The barren, touched in this holy chase,

Shake off their sterile curse

Haruno Sakura looked up and smiled as a very familiar figure suddenly thudded to the ground next to her. "Do you think one day you could learn to make a normal entrance?" she teased as Naruto took a seat on the grass, stretching his legs out in front of him.

He feigned a thoughtful look before grinning and shaking his head. "Nah, not really my thing, y'know? I kinda like making an impression."

She laughed at that, pushing her hair back with one hand. It was down to her shoulders now, which was about as long as she was going to let it get. "Yeah, what was I thinking? Why should the Hokage even bother trying to act dignified?" she teased.

"Hey, if they wanted dignified, they coulda voted for some old person with lots of wrinkles and liver spots. Or, hey! Why not see if Tsunade wants the job back? She's pretty old— OW!" He scowled at her grumpily as he rubbed the back of his head.

Sakura sniffed haughtily and said, "It serves you right for talking about Tsunade like that. She just woke up from her coma last month. It'll take some time until she's able to manage her beauty genjutsu again."

"Hopefully it won't take too long," he muttered. The only thing that saved him from getting another lump was the sly look he slanted at her from the corner of his eye.

Rolling her eyes at his antics, she carefully shifted about until her back was leaning against his shoulder. As always, Naruto didn't mind when she used him as a wall – in more than one sense. He'd been her support for the last four months, helping her get situated in her new apartment, going grocery shopping with her, coming over to keep her company. She was grateful for everything he did for her, even while knowing there would be nothing but friendship between them. Sakura wished she could love him like he wanted her to … but she couldn't. All the love she had left to give belonged to one person now.

Naruto adjusted his position to better accommodate her before staring at the two memorial markers in the fresh green grass. "Can I ask you somethin', Sakura?"

"Sure," she replied, closing her eyes to savor the sunlight overhead.

"Why did you want Sai buried next to Kakashi?"

Sakura took a deep breath and let it out slowly, her smile fading a little as she considered his question. "I guess," she replied slowly, tapping her fingers thoughtfully against her stomach, "because he wasn't evil. He truly believed he was doing the right thing by … you know."

His eyes lowered sadly as he plucked the grass near his thigh. "Yeah, I know."

"I'm not saying he was right," she continued quickly before the tears could surface. It still hurt to think about everything that had happened. "And I know Danzou manipulated him into acting the way he had … but I can't hate him for being true to his beliefs. I also think that Kakashi would have wanted it like this. Sai was, no matter what he did, still a member of our team. Kakashi wouldn't have wanted us to leave a teammate behind, would he?"

Naruto shook his head, a sad smile playing across his lips. "No, he would've kicked our asses for that," he agreed, causing her to laugh softly.

Her amusement was cut short when a sharp pain shot through her stomach. She winced, glaring at her belly, and muttered, "You little brat…."

"What, is he kickin' you again?" he asked, peering over her shoulder to better see her rounded stomach.

"Yeah," she grumbled irritably. "He's been doing it more and more lately. I think he hates me."

"Oi, baby!" Naruto called sternly. "Stop kickin' your mother!"

Sakura laughed despite the fact that her ear was ringing. "If that actually works, you're going on babysitting duty," she giggled.

Naruto made a disgusted face and said, "Me, changin' diapers and all that? Hell, no! I'll watch him when he's old enough to hold a kunai."

"Did you ever think that maybe I don't want him to be a ninja?"

"Gah! I can't believe you'd say that in front of his dad!"

It was nice to be laughing again. When she'd first found out she was pregnant, she hadn't been at all thrilled. She had been taking her birth control regularly, as instructed. The likelihood of getting pregnant while still on birth control was something like 0.01 percent. Apparently, her one time having sex fell in that narrow range. The only thing that kept her sane was the fact that its father was someone she'd loved dearly.

It was difficult being seventeen and pregnant without adding in the lack of father to the equation. Her parents had, of course, been less than thrilled that their daughter had gone and got herself knocked up with an older man's baby, but after the initial shouting was done they had been accepting. It helped appease her mother quite a bit that the child's father was from a very prestigious family line. She'd gone out the next day to buy wooden practice shuriken for her future grandbaby.

Things hadn't been all easy for her. The Council and Elders had her on constant watch, still not fully convinced that she hadn't been part of the plot despite what countless people told them. She wasn't able to take missions due to her condition, so getting money around to support herself and a baby was tough. Her activities at the hospital were also limited, what with the baby consuming a good portion of her chakra until it developed its own. It was boring being at a desk day in and day out … but it paid her rent and left her with enough extra that she could stockpile on baby supplies.

Of course, she had people who wanted to help her: Gai, Kurenai, Naruto and Yamato in particular. But she didn't want to depend on them all the time. This was something she needed to do herself, or else she wasn't fit to be a mother.

Sakura's lips twitched thoughtfully as she stared down at her stomach, feeling the baby rolling around inside. "Hey, Naruto?"


"Do you… Do you think you could be there with me?"

He didn't need to ask what she meant. He knew, and judging by the goofy grin on his face he was happy she'd asked. "Yeah, okay. I can do that. But only if I get to name him."

"Absolutely not! I'm not gonna have a son named 'Hatake Ramen' or something like that!" she yelped, sitting up enough to give his shoulder a smack. She regretted it instantly as her baby gave a particularly hard kick to her kidney.

Naruto burst out laughing and leaned around her to pat her tummy. "Good boy, Ramen. Your momma deserved that one for beatin' on me all the time."

"Will you quit treating my kid like he's a puppy?" she snapped, though she was having a hard time keeping the laughter in check. "And I swear on his father's grave, if you so much as think about naming him anything food related, I will see you buried on the other side!"

"Okay, okay! Geez… pregnant women really are batshit crazy." He flinched as she drew her hand back threateningly. Naruto waited until she was settled once again before saying, "Toushiro."


"What d'you think about callin' him Hatake Toushiro? You could call him Toushi-kun for short."

Sakura's eyes narrowed speculatively as she repeated the name to herself before nodding. "Yeah, that's not bad. Actually, I kind of like that."

"Really? Awesome! Wow, I can't believe you're actually gonna let me name your kid."

She shrugged and said, "Well, you're his godfather, so why not? And Toushiro is a good name, I think."

"… Unless he has pink hair."

Sakura twisted around to scowl at him. "What's wrong with him having pink hair?" she demanded.

"Nothing! Pink hair on a boy is great!" Naruto replied swiftly.

"Good," she grunted before pushing herself up onto one knee. He was on his feet instantly and part of her was very envious of how easy it was for him, even as she took his hand and let him pull her upright. Sakura nodded her thanks and, after sparing one last look at the memorial stones, began walking back toward the village.

"So, d'you have any plans tonight?" Naruto asked as he fell into step beside her.

"No, not really," she answered. "I was just going to cook some dinner and maybe watch television. You?"

"Hm? Oh, nothin' much. Hey, can I ask you one more thing?"

Sakura pulled her sweater more securely around herself as the wind kicked up a little briskly.

"Do you hate Danzou for what he did?"

She was silent for several seconds after his question as she tried to figure that out for herself. The anger still made itself known sometimes, as was the pain, but it was brought on now more by the fact that her son would grow up without having known his father. But did she hate him?

Letting out a sigh, Sakura shook her head and replied, "No, I don't." She rubbed her stomach affectionately, her smile widening as her son gave a gentle tap in response. "In this, I bury all unkindness."

-whew- THAT was a marathon writing session if ever there was one! I didn't get a real chance to sit down and write this until almost two weeks again. Sweet mercy ... I need a nap!

Thank you for reading, everyone, whether you review or not! And to my fellow competitors: well done! It's been a real privilege writing with you fine people.