Hey guys, sorry for always being so slow. I always spend a lot of time writing and rewriting chapters until I feel satisfied with the results.
Anyway, thanks for the amazing reviews and hope you enjoy this chapter as well^^
P.S. - I do not own Naruto and I am aware of the great changes I made to it with this story
"What is the first rule during war, Haruno?" Koharu asked looking down at the girl kneeling before her with her arms tied behind her back like a dangerous criminal.
Sakura kept on fixing Koharu's feet as she thought. Among the few things she carries on the battle field in her vest, her military service record is one of them. Inside, she has a nicely folded paper with all the new rules a shinobi must follow. "Never let the enemy get past you," she answered on a flat voice.
"So why did you?" Koharu questioned.
"I was careless." She was careless with Shisui too but surprisingly she has no regrets regarding neither of the matters. She did whatever she could to stop the enemy just as she did everything she knew to keep Shisui away.
"And that costed our camp," the woman said walking around Sakura and stopping behind her. True. What Koharu says is very true. But she has no regrets. Not about Shisui. Not about the burnt camp. Not even for disobeying orders. She is no genius and she is not ashamed of this. She is young and foolish so mistakes are unavoidable. "You are a brilliant medic but you are still a shinobi and such mistakes are not taken lightly. Punishment is the only way to set example and avoid this from happening again."
Sakura looked at her right, at her blond friend who was also brought there but who had the privilege of standing on her feet without being tied down. Ino trembles as she looks at Sakura, fear visible in her eyes. Sakura wanted to snort but she felt like it was not the time to mock anyone. But she cannot help but wonder, why did Ino disobey orders if she is so terrified right now?
"And Yamanaka-san," Koharu started as she walked around the blond girl and stopped in front of her, "the rules are the same for everyone regardless of their background." Except that they are not really the same. Ino comes from a prestigious clan with old history in the village and her father is well known, respected clan leader and committee member of the village. On the other hand, Sakura is a normal kunoichi who is part of no clan and in her family are weak shinobi who reached only chuunin level. They are not into politics and they own a small clothes shop under their apartment. Anyone can punish her without constraints.
Koharu walked in front of the two girls, carefully considering her moves. There is also Tsunade. The punishment must be fair and leave Sakura still capable of working for the village. "Both of you will get 10 days of imprisonment," she said making up her mind. "And 10 whips for Haruno."
Koharu laid the sentence as she walked towards the exit. Two men walked inside, one of them to take Ino to the prison and the other stopping behind Sakura with a chakra whip in his hand. Ino looked at Sakura with big stupefied eyes as she was pushed towards the exit. She struggled to see Sakura's face, putting a fight before being dragged out of the tent, unable to see Sakura's face as pink locks kept it hidden. Ino did not find the voice too call out, hoping that Sakura will look at her and show her a smile, but none of that happened. As she got dragged out, Ino could not even hear Sakura breathing.
The punishment didn't feel heavy. She was expecting something bad to happen to her and she knew that Koharu doesn't have a soft heart. At least she did not get a heavier punishment just to prove to the rest that it doesn't matter who your teacher is as long as you are wrong.
Sakura was never whipped before and no matter how cruel an enemy was, the pain never reached this level. The first hit felt like a warm-hot feeling on her back, the clothes protecting her skin. The second whip felt rougher but the pain was still more like a hot, uncomfortable feeling. The third whip left a stinging feeling behind, the sound of the impact resonating in her ears. The fourth whip was no longer gentle, her back getting hot and pulsing all over. The impact made her eyes big, realization that she will not get through this without feeling something becoming prominent. The fourth lash left behind a burning sensation, the feeling of a deep cut on her skin that stings. The firth lash was pure pain, the cut feeling a lot deeper than before. The sixth hit was worse than the previous one, her skin feeling ripped from her bones.
Sakura looked ahead, at where Koharu stood until minutes ago. She will get through this and she will make sure that woman never gets back to Konoha. Afterall, this is war and an old woman like her will get an illness from the rest of the shinobi. She will let her die in agony. This is a promise.
Sakura refused to scream despite the pain she was feeling. She just hissed as the lash would land on her skin but nothing more. She has her pride and showing someone that this punishment is unbearable is not going to happen. Sakura just looked ahead with serious eyes, refusing to let others see the reflection of pain in them. She just hissed and concentrated to the damage done to her back.
The good thing during war is that even those who give punishment are human. The man assigned to punish her did not give Sakura 10 whips but stopped at 9, feeling like he would break her spine if he landed another whip of her. She took care of his wounds once and he will be under her hands again and he does not want her hate. The last hit landed on the ground next to her. The man kneed next to her and helped her up, noticing the determination in her eyes. "I am sorry," he apologized feeling bad for everything. But it was an order, not his decision.
"I know," she replied trying to keep a flat voice.
Shisui always believed that the core value of his beloved country is equality. He woke up and went to sleep every day knowing that his country was less corrupted and his work was necessary to purge other countries too. Beyond his job as a shinobi where killing is the main activity, he thought that after everything bad is wiped out, the shinobi world will fall into a state of peace. He feared that peace as people like him are no longer required and but he longed to see that world too. When the war fell on his shoulders, he started realizing things that were always there but he ignored. He knew that he was treated a little bit different because he had the power to really make a difference during this war by receiving extra treats at diner or by having the opportunity to receive medical help whenever needed. These things he realized after his first week in the camp but did not pay much attention to it as these were normal in the village too. The genius Uchiha boy was always praised and always got things for free so he let it slide easily. He thought that everyone had their share in a way. Then he met Sakura and the reality of the world hit him worse than war. He understood that the special treatment he always got was not for everyone and that the village does not treat everyone equally. He saw that people who do not have reputation are many times ignored or left to struggle alone for success or die miserably while trying. But the most painful thing he understood because of her was the importance of a clan. Sakura pointed that out when they first worked together. He laughed at her and saw her as a foolish, easy at mind child but as time flew by he became more aware of things happening around him. His words no longer seemed as a way to point out how amazing and honoring the Uchiha clan is but proof of how foolish and blinded he was by the honor of being born an Uchiha: "My clan is superior to most so pride has nothing to do with it." Pride had everything to do with his oblivion. He was aware he was special but he was oblivious of the effect it truly had on others. It was not admiration and skills that differentiated him from the others but special treatment, better quality medical help, more patient people…basically his entire life was a damn privilege.
Shisui remembers every day the words he told her about his clan being far superior to most and that breaks him apart now. Because he is far superior he is sitting next to Itachi under the warmth of the sun while lower rank shinobi clean up the mess in the camp and she gets punished for it. And what is most painful is the realization that she doesn't get punished for being reckless but for being weak and unexperienced and letting the enemy go past her. That shouldn't be punishable. Someone should take the time to teach her what she doesn't know. She did what she could with the power she has and yet they cannot see beyond the mistake. This is the corruption he always refused to see and the proof that equality does not exist. The Yamanaka will have a mild punishment compared to Sakura. He doesn't need a lot of time to contemplate in order to understand how this works. How it always worked. What did she feel when he pointed out how important he is compared to others, compared to her? Did she feel anything? Compared to him, she was always aware of this and lived her entire life know this so for her maybe it was normal. She learned from Tsunade because even Kakashi didn't see anything worth training in her. She watched her sensei train only Naruto and Sasuke for a while before she had to search somewhere else for someone willing to teach her something.
"You are quiet," Itachi noticed looking at the working bees. Captains do not clean up and do not bother with work like that. He would like to help but he could also use a break. But then again, everyone could use a break.
"Care to share?"
"No," he answered on a quiet voice. What is the point of sharing something that most likely everyone was aware of except him? It is humiliating. Especially now that he understands how corrupted he is as well. He took advantage of her and although knowing it was pride now he understands the effect it has.
"…ra…" Sakura twitched her shoulders, slowly becoming aware of the cold floor beneath her stiff body. "…kura…" Her cheek brushed the floor, raising small particles of dirt. The smell of damp earth is irritating her airways. "Sakura!" Ino called one last time grabbing the iron bars which keep her away from her friend.
Sakura opened her eyes and blinked, trying her best to focalize the image before her. She can distinguish the sight of a wooden bed leg spinning before her eyes. "Mmm…" She closed her tired eyes trying to fall asleep once more and escape the terrible feeling of dizziness.
"Please wake up," Ino begged as she slipped on her knees, forehead brushing the bars. She wants to step through the bars and walk next to her so she can stop the bleeding from her back. Even if the cells are very small, she can barely reach Sakura.
Ino watched with horror as Sakura walked past her cell with a man behind her. She had a poker face on, no signs of pain or distress visible. The moment the guard locked the door, Sakura crushed on the ground and remained motionless for the follow hours, making Ino go mad with worry. Ino tried to slip through the bars but no matter how much she struggled, she couldn't touch her friend. She was quite close, her nails almost touching Sakura's shirt but it was not enough to send chakra to Sakura's wounds. So she waited, nothing else for her to do but stay pressed over the bars and watch over her friend.
Sakura jerked her leg as if suddenly awakened by a strong sound. She once again tried to look ahead, the image of the bed clear this time. She looked beneath the bed and through the grey bars in the next cell which was empty. There is a lone dirty pillow lying on the flood, who knows when and by whom tossed and left there. Maybe someone frustrated just like her upon realizing how little the council thinks of them. Maybe someone hurt, just like her, when understanding that they have no value and nothing to offer to the village. What did she ever offer anyway? She saved some lives but people also died under her hands. Her family is not even worth talking about. They are simple people who barely reached chuunin level and shortly after she was born, they opened a small clothes store and gave up their shinobi life. Or whatever that was called while they did low level missions. This is their level. Normal people who live normal lives and enjoy life the way they can understand it. And they might understand that she does not lead a normal, equal shinobi life but they do not force her to talk about it. They suffer in silence because this is the life she chose for herself and she is ambitious and wants to continue the fight with discrimination. And she will manage it because there are other people like her who did it. For example their Fourth Kage, who was an orphan and his parents were not noble shinobi either. So she will make it too.
The pink haired kunoichi pushed herself up and on her rear, her ears slightly buzzing and back burning as if fire is eating it. Her mind is clear though and she remembers every detail of what happened inside the tent before she was brought there.
"Sakura…" Ino cried worried.
"Am fine," she said and wrapped her hands around her until she reached her back. The feeling of her cool chakra covering the injuries feels like a pack of ice, numbing her back and easing the pain. She will be fine, there is no lie in that.
"You cannot be fine…"
"I can," she silenced Ino as she finished healing her wounds. There, the pain is gone and she is truly fine. No pain means no problems and no worries. Sakura nodded, mainly to support her thoughts. She is perfect once again.
Ino bit her lower lip, eyes filling with tears. How can anyone be fine after something like that? She cannot even imagine the pain Sakura must have felt when getting beaten. If it were her she would fear for her life now, not trusting anyone anymore. And maybe Sakura doesn't trust her anymore and hates her for everything.
Sakura watched her companion with utmost care and noticed all the wrinkles forming on her forehead. She does not need a special jutsu to read Ino's mind. The blond is not wrong, she is indeed feeling something but that is not what Ino thinks. "I am physically fine," Sakura insisted uttering each word with great care. "I do think stuff but they won't dull my mind." She will not let hatred take over and push her to stupid things. No, she will remain cool and focused because there is nothing for her to do but wait. Koharu is an old lady and war bears many illnesses she is bound to catch eventually. This war will kill that old woman and that will be her revenge because what comes around goes around. Karma is a bitch and she does not want anything to turn against her.
Not knowing what to say anymore, Ino wiped her tears and sat in a proper seiza. She doesn't know what to talk about but she fears the silence falling between them. She wants to hear Sakura talk and…and console her. At this moment, although Sakura got it worse, she is the only person who can sweet talk Ino and tell her everything will be alright. Yes, she knows that is the wrong thing to think but she cannot escape this weakness. Not even now when she has to be strong. Her daddy's relations are keeping her unharmed and away from painful punishments and yet it is not enough to make her feel safe.
Sakura is not a genius, that is clear already, but she can tell that Ino is waiting for her to say something and make her feel better but unfortunately she has nothing of the sort ready. Sakura is the least optimistic person in the whole camp. She guesses some things and hopes for other but she cannot be certain of anything. Look where her trust in Shisui brought her. Sure, she doesn't blame him because it was an order, but she trusted she was safe in his hands and she wasn't. She also hoped the punishment to be light but it burnt like hell. At this point, she has no idea what will happen tomorrow.
Looking around, she noticed how the prison was manually dug beneath the ground but poorly calculated and ended up a small place with only five crowded cells. She looked up the bars until her eyes fell on the ceiling, noticing worms poking out of it. She is truly stuck in hell, in a disgusting room with rats craping on her bed and worms ready to fall on her.
"We will make it," she said deciding she will not die there. That is not optimism but determination to get out of there alive.
Someone said that time is relative and made by man. They could be right because without it Sakura feels like she is stuck in abyss, in a dark hole with only one torch burning in the middle of the hall and failing to make enough light. She is stuck in that cell with no way of distinguishing day from night and no way of telling if time is still or not. Only rats can move through that void and become a form of time predictors. They have moments when they sleep for long periods of time and then Sakura guesses that it must be day outside. When they become active, it must be night. There is a guard coming by to bring them water and food but they do not talk or share glances. He leaves the bowls of rice and cups of water on the ground and leaves. That must be the morning. The two girls then rush to the tray to take the recipients before the rats can reach them. They eat with their dirty hands, forced to use them as little as possible so they do not eat any deadly bacteria. That is her reality now. And there it is clear that time is relative but essential for mortal beings to live.
One day, or night, as she was looking across the hall to an empty cell, Sakura heard voices and the sound of something being dragged. Two men carrying an injured shinobi stopped at the cell across from hers and tossed the wounded shinobi on the ground. The man could barely speak or move but they made sure to lock the door and prevent him from escaping. She watched him lying on the ground, unable to see his face, and scanned the bandage covering his arm. Whatever was beneath the bandages it won't react well in contact with dirt, rats and humidity. He was already a dead man.
Indeed, after the rats had their second inactivity moment, the man died. He remained there on the ground, nobody bothering to remove him from there to this day. They are probably waiting for his sentence to finish before they bother to dig a hole for him. Sakura remained with her back rested over the wall and stared at him as if watching TV. She is not a sick person fascinated by a dead body but she has something to see; with each second his body is changing. Rats already moved in his cell and slowly ate his toes and probably face but she is grateful she cannot see it.
A rat rose on its back feet and smelled the air while looking at her. She looked back at it with a straight face. No, she will not be its next meal.
They couldn't talk anymore. Both girls wanted to talk and although they had nothing else to do, they felt like there was no time at all. So they waited for the right moment. The moment never reached the talking time. At some point, Ino and Sakura didn't find the need or strength to talk and they had moments when they doubted the other was still there. There was no subject, no time and no desire. After unslept nights they were finally becoming rats themselves, doing nothing but lying there and occasionally eating. Only one day or night of sleep would be enough to regain their strength but they couldn't sleep because they feared rats will crawl up their bodies and eat their faces. They didn't want that so being awake and idle seemed the safest way.
Then at some point, Sakura started hearing things, the sounds of the whips which broke her back. In the beginning they were faint but in time they became loud and clear. As she sat there on her rear, her elbows propped up on her knees, she became a statue, staring at the ground without even blinking. A rat squeak meant a second flying by. A second passed meant another whip. Each imaginary whip made her back burn and sting. But she did not move because she felt no desire to. She just stood there thinking and doing nothing. Pain meant she was still alive.
"Hey!" The voice called a third time annoyed. Sakura blinked confused of what time it was but not seeing any food on the ground she felt like everything was in her head. "Sakura," the whisper made her eye twitch.
Sakura started focusing on the shadow before her, mind putting the pieces together to what seemed to be a human. She kept on looking up until her eyes locked with a pair of burning sharingans. The tall shadow has a well-known sharingan and long eyelashes that protect it. "Shisui," she whispered on a hoarse, unrecognizable voice. Her voice was strange, as if one of an unknown person. "What day is?" she whispered fearing to hear her own voice.
"Thursday," he answered. Shisui looked at the dirty girl standing on the ground with a pit in his stomach. He is generally an emotionless shinobi with no pity for anyone but she is capable to wake up emotions he never knew before. The way she sits with her knees to her chest and hands wrapped around them tells him just how tough she has it right now. No doubt anyone would dislike the smell and humidity down there but her state is just terrible. Her hair is shadowed and it is hard to say the color but her face seems dirty and her eyes have trouble focusing on him. She clearly doesn't register his presence there. "You've been here for 5 days," he tells her aware she might need clarification.
"Oh," she answers understanding. Only five days have passed since she last saw the daylight. Since she last slept. "Is it day?"
She nodded at his answer then looked down towards darkness. Is he even really there? He feels like an illusion since the real Shisui wouldn't step in such a place willingly. And then it went through her mind that maybe Koharu decided on another punishment for her. "If you beat me," she started crossing her fingers over her knees, "can you do it outside?" She will take any beating just to see the sky again and smell the fresh air.
Those words caught him off guard. She always seemed like a weak girl but not this selfless and emotionless as now. She says things she doesn't think but the survival instinct inside her is trying to clasp on anything. How could she say he would beat her? Even he wouldn't go on with something like that. Not with her at least. "Come here," he called slipping his fingers through the bars.
Sakura didn't really see the hand but she heard some noises so she instinctively got up to reach it. Her steps were heavy and uncertain as she walked towards him, the feeling of moving seeming unfamiliar. "Am dirty," she said not touching his hand but stopping closer to him. Even her hair is no longer pink because of the mud from the walls.
She didn't blink once since he arrived there. She just looked ahead like a mad woman, seeing almost nothing and barely talking. "Don't care," he answered cupping her cheeks with both hands and forcing her to look up into his eyes. He saw no light in them as he scanned her pale green orbits. "Don't disappoint me," he hissed not liking what he sees. The only reason he came to visit her was because he was assigned to guard for the night. He thought that since he's there he could go down and see how she is but he didn't think she'll become a cracked shell. "Giving up here?" he asks trying to fire up her spirit.
Sakura shook her head once. "Need sleep," she said view becoming fuzzy.
"Then sleep," he commanded annoyed.
"Rats will eat us," she commented hearing them squeak.
"I will take care of them so sleep," he said and released her cheeks.
"Sure you don't want to beat me outside?" she asked longing to see the sky.
"Very." His fingers got caught in her tangled dirty locks. She doesn't feel human anymore but more like a clay doll which has yet to dry up.
"I really…" she started feeling the despair building up, "want to sleep…" She is getting scared of her mind. He is right there next to her, or she thinks he is, and yet she cannot see him. She feels like she stares right through him. Sometimes she can catch a glimpse of his sharingan but it shortly fades. Will she remember this? Is she really talking to him? Nothing feels real anymore.
"Lie down and sleep. I will take care of the rats," he commanded and leaned in.
"Don't," she said stepping backwards. She is the dirties thing down there and he could get ill from kissing her. "Later."
She felt like she could trust the illusion so she turned on her heels and walked back to her spot. Finally, she can rest.
"Ino…" she whispered as she sat against the wall. "You see him too?"
"Ye…" the girl replied losing his shadow in the darkness.
Shisui felt annoyed he got rejected by a shitty brat but he kept his promise and killed the rats before leaving. Before he left he saw her peacefully sleeping figure, cheek rested over her knee and hands wrapped around her legs, and his anger vanished. She feel asleep within seconds, fully trusting him although she had doubts he was real. She was most likely willing to accept anything just to be able to sleep.
It is humiliating a child woman like her has the nerves to pull back even when he is willing to ignore her smell and dirt.
"Wow," Ino expired feeling refreshed. "I wish you told me about your boyfriend," Ino commented bothered not knowing of the relationship between Sakura and Shisui.
"He isn't my boyfriend," the girl answered yawning. She has no idea for how long she slept but she feels refreshed and in her right mind again. There are no more rats there and hopefully none will appear until they finish their sentence.
"Sure. That was just pure friendship," Ino rolled her eyes. Her view was blurry too but she caught the moment he leaned to kiss her.
Sakura turned to face Ino but she could barely see her. "We are not friends either," she said realizing she has no idea what her relationship with Shisui is. They are strangers.
"Then what was that?" Ino growled envious.
Sakura looked at her feet, trying her best to label her relationship with Shisui. "He is my senpai but not quite," she uttered.
"So what about Sasuke?" she continued to question.
"What about him?"
"You liked him. Like, a lot," Ino said reaching her cup of water. Sleep can make miracles and she once again feels human. There is finally time to speak.
Sakura nodded in silence. Like is little said, she used to love him. But then this war made him look less human. "I am over that," Sakura admitted. At this point she cannot even say what love felt like. "He is not worth it."
Ino nodded kind of understanding Sakura. He is a little different but he is still a good guy. "We might not know everything. It could all be nothing but a rumor."
"Could be." Except that she saw him with different girls on different nights.
"But if he doesn't touch us then it means he thinks highly of us."
"Could be," Sakura repeated seeing the logic behind Ino's statement. Yes, Sasuke might not be the playboy she thinks and he might think highly of her but she needs him to remain disgusting so she doesn't return to that weak fan girl.
"You like Shisui-senpai?"
Sakura shrugged her shoulders. She never thought of him that way. These days he hardly crossed her mind. "I don't think I can feel love anymore."
How strange, they speak like they once used to when they were in Konoha. It is nice having girl talks once again.