Disclaimer: All Naruto characters and plot references are property of Masashi Kishimoto.
Some information about this work: this is an AU. I've taken the privilege of rewriting certain events as I see fit, and completely eliminating others. Inevitably, the characters are going to be OOC. Currently the rating is a firm T, but it will go up to an M not because of explicit content, but rather depictions of violence and use of strong language.
This story begins right after Team 7 concluded the Naruto Bridge mission. The main character is Sakura Haruno, who I'm very proud to say is my all time favourite Naruto character. This will not be a Saku/Sasu story. I repeat, Sasuke Uchiha takes no vital part in this work, doesn't appear for most of it, and won't be getting together with Sakura at any point. Therefore, if you ship these two hard and object to any other pairing, read this at your own risk.
I hope you enjoy this and stay with me throughout.
Your comments are always welcome.
The Leaves of the Tree
Sakura couldn't sleep.
She'd not slept a wink since they were ambushed on that dumb bridge, since Sasuke-kun was pierced all over by needles made of ice and Naruto went on a rampage, covered in that strangely toxic red chakra. Every time Sakura closed her eyes she could see it all happening again, in vivid detail.
Sasuke-kun falling to his knees.
'My body… just moved on its own…'
Naruto seemingly losing his mind.
'I'll kill you!'
Kakashi-sensei's Chidori ripping through that boy, Haku, like a knife through butter.
That terrible sound of a thousand birds chirping, that grated on Sakura's ears worse than even Ino's shrill voice early in the morning.
Sakura curled into herself, tightened her thick futon about her and closed her eyes again. No, she couldn't sleep. But she sure as hell wasn't going to let herself forget.
The first thing Kakashi-sensei did once they returned to Konoha, was haul Naruto and Sasuke-kun to the hospital. A solid-looking middle aged woman gave Sasuke-kun's pale, wobbling form one stern look and promptly hauled him off, while another immediately recognized Naruto and dragged him by the ear to an examination room. The results came a little over thirty minutes later: Naruto was perfectly fine. Sasuke-kun wasn't. Team 7 was given a four-day sabbatical, told to not put a toe out of Konoha and Sasuke-kun specifically was confined to his hospital room for at least the first two days. Sakura had tried to wish him well, had turned her eyes on the handsome boy she'd loved as best as a twelve year old girl could, but he wasn't looking at her.
Sasuke-kun was looking at Naruto. They seemed to be having an entire conversation with just their eyes.
Sakura turned tail and dragged her feet home.
That was yesterday afternoon, over twelve hours ago. She'd not left her bed since.
"Naruto, huh?" Sakura muttered, still buried under her futon, twirling a lock of pink hair around a pale, thin finger. When did Naruto and Sasuke-kun become so close? How did it happen? She thought Sasuke-kun couldn't stand Naruto, like she did. She thought Naruto was just a loud loser.
"You're the loser." Inner Sakura said dryly. "At least Naruto can pack a punch. You're the deadweight. Weak. Stupid. Useless. Annoying."
Was she annoying?
Sasuke-kun told her so, frequently.
Kakashi-sensei seemed to think she was pretty annoying himself, and rather useless, too.
Sakura turned to her other side and curled up again.
Come to think of it, for a very long time the only one to think anything nice of her had been Naruto.
"Whom you treat like dirt, mind you." Inner Sakura sneered, as frank and merciless as ever. "Even though he didn't do nothing to your pasty ass."
"He's rude to Sasuke-kun."
"And?" Inner Sakura sneered. "Sasuke doesn't give a fuck, does he? Besides, that moody princess can take care of himself. Unlike someone."
That was true enough, Sakura supposed. Sasuke-kun could take care of himself, and Naruto was prone to mimicking him anyway. It's Sakura who was the problem.
"Ungrateful," Inner Sakura supplied, a little smugly.
Sakura remembered Naruto catching her when the bridge crumbled. Naruto, blocking any debris from ever making it to her. Naruto, always having her back.
Sasuke-kun only ever covered himself.
"Ungrateful." Sakura repeated quietly.
And so passed day one of her sabbatical.
After another night of nearly no sleep, Sakura found herself in an unusual mood. Unusual in the sense it was mostly reserved for Inner Sakura, and she, herself, rarely experienced it.
Pure, uncontrollable rage.
"Who the hell asked him to protect me?!" Sakura howled.
"Uh, I'm pretty sure it comes with being teammates." Inner Sakura told her, a little dryly.
"Kakashi-sensei and Sasuke-kun mind their business!"
"Kakashi's a near catatonic pervert," Inner Sakura said. "Sasuke's a prissy bitch. They both suck."
It never ceased to amaze Sakura how her inner self disliked Sasuke-kun with a passion. It seemed impossible, that any part of herself would feel this way about her Sasuke-kun. Inner Sakura heavily disagreed and said that she, unlike Sakura, wasn't going to like a pretty face just because everybody else did.
"I don't like Sasuke-kun just because he's pretty!" Sakura screeched. "And I don't like him just because everybody else does!"
"I didn't say anything." Inner Sakura muttered.
Sakura grabbed the nearest thing she could – a pretty vase she'd made with her aunt last summer – and threw it at the opposite wall. The vase smashed into tiny little pieces. Some of Sakura's anger abated.
"Here's an idea," Inner Sakura drawled mockingly, "break your stuff. It'll definitely make you feel better."
Sakura grabbed another trinket.
Inner Sakura observed in horrified silence as Sakura proceeded to break near everything she could touch. What she couldn't break, she damaged to the best of her ability. What couldn't be damaged was hit until her fists and feet bled and she couldn't stand up anymore.
"Naruto, you idiot!" Sakura bawled, sitting in the middle of her hand-made mess like a toddle after a particularly destructive tantrum. "Why did you save me so many times? Why are you so nice to me? Let me hate you!"
"You don't hate him." Inner Sakura said coldly. "Stop lying to yourself."
Sakura just continued to cry, until her mother came home hours later, saw the decimated room, and gave Sakura something real to cry about.
And so passed day two of her sabbatical.
Day three was different, too.
Sakura woke up in the guest room, not her own room. She won't be stepping foot in there until it had been completely fixed, in about two days. The Haruno Clan had enough money to rebuilt anything at all in as little time as possible. They weren't a shinobi clan though, so nobody in Konoha cared. Sakura's mother had patiently explained that the reason they lived in the middle-class section of the merchant district was precisely that – Konohagakura was a shinobi village. For all their money, the Haruno Clan was made up of 90% civilians, 8% medical nin and only about 2% active shinobi, none over the rank of chunin. For them, it was best to not stand out.
Sakura eyed the lavish rug under her feet for a moment before snorting in derision and storming towards the bathroom. If they really didn't want to stand out, they'd not furnish their house with custom made pieces from the capital. Shinobi might not know the difference between the handwoven rugs in Sakura's house and the simple ones down in the market, but other civilians could. Other civilians did. It's half the reason Sakura didn't have any friends until she met Ino. Nobody wanted a piece of the rich, pink-haired princess.
Sakura eyed her sopping wet reflection critically, as her brain tossed random memories from happier times, all of them containing a laughing blonde girl with twinkling blue eyes.
"I miss Ino." Inner Sakura said, a little sadly.
"I miss Ino, too." Sakura admitted.
"Then let's go get our pig back."
"Yeah." Sakura nodded resolutely. "Let's go get our pig back."
As it happened, Ino 'Pig' Yamanaka didn't want "back".
"Just because you fucked up, Forehead, doesn't mean you can come running to me." Ino hissed at Sakura. "I ain't second place to anyone, not even Sasuke-kun, you hear?!"
It always amazed Sakura how Ino could look and sound absolutely menacing while dressed in a pink apron and deftly arranging flowers into intricate bouquets.
"You're not second place, Pig." Sakura growled through tightly clenched teeth.
"Oh, yeah?" Ino snapped and finally turned to look at Sakura. "Then tell me this. If you weren't feeling useless and abandoned by that bromance Naruto and Sasuke-kun are building, would you be here?"
"Bromance?" Sakura asked dumbly.
"Hello?" Ino raised an eyebrow. "They've been doing this since the academy. And you just proved you're only here because you feel like a third wheel."
"I'm not!" Sakura protested.
"Yeah?" Ino glared, "why you here, then?!"
"Because I miss you!" Sakura screamed.
Ino's jaw dropped in surprise, and Sakura could hear Ino's father drop whatever he pretended to mess with in the back room while he eavesdropped.
"I miss you, pig." Sakura repeated, a little bit calmer. "Even though you're rude, and loud, and really judgemental. You're the best friend I ever had."
"Because I'm the only friend you ever had." Ino growled, visibly stung.
"No!" Sakura stomped her foot. "Because you're honest, and you're kind, and you're loyal! You don't mince words, pig. You'd rather I cry for five minutes and move on, rather than look ridiculous or lie to myself. You chose me, when no one else did. I should've chosen you. Not Sasuke-kun. I'm sorry."
"Does that mean you're giving up on him?" Ino asked shrewdly.
"Over my dead body."
"Good." Ino huffed, "I almost thought you were."
Sakura rolled her eyes.
"C'mere, forehead." Ino beckoned with a cheeky smile and Sakura happily threw herself into the offered hug. Ino squeezed her tight, tight enough that Sakura knew she'd missed her, too, without Ino ever needing to say so.
And so passed day three of her sabbatical.
Sakura spent the fourth and last day in the library.
She wasn't planning on it. It was Ino's day off from both the Yamanaka shop and her team training. They were going to go shopping, eat desserts and complain about how boys, even when ridiculously pretty, were such a pain. But Ino had to return a book to the library first.
"Seriously?" Sakura had raised an eyebrow, "I didn't know you could read, pig."
"Piss off, forehead." Ino huffed, "my dad needed me to clear something for him. You know, like a useful member of the household."
"Oh, shut up."
"No, no," Ino mocked, "most of us don't have people to do that for us."
"Ino!" Sakura groaned and the blonde laughed at her, before sashaying to the counter. Trust Ino to immediately resume mocking Sakura's mother and her never uprooted tendency to hire someone for everything, because why on earth should she bother herself with manual labor?
As Ino cheerfully chatted with the librarian – today it was a rather cute shinobi boy, a few years older than them, who looked genuinely flattered – Sakura dragged her feet towards the index and began to browse the accessible books in an attempt to amuse herself. She'd not been to the library since before her Academy days. Once upon a time, Sakura loved books. They didn't hurl insults and didn't mock her forehead, or hair.
'I read this,' she noted, 'and this, and this. These three, those two… huh. I read most of the basic stuff.'
"Nerd." Inner Sakura snickered.
Sakura rolled her eyes and trailed her finger lower on the list, until a title caught her eye.
'Chakra Control and its Implications'.
A memory from the days leading up to the Naruto Bridge incident floated up from the recesses of Sakura's mind.
'Out of everybody on this team, Sakura-chan's chakra control is the best.'
Kakashi-sensei's voice droned, as bored and monotone as ever. He stated it as fact, not a compliment, and at the time Sakura had brushed it off. She was too proud for being able to do something neither Sasuke-kun nor Naruto could.
"Chakra control," Sakura murmured and quickly made her way to where the book was stored. It was a rather thick scroll, its color an unassuming gray. She wouldn't have noticed it had she not known it was there.
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Inner Sakura whispered.
Sakura hummed, and pulled the tome off the shelves.
By the end of the day, she'd taken out twenty sources on chakra control and staked her claim on a table further down the back. The librarian swore no one would touch it even after she left. That Sakura could keep her spot and stuff undisturbed for up to twenty days. It suited her perfectly.
If chakra control was the only think she was good at, then Sakura was going to make sure she was the absolute best, to the point even Kakashi-sensei would have to acknowledge her.
She'll never be useless again.