title: the long and winding road
disclaimer: I do not own Naruto
note: not at all my usual; for my 7lies; ignores some (lots) of the recent manga
i. a white lie
Why, she wonders, staring blankly at Naruto, why are you crying? Why are we comforting you?
Sakura almost glares at him, but blinks away the narrowing when she remembers others are in the room; it wouldn't do to make a time about her master be about her. She isn't like Naruto. She doesn't need a scene. Shizune is standing beside her rigidly. In her arms, Tonton is squirming. Shizune is holding him too tightly, Sakura observes, questioning whether or not to point that out to her sempai.
"This is unbelievable!" Naruto yells. He sobs, not at all uncomfortable with crying in front of so many people. After wiping his eyes with the back of his hands, Naruto punches the bed. "This isn't fair!" he continues, just as loudly. "This isn't fair! Danzou—" Naruto stops short, wracked with the beginnings of breakdown. "I'll kill him!"
Sakura bows her head to cover up the fact that she rolls her eyes. Quickly, she looks up. All this happens so fast it seems like a nod.
"Yes," she murmurs.
"Sakura-chan." It takes her a moment to realize Naruto is addressing her. "Did she suffer?"
What do you think? she doesn't say, just as she doesn't scoff.
Sakura stares at her former master's face, pale and solemn. She smiles softly at the gray hairs and wrinkles. And here lies greatness. The scars, however, make her frown; Tsunade's formerly perfect skin is marred by cuts and bruises and welts. Her wrists are raw and pink from being bound. She expected no less, of course. Danzou is a ruthless man.
Shizune, beside her, stiffens further, but nonetheless, remains silent.
Sakura tucks a lock of hair—blond with few strands of silver—behind her master's ear.
"Under the orders of the Rokudaime Hokage, you are to be arrested on sight and returned to Konoha for sentencing."
Sasuke doesn't scoff like the boy he was would have. Cocky little shit, she remembers fondly. Instead, he stares on blankly. She knows he knows who she is, even with the mask. Pink hair, despite how much of the world he has travelled, is not something he sees very often.
"So they gave you the cat," he observes.
Ah, she concludes, my mask. Outwardly, she makes no movement; he doesn't seem like he wants to fight so she won't waste the energy.
"Take off your mask," he orders.
She pauses. Should she? It isn't like her identity is a secret, and surely if he cares that much, he can come take it off of her by force. After a moment, she decides to comply, removing the piece of porcelain with one hand and running the other through her flattened bangs. Unsurely, she meets his eyes and feels a flood of emotion.
He looks tired. A small smile pulls at her lips. Yes. And to an extent, confused. Is he wondering why she isn't crying? Isn't running toward him with open arms?
His body language shows no sign of ill intent, so Sakura tries to relax. She does not, however, give him what he wants: to see her—her. Sakura almost scoffs. Stupid little girl, she regrets. It's her own desire for revenge or something like it that keeps her calm and quiet and entirely indifferent.
Will you come peacefully? she wonders, tilting her head.
His response is a glare.
"Take off your mask."
Naruto is disgusted with her, she thinks. He no longer speaks to her, and the times she sees him in the village, tries to meet his eyes, he glares at her. You're trash, he doesn't say. You're worse than that, you traitorous bitch, he doesn't continue.
She shrugs to herself. Sacrifices need to be made.
"How can you follow that bastard?" he shouts one day, snapping. Year One of the Rokudaime Hokage ended with a vast purge of Konoha shinobi—many having gone missing-nin—only for them to be replaced with members of Danzou's ANBU Root. Now, entering the seventeenth month of his reign, they are everywhere. "Don't you even care about what he did to Tsunade-baachan?"
Sakura frowns at him. "He is my Hokage," she replies calmly. "As a Konoha shinobi, the safety of this village comes before—"
Then he slaps her.
She sees it coming, of course. A pathetic excuse of a shinobi she would be if she doesn't. It doesn't hurt. Not really. It stings a little, perhaps, but there isn't any real pain.
Naruto shakes his head. "You've really changed, Sakura." He hisses out her name like a curse, perhaps to emphasize the lack of the suffix he would always apply to it. "First you had the gall to help them bring in Sasuke, but to actually be loyal to that bastard—" He stops himself; his eyes widen and he gapes at her as if he's come to a revelation. That won't do. "You're faking it," he declares. He smiles. "Come with me, Sakura-chan—"
"Stop," she orders. "Don't, Naruto."
He growls. "But—"
"I can turn a blind eye to you, I suppose," she murmurs. "But I will not become a traitor."
Naruto laughs. It's short; breathless; mocking. "You already are." He regards her with loathing. "So this is you."
So this is me, she thinks as he leaves. Good.
Three days later, Uzumaki Naruto is officially listed as a Konoha missing-nin.
It occurs to her, a few months later, that she enjoys inflicting pain upon Sasuke. She does so in numerous ways, but no matter the rush she gets when her hands connect with his flesh, watching him flinch without any force, only because she says a few well-crafted sentences, is always exhilarating.
"If your brother was still alive, what do you think he'd say right now?" she asks idly.
She knows the truth about the Uchiha massacre; Sasuke told her during one interrogation—not so she would stop beating him, of course. No. He has too much pride for that. It wasn't to save his own skin, but to gain some leverage; to make her wary of Danzou, and she knew that.
Silly, she'd mused. I already am.
Still, her reaction—"the Hokage-sama would only do what is right for the village"—led Danzou to see her as completely faithful to him. The fact that she is still alive, despite knowing this vital piece of information, tells her that Danzou trusts her.
So she goads Sasuke; taunts him. What better way to look good in her leader's eyes than to bother his most hated prisoner? She takes advantage of this position as Uchiha Sasuke's interrogator to take out the fury of a woman scorned. "You've ruined all his work," she murmurs, sounding sad. "You wreak havoc everywhere you go, Sasuke. You're a disease."
Oh, joy, she cheers. This is fun.
He rolls his eyes. "Fuck off."
"Do you regret leaving now?" she asks.
You're too proud, she thinks. "Not at all?"
He raises his chin. "Not at all."
"Are you sure?" she prods. Sakura leans forward, lowering her voice. "Perhaps, if you hadn't left—you hadn't killed him," she smiles when he stiffens and his head bows ever so slightly, "he could have prevented Pain's invasion all those years ago. He could've saved Konoha. Again."
Sasuke sneers at her. "But then your precious Hokage wouldn't have come into power, Sakura," he retorts. Her name comes out a venomous hiss.
She nods once. Yes, that.
It would probably be suspicious if she didn't. To not care about her master's death—to never go would probably make her look bad.
So Sakura visits Tsunade's grave on Tuesdays after bringing Danzou his evening tea.
She sits down on the soft grass and smiles, remembering the times when she brought Tsunade her hot sake. Shizune wouldn't have approved, of course, and perhaps, neither did Sakura, but on the nights when her master was truly exhausted, she would replace the hot tea with something she knew Tsunade would appreciate more. It was their little secret.
Tsunade would just look at her. Silly girl, she never said. You're too young, she never continued. She did, however, raise the little cup, smile, and drink. "Thank you," she would murmur.
Not anymore, though. Now, Sakura brings ginger tea and a few almond cookies on a plate.
She falls into the routine easily. Wake up, help the Hokage, attend meetings, help the Hokage some more, then bring him tea. On the nice days, she goes to pester Uchiha Sasuke for information they both know he won't give. But it's easy.
Pathetic, Naruto would probably say if he saw her.
"This is me," she whispers. This is me.
Sakura sighs and throws the flower in her hand toward the headstone. She smiles when it lands heavily, ruining a few petals.
"A dahlia for your village," she says. Look at what it's become.
She drops backward, burying herself in the long grass. For a moment, she closes her eyes. Why can't anyone bring me sake?
"It'll all be over soon."
vi. honesty is overrated
She puts it in his tea. So cliché, she thinks while adding it. Disgusting. Sakura hands him the ceramic cup, watching dazedly as the steam curls above it. Gently, she lowers the plate with his little snack onto the desk.
"Did you get anything out of the Uchiha boy today?" he asks her.
Do I ever? she doesn't ask him. "Sort of," she says quietly. A snake, actually. A toxin, more specifically. "Not really," she corrects. "You should just execute him already."
He narrows his eyes at her. "I do not require tips on how to run my village, Haruno-san." A warning.
Your village? she muses. Sakura smiles apologetically. "My apologies, Hokage-sama."
"Hn." He drinks his tea in a few large gulps. Her smile only widens at how carelessly he downs half the cup before clutching his throat and coughing. Sakura shakes her head in disappointment. And this was the great Danzou-sama. How did he make it through the Third Ninja War when he couldn't even detect poisons?
"Is something the matter?" she asks.
His face is growing red—purple. His mouth is opening and closing by the second and his eyes, bloodshot and white, are staring at her imploringly. Surely he would be glaring, if he could. With a thud, he falls to the floor. His entire body is stiff as he tries straggling toward the door. But for what?
What did you do? he tries to ask her. What did you do? he tries to shout.
Sakura sits in his chair. "You stupid man," she hisses, resting a foot on the small of his back to keep him down. "Did you truly think I'd be loyal to you?" She digs her heel into his body and he begins to convulse with pain. Sakura rolls her eyes and leans forward to flip him on his back. She snorts at the foam surrounding his lips.
At the sound of footsteps approaching, Sakura glances at the door. Come in.
The door opens and Uchiha Sasuke enters with his katana drawn. He frowns at the dying man on the floor by her feet. "We had a deal," he mutters, annoyed.
Sakura shrugs. "I lied."
"You're not as good an actress as you think you are."
She doesn't reply.
"I always knew what you were up to," he continues. He shrugs. "I'm not blind. I saw the way other shinobi looked at you when you took an order from Danzou without blinking an eye. They all thought you were scum—the ones loyal to Tsunade, I mean."
Sakura raises a brow in response. Why so chatty, Sasuke?
"It's just my reputation," she replies. "Sacrifices needed to be made for—" She stops. Revenge. Sakura smiles. It's a bright smile, stretching wide and crinkling her eyes. Yes. Revenge, of course. "You're wrong," she murmurs. "I am a phenomenal actress. You just understand."
Sakura leans into her chair; Danzou's chair; Tsunade's chair. She certainly isn't Hokage material and definitely does not want to be, but given that Konoha was left leaderless—apparently at the hands of Uchiha Sasuke—she is chosen. Shikamaru would've been better, she thinks. Currently, she is waiting for the return of many former Konoha shinobi; the ones who left when Danzou was in charge; Naruto.
She stands. She goes to the window and leans out, looking at Konoha.
This is what it is, she thinks.
"The road was lonely," she admits quietly. It's almost a whisper, but he hears. "That path—revenge was lonely."
He comes beside her. He shrugs. "It's over."
Sakura tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. "It is."
Sakura's behaviour in the first part: I suppose the mood there comes from chapter 451, when Sakura and Naruto are moping about Tsunade, and she's the one comforting him. I found that rather insensitive of Naruto. While yes, I'm sure they both care very much for Tsunade and are sad about her coma, Sakura surely was much closer to her and needed the comfort more than Naruto did, in my opinion. Her bitterness here, then, is a reflection of her thoughts in that chapter.