Chapter 17: Knowing and Feeling
"Naruto! I'll bring Sasuke back for you."
When Sakura first woke up, the fragments of her dream still sharp enough in her mind, her first thought wasn't 'I dreamed amemory', it was 'I knew it'. Then she noticed that her clock was chiming. The time was 9:07. It was a strange time for her alarm to go off. It had probably been beeping for a few minutes, but the noise had not been enough to wake her from her sleep - which she was glad of.
Pleased, she threw off her bedcovers and clambered out the bed, excited for what the day would hold for her. She was meeting Naruto today, like she did every day, and not much else had occupied her recent thoughts. It didn't feel like a bad thing either. Why would it be? She didn't feel like she was making any progress with her amnesia issue, but she wasn't currently feeling sad about that fact. Naruto was accepting her, even without her memories and abilities. If she was happy, he was happy, and that feeling was mutual.
Sakura almost skipped to the bathroom. She was already happy so she couldn't wait to meet Naruto. He usually made her happier, the moment she saw him. After they had been too indecisive over who they could drag out to dinner (and conveniently forget their money), Sakura had suggested they go back to her house to eat. After all, they'd already had ramen once that day.
While he didn't mind having it several times a day, it wasn't exactly healthy or efficient money-wise. She wouldn't admit that she didn't mind either. She assumed she'd eaten it enough times with him over her lifetime to have acquired a taste for it. They had a quick microwave meal, as she'd given up on cooking for now.
At the moment, she didn't even remember what they had to eat specifically, but she was likely too fixated on who she was eating with to really take note of what they had for dinner. She did remember that they were meeting today, though. For once, when she looked at her reflection in the mirror, she smiled at herself. It was going to be a good day. She could feel it.
Sakura was bursting to tell Naruto about her dream, but she had to find him first. This was proving to be harder than she hoped it would be. She had made her way to his apartment only to find that he'd already left for the day. They should have decided a meeting point and time. Where did they usually meet? She shook her head, making a mental note to discuss it with him later.
If in doubt, ask Tsunade or Ino. Both medics seemed to enjoy sharing their opinion on her and Naruto, so she trusted they could find him for her. They did always claim to know about him.
At least the Hokage was easy to find. As Sakura reached her mentor's office, she barely stopped herself from running. She wanted to find Naruto and get the day started.
Knocking the door and opening it, she greeted the sannin cheerfully. "Morning, shishou. Have you seen Naruto?"
Tsunade raised her head from reading a collection of papers and books on her desk to look at her apprentice. "Sakura, how are you feeling this morning?"
"Great," Sakura answered curtly, before repeating, "Have you seen Naruto?"
Tsunade smiled at her. "Yes I have. Will you be busy today?"
"I was just going to meet him and hang out." Sakura shrugged her shoulders. "Where is he?"
"Just hang out? Will you not be memory chasing?"
Sakura shrugged again. She didn't really want this conversation right now. All she wanted to know was where Naruto was currently. They hadn't planned any amnesia battle tactics for today; they were just going to have some fun. Recently, that's all they had really done. Go on tours around Konoha, go out for meals, talk to each other, and share their thoughts on the world... Being with him had freed her of her stress and worries. Their natural relationship brought out her positivity.
"This is a new approach is it? Not trying, seeing what comes naturally?" Tsunade inquired, bringing a hand up to hold her chin. "Interesting."
Sakura shuffled from foot to foot. Perhaps she should have asked Ino. At least the blonde never discussed her amnesia with her. She would much rather be questioned about romance and her feelings right now. She wasn't quite sure what had changed about her, but something definitely had. It was likely just that she needed to tell Naruto about this dream. It was important to her that she relieved him of his unneeded guilt. He had been so good to her; she was trying every day to return the favour.
The Hokage studied her closely, as if watching her inner-mind work as the silence extended between them. "…You've not actually been trying?"
"I'm sorry," she began sheepishly, lowering her head.
She was supposed to be trying wasn't she? It was just that she felt like she was getting nowhere with her abilities. When she was with Naruto, all she wanted to do was live in the moment. Her mental issue didn't matter to him, and increasingly, it wasn't bothering her as much either.
Her mentor smiled comfortingly at her. "Sakura, I'm not angry. This is good for you. Less stress."
Sakura looked back up at the Hokage, finding some consolation in the understanding words. "Are you sure?"
Tsunade nodded. "Of course, go and have fun. He's waiting for you on the roof."
Sakura grinned, pleased with the blonde's opinion of her recent activities and at the knowledge of Naruto's whereabouts. One benefit of talking to Tsunade instead of Ino was that the conversation was likely to be at least three hours shorter.
She observed Tsunade push some papers on her desk aside, casting the pile an almost wishful glance. As she turned around and opened the door, she shouted happily over her shoulder, "Thanks!"
She only seemed to receive a small sigh as a reply, but raced towards the roof, her spirits not dampened.
Sakura effortlessly ran up the stairs, two at a time, to the top of the Hokage's Tower. She continuously enjoyed that physical actions came naturally to her. She was even tempted to challenge Naruto to a race.
She thought back to when she had first challenged him to a test of speed and how effortlessly he had overtaken her. She felt a lot more confident in her ability now though, and she knew how to beat him if she was too far behind. Trip: this time knowing full well that she would never actually fall to the ground.
She realised how much had changed since the race down the hillside. She knew Naruto so much better now, her fondness for him only growing stronger.
With great enthusiasm, she reached the top of the stairs and ran to push open the closed doorway ahead of her. The light rays from the sun lit up the corridor behind her and she squinted until the person she'd been searching for – for what seemed like hours – came into focus. He was leaning over the rooftop's railings, his hair blowing gently in the wind.
"There you are!" Sakura exclaimed.
At the sound of her voice, he turned around and grinned. "Sakura-chan!"
"I've been looking for you everywhere," she told him as she walked up to stand by his side.
Balancing her arms on the rail, she pushed herself up onto her tiptoes to look at the ground below. It didn't look like he had been observing anything in particular. He wouldn't need to. Konoha was a beautiful place. The roof, overlooking the village, had a calming effect on her. They should start meeting here. It was a great spot.
Naruto looked at her oddly for a moment. His words were slow as he said, "I thought we were meeting here."
"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't hear you say that," she apologised sheepishly, giving him a sideways glance.
If she had heard him tell her that yesterday, it would have saved her all the extra time this morning, and from a deflating conversation with her mentor. However, she would not allow the delay to put her mood down. Her excitement levels had continued to build during her search for him. She was almost buzzing with anticipation of what they would do together. Even though she only saw him yesterday, she felt like she hadn't seen him in a long time.
"You said that..." He trailed off before reciting, "Meet on the roof, nine in the morning."
Sakura tilted backwards and rested her feet fully on the floor again. She turned to him and reached up with her arm to scratch her head. It rested there for a moment as she tried to remember saying those things. "I..."
Naruto's expression turned serious. He studied her expression closely, as if looking for some kind of hint that she was joking with him.
She shook her head and smiled at him. "Sorry, Naruto, I was probably tired last night." She waved her hand dismissively. "I'm just having a moment. Of course we were meeting here."
Truthfully, she didn't remember saying that but she didn't want to focus on a small blip in her concentration the night before. She wanted to get on with the day and have a good time.
Naruto apparently accepted this, for he nodded and smiled at her again.
"I did have something to tell you though," she added, her smile widening and becoming more natural.
Naruto listened carefully as she told him about her dream. His face became serious once more. She tried to explain it with wild hand gestures and vivid detail to prove to him that it was real.
"I ran at you," she concluded seriously, "so you're not allowed to feel bad about it, because I know it wasn't your fault."
By the end of her speech, to her relief, he looked partly amused. "All right, Sakura-chan."
"I'd do it again, if need be, if it somehow worked."
"You'll never have to do it again."
They smiled at each other.
"I know I won't," she told him honestly. "What would you like to do today?"
"Go to the library, like we agreed?" he suggested.
The library? That wasn't fun for them to do together. Had she really agreed to it the night before? She trusted that Naruto wasn't messing with her. She must have been drunk last night, she concluded, that would explain everything. She felt awake, and not at all hung over, but this was an obvious off-day. She didn't want to worry about it and she certainly didn't want to worry her best friend.
"You do like the library," Naruto said in puzzlement.
Sakura took note of his lack of enthusiasm and planned to use it to her advantage. "I bet you don't," she chimed.
"It bores me," Naruto admitted.
"Then let's do something else. How about a race? I want to beat you at something."
Naruto laughed. "We already raced, Sakura-chan."
"Well I want to beat you again."
"I thought I won," he said thoughtfully.
"I definitely won."
Sakura wondered briefly how much Naruto was prepared to banter with her. He very rarely disagreed with her, or challenged her plans. The only exception to this rule so far was him denying any negative thoughts or potentially self-harming tactics she had suggested they try.
"You played dirty," he told her in good humour, no annoyance whatsoever in his expression.
"You liked it."
Naruto laughed again, but his cheeks tinted with a light blush. "Yeah."
"So let's try again." She pulled him back to the roof doors. "We should meet here from now on. The view is beautiful."
Naruto stopped walking behind her and she turned to look at him. She was confused as his face contorted with concern. "You said that last night, Sakura-chan."
"Last night? We were at my house last night, Naruto," she answered. She rubbed her forearm but was unaware of the nervous gesture. She wanted to retreat from this situation. It was like he was accusing her of lying.
"We were at your house two nights ago. Last night we were here. You said the view was beautiful, and that we should meet here from now on."
He didn't break their eye contact and it was difficult for her not to look away. His almost tangible worry punctured her happy mood and her heart sank. Naruto should never be sad.
Sakura was flabbergasted and completely lost at what he was telling her, but that didn't touch her undeniable desire to put a smile back on his face.
Don't worry, Naruto. Don't look at me like that.
Her eyes flickered ever so slightly from his eye level to his nose. She didn't want to lie to him, but she didn't want him to be hurt by her confusion.
"That's right. This morning I overslept and I'm still not fully awake. It's not my day today. Let's just get on with it."
He didn't move.
"Okay," he replied eventually, allowing her to pull him once again in the direction of the stairs.
They travelled back along the Hokage Tower corridors. Sakura tried to pull herself back together. This morning she felt like nothing could go wrong with the world and now she was feverishly telling herself that it was still the same case. Everything was fine. They'd have a great time today and forget about the whole roof incident.
On the way, Shizune crossed their paths. The older medic had a large stack of papers in her hand and looked to be heading towards the Hokage's office, which they had just passed. Everything was normal there.
"Sakura, Naruto." She greeted them with a warm smile.
"Hi, Shizune-san." Sakura returned the smile.
Naruto nodded at the medic. He seemed out of it. He'd been quiet since the stairs and was acting awkward. He trailed slightly behind her all the way.
If he really didn't want to go along with her new plans, she hoped he would say so. He did whatever she wanted to do usually.
Perhaps she had upset him. Forgetting their meeting spot and activity... She was late too. He had probably been waiting for a while.
She hoped he wasn't mad. She could let him win their race to make up for it, then act impressed, then take him for ramen. She could officially apologise too. She had a feeling she didn't do that enough.
In any way possible, she was going to fix this.
"Did Tsunade show you that research?" Shizune asked, breaking her out of her thoughts.
"Research?" Sakura raised an eyebrow. "What research?"
Research on how to make a certain blond boy (who was usually a bundle of enthusiasm), happy again, would be useful to her. However, she highly doubted any kind of research like that was being referred to and so she wasn't curious about it.
"She's been working on something for a while now…" Shizune trailed off. "I thought it was ready to show you a couple of days ago."
"She's not said anything," Sakura informed her flatly.
"Do you want to see it now, Sakura-chan?" Naruto turned to her, a flicker of excitement in his eyes.
"Of course," she answered, although it sounded slightly half-hearted to her own ears. Even though it had managed to put a spark back into her friend, she still didn't feel the need to see this research. If anything, she was wary of what it might be.
Naruto grinned and grabbed her wrist with his hand, pulling her back along the corridor to the door they had come past.
When he reached the Hokage's office, he didn't knock and barged straight into the room. "Granny! We're here to see the research."
"Research?" Tsunade raised an eyebrow, looking up from a piece of paper she was reading.
Tsunade hummed thoughtfully before placing the sheet of paper onto the pile by her side. "Tell me something first, Sakura."
Sakura swallowed. She feared the sannin knew something. Tsunade had been watching her closely today, her eyes studying her every move.
Sakura's heartbeat began to quicken. She looked over her shoulder briefly to see that Shizune had followed them in and shut the door.
No escape. Not that I need to escape, she argued to herself, I've done nothing wrong.
"I know today is a day off from searching for medical solutions, as was yesterday, but what is your current plan in general? Are you trying to remember at all?"
"I am trying to remember. This is a new strategy I came up with...don't try. Trick myself into remembering," she explained, standing up straighter.
"That's what I thought," Tsunade replied casually.
Sakura's confidence increased as she realised she wasn't going to be accused of anything. Now was her chanced to turn the attention away from her. "But Shizune-san told me you had some research for me to look at."
The Hokage's eyes shifted to the mentioned medic, who smiled awkwardly back at her, before looking back at her apprentice. "Did she now?"
"Yes! Why didn't you show me?" Sakura pushed.
"Yeah! What gives?" Naruto questioned.
Tsunade ignored the boy and continued to fix her gaze on her apprentice. "Because you were happy not knowing."
It was obvious then. And it was true. All this trying and failing to recall memories or do ninja techniques had drained her emotionally. It hurt Naruto to see her fail, and she knew he was covering up his pain at her distress every time she couldn't do what she wanted to do. She didn't want to hurt him anymore.
Being happy, and spending time with him, had made him bright again. If she was happy, he was happy. She planned to be happy and she wanted him to be happy. She wouldn't deny that.
"How did you know?"
"Sakura, I've known you for a very long time. I know you. I can see what's happening."
Naruto looked at her and then back at the Hokage, not on the same wavelength as the females.
"I want to look at your research," Sakura insisted, trying to steer the conversation away from her again.
Even if she wasn't desperate to know, she was interested to say the least - just look at how excited Naruto was. He was fidgeting, as if trying to speed their conversation up and get to the good part.
"For you?" Tsunade asked.
"Who else would it be for?" Sakura answered, resisting glancing at Naruto again.
"Naruto. Me. Your friends."
"Of course it's for them too...but I do want to read your research."
"I was going to show you eventually, but I was just studying your natural behaviour."
Sakura did always feel like the Hokage was psychoanalysing her every move. It was like there was a superior motive to all of Tsunade's actions and words. There were hidden tests and she didn't know whether she was failing or passing them.
Honestly, it made her paranoid. "How do you mean?"
"You're physically improving," Tsunade said encouragingly, but then she added, "And mentally regressing, it seems."
Sakura pouted, trying to argue her case. "But I've learnt a lot of things, facts about all sorts. Yes, I feel like I could run marathons, but I've loved reading about lots of different topics and understanding what's around me."
She just wanted a break from all that. What was the big deal? Everybody seemed to be hiding things from her today, not telling her everything, and she was glad about it for once. She was still holding onto her plans for the rest of the morning.
"Maybe you've damaged your memory capacity also. It would make sense," Tsunade continued, as if narrating her thoughts out loud.
"What? I've not damaged my memory capacity," Sakura denied.
There was a long silence and Sakura tensed. She was uncomfortable, instantly defensive over the topic. It was as if everybody was eyeing her closely, staring at her, scrutinising her.
"Sakura…are you having memory issues?" Tsunade asked her seriously, her gaze not moving from her apprentice's face.
"Memory issues?" Sakura took in a sharp intake of breath, faking a short, amused laugh. She then turned more serious. "No."
The Hokage didn't even blink.
Alternatively, Sakura wanted to close her eyes and wake up in bed. She was beginning to panic. Her heartbeat quickened further and her breathing became laboured.
"Do you remember last week? When I told you I have another new amnesia patient in the hospital?" Tsunade questioned.
No. She didn't remember that conversation, but if she denied it, Tsunade was going to tell her she had further memory issues! Naruto would be worried and she would upset him further.
Tsunade leant back in her chair and crossed her arms. She shook her head, as if in disbelief, and then said, "Sakura...I just made that up."
Sakura lowered her head in shame. She could feel the disappointment from the sannin. She was a disappointment. She had a stupid brain issue and she couldn't even admit it to herself. She still didn't want to admit it to herself.
She was fine. She wanted to be fine.
She couldn't regress any more than she already had. It wasn't fair.
"You're having short-term memory loss aren't you?"
Yes. She was. Nevertheless, she didn't want to say it out loud.
"I don't know," she admitted quietly.
"I don't understand." Naruto looked at her and she couldn't look back at him. She couldn't even raise her head and meet her mentor's (potentially angry) gaze.
"Amnesia isn't just losing a set of memories and never remembering them again. It's brain damage, Naruto. There could be on-going issues or further deterioration of memory functions," Tsunade explained, her tone leaning towards sympathy.
The pair of them must be a sorry sight to see. Neither of them could do anything to fix the problem, despite how much they tried. She was trying to hide and deny it. He was trying to solve it when he knew nothing about her condition in detail. She doubted he even knew as much as he tried to tell her he did. Although, she did humour his theories and insist she was OK when she wasn't.
"I thought Sakura-chan was improving," Naruto said sadly, lowering his head.
"It could just be a bit of a blip." Sakura smiled at him and put her hand on his shoulder. "I'm sure I'll improve again. I've read about this happening before."
Naruto looked up at her again, more hopeful. "Really?"
She nodded encouragingly and he smiled back at her. She then stared at her mentor who looked at her with a raised eyebrow but said nothing.
Sakura frowned slightly, she didn't want the blonde upsetting Naruto, especially if this was just a little bit of de-progress. Even if the Hokage was right, Naruto didn't need to hear the negatives right now, he was so involved in her health and happiness. Bad things happening to her seemed to affect him a lot worse.
"Either way," Tsunade stated blankly, "we should have been monitoring you more closely. Amnesiacs don't usually have so much freedom. They're restricted to certain areas or kept in their comfort zone. You've been everywhere there is to go in Konoha and its outskirts."
Sakura frowned. "I don't want to be restricted."
"Yeah!" Naruto agreed, annoyed. "She's with me. She doesn't need to be restricted."
"I'd rather a medic be about." The sannin shrugged. "You know nothing of Sakura's condition, Naruto."
"Ino," Sakura mumbled, "she'll come to places with us."
The door opened and Ino strolled in. "I'm here! Where am I going?"
The blonde walked up to her right side. Naruto still stood tall on her left.
Sakura couldn't bring herself to be angry at her friend. If you're going to eavesdrop, pick a point where you can be helpful in the situation, and then it decreases the chance of being shouted at. It was a smart time of entry. If Sakura could stay with Ino, she could stay with Naruto too.
Tsunade shook her head. "Well she was supposed to see your father."
"Yeah, Forehead, you were supposed to get back to me on that. When are you actually going to come over?" Ino asked.
"Sorry," Sakura apologised sheepishly. "I…"
"Got pre-occupied with your boyfriend." Ino rolled her eyes. "I know, I know."
"My brain is having difficulty recalling recent events," Sakura told her quietly.
"Then I don't owe you money," Ino replied with a small smile.
"But, I'm improving in other ways, physically and-" She thought about it. "I'm remembering things through dreams."
"Dreams," Tsunade said sceptically.
Sakura nodded. "Yes, I know the things I've seen in my dreams are real."
"Sakura, there is a difference between knowing and feeling, dreams aren't reliable."
Sakura looked at Naruto briefly before saying confidently, "I know they're memories."
"I wish my dreams were real. I'd be married to a really good-looking guy by now," Ino added unhelpfully in an attempt to lift the mood.
"I had a dream I was married once," Naruto told them.
"Really?" Sakura turned her head sharply to look at her teammate, momentarily forgetting the seriousness of the conversation.
Naruto nodded. "Yes. The children looked great."
"Who were you married to?" Sakura pushed, subconsciously leaning closer to hear his answer.
"A pot of ramen," he answered with a grin.
Her shoulders and head slumped. She had an overwhelming urge to hit him. She shouldn't have been surprised.
"You were so just jealous of a pot of ramen," Ino whispered in her ear.
Sakura shot her friend an annoyed look. Her fellow medic smirked in response.
"Well my dreams were real memories," Sakura concluded, more annoyed than upset now.
She would admit her short-term memory had been dodgy recently and that she may need a little bit of help. But she wasn't prepared to let go of her theory that she was successfully remembering events in her sleep. They had been so vivid, so scary and realistic. She couldn't let that go. She didn't want to be a liar. She told Naruto the truth and she knew it.
"If you say so," Tsunade answered flatly.
Sakura looked at her mentor before she looked at all the books and papers on her desk. "Amnesia research?"
The sannin nodded. "Yes, and Sakura research."
"Sakura research?" she repeated as she walked closer to the desk.
"Everything I've picked up on about your amnesia from what you've said and done."
Sakura nodded. "Spying isn't that bad, huh?"
Tsunade smiled. "Everything I do has a reason."
She wanted to rebuttal, but didn't feel like she was in the Hokage's good books at the minute and so passed up the opportunity.
Tsunade looked a bit disappointed - Sakura guessed anyway, she was having difficulty reading people today.
"Every method tried under the sun," Tsunade informed her, tapping the pile of paper.
So something there would surely be able to fix her problem. A flicker of hope chipped away at her current feelings of shame and embarrassment.
"Can I take it to read?"
"No, I'm going to keep it in the hospital, in case any medics would like to add more theories."
"You've been trying awfully hard," Sakura commented, a wave of fresh guilt washing over her.
"How hard you tried to begin with inspired us all," the Sannin answered.
To begin with.
Recently, she just...didn't care? No. That was the wrong way to put it. She didn't mind. She was happy and who knew who she was before she hit her head. Her friends seemed to like her, she sounded like a good person. But people liked her now. Naruto liked her now. She liked him now. This new problem was an issue though. It was going to hurt all her friends if she didn't sort it out.
"Can I fix my new, uh, temporary short-term memory loss?"
Tsunade shrugged. "We could do some tests, like we said we'd do all along anyway."
"From now on, you'll always tell us the truth. Reporting accurately on your amnesia is of upmost importance."
Sakura nodded again.
"I won't lie," Sakura answered, meaning it this time.
Tsunade settled a steady gaze on her again, letting her know that she couldn't get away with it if she tried. "Good. We will give you more of a structured routine. You can do some brain tests with me, learn a few things with Shizune like she promised you, we'll even teach you a few non-chakra fighting techniques...and don't worry. You will still have some time to spend with Naruto."
The new schedule started straight away. They all walked out of the office together and stopped at a room along the corridor. She had not stepped foot in this room before. It had been cleared out, as if it had been prepared weeks earlier. The walls and floor mirrored the Hokage's office, yet instead of a desk, a simple table and chair set was in the centre of the room. Then they had got straight into the first test Tsunade had listed down, which involved her remembering a drawing and recreating it.
"What does this prove?" Sakura grumbled, badly sketching out the image she had just seen before it was turned over and covered up.
"That your spatial awareness and visual memory is still good," Tsunade told her.
Sakura held up her poorly drawn flower.
Ino then held up the image she had drawn.
Sakura pouted. She had got it in the right place on the page, and the right size, but she couldn't draw a straight line with a ruler if she tried.
"And that my drawing ability sucks?"
"Still sucks," Ino corrected.
"Sakura-chan, try this," Naruto said, holding up his drawing.
"What is it?" she asked.
At least she was about as good as Naruto when it came to art. They could have got Sai in but then she would have been even more jealous and put off by her non-existent skill with a pencil. It was tough copying Naruto's drawing because it just looked like squiggles and spirals. Even someone with great memory wouldn't recall that image perfectly.
"A bowl of ramen," he replied with a pout. He then looked down and pointed at the squiggly lines on the paper in front of him. "These are the noodles, this is the pork and that's the miso. See?"
"Ah, I see." Sakura smiled at him.
He pulled out the piece of paper behind his 'bowl of ramen' and placed the new drawing on top. "And this one is Kakashi-sensei!"
She laughed. Kakashi was portrayed as a poorly-drawn circle with a line through it where she assumed his mask was. Then two wonky circles for eyes and wild spiky hair that looked more like lightning bolts striking his head. He didn't even attempt a body. It was an artistic way of looking at her teacher to say the least.
"That's worse than Sakura's drawing," Ino told him flatly.
"Sakura-chan's a good drawer!" Naruto defended.
Ino held up her friend's drawing to prove a point, but the badly-drawn flower did not put the boy off.
"That's a great flower," he commented, sounding like he truly believed it.
Ino shook her head.
"These little tests are just to see how your brain is getting on in general," Tsunade interrupted. "It's supposed to be shapes and scenes that you can try and remember to see if you can place them appropriately, not images you see every day, like bowls of ramen."
Naruto grinned before pulling out his next piece of paper. "How about this one?"
"What's that?" Ino asked, tilting her head to see it from a side angle in the hopes it would suddenly look better.
"It's a heart," Sakura answered for him, recognising its shape, despite its wobbly lines.
Naruto nodded, still grinning.
"Well you'd recognise his heart," Ino grumbled. "That's probably what yours looks like now, with all the ramen you've been eating."
"Want to go for ramen later, Sakura-chan?" Naruto asked.
That's what she had been secretly hoping for all day.
"With what I had planned for today, it will probably be after tomorrow's tests that you can go out for ramen together."
Sakura tried not to seem disappointed. She looked at Naruto and suggested, "Tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow's great," he answered, smiling at her.
She smiled back.
"Naruto," Tsunade began, "would you fetch Shizune for me?"
"Okay." The boy nodded. He raced for the door. "Be back in a minute, Sakura-chan!"
There was silence when he had gone. Sakura looked at the other medics.
"Are the two of you openly flirting now?" Ino questioned.
"No it's not flirting, Ino, I'm just happy being with him without dating him."
"But we're not." Ino frowned.
"Me and everyone else!"
Sakura shook her head before looking at the Hokage. "What now?"
"Shizune gives you a lesson on poisons, like you wanted."
"This is like school," Sakura said before quickly adding, "It's not bad though."
"Yet you're looking forward to home time?" Tsunade asked.
Sakura shrugged. "Naruto's really happy thinking he's helping me here."
"He did always used to distract her if he came along to a training session," Ino pointed out to the Hokage.
"True," Tsunade agreed with a short nod, "but she wasn't always looking forward to the date after the training rather than the training itself."
"It's not a date. It's just dinner."
"Can I come?" Ino asked.
Sakura didn't look too keen. "What happened to ramen being unhealthy for your heart?"
Ino shook her head. "All right. Have fun with your boyfriend."
"I'm kidding, of course you can come. It's not a date. Would you like to come too, shishou?"
"We don't go for ramen together, Sakura," the sannin informed her.
Sakura had begun to wonder how much socialising she did with her mentor outside of a usual training routine. Her relationship was very professional, which did make sense. Tsunade was an extremely busy Hokage after all. Sakura was very grateful for all the time her teacher had dedicated to helping her.
"We go for sake occasionally."
"Right, we can do that soon too," Sakura said with a nod.
She would like to talk to Tsunade about other things. Not medicine, or amnesia, or Naruto, just something different and carefree. She didn't know anything about the woman besides the obvious and what was in scripted medical literature. From medical theory books, many of which Shizune had given her, she had learnt that her mentor had a brilliant medical mind and vast knowledge of an impressive number of topics.
However, she knew nothing of the woman's personal life and nothing of their real relationship.
Ino laughed. "I kind of wish I could start this again."
"What?" Sakura raised an eyebrow.
"Your whole amnesia issue. I could tell you anything and you'd likely believe it."
It would be nice to start again. Yet at the same time, she had been through so much, she wouldn't want to relive any of the frightening moments. She would relive her time with Naruto in a heartbeat though.
"Would you tell me all we've found out so far?"
Ino gave her a funny look. "No, I'd make you believe you were my personal slave."
Sakura was not amused.
"That I saved your life ten times and you feel like you owe me the world. And that you owe me money - which you do by the way."
"You probably owe me money, Ino," Sakura grumbled before leaning towards her mentor and whispering, "Does she owe me money?"
"You owe me alcohol," Tsunade answered with a smirk.
Sakura pouted. "Did you send Naruto out of the room just so you could gang up on me?"
"More so that I could get your real opinion on the task at hand."
Sakura looked up at her mentor.
Tsunade looked back at her with a straight face. "Are you up to this?"
"You do want to remember everything?"
"That's a silly question, shishou."
Tsunade looked at her closely. "If you say so. I couldn't guarantee results either way. With your short-term memory issue, I definitely wanted to do some tests."
Sakura lowered her head. She wanted the short-term issue sorted ASAP.
"Do you have a plan for if you never remember?" Tsunade asked with interest. "Continue to do tasks at the hospital is it?"
"Then marry Naruto and become a housewife," Ino finished.
Sakura frowned. "No, I want to help people."
"As well as marry Naruto?"
"I'm too young. Besides, I've got a second life chance here-"
The door opened and Shizune and Naruto entered the room.
"I need some all-new purpose," Sakura continued, tapping her chin in thought.
"You could be a detective," Naruto suggested, jumping into the conversation and smashing any seriousness that it still held.
"Sure." Sakura nodded in agreement. "Play the amnesia card and get people to tell me all their secrets."
"I think I would be better at finding out clan secrets," Ino argued.
That was very true. Ino was one manipulative friend.
"What you don't know is that I'm only friends with you all to find out your clan secrets," Sakura said with a cheeky grin. "I don't have amnesia at all. I'm fooling you all."
"You did used to keep secrets," Ino replied seriously.
This caught Sakura's attention immediately. "Really?"
"That you had feelings for your best friend."
Manipulative and evil. It was one thing to pair her up with Naruto when he wasn't in the room, but when he was stood right next to her! That was just cheeky.
"Don't think so highly of yourself, Ino!" Sakura frowned.
"Aren't I your best friend?" Naruto pouted.
Then again, most conversations between her and Ino always seemed to go straight over his head. She did wonder how someone so active in her life could be so dense regarding the matter.
Sakura stared at him in wonder and Ino continued to grin.
Sakura and Shizune were settled down in the labs. The older medic rubbed an old blackboard clean with an eraser whilst Sakura made herself comfy on the stool parallel to her teacher.
"We'll look at toxicology today, Sakura," Shizune said with a smile. "You've always liked the poison side to it."
"I like poisons?" Sakura said with uncertainty.
If she was asked about poisons now, yes it was an interesting and useful topic to be knowledgeable about, but to enjoy it? Was that not weird? She briefly thought back to her time trying to 'save her own life from a poison'. She had only felt panicked then. Although she would admit she felt a rush when she found the antidote recipe book and actually thought she would succeed. She would put that down to adrenaline though.
"You like antidotes. You're very skilled at finding them and you don't need to control chakra for all of it."
Sakura nodded enthusiastically. Something she could do without chakra! She had not thought about that issue recently. She had been distracted by trying to be happy, by trying to make Naruto happy.
Ironically, she had tried to forget her problem. By doing this, she had made it worse. She denied her obviously deteriorating memory and only hurt her friends. She still wanted to help people. It was just tough when she knew deep down that she should be doing so much better. With chakra, she could help so many more people in all sorts of ways.
At points, she felt like she could do more to help those around her. On other days, she believed trying to help would only harm. Her past life was important – it wasn't something to attempt when you were not fully qualified for the job. Sometimes she was purely distracted by Naruto.
Deep down, her instinct was to help people, but she worried about her blond teammate when he was not with her. She feared something bad would happen to him. He was so reckless. What if Sasuke heard he was alive?
Alternatively, she worried even when she was with him, because she couldn't protect him. She wanted her strength and her healing abilities back. She wanted everything back. But when she tried and failed repeatedly... She was torn between accepting her reality and challenging it.
Everyone wanted to help her. Her friends were so supportive and she didn't want to disappoint them. Tsunade said her determination at the start had spurred them all on, but surely they saw the truth. It had been months and she was getting worse.
Therefore she tried to hide it. She wasn't accepting it - that was too tough for her to handle. It was as if she had a realist on her left shoulder and a dreamer on her right. Her heart said help people. Her head said step back and don't mess anything up. Her damaged brain worked in circles and she was beginning to feel the drain. Her emotions were increasingly fragile and she was inwardly succumbing to the stress.
Naruto was the answer to that feeling. He made her unwind and relax. Even if everything wasn't okay, he nearly made her believe nothing was wrong at all. His positive persona and supportive nature were addicting. Then when she was alone, she remembered the girl he loved was the part of her she couldn't remember. It was selfish of her to take him for granted and not try to be the person he pledged unfathomable loyalty to. He inspired her to help others, even if it was just helping a little bit. Yet selfishly, if she did remember her past memories, she feared that how she viewed Naruto would change.
Then the cycle started again. It was a repetitive loop of hope and helplessness. All she could do now is try everything her friends suggested. Try her best. If she failed, she would try and help others along the way, and try and make her friends happy even if she wasn't the Sakura Haruno they knew and loved.
"Too much stress isn't healthy," Shizune said, breaking Sakura out of her depressing thoughts. "It prepares your body for constant fight or flight. If you don't de-stress, it will exhaust you, and you'll make yourself ill."
"Is this to do with toxicology?" Sakura questioned, confused.
Shizune smiled at her. "No, but I want these lessons to be an escape from stress, Sakura. Focus on this instead of other problems, okay?"
"Good, because if Tsunade ever gives you a lesson, you'll need to be on your toes," the older medic warned.
"I know. You're not going to inject me with something and pretend I'm going to die are you?" she replied jokily.
"No, nothing that extreme," Shizune said, her face portraying the obvious disapproval of the Hokage's past experiment.
Sakura nodded. "Then I think I'm ready."
Shizune nodded back and simply wrote 'Toxicology' at the top of the blackboard, with white chalk she had been holding in her hand. "Toxicology is all around us. It's the study of chemicals and how they can cause harm, the study of poisons. As medics, we're particularly concerned about the antidotes."
"I should have brought a notepad," Sakura commented, wondering if she could remember all that she was about to learn – or any of it for that matter.
"I doubt you'll need it for your first lesson. This will only be basics. I'm sure you can understand this before I even tell it you. I trust your memory."
"That makes one of us," Sakura muttered.
"Too many bad memories can be a poison," Shizune replied, linking back to the subject at hand and away from her doubtful commentary. "Too much of anything is a poison, even too much of something good. That's why dosage is important in both antidotes and medical drug use in general."
The medic turned back around to write the word 'dosage' on the left-hand side, and then drew a line down the middle of the board, as she continued to speak. "To understand an antidote, you must first understand the poison. To start with, what do you think a poison will target?"
"A person's body?" Sakura attempted.
Shizune nodded and drew a line in the centre of the board. "What in a person's body?"
"Precisely, organs like the kidneys, the lungs, the liver, the heart and the nervous system." The medic began to list these organs in chalk, under the sub-heading 'organs' on the other side of the line. "Most of the time, with the people we meet, the intention is to kill. However, poison can just as easily target the skin, or only slightly impair other organs. It can be an attack on somebody's looks or livelihood. It may just be used to blackmail, injure, make ill or inflict a comatose state, for selfish intentions."
"What about accidental?" Sakura questioned.
"That's easily done. There are many poisonous plants and berries, especially around Konoha. We often get children in the hospital who have eaten things out of curiosity that are dangerous. That brings me on to how a poison enters the body. Any ideas?"
"A poisoned dagger?"
"We'd call that dermal, poison by skin contact. Poisoned weapons are fairly common in ninja battles. One scratch that breaks the skin and a poison gets straight into the bloodstream. One scratch can be fatal."
Shizune wrote '1. Dermal' under the word 'Dosage' and then turned around to look at her. Sakura expected a further explanation or a question, but the older medic only looked at her thoughtfully.
The stretching silence confused her.
Her teacher gave her a small smile. "I just wondered if you had any thoughts about fighting an enemy who uses poisonous weapons."
"Umm... You should probably try and dodge."
Shizune's smile weakened but she nodded. "Yes, you should. I often use poisonous senbon. They are useful in a variety of situations."
"I'll make sure to stay on your good side then."
The black-haired woman laughed. "I'll show you how to imbue a kunai with poison again at some point too."
Again. Sakura swallowed. Was teaching her all of this for a second time a waste of her friend's time? It especially would be if she wasn't going to remember today... All this work everyone was putting into helping her, when the odds were not great, filled her with guilt.
"You've mentioned the second already."
Sakura snapped back to attention. "I have? Oh. Is it through food?"
"That's correct, oral exposure. If you ever don't trust your hosts on a mission, be wary of the food and drink they give you. Watch out for dodgy family feuds. Civilians tend to favour this method and if there are no good doctors about, they blame the death on a heart attack."
Sakura couldn't help thinking that Shizune was talking as if she was expecting her to go on missions in the near future. What missions could she go on with pure knowledge and no skill? No chakra? She technically was a civilian herself. Shizune had written '2. Oral' on the board and moved on to writing out '3. Inhalation'.
"Inhalation is another personal favourite of mine, poison in the air we breathe. Poison mist, toxic gas. It's very obvious, but very deadly. Inhale too much and even an antidote won't do you any good. You can't help someone when they're not breathing. Knowing about this one is more for you."
"What can you do about poisonous mist?" Sakura asked with interest.
"Hold your breath. Close your eyes. If you can, get away from it, where the particles in the air are thinner. It's not often you're given that chance though. If you're stuck in a high concentration of poisonous gas, you don't have much chance. You could try dissipating the gas with an explosive, but that's got its risks also."
Sakura raised an eyebrow. It all sounded too dangerous to her ears.
"I don't think I'd be that reckless. Let's hope I don't have to face a poison like that."
"I know you'd be fine," Shizune said with such confidence that it made Sakura think the medic indeed knew it, and that it wasn't just a strong feeling of faith.
"I will be if you teach me," she answered politely.
"That's my aim, Sakura. So, you've got your source of poison, you know where it's going to target. If you don't know what the poison is, and an injured person comes to you, without chakra all you can do is look for the side-effects. There are obvious ones, such as coughing or a nasty rash, but most often you want to monitor your patient's vital signs. Listen to their lungs and heart, the most dangerous and fast-working poisons attack those two organs."
Sakura hummed in thought. "Can an antidote really save a person if poison is already in the heart or lungs though?"
"Not always," Shizune admitted. "Chakra can help slow a poison, extract a poison, break down a poison...but the antidote is still needed. Chakra helps, but the antidote is the key."
While the rest of the lesson was very interesting, Sakura found it harder to concentrate. All she could think was even if I was the best at making antidotes, the use of medical chakra could mean the difference between life and death.
"When you first look at a poison, identify how it was inflicted, the dosage, the target and its danger level," Shizune concluded, putting the chalk down in front of the blackboard before turning around to look at her. "You can get quite far in treating it by just remembering those key points."
The medic was right that there wouldn't be much to write down. Even with only a few words on the board and some arrows, there had been a lot to think about. The topic was slightly paranoia-inducing and by the end of the one-to-one session, Sakura felt uncomfortable. "I'm never going to look at people the same way again. I'm going to suspect everybody who brings me a meal or stands too close behind me."
Shizune laughed. "That's what you said the first time around, but you forget about it, or at least accept that you can't do too much differently in life now anyway. Paranoia will send you mad. Knowledge is enough to help you see the signs of a poison attack."
Sakura looked at the book she had been given. "Thank you, Shizune-san."
"No problem, Sakura. Knowing about toxicology is a great way to get back into lab work."
"I do appreciate all of your help," Sakura said with a genuine smile. "It's very interesting and you succeeded in distracting me from...other things."
"It's always a pleasure," Shizune replied. "You're very helpful to me yourself."
"I'll try to be," Sakura said with determination.
The next morning, Sakura felt groggy. She remembered the day before at least, but she woke up feeling drained.
She shouldn't have thought so actively about poisons and danger before going to bed. Her dream was full of creepy puppet-like creatures that made her skin crawl to think about even now.
There was an old lady in her dream. Sakura had no idea who she was and for that she was glad, because the dream ended in a funeral. She wasn't able to save her patient no matter how hard she tried.
She briefly pondered whether her dream had any significant meaning behind it, but she didn't want her desperate need for her dreams to mean something to be another disappointment. No matter how real they felt.
The scary dreams she hoped were just dreams, and the good dreams she wanted to be real, and she knew real life didn't work out so nicely. She still knew some of her dreams were real - she couldn't let that crutch go. She needed some support from within her where everything else was failing. If anything, her dream reaffirmed her feelings of frustration over her situation. She wanted to be useful, but only felt like a hindrance. Why couldn't she dream about ramen and marriage? It would be a lot less taxing.
As she rounded the corridor to her test room, she spotted Tsunade heading towards the room also from the opposite direction. Sakura stopped walking when she reached the door and gave her mentor a half-hearted smile.
"What day is it today, Sakura?" the medic asked as she closed the gap between them.
It could have been a normal question, to someone without memory loss, but it wasn't. Even the simplest of things became complicated and it was becoming increasingly obvious to her that her life wasn't that simple to begin with.
Yesterday morning, she was trying to make her life easy.
Yesterday afternoon, she made a promise to herself and to friends that she wouldn't deny the facts.
Today, she wasn't up for that inner-battle.
"What did you do yesterday?"
If there were many more questions to this quiz she was going to get annoyed.
"Shizune-san taught me about toxicology," she answered bluntly before catching her disrespectful tone. Her friends were trying to help her. It wasn't fair of her to get grumpy with them. She inhaled through her nose and exhaled out of her mouth to her calm her increasing agitation. "It was really interesting."
Pleased, Tsunade nodded and shifted to face the door. "Then let's get to it."
However, Sakura did have one question she wanted answered - something that had been bugging her.
"Out of interest, shishou, why do you all bother?"
The sannin paused and turned back to look at her. "Bother with what?"
"Teaching me everything for a second time, with the chance I'll forget it again anyway. Why teach me about poisons and missions and fighting?"
"Because of who you are."
Sakura stared at her mentor.
"You are my apprentice. You have influence over some powerful people. Your medical skill and jutsu knowledge was incredibly extensive."
"So I'm a disappointment and a hindrance?"
Tsunade looked at her seriously. "I hope you know, knew, that you have never been a disappointment to me."
If that sentence would have been a comfort to her past self, Sakura couldn't know for sure. Her fears were being confirmed, unintentionally by the Fifth Hokage.
Nervously, she asked, "How much of a danger am I to my friends?"
With a comforting smile, Tsunade placed a hand on her shoulder and encouraged her to enter the room for their new test of the day.
"You were more of a danger to them when you had your strength."
This day of mind tests turned out to be quite popular with her friends. Sakura looked around the table she was at. 'The Rookie Nine, oh, and Sai' Naruto had called them. Though there were only nine here including Sai. They had all brought along pictures of their time together in the past. The catch was that she had to either be in them, or had to have taken them.
She was not enjoying herself like the rest of the people here. It was all wrong.
What was wrong with all these pictures? It was hard to come to terms with that the answer was her. She didn't fit in with these memories, she couldn't even recognise herself. It was as if she was viewing someone else's memories. The memories shown to her through jutsus did feel real, but even then they could be materialised, it was more like watching a film.
Tsunade was right. They may feel right, but she had no way of knowing what was true or not. She knew the dreams were real... She really wanted them to be - needed them to be.
All of the other people, the cute pictures of them made her smile... But she was just an alien and no emotional connection was made when it came to these scenes shown to her. The others would laugh at the memory, but she just wanted to cry. The more the people around the table burst into spontaneous conversations about the memories around them, the harder she found it to keep smile on her face. Her jaw began to ache for holding it in such a fake manner for so long.
The groups' words merged together and she only caught bits of sentences. Their voices echoed around her and their laughter vibrated through her rib cage. She was beginning to get a headache, one that she hadn't felt since the Forest of Death - when everything was just too much. When she desperately wanted to know something, but just wanted the noise and the feelings within her to stop.
"Hey, Sakura, here we..."
"...And you nearly killed Naruto."
"...Could have cried!"
"You DID cry."
"That's not what I remember, I thought..."
"Ha ha ha ha ha."
"Wasn't that funny."
"Yes it was. Ow! I mean it will be better next time."
Everyone was watching her, she could feel it, their expecting eyes as loud as their previous chattering. Her heartbeat was lurching in her chest, in time with her thumping headache. She needed to leave the room. She was suffocating in this circle. She was amongst friends, but felt completely alone.
"No, do go on," she said quietly, barely breaking the hushed silence of the room. "I'm just going to step outside for a moment."
She pushed her chair back and it screeched along the floor. Her legs felt weak and wobbly, but she forced herself to turn and walk towards the door. Ino stood up to follow her but Tsunade opened the door and led her out of the room. Her mentor placed a hand on her shoulder and quietly shut the door behind them. They walked away from the room, until the confused chatter that had begun again faded away.
"Are you OK?"
"I just feel a little dizzy."
"You look it. You're as white as the hospital walls."
Sakura leant against the corridor wall and bent over, trying to ease the sickness and dizziness feeling surrounding her.
Tsunade's hand hovered on her back supportively.
"Just give me a minute or two..."
They stood there in silence for several minutes. As her headache began to numb and fade, her emotion built. Her sadness hurt more than her pounding head.
"I'm sorry, the people didn't need to be there," Tsunade apologised and lowered the hand that had been resting on her back.
"It would have had the same impact."
Sakura didn't want any of her friends feeling bad, especially Tsunade. When she felt like she could stand up straight without the room spinning, she did so, but still leant against the wall behind her.
"I asked them to bring in the pictures. They wanted to stay then."
"No. I don't understand. I have no emotional attachment to those pictures. I can't explain it." Sakura's arms raised and fell in a frustrated shrug. "I feel like I'm missing a big part of me. I feel lost. It's frightening. Even then, I can't bring myself to miss those memories. How can I? I don't know what I am missing. The timeline of photographs just shows me all I've done. Nobody will even know everything that I have done."
Tsunade watched her in silence, listening attentively.
Sakura placed her head in her hands. "I'm sorry... All this work you've put in..."
"Sakura...I had decided not to show you, yet anyway."
She didn't reply.
"There was no point in rushing you when you were enjoying yourself. I could see how happy you were just being with Naruto."
"But did you see how excited he was yesterday?" Sakura said, her voice barely above a whisper. "He wants to help me to remember so badly. Everybody does."
"It doesn't matter what we think. When it comes to your health, you need to decide what you want."
Sakura sighed in defeat. "I don't know what I want."
Tsunade pushed away from the wall and moved to stand in front of her. She looked down at her and said with certainty, "Then let's give you some more time, Sakura. We will accept whatever choice you make."
It was a logical decision, but it had one major problem. Her time was spent with her friends. These people she loved dearly, but they influenced her every thought.
How could she know what was best for her health if all she could think about was what was best for them? For a certain someone who occupied so much of her thoughts? Made her feel like everything was fine when she knew it wasn't. When it real life she was a danger to him.
Sakura raised her head and looked her mentor in the eyes. "Naruto distracts me."
"That's always been the case."
"My new friends distract me," Sakura continued, swallowing the pain of her dawning realisation. "You're all great, but this isn't what I know."
Sakura had a feeling that the Hokage could read her thoughts. Tsunade didn't take her gaze away from her face.
"I need a break from you all, Naruto especially." She pushed away from the wall completely, her legs a little more stable. She stood up straight, but lowered her head in defeat. "I'm sorry."
"Don't apologise, Sakura. Would you like me to tell Naruto for you?"
Sakura's head jerked up. "It's going to hurt him, isn't it?"
"He'll try his best to understand."
Like he always did. She was going to hurt him and he was going to try and understand, but he wouldn't really understand her logic. He hadn't left her side wherever possible recently. This break from her friends was going to be strange, but she had to do it.
"Of course... Realistically, he's way too good for me isn't he?"
"No, you would do just as much for him."
"How can I do that now?" She stressed.
She couldn't heal him, she couldn't spar with him, she couldn't share her knowledge, or experience, or memories... What kind of friend could she be if she wasn't whole in herself?
"By taking time out to see what's going to make you happy," she was told simply.
Sakura swallowed down a lump that was forming in her throat. "I'm going to go home now."
Tsunade nodded. "I'll let the others know. We're here if you need us."
"I know you are... Thank you."
This is for the best she told herself when she got outside and directly headed home. She needed to figure out who she was on her own, because she was so confused. She couldn't explain how she felt on the inside. She couldn't place a finger on it, or name the emotion within her - swirling confusion, an indescribable pull in every direction at once. When these new people were with her, her thought pattern changed, what she really wanted was buried deep and replaced with what she wanted for her friends.
Why had her short-term memory started playing up? Why now? It had only made the whole situation more difficult. Knowing that even her new experiences weren't safe, that everything could still get worse, made the pain within her double. Despite her deep thought, she power walked down the street with her head downcast in the hopes she didn't bump into anybody she knew.
She stopped dead in her tracks.
"Hey, Sakura-chan, wait up!" he called after her.
She heard his footsteps getting closer. When he reached her, he skidded to a halt just in front of her. He turned, a little breathless, he repeated, "Hey."
"Naruto...what did Tsunade tell you all?"
"To leave you alone for a while," Naruto answered.
She stared at him blankly.
Naruto looked at her for a moment before his expression transformed into realisation, when it dawned on him that the order to leave her alone concerned him also. He wasn't an exception.
In this case, he was the main focus of the order. He wouldn't know that. He wouldn't understand it. She could already tell this conversation was going to be tough for both of them.
"Just for a while, until I say so," she told him softly before sighing. "Why does this feel like some kind of breakup?"
"I didn't mean for ramen tonight to be a date," he told her rapidly, as if it would change things. "It's not like we were dating... We can still be friends right? I can come and talk to you?"
"Boyfriend, best friend, teammate, tour guide, whatever we are, this relationship needs to end," her tone edged on desperate before she tried to argue her decision more logically. "Now that I know my way around Konoha and I don't feel so lost in my own home, I need a little time and space to figure things out. Be alone for a while, take a step back and evaluate my situation."
If he took that as she had just been using him, he didn't say so out loud.
Sakura shook her head. "I need to know what it feels like without you... Does that make sense?"
"I never want to know what it feels like without you," he told her sadly.
She couldn't really believe that he was dependent on her in any way, not like she was him. He was so strong, physically, mentally, emotionally. He would be absolutely fine away from her, if not better off. He could train and spend time with all his other friends. She wouldn't be endangering him and mostly...she couldn't disappoint him as much. She wasn't prepared to hurt him. Even with these feelings at heart, she was about to hurt him nonetheless.
"I need to come to terms," she told him clearly and stood up straighter, trying to give the impression of certainty about her plan. "With what it will be like if I never get my memory back."
Naruto winced and her resolve inwardly weakened.
"What we have now is good though right?" he challenged.
Excluding everything to do with her amnesia, their relationship was brilliant. The problem was she didn't know what their previous relationship was like and she feared her past self's behaviour towards him. He was too good for her, even now.
"I've spent a lot more time with you recently than I would normally?" she questioned.
He didn't answer her, but the pain in his eyes deepened. His silence told her that it was true. He lowered his head to look at the floor, sparing her from looking at his dismal expression.
"I need to take a break from this, whatever this is."
"Have I done something wrong?"
If the situation wasn't so dire, she would have laughed at his silly question. She strongly believed he couldn't do anything wrong even if he tried.
"No... You did everything right, you're a perfect guy. I'm so, so lucky to have you."
He blinked up at her, looking as confused as she felt on the inside.
"I know who you are... But I don't know who I am. I can't figure that out right now, when you're here. You're terribly biased and make me want to believe I'm the most important person in the world."
Naruto went to open his mouth but she brought a finger to her lips, signalling for him to let her finish. She knew what he was going to say...something as beautifully cheesy as you are to me.
She didn't want to be reeled back in by his loving smile or his cute words. She needed to get away until her heart stopped beating so loudly that she stopped hearing her head. The broken part of her wasn't even getting a chance to be a problem. Problems didn't exist when she was with Naruto, he wouldn't let her fret.
All she knew was him, and while that was a wonderful experience, she needed to learn what she wished she didn't, to make being with him all the more special. She didn't think she could ever tell him though, she couldn't put into words why she needed to do this. She just hoped for once he'd let her fall, let her make the mistakes that enabled her to grow as a person.
If she didn't remember her mistakes and learn from them, she'd never get the chance be proud that she didn't make them the next time around.
She lowered her finger from her lips again and she tried to voice her thoughts.
"Honestly, I woke up in that hospital room clueless. I trusted you, the medics. At first I thought you were a medic too, and then I questioned your attire. What medical professional wears the colour orange?" She smiled to herself at the memory. "I liked you, almost straight away. Your personality was infectious, positive... My tangible memories were dreary, my opinion of myself low. You made me believe I was so much more. I sit and wonder now whether that was you, or if someone else could have done it. I could have woken up and believed whatever someone fed to me, truth or lie, good or evil. Without a doubt, you're an amazing person. I don't need half a personality to see that. But I want to make sure I know who I am and I need to find that out for myself."
Naruto continued to look at her, a somber expression across his face, but he didn't try and argue.
"I'm not saying it will be forever," Sakura continued. "You're my new familiarity. I need to step out of that comfort zone to feel how much I'm really missing out on."
Unable to say goodbye, she turned around and began to walk away from him.
Her feet felt heavy, but not as heavy as her heart. She was already beginning to feel doubt.
Before she walked out of the picture altogether, she turned around and tried her best to ignore the hope in his eyes at her action. "You have other friends, right?"
That was enough to bring a small, but natural smile back to her face. "You should hang out with them, make them as happy and free as you do for me."
He didn't know what to say, that was obvious. He seemed glued to the spot, stunned into silence. It wasn't what they originally pictured their day, or week, to be like.
She knew she had hurt him and that made her sad, but she needed to do this. She hoped that by the end of it, she could go back to him feeling unmoveable in her decision, and with all her will try and earn his forgiveness. She watched him for several more seconds, half worried that he wouldn't get home if she left him standing there now.
"Let me find myself, and then I'll find you again."
At her words, he stood up taller. "I'll always be here, Sakura-chan."
"Likewise... If you do need me, just break my philosophical phase and I'll be willing to help."
He smile and she smiled too.
Then she turned around and walked away because she knew if she stood there looking at him for much longer, she would find it even more impossible to drag herself in the other direction.
Naruto wouldn't be alone; someone like him would never be alone. He himself admitted that he had friends, he had teammates. If anything, she had been depriving him from being social with more people.
That's what she repeated to herself as she walked away.
Sakura nervously walked up to the house that was so familiar to her, but that she hadn't seen in so long. With a shaking hand, she reached up and knocked the door three times and stepped back to wait for an answer.
Half a minute later, the door opened. Mebuki Haruno stood there for a moment. She opened the door wider when she realised who it was.
"Sakura." Her mother greeted her, her tone full of surprise. "Is something wrong?"
"I was just wondering if...I could stay here for a little while?"
Her mother watched her for a moment and Sakura inwardly prayed she wouldn't start asking her lots of questions. Sakura would not be able to handle a serious conversation. In time, she'd probably open up to her parents, but right now, she just needed that undeniable, silent, family love.
No questions asked, Mebuki smiled at her and stepped back, openly inviting her back into her old home. The home she actually remembered.
It's been a long time. Way too long. I can only apologise. In fact, the only terribly bad excuse that would fit this situation would be something very Kakashi-ish.
Sorry I'm late, I'm afraid I got lost on the path of life.
It's been a busy and tough year for me. Amnesia has never been far from my thoughts (oh, the guilt). I've re-read it a few times and added some details to past chapters where I felt it was lacking. I'm always writing down any ideas that hit me. I had over 10k words in random notes. I wanted to write this when I actually had the mindset and time to write. However, months of fleeting ideas do not logically fit together. As I write, I'm deciding what can stay and what has to go. That kind of editing is a new experience.
Months ago, I even made Amnesia a new story cover, because the last one was just terrible. This one attempts to show that when Sakura first looks at Naruto after waking, she doesn't see him, all she can do is connect his image to one of her earliest memories of seeing him as a child. The quote "she doesn't know who you are" will not be recognised by the readers who have been with me since the start. That line was added on a quick detail-adding run through of the story. Don't worry. Any changes I have made have not altered the plot in any way. Hopefully it just added clarity in areas where it was needed most.
I re-read your reviews too. Your expectations, hopes and predictions influence moments in my chapters. To the person who wanted to see more on poisons, I just gave you something more real – but you'll have to wait and see what I do with the idea next.
I also seriously researched amnesia and it became very apparent to me that my plot was scientific. It was inspired by science in the first place, but it's made it lacking in the emotional impact department which is what you see here. I'm glad I left the story on a high, but now we we'll start another dip. When we reach the reason why I looked into amnesia on a more personal level, I'll let you know exactly why in the author notes. No spoilers.
I do still work full time (I've only uploaded one Amnesia chapter since I started working – terrible), but the next chapter will be out ASAP. However long it takes me, and I do plan to never let it get this long between updates again, I don't have the heart to abandon a partly-uploaded story. I was not going to let the update wait be over a year (she says, like 11 months was that much different). I'm back, along with my overly-long author notes – which are always a shortened version too.
Thank you once again, to new and old readers, for being patient and for reading.