disclaimer_I don't own any of Naruto and please don't sue and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
note1_okay. so the prompt isn't incorporated as heavily in this one. You kinda gotta squint and stand on your head to see it. Maybe squeeze some lemon juice in your eye to impair your vision.
note2_this is a NaruSaku…just thought I should warn any of you haters out there.
There had been warning signs all week long.
Monday morning she was brushing her hair when the head of the brush just snapped clean off. Tuesday afternoon she was washing her hands in the hospital bathroom when the mirror suddenly cracked and the jagged line split her reflection in two. Wednesday was uneventful, save for the murder of crows that had decided to take up residence on her house's rooftop. Thursday, the black cat that skittered across her path was hit by an oncoming cart and subsequently died, despite her best efforts to save the unfortunate creature. When Friday came around and Tsunade assigned her to lead an S-class mission, Sakura should have declined.
But she was logical, scientific, and above all, ed-ju-cated and so she put no stock in petty things like omens and superstitions. By association, she wasn't very religious either.
Funnily enough, while she was in that human abattoir, drugged up just enough so she could speak and scream but not move; while she was tied down to the cold, metal table and the men holding saws and blades peered over her with twisted grins; while the strung up corpses of her mutilated comrades dangled from the rafters above her; while she was being tortured; Sakura had never before prayed so hard for there to be a god.
Naruto takes one step through the threshold of his apartment before letting his pack fall to the floor with a heavy thud. Nudging the bag aside with his foot he slams the door shut behind him. The finality in the bam prompts a relieved sigh from the young man.
He takes a moment to bask in the afternoon sunshine streaming in from the kitchen window and the utter silence that pervades the room: two of three things that Ame had been sorely lacking in (the other being a decent ramen joint).
During his first night Amegakure, he had found the sound of falling rain plinking against the window of his room soothing. By the end of the week, the noise had begun to push him over the edge. By the end of the month, the almost constant rain and perpetual cover of drab, gray clouds had been enough to drive him stir-crazy.
For the record, playing ambassador had not been as fun as Naruto had originally envisioned. Every other day he had been carted off to watch some Ceremonial Nonsense, and if it wasn't that, then it had been a conference or a convention or something Traditional. He couldn't have helped but wish that The Hag had sent him off to "establish good relations" somewhere less dreary. And wet.
But the ordeal is over now. The Hidden Rain had fallen head over heels in hero-love with his bright disposition (perhaps the lack of their own sun had been a contributing factor) and he had accordingly secured what was to be called, for brevity's sake, The Konoha-Ame Peace Treaty. Everything is Okay. Mission accomplished. And now: Shower Time.
Naruto wriggles out of his travel-worn jacket and is about to unceremoniously throw it at couch when the buzzer to his front door goes off. Wondering who had such impeccable (read: annoying) timing, he spins around to open the door, inwardly wailing at the delay of his much needed bath.
It crosses his mind as he is twisting the doorknob that it could be Sakura-chan with a piping hot bowl of Ichiraku ramen.
He grins and opens up. The corners of his smile sag noticeably.
"Kakashi-sensei?" If Kakashi picks up on Naruto's disappointment, it simply rolls off the man like water off a duck's back.
"Hey, Naruto. I heard you were back," he greets.
Remembering this was his old teacher, and therefore kind of important, Naruto re-pins his mouth into a friendly grin. "Yup! Just got in a few seconds ago."
"How was Ame?"
"It was—" Naruto pauses, reeling in the string of complaints when he remembers that he was supposed to practice being "diplomatic" or whatever. "It was damp?" he offers.
"Tsunade-sama teaching you diplomacy?"
"Something like that," Naruto admits.
Kakashi nods. "Keep working at it," he advises in a way that is just a cut below encouraging.
"Yeah." Naruto nods as well, but they both know tact has never been his forte. He waits for his sensei to say more but the man is silent, almost hesitant—like he's testing the waters before the plunge. And because Naruto has always been better at reading people than books, he asks "What's wrong?"
His teacher scratches at the back of his neck in agitation and the man's one good eye is roving—avoiding actually, which only troubles Naruto even more. He doesn't miss the way Kakashi's chest rises then falls in a soundless sigh.
It isn't lost upoun Naruto that his teacher rarely makes house calls, and he begins to suspect that the premise behind Kakashi's impromptu visit must be rather serious. He is growing wary. "Kakashi-sensei?"
Two words should not hold so much power, but when paired with Kakashi's grim expression, they are strong enough lance through Naruto's heart.
Sakura is standing in front of the window, tethered to the IV drip which has been her keeper the past few weeks. She looks out and watches the clouds scudding across the afternoon sky, still unused to—frustrated by—her half-view of the world.
She is following a pack of cumulus fractus swifting across the vivid blue space thousands of miles above her—the current distance between herself and reality—when the door to her private room is flung open and Naruto careens in. "Sakura-chan!" He practically shouts her name, his heavy breathing a testament to the hard pace he has kept from his apartment to the hospital. "Are you all right? I heard—"
Sakura turns to meet him and he falters. She can see his eyes widen in shock, on the verge of horror. Self-conscious, she puts a hand to the bandaged half of her face and Naruto is uncertain of how to proceed.
"Sakura-chan…" he begins.
"They took my eye," Sakura blurts out and the ensuing silence roars between them. "They took my eye," she says again, this time trying to keep her voice steady. "And my arm." Her hand slips down from her face, moves across her body, and hangs off the shoulder on the other side. The sleeve below is empty.
Armageddon must be coming soon because, for once, Naruto has nothing to say. His blue eyes are still wide with disbelief, but his brows are furrowed, and he looks so stricken that Sakura feels she has to say something.
"At least I'm still alive," she tells him, her, the both of them, and smiles. She knows little of how broken and defeated it looks on her face.
In a surprising show of speed, strength, and perhaps desperation, Naruto crosses the room, catches her around his arms, and crushes her to his chest. He doesn't know if it's because of her missing limb or because she has become so skeletal, but she feels so, so, so fragile.
Sakura doesn't move closer, but she doesn't move away either. "I'm still alive," she repeats shakily; her voice is wet with tears.
He takes a hand and, gently, firmly presses her head against his shoulder. "Yeah. You are," he assures her and he tightens his hold on her to assure himself. The shoulder of his sleeve grows damp against his skin.
"You smell bad," Sakura half-heartedly mumbles into him.
Naruto knows better than to let go.
To add insult to her literal injury, Tsunade takes Sakura's name off the roster.
"Until you're ready. Right now, you'd be a liability on a mission," her master says. "Leave your forehead protector here. You'll get it back once you're reinstated."
Sakura wonders how the woman can be so insensitive but she doesn't protest because she understands. She is a one-eyed, one-armed, damaged weapon, and everyone knows a dulled blade is useless.
So Sakura consigns herself to the decision and leaves the Hokage's office with her pride in tatters.
Tsunade sits at her desk, watches the door, and hopes.
She is sorely disappointed.
The days slip into weeks and suddenly a month has passed with little change.
Everyday Sakura is at the training grounds. Everyday she is fighting to sharpen her dulled edge. And everyday she is waiting and waiting and waiting.
Her determination changes to desperation which twists into frustration until it finally loses out to a helpless sort of acceptance.
Tsunade has yet to call her back to the office.
Day 42 has the bite of coming winter. Still, Sakura is out at the training grounds because although she is resigned, she has hope.
The tip of her nose and apples of her cheeks are stained cherry red from the cold. Her breath comes out as thick, white puffs, and she is beginning to regret wearing just her shorts and vest. Despite her prickling skin, frozen toes, and overall discomfort, she doggedly goes through the kata that Kakashi-sensei has shown her. It's a little difficult with just one arm (but she manages).
Today she has an audience of one: Naruto. He leans against the trunk of a tree and watches her with arms crossed across his chest. His face is unusually inexpressive which, on him, looks almost like displeasure.
Sakura can feel those blue eyes bore into her, observing with an unnerving amount of concentration. So, she ignores him and continues with the exercise. Left foot: round house kick, bring it down. Inhale. Right arm: down block. Exhale and right hand punch. Inhale. right arm: inside block. Exhale and right hand punch. Inhale. Spin. Exhale and left leg: back kick, bring it down. Inhale—
"What are you doing?"
Exhale. Sakura's attention flicks to Naruto, who, for some reason, sounds upset.
"It's a kata that Kakashi-sensei taught me," she says a little defensively in retaliation to the accusatory tone of his voice.
His arms disengage from themselves and drop to his side. He sighs loudly. "I know you're doing a kata, Sakura-chan. What I mean is what're you still doing here."
It takes Sakura a few moments to figure out what Naruto was saying. When she does figure it out, she goes slack-jaw and stares at him in outrage, waiting for him to take back his words, prostrate himself at her feet, and grovel for forgiveness.
Naruto makes no move towards the ground and, instead, meets her thundercloud gaze with an even look.
"Did you really just say that?" Sakura demands. She knows he did, but she wants to give him a chance to redeem himself, wants to get rid of that ugly sense of betrayal.
Naruto frowns at her expression. "Did I say something wrong?"
"No, you didn't." Yes, yes he did. "Tsunade-sama just hasn't reinstated me yet," she says stiffly.
"So, I'm waiting," Sakura grounds out through gritted teeth. By her side, her hand is clenched so hard into a fist that it's shaking. She knows it's stupid for her to keep this up, but she doesn't want to—can't— hear it from him.
Naruto throws his arms out in exasperation. "Why? Just what the hell are you waiting for Sakura-chan? You can't just—"
And then, Sakura's face is suddenly just inches away from his and she is screaming clouds of white smoke. "I know! Okay?! I know! But you're the one who always says to never give up! What else am I supposed to do? I know it's stupid and I know I only have one arm and one eye and I'm useless and crippled and ugly, but what. Am. I. Supposed. To. Fucking do?" She has him up against the tree now, and she beats her fist into his chest with every word and Naruto lets her.
Behind him, the tree shudders with every blow. Crisp autumn leaves rustle against each other on the branches before they all begin to break off in a mass exodus; spiraling and fluttering down like the wings of dying butterflies; falling in colors of red and gold—colors of fire—and blanketing the ground and their heads.
And in that rain of fire, Sakura's anger crumbles away to reveal the broken girl—no, she is a woman now—beneath, and she stands there crying in defeat and humiliation as her hand grips the front of Naruto's jacket, herself having very little left to hang onto.
Naruto remains quiet, patiently waiting until Sakura has subsided into an exhausted mess of drippy noses and shuddering breaths. He finally exhales out heavily from his nose and takes her hand in his, gently removing it from the front of his jacket, finger by finger. Her arm is flayed with deep scars that even medical jutsu couldn't heal; Naruto thinks the scars on her heart are much worse.
"Sakura-chan," he begins as he starts to pick the leaves out of her hair. "I think you're misunderstanding what I mean. But more importantly," he unzips his jacket, shrugs if off, and hangs it off of her. His hands stay on her shoulders and his smile is full of adoration and laced with a small amount of sadness. He bends over and presses his forehead to hers. "You. Are. Beautiful," he tells her and his blue eyes hold that unshakable conviction of an honest man who is in sincere, irrevocable love.
Sakura is glad her cheeks are already red from the cold.
Naruto pulls away and he is still smiling that bittersweet smile. "Anyways, I didn't mean you should give up. But you gotta fight for it too, Sakura-chan."
"I am fighting," she argues.
He shakes his head. "No, you're not. Right now, you're just waiting."
Sakura looks upset, but that's because she can't escape the truth in his words.
Tsunade is at her desk doing an unholy amount of paperwork. In the middle of signing, her wrist cramps and she self-diagnoses it as an early sign of possible arthritis and takes a break in order to prevent any potential joint complications in the future.
She softens against the back of her chair and her sight strays to small piece of paper taped to the bottom right corner of her desk. It is riddled with bundles of tally marks: 42 in total.
As Tsunade begins to wonder whether she should stop counting, there is a knock at the door.
"Come in," she orders and when it's Sakura who strides through the threshold, the older woman is extremely pleased, though she hides it well. "Sakura, what is it?"
"Tsunade-sama, I need to speak with you."
Tsunade appraises her student, inwardly approving of the way Sakura's is standing tall, shoulders out, and head held high. "Go on, then."
"I want to be reinstated on the roster." Tsunade doesn't say anything to this and Sakura takes her silence as disapproval. "I know I…I have a few disadvantages, but even Kakashi-sensei does his missions like this most of the time," she says as she points at the white eye-patch that covers the grisly image of her empty eye socket. "Plus, I can still do damage without ninjutsu, shishou, I can…still..fight? Shishou, what's so funny?"
"I'm not laughing, Sakura."
"Yes, but you're grinning."
"It's nothing, nothing," Tsunade waves her hand dismissively, obviously working hard to keep the smile off of her face (it isn't working). "All right, you can leave now," she says and picks up her pen, head already bowed over her paperwork.
Sakura looks distressed. "Wait, but what about—"
"Oh right, I almost forgot." Tsunade pulls open a drawer and places the forehead protector on the desk.
Sakura stares at it. "What's this?" She knows it's a stupid question; it would have been painfully moronic of her to forget that red colored ribbon.
Tsunade arches an eyebrow. "Well? What're you waiting for? Aren't you going to take it?"
Actually, Sakura wants to lunge for it, tie it in her hair, and feel the weight of the metal rest against the top of her head—feel the tangible proof that she is capable. She wants to wear it—so badly—but instead, her sea glass gaze tears itself away from the headband and fixes itself on her teacher's face, because forty two days have passed, and it all seems too easy. "Does…this mean…?" Her voice is double-edged with both hope and distrust.
If Tsunade hears the suspicion in her student's voice, she doesn't notice (or she just chooses not to call attention to it), and tries to shrug nonchalantly, though she is unable to entirely hide her satisfaction. "You came back for it. You're ready."
For the first time in 42 days, Sakura is smiling—really smiling. "Thank—"
"Now, go on I've got loads of work to do," Tsunade cuts in and tries to shoo the pinkette out before things could get dangerously emotional. "You'll receive your mission tomorrow, so rest up, or else I'm taking your name off the roster again."
Despite her teacher's threat, Sakura is still smiling. "Really shishou, thank you," she say, even if she knows the words will make the other woman uncomfortable (or maybe because she knows).
Tsunade nods, pretending to be distracted, and Sakura takes her forehead protector and turns around, starting towards the door.
"Oh right, Sakura," Tsunade calls out.
She spins back around. "Yes?"
"I like your jacket," her teacher remarks casually. The woman is looking down, shuffling through some papers, but the corners of her lips are curled up into a devious smirk.
The statement and its unspoken implications send Sakura into a tailspin. "What? No! I mean, this is—I just—he—" She flails helplessly beneath her teacher's carnivore grin and the orange track jacket suddenly feels screamingly bright. In an act of desperation, she makes a break for the exit. "Byeshishou, gotttago!"
Sakura is almost in the clear—she is about to slam the door shut—but her teacher's voice manages to slip through the closing space. "Don't forget to give it back to him!"
The door is shut behind her now, but she can hear Tsunade laughing on the other side. Sakura's face is bright red with mortification, and despite feeling like she's burning up, she zips the front of the jacket close and burrows the bottom of her face into the collar, not to hide out of embarrassment, but to hide the smile stretched across her face.
author's notes_ I know, I know. I think I have some strange fixation with Sakura loosing limbs. I have issues. Idk. Reviews for the crazy author?