dedication: SasuSakuMonth, Paige and Chloe
summary: Everything's turning dark for you.
notes: I normally don't like this interpretation of Sakura, but... Idk? I wrote the first half while I was rather drunk; it's an art I perfected in high school. But, yeah, here you go.

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bone marrow

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It's five months after the war.

She is a veteran—a survivor, a living hope; an idea that there can and will be life after a war, something to look towards to after tragedy, after loss, after hopelessness. She is seventeen, not a day older and not a day younger. She is the heiress of the Slug—the new Slug Princess, the new wielder of the Yin Seal, the new Slug Sannin.

She is all this and nothing at all.

Its five months after the war and Sakura stands before her mirror, naked as a jaybird, watching herself—the way she breathes, the rise and fall of her shoulder, her chest. Oh, her chest. Small, skin creamy alabaster. She stares at her flat stomach, at the telltale sign of the muscles that have grown as she lies on her back—sit-ups—and counts to two hundred. She stares at her thighs, firm and smooth, legs never ending. She stares at the place in between. She stares at herself.

She stares at the girl staring back at her, scarred and jagged and broken—put back together in a messy attempt to keep her whole. She's got sharp edges poking out, jabbing at her lungs, her heart, her vital signs and Sakura feels as if she's lost herself somewhere between fighting for herself and her friends and what she knows is right and losing her precious Shishou, losing her precious Kakashi-sensei, losing everyone she's held dear and been given back but fractions of whom they once were.

And this girl staring back at her.

This girl, naked, pink hair and green eyes and a violet-red diamond at the center of her (too-large, god, it's too large, shrinkshrinkSHRINK) forehead looks so cracked and horrible and dead and she can't possibly be everything everyone expects her to be and—

"When did you stop trying," she hisses at the girl. The girl hisses right back at her. "When did you stop trying?! When did you stop being everything you know you can be?!"

And there's a voice that whispers the life of a veteran is a sad one.

Downward spirals.

Fast and slow and consuming.

You have to think three steps ahead or it'll take you prisoner and never let you go.

And Sakura stares at the girl staring back at her and demands she stands back up and fight because there is no quitter in Haruno Sakura. She's everything normal, everything sane—redefined tool, edgy and crack and perhaps stripped of all its sharpness. But she is what she is and she will stand and fight and stop dying slowly by the means of hating herself.

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Her thickest scar is the one right above her womb, three inches away from leaving her barren.

It's pink and the closed wound juts out, ugly—defected. She is defected, used and broken. It glares at her as she stands above the river, staring down at her reflection clad in binds—too tight around her chest—and her biker shorts. She stares at the girl—this warrior princess, so lost because her mind was left behind in the battlefield where blood still taints the soil and she wants to scream at herself to get a grip.

Those green eyes shouldn't be so dull.

Those full lips shouldn't be tilted downwards in such an ugly frown.

Where is the hope.

Haruno Sakura is hope.

Haruno Sakura is love but she cannot feel it even as it courses through her veins—badum, badum—pumps in her heart. Who is this silly girl, wearing her skin—her horribly defected skin?

"What are you doing?"

She looks up and stares at him.

Badum, badum.

She knows she loves this man.

This boy that grew up too fast, this boy who lost his mind—left it behind in a compound tainted red and littered with dead bodies.

She knows she loves him but she can't help but just stare.

Blank, impassive, so far gone.

"At my reflection."

He nears her and Sakura can feel her heart speeding up but the tingly sensations she knows she should feel are lost behind a frigid wall.

"I have a scar," she says, running the pad of her forefinger along the thick line. "I fought an Akatsuki and I acquired it. Saved an old woman. I was her puppet."

He stares at her, his dark eyes calculating, his lips pressed into a thin line—observant. He is observing her, drinking her in, painting her into the canvas inside his mind and she should—wants, fuck, how she wants—to feel the love and the hope and the desire but she can't help but just quirk her lips in a fake smile.

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It's a year after the war.

Sakura does this a lot—it is her ritual—to stand before her full-length mirror and observe herself and all her ineptitude, allow the nasty voices inside her mind to convince her that regardless of how much she tries she will never be good enough to be anything.

Slug Princess—preposterous.

Yin Seal wielder—to what extent?

Slug Sannin—impossible.

Empty titles for an empty girl.

Who is she?

A failure, she replies as she punches the mirror until it cracks.

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She sits at the training grounds, observing the small piece of glass sticking out of one of the spaces in between her knuckles. She calculates the nanosecond of pain she will feel when she pulls it out and swipes her forefinger along the wound; allow her chakra to mend the cells.

She shakes her head.

She wants it to stay.

Sakura tilts her head and pokes at it, digs it in deeper and half-grins at the jolt of pain she feels, making her hop in her seat on the grass of Team Seven's training ground. She's sweaty, short hair sticking to her neck and forehead, shorts uncomfortable against her skin.

Sai's up on one of the tallest tree branches, sightseeing and sketching, Naruto has left for other matters to attend to—such a busy boy-man he has turned up to be, after the Fourth War—and Sasuke sits not too far from her, inspecting his chokutō, a whetstone nearby.

And Sakura sits there, inspecting her latest wound—her soon-to-be scar and smiles like the broken maniac she knows she is.

"What are you doing?"

She looks up, her expression sobering up into one of impassiveness as Sasuke stares at her, his messy forelocks tangled with his lashes.

"Inspecting this wound I got."

His eyes lower to her fist.

"Take it out," he says. "It'll get infected."

"I can heal it."

"So do it."

Sakura sighs, pulling the piece of glass out of her knuckle without batting an eyelash. Blood begins to flow and she stares down at it, for a second, watching how striking it looks against her pale skin, how it flows down the spaces in between her fingers and pit-patters onto her thigh. She is entranced, for a second.

She's brought out of it when Sasuke slaps a hand onto her wound, giving it a hard squeeze and his eyes staring at her with a spark of annoyance.

"Fix it."

She wants to scream at him that she's trying.

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She finds him in her apartment, one afternoon.

He's sitting on her couch, slouched and his legs spread out and crossed at the ankle. He's reading a scroll, big and thick—a medical one, perhaps, the back of her mind comments—and thoroughly engrossed. Uchiha Sasuke is unaware of her presence.

That's a first, she realizes as she kicks her boots off and walks further into her home.

"How'd you get in here?"

"Window."

He'd known she was there the entire time.

"Why?"

Sasuke looks up at her for a second, blinking his forelocks out of his eyes. "It was open."

"No," Sakura drawls, walking towards the kitchen. "Why are you here?"

He doesn't reply and Sakura takes out the pitcher of water she keeps inside her refrigerator, not bothering to find a cup and drinking right out of it. It's static quiet for so long, Sakura loses herself in her mind, much like she always does, thinking about some things, trying to ignore others, her demons still trying to get the best of her…

"Because you have been odd," he replies, leaning against the doorframe of the kitchen. "For a very long while, actually."

She stares at him, blankly and he mirrors the expression right at her.

"I haven't."

"Yeah, you have."

Sakura furrows her brow. "How would you know?"

He shrugs a shoulder, stepping further into the kitchen, his hands stuffed in his pockets.

"Because I know Haruno Sakura."

She whirls around, following his every move as if he were to be an enemy. "You left for two years. I changed."

He smirks.

"I did!"

"Sakura."

She shakes her head. "Just… Can we not. I'm working things out in my head."

He's quiet.

"And… And you shouldn't care. And… You shouldn't be here."

Sasuke sighs, tilting his head and giving her the same expression he's always given her. "You're annoying."

Her mouth opens.

"I… Am."

He raises an eyebrow and Sakura mechanically walks towards her room. She doesn't know how long he stayed in her apartment before he left.

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"I am annoying," she hisses at her mirror that night, glaring at her flesh.

The mirror is cracked and pieces are missing like a jigsaw puzzle but Sakura ignores it as she stares at herself with disdain, turning around and walking towards the bathroom to stand under hot water, let it soothe her muscles and ease her mind.

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They sit at the training grounds two weeks later, same people, same positions. Naruto's off in some meetings for his impending admission as Rokudaime.

Sai is up on the trees again, Sasuke is sharpening his chokutō and Sakura sits, staring at herself and at the grass and at the trees and at everything. Silence has been going on for an hour, now, and she remembers a time where she couldn't ever stay silent.

But what exactly is there to talk about?

"I think I'm broken."

She hears shuffling—Sasuke looking up at her sudden words and how heavy they weigh.

"So heal yourself."

"No," she says, softly. "I think I'm broken… I… Broke… Out there… In that war…"

"It's been a year."

"I've been broken for a year."

She hears him sigh but Sakura doesn't look up at him but she knows he's staring at her. It is the first time she has admitted it aloud, much less to someone else, but it feels… Accurate. She is broken; she isn't strong, not mentally, not emotionally, not physically because upon losing so many people, upon seeing and hearing everything she has… She has broken.

"What makes you say that?" he asks.

"I…" She looks up at him, her eyes stinging with tears she does not remember calling forth. "I couldn't save them. I couldn't save them, Sasuke. My Shishou… Kakashi-sensei… Neji… They're dead."

He stares at her, long and hard.

"People die."

"And I save them."

"You can't save everyone."

But she wants to, oh, how she wants to. How she wants to prove her self-worth, how she wants to prove to everyone that she is capable of something—that she can save people, save everyone. It's a self-expectation that she thought she could have met upon awakening her Yin Seal. An expectation she failed to achieve.

She blinks, tears getting caught in her lashes before dripping down her cheeks. "I… Am a failure. I am… defected."

Sasuke scoffs. "You haven't deserted anyone."

"Yes," she says, looking up at him again, tears falling down her cheeks. "I deserted myself, Sasuke."

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He keeps a close eye on her, after that.

She never catches him, he never makes it obvious—in fact, he looks as completely indifferent as he always has been with her. But Sakura knows; she can feel it in the few inches that are lost as he walks closer to her when Team Seven goes out for ramen, in the way he trains with her in a taijutsu spar, in the way he sometimes walks her home, in the way he stares at her when she's pretend-smiling and having conversations with the rest of her friends.

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"You saved me."

She looks up at him as they sit in the training grounds, one day. Sakura furrows her brow, chews on her lower lip and drops the blade of grass she had been inspecting prior to his abrupt sentence. Sai is above them, again, lost through the leaves as he does his sighting and sketching and Naruto has run off again, this time to spend some time with Hinata.

"I…" She shakes her head, "No I haven't."

Sasuke isn't looking at her, rather, he's inspecting the perimeter, his eyes squinted, his brow furrowed and his lips pressed in that neutral frown of his. "You have."

"Sasuke," she whispers. "You came back on your own—"

"Not that." He turns to her for a second, studies her with his too-black eyes. "In the Forest of Death, during the Chuunin Exams all those years ago."

"You saved me."

"I would have killed them," he drawls, as if he were commenting on the weather. "I would have killed them in a heartbeat."

Sakura shakes her head, sad smile on her lips.

"And it's… Not just then," he goes on, stiffly, almost feeling uncomfortable with speaking everything that comes to his mind. "Our first mission, my fight with Gaara… You… Told me you loved me, that night."

She looks up at him, then, and he's already staring at her. "Yeah."

"And I thanked you."

"Why?"

Sasuke sighs, looking away, again, and inspecting the perimeter as if they are on a mission, in high danger of being attacked. "Because you saved me."

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Little by little he begins to tell her of all that she's done.

He's gruff and straightforward, rarely looking at her in the eye, his voice a low murmur that kisses her skin and dives into the very root of her being, through her pores; like scar kisses, his voice a dagger to the flesh, wounding and scarring in the most complex and beautiful way.

She listens silently, as he tells her about the massacre that the Alliance would have been without her, reminds her that it was his heart that had stuttered back to life, under her very hands, that Naruto is still very much alive because of her, that Sai would have bled out without her, that everyone that survived is because of her.

And Sakura listens to him, slowly feeling warmth after having felt nothing but cold; like winter lasting for years on end and now slowly melting as the sun finally decides to rise up.

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She interrupts him, one day, as they prepare to leave the training grounds.

He's telling her something hushed, about her Yin Seal and such a remarkable feat it marks as it stays there, on her forehead—a sure sign of the three years she went, storing all that chakra and going into battle with only half of the amount she molds.

Sakura cradles his face, gently, in between her hands and places her lips against his in a dry, chaste kiss. It is messy and clumsy, her teeth knocking against his, her tongue poking at his lower lip. And she shudders at the feeling—thin and soft and a bit dry—takes a deep breath and slowly pulls away.

Sasuke is staring at her, his brow furrowed as if catching up with what has just occurred. He clears his throat, licks his lips—licks the remnants of her, licks her kiss, keeps it to himself—and nods his head. "Yes, well…"

She laughs and for the first time she swears it's real.

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It's life after the war.

Sakura stands in front of her new mirror, naked, hair dripping excess water from her shower and her eyes inspecting all the scars that blemish her pale skin. She studies her collarbones, the mounds of her breasts, the valley in between them, the soft muscles on her abdomen, her thighs, her never ending legs…

Arms wrap around her naked waist and he brushes his lips against her shoulder.

Sakura smiles at their reflection, satisfied, for once, with what she sees.