"Papa! Not so hard!" Kushina whined pulling her head away from her father. Naruto placed his hand on her shoulder once again trying to steady his daughter. He'd been at this for twenty minutes and it was getting ridiculous.
Last night had passed with another dream about Sasuke. Naruto wasn't sure why the dreams were suddenly coming back to him, but a full nights rest would have been nice. Sakura would be here any minute. She was probably already in the village. Besides the nightmare the morning had been relatively peaceful. Well up until now that is.
"If you'd hold still it wouldn't hurt so much." He put the little pink hair brush back at the top of a particularly nasty tangle. Why couldn't 'Shina have gotten her mom's hair? It may have been pink but it was impossible to comb flat.
For the billionth time his daughter jerked away. This time, however, he'd actually managed to get the last tangle out. Naruto had planned on styling it. But looking over the various spikes still poking out he decided good old barrettes would have to do.
He kept his first hand securely on 'Shina's shoulder. Reaching behind him with the other he shuffled through her travel bag. As soon as his hand found it's target the bag made a crinkling sound. Hearing the sound 'Shina instantly began struggling.
"NO! I hate bawettes! Just leave it down like normal!" She begged.
"Don't you wanna look good for Mom?" Naruto asked.
"Tie it back!"
"It's not long enough to tie back anymore! Now hold still, this is going to happen one way or another so just give up." He said in a voice he hoped was stern enough. She knew the voice well and huffed loudly.
"I hate bawettes!"
"Then you shouldn't have started that taffy war with Isagi. Then we wouldn't have had to chop it all off." Shina huffed one last time before finally allowing him to put the barrettes in.
Only a few minutes after Naruto finished 'Shina's hair there was a knock on the door. 'Right on time.' He congratulated himself, walking over to the door casually. He tried to open it quietly but it was no use. As soon as Sakura came into view Kushina bolted towards her.
"MAMA!" She yelled jumping up and down with her arms out expectantly. Sakura gave Naruto a small smile for his efforts before quickly kneeling down and pulling her daughter into a big hug.
"I've missed you so much 'Shina-chan." Naruto could tell by the tension in her arms she's been worried. This was after all 'Shina's first time outside of the village. His assumptions were verified when Sakura placed the child at arms length and inspected her thoroughly.
"Mama I made a new frwend!" She beamed, ignoring the impromptu inspection.
"Really? That's great!" Her mother beamed back. Naruto took that as a sign of approval.
"Yeah! She's reawy nice and smart. I pway wif her when Papa goes to work. She got a wot of fun toys. And Uncle Shikamawu is here too!" Kushina explained in a rush.
"Is that right?" Skaura stood, Kushina instantly began telling her about all the fun new games Aiko had taught her. Sakura looked to Naruto who motioned to the couch. She walked over slowly allowing Kushina to follow close behind.
When they were all settled Kushina was still going a mile a minute,
"And Kankuwo has pretty make up… but Papa says I can't call it dat cuz it's bad. But Kankuwo said he fought his make up was pwettier than Gaawa's too. And Uncle Shikamawu has a girlfwend! She's nice. 'cept when Uncle Shikamawu is bad." Sakura giggled looking to Naruto,
"How has that lazybones been?" Kushina cuddled up to Sakura's side.
"He's doing alright. He's stressed out though. It's weird to see him like that cuz he's you know… Shikamaru." Naruto scratched the back of his neck in thought.
"Well it doesn't surprise me, this is a huge deal. Not just for him but for both thier villages. I'm just glad everyone's taking it as well as they have been." Sakura set an arm loosely around Kushina. Her daughter grabbed her hand happily. It had been a little over two weeks since Kushina had seen her and they were both pleased to finally have time together again. Kushina began humming under her breath which Sakura couldn't help but smile at.
"What do you mean? Why wouldn't people take it well? Temari and Shikamaru have been together forever. It's about time if you ask me." Sakura sighed heavily. Tightening her arm around Kushina lovingly.
"Naruto, you realizes they've never officially courted? Right? I mean it was pretty obvious they were interested in each other, but there are certain way's you're suppose to go about these things." Suddenly Kushina shot off the couch. Both Sakura and Naruto looked to see what Kushina had to say. Neither particularly surprised by the action, she was Naruto's child after all.
"MAMA! I gotta show you somfing! Stay wight there!" She ran to the other room before either of her parents had a chance to ask about it. Naruto shrugged and continued their conversation.
"Well yeah but it's not that big of a deal I mean you and me never…" Sakura cut him off,
"Naruto don't!" She said in all seriousness. Naruto pulled into himself slightly. He knew she didn't like talking about that time in their life. To be honest neither did he, but for some reason he still had a problem filtering it out. He watched Sakura calm herself before continuing.
"Besides this is completely different than what happened between us. For one, neither of us are from prominent clans. Well, I mean, I guess you are but you know?"
"PAPA?" Kushina's voice called from the next room.
"Yeah?" Naruto automatically replied.
"Where's my bawg of toys?"
"In the chest at the end of the bed." He could hear the latch of the chest jingling. " 'SHINA" He yelled with a hint of disapproval.
"FHANK YOW PAPA." She called back. Naruto nodded in response then added a , "You're welcome."
Sakura continued, "And for two, they aren't just from different villages they are Shinobi from different villages. You realize they technically broke a few laws. More than a few. I'm glad Tsunade-sama and Gaara are still in power. They both know Shikamaru and Temari well enough to know neither of them would jeopardize their villages by exchanging classified information. Even if they were… um, intimate. Also, Temari is like a princess to the Suna people. She's the daughter of their previous Kazekage and sister to the current Kazekage. When you have that sort of status personally and politically you're expected to follow certain moral codes… Even if, in my opinion, they are stupid and out dated." Naruto just stared at Sakura. After the pause for effect she continued, "And as for Shikamaru. He's the future leader of the Nara clan. They are one of the main houses in Konoha. Getting the Kazekage's sister 'knocked up' is not going to improve peoples image of them."
Naruto quickly whispered, "He didn't knock her up. He loves her! And he respects her! You should see the stuff he's going through just to keep her calm." He really hoped 'Shina wouldn't hear this. He watched Sakura's features smooth out.
"I know he loves her Naruto. But other people who don't know them aren't going to see it that way. You know how people are. or at least you remember how they can be. I think it's because he's from a clan that's known for treating their women well, and because she's respected enough among her people that every one is able to take this all so well. Of course having two different Kage's giving their word about this whole thing being in the works for a while helps. It makes it look like the two of them just jumped the gun rather than it coming out of nowhere. It also helps explain why the 'courting' wasn't public. Tsunade-sama is really sticking her neck out for Gaara you know. They've been drawing up these betrothal papers, making them look older than they are. Creating new Partial-citizenship laws. Of course she has a lot to risk as well, what with Shikamaru being a shinobi from her village. And, you know, him being... The guy in the situation." Sakura had a pained look in her eyes.
Naruto frowned and nodded shortly. He knew what she was getting at and appreciated her silence on the matter. After Sakura begun showing, at around four months in to the pregnancy, people started making their muttered comments and rude gestures. Luckily most had been towards him. He was glad they felt the need to blame him, Sakura hadn't deserved it. Naruto remember there were a few times he would actually go out of his way to get the comments directed at himself rather than Sakura. He'd been dealing with the villages hate his whole life. So what was a few more years right? It was better than having people treat Sakura bad. But, She would always get so mad. She never liked the way they singled Naruto out just because he was the man. She said it made her feel like a poor defenseless school girl who couldn't say no. Which of course she wasn't. She'd always say, 'We both made the decision and We'll both get through it together.' It made him happy in a sad way every time she'd say stuff like that. He couldn't imagine having 'Shina with anyone else.
"Yeah I guess I never really thought about it like that. Granny Tsunade just said I was taking over for Shikamaru. And Gaara just kept talking about the pregnancy. Like anybody would if their sister was pregnant." Sakura nodded her head absently,
"You know you do have enough security clearance to ask about this kinda stuff? You don't need to be nervous about asking I'm sure Tsunade-sama and Gaara both would have talked to you about the political aspects of what's going on."
"Yeah," Naruto didn't want to admit he hadn't even thought to ask. He knew it was becoming more of a political wedding than either Temari or Shikamaru really wanted but he never really thought of it passed that. Nor had he asked himself why. He honestly didn't understand how all of this could have gone over his head so easily. Now Sakura was saying all this stuff and it suddenly seem so obvious. He felt a bit stupid for not realizing why every one seemed to be so on edge. Temari, Gaara, Tsunade, they'd all been acting like the sky was falling, even Shikamaru to some extent. And he hadn't even thought to look up to see if the sky really was falling or not. He felt like a terrible ninja right now. Sakura had a small smile but her eyes were giving it away. He hated seeing her with that, 'Why am I the first one telling you this?' look. Luckily 'Shina bounced back in the living room. Momentarily distracting both of them.
"Mama! Look what my fwend gave me!" She was holding a purple teddy bear. Naruto sighed covering his eyes.
"'Shina, Did you or Aiko ask Gaara if you could take that?" The little girl looked confused.
"Itsnot his. It's Aeko's."
"But Gaara probably got that for her. We need to take it back to them." Sakura looked to Naruto quizzically. "Gaara and I keep finding their toys mixed up." He explained, Sakura nodded.
"Well at least we know they are ok with sharing." She tried to smile but stopped when Naruto's face stayed serious. She lifted an eyebrow.
"One of the toys was from Iku. She got it while she was still pregnant. Gaara wasn't mad or anything. But you know."
"Oh," both parents stared at there daughter. Sakura didn't really know how to handle the situation. She could tell Kushina thought she was in trouble. Her body language was a bit defeated. Head low. "Hey now." She interjected pulling Kushina into her lap and smiling down at her. "You aren't in trouble. We just need to go ask Gaara about you keeping it that's all. When you aren't sure about something you should always ask an adult remember?" Naruto smiled as well. Sakura-chan was such a good mom.
"How long before you need to head out? You wanna come eat with us?" He asked her.
"I'd love to. I still have an hour or so. I'll be back tonight too." Kushina peaked over one of Sakura's arms still holding her tight.
"Are you ok Papa?" Naruto locked eyes with her. With in an instant his face lit up. A fantastically large smile spread across his face; followed by a loud proclamation.
"'Course I am!" His hands lunged at his daughter, tickling relentlessly. Kushina shrieked happily trying to twist away. Sakura held her fast and twisted their bodies in a way that would prevent any unwanted impacts by the child's flailing arms. Soon all three of them were in hysterics. Blissfully forgetting everything else in the shinobi world outside.
Naruto sat quietly at the dining table. He could hear Sakura's soft voice in the next room. They had all just come back from lunch. Kushina had been so hyper; practically bouncy the entire time. When they'd returned to their apartment she was completely wiped out. So Sakura was putting her down for a nap. Naruto could hear her promise to come back and see 'Shina tonight.
The lunch had been nice. Usually Naruto would just drop 'Shina off with Sakura or vice versa. Both being shinobi neither of them had much time to mingle. It was nice to actually spend time with both of the them together again. It had been far too long.
No matter how much he tried, though, his mind kept going back to their first conversation. The more he thought about it the more he felt guilty. Everyone involved in this was close to him. Shikamaru, Gaara, even Granny Tsunade. Yet all he'd been doing this entire time was bothering them with his own problems. Problem that, when placed next to what Naruto now knew was going on, seemed completely inferior. Weird little things kept popping into his mind.
Like when he'd first talked about the hug to Shikamaru. The way the brunette had let out a frustrated growl and rubbed his face like he wanted to wake up or something. Since they graduated from the academy Naruto had found more and more things out about Shikamaru that were just amazing. He used to think he was just stupid and lazy. But then he finds out he's a genius and keeps realizing just how much Shikamaru actually takes care of. He couldn't count how many times Shikamaru had bailed him out of a tight spot. Always with out warning and always in a frustrated 'I could be watching clouds right now!' type of way. But still, to actually sit there and listen to Naruto's problems at a time like this. And take time out of his schedule to talk to Gaara and stuff. It was crazy. Naruto honestly didn't know why Shikamaru bothered. And Gaara! Man he felt awful about the whole situation.
Resting his head on the table he mulled things over. The night they hugged played in his mind. The tenseness of his movements through out the day. The frustration at Naruto's strange behavior. It was obvious the Kazekage had been completely preoccupied. Now Naruto was starting to understand. He must have been dealing with so much. Creating new citizenship forms. That what Sakura had said. Gaara was Kazekage, he was busy creating new laws and changing policies and he still made time to show Naruto around. Introduce him to all those people. Gaara had heard about his dream and put his own problems aside to comfort him.
Gaara was losing his sister. His big sister. Sure she wasn't dying, but Gaara was Kazekage. It's not like he could go visit her when ever he wanted. Maybe they'd see each other every year or so but Temari was always with Gaara. Since as long as Naruto could remember she was always standing somewhere close to him. Even at the chunnin exams all those years ago.
Naruto had never really had a family. He didn't fully know what it meant to grow up with someone from the day you were born but he could guess. He started thinking about Pervy sage. About the time he thought Kakashi was gone for good. He remembered the pain he'd felt. Gaara had to be feeling it on some level.
Then Sasuke flashed through his mind. Naruto had considered him a brother. He had grown up with him. He remembered when Sasuke had abandoned the village. The emptiness it left inside of him. Sasuke hadn't died right away either. But having him gone was terrible. And then when he had died… Suddenly his mind jumped to that night. The way Sakura had clung to him all day. The hugs they'd shared. The silent promise hidden within those hugs to never abandon each other.
Naruto's eyes snapped open as realization sunk in. He'd pushed Gaara away. He remembered seeing the red head recoil. The formal apology immediately after he'd pushed him away. He remembered Shikamaru telling him Gaara knew about different hugs and what they meant. Had Gaara been trying to reassure himself as well as Naruto?
Naruto clamped his eyes shut in concentration. Before he could finish his mental reprimand he heard Sakura open the door.
"Naruto?" She whispered. Mustering all his strength he lifted his face off the table with a grade 'A' smile. Sakura didn't smile back.
"Those fake things may work on our four year old but I know you a little better than that! 'Cha give me some credit!" She walked past him and sat on the opposite side of the table. Naruto let his face fall and focused on the carpet.
"Come on, tell me what's wrong? Is the job not going to great?"
"It's not that…" Sakura leaned in encouragingly. Naruto sighed, "It's a long story, okay."
"That's fine. I've got time." Naruto looked to the clock skeptically.
"You said you had to leave in an hour?"
"Ino will be fine. Besides I'm not actually meeting with Temari for another two hours so one more hour here will be fine. Then I'll have just enough time fore a quick debriefing from Ino and we can get to work… Naruto just tell me."
"Fine!" After a long pause he began retelling the entire hug incident. Every gruesome detail. From the very beginning. To the conversation before breakfast yesterday. Up to the fight in the sparring rink. And finally ending with,
"…And now I feel like a complete jerk because he was probably just trying to deal with his sister leaving this whole time and I made it way worst!" Taking a deep breath he put his head in his hands.
"You are really upset about this aren't you?" Naruto lifted his head from his hands just high enough to level a glare at her that could match Gaara's.
"He's my friend Sakura!" She sighed loudly.
"Naruto, it's not your fault Temari's pregnant. It's not your fault she leaving. You know it and Gaara knows it. He's not going to expect you to fix his problems. You are over thinking this whole thing. And Gaara's not the type to lie about anything. If he said he hugged you to make you feel better then that's why he hugged you. End of story. True he's probably hurting right now. Not being able to see someone you normally see every day is hard. But it's not like she's dying. They will still be sending letters to each other. I'm sure Gaara and Tsunade-sama have talked about Temari making visits to Suna. Besides Tsunade-sama is already going to be sending weekly reports to Gaara up to six months after the birth. Shikamaru, well he probably just got involved because his brain is going a mile a minute and he needed something to distract him form all this stuff. Besides you just said you and Gaara made up yesterday right? After the fight?"
Naruto scratched at his upper arm nervously. He knew she was right. But there was still this guilt lingering somewhere in the back of his mind. Sakura didn't really know Gaara as well as he did. Maybe he was over reacting but there were still so many things that didn't make since.
"Ok, but what about the whole Gaara wanting to be intimate with me? It's not like you can say that's bossiness as usual!" He sounded a bit desperate. But he couldn't understand how she could be so calm about this! He just told her that Gaara of the Desert admitted he like being intimate with Naruto Uzumaki! That's got to… wait, there it was again. That look. The, 'Why am I the first one telling you this?' look.
"Naruto… You honestly never noticed?" Naruto stared at her with a completely blank face…