Chapter 1: Prologue
There’s a relief in the knowledge that she is finally done. No more fighting, no more struggling, no more reaching after the others only to remain so far behind. It doesn’t matter that she couldn’t love Naruto like he wanted, or that she can’t stop loving Sasuke despite what she herself wants, because soon enough she’ll be gone and forgotten and the swallowing maw of guilt that lives in her stomach can finally leave her at peace.
It hurts. Don’t get her wrong, it hurts- not to be an asshole, but the crackling, stinging, all-burning pain of the hand around her throat is far worse than the heart-shatteringly blank look to Sasuke’s eyes. Sometimes the physical is just too much to ignore in favor of the emotional. She can’t breath, both from the pressure on her throat and the wind being knocked out of her as she’s pushed back, back-
She wakes up, still struggling to breath, only this time the only force on her throat is the constriction of panic . She has no idea where she is, but the world has grown larger in the second her eyes were closed. Larger- and familiar.
The sky has changed from dismal gray to a light blue dusted with clouds. The trees around her are alive, a healthy warm brown natural to Konoha, as opposed to the fractured dying trees scattered in the small village she’d hunted Sasuke down to. The sight of the small, red bridge in the distance is what makes it finally click- she’s in Konoha again.
She notices him before herself- Naruto, looking at her nervously, like he hasn’t in years, not since he left her that first time, and he’s so tiny. Tiny and round, with chubby cheeks and his hideous orange jumpsuit instead of his new hideous orange-black jumpsuit, and he’s staring at her and says- again, she realizes distantly, he’s repeating himself, “Sakura-chan? Iruka said we gotta come in now, didn’t’ya hear?”
Seeing him like this is enough for her to realize she’s smaller, younger, too. Long hair brushing against her arms from the gentle breeze, her skirt fluttering as well, and the weight on her forehead is too light to have her headband attached- her chakra is gone, and her muscles with it. She’s scrawny, tired already, and poorly dressed for a fight.
This is probably a genjutsu, she decides, but she doesn’t bother to break it. It’s not like she expected to win this fight, didn’t really intend to, and it’s honestly surprising Sasuke would go the extra effort to throw in a distraction like this to make it even easier for him to kill her. She’s not fighting back, after all.
There are worse visions he could trap her in, anyways. She’ll play along, but she’s not ready to see their classmates again, some who’s she’s recently betrayed to play at a mission she was ill-equipped for, others who likely have passed, and- that’s not even considering Sasuke. Sasuke from before the cursemark, or any of his betrayals.
“I’m not feeling too well Naruto, I’m gonna go home early, okay? Could you tell Iruka-sensei for me?”
Naruto pauses, probably surprised she didn’t snap at him, before breaking into a wide grin and nodding eagerly. “Sure thing, Sakura-chan, you can count on me- believe it!”
Then he dashes back to their schoolyard, where Sakura can even see the blurry image of Ino towards the door, waiting for her too if more discreetly- she wonders if that’s something Sasuke had actually noticed, that Ino was a good friend to her even then when she didn’t deserve it, or if it’s her own brain supplying the details for this world. She’d guess the latter, considering how much attention Sasuke had payed to either of them at the time.
She wanders home slowly, nervous about what she’ll find if she makes it all the way there. She doesn’t doubt Sasuke would happily ruin her nicer memories of her family life if he found it entertaining, and as low as she feels right now, she doesn’t know if she can handle that. She doesn’t have many nice memories of them to hold onto, not after she lost them in the Invasion- Mama in the first attack, Papa when he took back his old job as a genin in an effort to avoid the silence in the house, the discomfort of grief that sat on both their backs. She had to identify his body, not like how he’d done it for the both of them when it was Mama, and she can still remember the glass shards that had been left in his face from the bottle that had been smashed into his head in the bar brawl that had killed him. Without the Uchiha, after all, the village had been low on police forces for years, relying instead on undertrained and understaffed genin. She can’t imagine a worse image to return home to, but she’s sure Sasuke easily could, especially with his time in Sound.
She gives in to the fear- don’t I always? She thinks half heartedly- and mutters, “Kai.”
She’s not expecting to break free, really, but she’s been practicing with Kakashi since he returned enough to get a sort of waver to the world inside of a sharingan-induced genjutsu trap. Sometimes a layer or two of it will slip, if she does well, but instead...nothing changes. Frustrating, and a little unnerving, but what, did she really expect to best Sasuke at what his clan is famous for?
Sakura stops waiting and walks into her house, hears the once-familiar clatter of dishes that mean Papa is cooking dinner already, and he calls out, “Dear?” from the kitchen. She steels herself for whatever she’ll face when he comes out, and replies, “It’s me, Papa. I had to come home early, my stomach started to hurt at lunch.”
Her father walks out from the kitchen, drying his hands with a dishrag, a worried expression on his perfectly fine face. There’s some weathering to it from the sun, a downward crinkle to his eyes from the concern for her, but not a speck of glass in sight. It’s- confusing, even if it is a relief.
“Do you need me to take you to the doctor?” He asks, and Sakura gives a dazed shake of her head no.
“I think I just need to lay down. Thanks, Papa.” She says, and starts towards the stairs, before pausing to turn around and give him a hug. She presses her head against his chest, reaches her now-slender arms as far as she can around his barrel-sized waist, and feels the soft silk her mother likes to dress them in press against her cheek from his shirt. “I love you, Papa.” She tells him, and he hesitantly pats her head before pressing a kiss to her forehead and replying,
“I love you too, blossom.”
She goes back upstairs, more confused than before, because it seems like instead of a punishment, Sasuke is giving her a gift. She’d always wished she’d said that more to her parents, after losing them, and now it feels like she’s gotten to, as much of an illusion it might be. Why would he do that? She’s far past any of her delusions of him having compassion for her- or anyone, except maybe Naruto. There’s no reason for him to do this. He has nothing to gain from it, at this point, and he’s never been one to do things without a belief he’ll get something out of it, and she really can’t think of a single way he could make this work for him-
This isn’t for him.
Oh God. Sakura thinks, sinking to the floor of her room, breath stuttering alongside her heart, grabbing fistfuls of her hair to tug anxiously at like she did when she was this age and had the lengths for it, Oh god, this isn’t Sasuke.
Sasuke isn’t doing this.
Sakura sits, dazed, on her floor, struggling to find an explanation for what happened to her, and who’s done it, until she grows so exhausted from what must be two panic attacks in one day, now, and falls asleep.
She wakes up hours later, with only one answer she can settle on amongst the many she’s considered. It’s not even likely to be true, but it doesn’t seem to matter much what she believes, so she might as will pick something.
This is the past. I’m actually in the past. A genjutsu would have to be even better than Kakashi’s to trap her without a single hint otherwise, and as poorly as she views her own abilities, she can’t say the same for her first Sensei. This is a punishment. That seems clear to her now, studying her hands. They’re pale from lack of sun, soft from lack of work. The nail polish is barely chipped. Sakura had felt weak, and useless, and a hindrance to team seven and to Konoha, and had thrown herself into a mission she expected to kill her- and now here she is, weaker, less skilled, an even greater hindrance to all around her. This is the version of her that she hates the most, that she worked so hard to escape in those three years after losing her team. I’ll have to watch them leave me again, one by one like before. She has to- she has to try and stop it, she knows, try to change things, but at the same time- it feels pointless.
Not because this is a punishment; it seems reasonable that the best way to escape a punishment is to overcome the tribulation that had earned her the harsh sentencing in the first place. But because, regardless of her presumed advantages of knowing what’s to come, she’s still Haruno Sakura.
She threw herself into improvement for three years, tore herself apart to rebuild in a better image, and it still wasn’t enough. Without Tsunade to guide her, sakura doubts she’ll even regain that level of strength again; and what would be the point, when she was still stuck watching the others’ backs? Will she simply be forced to relieve everything all over until she throws herself in Sasuke’s path again, only to be sent back here to start again? She can see no point to it all. Hell, it’s not like she hadn’t been trying in the academy- she might not’ve had the same drive as she did after the Forest of Death, but she’d been top in academics, worked hard to try and keep up with her clan classmates when it came to the practical tests. There’s very little she can do differently, except increase her exercise, stop bothering Sasuke- and would that even do much, considering the issue was how isolated he was, not how annoying he’d found her? At best she can spend her time trying to- to force the bond Sasuke and Naruto to develop sooner, stronger, keep from getting in the way by demanding time or attention or help from either of them.
She doesn’t fall back asleep, and she doesn’t have a particular plan, but when her father comes in to ask if she feels up to going to school, she tells him she does. She doesn’t cut her hair, as annoying as the tangled strands falling into her vision are; she doesn’t change into any of her more practical clothes. When Papa hands her a lunchbox with half the food a girl her age should be getting- despite himself, she can still remember the fights they would get into over him giving her too much and making her look ‘uncool’ in front of Ino and the other girls on diets- she doesn’t ask for more. There’s no point to any of that, because none of that matters. It’s all matters of comfort for Sakura, and the reminders of her weakness actually help with the well of guilt inside of her. Maybe being imprisoned in the past should be enough of one, but Sakura feels like she should punish herself as well. Pathetic that this is as much punishment as you can take.
She makes it to class and ignores Ino’s concerned glance, or Naruto asking if she’s feeling better. She hasn’t earned their affections at all, and it feels like she’s tricking them, taking advantage of their kindness, to encourage their friendship at all. The sooner they realize they deserve better than her, the better for them both.
Sakura realizes just how tired she is when she finally reaches her seat- the exhaustion that had started soon after Sasuke had left the village- don’t think about him don’t look at him don’t- and had grown more and more bone-deep as time went on appears to have come with her to the past. She struggles to keep awake, teetering between that ever present drowsiness and the spike of panic she feels whenever she’s reminded where, when, she is, before giving up entirely.
She sits, pressed into her seat and face against the table, with little thought to how she looks or if she ‘fits’ to how she would’ve acted at the time. I probably look like Shikamaru, she thinks for a second, and stifles the odd urge to laugh. She might be acting like him, but she’d learned in the future that he was more than just the lazy ass he seemed to be- clever enough to make up for his slowburn to action, talented enough to be formidable when you actually had to face him. Sakura doubts he’d appreciate the comparison, when their abilities are so far apart in the end.
Iruka is shooting slightly worried glances at her, probably concerned that a usually well-behaved student is openly ignoring the lesson. He lets her disobedience slide for the same reason, chalking her behavior up to her imaginary illness from the day before. So Sakura settles in to the position, wishing she could get her mind to focus enough to use the time to strategize, but it’s hard to keep her thoughts from circling around the things she can’t fix as opposed to the things she can. She’s only able to drag them into a semblance of an order long enough to consider just how much she’s going to have to change to even try and solve everything, before that sends her spiraling back down and away from a cohesive thought process and back into a murky pool of fear. She has nothing going for her- she’s made a list of skills you could claim she has and skills she could work to earn back. The seal she’d gotten so close to gaining would take years to rebuild back up, and she doesn’t have that kind of time. She can probably still heal, but none of her teammates have physical injuries causing their problems- hell, she’s the only one on the team who has scars in the future. Super-strength is technically the only thing she could use offensively, but that would lead to questions she has no answers for and besides, being more useful in a fight was always a personal goal. She doubts being a better teammate on the battlefield would suddenly be enough to keep the boys around- Kakashi was one of the best shinobi in history, and having him as their teacher wasn’t enough to keep them around.
The sudden silence of the room had her glancing up without lifting her head, wondering if class had been dismissed when she’d lost focus. Instead, she sees Iruka-sensei staring rather pointedly at Naruto, her classmates muffling chuckles.
“....So no one wants to confess to defacing the training dummies? Even when they know admitting to it will make Mizuki-sensei lessen the punishment?” Iruka-sensei says, and his exasperated glare towards Naruto suddenly made a lot more sense.
Without even thinking about it, Sakura raised her hand. Might as well. Her perfect track record as a student had done shit-all for her as a shinobi, afterall, and Mizuki-sensei had always been meaner to Naruto.
“....Yes, Sakura-chan?” Iruka-sensei prompts, sounding slightly confused.
“Oh. I did it.” She explained, finally lifting her head to look at him. She couldn’t manage to raise her voice much, she doesn’t think she’s used it since the night before, but more than that she couldn’t exactly remember just what Naruto had done to the training dummies.
“Sakura-chan!” Naruto gasped, jolting out of his seat.
“....Can you explain why you defaced the dummies? And how?” Iruka-sensei questioned, coming to stand in front of her desk. It would’ve terrified her as a kid, his full attention and the stern look on his face that made it clear he didn’t believe a word she’d said and was going to be in so much trouble if she didn’t fess up now. Well, jokes on him, because Sakura’s already died twice, and he’s not scary anymore.
“....it was. Funny.” She suggests, which maybe is true- some of Narutos pranks had managed to be comedic, and others were stuck as just plain pathetic grabs for attention.
“Funny. Sure. And how did you manage to dye them and return them to their places in such a short amount of time?”
Sakura stared back blankly, wondering if this was really going to be the first thing she did differently in the past. Well. Too late now.
“A true prankster,” she says dryly, “never reveals their secrets.”
She gets detention for a month.
Naruto ends up in detention the very next day anyways, because he hits Mizuki-sensei during shuriken training by accident instead of one of the still-orange dummies. Serves him right for not teaching Naruto how to throw properly, anyways. Sakura thinks to herself, but doesn’t mention. Instead she just says he’s probably a pretty bad shinobi if a genin can accidentally get him like that. He overhears that, apparently, ‘cause she and Naruto both end up with another month to their punishments, even though she’s the one that said it and Naruto just laughed.
Despite all the extra time together, Sakura does her best to keep from becoming someone Naruto feels like he can rely on. Mostly she just sleeps; her grades are dropping dramatically, but part of her is considering giving up on the academy completely. Maybe if she leaves, team seven’s third member will be someone more competent? But that feels too much like taking the easy way out for herself, not the team, and Sakura knows she was selfish enough the first time around. She doesn’t want to do that again.
Iruka-sensei is definitely worried about her, but he hasn’t pulled her aside yet, and definitely hasn’t said anything to her parents- when she’s not sleeping through class, or trying not to respond to Naruto’s reinvigorated attempts at starting a relationship, she’s with her dad, enjoying the only part of this journey of hers that she can; and he certainly hasn’t been acting like he’s gotten any concerned reports from the faculty.
Kizashi doesn’t have much to offer her in the way of training, barely counting as a genin himself, but that doesn’t bother her anymore. She’d found it upsetting as a child, knowing her classmates had so much more help at home; but now, she was happy to enjoy the lessons her father was able to pass on, regardless of how useful they might be to a shinobi.
“Papa? Did I do this right?” She checks, tilting the paper so he can better see her attempt. He took a considering glance at it- Sakura had always loved that her father was honest when teaching her, never cruel but never a liar about what she needed to improve- before patting her on the head and smiling.
“Definitely, blossom, though the bottom line is a little shaky.”
“Thanks, Papa!” She replies, and starts again on a new sheet. Calligraphy was an odd hobby for a man so large and hamfisted as Kizashi, maybe, but he had a real talent for it. He made a nice side profit making the signs for local businesses, and he always claimed he’d first gotten Mebuki’s attention with a poem in his best calligraphy. Mama would laugh when she heard that and say, and here I was, thinking it was that hair of his!
Sakura hopes Mebuki will come home from her trip soon- she misses hearing her Mama’s laugh.
Things seem to have fallen into a relatively familiar pattern, as she finally adjusts to the changes. She spends her classes sleeping, her afternoons either with her father, or in detention with Naruto; and she stays up late every night, terrified about the ever-approaching future. Most of the time, she gives in to the fear, and leaves to train near her home. She throws herself into it, partially out of anger. She knows this won’t be enough, she won’t be enough, and yet here she is anyways, trying what she knows will fail anyways because she’s too dumb to think of something new.
One of the nights she finds herself breathing heavy, shakily sticking to the outside of a bar. She’s got no goddamn chakra, no goddamn energy, and is preparing to try and catch herself on a ledge when she inevitably loses her cling to the wall- it’ll scratch up her hands pretty nasty, and that’s if she manages the catch- when she feels an arm loop around her waist.
First, she goes limp, the full weight of her coming crashing down as her concentration slips from keeping the chakra running to her feet. Then instincts take over, and she slips through the arm to tilt forward, instead of trying to fight loose. She sees the ground draw closer, barely able to lift her arms to try and keep her head from taking the brunt of the fall, when she feels the arm grab her leg instead, dangling her above the ground. The shinobi holding her grunts in annoyance before lifting her up.
Sakura’s never seen this one before- at least not in this timeline. It’s hard to keep track of how many she saw when she was a medic, after all. Still, the shinobi is leveling her with a very unimpressed look, and it reminds her distinctly of Tsunade whenever Sakura did something particularly risky in a fight. It’s enough to make her lip quiver, and despite herself, a few tears escape. Embarrassing, so embarrassing! Still, she can’t help it- she misses Tsunade as much as she misses her mother.
The shinobi shakes herself, before walking the rest of the way up the wall and setting Sakura down as carefully as she can on the roof. “Uh, kid, please don’t cry on me.” She says, and Sakura wipes sheepishly at her face and says,
She sniffles again, and the woman’s face twists into what Sakura belatedly realizes is an attempt to suppress a laugh.
“Who’s your jounin sensei? You really shouldn’t be doing stuff like this without them to supervise, you know.” the woman says, patting Sakura awkwardly on the shoulder when she finally manages to calm down and keep from crying.
“Uh, I’m still in the academy.” Sakura replies, before quickly amending, “But I’m almost about to graduate!”
“Kid…” the shinobi says, a little endeared but fully exasperated with the child she’s had thrown at her almost literally when she just wanted to get drunk. “Yeah, okay, fine. You’re practically a genin.”
Huffily, Sakura thinks, technically, I’m a chuunin, if you ignore the timeline issues! But she doesn’t bother to reply with what she knows would sound like nonsense.
“But you still shouldn’t do stuff like this alone, okay? What would’ve happened if I hadn’t caught you, ya know?”
Sakura shrugs. “I would’ve fallen.”
The woman mutters something about stupid children before sighing, a little dramatically if Sakura was being honest, and picking Sakura back up, bridal style this time; Sakura jolted a little at the sudden movement, but doesn’t fight free. Climbing down was seeming more daunting with every passing second, now that she didn’t have her blood pumping so fast and has to consider exactly how painful a fall from this height could get.
“Listen. Next time you want to practice this- or anything else an academy student- or genin!” The woman cuts off, seeing Sakura’s look, “or genin shouldn’t be doing, come find me, okay? I’m no jounin, but at least I can keep you in one piece.”
As she starts the climb down the wall, Sakura takes in the offer, before clamping down the desire to turn her down. It’s clear she’s going to be keeping this up despite herself, so she might as well try and accept someone else’s help.
“....I’d need your name to do that.” Sakura points out, and the woman snorts.
“Oh. right, duh! I’m Chuunin Hitomi, at your service! You can reach me through the assignments desk, or uh- the um. Hm.” Hitomi pauses, as they reach the ground, but she keeps holding Sakura. It’s sort of nice, so Sakura doesn’t point it out yet. “The...building near the pretty office for codebreaking? It’s the one with the big front windows, do you know it?”
Sakura does, from doing checkups there. It’s where seduction training happens, and missions of that type get assigned, which means Hitomi is probably a specialist in that field. If she’s in the village often enough to make this offer, though, maybe she’s a trainer now, or splits her time between two fields? That was rather common, with no war to demand everyone to focus on one thing... Oh! She was waiting for an answer still.
“Yes!” Sakura replies, and nods along when Hitomi adds that she should always wait at the front desk for her, or out front, please, not in any of the rooms. It’s weirdly responsible of her, seeing as she was just out getting drunk at- sakura considers how long she’s been out before concluding it’s probably 3 am.
“Great.” Hitome says, before dropping Sakura. “Well, I gotta get home now, I have work in the morning and it’s- hey, wait. Don’t you have school tomorrow, kid?”
Sakura hops up, and makes a run for it, waving at Hitome as she runs. “Thanks Hitome-chan, see ya’ later, bye!” She calls out, quickly turning the corner as she hears Hitome give out a bark of a laugh.
That was...kind of really nice. Sakura might even look forward to seeing the woman again- it was nice to meet someone with no destiny that Sakura already knows about. The warm feeling lasts all the way until she makes it to class and finds that Ino is waiting at the door to class, missing class since Sakura was late today just like she often was lately- but her perfect attendance! Sakura thinks to herself, dazed, unable to stop herself from worrying about Ino’s class ranking, as Ino takes her by the wrist and drags her down the hall.
“You.” Ino says, glaring at Sakura, and it’s much more frightening then when Iruka does it because there’s the weight of her guilt adding to the pressure of her gaze, and then Ino is pulling her into a bathroom and blocking the door behind them. “You are going to start talking. ”
Well. Shit. There goes her good mood.
a kinda upbeat chapter!!! wow!!!!!!! dont expect it to last, sorry :(
if sakuras actions/thoughts often seem to counter eachother, welcome to depression and the rapid shifts in perspective it can drop on ya
hitomi is an oc so theres no canon content for her........but i'd love to here y'alls theories on who she is/her family name/etc if you have any, lol.
Chapter 3: the salt was in other words
warning for discussion of suicide in this chapter (Along with the usual Depression Thoughts).
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Ino has a secret.
Actually, it’s not her secret, so much as the entire clan’s. The Yamanaka are good at keeping those- they have to be, with how much they accidentally unearth when prying into minds for particular truths. But normally, it’s other’s secrets they keep; this one is the Yamanaka’s shame alone.
Ino’s grandmother did not die from old age.
Her grandmother was old, it’s true, but she had also been lively, clever as a whip, still fully capable of leading the clan when her son needed to leave the village or fell ill. Ino remembers her fondly- most Yamanaka do. She was an ideal Ino had set for herself at a very young age- a beautiful woman, a clever one, who’d led them to prosperous times and secured a safe future for their clan. Ino wanted to be just like her, not just in her successes, but in personality too. Her grandmother had once been a flirt, and would share stories that would have the young girl giggling over tea parties and training visits, of mistakes on missions and handsome men she decided not to settle for. Ino loved her deeply, fiercely, and knew she always would. This only made the guilt worse.
Her grandmother had grown tired. Ino would catch her napping in the middle of the day, late to training, and had only thought it was her age catching up to her. Then, her grandmother came prone to snapping when before she would’ve only sighed and called up more patience. The oddest things would set off her ire, and Ino was ashamed to admit that she had grown annoyed. Had started to skip the visits, more and more, especially when it seemed her grandmother wanted her to. She hadn’t realized that this was the case for the others- that her father, her mother, her cousins and distant relatives, all had begun to be pushed away by the woman they all admired.
There were other signs. Too many to count. But none that she’d noticed.
She had never wondered why her grandmother never talked about the war, when she’d shared so many other stories with her before. Now, she can’t help but think if her grandmother had talked to someone, anyone-
The fearsome clan matriarch died, it’s true. The funeral was attended by many. There was a statue of her in one of Konoha’s most popular public parks, surrounded by well-tended flowers. But it was not old age that killed her. She did it to herself.
Ino had buried this, had heard the elders whisper about protecting the clan image, and had moved forward with her life. She had training to maintain. A legacy to uphold.
Until Sakura had started to act weird, and it was like a nightmare from the past crawling its way back into her life. Not Sakura. It’s not fair. Is being loved by Ino really that dangerous? She knows it’s ridiculous, but it feels- it feels like it might be her fault. Maybe if she’d refused to let Sakura walk away those years before- maybe if she’d reached out sooner-
She knows it’s not true. That Sakura enforced that distance as much as she had, that there’s very little she could’ve changed. But that doesn’t mean she won’t do anything about it now. Not again.
“You.” Ino says, glaring at Sakura, and then Ino is pulling her into a bathroom and blocking the door behind them. “You are going to start talking.”
Sakura flinches. “What,um, what’s up, Ino?” She asks, offering a weak smile and praying this doesn’t have to be the confrontation it feels like. “We’re kinda missing class, so maybe we should-”
“Like you care.” Ino cuts her off. “You haven’t been to class on time in months. And when you do show up, it’s not like you pay any attention.”
Sakura fiddles with her fingers under Ino’s stare, tries to ignore the girl’s impatiently tapping foot, and decides this is a sign to give in. “Well, you know, the truth is, I don’t really think I’m cut out to be a shinobi…” She begins, and Ino rolls her eyes. Leans in close, exasperated, and her hand twitches towards Sakura’s shoulder before letting it slide past and onto the wall behind her instead.
“Bullshit.” She says, staring her down. “We both know how much this means to you. If Ami couldn’t scare you away- if I couldn’t-” and Ino’s voice cracks, a little, when she says that, “-then some graduation jitters sure aren’t going to do it.”
It’s true. It hurts to be reminded just how well Ino knew her, how close they were, and how poorly Sakura had treated her best friend regardless. She doesn’t have anything to say now but the truth, so she says nothing at all. She can feel herself beginning to shake, exhaustion and a weird sense of terror mingling- maybe it’s the inclosed space and the adrenalin, but it feels like she’s being held hostage. Then- Ino steps back. Sighs.
“If you don’t want to talk, I can’t make you.” She says, and Sakura wants to point out that’s a little contradictory with her past actions, but she’s too relieved to say anything. Ino turns to leave, and for a second, Sakura thinks that’s the end of it.
Then, she feels Ino’s arms around her, a hand patting her head awkwardly, and hears Ino fiercely say, “But you’re not getting rid of me, Sakura. I care about you, and you can’t make me stop.”
And then, finally, Ino is gone.
Sakura feels the ghost of her arms around her as she slides down to the floor, gives in to her shakes. Ino has always been far too good at seeing her, and she’d been foolish to think the girl would suddenly turn a blind eye.
But still. But still, it was- it was one thing to know that Ino would notice, and another thing entirely for Ino to have responded so vehemently. Like they were still friends, still best friends, and more than that- Like Sakura was someone worth saving.
She feels her cheeks grow wet before she realises that she’s crying.
Suddenly, she hears a click. Looking up, she sees the door is open, and Sasuke is standing there, awkwardly looking at her for a moment.
“This is.” he says, pausing. “The boy’s bathroom.”
That would explain the urinals, she thinks dizzily, and when he turns to leave she stands up and and hurries to beat him out. “It’s fine, it’s fine, Sasuke, sorry, it’s my fault!” She reassures him. The tears have made her eyes blurry enough, and the adrenaline already fading enough, that she can avoid looking too closely at him or thinking too hard about how this is the first time she’s talked to him since coming back. She brushes past him, hurries down the hall, skipping class entirely. She can’t handle seeing Ino again- or Sasuke, honestly. Any of them.
Sasuke stares at the door, head tilted. “Sasuke?” he mutters, before turning his attention away. That was... weird.
Sakura leaves the school, but can’t bear to go home to her empty house, waiting for her father to come home and show concern for her apparent illness, concern she doesn’t deserve, just like Ino’s worry for her, just like the looks Iruka has been shooting her more and more often as she turns in less and less work, just like Naruto in the future used to care so much about her when she treated him like shit, just like-
She ends up outside Hitome’s building without realizing, and then forces herself to go in before she gets any more odd looks from passersby for her age and tear-stained cheeks.
Hitome looks up with a smile when she hears she’s got a visitor, but it drops as soon as she spots Sakura, and all Sakura can think is, not another one. How many people is she going to hurt? When is she going to learn to keep this to herself, hide it better, for the sake of the people who actually matter?
“Kid.” Hitome says, then pauses, before she gently pushes Sakura into a seat. “You look beat.” Hitome informs her, not unkindly, before sliding into the seat next to her and awkwardly looking away as she says, “I’m not so good at uh- emotion, stuff, as I am with training, but if you gotta talk…”
“I, uh-” Sakura begins, before straightening herself up. You’re sixteen, not some stupid child, and you’re not going to make this poor woman put up with your problems, she tells herself. Then she fixes a crooked smile and says, “Class sucked today.”
Hitome looks at her a little disbelieving, but it’s not hard to sell it better. “I was hoping you could teach me something cool, like you promised?” She suggests, and that makes Hitome chuckle.
“I promised to help you practice, not teach you anything new.” The woman responds, before nudging Sakura’ shoulder with her own. “But I guess I have a trick or two I could share.”
The drop from her earlier panic means all Sakura wants to do in the moment is sleep- but she’s not going to let Hitome down, even though she already knows no matter how impressive the jutsu, there’s nothing Hitome can teach her that will make Sakura useful, much less worth the effort to teach her. But Hitome is offering, and if Sakura turns her down, she knows it will just make the woman worry. She can stick it out a while longer if it’s one less person she’s making anxious over nothing.
Hitome’s trick ends up being an explanation for how to alter the detonation time for an explosion tag. Definitely riskier then what Sakura would’ve expected someone to teach an academy student, but she’s not complaining- the process is interesting, the sort of thing that feels like a puzzle and makes Sakura want to twist and play with the concept afterwards. It’s bursts of chakra to affect the ink, and something to do with charge built up in the tag... Hitome laughs, the first time Sakura tries it, sets it off early and has it go off in her face with a small pop. She gets it on her third try, and she’s so satisfied with figuring it out that she only notices the considering look Hitome is giving her when the chuunin speaks up.
“You picked that up fast. I don’t know shit about seals myself, but I got a… buddy who can teach you the basics, if you want.”
“You- really?” Sakura asks, excited for the first time in what feels like years- despite herself, she can’t help but love the idea of getting to learn something new, after months spent in lessons she’s long since outgrown, only able to access the parts of libraries suitable for a non-shinobi.
“Yeah.” Hitome replies, going soft at Sakura’s eager grin. “She’s always complaining about how they should teach it in the academy, anyways. It’d be good for her too.”
“Well...if you’re sure she wouldn’t mind.” Sakura prods, and Hitome just nods along.
“Now try that again, kid, because I’m not bringing you to a teacher until you can prove you’ve gotten down what I taught.”
As Sakura eagerly complies, Hitome startles a little at her own words. “Hey, wait a minute-” Hitome begins, but Sakura only hears her distantly. Her head feels a little fuzzy, actually, but she wants to get this just right, to prove Hitome isn’t wasting her time,
“isn’t today a school day?” Hitome finishes, but Sakura doesn’t hear her. She’s already sent the spark of chakra to snap the seal, and as soon as it leaves her system, she faints.
if it wasnt clear, sakura passed out from chakra exhaustion/general exhaustion given she basically had a sustained panic attack, ran across the entire village, and then deliberately used her chakra for the tags, and she has practically no reserves in this time/body.
hitome is a non-clan shinobi, like sakura! glad some people guessed that. i'm gonna embrace that the lower ranks of the system are probably FILLED with first generation shinobi. also there's a reason why she hesitated before calling her sealing expert a 'friend', if u know what i mean ;) she also has one specific line that i wrote and i was like wow thats a callout for kakashi and i wasnt even trying so. let me know if y'all spot the DIRECT kakashi roast that was completely unintended but very suited.
feels like maybe a running theme that hitome is going to keep realizing that sakura is an Irresponsible Student exactly when its too late for her to do anything about it.
sakura continues to be depressed. dammit.
me @ kishimoto adding to inos backstory with this: but what if women had lives and motivations completely unrelated to men
(in other news im going to make a t shirt with the phrase 'i have relationships and motivations completely unrelated to men'.)
god i love ino. shes so valid. You know whos also valid? poor sasuke, who just needed to pee and was NOT prepared for what he walked into. i was cackling to myself when i wrote that and i still giggle whenever i picture it. please imagine that gif thats like "....chicken, anyone?" bc thats exactly how sasuke felt.
anyways comedy commentary overwith, i hope y'all enjoy, my finals are killing me but i was rlly excited about this chapter bc i was genuinely so excited to get to write about ino. i love ur comments so much and its always great to hear from yall!! hope ur finals/work/holidays/etc are all going well too !!!