Paradise
When she was just a girl
She expected the world


Sakura was seeing red.

Vaguely, she knew what she looked like: Living death. She had spent the better part of the day sparring with Tsunade-sama, and the older woman made sure that she felt every minute of it. All Sakura could see right now was the ground beneath her feet, and the drip-dripping of blood flowing from a nasty cut courtesy of her new teacher.

She was a mess, but walking home by herself, no matter how slowly, was the very least she could do with her pride intact. Her neck and head hurt too much to even look up, but she knew that she was getting very strange looks from passers-by.

Sakura thought she was ready. She really did. Her parents had always said that she was born ready. She was declared to be a genius at the tender age of four, and although her parents foresaw some glamorous career in the law or business, they were strangely proud of her decision to become a ninja, instead. Sakura knew even then that the normal, civilian world held little to no surprise to her, and her parents had supported her to carry on with that dream.

When she arrived at the city, she truly believed that it was hers for the taking. She should've been more careful with her pride, but then again she had been as careful with it as she had with her heart. At the first moment she stepped into her new school, she was established to be very, very ordinary indeed.

How can you be a ninja with that stupid hair of yours? The enemy will spot you in a minute!

They can use her forehead as a mirror for sending signals.

Inner Sakura had been born out of this teasing. She wanted to say something back, but couldn't. Somehow her confidence shrank under all these talented children, most of them who boasted at least one jounin in the family. She never could say anything back then. Couldn't say anything to Tsunade-sama now.

Tsunade's taunts from earlier that day replayed in her mind. Don't waste my time, Sakura. Your apprenticeship is hanging by a thread. She had successfully put Sakura in a rage by then, and rage was never your friend in a fight.

Shit, it hurt all over.

But she wasn't going to give up. She left the civilian world a long, long time ago. This was her place, and she had a job to do. Yes. She had to keep thinking that, or else she was just going to crumple up into a heap in the middle of the street, and where would that leave her? Sasuke had left her. Even Naruto had left her.

And that hurt even more.

A shadow fell across the path. She still couldn't look up, but didn't have to. A familiar man crouched in front of her, one gray eye blinking sleepily up her face.

"Yo." He scratched his head, not alarmed in the least at the sight of his battered and bleeding former student. "You break your neck or something?"

Scratch that. Some things never changed. She managed to crack out a smile for him. "Something like that." she confirmed.

"Hn." The blood was dripping at the area near his toes now, but he still didn't look too disturbed about it. She suddenly felt irrationally angry towards her former teacher, on top of everything else. He was supposed to teach her something! Anything! Anything that could have at least lessened this very sad situation she found herself in.

After a few more seconds, she decided that he was just annoying her, to rub it in her face that she was so unprepared and pathetic, so she made a move to the right. "See you around, Kakashi-sensei." she managed to whisper, her pain mercifully numbing out any emotion that would betray her humiliation. Now all she needed was for Ino to see her in that state as a cherry on top of this humiliation cake.

Maybe there was still time. Sakura could just walk home, call up her mother. Hi mom, she imagined herself saying. My heart is broken and my ass is beat. Can I come home? She let her imagination roam a little further: a degree in mathematics, a quiet life with 2.5 children, a small garden to tend to, a loving, if slightly bland, husband to come home to. No more getting punched and kicked, no more explosions, no more jutsus, no more people who loved her and then left her. What was wrong with that? Her mother and everyone she knew in her hometown had that kind of life, and they were perfectly happy. And she had been the best in that life. Unlike here.

Yes, she could leave it all behind. It startled her to think that she even had that option. Being a ninja was all she'd ever known, but that other life was open to her, unlike anyone else's. So easy.

She didn't have time to pursue that train of thinking before she found herself being lifted gently off the ground. She just had enough pain tolerance in her to peek up to Kakashi's impassive face.

"Shut up, Sakura." he said.

I didn't say anything, stupid! She found herself angrily retorting in her head. But everything hurt too much, and being carried home by her former teacher just made things doubly worse, so she squirmed in his arms, trying to get back on her feet.

Finally, it was clear that he wasn't going to let her go, and even her minimal struggling hurt. Sakura sighed and allowed herself to relax a little in her former teacher's arms. She stared at her toes glumly, wondering what he thought of her now. She was a little too old to be carried this way,she decided, and she could even remember the time when she could fit a little more neatly in this configuration.

She was also bleeding into his shirt, but he didn't seem to mind.

After a few minutes, he was climbing up a familiar flight of stairs, and bypassed her apartment's lock with unnerving ease. She made a mental note to buy another set of locks, something more reliable.

Kakashi marched her over her bed and set her down gently. He drew back and set his hands on his hips, as if surveying her damage. That was a good way to put it. He retreated to her tiny kitchen and came out with a little bowl of water and a towel. He drew up a chair beside her bed and began dabbing the dried blood off her face.

It was painful, but it took a lot of her remaining strength to reach out and grab his wrist to still his movements. It was too much. Too humiliating. She trained her eyes on his hooded one, hoping she'd sound firm even if she didn't feel like it. "Sensei. Please stop. I'll be fine."

Kakashi's default expression was that of being perpetually unreadable. But he casually flicked her hand off and continued what he was doing, and all Sakura could do was lie back and let him do it, wishing she was anywhere but here.

Finally, he spoke. "Why are you doing this, Sakura?"

Do what? Train? Fight? He'd seen her in worse shape than this, and she suspected Tsunade-sama took it easy on her. It wasn't like she specifically asked Tsunade-sama to hand her ass to her. She just...pushed Tsunade-sama to do it. So, Sakura played stupid.

"What?"

"Don't act stupid." his voice was stern, like he was about to lecture her. He didn't. She let out a breath she didn't know she was holding. She looked out of the window as he gently removed her shoes and her gloves. She felt like she was a little kid again, and she hated it.

He drew back, sighing softly. "Sakura. I know that it seems like throwing yourself into physical hurt will make you feel better. But do you feel better?"

She didn't say anything, but she knew the answer. No, I don't feel better.But she wasn't going to let him know that. What, NOW he felt bad for her? He practically ignored her for the better part of her tutelage under him. Now look where that left her. Let him stew. It was childish, but Sakura didn't really feel like being mature right then.

Sensing that he wasn't about to get an answer from her, he rested his hands on his knees and made a move to stand up. "I'll send some medic-nin to look you over, Sakura." he said, sounding bored again.

She looked over him, and somehow the sight of another retreating team member's back-even if it was her stupid, lazy teacher-made her heart twist rather painfully. All thoughts of self-pity fled her then, replaced by the fear of being left behind. Again.

"Sensei."

He stopped in his tracks and looked back at her. She looked contrite, and she knew he was slightly surprised at how quick her turnaround was. But she was too exhausted to even cry. She probably didn't have the strength to hold onto whatever it was she was feeling for too long. "I'm sorry." she said.

He shrugged. "Don't apologize to me. Be nicer to yourself." he turned around again, one hand raised in farewell. She nodded, then shifted her eyes back to the ceiling.

She did look pretty beat up. And sad. He wondered what she was thinking about. In any case, he hoped he took his words to heart. He found he couldn't walk away, which was annoying. With a huff, he summoned a small cloud of smoke, which produced a small dog.

"Yo." Pakkun greeted.

"Go send for a medic-nin, will ya? Sakura-chan needs some help." Kakashi instructed him. He walked back to Sakura's bedside, and put a gentle hand on the girl's forehead. "I'll keep watch over this one."

Sakura closed her eyes at his touch. For some reason, that simple gesture already made her feel better. She thought about that phone call, that other life. She thought about Sasuke and Naruto. And Kakashi.

That other life could wait.