This chapter is about 9600 words long and I wrote 6200 of it in one go. 8pm New Year's Eve to 6am New Year's Day. Happy 2020.
FYI I'm also cross-posting this story on my AO3 account, Umbreon_ly.
I am more active there and definitely obsessed with dark Haikyuu AUs I keep coming up with and occasionally reading. A lot of my old fics on this account are A) precious to me B) embarrassing to me C) not stored anywhere else on earth so I had better initiate backing them up and storing them somewhere before poor old FFN collapses from age and lack of care like some ancient temple. I love you FFN, you raised me, but you are not the best website anymore.
Ino would have loved it here. Ino had said many times herself that she would love it here, wanted to visit, wanted to move here, sometimes. Ino had wanted to be an actress, sometimes. And sometimes she just wanted to live glamorously. She would bid a fond farewell to their comfortable village and instead live in a place with shiny white lights and pretty colors.
They used to make lists and sketches of the city apartment they would share.
It must have a bedroom for each of them, and a study to fill with books and a balcony and a closet of beautiful clothes, and shelves of beautiful things they would collect.
They would display small precious gems and rare flowers they'd found or bought while on adventures.
They would cook and eat crepes in ceramic dishes their mothers gave them.
They would lay on soft white pillows atop long chaise lounges.
And it must be at least one story off the ground, so that they would be able to look down on the foot traffic below through a wide, white window.
I have to meet someone for coffee tomorrow, Sakura said beside that window. Her blouse was ruffled and torn from fighting, her knuckles bandaged, but her face pristine and unhurt.
Below her walked a grey cat, keeping close to her bruised ankles.
Above her was Ino, resplendent in white.
The floor in front of the window was a step down from the living room, and Ino wore heels besides. So she looked down at Sakura from that slight platform. And Sakura would look up at her, always. She smiled at the reflection in the window where she could see Ino: her long, long, loose hair, the way that airy blue and white colors shone their brightest when she wore them. Sakura smiled at the familiar, reflected silhouette. In dreams, in life, if ever in blindness, she would see and know that shape forever.
Rather than join her at the window, Ino kept a bit of distance. She looked down teasingly at Sakura.
I'm sure it's not to meet anyone tall, dark and handsome.
Sakura huffed but giddily took the excuse to snap back. She told the reflection: Of course not. As though I'd meet that man for coffee! Unless I wanted to spit it in his face. He doesn't even drink coffee.
He was watching, you know. From the roof of one of the warehouse buildings.
This made her freeze. The cat below her looked directly up and meowed in concern. Sakura gripped her hands tight against her chest. Her weapons were put away now, but she suddenly longed for their protection, or maybe to only lash out with them. Her heartbeat was picking up. She felt…exposed. In all ways.
Those few speechless seconds more than sufficed to communicate all her emotions to Ino. Sakura half-turned to face her instead of her reflection. There was no catty, knowing grin, but now a dour and hardened mask. She gasped to Ino: How do you know he was there? You saw him?
I saw him reflected in the big mirror.
Sakura saw him in her dreams. In half of their battles. But she hadn't seen him tonight. She could not speak for a moment over the dread, but then managed: Then he knows my secret identity…maybe all of us…
He should. All of us think he should.
Ino, she mouthed at that glowing figure. She was unwavering, brave always where Sakura herself was brave for necessity only.
Ino approached her, stepped down to the single step to stand next to her at the window. Her white gown followed her in flowing ribbons, and Sakura's eyes followed that, too.
He knows who the saber is. And the quetzal. He could expose us all to the onyx queen.
Sakura was mouthing along: Then we'd have to stop him. I would have to…
The stage moved.
Behind the two friends the wide, white window no longer reflected a scene of a city at night, but projected pure white light upon its surface. It became a white canvas, and it reached nearly to the rafters of the stage. Onto this great canvas two new images were projected: the profile of a silver saber-toothed tiger on the left, and mirroring it the long beak and wings of a quetzalcoatlus with snow-white skin. In the space between the two moon spirits was the dark silhouette of the star night whom Lisandra loved.
The orchestration had gone quiet once the spirits appeared on the glass. They stayed silent once Lisandra collapsed to her knees on the floor. The audience stayed silent.
Sakura almost crooned in delight when the grey cat cried out and leapt towards Lisandra. It set its front feet on her knees and nosed into her face to comfort her. Moments later, her friend collapsed next to her. Though she had less of a tender heart, that heart was wounded so quickly when Lisandra was wounded.
Ino collapsed suddenly; this time Sakura saw Lisandra's friend Alejandra there on the theater stage.
I'm sorry, Sandra, I'm so sorry.
Lisandra sobbed softly; the acoustics of the theater echoed her breath and her shaking. There was gentle, scattered lighting now falling on her dress like a spray of many teardrops: silver, green, black. Alejandra was painted in her own colors and her own light: white, red, violet. They glowed in each other's presence, even when they despaired. And their jewel-like colors glowed in the same pattern. They were reflections of each other.
The two girls reached out to hold onto each other's forearms at the same time, nearly mirroring each other's pose. It was one of the first strong hints in the story that they were long-lost twins. When Sakura read the second book in the series at age ten, a bit too young yet, it had gone completely past her. It was another year before she screamed at Ino across the schoolyard that Sandra and Hondra were twins and Ino had screamed back.
Did Ino scream the day that Konoha was eaten? Did Sakura hear Ino's voice as she ran through the town and not recognize it?
The hot brand of a memory burned suddenly: the headless cow. In a backyard garden. While she held her bat in hand. She saw into the red, broken stump of the neck where the spine had broken off. Inside was full of flesh and sinew but for a few gaps where there was no meat. She jumped over a fence.
Sakura saw none of this. The itch would fade until next time, and for now, she focused on the play before her. She saw the sparkling guardians Lissa and Hondra and nothing else. She smiled helplessly at the stage.
I'm so sorry.'
Sakura was seated in the fourth row from the front in the Wrath Hill Theater where Ino had dreamed of attending plays. Her eyes were closed, her hands clasped closer to her chest. She let loose a breath like a little death rattle. When she opened her eyes again, Ino no longer appeared on the stage.
She did not want to cry, but she did. The actresses of Lissa and Hondra were crying, and so was she, but other attendees around her would not care or understand why.
The moon spirits had already disappeared from the glass and so had the silhouette of the knight. The glass's background and reflection changed once more—hidden stagemen and lighting adjustors moved in silence—back to that of a wide window in a lovely city apartment, showing street lamps and university lights dotting the deep blue night with handsome gold.
The orchestra began to whisper again with a set of violins. Lisandra and Alejandra pondered the terrible clash that would occur if the knight tried to oust their secret to the terrible onyx queen. Lisandra pondered the terrible crack in their lives that would occur if Eren was the one to turn on them instead of her beloved knight, and how Alejandra's heart would be the one to break if he did.
The only thing that kept the city free of the magical corruption was Lisandra, spirit of the sabretooth; Alejandra, spirit of the quetzal, and their three friends carrying the other spirits—all reincarnations of their lives on the moon. They were warriors strong and beautiful as gemstones. They were protectors of the city and the world. Sakura lived in that city now. With silver Lisandra, and white-hot Alejandra, and the girls' talking cat with little saber teeth who told them their destiny.
The play ended after another hour, after a battle where Veronica, spirit of the Pluro, flew over the audience with a glimmering spray of blue "seafoam" paper, and Lisandra screeched from indignity at having gotten so wet—she was practically a cat, after all. It ended at the conclusion of Episode 20; the handsome star knight had not exposed them to the queen yet. It ended, but Sakura was slow to realize it.
'I'm sorry,' she thought at Ino. She walked up the aisle towards the theater doors, her eyes still turned to the stage where the curtain had fallen and lay still. Perhaps the moon warriors' actors and the various stagemen were moving behind it. Perhaps Ino could have played Alejandra, or Lisandra, or come to watch the play with her, if she were here. If Sakura had only thought about her in time on that last day that she was home.
'I don't regret anything in my whole life as much as that. I would do anything to go back and find you. I would do anything for you.'
She stepped into an empty row of seats so that the crowd would move past her. It left her free to watch the now-curtained stage unimpeded. It was easy to imagine Ino herself walking across that grand space. She could run, she could kick and flap the hurricane wings of the quetzal, she could pose in a gorgeous gown under a gemstone light and she certainly emote.
Yes, she could be an actress one day; she could be up there. But the play was over. The stream of attendees going past her was much thinner now and nothing moved on the stage. She was due back at the hotel room in half an hour. She must be in bed at a decent hour to attend a patient with Tsunade at seven in the morning tomorrow.
'I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry, Ino, I love you, you know that, you know I would have carried you out on my back. You have to know, right? What are you, blind, or just blonde? Just—just please—'
In her heart she asked Ino please.
There was no one in her heart but herself. No theater attendees, no hidden stagemen, no tourists, no ushers. An empty space just for her. And when she asked Ino please and hoped for a response, it echoed inside. It felt like an empty apartment inside.
She could imagine it lavishly decorated, and she could imagine it blank and black. She could think without observation or others knowing: what if there never would be a response? Never could be?
It could never be a possibility.
Because it felt like a total falsehood even as an unspoken thought. It felt like thinking that men could walk on air or the sky was purple. Stupid, strange, nightmarish. Tomorrow was a new day, after all—a new round of questioning and tourists and streets—but new days never had Ino in them.
Ino never appeared on the stage, but some stagemen did. Sakura eventually had to leave.
After three days of work, Sakura appeared in one of the vendor squares near the middle of the city. It was next to the Gallant Library: a massive building with a dozen circular columns at its front with golden doors centered between them all. She almost went inside it before doing her rounds, then bit herself on the wrist to punish herself for neglecting her work and then swept into the moving crowd below the building stairs.
"Excuse me, excuse me, so sorry to bother! Hi, are you from town or visiting? Oh touring for the Alexandria shows! I got into one just last night. No, not Wrath Hill, the Alexandria shows are playing in the Corazon this season. Oh, no, I don't know if there's tickets left. I haven't seen any being sold for two weeks. Hey, can I ask you a question? It's a bit weird, but I'm just asking around. Have you heard of Konoha in the Fire Province? It's a little town near the southern border there. It actually had a big fire almost two years ago. All the people had to evacuate. Have you heard of anybody from there? Konoha, yes. Oh, darn it. I guess I'll have to keep asking. Your best bet on the Alexandria tickets is the raffles at this point. Good luck!"
"Good morning! The Wrath Hill? Is it your first time? Oh, it's amazing. Yes, I know! You need to head for the Forrester Quarter. It's about twenty minutes to walk. Oh before you go, let me just ask—"
"Wow, such a beautiful stag! My own stag doesn't have a mane so shiny. Hey, can I ask you something? I'm not a scalper, I swear, haha!"
"Oh, no, I'm sorry, I almost bowled right into you three. Hey, quick question—"
"No, it was called Konoha, ma'am, not Moroha. I've been there, though."
"Hands off my purse, you thieving bitch!"
She had to stop.
Sakura sat on a bench near some tourists and watched a policewoman pursue the scarf-wearing purse-grabber. There were different things to her to pursue.
At the end of the day, she visited the Gallant Library.
The main entryway's ceiling was nearly three stories tall, and not far ahead all of these stories were visible: the second and third floors looked down on the main lobby. The floors were painted with gold geometric shapes, and there were gold and silver shapes on strings hanging from the ceiling. She had fine white shoes today, but the rest of her felt rather underdressed. But she entered the place anyway, only straightening her clothes and hair a bit.
She asked the receptionist clerk in her glossy bronze blouse: "Ma'am, do you happen to know a man named Kakashi Hatake?"
She didn't know the name and did not let on her opinion of Sakura's casual wear or her odd and forward question. It was an excellent air of professionalism and attentiveness she had: Sakura admired it and hoped the woman understood that.
Ino didn't read as much as Sakura did, but she would have loved this place, too. It fit right into the theme of their apartment that they would have. She and Ino would have curled their legs up on a couch with white velvet pillows and read books from across the world about a whole world of things.
Sakura walked around the library and sighed. And eventually, she settled into its wealth of information.
She picked out books about lions and tigers and about training animals for theater and entertainment. She picked out archived magazines and journals about famous theater animals: Lulu the great horned owl who could communicate by holding a pen and writing simple words; Tybalt the gorilla who understood sign language and three spoken tongues besides; and Madame Tiffany the amur tiger who could do all of these things and, rumors liked to say, could speak human tongue as well.
The articles all made a point to state that Tiffany had been trained to move her mouth somewhat to match any voices provided for the characters and beasts she portrayed in theater, heightening the impression that she indeed spoke. Scholars, playwrights, directors, tourists and amazed children all liked to fancy that they'd heard Madame Tiffany truly speak at one point or another.
There was a book titled Beasts of Fang and Infamy whose sole purpose was to detail specific animals who were famous for some reason; Sakura became confused and fascinated and scrambled to buy a copy somewhere in town. She found one whose cover showed a black panther on a cliff with orange-red eyes. Then she returned to the library.
At nine in the evening, a message came through an electronic speaking system set up throughout the entire library. It made Sakura jolt in her seat.
"All patrons, the library will be closing in one hour. Only bronze club members will be permitted on the grounds after 10pm."
That meant the receptionist woman below in her bronze blouse and carefully styled hair would soon be seeing in professors and actors and the like. Tidusa had a few similar memberships, more for enticing beach tourists than proudly sponsoring important men about town. Sakura fingered the gold thread on the cream-and-gold couch she currently sat on. She felt important, being here. Studying.
"I've never been to university," she muttered to herself. She never graduated high school, either.
She left that aged thought alone and kept wondering about university. Tidusa had a university. Rissinia had a larger one; Tsunade had taken her there two days ago. They walked half the campus between gorgeous brick buildings with ancient doors and historic streets.
She wanted to go there again. She could attend. She could certainly winter here, like she had in Yuraka. And she would be a university student in a library in a town where she lived. But in either of these cases, Tsunade would go on and finish her sabbatical year tour of the continent without her. Their paths would split at last. Which was always going to happen anyway. But when? There were dozens of people around the country, more inland, who were expecting her to come to them.
Whenever the two of them split paths, that would probably also be the end of Tsunade paying her a nurse's salary. No more easy income. Earned, but easy. Even though she was paid steadily despite not working steadily. Tsunade often asked her to work with her. Was it out of pity for the cursed girl that Tsunade did that? Did she want to? Did she think Sakura a moneysucking leech or an outright thief of her money?
Sakura forcefully halted this thought. She curled deeper into the couch, shoes off, pressed into a pillow, buried only in books.
Autumn plays began to slow. Advertisements for winter ones began. Colors in the city changed. Sakura became acquainted with the four Quarters of Rissinia.
There was the Forrester Quarter, named after Something-Something-Forrester who built the Wrath Hill. It had most of the theaters and best business. Tsunade did most of her work here.
There was the Endymion Quarter, which was Dim Quarter, really, where the buildings with steady electricity were hit and miss and men who wanted your wallets would hit you and not miss you.
There was the Merlin Quarter, where the animal keepers and trainers usually lived, and most homes were on sloped streets with thin alleys and wide views looking down at the city.
There was then the Pascal Quarter, which was spacious and had special paths leading to the Gallant Library, the university, and many other places. The mayor lived here. It had walls around it, and Sakura could not get into it without a bronze club membership, an invitation, a business meeting verification, or some other administrative horseshit.
One day she went to a bar and the bartender knew Kakashi Hatake's name. He and the owner both assured her that Mr. Hatake was a lazy piece of shit who owed several hundred bills on his tab.
"Do you know where he is?"
"Why would I?"
"I said, do you know where he is."
The owner standing behind the counter furrowed his brow at her, unkindly. "No."
"Do you have any good guesses? Or know when he might come back to town?"
"That man does what he wants and cares for no one's schedule. Having a pet tiger and no boss does that to you," he said, folding receipts into a paper folder.
Sakura's legs were crossed in her barstool, her coat crisp and lovely, and her lips even shone with pink lipstick. The man was paying attention to her, though still frowning. She said, "Would five hundred bills ease his tab, and your burden?"
It was nearly a month's worth of the salary Tsunade paid her, but she offered it easily. She did not pay for her room or her stag's stabling and only bought about half her own meals. It was a privilege, to exist under Tsunade. She offered that to this man as though she had earned this gift.
The owner's hand stayed stuck inside the file a bit too long. "You want to find him, and for what?"
"Not about tigers. No interest in stealing or selling his furry friends," she said honestly. "I think he may know people I'd like to talk to, and I want to get in touch already. I'm impatient."
Something about her words or her mannerism made the man grin a little. Maybe it was the forward manner and the makeup, a combination she liked and that some men found pleasantly distracting. To keep him distracted, Sakura wrote out her check in front of him. He talked as she wrote.
"I don't know where he is. But I think he's still in town. He said he had a November engagement with an out-of-towner, and people tend to rave about him, so if I haven't heard tourists yapping about having seen him this month then I don't think his meeting has happened yet."
"He leaves town a lot, though, I heard."
"He goes to the capital maybe a couple times a year, 'cause they got even more fancy shit and theater than here," the man agreed. "Some fancy people really like him. They buy him train tickets to come out there."
Sakura's brows went up, but then back down at her check. Five hundred bills. Not even half of a train ticket.
"It's not often, though. He lives here, not there. He's probably holing up in the Library or something reading magazines. Maybe sleeping in a zebra stable somewhere in Pascal, reading pornography."
Sakura's brows went up again and her breath came out in a disbelieving exhale. "What an exotic man," she chose to say. "Maybe more comfortable with animals than with people."
How exotic, to be an animal trainer beloved by the rich. Like some stageplay character himself. Cool, dangerous animals would abide his commands. He had stylish silver hair, wore a facemask in photos, and rich people paid for him to have luxuries like riding a train. Riding a train, for free.
The nearest train that went to the capital would cut the journey from a month of hard riding to three days of sitting and sleeping. It would have to go south along the mountains, then east once the mountains settled to flatlands. And south of there, vast Suna began, full of sand and…strange photographers. She wondered how many people in Konoha could have afforded to buy a train ticket if they wanted to. And where they would want to go.
"You have an exotic look about you, too," the owner was saying. Immediately she made hostile eye contact. But the man wasn't leering at her face or body. Not leering at all, so much as inspecting with befuddled curiosity. "Are you from the capital yourself? Because whatever you want to get out of Kakashi, you probably won't be able to buy from him. He's a rich fucker already."
Sakura added rich fucker to her mental file of Kakashi Hatake. Then casually looked back down at her check. "I don't want to talk to him to buy something from him. Or sell. Just talk. Just once."
She didn't look up at him again, and he didn't stop her or comment upon the check once it was done. She lifted it up and found his hand expectantly held out. Sakura handed off the largest sum of money she had ever paid and the man put it in his folder. He tied it off with a thick string and walked away to the kitchen area, leaving her alone at the bar. He did not come back.
Sakura found herself waiting. Staring. But two waitresses came and went, the bartender returned and ignored her, and nothing happened.
'He didn't even give me a complimentary glass of tea or anything. Five hundred…five hundred—!' Sakura wanted raspberry tea. And a cupcake. And rum. She ordered rum from the bartender eventually, when he decided to look in her direction, and would have to pay for it with her own cash despite having just been made five hundred bills lighter in the bank.
Some fucker at a table nearby ordered a brandy, of all things. Who drank brandy by itself? Ugh.
Instead of sniffing with distaste at the drink and happily sipping her own, she just felt embarrassed. She drank the rum anyway and decided it was all right. Tsunade might have a different opinion. But she looked down into her dark reflection on the surface, nothing else reflected there and thought, 'Was that stupid? Am I stupid?'
Maybe it was stupid to pay a man that much money to hear him say his personal opinion. What did it matter that a man faintly acquainted with Kakashi Hatake believed he was in town, because…because of not much of anything. That was stupid.
The more she stared into the glass, the worse it got. Her angered flush started showing up in her reflection, so she picked up the glass and drank it away. God. This is good, actually, she decided. The chalkboard menu behind the bar said it was called Red Rattle. She spied a bottle behind the bartender with a red winding snake that probably was a rattlesnake. Good name, good drink, good, good, good. Not stupid.
She hadn't done anything as stupid as chase a monster into the woods, she just gave away some money. It was her own money. With Tsunade paying many of their shared expenses, she spent little of hers. She wrote transfers for her funds between banks every couple of months, when she and Tsunade had traveled far enough from one and close enough to another, and she could donate it all to charities if she fucking wanted.
Tsunade didn't have to fucking pay her at all. She just did because she was nice and because she was a rich fucker herself. And Sakura, being a stupid fucker, would do what she wanted with a rich fucker's money.
Sakura decided it was a worthwhile use of her funds and ordered a second rum, with a more impatient customer attitude than the first one. The bartender served her with the same neutral disinterest.
It didn't matter if Kakashi himself served her with neutral disinterest. Or with disgust and disdain, like Zabuza. A man who treated her like she carried plague. Or with the opposite, with intense interest and repulsive lust, like—
A memory rose up from within some frozen sea, now thawed. She could not turn her focus away from it.
I'll rip your guts out.
The near-empty glass of rum was suddenly the wide, wide barrel of a gun in her mind. Hidan held her at gunpoint. And more. He would have done so much more, she had dreamed about it.
Sakura tore off of the barstool with a shout that made the bartender drop a plate in surprise. It shattered. He shouted after her, "You didn't pay, thief! Thieving capital bitch!"
She ran home. Ran to her inn's stable, buried herself in her stag's mane and lay with him in the hay and hid.
At ten in the morning a dark time came. While citizens walked into the nearest building and men lit lanterns outside the buildings, Sakura sat in a grocer's with two older women. One of them was Mimi and Mimi had an ex-boyfriend who worked on a shipping vessel called The Racketeer. They had heard of Konoha last year, before Mimi's breakup. Sakura decided to say in this round of questioning that Konoha had not actually "burned down", and Mimi nodded, but it seemed she already knew that.
"They were really in sunlight?" She told them yes, and they stared at her. Then they stared outside where the only light in existence was lamplight. There were no steps or lumbering groans to indicate any creatures were walking out there yet. The best dark times were when none of them appeared.
"I hope you don't think I'm infectious with it or anything," Sakura joked, but she couldn't fully manage it. They must have seen her desperate, hollow eyes, and the tight bulge in her throat. Mimi stuttered and waved her hands. Mimi said that she didn't think such a thing. Mimi assured her that it must have been some horrible, horrible accident. Mimi was the first of them to leave once natural sunlight came again, fourteen awful minutes later.
Sakura took her steel bat to a stuntman studio, asking for physical training.
They ignored the bat, eyed her brass knuckles, sniffed disdainfully when she claimed she could scale the rock wall unassisted. Once she did, they were interested in the knuckles. Sakura spent several days punching practice pads of different material, striking a man's gloves, then striking a man who also wore brass knuckles. He punched her in the collarbone. She cried, and visited the cubs till the sting in her pride was not so consuming.
The first snow of the year came: a light dusting. Sakura covered her bruised collarbone with winter blouses and a fur shawl when walking about outside. She discarded her summer clothes and sandals. She wore a mask when Tsunade requested her to assist with a gastrointestinal surgery. She dreamed of making love to a man who looked like Zabuza but thankfully never opened his bitch mouth. Chief Morino never reappeared and she thanked the great God for that.
She thanked the great God for her nameless stag, whose temperament and gait and antlers were all strong and reliable—she kissed him before stabling him for the night.
She thanked the great God for the predictions of the fair incoming winter—she happily watched her own cloudy dragonbreath on cold mornings, thinking it playful and not foreboding, and was glad to know future travel in the season would not be impossible.
She thanked the great God for Tsunade, who continued to pay her and not impede her personal goals—she would have kissed Tsunade, too, but she was absent after their shared work hours more often than not.
When she visited the long complex in the animal keepers' quarter, she thanked Yamato for letting her play with tigers and a lion. He often thanked her back, humble misplaced farmer that he was.
One day she treated Yamato like a stranger and asked him her questions.
He remembered that Konoha had "burned down in a fire", but she corrected that wording for him. After embarrassing herself in front of the other two women recently, she was able to phrase it concisely. She was able to keep her voice steady.
She was able to say something like, It wasn't fire that destroyed the place, it was them. It wasn't a dark time at all. It was seven in the morning. Regular daylight. And my dad and me could hear them down the street, tearing down a house. They tore into my house…it rammed right into my front door.
It was…so horrible. Reaching for my dad. He shot it. But it barely noticed. It grabbed him, and it was daylight outside, and dad said to go jump out the window.
I did it. I jumped out the window and I ran all through town, and they were all over the streets eating people and breaking into houses.
One of them tried to grab me. It was like a worm. Full of slime. I…tried to push it away with my hands.
I was on the ground. I got above it and I used my bat. This bat. I just, kept going…and broke its skull.
When it grabbed the bat I used my hand instead. I beat its head in. I killed it. Myself.
And then I left. I ran away like a cowardly fucking bitch.
I don't know if my best friend made it out.
I don't know who made it out.
I don't know where they are.
I can't just be alone.
I'm not okay.
It was the softest and swiftest version of the day she had ever relayed to someone, while still being fully true. It was a quiet and cold night when she said it. They were in the long animal exhibit building where they had first met and most of the enclosures that were fully outside the building were empty of their animals. They were in one of the walled sections where Sakura had seen a giraffe, but there was nothing in here besides them and Kovu the coffee-colored lion cub. Yamato's tears hit the ground like snowdrops.
"I would never be okay," he said. "If that was me…great god. Great god. I'm sorry, this is not about me in the least. Sakura. I'm so very sorry. I-I can't imagine that hell. Your friend and your mother, I—"
Yamato stuttered on a little more, wiping at his eyes just once and making an effort to keep his posture straight and tall. Though he made such efforts to seem firm and strong, he hid his emotions poorly and wore them plainly. In conversations about landscaping and ones about never-ending nightmares, Yamato was so honest.
They were sitting near each other in the dirt; her legs spread out to her side and his crossed. Kovu lay next to him. He reached over his own lap to her free hand, leaving the one that held her up untouched. He reached for it and slowed when he was near it. It left her a blatant space of time to pull away and reject his gesture. She did not. Both of Yamato's hands gently took hold of one of hers.
The feel of calluses on his palms and fingers was immediate. They were strong workman's hands, but they trembled. Her own was steady and waiting.
"You made it out of that nightmare. You should be proud of that, that accomplishment. Sakura. Those things didn't kill you. And they won't. They won't." She waited, her lips softly, barely parted. And he kept talking to her. "The world is so vast, you know. You must know, after traveling so far. You…you will find someone from Konoha. I believe that."
That statement, that sound, nourished her. Yamato watched the whole of Sakura unfurl like a leaf to the sun.
When they were getting up to leave and he got her attention once more, the firmness in his posture was gone and Sakura knew he had become bashful again. "Sakura, may I walk you home?" he asked.
"You can't," she laughed back. The moon and the sound of her dreams made her sparkle, pink and white. "Don't you walk here, Yamato? I rode my stag. I'll be riding home."
This left no room for questioning and Yamato did not try. But when he carried his supplies out to the cage covering the front door, she playfully bumped his arm. She did it a second time, to feel that lovely warmth of a person who believed in her. Even though he didn't say a word about her killing one of them with her hands. Even though he didn't address her running away. Even though he wore that strange metal headpiece even now, and was often sweaty. He smelled like a garden, not filth and animal dung.
That night, she had a warm bath, the hotel room to herself, a slow and luxurious and loud release of any remaining stress, and then she was pliant and happy.
It felt like some full-body massage, to be believed for once rather than questioned or misunderstood. Or used. She gave herself a mental massage, too, by reading a book to finish out the night, lying on her belly and kicking her feet in the air a bit.
Three days later, she questioned some other animal keepers in the area, including the man with a golden monkey she'd glanced at once, and sussed out an address from them. She trotted down one street and then another, humming as she went, feeding her stag an asparagus sprout as she went.
She found the skinny townhouse that Yamato lived in. The moment she trotted up, wearing a silver blouse and silver souvenir ribbons on her stag's antlers, he was standing in a first-floor window, stupidly gaping with a giant potted plant in his arms. When he came outside, he still had the potted plant. He quickly invited Sakura to stable her mount at the street's designated animal hut and come inside.
Inside were many potted plants. And many unpotted ones sitting in piles of soil on the floor, on tarps. There were trays of different colors of soil. There was a living room area with mostly wood furniture she did not care for, a room full of dirt and stone samples and folded up blueprints of work sites, and a kitchen with a lot of dirt crumbs scattered about. It was otherwise neatly arranged. And there was Kovu the four-month-old lion cub, whom Yamato had snuck out of his new enclosure. He admitted upon questioning that it was not for the first time.
She played with Kovu and with some of the dirt mixtures and complimented the number of projects she could see. He made her dinner.
Tsunade and Sakura had been in Rissinia for over two months. Tsunade's patients who lived within a few weeks' ride were traveling up here to see her, and she was writing others to ask that they do the same, or that they wait longer for her to visit them. They did not leave. Kakashi Hatake did not appear. When Tsunade asked Sakura for when she wanted to leave, if ever, Sakura would not give an answer.
The day Tsunade left an advertisement for Rissinia's university on her bed, Sakura tore it up and went to the stuntmen studio to punch and be punched. She wasn't here to attend a university, but to get information and answers and training and pet baby lions. And she would do things like that every single day. Life was about that. Just that. Nothing else right now.
Right now, she was wearing nice new winter boots. Not too thick because the winter wasn't expected to be drastic or heavy. Her coat was a pink color very close to her hair with creay-colored fur on the hood and cuffs and it was a gift. But an even greater gift today was her kittens.
On thick, bright red leashes and wearing thick, bright red harnesses, Sakura led two lion cubs and a tiger cub through Forrester Quarter, near the passage road that led to Pascal.
Tourists gaped and crowded near; residents watched with interest. An animal trainer named Kasumi walked a short distance ahead of Sakura and occasionally turned back with a scowl to make sure the ogling procession was still behind her. Sakura hardly noticed.
The cubs were four months old, each one weighing if not forty pounds, then close to. They wore their harnesses well and paid more attention to their surroundings than their restraints. Yamato claimed this was part of their training, to be used to energetic environments and people, and Kasumi rolled her eyes and complained, because Sakura hadn't had to participate in much of it.
"Vitani, come-come-come," she said in a singing voice, tugging the female cub away from a food vendor whose scent of beef caught her attention.
She continued to face that vendor even as they walked away, and Sakura continued to pull her attention from it. When she finally faced away, Sakura held down a tiny treat to reward her leaving that temptation behind.
"I can't have you beating up men on the street, Vitani!" she chided the cub. Rather, she pretended to, because she definitely had fanciful, action-packed daydreams of exactly that, but this was not evident in her voice. Vitani must respond to that.
Vitani leaned a little against Sakura's legs while they walked and growl-complained anyway. She was the most vocal of the three. Aran the tiger was not prone to vocalizing except when pouncing or swatting at toys, and Kovu made noise when the other two did.
Sakura was having trouble keeping from making noise herself. Tourists were watching her. None of them had cameras, but if they stayed out here an hour or two, one might either show up or run off to hire one before the opportunity for this sight passed by. She truly wanted to be photographed, but was too embarrassed to say so to anyone. But she did walk a bit slow to give people time to watch her.
They were on their way to a veterinarian two streets further into Forrester. Lots of young, not-fully-trained animals journeyed to him for the same reason, becoming more and more used to traffic and ignoring more and more pedestrians on each trip. But Sakura wasn't and her kittens weren't.
She laughed as they walked. She laughed at their big paws and floppy body movements on pavestone. She laughed at Kovu's keen interest in an onion ring someone threw towards him. She laughed at Vitani trying to stop her from walking into something she perhaps deemed dangerous. Vitani thought herself the highest judge of all things despite being four months old and still rather fond of milk.
"Look, look! Tatsu, look, a lion! Two lions!"
"Who the hell allowed that freaking idiot girl to walk them around like dogs?"
"Go in and get mom, she has to see them. Mom, get out here!"
She loved it all. She loved this volunteer "job" of hers, volunteer lion and tiger friend, Kakashi Hatake with the "talking" tiger could eat his heart out. The few looking at the scene suspiciously were tourists who didn't know shit about theater animals and were probably just jealous that these ones were fond of her. The many smiling and waving as they walked by were a delight, and she would be a delight they would remember, too. They would remember this young woman with a soft pink coat and her pink hair, and the earthy-colored cubs she led around and who walked at a pace she commanded. They were hers, and she was the city's.
They stopped just after entering a wide paved area meant for walkers, to allow a short series of carriages to pass. The cubs got their sixth or seventh look at horses for the day. Aran was already casual about meeting them, but Kovu remained wary and Vitani often threatened them. Right now, all of them were more concerned with each other and with Sakura's legs.
"Untangle them right now or I'm taking them already," Kasumi shouted from just next to the trotting procession.
They weren't tangled. Kovu and Vitani's leashes were close together, but she spread her arms to space them and help poor Kasumi unclench herself. Moving the cubs apart was not that great a feat of strength for her and perhaps Kasumi was jealous because she had twiggy little arms that one wouldn't expect of a woman in a career field focused on physical labor. Or maybe she was mad because someone had apparently stolen her favorite coat recently and she had to wear a spare from some locker room.
Sakura just smiled. She adjusted her footing. She pulled Kovu away and held his skull the way Yamato and Kasumi had taught her last week. She spoke near to him and kept eye contact.
The last carriage was a six-horse cart with an especially large buggy. It had elaborate gold moulding on a beige construction that looked like an upholstered, buttoned couch. The horses had smooth white coats and poinsettia-red blankets on their backs.
Aran sat quietly and yawned. A hired cameraman finally came and raised his flashbulb to take a picture. Sakura inhaled and exhaled, feeling girlish happiness. Kasumi was looking through the square for other vehicles or distractions.
The bulb flashed and Kovu gawked with alarm.
A new crowd of tourists began to walk ahead into the gap left by the carriages.
A man began to walk up the street towards the square and Sakura knew him.
She wasn't walking and didn't try to; her trance-like happiness was suddenly overwritten by a second dreamy feeling which kept her standing still and wide-eyed. She knew the man. She knew him. She knew him. From Konoha. This old man.
This man was from Konoha, she was certain of this. This was not conjecture or even feeling but fact. It felt like a lengthy, unbroken lightning strike, making her frozen and yet buzzing with trapped energy.
The man was walking up the street towards her with a few other strangers in plain winter coats. They were walking towards the large square where vendors and tourists milled without direction or specific traffic. Once he passed her, he could go in multiple directions, down multiple streets or into any one of the shops at the corners of the square. What kinds of shops did old men enter, teahouses? Bookstores? Smokeshops? Eye doctors for their poor elderly eyes?
His eyes mustn't be declining all that much, firstly because his age allowed him to still have fully black hair with no greying or balding, and he was looking at her.
He was looking directly at her.
He removed all her giddy happiness at once, in one vaporizing breath. Stark as cleansing fire. Madara's fire could not burn so quick.
"Mayor," she breathed. It was far too quiet for him to have heard. But he might have seen her lips moving.
He saw her kittens, too; his eyes moved down to look at them sniffing and wandering by her knees. He surely saw her soft pink coat and her soft pink hair. And she saw him, exactly as she pictured him in her mind all her life. There was no blood on him from that screaming, ruining day. No wear or aging from the travel or the nightmares over the last near-two years. No particular expression on his face at all as he looked at her, because he probably didn't know her but everyone knew him.
Mayor Danzo. Head councilman of Konoha. Walking towards her. Looking away from her.
The moment he passed parallel to her in the square she began to walk after him. She began to chase him.
The moment she passed Kasumi, still watching for traffic and distractions, the older animal trainer jumped like a mimicry of Kovu, whom Sakura was practically dragging on the pavement.
"Sakura! What are you doing?! Blazing fool—"
Sakura did not care about Kasumi and never had. Kasumi was expunged from her mind fully. The kittens remained there as attachments of herself, because she still felt their physical pull on the leashes she was clutching like beating, removed hearts. Aran trotted on with her pace but Vitani protested and Kovu was tangled or dragging or something, and passersby noticed. Sakura had some awareness that dragging baby animals on the ground was bad. But she could resolve his tangled situation easily, any second, if she wanted. Just not now when she was occupied.
And she was already attending to his needs, frankly, by choosing to not outright run towards Danzo with the lion cub's body flailing behind her. Sakura was strong enough to drag all three cubs even if they collectively pulled back against her. And they were just starting to. So she pulled harder.
The key to her life was walking away. This man, this stranger, was an even greater treasure than a published picture of Rock Lee. He—was—right—there. He was alive.
"You idiot! How dare you—embarrass us!" Kasumi was saying. Sakura registered the words before registering Kasumi's attempt at yanking her coat hood and shoulders to stop her moving.
Kasumi was an annoyance. Kasumi was a failed animal trainer who someone was pitying with a low-paying supervisory job she didn't deserve. Kasumi was full of resentment she was too pitiful to exact or let go of in her life. Sakura shoved her away and heard her cry of humiliation as she nearly fell to the ground.
Sakura's composure started falling apart. She started walking faster. There was less pulling and tangled struggle behind her but she cared nothing about it. She cared about herself. She cared about her life and her home, walking away without looking at her.
She'd never dreamed of the insane opposite of reality: that Konoha or an avatar of it would leave her behind, like an annoying supervisor or like a piece of worthless scum.
"Mayor Danzo!" she screamed over the whole square.
Rissinia was no stranger to strange outcries, fictional, attention-grabbing, money-seeking. Only a handful of heads turned. Mayor Danzo's did not. One of the men walking by him did raise his head a bit like the noise had startled or interested him. Why wasn't Danzo himself interested? Why wasn't he looking—
"Mayor Danzo, look at me!"
Sakura nearly stopped in the street. Mayor Danzo started to walk faster, away from her, and his men followed. Her mouth fell open in unabashed shock. Her body felt teleported somewhere else, to a foreign and hostile environment, like being dropped into a frozen sea. What terrible things, what terrible men there were, in the frozen sea.
This man was ignoring her. They were connected forever by that daylight death they both escaped from. Under what circumstance under the eyes of Great God could be ignore her? Walk past her like she were nothing? Nothing to him. Like she. Was. Nothing.
For a moment she felt connected not to Danzo, a man she saw impersonally and on occasion throughout childhood, but to the nightmare monster who claimed her life. She felt a rage like Madara exuded when she berated his demands of her. The feeling was entirely fire. Entirely anger and entirely indignant.
Me? ME? You speak that way to me—
How fucking dare he.
She was saying it aloud, but she was crying, too. Aran was watching her unblinkingly, his tail waving hard left and right. He sensed the rising earthquake in her body. Perhaps he thought he would pounce on it or swat it away.
Sakura looked down at the little animals attached to her. "Come," she commanded, and they more or less did.
She jogged, then ran. She could have looked back for Kasumi but didn't. She did call back, "I'm coming back!" and briefly pictured her run through Rissinia a few weeks back, on her way to the gate with Lee's picture in hand. She wasn't running as fast this time. She was managing the cubs. She was not leaving the city.
'I'm not stupid to pursue this. This is right. This is—insane,' she thought, gasping.
She dodged around a small crowd who shrieked at her feline entourage. Kovu leaped out at a small rodent in a handheld cage but Sakura yanked him down in mid-air so that he made a gagging noise and fell away.
'I'm not some stupid fucker you can ignore, you asshole! Look at me! Look at me! PLEASE!'
There was no response. Danzo was gone from sight. The accursed, goddamn rotten old man she needed and barely knew had left her behind.
Sakura actually screamed. Not loud or long but she did. Like an enraged catbird.
She looked around. Left, right, down the same street twice. More tourists calling "How cute! Are you an actress, ma'am? Are they your stage animals?"
"No ma'am, just a physician's assistant!" Sakura chimed, lied, smiled. Something of her desperate manner and worked-up pets bled through the façade.
Still someone else asked, "What are their names—" but the rest of that worthless query blinked out entirely.
Danzo and his own entourage were downhill from here. They had either run all the way down or Sakura was too frantic to properly gauge the passage of time right now. She might have walked or spun in circles for longer than was meant. It didn't matter.
The group of men was approaching a grey brick wall, decorated with vines and columns at an entry gate. It was one of the gates to Pascal Quarter. Where the Rissinia mayor lived. And a lot of other men with money for spacious homes with lawns. Money for train tickets. A land for residents and persons specifically invited in.
Sakura stood on that ridge, staring down at the moving traffic and her quarry moving slowly ahead of it. Mayor Danzo was hiding in Pascal. Kakashi Hatake might be hiding in Pascal.
Who knows in Madara himself was hiding in Pascal and Ino and her old favorite running shoes were in Pascal. Everybody's in fucking Pascal!
"I'm getting into Pascal Quarter," she said aloud. Already she was dreaming of running outside the city again, barreling into the woods till she stepped on silent Itachi's toes, and demanding a favor.
She would perform surgery for free. She would pluck the sores out of Shisui's gross bird mouth. If that creepy joking bird was still alive. She would yank out Madara's tongue. He could eat her after Danzo talked and led her to Lee and to the reason she was still alive and participating in life. And then, as an incorporeal spirit, she could possess some schmuck, maybe named Danzo, and make them accept a hated job as Madara's messenger maid. And then she might die happy.
"Why?" asked some stranger.
Kovu wailed when he heard it and waddled towards Kasumi. She reached forward and yanked on his leash. It came jerkily off of Sakura's wrist.
"Why do you want to get into Pascal? Why'd you take off running like that? You just ignored me! Didn't you hear me yelling?"
Quickly Kasumi tried to wipe at her spilling tears, but more appeared to replace them, and she could not wipe them all in time or well with her glasses in the way. Her left leg and side were a little wet from having fallen in the thin snow on the ground. What patchy little amount there was, Kasumi had somehow fallen in quite a lot of it.
"For god's sake. I was getting graded on this supervision day. I look like a…pathetic moron. Miriam and Bayan will dismiss me. If this happened in a show I'd be banned from the business."
"I-I'm sorry," Sakura stuttered unsurely. Some of her real self was coming out of the burning state.
"Why did you shove me like that? What do you care about Pascal, you got a rich lover in there? Being pretty and getting free fucking tigers for him doesn't impress him enough? You selfish shithead."
Kasumi dropped to the ground to be close to Kovu and stroke along his spine in a comforting way all animal trainers would use on theater animals.
Sakura dropped to the ground after her. Her whole body felt asleep and she had to force feeling into it, which felt entirely foreign itself. She said clearly and slowly, "I…am so sorry. For pushing you away like that. I am. I, I…am…chasing that man because he is from my hometown…which is gone…people I know were eaten alive. But he made it out and he saw me, but he just ignored me. I looked for two years, and just found him, and he ignored me."
The explanation ended up slow enough but not clear to Kasumi, who looked at Sakura like she were delivering a stageplay dialogue with a child's skill level. Sakura pulled back in fear at that; usually her straightforwardness served her well. It wasn't often taken for fakery. Or some lack of talent.
"You know people who were eaten?"
"Shut the hell up. I don't…ugh…" Kasumi averted her eyes as much as she could.
"I'll tell Miriam and Baya that it was my fault. And you did stop me when I went crazy looking at…some jewelry vendors? Or something?"
"Yes. I swear. I was barely thinking when I did that just now. Believe it or not, that's me thinking more clearly than the last time I had a, um, freakout." She tried to laugh, and it was a bit genuine this time. The incredible burn of Danzo's rejection was pulling away, for now. "I don't have a lover in Pascal. Or anywhere. I only get attention from freaks."
At that time, the two stood up together and briefly acknowledged the ring of slow-walking tourists walking past them on both sides. "I'm sorry for yelling," Kasumi said.
Sakura would have liked for her to be sorry for a little more, but that was just her emotions talking. Her indignant attitude. A rubbed-off trait from Ino. Which she probably took from Lisandra and Alejandra anyway.
Between the two young women sat tiger cub Aran, patiently awaiting the conclusion to this intense business meeting. "You sure kept up with my run, you cutie."
Kasumi praised Aran with a treat and he rubbed against her lovingly. Vitani sulked by Sakura's knee.
The gate to Pascal Quarter closed with Mayor Danzo hidden from Sakura's clutches behind it.
She would find a way in, to him, to Kakashi, to Konoha, to something soon. It was a certainty. She would make it one.
I thought this chapter would be shorter (SAY THE LINE STORM) but I'm happy with its content. My original intent was to write 1) Sakura asks usual questions in Rissinia, 2) hangs at Yamato's house where he has plants and he's charming, and 3) end with her seeing Danzo in the street and he doesn't acknowledge her. The rest I still liked because I discovered I like Rissinia hah. Did you think freaking DANZO was the first Konoha citizen she'd find?
I am sorry for more lack of MadaSaku content. For someone who loves daydreaming about silly, fluffy, monster-human romance shippy scenarios in the shower, I sure write a lot of "not fucking that" but that's what you get with me. Rest assured, by the end of next chap, we will leave Rissinia, and the Uchihas will come back. One we haven't chatted with before, and one we have. I introduced trains in this chapter because there will, eventually, be a MadaSaku scene in a train car. It's tense.
Idk how much this matters to you but I'm trying to draw a map of the world in this fic. Originally I pictured a single continent but now I've decided it's "big western one that is vaguely rhombus-shaped, a smaller eastern one, mostly unpopulated northern one. Sakura going from Konoha (southwest corner of west continent) all the way to Rissinia (near northwest corner of west continent) is kinda like going from Los Angeles to Portland maybe. Still working on that. She did hang out in two towns for 1 year and and 5 months respectively tho.
OTHER WRITING / STORY BITS
1) Lisandra is Sailor Moon, which I almost never watched as a kid. A little Tokyo Mew Mew thrown in there. They have prehistoric animal powers or weapons. One of the sailors has the spirit of the "pluro" which is a cutesy name for the liopleurodon because I used to love "Walking with Dinosaurs". Lmao this doesn't matter THAT'S WHY THIS FIC IS SO LONG 2) Did you think Hidan was a one-off crazy man Sakura only has to meet once? Fool. 3) The currency of this world is called "bills" I guess 4) Sakura mentally calling Kakashi a "rich fucker" with no personal investment in the thought makes me laugh 5) I liked parts of this chapter where I showed Sakura's comfort with taking initiative to obtain what she wants like prodding the bar owner "I SAID do you know where he is"; she's a bossy girl and bystanders do not always find that cute 6) I also liked the writing style of her explaining the true story of Konoha to Yamato, cutting down each line so they became smaller and smaller, and then stopped. I think using writing "formatting" as meaningful in the narrative is cool.
Lastly, I don't think anyone has ever brought this up in a comment but I hope someone does. I won't address or answer it of course, but does anyone want to say what they think happened to Ino?
Now I return to balancing this and many Haikyuu AU wip's that I also write too much for, and that damn adult job that cuts into my writing time. In 2020 I actually wrote quite a bit, and this year I hope to write even more. Thanks for reading!