Hey! This is my first Naruto fanfic, so go easy on me, 'kay? It's mostly based on the manga, but there are some variations here and there. I have created several new characters of my own, but they will appear later. My friends have commented on it and some have said that the characters are slightly out... but they are that way to suit the storyline. You'll understand after you finish reading...
Ready? Read on!
She heaved a sigh as she neared the bridge. The bridge where they used to meet.
Feeling the gentle breeze caress her rosy cheeks and pink locks, Haruno Sakura leaned against the railing, staring at the clear， still water. The smooth pebbles at the bed of the stream shimmered in the sunlight; her reflection stared, blankly, expressionlessly back at her from the surface of the water. Sakura let her thoughts drift.
How long had it been? She'd lost count. She hadn't seen him in years. Long enough for memories to fade, but never, ever long enough to heal, or to forget.
Everything had started to crumble ever since he left. It had taken so much time, so much courage for her to be able to stand upright and walk through those two dreaded places again without crumbling from emotion.
Emotion. Her greatest weakness, huh? It hurt to know that. Even if emotions were what made people human, there was no room for emotion in a shinobi's life. Because everything could be taken away in a split second, because nothing lasted. Relationships only distracted you from your mission, your goal.
The cherry blossom was so caught up in her own train of thoughts that she hardly noticed when her former sensei walked up and stood right beside her, watching their reflections in the gently rippling water.
"Sakura," he said her name quietly, sticking his hands in his pockets.
"Yes, Kakashi-sensei?" the girl said absently. She didn't jolt. She was used to his sudden appearances, and she wasn't the Hokage's apprentice for nothing.
"You're thinking about him, aren't you?" he asked simply, leaning against the railing as well.
She nodded, looking downwards.
Silence reigned as the non-verbal understanding of loss bonded both student and teacher together. Loss of a comrade, a person they cared for.
"You know, you should really stop calling me 'sensei', Sakura," Kakashi said suddenly. "You're a chunnin now… and I've stopped teaching you guys a long time ago…"
"It's a habit, actually," Sakura admitted, before adding slyly. "So what d'you want me to call you? Ojisan? (1)"
Immediately the colour of Kakashi's face changed, even if it was just slightly.
"I- am not- old!"
The pink-haired girl grinned. Annoying Kakashi was always fun, because he was usually infuriatingly calm.
"Prove it," Sakura challenged. "With that mask of yours, you could grow a beard in there and I'd never know," she said nonchalantly, not really expecting him to meet her dare. After all, what lay under Kakashi's ever-present mask had been Team 7's mystery ever since they met him.
Kakashi stood still for a moment, contemplating his next move.
Then wordlessly, he pulled off the blue, ever present fabric on his face, and pulled up his Konoha headband to reveal his whole face to Sakura. What had he to lose?
"There. I'm not old," Kakashi retorted indignantly, glaring at his student. It had become a game between them, this kind of pointless banter. But even though he wouldn't admit it, Kakashi enjoyed these moments. He didn't have to worry about life when he was with Sakura and Naruto – all he had to care about was his pride. Those two could deliver painful blows to his ego with words.
Silver spikes fell over his ebony eye, his red Sharingan seemed to glisten in the morning sunlight. His face was slightly long; his smile was warm despite his earlier retort. His features were handsome, his profile remarkable.
"Yes, you're not," Sakura admitted with a sad smile before falling back into silence, staring into the water once again.
The slim, green leaves of the bamboo trees by the bank of the river swayed in the breeze, making pleasant swishing sounds. The sakura trees let their beautiful pink blossoms fly, each as soft as felt, caressing Sakura's cheeks gently before falling onto the water and floating towards the unknown beyond.
"Why don't you move on, Sakura?" Kakashi asked another question, staring down into the water as he fingered his gloves. "So many boys are after you, despite your big forehead… myself included," Kakashi grinned as he said the last part.
Sakura rolled her eyes, knowing that he was joking, yet longed to give him a long-awaited facelift for the comment about her forehead. But she stayed silent.
"Why don't you give them a chance?" Kakashi added in a quieter tone, leaning lazily against the bridge railing. "You can't always be alone, you know… he isn't coming back,"
Kakashi felt her stiffen as he mentioned 'him'.
"Because, ojisan, I don't feel anything for them," Sakura finally said, a hint of sarcasm in her voice. "And you?" she added in a softer tone. "Why don't you ever show your face? Don't you want to get a girlfriend? Even Asuma and Kurenai are openly dating now, and ugh, I can't believe it, but even Gai-sensei, of all people, claims to have an admirer… where does that leave you?"
"The people I love died a long time ago, Sakura…" Kakashi spoke, his tone low. He seemed so nonchalant about it, but Sakura could tell that he had always missed them – and he always would.
"I'm sorry, Kakashi-sensei,"
Kakashi suddenly brightened. "Anyway, I hate girls fawning over me… like that Ayame girl at Ichiraku's… man… I've avoided that place ever since. No thanks to you guys," he said dryly to Sakura.
Sakura laughed lightly. "Yeah, we were trying to see your face then… but Ino-pig popped up and ruined everything,"
"Poor Sasuke, though," Kakashi added, not thinking.
Sakura fell silent. Kakashi mentally slapped himself, but could find no words to lighten the blow of the memory.
The pink-haired kunoichi tried her hardest to keep her emotions in check, quickly changing the awkward topic.
"Eh, where's that little orange book of yours?" Sakura asked slyly, referring to his beloved series of Jiraiya's perverted books.
"Dumped it," Kakashi said simply. "Got boring after awhile, reading the same thing over and over again…"
Sakura raised an eyebrow. "And it took you five years to come to that realization?"
"Eh… I heard that Jiraya-sama's publishing another book called…" Kakashi didn't give in so easily.
"I don't want to know," Sakura groaned, stopping him.
"I'm kidding!" Kakashi punched her lightly on the arm.
Sakura smiled, a genuine smile. Rarely had she seen Kakashi this relaxed around anyone. But then again, being a Jounin, a former ANBU member and all… he couldn't afford to let his guard down.
Then, as silence once again reigned, Sakura allowed herself to delve deeper, into the long hidden depths of her mind, to search for memories from so long ago…
"But- Hokage-sama-" a much younger Sakura protested before the Godaime, pleading for a chance.
"No buts, Sakura. You can't handle this. I've assigned this task to Naruto and his team and you will not get involved. Do I get myself clear?" Tsunade stood firm with her decision. It was tough, being Hokage. She barely had the heart to turn Sakura down, but she had to do it.
Defiant as she felt, Sakura could see no way around the Hokage's authority, and nodded, somewhat dejectedly.
Tsunade's expression softened considerably as she walked out from behind her desk, grasping the pink-haired kunoichi by the shoulders, feeling something... overwhelming in her.
"It's never easy to let go, you know? I've been through it before... but our duties... they must be fulfilled. Sasuke has chosen his path. You must choose yours,"
Sakura strode homeward, her feet dragging along the pavement as she walked. Her head was bowed, her eyes stared at the dull, grey ground. Her heart was heavy; a churning feeling remained constantly in her, the nagging feeling that something was wrong. Yet she could register none of those warning signals. She could only think about him, his leaving, his words.
She felt so useless.
It was spring, and Konoha was in all its glory. Cherry trees blossomed by the roadsides, the gentle breeze blew the felt-like petals resembling showers of blossoms off the branches. People laughed and children played. Peace was beautiful. But none of these did anything to lighten Sakura's mood.
Sasuke had left, just hours ago. A retrieval team had been sent after him- without her.
She wanted so badly to go... she had to get him back. She didn't want to think of him as a missing-nin. She didn't want him to be seen as a traitor to their village. He was her teammate, her comrade. She didn't want to let him go.
'Naruto... please, get Sasuke back... I- I couldn't do it..."
"I'll bring him back, Sakura-chan! That's a promise of a lifetime!"
A promise of a lifetime. Naruto's determination.
Why? Why did Sasuke have to hold on to revenge so much? Why couldn't he let things go? Why couldn't he forgive, and forget?
Her heart held a silent whisper.
'I don't understand, Sasuke-kun...'
A scream pierced through the air, breaking Sakura out of her reverie. With a jerk of horror, she realized where the heart-wrenching sound was coming from.
Terror gripping her, Sakura sprinted homeward, eyeing the ajar front door and items strewn all over the place with a rising feeling of dread swallowing her. Her body shook uncontrollably, fear overwhelming her from within.
What was happening?
Without a second thought, the pink-haired Haruno bolted into her house.
Only to be met by a grisly sight.
Her mother lay, unmoving, upon the floor. A kunai was struck right through her heart. And her father, covered in bloodied wounds, was desperately trying to protect her mother's body. A gang of rough, notorious Sound nins, probably robbers, were attacking them, continuously, without mercy.
Sakura knew her father's fate.
Haruno Heian (2) was never a ninja. Named after peace, he despised fighting, even though he was descended from a line of some of the greatest Konoha shinobis. He had always discouraged Sakura from choosing the path of a ninja, but with the Haruno blood running through her, she was irrepressible. And if that wasn't enough, her grandfather and mother backed her a hundred percent.
So Sakura got her way. Heian always seemed to be displeased with her, no matter how hard she tried or how high she scored her exams, she could never hear a word of praise coming from his lips. Just as Sasuke yearned for his brother's acknowledgement and Naruto for the village's, she yearned for her father to recognize her, not as a ninja, but as his daughter.
She was disappointed, and at a point in time, she simply stopped trying. She didn't tell him about school, about the academy. Nothing. It was as if they had lost touch, lost the thread that connected them as family.
Now, Sakura stood there, unmoving and unspeaking. Pure terror whipped through her soul like a tornado, jumbling her usually calm mind. What could she do? Stare Stand and stare.
One of the Sound nins suddenly noticed her, standing rigidly in the doorway.
"Your daughter, Haruno?" he mocked Heian. "What a pretty face… why don't we kill this pathetic idiot and take her instead, eh?"
"Why not?" Another one leered, advancing with a hungry grin in his eyes. Sakura subconsciously backed away.
"But… that forehead spoils the looks, though… so big…" a comment was heard from the other side of the room, sneering, drawing laughs from most of the ninjas.
Something within the cherry blossom snapped.
If there was one thing Sakura would not tolerate, it was comments on her forehead. She was suddenly jolted back to her senses. Her courage built, even though her knees shook beneath.
'You're afraid…' a voice mocked from the back of the head.
'You are… admit it…'
'Dammit! I- AM NOT- AFRAID!' Sakura screamed into the empty vertex of her mind, and the voice left her alone.
"Back off," she snarled loudly at the ninjas, flipping two kunais out of her pouch and holding them in a cross formation before her in a defensive stance. She knew she didn't stand a chance against them, but she couldn't leave now. Not when they had done that to her parents.
"Tsk, tsk, tsk…" one smirked. "What boldness in your daughter, Haruno… haven't you been teaching her manners?"
"Leave my father out of this," Sakura's voice was soft and dangerous, a hard fist flew up and grazed the man's cheek in a painful swipe, and he staggered back in surprise.
"Aww… isn't that sweet?" A sound nin with a scarred slash across his left cheek kicked his fallen comrade aside and approached Sakura, his dirty blond hair in spikes. The expression in his queer blue eyes lingered upon her face as he lifted a finger and traced it across her jaw. "It's eight on one, honey; do you think that's fair? Let's just say you come quietly and- AARGH!"
He grasped his bleeding wrist with his right hand. While he had been busy leering at her, Sakura had driven her kunai into his wrist out of pure rage, her emerald eyes fiery.
"She isn't alone,"
A deep male voice suddenly rang out. Everyone in the house whirled around. Sakura felt a slight wave of relief when she saw a familiar brown-haired kunoichi enter.
Tenten barged in, two kunais in hand that went straight through the heart of two nins that tried to block her. In a split second her katana and shurikens were at hand, too. Ino, Hinata and their fathers followed swiftly, Kakashi taking up the rear. They had heard Tsume's scream.
Surprise was clearly etched upon the Sound ninjas' faces.
"Ino, Hinata, help Sakura and Heian-san," Hyuuga Hiashi directed forcefully. "Tenten, get the Hokage-sama and backup immediately! Three of us can hold the fort here. GO!"
Ino and Hinata knelt down beside the sobbing Sakura, who was holding her father's hand so tight, it was white. There was a big gash on his abdomen that was bleeding profusely. Already Heian's face was completely pale. His breath was ragged; life was leaving him quickly.
"Sa-Sakura…" he breathed, with obvious difficulty.
"Hang on, chichioya (3)…" Sakura whispered. "You're gonna be alright…"
"No, Sakura. Listen – to me… Tsume wanted – me to – tell you that she loves you… she wants you to know that - she will always watch over you…" the head of the Haruno clan said weakly, stopping as he coughed up blood. "I finally - understand what it takes to be a ninja, Sakura… courage to stand, even when on the brink of defeat… undying loyalty and willpower… and… the strength that I had failed to summon…"
Hot tears streamed down Sakura's cheeks. How could she have ever thought that her father did not love her? It was all because of his pride that he kept his praise for her in check. All this while he had been guilt-ridden, unable to pass on any clan secrets to her because of his refusal to learn them before.
"Revive our clan's secrets, Sakura… you're the – only one left – and you will be a great ninja someday… promise… me…" Heian smiled weakly as he gently pressed a scrap of old parchment into his daughter's palm.
"Yes… chichioya… I promise…"Sakura whispered, resisting the urge to scream, to murder every last one of those pathetic killers who had taken away the last of her family.
"I – love – you, Sakura… my – daughter…" Haruno Heian smiled for the last time, closing his eyes.
Hiashi felt murderous. The Harunos, some of his oldest and closest friends, were dead because of these bastards. He made every hit count, sealing up their chakra points with such intense fury that the mediocre Sound nins never stood a chance. If he didn't kill them, he made sure that they would never be of any use on the battlefield anymore.
On the outside, the Hyuuga head looked perfectly calm and composed, as any ninja should be in battle, but his insides were boiling with rage. He would never forgive those who killed his friends, who destroyed a comrade.
He hadn't been in time to save Haruno Heian and Tsume. He had failed as a friend.
Luring several ninjas outside, Yamanaka Inoichi sent his Fuuma Shuriken slicing through the air at the sound nins. His long blond hair swayed to his movements, his clear, sky blue eyes burned with anger as he battled against the sound ninjas.
How had they gotten into Konoha, and what did they want from the Harunos?
Kakashi remembered the look on Sakura's face as his Sharingan copied the Sound's jutsus effectively and easily, enabling him to use their strength against them. The sound blasts produced hit the ninjas square, each stronger and more destructive than the last. Memories of Obito and Rin, his long gone comrades, resurfaced in his mind, the people who had killed them…
His eyes narrowed, he attacked with renewed fervor as his famed Chidori sizzled and sparked in the palm of his hand.
By sheer luck, Tenten found a whole group of Jounins just back from missions and being debriefed in Tsunade's office. Without bothering to knock, or to heed Shizune's call behind her, the weapons mistress barged in, only to see half the Jounins already poised with their weapons in hand.
"Tenten, what is the meaning of this?" Tsunade barked dangerously, stepping up to confront the brown-haired kunoichi. She hated interruptions.
Panting and sweating profusely, Tenten spoke in between breaths. "Gomen, (4) Hokage-sama! But several Sound nins have broken into Haruno-san's house and killed Haruno Heian and Tsume!"
There was a moment of stunned silence.
"What?" Tsunade said in a strained whisper, staring at her in disbelief. Sound nins… how on earth had they gotten in, hadn't the security at the gates been tightened? It was several moments before she regained herself, and grabbing Tenten by the arm, she dashed, very un-Hokage like, out onto the streets of Konoha.
When Tsunade, Tenten and the group of Jounins arrived at the Haruno residence, Hiashi, Inoichi and Kakashi were still fighting ferociously, the last few of the Sound nins left were undoubtedly the more skilled ones. Already a crowd had gathered, but not being ninjas themselves, they knew better than to get involved.
Sarutobi Asuma, standing behind Tsunade, narrowed his eyes as he lunged forward and caught a Sound nin by the cuff of his shirt. Yuuhi Kurenai, Maito Gai and the rest of the Jounins tackled one ninja each, and soon Tsunade had the man with the scarred face and dirty blond hair by the neck. Seemingly, he was the leader.
No one had ever seen Tsunade this mad before. With unbelievable strength, her slender frame lifted the man's bulk and slammed him against a nearby wall, demanding in a dangerous tone that indicated clearly: I. Want. Answers.
"Who sent you? Who told you to kill the Harunos?"
"Orochimaru-sama wants their family secrets, lady…" the man said in a sneering fashion as he eyed Tsunade hungrily. "In the meantime, why don't you and I-"
Before the man ever completed his sentence, Tsunade punched the living daylights out of him in one powerful swipe.
Sakura kneeled before the monument set up in honour of her parents, flanked by her sympathetic friends. The rest of the village stood behind them, Tsunade in the lead, with the heads of the largest clans in Konoha behind her.
Heian had been a well-respected man despite his opposition of the ninjas. It was only now that Sakura realized what a man her father had been, how he always visited the poorer streets of Konoha and offer help to the helpless, how he always lent a hand in every situation, how he cared, how he nurtured.
The whole of Konoha was gathered to pay their respects to the dead. Dressed in black, the pink-haired kunoichi's tears had already dried upon her cheeks. Her mind, usually whirling with thoughts and ideas, had gone blank. Her startling emerald eyes had lost their glow, it was glossy and… empty, haunting. She thought of nothing. Words of consolation failed to console.
She finally understood how Sasuke felt. She finally understood his absolute need for revenge, the boiling anger bottled up within. In a way, she had had her revenge, the Sound nins had been either killed or caught, but strangely, she felt no satisfaction. Revenge was not hers. She did not kill them, even if she wished to. She felt no pleasure at seeing the ninjas dead, it reminded her too much of her parents.
Revenge, she learnt, is not sweet. It simply deepens the bitterness in one's heart.
Silence was vital to her. No more wailing, no more crying, no more mourning. She wanted silence.
And that very night, as she lay on the bed in Ino's house with Ino, Tenten and Hinata surrounding her with pity etched in their faces, Sakura got what she wanted. Complete, absolute, silence.
And she cried into the arms of her friends, not stopping, not ceasing, listening to the mournful echoes of her pitiful sobs throughout the long, dreary night.
The next morning, before anyone else in the house, or in the village, for that matter, Sakura woke and dressed quietly. Her face was expressionless. She still felt nothing. Numbness flooded her soul.
She did not dress in her black mourning dress, as was the tradition. People would talk, but she didn't care. She had promised her father she would be a ninja, not an orphaned girl whose only occupation was to cry. She would move on.
Quickly descending the stairs, Sakura slipped quietly out of the house, leaving a note behind her, so that her friends wouldn't worry.
Tilting her head up to look at the hues of dawn against the blue sky, Sakura set of towards her destination- the Hokage Tower.
"Come in, Sakura," Tsunade's voice rang out even before the cherry blossom's fist touched the impressive mahogany door. Taking a deep breath, Sakura entered, feeling meek.
For once, Tsunade's sake bottles were nowhere to be seen, the room smelled pleasantly of the cool, fresh morning air. The Godaime Hokage looked tired, but alert.
"What do you want, Sakura?" Tsunade asked quietly. There was a hint of motherliness and kindness to her tone, immediately reminding Sakura of her own mother. Quickly shifting her thoughts, Sakura blurted out her request, her knees shaking beneath her.
"Can-can you- make me your apprentice, Hokage-sama?"
Tsunade looked slightly taken aback, and for a split second, Sakura was afraid that her request might be turned down. But then, her hopes rose again as a smile slowly spread upon the older kunoichi's face, despite her efforts to look stern.
'This girl has guts. I like her,' Tsunade thought. Out loud, she set her rules for Sakura.
"I'm warning you right now. Normally, I don't accept students, but since Kakashi says that you have perfect chakra control, which is vital for a medic nin…. I'm making an exception. Consider this a favour,"
Sakura nodded quickly as the Hokage continued.
"I will not go easy on you, and I will not tolerate complaints, unpunctuality, disobedience, and most of all, I will not tolerate crying. Are you clear?"
The pink-haired girl nodded again, a wave of confidence filling her slightly. Tsunade smiled inwardly.
"Are you sure you're ready? Like Shizune once told me, there's hardly any 'life' of your own once you become my apprentice,"
Sakura looked suddenly determined. "I'm ready."
"Good," This time, Tsunade smiled at her. "You start- tomorrow,"
# End of Flashback
"Eh, Sakura," Kakashi's voice snapped her out of her reverie. Once again, she was her present self, her memories behind her, standing on the bridge with her sensei.
"Huh?" Sakura questioned his interruption.
"Sorry to break you out of that 'temporary coma' of yours, but Tsunade just called with a mission for you,"
"Mm… thanks. Are you coming?" the pink-haired kunoichi asked, straightening and stretching.
"Apparently, I'm on the 'wanted' list, too, so, yes. See ya," Kakashi grinned, disappearing in a puff of smoke.
Sakura smiled, turning to walk away. Kakashi liked moving fast, (though she couldn't understand why he was always late) but she preferred the good old method of walking to get to places.
Turning back for one last look at the beautiful bridge, Sakura let her past wash over her again, so distant, yet so unforgettable.
Five years… had gone so fast. From that smart, easily frightened girl of twelve, she had evolved into a lady of seventeen.
Strong. Capable. Patient. Loyal.
Those were the values she prided herself for. She could've made her father proud. Sakura tilted her head skywards, to be met by a shower of cherry blossoms. Watching the cloud formations, the kunoichi knew her father was watching over her, with her mother. Somewhere up there.
Smiling gently, Sakura whispered. "Chichioya… okasan (6)… you're proud of me, aren't you?"
She had lost three precious people on that fateful day that had changed her life, her reasons for living. And she remembered one thing.
Ever since that night, she had never let another tear glisten in her emerald eyes.
Heh... how was that? Hope the prologue got you interested... oh yeah, here are some word translations:-
(1) ojisan- grandfather
(2) Heian- peace
(3) chichioya- father/ dad
(4) gomen – sorry
(5) okasan- mother/ mom
So? You know what to do... C'mon, leave me a review...