. "Gee, thanks! I don't know what I did, but I'm glad I did it."
Sakura turns away, looking forward to see Iruka calling out who was going to be on a team with who, tuning in at, "Team Seven, under Kakashi Hatake will be Naruto Uzumaki, Sakura Haruno and Sasuke Uchiha."
"How was school today, Sakura-chan?" Kizashi asks, beaming at her as she walks into the living room. "You got your sensei and team today, right?"
"Yep," Sakura says, plopping down on the couch. "Naruto Uzumaki and Sasuke Uchiha are my teammates. Kakashi Hatake is my sensei."
Kizashi's purple eyebrows raise up toward his hairline. "Oh! I've heard of him! He's a legendary warrior, Sakura-chan! You've really got an amazing sensei! You're mother is going to be so happy for you!" He claps his hands excitedly, walking over to Sakura and plopping down on the couch next to Sakura and putting an arm around her shoulders. "I'm proud of you." He kisses her cheek.
"Dad," Sakura asks, looking up at him, "can I ask you a really weird question?
Kizashi nods. "Sure, princess."
Sakura smiles faintly at the nickname, not sure how she feels about it anymore. It will always remind her of the very odd dream with the founders of her village, where she was a princess of the Land of Fire.
She didn't hate the time there. The dream where she woke from a dream, which is a brain buster. Her shinobi life was a dream that she 'woke' up from to be a princess. Odd. Very, very odd.
Sakura shakes the thought away. It doesn't matter now. That was all just a... weird dream. Although a part of her wondered what it would have been like to actually meet the founders, to know what they were like. It's an interesting thought, and one she's had before, but she's glad that she was home now. She would always be curious, wonder about it, but she's happy that she's home. At least here is where things make sense.
"If I felt inadequate about pretty much every aspect of who I am and what I want, is there room for me to change?" Sakura studies his face slowly, wanting his honest answer.
"Sakura," Kizashi says, tilting his head slightly, "it's never too late to change. Kami gave us the ability to be able to look within ourselves. Only we know what's best for us."
"And if the opinion is unpopular?"
Her normally goofy father has a somber look on his face, looking around the room as if the answer was hidden somewhere there. After almost an entire minute, he looks back at Sakura. "Not everyone is going to like every choice that someone they love makes, but that's what love is about, Sakura-chan. It's about accepting all parts of the person. Things that you like, things that you don't. No one ever wants someone to change for the worst, but sometimes it can't be helped how it happens. You just have to accept the change and hope its for the best, ultimately."
Sakura looks away, hoping that this could apply to herself. She wasn't looking for the change in others, but in herself. It's not enough to want to change, but she has to go through with it. She feels like today was a very good first step. But a part of her is worried that old Sakura will appear and ruin it all. In the dream, she has had plenty of time to evolve naturally. This change is sudden and not without it's jarring affects. She's seen the way her classmates are eyeing her, as if the change was not lost on them. At lunch, Sakura didn't chase after Sasuke, and in fact, agreed to have lunch with Naruto under the guise that they were going to be a team together.
They were, she knew, but it was still a little hard to over look the annoying little ticks that he still had. She didn't yell at him, thankfully, or call him names, but a lot of the snoody brat that Sakura was, still lurked inside of her. It was so hard to control that Sakura is feeling exhausted. She wanted to change, badly, but it was hard to get over the impulse reaction.
Hopefully, everything will turn out better than her dream. Sakura just couldn't believe how wise she was people wise. She learned so much about herself and others from that dream, it's kind of inspiring. She must be more observant than she originally thought.
Someone lightly runs their fingers through Sakura's hair, soothingly. Sakura opens her eyes, seeing that she was laying on the couch. She must have been more tired than she thought, to have just fallen asleep like that. Sakura looks up a bit to see Mebuki staring down at her with large green eyes, a small frown on her lips but otherwise a soft expression.
"You shouldn't be sleeping in the middle of the day, Sakura," Mebuki says. "It's not good for you. You need to wake up now."
Sakura smiles lightly, reaching out and taking her mother's hand. "I love you, mom. I'm sorry if I ever made you feel like I didn't."
Mebuki bulks at that, her eyebrows pulling together. "I never questioned your love, Sakura. I'm your mother. I know you better than anyone else. No one can ever replace you in my heart."
"And you in mine, mother," Sakura says softly.
Mebuki smiles. She leans forward and kisses Sakura's cheek. "Why are you crying, Sakura?"
"I... missed you, mother. Everything always seemed so easy with you around," Sakura says, not sure why she's crying herself. Her mother hasn't been gone for long, yet it felt like a lifetime. Ino losing her father made Sakura's realization of the mortality of her own parents painfully clear. In the wild last few days - in the dream - has left her with little time to really think about it. Yet now she is.
Mebuki runs her fingers through Sakura's hair, staring into her eyes with those similar to her own. "I love you, Sakura, never forget that."
"I know," Sakura says, feeling her all the strength leave her limbs as she tries to push herself up. She feels her arms wobble beneath herself and they give beneath her. She falls off the couch and hits the ground, landing right on her huge forehead. It's weird, though. She hits it twice.
"Princess?" Len squawks.
Sakura's head is pounding, harder than she thought possible. She feels someone grab onto her arms from behind and help pull her up. Sakura flails around a bit, dazed, before looking up into Hashirama's large, dark brown eyes.
"Princess Sakura?" Hashirama says, his voice laced with worry. "Are you alright? Don't move. You just hit your head really hard. Twice."
Sakura looks around, in both disbelief and desperation. No, no, this isn't right. No, this was the dream! She woke up, finally. She was home. She has to be sleeping again. She has to be. Her eyes land on Madara, who was rubbing at his forehead, a large red mark appearing at the center of it. He looks a bit dazed, trying to get his mind straight.
"Wh-What?" Sakura looks around, lost and confused. She sees Samurai, Honor Guards, Izuna and Tobirama, Hashirama and Madara, her father decked out in elegant robes and Len, shaking in the corner. No. No no no no no no! No, this can't be right! This isn't right! No, this was a dream! This isn't what is suppose to happen! This isn't where she should be! She should be at home, with her mother and father! She's a shinobi, not a Princess! No! This isn't happening! Not again!
Pain stabs at her eyes as she pulls away from whoever was holding on to her to sink to her knees, trying to see this as a genjutsu, As a dream. The moment that she realized she was dreaming, her brain would have tried to correct the issue or given control of the dream over to her conscious mind. She looks around, willing the unfamiliar faces in the room she doesn't want to be in away. But they are still there, staring back at her. She doesn't want them, she wants her mother. She wants Mebuki.
Mebuki being here would wipe away this dream once and for all.
She doesn't know why her mother isn't welcome in the dream, but if she appears then this will all go away.
Sakura searches the room desperately to find the familiar face of her mother, but she can't see her. She's gone. Sakura buries her face into her hands, trying to control the stabbing pain in her eyes and chest. This can't be happening. Not again! Sakura's view of what is real and what is a genjutsu is becoming more and more skewed. She can't believe this.
So she was originally right. Her life as a shinobi was the lie. She really was a princess. An ignorant, dumb princess that was caught in another genjutsu. Sakura Haruno was amazing at seeing through genjutsu, but Sakura Shirakawa wasn't. She was a fool to idly believe that a simple dream could change who she was. Her mind was altered by a genjutsu. She wanted that life so bad that she was willing to look passed the fact that she was probably in another genjutsu without much of a fight.
Sakura is worthless.
Her father pulls her into his arms, hugging her tightly. Sakura is too ashamed to remove her hands from her face. She is such a fool. That seems to always be the card that Sakura is dealt. The one of the fool.
"I'm sorry, Sakura," her father whispers, holding her to him tightly. "I thought you were safe. I thought I could protect you."
"I saw mother," Sakura says softly, wiping the tears from her face, still feeling horrible. Kizashi stiffens for a moment, quieting down so that he can hear her. "In the genjutsu, the illusion, I mean. I saw her."
He runs his fingers through her hair, soothingly. "How... was she? Your mother?"
"Okay," Sakura says. "I just wish that she was here."
Kizashi nods, kissing her hair. "I do too, Sakura." He rocks back and forth with Sakura in his arms. She can feel him shaking a bit. Feeling that settles Sakura down a bit. It gives her something to latch onto. As much as this really sucks, and she wants to wallow in her self pity, it makes her feel better. It gives her something to focus on, other than herself.
Sakura always did better dealing with her issues when she could focus on other people's problems. Her father's fear was one of those things that she could focus on, away from her own issues. Her own pain. She knew that this was her life now. She had already gone through this before. She just has to bounce back and everything will be fine.
This is her life now. She promised - in the second genjutsu - that she wasn't going to be dramatic. This is her life. She has to be okay. She's going to be strong.
"Dad," Sakura whispers, wrapping her arm around his neck for a moment before pulling back. "You're shaking. Are you okay?"
Her father's naturally pale face is even more pale, like he's seen a ghost. "You wouldn't wake up," he says, eyebrows pulling together tightly. "No matter what was done, who spoke to you. You wouldn't move. Two entire days you just laid there without moving."
Sakura stares into her father's blue eyes, finding strength in herself by remembering that while not everything is how she wants it - really nothing is how she wants it - she isn't alone. Her father is still there. Leaf shinobi are still there. People who care about her and love her. Her dad and Len just about cover that, but she's happy to have them. This last genjutsu... it was painful.
"I'm sorry," Sakura says, looking away. "I didn't mean to worry you."
Kizashi nods. "I know. I understand. You tried to tell me this was going to happen. I... I should have believed you. This is way above my understanding." He looks pained, sad. He feels so bad. Like the momentary pain that she shared with them is all his fault. But Sakura doesn't blame him. In some ways, something like this would have had to happen in order for her father to understand. The people of now aren't privileged to understand the ways of the shinobi in such a way. Seeing is believing.
But Sakura's anger is pointed toward the people who did this. They took her life away. Both of them. She doesn't know why they tried to do it again, but she does know that it probably was to ultimately hurt her once again. She's not sure if she's directly the target or if this is some roundabout way of hurting her father, but she can tell that they aren't going to let this go until she's pounded them into dust.
There is real rage in her. Through the pain and the anger, there is a bridled rage inside of her. It's chained up and hidden, but it's there. Sakura can feel it lurking beneath the surface. The pain and sorrow she has over her circumstance is giving way to anger and rage. She is going to figure out who is responsible for doing this to her and her family, and she is going to utterly destroy the people responsible. Sakura would like to believe that she is a very reasonable person, but this has crossed the line in ways she doesn't understand.
This anger isn't unnatural to her. She's always been hot tempered with a short fuse. But this rage, this desire to kill another so fully is more than she is used to. It's not like her, but she is willing to accept it if it means finding out who did this.
And she can't do that trapped in the capital. With her father. She has to go where the lawless go. She has to hunt. The way of the Samurai is honor and loyalty, those that break the law meet the sharp end of the blade. The way of the Shinobi is of shadows and deceit, those that stand in their way always meet the sharp end of the blade.
"I had to ask the Senju and the Uchiha to come back, you wouldn't move," Kizashi says, shaking his head quickly, looking pained. "I didn't know what else to do. You wouldn't wake up." He rubs his face, tiredly. There is stress lines around his eyes and forehead. It's only been a few days - two, her stomach is rumbling a bit - and yet her father looks like he's aged a decade since she last saw him.
Sakura looks around, her eyes landing on Hashirama and Madara, who are standing by her bed, staring at each other, communicating with their eyes. Either they feel her eyes on them, or they see her in the corner of their vision, they both look over at Sakura.
"Princess?" Hashirama says softly, tilting his head to the side. Large brown eyes stare down at her. "Are you alright? How do you feel?"
"Thank you," Sakura says, ignoring his questions. "Thank you all for coming back. You must feel like we are yanking you back and forth. I'm sorry about that, but I'm happy that you came back."
Hashirama smiles faintly, eyebrows pulling together a bit. "You needn't worry about that, Princess. We are just happy that you are alright."
Sakura nods. "I'm okay, thank you." She looks over at Madara, "Thank you, again."
Madara opens his mouth, about to say something, before deciding against it, and nodding his head slowly. Sakura's eyebrows pull together a bit, wanting to call him out on whatever he was holding it, before deciding that she will ask him about it another time. Probably not when her father was in the room, which if Sakura had to guess, was the reason he held his tongue to begin with.
Sakura looks over at Izuna and Tobirama. "Thank you guys, as well."
Tobirama shakes his head. "Don't thank us. We lost the one who cast the genjutsu on you for the second time."
"He managed to slip past you?" Sakura asks, surprised. The trail should still be hot, if it's only been a few days. How could they have lost the person who did this again?
Tobirama frowns at that as Izuna says slowly, "Not exactly."
"Let's not talk about this," Kizashi says. "Sakura, you should rest."
"Dad," Sakura looks into her father's eyes, feeling the callous words slip past her lips without her realizing it, "keeping me ignorant isn't going to keep me safe. It's why they were able to get to me again."
Kizashi bulks, flinching hard at the words, like she said what he was thinking. Sakura immediately feels bad. She knows that it needed to be said, but maybe not in the way that she said it, or at the time. Sakura still has a long way to go before she can be the person that she wants to be. She's just going to have to keep working on it.
"I know," Kizashi says, rubbing at his face again as he stands up, holding a hand out for Sakura to take. She does and he pulls her to her feet. "Get to bed, and get some rest. We can talk more in a bit. Len, see to her."
Len bows deeply. "Of course, Daimyo-sama."
"My lords," Sakura's father looks around the room at the two sets of brothers, "please, follow me."
All the Samurai bow as the Damiyo and the four shinobi leave the room, before piling out themselves. Two honor guards remain posted on the wall flanking the door into her room.
Len helps Sakura fall back into her bed, wondering - but suspecting - what her father wished to speak to the two noble families about.