Naruto? I'm kind of back into it! Kind of, not really. Yipes. I am also desperately into LOTR. This is what happens when the two explode in my brain.
Sakura should have known that her tendency to appraise the pretty boy's of the world would not just end with Uchiha Sasuke. The man defined the term pretty boy swag. Honestly.
It was her weakness, and she would admit it without question. Of course, if it was, say, Ino who pointed it out, she would vehemently deny it. Kakashi seemed to have already figured this out as he had once casually commented on Neji's swaying hair after enduring a full hour of Sakura staring wistfully at it. After deep contemplation, and a twenty-four hour lengthy discussion with her inner-self under a waterfall (it was for a mission, honest) Sakura came to the conclusion that she'd simply have to gouge her eyes out, or turn lesbian to get over this irrational desire for men with perfect features.
Legolas was really no exception.
Aside from the fact that he lived in an entirely different continent, one which the five great shinobi nations had no real interest/knowledge about, Sakura assumed that her pretty boy affliction would not rear its ugly, hormonal head in Middle Earth.
Then she met the elves.
Oh. How she was wrong.
The elves went above and beyond pretty to downright beautiful, with their ethereal features, smooth complexions and wide jewel-like yes. How could Sakura say no to that?
Of course, she hadn't really expected to sleep with one of them, or, for that matter, for her birth control to spontaneously combust the day prior.
Not that it really mattered anymore. Legolas was officially thousands of miles away, lived on an entirely different continent, had no idea who she worked for/what she did/who she was in general to be any wiser about it, and Sakura could find herself a blonde boyfriend (Naruto, anyone?) in a decent amount of time, get hitched, and pretend the baby was his. Her plan was, as atypical for bookworm and renowned hard working genius Haruno Sakura, a specimen of beautiful perfection.
She was safe in Konoha, was pretty well off, considering how much she made in her profession of killing people, had a steady job at the hospital which wouldn't require as much strenuous activities as missions did, and had accumulated so many vacation days that she could take maternity leave and have three years off to jet around the continents. She had heard Kiri had some really nice beaches…
So now it was all a matter of biding her time, preparing for the right time to announce it to the world, eating disturbing mixes of foods she usually despised, and well, enjoying life.
Sakura had assumed that being pregnant by an elf—oh god, if Ino knew… no, scratch that, if anyone knew, she'd never hear the end of it. Sakura could fully imagine Naruto's jeers at being knocked up by a magical fairy-like creature. Sakura would swear up and down that elves were of no relation to fairies, but really, would Naruto care? Or stop? No.—would make her slow and drowsy, or extremely tired, or whatever else pregnant people usually experienced.
Instead, she had boundless energy, and while her equilibrium was a bit thrown for a loop, her active body was already starting to re-balance herself accordingly, and she found that sparring was a regular activity to partake in.
Anyway, it wasn't like pregnant kunoichi were useless kunoichi. Being pregnant was known to double or even triple chakra reserves in active ninja, and it wasn't any surprise that Kurenai still kicked major ass, even while five months pregnant. Of course, by four or five months kunoichi are encouraged to leave the active duty roster, as getting punched in the gut was kind of detrimental to a baby's health.
This was why, come a bright sunny morning in late October, Ino and Sakura were duking it out on one of the training fields.
Ino was the perfect opponent, as she used her speed and agility to her advantage rather then massive punches, and opted for relentless, light-weight (well, considering what Sakura's rendition of power meant) punches in quick succession rather then powerful ones.
They were the perfect opposites, and Ino's quick taps weren't of any danger to the baby. (Not like Ino could possibly break the chakra wall Sakura was feeding around her stomach, anyway…)
Yet somehow, even with Sakura on full guard, Ino was able to land a hit while Sakura's balance was overthrown.
The blonde blinked, before tossing her hair. "What's up with you, forehead?"
"What're you talking about?" Sakura groaned, picking herself up from the ground. The kick was solid and connected rather well to her thigh.
"You're balance has been off all day." Ino frowned, and then paused. "Y'know, it's been like this for a while…"
The flower-haired girl paled on instinct, and wiped off dust from her legs. "You're imagining things." She scoffed.
"Am not!" Ino protested hotly. "Remember last week? I bashed a good one on your head." The blonde looked triumphant. "That was a good hit."
"Not like you get very many of those." Sakura countered back, before stretching out her sore muscles.
"I'm being serious!" Said Ino. "You've been different, is all I'm trying to say. Ever since you got back from that one mission."
That one mission. Sakura had been complaining about the emptiness of her bank account, and Tsunade was mulling about which Jounin she should send off to a foreign mission, which would require a lot of background knowledge, but would pay well. The usual subjects of her S-class missions that were reserved for the young and reckless, Naruto, Neji, Shikamaru, and Kiba, were all incapacitated.
Naruto, while powerful and well versed in Ninjutsu, was weak in academics and didn't have the patience nor capability to learn all the customs needed for a partially diplomatic mission. Neji, while perfect for the job in all aspects, had clan politics to worry about and was held up with prior foreign engagements with Cloud. Shikamaru, maybe not so good on the active part, but perfect for the academic, had no interest in long missions. And Kiba, well, Kiba smelt like wet dog, was generally a vindictive ass to everyone, and currently was batting off a bad case of the flu.
Which left Sakura, Tsunade's bemoaning and broke apprentice to the job.
There was much to learn about Middle Earth, mainly they're strange language syntax even stranger customs and downright bizarre creatures, but Sakura didn't mind. She'd been wanting time away from Konoha in its oppressive, Indian summer heat, and was in major need of quick cash.
And anyway, who cared if she had to suck up to people she didn't know? And kill more people she didn't know? They wouldn't know anything important about her, anyway. It was a recon mission.
So off she went, slaying some strange, ugly, black-blooded beings called Orcs under King Thranduil of the elves which were coming up from Dol Guldur. They succeeded in holding off the creatures from taking over the rest of Mirkwood, however the Evil army of the Lord Sauron still remained in Dol Guldur.
Either way, Sakura came home paid and happy (and pregnant, but no one knew that) Tsunade was satisfied with the treaty she had ensnared with one of the King's from across the sea, and said king was equally pleased at snagging an alliance with a country of greatly powerful warriors.
End of story.
Or so she thought.
"What one mission?" Sakura feigned ignorance. "The one to Grass with Lee?" Mentally, she shivered with the thought. Two weeks of green spandex and a lot of push ups..
"No! The one where you made bank." Ino corrected. "Don't tell me you don't remember."
"I don't remember." She shrugged.
"Liar!" Ino shrieked, before tackling her to the ground.
Sakura rolled her off and delivered a firm knee to the stomach, which Ino flinched to and retaliated with a punch to the gut of her own. She was met with what could have been a dried wall of concrete over Sakura's abdomen.
"Owwww—fuck!" Ino shook her hand out. "What'd you do, paint pavement over your stomach?"
Sakura stuck her tongue out.
Above them, a hawk circled once, twice, before eventually the two looked up.
The bird dropped a scroll into Sakura's waiting hands, the Hokage seal placed on its ending folds, before flying off with the rising air.
Ino harrumphed noisily. "Why do you get all these missions?" She cried in outrage. "You're already totally loaded." And then, with anger and charisma, "And I'm so much prettier!"
"Looks have nothing to do with missions." Sakura rolled her eyes. "Naruto's ANBU team is most likely going somewhere, and Tsunade probably just wants a medic and also someone to keep him in check."
Naruto-guarding was sort of like a profession, or at least, a minor art. The guy could definitely go over the top sometimes.
So Sakura waved Ino off, and was about to head to the tower when her stomach protested with such a loud groan that Sakura swore it was sentient. She stopped by Ichiraku really, really quickly, figuring Naruto was most likely skipping the mission review to grab some ramen anyway, and ordered some Miso chicken. Her blonde friend was nowhere in sight, but her stomach was immensely satisfied.
Tsunade, however, was not.
"You're late." The blonde woman frowned. After a sheepish beat of silence, she narrowed her eyes. "Kakashi isn't rubbing off on you, is he?"
"Will I get him in trouble if I say yes?" She answered cheekily.
Tsunade only scoffed, before tossing more scrolls at them.
By "them", Sakura meant, Naruto and Neji. Both of which were fellow ANBU, so Sakura assumed that this was going to be a typical A-rank black-ops mission. Except that ANBU teams were usually squads of four or five, and there were only three of them…
"Is anyone else coming?" Sakura asked.
"No." Tsunade answered, but didn't elaborate.
Sakura frowned, but fingered the scroll, not looking quite yet as Tsunade looked as if she would speak.
"I've gotten a rather intriguing request, one which I'm going to assume that all of you would love to have, seeing as though the pay is, well," Tsuande started chuckling. "Let's just say foreign currency and inflation is paying off."
Neji was most likely the only one aside from the Hokage to understand the joke, but he looked like he was in no mood for a chuckle, and Naruto and Sakura were just plain lost, so Tsunade's laughter died off.
"Anyway, I've recently snagged a nice treaty with some foreign relations who could be useful at some point in the near future, and I'm in no position to deny anything from them in such a delicate stage of the process." Tsunade waved off Naruto's questioning glance. "You're probably wondering why there's only three. Well, considering the kind of mission this is, I don't think sending out so many of my best will merit the cause."
She glanced at them all sternly, and, as if reading Sakura's head, began again. "I picked you all for a reason. Not just because I think you're young and stupid and the only one's who would take such a case."
"Naruto, as I'm sure you're aware, you're subtleties are lacking and you're too brash for your own good, but you're honest and trustworthy and I think our client will appreciate that about you."
"Neji, you're debating skills are excellent and you're one of the best diplomats I've got. It doesn't hinder you that you're well versed in clan-Jutsu and you're Byakugan will be useful."
"And Sakura," And quite honestly, Sakura thought Tsunade would just go right by her. Naruto was, well, Naruto. He was smart and strong and brave and a fucking powerhouse and everyone in the Five Great Nations knew not to mess with him, and Neji was the renowned genius of the Konoha twelve (eleven, technically) and had been gaining a reputation ever since his initiation into ANBU. Sakura was just kind of, well, a decent medic, a good friend of Naruto's, and while she worked with the black-ops as a medic, wasn't considered one. "You're skills and knowledge will be imperative for this mission to succeed."
She hadn't been expecting that.
"So, what is it, Tsunade-baa-chan?" Naruto wedged a finger in his ear unceremoniously. "What's with all the beating around the bush?"
Naruto was most likely unaccustomed to an actual mission briefing, as more then likely Tsunade slammed the scroll in his head before pushing him out the window.
"This is important, you dumb ass." She sniped back. " Konoha's relations with Middle Earth depend on the three of you."
Sakura felt her stomach drop.
"Wait—hold on." She interrupted. "Middle Earth? Tsunade, I thought—
"As you should know, Sakura." Tsunade cut her off with a vicious glare, and, cowed, Sakura silenced. "King Thranduil was immensely pleased with you're skills as a warrior, you're pleasant attitude and you're professional demeanor. He has recommended us to a man by the name of Gandalf the Grey, someone of great importance in the social circles of Middle Earth, and it would be detrimental to our alliance if I declined the man's offer."
"He's in need of another travelling companion—for what, he wouldn't say. Only that it was of dire importance for this trip to be seen without incident—for a specified time which could be anywhere from seven months to a year."
Tsunade skewered Sakura with a glare. "That person will be you, Sakura. The King was so taken back by you're abilities that he recommended you specifically."
Sakura's face lost her pallor, and she could feel her hands begin to clam up.
As if sensing her distress, Tsunade added. "I'm aware it's a long time, I'm also aware that Middle Earth is much like a cultural shock, and that you'll need backup. Naruto will be forseeing you, he'll be sent out approximately two months after you. Neji will journey with you, however, he'll be stationed as your intel force and as an advisor in the city of Minas Tirith, in Gondor."
Sakura had head of Gondor, and Minas Tirith, it's shining stone city. She was also aware that it was quite far from Mirkwood, the only realm she'd experienced in Middle Earth.
"So where is Middle Earth?" Asked Naruto, rather perplexed. "And what is it?"
"Middle Earth is across the sea." Sakura answered, dazedly. "It's about two weeks travel by boat. It's another continent."
"Given the nature of the mission, the pay is tripled."
Naruto wooped, Sakura stared numbly, and Neji looked typically impassive.
"I expect the two of you to be ready by tomorrow morning."
Culture shock was an understatement.
Sakura spent most of the trip trying to explain to Neji everything she remembered. The Hyuuga was, at first, skeptical over the whole Elves, humans, dwarves thing, but after much continuation by Sakura on her monologue of Middle Earth, he grew accustomed to it. Sakura assumed that her babble was so immersive because the moment they stepped off, Neji seemed completely unfazed. Of course, they hadn't actually met anything yet, but the sky was different, more watery, and the trees had a different feel then the dense, thick ones of Konoha.
The dialect frightened him a bit, as people talked different, said different words, and rearranged their sentences in ways that obviously confused him, but mostly, he was pretty well off.
Sakura remembered the shire, and the tiny beings which lived there, but didn't bother to take Neji on the real tour. She explained it was quite a bit like Konoha, the peaceful citizens protected by the rangers which prowled it's borders. The two carried on to Bree, where they stayed at the Prancing Pony.
Gandalf had informed Tsunade that Sakura should meet him in Rivendell, the realm of the elves. Neji, meanwhile, would be continuing onwards to Gondor, weathering the terrain and hostile creatures alone.
Though really, Sakura wasn't worried in the slightest.
Neji was smart, and more importantly, a ninja, something which the lumbering, mostly stupid orcs and prowling creatures wouldn't understand. Sakura advised him to keep to the trees, travelling on this side of the misty mountains, as the plains of Rohan would have little cover, and Neji's Byakugan would be of better use when he had the upper-hand against all other creatures of Middle Earth, who just couldn't see through corporeal objects like he could.
The two settled down into the rather comfy beds, Sakura polishing her blades while Neji gazed thoughtfully out of the window.
His Byakugan was on, and he seemed to be scanning the horizon.
"Their culture is very different from ours." He observed, as a man shepherded his wife into the house, yelling about how she shouldn't stray too far in such dangerous times. "They are soft."
Sakura nodded in agreement. "Civilians are soft."
"Civilians are aware of the dangers of the world." Neji retorted loftily. "These folk… they claim there are dangers, yet have no real understanding of them. It is… strange."
"It's just the way they are." Maybe Sakura was just a teensy bit more open-minded, considering she had slept with one of the folk of Middle Earth…
At the thought, Sakura wrenched herself away from her sword, feeling a bit ill. It wasn't morning sickness—as kunoichi had developed medicine to successfully curb most of the illness—but it certainly was somewhere along those lines. She should have said something to Tsunade. She spent most of the way here arguing to herself whether she should turn back.
But no, Tsunade… Konoha needed her to do this. King Thranduil had told Gandalf about her. And in turn, Gandalf had requested her, specifically, and she'd make an ass out of her and her country if she ignored his summons. The trip would most likely be dangerous, and Sakura only hoped it would be over before the activity became too much for her. And what was Neji going to do? Who would teach him? Surely, he could figure it out for himself… the guy wasn't a genius for nothing, but Middle Earth was a whole other world. Neji couldn't be assumed to be able to keep up without a guide. And Naruto… what would Naruto say if he knew?
Sure, Sakura could joke about it all the time back in Konoha, safe, warm, happy, surrounded by all her belongings, healthcare, groceries…
But if Naruto found out how stupidly she'd endangered herself and this kid who most likely still looked like a lizard-worm, he'd drag her back, surely.
Sakura had been too lost in her thoughts to notice Neji's eyes straying to her.
Not like being aware of it would change the fact that the Byakugan would be able to see exactly what she was attempting to hide.
"Sakura," He breathed, her name a sharp intake of his breath.
She flinched away.
"Uh—Neji… I…" Honestly, how did she expect to hide it from him, again?
"You're pregnant." He said, flatly.
A guilty look passed her features.
With his impeccably eyes, he caught it. "You knew?" He asked, rage there, but hidden by his usually low tenor.
"I—" She gulped. Oh hell. She was a medic-nin for god's sake, of course she knew the risks she was taking. "The mission is important." She protested.
"Lives are important." Neji stressed. "Yours, and that kid's. Did you expect to be able to get away with it?" And then, after a beat of miserable silence. "What do you think Naruto will say to this?"
"Naruto won't say anything." She stood then, to her imposing height of five four, in contrast to his six three.
Neji narrowed his eyes. "He'll be told." His voice was dark and deep. "So will Tsunade. You're going back to Konoha—this is no place for a pregnant kunoichi and you're fully aware of it—
"I'm also fully aware that me going home would be a slap to Middle Earth's face!" She retaliated. "Tsunade's counting on us to fortify relations with these people. You might not think its anything important, but just think of another Nation allying with a force of thousands of people, who already are insulted by us? What if Otogakure, or Iwagakure even, found out about this place? They'd be sending diplomats and kissing ass and these people would suck it all in and we'd get stuck with the brunt of their army."
She frowned, pretending her eyes weren't burning. "You of all people should know how important foreign relations are." She whispered dangerously.
She imagined how it would look, if someone had seen the two of them. Dangerous killers, eying each other up wearily in deathly silence. Sakura's hand lilting on the edge of her sword, Neji towering over her. She told herself that her eyes were shining because she was nervous, afraid, and knew that this alliance would mean a lot to Konoha, and the brunt of it resided on her.
But Sakura knew it was mostly because she knew that, if she failed, she'd be putting up two lives for forfeit.