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Divine Absolution

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Konoha is a place that grows secrets like flowers, a place where words whispered behind closed doors have a way of getting out. Konoha is a town of secrets. Haruno Sakura is a girl with more secrets than most, so perhaps it is fate that she comes to Konoha at the beginning of autumn, when the fog is thick and heavy from the town square to the seashore, the air is heavy and smells like a storm, and it’s been one year to the day since the mayor’s wife disappeared.

It’s nearing midnight when Sakura pulls up in front of the town’s only diner. Ino is the only one working; the diner is empty other than herself and Iruka, dozing off on a pile of ungraded essays. Only Ino is there to witness Sakura’s arrival.

Sakura is all grace and old money, that much is easy to tell: her car is sleek and black and Italian; her coat is fur-lined and probably worth more than anything Ino owns; her dress is white – like a bride, Ino thinks, or a ghost – and her hair is swept up elegantly. These things, in and of themselves, are not alarming. It’s Sakura’s hair – pastel pink, almost, a few shades lighter than red, red, red – that gives Ino pause.

The diner is silent beyond the soft, almost inaudible sound of the radio playing a maudlin love song and the pounding of Ino’s heart. Sakura smiles. Her teeth are too-white against the red of her lips. “Who’re you?” Ino asks before she can stop herself. Her voice is too-loud in the silence, breathless with a fear that she doesn’t yet understand.

“Haruno Sakura.” She extends a perfectly-manicured hand. Ino doesn’t take it. Sakura drops her hand, but her smile doesn’t falter. “And you?” There’s something familiar about her, even if Ino doesn’t recognize the name.

“Yamanaka Ino,” she whispers, the words drawn out by some unknown compulsion. “What brings you to Konoha?”

“Oh, Ino.” For a moment, Ino sees someone else instead of Sakura; red hair instead of pink, a different color flashing in Sakura’s green doe-eyes. Then the moment is gone. Sakura looks sympathetic. “You already know.”

Ino’s hands shake. “We’re closed.” The 24-hour sign flickers damningly in the window. Sakura doesn’t say a word, just smiles and walks out to her car. Ino waits until she’s driven away, the purr of her engine quiet beneath the crashing of the waves, then calls the first person who comes to mind.

“Shisui. I think I just saw a ghost.” Because for one awful moment, it hadn’t been Sakura standing in the diner. It had been Uzumaki Mito, the mayor’s dead wife.