Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and I'm making no profit from this story.
AN: This was written for the 2009 Secret Santa exchange on naruto_santa over at LJ. Now that it's no longer anonymous over there, I feel like I can post it here. Be warned, though. It's pretty much train-of-thought rambling complete with repetition and angst and no happy ending.
She'd been offered Team Seven. She'd said "no".
She'd trained and trained her hardest after the Akatsuki and Madara and Sasuke. She'd wanted to get past them. She'd wanted to become a jounin sensei and help train another generation of ninja. She was the apprentice of Godaime Hokage Senjuu Tsunade, and no one had dared to try and refuse her.
They'd still offered her Team Seven.
She'd been grateful when Shikamaru had agreed to take them on. He'd muttered "troublesome", and he'd been right for once. There were eerie parallels between his new genin team and Sakura's own.
(And Yondaime's and Tsunade's and Sandaime's – all of them, Team Seven.)
There was the loud misfit, the brooder – a Hyuuga this time – and the cheery girl with a crush and a bad temper. She'd heard that Shikamaru had told them, in no uncertain terms, that their legacy wasn't a good one and that if they even dreamed in following in the footsteps of any of the previous Team Sevens then he'd hunt them down himself.
"Not all of them," he told her afterwards. "Just the Hyuuga brat. You're not too bad a role model, sometimes."
"Sometimes," she'd echoed, and she'd remembered all the times she hadn't been. She couldn't remember what he'd said about Naruto.
She'd wished that Kakashi had given them a warning about Team Seven too. That Iruka-sensei had. That anyone –
Her Team Seven wasn't a team anymore. If she was honest with herself, they had never been a team. It had been Sasuke and the rest of them: all focussed on him. He'd been their mutual goal: training him, loving him, trying to catch up to him. Her Team Seven had been Sasuke.
They'd offered her the new one anyway. She'd taken Team Four. They'd passed; become full genin. She hadn't used the Bell Test. She'd learned too much of what not to do from Kakashi.
She was a good jounin sensei.
She saw Kakashi sometimes. He'd been offered the position of Hokage, but he'd turned it down. She didn't blame him for that, at least. He'd retired. He spent his time reading badly written smut and staring at the memorial stone and grieving.
She wasn't the only one who'd been betrayed.
She hardly ever saw Naruto.
Sometimes she would catch a glimpse of wild blond hair as he flashed over the rooftops in ANBU armour. He'd not told her about his promotion. She'd guessed from the hair. No one in Konoha had hair like that, except Naruto.
Except, once, Yondaime-sama, but did it matter when no one noticed?
Naruto's mask was a fox. It leered at the world; grinning and flashing teeth just like Naruto used to. (Because he didn't anymore.)
He'd been betrayed too. They all had. Sasuke, Danzou…but only Naruto had been betrayed by her as well.
She'd told him she loved him just to get him to stop. Just to get him to realise that Sasuke wasn't coming back; that Konoha only had one way of dealing with traitors. But Naruto had been less of an idiot than she'd always thought – even after he defeated Pein and converted Konan and made sure that everyone came back – and he'd seen her lie for what it was. Emotional manipulation, and a poor attempt at that.
Her sensei in the Academy – Itoko-sensei, who had taught her how to arrange flowers and smile in the right places and lean forward just so to grab a man's attention – would have been ashamed of her. She'd underestimated him (her opponent?) and she had been more of an idiot than Naruto had ever been.
More of an idiot, but less idealistic. Maybe. Sometimes she wasn't so sure.
Naruto was the only one of them who had attended Sasuke's execution.
Konoha only has one way of dealing with traitors, after all.
That had been the last time she'd seen him before she'd realised that the blond man in the fox mask had to be her old team mate. He'd been walking away from where they'd decapitated him (oh Sasuke) and his lips had been pressed together in a thin line. He hadn't been crying. He hadn't looked angry or sad or anything. She'd never seen that expression on his face before. It had looked wrong.
It had been a look that Sasuke would have worn. That he should have worn. That he would have been wearing if –
If Naruto had just listened to her and taken her at face value and just let it go, because she'd known deep down that it would all end in tragedy.
And so Sasuke was dead. Kakashi had retired. Naruto had joined ANBU. She had been left on her own again, just like after the first Chuunin Exams.
(She was always the one left behind; some patterns never broke.)
She had trained herself up. She'd become a jounin and taken a few obligatory missions before settling down to what she'd wanted to do. Teach. Teach new genin to be a team, and to love Konoha and ignore its faults (please ignore the elephant in the room). She'd taught them that revenge was bad, and that a kekkei genkai could be more trouble than it was worth and that they should have two priorities in being a ninja: each other and their village, in that order.
She was a good jounin sensei.
She wasn't Kakashi. But, then again, she hadn't been saddled with the problem team (even though they'd tried) and her genin were sweet kids, really. They didn't know much about the War or the Akatsuki or the Bijuu or Jinchuuriki or that their sensei had been in love with a traitor. The books about it hadn't been published yet, because it was still too raw.
Konoha had been nothing more than a crater filled with corpses; Naruto had brought them back.
He'd brought back Sasuke too. Just like he'd promised. But Sasuke had died instead. There was no Pein to breathe new life into Team Seven.
Her students looked up to her, especially little Ritsu. She had long dark hair: shiny and well conditioned and there to catch the eye of that Hyuuga boy on Team Seven that every girl in their graduating year had a crush on. Ritsu was like how she had been once upon a time: wide-eyed, naïve and still in the throes of her first love.
Sakura tried not to tell her that she'd be disappointed. Shikamaru wasn't Kakashi, after all. (Or Yondaime or Jiraiya or Sandaime or Shodai.) He was Shikamaru, and he could break the pattern.
He had to.
She was still running away.
They were all running away.
Kakashi had fled from ninja service, and it was hard to believe that the masked pervert had once been their masked pervert. He grieved too openly now. There were no subtle curves of his eye or twitches in the mask that belied a smile. Whenever she saw him, he looked more and more broken.
He had retired. His name was never going to be put on the memorial stone. It was only for heroes, after all.
Even Naruto was running. Naruto, who had always faced everything head on; who was a living legend now – far from the village pariah she could remember. He was a hero. He had saved them all.
All of them except for Sasuke. He'd dragged Sasuke back to his death, and now he was running away from the memory of it.
It had been wrong. It had been stupid. Sasuke had been wrong and stupid, but it was all Konoha's fault anyway (please just ignore the elephant in the room) and it shouldn't have happened.
But Konoha only had one way of dealing with traitors, and Sasuke was a traitor. He'd betrayed them all: Kakashi's faith and attempts at instruction; Sakura's love; Naruto's…existence.
He had joined Akatsuki, and as soon as she'd seen him in that cloak she'd known that everything she'd allowed herself to hope for – every law she'd ignored – was worthless. There would be no happy ending. Sasuke wouldn't sweep her off her feet or make friends with Naruto.
He would live outside of Konoha as a missing nin or he would die.
And yet every time she looked at Ritsu and her shining hair and her careful makeup and listened to her sing the praises of a boy who was just a little too much like Sasuke, she couldn't bring herself to tell her what had happened. She couldn't bring herself to sit her student down and tell her that there are times when love can hurt, and that sometimes Prince Charming wasn't as perfect as he seemed.
She wasn't that good a jounin sensei.
Or maybe she was. She respected Shikamaru enough to know that he could be trusted with Team Seven more than Kakashi ever should have been. Hyuuga Kentarou had no Itachi to his Sasuke, and even though he was marked as Branch House there was no reason for it to consume him – after all, there was Neji (but Neji had had Naruto and no one on earth could replace him no matter how much she tried).
So she held her tongue about broken hearts, and taught Ritsu the best way to tie her hair back so that it didn't get tangled or become a liability.
"I had hair like yours once," she would say, "and I had to cut it to escape an enemy." And she would remember her fear as dark marks spread over Sasuke's skin and he ripped into the Oto genin like they were so much paper and she would remember how he had hissed about vengeance before she'd taken him into her arms and begged him to stop.
And she would remember that that was the last time he'd ever truly listened to her.
There hadn't been a team. Just Sasuke, and everyone else trying to grasp on to him and take a little part of him for themselves.
It was no wonder he'd snapped. But had he even been whole to begin with?
She knew now that no amount of love; that no amount of medic jutsu; that nothing she could have offered him could have fixed him. She knew. She hoped she knew.
She was the best medic in the village. Better even than Tsunade had been. She'd heard murmurs of "new Sannin" – the disgraceful one, the treacherous one, the broken-hearted one – but she'd always tried to ignore them. That was another pattern that needed breaking. Any and all parallels would be ignored, even if she had to force herself not to find the Sharingan in Hyuuga eyes this time around.
Hyuuga Kentarou did look like Orochimaru, though. It was the hair. It was best if she just ignored it and focussed on her own team. (Remember not to talk about the elephant in the room.) She wondered if the expression on her face every time she saw him was anything like Naruto's had been when she'd compared Sai to Sasuke. They'd had the same hair, the same skin, almost the same eyes and yet Naruto had been disgusted with her for making the comparison.
Sometimes she thought that Naruto had realised that Sasuke's return would end in death long before she had. She wasn't sure if she could forgive him for it.
Somehow, somewhere down the line, Sai had vanished from her life too. She'd felt guilty when she'd realised that she'd barely noticed. She'd been too caught up in her studies and her missions and moving on. She suspected he'd gone into ANBU as well. He'd always preferred Naruto to her. Naruto, at least, inspired loyalty. She was always just the one left behind. She was always trying to catch up.
But she wasn't trying to catch up to Sasuke anymore. (They'd burned his body. Once Kakashi died, the Sharingan would be gone forever.) She was trying to escape him. She was trying to escape Team Seven, just like all the others were.
She was failing, just like all the others were, but trying all the same. Almost the whole village knew it. The Council – damn them, damn them, damn them! – they knew too. So when they'd offered her the new Team Seven, she had smiled.
And she'd said "no".