Something in Common
It all started with an engagement party.
Unfortunately, it was not her engagement party.
It's better to start this from, well, the beginning.
Her old school friend Hinata Hyūga finally admitted her feelings to the love of her life, Naruto Uzumaki. After years of dating they decided to tie the knot. The story sounds pretty romantic until now, doesn't it?
Their engagement party is the place where Sakura's story starts.
More specifically, it starts in that same moment when someone bumps into her, causing a third party to spill his glass filled with red wine right in the middle of her lovely mint coloured party dress. Fuck, that's all she wants to say. First she knows she will attend her class tomorrow morning with a serious hangover and now her lovely, not-cheap-at-all dress is stained deep red. The chances of it coming off are slim.
"Oh, great," Sakura bitterly mutters under her breath while her hands find balance on the edge of the bar table. Damn these high heels, too!
Seriously, who would want to have an open bar at their engagement party in the first place?
Naruto Uzumaki, obviously.
"You will only ruin it more," the person who spilled his drink on her dress says.
And out of nowhere, he throws a pinch of salt at her.
"What the fuck!?"
"It will absorb the wine faster and the stain won't be as noticeable. You're welcome."
She feels like pulling on his hair the moment he says these last words.
"Perhaps if you weren't so careless with your drink this wouldn't have happened in the first place!"
That is when he turns fully towards her, giving her green eyes a perfect view of his tall frame and wide shoulders. The black suit he wears, the piercing look of his onyx almond shaped eyes, and the way his long black hair frames his face is not helping Sakura's case.
She's thinks she's seen him somewhere before. Sure, he's probably one of the most attractive men her eyes have the pleasure of spotting.
Oh, her poor dress!
"And if you were not so clumsy, I would not have to waste another pinch of salt on your dress."
But she's sure she's never met an asshole like this one before. Sakura is ready to toss aside all her prestigious and important qualifications out the window. Damn her academic education for once; the language dancing in her mind would make her sweet mother pass out immediately.
The outcome of this quarrel is interrupted by an overtly energetic groom, accompanied by his lovely fiancée who displays the kindest of smiles in her lips as she softly places her hand on her love's arm. Hinata has always been the gentle, dainty one out of Sakura's group of school friends.
Sakura has to take a step back to let Naruto open his arms wide before giving the guy who spilled his drink on her dress a tight embrace. His loud voice and exaggerated demeanour are enough to set this 'Teme' off, almost causing him to spill yet another drink.
"Sasuke, buy the lady a drink over here!" Naruto leeches off of this Sasuke, wrapping an arm around Sakura's shoulders.
"Naruto, it's an open bar."
"Whatever, you're my best man. And if I tell you to get her something, you better do it!"
His words do not reach the attempted level of authority Naruto is aiming for, but whatever, who cares? He's getting hitched to the love of his life. And in Sakura's opinion, aside from his current drunken state, he is the only one who has a larger part of his life figured out.
Sakura is ready to call it quits and walk out of the engagement party when she feels something cover her shoulders. She touches the fine quality of the blazer that has landed on her body, and slides her arms through the sleeves to then button it, successfully covering the ugly wine stain. She looks to her side, finding the idiot who spilled his drink on her slide another glass full of alcohol without bothering to make eye contact. He has rolled up the sleeves of his white dress shirt and is resting his elbows on the bar.
Sakura thinks of taking the drink, chugging it, and then leaving the festivities, but is reminded of how disappointed Hinata would feel if she were to suddenly disappear. After a sigh, she chooses to sit on the bar stool beside the man. The glass in front of her is filled with rum and coke. Typical drink, she muses. Common, safe, and welcome in her palate at any and all times.
The rum and coke is half way done when she turns towards the asshole. "So best man, huh?" If he isn't moving from his seat and has offered her a drink, she guesses that it's about time to start a conversation. "How do you know him?"
"Oh, I see. Hinata and I went to the same school when we were younger." She guesses that he is about the same age as her, considering that he does not look much older than twenty five and she is twenty three herself. "I'm Sakura, by the way." She extends her hand.
That is when he turns to her, takes a sip of the wine that replaced the one that had tragically stained her clothes. "Sasuke." He extends his hand and shakes hers.
And somehow the conversation continues. Sakura finds out that this Sasuke works for his family business, which she assumes that is very successful since he wears nice clothes and carries himself with a different type of class than most of the party guests. She tells him how she is still at school, working towards her graduate degree in medical science at Konoha U.
Sure, Sasuke comes off as an asshole at first, but once they delve into different topics she finds that he is much more interesting than just his looks. Sure, they don't have anything in common, him with his travels around the world for his family business and her in the enclosed world of books, laboratories, and experiments. The rest of the party becomes a blur as she immerses herself in the unknown world that Sasuke seems to inhabit. His voice even becomes more sophisticated as the drinks continue.
He is a connoisseur of wine, she can get drunk of anything.
He prefers the quietness of the open countryside, she finds comfort in the bustling city crowds.
He invites her back to his apartment, and she agrees without thinking twice. The thought that Ino is somewhere lost in the middle of Hinata's engagement part is in the back of Sakura's mind, but she pays little attention to it knowing that her best friend is smart enough to find a way home on her own.
"Whoa, you have a chauffeur?" she asks in drunken disbelief at the sight of a black Jaguar pulling up outside of the party room. Cliched question, yes, but these sorts of luxuries do not happen in her life that often.
"Family business does well, I guess," he offers as an explanation.
She notices how he takes careful steps coming down the stairs, offering his hand to help her down. Sakura has been swayed by men many times before in her life, and in spite of Sasuke's polished composure, she can tell that he is not as sober as he pretends to be.
The car ride is silent, her state of mind in the limbo where she lets the alcohol persuade her actions with consent. Sasuke's head does not rest on the seat, but rather sways from side to side, looking out the window, to the front, back at her, and repeating the same cycle. The first two buttons of his white shirt are opened, while his tie rests on his left hand. Sakura cannot remember when he took it off, but neither can she tell why her shoulders feel so warm before remembering that Sasuke lent her his blazer.
When they arrive at his place, Sakura almost falls backwards trying to count how many floors the building has from the outside.
"We're going to floor 40, for your information."
"And do you also have a maid?" she asks out of curiosity.
The way he chuckles at her question sends vibrations down every sensitive part of her body.
His apartment is basic in spite of its location and, what Sakura can only guess, the rent he must be paying. She is met with blank walls and dark, minimalist furniture. He invites her to the kitchen, which is decorated with cold metal chairs and a glass kitchen table.
Sasuke likes a simple, bland apartment while she enjoys the trails of her personality in the place she shares with Ino and her boyfriend Sai. Funny, how they must be wondering where she is right now.
He takes out two glasses from his shelves and a bottle of a caramel coloured drink. Adds ice, then pours, and offers her one of the glasses. She smiles before taking a sip of the liquid, at first taken aback by its strong scent and taste, thinking of how this is a type of drink that is supposed to be sipped patiently rather than swallowed all at once.
"Show me the view," she says, standing up from her chair and walking towards the living room with her glass cupped in her two hands.
Sasuke follows without saying anything, and she appreciates the silence he offers to her constant need to keep talking. From the fortieth floor, she can identify the largest building of her university and she could even, if she tried, completely cover it with her thumb. Her own building, a few blocks away from Konoha U, is absolutely indistinguishable amid the bright city lights. It is almost as if she was a goddess watching over her kingdom of disciples.
"That's where I work," Sasuke points at another tall building on the east side of Konoha from her behind.
That is when she feels how close he is to her, his arm almost resting on her shoulder as she tries to make out the symbol at the top of the tower he is helping her find. Sakura sees a red half circle on top of a smaller white circle, or something like that, and her mind makes a connection.
"Indra Corp? Like the company run by the Uchiha family who's donated a buttload of money to Konoha U?"
Yet her mind does not make the real connection it should be making.
"That's cool," she chimes.
Sakura turns around, finding herself extremely close to Sasuke's firm chest and his face almost on hers. She licks her lips, letting the alcohol absorb every desire in her system. She wraps her arms around his neck, wanting to clear his fine features from the black hair that covers half of them. The glass almost empty of her drink is still in her hand, the ice making her fingers feel a lot colder than the rest of her body.
Sure, Sasuke has an awesome job at an awesome company and she is still struggling to pay for her student debt. He lives in a posh apartment, a complete opposite of her small two bedroom flat filled with mismatched furniture and coffee mugs. His monochrome appearance clashes with her abundance of colour in hair, eyes and skin.
Sakura knows she has nothing in common with him, that they've just met at their mutual friends' engagement party and she swore at him. But when she lands her lips on his, all the theories of how opposites attract remind her why meeting and getting drunk with someone like Sasuke may be one of the best things to happen tonight.
His hands travel up and down her back underneath the blazer she is still wearing. They dismiss the piece of clothing, leaving Sakura with her mint dress on and a shiver running down her spine. He disengages their lips for a moment, finding her eyes with his before she nods and he connects with a kiss once again. Her legs end up hooked around his waist as he walks her towards what she can only assume is his bedroom.
Sakura does not stop kissing him as he places her down on his bed, the weight of his body on top of her and she feels his bulge warming her up between her thighs. She bites his lower lip, loving the way they dance on her, as he begins to run his fingers from her arms to her sides down to her hips. She tangles her own hands in his black hair, pulling it every time he touches a sensitive spot on her skin.
They go on like this, teasing each other with nips in their necks, ears, sending electricity from their heads down to their toes. Sakura looks straight at Sasuke's eyes as she pulls down her dress's zipper, the reminder to send it to the dry cleaners long gone from her mind, while he unbuttons his shirt and unbuckles his pants.
His muscles are firm under her grip, and he takes her by the hips, flipping them so that she is on top while her knees trap him on both sides. Sakura's flips her long pink hair to the side, feeling the pleasurable friction between their arousal. He plays with the strands of her bra, sliding them down her shoulders slowly before cupping her breasts, letting out a low moan as she shifts herself. He calls her beautiful, and she knows that those words come out every time a man wants something from a woman but takes the compliment nonetheless.
Her lips find his once again as he finally -finally- slides her flower patterned panties down her legs and she does the same with his black boxers. Sasuke flips them around again, keeping his upper half away from her as he stares at her flushed cheeks and rising chest. Sakura lets out a whimper when she feels two of his fingers open her. He mutters how wet she is, his other hand caressing every corner of her stomach. She still feels the trails of alcohol in her system, as well as its taste in Sasuke's mouth when he kisses her again, biting her lips and neck after she begins to stroke him.
Sasuke enters her, both of them moaning in unison as the strokes start slowly, eventually picking up the pace. He is careful in making her feel comfortable while giving her pleasure, tossing and turning her, accepting whenever she wants to go on top to ride him, letting her touch every muscle of his body with desire. She takes her time teasing him with slow movements that send jolts of electricity to his nerves.
He devours her, picking up the pace until he sends his release. They are both panting, chests touching, worn out. Sakura falls asleep on her side, her body still naked, while she watches Sasuke close his own eyes.
The next morning, she wakes up to toast and coffee for breakfast. Sasuke walks her down to the exit of his building, and even hails a cab for her. At this time of the day, it is impossible for her to show up at her school with her ragged appearance and so she decides to go home. They exchange numbers, and Sakura departs feeling a lot more normal that she thought she could.
Well, obviously, she and Sasuke have nothing in common. He is her complete opposite, the oil to her water. Great in bed, yes, but Sakura knows that this was only a one night stand and she is totally fine with it.
She will move on with her life, doing her research at school, while he continues his.
Sakura finds out because of a car accident.
It's not like she dies or anything serious like that. She even admits her own fault at crossing the street without paying attention. A car makes a right turn on the intersection, and the brakes work when she has already fallen on the ground.
The driver who hit her insists on taking her to the nearest hospital in spite of her constant claim that she is unharmed. She accepts the offer to go to the hospital anyway, at least to confirm the guilty man that she is safe. She spends the next two hours hearing his never ending apologies while they wait for her turn, and is quite relieved when doctor calls to see her.
And just like she guessed, there was nothing wrong with her. Sakura insists that she will not press charges against the driver, fully aware of how noble that is of her, but the poor man looks like he cannot afford another expense in his life. Nonetheless, they exchange information so that her hospital bills are covered by his credit card.
She is about to leave, happy to have this strange episode done and over with, when the doctor calls her into her office.
"Take a seat, Miss Haruno." She does so accordingly. "Because we must follow the code of patient confidentiality, and due to the nature of your reaction to this car accident, I believe that you haven't found out yet."
"Haven't found out what?" Sakura asks incredulously.
"You're five weeks pregnant.
She tilts her head in confusion. Pregnant? Her? That doesn't make sense. She is a medical science student, and has not felt any of the symptoms learned in the classroom.
"I don't understand."
The look of shock in her face prompts the doctor to hand her a white stick. She guides Sakura to the bathroom, offering to stay outside of the door until she is done with the test.
Sakura stares at the two pink lines on the pregnancy test for what feels like an eternity. A knock on the door is followed by the doctor's voice asking her if she is in need of any assistance. The plastic stick slips through her fingers as her knees drop her down to the floor. She looks around in disbelief, trying to find any sort of comfort in the sterile walls, any sort of sign that tells her this isn't happening.
How is this even possible? She hasn't had sex since... oh.
Her features fall, her breathing becomes heavy. Next thing she knows, Sakura is hiding her head between her knees, sobbing. This can't be her. Sakura doesn't do pregnancy; it does not go with her life at all.
She has her studies, she has her family and friends. Her life is absolutely, completely normal. But somehow, because of one night in which she let herself go, she ends up with a baby inside of her.
"This isn't true," she tells herself. "This can't be happening."
The doctor recommends her to an OBGYN, the best there is in Konoha, and gives her own words of comfort. She gives Sakura pamphlets with information on pregnancy, book recommendations, and even a small flier on an abortion clinic that is in the outskirts of downtown Konoha just in case she changes her mind.
Sakura sits down on her bedroom, surrounded by all the things that make her special, no recollection of her bus ride from the hospital back to her humble apartment. She spreads the papers the doctor gave her on her old bed, the same one she bought second hand from Tenten after moving closer to Konoha U, and looks at all the titles without thinking.
Her eyes linger on the abortion flier, knowing how it would be the easiest option and that it would make her forget of this day. She picks it up, reading carefully the contact information, help line and testimonials. Sakura has always been one to support such action; if a woman was not in the condition to have a baby, then she should at least have an option outside of giving birth. But now she finds herself in that same place that she's heard of so many times since her adolescence.
And she finds that she cannot go through with it.
She crumples the flier and tosses it to her garbage bin, knowing that her life has fully changed from this moment on.
"I'm pregnant," she announces while Ino is washing the dishes. Sai is preparing his next art gallery, and it is only the two of them for dinner that night.
Her best friend drops the plate she is rinsing and it almost breaks into a thousand pieces. She turns her head towards Sakura, "Come again?"
Sakura bites her lip, feeling a lot more tired than usual. "Five weeks. I just found out this morning."
Ino does not even wipe her hands before wrapping her arms around her best friend's shoulders. They stay like this for a long moment of silence, the complete opposite of their usual dinner nights when they spend time chatting about nothing and everything.
"It's gonna be fine, I promise," she says in Sakura's ear. "I'll be with you in every step."
They sit back down on the dinner table, house chores completely forgotten. Ino's hand does not leave her knee, and Sakura has never felt so happy of having a friend like her.
"Who's the father?"
Ino knows how many guys Sakura has slept with, and when it's happened too. Ironically enough, Sakura never bothered telling her best friend of her impromptu rendezvous after Hinata's engagement party.
"Naruto's best man. His name is Sasuke."
"As in Sasuke Uchiha?"
That is the first time she hears his full name. "That's right -wait, that's his last name?"
"You didn't know?"
"Oh, god. He works for his family business! How could I not," she pauses. "Never mind. We were drunk, and we went back to his apartment. I never thought it was going to end up this way. I haven't even called him."
Saying it aloud does not make it any less real in her mind, though. Sakura still cannot believe that there is a small human being growing in her belly. She does not tell Ino any more details of that night, preferring to keep them unspoken because reliving that it may cause something to stir inside of her.
"What're you gonna do?"
"I'm going to be a mother."
"Are you going to tell him?"
Sakura shrugs her shoulders to that question. "I guess I have to."
Everything is cloudy around her. She feels out of place even though she is at home. The words coming out of her mouth sound too surreal to be true.
I'm going to be a mother.
"Oh, Sakura, I'll be here for you. We all will."
Texting him after six weeks of silence is not the greatest idea. But neither is it to have sex without protection and end up pregnant with the child of the heir to Indra Corp. It puts her medical education to shame, really, to let something like this slip.
Sakura meant to do it the day after finding out about her pregnancy, but her studies kept her away from her personal life. Truthfully, she was avoiding this moment until Ino grabbed her cellphone, found Sasuke's number, and sent a text on her behalf because running away from a situation is not what she would want her child to do in the future.
Sasuke calls her almost instantly after receiving her message. He says he is busy tonight, but will clear his schedule. Sakura does not want to tell him that it's urgent, that it can wait, but the words don't come out. No, they need to face the consequences of their actions.
She arrives at his building when the sun is about to set, happy to find him waiting for her at the entrance. He is still wearing his work suit, she notices. A contrast to the lilac skinny jeans and rock band t-shirt under her jacket. He nods at her when they meet, asking if she wants to come upstairs or take a walk first.
"Let's just... walk."
Sasuke guides her to the promenade that borders the river behind his building. This is a side of Konoha that is reserved for the rich and exclusive, two things that Sakura knows she will never want to be.
"So how've you been?" she asks, already noticing how Sasuke is not one to start a conversation. She is reminded of how awkward it is to start a conversation with a guy she slept with and never called back for a second round.
"Busy. Work is pretty much everything in my life," he adds. His hands are in his pockets while hers are laced behind her back. "How's school for you?"
So he remembers that she's studying.
"Busy. School is pretty much everything in my life," she repeats in a teasing tone and the silence returns between them.
The sun is already hidden behind the mountains that surround Konoha. There are people of all ages enjoying one of the last days of nice weather before the winter brings snow and subzero temperatures. Sakura watches children play with dogs, old people sitting in benches feeding sesame seeds to doves, young professionals dressed up in suits talking on their phones while enjoying a cigarette.
"Sorry I didn't call back before-"
"I'm pregnant," she simultaneously drops those words as Sasuke is about to explain his lack of attention.
Sasuke stops walking, his stance rigid for a moment before he turns towards her. Sakura can feel the fear on her skin, waiting for the worst reaction of someone that is her complete opposite.
"Sasuke, I'm six weeks pregnant."
She doesn't know why she does it, but she opens her purse and takes out the pregnancy test she keeps in a plastic bag and shows it to him. Call her weird, sure. Maybe she is a little crazier than most normal people for keeping a sample of her urine on a stick with her at all times. But there is something about showing Sasuke the proof that she is in fact carrying his child that relieves some of the nerves in Sakura's neck and shoulders.
"You're the only one I've had sex with," she finds herself saying, the words coming out of her mouth sounding too surreal. "Trust me, I wouldn't be doing this to you if it was someone else. Naruto and Hinata can confirm that. They know I'm not a liar."
He sits down in one of the benches along the promenade and buries his face in his hands. For someone who carries himself in pristine condition, with a successful future ahead, he looks like a complete mess in front of her.
"I'm sorry, Sasuke." She has to hold back her tears. "I never thought this was going to happen, but I'm going to keep the baby. I'm sorry, I can't get rid of this life growing inside of me. I won't give you any burden, promise. I just... wanted to let you know."
Sakura walks away before he can register that she left and before she feels her face contort with bottled up emotions.
She gets on the next transit bus that stops in front of her, avoiding making eye contact with everybody and feeling how the bumpy ride is giving her nausea.
When she gets home, Sai is frying fish in the stove while Ino is browsing on her laptop with a parenting book beside her. Sakura slumps herself down on a chair in front of her best friend, letting out all of her frustrations in front of her roommates. They comfort her with whatever she asks: Sai throws out the fried fish he's spent the last fifteen minutes preparing because the smell is making her sick and Ino prepares her a hot chocolate with marshmallows on top.
"So what did he say?" Ino asks, rubbing her back in comfort after Sakura finishes telling her meeting with Sasuke.
"He didn't say anything. He just... sat down and I left before giving him the chance to react."
"Ugly, you should have waited to see how he takes it in," Sai reprimands with his usual monotone voice.
Ino throws a reprimanding look at her boyfriend before continuing to console her best friend.
"I know," Sakura wipes her face, "I don't think I'd be able to hear what he has to say, to be honest."
That same night, when she is beyond exhausted and wrapped in her pink duvet cover, Sasuke calls.
Sakura ignores it at first, letting it go through voice mail and closing her eyes. The calls continue for the rest of the night. He sends her text messages, leaves several voice mails asking for her, and continues calling without taking a break. She gives in eventually, realizing that when the morning comes he will probably continue calling and she would not get a blink of sleep that night.
"I'm sorry I did this to you," his voice says on the other side of the line.
"Sasuke, I understand-"
"No, listen to me. Don't try to make me run away from this. This child is mine too, and I want to be there."
Sasuke does not say much more after that, reassuring her that he will be present for whatever she needs. When Sakura hangs up, she finds that getting sleep that night is going to be impossible anyway. She is going to be a mother and her child will have a father. The future is not crystal clear anymore, and she still needs to figure out her finances and her studies.
But one thing is for certain. Sakura Haruno and Sasuke Uchiha have nothing in common. Nothing except for a child growing in her womb.
At first, her parents are shocked at the news. They give her a reassuring words, telling her how proud they are and that she will be an amazing mother regardless of the consequences. Sure, they would have wanted her to have her career established, get married, and then have kids. But life throws things in a different order sometimes and it doesn't mean it's impossible.
Naruto and Hinata are very happy about the pregnancy, even though they find it strange at first how Sakura and Sasuke could have ended up sleeping together. They also give her a friendly reminder that their wedding is less than eight months away, and joke that if she pops out the baby on their wedding day then Naruto gets to be the godfather.
The idea of aborting the growing love she feels for this little stranger dissipates in her mind. How could she, in her case? Everything she thinks about somehow ends up related to babies, from the academic articles she reads at school to the cereal she eats in the morning.
Her graduate supervisor, Tsunade, is also supportive. So are the classmates who she finds herself telling. And if it weren't for the random vomiting that comes in the early stages of this pregnancy, Sakura may say that her life is still going well.
That is, until she gets a phone call from an unknown number on a Thursday morning.
"Hi, Sakura. I'm Mikoto Uchiha and I was wondering if you wanted to have lunch with me this afternoon."
Sakura has to look at her phone in disbelief before putting it beside her ear.
"Please, I insist. We have lots to discuss. Meet me at Konoha U's cafe at around one. Does that work for you?"
"Perfect! See you then."
The phone call ends at it began, with Sakura feeling more puzzled than this morning when she wanted to eat pancakes with mayonnaise.
One o'clock comes around and she finds herself walking towards the meeting point with hesitance. Although she practically lives at the university due to her academic commitments, she feels extremely under dressed when she spots a woman with long black hair, cream coloured dress pants, and a cashmere cardigan that clashes with Sakura's own blue jeans and large orange sweater.
The woman, Mikoto she presumes, stands up from her tall chair and offers a welcoming smile to Sakura.
"It's really nice to meet you, Sakura."
Mikoto offers her hand to shake, but Sakura does not return the favour immediately, fidgeting with the straps of her backpack. "I'm sorry Mrs Uchiha. Truthfully, I never wanted this to happen. I was not even aware of your son's last name when we uh... I am going to keep the baby and Sasuke knows he isn't forced to get involved."
"I know," Mikoto takes the younger woman's two hands in comfort. "When he first told me, I was shocked myself."
"Trust me, I was too. I mean, I've been on contraceptives and-"
"But then I realized how good this is for Sasuke."
Mikoto orders black tea for herself and a milkshake for Sakura, winking at her knowing that she might be having the weirdest cravings.
"My son has always followed what people tell him. I'm his mother, and if I saw that something was bad for him I would protect him from the danger. Sakura, darling, you're bringing a blessing into his life."
Yes, and she is having a hard time believing the things Mikoto Uchiha is saying. Sakura is still feeling uncomfortable and tense when their drinks arrive. Mikoto tells her of her own pregnancies with her two sons, and how rewarding it is to be a mother. She shares anecdotes of the times she's asked her husband to get takeout in the middle of the night, of how much happier she was after giving birth because she felt her life had meaning.
All in all, Sakura knows that this is not all there is to know about her child's grandmother, but she does not press on for more information and chooses to chime in with her opinions every now and then. She shares a bit of her own family history when Mikoto asks about her life. And strangely, she begins to grow more and more comfortable around the older woman.
"I cannot stress this enough. Whatever you need, I am here for you. This is my first grandchild and the consequences should not dull your experience of being a mother."
"Thank you, Mrs Uchiha."
"Call me Mikoto. We will be seeing much more of one another in the future. The little one won't be lonely."
Mikoto's phone rings, she picks it up and starts to look around. Sakura sees as someone familiar walks into the cafe and the older woman waves at him. He is a young professor in the Faculty of Anthropology, if she recalls correctly. As he gets closer, she notices the similar long black hair and almond shaped eyes. It is like looking at a Sasuke in his late twenties or early thirties.
"This is my son Itachi," she introduces them. "Itachi, this is Sakura."
"Ah, you're a student here?"
Sakura has to take in how mundane this conversation sounds.
"Yes, grad student in medical science. With professor Tsunade," she adds.
Itachi nods, recognizing the name. "You're in good hands."
And this is how Sakura gets to know two of her baby's relatives, by drinking a milkshake at Konoha U's cafe as if this was another sort of meeting, something completely unrelated with baby-talk. She concludes that Mikoto and Itachi will be a very good influence in her child's future, happy to have gained the father's family's support.
When Sasuke's mother and brother drop Sakura off at her place, Mikoto gives her a tight hug and suggestions on how to deal with morning sickness and stretch marks. Itachi then jokes saying that her advice is unnecessary, seeing as Sakura is studying medical science after all.
"Everything you say counts," Sakura adds.
"Call me whenever you need. I am free almost, if not all, the time. That's what comes with having a rich husband and being a housewife," Mikoto jokes.
When she gets out of the car, Sakura can faintly hear Itachi say that he is content with her. Sakura unlocks the door to her apartment with a smile on her face.
"Is it hard to believe that your baby is about the size of my car keys now?" Tsunade always asks and gives the strangest facts about being pregnant. Having never experienced it herself, Sakura thinks that her dear supervisor looks at having a baby through the objective, scientific lens. And that Sakura is now her guinea pig.
Sakura cannot blame her, though. Her own perspective on pregnancy was like that too before. At twelve weeks, her little human is already the size of a car key, has a beating heart and eyelids to cover the developing eyes. Her clothes are fitting a lot tighter now, and she opts for loose shirts and sweat pants whenever possible in the unforgiving winter.
Luckily, Tsunade is allowing her to take as long as she needs in completing her degree, although she does not have much left. Her parents and Mikoto, after a lot of insisting, deposited some a fair amount into a savings fund to help her with the baby. Even Ino is excited about maternity clothes shopping.
Sakura cannot be any happier than this. Except for the fact that her bedroom is becoming too small to the idea of having a crib placed beside her bed, and that there are not enough shelves in the kitchen for baby supplies and food. Especially that her current living quarter is not child proof.
And so, she calls Sasuke one day and asks him for help in finding a new place to live. They've agreed on meeting once a week, sometimes every two weeks if schedules get too hectic for one of them. Their meetings don't last for much longer than three hours, and usually follow the same pattern of filling in each other's lives, asking about Sakura's symptoms, and maybe sharing a meal. He always offers to do more, quite aware of his absence in her life, but she always declines with the excuse that everyone else is taking too much care of her -his mother included- and that he does not need to worry too much.
But today, Sakura finds it fitting to ask for his opinion in what would become their baby's first home. She spent all of last week looking at several listings and visiting some places that sounded much more appealing on paper than in reality.
"I have a list of places I want to check out today. Most of them are around Konoha U, but knowing the household conditions of students in my situation I doubt I'll find something that isn't about to go down."
They have the listings Sakura printed spread on the kitchen table at his apartment. She cannot find the appetite in this place, declining Sasuke's offer to get take out.
"What about this one?" Sasuke points at a two bedroom apartment on the east side of Konoha after they have already gone to see three other options without a result.
"That one is a bit too far away for my liking."
"But it's near where I work."
Sakura bites her lip in discomfort. "I just don't know if I can afford the rent at this place."
She only has her research assistant job at Konoha U, which helps her living expenses, and a full scholarship that covers her tuition and books. This new place costs about the same as the one she currently lives in, but she would not have roommates to help her pay the rent. Ino is just starting as a psychologist and Sai does not get much from his art galleries yet, but they all help one another when it comes go covering the bills.
Besides, the option of going back to her parents' place is near impossible since they moved to another city.
"I'll help you pay for it," Sasuke offers, and holds out his hand when Sakura is about to interrupt. "You won't let me pay for your rent, so I'll help you pay for half of it and cover the expenses related to the baby. It's a good place, close to my work. I can visit often and sleep with the comfort that my child is going to live in a good neighbourhood."
She still feels uncomfortable with the idea of Sasuke wanting to pay for everything.
They go see the apartment, and Sakura is convinced when she realizes how easy it will be to take the public transit even though Sasuke tells her he can drive. In spite of his wish to provide more to Sakura, she still prefers to remain humble about certain things. She does not want to become a pity party for him.
"The crib can go here," she stands on one side of the room, her arms creating an imaginary rectangle around her. "And my bed can still fit. I mean, I'll have to move the whole thing around once the baby goes to the other room, but it will work."
She unconsciously rubs her belly, having adopted that habit since it's begun to feel swollen. The apartment does not come with furniture, and she may have to ask her parents for some of their worn out chairs and table. But it will be fine, she and the little one have a place of their own now, with a fully functioning kitchen and a bright future ahead.
"I'm kind of excited," she confesses. Her hand is still on her belly when she catches Sasuke looking at her with an expression she's never seen before. He does not share any word, but Sakura can tell that in spite of their differences he's just as excited.
Moving to her new apartment is not difficult as she does not have many things to take with her. Sai, Naruto, Sasuke and her other guy friends take care of the big furniture while her girl friends look after the decoration and the new furniture for the baby. Mikoto and Sasuke's father, Fugaku, give her a crib as a present and she is in love with the white painted wood and the tiny mattress where her baby will be sleeping in less than a year.
It is in her ultrasound that Sakura first hears her heartbeat.
The clear bathump of her daughter's heart fills the room's empty silence. It is almost impossible for Sakura to hear and not get emotional. The past couple of weeks have been a bit difficult with her roller coaster of hormones and studies. Her back has been killing her, the swelling of her breasts made her go up a size, and her ankles do not even look like ankles anymore.
She realizes how it is all worthwhile when she hears that loud pulse and sees a cocooned growing human in the black and white monitor. And it is the most beautiful thing she's seen in her life.
Sasuke remains silent beside her, taking in the sound of the heart he helped create. He does not say much else after they finish with the ultrasound, and she can only guess that he is impressed with how life can grow from a tiny pea to a walking adult.
"Thanks for coming with me," she says, getting on the passenger seat of his car with difficulty.
Sakura never doubts how grateful she is of Sasuke's presence in spite of her initial insistence that he does not have to get involved. But after today, she can finally say that she feels like a mother as much as he feels like a father. She wants to hug him and tell him he will be a great dad but has to restrain herself when she remembers that he will only be that to her.
Just her daughter's father, maybe even a friend, but nothing more than that.
She gives him a picture of the ultrasound so that he learns where her head and her toes are. He says he will keep it in a safe place and Sakura doubts that he is the kind of person who puts a child's ultrasound image on their fridge.
They go to his workplace, this being the first time she goes in the Indra Corp tower. Mikoto asked Sakura to go out for a drink (hot chocolate for her and coffee for the older woman), and they agreed to meet at her family's business. The steel elevator brings them up to the last floor of the building, and the lack of decorations remind Sakura of Sasuke's apartment.
That is when she first meets the CEO of Indra Corp, Fugaku Uchiha, and the founder, Madara Uchiha. They are both sitting in a lounge with Mikoto when Sasuke and she arrive, and she can already feel scrutinized under the gaze of the older men. Fugaku is not as involved as his wife in the development of his granddaughter, but has still shown support by buying presents and sending his regards whenever Sakura and Mikoto meet up.
Madara Uchiha, on the other hand, makes Sakura's bones freeze. There is something about the way he looks at her, with a subtle judgement, that she finds uncomfortable. She places a hand on her round belly, as if trying to protect her unborn daughter from someone like Madara.
Sakura does not fret too much about it, thinking that she may only have to see this man for no more than other five times in her life if she plays her cards well.
"It's a girl," Sasuke announces and his mother is the only one to get up and hug them. She then takes Sakura by linking her arm and walks her down to the first floor, and out to start their coffee date.
When Madara sees his heir holding a gift bag before walking out of his office, he asks the younger man to join him for a chat. Sasuke, as the obedient worker and grandnephew he's always been, agrees with the condition that they don't take too long.
"So a daughter, huh." Madara crosses his arms while Sasuke nods in silence. "Who would have thought? And how are you planning on staying in her life?"
"Sakura knows that she has my full support. If my daughter needs anything, I will be there for her," he answers.
The owner of Indra Corp looks up and down at his young grandnephew. Back when he was Sasuke's age, people married and had children left right and centre. They took the challenge, sacrificing themselves with whatever job that came their way. But times are different now; he's founded a company that is meant to be passed down the generations in an honourable way even if he never had any children himself.
Which is why Madara is not happy with the situation that the person he's been trying to mold as the head of one of Konoha's biggest telecommunications companies is in. When he sees a threat, he needs to take initiative and think what is best for Indra Corp, its executives, and its consumers.
"I think that you need to ask for a paternity test. Many times, women like her look for excuses like pregnancy to get more money in their pockets."
"Sakura is not like that."
Oh, how naive he can be at times. Madara does not continue the conversation on that topic, knowing that he has already planted the seed. Now, he just needs to let it grow.
"That's very honourable of you, Sasuke. Now," he opens one of his drawers and takes out his phone book. "I want you to meet this young lady. Before you get up and leave, though, please consider calling her. She may be a great asset to the company with her credentials, and I've heard that she is really attractive in person. You are already twenty four and need to worry about finding a partner who matches with you."
Sasuke does not know what went down in Sakura's mind to react like this.
When he gave her the present he bought earlier today, after having that strange conversation with Madara, he thought that she was going to be really happy. The tiny, white and pink dress seemed like a fitting gift for their future daughter.
However, it seems that Sakura's opinion on the subject is not the same. He hands her the gift bag, she opens it, and begins to cry out of nowhere. Not knowing what to do, Sasuke goes for the obvious and asks her what bothers her so much about the dress.
"It's a dress!" Sakura cries, taking a seat in her living room. "I don't want my baby to be confined to gendered clothing! She shouldn't be categorized as a girl before she can even walk and talk, without giving her own opinion of whether she wants to wear dresses or a tuxedo!"
At first, Sasuke is puzzled by her sudden words, having never thought of whether his daughter cares about what she wears when she can't even eat by herself. He looks around with a tad of desperation in an attempt to find something that will comfort a pregnant, hormonal Sakura. His eyes land on the stacks of books he assumes she has spent all morning reading. There is a vast selection on parenting guides and -to his surprise and understanding- a book on gender in early childhood.
Sasuke rolls his eyes without Sakura noticing and sits down beside her. She is still crying and clutching the dainty little dress he bought.
"I will return it tomorrow morning."
"Oh, no, please don't do that! I'm sorry, I just... I've been reading."
He points at the stack of books with his head and she nods in return, pouting. Is it normal for women to become big babies while they are carrying one?
They end up spending the rest of the evening eating cup noodles with processed cheese and watching movies. This is the first time Sasuke remembers spending so many hours with Sakura without feeling awkward about his lack of presence in her life. And, in spite of Madara's earlier words, he finds that he is enjoying the idea of giving at least one full day to Sakura and their unborn daughter rather than three hours a week.
"Are you free this Saturday? I need to buy more clothes for her."
"Sorry, I'm not. I have," he hesitates for a second, "I have a date." The paper Madara gave him with the phone number written on it feels significantly heavier in his pocket.
Sasuke knows that things between him and Sakura are not meant to work out in their favour. First of all, she does not show any sort of interest in him, and he does not want to imagine that something could eventually happen because things are already a lot messier than they should be. Sure, she is an intelligent woman and will be a great mother. But he has a different way of life that would never fit in to hers; she would never be happy with him.
And he... and he would have to ignore the way his day glows when he sees her smile.
Hence why he needs to move on with his life and find someone more appropriate for the world he comes from. It does not mean that the blind date he has on Saturday night will lead to anything else, but he cannot keep his hands in his pockets while he knows that Sakura can just as easily find someone to fulfill her romantic life.
Nevertheless, he would not choose any other woman to carry his child.
She wishes this moment had never happened.
No, she is not talking about her future daughter. There isn't a day that she thanks the world for the little life growing in her uterus.
It all starts when she calls Sasuke to come over to her apartment. Being twenty two weeks pregnant, Sakura's excitement is no longer like a normal person's. Every emotion she feels is heightened by her hormones, and it has become a normal routine to find her going from laughing to crying and back to laughing in less than a minute.
Ino had just left, her arms carrying a stack of papers with brainstorm ideas for her daughter's baby shower. At school, Sakura is close to finishing her work at the laboratory and discovering groundbreaking new data. She's been having a great week with great decisions, to say the least.
So when Sasuke shows up, unaware of her intentions, she greets him with a warm smile before leading him to the living room. She tries to forget that he is seeing someone and moving on in his life, knowing that the news she's about to share is something he would like to hear.
"So what has you calling me to come over here at midnight?"
It's inconvenient, Sakura knows, but Sasuke has repeated many times in the past that he is be available at any time. At first, she would have never considered asking him to show up at such a late hour, but she is too excited to contain herself. She tells him to wait a bit longer, her bladder needing her attention before saying her announcement.
When she gets back from the bathroom, she stands in front of him and claps her hand. "I've chosen a name!"
Sasuke seems to not know what to say, and nods slowly to let her continue talking.
"No, silly. Like the goddess of wisdom," a girly giggle, the type her voice has not tried to make since her teenage years, escapes from her lips.
She disregards the tilt in Sasuke's head after hearing that giggle.
Sakura then hands him a book that she borrowed from the library not too long ago. She opens the bookmarked page and shows him the title of the new chapter, one which talks about the goddess Sarada. It gives a brief introduction on the origin of the name, and then on the important people who've had it through history.
"It's perfect," Sakura continues. "This is what I've been looking for. I wanted a powerful and beautiful name."
Sasuke grins, because he can never truly smile. It's like his facial muscles prohibit him from showing too much emotion -or that Sakura has never seen him do it. "I like how it sounds."
"Right?" She rubs her large belly affectionately. "Sarada Haruno."
And it is as if the room dropped ten degrees in temperature. Sasuke slams the book on her coffee table and gives her a questioning look.
"Why?" His question is more of a demand. Sakura watches as he stands up from the sofa and goes to get a glass of water from her kitchen. Sasuke has been over so many times that he walks around her place like it is his second home. Although he's never slept over, Sakura keeps a sofa-bed in Sarada's future room just in case he or another one of her guests needs a place to sleep. Not like he needs one, anyway.
"Because I am going to have her, Sasuke."
She doesn't want to mention how his mother isn't too happy about the idea either, or how she's been getting letters from Madara Uchiha encouraging her to keep her distance. This is her daughter, the one she will love for the rest of her life. Whatever happens between her, Sasuke, and Sarada should not involve anyone else and she only wishes to maintain a civil relationship with him in her own terms.
This is the first time she's seen Sasuke so worked up about something. The way his chest rises and falls as he contains himself makes Sakura feel a lot smaller than usual. Her hands fall away from her belly, and then cross in front of her chest in a defensive mode.
"She's an Uchiha," he states. "She's my daughter as much as she's yours."
"Sasuke," she starts. "I will be the one to raise her, it makes more sense to give her my last name."
Sakura does not realize how much her words are hurting him at that moment, but she's only thinking as logically as she can. He's already seeing someone, it's obvious that eventually he will marry and have his kids become the heirs of his family company. That is not the future that she wants for Sarada; by giving her her maternal last name, she will be less bound to the world that people like Madara live in.
She doesn't find the courage to say that, though. Instead, she says, "You're dating someone else. Sasuke, it's not like I will feel comfortable when someone asks for a Sarada Uchiha and her mother does not have the same last name. You know as much as I do that things would never work out between us."
Her mind is jumping in different directions. It hurts her to say it. It hurts her to look at his face, to know that she willingly carries his child, but that he is still as unreachable and impossible as the first night they met.
She doesn't notice that he is no longer sitting down until he grabs her by the shoulders, forcing her to look at him in the eyes. There is a sort of fire in them, of onyx flames that clash with her greens.
"Don't you dare say that again." Sasuke's words are harsh, but his actions speak much louder.
His mouth crashes on hers. He kisses her so hard that she almost falls backwards if it wasn't because of his grip. Sakura cannot contain herself; the last time they've touched each other like this was the only time and she cannot deny that her imagination runs wild with him on top of her every once in a while. Blame it on her hormones, or the fact that last time she got laid she ended up pregnant.
She kisses him back, not even thinking of the consequences or the weight of his words. Her arms link around his neck, pushing his face towards her to deepen her lips. She is careful of little Sarada, of not squeezing her belly too much between them. Sasuke runs his hands down towards it, also aware of his daughter keeping him from getting closer to her mother but no less affectionate.
That is when Sakura feels a sudden sensation and has to run to the bathroom. Her bladder has developed the worst timing known to mankind, but for once she is grateful for its unpredictably.
Sakura buries her face in her hands while she sits on the toilet, shaking her head in disbelief. How could she let herself go like that? Having a daughter with Sasuke is one thing, but kissing him while they fight, fully aware of his relationship status is a whole other thing. She fears that he may think she is taking advantage of his status, which she isn't at all.
Heck, if things went her way in the first place, she would not have attended Hinata's engagement party in the first place!
A clicking sound of her front door closing brings her back to reality. Sasuke is gone, and she finds herself torn between wanting him to come back and never seeing him again.
She cleans herself up before making her way to the kitchen, only to find the glass Sasuke had drunk water from tipped over and about to fall off the table. She picks it up and rinses it in the sink, trying to keep her composure as normal as possible until the tears start to fall.
He's got a girlfriend. He shouldn't be kissing the woman he knocked up. He has a future ahead, one in which he can include Sarada whenever he wants while Sakura chooses to do it full-time.
Sasuke is unreachable, unstoppable, impossible. And to kiss her like that, like she is the centre of his world makes Sakura's knees shatter as she slides down to the floor. She sobs so hard that she finds it difficult to breathe.
It's two in the morning, in her new apartment, with the full support of her family and friends, with Sarada growing bigger every day, but Sakura has never felt so lonely.
At around four in the morning, she opens the top kitchen drawer, and lifts up the plastic organizer that keeps her cutlery to take out all of Madara's letters she's been collecting. They are not direct threats, but they ask for a paternity test, for her to move far away, to keep as much distance as possible between her and Sasuke because he is the future of all Madara has worked in building. The asshole does not seem to know his grandnephew that well, she thinks bitterly. He treats Sasuke like his personal doll, a mannequin that he gets to manipulate until his last breath.
Sakura looks for her matches, collects all of those empty threats, and ignites a fire in her sink. She feels so defeated, so easily breakable that it surprises how long she's lasted before turning upside down. Her sobs become calmer and calmer as the letters burn away, turning into black ash and grey smoke. She cannot tell Sasuke about them, it would hinder his only chance of making it far in his life and his relationship with his family.
She grabs her cellphone and dials Ino's number.
"I can't do this," it's the first thing that she says when her best friend picks up.
"Do you want me to come over?"
It's almost four thirty in the morning and the idea sounds appealing. "No, my place smells like smoke."
"We... I... he kissed me. Ino, I don't know what to do anymore." She gives her a brief summary of what happened, omitting the part that Sasuke is seeing someone else because it somehow stabs her heart a bit deeper every time she remembers.
"I'll be there first thing in the morning," her best friend promises.
"I love you. Sorry to wake you up."
"Little Sarada is my first goddaughter. Anything for her and her mom."
"Thanks. See you tomorrow?"
"Yes, but before you hang up. Why does it smell like smoke?"
"Oh, I was just burning the threats that the founder of Indra Corp has been sending me," her voice's casual tone goes well with her growing sleep deprivation and apathy.
"He sounds like a real douche."
"You've no idea."
Sasuke knows how to mask his emotions. He's done it all his life, choosing to follow orders than to go against what his father and great uncle have to say. In all honesty, meeting Sakura has brought an incredible imbalance in the life he's chosen to lead. He is supposed to follow his family's footsteps, take over Indra Corp, and have a wealthy family like his parents have. He's never questioned their parenting style; he's always considered how hard his father works to provide for the family and for his employees. Sasuke has never doubted that having a life like his father's isn't full of dignity. And after almost losing his mother, he knows how valuable it is to have her.
Itachi is the original rebel of the family, choosing to follow his own career as an anthropologist and handing down the title of heir to the younger brother. Sasuke does not have anyone to burden with the responsibility, though, and still feels resentment towards Itachi for freeing his own life while tying him down to a future mandated by his elders.
However, his family dynamics completely changed when his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. The chemotherapy almost broke down any sort of relation he had with his parents and brother, but the successful recovery with the help of the best doctors only confirmed one thing in his life. His mother, father and brother are everything to him and if it wasn't for Indra Corp's influence, his mother would never have gotten the appropriate treatment.
Mikoto calls Sarada a blessing. After being so close to death, she takes her granddaughter as a sign of greater things happening in their family. Sasuke considers his future daughter the best surprise he's ever had. He doesn't want to call her a mistake; those are events he regrets and Sarada is not even close to that.
Which is why his only way to give his daughter the best life she can have is by selling his soul to the endless nights of work at Indra Corp. After the last time he and Sakura fought, he's thrown himself in his work, accepting whatever little favour Madara asks of him. He is still fully aware of his great uncle's opinion on the matter, and of how he might be taking advantage of Sasuke's vulnerable state to distance him more from Sakura. As a matter of fact, Madara only gives an him time off when he says he will be seeing Karin.
And Karin is the last thing on his mind. He does not love her or even like her company. But the solid reminder that Sakura does not want anything to do with him still hits his chest like a hard stone and makes it difficult to breathe.
Whenever he sees Karin, they sit down for dinner at his apartment and then he retreats to his bedroom, not wanting to think how the wrong woman is occupying the other side of his bed. He can't have sex with her, he can barely even touch her. It's all appearances for the best if the company and to keep hidden the fact that Sarada's mother is the one he constantly thinks about.
And like the asshole he is, he does not even consider Karin's feelings in this whole arrangement. She is getting her large slice, he thinks, as she now works for Indra Corp and has the chance to move up in the company.
Much to his luck, the business world does not worry too much about the personal lives of its top executives unless they date a celebrity or are on the brink of bankruptcy. However, Sasuke still finds himself wanting to share about Sarada's development after every interview he conducts on behalf of Indra Corp and being unable to do so because he has to keep up with appearances.
Days pass without hearing from Sakura. He gives her space, not knowing what to do about their situation himself. He does not know why he kissed her, why her decision to use her own last name bothered him so much. He only hears from her through Naruto, who finds out whenever his fiancée meets up with Sakura. They have also been busy with their wedding plans, ironically limiting their conversations to almost all the people invited to the ceremony.
It's been five weeks without Sakura when Itachi knocks on his apartment door.
"Little brother," the usual greeting does not even annoy him like it used to. At this point, Sasuke cannot recognize between feeling content or sad. It's as if a large chunk of his life had been ripped out of his chest.
He lets his older brother in his apartment, but Itachi does not move from his spot.
"Do you need something?" Sasuke asks, his hand still on the door knob.
"I was wondering if you wanted to come take a walk with me," he begins. "The Faculty of Art has just finished setting up new sculptures around campus."
The way that Sasuke is dressed when he exits his apartment shows how young he is for his position. At twenty four, not many would think that the young man wearing a grey pullover and black jeans is in fact earning an unimaginable salary and is the heir of Indra Corp. He feels less confined to his deadlocked life with these clothes on, though.
They reach Konoha U by car, though Itachi had originally wanted to take public transit but Sasuke does not feel like he could handle that many people squeezed in a bus.
He shoves his hands in his pullover's pockets, barely paying attention to Itachi's endless lecture about the inspiration behind the art that covers the grounds of his work place. Sasuke is not familiar with Konoha U like his brother, having never attended university in the city like most of his classmates. After his senior year, he was sent to study abroad for four years to get a business degree without his opinion on whether he likes the subject or not. Like most things, he just followed whatever path was laid in front because Itachi had already disappointed the family once, and Sasuke did not want to miss his chance of being his father's favourite after years of neglect.
He would have liked to study at this place. It's close to home, well-known, and the old fashioned buildings surrounded by green trees give him a sense of calmness that is difficult to find in the crowded city.
Itachi leads him into a building, filling him in on how mother has been ordering catalogs from every newborn store in the country to find the perfect gifts for the baby shower. Sasuke tries to cloud his mind from thinking of anything related to Sakura, but cannot hide his curiosity in imagining how crazy of a grandmother his mother will be to Sarada.
"And this is the Faculty of Medical Science," Itachi points at a large banner in the lobby of the building they had just entered. It is renovated from the inside, though still retains its wooden grand staircase and detailed carvings. "The labs are down this way."
Sasuke already knows what his brother is trying to do. This was Itachi's intention when he asked to go out for a walk. The main question is how his brother found out that he has not kept in touch with Sakura for weeks, and how difficult it's been for him. Sasuke looks around at all of the students wearing white lab coats, looking uniform in the ocean of glass materials and microscopes.
However, Sakura still sticks out among her colleagues. She is on the other side of a glass door, looking at a paper she has sitting on her round belly while her teeth chew the end of a pen. His heart stops, taking in as another student whispers something in her ear and makes her laugh really loudly. This is the Sakura he's never seen; the one who finds the meaning of her life in a laboratory and is happy with it regardless of how cloudy her future looks. She's mentioned it before, how much she loves what she studies, but has never given Sasuke the opportunity to see it for himself.
His eyes are still fixated on her belly when Itachi knocks on the door, catching one of Sakura's colleague's attention. His brother asks for her, and when Sakura gets up from her seat Sasuke notices how her legs wobble a little because of the extra weight she carries.
"Sasuke," she says his name with a hint of surprise in her sweet voice. "You look casual."
The look Sakura gives Sasuke is trying to conceal reminders of the last time they were together. That, he can tell.
"You cut your hair." And so, he must follow the same game.
Sakura holds the ends of her pink locks, which reached down her back five weeks ago but now are at the length of her shoulders. Her smile does not reach her eyes. "Ino cut it two weeks ago. It's so much easier to handle now that I barely feel like showering."
"Have you been eating well?"
The bags under her eyes match his, making him think that in reality they do have some things in common.
"Sometimes I feel like I want to finish a watermelon by myself, and other times I can't stand the sight of food. The usual."
Her arms are crossed in front of her chest, reminding Sasuke that he is not in his domain and that she is still defensive around him. Although he is the one who showed up -not on his own terms- he is still in her main territory. The short hair, white lab coat, and bulging belly make her look empowering to his jeans and pullover.
He wants to talk about what happened, but cannot find the right words. He sees that she's learned how to build up the same walls he uses when something gets too personal to handle. Sakura is not to blame, though, being fully aware that he is responsible for his own actions and his yearning for a woman he does not even know how to handle.
"So, uh, did you want to grab a milkshake? I can take my break now," she offers.
Sasuke does not want the discomfort to come back between them. He's realized that finding out he has nothing in common with Sakura makes his days go by a lot smoother.
"Sure. Itachi is just-"
"Sakura," his brother greets, neither of them aware of his trip to the restroom in the first place.
Sakura smiles at him with a lot more familiarity than Sasuke likes to witness. He has to tighten his jaw to hold back his sudden desire to push his brother away from the mother of his child. They begin to walk ahead of him, and Sasuke feels that the weight of his absence in Sakura's life has doubled if not tripled, and that Itachi seems to be filling in that absence pretty well.
Sakura has noticed before, though she never felt the need to make a comment.
Mikoto may be a woman with grace for her years of motherhood and socialite lifestyle, a contrast to Sakura's own characteristics. But as the two women sit down for another lunch together, the Uchiha matriarch opens up to the mother of her grandchild like she's never done before.
"I got married at eighteen and was pregnant with Itachi at nineteen. Fugaku's parents agreed with mine that our union would strengthen the company, and I had no say on who I could be with since I was so young. I was eighteen, he twenty five and with years of experience and a chance to have some sort of independence before settling down. It was my only way out of the house, thinking that being his wife would grant me a bank account that could take me to a place far away from Konoha. But then Itachi was born and I never had the sort of freedom I wanted. Fugaku was immersed in his job, having already done his duty of producing an heir.
"After Sasuke was born, he was too focused on building Itachi up as a businessman to notice that his younger son also needed attention. I felt so lost; I loved my two boys equally but I saw how one suffered from lack of attention while the other wanted a way out of his destiny. When Itachi told us he did not want to work Indra Corp and instead pursue a career as an anthropologist, Fugaku began to bring Sasuke into work. My Sasuke has had to compromise to his father's approval by never following his own dreams. Fugaku and I were going through divorce when I was diagnosed, and it changed everything. After I won my battle against breast cancer, I knew good things would come our way. It saved my marriage, it made my children want to spend time with me, it gave me a second chance. And now I get to meet my granddaughter," Mikoto gives her the softest, most sincere smile Sakura has ever seen.
And she wants to cry. Because nobody has ever opened up to her like that before, much less a woman like Mikoto, who must have felt that not many people would appreciate hearing her story.
Sakura remembers the times she's felt alone since the beginning of her pregnancy; alone and lost among her loved ones. She looks at Mikoto, and thinks of all the suffering this woman has gone through and still finds things to be keep her happy.
Nevertheless, she's never felt any closer to Sarada's grandmother than when she shared her battle with breast cancer. Mikoto hides her chest really well, always wearing the right clothes to disguise the fact that she is missing her most feminine assets. But she carries herself with the kind of dignity that Sakura admires and strives to one day accomplish. Whereas the public eye may see her as a rich man's wife, Sakura sees Mikoto as the most humble human being in the planet.
She gets up from her seat, not even caring about the increasing struggle to stay on her swollen feet, and reaches her arms out until they are wrapped around Mikoto's shoulders.
"Thank you for sharing your story. You are one of the strongest people I've ever known."
That same night, Sakura sits in her bed and begins telling her large belly how much she is going to love her grandmother Uchiha.
She stands in front of her bathroom mirror, having just stepped out of the shower. At thirty weeks, her body has gained almost all the weight it needs to gain during pregnancy. Sakura never thought that she would have bigger breasts, and hopes that they stay after Sarada is born. She looks back at a year ago, when she thought that life would only be about labs and hospitals. Now her life revolves around finding a way of providing for a baby as a single mother.
Madara's empty threats have subsided significantly. It seems that her efforts to keep Sasuke away are working in the old man's favour, for Sakura keeps encouraging the father of her daughter to concentrate on his work and social life.
Sakura knows she does not want to meet the girlfriend. She's not jealous or frightened that Karin will not like her, she just does not want to get involved with that side of Sasuke's life. There are things she wishes to stay away from so that Sarada is not too affected by the fact that her mom and dad will never be together. She knows that, over the years, her daughter will have a step dad and a step mom. That will be Sarada's reality. It's such a foreign idea to her; her parents have been together since they were fifteen.
And as if on cue, she hears a knock on her door. She covers herself with her bathrobe, walking out of the bathroom with a growing smile on her lips. All worries of Sarada's futures are set aside when she opens the door to two pairs of arms holding presents.
"Sakura! Oh, look at you!" Her mother frees her arms from the gifts so that she can wrap them around Sakura. "You're so much bigger now. Ah, darling, where's the camera? I don't have any photographs with my pregnant daughter!"
Sakura's parents settle in what would become Sarada's nursery. Thankfully, Naruto and Hinata had an extra bed in their house and lent it to her last week. It's a bit crowded with the baby's furniture, but she cannot be any happier to have her parents in her new home. They sit down for lunch, which goes well into the evening with all of the things Mebuki teaches her about motherhood.
Kizashi and Mebuki Haruno are childhood sweethearts who got married at the young age of twenty. They spent many years childless, choosing to enjoy the beauty of travelling while young and with each other's company. Sakura grew up hearing stories of her parents' many adventures in all parts of the world, always wishing to find a love like theirs. They eventually settled down in Konoha, where they raised Sakura until she graduated from high school.
After that, they decided to switch their backyard view from the luscious trees that surround Konoha to the peaceful coast in the east. Sakura chose to stay and study at Konoha U, as a form of independence and with the dream of finding her soul mate in a classroom and travel the world with him. That clearly never happened, having had boyfriends who never saw the world the same way she did. And now she is taking the journey through parenthood, something equally if not more exciting and scary.
Her mother pampers her with gifts and her father looks around her place, fixing whatever needs to be fixed.
Tomorrow is her baby shower, which will be held in her apartment, and hopes to have enough energy to entertain her guests for a whole day.
The next day, Sakura is -to say the least- shocked.
Her mother and Mikoto get along like the best of friends. Her mother's wrinkle lines are even more noticeable with the way she smiles at what the Uchiha matriarch says. This is something completely unimaginable, seeing Mikoto, one of the richest women in the city, talking with Mebuki, a woman who comes from a contrasting past.
"Hey, Ino. Do you think we'll be like that when we are older?" She whispers to her best friend, who is busy getting the nonalcoholic drinks ready for the baby shower.
Ino looks up when she hears the giggling coming out of Mebuki and Mikoto.
"We've always been like that. And we'll always stay that way," she winks. "How's the little one feeling today?"
Sakura places a hand on her belly and runs it affectionately. "She spent all morning kicking. I think it's because she hears my parents' voices constantly talking to my belly."
Hinata and Tenten arrive soon after, and Sakura's mother starts talking about their childhood to Mikoto, who finds the stories of how Sakura and her friends used to dress up like superheroes extremely entertaining.
"It's incredible to see how a few years ago they were talking about the future and now it's happening," Mebuki comments with a nostalgic tone.
Sakura smiles, embracing the warmth of being surrounded with the women she wants Sarada to look up to. Ino, being the godmother, made sure that her apartment was decorated with soft pinks and greens as a homage to Sakura's favourite colours (and not because they are feminine colours). She took care of coming up with games, of making everybody feel comfortable, and the food was just amazing. Hinata and Tenten gave her diapers and clothing for little Sarada; Tsunade gift cards to baby stores and books on parenting; her parents a diaper changing station; and Mikoto a letter that she was instructed to open after the baby is born.
Sakura is more than pleased with all of the material gifts she got. But more importantly, she wishes to see the good qualities of these women in Sarada when she grows up.
It is after most of her guests leave that Sakura is presented with the most unexpected surprise. Ino goes home after cleaning her kitchen, Mebuki decides to join Sakura's father in visiting some old friends around the city, and Mikoto is waiting for her chauffeur to pick her up.
She hears a gentle knock on her door, thinking that it must be one of her friends coming back to retrieve a forgotten item. Sakura wobbles to the entrance to her apartment all the while hearing the Uchiha matriarch gathering her purse. After opening her door, she sees Sasuke standing on the other side, hands in his pockets, trying not to look directly into her eyes.
Sakura pauses before speaking, not quite expecting to see him on the day of her baby shower. She remembers mentioning that it is usually an all-female affair (except for her father) and that he does not have to worry about being present.
She opens her mouth once it all clicks in her brain.
"Hey, came to pick up your mom?" Sakura cannot believe how distracted she can get during pregnancy. That and she does not know what else to say to Sasuke.
After all, he is only the father of the child she is carrying.
Sasuke nods. "And I have something." He takes one hand out of his pant pocket, placing a small silver envelope in Sakura's palm.
She raises an eyebrow in curiosity, and cannot contain herself before lifting the flap and revealing what is inside. She pulls out a lilac gift card, similar to the one Tsunade had given her, adorned with cursive white writing and the drawing of a lotus flower.
"For a spa?" she asks, once again wanting to slap herself mentally for pointing out the obvious.
"It's not too far from here, and you can go as many times as you'd like. Just let me know when you want it recharged," Sasuke informs after shrugging his shoulders. He shifts on his feet after an awkward silence settles between them, and has to divert his look as he adds, "I read it in a parenting book that you must be feeling uncomfortable at this stage. Going to a spa will help."
Sakura still does not say anything, and has to snap out of her trance after staring at the plastic card in her hand for what feels like an eternity. She finds Sasuke's eyes and gives him a soft smile, the sudden urge to wrap her arms around his torso making her take a step closer. She stops herself before any sort of physical contact occurs, though, remembering that last time she showed too much emotion to Sasuke they ended up kissing and walking on eggshells for weeks.
"I... Thank you, Sasuke. It's really nice of you."
It's like his shoulders become straighter and his demeanour a little more confident. Sakura knows that he wants to be around more often in spite of her refusals, and has not imagined how much it must be hurting him to be kept away from the development of his unborn daughter. Since his visit to her laboratory, they've maintained civil contact through phone calls and the odd chance that they briefly bump into each other at the Uchiha household when Sakura visits Mikoto.
She does not want to think of how his absence affects her too. He should continue living his own life, having found a partner in Karin. Sakura will continue living hers, knowing that there are no more intersections in their lives except for Sarada. And she is fine with it, she repeats in her mind, she is fine raising their daughter on her own and will not be disappointed in herself when Sasuke fulfills his love with other women.
"Thank you, really," she interrupts. "You didn't have to, but I won't deny that it will come useful." This present is just a small sign of how he thinks of her, and she's not ready to accept it. "I'm also really happy that you're doing well. She seems to be keeping you busy."
Saying Karin's name hurts a little in her insides, and the discomfort of having all of that extra weight is enough for her.
However, before Sasuke could attempt to say anything in response, his mother appears from the kitchen. "I'm all ready to go, Sasuke."
Mikoto kisses Sakura in her cheek, reminding her of their lunch meeting next week and saying that Mebuki is more than welcome to join them. Sakura mutters a goodbye to Sasuke before closing her door, the last guest already gone. She makes her way towards Sarada's future nursery, choosing to distract her thoughts from her daughter's father by attempting to reorganize the furniture with her growing belly getting in the way.
"And now I declare you husband and wife."
The bride and groom glow as they walk down the aisle, her white gown followed after a train of lace and flowers. Naruto beams as he looks at his new wife, and Sakura can feel the happiness radiate from her friends as they officially become one. The cheers coming from the guests are so loud that she can't hear anything but joy and good words.
Sakura joins the rest of the bridal party, led by Hanabi and Sasuke as the maid of honour and best man. The bridesmaids are dressed in lavender while the groomsmen match with their ties. She hooks her arm around Kiba's elbow, who previously told her to lie her weight on him if her ankles hurt too much. Sakura feels huge in comparison to her slender friends, once again being reminded that she is due anytime now.
She does not want to look towards her right as she walks down the aisle, knowing that Karin is standing beside Itachi, too afraid to finally put a face to the name that belongs in Sasuke's life.
Although she wishes to see more of Hinata's beauty in her wedding gown, Sakura cannot wait until she can get to a bathroom. Sarada is sitting right on top of her bladder and her nerves are not helping either.
The bridal party is greeted at a reception with exquisite food and drinks for its guests. The new Uzumaki couple beams while the speeches happen, first Naruto's parents and then Hinata's father, followed by Hanabi's sentimental remarks of having a great sister like Hinata and Sasuke's concise words.
"I never thought you could make it, dobe," Sasuke concludes his speech with a slight smirk, raising his champagne glass.
Sakura is reminded of what she first found attractive in the Uchiha. In spite of his rather closed off attitude, he knows how to carry himself in public due to his social pedigree. She unconsciously rubs her belly, wondering if her daughter will turn out with the same poise as her father.
This marks forty weeks since the engagement party, since she met Sasuke and they conceived Sarada. To some people, it feels like a long time ago. However, for Sakura, it went by much faster than she expected. Now they just have to wait until Sarada is ready to come into the world, and Sakura tries not to think about the pressure of going into labour.
That is, until she goes to the bathroom for the umpteenth time that night and her water breaks before she reaches the toilet.
"Shit," she mutters, looking down at the pool created in between her legs.
Naruto's mother, Kushina, is the first one to see her when she enters the bathroom. "I'm going to get Minato and we will drive you," she offers.
"Get me Ino first, please."
Sakura holds on to her belly, feeling a contraction manifest. She breathes in and out, in and out, leaning on the counter to keep her balance. Her hair, decorated in a low bun with soft curls, begins to stick to her neck as she feels the bathroom become hotter.
It seems that she will never have the chance of wearing a pretty dress without getting it dirty with something liquid, she thinks sarcastically, and then imagines how Sasuke may react to a comment like that one.
The contraction interrupts her distraction, making her let out an uncomfortable noise as the bathroom door opens once again. Ino comes in, Hinata and Tenten in tow. Sakura is not paying much attention to what they are saying, allowing her friends to grab her by the arms and carry her towards the back exit.
"Okay, let's get you to the hospital." That's Ino's voice.
"Sakura, you're going to be a mom. I'll be at the hospital after we finish the reception," Hinata's statement sounds a lot more surreal to her ears.
"Somebody needs to tell Sasuke! I'll go get him." Tenten disappears, but Sakura is too preoccupied trying to keep her breath as it dawns on her.
I'm going to be a mother.
It's the same mantra she recited when she first found out she was pregnant.
"I'm going to be a mother."
"Yes, darling, you are going to be a hot mom. Now get in the car."
Ino secures the seat belt around Sakura's belly, giving it a soft rub before igniting the car and making their way to the hospital. On the ride there, she reassures Sakura that Sai will not be mad that they left without notice and that he will arrive there as soon as he can.
Sakura lets the spring nighttime air freshen her neck as she rolls down the window, feeling too constricted inside the car. She thinks that she needs to tell her parents and Sasuke, that he will not forgive her if he's absent from this. No, he won't be absent. He'll be there, he wants to be there when Sarada is born.
"Don't feel too insecure about it. Sasuke will be there in a heartbeat. Tenten went to tell him."
At this point she is not even aware that she is thinking out loud.
Sasuke arrives at the hospital not long after Sakura is hooked into the IV. He enters her hospital room in spite of the nurses' advice to let her rest before having visitors. His black tuxedo is still in perfect condition, his hair in place, yet his face shows more emotion than she has ever seen. Sakura, on the other hand, knows that her makeup is smudged all over her face, her hair bun is a mess, and the hospital scrubs do not flatter her.
She cannot care less, though, for Sasuke rushes to her side and places his hands on her belly.
"She's coming," he mutters, still not believing it.
Sakura wants to say something, but another contraction interrupts her and she begins to breathe heavily. At first, Sasuke is worried, but when a nurse comes and cordially tells him to leave the mom-to-be until she feels better.
"Don't worry," Sakura pants, "I'll be fine."
The epidural comes in after four hours of laying in the same bed. Her pains go down, letting her rest for a bit before she hears the door of her hospital room open.
Sasuke comes in holding a water bottle, still wearing the same tuxedo, but this time with the ends of his tie hanging loose on the sides. He sits on the chair beside Sakura's bed and rests his elbows on his knees, lacing his fingers together. Sakura inhales deeply and then opens her eyes, still feeling uncomfortable as she turns her head towards him.
"Your parents are outside," Sasuke informs her. "They came to visit while you were sleeping. Here," he offers the water bottle to Sakura and she drinks a big gulp. "My mom is on her way with Itachi."
She nods, letting him know that she is listening. "Did the newlyweds have fun?"
"I can't really tell you, to be honest. When Tenten told me I left without telling Naruto where I was going."
It seems like a while since they've held a normal conversation, and Sakura laughs to herself at how mundane their current situation appears. Yes, leaving parties without announcement is something she and Sasuke are very familiar with at this point.
"Ino is at your place getting your diaper bag ready."
"That is something that she would do, immersing herself in what she calls her 'godmother responsibilities.'" Sakura wants to wiggle her fingers to make air quotes, but finds no strength in her arms.
"I've been carrying this, though." He pulls out something from his pocket. "One time you said you preferred gender neutral clothes."
It takes her a moment to realize that it is a small green sleeper, fit for a newborn baby. Sakura feels tears pool in her eyes, taking in Sasuke's consideration of carrying the small piece of clothing in his pocket, ready in his own way. She has to fight back once the crying begins, and swallows a lump before speaking.
"I want you there when she comes," her voice still cracks. "You deserve it, and I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I've tried to push you away. You've wanted to be there and I've had a hard time accepting it. Please, don't leave until Sarada is with us."
She feels a warm hand on top of hers and the tears fall.
It might be the drugs, or it might be the hormones and nerves, but Sakura knows in that moment that in spite of their circumstances, Sasuke will always have a special place in her heart. She does not want to think that in that silent moment, where his hand is still on top of hers, she feels that there is clearly something bigger growing in between them. Something bigger than Sarada, and that it does not have a definition yet.
"What made you want to invite me to your apartment that night?" she asks, feeling that this is the right moment to get the answer to the question she's thought about for the past nine months.
Sasuke purses his lips as he thinks. After a pause, he shrugs his shoulders. "What made you want to come?"
Funny how one thing leads to another, and then an unexpected result occurs and one has to deal with the consequences. They are the prime example of water and oil trying to mix, finding that perfect balance before being completely separated.
Sakura wishes that they could have continued the conversation. It is long overdue, and finding the right moment to discuss whatever that is in between them appears that will never come. The hospital door is opened once again, and she immediately feels the absence of his hands on hers when a woman with red hair and glasses walks in.
"Sasuke, I think you should go home and change." She is wearing a black party dress, her make up intact.
And in spite of her semi-conscious state, Sakura makes the connection right away.
This is Karin. Sasuke's girlfriend, the woman she has been postponing to meet for a while. The reminder that Sarada will one day have a stepmother, even if it isn't Karin herself. Nonetheless, she represents the potential that one day Sakura's daughter will be influenced by women that she does not know and may try to treat Sarada as their own child.
Karin is a reminder that the idea of Sasuke being with someone like Sakura, in spite of having a kid together, is out of the window.
Sakura tries to pay attention to what they are saying, but does not catch anything that is communicated before Sasuke's girlfriend leaves with her arms crossed and stomping foot steps.
Sure, she wishes she would have met Karin outside of a hospital, without her baby weight, and maybe after taking a long shower. But once again, not everything works in her favour. Ever.
Sasuke does not mention Karin for the rest of the night, and neither does he leave her side when Hizashi and Mebuki drop by, followed by Mikoto. The nurse comes and goes from her hospital room, the visits happening more often as the sun begins to appear from outside of her window. Sakura feels the contractions happening in shorter intervals, feeling that the moment is approaching.
It is after twelve hours of labour that Sarada arrives through natural birth. After the doctor tells Sakura to give one last push, and Sasuke holds on to one hand while her mother holds on to the other, all the noise in the room is silenced by the wail of a newborn baby.
"Congratulations, it's a girl."
At this point, Sakura is too exhausted to say anything, but her arms welcome the crying bundle, and she takes in how small and perfect her daughter is. She holds Sarada against her chest, unable to separate her eyes from the black hair and tiny fists that she created. Her mother kisses the top of Sarada's head and whispers ineligible words. Then, she is gone and it is only Sasuke, Sakura, and Sarada left in the room.
And that is all Sakura needs at that point. Sasuke's forehead rests on hers, and she feels the moisture coming from his eyes while he trails his index across their daughter's little knuckles.
"She's beautiful." She can hear the contained emotions in Sasuke's voice.
"She is all you," Sakura adds.
She never thought that life could be so dysfunctional and so perfect at the same time.
Baby Sarada Haruno was born at 20:34, weighing a healthy 8 pounds. She came into the world with a full head of black hair, ten fingers and ten toes, two beautiful onyx eyes, and a tiny button nose. Right now, she is sleeping in a crib beside her mother at the hospital after the doctor advised that they remain under control for two days to ensure that she is, in fact, a healthy baby. And according to every person who meets her, she is already the spitting image of her father.
In spite of Sasuke's disagreement on the choice of last name, Sarada was registered as a Haruno to make things less complicated for Sakura. He has to repeat the name in his brain to get used to the idea of his daughter not having his own last name. He has to think of the perfect timing to convince Sakura that Sarada should also be recognized as a Uchiha, even if she does not grow up like one.
Sasuke is still wearing the same tuxedo from two nights ago, not even bothered. He has not showered, as he had chosen to stay by her daughter and the mother's side until he was sure that they were fine.
Karin gave up on calling his cellphone the night before, leaving fifty missed calls and twenty three voicemails. Sasuke has not heard a single one, not wanting to get down from cloud nine. He is a father now, with responsibilities bigger than trying to please a girlfriend he does not even like.
He looks back on how he got to where he is. Sure, he is dating Karin because Madara would not get off his back if he isn't with someone from their social circle. It does not mean he is happy with her; in fact, Sasuke fully knows that spending his life in abstinence is a much better choice than waking up to Karin's face every morning. It's not the woman's fault that he isn't interested. Sure, she is a good catch, but Sasuke has never been interested in women like her.
He prefers someone who makes him feel at home. And not the home he grew up in, but rather a home that is foreign yet he yearns for its comfort and familiarity.
Sasuke looks into the half empty glass in front of him and picks it up, moving it in circles in sync with the jazz music playing in the background of the small bar. The seat beside him is taken, and he turns to find the person he was waiting for.
"So I'm the godfather, right?" Naruto asks, patting him in the shoulder.
Sasuke chuckles. "In your dreams, dobe."
Whereas Sasuke has not showered in two days, Naruto is already wearing a pair of comfortable jeans and an orange sweater. To outsiders, they may look like an odd pair of friends, one of them beaming with colours while the other chooses black and white. However, the best friends know that their bond goes beyond being childhood neighbours.
Naruto takes a sip from his beer. "No, but seriously. Am I going to be the godfather? I told you and Sakura that if the kid is born on my wedding day that I would get the honours."
"Sarada was not born on your wedding day."
"Day after, same thing! The party didn't finish until my parents found Uncle Jiraiya with Orochimaru and Sakura's advisor -I think her name's Tsunade?- at a bar this morning," Naruto adds. "So, am I?"
Sasuke observes his best friend, who seems to be legitimately concerned over this matter. He sighs, remembering that this is the same man who just married the love of his life, who probably makes better decisions that Sasuke ever has. Naruto is one of the only constant things in his life that he does not mind keeping around.
"I wouldn't choose anybody else," he confesses. It takes a moment for his best friend to register those words, but once he does, his blue eyes close from the brightness of his smile.
"Glad to know that your brain is still working, teme." The blond picks up his beer mug and cheers. "Can you believe it? I'm married, and you're a dad. What the hell happened to time?"
Really, how long ago was it that they were at school, competing over the stupidest things? Or that time when their teacher Kakashi confessed to betting on those competitions with his colleagues? When Sasuke left for school and came back, all ready to enter the adult world of private corporations while Naruto was still figuring out what to do with his life? When his mother was diagnosed with cancer and Naruto's parents offered him a room at their place until he was ready to face his own family?
Now here they are, twenty four, one married and the other with the responsibility of a child. It feels like, compared to other people their age, they have grown up too fast. But life has twists and turns. Somehow Naruto found the love of his life at nineteen and felt ready to marry her at twenty four, while Sasuke will soon take over the reigns of his family's company and cannot stop thinking about what kind of life Sarada will lead.
Sure, to outsiders, they are not mature enough for the choices they've made in their short lives. But they both know what they are capable of and will deal with the consequences when they come.
"So how are things with Karin?"
Sasuke twists his mouth in discomfort. "I'm just staying with her until Madara gets off my ass."
"Yeah, my cousin's never been your type. Hence why you haven't met her until now. I swear her genes don't run through my veins." Even Naruto knows that the relationship Sasuke has with Karin will not last.
"It's the same thing as always, though. Madara and my father want me to think for the company. I've never been told to think for myself."
He finished his drink and orders another one.
"But have you, Sasuke?" Naruto only calls him by his first name when he is being serious.
Sasuke shrugs his shoulders, choosing not to answer that question. "I don't want my daughter to be like that. To be told what to do from a young age, who to date, who to interact with."
They remain silent for a while until Naruto begins to talk about his honeymoon destination. Sasuke does not fully listen, already used to his best friend's ongoing rambling. He has developed a way of picking up the important things of the conversation while tuning out the rest, and it is a skill that has come useful when Naruto opens his mouth.
However, there is one thing that unintentionally catches his attention.
"So you like Sakura then."
It isn't even a question. Sasuke connects his eyes with Naruto's, knowing that his friend reads him like an open book in spite of his attempts to conceal certain traits. After another moment of silence, Naruto nods once, finally understanding the information that Sasuke struggles to grasp every single day of his life. He asks for another beer, cheers, and drinks it down in a gulp.
"She's a really awesome girl, intelligent, and responsible," the blond explains more to himself than to his best friend. "I don't see why you wouldn't like her. You already have a kid with her!"
"It's harder than that."
"Yeah, so she's poor and not of the same pedigree as your nutty great uncle. So what? Just leave Karin and run off into the sunset with Sakura and my goddaughter."
"She doesn't feel that way."
"How are you so sure about that?" Naruto scratches the back of his hair in confusion. He sees the situation without thinking of the consequences. "Have you ever asked her?"
"I can't leave my life so easily and you know it."
"But if you could, would you?"
Sasuke feels like a wall is appearing between him and Naruto, as if it was preventing him from seeing through his best friend's eyes. He thinks about all of the sacrifices that would have to be made, of how scary it could be to leave his life behind, without knowing how to provide for Sarada. He cannot delve too deep into that scenario; he does not know how Sakura feels and is too afraid to ask.
He feels constricted, stuck in a cage where every day he wakes up and follows orders, from being with Karin to working under Madara. It is almost as if the chance of quitting that life is impossible.
"I can't really think about that shit right now," he says, putting some bills down on the table and getting ready to leave. "The only thing on my mind is Sarada."
Life as a new mom is never easy. Much less when she is a student and a single mother. Sakura's parents left her apartment a month after Sarada's birth, fully aware that they are occupying too much space and that mother and daughter need to strengthen their bond in this early stage. Tsunade gave her permission to take an indefinite amount of time off from her studies while attending her research whenever possible.
Although Sakura does not want to confess it aloud, if it weren't for Mikoto and Sasuke's financial help, and the money she still receives from her research work, she would not make it. At least Sarada has a crib to sleep in, milk to drink, and clothes to keep her warm. The new mother still feels awkward with all the baby weight she put on, but knows that trying to lose all of her weight at once is nearly impossible with the attention her baby daughter requires.
Ino and Sai visit Sakura often, the godmother knowing how lonely it can get with only a baby for company. Mebuki calls her every night to get updates on how Sarada is doing. Sasuke visits often too, and has even taken her spare bed in Sarada's room as a secondary home when the nights get too rough for their daughter and Sakura needs to sleep.
She is grateful, truly, in spite of their compromising situation. Sasuke is an excellent caretaker, reaching Sarada before the baby lets out her first cry. He reminds Sakura that she needs to eat when she has been up for two days straight. He takes Sarada out on walks when the weather is nice. His apartment is almost forgotten, both parents knowing that Karin resides there and she is not too crazy about having to share her boyfriend with the baby.
They rarely mention her, much to Sakura's good temper. The last thing that she wants to be reminded of is that the father of her child belongs to another woman.
Nevertheless, she has never seen so much love in her life. Sure, Sakura knows that she loves her little bundle unconditionally. She never imagined how much a parent commits to a child in terms of time, social life, emotional labour, and sacrifice. She would not have it any other way; Sarada is the new light in her life. Sakura knows she feels all of these things, and that they are solidified in the mess around her house because her daughter gets much more attention than everything else.
But she gets to see this sort of love when Sasuke is with Sarada. When she sees him gently pick up the baby from her crib and place her small head on his shoulder. When he pats her back to let her burps out after feeding her milk. When his expression softens as Sarada wraps her tiny fingers around his index. When she opens her sleepy onyx eyes and stares right into Sasuke's identical ones. When Sakura can see the unbreakable bond that already exists between them.
Love radiates from father and daughter, and Sakura imagines herself in Sasuke's position, picturing the way that her face changes expressions whenever Sarada does something.
Her daughter is incredible. Sure, she sleeps, eats and poops and that is all she does, but everyday Sakura learns something new about the little life she's created and thinks about the way Sarada's brain is developing, the way her eyes adjust to the light and her skin starts to feel different textures.
It is two months after her birth that Sakura first leaves her apartment. In fact, nobody except for Sasuke knows that she's spent her time in bed every chance she's had to go out. If Ino were to find out about her lack of outside air, then she would not see the end of the day. The only reason as to why she left her apartment with Sarada that day was because Mikoto insisted on seeing her granddaughter at her house.
And when Mikoto Uchiha wants something to happen, she makes it happen.
"She looks just like Sasuke," the new grandmother points out, rocking a sleeping Sarada in her arms. "Sakura, pass me that blue photo album. I'll show you."
Sakura reaches for a large album with a red and white round fan carved on its cover. She opens to the first page of photographs, and is greeted with an old image of a little boy holding a six month old baby. Itachi's radiant smile is contrasted by Sasuke's close to crying face, yet the older brother looks too happy to be holding the baby to notice what is about to happen.
"That is the first time we let Itachi hold Sasuke. He was so happy, but he did not even realize that Sasuke needed a diaper change."
A giggle escapes out of Sakura's mouth, along with the mental image of a baby Sasuke doing what babies do best.
"Don't you see?" Mikoto continues. "Our little Sarada is just like her dad. Although I do hope she turns out like you in the future."
And it's true. The resemblance is uncanny. Whatever doubts people had about the paternity of her daughter are thrown out the window; Sakura knows that, physically, her little Sarada is more Uchiha than anything else.
Mikoto does not let her out of the Uchiha estate until she has dinner with the family. Sure, Sakura has spent a lot of time with the grandmother and uncle of her daughter, but Fugaku and Madara's arrival to the dinner table gets her nerves going. Sasuke is absent from tonight, getting stuck at the office with extra work assigned by his superiors while they get the night off.
She knows it's not her place to speak, that this is not her house or direct family, but it is clear in her demeanour that she dislikes the way Madara handles Sasuke at work.
The founder of Indra Corp sits on the right side of Fugaku, while Mikoto on the left. Itachi sits beside Madara and Sakura beside the Uchiha matriarch. Sarada is on her stroller being entertained with the chandelier that decorates the lavish dining room ceiling. Dinner goes, and she listens to Itachi's pleasant talk about his classes at KonohaU and Mikoto tells the men all that she has seen Sarada do that day.
The Uchiha can hold a polite conversation, yet it feels more like a business meeting than a family dinner. She imagines Sasuke sitting beside his older brother, eating his food without sharing his day, keeping to himself. Maybe that is why he has a hard time showing his feelings, why he gets so awkward when he is caught being affectionate with Sarada.
It saddens Sakura a little, to know that Sasuke was born into a family that has everything, has even struggled with cancer, but never created a sense of home outside of work and the public world. No matter how hard Mikoto tries to engage her men in activities and conversations that are more family-oriented, Sakura can still feel a hole where years of dedication and commitment should have been.
She hopes that Sarada gives her grandmother the feeling of family she's lacked since she was married.
Sakura also tries to ignore the looks Madara sends towards her. She does not trust the man, much less around her daughter. The memory of his threats still lingers in her mind, though she conceals it from the rest of the Uchiha family. She does not want to rely any more on them, and keeping her distance from the Uchiha head is the best route for her.
When Sarada begins to stir, Sakura takes her queue and gets ready to leave. She thanks Mikoto and Fugaku for the dinner, but that now it is time to take their granddaughter home to try and make her sleep. Before Sakura can make their way out of the front entrance, she hears a second set of footsteps follow her from the dining room.
"Well, the paternity test is no longer needed. The child is clearly a part of this family," Madara says.
Sakura turns, shivers running down her spine. The stroller is almost halfway out of the door and Sarada is letting out noises, a sign that she is about to cry. She finds it impossible to move as Madara walks over to the stroller until he is in front and looks down at the baby. His face shows no expression, his calculating eyes narrow when Sarada starts to cry.
"She never needed one," Sakura says with hostility.
She tries to move the stroller around Madara's standing position, but the older man stops her attempt with his hand. He connects his eyes with Sakura's, and for the first time in her life, she fears for the safety of her daughter.
"I expect her to not get in Sasuke's way, or you taking advantage of my company's money," the tone of his voice is low, threatening. "Indra Corp will always be there for my grandnephew, but I will not allow a single mother to distract him from his future. Do you understand me?"
Sakura has to tighten her jaw to prevent it from shaking, yet she feels like her whole body is in the middle of an earthquake. She is agitated, distressed, and thoroughly scared of the hand that Madara places on top of Sarada's head to pat her as if it was the most common action to do. A lump on her throat constricts her voice from speaking up, yet she already has enough insults lined up in her mind, ready to fire against the head of the Uchiha family.
However, she is interrupted before she even finds the courage to let out a word.
"Uncle, my father wants to discuss something with you in his office. I will take them home."
Itachi watches as his great uncle moves his hand out of Sarada's head, gives Sakura one last look, and then leaves. He knows that Sakura's shoulders are shaking so much that they would not stop even if he were to hold them with his hands. Without saying anything, he leads mother and daughter out of his house and into his car, gets the baby seat ready in the back, and ignites his engine.
Sakura does not look his way as they drive from the Uchiha estate downhill to Konoha's downtown district. Sasuke's family home is located in the same neighbourhood as some of the most influential municipal and national figures. While Naruto's parents sold off their house and moved into a smaller apartment closer to all amenities, the Uchiha still prefer the exclusiveness that comes with living in the outskirts of the city.
The city lights get closer and brighter, the streets busier and louder.
"Don't tell Sasuke," she finally says.
Itachi stops at a red sign. The low rumbling of his car set Sarada for a short nap, silence conquering.
He does not need to ask why. "I can defend myself and Sarada against people like him. He does not pose a threat to my family," Sakura explains. She sounds a lot more determined than she feels.
It is when they arrive at Sakura's building that Itachi speaks.
"Sasuke is the most important person in my life. By extension, Sarada holds a place like that as well. It is only mere consequence that I show my concern."
"I appreciate that, Itachi. But she is my responsibility."
He chuckles. "I know how my great uncle can get."
Sakura thinks about the empty threats she received from Madara during her pregnancy. She tried not let them affect her back then, and she would not let them now. She does not even notice when she begins to talk about them to Itachi. She tells him about the requests for a paternity test, the demands to stay away from the Uchiha and their money. Sasuke's older brother pays attention, letting her vent all the pent up emotions she's had in the past couple of months.
It feels as if a giant wave is washing up the coast and then clearing it, taking away all the impurities with its force.
"You must not do this alone, Sakura," is all that Itachi says.
She knows, but she understands that Sasuke has only known his company and nothing else, that their daughter should not be the reason for him to throw it all away. That Sakura herself should not meddle with affairs that do not personally concern her.
"The farther away we stay from Madara the better."
Itachi seems to want to say more, but refrains from doing so when Sarada starts to cry again. He bids them farewell, leaving the young mother feeling a lot more distressed than before with the conflicting thoughts in her mind.
It does not help that, when Sakura opens the door to her apartment, she finds Sasuke working in her living room. He almost jumps up from her couch when the door swings open, and makes his way to take Sarada as she pushes the stroller into the apartment. Sakura can see all the paperwork scattered on her coffee table; he's taken his work home before in an attempt to spend more time with the baby. It affects his sleep. Sakura knows that, in spite of Sasuke's reassurance that he gets enough rest.
"Where were you?"
"At your house, actually. Had a nice dinner with your family," she replies casually. It feels almost too casual, almost too much like they are a real couple. She just needs rests, she tells herself. That and a nice bath to shoo away all of the confusion in her mind.
"Oh," he almost sounds hurt. "Who dropped you off?"
"Your brother. Nice fella he is. I'm going to bed. Would you mind putting her to sleep? It's been a long day."
She does not even wait for Sasuke to answer to her favour, nor does she notice the disturbed look he wears when she calls his brother a nice fella.
Sakura wonders where time has gone. It feels like yesterday since Sarada was born, since she was only breastfed and napped every three hours. One thing is to study a baby's growth in a lecture hall with a projector in front, and another thing is to witness it first hand. Her daughter is growing healthily, doing all the normal things that an eight month old does. Her smiling giggles are now accompanied by two front teeth on her upper gums, and Sakura cannot help but take photographs of every little thing Sarada does.
Her nursery is now filled with toys and books that make sounds. Sarada can sit up by herself, and has even begun to crawl much to her mother's dismay. Sakura takes her to KonohaU whenever possible. Tsunade is more than welcome to have the little bundle play in her office while her mother attends the last classes of her academic career. Fortunately, uncle Itachi is also willing to spend time with his niece, and they frequently go out for lunch when their schedules match.
Sakura never thought that she would find a good friend in her daughter's uncle. Itachi shares his wisdom on the social development of babies while Sakura looks at the scientific side. He drives her home whenever possible, and never once mentions Madara. In fact, he ensures that his great uncle is not at home when Sakura and Sarada are scheduled to visit the Uchiha estate, to which she is truly grateful.
Sasuke no longer sleeps in her spare bed since Sakura lets him take Sarada to his own apartment on the weekends. She has not set foot in it yet, though, still too apprehensive to see Karin. Sasuke does not make an effort to introduce them, either, and he never mentions her.
Her parents come visit Sakura in time for her graduation ceremony. When she walks up to the stage to receive her degree, she feels that she's accomplished another big step in her life.
"Congratulations, darling," Mebuki hugs her daughter and passes Sarada on to her arms.
Sakura lets the baby soak up her shoulder, too happy to care that her graduation gown is getting wet with baby spit. She is then congratulated by Tsunade, who confirms that she is coming to Sakura's small celebration in her apartment.
When she arrives home, Ino and Sai are decorating the living room. Naruto and Hinata arrive soon after, her belly and ankles swollen as a sign of her last stage of pregnancy. Sakura finds it exciting that Sarada will soon have a friend to play with.
Itachi, Sasuke and Karin are the last ones to arrive. At first, she felt anxious about inviting the woman, but then realized that she cannot put off a proper meeting for much longer. If she is meant to stay in Sasuke's life, then Sakura should know who else will be around Sarada's life as she grows older.
The first thing that catches her attention is the shining stone in Karin's finger. She feels a lump on her throat, but swallows it down, reminding herself that this is her day to shine and that she has accomplished too much in her young life to care that deeply about Sasuke's love life at this point. She only wants to meet the woman -his finacée, it seems- and that's it. Greet her, show courtesy, and then keep her distance.
But Karin does not seem subtle in showing off her engagement ring while Sasuke chooses to ignore her attempts of saying how he proposed. In all honesty, Sakura does not even want to imagine how it happened.
Hinata does not want to find out either. When Karin leaves the kitchen while all the women are serving food, Hinata throws a frown at the woman, which is a rather unusual sight for Sakura to witness. Her friend is not one to show hostility to others, preferring to remain in the sidelines to avoid conflict. But if Hinata dislikes Karin enough to send a glare in her way, then it must be for a good reason.
It must be the pregnancy hormones.
"I don't like her," Naruto's wife states.
"But you like everybody," Ino says with her arms crossed, as equally confused as Sakura. "Are you finally growing a back bone with this pregnancy?"
"No, it's just... Never mind. We're here to celebrate Sakura's success. By the way, do you have any ramen?"
Sakura wants to know why Hinata is unhappy with her husband's cousin. She wants to think that it is because of her family affairs and not because Karin is dating Sasuke. It just makes more sense in her mind for her friend to dislike the Karin she sees in family reunions.
Nonetheless, she will not let this bring down her high spirits. She just finished graduate school, has a job lined up at Konoha's General Hospital, her daughter is healthy, and she is surrounded by her family and friends.
"Congratulations, Sakura," Itachi says before leaving. "I would not choose anyone else to be my niece's mother."
The statement, said in front of all guests, is bold enough. Sakura is about to thank him for coming to her celebration, but he kisses her cheek and promptly leaves. She stands, dumbfounded, all the while ignoring an irritated Karin and jealous Sasuke follow after Itachi.
Sarada took her first steps the day before her first birthday. Sakura held her arms open in anticipation for her daughter to walk into them, and so she did. The child giggled in her mother's arms, finding it fun to play the game of walking into her long arms, not even paying attention to the tears of joy that pooled in Sakura's eyes.
She finds that her apartment is getting too small for only the two of them, and that her commute to the hospital is rather long and tedious every week day. Pamphlets for real estate and bookmarked websites fill in her free time whenever she gets Sarada to take a nap. Her parents offered to help her pay for another place, ideally one closer to her work and with three bedrooms.
Having a bedroom to spare would be great as Sarada's play station and for guests too. Her salary allows her more financial freedom, though her work will eventually take up most of her day and taking care of Sarada will not be that easy anymore.
It is on one of her days off, which she fills with plans to call agents and set up appointments to look at places, that Sasuke shows up at her doorstep.
"Hey, come in. Sarada is playing in her room."
The last time they saw one another was at her graduation celebration. Though they've kept in touch over the phone and have shared responsibilities on watching over their daughter, Sakura cannot even remember the last time she and Sasuke were not surrounded by other people. He still looks the same as a year ago, wearing an impeccable black suit, his hair styled in perfection, and his shoes shining against the white tiles of her kitchen.
Sakura, on the other hand, finds herself with her unwashed hair up in a messy bun, the green jeans she can finally wear again, and a large pullover with a KonohaU logo.
The contrast is still striking, yet both adults turn their faces towards Sarada's wobbling feet as she extends her little arms for Sasuke to take. Sakura can see the shine in his eyes when he watches his daughter excitedly walk towards him.
Her father obeys her requests, lifting her from the floor and wrapping his arms around Sarada's little body. She tries to plant a kiss on his cheek, but ends up opening her mouth a bit too wide and almost bites him by accident. Sasuke, paying no mind to her baby daughter's awkward attempts to show affection, brushes her black hair to the side, noticing how long it's gotten since he's last seen her.
God, he misses her. She's already a year old, walking, with all of her teeth, and calling him Papa.
"It was only yesterday that she was born," Sakura comments.
When Sarada begins to chant for her mama, she takes the child into her arms and takes out her food from the fridge. Sasuke sets up the feeding chair while Sakura puts diced grapes and cheese in a small bowl. They sit the child down on the chair and try to feed her, but Sarada seems to be too excited to focus on the food.
"Do you think she can tell?"
"What do you mean?"
"That her mama and papa are not together," Sakura explains. "She's too excited to eat right now. It must be because she's not used to seeing us at the same time."
It is a talk that they will eventually have when Sarada grows older. Although Sakura wants to conceal it for as many years as she can, she still fears of her daughter finding out that she is the product of a one-night-stand. That she may not have been created out of love.
"She's a smart one. We don't have to worry about that now," she ends up saying without waiting for Sasuke's response.
Instead, he focuses on the fliers lying on her kitchen table.
"Are you planning on moving?"
He starts to read over some of them, a frown settling on his face when he notices that they are all far away from their current location.
"I need something closer to the hospital, Sasuke. The commute is too much, my work offers day care while I am on my shift, so it will be easier to move around with Sarada when I start working more hours."
The way he looks at her when she explains her reasoning reminds her too much of that time that she told him about her choice of last name.
"But that is too far away from Indra Corp. I won't be able to take care of her that often."
"We will just have to set up a schedule for when you can take Sarada. She needs to socialize with other kids her age, though."
"So are you saying that I will not be able to see my daughter as often as I'd like?"
"That's not- Sasuke, you'll see her, I swear-"
"But even after a fucking year, you still think that she's more your responsibility than mine, isn't it?"
They never seem to have the same opinion on things. And Sakura was not expecting to have an argument today.
"No! Please, don't use that language. She can catch on to it."
"Then what do you want me to do?" Sasuke is on his feet now, his voice louder. "Not get pissed off? I know what you're doing, you're trying to keep your distance, trying to keep her away from me because of some bullshit reason you don't even bother saying!"
Where is this even coming from? Sakura stares dumbfounded at Sasuke's rising chest. She cannot understand it. She is happy with her life, going places. Finding a new roof for her and her daughter is only natural; the more she can supply for Sarada the better.
He is going places too; his parents are healthy, his brother and daughter too. He will soon take over one of the biggest telecommunication companies in the country and make a name for himself.
He's engaged, for god's sake! He wears nice clothes every day, has never had to worry about scraping for food because everything was given to him, yet he acts like there is something missing in his life.
Sasuke runs a hand through his hair in frustration and paces on his feet until he sits back down on his chair. Then, he decides to focus on feeding his daughter diced cheese all the while Sakura does not take her eyes away from him.
"Sasuke," she attempts, "are you happy with your life?"
He is twenty five, heir to a large fortune, father of a beautiful baby daughter, engaged to an attractive woman (Sakura dismisses the fact that she really does not like Karin).
Sasuke focuses on picking up the pieces of food that Sarada drops from her plate.
"How are things with... with Karin? You guys are engaged, right?" she tries again.
This is definitely not how she thought her day was going to go.
"I'm only going through with it because of Madara," he groans. "He'll get off from my back and leave me alone if I marry her. That means that I'll get some degree of freedom in my life," he adds sarcastically.
That is when Sakura understands much better than before. Sasuke's upbringing has made him a slave of his family business, a person who never had a say in the course of his life and would have been a lot happier scraping for food than having lavish dinners every night. She looks back on the way his family speaks when they are together; they are so well composed, almost too perfect to be real. And that is what Sasuke never wanted. It is almost as if he was born to lead a life of imperfections, of coloured stains in his monochrome composure.
He is imprisoned, stuck in his work because it is the only thing he knows and stuck at home with a woman he does not love and a family that treats everything like a business affair.
And she sees how Sarada, in spite of being illegitimate yet still loved by her paternal grandmother, is considered his escape from that life. It is the first time he gets to choose his responsibility, to escape the caged life that is his office and home. Her chest tightens, realizing that in trying to find a way to become a more independent mother, she is taking away the only joy in Sasuke's life.
Her hand somehow lands on his after he wipes a stain on Sarada's cheek. She catches his full attention, though the back of her mind is still focused on feeding her baby.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do it. I promise I won't be so selfish-"
"No. It's not fine, Sasuke," she interrupts him. "If your current life makes you so miserable, you should go for what you want."
Sarada's babbling is the only sound heard in the kitchen after her statement. She knows that it is too cliche to say to someone like Sasuke, who has had everything from the get-go. Yet it is fitting due to his compromising situation. Heck, she chose to follow that advice a year and nine months ago when she found out she was having Sarada and does not regret the ups and downs that came with it.
But before she can register, Sasuke's lips are caressing hers. He separates from the kiss briefly, looking right into her eyes while running his thumb on her knuckles.
"Go for what I want, you say?" his voice sounds a lot deeper than it usually does, and she feels the electricity dancing in her body. "I wish it was this easy."
He kisses her again, capturing her jaw with both hands. Her arms snake around his neck in an attempt to bring him closer and closer. It's been too long since she's felt this sensation, and her physical desire is overpowering all of her senses while his tongue plays with hers.
They are suddenly interrupted when Sarada starts to whimper.
"It's her nap time," she sounds almost out of breath.
Sasuke takes care of putting their daughter to sleep while Sakura cleans the kitchen as a distraction. She tries too hard to forget the way her body feels in that moment. Every movement, every small touch sends flares in every direction. Her lips still feel tender, the back of her neck too hot in spite of having her hair up. She has to take off her pullover while cleaning the dishes, feeling like she would faint with the unexpected rise in temperature.
When Sarada is fast asleep in her crib, Sasuke returns to the kitchen and Sakura is half expecting him to gather his things and leave. After all, that is what she did the last time they were caught in a similar state. However, when he sets his eyes on her bare shoulders and torso covered in a tight tank top, his arms immediately wrap around her waist from behind and trap her against the counter.
His lips touch her ear, sending her jolts when he moves them. "What if this is what I want?"
She feels his hard erection rub against her backside, sending whimpers out of her mouth.
"She'll be out for an hour or two."
"That's enough time," Sakura responds breathless.
She turns around, still constricted between the counter and his imposing body, and traps his lips. It's been way too long since she's felt his erection between her legs. She does not even know where her courage comes from, the last time she checked she's never been into engaged men. But this is Sasuke, the one she knows that is not happy with his life or the woman he is with.
And she knows how great he can be at certain things.
"Are you sure about this?" Sakura asks between kisses. They are already in her bedroom, and his hands have touched every inch of her body covered in clothes.
Sasuke stops kissing her for a moment. He takes her hand and places it on his chest. She can feel his heart beat, hers matching in speed. "I'm not sure about this, to be honest," he answers. "But this feels right. I can't think about anything else but you. You've been killing me, Sakura."
She unbuttons his shirt and throws it on the floor, neither of them worrying over the mess that is becoming her bedroom. He looks good this way; all flustered, shirtless, with his black dress pants riding low on his hips. She knows this is wrong, that she may regret this when they are done. But like Sasuke said, this feels right and she's been killing him.
Sasuke is gentle with his touch, caressing her breasts with attention, filling every gap of her skin with tender kisses, holding her hand when they are about to climax. She imprints his naked body into her memory, appreciating the way his muscular arms contract when he is on top of her, when he lifts and places her on his lap. Her fingers run through his hair, pulling and tugging until it turns into a mess. His forehead connects with hers, the tip of her nipples grace his chest and make her feel warm between her legs.
"I don't want to go back," he pants while she rides him.
His hands hold her hips, trying to make her go faster. She feels that he is reaching his peak by the way that his face fails to conceal the pleasure he is feeling. She joins him in ecstasy, feeling that her muscles relax after letting out her orgasm. Sakura wraps her arms around his neck as he flips them, landing on top of her. Sasuke tucks his face between her neck and shoulder, too comfortable to let go of her naked body.
It feels different from what he remembers. He can notice that she has more curves than a year and nine months ago, but it only makes her more beautiful. He enjoys watching the way her stomach has a little bump, a proud souvenir from carrying their daughter for nine months. Her legs feel a lot fuller in his hands much to his pleasure. Her face maintains the same roundness, though.
She kills him. She kills him slowly and does not even notice it.
"Then don't. Stay, Sasuke. Stay with me," she whispers to his ear.
They make love three more times, taking breaks whenever their daughter needs attention. Sasuke is the first one to get up whenever they hear Sarada stir in the room next door, but promptly returns to Sakura's warm embrace. They don't even realize when day turns into night and then back into day.
He does not know what to think of this. The next morning, he watches Sakura dress up for work, feed Sarada and prepare him breakfast. He feels normal kissing her goodbye before she walks out the door, and even allows his lips to linger on hers. Then, he spends all day with his daughter, taking her out on walks in the park and buying her new clothing and toys.
Sasuke knows that this is out of the ordinary, out of the expected and accepted in his life. Yet he ignores his cellphone all day, committing his full attention to Sarada's wobbles, waits for Sakura to get home, and accepts her invitation to stay in for another night.
This may be wrong. This may be a big mistake.
But it feels like home, and that is what matters the most to him at that point.
Sasuke does not show up at his office that often in the following weeks. Instead, he chooses to spend his time with the two girls that invade his mind.
Sarada is a lot happier now, he can tell. She smiles whenever she sees her parents share a kiss; she tries to wrap her tiny arms around their necks to show affection; she even calls them over at night fully aware that her mama and papa will come at the same time.
The three of them don't go out of the apartment together unless it is an emergency. Sakura is still apprehensive about being seen in public with Sarada's father in fear that somebody may catch them. Although she imagines that Mikoto will have no problem with seeing them together, she does not want to predict what Fugaku and Madara may say.
Sasuke seems to have found a clear path in his life since he does not overwork himself anymore. He spends less time at his office and more time with his daughter, something that Madara tends to point out and he chooses to ignore. His great uncle cannot interfere between the growing relationship between parent and child, though he is still uninformed of Sasuke's frequent stays at Sakura's apartment.
He always volunteers to cook dinner, to play with Sarada, and to even drop Sakura off at the hospital whenever possible. Life at his own apartment is gradually thrown out the window, not even bothering with the thought that he has a fiancée to attend to in public events. Karin calls him, asks him what he's been up to and why he isn't around so much anymore, but she is smart enough to gather that Sasuke has set eyes on another woman. And she does not seem bothered by it.
He kisses Sarada's forehead every night before she falls asleep, and then lets Sakura's arms embrace him as he dozes off on her chest, her heart beat guiding him through his dreams.
And life could not get any simpler or any better.
That is until he is brought down from his dreams.
"I'll be there soon, I'm just stuck-"
"We can't. This is not right," she sighs in frustration. "We have to stop."
But you're home.
"You may be putting your job on the line."
Don't burn it down.
"I'm sorry. We can't be seeing each other like this anymore."
"Think of Sarada," he cannot believe his voice is cracking.
"That's what I'm doing. I'm doing what's best for her."
"Think of your daughter! Sakura!"
"I'm sorry... I... Goodbye."
She hangs up her phone when the tears are already rolling down her face. The lump on her throat constricts her from breathing properly, the words she tried so hard to say still stuck in there.
Sakura picks up Sarada from her play station and brings her to the couch. She rocks her daughter back and forth, finding consolation in the one constant variable in her life. The yellow envelope sits on her coffee table, its content of discrete photographs of her with Sarada and Sasuke, looking like a normal family, spilled on the floor of her living room. There is a small note accompanying the photographs, written in cursive and signed by Madara Uchiha.
More than just his career may be on the line.
The young woman knows what kind of person Madara is and what kind of power he holds. She knows that it is a drastic measure to break it off with Sasuke so soon, but the thought that her little Sarada may be compromised, or even in danger, from this man is keeping her on her toes. Denouncing Madara to the police is out of the question; the Uchiha head has connections with everyone.
Sakura followed her heart knowing the consequences, choosing to go through the pain and be selfish than to think of the future. Of course there isn't a future with Sasuke. They may share a daughter, but they have nothing in common. He is too unreachable; she is too afraid. They may balance each other out with their opposites, but Sarada's safety comes first.
"Mama? Mama fine?"
Sarada's tiny fingers run through her wet cheeks, not fully understanding why her mama is crying like she does when she's hungry.
Sakura feels her heart break in a million pieces. Whenever she looks at her daughter, she sees a fraction of Sasuke and of the feeling that can never become possible. She wishes that Sasuke had been born poor, or that she had been raised with a higher social status. That Madara was already buried deep down the ground, far away from controlling his grandnephew's life.
She wishes Sarada did not have to see her go through this. Her daughter may be young, but she can comprehend that crying means something bad, and that bad things are never good.
"Mama fine, Sarada," she insists, kissing the top of the girl's head.
Sarada's eyes are entranced with the snowflakes falling from the other side of the window. At eighteen months, she already knows how those magical flakes melt and turn into water when they touch the tip of her nose. Her feet leave marks on the white snow when she goes and plays at the park with mama. Sarada usually turns back to see the imprints left behind by her snow boots. And she loves every moment of it.
This may not be her first snow fall or her first Christmas, but this is the first time Sakura can truly enjoy how her daughter experiences the beauty of winter.
"Yes, Sarada, snow is falling."
The holiday season arrives faster than Sakura is used to. Taking care of her daughter and work have clogged up her schedule from appreciating the weather changes.
It's been roughly three months since she last saw Sasuke, and aside from the heartbreak that still manifests in her chest when she thinks about him, she is doing a lot better. Madara has not approached them ever since, and Sakura feels that he won't as long as she keeps her distance from Sasuke. Mikoto acts as the mediator between them, not entirely sure why her granddaughter's parents aren't speaking but not brave enough to ask. Whenever Sarada spends the weekend or an entire week with Sasuke, the Uchiha matriarch has to facilitate it so that their daughter goes from one set of arms to the other.
It's a shitty situation, to say the least. Sakura cannot find the courage to confront such a powerful man like Madara like she would have before; her daughter's security and well-being is her top priority, so she cannot get into needless fights anymore.
Christmas eve is spent with her parents, a small reunion where most presents were for Sarada.
Christmas day, on the other hand, brings Sakura and Sarada to the Uchiha estate to greet the grandparents in the morning.
"Obaasan! Snow, snow!"
Little Sarada skips up and down the large living room, taking advantage of the spacious premises and her grandmother's full attention. Mikoto is not afraid of letting her expensive white pants and red cashmere sweater get ruined while she catches Sarada and plants a big kiss on her forehead.
"Yes, my little Sarada. You, grandfather and I will play in the snow."
"Snow play! Papa! Papa!"
Sakura feels her heart drop as the expected occurs. She turns around, shifting her vision from her daughter and Mikoto playing to Sasuke. He is still near the entrance, wearing all black, with no sign of Karin or a ring on his finger. They connect eyes for a moment before she veers away, choosing to sit down on the L-shaped sofa and pick up her coffee.
Sarada runs with her wobbly feet towards her papa, the brightest of smiles painting her face when Sasuke picks her up from the floor.
"Papa here!" She chants.
"Things aren't good between you two," Itachi states, taking a seat beside Sakura with a glass of red wine in his hand.
She tries not to let disappointment show. She keeps her shoulders held up high, her composure untouched. But the slight vibration of her lower lip betrays her.
"You haven't told him about Madara?"
"It's pointless. It would only ruin Sasuke's career. We're better this way," Sakura adds as an afterthought.
Itachi drinks his glass empty. "That's what you think," he says before getting up from his seat and making his way to play with Sarada, his mother and father.
Sasuke and Sakura are left alone in the house, the rest to the Uchiha choosing to briefly and conveniently enjoy some of the cold Christmas weather outside.
He looks thinner, she notes. Thinner and with dark circles under his eyes. The small bit of worry that washes over her stomach prevents her from drinking any more of the coffee.
Sasuke takes a seat in front of her. He settles his elbows on his knees while his fingers interlace. His hair covers half of his face, concealing his expressions. Sakura bites her lower lip anxiously. She knows that getting up from the sofa at this point would be a sign of weakness, of running away from this issue that is so personal that it will hunt her for the rest of her days.
Sasuke isn't any guy, as much as he was when they first met. He transcends every meaning of people in Sakura's life, and not just because he is Sarada's father.
"Merry Christmas," she mutters so quietly that he barely hears her.
Sasuke finally lifts up his head, taking the risk of looking straight into her eyes. She can feel her heart break all over again and has to fight back the tears.
"Merry Christmas to you too, Sakura."
It is almost ironic how they wish each other well in such a festive holiday, but they both feel heavy on the inside. Sakura sends him a small smile. Nothing that would make him think that she has changed her mind, but that he knows that she really does wish him a good holiday.
"Sarada chose a present for you."
"I'll wait until she gets back to open it."
Awkward silence settles in between them. It reminds Sakura of how it was like at the beginning, when they were getting to know each other without the alcohol involved and with a baby growing in her womb. They would not know what to talk about, what to relate to, finding a way of becoming friends or at least civil acquaintances.
She never counted on feeling more than amicable towards Sasuke. Then again, she never expected having a daughter before marriage and with a man she barely knew. Sakura can no longer say that she and Sasuke are strangers; there is definitely something growing in between them that goes beyond the physical world, something that scares her due to its consequences.
But there he is, looking so broken because she stopped them from taking one step further and solidifying an impossible dream.
They spend the night of Christmas day at the Uzumaki residence.
As far as Sasuke knows, neither Hinata nor Naruto are aware of the brief could-have-been that happened between him and Sakura. They have been too busy looking after their newborn son, and Boruto Uzumaki proves to be the sort of whirlwind Sarada never was.
Like the rest of their friends, Sasuke and Sakura were invited to celebrate Hinata's birthday on Christmas day since everybody is free. He watches as his beautiful daughter plays with his best friend's son. Sarada carries herself like the smart eighteen month old she is, trying to teach Boruto how to find the strength in his eight month old arms to crawl on the carpet.
Naruto takes a seat beside Sasuke, his concentration also finding the scene played out in front of them.
"Isn't that awesome?" he points at the two children.
"If you're talking about how my daughter is so intelligent, then yes."
"Teme! That's not what I meant," Narto grunts, crossing his arm. "I meant that they'll grow up together."
Sometimes Sasuke has to remember that this guy has been his best friend for all of his life and that he is a father now. He can act worse than Sarada on her grumpy days. Still, the idea that his daughter will grow up with Naruto's son excites him and makes him dreadful at the same time. He wants Sarada to have the best influence, after all.
Oh, no. It's caught on. Sasuke sees his little daughter run up to his arms, chanting that name with excitement in her voice at learning a new word. He has to correct her, by pointing at himself and saying papa repeatedly until it sinks back in her mind that he is papa, not teme.
He then gets his revenge, pointing at Naruto and saying dobe.
Boruto even joins along, catching on to the second syllable and repeating, "Be, be, be, be!"
"Are you two teaching our children bad words?" Hinata appears out of the kitchen with her arms crossed.
Sakura's head pops from behind her shoulder, sending a similarly disapproving look at the two young fathers. "They're like a sponge at this stage, so whatever you say will catch on." She returns to the kitchen, followed by Hinata.
Naruto catches the way Sasuke's eyes linger on the spot where Sakura stood and he narrows his own. They've known each other all their lives, being more like brothers than just friends. Naruto can read Sasuke better than anyone can, and has deduced the truth without asking questions multiple times.
"You two had something goin' on, didn't ya?"
"You heard me."
Sasuke purses his lips, inviting silence before he gathers his words to speak. "It didn't work out."
"Yet you still love her," Naruto concludes, standing up from his seat to check on Boruto's diaper.
His best friend does not deny the declaration, confessing to Naruto without the need to say that he is right. Sasuke has never been good at stating that Naruto is right most of the time; it is often a huge hit to his ego. However, in this case, he finds it too difficult to declare that whatever he feels for Sakura is real, and it exists in spite of her wishes to remain separated.
Sasuke knows that it is a rash decision. Sure, he's gone to her place many times before, as a friend, a father and a lover. He always comes to Sakura's place with a purpose, even if said purpose is to kill time. However, when he hears the news, he could not stop thinking about how wrong it is.
Madara was the one to tell him, shockingly. He is well aware that his great uncle is not fond of Sakura and Sarada because they may cause a distraction. Sasuke never imagined that his uncle would be the bearer of the news when it came to his own family -yes, his daughter and her mother are family regardless. Sasuke's doubts of Madara's involvement in his private life are thrown out the window when he finds her apartment door open, jazz music playing from the inside.
He finds her surrounded by stacks of packed up boxes, wearing overalls with her hair up in a messy bun, her hands busy stuffing a luggage with baby clothes. Sasuke feels out of breath, watching as the life he once thought he could have was slowly moving away from the city.
"So it's true."
That is when Sakura looks up. She locks her widened eyes with his, a sign that she was not expecting him to show up at this time.
"You're leaving," Sasuke continues with a voice he cannot find.
She is all packed up, ready to pick up her things and their daughter and leave. It is almost ironic, she appeared in his life like that, always ready to pick up her things to leave. There is a slight trembling in her chin, and she swallows thickly as she fights back the tears Sasuke can see so well. He walks into her apartment, her now uninhabited living room, the one he helped her prepare for Sarada's arrival so long ago.
"Sasuke, you know that I needed a new place. And this is the perfect chance to move," she begins with another list of excuses, another list of unnecessary and invalid reasons to keep distance between then.
Only that this time the distance would be unbearable.
Sasuke suddenly feels that his tie is choking him and his business suit is locking his limbs from moving. "But move to another country?"
Sakura licks her lips nervously. She has been dreading this moment. "I got a job offer and I can't back down now."
"What about Sarada?" He finds himself asking. It's like every wall of the apartment is falling on him.
She drops what she is doing and places her hands on her hips. "I can't... Sasuke, it's hard being a single mom in spite of all the help I get. I want Sarada to be proud of me when she's older, I want her to grow in a healthy environment. The money isn't enough in Konoha. Suna is giving me the best offer I've ever had and it's a great job with benefits."
"I can help you out -fuck, my family can help you!" His voice magnifies. He wants to yell. He wants to break all of the things Sakura has just finished packing. He wants to take her into his arms, shake her, kiss her, change her mind.
She hesitates before speaking again, turning away from him, "I'm cutting ties with your family."
It is as if she dropped a bucket of ice on him. She wants to leave. She wants to forget about him, about the significance of Sarada in his life. Sasuke thinks of his mother and how attached she is to her granddaughter. He thinks of his brother and father, who show Sarada affection in the smallest of ways. He thinks of himself, of all the firsts he would miss out on his daughter. He thinks of how he never lost Sakura because he never truly had her.
And he reaches the breaking point. Sasuke grabs her by the shoulders and desperately kisses her, noticing too late her startled expression. She almost looks afraid.
"Why!? What did I do to make you leave? Sakura, please," he begs for the first time in his life. "I lo- I can't-"
Her shoulders and jaw tremble. Her hair is a mess and she always looks more beautiful when she's like this.
"M-me too. I wish it wasn't like this. Promise me you'll find the right woman, that you will make her happy and give her lots of children."
His onyx eyes widen. He is frozen in state. Too immersed in the words Sakura uttered to realize that she has disentangled from his grip and has walked to the front door. She holds it open, and points outside.
"I'm sorry, Sasuke. Please leave."
Sasuke's head feels heavy, but he keeps drowning on his third (or fifth?) drink. His throat feels dry from the alcohol, yet he does not ask the bartender to bring him a glass of water. His chest feels like it's been stabbed countless times, yet he can only find a cure in the dark coloured liquid in front of him. He feels cold, numb, defeated. It is as if a part of his heart has been ripped out of his chest.
He's never felt like this before. Not with any other woman. Only Sakura can conjure such strong emotions in him, even after years of concealing them. She has made him do impossible things; she has brought brightness into his life in the form of a daughter, and now she takes that ray of sunlight by leaving him in eternal darkness.
The whisky glass in front of him is empty, and with a voice that does not sound like his own he asks for another one.
"Are you sure, man? You've had a bit too much."
Sasuke takes money out of his pocket and slams him on the counter. "Just give me another fucking drink."
It's a Wednesday night, and the bar is virtually empty except for a few old guests sitting on a table faraway from where he is. His tie is undone, his blazer open, and the first four buttons of his shirt expose his clavicle. Sasuke doesn't give a damn if reporters, colleagues, or even worse Madara, were to find him in this state. He doesn't care about anything anymore. His daughter will grow up not knowing him. And to top it off, he's let the love of his life walk out on him.
At that last statement, his heart shrinks.
That's what Sakura is. What she has been for a while now. But she is leaving him.
She is being selfish before he can even get to say those words properly. He's never said them to anybody, not even to his mother though she knows the feeling without asking. And Sakura is supposed to be his one. She is supposed to bring him the sort of ease he's never found working for his family. In spite of being his polar opposite, she offers everything he lacks. Their situation was never ideal; having a one-night-stand, a child, and then falling in love with her isn't the right order.
Yet, Sasuke notes, it takes him a significant amount of whiskey to figure that one out. That isn't ideal either, honestly.
He tries to get off the bar stool, but his head is spinning and it hits the ground. Cold. Hard. He hears the bartender drop a glass on the floor and rush to his side. He feels a pair of arms lifting him up, all messed up, pushing water into his lips to hydrate him.
The bartender is muttering something along of how normal this is for recent heartbreaks. Sasuke does not listen until he hears a strangely familiar voice.
"Thank you. I will take care of him. Sasuke?"
It's Itachi. His older brother wraps an arm around Sasuke's torso and walks him out of the bar. He is too drunk to notice when he is being pushed into the passenger seat of Itachi's car, or when the engine starts and they depart. His head feels heavier, the turning and braking of the car not helping his headache. He already misses his daughter. His beautiful Sarada, so smart and so little. He wants to hold her one last time, put her to sleep and kiss her forehead before saying goodbye.
He never will be able to do that again. It kills him. And he's sobbing at this point.
Itachi remains silent, and lets his younger brother release all the pent up frustration he's been holding for months. It's hard to believe that his little brother Sasuke is now a grown man with responsibilities, a daughter, and a broken heart.
"She's moving to Suna," he mutters once Itachi gets him into his apartment.
Sasuke sits on his couch with his head buried in his hands. His voice sounds hoarse and almost unintelligible. Itachi sets down a glass of water an aspirin on the coffee table before taking a seat in front of his brother.
"This is all my fault..." Sasuke continues. "I did something that pushed her away, and I love her. I love her so much but she is leaving me. I never had the chance to do it right. To be a better father, a better partner, person."
"You didn't do anything," Itachi reassures.
"She never told you because she was afraid."
Sasuke looks up from his hands, confused and slightly sobered up. Itachi has to repeat his words so that he can properly listen to them.
He furrows his brow. "What do you mean?" he may be slurring, but Sasuke has his full attention set on what his brother says next.
"Madara has been threatening Sakura since her pregnancy. She didn't want to tell you because she thought that you staying with the company is what's best. Madara has connections in Suna and they offered her a job. That's why she's moving away, to avoid getting harassed by Madara and to give you a chance at being the head of Indra Corp."
Madara and his younger brother Izuna started Indra Corp all those years ago with one purpose in mind: to connect people across cities, regions, and nations. They built their empire from ground up, taking advantage on the economic stability during their youth to create a company that would provide its consumers with the possibility of keeping in touch with dear ones while advancing in technology.
The brothers always worked closely, in spite of their different paths of life. Whereas Madara dedicated every breath in building Indra Corp's networks and reputation as the leading telecommunications company in the country, Izuna chose to stay in the sidelines and find time to marry and raise a family.
But then tragedy stroke and Izuna was gone way too soon. His death affected the older brother from that moment on. Madara saw a lot of potential in his young nephew, Fugaku, when he realized that he would never be interested in having children of his own. He saw the same talent that Izuna held, and how Fugaku's own lineage would continue the company's goal.
After all, Indra Corp is the only thing Izuna left behind that Madara truly treasures. It is the reminder of how great of a man the younger Uchiha was. And Madara, from the moment of Izuna's death, swore that he would do anything to continue his brother's legacy no matter the cost. And he would ensure that said legacy would continue after his own death, too.
Hence why the Haruno girl is such a threat. She appears out of nowhere, gets in the middle of Sasuke's path to becoming head of Indra Corp, disrupts Madara's plans and Izuna's legacy. Madara has warned her several times to not get in between the company and Sasuke, between the past and future of their upper class family. So with a little help from his friends in Suna, he conveniently found a job offer that Sakura could not refuse. She is a direct threat to his brother's wishes, and Madara cannot let that girl and her infant daughter get in the way of greater things for his grandnephew.
Nonetheless, a part of him was still expecting for Sasuke to show up at his office with the same wrath that his face sports in that moment.
"How do you fucking dare do this?"
Madara merely tilts his head and laces his fingers. The action appears to increase the level of anger in Sasuke, for he strides towards his great uncle's office desk, reaches out, and aggressively grabs his collar.
"Have you been threatening Sakura!? Huh!?"
Ah, so naive, so young. He still doesn't realize that what Madara is doing is the best for him and the company.
His office door opens once again, and his assistant Obito Uchiha barges in the calamity.
"Sasuke-!" Obito shuts up when Madara lifts his hand, indicating him to exit his office and leave the two alone.
He does not need to exaggerate about such a small issue.
"Answer me, you piece of shit," Sasuke hisses.
The elder Uchiha disentangles his collar from Sasuke's tight grip and sits back down on his office chair. The younger Uchiha looks like he is about to roll up his sleeves and send a punch to his jaw, but Madara knows that he would never dare lay a hand on him. A lot more would be at stake if he does. Not just his daughter and excuse of a lover.
"Sasuke, take a seat."
"Answer me, you trash."
Sasuke looks like Izuna when he is angry like this. Only that his little brother never directed such a tone towards him.
"You must think what's best for the company," Madara begins. He gets up from his seat and walks towards the window, looking out towards the downtown skyline. "This office will soon be yours, and once that happens, you musn't have any distractions. Especially ones like her."
He can sense the fumes coming out of his grandnephew's nostrils. The boy will soon calm down.
"You know very well, Sasuke, that a match with her-"
"Her name is Sakura."
"-would only bring Indra Corp down. We must hold high to our standards, mingle with the right people, if we want to leave a lasting legacy. She would not survive in a world like this."
Madara turns his head, calm and composed. "I am only doing you a favour. You may not believe so now, but you will soon thank me for sending her away."
"I want none of this bullshit."
"It is too late now, Sasuke. She's already made up her mind and she's following my wishes to make you happier."
"Then I fucking quit."
If only it were so easy. Oh, Sasuke. He still does not understand, does he? His departure would affect Izuna's legacy, yes, but it would not hinder it. Soon enough, he would realize that he cannot find a place anywhere else in this world and would come back begging to be the executive chief. Madara can already picture the image, an unhappy, poor Sasuke with scrapped knees and worker's hands pleading to be back on the seat of glory.
Sasuke leaves his office, and Madara smiles to himself, thinking of how the younger generations have deteriorated compared to the people from his time.
Little does Madara know that the one lesson he never learned is to never underestimate those who hold the future on their hands.
Sakura says goodbye to the women in her life.
Her meeting with Mikoto brings the older woman to tears. She holds on to Sarada for a lengthened time, kissing the top of her head and her cheeks repeatedly. Sakura promises that she will send photographs, emails, and letters. That she will keep Mikoto updated on their lives even though it hurts her heart to know that the grandmother will show all those things to Sasuke.
"Being a mother is the most beautiful sacrifice," Mikoto shares. "You sacrifice your life and time for your child's happiness, yet you never regret it."
No, she will not regret this decision. When Sarada is old enough, she will tell her the story of how she met Sasuke and why just being the two of them is and has always been enough.
Tsunade gives her one last life lesson and request.
"Whatever you do, be proud. Be a role model to Sarada. And make sure you send me some samples of the sake in Suna, alright?"
Sakura hugs her mentor, her teacher and friend for one last time. She owes this woman more than she can imagine. She would have never found her passion in science and helping people if it weren't for Tsunade's encouragement to pursue a career in the medical field. Tsunade even sheds some tears when she holds Sarada.
Her mother, on the other hand, tries to stay strong for as long as she can. One thing is living in different cities. Another is to move to a completely new country all on her own, where she does not know that many people. Mebuki maintains her smile until Sakura reassures her that in Suna she will find friends, and that she is no longer a little girl who needs to hold her hand in strange places. That is when the Haruno matriarch breaks down and hugs her daughter and granddaughter with all her strength.
"My girls, I love you so much."
Ino and Hinata, her eternal friends, are supportive as always. The blonde shows off her new engagement ring while the Hyūga pats her swelling belly.
"We'll be there for you after Hinata pops this other one out. I swear, they're going at it like rabbits."
They still make Sakura laugh, making her feel like she is in her teens once again.
"I promise that we'll have sleepovers every night when you visit."
She will miss them. She will miss every single one of them. Mikoto, her mother, Tsunade, Ino, Hinata. Heck, she will even miss that annoying tenant who lives one floor up from her and always wears heels.
But right now, Sakura cannot be thinking of the past. It's all about her and her main girl, Sarada. And what Suna will have to offer.
Itachi offers to drive them to the Konoha Train Station, but Sakura prefers it if her father is the one to do it. The Uchiha is one of the most loyal people she's ever met, which is why she fears that he may bring Sasuke along. Better to avoid that by having her father accompany them.
The gates of the train station glisten under the spring sunshine. Kizashi carries all of their bags in one of the trolleys while Sakura pushes Sarada's stroller. All of their possessions have already been shipped to their new apartment in Suna, and her workplace promised to send someone to set up her furniture before their arrival.
Her father holds a smile on his face, internally trying to fight the emotions that will overcome the moment that his two girls get on the train and leave. Sakura links her arm with Kizashi's, finding her own reassurance in their connection.
"Don't worry, dad. It's better than a plain ride and Sarada will get to see the countryside before we get to Suna."
"Yes, the train goes choo choo."
They wait in gate number 10 until the train arrives. The station is filled with departures and arrivals, bitter goodbyes and warm welcomes. Sakura can finally feel the overwhelming sensation of leaving it all behind, of starting from zero. She's been avoiding this for the longest time, focusing on her work at the hospital and packing at home. She does not want to think of Sasuke, but when she watches a pair of lovers exchange one last kiss before one of them gets on the train, she can't help the tears that begin to flow.
"I'm going to miss you, dad."
Kizashi hugs his crying daughter, a flashback to twenty years ago, when she was small enough for him to pick her up and cradle her in his arms. Sakura sobs, letting out every ounce of pent up emotions she's been carrying.
"I'm sad to see you go, but you're doing what you think is best. And your mom and I support you no matter what. Things didn't work out here, so what? You and Sarada will find a better life in Suna. The years will pass and when you look back at your life in Konoha, you will only remember the good parts."
"I promise, sweetie."
When Sakura and Sarada are settled in their economy seats, they look out the window at Kizashi. They wave at him, tears still coming from Sakura and giggles from Sarada. At least her daughter will not remember this, she thinks. At least she will form a better life in Suna.
They hear the high pitched whistle coming from the beginning of the train. Just like the old movies. Sakura begins to wave harder, saying final words to her father as the distance between the platform and the moving fortress increases. Kizashi shrinks in size as they depart, and he eventually gets mixed in with the rest of the people in the train station. Sakura holds on to Sarada, who curiously looks at everything around her, as she feels that her heart will take a while to follow them to their destination.
"You will like it, Sarada. Suna may be a bit dry, but mama's got some nice friends over there. You will meet Uncle Shikamaru, Aunt Temari and their baby boy. There's also Chiyo, Tsunade's old colleage. And you will make lots and lots of-"
The train abruptly halts on its tracks, sending most passengers off of their seats. Sakura's arms tighten around Sarada, preventing her from getting off her lap. The people sitting around them begin to murmur and wonder why the train stopped after recently leaving the station. She looks around in confusion, wondering what could have stopped them so promptly.
But the answer to her question walks right into the wagon, and sits on the empty seat in front of her. He is dressed more casually than she's even seen him, with a black hoodie, a pair of old jeans and sneakers.
"Papa! Papa!" Sarada chants.
Sasuke takes his daughter from her arms, and holds on to her like his life depended on it. Sakura is still too shocked to say anything, her eyes not believing the sight. He casually plays with their daughter, giving her kisses on her cheeks and head and hands, a slight smile curved on his lips.
"Dear passengers, we apologize for the short delay. We will soon resume with our route."
There is no mention of what caused the train to stop momentarily, but Sakura knows that Sasuke must have been the reason.
Yet she still can't find her voice.
That is, until Sasuke looks straight into her green eyes and says, "I'm sorry."
It breaks her free from her trance. "W-What are you doing here, Sasuke?"
"I'm moving to Suna with my family, clearly," he answers with that tone he uses when she is asking the obvious.
"But your mother would never want to move there."
It's his turn to rolls his eyes. "I don't mean my parents, Sakura. I mean you and Sarada."
Sakura has to fight back the tears. She's spilled way too many for the man sitting in front of her.
"Just hear me out, okay?" Sasuke is not one to beg. He takes in a deep breath to organize his thoughts. "I know that we are two completely different people, and that Sarada is the only thing we have in common. But I love you anyway." Her breath hitches. "I think I've loved you for a while, and I know you feel the same." Oh, the cocky bastard. "So give me a chance. It's been messy, I know, and things will be hard at first. But you once told me to do what I want and this is what I want."
Sakura remains silent, entirely unaware that their entire wagon heard of Sasuke Uchiha's confession. He's not one to say that many words or express all those feelings, and the whole situation has caught her unaware.
She licks her lips nervously, like she always does when it comes to Sasuke. This man has changed her life around, and she tentatively reaches out her hand until her fingertips brush his knuckles.
"What about Indra Corp?"
"I found out about what Madara's been doing and I quit," he shrugs his shoulders.
"Don't worry, I know people in Suna. I studied there."
"Yes, but what about your future in the company?"
He takes her hand. "I can't let other people make decisions for me. And I can't live without you or Sarada."
Her shoulders begin to shake, and a laugh erupts from her lips. She laughs so hard that it hurts, and some tears escape from her eyes. She laughs with her whole body. Sadara even begins to cry because she doesn't know why mama is laughing and it's so confusing.
"You're wrong," she says between laughs.
Sasuke looks at her thinking that she is crazy. And at that moment, she feels like she is. "I'm wrong?"
"If our similarities began from creating Sarada together, then we do have something in common."
"And what would that be?"
She kisses him.
"That I love you too."
It ends with an engagement party.
Or rather, it begins with one. But this time it's hers. And it's not entirely an engagement party, more of an announcement to all of their present guests that they are uniting in marriage in that moment.
So no, it does not end or begin with an engagement party. It begins with a wedding.
Sakura takes one last look at herself in the mirror, liking what she sees. She never thought that her wedding day would be so simple, yet she would not have it any other way. Her white dress isn't puffy like a princess's. It's actually a simple, spaghetti strap, knee-length dress that she bought a week ago on discount. Her hair is down, with no elaborate hairstyle or hairspray.
She wouldn't have it any other way.
Sakura picks up her small bouquet of flowers and takes her father's arm. He gives her one last smile before the doors open and they walk down the aisle. The civil registry does not bear any decorations, and her altar only holds an office desk with some papers ready to sign.
Three years ago, after they arrived in Suna, Sasuke and Sakura settled in their new apartment and began their life as a family. She found success in her new job while he found work with some old classmates. Who knew that his business partner, Gaara, was Shikamaru's brother-in-law? What a small world.
Life at first was difficult, but they made it work. It must be because of all those times they spent arguing during her pregnancy and Sarada's first year. They learned to talk things out, to never forget that they were a couple as well as parents. Their apartment in Suna was homey and received many guests, from their parents to the Uzumaki family with their two kids. Sakura loved her job in Suna and Sasuke was happy with the decisions he was finally making on his own.
Madara's prediction that Sasuke would come back begging for his job never happened. The Uchiha elder tried to get Sasuke back by visiting them in Suna, but eventually gave up on his efforts. He ended up assigning his assistant, Obito, as the new CEO of Indra Corp. Sasuke never had a choice on whether he wanted the position. Obito, on the other hand, worked tirelessly day and night and deserved it.
One year ago, Sakura got a job offer at a university in Oto, and Sasuke requested for a transfer there. They once again packed up all of their possessions and moved countries, neither of them complaining of the constant travelling because Sarada got to see the beauty that the world has to offer and Sasuke finally saw his freedom become reality.
Their first visit to Konoha was for Ino's wedding. She was a glowing bride with a swollen belly, and Sai is the most patient husband Sakura has ever met. It was during that visit that they considered exchanging their vows.
Sakura said yes, as long as it was a small ceremony with their close friends.
And now, Sasuke waits at the end of the altar, holding Sarada's hand. She's already four years old and talks like a parrot. They had to get her a pair of glasses a couple of months ago, and she only looks cuter with them on.
She sends them a reassuring smile, happy to have her two loves. All of their guests traveled from Konoha to Oto to witness their legal union, though at first they did not know why they were getting summoned. Sasuke wanted to keep it as low-key as possible, and he did not inform his parents and in-laws of the wedding ceremony until two hours before it happened.
Things between him and Sakura may be messy, but they always work it out.
"And now I pronounce you husband and wife."
Their wedding ceremony is followed by a reception in one of Oto's open parks. They have tables set up with bottles of champagne, toasting for the newly weds. The children play together in the fields while the grownups congratulate, mix and mingle. Sakura cannot let go of her now husband's hand, thinking of how finally, after all the roller coasters and events out of order, they've found happiness with one another.
"Really, Hinata?" Ino asks with amusement.
The other woman nods. "Yes, I saw them together."
"Who did you see together?" Sakura pries in the conversation.
Hinata makes a gesture so that the other two get closer to share the information. "My cousin Neji has sneaked off with Tenten. He's been crushing on her for years."
Sakura just rolls her eyes, knowing that some things will change while others remain the same.
So here I am dropping you this motherload. If you made it to the end in one go, congrats! This is the first time I post such a long one-shot, and I kinda like the idea of just publishing it all at once rather than taking my time developing an intricate plot line. It took me about a month to write it all.
I would love to know what you thought of this AU. It's a lot more Western and the First time I write full out sex scenes too heh, so tell me what I should improve on!
All the best, enjoy this weekend, and until next time.