All that Glitters…
Maybe, just maybe, all that glitters is usually fool's gold—and she's tired of chasing after false dreams and gilding the truth.
The First day…
It's been three years. Sakura's palms are sweaty, but she hides her hands behind her back and sways, gently, like a tree in an unseen breeze.
The corridor outside Sasuke's prison cell is cool, and slightly damp. It is hard to believe that outside it is summer, that the noonday sun is scorching the village. Though Sakura is sweating—most notably her neck, her hands, the itchy line between her breasts—the rest of her is freezing. She can't feel her feet. Her knees are shaking as well, and Sakura tells herself that is from the cold, too.
Naruto places a steady hand on her upper back and Sakura smiles, wanly. She's excited, and she feels almost drunk, but most of all, she is nervous. She isn't sure why. Though Sasuke has been in solitary confinement for three years, he was permitted to write, and Sakura has committed his turns of phrase to heart:
I'm going to be a better friend.
I…don't hate you.
That last line, Sakura knows, is the closest that Sasuke will ever come to admitting that he loves her—just like she loves him. It's meant to be. She will raise him out of the shadows with the power of her love and she will make him whole.
This is what Sakura tells herself as the guard offers them a grizzled grin and opens Sasuke's cell door. The groaning of hinges in the anticipatory silence sounds like a shriek, and Sakura has to take a deep breath before stepping forward with Naruto.
"Bastard!" Naruto rasps, his voice thick with emotion as he bounds forward and throws his arms around Sasuke.
"Get the fuck off me, idiot," Sasuke growls.
Naruto chuckles and draws Sakura forward. "Come on, group hug!"
Sakura's nerveless limbs are pressed against Sasuke's chest; his skin is cold. She lets out a breath she did not realize she had been holding, and she imagines that it frosts against Sasuke's cool flesh.
"Tch. Get off me," Sasuke snaps. Sakura draws back in fear, her eyes welling with unshed tears, but Naruto laughs, and the crystalline sound reverberates off the rocks.
"Whatever," Naruto calls, his jocular tone lifting the sudden chill in the air, "we know you're happy to see us."
Sasuke swallows, then speaks, his thick words seeming to stick in his throat: "…Of course."
Sakura grins widely, because she believes what he says. His words glitter like white stars in the thick darkness. Sasuke loves them—he loves her. That's all that matters.
The second day…
From the top of the mountain, the world yawns around them. The sky is endless; rolling hills fade into frosted blue. A stiff breeze blows back Sakura's hair and dress—she swells with hope.
"Oi, wasn't it nice of baachan to let us all go camping?" Naruto rambles. "I mean, this sure is nice. Look at all that sky—hey, I bet we can see all the way to the ocean!" He squints into the distance, and Sakura laughs at his scrunched-up expression.
Sasuke mutters something under his breath and turns away; for a moment, Sakura's anger flares. She kills the feeling as soon as it emerges, because it's her job to make this the penultimate camping trip—it's her job to keep Sasuke happy. She's been waiting for this moment for three years: she can't ruin it. She murmurs, "Come on, Sasuke-kun. It'll be fun."
And because she remembers his letters, full of halting apologies and promises, she takes his hand in hers. He draws away quickly, as if burned.
"Let's set up camp," he mutters as he stalks away.
Sakura's face falls, and she turns towards the vista in an effort to hide her expression.
With false cheer, Sakura collects wood for a fire just as dusk settles. The brilliant sun sets like a burning jewel in the west. It is cold up in the mountains; as the stars wink into existence, the temperature drops substantially.
"Sasuke-kun? Do you think you could spare a fire katon?" Sakura calls as she arranges the last piece of tinder.
"Tch. Stop depending on other people. Do it yourself," he replies with a barely disguised sneer.
Sakura opens her mouth, closes it, then opens it again. "I didn't mean—"
But Sasuke has already turned away and has stalked off into the trees. Pressing her lips into a thin line, she strikes her flint with shaking hands and coaxes a slow, steady fire.
"Sakura," Naruto begins, quietly, "I'm sure he—"
"Didn't mean it," Sakura completes for him. "I know. I know he—loves us." That last bit comes out in a choked whisper, but Sakura forces herself to smile. She knows she shouldn't expect too much from Sasuke, after all he's been through. It's just that she's been anticipating this trip for three years—she's feeling more sensitive than usual, that's all. She can't come off as desperate, or needy; she'll bear it all, just to be near to Sasuke—so that Sasuke will love her again.
Sakura sets their dinner to cook, then arranges her bedroll next to Naruto's, close to the fire. With a sinking heart, she sees that Sasuke has already placed his bed far away, under a dark copse of trees.
She wants to call to him, Won't you be cold in the shadow, so far away from the fire? but the words get stuck in her throat. Instead, after a pained silence, when the fire crackles and pops and stray embers whorl in the smoke, she says, softly, "Dinner's ready."
It's quiet while they eat. Sakura feels awkward, and shovels food in her mouth. In contrast, Sasuke barely eats; it makes Sakura feel like a pig.
When Sasuke suddenly speaks, it startles her, and she almost chokes on her dinner. He talks in a monotone, as if to himself, and he stares into the fire, but his words shimmer like pulsing embers. He says he had a lot of time to think, in prison. What got him through the three years of solitary confinement was meditation, and he plans to become a monk on their return to Konoha.
Once Naruto is assured that yes, Sasuke will still deign to kick the crap out of him during the occasional spar, Naruto is full of praise. Sakura, too, offers her congratulations, but inwardly, she is confounded: why the fuck is Sasuke going to become a monk, of all things? She stifles these selfish thoughts and tells Sasuke that she's so happy for him, even though she's not—even though she doesn't understand.
Sasuke tells them in short, laconic sentences how he plans to spend his days deep in meditation: finding the true meaning of existence, working on his character flaws, and finding inner peace. Sakura's resistance starts to thaw. After all, Sasuke isn't joining a celibate order—and if this new spiritual practice can help him to become a better person, Sakura can support him. She'll do anything for him, after all.
Hesitantly, she places her hand on Sasuke's forearm, which is as cold as ice. He shakes her off without bothering to look at her. Naruto is too busy rambling on about his own dream to become Hokage, and does not notice; his face is animated and made orange by the fire, and Sakura thinks that he looks truly happy for the first time in a long time. She wishes she felt the same way.
"…And that's my dream! What do you think, Sasuke, pretty cool, huh?"
"Pretty cheesy," Sasuke replies, sounding bored.
"Aw, come on Sasuke, you know it's awesome," Naruto whines. "Anyway, we're all sharing our dreams here—it's your turn, Sakura-chan!"
Sakura hopes the darkness obscures her blush. "Well," she begins softly, "Naruto already knows…but…my goal is to become the preeminent medical ninja in all the five nations." Sakura looks up from her clasped hands and smiles at Sasuke. "I hope you don't think my dream is cheesy…"
Sasuke smirks. "Well… It is pretty cheesy."
Naruto protests, and calls Sasuke a bastard, and pretty soon the two are engaged in their habitual shouting/smirking match, while Sakura stares listlessly into the fire. She can't figure out why she's feeling so hollow; so lonesome. She bites her lower lip to keep it from trembling.
The third day…
The mountain lake shimmers under the noonday sun. Its surface perfectly reflects the ring of pine trees at its shores, and the peak of a nearby mountain. Wildflowers bow their purple heads in a lazy breeze; Sakura picks one and puts it in her hair.
"I can't believe this is our last hike," Naruto says, leaning against a tree.
Sakura can. She's exhausted, and she's not sure why—because after all, she's happy to spend time with Sasuke, she's been looking forward to it for three years—so why is she so relieved that their trip is coming to an end?
Sasuke smirks from the shade by the lake shore. "Time flies…when you're having fun," he mutters. His tone makes Sakura angry, but she doesn't say anything—just like she hasn't said anything about how she's really been feeling for the past three days. She grits her teeth and digs her fingers into the earth.
After a rest, they resume their trek out of the valley and head back towards home. Sakura hooks her thumbs under her pack straps and sighs, feeling defeated but not knowing why.
"This would be a lot faster if we shushined back home," Sasuke grumbles after a while.
"Aw, bastard, you're supposed to enjoy the walk back with us," Naruto shouts, and soon the two are bickering again. Sakura rolls her eyes. Right now, shushining sounds like a great idea.
Soon, the tree line thins, and the summer sun is beating down on their heads. Sakura insists they stop to apply sunscreen. "Don't forget to get behind your ears," she tells them.
"I already did," Sasuke mutters.
Sakura's face heats up. "Sorry—I'm such a nagger. My kids are going to hate me," she jokes.
Sasuke frowns. "You can change that, you know. You don't have to nag."
Sakura blinks and catches the bottle of sunscreen that Sasuke chucks at her. "You know, Sasuke," she snaps, "I don't need your advice."
"You just don't want to take responsibility for your character flaws," Sasuke states without inflection.
Sakura is sure her cheeks are flaming red now. "My character flaws?" she practically snarls.
But instead of answering her, Sasuke simply shrugs and strides forward. "Come on," he calls apathetically, "Let's get back to Konoha."
Sakura turns to Naruto, who holds his hands up in defeat. "Come on, Sakura-chan," Naruto whispers, "it's probably just monk advice or whatever."
Sakura growls and gnashes her teeth, but in the end, she follows without saying anything.
It's about three in the afternoon when Sasuke, who has been walking in the lead, turns around. His face looks pinched and pale. "I'm going to shushin back to the village," he mutters. "I'm tired."
"But Sasuke—" Naruto protests, but Sakura puts her hand on his shoulder, and she shakes her head.
"Just let him go," she mutters.
"But—" Naruto protests.
"He doesn't want to be here."
There is silence after that. She isn't sure where it came from, but the minute the words are out of her mouth, she knows that they are true. Instead of defending himself, Sasuke shrugs, performs the hand-signs, and shushins away.
Naruto sputters angrily and performs the hand-signs himself, ostensibly off to follow Sasuke. Sakura is left alone. And for once, she isn't going to chase after Sasuke, because she realizes now that this is just what Sasuke does to get attention. She is not going to fall for it—not this time.
Sakura wipes the tears out of her eyes and realizes that the man she has been striving for since she was ten years old—the man she has been waiting for for three long years—just isn't interested. Suddenly, she remembers the few words he's bothered to speak to her this trip:
Grow up, Sa-ku-ra.
Tch. Why did you do that?
You are so annoying.
These are not the "endearing" chides of a comrade: they are the jabs of someone who no longer cares.
Sakura sits down in the middle of the road, stunned. After everything they have been through—the betrayal, the forgiveness, the apologies that were really platitudes—Sasuke doesn't care about them, not really. And this whole spirituality kick? It's just another tactic to put distance between himself and his friends—a way to make himself feel better by putting everyone else down.
It all makes sense, now. And really, it's the way he's always been: disinterested at best, abusive at worst. She can't believe she ever believed in him.
Standing back up, Sakura walks down the road, lost in thought, replaying every conversation and interaction she's ever had with Sasuke. By the time she reaches Konoha, she realizes it:
She and Sasuke were never really friends.
Sakura feels so light, it's like she's floating; she feels like she's finally been unfettered, even though she is weeping. Through her tears, she can see the first of the evening stars emerging in the rose-colored sky, and she smiles. She licks the salty tears off of her lips and she thinks that maybe, just maybe, all that glitters is usually fool's gold—and she's tired of chasing after false dreams and gilding the truth.
She's surprised that it doesn't hurt as much as she thinks it should.
a/n based on my real life, unfortunately. Hope you enjoyed it! Please review:)