Disclaimer: I don't even know what I'm doing. (Read as: Naruto isn't mine.)
Author's Note: Um, well, to be honest, I'm not that big of a Naruto fan. Eh heh… I mean, I sort of follow it because two of my best friends are obsessed with it, but… this and Ultimatum are probably the only Naruto-related fanfics I'll ever write… unless I write Zena and Nina more presents (which, incidentally, this fic is. I wrote it over the summer, though, so I dunno why it took me so long to share it with you guys… oh well!).
Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy! XD
He remembered a time when he loved his work. When he craved the attention missions brought him; the adrenaline as it pumped through his veins, the thrill of danger and the stench of fresh blood. Panting, sweating, the scream of shiriken as they flew through the air…
How he had savored the challenge. The fear. The knowledge that, despite the odds, he was superior.
But those feelings were nothing but distant memories now— vague, shadowed, as if from some other life… and perhaps they were.
When was the last time he felt joy in a job? When was the last time he'd relished a battle? He honestly couldn't recall… A month? A year? An eternity? Did it even matter?
Nothing else mattered. Nothing. Not his work, his life, his reputation… no more did the adventure of assignments call to him; there was no thirst for glory to whet his skills. He merely felt empty, useless.
He wanted to go home.
The bitter hiss of fury caught him off guard; he gave a small jerk, head snapping downward— eyes finding the speaker with little difficulty. Still, the words had been unexpected… what with all the blood, he'd been sure his rival was dead. No matter… the job would be over soon.
"It's nothing personal," he murmured, placing a weightless foot on the writhing man's cracked temple. The dying creature screamed in agony, spitting curses like acid. "But the sooner you're gone, the sooner I can go back."
The beaten ninja didn't respond. Rather, he thrashed and sobbed, clawing at his face and begging for his friends' help. His fallen fellows remained stationary, glassy-eyed and stiff.
He regarded the young man with a mixture of disgust and pity. So young, so ignorant… the knowledge of what he must do filled him with revulsion and contempt. And yet… if it meant that he could go back…
Both eyes closed.
Then there was silence.
He didn't really like it, that silence. Once he would have savored it, coveting it like a victor's trophy. But now it only seemed heavy… cold and alone as he was in the purple glow of twilight.
A sigh fell from him, melancholy and dour as he stuffed his hands in his pockets and rolled his shoulders, stretching the tense muscles of his back and neck. As he did so, a cool breeze rippled through the clearing, disturbing the flower-laden branches of a nearby tree.
A jolt of realization shot down his spine, curdling his stomach. Sakura blossoms…
It was spring. Spring. When had spring come? When had the snow melted? When had the birds returned? The flowers bloomed? How long had it been? Had he really been away for… for months?
Horrified, transfixed, he twisted blindly towards the sweetly-scented beacon— oblivious to the blood and bodies he disturbed.
"Sakura…" he breathed, the name tumbling off his tongue like a long-neglected promise— like a treasure he'd forgotten he possessed. Another whirl of wind, another gentle rustle… a shower of petals swirled through the sky, reaching for the rising moon.
Flowers—pink like her hair—leaves—green like her eyes— moon—round and full as she had been when he'd left her, left her waiting at the village gates, forced to go on yet another mission…
The weight of his revulsion, his longing, his weariness, his apathy, his loneliness crashed down upon him…
He fell to his knees in the scarlet ocean.
"I'm coming back…" he whispered— though to who, he wasn't sure. To himself, to the decaying strangers, to the smiling mirage who's memory thrived in the cherry tree… His calloused, blood-stained fingers clenched into fists as he watched the innocent blossoms sway in the night. "Just wait a little longer… I'll be home soon."
There was no reply—the clearing was empty. And yet…
As he watched, as he stared, a small flower detached itself from a distant branch… spinning, dancing, floating on air before coming to a gentle stop in a crimson puddle. The thick liquid rippled slightly as the silken craft glided forward— softly brushing his knee.
And he took the blossom with him as he began the long journey back home.