after a while

09.28.06 - 4.17.2007

Shameless lack of plot. Some Sakura introspection, and (hahaha) much Sakura angst. Because whatever her flaws, Sakura is very dear to my heart. I think she's one of the most human characters (which isn't saying much), petty and noble and vain and selfless and hypocritical and kind and so devoted, everything contradicting like all teenage girls, but somehow badly misunderstood. Which makes me sad. Like a lot.

- All I've been doing is watching you two from behind... now, get a good look at my back! -


After a while you learn the subtle difference between holding a hand and chaining a soul,
And you learn that love doesn't mean leaning and company doesn't mean security,
And you begin to learn that kisses aren't contracts and presents aren't promises,
And you begin to accept your defeats with your head up and your eyes open, with the grace of an adult, not the grief of a child


Ino, because she still has her boys, sometimes invites Sakura to go with Team 10 to the steakhouse. "C'mon, Sakura-chan," because there's no Sasuke-kun to fight over anymore, and Forehead-girl seems a bit sad these days, "It'll be fun. You need to get out more, yeah?"

Sakura is grateful, really, because Ino means well, and Sakura is touched because Ino still cares. But she always declines, politely smiling. It hurts too much to see Asuma-san smoking like a chimney, scowling with surly disappointment that Shikamaru has won whatever board game it is of the week. It hurts too much to see Chouji inhale food like there's no tomorrow, and Shikamaru complain languidly that "man, why are you so troublesome? I'm not Heimlich-ing you, will you start chewing?" – but, mostly, it hurts to see Ino glowing and radiant because her boys are all here. It hurts so bad, and something rattles hollowly, painfully, in her chest at this completeness, this family.

It's moments like these that make Sakura hate Sasuke-kun, hate Naruto, hate Orochimaru and Jiraiya both—and hate Kakashi-sensei as well, for failing, failing, failing – and why was she always the one left behind?

But she goes home. Her mother smiles fondly at her and her father ruffles her hair (because it's still short and he still can) and she has to swallow past the lump in her throat to protest "chichi, stop." She remembers – as her mother calls from the kitchen that dinner would be in five minutes – the small, cramped apartment that Naruto had called home. She remembers the unclear, undersized window and the chipped paint and threadbare rugs, remembers how Naruto had been so very, very proud.

When her father grunts and rustles his newspaper and tells her to go set the table, but in a kindly voice – she recalls the Uchiha estate, recalls the cracked walls and faded crests, recalls Sasuke-kun's large windows that harshly lit the barren interior. She recalls the sterile cleanliness, the perfectly made bed and perfectly neat desk (perfect, perfect, pristinely, immaculately perfect), that ever-present feeling of loneliness. She recalls the coldness that seeped deep into her bones, the vast emptiness that weighed so heavy, the silence that settled like eons and eons of dust – she recalls that absolute absence of life.

She wonders, sometimes, if maybe Naruto isn't better off, in his dingy cramped hole-in-the-wall...but she catches herself, because Sasuke-kun still has his memories, doesn't he?

She has to blink back tears of shame at that point, rifling through the drawers for spoons, because her two boys are so broken and so lost and she, who could have helped them, who would have helped them, who cared enough to help them – she was too weak to do anything, too weak to even keep up.

Maybe Tsunade-sama understands this, understands kunoichi and shinobi and greatness and death and genius and madness and success and failure. Maybe Tsunade-sama understands and maybe Tsunade-sama doesn't, but it's all right because Sakura has someone now, some one equal to Sasuke's Orochimaru and Naruto's Jiraiya.

Better, even. Better.


And you learn to build all your roads on today because tomorrow's ground is too uncertain for plans.
After a while you learn that even sunshine burns if you get too much.
So plant your own garden and decorate your own soul, instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.


She's ashamed sometimes. The feeling rises up her throat and scrapes across her tongue and clings to the roof of her mouth, thick and heavy and slimy. She's ashamed to be so vindictively proud of Tsunade-sama, because she thinks Kakashi-sensei must be hurting too, still lost on the road of life with nothing left but the tattered remains of his broken team, the looming shadow of his great, magnificent failure.

But then she remembers that for all of Kakashi-sensei's praise and encouragement, it had been Naruto (best friend) at whom he'd smiled at so fondly, it had been Sasuke (little brother) whose hair he'd ruffled. (sensei, Sasuke had scowled, glanced, said with the blinking of his eyelids, stop but he hadn't meant it and Naruto had laughed hyuk hyuk hyuk and the sun had been warm and golden in those days) It had been Naruto he'd teased and Sasuke he'd taught – and where had she been in all of this?

(watching, waiting, patient with faith)

He's gone a lot now, Kakashi-sensei, disappearing for long, long months on missions, and Tsunade-sama always looks so grim when she hands him the scrolls. He comes back bleeding and battered and an inch away from death, and Sakura wants to shake him then, to yell, to scream, to rant, to rage she's still here, why couldn't he see her? She wants to shout that she's Team Seven, his team, too, and if she isn't as exuberant and eager as Naruto, or skilled and talented as Sasuke – well, she's always been smart and kind and loyal and Haruno Sakura so why can't he see her?

But she isn't special. She knows this, when she watches him silently flit away from the hospital, headed yet again for destruction. She isn't special and she isn't enough and she can't save him from this, can't save him because he's punishing himself for failing Sasuke, for failing Naruto, (and maybe Sakura as well, just a little, please?) for failing to arrive on time yet again, maybe the most tragic absence of his life. She isn't special, isn't as dedicated as Naruto or as gifted as Sasuke, has not Naruto's ambition or Sasuke's drive, Naruto's stamina or Sasuke's speed, one's innovation and creativeness and unpredictability, the other's cleverness and cunning and calmness of mind. Because she can perform neither Kage Bushiins nor Katons–

Kakashi-sensei can't see her very clearly.

A blurred image, she supposes, fuzzy at the corners, a bit faded, in shades of gray and red, vague and unfocused. He looks past her, over her, beyond her, through her, because he doesn't have to worry about her, does he, not when he's got her two boys to fret over?

(she's not jealous, she isn't, she understands, she's understands everything because everyone's always cooed about how Sakura is such a clever girl)

It's not Kakashi-sensei's fault, anyway. She's so normal and he's so ... not. He doesn't have to worry about her (except maybe at first on the battlefield but not anymore)– not with Naruto so erratic and Sasuke so dysfunctional. Sakura has a family to go home to, to warmly greet her. Sakura has acceptable social skills. Sakura is stable, balanced, sane. She doesn't need help, not like how Naruto needs help, not like how Sasuke (though he would never admit it) needs help. She's the only one among them willing to ask for it, the only one that wants it(the only one not choking on his her their damn pride) – but she doesn't need it, not like Naruto and not like Sasuke.

Still, she's not entirely bitter, because she loves her boys and she knows the reasoning behind all of this, and she understands why things are this way, and she would not change anything. Naruto needs help because no one ever helps him, because he is sneered at and spat at and ignored and despised and underestimated, because he is human too, able to hold the entire world in his heart. And Sasuke, however admired and however praised, however aloof and self-sufficient he carries himself, however adult he appears to be when he walks with his head high and proud and people pause to look because doesn't he look so like his father – however Sasuke doesn't want to be, Sasuke, too, is still human, laughing and crying and smiling and hurting.

(and loving, loving, she says to herself every night, hands clasped and head bowed, lips moving silently loving loving loving and not necessarily her loving not me not necessarily me but let him be happy please)

Sakura thinks it's funny, how out of all of them – childish Naruto and immature Sakura – Sasuke, formidable, experienced Sasuke, was the one who never grew up. Sasuke, so, so old and so, so young.

She thinks it probably doesn't matter, and suspects that he's planning to die young. Planning to go down in a blaze of glory and vengeance with his dear aniki entwined.

And Naruto – Naruto's planning to save him, of course, because that's what Naruto does. Naruto saves people and fixes things, in his own enthusiastic, bumbling way that instills in her some strange sort of faith in this broken world. But she doesn't think Sasuke wants to be saved, and she doesn't know how successful even Naruto would be if Sasuke knew what Orochimaru planned and didn't care.

She doesn't know what she'd do – because her entire life, she's based her plans on someone else and not herself. Sasuke had lived for vengeance, had lived to get power, to get strong, had lived for the promise that one day he could lie down and the voices in his head would quiet and he could finally rest. Sasuke (-kun) had based his life on the dead and no one could take that away from him.

He's coming very close to accomplishing his goal, the one that would most likely destroy him.

And Naruto – Hokage-ship, and recognition, and love, because Naruto has such a big, big heart, and Sakura has the feeling that he might succeed after all, because he's irrepressible and indomitable and foolishly heroic – Naruto, who was so annoying and exasperating she couldn't help but admit him as friend, as comrade, as leader. Naruto, whose grins and eyes sometimes burnt her corneas, so bright they were, and they said on dark moonless night, follow me for I shall be your guide, your sun, your light, your center.

(Sasuke the knight protector and Naruto the prince she used to pretend a long time ago and believed it too but she could have believed anything in the days of Team Seven except where does that leave Sakura, not beautiful enough to be a damsel in distress, and without the wish to be one in any case?)

Sasuke would kill his brother, his hero, the dark nucleus of his existence – Sasuke would kill Itachi and revenge his clan and probably die – except he'd be happy in death as he had never been in life, and who could fault him for finally being at peace, for finally forgiving himself?

And Naruto – Naruto would still have things to live for, would still become Hokage, because even if Sasuke had been his friend, Naruto had always wanted to be Hokage, had wanted it before Team Seven and Kakashi-sensei and Sasuke and Sakura, and Sasuke had never begrudged him that. Naruto, because he could not save that bastard, his rival, his best friend, his brother, would save everyone else, which might be enough and might not be, but Naruto would be Hero.

And Sakura? What about Sakura?

(why are you asking me? Kakashi-sensei's eye had crinkled merrily at the corners, and Sasuke-kun had sneered quietly, and Naruto had looked at her with big incandescently puzzled eyes, and Inner Sakura giggled snidely hic hic hic why are you asking them?)


And you learn that you really can endure... that you really are strong,
And you really do have worth.


She wonders if maybe this is why she sits alone at Ichiraku, poking at her sodden ramen noodles, the stools on either (both) side of her empty. She sits with her elbows tucked in and her knees drawn up, holding herself tight, close, tense, stiff like death, and fearing, with each breath, the possibility that today here now she might shatter into a thousand jagged shards of memories and broken hearts and Team Seven.

(kaboom, she thinks, kaboom kaboom kaboom, but that's not really the sound of shattering, is it?)

She wonders if maybe this is why she sits alone, while Naruto screams profanities at Jiraiya, and Sasuke glares with crimson insanity at Orochimaru.

She wonders if this is why Tsunade has only heaved scrolls and scrolls upon her, has taught her no jutsu, no healing – has not taught her at all, really, but tells her instead to read and read and read.

She wonders if this – this patient waiting, hoping, faith – if that had been what Kakashi-sensei had meant when he'd grinned his crooked smile and said casually that maybe her chakra manipulation was too good – maybe she could slip once in a while, just to learn something.

(chichichichichi shrieked the birds of the Chidori and shlapshlapshlap blew the wind of the Rasengan and what does Sakura have? kaboom she thinks, kaboom like a dynamite, holes in mountains and craters in the earth kaboom kaboom)

That is the rule, isn't it? Haruno Sakura, who gets to be smart and pretty and obedient, who gets to be loyal and clever and caring, who gets to be ultimately useless, must be the one who waits to welcome her boys home.

She stands up, and leaves her ramen uneaten on the counter. For a moment, she remembers how Naruto would have shrieked at such waste and how Sasuke-kun would have rolled his eyes - but no. No, not anymore. And she shakes her head, tracing her steps back to the Hokage Tower, the cadence of her steps rhythmic to the thumping of her heart, the beat a metronome of i, i, i, i, I, I, I. No I in Team, she thinks, pace faltering, but thinks again, no Team to begin with. She was Haruno Sakura, the Godaime's pupil. That would do for now. Maybe one day - she looks up, smiling a little, whimsical and small - one day, she'd welcome them home, Hatake Kakashi's Team Seven – but until that day, she doesn't have to necessarily wait and she doesn't have to necessarily be useless.

The Godaime smiles that afternoon, when Sakura finally snaps and punches the wall and damns the scrolls – smiles and laughs, and begins to teach.


and you learn
and you learn
with every goodbye, you learn...

"After a While" by Veronica A. Shoffstall

In which this author likes to hear herself talk: This wasn't the fic I promised promised promised Ori, so a thousand apologies. I am working on it, though a good deal of that working includes mass procrastination, but! - I will get it done sooner or later (hopefully more sooner than later, especially since my perception of time elapsement is skewed. A lot.) However - um - I could not help this bitof maudlin sentimentality, because I watched Shippuden this weekend and HOMGendoffillersSASUKEISBACK!-ness ensued, most of which was followed by "so sorry animator people if I ever directed any unkind thoughts to you ever ever ever because Sasuke-kun (and his chest) is so PRETTYANDSHINYANDasdlfksdfl;kj." Yes. ::nods:: So - in celebration of that, I dug this out of my dusty files and finished it, because, y'know, Team 7 is together again which deserves some sort of celebration. Even the angsty kinds.

So - uh - review?