Title: Somewhere I Have Never Travelled, Gladly Beyond
Word count: 9,347
Chapter 16 - Epilogue
It was the longest and most painful breakup of her life.
At first she'd held it in. She'd told herself that he wasn't worth wasting her emotions on – not after what he'd done. But she couldn't stop thinking, couldn't stop remembering, so she tried to distract herself by making herself useful on the ship. The sailors had welcomed her help, clapped her on the back and told her stories of their own past relationships, saying that in the end everything would work out for the best. She'd see, they said, she just needed to give it time. She thanked them and smiled a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes, and thought that maybe she felt a bit better. Then she'd go back to her cabin and dream of him – his eyes, his smile, his touch – and when she woke up she felt sick.
By the time she'd landed on Fire Country soil, she'd stopped trying to pretend.
It hurt. And not just because it was a betrayal – of her trust, of their relationship, of the balance of power between them – but because she missed him like she'd never missed anyone else. When Sasuke had left Konoha all those years ago she'd missed him too, but it wasn't the same. She'd missed Sasuke deeply because he was a friend, a part of her team, and the sun of her adolescent world. But now, with a sharp pang of guilt, she found herself missing Deidara for all that and more.
Their time together had been full of change – ever-present danger had meant that nothing was certain. But throughout everything, the one thing that had remained the same was his presence. Eventually they'd progressed beyond mere cooperation to friendship, and then to a new level that she couldn't categorize simply as romantic, but something more that she wasn't quite sure how to describe. He had become such a constant in her life that now she half expected at every moment to hear a sarcastic quip, spring into an argument, or just catch the strange way that he'd end his phrases.
It was an awful feeling to miss him so terribly, but during her trek back to Konoha she couldn't keep him from her mind. And when at last she was offered a moment's reprieve from thoughts of him, she would inevitably find something to say, only to have her heart sink as she turned towards a companion that wasn't there.
But none of that was the worst. Not by far.
The worst was waking up in the morning on the cold hard ground and her body, long accustomed, would fully expect to find itself a comforting source of warmth if only it just curled a bit more to one side. Then Sakura would crack open her eyes, blinded at first by the sunlight pouring through the trees, and realize suddenly and shatteringly once again that she was alone.
It was in this state that she stumbled out of the forest one day and found the great walls of Konoha looming over her. She stared up at them in surprise, not only because she'd lost track of how long she'd been walking, but also because she half believed that this was all some terrible nightmare from which she would awake and find herself still in Cìen. Still with him.
The guards at the wall eyed her with suspicion. It wasn't every day they had someone stumble across the hidden village. Much less a girl who bordered on both pathetic and pitiful, with twigs in her hair and dirt that stuck to her face in streaks where there had previously been tears.
"Identify yourself," called one of the guards.
Her voice came out strangled at first, unused for days and thick from crying. "S-Sakura Haruno," she choked out, and as the sound of her own voice brought her crashing back to reality, she collapsed.
When she came to, she didn't recognize her surroundings. Propping herself up gently on one elbow, she took in the small, concrete holding cell, completely bare except for the hard cot she was stretched out on. She stood carefully, worried that she would pass out again, and made her way to the door, wrapping her hands around the metal bars of the small window.
"Hello?" she called. Her voice echoed faintly down the corridor.
She heard a chair scrape against the floor, and was soon met with the face of a jounin she didn't recognize. "You're finally awake," he said, eyeing her suspiciously.
"Why am I -"
"Questions later," he cut her off brusquely. "There's someone here to see you."
Sakura glared after him as he turned and walked away without another word. Making a mental note not to be gentle with that particular jounin if he ever needed medical attention, Sakura reseated herself on the cot and wondered what was in store for her.
She didn't have long to wait. Two sets of steps echoed down the hallway, coming to a stop in front of the cell. Sakura heard the jingle of keys and the scratch of metal on metal as the door's lock was released.
"Come on!" The voice was impatient and heart-wrenchingly familiar. "Open it faster!"
"Be careful," said the jounin. "We don't know for sure if she is who she claims to be."
As the door swung open, Sakura ceased to be aware of anything except for the ninja in front of her. She held her breath, frozen in place.
"S-Sakura," he choked out, his blue eyes wide.
Struggling to her feet, Sakura was still in a state of shock. "Naruto?" she whispered, half suspecting that her mind was playing tricks on her.
But as they stared at each other for a long moment, each unable to believe their eyes, Sakura began to understand that this was no trick. She was in Konoha, face to face with her teammate, her friend – the one who had inadvertently sent her off on the journey of a lifetime. He was just as she remembered: bright blue eyes, spiky blond hair that stuck out wherever it pleased, and that same awful orange jumpsuit. When she looked at him closer though, it was clear that he had changed. He'd grown taller, as any teenage boy was prone to do, but there were also dark circles under his eyes, accompanied by a certain tiredness in his expression. Gone was the boyish optimism, replaced instead with the world-weariness of an adult.
"We all thought you were dead," Naruto blurted out with his usual tact.
Sakura couldn't help but smile. Whatever changes he'd undergone, at heart he was still the same boy she remembered.
"Naruto…" she repeated, taking a hesitant step towards him, as though uncertain he was truly real.
Naruto grimaced and raised his hands protectively. "Look Sakura," he said warily, "I know I deserve whatever beating is coming to me, but honestly, I didn't mean for that jutsu to hit you. I know I screwed up and --"
She didn't let him finish. Closing the distance between them, she threw her arms around him and hugged him as tight as she could. "I've missed you," she whispered, not caring that her tears left damp marks on his shoulder as she pressed herself against him.
"Umm, Sakura?" He patted her shoulder awkwardly. "Have you seen the medics yet?"
"I'm not crazy, you idiot," she said with a weak laugh, as more tears threatened to spill. "And I'm so glad to see you."
He relaxed a little and returned her hug as she sniffled into his shirt. "I know this probably doesn't mean much, but for what it's worth: I'm sorry."
"Don't be." Surprised to find that she was telling the truth despite all of the pain she'd gone through, she released her hold on Naruto and looked him in the eye so he could tell she was being honest. "I have to thank you, really," she said.
As Naruto creased his eyebrows and tried to figure out why she was thanking him, another figure rushed past the jounin guard into the cell. Sakura blinked and rubbed the tears from her eyes with the back of a hand. As her vision cleared, she sucked in her breath and, to her unending shame, almost began to cry again.
Tsunade said nothing at first, only stared with open-mouthed shock at her former apprentice. She regained her senses quickly enough though, carefully schooling her features into a stiff and formal expression before turning sharply on her heel to address the guard. "You're dismissed," she said coolly. "Organize the paperwork for her immediate release and rehabilitation."
The jounin gave a smart salute and disappeared down the corridor. Tsunade watched the guard until he was out of sight, her back to the cell. When at last he was gone, she turned slowly to face her apprentice, her expression still carefully controlled.
Her semblance of calm didn't last long. The mighty Hokage bit her lower lip to stop it from trembling and swept Sakura into a crushing embrace.
"You damned fool," she whispered thickly as she held Sakura close, as though scared she would vanish again. "Why didn't you let us know you were alive?"
Sakura didn't answer. Or rather, she couldn't. For the first time since she'd left Cìen, the dreamlike state that had hung over her cleared and reality took hold. She was finally back in Konoha, reunited with her mentor and friend. This was her home, her life. But while she was overwhelmed by all this, there was still the void left by Deidara. The sensations of joy and relief combined with her sense of loss into a great, confusing emotion that Sakura couldn't put a name to. And so, as Tsunade held her tightly and Naruto rested a comforting hand on her back, Sakura broke down and wept.
"Really, I'm not crazy," Sakura insisted. She'd lost track of how many times she'd said that in the past hour. "I promise."
The nurse, a young medic-nin that Sakura only vaguely remembered, pursed her lips in an expression that said clearly: I'll be the judge of that.
Sakura sighed and sank back into her chair. As per regulations, any ninja returning from a long absence was required to undergo physical and mental examinations. She'd passed the physical part but it seemed like she was almost expected to fail the other tests. Was it really so difficult to think that life outside Konoha wasn't bad enough to drive someone mad? Or did they just not think her capable of undergoing such an incredible journey without losing it?
"Cìen was actually quite nice," Sakura offered, hoping to speed up the interrogation. Maybe if the nurse understood that her life overseas hadn't been particularly horrible she wouldn't be so convinced that Sakura had gone nuts. "Do you want to hear about it?"
The nurse stopped scribbling in her notebook just long enough to raise her eyebrows. "No," she said in a tone that left no room for argument.
As the nurse continued to drill her with questions in order to ascertain her mental stability, Sakura came to the unpleasant realization that she'd lived something that most people in Konoha couldn't understand. While ninja frequently left the village for missions, they always returned inside the walls of Konoha – safe, secure, and isolated from the rest of the world. With the exception of a few jounin who took on long-term, undercover missions, few had ever experienced a different way of life or been totally immersed in another world.
Slouching into her chair, weighed down by an unpleasant feeling of defeat, Sakura answered the nurse's questions almost absentmindedly. Yes, she had really been blown half way around the world. Yes, she had used chakra and had encountered enemies. Yes, she had conversed with civilians. No, she had not revealed any information about Konoha. No, she was not unduly stressed or otherwise mentally unstable – although privately she wondered if suffering from heartbreak counted towards that.
The questioning went on in a similar vein until Sakura replied automatically, careful only to neglect mentioning Deidara. Not only because it would cause trouble, but because the thought of him was too much for her to handle. She was happy to be home at last, but these feelings twisted agonizingly at memories of him.
Clenching her hands into fists, Sakura tried to ignore nagging thoughts of him and willed the questioning to be over.
"Well," sighed the nurse at last, "You seem fit to be reintegrated into the village."
"You sound surprised," Sakura remarked bitterly before she could stop herself.
The woman glanced up sharply, and while Sakura realized her mistake she at least noted with relief that the release papers had already been signed. Feeling distinctly awkward, she laughed weakly and tried to pass off her words as a joke.
As she stepped out of the office, Sakura began to understand that readjusting to life in Konoha was going to be slightly harder than expected. She'd grown used to saying whatever she liked, and while sarcastic or scathing comments would have been acceptable in front of Deidara – he'd fire back with something equally mocking, of course – they didn't really fly with the residents of Konoha. To them she was still the sweet and polite, if frighteningly overpowered, medic.
With this depressing thought on her mind, she almost walked into a tall figure in a flak jacket and with a familiar mop of white hair.
"Yo," said Kakashi, cool and casual as if he'd seen her only yesterday. He gave no indication that he was glad to see her, or even that he'd been aware of her absence.
"It's good to see you," she greeted him with a smile. Neither his appearance nor his demeanor had changed in the past months – he was exactly as she remembered. "How have you been? And what are you doing at the hospital – I know you hate this place. You're not hurt, are you?"
He hesitated a moment too long before answering, "Just here for some shots. Routine, you know."
Something nagged at her memory that she couldn't ignore so she asked, "Oh? The set I gave you last year that you aren't due to have again for another five?"
The dark fabric of his mask creased into what Sakura knew was a smile. "That's the one."
Liar, she thought, but left it at that. Was it really so hard for him to admit that he'd come to see her?
Why was she surrounded by men who couldn't deal with their emotions? Deidara would probably have done the same thing – made up an excuse rather than admitting the truth. Sakura had no idea why they bothered to hide their feelings – it wasn't as though caring for someone infringed upon their masculinity.
For a moment she remembered all the times Deidara had tried to appear uninterested in her wellbeing, all the while failing miserably. But these fond memories soured quickly as her heart sent her a sharp pang, reminding her of what he'd done. That she was alone.
Oh gods, she thought as her thoughts snapped back into the present. Maybe the nurse was right. Maybe she was crazy – why else could she not stop thinking about him?
Clamping down on her wandering mind, she refocused on Kakashi and asked, "So how's everything been? Did anything interesting happen while I was gone?"
She needed him to answer, needed him to give her anything other than her memories to think about. But his reply was slow, almost reluctant. "Not much…"
His voice trailed off and he looked away from her, focusing on the white hospital walls. Suspicious, Sakura pushed him further. "I'm surprised," she said with feigned shock. "No exciting missions for Team Seven? Was it really so boring without me around?"
Her tone had been light and playful, but she could tell it was the wrong thing to say. Kakashi watched her for a moment and Sakura cursed his mask – his one impassive eye gave little away.
"We went looking for you," he said bluntly. "Naruto couldn't let you go like that, so we looked for you. For months. He's not the sort to give up."
If Sakura had thought she felt awful before when she had only painful memories of her relationship with Deidara to struggle with, this was infinitely worse. While she had been off gallivanting across foreign lands, worrying herself over feelings like a teenager, losing herself in a hopeless romance – and, how could she forget, occasionally running for her life – they had been looking for her.
And all the while Naruto had dealt with the guilt over her supposed death. No wonder he had changed.
It was awful to know that her friend had suffered so much during her absence, but what made the situation downright wretched was that Sakura had been totally oblivious to his plight. Instead, she had tried selfishly to stay in Cìen, stay with him, rather than consider what her friends at home were thinking. And had she got her way, she would have left Naruto with no escape from his remorse.
Sakura tried not to let her shame show. Swallowing down the sickening feeling that rose in her throat, she struggled for a safer topic. "I –" she began, but couldn't find what to say. Kakashi offered no help, just stuffed his hands in his pockets and pretended not to notice his student's discomfort.
She felt awful – how could she have been so selfish to want to stay in Cìen? It was quiet and peaceful, but under the surface it was just as Deidara had said: they were in constant danger. Their time there might have seemed idyllic, but it was nothing more than the eye of the storm.
Had she stayed, not only would she have condemned Naruto to his guilt, there would have come a time when she'd have had to fight again. When she'd have to go on the run, leaving behind the temporary life she'd created.
The memories of fleeing from ninja and being chased across foreign lands prompted a sudden thought, and Sakura cleared her throat before changing the subject. "I need to thank you, by the way."
His one uncovered eye widened slightly, just enough to communicate surprise.
"For all you taught me over the years. It wasn't easy getting back here – I had a few close calls." She smiled sadly, unable to keep away thoughts of fighting alongside Deidara – memories that she no longer knew whether to classify as fond or painful. Most of all she remembered the ill-fated break-in at the castle, during which she'd sworn to tell Kakashi the truth about his teaching. Facing him now though, she couldn't imagine saying anything but kind words. "So I just wanted to thank you for all the training you gave me. I wouldn't be here without it."
As she watched him shuffle his feet, awkward under the praise, Sakura hoped he understood that she was sincere. Maybe Kakashi hadn't given her the same level of attention as her teammates, but she nonetheless felt that she owed him her gratitude.
"Um," said Kakashi as he glanced away, a genius in all but social situations. "It's good to see you too."
With that, he mumbled something about leaving the milk out of the fridge, made a handseal and vanished.
Sakura shook her head as the smoke from the jutsu dissipated. He hadn't changed a bit.
"Well if they haven't been burned yet I don't think it'll be a problem. But why would you want to keep those old things?"
"I--" Sakura almost lost her nerve under Tsuande's questioning stare before finishing weakly: "I just like them, that's all."
Tsunade gave her a frown, unconvinced. "They're not very practical clothing for a ninja."
"That's true," Sakura conceded. "But I still want to keep them."
Tsunade kept her gaze focused on her student, and the unnerving stare almost made Sakura tell her to just forget about the silly request. At last though, the Hokage waved a hand and said, "Alright, I'll get Shizune to look into getting your clothes back for you."
Sakura let out the breath she'd been holding. "Thank you," she said, slightly embarrassed at how much she meant it.
Her old jeans from Cìen were likely torn and faded after her journey to Konoha, but that didn't matter – she didn't really care about them anyway. But for some reason, the thought of parting with her sweater – the one given to her by him – was unthinkable. She felt pathetic for placing such value in an object, for clinging to the one thing that could serve as a reminder of him, but she couldn't bear to part with the only tangible proof that her time with him had been real.
And besides, it was a nice sweater.
"Before you go," Tsunade called out as an afterthought just before Sakura was about to leave, "I know you were debriefed about everything before, but I can't help but ask. That Akatsuki that got caught in Naruto's jutsu too – do you at least think he's dead?"
The question caught her off guard and she hastily placed her hand on the door to steady herself.
"I- I don't know," Sakura replied, trying to justify her response to herself – she wasn't really telling her mentor a lie. After all, she thought dejectedly, he could be dead now for all she knew.
Tsunade sighed wearily. "Right. Sorry to keep pestering you about that – it's just that I'd feel so much better if we knew for certain whether or not we could cross out one more page in the bingo book. Anyway," she gave a small smile to her apprentice, "Go home and get some rest, you don't start work at the hospital again for a couple of days."
With some words of farewell and a final, fumbled bow to her teacher, Sakura fled from the Hokage's office. When she emerged from the building into the cool autumn air, welcome and refreshing, she tried to steady herself.
She felt like an absolute wreck – her emotions so tangled and confused that she could hardly sort out what she was feeling. Even as she walked through Konoha, on streets that held no association with him, she was bombarded by a myriad of memories. While resuming her life in Konoha had been surprisingly easy, so much so that she could almost believe Deidara's existence to be a creation of her imagination, her feelings and thoughts towards him were too strong to be ignored.
Trying to shake herself from the daze that hung over her, Sakura searched for a distraction. Konoha's streets were busy as usual, and she would have no trouble finding old friends to keep her company if she so desired. But she felt too depressed and wanted to be on her own rather than inflict her misery on others. At last, she hesitated in front of a store before venturing in.
It was all so terribly familiar: the racks of durable, functional clothing, the sets of almost identical black sandals, the kunai displayed behind the glass counter. It was the same ninja outfitting store she'd shopped at since she was old enough to enter the Academy. She was so used to it that she didn't need to look around – just walked over to the section that she knew contained she wanted.
Almost mechanically, she paid for the identical red outfits, the same that she'd worn since she'd become Tsunade's apprentice. The clerk, well acquainted with his customers, packaged most of the items but put the red shirts behind the counter, informing Sakura that modifications and the addition of her family crest would be complete in a few days and she could pick them up then. Sakura nodded, lulled into a sort of daze by the all-too-familiar proceedings. Everything was exactly the same as it had been for years.
As she turned to leave however, this stupor was broken as something caught her eye – a sliver of yellow peaked out from the surrounding monotony of drab clothing. Sakura hesitated. She'd already bought the clothes she needed, anything else was unnecessary.
It was only a moment before curiosity got the best of her. The yellow fabric turned out to belong to a skirt. It was plain, adorned with only a few patterns sewn lightly in thread the same colour as the material, and its short length and a slit on one side made it appear practical enough. A quick search through nearby clothes racks netted her a high-collared, sleeveless pink top. Sakura held the two items together and considered the combination – it was certainly a change from her usual medic outfit. Before she could stop herself, Sakura found herself wondering if at last she'd managed to compile an outfit on her own that Deidara would have approved of.
Disgusted, Sakura shoved the clothes back onto the rack. What did it matter if Deidara would have approved? He was out of her life and his opinion of her made no difference. Not that he'd ever see her in the clothes anyway. Just thinking about him made her anger flare, and she was more determined than ever to wear her same old red clothing – if only just to spite the memories of him.
But as she stalked away from the outfit she'd so hastily discarded, Sakura paused and reconsidered. Picking up the clothes once again, she examined them more closely. No, it didn't matter what Deidara would think – they were her clothes and she would choose them as she liked. But he had perhaps taught her a thing or two, and while she may be angry and heartbroken by his actions it wouldn't do to ignore what she'd learned from him. After all, it was true that she looked good in other colours. With that, Sakura's resolve broke and she once again reached for her purse.
After a few weeks, Sakura found it more and more difficult to believe that she'd ever left Konoha.
Life in the hidden village had gone on much the same without her and continued to do so after her sudden return. She resumed her position at the hospital and was surprised to find that being able to use chakra for healing again was more of relief than she'd expected. Cuts and gashes disappeared in seconds, and she wondered how she'd ever dealt with broken bones when they'd required messy casts and weeks of healing.
When at last Sakura finished with the final patient before the end of her shift though, she felt more stress than relief. Work was the only thing that kept her mind from more difficult topics – thoughts, feelings, memories that she could no longer tell if they were real or some elaborate trick of her cruel imagination.
Replacing a stack of files into the cabinets at the reception desk, Sakura straightened the 'back in five minutes' note left by the receptionist and cast about for some other form of work to do. She didn't want to go home just yet; she couldn't bear to be alone with her thoughts.
As she tidied the desk and wondered if maybe she could put in overtime – despite a rather slow stream of patients that day – the waiting room doors flew open and a familiar voice shattered the silence of the empty room.
"You've been back for how long and we haven't had a proper girls' night yet? That's just not right."
Ino put her hands on her hips and shot Sakura a questioning look before breaking into a grin. "Also: you work too much. Leave those files for someone else – you're done for the day! Let's go do something!"
Sakura gave a small smile and shook her head at her friend's energy. "I don't know if I'm up to one of your nights out, Ino…"
"We don't have to go out or anything, just come see my new flat!" Ino set her jaw in the particular way that told Sakura she really had no choice in the matter. "I moved in a few months ago, and since you missed my housewarming party you can't refuse now!"
Sakura sighed and straightened a few more papers on the desk, stalling for time. "I-"
Her reply was cut short as the doors to the waiting room swung open once again, this time revealing two jounin. Their faces were vaguely familiar, but from the hundreds of patients she'd seen over the years, Sakura couldn't remember their names. One of them supported the other, who moaned and stumbled against him. It didn't take more than a glance to reveal what the problem was, and as Sakura's initial concern faded she crossed her arms with a frown.
Catching sight of Sakura, the jounin on the left broke into a grin. "It's good to have you back!" His voice was slightly slurred, and he seemed to be having some trouble keeping a grip on his friend, who tended to lurch forward unexpectedly. "We need your help -- someone had a bit too much to drink and he's going to be a mess tomorrow. Not to mention it'll be a pain getting him home like this..."
"You guys are starting early," Ino noted.
"Give us a break," replied the jounin. "We just got back from a mission, it's not like we don't deserve it!"
Sakura was silent as she stepped forward and placed her fingers on the inebriated man's temples. She closed her eyes, focusing her chakra, but stepped back after a moment.
"He'll be fine," she said with a dismissive wave of her hand. "He doesn't have alcohol poisoning, he just needs to sleep it off."
"Oh," said the jounin, his eyebrows knitting in confusion. "But can't you heal him like you've done before?"
"I could," admitted Sakura, "But I've had a long day and he kind of brought this on himself."
When the man said nothing, only stared in disbelief, Sakura retrieved from behind the desk one of the brightly coloured plastic buckets the hospital gave to nauseous patients before they were sent home. "Here," she said coldly, "He might need this on his way home."
The jounin stared at her, then at the bucket, then back at Sakura. "You've changed," he said, as though this were some terrifying revelation.
Sakura clenched her fists and fought back the urge to roll her eyes. You would have changed too, she wanted to shout, if you'd fallen in love halfway around the world and had the greatest adventure of your life. Not to mention, dealing with Deidara combined with months of working with Alvara had taught her not to be pushed around by troublesome people.
After a quick glance at Sakura's expression, Ino stepped forward and grabbed the plastic container from her friend. "Look, you're lucky you're leaving with just this and not a lecture, so just take your puke bucket and go," she said as she pushed in into the reluctant hands of the jounin and ushered him and his semi-conscious friend forcefully out the door.
As the doors swung closed, Ino frowned and turned to face her friend. "We're going back to my flat, and you're telling me everything."
At Ino's tone of finality, Sakura sighed and resigned herself to the inevitable.
Sakura half-listened and gave what she hoped passed for attentive noises as Ino poured their tea and recounted how she'd managed to land such a good deal on her flat.
It was a nice little apartment, and Ino had decorated it in a way that would make anyone feel instantly at home, with bright colours and fresh flowers from her parents' shop. But neither that nor Ino's stream of lighthearted chatter could pull Sakura from her gloomy mood.
At last when Ino had finished her tale, she set down a plate of chocolates on the kitchen table and sank into the chair next to Sakura. "Eat these," she commanded, "Then tell me about him."
Sakura eyed the chocolates for a moment before Ino's words sank in. Startled, she glanced up at her friend. "What?"
"Well it's a boy, isn't it?" Ino raised her eyebrows. "It's kind of obvious, you know. I've been through enough heartbreak myself to know what it looks like."
Sakura looked down at the red checkered tablecloth, a little ashamed that displayed her feelings so openly. "It was nothing," she said dismissively, yet felt her chest tighten at the false and hollow words. "Just a fling."
Ino pushed the plate of chocolates closer to her friend. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Yes – yes, she wanted to blurt out all that had happened and complain that it wasn't fair and he was so awful for putting her through all this and that she felt like a fool – both for letting him have the upper hand and for still caring about him despite what he'd done. And then they could both rage about good-for-nothing guys and Ino would break out a bottle of wine and after a few excessively saccharine movies they'd conclude that they didn't need men anyway and everything would be all better.
But it hadn't been a normal relationship, and Sakura had a feeling that the usual remedies wouldn't work for her this time. Besides, she couldn't explain all that had gone on between them, not without giving away the information of who he was. And while Ino was her best friend, there was no way she'd take well to the notion that Sakura had been – seeing, dating, sleeping with? – something with one of the top ranking missing-nin. So Sakura just shook her head and said nothing.
Not one to be discouraged so easily on matters pertaining to gossip, Ino pressed onwards. "Was he a dashing foreigner?" She said it almost teasingly as she clasped her hands against her chest and made a dramatic face.
Sakura gave a half-hearted smile. She considered this for a moment, then decided that the term could indeed be applied to Deidara. "Yes," she replied truthfully. "He was."
Ino leaned forward, even more curious and determined to ferret out the details. "What was his name?"
Sakura bit her lip and averted her eyes. The conversation was entering dangerous territory. If anyone found out how close she'd become to an enemy, a simple case of heartbreak would be the least of her worries.
Fortunately Ino misinterpreted her hesitation. "Never mind," she said, patting her friend's hand. "I understand. It must still be too painful to say."
As Sakura fell back into silence, Ino tried one last time. "Maybe he'll write to you," she said hopefully.
"Um," said Sakura as she tried not to laugh outright at the thought of Deidara writing her love letters. "He's not really the sort to do that."
She couldn't help but smile, her mood lifting for a moment, and Ino took this as the opening she needed. "Look," she said plainly, "You don't have to tell me everything. But talking about this will make you feel better, I promise."
She said it with such honesty that Sakura could no longer resist. After keeping her emotions bottled up inside for so long she wanted desperately to confide in someone. And so she began her tale hesitantly, careful to leave out most of the early events and any indication of Deidara's true identity. Sakura tried not to lie; instead she constructed her story around pieces of truth that could do no harm. She said she'd met him on her way home and that they'd travelled together, quarreled most of the time, and somehow managed to fall into the most bizarre relationship. She laughed a little as she described some of their banter, the memories coming easily and, for the first time, without pain.
Ino said nothing, only sipped at her tea and listened. Sakura could ask for nothing more, as sometimes the best and most comforting thing a friend can do is to simply listen. When she finished her story, confident that she hadn't given anything crucial away, she felt better, less weighed down by her secret.
"I guess," Sakura concluded, surprising herself as she at last managed to untangle the web of thoughts that had plagued her for so long. "I'm also angry at myself." She blinked a few times, realizing that her words were truthful. "I mean, I'm definitely going to hospitalize him if I ever see him again – no question about that. But I feel silly for having spent so long agonizing over the future of our relationship when what I should really have been doing was just enjoying it."
This revelation was so startling that Sakura could do nothing but turn it over and over in her mind. While she was still torn between wanting to kiss Deidara senseless or break his jaw, her feelings towards her own actions in Cìen suddenly became clear. And although she felt awful at the knowledge that she'd wasted even a moment of their time together bogged down in dreary thoughts, unraveling her feelings gave her a strange sensation of relief. She leaned back in her chair and smiled into her teacup.
Mulling over her friend's story, Ino chewed thoughtfully on one of the chocolates.
"So let me get this straight," she said at last, unable to keep the beginnings of a grin from her face. "You were so sure he was going to admit his undying love for you, and then he knocked you out and shipped you off to the Fire Country? While I'm surprised you haven't swum back there and murdered him, you have to admit that's kind of funny."
Sakura rolled her eyes. She knew Ino and her sense of humour well enough not to take offense to the comment. "Maybe if it happened in a movie or a romance novel, but it's not so funny when it happens in real life."
Ino nodded, still slightly amused as Sakura continued, "Anyway, you can't tell anyone about this."
"Of course I won't," her best friend promised, refilling their tea cups with a benign smile that made Sakura suspicious.
"Ino, please," she pleaded in a tone of desperation.
"You know I won't tell anyone," she replied, maintaining her most angelic expression. "And as proof of my sincerity I've concocted a plan to make you help you get over this."
Sakura groaned. "Why do I have a bad feeling about this?"
Ino shushed her and continued, "You've been dwelling on this for far too long –"
"—it's only been a few weeks –"
"— Far too long, so clearly it's time for you to find a distraction. You just said yourself that you shouldn't have worried so much about things, so take your own advice and get back to living in the present."
Sakura could see where this was going, and inwardly lamented that her friend was so terribly misguided when it came to solving relationship issues.
"I met this one guy on a mission a while back," Ino said, oblivious to Sakura's mounting dismay. "He's just what you need: charming, handsome, and – due to his mission schedule – only in Konoha for conveniently short amounts of time."
"If he's so great, why don't you date him yourself?" Sakura grumbled, tired of what seemed to be another episode of Ino's classic bragging.
She wrinkled her nose. "Ew, no. He's got blond hair and blue eyes --" Sakura's heart leapt. "--We'd look like we were siblings or something." Ino tossed her hair to one side. "Besides, he's far too good looking. I don't date men who are even half as pretty as me – they've always got such awful egos, you know."
"But it's alright for me to date him?" Sakura snorted in disbelief.
"It's different," her friend insisted. "You're not looking for a relationship. Just a distraction. So why not make it a pretty one?"
"A distraction? I'm pretty sure it's called a rebound."
Ino shrugged. "Semantics."
As Ino continued to extol the virtues of her plan, Sakura had a sinking feeling that she wasn't going to escape from this one.
Sakura sat on the edge of her bed and lamented that she'd ever agreed to Ino's idea. The relief she'd felt after confiding in her friend had disappeared too soon, giving way yet again to an unshakeable sadness. She had no energy for anything, and despite her previous talk of enjoying the present, she couldn't apply this philosophy to her current situation.
Instead, she left her hair and makeup undone as she waited for her date to arrive and lost herself in the past. She tried to draw Deidara's image from her memories, but for all the wild gold hair, teasing glances, and mocking smiles she could conjure, it was but a pale imitation of the real thing. She glanced down at the object in her hands, running her fingers over the fabric that was now pilled and faded. She stared at the sweater until it seemed that nothing else around her existed, but still the wispy images of him were fleeting and incomplete.
She'd heard people say that everyone was entitled to one great romance in their lifetime, yet she had always believed this to be rubbish – something that only hopelessly romantic fools could believe. But as she closed her eyes and remembered that last farewell kiss, remembered it so completely that she could almost feel the pull of his fingers in her hair and the slight roughness of his lips, she was almost convinced she'd been wrong.
Without realizing her actions, Sakura held the sweater tightly against her and wondered at the incredible power of what was not there. It surprised her that the lack of his presence could create such a void. She had known him only for a matter of months, and yet somehow life without him was almost unbearable.
The sound of the doorbell startled her from her thoughts. With a shake of her head to clear her mind, Sakura threw the shirt onto the floor in disgust. Surely she hadn't been so pathetic before, she thought morosely, and yet still couldn't pull herself from her heavy mood.
Dragging herself reluctantly to the front door, Sakura unbolted the lock with a sigh. Ordinarily she would have been in a panic over a first date, but for some reason she couldn't bring herself to care that her hair wasn't brushed and she hadn't showered since the night before. Pasting on a fake smile and hoping that her eyes weren't too bloodshot after all her sleepless nights, Sakura opened the door.
The ninja was blond, just as Ino had promised, but not like him. Instead, he had chin-length platinum hair, each strand artfully arranged with far too many styling products. Sakura tried not to look too closely lest she be thought of as rude, but she suspected the colour was artificial. His eyes were blue, but the shade was too light and without that maddening spark of malice and mockery. He grinned at her in a way that Sakura could only describe as smarmy and somewhat pompous.
As the ninja introduced himself and lavished her with complements, Sakura could only nod halfheartedly. If Deidara had been her date instead, he would have told her frankly that she looked like a depressed, love-sick teenager and that if she wanted to be seen in public with him she should stop being so pathetic.
He really had been such a jerk.
But as Sakura tried to stay focused on the Konoha man's unending stream of frivolous complements, she concluded that at least Deidara had been interesting.
By the time Sakura had slipped on her shoes, she had already concluded that her date for the evening was a complete and total bore. As he began to boast about himself and his string of successful A-rank missions, she tried to remember what his name was but could only think of several descriptive words, none of which were polite. Tuning the man out, Sakura followed him down to the street and wondered how soon she could slip away.
Life must really consider itself to be the height of wit, she decided, if an S-rank criminal could steal her heart so completely while the knowledge that she had to spend even a handful of hours with an accomplished Konoha ninja filled her with the most profound boredom and distaste.
"Your plan didn't work."
Ino blinked in disbelief as she held open the door to her flat, faced with a miserable best friend. "That's impossible!" she declared loudly, but as Sakura continued to look sullen she sighed, resigned, and ushered her friend inside. "But I guess you'd better come in and tell me about it."
Sakura rushed past her friend into the apartment. Flopping onto the nearest couch, Sakura slouched into the cushions. "That was probably one of the worst dates I've ever been on," she moaned, eager to have a sympathetic ear. "All he did was talk about himself the entire evening."
"Really?" Ino feigned surprise as she moved to sit beside her friend. "Just about himself? You mean he didn't also grace you with his ingenious pick-up lines and extravagant amounts of flattery?"
Sakura grimaced as she tried not to remember the horrible date. "Well, yes, that too."
Ino gave her a knowing grin before she asked, "But didn't he at least take your mind off the other guy for a moment?"
"No!" she blurted out in frustration. "He only made me miss him more! He wouldn't have plied me with false flattery, wouldn't have spent the whole evening bragging about himself – or maybe he would, but it would be different. I'd make fun of him for it and he'd insult me over something petty and I'd have to find a good come-back, and then of course one thing would lead to another and--"
"You are beyond hopeless," Ino lamented as her best friend groaned and put her head in her hands.
"Ino," she said, massaging her temples futilely, "I have no idea what to do anymore, I'm just too confused. I know that life is going to go on and won't wait around for me to stop being pathetic, but I can't help but miss him! Sometimes I feel fine and I know everything's going to be okay, but then some little, ordinary thing reminds me of him and it all comes rushing back – all the anger and hope and sadness and memories. It's like I have moments of lucidity and then go crazy again, and I can't –"
"Sakura," Ino said suddenly. Her voice was soft, yet something in her tone succeeded in cutting off her friend's rambling. "It's okay. It's okay not to know how you feel."
Sakura took a deep breath, trying to draw up whatever strands of calm she had left. Yet again, she was both thankful and stunned by Ino's ability to defuse her heartbroken ramblings. She glanced away from her friend, embarrassed at what she was about to admit.
"You know," she began sheepishly, "I might complain about all this – and I'm fully aware that I'm wallowing in my own pity party – but I'm almost afraid not to. It feels like he's slowly slipping away. I know he's out of my life, but it's as though his memory won't be far behind in fading either. And this probably sounds ridiculous, but I feel like if I wail and rage about him he won't go away so fast." She laughed a little, pushing down a wave of sadness.
"He was good at that, you know? Driving me mad." Frustrated with herself, Sakura rubbed at her eyes wearily. "Oh gods, I am going insane, aren't I? I can't believe I'm letting someone get to me so bad – someone who was a huge jerk and thought he knew what was best for me. He's the sort of guy I should despise!" Pulling a mournful face, Sakura concluded, "I think the medics got it all wrong – living abroad did turn me crazy."
Ino gave her despairing friend a long look, then pretended to examine her nails. "I know I sound like the most enormously cold-hearted bitch for saying this, but…" She looked up at last, meeting her friend's gaze. "No matter what you had going on with him, it's in the past. So unless you plan on running back across the ocean and either dragging him back here or leaving Konoha behind for good, you need to deal with what's happened. Don't get me wrong, I'll always be here to hear you out, but you're eighteen -- you can't let a relationship like this consume your life."
Stunned into silence, Sakura considered her friend's words.
With a glance at Sakura's shocked expression, Ino grimaced. "Sorry to be so blunt, " she continued, waving her hands in an attempt to explain herself through futile gestures. "But I- I just thought you had to hear that."
Sakura nodded slowly, feeling that odd sense of clairvoyance and calm from their previous discussion settle over her again.
She sighed, struggling to be at peace with the knowledge that her and Deidara could never be together in the traditional sense. "Those months with him were almost like being in love. Not, of course, that I know what being in love is like," Sakura added quickly. "It's just that, if it were possible for us to be together, I – I would have like that."
It was a strange feeling, she concluded. It wasn't entirely defeat, but more of calm understanding. While she was still a little angry that he had made the final decision for her – and so suddenly! -- she knew that it couldn't have been any other way. She couldn't have brought him to Konoha, and when she was being rational she knew she could never have lived with herself if she'd abandoned her friends, her duties, her life in the hidden village.
"You know," Ino said slowly, glancing at Sakura from the corner of her eye, "You still haven't told me his name. Or why you didn't just kidnap him and drag him back to Konoha. I'm sure Tsunade wouldn't have minded terribly about having another civilian around, especially if it's one that makes her favourite apprentice happy."
Fully aware of Ino's obvious suspicion, Sakura spluttered helplessly and couldn't find anything more articulate than a graceful: "Err…"
After a painfully long moment, Ino relented and broke into a triumphant grin. "You know you can't hide it from me forever – whatever the big secret is. I'll dig it out of you eventually."
Regaining her voice, Sakura raised her chin defiantly. "I'll never tell!"
"Oh!" cried Ino as she shuffled closer to her friend on the couch. "Playing hard to get, are you? I don't know if I'll be able to resist."
A playful grin across her face, Ino reached over to tickle her friend. Sakura batted her hands away but Ino only redoubled her efforts. Tackling her best friend, Ino didn't relent until she was certain that Sakura was well and truly laughing.
"Look," Ino said, her voice soft and reassuring as Sakura's giggles subsided, "Things will get better. I promise."
Sakura smiled up at Ino, who still had her pinned to the couch. Freeing her arms, Sakura dragged Ino into a crushing hug. "Thank you," she whispered as she buried her face in her friend's hair.
Ino returned the hug as best she could, relaxing into her friend's embrace as much as their tangled position would allow. "Trust me, you'll see."
Sakura could only hold her friend tighter and hope fervently that Ino was right.
As it turned out, she was.
Sakura didn't bother to kick off her shoes as she collapsed onto her bed. She squeezed her eyes shut and buried her face into her pillow, willing her headache to go away. The day had been far too stressful, however, for simple willpower to work. Resigning herself to the fact that greater powers would need to be involved, Sakura eased herself up to sit on the edge of her bed and searched for the bottle of aspirin in her nightstand. She reached for the glass of water on the nightstand, warm and leftover from the night before, and tried not to think about her nightmare of a day. What was supposed to have been a quiet day of hospital policy discussion had quickly spiraled into chaos as a genin team was rushed into the hospital after they had somehow succeeded in all but massacring themselves with a jutsu they'd concocted without the knowledge of their teacher.
It was absolutely absurd, Sakura thought as she downed the painkillers, that no matter how thoroughly boring your daily life was, you never really knew what would happen before the day was out.
Sakura would later reflect that this was very true indeed, because that was the first day in a long time that she hadn't thought of him one bit.
In need of some fresh air before the painkillers kicked in, Sakura opened her bedroom window and drew in a deep breath. It brought a small amount of comfort that even after her hectic day the evening glow still illuminated the streets of Konoha in its same, familiar way.
Sakura drew away from the window, leaving it open to let in the breeze. Her headache had just begun to ebb when a strange touch of chakra – so familiar, but that was impossible – made her turn back.
The curtains drifted in and out of the window gently with the light wind, and nothing outside was amiss.
Convinced that she had obviously worked too hard that day, Sakura shook her head to clear her thoughts.
And that's when a little clay sparrow dropped through the open window and landed on her bed.
Sakura blinked. She blinked again, but this didn't change the fact that her quilt sported a newly charred hole, encircled by small flames that slowly fizzled themselves out. It wasn't until a thin curl of smoke wafted towards her, the smell startling her senses back into reality, that she fully grasped the situation.
Dashing to the window, Sakura held onto the sill in a white-knuckled grip to steady herself. Before she could jump out the window and hunt him down, a faint prickle of chakra alerted her that was no longer alone in the room.
"I can't stay for long," came a voice from behind her. "So if you plan on strangling me or something you should probably do it now, yeah."
Sakura stood frozen, unable to turn and face him. Say something, you fool, she wanted to shout at herself, it may be your only chance.
But that was just it – it might be her only chance, her only chance for their two unlikely worlds to cross. Her only chance to have him there and to absorb every moment. So she stood in silence and swept away all thoughts of what their future would hold, knowing only that he was there now and that was all that mattered.
His footsteps were silent, yet Sakura could feel that he moved towards her. He brushed his fingers over her shoulder almost hesitantly, as though worried that she really would strangle him. But as Sakura leaned into his touch he grew bolder, wrapping his arms around her until she arched back ever so slightly, her head resting against his shoulder and her hands reaching up to wrap themselves in his hair.
"You actually thought I'd just leave it at that, yeah?" he said, his voice soft. "I told you we'd see each other again. Idiot."
"You're such a jerk," Sakura said with a smile, leaning back into his familiar embrace. He said nothing, only held her tighter. Sakura could feel him smile as he pressed a kiss into her hair, and they both knew that even the most powerful terms of endearment were humbled by the emotions behind their simple words in that moment together.
A/N: First of all, a big thank you to all reviewers! I couldn't reply to as many of you as I would have liked, but I read every single review and PM and am convinced that I have somehow had the luck and privilege to find some of the kindest members of this fandom. Also a gigantic thank you to Cynchick for giving this final chapter a once over and convincing me to stop being so crazy and part with it at last.
So there you have it, my first ever completed multi-chapter and the product of two years, much influenced (and delayed!) by my own travels and studies. A sequel is not planned, because I feel that this fic has said all that I wanted it to. That said, please check out Heat and Sun, another DeiSaku fic just in its beginning stages. (By now we all know it will take me forever to complete.) And of course, if you have not yet read the poem from which this fic's title was so unapologetically borrowed, I would encourage you to do so!
So once again, thank you to everyone – I hope you had as much fun reading Somewhere as I had writing it!