Her Perfect World

by Dreamcharmer

Disclaimer: if Naruto was mine, it would be way creepier.

Rating: T

Summary: And then death grew tired of waiting and taunting them from afar, and entered the village. Sakura knows exactly what it looks like. The story of a girl who refused to grow up.

Characters: Sakura, Sasuke. Naruto, Ino, Tsunade, Kakashi and others are mentioned too.

Pairings: none. It contains so much Sasuke because the canon Sakura orbits around him like a satellite.

Warnings: none.

Where and when: canon. Compliant with the latest manga chapters - Sakura is out to stop Sasuke.

What: character study. One-shot.

Why: I felt like dissecting someone's mind.

Credits: the epigraph line is from the song ''And with her came the birds'' by Cult of Luna

In the fall she came back, and with her the birds.

0 (zero).

She is calm.

Not her usual calm, when she is determined to do her best, to be of use or to make Tsunade proud. Not her usual, slightly righteous self (her annoying self) who wants to punish the villains, and wipe away the tears of innocent victims, and distinguishes easily between the two.

Something changed, something had been changing slowly, gradually, long before she first noticed, lost in a world of caring friends and doting teachers as she was, and now, finally, she understands. Now she can trace it back to the day when the first crack appeared on the pristine surface of the walls that shielded her from the harshness and cruelty that being a shinobi entailed.

Her gaze remains firmly fixed on the path ahead, but in her mind's eye, Sakura picks up every shard and examines it over and over. Separately, they mean little, but put together in the right sequence, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, they tell a story of a girl who refused to grow up.

1.

As many people would correctly assume, Sasuke had the privilege to deliver the first blow. He did, of course, use it without as much as sparing her a second glance or a single thought, without hesitation or malice. Same as he did everything else that did not concern his brother — or his pride. In the long list of things Sasuke didn't care about, she must have ranked somewhere in the second hundred. She was probably lucky to worm her way into his life at all.

However, his departure (defection, say the word, defection) was not the first blow he landed. The first one was - and it seemed rather ironic because he didn't even intend it as such - his indifference. He was so very generous with it. And it was not like she had a cause to complain, after all, he didn't favor another girl (or, God forbid, Ino, who could hardly be called a girl) over her, he simply wasn't interested. But somehow, the little Sakura had never seen it coming until Sasuke took her naive frienship and her budding romantic feelings, crushed them casually in his hand and threw them back in her face, labelling her annoying. It was such a strange feeling, the feeling of being rejected, so bizarre and completely out of the blue, like snow in the middle of a summer, that her mind squeaked and shut down, refusing to aknowledge it altogether. She wasn't even offended, although she should have been, and welcomed his kicks when he remembered that she existed at all.

Later, during the training with Kakashi, she would always be the last, always the one to be sent away and left out of their camaraderie, and collective achievements, and their rivalry which had a subtle undertone of unspoken loyalty and friendship. In fact, she was the last even when she was the first, which almost never happened. But when it did, like when she was the fastest in mastering chakra control, she still got patted on the head and placed outside the metaphorical door by Kakashi, although, to give him credit, he did it in his nice, half-fatherly and half-friendly manner.

It was as if Sasuke and Naruto shared a spiritual link of some sort, or were on the same wave length, and understood that they needed each other to become stronger. Their world held no place for her.

(it was about that very time when she first heard Ino talking about the world of shinobi as of the male world, created by males and ruled by males. Later, it would become her friend's favorite topic, and one on which she would always gladly elaborate, talking until her voice was hoarse, laying the colors thick and drawing out of her mind hundreds of examples, more than a half of them completely unconvincing and very exaggerated. But at the time Sakura didn't understand a word of it and couldn't even bring herself to sympathize)

Already the tiny voice at the back of her mind nagged her about it and attempted — unsuccessfully -- to point out glaring mistakes and misconceptions in what passed for a life philosophy of Haruno Sakura, but she had a lot of faith and kept on hoping her love would conquer all and get her everywhere. The glass walls around her were still intact, if slightly scratched in odd places, and all sounds from the outside twisted and struggled, until they ware distorted by the narrow confines of her private world to the point of nonexistence; and every color was a miniature rainbow.

It was the spring of the mind, and Sakura was as happy as only a person dancing on the edge of disaster could be.

2.

And then Sasuke decided it was time for him to follow his own path, and he chose one that allowed no space for any of them but seemed, at the moment, to be the shortest route to what would more than three years later take place at one of the old Uchiha strongholds. In one instant, he banished them, banished her, from his life and left her on a bench with nothing but a thank you echoing dully in her ears.

Finally, there was a blow so heavy, so brutal that Sakura could no longer remain oblivious. The ground seemed to have been snatched away from under her feet, and above her foolish head the sky sank so low that it seemed to be crushing the mountains down under its weight. She cried and cried, and the clouds mocked her suffering and spat endless downpours of rain on the village. At long last, she felt that she had poured her aching heart out with her tears. The world stopped and stayed this way until Naruto kicked it back into motion with his fervent promise, and she scraped up enough strengh and courage to believe it. Naruto could be incredibly convincing when he wanted to, after all.

The colors came back to her, and days and months stretched away, filled to the rim with trainings, missions, new tecniques and their silent determination to never give up until they brought Sasuke back. In a way, it was almost like having him there already — if she closed her eyes and thought of him very hard, resurrecting in her mind every line of his face and every gesture, she could forget his current absence and live in the future as she pictured it.

It was the summer of her life, and she was like the grass and the leaves — crackling with energy and full of life, and with no clue as to how much grief and sadness and death awaited her in the very near future.

In years to come, Sakura would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with an erratic heartbeat and an earful of thank you, and find her pillow drenched with tears. On those occasions she took those two words out of her memory and, turning them carefully and meticulously in her mind, tried to decipher their true meaning or discover a hidden message, some ghost of unspoken sentiment or a promise of coming back. Sometimes she managed to persuade herself that she had caught a glipmse of it, like a golden coin on the bottom of a clear mountain stream, but as the time passed, she was eventually forced to admit the truth.

His words only ever meant one thing: farewell.

(oddly enough, as soon as Sakura understood this, she stopped hearing them in her sleep and forgot his voice completely, and couldn't remember it until he spoke her name again, among the ruins of Orochimaru's hideout. Sakura never told Naruto about it because, somehow, it seemed like a betrayal)

3.

Sasuke was no longer there, but her glass house had managed to sustain the blows, even though cracks were now crawling across its walls like vines or ivy, and in some places, the fragile material had given in and fractured, small bits and shards falling out, leaving gaping holes for the real life to seep into, for the cold drafts to enter and hit her in the face like a wet cloth. But Sakura was well-equipped, she stuffed spare clothes and old shoes down the crevices and holes and turned to look through where glass was still smooth and full of sunlight. Living in a fairytale is habit, and habits die a slow, painful death.

And so death came to her, and took on a form of a big black bird with its feathes sticking out untidily in all directions. A raven, perhaps, or a crow. It came from where the desert lay, and the Wind Country.

(and next thing she knew, she was there, and the wind was dry and hot, and it howled in her ears like a stray dog, filling her skull with echoes and a strange monotonous sound, like whooshing of sand in an hourglass; and in front of her, her friend was lying, poisoned with some evil, rare venom, and all antidotes were useless, and medics had already given up, and there was only one thing she could try, one last chance - )

The black bird hopped a little closer and pecked at something small and round lying in the dust. Sakura turned away because she knew what it was and didn't want to see the little monster feast on what had once been part of a living person.

(because another friend of hers had been abducted, and was being carried away to a certain death, and they weren't fast enought to prevent it, not even with a chakra boost, and the desert seemed to stretch away forever, and the sun was beating down of them, slowing their progress even more; and then she was in a great cavern, an old woman named Chiyo beside her, and a monster that had once been born a human but was human no longer, opposite them; and then her body was not entirely her own, and everything was a blur - kunai, shuriken, chains, bits and pieces of rock swishing past, her battle-honed instincts giving commands to her limbs that bypassed all rational thought, it was no place for rational thought - )

The bird took off suddenly, brushing its wing across her cheek, its soft feathery touch sending shivers down her spine, its smell a sickening mixture of rotting flesh, putrid water, dried wings of poisonous insects and dreams undone. It lingered, and on her tongue it tasted like blood — her own blood, she'd bitten through her lower lip trying to supress tears as she watched the old woman exchange her life for that of her friend and learned about choices.

After that, death never left them for too long, preferring to stick around like a domesticated animal, so that they would get used to its hideous appearance and stop noticing it and leave doors and windows ajar for it to enter when it pleased. News of more attacks and more people killed flowed into the village, and Sakura became so paranoid that sometimes she dreamed of blackened skies with crimson clouds blowing across them and woke up with a shriek stillborn in her throat.

And then death grew tired of waiting and taunting them from afar, and entered Konoha. This time Sakura recognized its familiar shape as it swept through the village leaving in its wake pain, sorrow and, eventually, numbness, because even death can get a bit repetitive. There, among the rubble, Sakura sat, her eyes bloodshot and tired, but completely dry, and counted her dead. For each death there was one black feather, as soft and fragile as the lives that had been cut short, and just as unique. She could read a history of loves, hates and sorrows, and recognized every pattern, and it made her feel so impossibly sad and helpless, that tears didn't even spring to her eyes anymore. They were poor tribute to the people who would never smile at her again.

Hinata, Shizune, Kakashi, Jiraiya and many, many others; she heard of their deaths or saw their bodies carried inside and laid on the floor of what still remained of the hospital, a long row of wishes unfulfilled and promises unkept. Sakura tiptoed around them carefully, every minute both torture and happiness, because all too soon she wouldn't even be able to look at their faces, and time would mercilessly erase them from her memory, if she ever got to see the end of the war. And she tried to memorize every little detail, so that she could keep them alive inside her heart forever.

(when Naruto proved yet again that he could defy death itself, and some of them came back and spared her from living inside a memory, she found out that the damage had already been dealt. It was as if the image of their lifeless forms had burnt itself into her skull so firmly, that a small part of her heart had died along with them and would never heal. She wrapped the inescapable knowledge of their deaths in a soothing fog and stored it inside that empty place and locked it shut. If she survives, Sakura decided, she will learn to live with a heart that is only half-alive, but now she has more pressing matters on her hands)

0 (zero again).

She is moving on, from tree to tree, and for once she is silent not because she doesn't know what to say or is too busy keeping her emotions in check, but because all words have left her. There are people beside her, and behind her, connected to her by the invisible cord of the job that needs to be done, but even for them, she has no words.

The world has finally come into focus, the air is crisp, and clear and shimmers slightly on the edge of the vision. She feels as if she were high in the mountains, or else floating far above the ground, where all the little doubts, insecurities and childish dreams suffocate from the lack of air. Only what is truly important can survive here. Illusions that kept her warm and filled her with hope and joy have given up at last, tired of fighting a losing battle. They softly leaked out of her, and with them went away the words she hoped to say, one day, and the little goals she wished to achieve, leaving her bare and alone. Even her inner self, the little Sakura who wanted so desperately to be liked and respected, has gone deathly quiet, perhaps forever.

For a short moment, Sakura squeezes her eyes shut and gazes at her inner landscape, and knows that the summer is long gone, and so is the autumn which she never even noticed coming. This is winter. Her heart is empty, devoid of any thing, either living or dead, she is nearing the border. And there, she knows, he is waiting. Not for her, of course, but for an end, any end at all.

Sasuke may not realize it, she thinks, but every story - and what is a human life if not a story? - needs a closure. A life of revenge or a life of duty, they all come to one thing eventually. When a heart can take no more, the final curtain fall is a relief and a chance to rest. It seems strangely fitting that her life begins and ends with him. It is inevitable that their paths will cross.

Deep inside of her, what is left of the former Sakura stirs and weeps for a happily ever after or at least for a to be continued, but she is smarter now. Whether the spring comes or not, she will not wait for a promise of rebirth or wish on a falling star (a dying star)

The line between good and bad is wiped away, blacks and whites all faded into dusty grays, but oddly enough, she realizes she has found her balance. This is her chance to do the right thing. This is her only world, and although it's not the way she once imagined it to be, she won't be given a better one. She will have to make do with what she has, right now, while her heart is hollow and full of nothing.

Sakura knows that this eerie calm won't last long, and all too soon the events will catch up with her, fear and regret will close in from all sides and overwhelm her, baring all her weaknesses to the uncaring world again, making her wish the time would stop and rewind because she's been nothing but a nuisance and hurt those who are important to her. She's made many mistakes already and will undoubtedly make even more, but as long as there is a chance, no matter how small and feeble, to change things for the better she has no right to sit with her arms folded.

(this is exactly the way of a ninja, Sakura-chan!)

She almost hears Naruto's voice, and the ghost of a smile tugs at the corners of her lips. She can sense the black bird, for it has come very close indeed and is now perched atop her left shoulder. Its ruffled spiky feathers remind her of the man she is looking for. In fact, she can swear that if she turns her head slightly, she will see the bird looking at her with one bright Sharingan eye. She wonders briefly if other people have some special relationship with metaphysical entities, like she does.

She grins openly, widely.

This is her perfect world. She knows where she is going and where she came from. She knows what she has to do.

And for now, she is calm.