Finishing this story up as a two-shot with an epilogue. Sorry for the unbelievably long wait.
Disclaimer: Do not own Naruto.
PART 2 – Time is a Healer
Walking down the bustling roads of Konoha on a brisk fall afternoon would have been enjoyable to any other normal and healthy human being. The wind was blowing in a calm way that caressed the cheeks and played with the hair, like an innocent toddler learning about the things around it for the first time. The air was filled with noises of the vendors and the people were browsing or walking towards one destination or another. The smells of small kiosks and large restaurants created a delicious mixture that tickled the senses and made the mouth water in delight.
All of this would have, could have, been appreciated by her if it wasn't for the throbbing pain in her back, her swollen feet, and these freaking heavy groceries full of life's necessities. Stupid life.
Okay, now she was being bitchy, but who could blame her? When you're carrying groceries down a road full of people, sore, and very much pregnant, how exactly was one supposed to feel? Not healthy and chipper, that's for sure!
Making her way towards a side road that lead to her house, Sakura Haruno kept lugging her groceries with the determination and ferocity that had made her one of the best kunoichi in the country. She was almost there, just a few more steps, fumbling for the godforsaken house key, slipping it in the lock, and then gunning it for the kitchen where she finally released her grip on the bags and trudged over to sit in one of her kitchen chairs with a sigh. Who would have thought shopping would be so hard!
Taking a few moments to recuperate, she was just about to summon the strength to get up and put the groceries away when the door to her house flew open and the stomping of heavy feet could be heard making their way towards the kitchen. Sakura groaned mentally and prepared for the verbal lashing she was about to receive for her little grocery stunt. But on the bright side she probably wouldn't have to get up and put her groceries away anymore!
Just as she was done thinking that thought an angry blonde man flew into the kitchen and immediately leveled a very potent glare at her. He was promptly followed by three more people, who walked rather calmly through the doorway to the kitchen since they had more control then said blonde but that was beside the point.
"Sakura! You promised me you would wait until after we trained to go and get groceries. You said you'd wait for us so that we could help you!"
Sakura just gave him a droll stare before turning her eyes to the amused eyes of her former sensei.
"What's so funny Kakashi-sensei? It takes a lot for you to actually divert your attention from your books."
Kakashi just kept on grinning through his mask, the bastard.
"On our way here we ran into a few people who berated us for letting you struggle home with an arm full of groceries by yourself. Some even yelled at us, claiming we were cruel and immoral to let a pregnant women do that by herself. Other's simply felt sorry for us since you apparently glared at anyone who made the slightest move to help. I must say Ugly, you made quiet the statement 'waddling home like an angry pink penguin.' Although I do admit a certain confusion to this statement since you seem more like a lumbering bear to me than anything."
A vein throbbed healthily on her forehead due to the black haired man standing in front of her.
" Sai, the day I have this kid you better make out your will because there is no way in hell you're going to survive a round with me."
"Sakura-san, you really should have waited for us! It isn't healthy for you to strain yourself so much this late in the pregnancy!"
Sakura sighed and directed her gaze over to the flustered Hyuuga heir. "Gomen Hinata. I'm sorry I worried you, but you guys took too long and I got impatient. It was three o'clock and I hadn't even left the house yet! I just couldn't stand being inside for another minute when the weather is so nice outside!"
"Did you appreciate the weather when you were lugging your groceries back home?"
She pouted cutely at her masked sensei before turning away and muttering a soft 'no.'
Kakashi grinned again and finally returned his attention to his own baby, Icha Icha Paradise.
"Why do you push yourself so much Sakura-chan? We're here to help you but you always find a way around us unless we corner you and drag you kicking and screaming!" Naruto dragged his hand through his hair in agitation before walking over and kneeling before her.
"Don't you trust us enough to take care of you?"
Sakura closed her eyes at the tender note in his voice and felt her lower lip tremble.
"Of course I trust you guys. How could I not? You were there for me when I had no one else, and your still supporting me. You're my friends, my teammates and my family. It's just that sometimes I feel like I only have myself in the world. Despite the support from everyone, despite the good wishes and warm greetings, despite the love I'm given I can't help but notice the empty space right next to me."
Sakura brought her hands to her face and wiped the streaming tears away as best she could.
"I only have myself to give this child Naruto. It'll have aunts and uncles that will love it to death, and other people who will no doubt faun and smother it. But there's one thing they'll never have because no matter what, I can't give them their father. And no matter what, the paternal love they should have from him will be given to another women and another child because he can't even remember me. God he can't even stand the sight of me! How am I supposed to make it through this if I can't support myself first?"
This time sobs racked her body, preventing her from speaking further.
Naruto quickly wrapped his arms around her to provide whatever comfort he could, but he knew deep down that there was only one person in the world who could ease his heart-sisters sorrow. But that person wanted nothing to do with her.
After Sakura had returned to Konoha and reported to Tsunade about Gaara's amnesia and her consequential retreat from his life she was furious. Never the less, when Tsunade heard that Sakura was also pregnant she was beyond reason. It took him, Shizune, Kakashi and two other Jounin to calm her down. Or as the case may be, keeping her from stampeding over to Suna and sub sequentially murdering the Kazekage for harming her adopted daughter. Since Sakura's parents had been killed early on in the war with the Akatsuki, Tsunade had wasted no time in gathering the necessary materials and adopting her into her own family. Although Sakura kept her family name in remembrance of her now deceased parents.
Needless to say her maternal instincts to seek and destroy had been…a bit mother bearish and somewhat frightening to say the least.
After he had heard the whole story Naruto took a small D-ranked mission to Suna with the excuse of exchanging a few medical scrolls to confront Gaara himself. But Sakura had failed to mention his friend's engagement to Matsuri, either as a deliberately omitted confession to save Gaara or because the wound was still too new to voice the announcement.
Naruto was gunning for the latter.
Gaara remembered him just fine. He was treated as an honored guest and was even invited to stay in Gaara's house in the guest room. Naruto would have accepted, and probably even stayed a few days to mull things over with Gaara and see if any thing he said could perhaps trigger some memories. But that was before he was introduced to Matsuri.
He remembered her from his mission to sand to help Gaara out of a sticky situation, and later when word reached them of Gaara's capture. Matsuri had been a nice sweet girl then. Who knew that she could have sunk so low as to trick the Kazekage into her arms and then her bed. Duping him into believing he loved her. Naruto could see signs of affection in his gaze, but he had seen Gaara when he was with Sakura before his accident. Back then his eyes had burned with hidden passion and love for the women standing at his side. They had supported each other in such a way as only soul mates could. No one saw it coming, but when their relationship became public everyone could see how balanced and perfect they were.
Now all he saw was warmth and gentle affection for a dear one. Not love, no. The Kazekage felt no love for this women. And she knew it. But she would take all she could get, and apparently that also included his hand in marriage. The bitch.
When he and Gaara were left alone to catch up on things Naruto had tentatively mentioned Sakura. Gaara had clammed up and gotten cold, reverting back to the heartless boy he had met so long ago. He had tried to make him remember Sakura as his teammate, as the medic who saved his brother, as the girl he himself had pursued. Gaara didn't budge. He was resolute that even if she had been something to him in the past she was nothing to him now. He would not allow her to get in the way of his future with Matsuri.
Naruto had leveled him with one cutting glare at his words before saying, "If you can't even give her a chance to prove to you how much she loves you than I have no business being here. I don't care if you are a dear friend to me, no one hurts my sister the way you have and leaves her to pick up the pieces by herself. Again. You promised her you wouldn't hurt her like Sasuke did, Gaara. You broke your promise. You hurt her Gaara, and by relation you also hurt me. I will be civil with you but I can no longer look upon you as my friend. I'm sorry for misjudging you all these years."
Then he had gotten up ad left that night. Gaara didn't retaliate in any way, nor was the treaty broken. But the bond the two Jinchuuriki had formed was tenuous at best and needed time to heal before they saw each other again. If, they could become friends again, that was.
Naruto wasn't so sure he even considered it an option.
Hinata came up behind him and placed her hand on his soldier while he still held his crying sister. He took comfort in her quiet strength for a moment and reveled in his loves touch before leaning away from Sakura and reaching up to wipe away the tears as best he could. He could feel the slow simmer of Kakashi's anger and the silent displeasure of Sai, despite his fake smile, at the sight of their teammates distress.
Sakura eventually gained control over herself and smiled at all of them. "Really, you're all too good for me."
Naruto gasped in mock outrage. " Are you kidding! Without you none of us would be where we are now. Kakashi wouldn't be dating Shizune-neechan, and he would have stayed buried in a heap of Icha Icha for the rest of his life. Sai would still be a reclusive and fake naïve wonder that gets pummeled for no brain to mouth filter. And I would have remained clueless about Hinata-chan's feelings forever!"
Sakura laughed. It was all very true. She had worked from the shadows to hook up her heart sister and her sensei once she found out about their dormant feelings for each other. Really, she was almost as much of a mastermind as Madara. And she had done it all from within the walls of Suna.
She had personally couched Sai on the etiquette of sarcasm and white lies, as well as what was actually polite and common courtesy. She'd spent a week convincing him that being truthful was not the same thing as being bluntly honest and that calling someone a derogatory nickname on first acquaintance was not good and did not make you closer to the person. Really, the boy was almost as stubborn as a drunken Tsunade.
And the whole fiasco involving the budding relationship between Hinata and her brainless fox brother was basically her shoving one of them into the other over and over again until, finally,it clicked and Naruto realized that Hinata only blushed and stumbled around him. Needless to say after spelling it out for him and ridding him of all his doubts he had immediately gone and asked her out.
Wiping her eyes and cheeks she cleared her tearstained face and beamed at all of them. "I love you all very much. I hope you know that."
Still smiling she observed their reactions. Hinata's demure blush and fumbling, Sai's hands twitching and getting shoved behind him because his artists hands always gave his moods away, Kakashi's eyes crinkling softly at the corners-were his ears turning red?- and lastly, Naruto's heartfelt smile that was only bestowed on those closest to his heart. Not the one-hundred watt smile that was shown to the world daily, but the smile of a man who appreciated and loved whatever he was looking at very dearly.
"Don't get all soft on us now Sakura-chan! You were all snarly and outraged just moments ago!"
And that reminded her…
Smiling what could only be deemed a shit-eating grin she said, "Hey, if you guys are still earnest in your need to help than you can put the groceries away."
And whatever emotional mood that had clogged the room vanished in seconds as jeers, jokes, yells, and laughter filled the air once again.
Sakura was curled up in her window seat with a soft wool blanket covering her legs and a cup of warm tea cradled in her hands. Sighing in content she gazed out at the sunset on the horizon that barely showed over the rooftops of Konoha and sipped tentatively at the steaming cup in her hands. Letting the comfortably burning liquid run down her throat she sighed in content once more and leaned back against the wall surrounding the window.
Movement drew her attention towards her stomach. Another kick quickly followed the first and Sakura smiled before resting one of her hands on top of her rounded middle. Running her palm across the firm skin in a caress her smile widened when the child inside responded with another jostle.
Blinking back the tears at the joy this brought her was all she could do without bawling in pregnant hysterics. This child inside of her was a gift. Truly, she was blessed to have an everlasting remembrance of the time she's had with Gaara. Of course she had been bitter about it in the beginning, thinking her pregnancy a curse rather than a blessing.
There she was, on the brink of a mental breakdown and finding out she was with child. If it hadn't been for her friends and family she would have drowned in the dark emotions that had once consumed her. She would have fallen into that world full of jagged dreams and broken hearts. Okay, now she was being melodramatic, but she had been there once, after killing Sasuke.
But now it was Gaara who had driven her to the brink. Her savior turned damnation. Really, the world was full of irony.
Rubbing her hand over her belly in a continuous caress she allowed her mind to wander in the past. Memories that had at first burned like a bitter agony in her she now grasped and held close to her heart, cherishing them.
Their first kiss. So full of emotion and confused yearning.
The first time she'd held his hand, dry and calloused as it was, and realized that they could do this. They could make this work.
Cuddling on rooftops gazing at stars, dinners in the deserts, shopping with him and his siblings, dragging him out of his office because he needed to 'stop working so damn much and enjoy life!'
They were the memories of her love and she would carry them on in her. Yes, she would carry the memories with her because the man himself was gone. He may physically still be on this earth, but to her he was gone. The day he'd turned on her and almost killed her and their unborn child was the day he died.
Conviction had grown in her when she came to this conclusion, and with the backing of everyone around her she had pulled herself back from that brink and turned in a new direction.
Leaning her head back she closed her eyes and basked in the glow of contentment surrounding her. After letting out all of her fears this afternoon she felt lighter. Like she could now examine and pick at these emotions and calmly accept them. She had gotten past another hurdle. And there would be countless more, but she was confident that she could get through them, because she had her friends, her teammates, Tsunade, and her soon to be born child.
Yes, she could do this.
Nodding to herself, Sakura sat up and rose from the window seat. Rubbing her slightly sore back she observed that the sun had set and it was time to make dinner, if the hunger pains were any indication.
Chuckling to herself she folded the blanket and left it on the seat. Picking up her now empty cup she brought it into the kitchen and pushed back her sleeves to begin cooking. Pasta was sounding real good right now. Ooh! Pasta and garlic bread with chocolate sauce! Yes, that sounded perfect.
Tsunade came into the well organized hospital office in an excited flurry waving around a stack of printed pictures of a sonogram that had been taken just days before.
"Sakura! Why didn't you show me the new pictures! My grandchild's most recent photo-shoot and you can't even have the decency to show me the newest photos!? As a concerned grandmother and one of the top medics in the hospital I can't see why you wouldn't want to make absolutely sure that the child was developing properly and that there are no signs of health issues. Really Sakura, I'm insulted you kept these from me for so long." Tsunade ranted.
Sakura groaned mentally at the reoccurring tirade taking place in front of her. She was hard pressed not to roll her eyes at her teacher and surrogate mother's dramatic antics.
"Apparently not well enough shishou. You still managed to find them well enough, and after I spent so much time hiding them too. How on earth did you find my medical records hidden in the distillery? Seriously? How? And I recall telling you before that I didn't want you, Shizune, or anyone else except my chosen Obstetrician to examine them. Hana is a perfectly qualified doctor and I trust her to see me through this pregnancy because I interviewed all of the Obstetricians in the hospital myself and she was the one I chose. I believe I've told every single acquaintance that I've ever met that I'm keeping the sex of the child a secret because I want to be pleasantly surprised. Which won't happen if a qualified medic like you, Shizune, or Myself actually look at those pictures!"
Sakura ended her own tirade with a growl and an accusing glare at her noisy shishou. Then she gestured angrily at the photos still clutched in the busty blondes hands. "And now you know the big secret! God I knew this would happen! That's why I went to the trouble of hiding them in the first place! Tsunade!"
By this time she was massaging her temples and staring glumly at her not so favorite human right now.
Tsunade was by now hiding the stack of photos behind her back and looking politely chastised. "Sorry, sorry. It's just the baby is coming so soon and I still need to pick out the clothes and put in the orders for the furniture. Oh! And I still need to have the babies personalized headband colorized correctly and then engraved with cute designs and the name!"
"Customized headband? Shishou! Stop going on shopping sprees before my kid is even born yet. Man, you're even more gung-ho about this then I am." Sighing in resignation at the blondes face splitting grin she leaned back in her extra cushioned chair (customized for optimum comfort during pregnancy by her ever faithful friends) and gazed at her mother forlornly.
"You can't tell anyone Tsunade. I wanted it to be a surprise. I'll let you go crazy about the sex later, but for now please hold off on the shopping and the color schemes. It'll give it all away because everyone knows that once you know you'll be on the prowl for the best money can buy for whatever my child happens to be. So please, discretion would be nice."
Her shishou pouted briefly before brightening with an idea. "You're absolutely right Sakura. If I shop now it'll give it away, but if I order from the catalogues…"
Sakura groaned and slapped her head in exasperation.
Her baby was going to be a summer baby. The due date had already been decided months before at her official, and slightly hysterical, medical exam. But the fact that her child was going to be born during this beautiful season was starting to drive home a little. She was already a few weeks into her third trimester. Just a couple more and she'd be home free with a bouncing bundle of joy.
Soon, she would be a mother.
Oh god she was going to be a mother.
No, no. Don't freak out. Breathe. Breathing always helps in these situations. There, calm heart and mind once again.
Jeesh, hormones sucked.
Alright, focus, it wasn't like she actually had the leisure of spacing out right at the moment. She had too much damn paperwork to do to waste time. After a devoted half hour she was beginning to make a dent in the mountainous pile to her left when her office door creaked open ominously.
Closing her eyes and sighing she contemplated the intruder's presence before looking at the doorway.
"Yes Sai, may I help you with something?"
The strange boy only gave her a once over, pouted and crossed his arms.
"I can't kidnap you like that. You would scare away half the village before we even made it out the door."
"Wai-! Wha-!" Pinching the bridge of her nose Sakura took a deep consoling breath before releasing it. "Like I said before Sai. Write your will before it's too damn late. Now what's this about kidnapping me?"
Sai shrugged. "Naruto's words actually. He said you needed to relax and suggested I take you out. I informed him you would probably put up a vicious fight and he replied that I should just kidnap you." He smiled his phony smile and tilted his head to the side. "So, what are you waiting for? Let's go."
"Sai, that's not how kidnapping usually goes."
"Oh? Do tell. I don't really know what's socially respectable but I assumed bagging and tagging you would have been ill advised given your current condition."
She choked. "You know what? Let's do this the first way and go to my apartment so I can clean up."
Sai stood up straight and smiled for real. "Really?"
Sakura slowly got to her feet and waddled over to the door. "Yep, no bagging needed. So just forget about that idea and never let it cross your mind again."
When Sakura passed she didn't see the mischievous smirk cross his face and his mouthed words to the spies outside her window 'told you it would work.'
After being escorted home and allowed to perform her toilettes Sakura put on a funky maternity outfit of a baggy but cute thin brown wrap and a simple cream tank, her pants were comfy dark brown cargos. Her shoes were the standard black ninja sandals because despite their useful durability and performance value on missions they were also damn comfortable.
Relishing in her cozy civilian clothes (minus the sandals) after being stuck in a medics uniform all day Sakura mentally thanked Sai for his somewhat backwards abduction.
After finding him waiting in her living room they both made their way to a nearby Café and sat outside to enjoy the nice afternoon weather and catch up on the latest gossip. Despite Sai's lack of acceptable human manners he was the worlds greatest observer and found out the most interesting tidbits of information. He was even better than Ino when it came to gossip.
They chatted for a good hour and gradually made their way through a scrumptious sandwich and iced tea. Sakura, of course, made frequent trips to the bathroom throughout their meal but the occurrence had become standard to those around her so both hardly noticed the lull in between breaks.
It wasn't until she was making her way out for the fourth time that she saw the real reason Naruto had asked Sai to get her out of her office.
The months apart hadn't dulled His wild beauty a bit and caused a wave of long buried memories to surface all at once. Anger, love, hate, and yearning all battled for an upper hand inside of her until she saw movement to his side.
That was the moment months of recuperation shattered under the battering ram of intense sorrow. There stood Matsuri gently holding His hand and gazing at Him adoringly.
Sakura took deep breaths to hold down the cries of rage and clawing up her throat and immediately looked for Sai.
He was already making his way towards her with the most worried expression she'd ever seen on his face. She would have congratulated him for it if the situation hadn't been what it was.
He got to her side in record time and gently took her hand in his. "I'm so sorry Sakura. I didn't know he would be here. Regardless we are leaving. Do you think you can make it out?"
She glanced at the couple still standing by the door surveying the place for a choice seat and nodded. She drew the pieces of her shattered self around her like a blockade and began to make her way towards the door with Sai gently guiding her along.
Despite their attempts at subtlety both knew a confrontation was inevitable.
Sakura closed her eyes when she knew both people had seen her, as if blocking out the sight would make this entire situation a simple nightmare. But keeping her eyes shut did nothing for her other senses and she heard Matsuri draw in a quick breath before releasing it in a not so subtle curse.
Her reaction was much more welcoming then Gaara's however. Cold fury surrounded him in deadly cocoon of heavy silence.
Surprisingly, it was Sai who broke the heavy silence while continuing to usher her towards the door. However, she was still too shocked to move much.
"Excuse us, we'll be out of your way in a moment Kazekage-sama." Queue the fake smile.
Gaara's cold gaze, which had been staring her down, now acknowledged Sai's existence and his arms protectively supporting her. Then they slowly slid down to her stomach.
His eyes widened, Matsuri covered her mouth, and Sai's hold tightened as if sensing danger.
"You're pregnant." It was a statement, which would have been funny given any other situation. Gaara hadn't altered his stare, but when she placed a hand against her stomach he slowly met her eyes.
"Is he the father?"
Sakura blinked out of her frozen state and looked at Sai. "Uhhh….no?"
Gaara narrowed his eyes. "No? You are unsure?" He huffed and crossed his arms, donning the icy glare once more. "Are you that much of a whore that you would be uncertain of your child's father."
Sai's fake demeanor fell and Sakura saw his rage for the first time. "I don't see how that is any of your concern Kazekage-sama. So please don't insult someone who is loved by all of Konoha. You may not be able to handle the backlash."
Gaara narrowed his eyes and everyone could hear his sand begin to stir. The sound of rattlesnakes was the song that accompanied her first tears. In the jumbled chaos of her emotions she was giving herself a free pass on crying, given the absurd situation. She slowly reached up to grasp one of Sai's hands.
"Please. Just get me out of here. There is no need to make a scene." She looked into his eyes imploringly. Seeing the remnants of his anger slowly fade to compassion.
His hold shifted into a gentle guidance and they again began to make their way towards the exit. Just within the doorway she was stopped by Gaara's voice.
"Who is the father?"
She faltered before straightening. "He's dead."
The door closed softly behind her.
The meeting room was luxurious. Carpeted floors, plush chairs and couches, and a small but unobtrusive kitchen stocked with high-end snacks and beverages.
The room was perfect for showing great hospitality. However, the room wasn't soundproof.
Gaara gazed at the double doors, which led out into a hallway in the Hokage tower. The raised voices of the Hokage, Naruto, and that stunted man named Sai could be heard.
"You were supposed to keep her safe! No Stress! No confrontations! She's too delicate right now to handle anything extreme!" The Hokage roared.
"With all do respect Hokage-sama. The encounter was a fluke and should never have occurred. Someone must have told the Kazekage about the café and he chose to dine there on a whim. Naruto and I carefully plotted a course to keep Sakura far away from him during his stay." There was a heavy silence before he continued. " You aren't the only one who is concerned about Sakura. She is a dear friend to me and I would do anything to make sure she remains safe."
The Hokage growled then huffed. And Naruto guffawed.
"Geeze Sai, I didn't know you could even sound like that. Sakura must have really gotten through to you."
"Yes, yes. We are all proud of Sai's progress. However, the biggest matter right now is what to do about this situation. The Kazekage is here for matter's of state which does take priority over Sakura." She sighed. "Any other person and I would kick them out but he is our staunch ally and we need to keep it that way. You two! You need to keep Sakura safe. Too much strain and her and the child's lives are put on the line."
"We know Baa-chan. Sakura is our top priority. We'll take care of her. You just stick to your matter's of state."
More silence as the group separated and a distinct set of steps approached the doors.
Gaara stood and remained standing as the Hokage opened and closed the doors. She strode over to a couch that was across from him and took a seat. She placed the folder's she had been carrying in a neat pile on the table between them, arranging them to her right. Then she sat up straight and gestured for him to take a seat.
As he sat she studied him. But whatever she found remained privy to her and she began the discussion.
Gaara walked along a park path in Konoha. Errantly admiring the many green trees that were absent in his own homeland while going over the discussion he had overheard and the Hokage's own parting words.
"Please Gaara, treat her gently. I know you hold no love for her now, but please. Think of the child."
The child? A child that a kunoichi he felt only animosity towards, harbored. The hatred was in all senses unfounded. He didn't even know the women, but everyone kept insisting they had been close once. Closer then even Matsuri and he had become. Matsuri who was gentle and loving, everything he had always wanted in his life.
But this kunoichi, this Sakura was the focal point for all of his darkest emotions. And he didn't even know why.
He remembered when he first opened his eyes after the accident. He had been groggy and disoriented. Everything around him was blurry and unfocused. Then something pink had entered his vision.
Slowly his eyesight had returned and he saw a very beautiful girl. Heart shaped face, pale almost luminescent skin, full lips, vibrant green eyes, and soft pink hair.
Then she had smiled and said his name with such familiarity.
His chest had seized up and his heart had begun beating a staccato rhythm. She knew him, but this was their first meeting, at least as far as he could recall.
But that smile, and her voice. She acted like she knew him.
But he didn't know her. He didn't know her!
And the fact that he didn't know her made him angry.
So he lashed out and watched the smile fall from her face. Then he saw fear. An emotion he knew.
So in order to cope with the confusing situation he had done everything in his power to keep it there. His surroundings slowly became acknowledged and he came to the conclusion that she had been trying to kill him.
Dead bodies littered the area but he would add hers to the makeshift grave. How dare she try to fool him with fake smiles and pretty words. Everything she was shouting at him was ignored. She was easy to take down, surprisingly so. It was like she wasn't even trying.
Just before the killing blow his siblings had shown up and stopped him. They tried to explain to him who the girl was, but it was too late. She was an enemy in his eyes. Every time he saw her, his body would show signs of duress and he would act accordingly. He kept her as far from himself as he could until she eventually left.
Multiple people had tried to persuade him to see her in a different light, claiming she was an integral part of his past and present day life. Even if he tried to believe their words his body reacted to her as if she were a threat. He would not believe in a past he couldn't even remember.
Even after the girl had left problems arose as more and more of her background was revealed. She was the Hokage's apprentice and adoptive daughter, a medical ninja of great import, and a member of the famous Team Seven. She had taken down Sasori of Akatsuki, and saved his own brother from an unknown poison.
But the one that cost him the most was the knowledge that she was the surrogate sister of his first friend, Naruto. When he shot down all of the information Naruto tried to give, he had lost a friendship that had meant the world to him.
The kunoichi had turned out to be more important then he could have ever guessed.
And this afternoon, when he had seen her for the first time in months he had been bombarded by emotions that were both foreign and strange. Even with his relationship to Matsuri he hadn't been able to make sense of them.
Then he had seen her stomach and he was left speechless. Anger, ripe and full and wholly his had erupted inside of him. He took it out on her, and when Sai had come into the equation he had almost considered erasing the man from it completely. He contemplated committing murder, even though it would break the treaty and even though he professed to hate the kunoichi. But these emotions weren't allowing him to make rational sense of anything.
But the unforeseen reunion had ended without bloodshed when she had told him the father was dead. With a voice that said it wasn't his concern and he should just forget it.
But it was his concern and he wasn't even sure why.
Gaara stopped walking and took stock of his surroundings. He had come to a stop on a bridge that had frequent use but was, at the moment, empty. A niggling feeling at the back of his mind told him that this bridge was important somehow. It was a feeling he was becoming quite familiar with in the past months, as memories tried to resurface. But he wouldn't let them. He would not allow unnecessary pasts ruin his future with Matsuri.
However, the ticklish feeling within his mind would not abate. In fact, it damn near pained him to ignore it. So he decided to meditate on it while looking at the bridge awhile longer. Jumping up into a bordering tree he masked his presence and let his mind wander to memories best left forgotten.
Sakura strolled along the well-worn path towards her destination. She took her time while admiring the scenery of lush plant life, lively animals, and blue skies. She took in a deep breath and smiled while letting it out slowly, gently running one hand over her firm stomach.
The faint noise of footsteps alerted her to the presence of another.
Opening her eyes she saw the very last women she had ever wished to see. Seriously, was the universe just shooting these karmic bullets at her for shits and giggles?
Matsuri was carrying a small woven basket on one arm and walking straight for her. A determined expression was on her face, and that meant nothing good for Sakura.
Still, she pasted on a fake smile (she'd learned from the best after all) and sent out a greeting. "Matsuri, lovely day is it not? How are you enjoying the fresh air?"
Matsuri paused for a brief moment, a slight shadow passing over her face before straightening once more and smiling beautifically.
"Sakura! I am so glad I have found you! I was looking for you everywhere you know? I want to resolve any hard feelings you may have towards me. I know that's a lot to ask, but I figured it was worth a try. Right?" Her voice was clear and crisp.
Sakura had to admire her straightforward approach. She hated dealing with pleasantries and bullshit. Nevermind that she employed them as a rebuff herself.
"Well, you found me. I am not sure what we have to resolve between us. After all, my past is with the Kazekage, not you. But if you would like to talk, you are more than welcome to join me on my stroll."
Matsuri nodded eagerly and started walking beside her.
"I know that you and Gaara had a history, but I have always loved him. He saved my life as a young girl, and I have always admired him as a man and not a monster. I was so mad when a complete outsider like you stole him from all of the girls yearning for him. You surprised us all by coming out of nowhere and capturing his heart."
Sakura listened and then laughed good-naturedly. Pregnancy was making her very mature in this moment, oddly enough.
"It came as a surprise to me too."
Their sandals made a dull thudding noise as they started to walk across a bridge. Her bridge. The bridge that her team met at, the bridge where she first admitted to her feeling's for Gaara, and the bridge where she came to grips that the man she loved was never coming back. So many times she had come to this bridge to think, and every time it had always led her to answers. Today she had a tag-a-long, but perhaps that was okay. Good answers sometimes came after hard obstacles.
When they reached the middle of the bridge she leaned over the railing and stared at the running water below.
"Love isn't planned, it just…happens. And although it might seem strange now, we just clicked. And you could have asked me years ago if I would have ever thought in my dizziest daydreams if I would one day fall in love with the boy who'd once tried to kill me and all the people I love. I would, of course, have screamed 'Hell No!' But now it's different, now I do know what a love like that feels like. And even though it has caused so much hardship and pain within these last months, I have no regrets." Sighing she turned to look straight at Matsuri. "But that's over with now, and he has gone on to a new chapter in his life that includes you. I may never like you Matsuri, but I can respect that you make him happy. And that's all I want for him now."
Matsuri smiled and nodded in acceptance. "I'm so glad we had this conversation." She stopped and started rummaging in her basket. " I had baked a couple of tarts in the hopes that when I came across you, food might dull any temper aimed at me. But now I see that I was basically preparing for the worst. Still, please eat them. They are a special recipe from my clan and are said to be quite divine."
She produced a small bento box and opened the top to reveal a decent amount of tarts on quaint white paper. The tarts were covered in a red filling that looked to be strawberry.
Sakura was, of course, a pregnant women and always hungry for anything sweet. She was salivating just by hearing the description.
"Of course! They look delicious."
She picked up the top one and began working her way through the tart in the most ladylike manner she could. The tart was gone in ten seconds. She allowed the sweet sugary taste to fill her mouth and smiled at the treat.
She smiled and opened her mouth to compliment Matsuri on her creations. But five seconds was all it look for her lips to go numb. Seconds later her body started shutting down.
Sakura gasped and careened into the railing. Glaring at the bitch in front of her she grasped the railing behind her and protectively covered her stomach with the other. She began pumping all of her chakra into a protective sac around her unborn child.
Cursing with a numb mouth was terribly hard, thus she only managed two words. "P-pois-s-onnn. W-whyyy?"
Matsuri tossed the tarts over the bridge and into the water below. Then she stared blandly at Sakura and smirked. "It was a more straightforward approach then a stray kunai to the head. I failed once, I won't make the same mistake twice."
Sakura new what all of that meant, but she was already seeing black in her vision. She sent everything she had towards her child and then passed out. As she fell, the hand grasping the railing unconsciously channeled chakra and crushed the wood into fragments, unearthing a well-concealed box about the size of a small jewelry box.
It clattered onto the wooden planks as another pair of sandaled feet landed.
Gaara swiftly caught and held the falling kunoichi, his mind in chaos. What he'd heard and seen within the last few minutes had completely destroyed his new life and world. The epic betrayal of his love Matsuri had shattered his composure and left him with the only route his mind could safely take, that of a cold-hearted beast.
He gently lifted the kunoichi into his arms and held her against his body. The move felt so utterly right that he had to take a moment to compose what remnants of sanity he had left.
He glanced at the very pale and shaking Matsuri and could have snarled at the pitiful sight she made. Instead, he said nothing and prepared to jump into the trees towards Konoha's hospital. As he did he saw the square box on the planks and swiftly pocketed the foreign object with his sand. The move was instinctually done, but he would ruminate on the compulsion later.
He darted into the trees and rapidly made his way towards the hospital. The kunoichi's reaction to the poison had been swift, making the next five minutes critical. The fact that he held the life of this particular kunoichi in his very literal hands put him on edge and made him go even faster.
He reached the hospital within a minute and carried the unconscious kunoichi to the front desk. The nurse there glanced up and saw him coming towards her. She was already rising with a reassuring smile on her face when her eyes fell on the women in his arms.
Complete and utter chaos unfolded after that.
The nurse shrieked and every able medic came running towards him. Panic washed through those around him when he told them it was poison. Next thing he knew the women everyone called Sakura had been taken from him and quickly rushed into the E.R.
The Hokage was there within another minute and ran past him without a glance in his direction. He understood her hurry when he saw the look of fear on her face.
After that people kept popping up with looks mirroring the Hokage's. Soon, the waiting room was filled to the brim with worried friends and teammates. No one had yet asked him what had happened. All anyone cared about was that their friend was in danger of losing her life and her unborn child.
Finally, and he really should have expected it, Naruto barreled towards him and punched him solidly in the face.
" What did you do?! Why is my sister dying in there you bastard?!" Naruto's eyes held a tinge of red and the whiskers on his face appeared just a tad deeper.
Gaara knew what these signs pointed to, but he didn't care. He deserved the harsh treatment after all. It was his fiancé that had poisoned the girl.
" Matsuri poisoned Sakura with tarts she had baked. She had followed Sakura to the bridge near the team seven training grounds. Everything seemed fine, Matsuri had approached Sakura under the pretense of getting her forgiveness for her relationship with me." His felt his face tighten into a grimace at his next words. "When Sakura had given her blessing for our happiness Matsuri thanked her and offered her tarts in thanks. When Sakura had consumed the pastry she immediately showed signs of poisoning. She only managed to ask Matsuri why she had done this before blacking out." He looked at Naruto in the eyes then.
"Naruto…she admitted to trying to kill Sakura previously. My accident, the reason I lost my memories, aren't from a stray kunai during that battle. Matsuri attempted to assassinate Sakura with it, and I was hit instead. Everything about my relationship with her was built on lies." He clutched his head as if he were in pain. His eyes had also become wide and crazed.
Naruto stepped back from the brink of losing his own cool at Gaara's confession. He watched as the leader of sand broke down in front of him now that he had a moment to process exactly what his fiancé had done. Inhaling deeply he let the breath out in a long sigh.
Then he grasped Gaara by the arm and led him away from the chaos surrounding them. They trudged along quietly before Naruto pulled him into a deserted room and shut the door.
Gaara glanced around the room listlessly before acknowledging that this must be someone's office before he made his way to a chair a promptly slumped down.
Naruto watched all of this with a calm eye before going to sit in the chair next to Gaara.
"Where is Matsuri now?"
Gaara shook his head and leaned back tiredly. "I don't know. I could only think about getting Sakura to the hospital as quickly as I could. Anything else was of secondary importance."
Naruto nodded. "She probably bolted then. She knows you overheard her and that all she has done is in the open now." He stared fiercely at Gaara then. "You know that Konoha will do everything it can to bring Matsuri to justice. She will be punished for all she has done to one of our own."
Gaara snapped his gaze to Naruto's. "She is still under my rule. She is of the Sand. I will decide how she will be punished."
Naruto snarled. "Sakura is fighting for her life downstairs! The baby inside her hasn't even breathed its first breath, and all you can say is 'you will decide!'"
Gaara clenched his hands in anger before subsiding. "I understand your pain Naruto, I will confer with the Hokage and we will both agree on Matsuri's sentence."
Naruto sneered. "You understand nothing. You can't even look at Sakura without feeling anger and hatred. Don't act like she really means anything to you."
Gaara slowly brought his hand to his pocket, almost without his own conscious consent, and pulled out the jewelry box. Naruto stilled and stared in disbelief.
"Where did you find that?" He finally whispered.
Gaara observed Naruto's reaction before opening the box himself. Inside lay a simple and delicate ring. He plucked it out of its cushion to gaze upon it more fully. The metal was a soft rose gold that held three precious stones embedded within. Unlike most rings where the stone protruded the emerald, sapphire, and ruby lay nestled into the band. And hidden within the interior on the opposite side were two lightly engraved symbols. A cherry blossom and the kanji for love.
Before he even realized it his hands were shaking too badly for him to actually hold on to the ring anymore. Naruto quickly seized it while eyeing him.
"Do you remember now Gaara?"
Gaara pushed the palms of his shaking hands against his eyes to try and stave off the coming tears. But he could do nothing about the rattled sob that left his throat.