Description: Natsu and Sakura touch base again after the craziness of the Zack Island tournament.
Late afternoon, the sun burning low in the sky, turning it shades of burnt sienna graduating up to a golden color; cicadas and crickets are chirping. The scene would be idyllic, and it is, but it isn't pastoral, thanks to Sakura.
Kasugano is out in her backyard, training. Slamming her fists and feet into a stout plank she has buried in the ground. This isn't unusual--in fact, Sakura often trains back here like this. But there's something different about it, about her. Her training is more intense, more intent. The plank is bending back and forth under her strikes, shuddering with each impact.
Her eyebrows are furrowed, concentration written on her face with each strike.
Fences and front doors are for keeping strangers out. When someone's comfortable enough to stride right through the gate to the side yard, and prepared to knock on the back door, that's true friendship. Or thievery. One of the two.
In this case, the tall athlete who unlatches the side gate and lets herself into the backyard has been doing so for years. And she's perfectly discrete about it, keeping her head bowed low as she closes the gate quietly behind her.
She has a fairly good idea of what could be causing Sakura to focus so intently on her training. It wasn't long ago that the two students were fighting way over their weight class on a tropical island with a dark secret, after all.
Natsu clears her throat, out of the fickle temperature shifts brought about by winters' end more than any pressing demand for attention. "Saku-chan, kon ban wa.." She's dressed in a Gorin jacket and running pants, and a long white headband trails from her forehead.
After the last strike, a full-length side kick that ends with Sakura's foot out at head level, a kick only slowly retracted. Sakura pants a little; clearly she's been at this for a while, dressed in a warmup jacket and exercise pants and with her usual Chucks and gloves on. Turning, she regards Natsu with a serious expression on her face, one that only slowly turns to a smile.
But even that smile is more serious than usual. She regards her friend for a long moment before turning to her right and going to pick up a towel, slinging it around her neck. "Natsu-chan," she says, after a moment, a neutral greeting.
"Are you... alright?"
Natsu tucks her hands back into her jacket pockets, nodding quietly. "I'm fine, yeah. Been kinda taking it easy the past few days -- Kayoko didn't mind subbing as captain for a few more days, heh." Apparently, the former head of the volleyball team was more than ready to jump back into the thick of things, after the unusual events of the Inter High-School Tournament -- and Natsu was more than happy to accept the offer of help.
But by doing so, she only deflected the topic away from the matter of her injuries. The duo's last fight of the Zack Island tournament took its toll on the Gorin athlete, and while it isn't immediately obvious when she stands still, it had been obvious when she'd spoken. The shortness of breath seems to be practically nonexistent now, in comparison.
"... How are you? Other than trying -way- too hard, I mean... what did that plank ever do to you?" She offers the lightest hint of a smirk, tilting her head to the side.
After a moment spent studying Sakura's quiet expression, she asks, "Are you preparing for your next tournament...?"
Sakura nods. "Good," she says, and it sounds heartfelt. She was worried about her friend's recovery. To see Natsu looking healthy is heartening to her. She glances back at the plank, scuffed and dented where she's been hitting it repeatedly, then turns back to her friend.
"No, I'm..." A pause for breath and thought.
"I think I haven't been taking this seriously enough. I started this on a lark. Started training, started fighting. But..." She leans against the plank, tipping her head back a bit and bringing her right foot up to lay against the plank.
"At the island, I... we... we were outclassed. I..."
"... I felt almost helpless. And in that last fight, when you went down... I was... scared."
"And when you're scared, you do amazing things, apparently!" Natsu can't help but smile at Sakura's admission -- for it bears a striking similarity to her own.
"I was scared too. I... panicked. I really thought he was going to kill me... like he was seriously ten times stronger than me, and didn't even -know- he was going to kill me. The man just... didn't -breathe-." She laughs, mirthlessly. "I gave up. Fighting Daigo... through it all, I still thought I had a chance, y'know? Even with how badly he outclassed me..."
Natsu finds herself looking back at the plank. "But maybe tournaments on strange islands aren't the real answer for us, yeah? We can still fight things closer to home... right?"
Prior to the tournament, Natsu had spent several months getting stronger -- both physically and emotionally. But the thought of stepping up even further, so quickly... is intimidating.
"I'm not sure I'm... ready to push myself so hard, yet."
"I didn't feel amazing," confesses Sakura, tipping her head forward to look straight at Natsu.
"I... I don't even really remember what I did. I wasn't seeing straight. Wasn't really thinking. I guess I was just reacting. I've been told that the ultimate mastery of martial arts comes when action and thought are the same thing but I don't... think that's what happened."
"Daigo? Akira's brother? He's scary. All huge and scarred and stuff. I don't think I'd want to fight him, like, ever." Sakura relaxes a little more, just talking to Natsu, then nods.
"I guess we did kinda try to run before we walked... but... it was valuable even so. To see all those fighters. I learned a lot from that. I want to learn more. I want to get better. So that we can go into a fight with confidence and strength. Not having to doubt ourselves."
Natsu scratches her cheek. She realizes that, perhaps in her determination to -beat- Daigo, she'd neglected to ask for her friends' help in that regard. "... Whose brother?" She blinks, shakes her head. "N-nah, he... he really hurt our team captain. Almost... kept her from playing volleyball in her last year, which is pretty terrible. So if I looked a bit... determined fighting him in the Inter High-School... that's why." She offers a brief laugh, covering her mouth.
"But... I guess that was -my- moment. Where fear kinda just got shoved to the wayside and I fought with everything I had."
She hangs her head low. "... Saku-chan... I... did want to let you know... I... gave up, fighting that guy... when I thought he was going to kill me. I didn't try as hard as I could have, in that fight. If I had, we... we might've beat them after all, with how hard you fought." She lifts her eyes, meeting Sakura's gaze. "... I'm sorry. I thought I could stop it -- stop you from having to see me float up like that... I didn't want to happen, but I guess it did anyway."
"I don't blame you. It's one thing to fight, it's... something else entirely to be drowning... I can't honestly say that I would not have reacted the same way. In fact I'm sure I would have." Sakura shakes her head.
"I can't even--actually, I think I did imagine it, that first night. I... had a nightmare about drowning and it was awful. Terrible." A shudder, and then a deeper shudder.
"Natsu-chan, I never thanked you for going with me to that island. Maybe we should have left after that first fight, but you stuck with me through it and you nearly got drowned because of it. I..."
"_I_ should apologize for that."
Natsu's somber expression is brightened somewhat by hearing Sakura's admission. But when she starts thanking the Gorin athlete for coming along, Natsu shakes her head. "Nah. That's what friends are for!" She rests a hand on Sakura's shoulder, smiling reassuringly.
"So... I've given it a bit more thought. I'll need a bit more of a break until I catch up on schoolwork, but after that..." She steps back, clenching a fist before her. "I'll be back in training. And then... we'll take on the next challenges. Together! Life's too short to fill it full of regrets, right?"
"Yeah. Yeah! We'll take on the world together." Sakura definitely looks more like herself as she pushes off her training plank and raises her right hand and brings it out for a wrestler's clasp with Natsu.
"... one step at a time, of course." Pause.
"Hey I didn't get dessert. Got time to go with me down to Tosci's for some ice cream?"
Natsu's quick to clasp hands with Sakura. "Right!" she assents, filling the gap Sakura leaves open.
And then, to the mention of ice cream, Natsu's quick to respond, "Well, of course I've got the time! We've got all the time in the world, now..." She winks back, before letting go and making a dash for the side gate.
"Last one there's buying, though!"
Log created on 21:22:24 03/18/2015 by Natsu, and last modified on 23:22:36 03/18/2015.