A/N: Edited 18/05/15.


Stranger Places


Sakura stared at the results of the test with dull sea foam-green eyes. How was it that one little word could change her life so dramatically? How was it that it that three syllables could possibly mean the ending of her career before it had started? How was it that eight letters meant she was going to lose her best friend?

Positive.

"I think I'd like to be alone for a bit," she stated to the nurse. The woman nodded. Her eyes were sympathetic to her patient's predicament, as the pink haired girl turned to the results once more.

Of course Sakura had had her suspicions. In fact it was an almost certain thing. However to have it confirmed was another matter entirely. What was she going to do?

Her hand drifted down to her stomach where a thing was now growing. Pregnant. She was pregnant. She was barely twenty, would still be twenty when the thing was born. She wasn't married. She didn't even have a boyfriend. She'd only ever had it one time.

'One time's enough,' her mother had warned when she was younger. Apparently she hadn't listened. Well she had. It's just that it hadn't been her choice what had happened. Nor had it been his. Not really. Not in the ways that mattered. Being a ninja meant there was a lot more dangers to her job than civilians. Injury was common and, in some places, so was rape.

She'd been captured two months ago whilst on a mission in enemy territory. Torture and interrogation became a routine part of her life for four, maybe five, weeks. She wasn't too sure and she didn't want to know so she didn't ask. Time went on and she gave up hope of escape.

Then he came for her.

Sasuke Uchiha had been her best friend for years. He'd been in her genin team and, admittedly she'd had a very obvious crush on him that just pushed him away to begin with. When their team-mate, Sai, almost died on a mission she began to mellow out. She became calmer and less inclined to proclaim her undying love for the boy.

Her new attitude allowed Sasuke and Sai both to get closer to her and, as a team, they finally bonded. Her two boys. Only Sai saw that her crush did not leave but had instead turned into something deeper, something more. She loved Sasuke silently.

It was Sasuke who came for her, having spent all those weeks she had been gone undercover in order to gain entrance to where she was being held. Only when he got there, they were about to use a different technique to break her. They would have raped her. If not for the fact that Sasuke stepped in.

He wanted to spare her. He wanted to help her. But all he could do was take their place. He hated himself for it. He could barely look at her anymore. She'd told him that she didn't blame him, that she didn't resent him for it, and that she was glad that it was him and not them. Only, that only made him hate himself more.

He helped her escape the next day, treating her both distantly and like something precious and fragile the whole way back.

And now here she was, pregnant with the child of the only man she'd ever be able to love and it came from a situation they both hated. A situation that could have broken them, could still break them if given the chance. If Sasuke were to learn she was pregnant because of what he had to do…

He would never stop hating himself. He'd never be able to look at her the same way again. So what if being pregnant would ruin her ninja career, she'd be able to cope with that. But if she lost Sasuke…

Suddenly she hated the thing inside her that much more.

The paper in her hands crumpled as her fists clenched. Her breathing came lighter and suddenly she had the overwhelming need for air. She needed air. She needed to breathe. And she couldn't here, in the hospital with the too white walls and cloying antiseptic smell.

Eight minutes later found her in an empty park she used to go to as a child, sitting on one of the swings and rocking gently. What was she going to do? She couldn't kill it - the thing. But at the same time letting it live, letting Sasuke find out about it (and find out he would if the pregnancy went any further), would destroy him.

"Hey lady, are you okay?"

Sakura startled, looking up in surprise. On the swing next to her sat a blonde kid, probably five or six years old, with the oddest whisker-like markings on his face. How did he get there? Sakura hadn't had anyone sneak up on her and get so close without her realising in years. Had she really been that deep in thought?

"I'm fine." she denied.

The boy frowned, his wide blue eyes narrowing in suspicion. "People who are fine don't cry, lady."

Unbidden, her had rose up to touch her cheeks, surprised to find the wetness on them. "I guess I'm not then," she admitted. "What's your name, kid?"

"I'm Naruto," he said proudly, pointing at himself as he kicked his feet backwards and forward a little bit, making the swing slightly.

"Well Naruto, I'm Sakura."

The boy smiled again and Sakura wondered how it was possible to have such a bright smile.

"So why you crying, Sakura-chan?"

"I'm pregnant." The words slipped through her lips before she could stop them. She hadn't meant to tell the boy but the urge for someone to know, someone she could tell without worrying about the consequences was too much.

The wide eyes seemed to widen impossibly. "Really? There's a baby in there?" he asked, looking at her stomach, "Did you eat it? Is that why you're sad?"

The child's innocence made her laugh, something she hadn't been able to do since she got back to Konoha. "No, I didn't eat it?"

"Is it a boy?"

"I don't know. I don't even know if I'm going to keep it."

"Why wouldn't you keep it?"

Sakura opened her mouth but the words seemed to catch. How could she explain to the boy what the thing was, what it was a product of? What happened had essentially been rape, both of her and of Sasuke. It didn't matter it was what he chose to do or that she had signalled her agreement with her eyes, the fact of the matter was neither of them wanted to happen but the situation had forced it anyway.

"Because it'd upset the daddy," she eventually decided on.

Naruto frowned. "That's stupid. Why should that matter? If he didn't want a baby then why would he buy one?"

"Buy one?" repeated Sakura, puzzled by the odd child.

"Uh huh. You have to buy a baby at the shop like everything else, you know. At least that's what I think. I mean you buy baby dogs in shops and baby cats so it must be where you buy real babies as well. Why would the daddy buy one if he didn't want it?"

The logic of the child astounded her. Sakura wondered for a moment what his parents told the boy but decided it didn't matter. His naivety was both endearing and useful for explaining the truth to a small child.

"The daddy had to give the shopkeeper money otherwise he would hurt me. The daddy didn't realise that the shopkeeper would give me a baby for it."

"So it's the shopkeeper's fault?" the boy asked. Sakura couldn't be sure but his eyes seemed to be taking on a darker shade of blue.

She thought of her captors. "Yes. It was the shopkeepers fault."

"I don't like the shopkeepers either," Naruto commented suddenly. "They were always mean to me, specially the one at the grocers. He gave me food that made my stomach hurt really bad one time." His expression was something Sakura couldn't quite place but spoke of pain and a type of longing.

"If you point him out to me one day," Sakura said seriously, "then I'll make sure he doesn't bother again."

"Arigato, Sakura-chan," the boy smiled. "The shopkeeper's not there anymore though."

The ninja frowned. She used all of the shops in Konoha, though some not as regularly as others, and she couldn't recall any changes in the staff recently.

"Why doesn't the daddy like the baby?"

"Because he had to give the shopkeeper something very precious of mine to pay for it."

"Oh."

They sat in silence a bit more, the swing creaking as the boy swung slightly on it.

"Do you like the baby?"

The question was honest.

"I don't know."

So was her answer.

"I think you do." The boy smiled. "Mummies and Daddies have to love their babies." There was a small uncertainty in his voice that only as a ninja she detected.

"I bet your parents love you then."

Naruto's face dropped. "I hope they do. They died years and years and years ago when I was a baby so I don't really know. The lady at the orphanage told me that they hated me though."

Sakura frowned at the thought of telling an orphan that his parents hated him. It was such a horrible thing to do. She wondered why the man who runs the orphanage would let a lady like that in to see the children. He had always seemed so strict when it came to the children's' wellbeing to her.

"So, do you?" he asked.

"I do." And that was the greatest sin of all. She loved the thing that would crush her best friend's soul. She loved the thing that had ruined everything. It was because of that she could never kill it. She could never fix the problem.

"So tell that to the daddy," Naruto shrugged. It was strange, how children could make things seem so simple.

"He wouldn't understand."

"I didn't understand kanji until someone taught me. Maybe it's like that."

How strange to think he was comparing a baby to the alphabet.

"It'd still upset him."

The boy looked thoughtful and slightly upset at this revelation, before his face split into a wide grin. "You need ramen. Everything seems better with ramen."

With that Naruto jumped off the swing he was on and grabbed her wrist, tugging on her slightly as he led her away from the park towards the main shopping district of Konoha. His hand was chilly and she wondered how long the child had been out without so much as a jumper on. Fire Country was known for its hot climate but what wasn't as well known was the cold winter nights. Most dressed warmer than the boy who looked like he was fit for a hot summer day, in his white short sleeved top with an orange spiral on the back.

Sakura wasn't sure why she let the boy drag her around but she found she didn't mind. There was something about his bright attitude that was making everything feel better, not necessarily easier or even happier, but still better. It was like an aura of warmth had wrapped itself around the boy, infecting everything around him with goodness and light.

It took them a few minutes before they arrived at a ramen stand she had seen before but never really visited. Ichiraku's. She sat down at the bar, Naruto taking the stool next to her, and together they waited for the woman who was serving to come over.

"Can I have Miso, please?" asked Naruto.

"I guess," replied Sakura a second before the waitress came to her.

"Good evening. What will you be having?" she (her badge said Ayame) asked.

"I'll have two Miso ramen, please."

"Three," chirped Naruto, his eyes going wide and innocent.

Sakura sighed. "Actually make that three."

Ayame gave her an odd look, one that Sakura couldn't understand, before nodding. "It'll be with you in a few minutes."

"I think you should just tell him," Naruto said, sounding like a child who was trying to act mature. The image was ruined however by the fact he was leaning so far back on the chair that he was upside down.

"Is that so?"

Naruto nodded. Being upside down had the strange effect of this looking like he nodded by raising his chin then lowering it. "I bet he wouldn't mind if he thought that you wanted it. He'll even like it too if you do. Because adults do that, you know. If one of them doesn't like something then none of them do but if enough of them like someone then they all do."

Ayame returned and placed the three pots of ramen that she ordered in front of Sakura and left them again, offering a smile as she went. Sakura passed two of the order over to Naruto and carefully tested her own.

"This is really good," she told Naruto, who was eating his carefully. The expression on his face told her that ramen was a rare treat for him and she guessed that as an orphan there weren't that many people around to pay for him.

The boy nodded eagerly. "Ichiraku's is my favourite. This was always my favourite place," he added with a smile. "It's special here," he added, his voice softer than the loud voice he usually spoke in. "People understand here."

Blue eyes bore into her own and Sakura wondered, before rational thought corrected her that it was impossible, if Naruto was looking into her soul at that moment. Which was quite stupid since it was just a very intense gaze. Nonetheless she felt like he was trying to tell her something.

He looked away and the indomitable feeling of being scrutinised by a six-year-old left her.

"Sakura."

Her name wasn't shouted but it was spoken loudly to announce his arrival from a distance. She froze slightly as Sasuke made his way over. He looked as calm and collected as usual to the normal person but knowing him as well as she did she could see the tell-tale signs of distress.

"Is something wrong, Sasuke-kun?"

"Yamanaka said she saw you running out of the hospital." The unspoken question of what had happened was there. "What are you doing here anyway?"

"I was having ramen with…" she trailed off as she noticed that Naruto had vanished. She couldn't see him anywhere. All there was to prove that he had been there was a steaming carton on Miso ramen that the boy hadn't touched. She looked at Sasuke and back at the untouched ramen and a small smile found its way to her lips.

The little…

"Do you want something to eat?" she asked Sasuke. "I bought a couple of ramen but the portions were bigger than I thought. I haven't touched it," she added, as if their friendship hadn't passed the point of sharing food years ago.

"Hn," the Uchiha nodded. She could easily translate the grunt as 'but you have to explain'.

They sat in silence for a few minutes as Sakura worked her way through her half eaten ramen and Sasuke began his. "I was speaking to one of the nurses today, having a test done. I… what I mean is…" Sakura stopped, averting her eyes from the dark eyes of her friend and took a steadying breath. "You remember…"

She trailed off, closing her eyes and calming her heart at the echo of the fear and pain that echoed through her veins at the memory of what happened in her month of captivity. She didn't need to go any further. Sasuke knew what she was talking about. The sounds of the wooden chopsticks cracking slightly in his clenched fist were proof enough of that.

"I didn't damage anything, did I?" His voice was thick and choked with a hesitation that shook Sakura, as she had never known Sasuke once to be hesitant in speech. He had always been so sure of himself.

"No!" she was quick to correct him. "It's not that."

The Uchiha's posture relaxed and once more Sakura was struck by how worried he had been about her, about what pain he could have caused her. She shut her eyes. Just spit it out. "I'm pregnant."

Sasuke froze. For a moment Sakura thought he had stopped breathing. Then he wasn't saying anything and Sakura was getting more nervous by the minute.

"Sasuke-kun, please say something."

Time restarted around the man and what could only be described as horror and self-loathing appeared clear on his face, which meant what he was feeling had to be overwhelming because he wasn't even trying to hide it, most likely he'd forgotten how to.

"I - I'm so… Sakura… I never meant…" he couldn't get a whole sentence out.

"It's okay."

"No. No it's not," Sasuke said angrily, getting to his feet, "I took advantage of you. I did this to you."

Sakura took his hand before he could do something like leave and brood over the evils he thought he had committed against her. It would be like him to do that, she thought. "I don't think it's a bad thing," she blurted, trying to think of something to calm him down.

He looked at her in surprise, his eyes asking her to explain.

"I did at first. I was terrified. I worried about what would happen and… about what you'd think." She didn't look at his eyes for that point. "Then I thought about it and talked about it and… it's not so bad. It's not so bad," she repeated and (somehow) managed to guide Sasuke back into his seat.

"What are you going to do?" The question was heavy and weighted and part of Sakura was glad that Sasuke trusted her to make the right decision while the rest of her was annoyed that Sasuke didn't seem to want to give any input. It was his son/daughter too.

Sakura took a bite of some of her ramen, if only to prolong her answer a little longer. The noodles were mostly cold by now but she didn't mind, as they still tasted nice.

"I want to keep it."

"Hn."

"What do you think?"

For a second there was a hint of something (surprise/concern/guilt) in Sasuke's eyes as he looked at her. "It's your choice," he said firmly. He believed it as well. She could hear it in his voice. He didn't think he had any right to input in this matter.

"This baby's going to be yours too, Sasuke-kun. That gives you at least some right to have your say. I know… I know how much family means to you."

Sasuke looked at her sharply and then one had was on her shoulder while the other was lifting her chin so had no choice but to look him in the eye.

"Promise me," the man said, his voice low and laden with emotions like guilt, regret, and a few more she couldn't name, "You're not doing this because you think it's what I want."

"It's what I want," she said just as firmly. "Even though it probably looks like a fish at the moment," she said, resting a hand on her stomach, "I love it already. And," she hesitated before looking into his eyes so he could not mistake her next words, "I love its father and I'm glad it's him. There is no one else in the world that I'd rather face this with."

He looked at her and she could see in his eyes that he knew that she was serious. He knew it wasn't some silly crush like she had when she was younger.

What was more was that he understood.

"People understand here." Naruto had said when they had arrived at the store. It was strange but she felt that it was true. Anywhere else, Sasuke probably would have convinced himself that she was trying to ease his guilt over the matter, would have made himself believe that she did not want this baby, would have thought she was keeping it to make him happy. But here, in a small little ramen stand she's barely heard of, somehow he understood.

Sasuke's eyes deepened in some unable emotion before he slid his hand under hers and onto her stomach. It was the first time in forever he had touched her without hesitation and with such purpose.

"I think I love it and its mother also," he said. His eyes were averted and there was an actual hint of a blush on his cheeks, unused to expressing such personal emotions.

Sakura smiled and squeezed his hand tightly. Things weren't perfect, they still had a lot they needed to talk about, but they were going to be okay. In fact, they were going to be more than okay. She could see that now.


Naruto smiled at the beginnings of something special, as the tall dark man leaned in and kissed the pink haired lady who had been so upset. Neither of them had started off liking the baby (and the woman had been so sure the father wouldn't like it) but now they had both just admitted they loved it.

He felt warmth in his skin for the first time in years. If those two, who hadn't wanted a baby, loved their child then his parents would definitely love him too. The lady who ran the orphanage when he was there couldn't possibly have been right.

He looked at his Sakura-chan, who was smiling and crying and laughing and celebrating, and the man he was leaving her with, who had pulled away from the woman, a soft barely-there smile on his face.

He turned to look as soft white light bathed the entrance to one of the alleys next to the ramen stand. His smile grew even wider. His gaze returned to the couple who were oblivious to the light's presence.

"Arigato," he said, "I'm ready now. Believe it!"

He turned and stepped into the light. He hoped his parents wouldn't be too mad. He was fourteen years late after all.


Sakura turned as soft, childish laughter filled the air.

"Sakura?"

She smiled at Sasuke's way of asking if she was okay. "I'm good. And I think I know what I want the baby's name to be."


The End


A/N: For those who didn't spot them there were several clues to Naruto's ghostiness, aside from the fact that he's supposed to be the same age as Sakura and Sasuke.

1) He's a small child who managed to sneak up on a highly trained ninja.
2) Naruto doesn't llike shopkeepers and one of the grocers gave him something that made his stomach hurt. Sadly, that was why he died, and is why the shopkeeper is no longer there.
3) Sakura can't remember any recent change in staffing in the grocers. This is because Naruto died 14 years before so the changes he mentions aren't recent.
4) Naruto talks about the lady at the orphanage but there's a man running it now. Sakura just assumes it was a guest and not that management had changed.
5) Naruto's dressed in the clothes he died in which are for summer not winter.
6) Sakura notices his hands are cold, which is because he's dead.
7) Ayame gives Sakura an odd look because she's not only talking to herself but ordering three ramens for herself and then sliding them over to an empty place.
8) Ayame gives Sakura all three ramen instead of placing at least one in front of Naruto.
9) Naruto says "This was always my favourite place." If that isn't a dead give away because of the past tense I don't know what is.
10) Naruto vanishes from the entire street when Sakura looks away for just a second.

OUT-TAKE
"Sakura, are you sure you still want to call our child 'Naruto'?" Sasuke asked.
Sakura nodded, high on morphine and all the good drugs they give for labour, which was a good thing too because it meant she didn't see the way his smile strained.
He looked down at their newborn. "Sorry baby girl," he whispered, "You can always go by your middle name once you're old enough."