"I only ever wanted to protect her. I wanted to shield her from the truth. But she chose to listen to him, instead." – Naruto Uzumaki
The mathematical sums that were stacked like little numerical soldiers on the textbook's work page swam blearily out of focus as sleep enticed Sakura to plunge into its warm depths. Catching herself, she jerked her head up and rubbed at her tired eyes, releasing an exhausted yawn.
"I'm beat," she mumbled. She only had seven more questions to complete for homework that evening, but balancing simultaneous equations had never been her favourite form of problem-solving. She'd had another full-on day, rushing between classes, student council meetings about the recycling and eco-systems, a hurried lunch with her friends, extra-curricular lessons, and of course, the work experience she was doing at Konoha Central Hospital. She packed more into twenty-four hours than most sixteen year olds her age. A quick glance up at the petal framed clock on the wall above Sakura revealed that the time was pushing past eleven twenty. Was it any wonder that she was feeling so sleepy, when she had been up since seven that morning?
She battled against the urge to lay her weary head in her arms and power snooze and pressed on with the last round of questions. She was just completing the final one, and ready to let out a loud sigh of relief, when her cell phone rang. Sakura groaned. Only one person ever called her this late at night. She grabbed her phone, and, rolling her eyes to the ceiling, answered crabbily, "What, Pig? I'm about to go to sleep!"
"Excuse me, Billboard Brow?" Her best friend's voice screeched back. "You know your day's never complete without a phone call from moi. I mean, who else calls you besides me?"
Sakura pulled a theatrical face as she closed her Maths textbook and stuffed her books for the next day into her school bag. Then she moved to her open window and peered absentmindedly out into the illuminated front yard.
"Let's see," she ticked off her fingers. "Naruto, Tenten, my mother, Hinata…"
"Hah! Lies. You don't have any other friends," Ino exclaimed. Then her tone changed, as she intoned sweetly, "Lee was asking about you after classes ended today, Sa-ku-ra-chan."
Sakura scowled. "Ino, that isn't funny-"
"Who's laughing?" Ino giggled back.
"Shut up! Don't encourage him. You know he isn't my type!"
"Why not?" Ino teased. "You like tall, dark and handsome, right?"
Rock Lee wasn't exactly what Sakura described as handsome – although he was tall and lanky, and possessed dark colourings.
Sakura huffed exasperatedly. "I'm not interested in dating anyone you have in mind, got it?"
"Nope. I'm hooking you up whether you like it or not."
"I'm not interested in dating boys!"
"Would you prefer girls?" Ino pounced slyly. "Because maybe we could work something out here…"
"Ugh! You're not even listening to me!"
"Oh, Forehead. You're too cute when you're all wound up."
Sakura leaned her elbows on the windowsill and pouted, "I'm not wound up."
"Sure you are. You're as coiled as a spring. You need to live a little. Listen, there's a party at Kiba's tomorrow. You know how he likes to go all out, like the animal he is. His parents are out of town, and it's going to be totally awesome-"
"Huh? Why not?"
"Ino," Sakura sighed. "I've already told you-"
"You know I'll just keep bugging you about it until you say yes, don't you?"
"Come to the party, Sakura!"
"Come to the party, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please-"
"Come to the party, come to the party, come to the party, come to the party, come to the party-"
"Argh! Fine. Fine!" Sakura exclaimed, thoroughly irritated. The truth was, she just wanted to get off the phone and salvage at least seven hours of sleep before she had to get up and face another hectic morning. "Are you going to let me go to bed, now?"
"What's the rush? You got a guy in it?"
Sakura felt her cheeks redden at her friend's shameless sexual references. "God! Ino, you're so disgusting-"
Ino burst into laughter. "Okay, okay. I'll have mercy on your virginal soul. Go to sleep then, you baby. I'll pick you up at seven thirty. Love ya, loser!"
The line disconnected before Sakura could get another word in. Sighing again and mumbling underneath her breath, Sakura tossed her cell onto the desk and collapsed into bed, crawling beneath the covers. She wouldn't go to the party, but she would worry about forming a cunning exit strategy tomorrow. Her body seemed to sink into the soft mattress as she inhaled the soothing scent of lavender. Within minutes, she had fallen fast asleep.
Dreams of a stuffy, noisy room with blaring music and nameless people dancing and shouting over the din plagued Sakura that night, and she awoke with a start, the memory of a smiling Lee dressed in ridiculous shining knight armour and hitting on her at a party making her skin crawl. Was it bad that she found the young man so… repulsive? He seemed like a sweet enough guy underneath his odd looks, but the way he always just stared at her was so… freaky.
As she rolled over and blinked into the darkness, she slowly became aware of the fact that something seemed different. Another second and she realised what it was. Her bedside table-lamp was switched off. She frowned, staring confusedly at it. Even when her mother returned home from the hospital during the night and checked on her, she always left the lamp in Sakura's room on. She knew how much her daughter hated the darkness. It was silly and childish, but Sakura always slept with at least one light on in her room – however small the light source was. Sometimes, when she was really tired and retired with a throbbing headache, she would flip off the bedside light and leave only the pretty, dim butterfly ones hanging from the back of the door illuminated.
A sense of unease began to scuttle over her as her eyes moved to the room beyond the bed. Why did it suddenly seem so pitch-black? Her heart began to pound as she reached out to switch the lamp back on. But it didn't respond, leaving her to conclude that the bulb must have flickered out at some point when she had been sleeping. Slowly she sat up, her chest heaving, even as she told herself to stop being such a complete and utter chicken. Which sixteen year old was still afraid of the dark? Honestly, what would Ino say if she saw her having a paranoid, five year old panic attack-
Her thought abruptly severed as her eyes suddenly came to rest on a blacker shape in the shadows. Sakura stared hard at it, the blood in her ears rushing and pulsating in time to her racing pulse. It was just the wardrobe, she told herself. It was the wardrobe, that was all…
But the wardrobe was taller, and wider. And the more she gazed, the more the black shape seemed to morph and take on a solid form, until it didn't look much like a wardrobe at all.
Sakura froze, too afraid to move as her brain processed the fact that maybe she wasn't looking at a piece of furniture. Those dark lines looked more like they belonged to a human figure-
Get a grip! She screamed at herself, but her breaths were escaping her lips in laborious, ragged hitches. She wasn't imagining it. There really was someone there-
With a choked gasp, she threw back the bedcovers and lunged for the study lamp on her desk. The moment her fingers hit the switch, the room exploded into light, and Sakura found herself staring into thin air, in the place where she had, just seconds earlier, been so convinced that the shadow of a person had stood.
She remained by the desk, trying to calm the turmoil within her for a long time after that.
Did you know…? Kore's friendship with Aphrodite was never quite approved by Demeter, who accused the Goddess of Love of trying to taint her precious daughter.
Sakura! That shadowy figure wasn't your imagination! It was in fact Sasuke, stalking you as usual! Hope you enjoyed. This was typed up a while ago, just needed a quick proof-read, and gives you all something to read while I (struggle to) find time to update. Please review if you like! : )