Author's Notes:Well, here's my first shot at a Naruto fic. And yes, it may appear Sakura-centric at first, considering that I actually like her character. I hope I share similar reasons with other authors who have chosen to place more focus on her in their writings. We see the potential, and really want to see her develop substantially more in both the manga and anime. Spoilers up until chap. 210 of the manga, where I taper off and go my own merry way.
As for pairings, this fic will eventually be a Sakura x Kakashi, unless something… catastrophic happens. But there will be other secondary pairings showing up as well. The rating is for language, violence, and sexuality in future chapters.
Italicsrepresent character thoughts and flashbacks.
Disclaimer: Masashi Kishimoto owns Naruto and all characters. The plot's about the only thing that's mine, and any original characters that pop up.
The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you,
Not knowing how blind that was.
Lovers don't finally meet somewhere.
They're in each other all along.
- Maulana Jalalu'ddin Rumi
"I used to be the most untalented kid in my class,"
"I couldn't use ninjutsu or genjutsu, only below average taijutsu techniques."
"Everyone laughed…I was called a 'dropout'."
Kick. Punch. Block.
"However, I persevered with hard work, and look where I'm at today. But you shouldn't have to worry, Sakura-san! You're much smarter than I was. If you train as hard as you can, you'll be incredible."
Rock Lee's encouraging words kept repeating themselves in her mind, accompanying her as would a soothing mantra while she dutifully went through her training exercises.
It had been almost two years now that she'd trained religiously every day, relying on random words of encouragement to serve as guidance. Whether she had wanted to or not, Haruno Sakura had emerged from that one Chuunin Exam irrevocably changed. From the defining moment when she had lopped off prized coral strands of her hair, to her battle in the preliminaries with Ino, the roseate-haired Genin saw instances of where her weaknesses had cost her. But the ultimate catalyst came that night, when Uchiha Sasuke had chosen to forcibly diverge his path from hers, opting instead to pursue his destiny where she could not follow.
A team had been sent to retrieve him, consisting of Shikamaru, Naruto, Neji, Kiba, and Chouji. Sakura, along with Tsunade, had been given no other choice than to place their trust in the ragtag group. They were all children really, fresh-faced and only at the beginning of their shinobi careers. She could still remember Naruto's voice.
"Don't worry, Sakura-chan. We will bring back Sasuke, that's a life- promise."
She shouldn't have been so surprised when they failed; it was perfectly logical when one considered everything in context. They were all formidable shinobis in their own right, abilities mayhap on par with the enemy, but they were vastly lacking in one crucial area: experience. But nothing could have prepared her for the sight of their return, each one carried or assisted back by medical shinobi and all bound for the intensive care unit of the medical facility.
As she watched their bodies being carried past her one by one, on glaringly white stretchers that had quickly become discolored with their lifeblood, Sakura felt the faintest of doubts beckon at the back of her mind.
Was it worth it? So much life at stake for someone who abandoned us all?
She had quickly waved that thought away, she couldn't think down that path. Instead, she chose to marvel at how these people, each of whom was not overly fond of Sasuke, were willing to lay their lives on the line for him.
Naruto had refused to be wheeled away, protesting loudly that he needed to see Sakura or else he would refuse Tsunade's treatment. Upon her arrival, he had grasped the hands of his pink-haired teammate, looking up searchingly into her questioning jade eyes while his unyielding grip trembled.
"Sakura-chan," he choked, then dropping his head in evident shame.
She understood what he wanted to say, and she couldn't blame him. Not Naruto, who she knew would've attempted to move the sun and moon for her if she had asked him. But it wasn't enough to stop her tears. At a loss for words, she could only shake her head in denial, clutching the younger boy like a life preserver, willing the pain to lessen, if only a little.
"I'm so sorry, Sakura-chan, but…we failed. We couldn't bring him back."
Sakura had claimed that she loved him. Even at a young age when concepts such as love had been beyond comprehension, little Sakura had said that she cared for the Uchiha boy. The fleeting period spent as teammates had only intensified those feelings she harbored. In that case, wasn't she obligated to lay down her life for him as well? She had pretty much accepted the fact that someday, she may very well be required to give her life for Sasuke. And that meant that she would need to become stronger, strong enough to make a difference.
And she would cling to that decision, desperately, because it was all of Sasuke that she had left.
Team 7 had been irrevocably split with the departure of Sasuke, as well as with Naruto leaving to spend most of his time training with Jiraiya. Kakashi had been sent on an unending stream of high-class missions ever since the Sound/Sand Invasion of Konoha. Team-less and mentor-less, Sakura had been forced to seek guidance from whoever was available. Even when the rest of the village had forgotten about their trio, both Naruto and Sakura forced themselves to move on.
Sakura had approached Kurenai on occasion, and recently, even Rock Lee was a suitable instructor, especially since he was able to coach her after the successful results of his surgery. Her current training regime mirrored the young taijutsu specialist's, for the purpose of raising her stamina and speed levels. It was effective, but still not the same as having one-on-one training with a qualified instructor. Hence even after two years, Sakura was not reaching her full potential.
But she figured she'd done something right, for when Sakura had elected to take the Chuunin exam this year, she'd found herself advancing seamlessly to the third exam. The last exam was again set up in tournament style, and scheduled for the following day. Hence the resolute Genin found herself pulling an untimely midnight cram session, where she was hoping to perfect a few new jutsus that might give her an advantage during the matches.
Her training garb completely soaked through with sweat, the kunoichi was glad that she had donned an extra lightweight set of clothes this evening. Her old red dress of days bygone had not lasted long in the face of intensive training, so she had traded it for more practical garments.
Just shows how highly I prioritized training back then,she scoffed to herself mentally.
She was currently wearing a white tank top under a long-sleeved black mesh shirt, along with a pair of loose-fitting black cargo pants, allowing her movements to be as unrestricted as possible. Her coral tresses had grown back to their original length quite a while ago, and she didn't have the heart to cut it for it would remind her of the whole Chuunin exam episode spent with the rest of her team. So instead, she had it tied back with a white ribbon in a long braid that reached halfway down her back.
Satisfied that her close-range fighting techniques were in top condition, the Genin chose to move on to ninjutsu techniques. Especially the Grand Fireball no Jutsu, a technique she had been attempting to perfect recently. It called for a great deal of chakra, so much that it would be pushing her limits. But the technique was one that she had wanted to learn and master for a while now, for more than the sole reason of accomplishment. It had been one of his preferred techniques.
Purposeful, Sakura prepared to settle herself into her ready horse stance, just as a whimsical gust of wind blew a lone leaf that tickled against her face. Raising a hand to bat the annoying object away, the kunoichi wrinkled her nose at the irritating sensation, only to stop short when she noticed something peculiar out of the corner of her eye.
A tall figure had appeared sometime, only a few yards away from her position. The person was swathed in a billowing, ebony cloak with bold crimson patterning that fluttered ever so often with the night breeze. As though the cloak itself did not cover enough, a wide-brimmed straw hat also served to conceal most of the person's face, while casting the rest of their features in mysterious shadows. The figure stood stiffly at the base of an immense, aged tree with dark, barren branches, looking for all the world as unmoving as the specimen of flora itself.
Well, it's not as though he or she's bothering me…and we're far enough apart for my attacks not to affect them.
With a shrug of her shoulders, Sakura decided to ignore the person, and if they just so happened to be a hapless civilian that got scared off once she whipped out her techniques, then all the better. Settling back into position, she began the process of performing her jutsu.
Perhaps she had exhausted a good deal of her chakra supply beforehand while warming up, because a good twenty minutes had passed and Sakura was still only able to emit an embarrassingly petite flare from the jutsu. It would've been sufficient to light a cigarette, and the roseate-haired Genin made herself a mental note to ask her opponent tomorrow if he smoked. Her inner self could somehow see this falling through during the match.
Sakura: Grand Fireball no Jutsu!
Sakura: Um, hehe, need a light?
Examiner: Hey, there's no smoking allowed on these premises! You're both disqualified!
The kunoichi sighed helplessly, before attempting to go over the seals again.
"I hope you know a few higher level water-type jutsu,"
Stopping her movements abruptly, Sakura whirled around in the direction of the voice. The same sight of the immobile figure greeted her. Were they the one who had spoken? Eying the other critically, the Genin decided that the person certainly gave no indication of having done anything, not even breathe. And furthermore…
Sakura glanced around her vicinity curiously. Well, it sure looked like she was the one being addressed, considering they were the only two people she could detect within a half-mile radius of her location.
"Why," she asked quizzically, finally deciding that this person was talking to her and no other.
The same voice returned, its deep masculine tones delivered in the same linear flow, as though the speaker himself was effortlessly regulating it to be unemotional.
"It would help…should you manage to start a grassfire sometime this century."
For some odd reason Sakura figured her mental reflexes to be a tad slow at night. Or else she definitely would have come up with a better retort than what immediately escaped her lips.
But thankfully, Inner Sakura was able to rein in the situation, by giving her currently more slow-witted half a sharp mental whap upside the head.
Baka! He just took a shot at you.And you're going to let him get away with it?
That apparently triggered something in her psyche, for Sakura immediately turned on the figure, only to discover that he still stood exactly as he had been, not a hair out of place. She scrunched her brows with indecision, wanting to confront the person, but remaining hesitant because it really didn't look like he had spoken to her. It was just, well, not right to go flying off the handle at someone who barely looked like they breathed, let alone talked.
During her private little bout of wavering indecision, the girl failed to notice that the object of her speculation had left his previous spot in a soundless flash of movement, and taken up residence several inches behind her.
By the time Sakura did turn back, her emerald eyes glittering with fiery determination, she was met with the shadowed visage of one tall, overbearing being.
If she had been any less of a shinobi, Sakura would have screamed bloody murder at the intrusion. But in this case, her instincts spoke louder, for she instantly leapt back several paces, putting a safer distance between the two of them. Then she had time to express how surprised and ticked off she was.
"What is your problem," she demanded furiously, directing the full weight of her glare onto the strange man before her, "pretending to be a lawn ornament then going around and scaring people out of their skins?"
The man remained silent, and for all Sakura knew, he could have been completely ignoring her.
"Don't even think about pretending to be mute." She threw the coral length of her braid over her shoulder in disgust. "I know you were the one talking to me."
When the man continued to offer her silence in return, the Genin huffed in annoyance, and turned her attention back to her training. She considered the possibility that there may be lunatics running amok in Konoha during the night.
"You are impeding on my personal quiet."
There it was again, that same chilling tone of voice that she'd heard before. Sakura could only stare at him incredulously.
"I'm training. This is a training ground. Why don't you go enjoy the quiet atmosphere of your balcony or something?"
She had specifically chosen this particular training ground for its lush green terrain, and substantial distance away from the village center. Interruptions were the last things she needed at this rate.
The man in front of her shifted ever so slightly, subtly adjusting the angle of his gaze so that he could better examine her. Aside from an outstandingly vocal attitude, the vision he took in didn't impress him all that much…or at all for that matter.
Sakura had meanwhile returned to the arduous task of accumulating chakra, while muttering under her breath about how she would die of amassed frustration before she even reached the exam stadium.
"But I have to pass, have to pass" she repeated to herself, "no way am I letting some test faze me, nuh uh,"
"All this effort is for a mere exam?"
The question managed to come out distastefully, even though there had clearly been no modulation of the speaker's tone or pitch. He had almost been certain that the girl was trying to invent some new forbidden jutsu with the way she almost bit his head off for interrupting her.
"Not just any exam," she shot back at him, "but the Chuunin selection exam. That's a middle-ranking ninja class we're talking about here."
The bland tone of voice gave Sakura the distinct feeling that had the stranger's face been visible to her; his mouth would've been tilted up in a condescending smirk. Reining in her rapidly mounting annoyance, the pink-haired Genin mentally coached herself to refocus her attention on the training at hand. With the onset of the final exam in less than twenty-four hours, she needed to master this particular jutsu soon. However, it was proving rather difficult to concentrate with the continuous presence of an unknown spectator whose intimidating aura seemed to ebb in volumes from his very person.
Whatever, just concentrate on building up your chakra. Almost there…perform hand seals NOW—
"Aren't you a little old to be taking the Chuunin exam?"
Yelping in surprise at the sudden interruption, Sakura immediately lost her focus on the sequence of hand seals as she jumped several inches off the ground. Her concentrated amount of chakra immediately dissipated, and the distraught girl could sense her energy levels slowly tapering off. Needless to say, her internal self was less that appropriately pleased at this point.
That no-good, rude, interfering, ASS!!
She spun furiously on the rubber heel of her custom sandal, intent on giving the man a piece of her mind.
"Listen you jerk," she spat, shaking a clenched fist in suppressed fury, "don't you have something better to do than sticking around like some freaky STALKER?! And to answer your question, I'm only fourteen!"
While it was true that more talented Genin of her class had already been promoted last year, she was still considered perfectly eligible for the exam. She had just been lacking the confidence and sheer determination that others such as Naruto had possessed up until this point. But who was he, some complete outsider who knew nothing, to criticize her?
Totally unconcerned with the female before him whose thoughts were slowly becoming tainted with ideas of unorthodox retribution, the strange man continued to silently appraise her from beneath his concealing straw hat.
"Fourteen and not yet a Chuunin? Tsk, disgraceful."
His dismissive attitude was only further fanning the flames of Sakura's mounting fury, since the girl had just about had it with people disregarding her and her abilities. Fatigue and frustration from failing to benefit from this particular training session were proving to be a deadly combination in wearing away the Genin's usual common sense and good judgment.
"That's a lot coming from someone who may not even know the meaning of being a shinobi. You don't hold a rank, do you?"
"I have no intention of sharing such information with you," replied the cold voice.
"Probably because you never even succeeded in graduating from your Academy. Is that why you're picking on me? Cause you want to make others feel as inept as you do?"
"Oh, let me assure you that I graduated."
Sakura barely held back her snort at his response. So she was dealing with a ninja of some sort. Though judging from the man's odd clothing and weird attitude, he couldn't have been anyone renowned, she decided.
"How old were you when you graduated then?"
A long pause stretched its way between the two, as the stranger seemed to contemplate whether or not an answer would be suitable.
"I don't think the answer would be beneficial to you," he finally stated once again in that voice shrouded in chilly undertones.
An equally disconcerting silence took place before the man replied.
This time it was Sakura's turn to pause, her face remaining in a set expression of collected coolness. Internal Sakura though, was currently throwing a fit of epic proportions as the girl felt her self-esteem once again drain away to the negative side of the scale.
It's not fair, not fair, not fair, NOT FAIR! What kind of twisted parody of reality is this that I somehow end up being constantly surrounded by a disgustingly bloated number of PRODIGES?!!!
"That's just…sick," she croaked derisively, once she had found her voice again.
"Is it? I find your lack of talent as a shinobi much more physically repulsive."
Gritting her teeth so brutally that it hurt, Sakura finally decided that enough was enough. The only way she was going to emerge from this encounter with any last shred of dignity intact was to beat this guy's ass from here to the Hidden Sand Village. Then after that, she'd somehow convince that disturbing Gaara of the Desert persona that this jerk had cracked a joke at his mom's expense, and let him deal with things from there…
Slowly turning away from her intended target, the Genin allowed a borderline evil grin to grace her rose lips, as she prepared to launch her assault. Tucking a wayward strand of flowing hair behind her left ear, Sakura pretended to stretch languorously, clasping and extending her arms skyward while leaning up onto the tips of her toes as she released a noisy yawn. Discreetly, while watching the man from the corner of her eye, Sakura fingered several of the senbon that she kept concealed under the sleeve of her left arm.
Twirling rapidly around, she let loose a trio of the fragile looking projectiles, each one aimed for a critical point on the victim's body.
So finally she strikes.
A miniscule twitch of anticipation passed over the stern lines of his mouth. He had been wondering if the girl housed an infinite supply of patience…
With an almost careless wave of his hand, the man countered the oncoming senbon, nullifying the attack so that they fell haplessly at his feet. Having dealt with those, he looked up in time to see the girl fly at him with a roundhouse kick aimed at his temple.
The senbon had merely been a diversion, and as soon as the needles had left her fingers, Sakura had leapt up into the air, channeling chakra and preparing for some heated hand-to-hand combat.
Just as it looked as though her foot would connect with his head, the man disappeared, leaving her fighting to follow through and manage a semi-graceful landing. Crouched low, with her fingertips pressed testily into the moist earth, Sakura quickly scanned her surroundings, tensing in anticipation of the adversary suddenly appearing. Minutes passed, and she failed to detect any signs of the man.
Well if you're not going to come out, I'll make you.
"Mou," she exclaimed suddenly, while rising to dust off the dirt from her palms, "this is boring and I'm getting tired. I have an exam tomorrow so I'll be leaving now,"
The statement was met with two shuuriken thrown at her, that imbedded themselves deeply into her back. Her body crumpled forward, disappearing as a telltale poof of smoke erupted and revealed the log segment that had been used as a sacrifice. The man himself materialized beside the inanimate object in a swirl of rippling, black fabric, just in time to intercept another head on strike by the Gennin who launched herself at him with a flurry of lightening-fast punches.
However, he ignored the oncoming assault, and without missing a beat, instead relocated instantly beside a cluster of waist-high bushes, only to drag out a familiar hissing, fighting kunoichi by the wrist seconds later.
"If you think that I would fall for such elementary genjutsu, you are sorely mistaken."
Still clawing at the man's restraining grip on her arm, Sakura was torn between shock
that one her most practiced jutsu had failed, and mortification that this stranger had managed to subdue her so easily. And she had planned everything out so perfectly, all her bases were covered, form immaculate as she lay hidden, waiting patiently for the adversary to show an opening…
All her thoughts came to a swift end, as the grip on her wrist suddenly tightened to vice-like extremes, resulting in the white, searing pain that tore up the span of her arm. Sakura was pretty sure that at any given moment now, the bone would snap under the relentless pressure. Righteous indignation or not, Haruno Sakura was not stupid nor reckless, and chose her battles wisely. It had become obvious that this particular adversary outclassed her impossibly, and sheer determination was doing squat for the situation. Currently, her survival instincts were kicking into emergency-mode, and telling her to abandon "operation salvage dignity", and perform the ultimate practical maneuver: get the hell out of there.
"H-hey," she gasped in between breaths, trying to get the man's attention as he dragged her ruthlessly into the clearing, "you do realize who you're messing with, right?"
Without relinquishing his hold, the strange shinobi merely scoffed, a sound that proved insultingly dismissive.
"No, nor do I care."
Desperate to liberate her captive limb that was beginning to lose all sensation, the young kunoichi made one last bid for freedom by planting her feet firmly into the ground, and yanked back for all she was worth to halt their progression. She then made sure to follow up with her most piercing glare that would have stopped Naruto's heart, before hissing at her offender.
"You'd dare manhandle a shinobi of the Hidden Leaf Village?"
"If memory serves me correctly…you were the one who attacked me."
"Ah, heh, it was a joke, I wouldn't have hurt you," Sakura protested, her tone bordering on petulant whining.
And indeed, an onlooker would most likely have mistaken the pair for an elder sibling disciplining the younger child with the way Sakura, who barely reached the other's shoulder, was being dragged unceremoniously further into the training grounds. Her subjugator scowled inwardly, half surprised that her loud outbursts hadn't drawn the entire village's paramilitary forces to their location. She certainly was a vocal one…
"I'll warn you right now," the Genin continued, completely unsuspecting of her companion's quickly deteriorating mood, "that my sensei's one of the most feared shinobis this side of the continent, and I'm really good friends with the Hokage,"
Urk, so Naruto's really good friends with Tsunade-sama. But since I'm Naruto's friend, then via association I've automatically established special connections with our Hokage.
"—so if you don't beat it right now, well, there'll be consequences."
Sakura wasn't entirely surprised when the man continued to ignore her. It was time to enact Plan B.
Whipping her head aside, Sakura glanced away at some obscure point to her far left, and shouted in her best attempt at mock surprise.
The foreign shinobi's split second of hesitation, as he twisted his own neck to check her claim, was all she needed, for the pink-haired kunoichi promptly performed a quick kawarimi jutsu that left her captor clutching onto a perfect replica of herself. The real Sakura had meanwhile taken off in the direction of the village's town center, her legs carrying her with all the swiftness of Lee's training, while her hands locked together in position to perform another jutsu.
"Bushin no jutsu!"
Multiple copies of the young Genin appeared alongside the real version, but quickly fanned out from her position after she sent them each mental commands to disperse and head in different directions.
If anything, that should deter him long enough to give up on me. Score one for Haruno Sakura—
The feeling of accomplishment may have been greater if she hadn't suddenly found herself lying face-first in the ground.
What the hell?!
Forcing her head off the dirt, Sakura found she was completely immobilized, with a vague, disconnected sensation to heavy limbs similar to the effects of a potent anesthetic. Desperate, she attempted to shuffle her legs forward but to no avail, though for her efforts, she was rewarded with an up close and personal view of a certain shinobi's billowing cloak and shins.
Body-bind no jutsu! But how could he possibly tell which one was the real me? It was a one in ten chance!
She decided that the situation definitely wasn't amusing anymore, and judging from the noticeably unhealthy aura of menace radiating off him, her companion didn't think so either. Though she couldn't see his features, Sakura felt an ominous chill run down her spine and guessed that the man was glaring at her. And for the first time since their encounter, she felt the oncoming icy tingles of genuine fear.
It finally occurred to her that this stranger might not be any ordinary foreign shinobi that would tolerate her brazen little schemes and chalk it up to the unpredictable oddities of youth. Not likely…and this last stunt she pulled may very well cost her dearly.
Watching the girl sprawled haphazardly in the dirt was entertaining, he mused. Now if only the body-binding jutsu affected her tongue as well…
"So do you normally get kicks out of preying on the weak and helpless? Tch…bully…"
He quirked a dark eyebrow at the girl, who was currently engaged in the impossible task of trying to crane her neck far enough backwards so as to be able to glare into his line of vision: a commendable feat for someone who was flat on the ground, perpendicular to his upright stance.
"How so," he questioned chillingly. Somehow, the idea that this little pink-haired annoyance would accuse him of bullying her was rather amusing, yet at the same time, irritated him to no end.
"Well, for one," Sakura continued, perfectly happy to delve into another pointless monologue if it meant buying herself more time to come up with an idea out of her predicament, "you're older than me, so you're picking on a decisively weaker minor. Two, you're a guy, I'm a girl, and I know they say that chivalry's dead, but still…beating on the fairer sex is nothing to be proud of. And lastly, do I need to remind you that I'm currently helpless at your feet because of a certain body-bind technique?"
He blinked. Alright, he hadn't been expecting that long of a rant from her. Truly, there was only one way to stop this nonsense before she talked both of them into an early grave.
Sakura abruptly stopped her ranting at the feel of a booted heel pressed warningly into her lower back.
"I figured I'd have to kill you at some point," came the subtly edged voice from above, "but before that it looks like I'll be cutting out that little tongue of yours. Maybe then I'll finally have my well deserved peace and quiet?"
His foot pressed down sharply against her soft flesh, hard enough to leave her a commemorative bruise in morning.
"…I can be quiet," she responded meekly, "just release your jutsu."
"So you can deliver me a kunai between the eyes? No."
The unsettling silence between the two was not working to Sakura's advantage. Instead of thinking about routes of escape, the Genin's overactive imagination was kicking in, granting her with abnormally sadistic images of a certain shinobi gleefully tearing off her limbs. Was it just her, or did this guy's voice teem with malevolent promise? Not since Orochimaru had she heard a voice that so irked her.
A sweat droplet painstakingly ran its course down the pale side of her face.
However, instead of the blade she had been expecting to plunge into her back, Sakura felt icy fingers grip at the scruff of neck, only to haul her awkwardly to her feet as though she were little more than a pliable doll.
"You will embarrass yourself and your village tomorrow, relying on such inane techniques."
Shaken, the girl looked over towards he who had spoken, only to see that the shinobi had turned his back to her. The night sky caused the faintest sliver of moonlight to reflect onto the rigid lines of his back. Paired with the inky darkness of his hair and dramatic patterning of his cloak, the man resembled an apparition much more than a shinobi of flesh and blood.
"You know who your first opponent will be?"
It was a simple question, but the roseate-haired kunoichi couldn't help but feel the underlying weight of the words.
Are you ready to face one of your toughest adversaries yet?
"His name is Hideki, Takimoto Hideki." She swallowed. "He's from the Hidden Mist, supposedly one of their top Genins. They say he's a talented user of water-elemental jutsus."
Something flickered in his irises; a faint glimmer of what could have been interest. But the moment passed, and his gaze hardened once more as a decision was made.
"You're gifted in the area of chakra manipulation," he intoned, turning to appraise the confused girl, "speed mediocre, but such can be improved upon. Your genjutsu abilities show promise, but as of now, are laughable."
Sakura bristled indignantly at the bluntness of his evaluation, but quickly lapsed into calmness when she recalled the ease with which this strange shinobi had disabled her.
Lazily, she shot a wry grin in his direction.
"I'm sure this ego-stomping session is doing wonders for my abilities."
She didn't quite catch the disapproving glower the other shot her.
"Your training methods are abysmal. I will give you some advice that should increase your performance, given that despite the grievous lack of good judgment you display, you aren't entirely stupid."
Sakura tried to uncover the compliment in that statement.
But her foul mood quickly dissipated when sensation and control once again returned to her body. Stretching her legs out experimentally, she was pleased to note that save for being a bit stiff, she was still limber.
"So, will you be teaching me some super genjutsu move then," she asked anxiously while scuffing dirt off her sandals. The man had to be a foreign shinobi, and a skilled on at that, though she fully intended to ask him his identity later. Right now she wanted to reap all the benefits that his instruction could provide. Besides, he must have had a legitimate reason for appearing in her village if he was willing to expose himself like this.
"…Perhaps. Resume a defensive position."
The Genin gladly obliged, and was about to bring her arms up in a front-shielding cross, when she noticed something was definitely amiss.
"Um, are you sure you released the body-bind jutsu?"
Sakura looked down at her left arm that was still dangling lifelessly at her side. It felt like an alien appendage.
"Then why can't I move this arm?"
Her instructor glanced dispassionately at the limb, then added tonelessly, "A possible side-effect of my jutsu, it should wear off in a day or so."
She was sure she had heard wrong. "B-but," she sputtered incredulously, "how am I supposed to perform any jutsus? I can't possibly take on another shinobi like this!"
"You will either learn to defeat your opponent in your present state…or you won't," the other replied, entirely unsympathetic to her plight.
"Silence, you have less than five hours in which to learn how to perform one-handed seals. I suggest you get to work."
Sakura was beginning to find a lifetime of Genin-level missions not all that unappealing of an option. Even alone, and no longer a part of Team 7, the freaks still kept appearing. Only this time…there would be no Naruto or Sasuke around to take the focus off her.
Unexpected though, was that the dread came with a beguiling sense of empowerment and unspeakable freedom that she cherished.
Author's Notes:No…I haven't made it that obvious who Sakura ran into. All comments and reviews are appreciated.