Dirty Little Town

by stones


Chapter One

A moment in time holds so much.

Happiness, pain, excitement. A mother putting her babe back to sleep after a nightmare by tucking a soft blanket under her child's chin before kissing him, the hairs exceptionally thin and fragile on his head. She would close the curtains to block out any light. A couple holding hands, gazing up at the moon ahead before smiling and bringing their eyes back down to earth, noticing the masses of lightning bugs that further illuminated the world in a sweet and magnificent charm that could only be unreal. A boy placing flowers near stone, missing all that was around him for at that moment there was only him and his father in the ground, fertilized and strengthened by the tears falling from his son's nose onto the dirt that made his grave and kept the memory of him alive.

A girl not yet turned the woman she thought she was walked slowly up a dirt road, trees lining up on either side of her as she thought of this. The moon was bright and shone down, creating spots and blotches on the road ahead of her due to the trees blocking its rays. And she wondered how often it put a spotlight on a person; how many were facing truth or creating lies underneath it while it exposed them to the world, made it easy for everyone to see. For while she was technically alone, bag slung over her shoulder messily, she knew someone was sharing this moment with her.

The trees scattered into barely nothing but bare land as she saw the stone walls, the cracks and rust, the past crashing down on her. The guards in front of the gate were stiff, probably already sensed her presence and determined she was of little threat, barely any chakra or spirit left. She slowly dragged her feet up to them, the dirt and rocks crunching under her. She paused once she was in front of them. Her eyes burned with tears as she looked at both of them and they at her. Her bag slid off her shoulder and thumped against the ground, making a cloud of dust flow to the air.

"Your purpose?" one of the guards asked.

She looked away from them, tried to search for an answer on the ground. It was silent save for the sound of crickets behind her, populating the forest around them. Then her eyes moved to the sky, the bright moon reflected in them. Her hair seemed lighter, more rosier in this light.

"I've done wrong."

A young man should have been sleeping. He should have been spread out comfortably in his bed, back to the window as a small breeze would roll by, brushing his hair against his ear though he would be clueless, lost in perhaps a sweet dream or peaceful heavy sleep. But his knees were curled in, eyes open as he stared out the window, at the electrical wires running across the street and the moon behind them. He should have been asleep and not been interrupted until the morning when he would be greeted with a smile or maybe a scowl since his teammates had never been good with mornings.

He should have never been like this and someone should have never had to knock on his door at this time of night. But as it were, all of these things were happening whether he liked it or not. Rolling out of bed in nothing but his boxer briefs, he didn't care to make himself decent for when was it decent to knock on someone's door at three in the morning anyway? The situation was unique in itself.

His annoyed glare was quickly replaced by shock and a wave of grief and happiness all rolled into one when he opened the door and received a message. Quickly, he ran back into his room, threw a simple grey t-shirt on, determined his boxers were good enough, and headed out the door, leaving it wide open.

Looking back, he could have never told you what path he had taken or what he had passed on the way to his destination. He could never have told you what he was even thinking or feeling. The moment had seemed dragged out, as if time had slowed down and he wondered if it was affecting the rest of the world as well. Someone who had just gotten home from a night out wiped her runny makeup and wet tears off her eyes, looked out the window and watched as he ran by, not thinking much of it. As he turned the corner, she turned away and let the slow seconds drag her into another world. Absently, she stroked her blonde hair and thought of friendship.

He slowed down from his run to a walk as he neared the small group of people gathered near the gate. His old teacher was there, standing straight with a hand on his chin, surveying the scene with a near emotionless face though he could clearly see the disappointment in his old eyes. The Hokage was also there, face blank as she turned to him and opened his vision to the person in the middle of the circle, whom they were all staring at.

He could tell you that his heart sank, broken yet again once. He could tell you that even if it was damaged before, the heart would never stop feeling. She was there, standing, back slouched, bag near her feet, some miscellaneous items scattered on the ground. When she heard his footsteps, she looked up and he could tell she had been crying.

The dirt on her cheek was smudged from the moisture and her mussed hair stuck to the back of her neck due to the sweat that had accumulated there from her grief and the intense summer heat. She stretched out her neck to swallow a lump that had gotten stuck there from the moment she saw her old home. Letting out a heavy sob, her nostrils flared and her lips curved into a sad, exceptionally heartbreakingly beautiful smile.

"Naruto," she whispered as he stepped closer, eyes wide as if he didn't believe what was in front of him. She repeated his name and it had never sounded so sweet, so fulfilling, as it ignited some sort of excitement in his veins. Wordlessly, he stepped to her and she stared at him smiling before she slumped and moved towards him.

Immediately, his arms wrapped around her and he hugged her tightly and close as he felt her begin to break down in his arms. It felt as though a great weight had been taken off his shoulder and for the first time in a long time he could take a deep breath of fresh air. He pressed his nose into her hair, not caring about the dirt that caked it. His shoulder was wet with her tears and his neck tickled every time she took a breath.

"I'm sorry," she murmured into his neck. A few more mumbles where she couldn't even find words before she said, "So sorry."

So was he. His hand moved up with it gathered some of her pink hair and gripped onto it, not wanting to let go any part of her. The moment was long, though for them it had seemed so short, not enough. He barely felt someone put their hand on his shoulder but turned his head slightly to see Tsunade looking at him with a stern face.

"That's enough," she said.

Sakura, by then, had stopped crying, only enjoyed the warmth her old friend was giving her, the false sense of security that she knew would soon be gone. Her head was now pressed against Naruto's chest and she willed herself to listen to his heartbeat instead of hear her old master's words.

"She's still a criminal and must be dealt with like one," the Hokage told Naruto as if Sakura wasn't there. She closed her eyes briefly before sighing and opening them to look at her former apprentice. "I'm doing all I can. Even this, letting you see her. I could get into a lot of--"

Naruto was surprised when he felt Sakura pull away from him and for a moment he thought she would turn and run away, leave them all again. His hands gripped her arms as a reflex and she shook them off before standing by herself.

"I came back quietly, haven't I?" she asked.

"After running away for a year, fighting Konoha ninja, and consorting with an enemy saying heaven knows what," Tsunade replied, treating the girl in front of her as if she had not been her student, someone she had considered a daughter figure.

"I never betrayed the village," Sakura insisted as she did the same.

Only one believed her. Tsunade jerked her eyes away from Sakura and looked to two men dressed in their uniforms, watching the scene with interest yet put on their business faces when their Hokage addressed them. She nodded and they understood. Wordlessly and silently, they approached Sakura and when they first touched her, she jerked away, surprised and frustrated. The whole group stiffened, wondering what she might pull. Though her attentions were not to resist. She would have never come back in the first place if they were.

They bound her arms quickly and expertly. And before Naruto could react, she was being dragged away. His fists clenched and his muscles begged him to move, adrenaline fueled every movement but all he could do was watch as she was lead away. She looked back at him the whole time.

"Naruto," she repeated, sounding as if she was asking him to do something.

And it killed him that he couldn't. Wasn't it he who promised himself that he would do anything for her? Where was that so-called love? Such things must not exist, he figured.

With all his will, he turned away and listened as the sound of their footsteps and her tired and weak dragging feet faded more and more. Next to him, his old teacher moved and Naruto turned to face him. He searched his face, his covered skin, his one eye observing him.

"Kakashi," Naruto said, not knowing what else to say, not sure if he should say something more at all.

The older man sighed heavy, put a hand against the side of his head before he proceeded to stretch. In a few more moments, he dropped his arms, mumbled, "Naruto," and began to walk away. Naruto didn't stop him. Couldn't have if he wanted to.

Naruto was partially grateful for the moment of silence, knowing that soon there would be little of it. It was a good thing she had come back at night, silently, and unknowingly to the rest of the village who were tucked away in their beds. He should have been one of them. Instead he stuck his hands in his pockets, turned, and began to walk by the light of the moon.

It reflected on the grass in a most memorizing way, Uchiha Itachi had noticed while pulled himself up to his legs, his arms shaking without control. It had been some time since he had bid the girl away. It was better that way, he guessed. He looked away from the window and into the dark room where he had paid to stay the night. Within his things, he fished out a pill bottle and opened it casually, ignoring how his fingers shook from his nerves.

After swallowing two and before he placed himself back in bed, he made a trip to the bathroom where he threw up blood and spit. Each hurl was a sick reminder, each time his stomach clenched warm tears sprung to his eyes but he would not call them that. They were pain, pain he would suck up and deal with. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, spit the remainder of the gunk in his mouth into the sink, and wordlessly crawled into his cold sheets.

There he dug his face in the pillow and did not sleep.

While he began to think of his childhood, Haruno Sakura had just finished getting her picture and fingerprints taken, had changed into the issued uniform, and had been given water. It spilled down her chin because of her shaking hand. She handed the plastic cup back to one of the guards before her arms were bound again and she was lead to her cell. There she sat on the rickety bed and began to think of better times.

As the better times turned to the bad, the Hokage had just finished her last bottle. She pushed it aside and closed her eyes, dreaming of her old team and where they could have been.

At that time Naruto had just been getting home. He closed the door behind him and leaned against it. He wouldn't move until morning, busy thinking about his old team and where they should have been.

And by then, Uchiha Sasuke had drifted off to a light sleep where he would dream of nothing. Just like always.


She would never remember what exactly led her up to this point. Maybe it wasn't anything specific at all. Just built up emotions and events, stacked on top of each other, until a light breeze flew by and sent everything tumbling to the ground. But then that couldn't have been it because at the time she didn't feel sad. She felt empowered and strong, mind finally made up and a plan set.

Only a month ago she had celebrated with friends, happy to have Ino back home after such a long mission away from home. Home was what they had called it at the time, wasn't it? Home, indeed. There wasn't a single doubt in her mind that she didn't feel welcome and cherished in the presence of her friends, her family. And after a couple of drinks shared and a few laughs made, she felt even happier as she stumbled home with her friend, laughing and giggling away.

They both pushed themselves into her apartment before falling on her bed, tangling themselves messily in her sheets and talking in quiet whispers. As usual, the drunken laughs turned into drunken conversations, too deep for their own good.

"I think we're growing up," Ino said, voice raspy.

"You think?" Sakura asked with a snort, closing her eyes and letting her head roll back onto her soft pillow.

"I don't think," Ino corrected. "I know."

"What makes you say that?"

There was a pause as Ino thought and Sakura almost fell asleep. But she heard her friend's voice again and opened her eyes.

"We're smarter and more mature," she concluded. Sakura didn't reply. "And I think we know right from wrong. We've been around the block a few times, y'know? I just don't know if I like it."

Sakura licked her dry lips and focused on the red letters of her alarm clock, the only thing she could see in the darkness. Her eyes adjusted and she could see Ino's outline, curled up, back facing her. She looked at the time again and before she knew it her eyes were fluttering, mind on the verge of being asleep.

"Do you know what I sometimes think about?" Ino asked quietly.

Sakura snapped her eyes opened and noticed that a whole ten minutes had gone by. It was a strange feeling to have lost so much amount of time in a span that had felt like only a couple minutes.

"What everyone in the world is doing right now," Ino continued without waiting for Sakura's reply.

"That's a stupid and useless thing to think about," Sakura commented. "Everyone's asleep, Ino-Pig."

She could hear Ino huff angrily. "Okay, don't be a bitch about this and make me feel like an idiot," she grumbled. "I should have known that was something you would do."

"I'm sorry, Ino," she groaned. "Just turn and face me, I can barely hear you."

There was shuffling and movement, making Sakura quite annoyed. But then Ino stilled and Sakura could feel her breath on the top of her head. Oddly, it made her feel comfortable and almost lulled her to sleep.

"Okay," Ino said. "I mean, just think about it. There's so many people in this damn world. And everyone's doing something different."

Sakura had honestly given it some thought and begin to grab a sense of what Ino was trying to say.

"And sometimes I think I'm growing up because I realize that there's just more than me," Ino continued. "Kind of like, there are people out there who don't even know I exist, who will never know me or even think about me. There's more than just us, you know?"

Sakura pushed the covers off of herself as she determined the room was much too stuffy and hot. She cleared her throat and nestled her head further into her soft pillow. Ino didn't continue so Sakura guessed she was through and had finally fallen asleep only this time, she had managed to wake Sakura. She stared up at what she imaged the ceiling would look like since it was only shadows and darkness, a black hole above them about to swallow.

She thought about everyone who might be in bed, staring straight ahead too. If Naruto was asleep on his floor because the bed was too hot. If Shikamaru was holding a pillow over his head to block out the noise from the rain that had just started to drip drip around them. Because everything that was happening to her, someone somewhere was experiencing it too.

"Sakura," Ino whispered after a while.

Sakura, surprised that her friend was awake, looked away from the ceiling. "You talk a lot, you know that--?"

"Sakura," Ino repeated, cutting her off.

"What?"

There was a pause and then, "Do you ever think about Sasuke?"

There was a long period in which no one said anything but Ino never even began to regret the words that had left her mouth. She waited for her friend to react.

"No." Yes.

"Not even once in a while?"

"Never." All the time.

"Don't you want to know what he's doing right now?" Ino sat up straighter and tried to look into her friend's eyes, intimidate her to the truth, or maybe just give her the strength to find it. "What he's doing while we're sitting here, faking happiness?"

"No." More than anything.

"Why not?"

"Why should I?"

"Why wouldn't you?" Ino countered.

Sakura grunted and turned away from Ino, clutching her pillow against her chest as she dug her chin into it. "Look, Ino, I don't feel like playing this stupid question game with you. I don't think about him because I shouldn't. I shouldn't because it'll do me no good."

"It won't do you good?" Ino pressed on.

"That's what I said," Sakura replied, voice growing quieter though Ino could send the tense edge to it that told her Sakura was getting angrier and angrier with the topic. "Honestly, Ino, if I had known you were going to try and play this, I wouldn't have invited you over."

"Sakura, you're being childish," Ino commented, not caring that she was trailing over dangerous territory. "I'm your friend. You should be able to talk to me. You know, you're not the only one he left behind."

Sakura's head perked up as she turned to look at Ino and gave her an incredulous look. "What are you saying? You don't understand anything about me or him. And don't act like you're actually hurt."

Ino matched Sakura's tone. "I could if you just told me things sometimes. And you can be real selfish sometimes, you know that?"

"Why do you have to bring these things up?" Sakura asked. "I'd rather not get all sappy and sad because that's not real life."

"Real life?"

"Yes, real life. All that sadness and loss is something created by authors and movie producers, okay? Real life is knowing what you have to do and forget about all that sappy stuff. Life's not going to wait for you to grow up. I learned that. It's about time you did too."

"That's such bullshit, Sakura."

"What's bullshit is this topic," she mumbled, falling back on her pillow, back facing Ino. "Just go to sleep and leave me the hell alone, Ino."

"Fine," Ino said before she sighed, a sigh that frankly annoyed Sakura but rather than try to pull anything else, she kept quiet, closed her eyes, and tried to fall asleep. She was about to so easily about a few seconds ago. Funny how a couple of minutes could change that.

She imagined her eyes opening once again but instead of seeing her wall she would see another. It would be darker and gloomier and she suddenly felt the temperature fall drastically. She saw his hair and how it he kept it longer nowadays but still the same style. She figured he must not care enough to look in the mirror and analyze himself like she did every morning.

In fact she could see him jumping in the shower before training. Training, training, training. That's all she could imagine him doing. But right now she saw him in bed, lying there. She wans't sure what he could be thinking off but she sure hoped she crossed his thought every now and then. Maybe not even a full thought. Just a glimpse of pink before his mind was occupied with something else, a polite smile and green eyes before he focused on new techniques.

She could see him now and it hurt her, killed her, that even though he was lying in bed, it wasn't in hers.

She opened her eyes when Ino started to speak again. "You don't love him anymore, do you?"

"I never did." I always will.

Thinking back, she realized this was what started it all. Her thoughts constantly going back to Sasuke whereas before she had completely dispelled them from her thoughts. But what was in her head wasn't reality and it was funny how often that happened.

Instead of realizing that she wasn't really entitled to anything she was imagining, she would let herself be taken away by these thoughts, these fantasies. And when she sat in the fields after training, she imagined that he was doing the same, taking a sip of water and looking up to the sky like she was because they were still together. And when she took a walk through the village, she imagined that he must being something similar, mentally walking side by side. Even when she had first had sex with Naruto. Though it was unplanned, it felt like destiny. As she held Naruto close and he clumsily moved against her, she closed her eyes and imagined Sasuke at that time, who he was holding until she realized it should be her. It was supposed to be her.

And she figured this was hers. This was theirs. And she had forgotten about it.

And it was time to do something about it. This was what she had taught herself to stay away from but a thought had broken her will. Blinded and misguided, she spent the week imagining more and more. She would imagine small glimpses: her packing a small bag, walking through the streets for the last time, finally sprinting off into the distance with the biggest smile she could think of on her face. In her imagination she seemed so happy doing this, so why didn't she? Soon she became obsessed, completely in love with the idea that any given moment she would look at an open door and imagine walking out. Go to fix the mistakes that not only she made, but everyone else's as well. She thought about doing it again and again.

Until one day, she did.

She figured this was all the rise to happiness, what had driven her to this moment. It was the reason she was holding her bag over her shoulder, smiling up at the sky, praying for a safe journey and already imagining how it would end. And not once as she left her home, greeting people she passed on the street, did she think that this could have very well been her fall.


The next morning Naruto couldn't find where he belonged. His home felt wrong, the streets were unwelcoming. He couldn't find solace in the fields nor could he sit at the ramen bar without his feet shaking. So he found himself wandering, lost and frustrated.

He itched with anticipation when he saw Ino and right when he caught her eye, he realized that she had a feeling. A woman's intuition, especially a woman like Ino, was not to be doubted. They approached each other slowly and Naruto couldn't find the courage to brush past her like he wished he could. His mouth was tired, mind too lazy to speak. But her eyes were hard and concerned.

"She's here isn't she?" Ino asked. Naruto, surprised, looked at her and nodded, wondering where the frown was. She only shook her head and pursed her lips into a thin line. "What happened? Where has she been?"

As he shrugged his shoulders, Sakura opened her eyes to a small enclosed space. She scratched her dirty head absently and noticed how dry her throat was. Her hands were still bound but she was itching to look at them and realize that this was really happening. That it had turned out differently than she had expected.

She imagined Sasuke's hands before her and began to think of him waking up, of going to the bathroom and splashing some cold water of his face, of bringing himself out of his stupor to get to business. But in reality he was still lying in bed, a cold sweat on his brow. He thought of his mother and he tucked his blanket around his body tightly like she used to. Bunching the fabric in his hands, he willed himself not to think about it and instead thought about pink. Of grass and blondes.

As the Hokage walked down the hall and paused in front of Sakura's cell door, Uchiha Itachi was sharing breakfast with his partner. He tore a piece of bread in two when his partner spoke.

"Today's going to be a bad day," Kisame said, looking at the clouds filling the sky. "I have a feeling."

"Same," Itachi agreed, following his partner's gaze.

As the door creaked open and Sakura turned her head, a father somewhere had woken up to find that his son had run away. A girl had realized that she was irrevocably head-over-heels in love with her friend. And a boy looked up to the sky and imagined space. Too big, yet too small. And he, just like others, was just another dot soon to be erased. At least they had the moment. Cherished or not, they owned it just as much as it owned them.

-

-

-


A/N: Thank "London Bombs" by Eskimo Joe for inspiring this entire fic, mostly the intro. I know bits and pieces of what I want to happen, but hell if I know if I'll get there. I'm not crazy about this (I think) let's hope I don't abandon it. I hate not finishing things but my passion for writing Naruto fanfics has somewhat disappeared lately. Oh and I'm taking the liberty to change things around from the manga here and there. Well, all over the place. This is going to be Itachi/Sakura, by the way. Hopefully, we'll get there soon!

Thanks for reading and please review! I apologize for mistakes or typos.