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nos erant diversus

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Sealegs are a good metaphor. She hasn't quite gotten her sea legs yet. Sakura is in unfamiliar territory with uncertain companions like self-doubt, suspicion and fury to accompany her on her journey. She is fumbling and tripping her way through a long dreaded encounter and doing a spectacular job at failing.

Fantastic, really. She has always been good at the whole not succeeding bit.

She looks at the neatly pressed sheets that rise over the mountain range of human topography and fall over the sides of a bed where countless nameless, faceless, less extraordinary people had lain. People who didn't make her heart pound so hard that it felt as if her pulse beat in her temples and that with every pump she was becoming more and more functionally incapable of thought patterns. People she never loved.

She tries to hear the heart monitor over her own fluttering pulse. She tries to prioritize.

She tries to look at anyone but the occupant of the bed who seems to suffer from no such affliction.

Sasuke stares at her as if it's his god given right; as if he's done it every day, their whole lives.

"Stop it," she says with confidence she doesn't feel. "Stop looking at me like that."

"Hn, like what?" to be perfectly fair, he hadn't been staring at her in any particular sort of way, but she doesn't have to acknowledge this. Sakura has become good friends with denial and has learned to all but eliminate the symptoms. Her fists don't shake, she meets his eye with a steady, inscrutable countenance and her eyes are a one way mirror. She can see him, and she hopes to god that he can't see her.

"Just stop looking at me." She will never understand him.

He nods, as if this is the reaction he expects and she had simply been the outcome of an experiment of his; where the hypothesis was held to be truth. Irrationally, she hates this, she hates him for his know-it-all tendencies and his smirk and his eyes.

Sasuke does not defend his actions; he never has and never will feel like he has to. But he speaks up because she has impeached his honor with her implications and he only has so much left to impeach. "What would you have done in my place?" his voice is steady, evenly spaced and has no connotation; positive or negative. This is what she hates most of all; he steps back and turns this, whatever this is, into an analysis. She envies that he is cold; that he can see their entire situation as a part of the bigger picture instead of a part of them. She hates him for being able to step back and stop feeling when the safety of distance is beyond her. "You can't blame me if you would have done the same."

"What if I wouldn't have done the same?" she counters petulantly, poking him harder than necessary with an IV. "What would you have done in mine?"

He frowns and gives no answer, but she can imagine.

It hurts to know he would never have given her a second thought. He would have gone on with his life, wouldn't he?

.

.

Wouldn't he?

.

.

"You are the future of our clan." Father has been saying things like this for as long as Itachi can remember. His name is a heavy one, while some have said he carries it effortlessly, he has felt weighed down by it, his whole life. There are mornings when he wakes up before the dawn, gasping for air—crushed.

He is eleven-years-old and he will never forgive his father.

Itachi looks at Sasuke and envies him his childhood. Is talent justification enough for sending a six-year-old to battle? His little brother is the age he was when he joined the ranks, and Itachi has trouble believing he was ever so small.

When the little boy looks up at him adoringly and promises that someday he'll be just like him, Itachi is, in equal measure, touched and embittered.

He cannot let this happen to him.

Two years later, he stands on the precipice. Father demands more from him every day. He tells him that he is the future, but all he has taught him is bloodshed. Itachi wonders if that is what a future ruled by the Uchiha will look like, and finds it futile. What else could it be? They are all so angry and for what?

Itachi has spent half his life fighting alongside his Konohan brothers and sisters. Some have taught him humility, some have taught him strength. But when he thinks about what's worth fighting for, he recalls his Jounin sensei, who shielded him at great personal cost to herself and a young ANBU captain who taught him it's okay to laugh.

In another life, the softness of Itachi's heart might have been a strength. He has impeccable chakra control; he could have been a healer. But this is the only life he'll ever have.

Itachi is thirteen years older, staring down the barrel of a civil war, caught in the middle of duty, honour and love. To which and to what—minute to minute, he never knows.

He stands before his father and mother, sure of the deed he must do, and unable to complete it.

Instead, he runs.

.

.

Sasuke is not a naturally early riser and is usually bleary-eyed and cranky before nine. He wakes up the morning after and is unfazed to find his brother not in attendance at breakfast. Itachi skips meals for lots of reasons; missions, training, sleep and a whole bunch of other things that are a mystery to the 8-year-old boy. If Father is tense and Mother is quiet, Sasuke isn't alert enough at this hour to notice.

Mikoto's slipped tone as she tells him, "Aunt Kasumi will take you to school today," is the first hint that something is wrong. Any other day he may have put up token protests. He's old enough to walk himself! But today he decides not to try his parents' patience.

Shisui does not knock on their door, he walks in like he lives there, in open defiance of his clan head. Fugaku glares and Mikoto's lips press into a thin, cold line. "Come on, I'm taking you to school." He swipes Sasuke up and throws him over his shoulder, smiling through the token protests, interrupted by laughter.

Sasuke's hands press into Shisui's back as he tries to hold himself up, but his little arms don't afford him much leverage. All he can see it the Uchiwa emblazoned proudly on his cousin's back.

The look that Shisui gives Sasuke's parents is entirely hidden from view.

.

.

Naruto fell asleep on the couch last night. Mom is in Kiri (she says it's not, but she packed rain gear), Dad got called away around nine and Naruto took advantage. He watched inappropriate cartoons late into the night and only fell asleep when the infomercials came one.

So when Dad comes in at 6am and flops onto the couch, Naruto screams at the top of his lungs. Which makes Dad scream at the top of his lungs. Then they're just sort of staring at each other, screaming.

"What are you doing?!" Naruto exploded.

"I'm sorry!" Minato's knee-jerk reaction is to apologize, "Wait. What am doing? What are you doing?! You were in bed last night!"

Chagrined, but unwilling to concede defeat to his old man, Naruto crosses his arms and pouts. "You still should have looked where you were putting your butt." This is a perfect execution of pages 1-5 of the Kushina Uzumaki playbook, but whatever. Who can argue with a success rate like hers?

Minato sighs and ruffles his son's hair. He's so cute, it's not even worth staying mad. "Come on, let's get you ready for school."

Naruto hates when mom's one missions. Firstly, because he's a bit of a mama's boy, but also because when she's out of town, Dad makes more of an effort to get him to be places on time. Naruto figures emphasizing punctuality in front of the least punctual person he's ever known is in poor taste.

Soon, Dad's frogmarching him to school.

"I know how to get to school!" protests Naruto, "I promise I'll go!"

Minato quirks an eyebrow at this foolishness, as if he hasn't spent a decade married to Kushina Uzumaki and eight years raising this hooligan. "Education is important."

Sometimes Naruto finds it hard to believe his dad was ever Hokage; he's such a nerd.

.

.

Sakura is having the worst day ever.

She slept in because her parents didn't wake her this morning, she's running so late that she didn't even have time for breakfast, she only notices that her shirt and shorts don't match when she's already halfway to the academy AND she slept funny or something because her bangs are sticking all the way up, exposing her forehead to the world. The other girls are going to decimate her when they see. Decimate is a word she learned recently from her father yesterday, when he realized that he forgot to get groceries, there was no food in the house and he wife would be home in three minutes.

She bursts into her classroom to find that everyone else is on time. Even NARUTO. She could die of shame.

"Take a seat Sakura," Iruka orders, not unkindly.

Her shoulders bow inward, if she could make herself smaller she would. She would disappear if she could. Her hands wring as she finds her chair, right beside Sasuke-kun. Her face burns so much, she thinks maybe she'll get her wish. Maybe she'll melt, maybe she'll evaporate.

As the lesson continues, Sakura unwinds and relaxes. No one's teasing her, no one really seems to notice her. Sasuke-kun nods at her when she looks his way and she immediately straightens her spine and blushes crimson. It's the most remarkable thing to happen all morning.

Right before lunch there's a knock at the classroom door.

Iruka slides it open to reveal two chunins. They converse quietly for a moment, Iruka's brows furrowing more with every moment. Eventually he swallows and nods.

"Sakura," he calls. Her eyes widen in surprise. "Could you please go with them?"

Sakura stands on shaky legs, "W-why?"

The whole class 'ooooh' tauntingly at her.

"Somebodies in trouble~!" Ino sing-songs from her desk.

Sakura feels wretched, but she's compelled to come forward. "What's this about?"

"Don't worry," he pats her shoulder, smoothing over a briefly reassuring lie, "everything's going to be fine."

One of the chunin is really young. He's still got baby fat in his cheeks and he's only a foot taller than her. He holds out his hand and she takes it.