Hello! Yes, I'm back!
I know I've basically been M.I.A. all summer, but I promise you, I am indeed back and I'm bringing with my an abundance of new work! But first, I should explain why you're all here...
For those of you who have read Amongst Hell Are Angels before, you'll know I finished it a while back and made a solemn promise to never again touch this story and to never write a sequel.
You're here because I broke both promises.
You see, a couple weeks after I finished writing AHAA, I began to have these dreams about a peculiar young girl and I couldn't get her out of my head no matter what. It didn't take me long to realize that this girl was my sequel, and in order to get her out of my head, I would have to write down her story. So I conceded and spent my last semester in high school writing out her story. To refresh my memory on a couple points, I had to reread the original.
And I was horrified.
Why did any of you read that? How? Haha, those first few chapters were awful! Granted, I was only thirteen when I began AHAA, but I knew when I read them again that I'd have no choice. I couldn't ignore my duty to fix my work any more than I could ignore its imminent sequel.
So. Grudgingly, bitterly, and unwillingly, I spent my entire summer re-writing this story.
If you read the story recently, you're bound to find a plethora of revisions (some changes were very drastic, some quite subtle). My greatest hope is that many of you can recognize and appreciate the changes I made. If not, my torture was in vain, but at least I'll be satisfied.
I will give you more of an update at the end of this chapter (and I want to discuss some of my literary techniques/decisions at the ends of each chapter if you're interested at all in my writing process). But for now, I'll let you get to it. I just wanted to explain from the start why you were alerted that I updated this story. Those of you who know me as a writer know I never leave these obnoxiously long author notes at the beginning of stories. I always save them for the end.
So, I'll let you be.
He called her weak.
Sakura glided through the fallen pink petals, the branches of the elegant cherry blossom trees reaching out to brush her arms with silken, rose-hued fingers. She turned her head upward, searching the shallow, transparent canopy they created above her. It was a flimsy roof, one that could protect from neither rain nor sleet nor snow. Her namesake, for all its beauty, was no more than a pretty decoration against a sky full of distant diamond stars. Inhaling softly, she brought her gaze to the illuminant yellow-white orb that hung stark against the velvet black. Regardless of its tranquil glow or impressive size, the sight of it gave Sakura chills, from the tip of her spine right down to the heels of her feet. There was nothing brilliant about a full moon like the one above her.
He called her pathetic.
But it could only be expected. A full moon had always been an omen of ill tidings for the Village Hidden in the Leaves. The Kyuubi attack nineteen years ago, the night of Hinata's attempted kidnap, what drove Gaara's former demon to awaken and go berserk, the night when Lee had died beside her in battle… She took another deep breath to give her strength as the memories washed over her, and she let the most prominent of her nightmares creep forth into her mind. It was eerily similar, this night… It reminded her so precisely of the moment he had left her…and never returned.
He called her annoying.
A breeze caught her hair and tossed it up around her face, tickling her cheeks and blinding her with yet more pretty, silky pink. Yet, she didn't giggle as she might have done as a child. She simply sighed and reached up to catch her short locks and pull them back behind her ear. As the wind continued to dance around her, stirring up petals and tugging at her clothing, she paused, and let the tears roll quietly from her eyes. They ran down her face, sliding down her chin to drip from her jaw onto the worn stone path she followed. It was difficult not to wonder… What might it have been like, if it had been Sasuke's warm hands caressing her rather than the wind's? Would it be like in her dreams, to feel his touch, alive and powerful on her skin? She bit her bottom lip, breathing in shakily once more, and closed her eyes against the hope such ponderings could bring her. It was a hope they brought too easily.
But above all…
She let it all out in a slow, heavy exhale, and turned her eyes up to the sky once again. The moon was still there, as were the stars and the trees, and she still stood beneath them. And she was still alone. Even the wind had moved on, and her hair and the petals settled around her. Sakura blinked the last of the tears away, let them slip to the ground, and slowly unclenched her grip from her stomach. Setting her arms to her sides, she put one foot forward, and moved on as well.
What truly meant anything at all…
She was careful to make a note of every building she passed on her midnight stroll. Eyes a subdued green, almost blue, they took in everything and filed it all away in the mental scrapbook she'd prepared especially for this day. The Ninja Academy, the Memorial Stone, Ichiraku Ramen, Yamanaka Flower Shop, the Forest of Death, the Chuunin Exam Dome, the Hokage Faces, and the Hokage Tower had all earned special frames so far. And now she came to the last place on her checklist. She slowed to a stop before the smooth stone bench, its carved granite surface gleaming cold beneath the moon. It was simple in design, a little random in its location, worn smooth, and full of cracks. She stared at it blankly, and wondered at how it was possible to hold so much hatred for an object that was not only inanimate, but in all manners, insignificant. But this was the place where everything had changed. Where the fairy tale had begun its descent into reality. And as much as she had struggled against the darkness, the moon was no shield against the night.
He called her useless.
Sakura's first encounter with Sasuke after he'd left had been a brief one. She'd been full of adrenaline, standing with her teammates by her sides. For all it was worth, even if they'd failed in bringing him back, she'd at least felt powerful during that battle. Even if they would have ultimately lost and probably died had Orochimaru not called him off… Sakura had been able to stand her ground and put up a fight.
Her second encounter had not been quite as motivating.
Dropping onto the bench, she steadied her breaths and leaned over her knees, placing her forehead in the cradle of her palms. She closed her eyes, and lost herself to the shadows of that day. The new Team Kakashi had infiltrated another of Orochimaru's headquarters, one dangerously close to the Fire Country. They weren't looking for Sasuke this time, but they found him anyway.
Well, she had found him.
They'd gotten split up. The traps were elaborate and there were many enemies; it was all they could do to stay on their toes, but before she knew it, she was traveling the tunnels on her own, with nothing but torchlight to guide her. It was an empty training room that she stumbled across him. It was a wide chamber, though not a deep one, impossibly dark, with a monstrous multi-headed snake carved into the wall furthest from the entrance. Orochimaru was rather fond of those, she remembered thinking. Large braziers were lit in two corners of the room, behind him, making him a shadow against the light.
Him. She froze when she saw him. There was no way she could have known it was him; all she could make out was his silhouette against the flames spitting and hissing behind him. But she knew, because her skin started to crawl and her stomach clenched, and it was nothing like when she'd been younger. There were no butterflies in her tummy, no bubbles in her throat. It was raw heat crawling from her core to her face, to her limbs, to her womanhood. It flooded her veins and made her blood steam until she thought she'd faint.
He was right in front of her, as quick as lightning, and his fingers found her face in the dark. But as she trembled beneath his touch, her eyes searched up and found his, scarlet instead of black. How many times had she seen him use that Sharingan? That beautiful, bloody Sharingan? To date, the count wasn't high, and never had he gazed upon her with it so freely. He'd never had a need to. Her knees went weak, and she gasped as she lost her balance, but his arms steadied her and she melted in his hold.
His flesh was hot, the large folds of his shirt hanging around his waist, his chest bare and covered in a thin layer of sweat. The room was hot. She hadn't remembered it being so hot, but it suddenly was, and she couldn't breathe. As she let down all her defenses, he wrapped her close to him, pulled her flush against his body. Her eyelids fluttered as he leaned toward her, his nose brushing her hair, his breath ghosting her neck, his lips fluttering over her ear. Her jaw. He paused just in front of her, mouth so close to hers.
It was a moment of polar opposites. Her breath was already labored, her chest heaving, her eyelids heavy, but he was still as stone. The only living thing about him was the warmth of his body, the steady breath against her mouth, and the glare of his eyes flaming above her.
"You came for me again," he said, his voice much deeper than she remembered. She didn't recognize it anymore. But his voice was far from her mind as his hand slid up the curve of her hip to grip her ribs tight. The other cupped her neck, thumb stroking her jaw, back and forth, back and forth, feather soft. "Do you love me so much, you would do anything for me? Would you really trust me so easily, Sakura?"
"Yes," she sighed, before she even had a moment to think. Even so, as shameful as her answer was, it had been true. Her heart stopped when she saw his smile, that one he'd always had as a kid. One corner up, a smirk, with his eyebrow cocked ever so slightly.
"But don't you see," he whispered, and as he spoke, raising his hand to brush aside her hair affectionately, his smile diminished and the fierce flames in his eyes became ice. "I do not need someone who can hardly stand on her own feet. Because a person who fails to stay true to her loyalties and think with her head instead of her fragile little heart…is useless, Sakura."
She blinked up at him. Heart frozen. Breath frozen. Body frozen.
Frozen by those eyes.
His lips brushed hers in a ghost of a kiss as he bent to her ear.
"You're useless, Sakura," he repeated, as if she hadn't understood the first time. "I have never needed you. And I never will."
The tears were coming again. Sakura shook her head furiously, until the dark, flame-lit chamber dissolved around her, and the moon and the night fell back into place. Gasping, she pressed her palms into her eyes and groaned against clenched teeth. How looking back on that moment made her want to scream.
He'd been right. Utterly, perfectly right. Even as he told her, she'd been completely helpless, unable to defend herself or even deny his cruel words. She could only stand there and take it, as he whispered the words she'd dreaded most. They were the words she'd fought against since she'd been a genin, and there he was, reassuring her…that nothing had changed. He was still at the top.
And she couldn't reach him from the bottom.
He told her she was useless.
Useless as a shinobi.
Useless as a friend.
Useless as a woman.
If it hadn't been for Naruto finding them…she had no idea what else he'd have had to say. But he'd had no choice but to release her when Naruto charged in, and as they fought and destroyed the small room, she'd fallen back, into Sai, who, surprised and uncertain of what to do, simply held her. Too stunned and heartbroken to function, she just…crumbled.
She wept noiselessly into her hands. It was a long-standing requirement for shinobi to not show emotions, but she didn't care. She'd never cared. It was a well-known fact among her friends, and even some of her enemies, that her emotions were never behind a mask. The tears came as naturally as oxygen to her lungs, and fighting them was as futile as battling an Uchiha. She stood no match.
Until now. It would be the final time she would let those burning, salty tears cross the line between the foolish, naïve girl she used to be, and the mature, powerful kunoichi she was choosing to be.
She sniffled once, long and hard, and then sat up with a flick of her hair. Her swollen eyes ached and her throat burned with tears, but she faced Konoha and the lights that stood out against the shadowed sky. The final time. Yes, tonight would be the final time, the final night. She was finished.
She stood and made her way home.
She climbed in through her bedroom window, making not a noise, hidden among the shadows. She got to work immediately, before she lost her nerve. First, she grabbed up her travel pack and propped it up on her bed, unzipped. Making next to no noise, Sakura dashed around the room, gathering medicines, anesthetics, bandages, needles, stitching wire, scrolls, soldier pills, herbs, kunai, shuriken, senbon… Everything she'd need for the journey.
Her rushing came to a halt in front of her dresser. It was bare, save for a collection of photos she'd saved over the years. Gaze traveling over each of them, she relaxed and turned toward them with a sigh. As her eyes fell on the first of the pictures, she was, again, transported to another time.
The first was the picture of the old Team 7, of her and Naruto and Sasuke and Kakashi. She still remembered the combined thrill and disappointment she'd felt upon receiving her genin teammates. A sad laugh found her throat as she reached out to touch her face, young and innocent and grinning with no worries of the darkness that lay ahead. It was so easy to look at that child and see her for who she'd been. Silly, foolish, and stupid. But even so, it had been a happy time, and the picture filled her with nostalgia. What she'd give to have that Naruto, so easy to understand when she thought she'd known everything about him, when she hadn't had a clue about his agony or the Kyuubi. She missed knowing without a doubt that he was a moron and she hated him and Sasuke was so much cooler. Oh, how she missed that Sasuke. The sullen, brooding boy who'd always ignored her…but had a kind smile when things got rough. The boy who'd protected her and saved her life, who had pushed her to keep going, whether he knew it or not. It had been easy knowing she loved him and that he was cool and that she wanted nothing more than his attention. Back before she knew anything about the hatred in his heart or his thirst for vengeance.
The next picture skipped time by a mile. It was years later, when childhood had long since bid them farewell. The face that smiled at the camera was more like her own reflection than the freshly graduated girl's. Heart-shaped, grown into her large forehead, hair kept stubbornly short, cheeks brushed with blush, eyes lined the way Tsunade had taught her. She looked feminine, older, pretty. They'd been at Ichiraku Ramen, she and Naruto. The day she'd given in and consented to going on a date with him. She smiled fondly, remembering the look on his face when she'd said yes, and then the way he'd laughed despite her attempts to convince him it was only a reward for becoming a jonin before her. He looked so different. His boyish face had matured quickly, and the young man who'd returned with Jiraiya was nothing close to who she'd said good-bye to years before. Even in the picture, he had a strong jaw and warm eyes and a solid grin. She tilted her head at the picture thoughtfully. He was handsome. All sunlight and blue skies. He'd brought her orange roses that day. She hadn't known roses could be that orange.
The third picture was falling backward through time, to more innocence and naivety. But it was such a beautiful picture, she couldn't bring herself to think badly on the moment. In the flower fields, over a decade ago, she and Ino would spend hours. They would talk and giggle and gossip, gather flowers and weave crowns from their stems. That was so far back, it was difficult remembering how it'd felt. Not even Sasuke had been a trouble back then. Those moments with Ino had built her into who she was. That was her base, her foundation, her roots that ran deepest and truest. From that place, she could draw real confidence and power. Ino, who had never had trouble fighting off her enemies, who'd never hesitated in the face of hardship, who would never think to turn away from someone in need. Everyone knew Ino had a green thumb, but her talents weren't reserved for plants alone. It was her love and care that had nurtured Sakura to life and helped her to blossom. Even now, after all the fighting, Ino was closer to Sakura than most anyone. It was hard to come between a kunoichi and her teammates, of course: Naruto and Sai would always be especially special to her. But Ino was another woman. And between women, they held bonds entirely their own.
Then came a recent photo. It was taken maybe a year ago, possibly less. She'd stopped keeping track lately, of the days and the weeks and the months. They didn't mean so much anymore. But Sakura recognized the woman in the picture as her own reflection, standing on a raised platform, caught shaking Tsunade's hand. A smile was frozen on her face, but it was tight at the corners and didn't quite meet her eyes. It had been a ceremony Tsunade had held to recognize and honor some of the shinobi in the village, after all the many struggles they'd been through. Naruto, of course, was called. Sai. Kakashi. Shikamaru. Neji. A slew of others. Asuma and Lee were mentioned, as well as many others who had given their lives protecting Konoha. Sakura had been genuinely surprised when her name had been included with the others. She hadn't really done anything mentionable, especially after her failures confronting Sasuke. What good was she? A medic who grew weak at the sight of her love? A kunoichi who let her emotions rule her mind? But she'd accepted the award with as much dignity as she could. She wouldn't let anyone convince her she deserved it. Not even Naruto. Especially not Naruto.
Lee. His was the fifth, of a day they'd gone to eat at Ichiraku after a long mission. He had playfully scolded her for not telling him she was taking the picture, so he could pose, but it was Sakura's favorite photo of him. His smile was more serious than goofy and his eyebrows weren't quite so bushy. Even his small grin was pleasant and controlled on his surprisingly attractive face. He was never meant to have Sasuke's or Neji's good looks, but the photo captured a man who was good both in and out, someone who had aged wisely in his short lifetime. Sakura closed her eyes and let herself remember the last time she'd seen him. He'd been as fierce as he'd always been, standing up against those bandits. But they'd had more than tricks up their sleeves, and if it hadn't been for Lee's sacrifice, their entire team might have died with him. But he had saved them all, and when he'd looked back at him that last time, before opening all the gates his body could handle, he had worn that same smile on his face. The same smile he wore in that picture. After all his isolation as a child, his death was mourned throughout the village.
Lastly, was the picture of everyone, taken after Lee's funeral. Every previous member of Teams 7, 8, and 9, Team Guy, and Gaara and his siblings. The only ones missing were Sasuke, Lee, and Asuma. But everyone else was there, and what a collection they all made. A timid girl with kind eyes and a rosy blush. A young man grinning ear to ear, arm draped across a dog larger than a wolf. A tall, cloaked man who rarely spoke a word. A beautiful sad-eyed woman with a boy cradled carefully in her arms. A busty blonde, confidence brimming from her glittering eyes. A lazy boy who'd never admit how seriously he took his duty. A robust man with a cheeky, closed-eyed smile and more loyalty than he knew what to do with. A tall, pale man with a pretty face and hard white eyes. A girl whose cheeks were still round and her eyes wide and warm. An older man whose smile was practiced, but his face aged and his eyes hard. A solemn young boy who'd grown handsome despite his scar and his past. A woman with a cocked eyebrow, hands on her hips. A man with paint crossing his face and a smirk on his lips. A boy with a face like chiseled marble and a smile that was brilliantly, against all odds, real. A man who never seemed to get older, whose face remained a mystery, but whose smile was as familiar as air. A shinobi with strong blue eyes and a measured smile, shocking blonde hair and a powerful arm wrapped around her shoulders. Herself. As beautiful as she would ever be, hair short and pink, face milky white, eyes sparkling blue-green. The picture showed how each of them had not only grown, but how they'd come together, regardless of how different they were. It was a picture that gave her hope, that maybe one day, the world would be full of peace, that tolerance would be less a responsibility and more a willing choice. It was her favorite picture. And it was a shame it would always be a memory. They'd never join like that again…
She ended up taking four of the pictures with her, tucking them safely in one of the smaller pouches of her bag. It wasn't a necessity, but she decided that such a small indulgence couldn't hurt, and might keep her sane during her travels. As time ticked, she settled down at her desk one last time and scribbled out six letters to the six most important people in her life: her mother, Ino, Tsunade, Kakashi, Sai, and, of course, Naruto. Each gave a brief explanation of her absence, but mostly expressed how grateful she was to each of them and how she would never forget them and miss them for the rest of her days. She placed Kakashi's, Naruto's, and Sai's by the picture of Team 7, Tsunade's by the picture of her, and the remaining two between them. She would have left behind Ino's photo as well, but she couldn't bring herself to abandon it. She made sure to mention it in the letter.
She zipped her bag shut and threw it over her shoulder, where it landed with a thud and rested, heavy and full, on her back. She had to take in a deep breath before leaping through her open window. Gathering chakra to her feet, Sakura jumped from one roof to the next, skipping over buildings as though they were no more than stones in a lake.
By the time she dropped to the ground in front of Konoha's gate, she was fighting tears again. There was still the slightest trace of doubt harbored in her mind. It wasn't too late to turn back, put everything away, rip up the letters, and go on living her life as normally as she could. She could handle the pain and depression that came with loneliness. She could hide it.
But as quickly as the thought had come, she dismissed it with a shake of her head. The life she'd been living was not her own, and her selfishness burned more brightly than her honor. Turning back would be the easy thing to do, and taking the easy route would just prove she was a weak and scared little girl. But that wasn't who Sakura Haruno was anymore. She was someone new now.
Sakura turned to face her home for the last time. After she walked away, there would be no coming back. She sighed, and found that she had no tears for this moment. Of all the times she'd cried, she felt like now was the most appropriate, but for the first time, her eyes were dry. If anything, she wished she had one more moment with Naruto, to see him in person one last time. After all the years, the battles, the fighting, the tears, the smiles… She would miss him the most. Six years ago, she never would have believed it. Believed in Naruto or believed what she was about to do.
"I truly am sorry, Naruto, but…"
She took another deep breath, and turned away from the village. Past the gate, the world was full of shadows, and though she knew the land for miles outside of Konoha, it might as well have been an entirely different continent. Eyes narrowed, she took the first step.
"I will have my revenge."
Yeah? Yeah? Can you see the difference? Lord, I certainly hope so. I didn't totally rework the whole thing (I'd never survive that), so it still isn't a brilliant piece of work, but it'll do for now.
So, it was brought to my attention in a review a while back that my portrayal of Sakura was very undesirable, almost insulting as I took it. They said they didn't like that I'd made Sakura a crybaby who deserted her village because "Sasuke had called her some names".
That's the point.
Here's where my literary explanation comes in, so if you don't care, move on, my friends. But if any of you were ever curious about Sakura's blatant weakness in this chapter, I'm here to tell you: because that's her character. Many young/aspiring writers make the mistake of making their main female protagonists perfect. You see this in actions movies, for example. The main character's love interest is kickass, flawless, witty, independent, cool, sexy, kind, etc. But I'm letting you know. Perfect characters are boring. Think about the most popular stories of our generation.
Harry Potter. Lord of the Rings. The Hunger Games. Fifty Shades of Grey. Speak. Now go back and look at some classics. Hamlet. Romeo & Juliet. Dr. Faustus. The Stranger. As I Lay Dying.
The best stories have miserably, horribly flawed characters. That's what makes it interesting. That's what makes you both love and hate a character. Because you can relate. You see your own mistakes, and it drives you crazy, and it's so much more exciting when they succeed.
So, that is why Sakura is exceptionally weak in the exposition of the story. Here, her ideals and priorities are unbalanced because that's who her character is in the show. Masashi Kishimoto (the creator of Naruto) explained in an interview that characters like Sakura and Lee were designed to represent blatant human weakness. Here, she portrays the insecure girl she thinks she's leaving behind. Killing Sasuke will restore the sense of worth he took away, and she's selfish (and naive) enough to think that she needs that more than she needs Konoha. Also, let me emphasize "worthless" here. Standing beside her teammates like Naruto and Sai (as you'll see in later chapters) only makes her feel more worthless, and so she is infinitely unhappy. Read between the lines. Lastly, I'd just like to point out that she is ironically contradicting herself. You can't make a decision to become mature. Maturity comes with experience and happens without one knowing. Making a conscious choice to be more mature only makes you an idiot.
Keep in mind, Sakura is one of my favorite characters. This story merely highlights her lovely flaws.
Anyway, on to my life. I've graduated, worked my ass off all summer (every day, double shifts), and now I'm at East Carolina University. Super excited, though being socially reclusive makes things a little lonely. But I have my roommate, who was a friend of mine in high school, so I'm making due. I'm a theatre arts major in case anyone was wondering, with a concentration in stage management, so all my classes are very exciting so far. For those interested, I'll be starting a vlog soon. I was going to create a new account on Youtube, but I'll probably just stick with "AnimeCountDown". I'm very fond of my name. Speaking of which, I've also revived my Twitter. Just in case you wanted to know. Anywho, that's all I wanted to say. A quick update on what's going on. I hope you can really see the changes in the story, and dear lord, I hope you like the changes I made in the future. Most of the changes are the subtle interactions between the characters that made the fic extremely OOC. Granted, most of this is pretty OOC anyway. But I don't care, that's why it's my fanfiction and Kishimoto isn't begging me for the rights to use it in his manga.