Fool Me Once, Shame On Me
The only sounds in the small office were of the scratching of a pen and the rustling of papers. A dark pink head was bowed over piles of paperwork and green eyes were narrowed in concentration. The young woman didn't seem to notice, or care, that the air in the room was stifling; she simply sat at her desk and worked. To strangers, her concentration might have seemed like diligence and her beauty evident, but those who were more familiar with her might have noticed subtle, yet troubling details: the almost manic focus in her eyes, the tension in her shoulders, the dark circles marring her porcelain skin from countless nights of no sleep, and the fine wrinkles edging her mouth from constantly pressing her lips into a grim, thin line.
"Haruno-sama," called a frazzled nurse from the doorway. She was met with only a small, "Yes?" from the head still bent over her desk.
"There is a patient demanding to see you and refusing assistance from any of the other nurses," complained the medic, as she wiped the sweat from her forehead in exasperation.
Haruno Sakura's head snapped up sharply and turned to the exhausted woman standing in the doorway, as if she had been waiting for news… Anything different… "Who's the patient?" she asked hurriedly.
The nurse referred to the clipboard she was carrying. "A jounin, Domyouji Jin."
The earnestness on the Sakura's face fell as abruptly as it came. Her delicate features slid behind a cool, disinterested façade, as if she were merely slipping into a much-worn sweater.
"He came in from a mission this morning—A-rank, I think," the nurse continued. "He'd suffered from only a couple of broken ribs, internal bleeding, and some bruising—nothing too serious. But he won't let any of the other nurses heal him. He's been constantly demanding for you and creating quite a ruckus. I'm afraid he's a disturbance to other patients' peace."
"I'll be right with you," Sakura said quietly. Her hands momentarily pressed against her eyes before she stood from her chair and made for the door.
Get myself together…
Sakura walked out to the green-walled hallway, grabbing the soft, worn white kimono wrap hanging from a hook by the door along the way. Pulling it over her red qipao dress and tight shorts, reminiscent of the outfit she wore as a genin but broken by a silk black obi belt, Sakura passed the nurse, her heels clicking on the wood-paneled floor in a steady rhythm—almost too steady for a woman who celebrated her twenty-first birthday only a few months ago.
The nurse followed, informing Sakura of the room number before falling back into silence. She studied Sakura's back: the waist-length pink hair tied into a low ponytail would distract a normal passerby's observations from the weary stoop of her posture. The nurse, however, wasn't fooled. She had been there the day Sakura and members of the Rookie 11 returned from Otogakure. Haruno-sama had not been the same ever since. The infamous medic-nin and head of Konoha's hospital had used to laugh, smile, and treat all her patients with a warmth and professionalism that soon had all of Konoha calling her "Sakura-hime." Could this stoic young woman in front of her really be the same person? The two medics turned a corner, and for the briefest second, as pink strands shifted, the nurse caught a glimpse of the two kanji emblazoned in dark green in the middle of Sakura's back: "shin" and "yuuki."
Believe and courage.
When they reached Room 445, the sight that greeted them wholeheartedly was a grown man running about the room, avoiding the efforts of the two nurses to calm him, and screaming at the top of his lungs like a 5-year-old child throwing a serious temper tantrum.
"Haruno-hime! I want to see Haruno-hime!" were the only intelligible words coming out of the man's mouth amidst the senseless babble frothing from his lips. Wasting no time, Sakura, in a flash, grabbed the man by the scruff of his hospital shirt and all but threw him back into his bed before restraining him with one hand at his chest, ignoring his flailing limbs. With her other hand, she quickly formed seals and pressed two fingers glowing with blue chakra to the man's temple. He immediately fell limp, although his eyes remained open and frantically rolled around in their sockets with a speed mimicking what his paralyzed arms and legs could no longer do. With one hand, Sakura gently turned the man's head towards her.
"Domyouji-san?" The man's eyes froze on her face. Beryl eyes gazed coolly back at him.
"You called for me, right? Haruno Sakura?"
The joy evident in the man's eyes made up for his inability to smile.
"Domyouji-san, you will be momentarily anesthetized so I can determine how to exactly heal you. I'm sorry for immobilizing you without warning, but for your condition, I think time is of the essence." Jin's face drew a blank and confusion was evident in his eyes.
"Jin-chan, you're going to go to sleep for a couple of minutes so I can see what's wrong with you, okay?" Sakura substituted, swallowing back nausea. She always hated baby talk. However, the corners of the man's eyes crinkled again in happiness. With the forefinger of her right hand glowing blue, she quickly tapped the center of the man's forehead. He was out in a light. Now with two hands glowing green, the left hovering over the man's chest and the right over his forehead, Sakura's eyes remained open, but glassy, as she performed a routine, though extremely thorough and efficient, checkup and healing session—a specifically formed network of her chakra she'd developed under the careful eye of her former shishou.
When she straightened after a minute, the nurses, who had been watching Sakura's movements avidly, snapped to attention. The nurse who had called Sakura from her office stepped up to her, looked at the prone body lying on the bed in confusion and said, "He wasn't like this when I last saw him. He was only asking for you, not reduced to the mind of a child's."
"Poison," was Sakura's simple response. "Delayed action, organic compounds, long-term effects—this man will need to stay here for a month after he's healed, in order for his central nervous system to reconnect to his peripheral nervous system. The formula is familiar, probably from Iwagakure." Sakura turned and held out a ball of green chakra in her hand, with a dark substance floating in the center. The nurse, her own hands glowing green, took the ball and looked at Sakura expectantly.
Sakura did not meet her eyes, but continued to stare at the floating fragment of poison. "I've already healed his physical injuries and removed the poison from his vital organs, so there's no more need for an external focus. Most of that poison you're holding," she said, indicating the glowing green ball, "was from his brain—what the poison was targeted to deteriorate. It was intended to erase his memory completely, his mission along with it, and since I gave him a check-up right before he left, I'm assuming I was his last conscious memory before it…" Sakura trailed off slightly, green eyes focusing inwards, before regaining the flow of her diagnosis. "Just get the antidote for this poison sample so whatever is left in his bloodstream can be neutralized. It should be simple—this is a very unrefined composition." The corners of her lips tightened slightly. "The makers were careless and hasty. They nearly destroyed this man's nervous system just to get at one memory," she said icily. Her lips pressed together tightly—
But only for a brief moment. She shook her head, a warmer tone to her voice and expression. "You know the dosage. And when he's conscious, call for another jounin to take in his mission report."
Sakura made for the door, but paused and turned to look at the nurses. "It's not against protocol to use paralysis as a means of restraining a patient. You wouldn't have needed to call me if you'd done so," she said, the gentleness of her voice easing the sting of the reproach. After giving the abashed nurses a steady look, she said, "I'll be in my office," and proceeded to step out of the room.
Nodding politely to the greetings directed to her from nurses and patients alike throughout the busy halls, Sakura finally reached her office, closed the door and leaned on it heavily, her head bowed and her eyes closed.
He called only for me… Just like…
Finally looking up, her attention was drawn to the closed window, the shades partly drawn, letting in only enough sunlight for the room to be dim. Drawing away from the support of the door, Sakura removed her wrap and, for a second, gazed at the emblazoned kanji, running a hand gently over the embroidered characters…"It's a gift, Sakura-chan! Of course you deserve it! Put it on, let's see how it looks..."
Her hands fisted the materialas the memory faded. She hung the wrap abruptly and nearly ran to the window. Air, I need air… Ripping open the shades and flinging the window open, Sakura gasped for breath, gripping the windowsill tightly enough to produce miniscule breaks in the wood. Unleashed sunlight warmed her cold, cold face. She closed her eyes again, for the thousandth time that day, before sliding down the wall to sit on the floor and drawing her knees protectively against her body.
From the kunai holster she refused to take off even when she worked at the hospital, she took out a small pouch. It lay dormant in her palm as she fought one of her many inner battles…
She'd sworn never to open it again three months ago.
Letting it rest against her hands, Sakura's reluctance to open it conflicted with the onslaught of repressed memories re-awakened by today's particular patient. It was funny, she thought, how months of control could be so achingly tried within a tricky span of ten minutes.
She shouldn't open it.
Eyes screwed shut.
But hadn't she already?
Bloodless lips tightened over gritted teeth.
Almost a million times since…
With traitorous practiced hands, she withdrew from the little bag a necklace.
Her fingers closed around the blue stone. The coolness of the crystal and the metal bells blended into the iciness of her palm. She could never look at it too long. Although, holding it allowed her to lie to herself, even for the slightest second, that she was okay.
She was okay—a mantra that refused to stay, no matter how many times she tried to carve it into herself.
Sakura buried her head into folded arms and remained curled up against the wall, frozen until the sounds of the village below quieted into melodies of evening crickets. The curtains fluttered gently from a constant, comforting breeze.
She felt tendrils of hair at the top of her head follow after the intruding zephyr.
Why can't I believe it?
As much as she tried to deny it. As much as she tried to shut out this—hands clenched tighter—constant lament.