Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto
I would like to start off by apologizing for such a delayed post. Life got in the way and some rather unfortunate events took place that kind of reduced my motivation to do anything down to a measly speck. I'm not trying to give any excuses but merely offer an explanation, because if anyone deserves one it is you all.
So here is the next chapter. I will try not to let this happen again. I dropped the ball and trust me, I do not like disappointing you guys. So please enjoy this chapter. Thank you for your continued support and understanding.
And if you're up for it, please leave a little comment. Thanks!
Chapter Six: A Reunion of Sorts
The air around them was thick. The crisp autumn leaves underfoot provided the only sound, aside from Ino's labored breathes. Sakura found it oddly liberating to speak of her issues out loud. It had been a while since she could unload what was cramped into her mind.
She truly had missed this, her interactions with people her age, people that had seen the same hardships she had. Between them there is was little judgment, and more understanding. Partial truths were what she called them but that was all she was willing to share and she believed it was all her friends could handle at the moment.
Ino's eyes sparkled with understanding. Sakura felt the arm that was looped around hers tremble a bit. She squeezed it tighter on instinct. Sakura's red coat hung off Ino's shoulders. The blonde needed it more than Sakura did. The pinkette was still able to circulate her chakra through her body with little to no thought, something her pregnant friend had lost the ability to do a few weeks ago.
"No wonder he looked so sad." Sakura saw Ino's shaky exhale. She saw the pity on Ino's face. Sakura was beyond thankful that Minato was nowhere nearby to see the look Ino was donning at the thought of him. The man did not need to be pitied. He needed to be motivated. He needed to be reminded that his being alive was a gift, a second chance, and he should not squander it. If only she could get him to see what he was so blinded to.
He needed a push but Sakura knew it was not her right to give it to him- she hardly knew him. Before this whole ordeal he was nothing more than a legend, a tale, a hero. The thought had never crossed her mind that he was a mere man, made up of flesh and bone like the rest of him. He was like Naruto in a sense, people like them got put on a pedestal and for right or wrong they were held under a different light than the rest of them.
Only a handful of people had that right to approach him. Jiraiya, Sakura closed her eyes, he would know what to do. He would know what to say to his former prized pupil. He would be able to help. But he was gone. He had been gone since Pein inserted himself, rather unceremoniously and violently into their lives, having him to help Minato was not an option.
"I don't have much of those," she said more to herself than her company. Her thoughts were too far down a rabbit hole for her to be aware of her actions. Sakura's boot stepped over a particularly dry leaf. Ino's lips pressed into a hard line. Her pale eyes darkened a fraction. Sakura was not telling her something but Ino knew better than to pry. If she pushed too hard Sakura would shut her out. And she had come too far to go back to square one now.
"Remind me to be nicer to the man when I see him again." Sakura blinked a couple times before she realized what Ino was referring to him. Guilt pooled in Sakura's stomach. She did not like lying to her best friend, her sister, she hated it. But it had to be done. Protecting Minato was her responsibility. He was her skeleton to hide in her closet. And she would hide him until it was safe to do so otherwise. And if that day never came, well she was adamant to take his secret to her grave.
Konoha might need him but the village was not quite ready for him. Sakura furrowed her brow. "You don't need to worry about that. When are you possibly going to see him again?" Sakura asked with an exasperated expression, she mockingly patted Ino's hand. It was difficult walking so slowly for her. Because of their linked arms Sakura was forced to keep pace with Ino's slight waddle. But the pinkettte would much sooner break her own jaw than to admit that fact out loud to the Yamanaka.
Ino rolled her eyes at her friend's tone but there was little malice behind the gesture. The medic barely had enough time to brace herself for the forehead flick that came. She scowled moodily. "Well since I want to see you again, sometime in the near future, I'll most likely see him again because you'll be with your new boyfriend. Honestly, Forehead, are you even a whole person anymore? Do you remember how to function without him?" The devious grin on Ino's face made Sakura's stomach drop. She was not letting this go and Sakura had a sinking feeling that Ino never would.
"Who's got a new boyfriend?" Sakura's heart stopped. Both women stopped midstride. Sakura did not even have enough strength in her to turn around and address the loud, cheerful voice that just had thrown an inquisition in the air- a little too casually she might add. How had she not sensed him? Shouldn't they be out of the village longer? What was she going to do?
She bit her lip and steeled herself for what was to come. Sakura closed her eyes and took in two calming breaths. Something that was not missed by Ino's observant gaze, Sakura could practically hear the gears turning in Ino's head. She was stuck in between a rock and a hard place and for the first time in her life she wished she had the ability to learn Minato's Thunder God Technique. But alas, running was not an option.
Thanks to the fact she was more or less tethered to Ino, the pinkette was forced to turn until she was facing the person she least wanted to see today. He was grinning at her again. He was always grinning at her like it was the simplest and easiest thing to do in the world. Even after everything she had put him through he was still smiling at her. She legitimately wondered what he was made out of because she confused the living daylights out of her.
"Naruto," she greeted him weakly. The smile on her face was smaller and faker than any of Sai's old smiles. She did not even bother to chide him for eavesdropping. Her heart was not in it. It was being crushed, for him, for his father, for the world that Naurto had grown so comfortable in. It would never be the same for him. And it was more or less her fault. At this very moment Sakura could not help but wonder if it would have been better for everyone if she had just let Minato bleed out.
Ino directed a sharp look at Sakura from the corner of her eye before playfully elbowing the medic in the ribs. The contact seemed to pull her out from whatever her brain was overthinking to dust. "Why Sakura's of course." Ino said brightly. Her eyes glistened from the excitement only brought on from a juicy piece of gossip. The platinum blonde acted completely oblivious to the indignant look on the other blonde's face. At the loud sounds the male was making the trio were joined by the last Uchiha.
"I think you broke the dobe." Sasuke noted dryly at the nonsense sounds Naruto was making. They were somewhere between choking from disbelief and disgruntled shouts of protest. Sakura wanted to hide her face in mortification behind her hand, only peeking through occasionally. It would spread through the whole village that she had a boyfriend before the sun even set. It would be a small miracle if the news did not reach Suna by two days' time. That is what she got for having a loud speaker as a best friend. Ino put everything and everyone on blast.
"He's not my boyfriend." Sakura said through clenched teeth. Her eyes had narrowed considerably. All the warning flags were up but everyone seemed to ignore them, the fools. Ino was enjoying this too much for the Haruno's liking. At her words Sasuke quirked a brow. This was just what she needed. Two stupid, over protective, idiots threatening to kill her depressed patient, this day was just getting better and better for her. Sakura questioned why she even got out of bed today. It did not take her long to figure out the answer. It was for Minato. It was all for him. "He's just someone from my past."
She was able to look them in the eyes because she was not lying, or rather, because she was not blatantly lying. Telling half-truths and lying by omission was still being dishonest but she was speaking enough truth that they would not be able to pick up on her deception. They were always good at figuring out when she was lying. The simpler she kept it the better it would be for her.
To her immense dissatisfaction her comment seemed to spark more interest. It did more harm than good really. The betrayed looked that flashed over Naruto's face- even if it was only for a fraction of a second- caused her heart to cease in her chest. Sasuke's judging gaze never left her face. Any more of this and she would start breaking out in a sweat. 'And that would not look suspicious at all'. A dry voice in her head pointed out only, adding to her anxiety.
Ino pressed her lips into a hard line before speaking. "He needs a place to stay. What do you say, Naruto?" She pinned him with her baby blue eyes. The Uzumaki scoffed at her question. He crossed his arms over his chest in a huffy manner. Honestly it was times like this that Ino believed wholeheartedly that Naruto will never grow up.
Ino narrowed her eyes. She looked positively vicious. Being pregnant really helped make the Yamanaka appear more intimidating and menacing. Sakura turned to look at Ino. Her emerald eyes implored Ino to explain herself. The blonde spared her a brief glance before turning her attention back to Naruto. 'Trust me,' her eyes seemed to say. Sakura did. So she kept her mouth closed and trusted her. The more Ino talked the less chance for Sakura to dig herself an even deeper whole.
"Why the hell would I say yes?" Naruto challenged her in a rather boneheaded move. Instead of striking him, which Sakura was secretly hoping for, Ino unhooked her arm from Sakura's and grabbed the loudmouth by the ear and dragged him a several yards away. Her teammate was shouting words of surprise and yelps of pain the whole way.
Sasuke simply watched the scenario unfold with amusement dancing in his eyes. Sakura was less amused and more skeptical. She trusted Ino but was this really a good idea? If Minato bunked with Naruto there was bound to be a slip up. Of course Ino did not know that, the poor blonde was fed the same lie that she had shared with her team.
It was out of her hands now. She would just have to wait and see what came next.
"Are you crazy?" Naruto asked her as he tenderly held his ear. "Have you lost it?" He repeated with an annoyed facial expression and demanding tone. Ino just stared at her with an upturned lip and disgust clearly evident on her features. Sakura had advised her to avoid stressful situations but honestly, that was never an option especially considering the fact that she was the only sane one in a village full of idiots. How could she not be stressed out when Naruto was too big of a numbskull to graciously accept the bone that Ino was throwing his way?
"Have you lost it?" Ino threw back his question only to add more venom that Naruto could ever dream to. At her tone and demeanor Naruto's face went slack. He had his listening hat on and for that Ino was beyond thankful. "She needs help right now. That guy from her past is the son of her father's best friend. His parents are dead, just like hers." Naruto winced at Ino's crass words and her apathetic tone. But the situation called for it. She needed Naruto to understand just what Ino, and by extension, Sakura was asking of him.
"They need each other. He understands what she's going through better than any of us right now." Ino finished gently. She could see the grief that was swimming in Naruto's eyes. He was such a bleeding heart. It was what made him who he was. It also made him easy to manipulate. The blonde brought a hand to rest against the small of her back. She shuffled her feet. Standing up was such a feat when one was growing a tiny human in their belly.
He was close to caving she could see it in the way his stance shifted. But she was not one to leave it to chance, or be patient. Besides, her feet were killing her. She needed a yes right now and she knew just how to do it. "Okay, I can see that you're not interested. Well," Ino shrugged dismissively.
Naruto looked at her with curiosity set in his face. "I guess that he can just bunk with Forehead. I mean, called me old fashioned to think that a single man and a single woman – that are not related- cannot live together without things getting messy, but maybe it's possible for Sakura and Arashi to live together and keep it completely platonic." Ino said in an innocent manner.
She completely ignored the heat that was quickly rising through Naruto's face. He was almost as red as his mother's namesake. "And here I was, looking out for you. I was thinking that as long as Arashi lived with you, you could keep an eye on him and make sure that he did not try anything funny with our sweet, innocent, little Sakura-chan. But you're right. You're simply too busy being an awesome kick-ass shinobi to babysit. It would be beneath you to accept." Ino smiled at him.
He was muttering incoherent things again. 'Hook line and sinker,' she thought to herself as she slowly turned to face the direction that both Sakura and Sasuke were. Ino waved lazily over her shoulder at the blonde. She did not even take two steps before Naruto had already rushed to Sakura's side. He was speaking quickly and loudly. She could tell from the dazed look on the pinkette's face. By the time Ino joined the original members of Team Seven, she heard Naruto exclaim "I won't let you down, Sakura-chan. Dattebayo!"
A ghost of a smirk pulled across her lips. Her eyes made contact with Sasuke's. "You're evil." He muttered with a dip of his head so only she would hear. Ino just winked at him in response.
Yes she was evil. But who didn't like to be a little evil every now and then?
"I can't believe you managed to convince him." Sakura shook her head in disbelief for what had to be the twelfth time. They were headed to the Akamichi residence. Ino had enough fun for one day and as her doctor, Sakura was calling it a day for her.
"It'll be good for your patient. It's impossible to stay down when Naruto's around." Ino noted calmly as she stared at the sky. It was official. Ino was a bloody genius, the likes of which the world had never seen before. Sakura thanked her lucky stars that for today, Ino used her brainpower for good.
"You know I never got the appeal to look up at the clouds. I always thought Shika was just being a lazy-ass and wasting his life away. But it's nice. You get to think." Her voice was distant, almost dreamy.
Sakura rolled her eyes at her friend's sudden epiphany. Pregnancy made Ino even more unpredictable than usual. She had no idea how Choji dealt with it as well as he did. But maybe the extra ten pounds that he had packed on where not just coincidence because if Sakura was sure of one thing, if she was married to Ino , she would be stress eating like it was her job.
She tuned out Ino's ramblings in favor of thinking just what she would tell Minato.
End of Flashback
She could hear his footsteps behind her. Sure footed and steady. Far better than anything she could have ever hoped for. She could hear him breathing. It was even and predictable. No clear signs of strain.
Yet despite all the good signs there was one alarm bell ringing loudly in her head. He was not even trying to mask his presence, his chakra. He was not even trying to go through the basic routines of being a ninja. He was going against over twenty years of shinobi training, over twenty years of instincts. She debated for the hundredth time if this was such a good idea. She was running out of time and space to think just what she was going to tell him.
So far all Minato knew was that he was to stay with a friend of hers for the time being. She figured that it would not be the best option to tell him just who he was staying with back at the hospital. She doubted that he even heard, much less register, as single word she uttered to him. She was probably just white noise to him.
She came to his door. The paint was chipped. The wood was in less than ideal condition. He lived in a small hovel. But it was his home. It had always been his home and even though he had enough money to buy his whole apartment building three times over, he stilled lived here. Naruto refused to touch a penny of what Minato and Kushina had left for him.
Sakura pressed her forehead against the door, his door. She would never forget the disinterested look on his face when Tsunade had informed him of the fortune that was rightfully his. He had simply shrugged his shoulders and told the Hokage that he did not need it. That he did not want it. And when the Hokage had asked him to elaborate all he had said was that he had made it this far without his parent's money and he intended to continue to make it without the added riches.
At the time Sakura had been outraged at Naruto answer. She had even accused him of being ungrateful. It was not one of her most proud moments. She had said so much that she wished she could take back but through it all Naruto had taken it. He took all her insults, her judgment, her accusations with poise.
He had just stood there and let her unload. He had comforted her when she had broken down into a fit of sobs. He did not judge her for projecting the sadness, anger, and blame she felt for the death of her parents. He did not hold it against her when he had to hold her until she cried herself to sleep. He did not look down at her when she woke up confused and disoriented in his bed. He did not even utter a mean word when she sat across from him eating the breakfast that he had made.
All he had done was tell her that he was sorry. He was sorry that her parents were killed on what should have been a routine visit to the village her mother was originally from. He gave her sympathy for the fact that the last conversation she had with her parents was an argument. He was sorry that she was hurting and that made her feel all the worse for it.
Naruto was hurting. He had been hurting since the day he was born and not once had she extended the same sympathy, courtesy, decency, that he kept extending her every single day since they had first met. He will forever forgive her even if she could never forgive herself for how awful she was and how awful she continued to be to him.
Sakura took a deep breath and pushed off the door. She could feel Minato's eyes on her. They were the only thing that was familiar to this world. His eyes, his son's eyes, they were the only thing in common they shared anymore. She turned to look at Minato. Why was it that whenever she looked at him, she did not see a shaggy haired brunette with average features? Why was it when she looked at him she saw the Fourth Hokage? Why did she see blonde hair, a strong jawline, and high cheekbones? Why did see the broken man that had a gaping hole through his chest? Why did she Naruto's father and not the visage of the man that she had created?
She had long given up her panic and anxious thoughts that the jutsu was not perfect. The thoughts that had plagued her mind in the beginning. What if someone could see past the face? What is someone recognized him? What if what she saw, the world saw?
Her jutsu was seamless. It was textbook in casting and execution. Even the creator of the jutsu could not have done a better job. If there was one thing she could do, it was cast a perfect genjutsu, one that even the most blessed of eyes could not see past.
Her hand shook slightly as she reached for the door knob. The cool brass shocked her senses and gathered her thoughts. She was only delaying the inevitable. He had questions, she could practically see them dancing across his brass reflection. She could feel the weight of them hanging in the air. He had questions and she needed to start providing him with some answers.
Minato studied the mute medic. Her hunched posture held sadness. The Namikaze stared at her back wearily. She was usually good at projecting a smile even though he could see through it half the time. Why was she not bothering to pretend that everything was okay even though he knew that it was not?
"I'm sorry." Sakura muttered softly before turning around to face him. She offered nothing else before turning on her heel and knocking on the door with two assured taps. She owed Minato an apology. She owed him so much more for how she treated his son. She owed him her head, her spilt blood, she owned him her soul. She might not be able to atone for her behavior but she could certainly try until her dying breath to make it up to this family.
The door opened and Sakura's eyes locked with her teammate. Her lips twitched upwards in a halfhearted greeted. "Is he here?" She asked softly but their trained ears picked up on her words before the wind swept them away.
She knew the answer to her question. His chakra was light a bright orb, like the sun. It was impossible not to sense. She just needed something to fill the air. Maybe the more she talked the less she would be forced to obsess over her thoughts. Her head was not a very friendly place to be these days.
Sasuke nodded his head slightly before stepping aside to let the newcomers in. Sakura was already halfway into the living room when she had to look back at Minato. He was still standing in the doorway with a far off look on his face. He had sensed it. No doubted he had just realized what Sakura had just pulled him into.
Not for the first time she wondered if this was all too much too fast.
The Uchiha leaned against the wall and studied the Namikaze. It was probably the sheer size of Minato's chakra reserves that had the former avenger intrigued. Sakura rubbed her Yin Seal. It would only be a matter of time before Sasuke demanded that Minato spar with him. And that was one can of worms that Sakura would rather open much later, or never. But that was only wistful thinking on her part.
She did not have time to ease Minato into this. She was certain that Tsuande would find out about Minato's new living arrangements and throw a fit. Sakura would be lucky to come out of that meeting with her head still attached to her neck.
"Go get him." She turned to look at Sasuke sharply. Her arms crossed firmly across her chest. She was giving off the impression of power but in all reality she was trying to hold herself together.
The Uchiha raised an eyebrow at her tone. But he did not question it. He had long learned not to challenge Sakura when she got like this. It usually ended for all parties involved excluding her, of course.
The Uchiha pushed himself off the wall and walked to the blonde's room but not before seizing up Minato for the second time. Sakura looked at him. She could see so much flashing through his eyes. Her stomach flipped at the betrayal in his orbs. She had broken his trust and she may never get it back but she was done being understanding and patient.
It was time for a little tough love. Because in his heart of hearts Minato should still be under the impression, the belief, that he was still Hokage. And his village needed their Hokage to start acting like the leader he was. Like the leader they all knew he could be. Like the leader Naruto always dreamed him to be.
"You remember what I told you right?" She asked him in a low voice, her lips barely moving. Sasuke was notorious for his hearing. She could not say anymore to him but at the very least she was certain that he was in fact hearing everything that she was saying to him. For a harrowing second she thought that he would simply disrupt the chakra that was altering his appearance and appear before his son. But a slow nod let her know that he would play nicely and follow the rules that she had set up.
This was her game, her world, and her village he was living in now. He had to stick within the lines, for now.
She had saved his life and that still meant something to him.
"Sakura-chan!" A bright voice drew both of their attentions to the new presence in the room. Sakura was quick to return Naruto's smile but she keep an eye trained to Minato. Sakura did not fight the hug that was coming. She let him nearly crush the life out of her because she was doing the same to him. He always hugged her like it was the last time he would ever see her.
And knowing their profession anything could happen at any time.
He let her go and grinned like a fool. Her smile was far more restrained. From the corner of her eyes she could see that Minato had a pained look on his face. This was his son. This was the same son that he had held in his arms as the world around them crumbled. This was the same son that he had sealed a beast into. This was the same son that had to face a cruel world all on his own.
Sakura could not even begin to fathom the emotions that Minato was feeling. Maybe even the Yondiame did not even know how to compartmentalize what he was feeling. It was probably extremely overwhelming.
Naruto must have felt Minato's eyes on him because the blonde's eyes scanned once over Minato before he opened his mouth and uttered, rather unceremoniously, "Sakura-chan, is he stupid or somethin'? He won't stop looking at me, dattebayo!"
The air in the room seemed to deflate.
That's all for now folks. I will try my hardest to ensure the next update does not take so long. Thank you for your patience at continued support! You all are the wind beneath the sails of this story.
Until next time!