CHAPTER 44

In her youth, Sakura had always been such a critic of people who cowered when in face of injustice or corruption – not that she had really grasped what that meant to its full extent back then and maybe she still didn't. Of people who gave into fear, who would rather turn a blind eye on things and continued on with their lives. It now seemed that, somehow, those people had known all along what they were playing against and had been smart enough to stay out of trouble.

Or maybe… they just didn't really know at all and just went on with their lives. Maybe their actions were mostly ruled by disinterest rather than fear. Sakura didn't know which was worst for people as a whole, but she damn sure knew what was worst for her. She had been both disinterested and naïve for many years and she as sure as hell would rather go back to that then live like this.

Fear is a powerful thing, it has to be. It's meant to be a means of survival; keep you away from trouble. But fear could also make you freeze up, make wrong decisions and let it consume you. It can turn you into an easy target of someone who cannot rebel and act towards freedom. Of course, Sakura had been trained and she had learned to use fear to her benefit in battle. But it was just so different to be afraid in your own village, in your own house.

Of course, Sakura hadn't lost her mind and wasn't paranoid. The fear she felt was like a tiny feeling in the back of her head that made her constantly feel like she was forgetting something. And that something was that there were enemies on the inside. And that she had already let her guard down once, and someone had struck and had won the battle. That someone was still a big unknown on her list, because even though she leaned towards Kabuto she couldn't assume anything. Not anymore.

Sakura was well aware and was now more realistic about her situation. It wasn't just herself; there were others who could be harmed by her foolishness. People she cared about; people like her father. Sakura had somehow come to terms with his death; maybe it was due to the fact that she had already lost her parents once and being with them had felt like a dream for some time after her time travel. But there was still her mother. And Mebuki was not only a civilian, but she also was bedridden for the moment. And Sakura could only imagine how many chances they could see to finish their work in that situation.

All in all, Sakura was afraid, but she was quite well considering everything. She was also too tired and too busy to think too much about what could happen, so she was just focusing on not fucking up again for the moment. The subconscious fear didn't really affect her regular life and she tried not to think about it too much. She also didn't want to seem too affected by everything, or she might be sent to see a psychologist – which was something she definitely wanted to avoid. Not just because of how little time she had nowadays, but also because she didn't want to risk being found out.

So far, the only person that generally knew what she was going through was Kakashi. Today they would be meeting up for the first time since the attack. Sakura hadn't been able to leave to house for a while after the incident since her mother needed someone with medical training there. Only now that things were getting better, Sakura had found time to leave. The first thing she had decided to do was meet Kakashi for 'training'. And so here she was, lying on training ground three and looking at the clear sky. When she finally heard footsteps the opened her eyes and nodded towards her sensei in greeting.

"Yo." Kakashi sat heavily on the ground, a dust cloud appearing around him.

"How are you?"

"Ahh… I guess the same as always." Kakashi said with a bored tone. A few moments passed before he decided to ask in a much more intense voice. "Sakura… how about you? How are you feeling?"

"Ah… I'm not that bad I guess." Sakura sighed. "I'm sad and tired, but I'm still kind of hopeful, so I guess I'm quite good considering."

"Yeah, sounds promising." Kakashi smiled and rubbed Sakura's shoulder kindly. "You know, we only ever meet for training and talking about job-related things now. You should know that if you need to clear up your mind or talk about how you're feeling…"

"I know." Sakura smiled.

"We could always go for ramen." Kakashi lifted his index finger. He obviously wouldn't offer to pay, not for Anko or anyone else.

"Thanks." Sakura smiled and then turned serous again. "So… about that thing on my back."

"Ah. The thing on your back." Kakashi nodded once. "Yes. I looked into it."

"Really?" Sakura's eyes lit up. "And?"

"I don't think I have good news." Kakashi sighed.

Sakura felt her heart skip a beat. Would she never get rid of it? What was its purpose? She swallowed. "What do you mean?"

"First of all, it's a really really complex fuuinjutsu. I know that it's tied to the user's chakra and that it has something to do with behavior or speech – like the ones the Hyuugas use."

"You don't know what the exact limitations are?"

"Not by just looking at it. No." Kakashi sighed. "It's a really complex seal and I'm pretty sure that it's S-ranked. There's no way I can do something about it. If anyone can, it's a fuuinjutsu master."

"Jiraiya."

"Yes. But as you know he's broken all contact with the village. We can't contact him from here, and even from the outside it'll be difficult."

"Damn…" Sakura bit her lower lip. "Kakashi I need to do something about this. I… this whole thing is getting out of hand."

"I know. Listen, I'll be going on a long-term mission again."

"Again?" Sakura's eyebrows shot up.

"Yeah, it seems Danzo has some kind of special consideration for me. He either considers me a good shinobi or is wary of my loyalties."

"Let's hope is the former…"

"Anyways, I'll be gone for at least a few months. So I'll try to look for Jiraiya while I'm out there, but I can't promise anything."

"Will you be acting as team leader?" She asked with a frown and Kakashi shook his head no. "It'll be dangerous. What if someone finds out?"

"Well… I know it's dangerous, but we can't just leave that seal on you, can we?"

"No." Sakura's eyes darkened. "Listen to me now, Kakashi. I do want to get rid of this. It's making everything harder. But you won't throw your career or your life away because of it."

"Sakura, I owe you this. I-" Kakashi suddenly felt younger than her.

"No. Listen, I would be grateful if you helped me with this. However, I would rather live with this thing for the rest of my life than see you have your life destroyed. You are like family to me; you have been for five years in this lifetime and for another five in my previous one."

"Sakura…" Kakashi's eyes softened. He was so proud of having Sakura as his student. She might feel useless and weak at times, but he could see her true value. She had a golden heart.

"Promise you will only look for Jiraiya if you are in no danger of getting caught." Sakura took both of his arms and clasped her hands around them tightly. "Promise."

"All right. I promise." Kakashi agreed.

Sakura smiled. "Thank you."

"Don't thank me, Sakura. It's the least I can do after letting you deal with this whole thing on your own."

It was a funny thing how the only facial feature Sakura could see from Kakashi was his lone eye, but it still managed to express so much. He felt guilty and he was worried. He wanted to do something for her and act like a real sensei.

"Sakura. I want you to look after yourself while I'm gone. If something happens while I'm gone there won't be anyone to do damage control if you can't. Sasuke doesn't know about this yet, does he?" Sakura shook her head. "What about Naruto?"

"No one knows about my time travel aside from you."

"Good. Keep it that way until we find a way to undo what Kabuto did."

"You seem to have forgotten that I can't speak about it even if I want to."

"Ah…" Kakashi scratched the back of his head. "My bad."

"Oi… Kakashi." Sakura asked suddenly. "How have you been? I've only been making everything about myself lately."

"Well, that's obvious since my life is too boring." He stopped for a moment to think. "Ahh… well. I don't think there's anything new. My life is about going on missions, doing some mentoring every now and then to you guys, and spending time with Anko."

"How is everything going with her?"

"Fine." Kakashi smiled. "She moved in with me a couple months ago and it's been good to have company."

"Really?" Sakura's eyes lit up at the good news. "Well, don't forget to ask properly when you propose to her."

"Don't go there…" Kakashi pretended to be annoyed by her words, but she could see the faint blush near his visible eye.

"Just trying to give you some advice." Sakura smirked playfully, but then all hints of playfulness left her face and she took Kakashi's hand in her own. He seemed a bit taken aback by the trespassing into his strict personal space, but said nothing. Sakura looked at him with soft eyes and squeezed his hand. "I honestly hope you can find happiness, Kakashi. I think Anko is good for you, even though she has a particular personality."

"She does…" Sakura could see it in his eyes that Kakashi loved that about Anko too. "Thank you, Sakura."

"Well, let's not let things get awkward! How about we get some actual training done? I haven't trained in like a month."

"Don't blame me if you're out of shape." Kakashi smirked as he stood up, mirroring her actions.

"Don't underestimate me."

-x-

Sakura tried to make sure the grocery bags she was carrying were balanced or she would end up dropping everything. Her feet carried her along one of the commercial streets of Konoha back to Sasuke's apartment. She was hoping to get back as soon as possible or they would end up eating lunch at 3 pm, which was too late given the early breakfast they'd had. However, life never went the way she planned. She sighed when she felt someone's presence nearing and looked back.

"Sakura!"

"Tenten. How are you doing?" Sakura smiled.

"Fine, fine. How… how about you? I heard what happened to your family and haven't seen you ever since. I'm so sorry about what happened."

"Ah… well. I'm not too bad all things considered." Sakura smiled, because it truly wasn't that bad.

"Let me help you with these bags."

"Oh, don't worry. I'll be fine."

"Nonsense." Tenten said and took one without waiting for an answer.

"Uh… ok thanks." Sakura didn't really want to talk to Tenten at the moment, but she couldn't just reject her help like that.

"So… I heard you're living with Sasuke now." Tenten smiled when she saw Sakura blush slightly. "I'll take that as a yes. You're not sharing the same room, are you?"

"Of course not." Sakura frowned. "You know how clans are; you're Neji's teammate."

"Yeah." Tenten deadpanned. "At least you're with someone you trust. I imagine his help must be invaluable."

"It is." Sakura smiled as she looked ahead. "We would be out on the streets if it weren't for him. He has helped looked after my mother. And he has been helping out with expenses too… I can't thank him enough."

"You're lucky to have a good man like him." Tenten said and then turned to look at Sakura. "And he's lucky to have you too."

"Me?" Sakura's eyebrows shot up.

"Of course! You're the complete package; I can tell you really care about him and you're a good person." Tenten smiled widely, but there was a glint in her eye. "You're such a good person that you would risk everything to do the right thing."

Sakura inwardly flinched, knowing where this was going. She looked around quickly and realized that they already were in a rather empty side street. But that didn't mean they were safe. "Listen, Tenten-"

"Sometimes doing the right thing has consequences though. Right?" Tenten eyed Sakura from the corner of her eye.

"Not necessarily. Sometimes events are not related to one another." Sakura answered swiftly. Of course Tenten would be wary and think that what happened to her family could be related to what they were looking into. Sakura certainly didn't need Tenten looking into her private life at this point.

"Ah. Maybe. After all, anyone would warn their friends if they were in danger, wouldn't they?"

Sakura froze in the middle of the street and turned to fully look at Tenten. She now could see it in the brunette's eyes; Tenten was scared. She was afraid that what happened to her family would happen to her or someone she loved. And she had reason to. After all, they had been looking into what apparently were dark secrets about some very powerful people. If they were to find out, they could take action. Sakura might've never considered this in the past, but she now wouldn't put it past them to kill or blackmail someone who seemed like a threat to their power and stability.

Suddenly it hit Sakura. What if Tenten was right? What if they had been found out and it was a message sent to all three of them? After all, Sakura was the only one who had a family. Sakura couldn't simply disregard the possibility of the murderer being someone hired by, say, the Hyuugas. What if Tenten and Lee were in danger too? Would it be fair of her to pull the two of them into this mess and then not let them know that there had been something wrong with what had happened to her parents? That it had not been accidental by any means.

"I…" Sakura swallowed and made sure to send out her chakra to check their surroundings before answering; she couldn't risk someone overhearing her even if she was now whispering into Tenten's ear. "Tenten. My parents were attacked. I don't know who it was… but we can't be sure."

Tenten frowned in worry. "Damn…"

"I don't know if we should be meeting anytime soon."

"I don't think we can." Tenten bit her lower lip. "For a while."

"Just for a while." Sakura nodded.

"Sakura." Tenten's eyes were pleading. "Be careful."

"I will. Make sure Lee knows about this. This is my stop."

"Ok." Tenten handed Sakura her grocery bags. "See you around."

"See you around."

-x-

Sasuke walked into his apartment to find it filled with the scent of a delicious meal. He felt a smile pulling at his lips. Ever since Sakura and her mother had moved into his place he felt… he felt… Sasuke wasn't good with words. But there was now a sense of normality to his life. He didn't feel like coming home was like returning to a cage, or crawling back into his hole. It was… nice. Something he hadn't felt for almost a decade. It felt like a home, not just a house.

Sasuke took off his shoes at the entrance and walked into the living room. His eyes immediately fell upon Sakura, who was scrubbing the floor clean. His neutral look turned into a frown when he noticed the bags under her eyes. He sighed and walked towards her.

"Sasuke!" she looked up and smiled at him despite her tired demeanor. "You're back."

"Hn." He nodded at her. "What are you doing?"

"Uh… cleaning?"

"I know. I mean why." Sasuke noticed she was going to answer the obvious question and quickly added. "Stop that."

"Stop what?" Sakura sighed and stood up. "Why do you keep doing that?"

"It's obvious, isn't it?" Sasuke passed a hand through his hair. "Look at you. You look like shit."

Sakura could've taken it personally, but she knew Sasuke meant no harm. He was just… hopelessly honest. "Well, what do you expect?"

"Sakura. I'm not blaming you for being tired. You haven't gotten a proper sleep at night for a month. You're busy all day long helping with your mother's recovery. When you're not doing that, you're either at work or doing the housework."

"Yes. I know what it is I do all day long."

"This is ridiculous. You don't even see the point I'm trying to make." Sasuke took the cleaning cloth from her hand and pointed at her. "You need to rest. Stop overworking yourself. You're unbelievable."

"Sasuke… I know. But you have to put yourself in my place."

"That's what I'm doing." He deadpanned.

"No. You don't understand why I'm doing this. I'm not just doing lots of stuff." Sakura took a deep breath. "Look, you've done so much for us. I don't know how to repay you. I don't have any money since I don't get to work much anymore, and I can't think of anything else you could need from me. So I'm trying to make this place as nice as I can."

"You really are … an idiot." Sasuke chuckled with disbelief. "Sakura. I didn't bring you here so you could become my cleaning lady. I never expected any kind of payment for what I'm doing. I wanted to help, not to hire some kind of housekeeping service in exchange for a room."

"But Sasuke… this is so unfair to you." Sakura frowned. "You shouldn't have to bear this burden too. You don't have that much time to train or study anymore, since I need to work and you're watching my mother during that time. Whenever you're home… you're always investing your personal time in taking care of other people. You and I know that you're also using part of your own money to pay for our bills. Don't misunderstand… I'm so grateful. But I can't help feeling guilty."

"Stop that, will you?" Sasuke held his hand up. "I won't lie. It's not been easy. I'm tired too. It is a lot of work. I-"

"Do you see what I m-"

"Let me finish." Sasuke retorted. "I don't think you're a burden. I'm happy to have you both here. This place was so empty for such a long time… it's a nice change. It's true I don't get time to rest much when I come back home, but this place is livelier than it ever was before. I don't get to spend much time alone, but I get to spend time with you. And I don't think it's not my responsibility… if Mebuki were to become my mother in law someday, she would be. Besides, I'm fond of her."

"Sasuke…" she seemed impressed by his choice of words and he could see a blush on her face.

"Go get some rest, will you? And don't you dare come back into the kitchen until lunch is ready."

Sakura nodded and smiled at him. "Sasuke… thank you."

"Aa."

Sakura walked away with a smile and he heard her fall on his bed unceremoniously. Not half a minute later he could hear her soft breathing, meaning she was already asleep.

Sasuke sighed and quickly finished the spot Sakura had been scrubbing clean. For a whole month he had been coming home from training or missions to find her busy. She was helping Mebuki out; she needed hoursof exercises everyday so her muscles wouldn't degrade. It was either that, or doing laundry or some other household chore. Sasuke was quite bothered by that. It was his apartment and he knew exactly how to look after it. He had been doing it for years.

And it was honestly ridiculous. He could see that Sakura was doing so much, he knew it. But she still refused to stop acting like… she was a bother; always trying to make things up to him. He had told her repeatedly that he would do some part of the housework and he then would come back to find that she had already done it herself. Then again, Sakura had always been like that. The self-sacrificing kind; the martyr. The overworked medic. It made him want to pull his hair out sometimes.

When lunch was finally done, Sasuke woke Sakura up and they served the meal together. Then they took everything to Sakura and Mebuki's room, as usual, and set it down on a side table. Sasuke pulled a chair to the small table for himself and Sakura pulled a small chair in between the table and the bed so she could also feed her mother.

"Hey, mom." Sakura shook her and Mebuki stirred awake.

"Ah. Sakura." A soft smile graced to woman's lips as she greeted them. "Sasuke."

Sakura's mother was still bedridden, but she had regained consciousness and the pain she felt wasn't as bad as before. She could also talk and eat now, so they were feeling hopeful about her recovery. Scratch that. Sakura was sure that her mother would be fine; she was a strong woman. Sakura didn't know if it came with age or experience – probably the former since she liked to think that she'd gone through a lot in her rather short life and she was nowhere near as strong as her mother. She had seen it before during her past life and she had seen it now tenfold. Mebuki had learned of Kizashi's death around a week and a half after the attack. Sakura had been so scared to tell her afraid of how she would take it and how it would affect her health… but had been surprised to see that she was managing. Of course, Mebuki had cried; they both had cried over his death together many times.

"I had a dream about Kizashi." Mebuki commented with a nostalgic smile as Sakura fed herself for a moment. "I remembered when we first moved in together. Your father was obsessed with keeping the house clean. He couldn't stand the sight of dust or anything out of place. A single grain of rice would have him sweeping every spot of the floor."

"Dad?" Sakura's eyes widened. "I can't believe it."

"Well… he had to learn to let go of such high standards when you were born. You know… a house with a toddler or a child gets dirty and messy in the blink of an eye. I think you taught the both of us that not everything can be under our control." Mebuki smiled at them. "The two of you remind me of the both of us."

"Sasuke and I?" Sakura was as surprised as Sasuke.

"Yeah. I know we're all very different, but there are some situations that make me think of our younger days." Mebuki's smile grew sadder. "Only we didn't have to break our backs to look after some old lady."

"Mom!" Sakura had known Mebuki was regretful of the situation she had put the both of them in. But she had never said that in front of Sasuke before. Sakura loved her mother and she didn't want her to feel like that. "You're not an old lady yet. You're not even 40 yet! And I want to help you out, you know that. And how would it be fair for you to raise me for years and then have me complaining now, huh?"

"Yeah." Mebuki was aware that Sakura was doing this because she loved her, but it didn't make things easier for her.

"Mebuki." Sasuke's voice startled both females. He didn't usually speak up on his own, but he seemed to think Mebuki was feeling like that because of him. "You're like family to me. I don't feel bothered by this at all. You know I wouldn't have offered otherwise."

Sakura was shocked to hear that and felt tears form in her eyes. Mebuki just smiled at Sasuke and chuckled.

"I'm like a long-lost aunt, right?"

Sasuke smirked at that and Sakura frowned for a moment wondering if she had missed something. Then again, Sasuke did spent a lot of time with Mebuki now. And it somehow seemed to her that he had spent a lot of time with her before too. She had asked about it, but Sasuke had only vaguely answered her question saying 'I have obviously talked with her. I've been visiting her for a long time'. Tch, the nerve of them. To leave her out of it.

"My father was different." Sasuke surprised the both of them once again, their eyebrows shooting up.

Mebuki recovered first. "Fugaku, right?"

"Aa. He was always very strict with us." Sasuke sighed. He remembered how he had always felt pressured by that. "Not just when it came to the state of our house. He never allowed for a thing to be out of place and he always expected out best effort in everything."

"You don't seem to agree with that." Mebuki pointed out.

"I… don't know. I never felt at ease around my family. I realized that when I started going to your place years ago."

"I don't think you're looking at it the right way, Sasuke." Mebuki smiled a knowing smile. "You feel like your father didn't love you unconditionally, right?"

"…maybe." Sasuke was still shy about his feelings. How had she come to learn to read him like that?

"I think you're wrong." Mebuki smiled. "I'm sure they loved you dearly. Your family was head of a clan; they weren't just anyone. When you grew up you would undoubtedly have a lot on your shoulders. If they hadn't raised you to be a perfectionist and strict with yourself… how could they expect you to succeed? Wouldn't they be doing you harm if they hadn't acted like that? If they hadn't raised you to be a man capable of leading a clan, with strict values and impeccable behavior, maybe you wouldn't have succeeded."

"…"

"I don't think your parents were wrong." Mebuki explained. "You were just born in a position that expected too much of everyone and your parents did what they thought was best."

"It still feels wrong."

"I don't mean to say that it was right. But you have to take into consideration that you were the head family. Maybe what was wrong with that picture was not your parents, but the clan. They were just expected to follow its dynamics and didn't have a choice."

The room suddenly grew very quiet. Sasuke's eyes were trained on the floor and he became lost in thought. He had never looked at it from that perspective. Sasuke had loved his family, but he had felt used by them too. He had thought they had only seen them as heirs of the Uchiha Clan instead of children. But maybe they had just felt forced to act that way.

They had felt forced to be strict and distanced. Maybe his parents had sometimes wanted to have a different kind of relationship, but that wouldn't have worked with their future. After all, Sasuke was now the last Uchiha and he felt the weight of the clan on his shoulders… and he probably wouldn't survive as the head of a clan if he were like Naruto, for instance.

It suddenly hit Sasuke that his parent's hadn't been… perfect. Of course they weren't, he knew that, but he had never actually seen them like that. He had always expected them to be flawless in their choices too. Maybe they were just imperfect and had tried to do their best.

"Ah." Sasuke closed his eyes. "I think you're right. They just tried their best."

The two women in front of him smiled and he felt Sakura's warm hand around his. Her kind emerald eyes shone with joy. He squeezed her hand back and felt suddenly… less trapped. Then he noticed.

Since when did he start conversations about his family? He had never done that unless asked.

Talking about his family had always brought up horrible feelings and memories. He hadn't wanted any of that, so he had refused to even bring them up ever since the massacre. Only Sakura had managed to make him talk a couple of times, but he hadn't usually talked so openly about this in front of anyone else. But this… somehow… he hadn't felt angst when talking about his father this time.

Sasuke didn't know when it had happened or how it had happened… but he felt that he was… somehow he was… healing.

-x-

"Oii, Sakura-chan."

"What."

"Come on. Tell me."

"There's nothing to say."

"Ah… come on."

"Naruto."

"How could you have been living with Sasuke for a month and a half and not have slept with him."

"Naruto."

"I mean, I'm a guy and all. But if I had been a girl living under Sasuke's roof, I would've definitely done it. He's an attractive bastard, I have to admit it." Naruto scratched his temple. "Uh… don't tell him about that, he'll never leave me alone."

"Ugh…"

"I mean, there are only two rooms at this place. You must've slipped out of your mother's room at night to keep him company."

"Naruto!"

"It would be good for you!" Naruto explained. "Sex is good for your mental health. You know, Jiraiya taught me a lot."

"I don't need to hear about that." Sakura crossed her arms and looked away… but her eyes betrayed her and she eyed Naruto curiously.

"Come on, Sakura."

"We can't do it, Naruto. Sasuke's clan has rules that forbid it."

"Really? Ouch! Poor bastard. Well… he will just have to get married soon." Naruto smirked. "Are you okay with those rules?"

"Well… you know I would prefer if those rules didn't exist. But… I understand."

"No way, dattebayo. You're the number one pervy girl out there." Naruto smirked but then the playfulness disappeared from his features. "You should definitely try it sometime… maybe not go all the way. It'll help you sleep better and it'll help you release some stress."

"How can you be so sure?"

"I… well. It's not like I have experience, but Jiraiya has told me all about it." Naruto's face turned dreamy. "Once Hinata and I get the chance, I'll make sure that she never forgets about me!"

"Uh… you do know Hinata is part of a clan too, right?"

"Yeah." Naruto was quiet for a moment. "You don't mean… no. Those damned rules would apply to her as well?!"

"I can imagine. She's the heir to her clan. The female heir."

"Noooooooooooo!" Naruto grabbed both sides of his head. "Sakura, Hiashi will never let me marry her! He's a classist bastard!"

"I know." Sakura sighed. "He doesn't look like a nice man to me. At least from the outside."

"I agree. That bastard is too much of a friend with Danzo."

"What do you mean?" Sakura's eyes narrowed.

"You know all my missions are inside the village only nowadays, so I have a lot of patrol duty. I've seen Hinata's father go to Danzo far more than any other clan leader." Naruto explained. "I don't like that. I don't trust him and I don't trust Danzo."

"Really?" Sakura felt her heart skip a beat. "I don't think you should make such quick judgments."

"Cut the crap, Sakura." Naruto growled. "You have realized that things are fucked up here."

"What do you mean?" Sakura didn't know how much Naruto knew. She quickly checked their surroundings using chakra to make sure they were alone.

"Well… it's pretty obvious after a while. Every time someone wants to point out something against Danzo's policies, someone on the outside becomes a threat. Or someone on the inside becomes a threat. Or someone in our village is destroying our traditions. Those creepy ANBU are always roaming around, questioning people if they're out too late, if they gather in once place for too long, if there's too many people together. What the fuck? Everything because of the Akatsuki and other villages?"

"…"

"It's downright ridiculous, Sakura! Don't tell me you haven't noticed. I know you have. Besides, Danzo and Hiashi must be doing some weird shit, I'm sure, and Hinata is going to get caught up in it when she's older. I've seen how the Hyuugas have been lucky enough to get lots of public investments around their compound. I mean, I'm happy for Hinata right now and all… but it's fishy as hell. Right? Right?"

Naruto wasn't half as dumb as people liked to believe. He was not as smart as Sasuke – who definitely had to know what was going on too – but he was definitely smarter than the average villager. He had noticed something was off unlike most people and he had also not turned a blind eye. Not that she had ever expected him to. But Naruto would be in so much danger if he were to be caught. She was sure that Danzo was keeping an eye on him.

Maybe she would've asked him to join her, Lee and Tenten if she'd realized he knew that much before. But now… well. She didn't want to take any chances for now.

"Look… I think you're right." Sakura explained carefully, knowing denying his suspicions wouldn't be believable. "But you have to be careful. You don't know what kind of issues you might find… it may put you in danger."

"So what?!" Naruto scoffed. "You don't expect me to sit around and watch, do you?"

Sakura suddenly felt like she was in Sasuke's place. "Naruto, I don't. But listen, just please be careful. Try not to get too involved. You know Danzo is observing you because of the Kyuubi and… I don't know what he would do if he found out you were working against him. You must know he's ruthless."

"Ruthless? He's a goddamn fascist."

"Call him whatever you want, and yes, he probably is." Sakura looked him in the eye. "I also disagree with the way he does things."

"So… I can come to you if I ever happen to find anything."

"Yes, yes. And don't trust just anyone… and listen, you have to be careful. Don't… rush into things."

Naruto smiled. "I'll do my best."

Sakura didn't really buy it, but it was only a few weeks later that she would know for sure how much Naruto was actually involved in things.

-x-

"What is going on here?!" Neji's voice was strong and Sakura looked around the street to find him. "Unhand him!"

Naruto, who was with her at the moment, nodded his head towards a spot a few meters away from them where people were gathering and then speed walked that way. Sakura was slightly behind him and was glad for his body hid how her face contorted at what she saw. Six root ANBU were surrounding Neji and Lee, and putting handcuffs on Lee.

"What is the meaning of this?!" Neji was quite upset. "You're taking him without any charges?"

"This man, Rock Lee, has been charged with treason and terrorism against Konoha." A root ANBU explained.

"What?!" Neji's eyes widened. "Nonsense!"

"If you don't back off right now, there will be consequences." The root ANBU took a step towards Neji.

Sakura's eyes widened and she wanted to smack Lee right then and there. Of course the idiot wouldn't leave the issue alone after Tenten told him to. Of course, he would continue on his own and mess up. Sakura quickly assessed their surroundings and cursed under her breath. There were five other ANBU right next to them and ten others not far from them. If this escalated… they would all end up dead or imprisoned.

Neji was about to take another step forward, but Sakura took ahold of his wrist tightly. Neji's eyes widened and he scowled.

"Sakura? What do you think you're doing?"

"Excuse him." Sakura talked to the root ANBU, completely ignoring Neji. "He's just appalled at the idea that a comrade would do such a thing. I'm sure he will accept whatever the outcome is."

The root ANBU said nothing and turned as they all moved out of the street. Neji's scowl got deeper and he jerked away from Sakura's hold, wanting to stop the ANBU as they took Lee away. Naruto stepped in front of him before he could take another step forward.

"Neji, think clearly about what you're about to do." he said, his blue eyes shining brightly.

Neji wasn't going to take shit from anyone, it appeared, so Sakura moved closer to him. Just as he was going to strike Naruto on the jaw, Sakura's fingers touched the base of his spine and sent chakra through him. Neji was paralyzed and he dropped to the ground with a thud.

Sakura looked at Naruto with a raised eyebrow and he seemed to be doing the same. Their thoughts were clear on both their faces as they looked at each other with curiosity. What on earth?

As Neji complained with grunts on the floor, Sakura and Naruto came to a quiet understanding and they each put an arm over their shoulders. They moved out of the village and took Neji to an empty training ground. As soon as they sat down, Sakura lifted her hand to stop them from talking and double checked their surroundings.

"Ok. We're alone." Sakura said with a nod.

"Ok." Naruto said as his eyes darted to Neji for a moment and then back to Sakura. "Um… Sakura-chan. What…"

Sakura lifted an eyebrow and Neji spoke for Naruto as he lay on the ground. "What the hell do you know?"

"What?"

"Come on, Sakura-chan. Why would you be so careful about root ANBU? You've said that you don't know much yourself. I don't think that's true."

"Sakura, there's no turning back now." Neji said.

Sakura took a deep breath in. It seemed that she didn't have a choice. Neji and Naruto seemed to know something too, so she guessed it wouldn't be wrong to share info. "Ok. So… Lee, Tenten and I had been looking into Danzo, the council, and the clans for a while."

"Really?" Naruto's eyebrows shot up.

"Yeah… but after what happened to my parents we kind of stopped. You know… there was a chance that the whole thing had been some sort of warning."

Silence stretched for a moment and Naruto looked down with grief written all over his face. "Damn… Sakura-chan…"

"Don't say anything about it." Sakura's eyes darkened. "I know."

Neji looked down, his anger had faded. "Do you think Lee will have a similar ending?"

Naruto bit his lip. "I don't know."

Neji's eyes were obscured by his hair, but Sakura could clearly see his hands shaking. If she remembered correctly, Lee and Neji had a thing. She could relate to him; she had thought she'd lost Sasuke more than once.

"What about you guys? You know something?"

Naruto snickered. "Lee came to us a few weeks ago in order to take Danzo down." Sakura rolled her eyes; it had been right after she talked to Tenten. Figures. "So, we've been kinda working with him for some time now. He was supposed to look into some files yesterday. I hadn't seen him since…"

Naruto looked at Neji, who shook his head, meaning he hadn't had a chance to talk to Lee before he was arrested. "I had just met him on the street just a few minutes before he was taken."

"Now we're all screwed. Tenten, Neji, Sakura and I." Naruto said with dread. "They will look into Lee's memories and-"

"They won't find a thing." Sakura said. "I've put a seal on the three of us, so they won't know who else is involved in working against Danzo."

"Sakura-chan you always think of everything!" Naruto beamed.

"I wish I did." Sakura sighed. "I should put a seal on the both of you too."

"I agree." Naruto said.

"Wait." Neji spoke for the first time in a while. "What about the Uchiha?"

"Sasuke? He's not involved." Sakura explained. "He's too close to Danzo and he will be head of the Uchiha Clan someday… so we had decided not to involve him."

"Sakura-chan… do you really agree with that?" Naruto's eyes were determined.

"I don't like keeping things from him and I trust him." Sakura looked down. She definitely didn't like it. She wished Sasuke knew everything she was doing, everything she'd been through. "But Tenten and Lee barely knew him, soo…"

"I agree. I don't want the Uchiha in." Neji said.

"Neji!" Naruto complained.

"What? You didn't seem to mind when we decided to keep Hinata-sama out of this."

"That was different. I want to keep Hinata safe. I don't want her to be involved in such a thing… it's horrible and dangerous."

Neji snorted. "I can't believe it. Hinata is not naïve, she's shy. Do you think that she hasn't been taught how to deal with politics? I can't believe you of all people are underestimating her."

"I'm not!" Naruto scowled. "She's smart! But I don't think she would handle it well knowing the full extent of everything while keeping appearances with her father."

"I still think you're underestimating her." Neji said and Naruto huffed.

"That's not all. You know how Hiashi is! He's always keeping an eye on her and we wouldn't be able to keep it a secret."

"Same goes for Sasuke. He's Danzo's student… do you think he doesn't keep an eye on him?"

"The both of us could be watched too, you know?" Naruto motioned with his hands.

"Yes, but I think the chances are quite lower than that of the future heads of the main clans of Konoha." Neji squinted his eyes. "If none of you have a good defense, I'd like to settle that we keep Sasuke out of this for now."

Neither Naruto or Sakura could think of something for now, so they stayed quiet.

"We could contact Tenten though." Said Sakura. "Neji, you're her teammate. It wouldn't be weird for you to meet her out of the blue and ask to train, right?"

"Yes." Neji nodded.

Naruto, Neji and Sakura proceeded to compare what they knew… and it turned out that Lee had already filled the both of them in on what they'd found , and they had barely made any advances. A few records describing letters exchanged between the clans and the council, but nothing of substance.

Sakura proceeded to put a seal on both of them and then they took off separately. Sakura understood where Naruto was coming from when it came to Hinata, but she had been down that road before and it never ended in anything good. Sakura wished she had trusted in Sasuke before and there was not much she wanted more than to tell him now. She would have to talk to Naruto about how bad keeping secrets was when she had the chance.

-x-

It was bound to happen. Sakura knew it. But she still wasn't ready for that moment. The day Sasuke would notice she was avoiding him.

Almost two months had gone by since her parents were attacked and she had gotten the seal. Of course he would notice eventually. Sasuke normally didn't ask for that kind of thing – especially since they had gotten carried away before – and she had been the one to initiate most of their more intimate moments.

It had happened one day out of the blue while they were cooking. Sasuke had gotten behind her and had been watching her for half a minute. Sakura assumed that Sasuke would say something if he was bothered, but found that he wasn't speaking so she turned around.

"Sasuke?" she looked into his eyes and Sasuke took a couple steps closer until there was nothing but a palm's length of space between them and she could feel his breath tickling her face. Sakura felt her heart skip a beat and was suddenly… wary of his closeness. "What… is going on?"

"Nothing." He raised an eyebrow at her reaction. He clearly knew something was up, but wasn't saying it aloud. Sasuke leaned closer to her and Sakura felt anxiousness grip her heart.

"We still need to clean up in here." She said as calmly as possible and she turned around to walk away from him, but Sasuke's hand shot out to block her way. "Sasuke?"

"Why aren't you looking at me?" Sasuke asked in a low voice. He was confused.

"We're just busy, Sasuke. Let's clean this up right away."

"Don't play dumb." He growled. "You know I hate that."

Sakura remained quiet and averted her eyes. "What are you talking about?"

Sasuke didn't say a thing, but he simply took her chin and lifted her head up to kiss her. Sakura jerked back and turned her head away from him, the action making her heart drop instantly. Sasuke's eyes darkened a bit, not in anger but in rejection.

"I knew it." Sasuke scoffed. "I thought I was over reacting or imagining things."

"…Sasuke-"

"You've been avoiding me ever since that day." Sasuke interrupted her. "I'm no idiot. I have been giving you space because of what happened to your father… but I had the feeling that something was off."

"…"

"Why?"

"…"

"Sakura. Why."

"…"

"You're not going to tell me about it, are you?"

"Sasuke… I can't tell you." She wanted to. Hell, these goddamn secrets were going to kill her. Destroy them. But how was she going to explain things with that seal on her back? It didn't allow her to even give hints about its existence. Kakashi had noticed kind of against her will, after all.

"It's not because I refused to sleep with you some time ago, right? It wasn't long before the fire."

"Sasuke… you know that's not that important to me." Sakura bit her lower lip.

"I thought so." His eyes hardened. "You blame me for it, don't you?"

"What?"

"Your father's death."

Sakura's eyes widened in shock. "No!"

"You told me that day, I remember as if it had been yesterday. 'I will never forgive you if you do this'." Sasuke clenched his eyes shut and his hands fisted at his sides. "And… in the end you didn't get to him in time."

"Anyone would've died if they had been inside the building at that moment!" Sakura couldn't say that she would've died, because that would be a lie. "I know why you did what you did, Sasuke!"

"Nonetheless, you can't help but think of me that way, can you? Even though you know I didn't have a choice and you understand why I did it."

"No!"

"That doesn't make it right either, does it?" Sasuke clenched his jaw. "Do you look at me and see the face of the person who prevented you from trying to save your own father?"

"Stop this, Sasuke!" Sakura yelled and grabbed his shoulders. "I have never thought like that!"

"Then do it. Kiss me." Sasuke said. Sakura froze on the spot and looked at the floor. "Prove that it had nothing to do with it. Because I can't really think of another reason."

By now Sasuke and Sakura both knew that if she kissed him it wouldn't make things right. Sasuke was well aware that there was something going on and he was thinking about the wrong reasons. But nonetheless… was still expecting some kind of reaction from her. He was frustrated. He was confused.

Sasuke leaned in slowly, waiting to see what her reaction would be. He could see Sakura's eyes filling with fear. Why was she making such a big deal about a kiss? He didn't want to make her afraid. Much less because of a kiss. It wasn't supposed to be like that.

"Dammit." Sasuke backed away from her and she released the breath she'd been holding. He stared into her eyes and she stared back. Sasuke was trying to understand and Sakura was trying to find a way to make him understand. "Do you want to be with me, Sakura?"

Sakura couldn't suppress a sob and threw her arms around his neck. She couldn't lie to him about this, she couldn't. She didn't exactly know how far Kabuto's rules went. But maybe simply saying what she wanted wasn't wrong. She whispered into Sasuke's neck, bracing herself for what may happen.

"Yes. God. Yes. Of course I want to. You have to know that. Always."

"Then what do you want from me? What is wrong? Why are you avoiding me like this?" Sasuke's chest vibrated as he spoke.

"I… I… just need some time. Please." Sakura clung to him like a lifeline and Sasuke couldn't help but believe her. "Trust me with this. I swear I will deal with this. Just…"

"I must be some kind of idiot, because even with everything you're keeping from me…" Sasuke looked into her eyes. "…I trust you. I just hope my instincts are not wrong."

"They're not." Sakura said with determination. "You have to trust me. Please."

"Aa." Sasuke nodded.

Sasuke didn't deserve any of this. Sakura was well aware of that. He was everything she could've ever hoped for and he meant so much to her. There had to be something she could do… something she could tell him. Something that didn't have anything to do with Kabuto, with her time travel, or with anything she'd learned in her past life. Then it hit her. She had been just like Naruto for a long time, after all.

"Sasuke. There is something I can tell you." She said and he turned back to look at her, giving her his attention. "I've... stumbled upon some disturbing information. It's about the clans in our village."

Sasuke wasn't surprised about what Sakura told him afterwards. She was a bit shocked that he took the whole thing about corruption so easily. How could he not make any faces when he heard that the main clans had been funding suspicious investigations in the hospital – of course she couldn't tell him about what kind of investigations she'd seen – and that the council had been giving them access to special privileges? He didn't say anything as she spoke and simply nodded. In the end Sakura couldn't help but ask why he didn't seem surprised.

"You know I'm the last Uchiha and Danzo's student. I have had my own suspicions for a long time." Sasuke sighed. "Politics are no different in Konoha than in any other village."

"Oh." Sakura felt like she hadn't made a difference.

"Sakura."

"Yes?"

"You haven't gotten into trouble with them, have you?"

Sakura frowned. "Why would you ask that?"

"The day you father died, I was too shocked to even question those events." Sasuke explained. "But I did think it was weird how your mother ended up bedridden because of the fire. She didn't have any burns or anything of the sort, but I had imagined that it was due to the smoke she'd inhaled. I didn't want to make you worry any further, so I looked into it myself. You do know her condition right now has nothing to do with the fire."

"Yes." Sakura nodded. Sasuke looked at her expectantly, waiting for her to explain further. "I… believe so too. I think they were poisoned."

Sasuke's eyes narrowed. "So, the fire was just a cover up."

"Yes."

Sasuke was awfully quiet for a long time and Sakura's eyes ended up looking away from him. She could see all of the thoughts that went through his head. And all of them made sense. Why didn't you tell me before? You've been putting yourself at risk all this time. What happened to your father was because of the risks you've been talking.

And the last one was the one that broke her the most. Because he was right and it was something that she'd been trying to bury deep in her soul for the longest time. She knew what she'd done and she was trying hard to keep going. Sakura's eyes shone with sorrow and she had to close them and look down to keep her emotions to herself.

"Don't." Sasuke lifted her chin and she met his eyes. He was as heartbroken as she was. "Don't hide from me. Sakura. It was not your fault."

"Yes it was." Sakura clenched her eyes shut. She didn't think it was because of the clans, but she believed it was probably because of Kabuto. And that was her fault. "It was, Sasuke."

Sasuke shook his head. "No, don't think like that. If you go down that road-"

"Sasuke. I'm no idiot." Sakura retorted and Sasuke's eyes softened. "I am perfectly aware that there's a high chance that what happened was because I was sticking my nose in somebody else's business. I tried to do what I thought was right and it backfired on me. On my parents. I need to live with what I did. Don't you dare underestimate me."

Sasuke was silent for a moment and then he circled her with his arms. "I won't."

"I have no idea who it was and how they did it though." Sakura sighed into his shoulder and clenched his shirt in her fists. "So there's not much I can do about that for now."

"For now, let's just make sure your mother gets better. Then we'll figure out what to do." Sakura hummed into Sasuke's shoulder in agreement.

In her past life, Naruto had always claimed that Sasuke didn't deserve her. But now it seemed that it was the other way around. She kind of had her hands tied when it came to telling him the truth, but still nowadays it felt as if she didn't deserve him.

A/N: I know this took so long. I was partly busy with my friend losing an election (LOL, common people always get kicked out of politics) and wasting my spare time. Anyways, I finally got it done.

Someone asked how far along the story was… and I'd say maybe about 70%. I'm not sure, because I have the whole story planned through big events. Smaller events are decided slowly as the story progresses… so I have only thoroughly planned three more chapters. But nonetheless… I'd say 70%.

As always I'd love to hear what you have to say about this chapter! And I also want to thank my beta for her continued support!

I would like to focus this A/N on one issue in. A reviewer posted that I had plagiarized someone else's story. I didn't delete the review, but instead I wanted to clear the issue it publicly.

They accused me of copying "If I knew then", by brezoflower. I read the whole thing. First of all… the story is only three chapters long. Also, in that story events are quite different:

Sasuke's body s taken over by Orochimaru and then he dies.

Sakura kills herself because of that and the Kyuubi sends her back in time. (So… no Juubi in there.)

Sakura tells Kakashi about her time travel right after the bell test.

I had the feeling – my beta agrees – that they either wanted to pick up a fight or they were confused.

I sent a PM to them, and while we didn't get to an understanding I think now that the user is confused. I imagine (by the date on their profile) that the user kind of new to fanfiction and hasn't read many time-travel fictions. They claimed that there were many similar parts… which… well… of course there were because it is a time travel. Canon events are mostly written in the exact way they happened in Kishi's story, and were creativity comes into is in what we change as the story goes on. As I have explained earlier… the original ideas are quite different. And the other story is short, so there aren't many actual changes.

I wanted to clear this up for all of you. If you want you can read the other story yourselves and, if you think there is an actual copy, please tell me about it.

Thank you all so much for reading and for your support!