Fate: Hullo, Naruto people. And...people. Yes. This is Naruto. Actually, it's Sakura speaking. But let's not get technical.

Disclaimer: We don't own Naruto. Be happy. Now onward!


Hello.

I'm Sakura.

She looks at her first journal entry. Smiles. Doodles a stick figure girl hugging a stick figure boy with hearts bubbling over them in the margin. Rips the page out and throws it across the room.

The voice in her head screamed and screamed. Hit him! Bitch-slap the bastard! Knock him down and pash him! How dare he call me lower than...than that lazy jerk-off?!

Sakura ignored herself, picked her pen up again, and began to doodle in her notebook again, humming.

Stop. Tear out page. Throw across room.

Pick up picture on the left-hand side of her desk. The right side was reserved for family.

She looked at the picture. Iruka had snapped it one day. He'd given it to her to make her smile. Kakashi had his cloth-covered nose buried in Icha Icha Paradise, Naruto had been half-beaming at her, half-glowering at Sasuke (and only Naruto could ever do a thing like that), and Sasuke had been glaring at everyone in general, just because he always did. She was sitting on the fence in the middle of the group, a small smile on her face as she just looked at her teammates.

She didn't smile much anymore. Iruka had noticed – the man was a perpetual sweetheart – and had given her the picture, with the scribbled caption: Smile, Sakura-chan!

A tear hit her smiling picture face, sliding down the protective glass and along the metal frame. She put the picture down and picked up the mirror next to it.

"Smile, Sakura," she whispered.

Another tear slipped down her cheek.

"Smile."

He sighs impatiently. "Come on, Sakura-chan. Even Naruto could do this."

She bites back the instant reply, But do you see Naruto here, practicing? And did I ask you to come along and critique me? and instead opts for plastering a smile on her face and softly inquiring, "Could...could you show me how to do it again, Sasuke-kun?" Anything to keep him there, anything to keep him paying attention to her and not to Naruto...

Again with the impatient sigh. "I've showed you five times."

She closes her eyes. She just can't get the most basic of fire jutsus...she was always better with water, absolute magic with water and ice jutsus, forgiving the pun. Shadows and ice, things she would have thought Sasuke would have excelled at...things she adored above all. But no, he was hot-blooded and fiery, with kunai moving like molten metal in his fists and fire on his breath, and let's not forget those gorgeous fiery red Sharingan eyes...

She closes her eyes, then opens them again. Fingers move, now concentrate that chakra, m'girl, it's what you excel at...it's the thing you did before even Sasuke the bright and brilliant...

Now think fire, fire, FIRE!

"Rasen Enkou no Jutsu!"

Think fire like the stories of the Kyuubi, fire like lighting candles with your mind as a small child, fire like your older brother holding you close and crying into your hair, whispering about how it was quick and they didn't suffer, they didn't give up any information to the enemy...they died honorably in the line of battle when you were eleven...

She forces the fire out, spiraling around her in the most basic of defensive maneuvers, tears streaming down her face as she gives in to racking sobs.

It burns out without her concentration, leaving her sooty and helpless in the middle of the field, with Sasuke looking mildly concerned and extremely irritated.

"Silly...worse'n Naruto," she heard him murmur as he stalked forwards, extending a hand. "Come on. You're tired. You should go home."

She slaps the hand away, leaps to her feet, hits him a crack across the jaw. Tears fly from her eyes on the impact and her hand aches like madness. "You bastard!"

He stares, and if she could, she'd be staring at herself too. When did little-girl Sakura with the pretty pink hair and unbloodied virginal hands ever rage against her one true desire, Sasuke? "How can you say I'm less than Naruto? How can you judge me when you barely even look at me? Naruto's your entire world, your obsession, the thing you define your life against! Don't you dare try and fit me in with Naruto!"

He sneers, his jaw reddening with the impact of her hit. "Now you even sound like him."

The tears flow again, her jaw clenches. "I'm Sakura!" she screams, and runs away across the fields towards home, running up the wall rather than through the gate and plunging haphazardly across rooftops until she finds her own. She turns, and in her tear-husky voice, screams again. "D'you hear me, Sasuke? I'm Sakura!"

A candle flares to life in the darkness without the aid of matches. She smiles and picks up her pen, her old exercise rota burning merrily away in the fireplace.

Run: 10 km a day. Pushups: 100. Crunches: 250. 100 Pull-ups. 1 hour in the weight room. 1 hour kickboxing with Minoko-sensei. 1 hour target practice. 30 minute meditation morning, noon, night. 50 chakra exercises. She taps her pen on the table and adds a session of jutsu exercises to her list. Ten minutes later, she tacks the finished list up on the wall, the firelight flickering. She doesn't use electricity anymore.

She pads to the window and snags up her shoes. It's five kilometers to the Kyuubi memorial, two more to go past Naruto's favorite ramen shop, and then three back from there to the practice grounds. The walk back from there will cool her down suitably. She drops down to the ground noiselessly, takes a deep breath, and starts off on her run. She takes note of the time as she goes, vowing to improve her speed 100 percent.

I will keep up with them...I won't let myself become dirt and dust to them!

A smile crosses her face. She loves to run, runs with a passion even. No one bothers her when she runs. No one cares about another young ninja running circles around Konohagure. She will learn to run as fast as her mind calculates distances and times. She won't just be a ninja in mind. She will be a ninja in body.

Her breath comes softly, evenly. Sweat beads on the back of her neck as her hair sways. Her eyes are focused, her muscles moving rhythmically. She doesn't run like Naruto runs, haphazard and determined to be first. She doesn't run like Sasuke, who sprints and then stands and rolls his eyes at anyone slower while glowering at anyone faster. She runs like a dancer, graceful and silent. She runs like a cat, her toes barely touching the ground before she pushes off again. She runs like a ninja, because when you are born and raised by them rather than teaching yourself to walk and talk and think and exist, you cease to be anything but a ninja.

Pink fades into the gloom. Just another ninja girl.

Just another memory.

"Onii-san!" She runs up to him, her beloved onii-san, the albino freak with red eyes and white hair, the Ghost Ninja of Konohagure. Seven years her senior and amazing. Unshakable. Unbreakable. But something has broken Nataku-onii-san. Something has reddened those eyes more than genetics. "Onii-san!"

He catches her in his pale arms, his armour hard against her face. "Sakura..." His breath catches. "Sakura...oh, Sakura..."

She saw her mother like this when her grandfather died, when her grandmother followed, succumbing to a slow, malingering disease. Nataku-onii-san was choking on the deep, racking sobs that followed death. "Onii-san..." She clings to him.

"Sakura...Sakura...okaa-san and otou-san...they...they..." He trails off, his voice cracking. "They..."

The tears start pricking behind her eyes. "They're dead?"

He nods. "It was...it was in the line of duty, Sakura," he whispers. "The rogue Shinobi from Kumogakure. It was...quick." He holds her close, his tears falling into her hair. "They'll be home for their funeral pyres tomorrow."

She screams, and screams again, denial and desperation, loneliness and sorrow all together in one long, pained howl.

"I'll take care of you...Sakura," he whispers into her hair, his voice growing hoarse with crying. "Imouto...boku no imouto...I'll protect you until you can protect yourself..."

Her eyes fly open wide and she clutches at the sheets covering her body. She sleeps nude now that the nights are warm. Nataku is away on a mission with the other ANBU, and she is on her own until his return, estimated to be in two weeks. Unless...unless...

"They'll be home...tomorrow..."

She sits up, shakes her head. She stands, wrapping the sheet around her body, and pads into the bathroom. The sheet falls to the floor and she steps into the shower, water pouring down around her, cleansing her. Wiping her mind free of the nightmare.

Erasing the past.

She sinks down to sit on the porcelain floor, water splashing on her hair, and loses herself in centering meditation.

Eyes flicker.

Shut.

Swollen and red.

Thwock.

The target vibrates with the kunai impact. She squints into the distance. Still not in the inner circle. She reaches out and the kunai smacks her palm again, recalled with a practiced flare of chakra. She spins it around her fingers, then whirl and throw once more.

Thwock.

There. It's barely there, but it's hit the inner circle now, right over the heart. It's not a standard target, it's a man-hunter. The targets are smaller, fist-sized circles over vital points. Forehead, heart, throat, eyes – they're all picked out in red bulls'-eyes, making the killing a game rather than a horror. She retrieves the kunai, spins and throws it again. Her backhand has always been stronger, for some reason. She doesn't need to see the target while she's aiming. She sees it in her mind, and the follow-through reflects that.

Thwock.

"Ohhh...wow, Sakura-chan! That was great!"

She turns and plasters the smile on for Naruto, leaving her kunai shivering in the target's heart. "Naruto, you're practicing? About time!"

"Un huh!" he agrees. He stares at her target, then aims and throws. His kunai lands just shy of the throat circle. Her first shot wasn't even close to the circles. While Naruto fishes out another kunai and hurls it after the first, she shifts over to the next target and flicks out her shuriken. Eyes, throat, hands, feet, she chanted in her mind. Shuriken don't cut deep, so disable your enemy with them if a killing blow isn't what you need. Eyes to blind, throat to silence, hands to disarm, feet to halt. She dances around the target, her fingers flying, whirling and twisting in the air as she looses the shuriken.

"Aww, cool, Sakura-chan!" Naruto again. He's stopped to stare at her, grinning easily. She forces a smile for him in return. Idiot, she thinks affectionately, suppressing the resentment bubbling inside of her that he monopolizes Sasuke's thoughts and mind, that he only ever thinks of her in comparison to the blonde in the orange jumpsuit. She ignores all that, and collects her shuriken.

"Naruto...do you want to go get ramen?" she asks softly.

His eyes widen briefly before he beams even wider than before. "All right! Yay, Sakura-chan! Thanks! Let's go! Ramen! I'm getting ramen with Sakura-chan!"

Unprecedented, she knows. She doesn't go out for ramen with Naruto...well, ever.

But being around that bubbly smile makes her feel like she doesn't have to force ones of her own.

The kunai she left sits sunk into the target's heart as Naruto dances along the road, a sweaty, tired Sakura following as she massages her arms.

The kunai slowly sinks into the skin, then is jerked away. She stares at the blood welling on the inside of her arm, her knees drawn up to her chest.

The house is cleaned to perfection. She's done all of her exercises for the day twice, plus a quick sparring match with some of the new genin. Her muscles can barely function. She spent two hours lying in a hot bath, followed by treating herself to a full home spa. She wrote letters to her living grandparents, read two books, and studied that bothersome fire jutsu. It is four in the morning, and Sakura still can't sleep.

She doesn't know what's wrong with her. Doesn't understand why she feels so disconnected.

There is no pain from her arm. She is a ninja. Ninja do not feel pain. Ninja do not need anaesthetic for stitches. Ninja can deal with setting their own broken bones. Ninja do not hide away and whimper.

This was a test to make sure.

Numb on the outside, numb on the inside. Always impartial. This is the way of the shinobi. Never show your true emotions. The only way to truly do that is to not have them to begin with.

She wipes the kunai. Puts it away. Applies antiseptic to the cut and bandages it.

She mustn't let it become infected and disable her.

She mustn't let anything stand between her and her destiny.

Not even herself.

She hiccups. Wipes her eyes. Shakes her head.

It won't make the tears go away.

She sits in the shadow of the tiny tree growing on her roof, clutching the results of the latest contest. Of course, Uchiha Sasuke is first. Brilliant, beautiful Uchiha Sasuke. Her Uchiha Sasuke. Even if she can't have him, she won't let just anyone take him. Even if she can't have him, she'll drive everyone else away so he doesn't have to worry about being uncomfortable around anyone but her.

She stares at the name under his.

Number three is Shino, fourth is Naruto. She can imagine his anger, his drive to do even better. Fifth is...

There is no way to distract herself.

She is second.

Months of training, forcing her body to bend absolutely to her will, months of sleepless nights and mindless days, months of meditation and practice. Months, it took to surpass Naruto and even Shino. Months to be second in a silly little contest of fire jutsu.

She was already best at the written tests, best with the water jutsu. She was one of the best runners, and her perception and extrasensory abilities were amazing. Her telekinetic prowess with fire was returning, and her secret practice of the fire jutsu had paid off...

She'd coaxed a rare smile from Sasuke over it.

"Congratulations, Sakura-chan." Smile – oh, precious smile, directed at her for once – "Have you seen the results?"

Naruto snatched it from her numb hands. How had she done it? She stared at where the paper had been as Naruto ranted and raved, cursing out Shino and Sasuke simultaneously. He didn't yell at her, of course. He thought it was a fluke. She couldn't really be a threat.

She looked up at Sasuke. Did he think it was a fluke, a one-in-a-million, a time to pity the girl who dogged him with the adoration she had no one to bestow upon anymore?

She didn't want to know.

She snatched the paper back from Naruto and ran.

Her breath catches as she pauses in her crying to stare with reddened eyes at the paper.

It flares up, then dies out.

Ashes to ashes.

She puts her face in her hands and cries.

Hello.

I'm Sakura.

She looks at the picture. There she is, caught between Naruto and Sasuke. Just an obstacle between their perfect state of being together. An imbalance. Something that throws them off.

Nothing more than a nuisance to be disdained.

Smile, Sakura-chan!

She doesn't know what else to write.

Because you can't end something that never started.

Smile.


Fluffy: Tra la. La la. La la la. Review please!