Waiting: it's a practice Sakura is too familiar with. One she would happily let go, if only life would stop giving her loves to wait for. First Sasuke, her ever-wandering husband, and now this little one. So close, a baby-to-be riding under her heart, but it will be months before she can hold him in her arms.
When Sasuke is home, she falls asleep with his strong body pressed against her back, an arm wrapped around her waist, hand cupping the gentle swell where their child grows. And when he is not, Sakura lies on her side, awake, palm on her belly, waiting for the intermittent kicks of their little boy's feet against her womb. She can feel it, inside and out, and her son's strength eases her fears a bit.
Caution or paranoia or premature mother's intuition: she doesn't know what it is, but from the moment she found out she was carrying the next Uchiha, Sakura has been afraid. So every morning and every evening she uses her chakra to check her baby's heartbeat, a reassuring rhythm that promises hope and new beginnings.
Except that tonight, as she lies alone, one woman in a bed made for two, and searches for the signature cadence of her son's life, Sakura finds nothing.
The medics have no answers for her. They say her son seemed to be thriving at the last checkup, and Sakura herself is healthy in every way except that she houses a dead child. Most likely, the baby was sick from the moment of conception, only there was no way to tell until his heart stopped. All it takes is the smallest imperfection in the blood, she knows this already, but cold facts do not help her understand why this has happened.
Nothing could have been done, they tell her. She is not to blame, and there is no reason she couldn't carry a baby to term in the future. Such assurances should make her feel better, Sakura thinks, but they don't.
How is it that just a week ago she and Sasuke were up late together, his hand splayed across the swell of her stomach, feeling for their son's movements? Now she's by herself, left behind once again, her husband carrying out a mission in Earth Country, while the baby they never named sits still and lifeless inside her. She is utterly alone. An expectant mother who no longer has anything to expect.
"Sakura?" Akiko asks, voice gentle. "How do you want to proceed?"
She sits on the exam table, gripping its edges. Sakura hadn't been listening, but she knows what Akiko must have said, because she has asked the same question of patients before.
"I want to induce," Sakura says, because she can't bear the thought of a natural delivery. Waiting for days for her body to realize what she already knows, and all the while carrying a child who has no hope of drawing breath.
"I'll schedule you for this afternoon," Akiko says.
Okaasan and Ino arrive within the hour, the Hokage a few minutes after them, and Sakura has never been more thankful for family and friends. She allows her mother and Ino to comfort her, but when it comes time for the induction she asks that only Naruto remain in the room.
He sits in the chair next to her bed and promises, "You're going to be all right, Sakura-chan."
It should be her husband here right now, holding her hand while she pushes and cries and pushes again, bringing forth a baby in this grim mockery of birth. But she long ago learned how to live without Sasuke, and it is not so difficult to press through pain in his absence. Naruto remains by her side, his warmth and comfort as constant as the promise of sunrise in the morning.
When it's over, Akiko asks if she would like to hold the baby.
"No." Maybe it makes her cold or cowardly, but Sakura doesn't think she has the strength to cradle her would-have-been-child.
Author's Notes: Ok, guys, so here's the thing: I know I told you In Times of Peace was done and that it wouldn't have a sequel, and I really meant that when I said it. But now I want to do something to help Nepal in wake of the earthquake, and I have a few ideas bouncing around inside my head about what life might be like for Sasuke and Sakura after Chapter 15.
I have decided to join the Naruto for Nepal project—a fundraiser through which readers make donations to UNICEF Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund in exchange for fanfiction or fanart. So if you are interested in seeing this sequel come to life, please make a donation to UNICEF Nepal and email confirmation of your donation to the email address listed on my profile under IN TIMES OF PEACE SEQUEL (if it isn't there yet, it will be as soon as my profile updates). I apologize for the difficulty; FF will not let me post an email address in these notes. Please also state in your email that your donation is going toward For Everything There is a Season.
As it will be a large multi-chapter fic, like In Times of Peace, the donation goal for this story is $500. Once we reach this goal, I will begin releasing chapters!
I hope all of you are as excited by this possibility as I am, and if you have any questions, please feel free to send me a PM.