the greatest pretenders @snowyseas
Transparency

the greatest pretenders

Chapter Fifteen: Transparency


Sakura was naive to think that the most uncertain parts of her life were over. When she was younger, and had more energy, everything felt like the end of the world, but she could endure it and managed to tell herself 'just a little longer'. That was something her father had told her, that when you were young, any curveball thrown your way would feel like the universe was being unfair, and that you couldn't survive the next thing that made you suffer. As she grew older, she told herself that things would soon pass, and that she would be back on her feet again. Yet, as trials and tribulations became increasingly mind-numbing, the affirmations she had set for herself felt like there should be question marks at the end. Would things pass? Would she land on her feet? Would she eventually figure out how to navigate her life the way she wanted to? Of course, it was a rhetorical question. She knew that life almost never turned out the way people wanted them to.

Sitting at a café that Ino had mentioned just a few weeks ago, the pink-haired kunoichi couldn't help but look at the other customers and wondered what it was like to be normal, to not constantly be living in someone else's shadow, and to not have to understand the meaning of the word sacrifice so well. Naturally, everyone had a different definition of the word sacrifice, but what must it be like to be able to keep their sanity mostly in check? She was carrying the weight of the world, even though that wasn't really true; Naruto was the one who carried the weight of the world on his shoulders, even if it was just Konoha. She was almost jealous of him because he had so much support in his life, even if he felt like he didn't. He had his wife and his children, whereas Sakura didn't want to burden Sarada with any of her issues. As she sipped her latte, she wondered if it wasn't such a bad idea to consult a therapist.

"Ms. Haruno, would you like another latte? Perhaps a pastry?"

Barely listening to the waitress, Sakura immediately shook her head and rested her chin in her palm, deep in the trenches of her own thoughts. It had been a rough night and she still hadn't quite recovered from the dump of information she had received. She had called Yuzuru earlier that morning and asked him to join her for breakfast, knowing that if she didn't see him in a public place, her emotions would get the better of her. The anger that had simmered overnight had now dissipated and now all she felt was confusion, and maybe even sadness. Since the war ended, relations with all the territories that had been at war had improved immensely, yet she couldn't help but feel betrayed. If it wasn't such a big deal, why didn't Yuzuru tell her from the beginning that he wasn't even a citizen of Konoha? On top of that, why had she not noticed that he possessed a kekkei gengkai? Was she really so self-absorbed that she didn't even notice the most obvious of things?

"Please tell me you slept last night," Yuzuru's clear voice suddenly said, pulling her from her reverie. He had taken a seat across from her without her noticing, and she was chagrined that she had, yet again, not noticed something before her very eyes.

"Why would you ask me that?"

"I heard from Sarada that when she went to bed, your lights were still on. When she woke up a few hours later, your lights were still on."

"So you two keep in contact then?"

Brown eyes blinked. "Well, yeah. For training purposes and just in case of emergencies."

Turning her head to look at him, she gestured for him to order something to eat. The waitress that had approached her earlier came by, a bright smile on her face as she took down Yuzuru's order. Idly, Sakura listened as her apprentice ordered black coffee and a hearty breakfast à la Western style, with an omelette and sausages. Sakura watched him carefully, noted every little movement he made and committed it to memory. Truthfully, he didn't seem malicious nor did he seem deceitful in any way, but Sakura remembered that not everyone had the heart that she did. Any room for doubt often left people open to vulnerability. She took a deep breath and sat back in her chair, her eyes on his face until he looked at her.

"Is everything okay?" he asked, puzzled.

"I need to talk to you about something."

"Did something happen at the hospital when you got called in? You never told me."

She winced. "I said I would call you if I needed you," she said slowly, "but I didn't. I still need to talk to you about it, though."

"Well, what happened?"

Though her heart was racing in her chest, Sakura detailed what the nurses had told her when she arrived at the hospital. She spewed medical jargon that only she and Yuzuru understood, and she watched his face droop with sadness at the prospect that yet another body had been left at the borders of Konoha. She relayed to him that the girl was safe, just recovering from injuries that her body had sustained. Yuzuru ran his fingers through his hair and sighed, his disposition entirely different than when he first entered the café. He let a few minutes pass by before he said anything, something Sakura did not protest.

"Well, did Sai-san figure out anything about her?"

"He did."

"And? I'm assuming she's not a citizen of Konoha, since they found her at the borders."

"I read her file."

"And?"

Drawing in a deep breath, Sakura reminded herself to stay calm.

"She's about eleven years old, from what I saw in the file. No family to speak of, seems that her parents died in the war." She kept her eyes on him as she spoke. "She has a kekkei gengkai that I haven't heard of in years… but she does have one family member who's still alive."

"Well," Yuzuru said slowly, "did you find them?"

"Whatever it is that I am about to tell you," Sakura replied, "I need you to stay calm."

At the change in her tone, Yuzuru became still, not even touching his food and drink that had come to the table. He leaned back against his chair, his eyes not moving from Sakura's face.

"Okay," he said quietly, "what is it?"

"She hails from Kirigakure," Sakura whispered, "and the information that Sai found says that a cousin is still alive."

The silence that cut through their little bubble made the hairs on the back of her head stand up, but she didn't flinch. Instead, she watched almost sympathetically as Yuzuru's eyes began to tear up.

"Kirishima Nanami… your younger cousin is the one that was found at the borders yesterday."

What felt like a long time passed as Yuzuru processed the words that his teacher uttered, and his fingers began to tremble - a common response to bad news. Sakura waited for him to say something - anything - as she sipped her drink and even ordered another one. She didn't know if he was trying to come up with some lie, or if he was just too in shock to say anything at all. As she began to open her mouth to say something, Yuzuru tearfully let out his first words:

"I'm sorry."

"I'm sure you are," she said coolly, "but that's not what I was expecting to hear."

"Surely, after the war, you don't have prejudices against anyone who isn't from Konoha."

"That's not what this is about."

"Then what is it about?

"You lied to me. You said you had no family left, and that you were just a regular shinobi who wanted to learn medical ninjutsu."

"Would you have understood if I told you that only my cousin and I were left?"

"I am not a heartless person, Yuzuru, as you may have noticed since the day I met you. This whole time, you've been keeping secrets from me, from God knows who else - and all for what?"

"I wanted to protect Nana-chan."

"You're just a kid," Sakura said through gritted teeth, "you can't protect her alone. We don't live in that era anymore."

"Who could I have gone to?"

A flash of red-hot rage seemed to fill Sakura's vision, and she felt her blood start to boil.

"We've been working on an S-ranked mission together, one that targets people who specifically have kekkei gengkai. You've been diligently working with me to uncover this as it's gone along, and you neglected to tell me that your family - your only family - was in danger?"

"I know it was stupid-"

"Yes. It was stupid, because now your cousin is hooked up to an IV drip in the hospital, probably scared and wondering where the fuck her relative is. Was anyone even looking after her back home?"

"Of course," Yuzuru said softly, "I had family friends look after her, and they kept me up to date on her at all times."

"So, what? Did someone betray you?"

"I don't know."

Sakura sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose, not quite understanding what she was feeling anymore. Of course, she had other questions, but the most important ones had been asked, and she had gotten her answers. They sat like that for a good few minutes, each person merely processing what they needed to. As she watched him subtly try to wipe away his tears, her heart softened. It's true that he was just a kid, but he was a kid that looked up to her. In one way or another, he needed her, and at that thought, Sakura felt her throat close up.

"What's done is done," Sakura finally uttered, "but from today onwards, I have one rule: no more lies."

"I didn't technically-"

"No. More. Lies."

Yuzuru closed his eyes and drew in a deep, shaky breath before he nodded. He kept his head down, staring at his unfinished food, almost like a child who had been scolded by their mother. In many ways, he was an adult, but in others, he needed someone to guide him to make the right decisions. Sakura, by no means, thought that it was her place to do so, but it seemed as though he didn't have anyone in Konoha. Reaching for her latte, she took a long sip. Sakura cleared her throat, catching Yuzuru's attention.

"What was your family like?" she asked softly.

"My parents were reserved, there's not really a lot that I understand about them," Yuzuru started, "but all that I remember is they were extremely protective."

Sakura clenched her jaw. "Why were they protective?"

"I don't really know… but they often reminded me not to tell anyone our family secrets."

Secrets, as Sakura had learned, were never good. There were family secrets that she had uncovered as she got older, things that she was never meant to find out, but they were usually things that in this day and age, seemed harmless. It never caused anyone in her family to have to lie about who they were, and it didn't cause any deaths, as far as she was concerned. She played with the rim of her cup, deep in thought. There was something amiss here, something that perhaps, even Yuzuru didn't know. She thought about the information that Sai had given her, and the name of the kekkei gengkai that she had read on the file. If it was true that Yuzuru had no idea why his parents had been so adamant on not revealing family secrets, their family was either very powerful or there was another reason that they had told a child so young to be careful in not letting things slip.

"Ms. Haruno, you've been quiet for a while."

"I'm just thinking some things through," she lied, "that's all."

Yuzuru frowned. "Am I still allowed to be your apprentice?"

"Of course," she replied, "I wasn't planning on abandoning you just because I found this out."

"You'll forgive me, then? For not telling you right away?"

Sakura gave him a smile. "Yes. I understand why you didn't."

"Can I see her?" Yuzuru asked after a beat. "I know it seems stupid to ask now, but I wanna see her."

"I won't prevent you from seeing her," she replied quietly, "but I'll go with you afterhours, okay?"

"Why?"

"You never know who might be watching or listening, especially since this girl is a family member of yours."

Yuzuru nodded.

"When the time is right," Sakura said as she swirled her spoon in her cup, "can you tell me everything you know about your family?"

"Sure, but… there's really not a lot that I know. We don't even have a lot of records of our family tree. We weren't as important as the Hyuugas, the Uchihas, or even the Senjus."

Sakura smiled. "Somehow, I think that that's not entirely true."


"You're sure about this?" Sai asked her, his expression worried.

"I have a hunch about something, but I can't exactly tell you what it is yet. I need you to get your hands on some information for the Kirishima clan of Kirigakure."

"It's gonna be hard to know what I'm looking for if you don't tell me."

"I just need to know who their family is."

"Wouldn't it be easier to ask Naruto that?"

Sakura frowned. "I don't think this is something I should be talking to him about, just yet. I don't know how right I am, I just know that something is wrong with the information Yuzuru gave me. It's like there's gaps in his knowledge regarding his own family… and you and I both know that that's not normal for shinobi."

"Naruto didn't know who his mother was until right before the war."

"That's my point. Naruto was an orphan, but Yuzuru wasn't until the war."

At her words, a feeling of understanding washed over Sai as he realized that what Sakura was asking was not for the purposes of being nosy, but it was because she was looking for a way to protect her apprentice. If there was someone out there who knew about his family, and Sakura didn't, it could put the kid in a lot of danger, especially with the continuous search for utsushō outposts. He sighed and nodded, placing his ANBU mask back over his face.

"I'll find something," he said finally, "but I think you should loop Naruto in when you can. He's the Hokage, after all."

"It's because he's the Hokage that I don't want to go to him with half-boiled theories."

Taking a moment to register what she said, Sai hesitated before finally agreeing to her terms of not asking too many questions, and left her office in a flash. When she was left alone, Sakura slumped into her office chair, suddenly exhausted, though the day wasn't over yet. She peered at the clock on her desk, noting that the night shift had just started in the hospital. Having spent the day looking over intel regarding utsushō outposts, she was beginning to feel like there was no end to sifting through information and finding only that which was relevant to the mission. It was taking an awfully long time, and she was beginning to get impatient. There was also the fact that something seemed to be going on with the Chūnin Exams, as well. In a time of peace, there were still people who wanted to reignite the atrocities that they had all lived through.

Standing from her chair, she stretched her back and heard a vague cracking sound. She had been so occupied with work that her back was starting to feel the brunt of it, and she begrudgingly thought that she was, unfortunately, getting older. Thirty-five wasn't too old, but her body was really starting to feel it. She moved towards the elevator, wanting to wait for Yuzuru near the ICU so as not to be too suspicious, but before she could press the button to head downstairs, the doors opened, and a frazzled Yuzuru stood staring at her. He was clearly anxious to see his cousin, but Sakura could hardly blame him. How long had it been since he had last seen her?

Stepping into the elevator with him, she gave him a pat on the shoulder as they rode to the floor above the ICU, where they specifically went to study utsushō. Only two of Sakura's most trusted nurses were working there and they bowed to her and Yuzuru as they passed by. The lights were mostly off, and when they approached the room that Nanami was in, Sakura was surprised to find that the lights in her room were on. When Yuzuru opened the door, Nanami slowly turned to look over at who her visitor was, and upon seeing her cousin, her eyes welled up. Without hesitation, Yuzuru made his way over to the young girl and hugged her, his own shoulders shaking as he held her.

"Yuzuru-niichan, why am I here?"

"Are you hurt?" he asked, checking her injuries which were thankfully not too horrible.

"No," she shook her head, "that lady with the pink hair had people take care of me."

Sakura closed the door behind her and she watched as the two cousins reunited and hugged, too many tears of sadness running down their faces. It made her throat close up, to see such a young girl bound to the bed, in spite of how well she was actually doing from what she assumed to be quite a serious blow. Walking over to the bed, she idly checked the IV drip and read Nanami's charts, when she noticed that the lab results had returned and that there was, in fact, no traces of utsushō in her system. It made sense, since the girl was so young and if there had been traces of the drug in her system, she would not be awake. Sakura began to feel uneasy, but she gave the little girl a smile.

"How are you feeling, sweetheart?"

"You can tell her, she's my boss."

Nanami looked at Yuzuru, then hesitantly shifted her gaze to Sakura. She had darker hair than Yuzuru's, which made sense, since Yuzuru had dyed it a lighter brown a few months ago. Her eyes were bright, a curious kind of tint to them. She took a few minutes to gather her words, but eventually she smiled at Sakura, albeit seemingly out of fear.

"No one is going to hurt you here," Sakura assured her, "you're safe."

"Oh," Nanami said quietly, "thank you for taking care of me."

"It's my job to, of course I would."

"Why am I here?" she asked again.

Sakura let out a deep breath. "Someone found you near here and called me to take a look at you. Do you happen to remember who it might have been?"

The girl shook her head. "I don't remember anything, I'm sorry."

"That's okay. You just focus on feeling better, okay? Yuzuru can come see you as often as you need."

At her reassurance, both the Kirishimas regarded her with gratitude. They spoke amongst themselves, and Sakura took that as her cue to tune them out and continue to check on things regarding Nanami's recovery. As she spoke with the nurses she had stationed there, she couldn't help but think that Nanami looked like someone she knew long ago, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. She mulled over it while the nurses were talking to her and began to feel a little frustrated that her memory wasn't as good as it once was. There were a lot of things on her plate, sure, but she still thought that something that felt important should come to her quickly. She waited outside Nanami's room, checking her messages to ensure that there was no one that needed her at that time. Sarada should be at the Akimichis', and she and Sasuke had made it clear that their marriage was no longer going to work. She thought of him as she grabbed a cup of water from the dispenser, wondering what he was going to do now. Clearly, he had had a change of heart. It was heartbreaking, but it almost felt freeing, too.

It was almost as though she felt that she should thank him for finally letting her go.

When Yuzuru finally came outside, Sakura was half asleep. Jolting awake at the sound of the door, she gave him a quizzical look.

"I hope you don't mind if I stay the night with her," he said quietly, "I don't really want her to be alone right now."

"Of course. Do you need anything from me?"

"No," he shook his head, "I just wanted to thank you."

Sakura smiled. "It's no problem."

As she made her way home, she thought of Sarada. Although her daughter would never admit it, Sakura felt like she had been neglecting her a lot more as of late. Though she was a teenager and would like her own space, surely there were moments in which she needed her mother. Sakura had had a rocky relationship with her own mother, but that was remedied through her relationship with her father. While Sarada claimed that she hated a man that she had never met, it could not have been easy to grow up without a father. Feeling inadequate, Sakura could only hope that she wasn't turning into her mother in any way, and was instead, more like her father. She knew that she was keeping a big secret from her own daughter, but things did not seem certain enough that she could just spring onto her daughter that her father was back in Konoha. What would she have said, anyway? 'By the way, the man who abandoned us is back and he wants to meet you'? Obviously, that wasn't really an option.

Sakura's body felt weary by the time she arrived home and she went upstairs to draw herself a bath. A million things went through her head as she sank into the warm water, and she wondered if maybe, it wasn't a bad idea to take a few days off work. Surely, Naruto would understand if she took just a few days to be with herself and with Sarada. Perhaps it would inspire him to take time off work as well, even though Sakura knew deep down that that was definitely wishful thinking. As she washed her hair, she thought of his home life, a specific kind of sadness wafting in the air around her at the memory that he chose her over his wife and children, justifying it with the fact that she had had a rough day. She wondered if Hinata was happy in a marriage with the love of her life, and with two children who were as bright as the sun. Surely, there was no way that Hinata wouldn't feel like she wasn't enough for her children or her husband. It was absolutely a far cry from what Sakura felt almost all the time.

It had started raining by the time Sakura got out of the bathroom, but she didn't mind. She rearranged a few things in her bedroom and lit some candles, comforted by the warm glow they cast in the space. There was something about flickering fire that brought comfort to her, and she wondered if it had anything to do with the fact that her almost-ex-husband and her daughter possessed the abilities of fire ninjutsu. She decided that it certainly played a factor, and as she sat on her bed, she felt that things that were within her control should be dealt with immediately. Pulling out her cell phone, she sent a message to Sasuke:

Can you come tomorrow morning? Sarada's sleeping at the Akimichis' and I want to talk.

Surprisingly, she only had to wait a few minutes for his reply to come. At the thought that all this time, he could have been quick to respond to her, she felt a pang in her chest. It wasn't that he was always busy, or repenting for his sins like he said, it was just that he simply didn't want to respond to her. She sighed then, feeling as though she was truly understanding separation for the first time in her life.

She wasn't alone, but she certainly felt alone.


It had been a long while since Sakura actually got proper sleep, and she was a little amused at the fact that she still managed to remember to put out the candles before passing out on her bed. It was early enough that the sun was just starting to rise, and she watched the orange sky from her bedroom, relishing in how rested her body actually felt. Already having informed the hospital that she wouldn't be coming in for the next few days, she got out of bed and made her way downstairs to prepare some breakfast. On school nights, Sarada typically slept over at the Akimichis' and went to school with Chouchou the next day, only coming back in the evening. On Friday nights - which it was yesterday - Sarada typically came back around lunchtime.

That gave Sakura plenty of time to talk with Sasuke and for him to leave without causing an uproar.

Truthfully, Sakura didn't know how long he planned on staying in Konoha. While she made it clear to him that it wasn't the right time for him to meet Sarada, she knew that he had other reasons for being in Konoha. Naruto was, of course, the main reason for his return. It would only make sense for him to stay as long as he was still doing things for Naruto, even though everyone who knew Sasuke knew that he had never been that way. It was difficult to admit, but Sakura knew that she wasn't the reason that he wanted to change. Whoever it was that inspired this change in him clearly had something that she didn't, but it was almost humbling to know that. She would have driven herself insane for the rest of her life if she had continued to think that she could change him.

While she ate her breakfast and drank her coffee, the doorbell rang. Mustering the courage to actually have a civil conversation with Sasuke, she dragged herself to the door and opened it, surprised to see that Sasuke actually brought a basket of muffins with him. She gave him a look, but he merely grimaced and handed her the basket and asked if he could come inside.

"I didn't expect you to bring a gift."

"Everything else at the morning market was savory food."

"So… you thought to bring sweets?"

"You don't like spicy food, so I thought this was better."

Sasuke breezed past her and walked towards the kitchen as she stood at the entrance in bewilderment. When exactly did Sasuke become so considerate?

"You mind if I have some coffee?" he called out from the kitchen.

"I brewed a pot, so go ahead."

"What did you want to talk about?" Sasuke asked once they sat at the dining table, the basket of muffins between them.

"I'm curious."

"About?"

"You could have lived the rest of your life staying married to me, keeping up the charade that you did. Why did you stop?"

Sasuke was in the middle of biting his food when Sakura asked this. Slowly, he chewed, his brow furrowing.

"I told you the reason."

"I know you better than that, believe it or not. It's not only because you finally admitted that you don't love me."

The atmosphere in the room was charged with a heaviness, and Sakura thought to herself that it had been so nice to not feel that for once. It seemed that her well-rested body was only to be a temporary thing, at least for now. She watched as he continued to chew his food, not looking at her. If he was avoiding answering the question by not looking at her, it was incredibly obvious. Sakura sighed.

"Well?"

"Do you really want to know?"

"I didn't call you here to act like things were immediately fine."

"Clearly, they're not."

"Then do me a favor and tell me why."

Sasuke drew in a breath then, his brow still furrowed. He was hesitating, keeping something from her. Of that much, Sakura was aware. It couldn't be worse than what she was already expecting, surely. She just needed to hear the words come from him, and not from her paranoia or her habit of jumping to conclusions.

"Recently, I met up with an old friend in Kiri."

"What were you doing in Kirigakure?"

"Just some investigating, that's all." Sasuke paused to look at her. "Do you want to hear it or not?"

Sakura nodded slowly.

"We were talking about how things were before the war, and she was telling me I was a jackass for so many of the things I did to contribute to the start of the war… and the things I did to you."

The pink-haired kunoichi sipped her coffee, waiting for more. If her jitters weren't from the coffee, they were definitely from how he was setting up his explanation.

"She eventually told me that you had loved me for years, not expecting anything in return. When I asked her how she knew, she…" Sasuke raised his eyes to look at Sakura then, and she regretted that she didn't hide her expression better. "...she told me that she had loved me for years, too."

It was so quiet between them for a few minutes, but still, a bomb dropping in Konoha would not have moved Sakura from her seat. She waited patiently for him to continue, but when he didn't, she looked up at him, her eyes quickly brimming with tears, even though she had expected this.

"So you realized that you loved her, too," Sakura whispered.

"It's not like I loved her this whole time, it just kind of hit me."

"That you loved her."

"That I loved her."

Grief was an interesting emotion. It came and went, but when it did come, it seemed to fill a person so deeply that they can't feel anything else in their bodies except how heavy their hearts are. Sakura clutched at her chest, pleading with her body to not allow the heartbreak to show. A simple gesture as it was, Sasuke saw it, and fought every urge he had to comfort her. Sakura had never been a burden on him as his wife, or as the mother of his child, and so watching her react this way pulled at a heartstring he didn't even know was attached to her.

"Sakura-" he began.

"No," she shook her head, "it makes sense. All the love in my being could never fill up the emptiness you felt, and I was too stubborn to see it."

"You gave me my daughter."

"You didn't even try to see her before I told you that she was off-limits."

"I know."

"You come back into my life, cause a whirlwind and destroy all the walls I've built up since you left, and you wanna make up for the fact that our daughter has literally grown up without a present father?"

"Sakura, I know-"

"Who do you think you are?" she asked, her tears pouring from her eyes now. "I loved you, even when you tried to kill me. I fought for you even when you didn't want me to, and I defended you when everyone gave up on you. And now… you're telling me that it took someone else to make you realize all this, and it made you realize that you love her?"

No answer came from him.

Of course it didn't. Both of them knew that Sakura was right.

"I was such an idiot," Sakura laughed finally, wiping her tears away.

Not knowing how to respond, Sasuke merely looked at her in sympathy. Knowing that she was okay with separating, he waited for her to bring up the papers that they would have to sign to conclude their marriage. He knew that he had been beyond awful to her, and made her suffer for things that weren't even her fault. Still, he had hoped that she wouldn't want to know the real reason for his change in character. He wasn't too well-versed in matters of the heart, but he knew well enough what hurt her, and what didn't. There was hardly anything he did that didn't hurt her.

When Sakura finally calmed down, a comfortable silence washed over them as they looked at each other. They each understood their part in this marriage, which had been something Sakura hadn't realized she had been yearning for. Sasuke knew how and where he messed it up, and he was owning up to it. At that thought, Sakura felt calm, even though the acceptance of such a fact was difficult for her. Surely, she would feel the effects of their marriage ending for a while, but at the very least, she knew that that day would come. Perhaps, even sooner than she anticipated.

"Now that that's out of the way," Sakura said softly, "I'm okay with you meeting Sarada."

Sasuke blinked. "What?"

"I was afraid of explaining things to her before, but now that this is over… maybe she won't be as angry."

"What made you change your mind?"

She let a sad smile grace her lips. "I watched two people from the same family reunite after one of them was admitted into the hospital."

A burden had certainly been lifted off of Sakura's shoulders. Things didn't exactly turn out the way she wanted them to, but she was free now. She thanked Sasuke for the muffins and began walking with him towards the entrance. He wished her well, apologizing again for the years of torment, for the years of isolation. She nodded, and asked him not to mention it again, lest tears spilled from her eyes. Giving her a small smile, she thought that he looked almost like an entirely different man. He reached over and gave her a hug - if it could be called that at all - but she let him, and held back her sobs as they continued to walk towards the door.

When they passed through the door between the entrance and the living room, Sakura stopped dead in her tracks, and before Sasuke could ask why her face was pale, he followed suit. Before them, Sarada stood, her mouth covering her quivering lip. Her breathing was ragged, an attempt to calm her sobs as she stared at her father. She closed her eyes, trying to reel herself in so she could look her father in the face, but when her eyes opened, they were brimmed with tears and they were no longer dark. A brilliant red was revealed as her tears spilled over her cheeks, dripping all the way down to her chin.

"Dad…?"


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