When she was fourteen, she killed another human being for the first time. It was the height of spring, and light, giddy breezes sent white and blue petals tumbling through the air.
Normally Sakura would have been back in Konoha, running errands for Tsunade and occasionally even learning from her. But the bulk of the village's medics were busy tending to the aftermath of a particularly bloody ANBU mission--and nobody had expected a routine scouting mission to be that difficult. Naturally they'd sent her with a team--another genin and one chuunin--because ninja are either cautious or dead, but it had been a formality.
The pair of Sound ninja had been hiding themselves somehow with the effects of fluctuating vibrations, and Sakura and her team did not realize they were there until too late. The other Leaf ninja had taken out one enemy, but then the remaining one had knocked them out cold with one of Sound's inexplicable aural jutsu.
That left him alone with Sakura. She dropped her kunai.
The Sound-nin smiled at her, or maybe he smirked. Yes, it was definitely a smirk: Sakura found herself concentrating intensely on every aspect of him, from the weird, whistling blades in his hands to the careless skew his hitai-ate sat at on his collarbones.
"Good girl," he said. "It's easier if you put your weapons away now."
What a stupid man he was. She only used kunai when she was assisting teammates, not when she was fighting on her own. Not these days. But then, it had been a long time since she had fought alone, and the last time she could recall (which was a silly turn of phrase, since she could recall them all), she had used kunai. But she was a different person now, wasn't she?
Maybe a little.
The person she was now had never fought alone before, not for real.
Sakura did not give herself much time to think, but then, she didn't need it. She'd already set out her thoughts here and now, and now it was just down to the images that broke from her memory to harry her chakra along.
Naruto, covered in bandages but still smiling at her. That was an easy one--she'd never forget that image.
Sasuke, almost smiling at her. Almost. For one moment, she could see what he had been, what he could have been, what had been destroyed before he had a chance to grasp it. Then his expression was cold again, a hurried lid over the broken bits inside.
The problem was that the broken bits were still there.
Naruto could smile at her, but that wouldn't take the bandages away. Sasuke could pretend to be whole, or just close to it, for a moment, but he couldn't find and mend the cracks inside.
That was her job, and she had to be strong to do it. Sometimes she had to break things--and people.
She didn't really think all this in the instant before she hit her enemy. She just knew it, and he became their enemy as well, and that of Konoha, and that of everyone she'd ever loved.
The chakra flew to her fist, and when she slammed it into his forehead, she heard bone cracking and what was inside splattering.
I should be horrified, a part of her said. It was such a distant part now, though. It was a little girl with long hair sitting in a corner of her head.
How do you like it on the inside? she taunted the little girl, but that wasn't right. Not really.
She let the girl back out, but for once, she didn't put the woman back in. When she looked back down at the mess on the ground, the two of her shuddered together, but she only trembled for a few moments, and when she was done, there was one of her.
When the rest of her team woke up, she managed to convince them that in the last few confused moments before they went down, they'd killed the second Sound-nin.
She still had a few secrets to keep, because old habits, unlike people, die hard.
It wasn't until the next chuunin exams that somebody noticed the change. Sakura fought, lethal and beautiful, in the grounds before them, and Lee was the only one who realized that something was different.
"She's changed," he said suddenly. "Tenten," she was the closest witness to him, "Sakura-san has changed. She is more beautiful now," and he was going to say "and more frightening," but it seemed such an odd thing to say about her.
Tenten gave him a sidelong glance. "I thought you were over her," she reproved him.
Lee would have tried to explain, because it was not in his nature to give up on even such small matters, but he had the feeling that Tenten wouldn't understand. Maybe nobody would. All he knew was that when Sakura had been his shining goal, he had memorized her face, and now it was different.
She looked realer now.
I need a decent Sakura icon. Should make one at some point. When Photoshop is working again on this computer.