The warm autumn wind blew through the trees and rustled the leaves scattering the ground. The soft whooshing sounds as the breeze swayed the ancient boughs cast a feeling of peace and calm over the surrounding area.
A peal of youthful laughter rang across the clearing, causing many of the people gathered there to smile. Three children played a game of tag with wooden shuriken while several adults looked on in amusement. It appeared to be an unfair match, two boys against one very small girl, but the amusing part was that she was holding her own quite well against the larger, older boys. Her small legs carried her with impressive speed as she darted away from the projectiles, laughing happily all the while. Of course the boys were mindful not to get too rough and hurt her, but they were still giving her quite a challenge.
Suddenly the little girl dashed across the grassy area to where several of the wooden shuriken were embedded in the ground. She ducked as more came at her, and much to everyone's surprise flung the shuriken she had retrieved toward her attackers as she rolled away. The boys hadn't expected her to be able to do something like that, and they were so surprised that a few hit them before they recovered themselves enough to move away.
The little girl cheered and jumped up from the ground, turning a beaming smile in the direction of her watching parents. "Daddy! Daddy did you see that?" she exclaimed excitedly as she ran with arms outstretched toward her father, who bent and picked her up as she reached him. "I did it just like you taught me to!" she stated proudly, her bright green eyes sparkling.
"I saw that. It was real good, yeah," Deidara replied as she shifted a little to get comfortable in his hold.
"Mama did you see?"
"I did, Kaya. You're getting really good at it," Sakura said, smiling. She handed her daughter the stuffed animal she'd been holding for her. It was her favorite toy, a little plush monkey that was rather worn and twice as old as she was. The very same monkey that Deidara had accidentally won for Sakura at the carnival on that last, fateful mission. Kaya took it and hugged it to her chest, and Sakura reached out to smooth some of the silky blonde hair that had gotten mussed in her play-fight.
"It was rather impressive, I gotta say."
They turned toward the speaker, and Sakura smiled as Shikamaru approached with Temari at his side. Their two daughters remained at a distance, talking quietly with a teenage boy who if Sakura wasn't mistaken, looked to be Kurenai's son, Asuma.
"Your letter said she was showing signs of shinobi skill, but you didn't say she was this far along," he finished as they drew to a stop.
The four adults regarded each other a moment. There was no animosity or hostility directed between Deidara and the other couple, just wary civility as they still weren't quite sure what to make of the other. The events and circumstances that had once made them enemies had happened over fifteen years ago, and there was no point in holding on to it. It was water under the bridge. The fact that they were standing here together outside the gates of Konoha, and that the Hokage and his wife had brought their own children as well as others to this meeting was a gesture that they were willing to trust.
"That was nothing," Sakura said. "She seems to have my chakra control and is learning to use what little she has very quickly. She watched us spar one day a few weeks ago and asked how we stick to things. So I explained the basics of chakra channeling to her, and the next day I found her stuck to the ceiling in her bedroom! Nearly gave me a heart attack," she laughed.
"How old is she again?" Temari asked.
Both the Hokage and his wife's faces showed clear amazement, and Shikamaru exhaled sharply. "Damn…and does she have your bloodline limit?" he asked Deidara.
Deidara nodded. "She does." They knew because Sakura had checked recently, and determined that there were indeed little mouths under the skin of her palms, just waiting to break through. "It'll manifest once she's fully able to manipulate chakra, which at her rate will probably only be another year or two, yeah."
The Hokage couldn't help but look rather pleased about that. "Her mother's perfect chakra control and her father's powerful blood trait…sounds like you have a little prodigy on your hands."
Deidara's expression darkened slightly. "Don't call her that."
Shikamaru was taken aback. "Why not? She's clearly gifted. Weren't you also considered a prodigy in your village?"
Deidara didn't ask how he knew that, he was a Kage after all and had probably done his research. "Yeah I was, so I know how someone with a label like that gets treated by their fellow shinobi and superiors. My daughter is not going to be used like some disposable tool for the village's convenience."
The Hokage wasn't bothered by the sudden change in attitude. He had two daughters himself and he understood wanting to protect one's child from harm, even the psychological kind. He knew how shinobi were regarded in some hidden villages, that those labeled prodigies were sometimes considered little more than super-weapons, and were driven and pushed to be such from a very young age, denied their childhood and isolated from their peers. Konoha had been guilty of that in the past, but had learnt its lesson, because those sorts of things developed ninja like Uchiha Itachi and no one was eager to repeat that mistake.
"Konoha doesn't operate that way," he explained casually. "I'm not saying it didn't happen in the past, but it hasn't been that way for at least twenty years. We value our shinobi, their lives are precious and not to be thrown away. Shinobi are weapons, but they're also people, and Konoha has learned how to balance the two. Why do you think there are so few missing-nin from Hidden Leaf? For as much as we get called softhearted and over-compassionate, there's a reason why Leaf is the strongest of the hidden villages, and that's because of one thing; the Will of Fire—our love and loyalty to this village and the people in it. A man who fights to protect what is precious to him is ten times more powerful than a man fighting on orders or for money." His expression turned reflective, and he continued in a quieter tone, "My Sensei and I used to play shogi a lot, and the last thing he said to me before he died was that the purpose of the game was to protect the king, and that in life, the king is our children and the future generations to come. I've lived by those words since that day, and that ideal has been the foundation behind everything I've done as Hokage."
Nara Shikamaru certainly didn't look like a Kage, wearing a slightly wrinkled jounin uniform rather than robes of office, slouching casually with his hands in his pockets. But the way he'd spoken just now proved that he was indeed the leader of this village, and he seemed to be a pretty good one. He had also been the one to kill Hidan, and that earned him a lot of points in Deidara's book.
Deidara thought about the main reason they were here. For Kaya. Her intelligence and ability were developing rapidly, and her parents couldn't teach her everything. She needed to go to school, needed to be around other children and make friends. A regular school was definitely the wrong place for her, especially with a developing bloodline limit like hers, and she was already taking on some of the personality traits distinctive to shinobi society and they knew she wouldn't fit in with civilian kids. Then Kaya had told them she wanted to be a shinobi, 'a super-strong and cool kunoichi just like mama!' in her words. The decision to come here had been a heavy and difficult one for both of them, but after a lot of discussion, they had agreed and Sakura had written a letter to the Hokage.
Deidara could tell that the Hokage meant what he said, and that eased his doubts somewhat. Also, Sakura wouldn't want her child to grow up here if it wasn't a good place for her, so he relaxed a little. Kaya laid her head on his shoulder, no doubt growing bored and unable to follow all of the adults' conversation. "Alright," he said, nodding once in acceptance.
Before anymore could be said, two ANBU suddenly flickered into sight several feet away.
"Hokage-sama," one of them spoke in a mask-muted voice.
Shikamaru suddenly looked rather put-upon. "Excuse me for a minute," he sighed, and then turned and walked away to deal with business, and Temari followed after.
Sakura and Deidara looked at one another, and she gave him a soft smile. But before they could start talking they noticed someone else walking toward them from the direction of the gates. Sakura turned and her smile widened in recognition. Walking calmly in their direction was a beautiful woman with long ebony hair. Deidara noticed her eyes seemed rather opaque, and he wondered for a second if she was blind, but as she drew up to them he could see they were not white but silvery-purple, and he realized she was one of the famed Hyuuga.
She smiled as Sakura stepped forward, and the two women embraced. "Sakura, it's so great to see you again. The boys and I were so happy when we got your letter."
"It's great to see you too, Hanabi," Sakura replied as she stepped back.
"How have you been?"
Sakura's smile softened. "Good. I've been really good."
"It looks like it. I'm glad." She turned to regard the man and child next to her old friend, still smiling. "Hello Deidara. I'm Uchiha Hanabi."
Now Deidara realized why she looked so familiar; this was the woman from the wedding photo Sakura had. This was Uchiha Sasuke's widow. He wasn't really surprised that she knew who he was, but what did surprise him was that she didn't seem to care. There wasn't a trace of wariness or suspicion or negativity of any kind coming from her. She reminded him of Sakura in that way and he liked that, and so it wasn't forced to reply, "Nice to meet you, yeah."
Just then the two boys that had been playing with Kaya came sprinting over.
The little girl perked up at her name, and she grinned as the older boys skidded to a halt in front of them. They both looked up at Hanabi briefly as they stopped.
"Hey mom," said the dark haired boy.
"Are you guys having fun?" Hanabi asked them.
"Oh yeah. Kaya is awesome, you should've seen what she did earlier! There are kids in the academy who aren't even as good as that," said the other boy, running his hand through his spiked dirty-blond hair. "Hey Kaya-chan, you should definitely come eat ramen with us later! Ichiraku has the best ramen anywhere! Is that okay, mom?"
"Of course, if her parents agree. Why don't you introduce yourselves?"
"We already know Sakura though! She was our dads' teammate, and she's a legendary kunoichi! She knows us already too…you're like our aunt, right?"
Sakura didn't reply immediately, because looking at them brought on a sudden tide of emotion. They were the spitting images of their fathers, and they were the same age as when she and her boys had become a team. The memories threatened to overcome her, but she tamped them down and gave the boys a warm smile. "Yeah…something like that."
"I remember you," said the quieter boy. "Well…I was only a baby, but I remember your pink hair," he amended. He smiled, and Sakura remembered often wondering what his father would have looked like had he smiled as a boy. Now she knew.
"That makes Kaya-chan our cousin! So see, you don't have to introduce yourself to family," the blond boy exclaimed.
Hanabi reached out and ruffled his messy head in mild exasperation. "Yes, of course Sakura remembers you, but Kaya's father doesn't know who you are, does he? Introduce yourself properly, Toshi, Kazu."
The blond boy grinned sheepishly. "I'm Uzumaki Toshio!"
"Uchiha Kazuki," replied the darker boy.
"We're cousins, but we're also brothers."
Kazuki shoved the other boy in the shoulder. "Watch how you say that, moron. People will think we're inbred or something."
The three adults laughed, and Deidara nodded once to the boys. "I'm Deidara."
"Just Deidara?" asked Toshio.
"Don't you have a surname?" said Kazuki.
"I did a long time ago, but I got rid of it, yeah."
"Oh." The boys clearly wanted to ask why, but they had manners enough to at least wait until they had known the foreign shinobi for more than five minutes.
"Your accent is cool. Where's it from?" Kazuki asked curiously.
"Are you a Stone shinobi?"
"I used to be, yeah."
Toshio was staring at him thoughtfully, the wheels turning. "I think I've heard your name before…" His eyes widened before narrowing slightly. "Heeey…you're a famous bad guy!"
Suddenly Kaya stiffened, and a scowl fell across her small features. "Hey you take that back! My daddy is not a bad guy!" she demanded hotly, proving she'd inherited her mother's ability to glare daggers as well.
Toshio was a bit startled by her vehemence, and looked confusedly back and forth between his mother and Deidara. "But it's true; he was in Akatsuki right? He's the one with the bombs–"
Kaya squirmed and pushed against Deidara's chest. "He's not bad! Let me down Daddy, I'm gonna kick him in the teeth!" she growled.
Deidara snorted in amusement but held on to his feisty child, knowing if he let her down she would do exactly what she said. Sakura couldn't help but laugh a little as well, and Hanabi was also rather amused by the hot-tempered toddler.
"Calm down, Kaya," Sakura reproved gently, "he wasn't trying to insult him. Toshio is right; your daddy is famous among shinobi, but he didn't always do very nice things. But that doesn't necessarily make him a bad person. There isn't a single one of us that hasn't done bad things, a fact that people only learn with time," she finished, looking pointedly at the boy.
Toshio looked contrite and kicked at the grass with his toe. "Sorry," he muttered.
Deidara shrugged, not bothered in the slightest. "It was a long time ago, yeah."
Kazuki crossed his arms over his chest, looking thoughtful. "It doesn't matter to me what he used to be. The Hokage wouldn't let him come here if he was still bad anyway. People can change. A lot of people still think my father was a villain and a traitor, even though he's a hero who died saving Toshi's father's life. I don't care what people say, because I know my father was a good man."
Hanabi smiled softly and smoothed her son's unruly hair. "That's exactly right, Kazu," she said quietly, and it was suddenly clear to Deidara why she had looked on him without judgment.
It was quiet for a moment, but then Toshio perked up and a huge grin formed on his sunny features. "Hey, Auntie Sakura, did you know Kazu just activated his Sharingan? And uncle Neji's been teaching me all kinds of Byakugan techniques. You guys should come and watch us train! We're the top two in our class, and we're going to graduate to genin soon!" he exclaimed proudly.
Sakura smiled. Kazuki was friendlier than his father, and Toshio was a bit more perceptive than his, but otherwise they were almost exactly the same. It was heartwarming as well as a little sad. "I'd love to," she said.
"Cool! Hey let's practice that new jutsu we learned!" the blond said to his brother. Kazuki grinned agreeably, and the two energetic boys ran back to the center of the clearing.
Kaya squirmed in her father's hold. "I wanna go play," she stated, her earlier indignation all but forgotten. Deidara smirked and set her down, and she took off after the boys.
Sakura grinned and shook her head wistfully. "Those boys…"
It was all she needed to say, and Hanabi smiled in understanding. "Yeah..." She watched the three children playing for a moment. "Your daughter is beautiful, not to mention precocious," she said amusedly.
Deidara smiled. "She's exactly like her mother, yeah."
Sakura laughed, and toyed almost lovingly with the plush monkey Kaya had once again left in her possession. "Yeah…but she's a total daddy's girl," she said, and linked her arm through Deidara's.
He glanced down at her and grinned, then turned his attention back to watching their daughter play. If someone had told him twenty years ago when he first became a missing-nin that he would be here like this someday, he would have fallen over laughing and probably launched a clay grenade at them. But like he had told Sakura once, life has a way of not going where you expected. He had meant it negatively at the time, but his feisty kunoichi had shown him it could work the other way as well.
It had been six years since the mission that altered the course of both their lives. Six years since he realized that he loved her and wanted her by his side forever, and he could honestly say the past six years were the happiest he'd ever had. They had traveled the world together, gone everywhere they'd ever heard of and wanted to go, staying as long as they wanted until they got bored and then set off on a new adventure. When they wanted to simply kick back and enjoy their financially unrestrained life for a while, they would rent a place in a nice town or simply return to Kisame's seaside home for a few months.
It was during one of those longer stays at the shark's house four years ago that a simple half-joking comment had been the start of another major life change.
The three shinobi were sitting on the front porch enjoying the summer evening, all of them varying degrees of intoxicated, talking about some of the things they had seen and done in their travels.
Sakura had drained the last of the current bottle, meaning it was her turn to go and get another. She did, only slightly unsteadily and grabbing two bottles for good measure, and as she made her way back outside she overheard Kisame ask Deidara a rather surprising question.
"So…are you and the Princess ever gonna have babies with itty bitty mouths on their itty bitty hands?" he snickered with a slight slur.
Sakura paused behind the screen door. She waited for the clear, prompt reply from her lover, but she was surprised when he didn't answer right away.
Deidara shifted a little in his chair, and then sighed quietly. "I don't know…maybe someday, yeah," he murmured absently.
Kisame chuckled with great amusement at his partner's answer.
That was the last thing Sakura had expected him to say, and she stood there dumbstruck for a moment, not knowing quite what to think. But drunk and off guard or not, they were going to notice her standing in the doorway any second, so she schooled her expression and walked out to the porch like she hadn't heard a thing.
She found the chance to bring it up later that night as they lay in bed together after two rounds of amazing sex. Even alcohol didn't really hamper his ability to give her mind-blowing pleasure, and she wore a tired and sated smile as she propped herself on his chest. "Deidara…"
"Mm?" he murmured sleepily.
"Did you mean what you said earlier…about kids?"
That woke him up fully, and his azure gaze focused intently on hers. "You heard that?"
Sakura nodded. "Do you really…want that someday?"
He sighed, and a moment passed before he replied. "I don't know…I haven't really thought about it. It was always a big 'no' to me…but I guess the answer's not so clear anymore, yeah. I thought you didn't want kids," he said, reaching up to twine her hair around his fingers.
"I don't want kids. But I don't know…now that I think about it…maybe a kid, as in just one…might be kinda nice," she said with a faint smile.
He smirked softly and tilted his head a little. "Really?"
Sakura was thoughtful for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah… a little one who's half you and half me…someone you could teach your art to. I think…I think I would like that. I don't really want to plan on anything, but maybe…just see what happens?"
Deidara was quiet a long time, his gaze turned inward in deep contemplation as he continued to absently play with her hair. Then a small, almost nervous smile curled his lips as he met her gaze once more and gave a tiny nod. "Okay."
After that night, Sakura stopped using her medical abilities to control her fertility, but they hadn't talked about it again. They would just see what happened. If it never did, no big deal, and if it did…then okay.
Four months later Sakura felt a tiny stirring of foreign chakra, and knew there was another life inside of her. When she told Deidara he'd been happy, but also more nervous than he'd ever been before, not even when he told Sakura he loved her for the first time. It was no longer an abstract concept of 'maybe' anymore. They were really going to have a baby. Sakura was pregnant with his child. It had blown his mind in ways he didn't even think were possible. But he was happy about it, and a little excited about what sorts of things would happen in the future. Sakura was happy too, and so they had looked forward to a new kind of adventure.
But it wasn't like they had settled down in the boring old fashioned sense of the word. Nothing really changed about their life after she became pregnant. Sometimes Sakura wouldn't feel well, and she couldn't drink alcohol, but other than that things stayed the same. Kisame was happy as a clam when they told him, and had celebrated by getting drunk for her. They still traveled and did whatever they felt like doing for the first six months or so, and then Sakura had said it wasn't a good idea for her to travel anymore until the baby was born. She had wanted their child to be born in her native land, and Deidara's only preference was anywhere but Earth country, so they had rented an apartment in Fire's capital city.
Sakura had been ridiculously beautiful while pregnant, and most times when she was in the room he couldn't take his eyes off her. But living with a hormonal Sakura for nine months had definitely been an interesting experience to say the least. She had thrown an armchair at him once, after she'd stared at herself in the mirror for several minutes and then asked him if she looked fat, to which he mindlessly replied 'Don't be ridiculous.' What he had intended to say was: 'Don't be ridiculous, you're not fat you're pregnant and you look beautiful.' But he hadn't made it that far when the chair went flying. Of course it hadn't hit him, he was a ninja after all, but it did break the window and fly out into the street. Some people in the street below had shouted up and demanded to know what the hell they were doing and were they completely insane? Sakura then proceeded to launch an angry tirade of very impressive obscenities, yelling that she was seven months pregnant and if she wanted to throw her fucking chair through her fucking window then she could goddamn well do it, and if they had any more to say about it they could come upstairs and say it to her face. The bypassers fled in fear from the pregnant pink haired terror and never came down that street again.
Afterward when Sakura calmed down and saw him cleaning broken glass from the floor, she realized she had just thrown a hundred pound chair at him because she'd asked him if she was fat and he'd basically told her no. She felt terrible that she'd overreacted so badly and had started to cry and curse her rampant hormones. Deidara was pretty much at a loss at that point, and still a bit wary of his raging hellcat, but he accepted her apology and she had been as sweet as a kitten after that.
That had been the worst of it, and surprisingly as it neared the end her hormonal episodes ceased and she settled into a calm and almost blissful state. It was during this gentler time just before the baby was born when he had learned they were having a daughter.
He entered the apartment after running an errand to find Sakura sitting on the couch, both hands pressed against her distended stomach, her face set in concentration. Before he could ask her about it, she grinned brightly and waved a hand rapidly at him.
"Come here, quick!" she said with quiet excitement.
He closed the door and moved toward her, and when he reached her side she grabbed his hand and placed it over her taut abdomen. Almost immediately he felt the ripple beneath his palm. He grinned and kneeled down in front of her. "How long has it been doing that?"
As soon as he spoke there was another, harder ripple beneath her skin, and Sakura laughed quietly. "A few minutes. She recognizes your voice," she said softly.
Deidara started in surprise, eyes flying up to meet hers. "She…?"
Sakura smiled, her eyes sparkling happily as she nodded.
He stared at her in slight awe. "How long have you known?"
"I only realized it about an hour ago. Of course I wouldn't keep something like that from you."
Her fingers lightly caressed the back of his hand as it rested on her stomach, and his gaze trailed down to their hands and the area below. A small smile formed on his lips. "A girl, huh?"
"Yeah…a little girl. Are you happy about that? I know a lot of men want a son…"
"Who wants a boy?" he snorted indignantly, "It's not like I care about passing on my name or anything. Besides, boys are a pain in the ass. I should know; I was one." Sakura gave a small laugh, unable to argue with that logic. Deidara leaned upward until his face was close to hers. "It's awesome. I'm happy it's a girl, yeah," he murmured, and then leaned in the rest of the way to kiss her.
"Me too," she replied when he pulled back, and smiled when he lowered himself again and pressed his lips against her tummy. He sent a tiny pulse of chakra through his fingertips into her abdomen, and was rewarded with another flutter. He did it again in another spot and got the same result in the new location. Sakura giggled softly as he continued to play with their baby. "It won't be long now…just a few more weeks," she said quietly.
He nodded slowly. "Hm. Are you nervous?" he asked, glancing up at her.
"Oh yeah. I'm so ready for this girl to get the hell out of me, but I'm not looking forward to labor at all. But what I'm most nervous about is what comes after, you know? Are you?"
He gave a short, anxious laugh. "Scared to death, yeah," His thumb stroked softly back and forth over her stomach. "I mean, I have no idea how to do any of this. I never in my life imagined I would be here. I never thought I'd have a…a family." His brow furrowed slightly, and his hand flexed over her abdomen. "Sakura what if I screw it up…what if I'm a terrible father?"
Sakura smiled softly and gently ran her fingers through his long, pale hair. "That's not going to happen."
"How can you be sure?" he asked quietly.
"Well…do you love our baby?"
It was an odd concept, to love someone you'd never met or spoken to, someone you didn't know a thing about or have any real reason to love yet. But strangely enough…"Yeah…" He nodded. "I do."
"And you love me, right?"
That one was easy, and he smiled against her tummy as he replied, "More than anything."
"Then you have nothing to worry about. Because of that love you will always try to do what's best for us, so it will just naturally work out."
Her confidence made him laugh a little. "When you say it like that it sounds easy, yeah." He moved up to the couch and settled beside her, and she curled up against his chest as he relaxed against the armrest.
She laid her arm over his abdomen and tilted her chin up to see his face. "I just know you, that's all. You'll be a wonderful father Deidara, just like you're wonderful to me, and our daughter will love you as much as I do."
Deidara simply smiled and stroked her silky hair, then pressed a soft kiss to her forehead. She snuggled closer and laid her head on his shoulder, and they remained like that until they eventually both fell asleep.
Four weeks later their daughter was born. They decided to name her Kaya— after his mother. Deidara wasn't prone to sentimentality, but when he'd mentioned it Sakura had been sentimental enough for both of them and tearfully decided that would be her name.
During labor Sakura had broken his hand. He'd fully anticipated she would, but he had bucked up and held it anyway, and continued to even after she broke it, because judging by her almost-screams she was the one in real pain anyway. Sakura was a tough kunoichi, a warrior, but apparently childbirth was on a whole different level and even being run through by a sword didn't compare.
Afterward, when she'd regained enough strength to heal him and their infant daughter slept quietly, he'd laughed and told her the broken hand reminded him of their first real encounter, and they sure had come a long way since then, hadn't they? That had made her cry, but he knew they were happy tears so he had kissed her and held her hand some more, until she fell into an exhausted sleep.
Deidara had always imagined a life like this would bore him to death, or make him go even crazier than he already was. But he found there was nothing boring about it, and being a father and a life partner didn't compromise his ideals or cramp his style at all. He still practiced his art, though he had found that he didn't need to create it himself as much anymore, because he could see it now in many of the things around him. His daughter was a living, breathing work of art; always changing, always growing, always surprising. Every day there was something new. She was a beautiful masterpiece created together with the only woman he would ever love.
And as for Sakura, he loved her more each day and their passion for each other was as strong as ever. Kaya was for the most part a quiet and easily self-entertained child, so even their private life hadn't taken much of a hit, and if they really wanted some time alone they would leave her with "Uncle" Kisame for a week or so. No, life with his two girls would never get boring. The hellcat and the hellkitten, as Kisame had once joked.
People like himself and the shark didn't really deserve happy endings, but somehow fate had smiled on them anyway. Kisame had found his peace in the quiet life of a fisherman, and Deidara found his in the beautiful and spirited kunoichi and the child she had given him.
Sakura noticed him gazing down at her and looked up, warmth filling her at the expression in his eyes. "I know it's not easy for you to be here, but thank you for doing this."
Deidara smirked faintly, and glanced in the direction of their little girl. "I'm doing it for her. And for you," he said with quiet sincerity.
She leaned against him a little. "I couldn't have done this without you. You know I love you, right?"
"Yeah," he replied almost playfully, and they returned to watching their daughter play with her pseudo-cousins.
Sakura felt incredibly happy and content, not at all how she imagined she would feel coming back to this place. But Deidara and Kaya were the strength she needed to face the ghosts of her tragic past. As long as they were beside her she could do anything. It still amazed her sometimes, the path her life had taken. She thought about her years with the man who had once been an enemy. They really had come a long way—from mortal enemies to a wary truce, to unexpected friends, to lovers, to an inseparable part of each other's lives.
They had never married and they never would. They didn't need to. They didn't need rings or vows or licenses to know that their love was unconditional and they would always be together. They expressed those things to each other every day, sometimes with words, sometimes without. It was all they needed.
Deidara had renounced his clan name after they betrayed his family and he left his home village, and so their daughter had Sakura's name. They would never have another child; they had only wanted one and raising her was more than enough. But Kaya may have children someday, and if she did the Haruno clan would take a turn in a new direction, from a clan of civilian traders to a shinobi clan with a powerful and valued blood trait.
Deidara had been worried he would turn out to be a bad father, but he was wonderful from the start, if not a little clueless. The day Kaya was born he had been a nervous wreck, and he'd tried to hide it of course but she knew him too well. He had held her hand throughout the night, and when he'd held their baby for the first time he became very quiet, overwhelmed and a little awestruck, and Sakura could recall that moment and the jumble of emotions in his expression quite clearly. It was one of her favorite memories.
He definitely wasn't a typical father, and the things he taught their child were generally more dangerous than life-enriching, but such was the way of shinobi fathers throughout history. Sakura wasn't a typical mother either, and maybe that was a good thing because their daughter was clearly special. At only three years old she was already learning to read and could write her name, and her shinobi abilities were growing at an amazing rate. Kaya definitely had her mother's attitude, but for all her feistiness she was rather well-behaved. They may not be normal parents, but they were obviously doing something right to have produced such a remarkable child. Kaya would become an incredible kunoichi one day.
Shikamaru had just finished with the ANBU, and they turned expectantly as he and Temari walked back over to them.
"Sorry about that…job never ends, you know?" he said in his typically disgruntled tone.
"No worries, I know how it can be," Sakura replied amicably.
Shikamaru nodded and stuffed his hands into his pockets. "Yeah. So anyway…I don't want to get into all the hows and whys, but I'm supposed to do this properly so here it is: Deidara, missing-nin of Hidden Stone, formerly of the criminal organization Akatsuki…as Hokage I officially pardon your past crimes against Hidden Leaf and grant you refuge within this village."
Deidara didn't reply, they had already been informed otherwise they wouldn't have come here, but he nodded once in acknowledgement.
"Kaya's abilities are quite promising, but she's still very young so there's no hurry. She can take the academy entrance exams whenever you guys feel she's ready." He looked at Sakura and gave a lazy grin. "And Sakura…welcome back. You've been gone eight years, and everything's been rebuilt, so a lot will probably be different for you."
"That's probably going to be a good thing," she replied with a small smile.
He nodded understandingly. "You're probably right. And if you ever want your old job back, you know it's yours. Oh, but I do have one condition; please don't start calling me Hokage-sama. We've been through way too much together for that."
Sakura nodded and her smile widened. "Thank you, Shika."
He looked back to Deidara then. "Your knowledge and skills would be a pretty big asset, so if you ever feel like working for Konoha…or if you just get really bored and want to blow up something big…"
"I'll let you know, yeah," Deidara said with a wry smirk.
The Hokage shrugged nonchalantly. "Fair enough. I've got a few other things I have to take care of, but come and see me later to figure out all the little details and set up a housing arrangement and stuff."
"Alright," Sakura agreed, and the other couple turned to leave. The rest of the people gathered were starting to leave as well. Hanabi had gone to collect her boys and make them clean up before dinner, and she could hear Kaya saying goodbye and cheerfully agreeing to their request to play/train later. Hanabi and the boys waved at them and left, and Kaya came skipping toward her.
"I like Kazu and Toshi," she declared, taking her toy from Sakura.
Sakura laughed picked her up. "I think they like you too." With a slightly anxious sigh she turned to Deidara. "Are you ready for this?"
He gave her his trademark smirk and nodded. "Are you?"
"Yeah…I think I finally am," she said quietly, and then they turned to walk through the gates.
Konoha was much different than Deidara had expected. He hadn't known what to expect, actually, but it was definitely different than anything he would have thought of. It was clean, and bright, and colorful. The buildings appeared patchwork, as if they hadn't been planned and had just been added onto as the need arose. The effect was charming and organic, and even the shabbier parts looked downright homey. It was worlds away from the mudbrick domes of Suna or the cold and dreary militaristic look of his native Iwa. The more of Konoha he'd seen today, the more he began to see why Leaf ninja were the way they were, why they were always so optimistic and do-goody, despite the fact that they were shinobi.
When they arrived at their current location he had been completely surprised by what he'd found. There was no Memorial Stone in Iwa. In the village he had been raised and trained in, shinobi were tools of war, and you didn't carve monuments for broken and discarded tools. If he had grown up here his life might have been completely different. Deidara realized he was glad they had brought their daughter to be raised this place.
Kaya was currently running around the small clearing, chasing a butterfly and picking what remained of the late blooming flowers, but when she looked up and saw him watching her she ran to him and held her arms out to be picked up.
"Daddy, who's that guy on the mountain over there?" she asked, pointing to the cliffside monument as he lifted her.
"There are seven people there, Kaya. Which one?"
"The one mama has pictures of."
He looked up at the monument again, surprised that she could place the stone likeness to a photo. He recognized the last three in the line; the Sannin Tsunade was the only woman carved there, the face at the end was Shikamaru, the current Hokage, and in between them was of course… "That's the sixth Hokage, Uzumaki Naruto. He was your mom's best friend. The boy you met today, Toshio…Naruto was his father, yeah."
"Are all those guys Hokages?"
"Your mom would know more about that than me, but yeah I'm pretty sure they were."
Kaya was silent for a long moment as she stared at the stone faces. "Did mama's friend die?" she asked quietly.
She had obviously picked up on his use of the past tense. "Yeah, he did. A long time ago."
"…Oh," she whispered. She seemed saddened for a moment, and then focused her bright green gaze on him. "Did you know him too?"
Deidara thought about how to answer. "I didn't really know him…but we met a couple of times."
"What was he like?"
What a question to ask him of all people. He didn't exactly want to tell her about all the times they had tried to kill each other. Smart as she was, she wouldn't understand the complexity of her parents' past. He gave a short laugh at the irony and sighed. "He was really strong…and he had a lot of guts, yeah."
Kaya seemed satisfied with that answer, and he couldn't help but be relieved. She stared at the mountain a while longer, until her toddler's mind switched tracks. "Will Uncle Kisame come and live here, too?"
According to Kisame, the last time he'd set foot in Konoha it hadn't been fun and he'd been kicked in the face by a green-spandex wearing buffoon. "No I don't think so, Kaya. He's happy where he is. You know how much he likes to fish—how could he fish if he lived here?"
"Oh yeah," she said thoughtfully. "But we still visit him, right?"
She seemed to have run out of steam for the moment and laid her head on his shoulder, and Deidara set his features in mild exasperation when he realized that as he'd been holding her she had braided a thin strand of his hair. Should she even know how to braid at her age? He reminded himself to make sure and take it out when she wasn't looking, and before anyone else saw him.
"Daddy…why is Mama sad?" she asked suddenly in a quiet, concerned voice.
His gaze traveled over to Sakura where she knelt before the Memorial Stone, and he saw that she was crying softly. He looked again at his daughter. "She's not sad, really," he explained quietly. "This is where your mom grew up, but she hasn't been here in a long time. A lot of good as well as bad things happened to her here. I think she's just remembering a lot of different things at the same time, yeah."
"…So she's whelmed?"
Deidara smirked. She was so smart sometimes it was easy to forget she was only three. "The word is overwhelmed, Kaya, and yeah…I think she is."
"Are you overwhelmed, too?"
He was quiet a moment as his eyes traveled over his surroundings, and he thought about everything it meant for him to be standing where he was. Then he gave a faint nod. "A little, though for different reasons than your mom."
"Hmm. I like this place," she remarked after a moment.
"It is kinda nice, isn't it?" he mused quietly.
"Yeah. I think we be happy living here."
Deidara looked again at what he could see of the village and the surrounding forest, and then a small smile formed on his lips. "I think so too, yeah."
Sakura knelt quietly before the Memorial Stone, her expression wistful and bittersweet. Slowly, she brought her hand up to touch the smooth polished surface, fingertips ghosting over the countless names carved into the black granite, generation after generation, entire families, the long history of the sacrifices made for this village inscribed for all time. It was an honor to have one's name here, but that honor was not without pain.
She hadn't been before this stone in eight years, and the emotions begin to well up as her fingers moved, pausing over each familiar moniker. So many names... mentors, teachers, comrades, friends…so many memories, so many tears.
For so long she had thought there was nothing left here for her, that she had lost too much. But today she had realized she was wrong. Those she had lost…their memories and their legacies lived on here, in this village hidden within the leaves. That was the Will of Fire, to live in honor of those who came and went before you. Sakura still had a family here, in Hanabi and those two boys with their fathers' faces. And though it would never be the same as what she'd shared with her team, a deep unspoken bond existed between her and the comrades who had survived through it all with her.
The first tear rolled down her cheek as her fingers came to a stop over a single character. Sai. She took a deep, shaky breath, but her fingers remained steady as they continued down the polished stone. Sasuke…Naruto…Kakashi. She emitted a long, heavy sigh and wiped at her eyes.
"Hey guys," she began in a very small, quiet voice. "It's been a while, hasn't it? Naruto, Sasuke…I'm sure you've heard this before but your sons are so beautiful. They look just like you. You'd be so proud of them—they're going to be amazing shinobi one day. I have a child too now; a beautiful little girl named Kaya. You guys would love her." She smiled through her tears, and took another deep breath. "Kakashi…and Naruto…I'm sorry it took so long for me to keep the promises I made to you, and it wasn't fair because you always, always kept your promises to me. Naruto, if you were here now I know you would have a lot of questions, but I know you would understand because Deidara is wonderful—he loves me and our daughter, and he's helped me in so many ways I can't even begin to express. I want you all to know that I'm happy…I really, truly am. I know it's what you would all want for me."
A gentle gust of wind blew through the clearing and fanned her hair, and the soft rustling of the trees sounded to her like a thousand whispered voices, as if the spirits of those who had gone before were here with her now, offering her strength. As the fallen leaves swirled in indistinct patterns around her Sakura was filled with a feeling of serenity, and finally knew what she had until now been unable to say.
"I'm sorry I've been away for so long, but…I was afraid…of going on, of living a life without my boys. I realize now that it was wrong, that I was just being a coward. But I promise I'm going to be here from now on, and I'm going to tell our children all of the embarrassing stories you wouldn't want them to know." She laughed, and the tears flowed freely but she made no attempt to stop them. "And I'll tell them all of the wonderful, amazing and idiotic things you did, and I'll make sure they know that you were all heroes, and that knowing you, walking a path beside you and being your friend was the greatest honor of my life. I love you all…I'll miss you forever and I will always remember our bonds and the time we shared…and I'm going to go on, and live my life for all of us."
She took a few minutes to collect her emotions and dry her eyes, and then she stood with a sigh and walked over to her waiting family.
When she reached his side, Deidara lifted his free hand to gently brush a stray lock of hair from her moistened cheek. "Are you alright?" She nodded and leaned into his touch, and he pressed a soft kiss to her brow and wrapped the arm not holding their daughter around her shoulders. "I love you," he said quietly.
"I love you too, Mama," Kaya added, reaching out to touch Sakura's cheek with childlike affection.
Sakura laughed tearfully. "I love you both so much," she replied, and kissed the top of Kaya's blonde head before slipping her arms around Deidara's waist. She was truly happy. The holes in her heart had been filled, and she knew that returning to Konoha had been the right decision. She could once again call this place her home.
"Can we go eat ramen now?" Kaya asked innocently.
Sakura smiled warmly, and gave a small nod. "Yeah…that sounds great."
Kaya wiggled her way out of Deidara's hold, wanting to walk on her own, and when he set her down she skipped off in the direction of the path.
Sakura and Deidara stood still for a moment, their gazes locked on each other. He bent his head to kiss her tenderly, and when he pulled away she gave him her brightest smile and linked her arm through his, and then they turned and followed their daughter back into the village.