EDIT: I was an idiot and didn't realize scene breaks were missing. Sorry! Fixed now.
If I were a better writer, I would probably wait to post this. I would edit and revise and re-read and re-work. Too bad I'm not a better writer. I've spent all day on this, and now, I want it posted. This didn't turn out at all the way I wanted – it was supposed to be more of a (onesided) Lee/Sakura, because I love it, but it turned into just… Sakura. And you might hate her here, but that's okay. Anyway, please read and review and – hopefully – enjoy!
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Shikamaru is the first.
Sakura shuffles out with him, shuts the door of Naruto's hospital room behind her with a soft click, and they walk down the empty hall with silent steps.
They don't talk about Sasuke.
Sakura shoots Shikamaru glances she doesn't think he catches. He doesn't miss a single one, but he lets them fumble through his fingers and slide off his skin, because if Sakura wants to look at him, he's not going to refuse her. Especially not now.
Sakura thinks Shikamaru looks like the bravest, strongest person she has ever seen. Sasuke is gone, and the entire village seems shrunken in and hollow without him. Naruto is in a hospital bed, covered in bandages, and she has never felt so alone. When the strongest people she knows have fallen, she can only look up, up, up at Shikamaru, who tried and failed to bring back the boy she loves, and didn't fall to pieces over it. Not like she did.
"Shikamaru," she says, stopping mid-step. Her foot falls to the floor with a soft thump. He looks down at it, then back at her. He looks a little scared, and Sakura can't help but choke out a watery kind of laugh.
"Thank y—" She freezes up, clasps her hands to her chest, starts again: "I don't blame you. I don't blame anyone."
Shikamaru steps closer, tentative, and reaches to touch her hand before he can stop himself. Her fingers are small and soft and trembling in his grasp. "Don't blame yourself, either."
Sakura sucks in a breath and lifts her head to tell him she doesn't, he's wrong – and then stops.
He's not wrong.
Shikamaru is never wrong.
Instead, she bites her lip, and Shikamaru drops his gaze to them, and thinks she looks so frail and fragile and fragmented (fragmented? he thinks, disgusted with himself).
"I'm not," she starts and doesn't finish.
Even though Shikamaru is kind of almost certain that he has loved Ino for two-thirds of his life, and he knows as well as everyone else in Konoha that Sakura just had her heart smashed into smithereens, he can't help leaning down to kiss her. He can't say why. He just does.
And even though Sakura knows this will do nothing – she will always pine for Sasuke, and Shikamaru will always belong with Ino – she lets him. She kisses back, with all she has, pressing herself closer and not caring that someone might pass by any second (and she thinks someone does, in the middle of their lip-lock, but everything is a little fuzzy, and anyway, who cares? Whoever it is, she knows it isn't Sasuke), and pressing her thumbs into the base of Shikamaru's neck, skimming her fingers over where his curse seal would be if he were the boy she was meant to be kissing.
And then he pulls back, breathing hard.
"Shikamaru," she tries, not knowing what comes next.
But Shikamaru is even smarter than she is, and he shakes his head. "I know." He lets go of the fingers he's still holding and turns to go. With his back to her, he brushes his thumb across her lower lip.
He didn't know sadness had a flavor – that always sounded kind of poetic and stupid to him – but he realizes now that it does. Sadness has a flavor, and that flavor is Haruno Sakura.
He's scared to be around her anymore. He's scared she'll suck him in, and he won't be strong enough to resist.
He looks over his shoulder. She still stands alone in that empty hall, looking lost and confused.
"Chin up, Sakura," Shikamaru says, because, when it comes down to it, he is really the stupidest human being in the world, and then he walks, walks, turns a corner, runs.
He bumps against Lee, but doesn't stop to apologize, doesn't turn back.
Some girls – like Ino – are at their best when happy. Ino sparkles and beams and laughs like sunshine is spilling right out of her. Sakura droops and wilts and withers right before her eyes.
But Sakura is a girl who looks most beautiful when she's sad.
And that terrifies Shikamaru.
Naruto leaves, so Sakura does three things: she trains under Tsunade; she asks Ino out to lunch; she starts to date Kiba.
The third one makes some of her friends wonder, but Sakura knows that just because Kiba talks like Naruto and acts like Naruto and infuriates her like Naruto, he is not Naruto. He is not her replacement Naruto. He's just there to fill in the holes in her life, because that's what Kiba does best.
He picks her up to train with his team some mornings, takes her out for dinner every weekend, and kisses her every day.
Ino invites her to lunch with Team Asuma, and teases Sakura the whole time for finding her and Kiba in a compromising position yet again.
"Seriously, Forehead," she says, and clips Sakura right above her left eyebrow with her chopsticks, "No one needs to see that."
Sakura notices how Shikamaru doesn't look at her once throughout the meal.
She walks home from the market with Kiba later that night, thinking of how Shikamaru ran from her the day he kissed her (he kissed her, she thinks despairingly. So why did he run?), and thinks of how everyone who has gotten too close to her has left, and sure, okay, she's not conceited enough to think they left her, exactly, but Sasuke literally turned his back on her, and Naruto left her behind to wait for whenever he decided to come back, and Kakashi just disappeared without even a goodbye. Everyone has left her, and only Ino came back, and it's too much, it's too much.
She pulls Kiba into an empty side-alley, drops her bags to the gravel, and yanks him toward her.
"Someone's pushy," he says before she captures his lips. When they break for air, he pants, "I like pushy." And he dives in again.
They don't stop until the sun has set and the stars are coming out, and when they do, Kiba slides down to sit against the wall, and Sakura crawls into his lap.
"What's wrong?" he whispers, pushing a lock of hair behind her ear and kissing her cheek.
Kiba is the best kisser she knows, though that's not saying much, since he's only the second boy she's ever kissed, but that's not why Sakura stays with him. It's because of the after – when they're rumpled and resting and quiet, Kiba asks her the questions no one ever does. Maybe their intimacy gives away things no one else sees, or maybe because Kiba is just special.
(Maybe, Kiba thinks privately, it's because he's strong enough to take whatever she can throw at him.)
"I don't know," she says, and her voice breaks. She wraps her arms around him and pushes her face into his shoulder, breathing him in. She feels him kiss her hair, and shivers. The cold air suddenly stings her cheeks. "I hope Naruto is somewhere warm tonight."
"Don't worry," he says, not about to admit that it hurts when she talks about other guys when she's in his arms, even if those guys happen to be Naruto. "All that hot air in his head will keep him toasty."
Sakura laughs, and Kiba tips his head back and closes his eyes to revel in it. He was the first one to make her laugh after Naruto left (and the second, and the third, and the fourth), and sometimes, he feels like if it weren't for him, she never would have done it again.
Making her happy might be Kiba's greatest accomplishment to date.
He parts ways with her a block away from her house – all that kissing made him late – and Sakura hums as she walks home.
"Oh! Hi, Lee." Sakura smiles at him, smoothing a hand over her hair self-consciously. "How are you?"
"I'm very well, thank you," he says, but his smile isn't as beaming bright as it usually is. "May I walk you home?"
"You don't need to," she says. "But you're more than welcome to. I haven't seen you in a long time."
"I've been on many missions in the past several months," he says apologetically. "And when I'm home, I train every day with Gai-sensei and my te—" He breaks off, looking uncomfortable.
Lee has never shown such restraint before, and Sakura feels horrible all over again. Does everyone consider her so weak?
"Could I train with you one day?" she asks. "Maybe we could spar." Lee grins, opens his mouth, then hesitates. Sakura recognizes the look on his face and smirks. "I know I look soft, but I'm pretty strong, Lee. I might even be a challenge for you."
Sakura doesn't realize she is the one challenge Lee will never overcome.
He smiles at her, and it is a bit blinding. Sakura squints. "I would be honored to fight you, Sakura-san." He looks abashed. "Neji and Tenten don't enjoy sparring with me anymore."
Sakura giggles at his expression, and when he looks at her, bemused, the giggles explode into full-fledged peals of laughter. She has never laughed so hard, and she doesn't know why she is now. Lee doesn't seem to, either, and his confusion only amuses her further, until she's laughing so hard her stomach hurts and she can't breathe.
Kiba stands a few feet behind her, holding the bag of groceries she left behind. He watches the moonlight spill over her, catching a flash of her teeth, a dimple, the smile he kissed into place not long ago.
Everyone knows how Sakura got her heart broken only a year ago. But not many people realize just how many hearts she has unwittingly trampled on in the last thirteen.
Kiba wants Sakura to be happy. But he hates that smile.
(He is a horrible person.)
Few people know that Haruno Sakura is a phenomenal kisser. Actually, only two people: Shikamaru, who ran, and Kiba, who stayed until Sakura broke up with him.
And now: Neji.
Tsunade tells Sakura that Naruto is returning in a week, maybe two, so Sakura goes out with friends and she drinks.
Some people, her mentor included, drink to drown their sorrows. Sakura drinks to saturate her happiness. To cry, she sits alone in her new apartment and lets herself remember, but to celebrate, she lets herself go.
Everyone is out tonight: Ino and Hinata and their teams join her (Shikamaru clinks cups with her when they lock eyes, and Kiba gives her a long hug), and even the teachers come along – even Kakashi-sensei, who keeps refilling her glass – and she invites Lee and Neji when she sees them coming out of Ichiraku.
Sakura couldn't be happier (well, not unless Naruto and Sasuke appeared beside her at that very moment), which also means she couldn't be drunker.
She leans over when Ino whispers in her ear: "Neji's kind of hot with his hair up, right?" And he is. Sakura doesn't think much of him when his long hair flows about his shoulders, but on hot nights, Neji ties his hair back and looks strong and confident and—and something about him reminds him of Sasuke.
She stands, shakily, from her seat at the bar, and nearly stumbles on her way to the quiet booth Neji and Lee and Shino have retired to.
"Hello, Sakura-san," Lee greets warmly. She bumps into the table, and he looks alarmed, shooting out of his seat at once. "Sakura-san! Are you okay?"
"You should sit down," Shino says, and Lee nods emphatically, gesturing to the seat he has just vacated. Sakura slides in, knee bumping against Neji's.
"Have some water, Sakura-san," Lee says, pouring her a glass. He looks so concerned for her, Sakura wants to hug him.
"You don't need to call me Sakura-san anymore, Lee." She accepts the glass, gulps down half with a deep sigh as the world slowly stops spinning. "I'm just Sakura." Lee and her are close enough, she thinks, for him to stop being so formal.
Sakura closes her eyes, and thinks she hears Lee mumble something she probably wasn't meant to hear ("You'll never be just Sakura," she thinks it was, or perhaps, "You'll never have a bust, Sakura.") but doesn't think too hard about it. Thinking hurts. She groans.
"And this is why you shouldn't drink," Neji says quietly, and Sakura opens her eyes. He is looking straight at her, and from here, he looks nothing like Sasuke. His eyes are too light, nose too long, and expression too soft.
Neji notes the way her expression suddenly crumples, and wonders what he said that was so wrong – he thought Sakura was less sensitive now – when she suddenly leans over and kisses him.
For the first time in his life, Neji's mind goes blank.
Her lips urge him to respond, and her hands are flat on his chest, and when he tries to pull away, she misunderstands, sighs into his mouth, and then Neji is lost.
She winds her fingers into the fabric of his shirt and pulls him closer with a jerk, and she uses some of that chakra-enhanced strength she is so renown for, and Neji barely keeps from crashing into her. He grabs the table for support, snaps his eyes open, and sees Lee, behind her – behind the girl Neji's kissing, behind the girl Lee loves – and Neji yanks away, horrified at himself.
Sakura blinks, dazed, then looks around at the small group that witnessed her act of treachery.
And then she bursts into tears.
Neji remembers, with some relief, that Naruto is returning soon. Then he realizes Sasuke may be soon to follow, and it surprises him when the thought hurts.
Sakura looks sweet, but her kisses are bitter. Neji is the third boy to learn that, and the first to wish they weren't.
Sakura wakes up with a hangover and two notes on the pillow beside her. She doesn't remember getting home the night before, but the notes explain it. Neji's is one word long, written in thick, elegant strokes: Sorry. Like it's his fault she is a basket case.
The other is from Lee, in surprisingly neat, even writing: Sakura (the –san is scratched out, then rewritten), I left some water and medicine by your bed. I am very sorry for going through your things, but you were asleep. I will run three hundred laps around Konoha as penance!
Sleep well, Sakura-san.
Sakura smiles at the note, takes the medicine he left, and then gets up to shower and get ready. She plants to hunt down Neji first, but finds him running laps with Lee and saves her a trip.
"What are you punishing yourself for?" she asks Neji when he and Lee slow to a stop in front of her. He remains blank-faced, and she flushes. She doesn't know how to patch things up with Neji, but he acts like nothing happened between them, and she decides she should probably do the same. So she turns to Lee. "Thank you for last night."
"It was no problem, Sakura-san," Lee says, with a glance at Neji. "Are you feeling better?"
"Much better," Sakura says. "May I run with you?"
Lee looks thrilled at the idea, but hesitates. He shakes his head. "You should rest, Sakura-san."
"You never rest," she points out.
"Lee doesn't drink," Neji says, and Sakura shoots him a look. He sounds reproving, but his eyes look... sad, she realizes with a start.
Somehow, when he looks at her like this, all Sakura can think of is Sasuke.
"If this is your penance, Lee," Sakura says, getting into place beside him and stretching her legs. "Then one hundred laps can be mine."
She doesn't look at Neji when she says this, but she looks at Lee. And Lee looks so surprised and pleased, Sakura feels her heart warm. She even lets herself forget about Sasuke. Just for this moment.
For as long as he can remember, Naruto has really wanted Haruno Sakura to kiss him.
He thinks of this when Kiba tells him, in a low voice over ramen, that they dated, briefly. Shino, beside him, stays quiet, but Kiba tells him that Shino saw her kiss Neji.
"I think something might have happened between her and Shikamaru, too," Kiba adds. "But I don't know what. He just acts weird around her sometimes."
Naruto doesn't reply. He stares at his bowl of untouched ramen until someone pokes him in the shoulder.
"Naruto? You're not eating. Are you sick?"
Sakura. Of course it's Sakura.
"Very funny, Sakura-chan." She sits beside him, and Naruto has trouble restraining himself from asking why, why she kissed all those other boys when he's been waiting for so many years. For one selfish moment he thinks, if he hadn't left to train with Jiraiya, Sakura could have been his girlfriend now. And then he feels so ashamed, he has to leave.
Sakura watches him go, then pulls his cold bowl over and starts to eat.
Kiba slides into the stool next to her. "You look happy."
"I am happy," she says, and it's true, but she could be happier. One teammate down, Sakura thinks, popping a bite into her mouth, one to go.
Three weeks later, Sakura's dream shatters.
Three hours after that, so does Naruto's.
For as long as he can remember, Naruto has wanted Sakura to kiss him. But when she does, after they try and fail to bring Sasuke back, he feels hollow and heavy, all at once.
They sit on the lumpy red couch in his apartment, and Naruto tries to hide the stains on the off-white walls and talk over his screaming neighbors. Konoha is a good place to live, but it has its rough patches, and Naruto can't afford a better place to live. He feels embarrassed, because he never wanted Sakura, of all people, to see him like this.
She notices the mess and the stains and the shady figures outside the window, but says nothing. Her heart hurts for Naruto, though, and her heart hurts for herself, too, and maybe that's why she starts to lean forward.
She stops a breath away from Naruto's lips and starts to recoil, horrified at herself, but before she can, Naruto is on her, kissing her with every ounce of passion he has. Not many people realize the depths of Naruto's feelings for Sakura, but in that moment, Sakura does, and it overwhelms her.
For Naruto, this is a dream, and he can't believe it's come true. The thump of something hitting the wall in his neighbor's apartment is his only proof, and his heart swells. He realizes that his bedroom is only a few feet away, then banishes the thought, embarrassed.
And then she pulls away.
Naruto tries to lean in again, then catches himself and pulls away. He smiles at Sakura, then stops when he catches sight of the wretched pain in her face. The face he's dreamed about so often in his life.
Sakura hates herself.
"I'm sorry, Naruto," she whispers, and the look in her eyes tears Naruto to shreds.
Shikamaru, Kiba, and Neji got to kiss Sakura before Naruto did. Naruto wonders if they appreciated the experience as much as he did, and if it left them devastated, too. He doubts it.
He can't think of one other person that has loved Haruno Sakura like he has.
Sakura looks up from her crouched position a block away from Naruto's apartment, wiping away the last of her tears.
"Lee," she sighs. "How do you always find me when I'm at my worst?"
Lee's brows furrow in concern, and he crouches before her. "This isn't a safe neighborhood, Sakura-san."
"I'm not safe, Lee," she says, but gets up. "What are you doing here, anyway?"
"I live here," Lee says, and he looks down briefly, ashamed – just like Naruto, Sakura thinks, and her stomach churns.
"What's wrong with me, Lee?" Sakura whispers, before she can stop herself. Her voice rises, and she whirls on him, and he jumps a little. "Why do I hurt everyone who cares about me?"
And why is it, Sakura can't help but wonder, that her kisses seem to cause so much pain?
Lee is silent for a moment. He looks sidelong at her and says, "You've never hurt me, Sakura-san."
Sakura stops in her tracks and turns to look up at him. Lee fiddles with his sleeve, not looking at her.
Sakura promises herself something, then: she may have hurt Shikamaru, who tried to help her, and Kiba, who did help her, and maybe Neji, who didn't blame her. She may have hurt Naruto more than she ever wanted to hurt anyone.
But she will never hurt Rock Lee. She will never kiss him.
Lee meets her eyes tentatively, and she smiles at him, repeating her promise to herself. She doesn't say the words out loud, which is good, because if she did, she would have hurt Lee anyway.
War has many casualties, and Team Seven is one of them.
It takes one blinding flash of color, one earth-rocking explosion, and two words – chidori, rasengan – to destroy Sakura's world.
Naruto and Sasuke lay side by side they could be sleeping, if they weren't so soaked in each other's blood. They look almost peaceful. They're together, again, at last.
Where does that leave her?
She lays a hand on each chest, pumping chakra into dying bodies. Naruto's pulse disappears beneath her, but she doesn't stop.
Sakura-chan, he can hear him say, gentle but firm. Sakura-chan, stop.
"No," she says. "No, you idiot! Shut up!"
The people standing behind her can't understand what she's saying through her sobs.
"You can't leave me," she says. "You can't leave me agai—"
Sasuke wraps a hand around her wrist. No one moves to stop him.
Uchiha Sasuke is no threat now.
"Sakura," he hisses, because he can't raise his voice more than that, "Stop."
"Sasuke-kun." Tears roll down her cheeks and spatter onto his clothes. She puts both hands on his chest, emptying out her chakra reserves to try and save him.
"Stop," he says again.
Sakura shakes her head. "No, Sasuke-kun, you can't leave me. I love you. I love you so much."
But he's already fading.
Sakura leans down and covers his lips with her own, trying – trying to do what, she doesn't know. She thinks she wants to push her life into him, somehow.
Sasuke's hand drops from her wrist, and she presses her fingers into his skin, trying to keep him alive through sheer force of will.
With his last breath on earth, Sasuke kisses Sakura. With his final look at her tearstained face, he thinks, maybe, if something (everything) had been different, he would have loved her, too.
Sasuke falls limp, and Sakura's agonized screams pierce the night.
Kakashi and Sai have been through many deaths, but these ones are different.
Kakashi dissolves into his work. He performs mission after mission, speaks little, and never smiles. Gai-sensei is sure Kakashi will bounce back, but he dreads the day his rival will be able to pretend he wasn't affected by Naruto and Sasuke's deaths.
Sai has trouble coping. He doesn't know how to express himself, and he visits Sakura daily, unable to fully understand why she won't see him.
Sakura quits being a kunoichi. She spends all her days in the hospital and never leaves the village. Who would she leave with? She gets two black rings tattooed around her bicep – one for Naruto, one for Sasuke.
Sakura works hard and goes out to eat with Ino and smiles and laughs and doesn't break again.
But she never kisses another person. She never will.
She finds Lee in the hospital one day, suffering from a broken rib, and clicks her tongue. "Rough mission?"
"Nothing to concern yourself with, Sakura-san," he says, and she smiles at him.
"I can fix this just fine," she says, and she does. She leaves Lee to pull on a shirt and turns to the next bed in the semi-private room. It holds a newbie ninja with a fractured arm and a sly grin. Sakura heals it in a moment, and then he leans forward.
"Sakura-san, it still hurts."
She doesn't look up from the clipboard she's making notes on. "I'll prescribe you some painkillers."
The grin widens. "I know a painkiller."
Sakura looks up warily. "What?"
"You could kiss it better." He sounds like Naruto, Lee thinks, and Sakura seems to too.
"Trust me," she says, turning back to her clipboard. "You don't want that."
And she walks out.
Lee comes skidding out of the room to chase after her, and finds Sakura leaning against the wall by the door. Waiting.
"You always find me at my worst," Sakura says. Ever since the Forest of Death. "I figured I'd make it a little easier on you this time."
"Sakura-san," Lee says. And stops. He doesn't know how to say what he wants to say.
Sakura doesn't cry or smile. Her expression is blank, and it batters against Lee's heart. "I killed him."
"Sasuke-kun. I killed him." She knows it isn't rational, but she believes it with every bone in her body. Her kisses are dangerous. She knew this, but she kissed him anyway. Sakura knows she's selfish. She is the most selfish human being in the world.
"Sakura-san, no." Lee takes a step forward, falters, then, awkwardly, puts his arms around her. He braces himself for Sakura to push him away, but she doesn't. She remains very still.
Sakura doesn't know why she does the things she does, or why other people react the way they react. Why did Sasuke leave, Shikamaru run, Kiba stay, and Neji apologize?
Why did she break Naruto's heart, and why did he forgive her?
Why did she steal Sasuke's last breath? Why did he give it to her?
She squeezes her eyes shut against tears. If Shikamaru or Kiba were watching, they would hate themselves for thinking her beautiful. If it were Neji, he'd be sorry. Naruto would be distraught. Sasuke would be angry.
But no one would be able to deny the hauntingly lovely look in her eyes. No one but Lee.
"Sakura-san," Lee begins, then stops. The confession gets stuck in his throat. He tries again: "May I say something?"
Sakura bites the inside of her cheek. She waits.
"When two people love each other," he says, and has to tamp down on a blush, "They are often affectionate with each other. I don't think you were wrong to do what you did with people you cared about."
Sakura appreciates the thought, but isn't foolish enough to accept it.
She kissed four boys before she finally got to the boy she wanted, and Sakura hates herself for all of them. She hurt good boys, wonderful boys, for her own selfish needs. Sakura is tired. Tired of being a horrible person. Tired of kissing people to dull the ache in her own heart.
"Sakura-san," Lee begins earnestly.
"Sakura," she interrupts. She looks at him. "Just Sakura."
Lee rubs the back of his neck. "Sakura," he says, and has to bite his tongue to keep the honorific from spilling out. "I… may I walk you home tonight?"
"You don't need to," she says. "But you're welcome to."
"Thank you," he says, and Sakura's breath catches in her throat. She looks up at Lee.
Sakura cares too much about Lee – sweet, innocent Lee – to hurt him with her kisses. But she can hug him, and she does. He seems surprised, but, cautiously, pats her on the back.
Lee knows he is the only person who is in love with Haruno Sakura that she will never kiss. That's okay. He loved Haruno Sakura long before she even considered kissing him, and he knows he will love her long after.
Sakura kissed five boys who disappeared, after all, but he's still there.
He will always be there.