the greatest pretenders @snowyseas
Family I

the greatest pretenders

Chapter Five: Family, Part I


Neither of them moved a muscle and the only thing keeping them apart were their breaths.

Guilt crept up in the back of Sakura's throat like a repressed cough, but it was Naruto who pulled away first, his regretful expression mirroring hers. Their heads shyly turned to look out at the harbor, hoping that the moon reflected in the water would somehow fill the silence that had grown so unbearable that they were clearing their throats every few seconds. Neither of them spoke, and suddenly, just as difficult as it had been fifteen years ago to be normal around him, Sakura felt that familiar dread creeping up on her again.

"I'm sorry," Naruto uttered, "I think I just got caught up in the moment."

She turned to look at him, confused. "What?"

"You know," he explained, "just… really caught up."

"Right."

"I didn't mean it," he sighed, then ran his hand through his hair in shame.

Sakura winced at his nonchalance. "I know."

Bringing her knees to her chest, she watched the lights on the boats go on before they left the harbor, bidding Konoha farewell before it returned the next time. The voices of the men on board resounded in her ears as captains commanded their crew, and as friends shared bottles of rum and laughter while they set sail. A dull ache spread through her chest, even as she tried hard to focus on what was in front of her eyes as opposed to what was right next to her. She took in a deep breath through her nose and expelled it slowly in an attempt to think clearly.

"How's Hinata?" she asked quietly.

There was a pause that lasted too long before Naruto sighed. "Sometimes, I think I took her life away from her."

"What do you mean?"

"It's like," he surmised, "every time she looks at me, I feel like I didn't give her enough."

Sakura smiled sadly. "You gave her a home and a family. A beautiful family. What're you not giving her?"

"Enough nights at home, probably."

Naruto's words were so calmly executed that she frowned. They were too calculated, a sign that it was a subject that Naruto thought a lot about. "I'm sure she understands."

"She does," he nodded, "but it's still not fair of me to make her basically raise our kids alone."

"That's not what you're doing."

"You should hear the things Boruto says to me."

Letting out a chuckle, Sakura looked at him. "You should hear what Sarada says to me about her dad. It's awful being a single mom."

"You don't regret it, though." He mused, looking out at the water. "You're happy with the choice you made."

"Aren't you?"

"Of course," he smiled, although it looked a little like he was wincing, "I made the right choice."

They sat in silence once more. It was difficult to convince herself that she had done everything right to end up with the life she now lived, but to see the Seventh Hokage stare out unto the water wasn't at all humbling or comforting. Perhaps, she was too afraid to say she was unhappy with the life she was dealt, save for Sarada. She cleared her throat, thinking that maybe he felt as though his lifelong dream wasn't what he had hoped it would be.

"If you weren't Hokage, I don't think you would've been satisfied with your life."

"Ya think?"

"Yeah," she replied, "striving to be Hokage was your thing. It's the life you wanted. You wanted so much to be… admired. Respected. Loved."

A small smile cracked at the corners of his lips. "I guess you're right."

"I'm always right," she joked, nudging him in his side. He turned to look at her and gave her a more genuine smile, the one that she had missed so much. Her heart lurched at how stupid she used to be. She sighed.

"Do you miss him?" Naruto asked suddenly.

Her head turned back to the water, as though the answers were written there. "He's my husband. The father of my daughter."

"Is that a yes?"

She bit her lip. "Yes," she lied, "of course I do."

"You should take him here next time he comes back," Naruto said, his voice low, "it's a nice spot."

Nodding, she blinked away the tears that pricked her eyes. "You should bring Hinata here, too. I'm sure she would love it."

"She would."

As quickly as his lips had almost touched hers, they were laughing and reminiscing about their days as genin, as though they were oblivious to the underlying emotions that they locked away in the hopes that they wouldn't sprout. Maybe it was in my head, Sakura convinced herself. The day she had come to realize that she loved Naruto was when he almost lost control of the Nine Tails inside him for the first time, because she felt an immense pain at the sight of Naruto bleeding before her. He had promised to bring Sasuke back to Konoha, but at the time, that promise almost came at a price. The day that she fell in love with him, though, was much later into the future. She didn't know at what exact moment it was, but it was as though she blinked and suddenly, Hinata had risked her life to save Naruto from Pein.

A deep sadness had seeped into her as she realized that selfishness was one of her finer qualities.

"He'll come home, y'know," Naruto uttered, "it's not like he's gone forever."

"I know."

"Sarada-chan knows you're trying your best."

"I doubt it."

"She does," he reiterated, "otherwise you wouldn't be having such a hard time with her."

"So because she's suffering," she said sarcastically, "I'm doing my best?"

"No. It's because you're doing your best that her suffering isn't worse than this," Naruto said slowly, "and that she's still able to love her mother."

Hugging her knees, Sakura didn't say another word as Naruto talked happily about his wife and children, telling her and confiding in her that he wanted to be there for them more often particularly because he grew up with no family. She listened and nodded and felt understanding dawn down on her. Everyone she had known before she got married now led different lives, save for the actual person she married. Just like Naruto had a responsibility to both the village and his family, Sakura had a responsibility to Sarada to be her mother. Despite the fact, relief was not the emotion that Sakura felt when they hadn't kissed.

Love was sometimes not so easily defined, and if not kept locked properly, it had the force to destroy a perfectly preserved happiness. For a long time, she had convinced herself that to want something was selfish, especially if it put others' happiness on the line. For what it was worth, she knew she didn't have the strength to tear apart a family, much less two. If multiple universes existed like she had been taught by Kakashi, then in at least one of them, she would have been brave.

There was no use in fantasizing about what could have been.


The last time that she took leave from work had been such a long time ago, that she couldn't remember clearly if she had ever done so. Having gotten used to always being busy, she now found it hard to stay still in one spot. There was a reason why, when Sarada wasn't home, she would put on season after season of sitcoms and let it play in the background as she roamed the house, cleaning here and there, or in this case, as she tried to figure out what to do with herself.

The only thing in her life - in her house, rather - that didn't cause such a headache at that moment was her fresh, hot cup of peppermint tea. Naturally, she had left the TV on in the living room and was not sitting in the room next to it, at the dining table, idly watching the screen, not really following what was happening. She hated being sick. Even more so, she hated getting sick from the amount of stress she put herself under. Tsunade had always warned her, as did Kakashi, that working until she fell over was never the answer to her problems. Of course, she was a Haruno. She almost never listened.

Her eyes moved to the photo frames of her family on the mantel next to the TV. Sasuke had never smiled - even in these family photos that she so proudly displayed. She sighed.

Every time she let her guard down, she thought back to the night before. She knew she wasn't some dumb kid who thought that wishing for something hard enough got you what you wanted. Truthfully, she had long passed that stage of her life, and she had learned that sometimes, the gods didn't give you what you wanted because it wasn't what you needed. Yet, after years of becoming better and stronger, the moment that Sasuke proposed to her, she almost felt as though she owed it to her younger self to see the marriage through.

The thing that she learned in more recent years was that naïvety could ruin lives. She would have been so angry at herself, but Naruto was right.

This was her choice.

"...I don't need you! I'll be fine on my own!" Sakura frowned as her focus shifted to the voices she hard on TV.

"Jeez," she mumbled to herself, moving to where she left the remote on the coffee table, "I thought this was a sitcom." As she flipped through the channels to look for something more bearable to keep on in the background, the familiar ding of her doorbell resounded throughout the house. The slippers on her feet clapped on the wooden floors with each step she took and she straightened her bathrobe and ruffled her fingers through her hair before finally opening the door to Yuzuru, who was worrying his bottom lip from biting it, while carrying a box that she only assumed had a bunch of books and files in it. A soft 'oh' was all Sakura could manage to make come out of her mouth.

"Don't oh me! How many times have I told you that you were going to get sick if you didn't slow down?"

"Minor oversight," Sakura replied coolly, leaving the door open as a silent invitation to let him in. "I wasn't expecting it."

"You're not invincible, you know."

"I'm well aware."

Yuzuru settled the box on the floor before him and closed the door. He found himself face-to-face with his shishou, who was clearly too tired to argue that she had every reason to work as hard as she did, which was a clear indicator that this was not a subject that she wanted to discuss. He sighed and rubbed his temples before he took off his shoes and left them at the genkan, making himself at home and walking towards the dining room, with box in hand, where Sakura's peppermint tea was still sitting.

"You take any medicine today?" he shouted from the dining room as Sakura slowly followed him.

"I'm an iryō nin. I don't need medicine."

"That's presumptuous."

"I'm just feeling a little under the weather," she said with frustration tingeing her voice, "I'm not dying."

The face that Yuzuru attempted to discreetly pull instantly made Sakura seared her with guilt. As though ignoring it, she reached over him and grabbed her half full mug of tea and walked into the kitchen behind her, heading straight for the sink. As her fingers scrubbed the rim quickly and she rinsed the cup, she clicked her tongue. There had been more than few times when she and Shizune had worried over Tsunade, going so far as to check up on her whenever she was sick. That was one of the areas in which she was disappointed she wasn't more like her shishou. The woman had been pretty great at asking for help from people she trusted, but Sakura? She always felt as though she was a burden on people who wanted to look after her. She sighed and moved to the sliding door of the kitchen, seeing her disciple bring out some files from the box he brought over.

"You want some tea?" she asked. "We have green tea, peppermint, camomile-"

"Green tea is fine," he said nonchalantly, "don't wanna put you through much trouble."

"It's just tea, Yuzuru."

The young man didn't answer as she put the kettle on the stove and made her way back to the dining room, quickly wiping the table with a damp cloth. Her eyes briefly scanned the files that had been laid out on the table, looking for something familiar, but they all seemed to be case files on past crimes that had used some kind of forbidden jutsu to execute agendas. Sakura hummed, supposing that that was most often the reason that people started wars: forbidden techniques that held great power. Yuzuru cleared his throat. "I managed to get my hand on a few, but this isn't all."

"You didn't bring the rest?"

"I put them in your bottom drawer for when you come back to work."

"Is that really okay?" Sakura worried. "What if someone finds out?"

He smiled kindly. "We just made the move into your new office."

"What?" she blinked. "On a day I'm not in?"

"Don't worry," he waved his hand as he pulled out a few books which she could only assume were from the library, "I organized your desk so that it wasn't messy, but when you come back, you get to decorate everything how you want."

"How's it look?"

"Let's just say it's fitting of a disciple of one of the legendary Sannin."

"That…" Sakura chuckled, "...doesn't tell me much, but alright.

Explaining the point of each file to Sakura was not a difficult task. She wasn't known as one of the smartest and strongest kunoichi for nothing, and the pink-haired woman was lucky that all the information that laid out before her led somewhere. The only problem was that there were a bit of holes in the research and it started to seem to Sakura that she might have to convince Naruto that she needed to go on a mission, after all. Her eyes stayed glued to a page regarding fūinjutsu that Yuzuru had clearly thought nothing of, and she fingered the page as Yuzuru poured her yet another cup of tea.

"Yuzuru?"

"Hmm?"

"Did you mean to put this in here?" she gestured towards what she was reading. "It's a little different from the other things you gave me."

"No," he shook his head, "I meant to put that there." She gave him a questioning look, gesturing with her hand that told him to continue. "Well, when you said it was a type of poison, I thought it was weird that it did something to her veins, like you said. So, I did some digging."

"What did you find?" Sakura tensed.

"Apparently," he explained as he pulled out another file form the box, "the actual poison isn't a liquid form. It's crystal."

"Crystal? That's insane," Sakura exasperated, then coughed for unexpectedly expending energy, "that means that whoever killed our victim yesterday fed her a liquid form-"

Sakura stopped short as she tried to put the pieces together in her head. She was smart, and incredibly so, but there was something about this investigation and mission that made it hard for her to wrap her head around. Perhaps it was conflict of interest, but she wasn't a jinchuuriki and neither was anyone in her family. She was merely married to a man who happened to have a kekkei gengkai. She sighed and rubbed her temples. "This is giving me a headache."

"Maybe you should rest," Yuzuru suggested softly, "you'll feel better later."

"No, I want to at least figure one thing out. It may seem like we have a lot of time, but that could change tomorrow."

"Why?"

"That's how S-ranked missions work, Yuzuru."

No words were exchanged between them after that. They diligently looked through file after file, trying to find some kind of connection, but there was a burning question in Sakura's head: how did this poison get made? Before the war had ended, it was much easier to get a supply of illegal substances and turn them into deadly medicine and such, but since laws had changed to stop putting civilians and other shinobi at risk, it shouldn't have been so strange that someone found a way around the system. Being a shinobi was defined as finding loopholes in conduct sometimes, after all. She huffed.

"I think someone needs another cup of tea." Yuzuru teased.

"I think sake is more accurate."

"Tsunade the Second, indeed," he chuckled, "but that's no surprise."

She rolled her eyes playfully, then smiled as she sifted through more papers. The title of a particular document caught her eye, making her skim through it before deciding to read the entire thing. Her eyes moved rapidly as her thoughts percolated, sensing that even though she hadn't found a smoking gun, she definitely found something.

"What is it?" Yuzuru asked, noting her expression.

"The poison was originally crystal form?" she double-checked. "And not liquid, right?"

"Right."

She cleared her throat and began to read. "'The substance utsushō has been known to be converted to liquid form and is lethal in this manner. However, there have been previous cases where victims have been force fed the substance utsushō in its original crystal form, causing hallucinations while it spreads throughout the body, corrupting the victim's body from the inside out.'"

The dining room was quiet as Yuzuru stared at his shishou incredulously, as though hoping that everything she had just read was utter dog shit. She sighed and held the document before her still, as though she herself was still trying to come terms with what was being said. "Is that… all of it?" Yuzuru asked quietly.

"No," she shook her head, "there's more."

"What does it say?"

Spearmint eyes turned to look at the young man standing before her, who wore an expression that had now turned into a kind of fear that looked as though it would haunt his sleep for a while yet. She huffed. "'Utsushō has been used as a means of suppressing chakra that had turned out to be effective in the past. Victims who are civilians, or those who have smaller chakra reserves, are those who suffer the most, as their lives have always certainly ended not long after ingesting the substance. This substance has been used in interrogation methods as a means of suppressing power from criminals in order to force them to give up information to their captors.'"

"So, it's also like a truth serum."

"Maybe not a serum," she shook her head, "but just… something poisonous." Her eyes ran over the rest of the document, recognizing the kanji for the word 'fūinjutsu', but opting not to say anything to her disciple who was now pacing around the dining room. She would have to remind him in the future to read things through before handing something over to her, but that was a lesson for a later date.

"You know what this means, don't you?" Sakura asked softly. "It means that we have a place to start."

"Ms. Haruno, we don't have any of the information we need to-"

"Like I said," she answered patiently, "it's a start."

"Which means?"

"Which means… more digging. One way or another."

Yuzuru groaned. "How are you so calm?"

"You have to find ways to reign it in, Yuzuru. You are a shinobi, which means you have to project the capacity for being patient, even when it's hard."

He began pacing around the room again, clicking his tongue and furrowing his brow. Sakura didn't attempt to soothe him because everyone was different. While she needed reassurance from Tsunade whenever these types of missions became too overwhelming, he was the type that needed to collect his thoughts before he could function properly and form coherent responses, as well as appropriate ones. Sakura flipped through other documents from that particular file, recognizing the lexicon that was used in each separate report regarding the substance. She bit the inside of her cheek in contemplation.

"So, what now?" Yuzuru interrupted. "Do we go to Lord Seventh?"

"Well, I go to him first."

Her disciple narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Why?"

"I was the one assigned to this formally," she explained, "and unless I'm allowed to form a team, it should come from me."

"Can I at least be there?"

"Will you behave?"

"Will you?" he teased, a mischievous glint in his eye. "Last time I saw you around him, you completely froze-"

"It'll be different this time," she reassured.

"Really?" Yuzuru snorted. "Did something happen?"

Sakura could not thank the gods enough for not having to answer his question when they both heard a rather loud knock at the front door. Gesturing for him to answer the door, Sakura quickly and neatly organized the documents back into their respective files and threw them into the box that he had brought over. Pushing the box to the corner of the dining room, she popped the lid on and decided to pass it off as medical research as opposed to mission files, if anyone asked, though she doubted they would. She sat back down in her seat and sipped her cup of tea as Yuzuru walked back into the dining room with a long-haired blonde woman behind him. He gave her a look and Sakura could not believe her eyes as the woman's face was revealed and she gave a soft smile before bidding her hello. Sakura set her cup before her and was fairly certain that it felt as though her jaw had dropped, but she gulped and smiled back, moving to stand up.

"Good to know you're not always blurting out things on your shishou's behalf," she teased before patting him on the shoulder, "otherwise I'd be worried for Dekorin."

"I've learned my lesson, Mrs. Yamanaka," Yuzuru smiled, "Ms. Haruno has taught me well. Believe me."

Ino laughed and seemed much kinder than she had been since the last time they saw each other. Yuzuru nodded and bowed to excuse himself before going into the kitchen where Sakura heard the kettle on the stove again. She could've laughed at how easily Yuzuru made himself feel at home, but it was only natural. The young man would be over at her house a lot, it seemed, just as she had spent much of her time around Tsunade. She gestured for Ino to sit and without a doubt, it had definitely felt like old times.

"You weren't at your office today," she started, "so I thought I'd drop by."

"Everything okay?"

"Yeah, yeah," she waved her hand, "don't worry about it. I just wanted to see you."

"Because…?"

Ino took a deep breath and her expression deepened. "To apologize."

Sakura blinked. "You? Apologizing?" she asked incredulously. "Are you day-drinking again, Ino-buta?"

"That was one time!"

The pink-haired woman laughed and felt as though her headache had alleviated a little. "What's up? Seriously."

"I really did want to apologize."

"About?"

"How I snapped at you for not wanting to be called Mrs. Uchiha."

"Oh." Sakura deadpanned. "Right."

"Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of people who keep their maiden names, so it's not like I'm really traditional or anything…"

"What is this about, Ino?" Sakura asked seriously, sensing something deeper than her girl friend was letting on.

"I got upset for no reason," Ino started, "or rather, I just felt like… you got too upset whenever people didn't call you Haruno."

Sakura didn't answer. Mostly because there was some truth to what Ino was saying, but she wasn't going to interrupt someone as they were apologizing. Most of all Ino.

"I just… I thought this was what you wanted."

Sakura cocked an eyebrow. "What does that mean?"

"You spent so much of your time loving someone who wasn't there, and frankly, it got so hard to watch."

Sakura blinked, not quite understanding. "You were… upset because you didn't like Sasuke?"

"I mean," Ino explained, "at first, it was just jealousy. I was a petty kid. But as I got older, I just felt like… you deserved better. Someone who felt lucky to know you. For a while, I thought maybe you and the Seventh had that kinda thing going."

"What made you think that?"

"You should've seen the way he looked at you," Ino rolled her eyes, "for someone who's considered a really good liar, he sucked at hiding his feelings for you. Even Sai could read him."

Sakura chuckled as she remembered the pale man's emotionless demeanor. "Sai's come a long way. I'm proud."

"Me too," Ino laughed, "but that's not what we're talking about here. I'm sorry that I crossed a line. I just wanted you to be happy that you made this choice."

Nervously, Sakura forced a laugh and sat up straighter in her seat. "Of course I'm happy."

Ino didn't respond at first. She let out a breath and twiddled her thumbs before setting her hands flat on the table, then looked straight at Sakura, her usually piercing blue eyes now soft. "It's not easy to have a husband who hasn't come home in thirteen years. I mean, Sarada-chan doesn't even know who her father is. Just from photos."

"He had to figure things out," Sakura whispered, "it's not like he wanted to leave."

"You can keep telling yourself that," Ino said, "but you know that for any Uchiha, the most important thing is family. Sending money in his absence is nothing compared to actually being here."

"It's better than nothing."

"Sakura…"

"Look, Ino," she snapped, "I know that you're looking out for me, but I made this choice."

"I know."

"I chose to marry him."

"I know."

"Then why," Sakura practically shouted, "does it bother you so much?"

A sharp silence followed her burning question. Ino closed her eyes and sighed, clearly in contemplation. Yuzuru, who was standing in the doorway between the dining room and the kitchen holding a tray with tea on it, was frozen. The scratchy throat that Sakura had been trying to remedy now felt worse than before, but she gulped and forced herself to bear with it. Her hands, which laid in her lap, were in fists as she tried to contain her anger. At the pit of her stomach, she knew why she was so upset at Ino's words, but was certain she didn't yet have enough courage to face it.

"Because I hate watching you pretend you're fine. It's as simple as that."

"You know that's how I am."

"No," Ino shook her head, "something is different this time, and I feel like a shitty friend for not knowing why."

Sakura scoffed. "So this whole apology was because you felt bad about yourself?"

"No," Ino answered quickly, "this apology is about how much of an ass I've been. And I'm trying to tell you how worried I am-"

"Noted," Sakura said plainly, "and I accept your apology, but please just let me go at my own pace."

Ino took in a breath and pursed her lips. "Can I know why?"

"People need different things, Ino-"

"No. I mean. Can I know why you didn't reach out to anyone for fifteen years?"

"About what?"

The blonde frowned. "Anything, really. You only talked to any of us when it was really necessary, which kinda made it seem like you were hiding something."

"I wasn't."

"Okay," Ino sighed, "fine. I believe you. I'll give you your space, but just know that we all want what's best for you."

"Who's we?"

"All your old friends." Ino replied quietly as she started to stand up. "It's just a thought, okay? I didn't mean anything by it."

The two women didn't exchange any more words as Sakura walked her to the door, giving her a short hug in thanks for visiting her. She could almost feel Yuzuru burning and buzzing with curiosity, but her headache that she had been trying to get rid of all day had returned, making her feel a little short of breath. Hanging onto the sides of the walls, she guided herself to the TV room where she had only just realized that she left the device on, and she grunted as she fell onto the cushions. Her eyelids fluttered as she watched the screen and just a few seconds later, Yuzuru came into the room and set a cup of tea on the coffee table before her. She chuckled.

"Is that your remedy for everything?"

"Not really," he answered honestly, "I was just always raised to feel better with hot tea."

"Thank god you're my disciple," Sakura surmised, "because I have so much to teach you about how the human body works."

Yuzuru's laugh rumbled through him, deeper than Sakura had ever realized. She smirked and pushed her face into one of the pillows she was laying into, focusing her attention back to the TV. Propping himself on the floor, Yuzuru leaned his head against the arm rest near her feet, joining his shishou in witnessing one of the most classic sitcoms of her time. Neither of them laughed, nor did they make a noise, even as punchline after punchline was being delivered with the intention of making the audience laugh. Sakura's face stayed in the expression it was before: indifferent.

"Ms. Haruno, I don't mean any disrespect-"

"Then don't say anything."

"But, I think Mrs. Yamanaka is right, in a way."

Sakura humphed.

"I understand that you keep things from me because you haven't known me for years," he said slowly, "but… you've known everyone else for years. They must miss you dearly."

"Is that so," Sakura replied absentmindedly.

"You don't see it now, but you'll regret it if you don't at least consider what she said."

"What makes you so sure?"

He sighed before getting to his feet, straightening out the creases in his pants. "My dad left my mom when my sister was only two years old. I grew up without a father, and my mom didn't like asking for help. Said something about not wanting to be a burden, but even up to this day, she is the loneliest person I know."

Sakura sat up and held a cushion in her lap, making sure not to look him in the eye. "What happened to your mom after that?"

"She's trying to put the pieces back together, still," he said, "so it's never too late to forgive yourself for needing someone."

Glancing up at him, Sakura could see that he was determined to make her feel better about her encounter with Ino. She smiled at him reassuringly, that she would consider what Ino had said, and would genuinely think about being better. At the very least, Sakura knew that she owed herself, and the people that loved her, that much. Her disciple smiled at her softly and bowed to her before he started to tidy up the dining table, which earned a laugh from Sakura on the sofa.

Yuzuru blinked in confusion. "What's so funny?"

"You can just leave that there," she chuckled, "I'll get Sarada to do it."

"No, it's okay," he smiled, "I'm used to doing this for my mom."

"Are you saying I'm like your mom?"

He tilted his head. "Well, you are my shishou."

"That doesn't mean I'm like your mother."

"Okay, okay," Yuzuru surrendered, "how about a much, much older sister?"

"You didn't have to add the word 'much' twice, but fine." Sakura rolled her eyes, evidently making her headache a little worse. "I'm okay with being like your older sister."

The dark-haired man gave her a bright smile and headed for the kitchen, and Sakura could hear the clanging of the dishes and she shook her head, worried that he was clumsier than he appeared. She leaned the side of her head against her knuckle and idly watched TV, running through Ino's words in her head. Not only did she have to worry about maintaining friendships with people who genuinely cared about her, but she also had to start thinking about the mission that she was assigned by both Gaara and Naruto, as rare and odd as the situation may be. There was a lot to be done, and even though it had been a long time since she last went on a mission, she already had a few strategies in mind.

As Yuzuru came out of the kitchen, they both heard the front door being unlocked. Sakura turned her head just in time to make eye contact with Sarada, whose face had gone from indifferent to extremely worried. Kicking off her sandals, she ran to her mother - who was protesting about keeping her shoes organized by the genkan - and hugged her tightly, asking what was wrong.

"Did something happen? Why didn't you tell me?" Sarada exclaimed, looking at her mother with wide eyes.

"Nothing's wrong, Sarada-chan," the pink-haired reassured as she stroked her daughter's hair, "just feeling a little under the weather today."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"And what? You'd take a day off school?" Sakura joked. "It's not that big a deal, I promise."

"What's he doing here?" the young Uchiha gestured to Yuzuru as though he wasn't standing there. He made a face.

"Nice to see you too, Sarada-chan," he said sarcastically, "but I was just doing work with your mom earlier."

It was her turn to make a face. "Mom, you were working when you just said that you weren't feeling well?"

"It's only some reading," Sakura responded. She felt as though she was being interrogated by her mother when she was still a teenager. Irony was an interesting thing, after all.

"Is that true, Yuzuru-niichan?"

"Yes," he replied earnestly, "and we even took a short break when Mrs. Yamanaka came to check up on your mom."

Sarada blinked. "Inojin's mom was here?"

"Just for a bit."

"Did something happen?"

"No," Sakura shook her head, "she just heard that I wasn't feeling well, sos he came to see me."

"Ms. Haruno," Yuzuru said suddenly, "I think I am going to take off for today, now that Sarada-chan is here. I even left the dirty dishes for her."

"Hey!" Sarada exclaimed as Sakura laughed.

The pink-haired woman watched as her daughter attempted to punch her disciple in a play fight, and she couldn't help but feel as though in that moment, she definitely didn't regret her life as it was. In the long run, it was the little things that made her look at her life with more clarity and more gratitude. She watched Sarada walk Yuzuru to the door and he gave her a big hug before ruffling her hair, causing a grunt to come from the young Uchiha, before he walked out the door, bidding them farewell. Taking a deep breath, Sarada pushed a lock of hair behind her ear and walked towards her mother, plopping herself down next to her.

"Don't you have dishes to do?" Sakura joked.

"I'll do them later," she replied, "since I wanna make sure you actually go to sleep soon."

"I will."

"No," Sarada sighed, "you always say you will, and then you stay up until like, three in the morning."

"How do you know I stay up that late?"

"I may have accidentally woken up a few times to pee, and I see you still working sometimes."

"Is this the truth," Sakura said sternly, "or are you afraid I'm going to scold you for sleeping as late as me?"

"It's the truth!"

Sakura cocked an eyebrow but Sarada did not budge. The girl was good, Sakura had to admit. She sighed and brought her daughter closer to her, tickling her in her sides, making her laugh and shout at her mother to stop. They both giggled and Sarada reached in the drawer before them for a blanket to wrap over both of them, surely keeping them warm. Sakura didn't utter a word as she watched her daughter flip through the channels before finally deciding to watch a movie that she deemed worthy enough. She took a deep breath and leaned back against the head of the sofa, already feeling tired. It was only about five minutes into the movie when Sarada spoke up to a half asleep Sakura.

"Mom?"

"Mm?" she mumbled.

"I wanted to say I'm sorry… for the other day."

That definitely woke Sakura up. "What?"

"Training the other day. I'm sorry."

"Who are you, and what have you done with my daughter Sarada?"

The young teenager smiled but it didn't reach her eyes. Her hand immediately went up to push a lock of hair behind her ear again, and Sakura got the sense that she wasn't saying something because she was scared. She cleared her throat, attempting to get her attention. When dark eyes turned to her, Sakura cocked an eyebrow. "Is something wrong?"

"Can I ask you a favor?"

"Sure, sweetie. What's up?"

Sarada bit her lip and twiddled her thumbs with her brow knitted into an expression that told Sakura that she was conflicted with herself, wondering if maybe, it was wrong of her to voice her opinions. Giving her daughter a smile, the pink-haired woman encouraged her to keep going. There was hardly anything that made Sarada so nervous, and this was one of the rare times that Sakura got to see her daughter this way, though she didn't show it, of course. There was something familiar about the way that she hesitated that reminded her of herself and her relationship with her own mother. She had been everything her mom didn't want her to be, and because of that, she had an ego that made her hesitate to ask for help. This trait, of course, passed onto Sarada.

"On our last mission," she began, "Boruto got really hurt. And… we managed to bandage him up and everything, but…" The pause she took lasted a few heartbeats, almost as though she was trying to keep it together. Sakura could swear she heard her daughter's voice crack, but said nothing. "...I felt so useless."

"You're not useless, Sarada."

"I couldn't make his wounds hurt any less, Mom. I couldn't do anything!"

"It wasn't your fault."

"No, but," the teenager exasperated, throwing her hands in the air in frustration, "it can't keep going like this! What if he, or someone else, gets really hurt?"

"Sarada," Sakura said, "what are you trying to ask me? What's the favor?"

"Mom," she sighed, "believe me when I say this, please. Because I don't know what else to do." When Sakura didn't answer and instead waited for the words that would leave Sarada's mouth, she took one more deep breath and looked her mother in the eye, the dark color suddenly very bright with determination. "Mom, please teach me iryōninjutsu."

For a second, Sakura stared at her, almost certain that she had heard wrong. When Sarada didn't reiterate her words, but instead merely stared at her mother, it was only then that it dawned on Sakura what she was really asking. She let out a huff of breath and regarded her daughter with disbelief. "You wanna… learn it?"

"Yeah."

"Sarada…"

"Mom, I know what you're gonna say."

"No, you don't," she sighed, "you have no idea how emotionally and physically demanding iryōninjutsu is. It takes so much out of you, and it's really intense chakra control-"

"Mom, I come from a family with a kekkei gengkai!" Sarada exclaimed. "I would have the best of both you and my dad!"

"I don't know, Sarada," Sakura said pensively, her tone that of a mother who was concerned, "it's. You know. A lot of training. It's not really important for you to learn it right now."

"When is it ever a bad time to learn something? Didn't you always tell me that?"

"Well, yes-"

"Then why won't you teach me?"

"It takes a lot of discipline, Sarada," Sakura said honestly, her hands moving to stroke her daughter's hair, "and frankly, you are smart and very talented. But this is iryōninjutsu. It's a totally different caliber."

"I can handle it."

"How do you know that?"

"Mom, please." The young Uchiha pleaded with her mother. The look in her eyes was one that was filled with determination - a glint that Sakura recognized as being something she had flashed at Tsunade when she begged her to be her shishou. "I just wanna be useful."

At the fervor in her words, Sakura felt as though she was looking into a mirror of her past self. Evidently, that made total sense. It was true that even though they were no longer living in a time of war, knowing certain techniques was useful in order to aide genin teammates, especially a technique and knowledge that could heal wounds. Her mind reminisced the times that she was thrown against trees by Tsunade, all the times she went home sore, and woke up even more sore. At the end of the day, no matter how many times she was knocked down, she stood back up. Now, at thirty three, she was known as Tsunade's successor, which meant that she was seen as the strongest kunoichi of the current era. She drew in a breath and exhaled slowly, knowing that if she refused her daughter, their relationship might become more strained. Sakura smiled.

"Okay. I'll teach you."

"Mom, ple- wait. What?"

"I said," she reiterated, "I'll teach you."

The scream that came from Sarada honestly convinced Sakura that when she was older, she would be deaf in one ear. She was attacked by her daughter with a bear hug that felt endless. Laughing, she stroked Sarada's hair and hugged her just as tightly, a moment of rejoice that truly made her heart warm. Finally, she thought to herself, she trusts me enough to ask me for help.

The intensity of the training that Sarada would be put through was at the back of her mind for the time-being, and that would be saved for when the sun would rise at dawn. Excited, Sarada ran into the kitchen to grab the both of them some celebratory dessert, the clinking of the utensils in the drawer indicating her rummaging hands. Sakura shook her head in amusement.

Unbeknownst to her, the sheer curtains in the living room had not been completely shut, and in the small slit that allowed a view from the outside in, a man with black hair that had grown too long for his taste stood watching. He was alone, holding a sack that carried the few things that he needed for his journey for repentance of his sins. Reaching into it, he pulled out a photo of a pink-haired woman holding a black-haired baby, whose smiling face reminded him that he now had a family.

Sasuke sighed, and after a few moments' hesitation with shame heavy on his shoulders, he walked to the front door.


next ⇥

Anonymous reviews have been disabled. Login to review. 1. Repress 8109 0 0 2. Lapse 6888 0 0 3. Fragments 5697 0 0 4. Dissemble 4932 0 0 5. Family I 7189 0 0 6. Family II 8175 0 0 7. Tribute 10628 0 0 8. Apprehension 7839 0 0 9. Clandestine 7789 0 0 10. Nanadaime 8441 0 0 11. Pursuit 9655 0 0 12. Credence 5976 0 0 13. Nanadaime II 6495 0 0 14. Betrayal 5485 0 0 15. Transparency 5858 0 0