Chapter 4: Are you Alright?
Tsunade wasn't the type of person who worried overmuch. Sure, there were lots of things to worry about: bills, civilian troubles, common complaints, possible invasion problems...the list went on, really. But, because she was Hokage (and had been for some time now), worrying simply wasn't an option. She had work to do, and her first priority was making sure to be what others saw as the strong, fearless ninja-village leader—one who always kept Konoha and its people safe.
But even fearless leaders had their weaknesses.
She wouldn't exactly say Haruno Sakura was her weakness. But nevertheless, seeing the girl back, after so many months, was quite a shock to the system.
Especially in such a state.
"Sakura...what happened to you?"
It hadn't been the best wake-up call—Shizune yelling in a panicked frenzy was enough to make anyone get a headache, and the Hokage wasn't an exception. No, not when she had a terrible hangover, after having such a mighty drinking spree last night. When Shizune had woken her up, she had growled—long and loud and very, very grumpily. She was not happy. And she was about to yell a hearty "Get out!" just so she could doze off a few minutes longer.
That is, until she saw a flash of pink.
Until she saw who it was.
Until she realized why Shizune had been in a frenzy in the first place.
The anger and irritation had gone, as Tsunade immediately dismissed Shizune, and told her to make herself useful instead of standing there like a gaping idiot (which her assistant actually was doing, sadly). When Shizune vanished, Tsunade then turned her attention to the cause of the ruckus—and, if she admitted to herself, the real cause of her own miserable drinking spree.
The pink-haired, seventeen-year old girl that had vanished for so long was now back, and standing in front of her in what could only be called a casual, normal manner—the way most people did when called in, or reporting for a briefing, or partaking information about a mission (well, except Naruto—that boy really was a brat sometimes).
But there was nothing normal about her. She was wounded, and she was limping, and she was bloody. That would have been normal, too, except for one thing—she was also smiling.
And Tsunade couldn't help but think the smile seemed disturbing.
It looked empty. Almost insincere.
"Nothing happened, shishou," Sakura replied, voice casual. Her head was directed at the Hokage—but her eyes were interestingly fixated on her mentor's right shoulder. "I got the mission done. You know I would never fail you."
There was no bitter note in the words, none at all...so why did Tsunade feel that there was, somewhere inside there?
And it wasn't exactly what she wanted to hear. She tried again.
"Did they capture you, Sakura?"
A pause. The smile remained the same.
"Yes," was the simple reply.
"Then? What happened?"
"Nothing. I escaped. I finished the mission," Sakura repeated.
"You finished a mission that was only supposed to take one month—"
"I am sorry, shishou, if I failed you. It won't happen again."
Again, it wasn't the answer she wanted to hear—nor did it make her feel relieved. With a frown, Tsunade eyed Sakura seriously, trying to gauge some sort of reaction—any reaction, for that matter.
"Who broke your fingers?"
For the first time since the girl came into the office, she looked up, surprise evident in her expression.
"How did you—"
"I'm a medic. I taught you. I know the technique you used to partly heal your hands—and your ribs."
Surprise turned to understanding, before Sakura looked to the spot on her mentor's shoulder again. "And I survived because of your teachings, shishou. Thank you."
It was a stiff thank you, and they both knew it.
There was another pause—it seemed there was going to be a lot of that in this conversation.
"Sakura, I want to know what happened while you were captured."
"I will write a report—"
The Hokage pounded a fist on the table, cracking it in the process.
"I want to know now," she growled.
She didn't seem to notice that the crack grew, nearly splitting the table in two—neither did Sakura, for that matter. The girl was still busily staring at Tsunade's shoulder.
"I was questioned, shishou," Sakura replied evenly.
"I will give the full details in the report."
"May I go for healing now, shishou?"
There was something in the voice that Tsunade couldn't quite decipher—what was it? Why did it sound so...odd? She wanted to find out—she was worried, however much it didn't show. However much strict she sounded.
But Sakura needed healing. She looked weak and weary, and looked just about ready to sleep and rest. Maybe, just maybe, time to adjust was what Tsunade's young apprentice needed.
With a sigh, Tsunade finally decided to give that.
"Okay, Sakura," she dismissed, with a slight wave of her hand. "You may go. Go to the hospital and get your rest there."
Sakura nodded once, in a polite gesture. Then, slowly, she turned, and limped her way to the office's front door. When she was on the verge of opening it, Tsunade spoke up again.
Silence. Sakura stopped, her hand resting on the doorknob.
"...you will be alright, won't you?"
Silence, again. She was so still, Tsunade thought the girl didn't hear her. The hand remained on the door, gripping it.
Then Sakura nodded.
"Of course. I'm a ninja."
No tone. No hint. No emotion.
The doorknob turned, and opened, and out she went. The door closed. For a moment, Tsunade wondered if it was just her imagination, or if the person that had just stood in front of her was actually really a stranger.
It wasn't the girl who smiled sincerely, and laughed the sweetest laugh all the time. It wasn't the bubbly girl who shouted loudly, whenever her temper was peaked.
It wasn't the girl who wore her heart in her sleeve.
With a sigh, Tsunade looked down at her table, grimacing at the mess she had made—damn it, looked like she was going to have to buy a new one. Frowning, she took out another bottle of sake—one she had kept hidden in a secret compartment, so Shizune wouldn't see.
She drank. She pondered.
And she worried.
"Sakura...what really happened to you?"
He couldn't believe the first thing he noticed about her was her hair. Not the color, though that in itself was already enough to gain both wanted or unwanted attention. It was still vibrant, and it was still naturally one-of-a-kind—seeing it made no mistake who the person standing in front of him was.
But, no—it wasn't the color he first noticed...it was the length.
She had grown her hair, in her absence.
But she had cut it jagged somewhere along the way.
Before Sasuke could contemplate why he was even thinking about something as stupid as hair, a blur of orange and black whizzed by his side. On impulse, Sasuke took out his hand from his pocket, and forcefully restrained the loudmouthed blond by the wrist. It was kind of hard, because Naruto was as energetic as ever—bouncy and giddy, with happiness dancing so obviously in his bright blue eyes. He resisted—Sasuke simply gripped harder.
"Teme, let me go!"
"Dobe—look at her. You will crush her injuries, you idiot."
Naruto ranted about being called dead last again, but the Uchiha ignored him. Naruto whined—but after a while, it seemed he understood what his teammate was trying to point out. Sheepishly, the loudmouth turned to Sakura again, grinning and scratching his head at the same time.
"Neh, Sakura-chan," he babbled on apologetically, "I'm sorry if I almost crushed your injuries, as the bastard pointed out...but I'm just so happy to see you! You're alive!" His voice got louder at the last two words, making Sasuke roll his eyes. Naruto grinned more.
Sakura looked at him, and gave out a small smile.
Well, silence for Sasuke and Sakura—Naruto kept on talking, about how worried he was, how they were all worried about her, about how they thought she wouldn't come back, and all the other stuff he could cram in his sentences with the least pauses possible (knowing Naruto, those were gonna be long, long sentences). Sasuke ignored him, and Sakura still politely listened, nodding every now and then.
But her eyes were on the ground.
And Sasuke's eyes were on her.
He observed her, wondering why she wasn't looking at any of them. She didn't seem traumatized, or any of the sort—in fact, she looked perfectly fine, minus the bruises and the blood (which probably weren't all hers) and the limping. She didn't look like she needed much help, or like she was going to go into female hysterics any second now.
She didn't look like she'd been missing for more than four months.
"—and we looked for you everywhere, because we knew something must have been wrong, and you have been missing for so long—even the bastard here was growing worried, even if he didn't show it! He brooded a lot, and though I did not brood I missed you so much, too, because I didn't know—"
"Teme, you really shouldn't interrupt—"
"Sakura," Sasuke repeated, still ignoring the blond. It annoyed him that Sakura wasn't even bothering to look up—but she seemed to be listening. He had no idea what to say next, because in truth, they'd never really gotten to know each other again after he had come back—she had always been busy with the hospital, and it wasn't like he really cared what her activities had been. They were only ever together for team trainings, which wasn't even that much (usually twice, thrice a week).
Her disappearance didn't exactly help, too.
"What happened?" he finally asked.
"Mission. It got delayed. I had to fix it."
The answer seemed automatic, and Sasuke remained silent. Naruto, however, beamed, oblivious of anything.
"Neh, Sakura-chan...were you captured?" he asked worriedly, while still beaming.
Sakura looked up—into Naruto's sparkling eyes. It surprised Sasuke so much, because when she looked up, he expected those eyes to look afraid or sad or any of the sort. Instead, they looked...normal.
"Yes, Naruto. But I escaped, and I kicked their asses big time."
Naruto laughed in delight, and Sakura smiled a small smile again. Sasuke remained watching her, hands back on his pocket—unsure of what to say.
After a few seconds, the blond loudmouth started jumping up and down, screaming happily that they should go get some ramen for old times' sake—that they needed it for their health. Sasuke merely grunted, refusing to justify such an idiotic statement with an answer. Sakura merely smiled again, and declined, saying she needed to rest, and heal her remaining injuries.
"Aww, that's too bad," Naruto whined, pouting now. "But you will join us for practice tomorrow, right? Kakashi-sensei will be back from his mission tomorrow, and we can all be together again!"
She seemed to hesitate, but Naruto was persistent. She finally nodded.
"Okay. I'll be there."
"Great! You better rest now, Sakura-chan—so you can kick the bastard's ass tomorrow, too! See you tomorrow!"
"Bye, Naruto," Sakura said, still smiling. Her head turned back to the ground, before they finally turned to her other teammate.
Their eyes met. One unreadable, the other...he didn't know. It was unreadable, too.
"See you tomorrow," she said softly, before turning her eyes away again.
"Hn," was his mere reply.
Then they went in opposite directions. The loudmouth continued talking, and dragging Sasuke to the Ichiraku—it seemed that they were going to have ramen again, after all.
"Neh, teme," Naruto intoned, after they had seated themselves and placed their orders (one bowl for Sasuke and five for Naruto—to start, that is), "I'm glad Sakura-chan's back. I missed her so much."
"Hn," Sasuke replied quietly.
"She looks fine after all, doesn't she?" the blond went on.
"Hn," he replied, slower this time. More hesitantly.
"I'm glad. Now we can be team 7 again!"
And with that parting statement, their food came. And both became occupied, one with food, the other with thoughts.
And neither mentioned the event that night again.
She was fine—that was what mattered.
Fine and safe.
On the outside, Sakura was fine, and normal, and as wonderful as any person who came out of being captured could be. Nothing traumatic, nothing devastating. Nothing bizaare.
On the inside, it was a different story.
Nobody saw Sakura drop her jutsu shield, locking every door and window in her now-dusty apartment—nor did they see her remove her clothes, and stand naked in her room, the gashes and the wounds and the bruises covering every inch of her once-flawless body.
Nobody saw her heal her wounds, hands trembling—nor did they see her go into the shower, and scrub herself long and hard and raw, until her skin turned red, and the healed gashes came back.
Until she bled all over again.
Nobody saw her move her bed near a wall, putting protective chakra all over it—nor did they see her crawling under it, and sealing herself in the shadows of the night. In the darkness.
And nobody saw her curl up in a ball, and whimper quietly—trying hard not to cry, and not to be weak all over again.
Trying hard not to wonder what her once-peaceful life had suddenly become. The nightmares would come.
They always did.
a/n: Chapter 4! Whew, sorry it took a long time to update this...i've been busy with schoolwork (yes,i have summer class,it's a must here in my school)and my other fic...
Well, anyway, hope you have fun reading...and review if you can, thanks! :)