Title: Sudden Exposure


She was broken -- turned down once again by that stoic figure, with annoyance in his eyes, he spoke the words she had heard nearly 1,000 -- no 2,000 times.

'No.'

Yet that time it seemed harder. Maybe she was growing up, changing her outlook. Somehow, one-sided love wasn't what she needed at that point in her life. It was anything but.

"Come on Sakura…you anticipated this! I mean, how many times have you asked him out?" Ino's voice was small, its usual edge stripped away as she spoke. She had never seen Sakura this down.

Sakura stared down at her toes, wiggling the big one just to make sure she was alive. Lately, it didn't seem as if she even really existed. To Sakura, the days seemed to be growing colder and longer in her life, and she had already been left behind. Naruto and Sasuke were already high level Chuunin, yet Sakura had yet to even retake her own exam. To her it seemed almost…useless.

"You're right…I keep setting myself up," Sakura smiled, her voice almost a whisper.

With one hand, she fisted the fabric of her shirt over her chest. Her heart hurt. She had just recently stopped wearing her usual ninja outfit of red and blue, for a change to a loose white shirt and black shorts. Lately, she figured it was safer to be "someone else."

Ino frowned. She had never seen Sakura so down, but it wasn't unknown. During their fight in the Chuunin exam, it was evident that the pink haired Shinobi had her own inner demon. Who was to say she couldn't have a third part of her harboring this ongoing depression?

"Oh come on now forehead girl, I didn't mean for you to get thatway!" Ino chuckled, overemphasizing her laughter.

However, it didn't raise a smile, or even a heated response from Sakura.

"Hmm," Sakura mumbled after a while, and stood.

Ino observed her friend quietly, looking up from the bench at where she sat. Sakura stared into the sky, then after a while, she smiled.

"Ino…"

However, to Ino, the dazed reaction was normal. Sakura was beside herself once more. The depression was getting worse, and it wasn't getting any easier. Sakura's parents had died in an ambush by some missing Nins the week before, and it was obvious she missed them greatly.

"Sakura…you wanna get some ramen or something?" Ino offered with a sigh.

She was clueless on what else to do, and she knew she couldn't leave Sakura alone.

'I…guess so," Sakura muttered, and stuck her hands into her pockets, kicking aimlessly at the sand.

Ino stood up abruptly, and put on a false smile in hopes to cheer Sakura. However, it was futile. Sakura stared out at the path before her as they made their way to Ichiraku. All of the chairs at the ramen stand were empty, and the whole place looked dismal.

"They look closed," Sakura sighed openly. "Thanks for the offer anyway."

She lifted her head, about to turn around when Ino grabbed her shoulders.

"SAKURA!"

There was an uproar of voices both, young and old. Sakura stared at the stand, now lighted and crazy with cheering. Everyone was there, including a jumping Naruto and a nervous Hinata holding up a sign with the words: KEEP FIGHTING SAKURA! -- in bold lettering.

Even Sasuke was there, sitting next to Rock Lee with his own bowl of pork ramen. He gave a small smile, and then looked away.

"Sakura, this is to celebrate you in hopes that you'll keep fighting always. I look forward to seeing you take the Chuunin exam again soon," Kakashi smiled, his visible eye crinkling slightly.

Sakura closed her eyes in defeat as she felt the gentle pressure of his hand on her shoulder. Slowly, she opened her mouth to form a response, but her words were stolen by Naruto's interruption.

"HEY! STOP LOOKING SO GLUM! THIS IS FOR YOU TO CHEER UP!" Naruto quickly disbanded the sign, leaving Hinata in his trail of dust.

Sakura stood in the way of his foreseeable bear hug, but didn't resist. Naruto only stopped when he felt no response. For a moment, the party was silent.

"Thank you all…" Sakura's voice was small. "But I…I won't be taking the Chuunin exam this year."

"What! What do you mean?" Rock Lee jumped from his seat and raced to Sakura, grasping her hand in his.

"Sakura, if you don't take the test this year that means you'll remain a Genin, and have to wait again. The competition could be much fiercer," Sasuke's voice was grave, serious.

Sakura met his gaze and swallowed hard. She nodded slowly in agreement.

"I know. I thank you all for this party, but I don't feel up to it."

"This is so stupid, Sakura! You're stronger than this!" Naruto raised his fist, threateningly towards no one in particular.

Kakashi took his hand and lowered it, his visible eye scanning Sakura soundly.

"It's her decision Naruto," he said softly, taking his eye off Sakura with a tone that told her she'd be hearing again from him.

"Sakura…I've never known you to remain so hopeless," Ino fumed. "I know it has to be so hard…but—

"—thanks again guys…Ino." Sakura smiled a sad smile, and took off in the other direction.

She walked with her head down, and was surprised when she saw Sasuke standing in her path.

"I'll walk with you," he said softly.

Sakura kept walking. He was paying her the attention she desired, but she knew it was only out of the lowest pity he could afford. She knew better. This was the teen that had just turned down a harmless dinner offer.

"Thank you," Sakura mustered, playing with the frayed edges of her shirt.

After a while, Sasuke broke the awkward silence.

"You intent on staying at this level?" he asked gruffly, his hands shoved deep into his pockets.

Sakura groaned inwardly. She didn't want to talk about it anymore.

"I can't…" she sighed, and then stopped in her tracks. Sasuke continued walking for a few more steps, and then stopped ahead of her.

"We both know I'm nothing special Sasuke…kun," she fought out the honorific.

"You could do a lot better than just giving up," Sasuke lowered his eyes to the ground. Anything to avoid seeing the pain in her eyes.

"How… would you know?" Sakura said weakly, and pushed past, continuing her walk back home.

The house was cold and unwelcoming with no one inside. It only added to the empty feelings Sakura had grown accustomed to. Quietly, she slipped off her shoes at the front door, and headed to the kitchen With one hand steadily balanced on her hip, she pulled open the refrigerator, only to be greeted with the stale smell of old food. Avoiding the mess altogether, Sakura settled with a bowl of cold cereal.

The dry flakes swished from cheek to cheek in her mouth, settling in-between her teeth like chewy pieces of sand. They were stale as well. Unwittingly, she swallowed, and then set the bowl down on the table.

'It's okay; I'll do some shopping tomorrow' she thought, lying back against the leather seat cushions of the sofa.

'You said that yesterday! Get up, cow!' Inner Sakura shouted, giving Sakura a splitting headache.

'Leave me alone…'

'Move your ass! Move your ass!'

'Why won't anyone just leave me alone?'

'Godammit! Stop feeling sorry for yourself, and get up!'

Sakura's subconscious was winning a half-conscious battle. Slowly, she flexed her fingers, staring at the rough calluses there. They reminded her of someone she once was…someone she wasn't sure she ever wanted to be again.

"I'm up," Sakura mumbled, and shuffled to the door, but once again, the empty feeling settled in her heart, churned in her stomach, made her head spin.

"What's wrong with me?" Inner Sakura seemed to groan with Sakura, mind and body separating.

Groping for something to help her keep her balance, Sakura stumbled around the room, knocking a few books loose from their shelves. Everything was beginning to swirl, and she was cold, inside and out. It wasn't long before her vision went along with her sense of reality.

"I, I can't see!" she shrieked, bumping into what she thought was the couch. The shattering of glass was heard all through the house, and Sakura could smell the acrid sent of blood. Taste it…

She swooned, and fell to the ground with a thud.

'Get up!'

'Come on!'

'What's going on!'

'Please Just…'

'My body!'

'Please get up!'


a/n: Ai oh! Very confusing, but next chapter, Sakura's condition /problem will be explained, and Gaara will come into play. It's my first Naruto fic, so I hope I'm doing at least decently…