Author's Notes: Hello everyone! Welcome to the final chapter of Dear Annie. I know this is a bit sudden, but everything just happened to fall into place as I was writing, so I think it fits. I may write an epilogue, but I kind of like the ending, but we will see. Hope you all enjoy it, and thank you so much for everything.
Title: Dear Annie
Rating: T (or PG-13)
Summary: [SasuSaku] Sakura is excellent about giving others advice about their love life, but she is absolutely clueless when it comes to her own!
Pairings: SasuSaku, NaruHina, NejiTen, ShikaIno
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
Chapter 22: Square One
There is a girl that I like…that I love. She means the world to me in more ways than she knows. I'm not sure when a simple infatuation grew into what I'm feeling now, I just know that I don't ever want to let it, or her, go. I want to spend every waking moment of the rest of my life with this girl. I want her to know that even though we're not together, that we're meant to be. What's the best way to tell her that we're meant for each other and always have been, even when we were bitter enemies. I love her, Annie. I love her more than anything, and I want her to know that no matter how much time or distance passes between us, I'm in love with her. Despite everything, I still love her and I always have. How do I let her know that?
Sakura stumbled back a few stops, her back hitting the wall in her shock. Was she even breathing? The pink haired woman couldn't tell at all. The woman in front of her looked at her confusedly, still gripping to the charred body of Sakura's father. It took Sakura a solid minute of trying to calm down before she could speak again.
"You can't be his wife," Sakura paused to breathe, still trying to stimulate her lungs into working. "He's still married."
"We're a common law marriage, we've lived together for ten years." The woman rubbed her belly and sobbed once. "This is his baby."
Sakura felt her knees go out and she slid to the ground fast enough to jar her remaining wounds. She was hyperventilating again, feeling faint as the world began to tunnel into blackness, only barely managing to hold onto her consciousness.
The woman gave a startled gasp and moved over to her. "Are you okay?" She reached out to touch a hand to the younger girl's shoulder, but Sakura angrily slapped it away. The woman recoiled, her tears still streaming down her face.
"Do you even know what that man was capable of?" Sakura asked, tears pricking the back of her eyes. "What he's done?"
The woman's mouth opened, and no words were exchanged between the two for a moment. "You're his daughter, aren't you? Sakura?"
Sakura felt the first tear run down her cheek, hating the fact that she was crying again over that man. She gave the woman a slightly confused look, since it surprised her a little that the woman knew Sakura even existed. If she knew, then she obviously knew about his past and his more violent tendencies. If she knew all that…then why on earth would she live with him for ten years?
The woman waddled back over to her husband's drawer, giving him one last look before pulling the plastic back over his face and pushing in the drawer with enough care that Sakura was slightly disgusted. She shut the door and then put her back to the wall of metal, sliding down it slowly and carefully with one hand on her protruding stomach.
"I guess you've got a lot of questions for me."
Yeah, like how you could stand to live with such a bastard. But it was odd, because the woman looked perfectly healthy. Happy, even, when she was obviously recalling memories. She didn't have the haunted, horrified look in her eye that Sakura's mother had always held. At the mere thought of her father being happy while her mother flinched at the sound of his name, Sakura's eyes narrowed as anger overtook the sadness. She lowered her voice to an almost threatening hiss.
"Do you even know what he's done?" The woman's eyes drooped sadly to the ground, and she opened her mouth to say something. The pink haired girl cut her off. "Did you know that he's nearly killed me and my mother on several occasions? That he did things like this—" she lifted up her shirt to show the woman the burn mark she'd shown Sasuke. "—because he never thought I was good enough? He taunted me with my mother's life and almost sold me into slavery…and you still—"
"It wasn't like that!" The woman yelled, sobbing and covering her mouth with her hands. "He wasn't like that to me."
"But you still knew, didn't you? You knew all the things he did, because you knew my name."
"Look, can I just start from the beginning, and then you can decide afterwards if you hate me?"
Sakura glared. "It's not going to be a hard decision." But she crossed her arms and waited for the woman to start.
The woman looked nervous, a bead of sweat falling from her temple. "My name is Takeda Kaoru, first of all. And I know your name because your father spoke of you—often, I might add. I met him close to eleven years ago, probably when you were about six or seven. I was a waitress at a bar he used to go to a lot. We got to know each other when he wasn't too drunk to talk to me seriously, and I started to really like him. He gambled and drank to excess, and sometimes when he was too drunk to go home I let him sleep on my couch. Of course I didn't work during the day, so I didn't find out until much later that he used to go back to the bar and drink again before going home. He asked if he could move in with me for a little bit, and I said yes. He was always so sweet to me, so I didn't know what the harm could be. I can assure you I didn't know he was married at the time.
"Although we were "living together," he never stayed for too long, and he only really lived with me randomly. Sometimes there would be weeks when I wouldn't see him, then he would stay the night occasionally after coming to the bar. He stayed the weekend once and made me dinner after work." She smiled a little. "I think he met someone gambling, because it wasn't long after that the bar I worked at became a known meeting place for the mob. I mean, the bar flourished because of all the drinks they bought, but it gave us a horrible, horrible reputation.
"Eventually, he came to live with me permanently so he could be closer to…I guess you would call it work…and we started dating. It was the mob that actually convinced him to sober up, since they couldn't rely on him if he was drunk all the time. As far as I know, he moved the money, but I'm not exactly sure on that. I do know that they really valued him since he had all of these shinobi skills, and he could get a job done more discreetly than anyone else. He tried to keep me out of the business as much as he could. He even got mad because one guy in the mob started to hit on me. Nearly lost his life because of it. I remember I was cleaning his wounds that night and he told me about the horrible things he'd done…that he was so sorry for. I told him that I forgave him, because at that time he looked genuinely sorry for it all.
"It was great for a few years. We had the occasional fight, but like I said he never raised a hand against me. His work got me into a better apartment…a better job…I even got an online college degree thanks to him. I don't remember how he let it slip, but I found out that he was still married while he was living with me. As you can expect I was livid, broke up with him on the spot and forced him to move back with you guys. He got deeper into mob business, and called me all the time to tell me how much he missed me. I told him if he really missed me he would divorce his wife and then I'd accept him back. He finally came back after he told me his wife and daughter moved to Suna permanently.
"He did tell me about you, you know. I think he was secretly proud that you still wanted to be a ninja like him, despite the fact that you're a girl. He wanted a boy so, so badly, because he didn't think that girls could be ninjas. But he did keep up with you, you know. He used to show me school photos of you. I pushed him to get a divorce, but he always said it was your mother who didn't want to sign the papers. He was fine with our arrangement, to be honest.
"The mob paid off his gambling debts when he started to work for him, but then his ninja skills started to atrophy and he couldn't pay them back. And I say "mob" like it was some big organization, but it was a small group who were really good at what they do. They started hounding him for money.
"We had planned on waiting for the divorce so we could get married, or at least let the common law marriage take over, but I found out that I was pregnant before that could happen. He was so excited when we found out it was going to be a boy." She patted her stomach. "I wanted to name him Shiro after my grandfather. We were choosing middle names when he decided that we should move away from all his debts and start over. I still wanted to marry him, so I looked you guys up online, to see if I could go to Suna myself and convince your mother to sign the divorce papers." She smiled ruefully. "Imagine my surprise when I found out you were still in Konoha.
"He saw that I'd done a search and left to convince your mother for the last time, and I think by that point he was really desperate. He called me two weeks ago to say that he was doing something that would at least get the mob off his back. It sounded so shady…but I was too in love to care."
Sakura gulped. "He was…selling me into slavery. There were men who came to the house…"
A tear slipped down Kaoru's cheek. "That was the night he died. I read the police report, he…" she choked on her words for a second and sobbed. "How could I ever love such a horrible man! But I do! I still do!" She sobbed into her hands.
Sakura leaned her head back against the wall. This woman's story…it made so much sense. Her basic timeframe matched when her father had appeared into and vanished from her life. She knew vaguely about Suna…it all fit, and that made it hurt so much worse. All this time that Sakura's mother had spent misguidedly loving her husband, and he was in love with another woman. Sakura started to cry. Why? She had tried so hard to please him when she was younger…following in his footsteps and training to become a kunoichi, getting good grades, doing whatever he asked. But it hadn't mattered. All he'd wanted was a son to look up to him and do those things and instead he'd gotten the pink-haired epitome of a girl. Not even her becoming a kunoichi would satisfy him. They sat in silence for a few long minutes.
She was really tired of everything being so complicated.
"I still don't like you."
"I know." Kaoru sniffled, still not done crying. "I think asking you to like me is a bit much."
The doors to the morgue opened, and Itachi entered, looking quite relieved to have found her. He picked up a radio off his belt and pushed the talk button. "This is Uchiha Itachi. I found Haruno Sakura in the morgue, over."
There was an affirmative response over the radio as Itachi walked over to her, sparing a curious glance to the pregnant woman sitting on the ground. "Are you alright, ma'am?" Kaoru kept sobbing in her hands, having briefly looked up to see who the intruder was, and nodded her head in a way that actually indicated she wasn't fine. Itachi reached for his radio again. "Bring a stretcher to the morgue, there's a pregnant woman here who may need medical assistance."
Kaoru glared at him as he kneeled beside Sakura. "I said I'm fine."
Itachi ignored her, turning to Sakura's crying face instead. "Are you okay, Sakura?"
The apple-eyed girl didn't answer him for a moment, wiping her tears away even as they kept coming. Eventually, she nodded a little bit, and Itachi slowly helped her to her feet. Sakura's knees still felt weak from everything she'd heard, so she was glad Itachi didn't immediately let go of her. It was only when she was sure she was able to stand on her own that she gradually pushed him away.
Itachi left her for a moment and picked up Kaoru bridal style, fully intending to carry her to the stretcher.
"I'm fine, damn it! Let me go!"
"Itachi…" Sakura said tiredly. Coal eyes were directed at her almost instantly. "She's really okay. You can put her down."
The poor man looked beyond confused, obviously having absolutely no idea who Kaoru was or how Sakura knew her. Sasuke's older brother put the brunette down slowly, again waiting until she had her balance before letting go.
"I thought you didn't like me." Kaoru said through her remaining tears. They had mostly been chased away in shock when Itachi picked her up.
Sakura narrowed her eyes at the woman. "It's rare that you get your way with an Uchiha. Just thank me and move on."
Kaoru didn't look very surprised at Sakura's tone, but she didn't have time to say anything as Sasuke and a few other medics and police officers came into the morgue. They had been walking at a brisk pace, but then slowed down at the strange scene in front of them. Sasuke shot his brother an inquisitive look as he made his way over to Sakura's side, but the older Uchiha could merely shrug.
"Are you okay?" Sasuke asked.
Sakura paused. She wasn't really okay, not with everything that happened. Too much had happened in such a short time for her to be really okay with it. She wanted to tell him that she was fine, that everything was just peachy, but she felt guilty for lying to him so many times. He had been there through some of her darkest moments. So, slowly, she shook her head no.
The dark haired boy understood. "Let's get you back to your room, okay?"
Sakura nodded, and was led from the morgue by his gentle touch. She heard Kaoru, Itachi, and the others follow them out, mostly because Kaoru was still protesting that she was fine and didn't need the medics to be there. They rode the elevator up, with much of the same bickering, until Kaoru finally told them that she was only visiting her husband in the morgue.
That made everyone freeze, especially the two Uchihas and the police officers riding with them. They weren't stupid, and Sakura could practically see them connecting things on their own.
Sasuke looked down at her, his eyes a little wide. "Sakura?" He asked, but there was never a time to respond, as the doors opened on Sakura's floor and everyone filed out. Also at that time, Sakura's mother rounded the corner with her IV pole in one hand and holding the steady arm of a male nurse in the other. At the familiar sight, Sakura immediately burst into tears again, turning her face into Sasuke's shoulder and just sobbing. How could she do this? How could she tell her mother that the man she'd loved for so long…loved someone else for most of Sakura's life?
Sakura wasn't the only one who reacted. Kaoru started crying again as well, running up to the pink haired woman and practically hanging onto her. It hurt Sakura even more to see that her mother didn't recognize the adulteress in front of her.
"I'm so sorry!" Kaoru half sobbed and half screamed. "I never meant for this to happen! It's all my fault! Please forgive me!" Nurses and police were trying to peel Kaoru off of the other woman, considering Mrs. Haruno was still a little unstable on her feet after her injuries. "Please!" Kaoru begged. "I'm so sorry!"
Mrs. Haruno had her mouth open for a moment, not quite sure what was going on. "…I forgive you…?"
Kaoru smiled, still crying. "Thank yo—"
Sakura saw it all too clearly. The glass window next to Kaoru and her mother suddenly shattered, glass flying everywhere, and Kaoru's body gave a sudden jolt. Screams immediately begun and Sakura's breath was knocked from her as she was tackled to the ground. More windows broke and the gunfire rang in Sakura's ears as Sasuke dragged them both over to an area where it would be impossible for the shooters to get them. His arms locked around her.
Sakura gasped and squirmed. "My mother!"
Sasuke's hold tightened. "Itachi's with her!"
The pink haired girl nodded, her breaths coming out in uneven pants and her entire body shaking.
The shots died down, and it was a long while before anyone dared move. Sakura ventured a look to see if everyone else was okay, and the first thing she laid her eyes on was Kaoru's limp body surrounded by a growing pool of blood.
"Kaoru!" Came the strangled yell from Sakura's throat. She pushed Sasuke off of her and crawled below the windows to the woman's body, not knowing why she cared so much about the woman who had essentially ruined her life. Maybe because it was her own father's madness that led to all this. Kaoru was just another victim led astray by her father's lies. And the worst part of it may have been that she meant well. Sakura wanted to hate her, to despise her for everything that she'd done, but she couldn't. None of it was really Kaoru's fault.
She picked the woman's hand up by the wrist and found a weak pulse, getting weaker due to the amount of blood leaking from the hole in the woman's chest. Medically, Sakura knew it was too close to the heart for the woman to have a high chance of survival. "Come on Kaoru…"
The woman's eyes opened a little. "I'm sorry, Sakura…"
Said girl nodded. "I know…" She started crying again. "And I forgive you too."
Kaoru sobbed. "Can you see that my baby is okay?"
Sakura nodded. "Takeda Shiro, right?"
More tears fell. "Thank you…" And then her arm went limp in Sakura's grasp.
The medic in Sakura didn't let a moment go to waste. She turned to the nearest medic, who still hadn't moved from his hiding spot. "Save the baby!" She yelled at him. "Hurry!"
He moved cautiously, and other medics joined in when there seemed to be no danger. They moved the body to a stretcher, and hurried it off to surgery.
Sakura sat back on her calves, and was about to fall further backwards when arms closed around her and guided her back to a safe place against the wall. Sasuke sat next to her, and she clenched his hand with one hand while wiping tears with the other. Everything in her just hurt. She turned her head to see her mother a little ways down the hall, with Itachi sitting next to her. Sakura's eyes met her mother's and her face instantly crumpled.
"Mommy!" Sakura cried for the first time since she was nine.
At that, Mrs. Haruno started to cry, probably not knowing why except for the fact that her daughter was in tears. This time, when Sakura made motions to leave Sasuke, he let her, allowing Sakura to crawl into her mother's side. Arms immediately closed around her and Sakura's mother rocked her.
"I'm sorry, Mommy!" Sakura clutched her mother's hospital gown. "I'm sorry!"
There was silence around her. No one knew what was going on.
Sakura sat in her hospital bed two days later, waiting for Sasuke to bring her some decent lunch. She'd already grown tired of hospital food in the short time that she'd been awake. She worked in the hospital and couldn't even recognize what she'd had for dinner last night.
It was minutes after she'd been led to her room after the shooting that she was asked to give a statement. There had been several people that had protested on her account, but the police had been demanding, as there had been a shooting in a very public place and they needed to know why. Sakura told them everything that Kaoru had told her, her heart clenching when her mother had rushed out of the room at the end of it. Sasuke had held her hand the entire time, his face serious. They'd left her alone after that, so she could shower and wash Kaoru's blood off of her.
Sakura hadn't seen her mother since.
Yesterday, she had gone to see baby Shiro. He was in ICU, since he had been born a month premature, but that was actually fortunate, given the circumstances. He didn't have a whole lot of growing left to do at that point, but he was still worryingly small. Everyone assured her that he was fine, and would make a full recovery. She'd gotten to hold him with the blue gloves, her breath hitching at the feel of her tiny baby brother in her arms. Beside her, Sasuke, who had insisted on being with her at all times since the shooting, had stayed silent and allowed her to have her moment.
Sakura met Shiro's grandparents, who would be the ones raising Shiro since both of his parents were dead. The grandmother cried over the plastic dome that surrounded her only grandson, and it was at that time Sasuke and Sakura felt it best to leave.
Things had been mostly quiet. They were harder at night, as Sakura kept having to relive everything in dreams, but Sasuke was always right there when she needed him. She had woken him that morning with a kiss and an, "I love you so much."
Green eyes looked up as the door to her room slid open, and instead of Sasuke it was two men in rather impeccable black suits. From her vantage point on the bed, Sakura saw two more guarding the door before it was shut. Anticipation laced through her veins.
"Miss Haruno?" One man asked. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wallet, opening it to reveal a gold badge. "I am Special Agent Nakamura from the Konoha Marshal's office. We'd like to have a word with you, if that's all right." Sakura nodded, and the Agent gestured to the chair. "May I?" Another nod.
"We believe that your life is in danger, Miss Haruno." He began. "The people your father were involved with were pretty nasty, and they're still out there. I think the shooting the other day is proof of that."
"Did you catch the guy?"
He shook his head, brown hair shaking with it. "No, but we matched ballistics to a gun that's linked in several other homicides, and we believe those are only the beginning of what exactly this group is capable of. Cutting to the point, Miss Haruno, as long as these men are out there, you and everyone you love are in danger. The group is trying to get something to repay your father's debts. Your father took out life insurance policies on you and your mother before he got involved in the things he did. With you two dead, the death certificates will trigger a foreign insurance company to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars into an offshore account, and that would more than cover his debts. Do you understand so far?"
Sakura took a deep breath and nodded.
"We would like you to enter Witness Protection. The government would be able to provide you a new identity, possibly within in a new country, and you would be untrackable. We would make it our personal responsibility to keep you safe. That means that you would have to cut ties with everyone here, but with any luck we will catch all the men responsible in a few years."
Sakura took it all in for a moment, her mind racing. "My mother?"
"She has agreed to go into protection, but as you are going to be a legal adult in a few months she wanted to give you the opportunity to decide. She did, however, want us to tell you that she strongly urges you to enter as well. Your little brother's grandparents have also decided to enter, as a precautionary measure."
Sakura gulped, not liking that she was having to make this decision on the fly. "Can I…think about it?"
He nodded and handed her a business card. "Of course. But I must warn you that you'll be in more danger the longer you wait." He stood up and made for the door. "Call that number when you decide." He nodded as a form of goodbye, and left. As soon as the men were gone, Sasuke entered her room with one eyebrow raised. The woman waited until the door was shut and they were alone. He handed her a bag of takeout.
"They want me to go into Witness Protection."
The Uchiha sat down on the side of her bed. "Should you be telling me that?"
Sakura gave him a half smile. "Probably not." She didn't tell him that she had considered doing the same thing before she had been shot, going and living anonymously in another country. Sasuke had been the final deciding factor then, because she knew that she wouldn't be able to live without him. He meant too much to her a few weeks ago and he meant more to her now. She wouldn't be able to bear it if he moved on…found someone new when she showed no signs of returning anytime soon. She didn't want to separate herself from everyone, because that would be too much to bear.
But then again staying would mean putting them all in danger. It was a hard choice when you had to weigh her own happiness for their lives. But the mere thought of leaving practically sent her straight into a depressive state. All the things she would miss, the way her friends would laugh and have fun without her there. They'd start dating and moving on with their lives, and Sakura wouldn't be there for any of it. She knew she was being selfish, but it just hurt having to be punished for her father's mistakes. Couldn't anything go right for a change?
Sakura made a split second decision. "I think…I'm going to say no." Even though she was losing her mother…her little brother…Sakura couldn't dream to be parted from everything. This was her home, and she had never allowed her father to take it away from her and she sure wasn't going to start now.
Sasuke was silent for a long while, and it worried her when he didn't look at her. He was obviously lost in thought staring at the floor. Her nerves were going haywire at what he might say. He finally spoke, a little low and a little hesitantly. "I think…you should consider it."
Sakura's breath picked up and her eyes widened. "You can't mean that…"
"But…that would mean that I'd never see you again. I would lose you and everyone around me…"
"I can't bear that, Sasuke! I still love you and I don't want to be—"
"Sakura." His voice got a little firmer, but it was only to catch her attention. "I don't want…I…" He ran his fingers through his hair. "The men after you have already killed one person. I want you to stay safe. You wouldn't lose any of us except if they got to you first. I don't want to see you die."
"I don't want you to have to look over your shoulder every day. You'll be miserable, Sakura, and we both know it."
Sakura sighed, leaning her head backwards in an attempt to keep her tears from falling. She was really starting to get tired of crying. It's the only way to keep them safe, the logical voice in her head reasoned.
Sasuke stood and sat down right next to her, bringing her into his arms. "I love you." He said, and Sakura could only nod vigorously, her head going to his shoulder. If she spoke right now…
Minutes later, the woman worked up her courage and reached for the phone in her hospital's room, dialing shakily. She held it to her ear and clutched onto Sasuke for dear life.
"Special Agent Nakamura speaking." A voice answered after a few rings.
"Agent Nakamura, this is Haruno Sakura…I've…" She closed her eyes, and felt Sasuke kiss the top of her head. Her voice broke. "…decided."
A dark SUV arrived at the hospital doors the next day, and it already held Sakura's mother. Sakura found that she was unable to let go of Sasuke, who had, to the Marshal's chagrin, come to say goodbye. He had been the only one allowed, and Sakura hadn't even told anyone else she was leaving. She wasn't even going to get to say goodbye…
Her little brother's grandparents were leaving with Shiro as soon as the baby was stable enough to leave the hospital. Sakura wasn't allowed to know where they were going.
It just didn't seem right that it was so sunny out today.
Sasuke kissed her, and then leaned his forehead against hers.
"I love you." She told him, and he smiled. "Don't forget me…"
The men in dark suits and sunglasses fidgeted around them, not liking that they were taking so long. Sakura didn't care though. They weren't the ones who were being asked to just leave everyone they'd ever cared about. Sakura froze a little as the fear hit her full force. She was really leaving…this could be the last time she ever saw Uchiha Sasuke…
Not caring who was watching, Sakura suddenly pressed her lips to the Uchiha's, and she clutched onto his button down shirt for dear life. A shiver ran down her when his hands landed on her back, bringing her closer to him. She parted for air and buried her face in his shoulder. "I love you." She said, sounding absolutely brokenhearted. "I love you, I love you, I love—"
Sakura heard a sudden, loud buzzing, and then a chunk of sidewalk exploded behind her. Seconds later, the resounding gunshot echoed off the hospital walls.
The pink haired girl was wrenched away from Sasuke by some Agent who was currently yelling into his earpiece. The remaining agents were doing the same, guns drawn, trying to find the gunman. Sakura saw the world whiz by in a blur as she was roughly being pushed towards the van.
Sakura whirled around last minute to find that Sasuke was being pushed into the hospital by an Agent and his brother, and he'd also turned around to see her for the last time. He mouthed something to her before an Agent blocked Sakura's view, stuffing her hurriedly into the SUV and shutting the door, the vehicle driving off fast enough to make the tires squeal. Green eyes turned to see if she could catch one last glimpse of him, but all she saw was spiked hair disappearing into the hospital.
She sank back into the seat and let her mother hold her as she cried, remembering what she'd seen him mouth in those last few moments.
I love you more than you'll ever know.
Three Years Later
Sakura set her biology textbook down on her kitchen table, rolling her neck and hearing a few of the bones pop as she did so. Her professor had been more monotonous than usual today, which made half the class fall asleep and the other half persistent clock-watchers waiting to rush out of the auditorium. She had come straight here from her class, having a paper to complete before tomorrow.
The window above the table was flecked with a steady and light drizzle. Not that she was surprised, of course. Ever since Sakura had been forced to move to Rain she had only seen a clear view out of the same window a few times when the sun had been out. Otherwise the city scenery was lost in fog and rain. Sakura longed to feel the unrelenting sun again, to see the lush green grass in something other than a murky gray-green, but the Marshals wouldn't allow it. It was safer here, they said, where she was Akimoto Naomi, a woman who had grown up a relatively boring life and had come to the local university to study medicine. Sakura knew the reasoning behind it all, since there were people left out there who would still love to hold her father's debts over her, but it didn't help.
The Marshals provided the apartment for her, helping with some of the rent so that she felt no financial pressure to move. It was in a gated community, and it was one of the apartments that was three stories above ground. It was a small, studio apartment that her mother (now Akimoto Satomi) helped her to decorate, crying when her baby finally moved away from home to start college.
The green eyed woman jumped when her phone rang, red locks of hair flying in front of her face at the sudden movement. It wasn't her real hair, and she and the Marshals had gotten into a nasty fight when they told her she needed to change her hair color. They had finally conceded on a very expensive wig and her promise that she wouldn't take it off except to shower and sleep, and that it would be the first thing she put on in the morning. They still suggested dying her hair every time she saw them, though.
Sakura answered the phone with a "Hey!" when she saw the caller ID.
"Hey Naomi!" It was a girl named Yura, who had become one of Naomi's friends since they had started talking in a class last year. "I forgot to ask, are you coming to the biology study session tonight?"
Sakura winced at the thought of her biology final tomorrow. "Yeah, I'll be there."
"Thank you! You know we'd never survive this class without you!"
"You can thank me with free food." There was a knock at her door. "I have to go now. It's at six, right?"
"Yeah. See you there!" And the line went dead after that.
Sakura pushed her fake glasses up before finding the Marshal's number on her phone, her thumb hovering over the call button as she had been trained to do whenever someone came to visit her. There hadn't been any scares, but with the men after her it was probably best that she consider herself lucky.
She looked through the peephole and found a familiar man in a black suit outside, waving at her. Sakura rolled her eyes and shut her phone, opening the door.
"Special Agent Nakamura, to what do I owe this visit?" He didn't look very serious, so Sakura figured that her location was safe. He held up a white envelope that made the woman freeze, though.
"Pictures of your little brother, his grandmother says hello. Can I come in?"
The now redhead opened the door wider, and she didn't miss the way he looked around the hall for anyone before he entered. As usual, he made himself at home at her kitchen table, pushing her the envelope of pictures. This was her only link to her little brother and his grandparents, as they had been placed into witness protection as well and Sakura had no idea where they had been shipped off to. She opened the envelope and saw pictures from his second birthday party, which had only been a few months ago.
Sakura looked at the agent, becoming especially wary when she saw that he was still grinning. "What?"
"I have other news."
Sakura's heart immediately sped up in hopeful anticipation.
"We caught the last guy in your father's criminal ring. It's done, Sakura."
Sakura teared up instantly. That was the first time she'd heard her real name in three years. "How?"
"We caught one member who took a deal, and he gave us the names and locations of the other three men. He now has a life sentence with a chance of parole in fifty years instead of four life sentences. We caught the other three and sped up their trials. They're all in prison with no chance of parole."
Sakura sobbed and covered her mouth. She cried tears of joy, unable to stop for the longest while, even while Agent Nakamura rubbed her back in understanding. She would finally get to go home. To Konoha!
It was a good hour before she stopped crying, and Agent Nakamura finally made motions to leave. He put his coat back on as he said, "We'll have a car ready to pick you up next week to take you your flight. Your things will be shipped to a new house in Konoha, and we can start transferring you to the university in Konoha, if you'd like." Sakura nodded. "Good! We'll make sure you get in. You'll have to quit your job on your own, though."
Sakura nodded and saw him out. As soon as the door was shut she squealed in excitement and practically danced around her apartment. She called her mother, who had also heard, and they rejoiced at the thought of a new home. Even though Sakura would likely move to an apartment closer to campus, she didn't care at the moment. Summer was coming and she had all that time to just relax in the sunshine.
She arrived at Yura's apartment wanting to do anything but study. Everyone there looked at her a bit funny, and then looked a little sad when she told them she was moving back to her home country. It ended up being a little going away party with not much studying getting done.
That night, Sakura ripped off her wig and tousled her pink hair with gusto, relishing in the fact that she would never have to wear that wig again after next week. The red wig had reminded her too much of Karin, but it was the only choice for justifying the pink hair on the rest of her body.
She so desperately wanted to call Ino…or Hinata…or Tenten…or all three, but their numbers had been on a phone the Marshals had destroyed so she couldn't be tracked. She wanted to find out everything she missed. Where her friends were going to college, what they were studying, who they were dating, if Sasuke—
Sakura sat down heavily on her bed, her elated mood ebbing away. She still thought about him, very often in fact, but her thoughts had never really been serious until now. She'd always fantasized that they would get back together and then continue on like Sakura hadn't ever been away. Now that those thoughts were a reality, it made her extremely nervous. What if…he hadn't waited? What if he'd found someone else? It was…unreasonable…to ask him to wait indefinitely for her. She didn't think she would be able to go back to her happy Konoha life if she had to constantly see him around…with someone else. Laughing with someone else…kissing someone else. Could she really be okay?
She wiped away a tear at the mere thought. She still loved him so, so much. She still loved him enough that thinking about him made her smile, or that she imagined him wrapping his arms around her when she was having a bad day. It had taken every ounce of her willpower not to look up his number and call him, if only just to hear his voice and then hang up again. She needed him like air. It hurt a little that she couldn't even have a picture of him. But now she would actually get to see him in the flesh…for whatever his life had become since her absence.
That night, Sakura couldn't help but go to bed afraid.
Sakura walked into the local newspaper office where she worked, knocking on her boss's door. The man motioned her in, and Sakura explained the situation to him, that she was moving and had to quit.
He frowned. "This is really sudden, Naomi. Who am I going to get to do the advice column?"
Sakura shrugged, hating the weight of the wig on her head. "Sorry, sir. I know it's bad timing, but I'm really excited about it."
He looked amused. "So eager to get away from us, hmm?" He waved his hand. "Fine, fine. Look, there's a real tearjerker on your desk. Write a good one, okay? Someone hand delivered that letter here, so it's got to be really important. Come back when you've submitted it and I'll have your last paycheck ready."
Sakura's desk was little more than a table with an aged laptop on it and a basket for all of the letters she was supposed to answer. She typed the responses and sent them to her editor, so there really wasn't much organizing to do here. Normally, there were tons of letters in the basket, and Sakura just had to pick about five or six that were really compelling. Today there was just one.
Sakura sat down, hearing the creaks and groans of the chair that she had become accustomed to over the past two years. Her fingers closed around the envelope and she looked at the front of it, clearly addressed to her and she frowned. This is Agent Nakamura's writing…
More than curious, Sakura opened the envelope with more care than usual, anticipation coursing through her. What in the world could be so compelling that Agent Nakamura would deliver something himself…to her place of work no less. Something this important he normally took straight to her apartment. Whatever this letter was, it was written on really nice paper. But it was probably from someone very well off, as she got those letters occasionally. Still, the fact that Sakura could link it to Agent Nakamura had her heart pounding.
She looked at the letter…and smiled.
I don't think you have anything to worry about. She loves you more than you'll ever know.
Author's Notes: And that concludes Dear Annie. Thank you to everyone who has been with me throughout this whole process, to those of you who have given me your feedback, to those of you who have sent me long PMs demanding an update. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. It means more than you will ever know.