A/N: Helloooo everyone! I know I disappeared for about half a year, but lbr, I've never updated so soon after each chapter before. Except that one time a few years ago where I posted 3 chapters a month and I was having a field day. About two weeks after I posted the last chapter, I got my heart broken and so touching anything related to "maybe in another life" or "I know you love me" was hitting a little too close to home. I started reading Love in the time of Cholera and couldn't get past the first chapter because it had to do with two people who loved each other but couldn't get married. I haven't written anything fic-related SINCE November, and things at home have gotten pretty rough for me, so I have been dealing with that, too. I felt bad because I wanted to write this chapter for a while but just couldn't muster up the courage to. Still, I hope you guys like it. Thanks so much for reading x
the greatest pretenders
Chapter Fourteen: Betrayal
One of the things that Sakura had wished she learned earlier was that there were so many ways to betray someone. Sasuke had betrayed her and Team Seven when he left Konoha and single-handedly caused so much friction that the Fourth Shinobi War broke out. She had betrayed herself when she agreed to take him back with open arms, and though she hated thinking about it, he betrayed her yet again by leaving her to raise their daughter alone. Watching Sarada train with Yuzuru from the kitchen window, she couldn't help but feel like she was betraying her, too. She sighed as her eyes fell upon the basket of muffins that Sasuke had sent to her, signed under a different name.
Was she angry? Not exactly; she was more frustrated.
There was, however, a feeling of uneasiness as she stared at the thing that was meant to be a gift or an act of kindness. She was not used to it, but she decided she was already tired of it. It was interesting how people always tried to be supportive or kind once they knew someone was moving on, or had decided to no longer put up with bullshit. A flash of rage appeared in her mind at the thought of Sasuke at some bakery, picking pastries for her and Sarada. Grabbing the note that was attached to the basket, she crumpled it up and threw it in the trash bin. She drew a deep breath and fought back a sob, not entirely sure why she felt like crying. Perhaps she was exhausted from loving two people, or more accurately, loving them in two completely different ways.
"Mom?" Sarada's voice suddenly rang in her ears.
"Oh," Sakura breathed, "taking a break?"
"She's becoming stronger every time I train with her," Yuzuru huffed as he wiped his brow and closed the back door behind him, "and I feel like it's embarrassing that I'm kind of losing to someone who's six years younger than me."
Sakura smiled slightly. "Her father was a prodigy, after all."
"From what I gather, you were also quite talented."
"Not as much as Lord Hokage or Sasuke."
The room fell silent as Yuzuru furrowed his brow slightly at her, but much to Sakura's relief, Sarada merely let out a sigh and pulled out a drink from the fridge. It was getting increasingly difficult to lie to Yuzuru, or to keep up a façade in front of him. Brown eyes stared at her, but she couldn't read them. She smiled at him again, a little more genuinely this time, and reached for the basket near her.
"I know they tell you that you can't have pastries a lot," she started, "but I got these for free from one of the pastry shops here, so you two dig in."
"You're not having any?" Sarada asked as she excitedly grabbed one.
"No," the kunoichi shook her head, "I don't really feel like eating sweets right now."
Both Sarada and Yuzuru sat at the dining table just outside the kitchen area, chatting amongst themselves, with Sarada's laughter ringing through the air every now and then. Listening to them, Sakura felt a tear roll down her cheek, knowing that she was keeping such a big secret from her daughter who was so much like the man that had left them. It had been easier to hate him when he kept his distance, but now that he seemed to be trying to be a husband and a father, she felt herself wavering.
This is not what I want, she told herself. It had been a lonely fifteen years, but knowing that he came back somehow made her feel worse. A million thoughts ran through her mind and she felt her chest tighten, when she heard her cell phone start to ring. Cocking an eyebrow, she checked the caller ID, and saw that it was the hospital.
"Is everything okay?" she asked cautiously.
"Ms. Haruno," one of the nurses frantically said her name over the phone, "another body was left at the Konoha borders."
Sakura felt her body tense. "Is it another civilian?"
"That's the thing… not exactly."
"What does that mean?"
"I think you need to come down now. I know it's your day off, and I am incredibly sorry to be calling you like this-"
"I'll be there in half an hour," Sakura replied, then hung up.
As she crossed into the dining room, she glanced at Yuzuru, who had apparently heard the phone call while he was talking to Sarada. "Is everything okay?" he asked.
"I need to go to the hospital."
Brown eyes widened. "Is it…?"
"I can go with you-"
"No," Sakura shook her head, "you stay with Sarada."
"I'm not a child, Mom."
"You can keep training together. Maybe take her to where I took you the first few times after your iryōninjutsu training."
"Any particular reason why?" Yuzuru queried, his tone suspicious.
"More space," Sakura smiled, "and I can't monitor the damage here if I'm not around."
"I'll call you if I need you, and you can leave Sarada at the Akimichis' then. But until I need you, go ahead and keep at it."
Quickly ruffling Sarada's head, she rushed upstairs to get changed and grab her things. Although her emotions were a mess, it was a point of pride for her than when it was important, she could shut off her anxiety and focus on her work. Arguably, it was unhealthy, but working in a profession that dealt with the livelihood of others made it difficult for her to really think about it. She bade farewell to Sarada and Yuzuru, and in less than twenty minutes, she had gone through the doors of the hospital and was in the elevator up to the observation room. The nurses at the front desk looked at her nervously as she swished past them and slipped into her coat, pushing her hair behind her ears. She hardened her jaw when she entered the room to see a young girl, no older than Sarada, hooked up to an oxygen tank and an IV drip. Her breath caught in her throat and she stopped in her tracks. Turning to the nurse behind her, she gave a quizzical look.
"I was told it was a body."
"We thought so too," the nurse said hesitantly, "but she regained consciousness when we brought her here."
"How long ago?"
"We called you not long after she was found."
Sakura blinked. "That makes no sense. If this is what I think it is, then that means…"
Trailing off her thought, Sakura whirled around to look at the girl again, who was unconscious yet very much alive. The color of her veins were visible, but they were not as bad as the first civilian they found at the borders not too long ago. She glanced at the monitor to look at her breathing, which was slow, but still consistent. Biting her lip, an uneasy feeling came over her.
"She was found at the border," Sakura said slowly, "which means that she is likely not a citizen of Konoha."
"Which means it might be hard to gauge where she came from."
"We've already asked Sai-san to look into it on your behalf."
"Did he say anything?"
The nurse shook her head, her expression similar to one of remorse. "No. He said he may need a few days to look into it."
Sakura placed her hands on her hips and sighed. After checking the physical symptoms that she was now aware of since the start of the S-ranked mission, she furrowed her brow in confusion. It was clear that anyone who didn't have a kekkei gengkai would die from the exposure to utsushō, and there was currently no information on who this girl was. The information that was available was not enough for her to deduce anything, and she felt her head start to throb. Aware that this was potentially due to many sleepless nights, she asked one of the nurses if they could bring her some coffee. Her eyes moved to the monitors again and if her hunch was correct, who on earth would leave a young girl with a kekkei gengkai at the borders of Konoha, a city she was not even a citizen of?
"I'm assuming her blood is being tested right now," Sakura said quietly when a mug was handed to her.
"Yes, ma'am. Until then, we've just been keeping her on the tank and the IV drip."
"And Sai said he needs some time to look for information?"
"Yes, but he said it shouldn't be too long."
Sakura let out a heavy sigh. "We don't even know her name."
After staring at the girl's face for a few minutes, the pink-haired doctor sighed and signaled to the nurses to contact her if there were any developments. She entered the elevator and went up to her office, the only place she felt she could have some peace of mind. As the elevator doors opened up to her office, however, she saw a man sitting in one of the chairs across from her desk, and she almost dropped her coffee. It didn't help that the door was glass, either. She quickly walked over to the dark-haired man and sat down in her chair, her spearmint eyes filled with rage.
"What the fuck are you doing here?"
"I don't think that's the way to address your husband," Sasuke said coolly, an attempt to appear casual.
"You can't just show up to my office. There are people in this city who haven't heard your side of the story."
"Why are you acting like you're one of them?"
Sakura flinched. "I told you not to come here. You're supposed to be hiding. It's bad enough that only your previous teammates know you're here."
"And that guy Sai."
"He's ANBU. It's his job to know these things."
Sasuke sighed and leaned back in his seat, not once taking his eyes off Sakura. He never really wore his smug expression anymore, but there was something different about the way that he was looking at her that made Sakura curious as to why he was sitting across from her, in public, in the first place. She adjusted herself in her seat and took a sip of her coffee, all the while keeping her eyes on him, not allowing her curiosity to get the better of her.
"How's Sarada?" he asked suddenly.
"She's training with my apprentice."
"You're not training her?"
"Clearly, I had to come here."
"Have you ever trained her?"
"Why not? You're talented."
"I don't think she's ready."
"She's fourteen, Sakura."
"Good to know you remember her age."
"That's not fair."
She clenched her jaw. "You're one to talk about what's fair."
The room became silent, and the atmosphere felt incredibly charged with her anger. Sasuke stared at her for a bit, and for the first time in a long time, she saw his expression soften into something that looked like sadness. She reminded herself not to fall for it, to wait to see what he had to say about ignoring her wishes to have him stay hidden. He put a hand over his knee, closed his eyes, and sighed. Despite the fact that he had not been in contact with Kakashi-sensei for so long, his mannerisms were annoyingly similar to the older man.
"I just want to know about our daughter," he said finally, opening his eyes.
"And I'm telling you now is not the time for you to meet her."
"Even if I follow those wishes, you won't tell me more about her?"
"You had the last fifteen years to know more about her," Sakura replied through clenched teeth, "especially from the time I told you I was pregnant. But you left anyway."
"I had to."
"No one asked you to leave me alone," she said angrily, but she could hear the sadness in her own voice.
At the momentary crack into what her feelings were, Sasuke's face softened even more and it looked as though he felt guilty. He laced his hands together and slumped in his seat, appearing as though he wanted to say more. He kept his mouth shut, but at the change in his demeanor, Sakura felt herself begin to soften, too. Letting out a deep sigh, she closed her eyes to collect herself, and when she looked at him again, he was looking directly at her.
"There's no excuse for what I did," he said slowly, "and I am sorry for hurting you and Sarada. I did not think I was worthy to be a father yet."
Sakura narrowed her eyes. "You wanted to restore the Uchiha clan, and you didn't think you were worthy to be a father?"
"I know how it sounds."
"Why did you marry me, then?"
"Because you loved me."
Whatever anger Sakura had felt earlier suddenly dissipated and was replaced with a deep sadness as her spearmint eyes welled. Pinching the bridge of her nose, she willed herself not to cry, not to even let a single tear escape, but her nose betrayed her when she sniffled. She already knew the answer to her next question, but it seemed insane not to ask her, just for her peace of mind, just for her.
"And did you love me?"
The long silence broke her heart, if whatever was left in her chest could even be called a heart. Everyone had suffered after the war, dealing with PTSD and anxiety and the loss of people they loved. They all had something she didn't, though: someone to lean on, someone to support them and love them. She knew she had been alone for the last fifteen years, but facing the man who she thought could make all that go away now, that loneliness was only amplified as he watched her, his own expression hurt.
"I wanted to," he answered finally, "but I didn't think I deserved-"
"Fuck that," she said through her tears, "you know that's a backhanded way of saying that you didn't."
"Why couldn't you be enough of a man to tell me you didn't love me, instead of putting me through years of unnecessary heartbreak and waiting for you to come around?" she said tearfully. "I would have understood if you had told me earlier. I would have understood that my only purpose was to give you a child-"
"That wasn't your only purpose."
"You didn't love me, Sasuke, and you still don't."
"I know that what I did was shitty…"
"Shitty doesn't begin to describe the hell I had to go through alone while you were gone. I would have done anything for you." Sakura wiped the tears from her eyes, but they wouldn't stop. She figured that this was what fifteen years of suppression did to someone, but she still tried to stop the flow of tears that had broken the dam she had so carefully put together.
"I wanted to give you what you deserved. I wanted to give you a family, kids, that security. Especially after all the pain I put you through."
Sakura slowly shook her head and had the sudden urge to down an entire bottle of sake. "Please, get out."
"Can we just talk this out?"
"There is nothing you can say to make me feel better."
"Then tell me all the things you've wanted to say to me since I left."
She blinked. "What?"
"I know that you have more to say. I can see it on your face."
"Nothing I say is going to change the fact that you leaving Konoha ruined me."
"Sakura," Sasuke said softly, "I know you have more to say. So what is it?"
"This is the only thing I can do to make it hurt less," he replied, "to have you resolve all of your hate, all of your pain. I know I can't erase the last fifteen years, but I can at least do this."
Blue eyes and blond hair flashed inside her mind, and Sakura felt completely lost and defeated. She let out a sarcastic laugh, then leaned back in her chair and watched the man that was supposed to be her husband. For so long, she felt like the universe was not on her side, especially after the series of choices that she made in order to get to the point that she was at now. She thought of ramen, of the fact that Naruto had saved her life so many times, while Sasuke had only married her because she had loved him. She felt stupid, ridiculous, and if she could punch someone in the face, it would be herself. She took a deep breath and adjusted herself in her seat, taking a sip of coffee before she could muster any words.
"Because I thought you needed me," she started slowly, "I walked away from the person who loved me most."
"And do you love him?" Sasuke asked quietly.
A silence followed, one that caused Sasuke's face to change from one of sadness to one of remorse. He held his head in his hands and let out a deep sigh, though Sakura knew that it had nothing to do with her specifically. When he looked up at her, he had activated his Sharingan, but his eyes were pooled with tears. She felt her throat close up at the sight, not remembering the last time she had seen him cry. No words left her mouth as the realization dawned on him that she had sacrificed her own heart for him. His fingers tightened around the armrests of his chair, and he continued to stare at her with deep regret.
"Why didn't you tell me that you loved him?"
Sakura didn't answer. It's not like she knew she loved Naruto the whole time, either. Reaching into her drawer, she pulled out the bottle of sake that Lady Tsunade had gifted to her when she left that office, and poured the liquor into two small cups. Slowly, she slid one to Sasuke and sighed as he took a sip.
"I thought I didn't deserve him, either."
It had taken too long for Sakura to wait for the results of the blood test, so her nurses had asked her to go home when they found her slumped over her desk, her eyes and nose red from crying that they thought had anything to do with the mission. Without a word, Sakura left and reminded them to update her as soon as they heard anything. As she walked through the streets of Konoha, she thought to herself that the buildings all appeared bleak, despite the fact that lanterns were lit all over the town, and people were in the streets laughing and having a good time. She passed by florists who tried to convince her to buy some flowers for her home, bakeries that had discounts on pastries they couldn't sell off during the day. When she passed Ichiraku Ramen, however, she stopped in her tracks and clutched her bag closer to her as she saw Hinata sitting with Boruto and Himawari. They were laughing, probably at some inside joke she would never understand, but she noted to herself that Naruto was not with them.
Turning away, Sakura began heading towards Senya, the izakaya that Lady Tsunade had invested in, which was now booming with a lot of customers. She stepped inside and left her coat on the rack near the entrance. When she sat down at the bar, the bartender simply placed a double shot of vodka before her. She glanced up at him, and he told her that Konoha was starting to import liquor other than the traditional Japanese ones to attract more tourists. She nodded and downed the double shot, almost choking on the taste. Coughing violently, the bartender quickly handed her some water.
"Why did you give me a double shot?"
"Looked like you needed it, Ms. Haruno."
She sighed and wiped her mouth. "Thanks for noticing."
"Would you like something more traditional instead? I apologize for assuming you'd want to try a double shot on the first try."
"No," she shook her head, "just keep them to single shots and I should be good."
Having downed four shots in a row, she felt her nerves begin to loosen. She was no longer crying, and her face was probably red from the alcohol. She played with the rim of her glass that held whiskey, a liquor that Naruto had told her about awhile ago when he first became Hokage. She was so lost in her thoughts that she barely noticed the man that she had been thinking about had propped himself right next to her, ordering the same number of shots she had already had.
"Rough day?" Naruto asked quietly.
"An understatement," she replied as she downed her drink. "What are you doing here?"
"I just came out of the office."
"Hinata and the kids are at Ichiraku."
"So why are you here?"
"I heard about what was found on the border today," he answered, his tone remorseful.
"Sai," Naruto started, "but Sasuke told me about it, too."
"He ask you to check on me or something?"
"No," he chuckled, "he just told me he came by to see you and said you weren't doing so well."
Sakura scoffed. "So you came to Senya on the off chance that I might be here?"
"You're more like Lady Tsunade than you think, y'know."
"So why aren't you having dinner with your family, at your favorite restaurant? Surely, they know that that's your favorite place to eat."
"Things have been kind of tense at home."
"Any reason why they're so tense that you felt you can't eat with them?"
Naruto sighed as the bartender placed a drink in front of him. "She's a little upset because I don't share work-related things with her."
"Well," Sakura said, "she knew what she was signing up for when she married you. But I get it; being the wife of a Hokage is hard."
Blue eyes turned to look at her then, but she ignored him. Of all the people who would understand, Sakura figured that Hinata would be the one who would've understood the most. She pondered this as she motioned for the bartender to bring her another glass. The alcohol was beginning to spread throughout her stomach, if that was a thing. She remembered that she hadn't really eaten that day, but could hardly find it in herself to care.
"That something you think about a lot?"
"Being the wife of a Hokage."
Sakura smiled. "No," she lied, "but it can't be easy to be the spouse of someone who has a lot of responsibility. It must be taking a toll on her."
Naruto hummed. "Something happen with Sasuke?"
"No," she lied again, "I'm just saying that I get her. It can't be easy raising two kids when your husband is off doing work all the time. She must be lonely."
"Sounds like there's some double entendre here that you're not telling me about."
Sakura didn't utter another word, but merely took another swig of her drink. They sat in silence next to each other, drinking cup after cup, shot after shot. Though his face wasn't red, Sakura could see that his eyes were glazed.
"Why are you drinking so much?" she slurred.
"Seemed like you could use a drinking buddy."
They laughed at that thought, knowing that the last time they drank together was before either of them got married, when they each turned twenty and could legally drink with Kakashi-sensei.
"Remember how drunk he got on your birthday?" Naruto chuckled.
"Honestly," she laughed, "you would think he'd let me be the drunkest one there."
"Who knew he was such a lightweight?"
They laughed as they drank shot after shot, drink after drink, their heads becoming so woozy that they couldn't even get out proper sentences. They understood each other on some level though, as they laughed about times that seemed so much easier, so much more innocent. It felt safe, something that Sakura hadn't experienced in an incredibly long time. She felt her heart ache as she looked at him, thinking that she must have known Naruto in a past life, because he felt more like home to her than Sasuke ever did. At that thought, she let out a sigh and asked the bartender for another drink.
"I think we've had enough," Naruto laughed, "because I can bet you that you won't be able to walk properly once we leave this place."
"Oh, come on! Just one more."
"You say that, but remember my birthday?"
"If memory serves, we had to drag you home."
"Not until after you were throwing up."
They laughed again, but the bartender brought them each another glass. They clinked their glasses together and sipped their drinks, each lost in their own thoughts. Naruto hummed, and while Sakura was not looking, he paid their bill and moved to grab her coat, slipping it onto her shoulders. Just walking outside proved to be difficult for her, and even when Naruto offered to help her steady herself, she playfully swatted him away.
"I don't need you holding me up. I can walk."
"You clearly can't."
"We're going in opposite directions."
"Actually," Naruto said, "I don't feel good letting you walk home by yourself. It's dangerous."
"You had as much as I had to drink!"
"Yeah," he agreed, "but I'm not as much of a lightweight as you."
Sakura felt herself roll her eyes, but was unfortunately proven wrong when she almost toppled over. Naruto had caught her, his hand grabbing her waist. Just the act of him doing so seemed to sober her, but she let him walk with her. He was right about the fact that it would be dangerous for her to go home alone, especially when she was so drunk. Guilt filled her heart as she focused on his hand on her waist, and she began to tell him that he didn't need to do so, but before she could get the words out, he looked at her and smiled.
"Do you want me to carry you?"
"You can barely walk, Sakura-chan."
"That doesn't mean I need to be carried!"
Naruto laughed. "Okay, well, the offer is still there in case you decide you can't keep your feet going."
Sakura huffed, a question lingering in the back of her mind as they began walking towards her house. There's no way he still loves me, right?
They walked in silence, both too tired and too drunk to actually have a conversation. Still, the entire time they were side by side, Naruto did not remove his hand from her waist, and she did feel like it was more out of supporting her than anything else. The cool air wasn't as biting as it was before, and it was actually doing wonders for her head that felt foggy not too long ago. There weren't many people around, and she felt as though she could finally relax. Her bouts of insomnia seemed to go away whenever she was with Naruto, and she remembered reading in a medical journal that insomnia could be helped by the presence of someone that the insomniac loved. She smiled to herself then, but more because she was kicking herself for not telling him how she felt before either of them got married. Things were different now.
They were on different paths now.
"Where's Sasuke staying?" Sakura asked quietly.
"Some inn just on the outskirts. He didn't tell you?"
"He seems to show up when I don't want him around."
"I know he hasn't been the greatest guy," Naruto said, "but he's trying for you, y'know."
Sakura laughed. "I highly doubt that."
"You know why I went to Senya?"
Naruto stopped walking then, and looked at her face. "Why were you there?"
Spearmint eyes welled with tears, but Sakura maintained her smile. "He told me he married me because I loved him, not because he loved me."
Naruto's face seemed to show that he was suddenly sobering up then, realization dawning on his face. "He actually told you he didn't love you?"
"He said he wanted to-"
"But he didn't think he deserved you."
Tears spilled out from Sakura's eyes. "Kind of the worst way to find out someone didn't love you at all."
"Sakura-chan, I'm sorry."
She stared at him then, feeling the effects of liquid courage coursing through her veins. Feeling immense regret and remorse, she reminded herself that if she told Naruto she had loved him all this time, it was almost as bad as Sasuke telling her that he hadn't loved her at all. She bit her tongue and looked away from him then, and noticed that there was one of the nurses from the hospital waiting for her at her front door. Raising her eyebrows, she gestured to Naruto that there was someone standing at her front door, and he slowly removed his hand from her waist.
"I asked the nurses to update me as soon as they heard something about the girl they found today."
Naruto looked over at the nurse, and his expression became tense. "You should get some rest for tonight. Look at it in the morning."
"I know," she sighed, "but thanks for walking me back."
"It's not a problem. We should drink together again."
"Yeah," she nodded, "maybe when things aren't so insane."
When he turned to leave, Sakura waited until she could no longer see him before she walked the short distance to her front door and gave the nurse a quizzical look.
"So?" she asked.
"The blood tests are in here," the nurse replied slowly, "and Sai-san managed to find some records on who the girl is."
"Not a citizen of Konoha, then?"
"I was told not to look at the documents, so I couldn't tell you, Ms. Haruno."
Sakura huffed, and the uneasiness she felt earlier that day settled again in her stomach. Taking the files from the nurse, she thanked him and bade him a safe walk home. After getting inside the house, she could hear Sarada watching TV with Chouchou and laughing. Quietly going upstairs to her bedroom, she wasted no time in ripping open the envelope to look at the blood test. Surely enough, the girl in the hospital was someone that had a kekkei gengkai. She sighed then, telling herself that she should have trusted her instincts from the start. She examined the other things that they found present in her blood, to see if she had asthma or any other ailments. Her eyes ran over the girl's age, who was actually twelve years old and apparently a citizen of Kirigakure. When she looked at her name, Sakura furrowed her brow.
Her entire body froze as she read the name. Going over the documents one more time, she recognized some of the things written there that she had seen before on another file. Throwing the envelope onto her bed, she quickly went to the study table that faced her window and rummaged through the drawers. Her mind was racing, her heart was pounding until she found the file she was looking for, her eyes brimming with tears. Fingers trembling, she read the information on the file:
Nineteen years old.
Citizen of Kirigakure.
Parents killed in the Fourth Shinobi War.
Sakura's jaw fell open when she read the name of the person this file belonged to, and a million questions began running through her mind. She didn't know what to feel as she read it over and over again, that she had to run her fingers under the name to make sure she was reading it right. She sat in her chair and was at a loss for words, or even for what to do, because surely, she wouldn't have missed something like this. She picked up her cell phone and went through her call log for the name she was looking for: