When she found out they'd sent Naruto away on a 'top secret mission' Sakura did not take it well. Tsunade was due to leave for another meeting with the other Kages, but her apprentice was making it difficult. Scrolls and books littered the floor where she had thrown them in the height of their argument.
"He'll find out!" She shouted, ignoring Kakashi who was flinching behind his orange book and Shikamaru, who was trapped between her, the Hokage and the desk. "He'll find out and when he does he's going to do something monumentally stupid!"
"Sakura," Tsunade had a hand to her head looking deeply weary. "That's enough. What's done is done. The Kages feel that its best to keep two remaining hosts safely out of the way. Naruto had been sent on a fake mission for his own protection."
Sakura growled. Did they seriously think she didn't care about Naruto's safety? She'd tried to protect him- she'd lied and made him hate her to do so.
"You can't protect him from this!" She countered, deeply angry now. "Naruto is the host of the nine tailed fox and we're about to go to war! This isn't something you can keep him out of! Its wrong of you to try!"
Tsunade sighed and leaned back in her chair, groping around in one of the drawers for something- a bottle of sake no doubt. Sakura rounded on Kakashi, who attempted to hide behind his book further, avoiding her eye.
"Tell her," Sakura's voice was trembling. "Tell her its not right! You know what he's like- when he finds out- and he will eventually, you know something bad will happen. We shouldn't lie to him."
"I don't recall you having a problem with it." Kakashi said quietly and Shikamaru inhaled, looking as though he was trying to make himself invisible without much success. Sakura recoiled as though he had slapped her.
"Don't imagine for even a moment that I haven't learned my lesson," she said in a much quieter voice. Everyone in the room flinched at the coldness radiating from her tone. "But then I suppose its all the same to you, isn't it Kakashi- sensei," she couldn't stop herself from adding a thick layer of sarcasm to the honorific.
"Your making a mistake Tsunade-shishou." She added and left her mentors office, slamming the doors open so hard that they cracked the walls they rebounded on.
"Sakura!" She heard her mentor call in exasperation and sorrow but she stormed down the corridor without turning around. I hate him. I hate all of them.
She was so tired she almost didn't notice Kakashi pop out of nowhere in front of her in time to stop herself from walking into him. He looked down at her, his one visible eye giving off a tangible air of disapproval. He'd put his book away now, she noticed and stood with his arms folded across his chest in the shadows of the Hokage Palace.
"Get out of my way," she snarled at him, wanting nothing more than to go far away and punch something to smithereens.
"I did not teach you to disrespect your superiors like that Sakura."
"You never taught me anything!" She exploded at him in a scream of anger. Her fists were clenched and her eyes stung and just for once, couldn't she stop what she felt from mattering so much? But she couldn't stop.
"You taught Naruto element based jutsu and you taught Sasuke" "- she inwardly winced at his name- "the chidori but you never even bothered trying to teach me."
Everything she had achieved she had had to fight for, scrabbling not to be forgotten or left behind. What right did this man have to lecture her? What had he ever done to merit her respect or loyalty?
Kakashi remained silent and Sakura swallowed back the bitterness with difficulty, choking on her hurt and anger.
"The Godaime will be busy finishing the ninja alliance," when he spoke at last his voice was filled with remorse. "But even so, we're stretched very thin on the ground for troops. You can't afford to be just a medic in this war Sakura. You have too much untapped potential to rely on just your super strength."
In a roundabout way, she recognised he was giving her the apology she needed. "I know."
"I think I have a few tricks left yet to teach you," he said. "If you'll let me."
She could have cried. But recently she suspected, she had cried herself out. Instead she hung her head, tired from her outburst and Kakashi put a tentative hand in her hair. It was as an affectionate a gesture as he had ever given her.
"And I thought you were the one I had to worry about the least," he laughed softly, but not at her. "Because I was too weak to make it past genin level." Her tone was still bitter, but not at him this time. Her sadness was infective; she could feel it oozing out of her and staining the evening sky.
"Because," he corrected her, "you were the only one who was ever genuinely happy." He ruffled her hair slightly, fingers mussing the silky pink strands and withdrew his hand. Kakashi looked sad behind his mask.
"Come on. You can treat me to dinner and we'll talk about training."
She had to laugh then despite herself. "Okay." She couldn't help but remember the only other time she had treated him for a meal and it bought a sharp pang of heartache to her chest.
"Kakashi-sensei?" she asked as they headed down the street towards Ichiraku's. They sat side by side, leaving two empty seats where Naruto and Sasuke used to be. She'd never really spent time with him by herself.
"Hmm?" He'd taken out his book again as they placed their orders. Sakura tried to find the words.
"Things are never going to go back to normal now, are they?"
He looked at her, a straight and honest look, over the top of his book. It was the first time he had really looked at her like she was an adult.
"No." He said. "They won't."
In the days that followed she found the training Kakashi lavished upon her was intense enough to make her stop having nightmares. First he started her on element based jutsu, discovering that she had an affinity for water and earth. She mastered the basics rapidly enough to make him blink in surprise and they moved on to the harder parts, like creating element based clones and using the two elements offensively. Within two days she could turn the water around her into ice spears and make the earth come alive in creeping tendrils that could pull her enemies into the ground where the earth would swallow them alive.
But that wasn't all they did. "Your chakra control is the best I've ever seen," Kakashi told her, impressed. "But your at a disadvantage in how much chakra you actually possess. You need to be able to conserve it if possible."
He pulled Sai from wherever he'd been skulking and got him to teach her how to use a katana whenever he had to attend to his other responsibilities. She was a little slower to master it than the jutsu, but she improved steadily.
"You are still a little prone to defensive action," Sai told her as she parried a blow and sent him sprawling backwards in the dust. "Nevertheless you are to be commended on your progress." He bought Sakura her own katana, the handle wrapped with red ribbon. It was the nicest thing he had ever done for her.
"Thank you!" Sakura was touched. When she hugged him he tensed under her, unsure of how to respond.
"You hug me back." She told him gently and he did so uncertainly. His face was adorably confused- but he placed in her a very childlike trust, she realised. Sai trusted her to instruct him in human interaction when he could not understand how to respond to a situation.
"Its an apology," he told her after a moment. "I think I may have been wrong in what I said to you regarding your team."
She sighed. "It doesn't matter now. Its done."
No matter how much she loved Sasuke, he had fallen far beyond her reach. She'd known that, but somehow she still couldn't bring herself to close that half inch between her kunai and his back. It didn't matter that she could shatter mountains with her fist. In the end, it had always been her feelings and not her abilities that made her weak.
Sai was reluctant to teach her how to stamp her emotions down, but she bullied him into it. "You cannot imagine what it is like not to feel," he said, "Or even what it is not to recognise your own feelings."
"I don't care," she told him bluntly. "Teach me. If you won't, I'll find someone who will."
He had been alarmed at her interacting with any former root members and promptly gave in.
"Alright," he'd agreed doubtfully. "If it will help Naruto."
So on the brink of war, Sakura trained. She trained with Kakashi every day that he was available. She sparred with anyone who could find the time; Hinata, Lee, Neji, Kiba, Ino, Shikamaru….
She got Shizune to show her how to use chakra scalpels and breathe poison at her enemies. Sai declared her more than proficient with a katana and showed her how to squash her feelings down. They were still there- she would never be able to stop what she felt- but she could stop what she felt from mattering. It was like putting a barrier of ice around her heart, so nothing could get out and no one could get in.
Konohagakure, the Village Hidden in the Leaves shuddered in the verge of war. No one noticed as Sakura Haruno slowly turned her insides to stone.
The unforeseen consequences of transplanting his brothers eyes into his own sockets, was the unexpected perspective he got with it. For years he'd been seeing the world, not in black or white, or shades of grey, but in crimson. Looking through Itachi's eyes was a bit like applying bleach to the bloodstains. His tunnel vision was dissolving in random splotches, allowing something other than hatred and insanity to shine through. And Sasuke- ever certain Uchiha Sasuke- faltered. Just a little bit.
That was when the dreams started coming back; three stripes of sunlight across the forest floor- quiet footsteps at his back- a hundred tears for the death he didn't die.
Once- a long time ago it seemed now- he had dreamt of his team on those nights when he was so exhausted by the training Orochimaru threw at him that he couldn't prevent it. Sasuke was good with masks. Itachi had been better.
What are you doing, little brother? He could feel, like a palpable thing, his dead brother's curiosity. His disappointment.
Back in the days when he still respected his sensei, he might have wondered if it was actually his own conscience doing its best to speak up by taking the form of the person he loved and hated the most- the only person in the world to whom he would listen. (Live your life in the most despicable way. Your hatred is yet lacking.)
But Sasuke had become a murderer several times over. He had plucked his brother's eyes from his cold dead corpse to save himself from blindness. He had betrayed his team mates- both sets- and tried to kill a girl while her back was turned. He wasn't sure he had much of a conscience anymore.
It did not occur to him that just thinking about the matter of his conscience was already a small step back from the darkness he had embraced as he sat at Madara's feet.