PRICES GO UP AT THE GATE
Sakura Fanfic by Icarusy
She was early.
The sun had barely crested the horizon and the clouds underbellies were bathed in that gentle gold-rose, silhouetting them against the cobalt blue sky. It was so early that even the birds weren't breaking the stillness with their usual shrill chirps, and the comforting silence that descended around her was soothing, especially after a particularly insomniac night.
Dimly, she was aware of the rippling gurgle of the stream below her that weaved and meandered its way down the forest. Ah yes... the forest. Their forest. The one that practically grew up in, training and learning all the skills they would need to succeed as ninjas, as children, as adults. They had had their first lesson taught somewhere in the thick greenery- and her eyes absently scanned the lush tangled treetops stretching to the horizon before her, abundant as ever in its wildlife- and their first realization of their own arrogant ignorance were brought home to them then. How long has it been since then? Sometimes it seemed an eternity, sometimes just last week.
So much had changed since then, and so little.
Still standing on the famous red bridge, waiting for her team-mates and sensei to come and shake up the serenity. Sasuke, would come first, with hands shoved in his pockets and intense eyes focused on the ground and awkward silence eagerly dogging on his heels. Well, awkward for her, anyway; sometimes she wondered if he would know she was there if she didn't break the silence with her too-chirpy Good Morning Sasuke-kun! routine. She ignored the jet of misery surging up in her and focused her thoughts determinedly on her next teammate to follow.
She smiled inwardly. After all, her fondness for the whiskered exuberant yellow-haired boy had grown considerably, even though she didn't always show it with her regular thumping of him. The bright orange bouncing fashion disaster had earned her respect, and besides, his antics always made her laugh.
She hadn't been laughing much lately.
At least, not since that incident, which she firmly shoved out of her mind. After all, it was why she came to the bridge so early for- to let the crisp morning air clear her mind. Already the sky was lighted up in pale yellow, with no trace of pink smudging the edges. She estimated in perhaps half an hour, the raven haired Konoha heartthrob would slowly make his way to the bridge and with luck, in two hours, Kakashi-sensei would appear with that maddening poof another "YOI!" to set Inner Sakura screaming.
She hadn't really heard Inner Sakura for a long time now, either, come to think of it. She had Ino to thank her for recognizing Inner Sakura, actually. Before the first match with Ino, she had never been really consciously aware of her alter-ego. Until, that is, it helped her emerge from the fight with her pride not too unscathed. Then, cursed with the academically curious mind that she had, she had spent at least a week observing and being startled at the never-before-noticed spontaneous aggressive cries of Inner Sakura before she decided... she liked it.
It was a surprising, though definitely not unpleasant discovery, and she had wondered for a time whether this part of herself -HELL YEAH- could actually be used as some kind of special ninja skill. But that theory had quickly faded; Inner Sakura was more like a fighting spirit personified. Sakura grinned suddenly, if Naurto had his fighting spirit personified, it would be really really really loud.
Oh wait... he is loud...
A cool morning breeze tugged gently at her short hair, causing her long fringe to rise up with the wind and frame the baby blue sky before her. Fifteen minutes more.
Sighing, she swung her legs onto the red wooden handrail, leaned back and vaguely watched strands of her hair dangle wildly towards the sky. Strawberry hair that had been shortened by Ino-chan, her once best friend. She bit her lip and didn't push down the bitter melancholy the swelled in her this time. Outgoing, confident Ino who had been the only one to befriend a lonely, bullied outcast of the kindergarden level when social standing and who-is-your-best-friend was the great childish game played by all the youngsters. Who had boosted her self-esteem with her kindness, influenced her with her conviction and zeal for life and most of all, had been her best friend.
Was Sasuke really worth it? Is he now? Sakura lowered her face and waited for the inevitable. She knew they would come as they always did- slow but sure; the pressure behind her eyelids building up till they swelled down her cheeks in two treacherous rivulets, betraying her weakness once again no matter how she fought against it. She hid her face with her tresses and waited. And waited.
Finally, she opened her eyes. The familiar image of her creased cherry blossom print outfit and short black tights peeking from underneath met her stare. Extending beneath her thighs was the red bridge handrail, and she could see as well as hear the bubbling stream below. Her sight was clear. No tears blurred the edges and smeared the world together in a watery blend of merging dulled colours.
She hadn't cried.
Does this mean I'm finally over him?
She didn't feel any different; just drained and slightly lightheaded from lack of sleep. Nothing had changed in the world- the sky was almost all lit up by Apollo's rays and the birds were just starting to break the morn's sleepiness with their chirps.
She had always imagined she would feel lighter, freer somehow, when her love for Sasuke finally faded, if she ever thought that would happen at all. Sure, she knew in theory that she was at the wonderful age of puppy-love and impulsive crushes, when your long time crush could be that cute guy down the road today and forgotten tomorrow for your hot new classmate. And sure, she knew in cold practicality why Sasuke, in all his glory of detached disdain drew so many fanatic female fans, even though he seemed to have problems stringing more than five words together. It wasn't just the mysterious aura of being the only Uchiha survivor everyone whispered about, or the obvious power he held, or even his handsome, remote features.
No, she knew, it was precisely because Sasuke was so unreachable that he was so sought after. He was, in effect, the untouchable crush they would long for, break their hearts over and experience for the first time the subtle monopoly of female wiles.
Training wheels, Sakura thought wryly, the perfect training wheels.
But she had never really thought of him that way. Till now, that is. That sly thought troubled her more than she like to admit.
After all, though it may had started out that way, experiencing all those trials with him had... changed her. Her mindless adoration had slowly morphed respectful admiration, and her once brazen proclamations of love had muted down to tentative questions of concern. But through it all, her deep-seated feelings for him had never changed. So it had been painful, when Sasuke still barely seemed to truly notice her striving for excellence, or at least, her futile attempts to keep up with the burgeoning progress of the boys. And the old hurt had surfaced repeatedly, as his eyes still seemed to trace of quiet irritation whenever she too publicly showed emotions.
So maybe it was just as well she had gotten over him. It had been too long a crush, too painful an old hurt.
She smiled, albeit with a tinge of bitterness. A new mission today.
Perfect for a new start, right?
She was dropping off in drowsiness when she heard him approach.
Shaking herself up from her lethargy, she swung her legs around to the other side of the bridge and listened. The sun was fully up, the day was already in swing and Kakashi-sensei was nowhere in sight. Yup, all was right with the world.
And right now, judging from the rapid footsteps and clumsy crashing in the underbrush, Naruto was on his way. Strange, wasn't Sasuke supposed to be-
Konoha's self-proclaimed Hokage wannabe cannoned straight out of the bushes and into poor, unsuspecting Sakura, sending them both tumbling backwords. The fact that this was purely an unfortunate accident- judging from Naruto's widening eyes and growing expression of fear- did little to sooth Sakura's temper.
Or Inner Sakura, for that matter.
"NAARUUUTOOOO!" Steam was pouring out of Sakura's ears, "DO YOU WANT TO MEET GOD!"
One of the many reasons why Sakura was tolerantly affectionate towards her comrade was the blissful freedom to let out Inner Sakura ragings. And Naruto, being Naruto, provided many happy opportunities for her to do so.
"NARUTO NO BAKA! HOW DARE YOU RUIN MY CLEAN CLO-" Then, the poor boy with the all that feared awesome power of the Kyubi in him was reduced to mouthing desperate prayers before the growing wrath of fuming Sakura. Apparently, she had just noticed their... rather suggestive positions. Naruto's life flashed before his eyes. A lot of it consisted of ramen.
"AIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEE! GET OFF ME RIGHT NOW BAKA!" Green fire blazed from Sakura's eyes as she threw Naruto off with superhuman strength. In a move even Lee would admire, she managed to land a punch on Naruto's much abused head as he flew away from her. Inner Sakura triumphantly punched the air with her fist.
-HELL YEAH! No one takes advantage of me-
Then, sanity regained a stronger foothold and made itself known with an embarrassed cough. After ensuring her clothes and hair were all in order, she made her way to where Naruto lay groaning with a growing lump on his head. The compulsive-obsessive ramen lover was gently massaging his lump when she stood over him.
"Sakura-chaaaaan!" Big blue eyes implored at her as Naruto whined, "Why did you hit me again? I just fell on you!"
Bottle-green eyes narrowed ominously. Naruto shrank back. "Eheheheheh... actually, it was all my fault, yes it was yes it was," Naruto added hastily, "I mean I should have seen that tiny winy vine there that would trip me, right?" It appeared the boy was a fast learner after all.
"Hurmph. Just make sure you don't do it again, baka." But Sakura's pout was half-impish and she stretched out her hand to pull Naruto up. The whiskered boy's grin broadened, if it was possible, and gleefully grasped her offered hand. It was only by pure bad judgment on strength on Naruto's part that he pulled to hard, causing ill-fated Sakura to fall onto him for the second time in five minutes.
"NARUTO NO BAAKAAA!"
Slumping unnoticed on a tree across the bridge as he had for a long time, Sasuke sighed as his peace was disturbed once more.
training (practice makes perfect :P)