Disclaimer: Um. Nope. No ownage here. At least not of Naruto. Which I should probably be glad for, since MAN would I hate to be Kishimoto right about now. (Because like hi, angry fangirls much?)
'It's almost like someone hates me,' Sakura thought dryly, taking a once-familiar path. After all, if any sort of higher being had been on her side, she would have paid more attention to the place she was going to instead of just looking at the path she needed to take to get there, she would have listened to her gut feeling that overtook her when she was experiencing the déjà vu while heading towards her mission.
She should have looked harder at her mission statement, but she hadn't, and now fate was taking her back to the place where it all began.
The Land of Waves.
Sakura had barely walked past the gates that led into the flourishing town before life decided to continue its sick little joke on her.
People were brushing past her, chatting happily, and the scene was so incredibly different from the one she experienced four years ago that she couldn't stop herself from smiling. Sakura reveled in others happiness, because she enjoyed seeing happy people.
Looking around, she felt the grin widen. This tiny town had certainly prospered since she had last seen it, and for that she was glad; seeing people miserable made herself feel horrible.
When she focused her attention ahead, it was then that she saw him. It was with a slow, purposeful, graceful gait, one that few people could ever accomplish. For one heart-stopping moment, it could have been a twelve-year old Sasuke looking at her again…until he caught her gaze and smiled, and agony ripped through her, rising up like heat, choking her and causing her eyes to mist.
Sasuke never smiled at her.
"Sakura-san." The boy said, and when she blinked the illusion of Sasuke was gone, leaving nothing but pain in its wake. Then again, Sasuke was synonymous with that accursed word.
"How do you know my name?" Sakura decided to focus on the here and now, instead of thinking about everything that used to be. It would not do to think about her past, one that was long dead and mostly buried. She refused to let her demons haunt her, even in the town that created the bond of friendship between them, with the only two boys who had ever mattered to her.
"I'm Tazuna's grandson." He replied, and the name drudged up the image of an old man, of a girl with long-pink holding his hand, a bridge. (Needles, needles everywhere and oh god oh god oh god his skin is cold. "SASUKE-KUN!" Tears. Endless tears, because somewhere deep inside a heart was breaking. Another was beating. "Sakura…get off, you're heavy.")
"Ah! Inari, right?" He nodded and grinned. "Man, how old are you now?"
"Ten." He looked old for his age. (And an awful lot like Sasuke-kun, but those thoughts were forbidden. Not here, not now. She was done with her tears for him.)
"Grandpa wants to see you. He heard you were coming to the village, so…" Well, Tsunade-shishou had given her three days to complete the mission--which was simple, to collect herbs, because the Hokage believed Sakura deserved a break--so she supposed she could go visit the old man. After all, it wouldn't hurt to amuse him.
Tazuna did not look that much older; more lines creased his face, but the wild gray hair, the glasses, and the smile that was always quick to light his face was the same.
Inari's mother greeted Sakura with a warm hug that reminded the medic-nin of her own kaa-chan, back in Konoha and probably making dinner for her father.
"Sakura-san!" Tazuna got up to greet her and also gave her a bone-crushing hug, but it felt good. (It felt like all of the memories Sakura would never be able to get back.) "How are you?"
"I'm good." Sakura replied with a smile, thanking Inari's mother when she placed a bowl of rice in front of her. Sakura hadn't realized how famished she was until she smelled the food in front of her. Perhaps she should have eaten on her way there…still, she had made good timing, and for that she was thankful. "How are you?"
"Oh, great! Things are really shaping up around here!" He was beaming, obviously happy with how his little town was growing without Gatou threatening to destroy everything they knew, and he began to tell tales of what had happened since the last time Sakura had been here. Sakura ate and nodded along, graciously accepting another bowl as Inari's mother placed bowls for everyone else as well. Occasionally Inari would chime in, and his grin was so alike to a younger Naruto's that it sent a pang of nostalgia through Sakura, though this time it didn't hurt. Naruto had been the reason Sakura was able to keep her sanity, the one person she relied heavily on. Even when he was away training, Naruto was always right there with her in presence, in every time she went to Ichiraku or passed Iruka-sensei on the street.
"So how are Naruto, Sasuke, and that sensei of yours?" Sakura choked on her rice and all three of them looked at her in concern, Inari pushing a glass of water towards her, which she accepted.
She knew she should not have come here.
"Naruto and…Sasuke-kun…are away, training." There. That should appease them. (But it was only half-truth and more of a lie. She did not know where Sasuke was. Did not know what Sasuke was doing. She did not even know who he was anymore.) "Kakashi-sensei is usually away on missions, though I see him every once in a while."
"That's right, you're a medic nin, aren't you?" The only woman in the household besides herself addressed Sakura, smiling, and the roseate-haired female nodded and smiled. "That must be a challenge."
"Ah," Sakura said, smiling softly, "it is, but I love what I do more than anything. I wouldn't have had it any other way."
"I'm sure the boys are glad you're not usually out on the battlefield," Tazuna told her, laughing. "After all, they seemed very protective of you."
Sakura smiled sadly. "Yeah."
Seemed, she thought, being the keyword in this discussion.
Or, at least, when it came to Sasuke. But then again, didn't everything in her life lead her back to him?
Of course, Sakura absolutely had to stay the night. They knew it was too dark out, and didn't want her wandering out by herself so late. Sakura couldn't say no to their hopeful smiles, so she agreed, and Inari's mother led her to a room that brought back so memories.
Walking in, the room hadn't changed. Sakura could still envision the futon where Kakashi-sensei had laid to recuperate after he overused his Sharingan in the fight with Zabuza and Haku. A futon was exactly where it had been four years ago, except now she'd be the one lying it.
And she was alone. Can't forget about that.
"Good night, Sakura-san!" Sakura smiled and bid the other woman a good night, stripped herself of her clothes minus her black shorts she wore beneath her skirt and her mesh shirt, underneath which was a black tank top.
And then she laid down and fell even wider awake.
'Did I, like, kick kittens in a past life or something?' Because really, this was going too far.
The ground where she was supposed to pick herbs was right near the Great Naruto Bridge.
Fate must have been having a field day with her.
Sighing, Sakura closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose, trying to ignore the structure before her. After all, it brought up too many memories, too many days of when she had still been useless Sakura, good for nothing more than protecting their charge and being nothing more than a nuisance--a hindrance, extra baggage--to the team.
Sakura's eyes flew open, pupils dilated with anger. Never again she swore. She refused to go back to that girl she had been. She would not be one of Sasuke's stupid, bimbo fangirls. She would not degrade herself that way.
She nodded to herself, though no one could see her doing it, her resolve strengthening. She needed to remember the rule she had once disregarded blatantly: a shinobi never shows their feelings, no matter what the circumstances. Feelings are a weakness that only clouds their judgment and weakens their sense of duty.
Shinobi rule twenty-five, one of the most important.
No longer would she let things that had happened in the past smother her, choke her, cause her to slump over and be defeated, to be weighed down with the agony that the mere remembrance of this town brought to her.
And it was all his fault.
No. She would prove that she was strong. That she didn't need him anymore, in any way, shape, or form.
Uchiha Sasuke had no control over her life any longer.
By some kind of miracle, Sakura managed to allow Tazuna and co. to accept the fact that she preferred to sleep in a hotel--albeit a not-too-great one--rather than at their hut. Tazuna asked, only once, while he peered suspiciously at her, if anything had happened regarding their team, if there was something she was trying to avoid, but Sakura had merely smiled and uttered a simple, "Nope." He had let the matter lie, not pressuring her, but Sakura could tell he didn't believe her.
Not like it mattered, not when she was leaving today.
She spent the day watching Tazuna build more things, usually parts of houses and such, wandering around town with Inari while he talked about everything he liked, about what he didn't like, about his schooling, and that was nice, that somewhere out there existed a life that didn't include life or death situations or never truly being able to sleep or blood-stained hands. She also spent it with Tazuna's daughter--Inari's mother, of course--helping to clean the hut and wash the dishes while the woman chattered on, and the other female almost reminded Sakura of Ino, back home and probably out eating with her team, keeping a firm eye on Chouji in case he started to choke. The thought brought a smile to her face.
Finally, though, it was time to leave. Sakura firmly hugged everyone goodbye--and this time, there was no team beside her, no crying Naruto--and left the quaint little town that was everything and yet nothing like she remembered.
Unfortunately, Sakura had gotten off to a late start--talking to Inari's mother took longer than she realized--so she knew she'd have to settle out into the forest to sleep. Which didn't bother her, being so close to Konoha, but she was annoyed at herself for not leaving earlier.
Perhaps there were some feelings she could just not let go of.
Sakura started a fire, brought out the rice in a container Inari's mother had graciously packed for her, and then, when done with that, she put that away, dragged out her sleeping bag, laid down, and then stared up at the stars.
This, at least, was something she would never tire of, would never not enjoy, simply because looking at the stars brought her an inner peace like few things could. Sakura couldn't name what she particularly enjoyed about it, only knowing that it, the stars, was just so beautiful.
She felt happy and warm, and that caused her to feel tired. After all, it had been a long three days, and the journey back had exhausted her. She had amazing stamina and chakra control, of course, but shinobi were human, too. They got tired just as quickly as any other person did.
Yawning, Sakura rolled over onto her side, closing her eyes. The fire would burn out by itself; it was big enough to reach the tree limbs or hurt her, in any case. It wasn't big at all, actually, just a soft, soothing warmth that radiated through her. Sakura smiled and fell asleep.
She was jerked awake by a crackling, and for one drowsy minute, thought that her calculations had been incorrect, that the fire really had been big enough and the fire was beginning to spread. But no, everything around her was dark. The fire was out.
Sakura stiffened, but relaxed slightly when she felt no chakra around besides herself. It had probably just been a squirrel; after all, she was in a forest, it was teeming with wildlife.
That was before she felt the presence, and before her ninja skills could kick in, Sharingan eyes blazed before her very eyes.
The tomoe began to spin and connect, and against her will, Sakura's world turned to black. Her last thought was, 'Yep, definitely kicked a kitten.'
A/N--So I wrote all of this in one night. GO ME! (Except not really, because I was supposed to be writing a History essay that is supposed to be 5-8 paragraphs, and due first thing tomorrow morning. I wonder if my teacher will accept the fact that I was mauled by the plotbunnies. They are vicious creatures, man.) And Sakura's last thought is pertaining to the fact that life, fate, a higher being, ect ect hate her. If you've read this far, congratulations! You win a muffin. If you've read this, put BECCA RULES in your review. Because, you know, reviews are life. And don't lie, you want that muffin.