A/N-Hi, guys! I'm plugging away at the stories again and this one's getting near its end, finally—only a few more chapters! I'm going to work on a new chapter of fk next and then probably co9t after that. Please look forward to it.
I want to thank Sakura's Unicorn for all the hard work she does editing for me on top of her own lovely stories and busy life. She really keeps me going!
Love you all! I hope you enjoy this chapter as the story heats up again. Please drop a review if you can. Your reviews really motivate me to write lots more.
Happy 2014, all!
Gravity 41—Truth and Lies
Angry hissing distracted Kabuto as he idly tinkered with a test tube. His quiet chuckle echoed through the cavernous underground room.
"Come now, Karin. Use your words."
"I HATESss you!" she spit with venom.
He paused in his work, tenting his fingers in contemplation as he studied his most recent experiment. When Kabuto found the letter Karin wrote to Uchiha Sasuke, he thought she'd gotten herself in the family way. 'Imagine how I could've carried on Orochimaru's legacy with an Uchiha infant in my possession,' he thought crossly. 'I should've known it was too good to be true when the Rising Sun practically left Karin on my doorstep.' He ground his teeth, remembering how he'd been deceived.
Karin, it seemed, had somehow plotted an elaborate scheme with the Wind daimyo, Takani Hanshu, and his wife's brother, Kunene of the Rising Sun bandits. They'd discovered that it was, in fact, Haruno Sakura who was carrying the Uchiha baby. Working together, Karin and the Rising Sun captured Sakura and planned to steal her child.
'Too bad she got greedy, and her plans blew up in her face.' Had Karin informed Kabuto of her pact sooner, he might've been able to salvage things and both of their goals could've been met.
"I'm not the one you should hate, my dear." His tone became smooth and oily, as if he were soothing a spoiled child. "I gave you your words back, didn't I? After that cruel man cut out your tongue."
"A sssnake tongue!" she howled. "There are cadaversss everywhere in thisss creepy place," she flung her arms out around her, indicating that they weren't the only two humans around, even though they were the only two breathing, "and you gave me a freaking sssnake tongue!" A tear ran down her face as she bewailed the loss of her perfect features.
"You should feel honored," Kabuto sneered softly, cold fury radiating from him.
'She ruins my plans for creating the ultimate vessel for my master with Uchiha's spawn, and she has the nerve to complain? She's lucky she's alive. Besides,' he sneered, 'that forked tongue fits the girl quite naturally.'
"Anyway, Karin, you don't want some other human's tongue. You don't know where they've been," he added with a cruel chortle.
"I'll kill you!" the redhead raged.
He clucked his tongue in mock sympathy. "Why not direct your wrath in a more fruitful manner? Like at the man who put you in this situation to begin with?"
Karin blinked in befuddlement. "...sssSasuke?"
The light glinted off his glasses as he shook his head. 'Karin may not be the brightest child, but she could certainly be useful, as she's proven time and again.'
"No, Karin. We're going to Wind Country."
Understanding finally lit in her eyes and she smiled, her forked tongue flicking out wickedly from between her lips.
"And that's when the fight broke out!"
Sakura covered her mouth, her eyes growing wide.
"Neji tried to stop Lee, who punched Kiba, who flew into Shino, who loosed his bugs, sending the room into a riot. Gai-sensei and Tenten tried to catch Lee while he spun out of the way so gracefully. He only stopped to pour himself another shot!" Ino's big blue eyes glowed with excitement. "It was really something!"
"Oh no!" Sakura couldn't stop laughing.
"I tell you, Forehead, you left too early!" Ino dissolved into giggles with her. "That was one hell of a shindig!"
There were rumors about alcohol turning Rock Lee into the Drunken Fist, but to witness it firsthand gave Ino a new respect for the young man's ninja skills. Lee truly was poetry in motion…drunken motion.
"The Hokage is making everyone involved in the fight clean up today and make repairs to the restaurant. She refuses to pay for the damages."
Sakura stopped laughing and looked at her with wide, green eyes. "Hey, shouldn't you be there, too?"
The tailless cat, Jinx, jumped onto Ino's lap, demanding attention. She smiled mischievously, rubbing the little, white feline behind her ears. "I'm innocent, Billboard Brow. I didn't throw one punch, so I don't have to fix the mess."
"Ino-pig!" Sakura laughingly scolded her. "If you hadn't given Lee the booze…"
"That's the beauty of it." Her best friend snickered, scratching Jinx's chin and baby-talking to the cat as if it could understand her. "Nobody's supposed to know about Lee's 'condition.' I didn't know that would happen from just one teeny, wittle drink, did I, kitty? No, I didn't. I was only trying to comfort him because he'd lost the love of his life," she said dramatically, nudging Sakura. Jinx batted at Ino's swinging ponytail before jumping on the back of the sofa to settle down for a nap.
"Oh, you are truly evil!" Sakura grinned. "I'm glad you're my friend and not my enemy."
Their giggling quieted when the back door slammed and Sasuke came in, covered in dirt. "Sakura, you let him walk through the house like that?!" Ino wrinkled her nose in disgust. "I mean, he's cute and all, but you better teach him some manners before that baby comes along."
Sasuke narrowed his eyes at the loud blonde—not the first one he'd dealt with today. "You can leave now, Yamanaka. Sakura needs to rest."
"But she just got here," Sakura protested before looking at the clock and realizing that they'd been talking for hours. "Er…well…you better hurry or you'll be late for your date tonight, Ino-chan."
Ino hugged her. "I'm always late for my dates, Forehead. Don't you know that you're supposed to make men wait?" She winked at her friend, whispering, "It makes them even more hot for you." Sakura blushed when Ino patted her blooming belly. "You take good care of my godchild," she added, dropping a heavy hint. She stuck her tongue out at Sasuke when his dark eyebrow rose at her suggestion. "Sit! I'll let myself out," she said, keeping Sakura from rising to walk her to the door. "Bye, Forehead!"
Sakura smiled at her friend as her ponytail flipped out of sight. "Now we have to decide between Ino and Tsunade as godparent? I wonder who's gonna win that bet," she mused.
Sasuke bent over and kissed her temple. "Don't forget the Dobe." He thought for a moment—Ino, Naruto, or Tsunade would raise their child if something happened to them?! 'For god's sake,' he thought, shuddering. 'I'm not doing that to my kid.'
"Sakura, we are never dying."
She laughed softly. "I know, I—uh, Sasuke-kun?" She brushed specks of dirt from her dress. "Just how did you get so filthy?"
He smirked. "I taught the idiot a lesson today."
"A lesson, huh?" Sakura smiled, wishing she had gone to watch. Sasuke and Naruto's spars were pretty amazing.
Nodding, he laid his weapons on the table then pulled off his shirt. 'I bested the idiot,' he thought, 'but not before he used that ridiculous Headhunter Jutsu of Kakashi's on me.'
He felt Sakura's small arms slip around his waist. Looking over his shoulder at his wife with one eyebrow raised, he said, "You know I'm going to make you dirty, don't you?"
Sakura understood the double entendre and, even as a pretty blush rose to her cheeks, kept her arms around him, pressing a kiss to her husband's shoulder.
Sasuke turned and brushed his thumb along her cheek, leaving a smudge of dirt. "See?" he scolded her teasingly. "Now you have to take a bath before bed, too." He took her hand and pulled her toward the tub.
A sharp rap on their door in the middle of the night roused Sasuke from sleep. He got up carefully so as not to wake Sakura and found three masked ANBU waiting at his back door. He recognized one of them as the newest member of Team Seven.
"Uchiha-san, your presence is required at the Tower."
"It can wait until morning. I won't disturb my wife's rest."
'I'm not leaving Sakura here alone,' he thought, irritated by the disturbance.
Sasuke was about to shut the door in their faces when the dark-haired ANBU stepped forward, lifting his mask. "Two of us will stay with Sakura," Sai told him. "Tsunade-sama needs you to come now. We'll make sure all is safe in your absence."
A light switched on and a very pregnant, pink-haired girl stepped into the hall behind Sasuke. He immediately put his arm around her, turning her back the way she came. She looked over her shoulder as he steered her away. "What's going on?"
"It's nothing, Sakura. Go back to bed."
Pink eyebrows rose in question as shrewd green eyes flashed at her husband's curt order. Sasuke must be worried, she thought, if he was bossing her around like that. His face was expressionless, but his eyes told Sakura a different story.
"Give me a minute to get dressed. I'll go too." She waddled halfway down the hall when Sai's voice reached her.
"I'm afraid you can't, Ugly. The Kage specifically requested Sasuke—and only Sasuke—to come."
She ignored him, continuing down the hall to the bedroom. Sasuke followed her, closing the door, picking her up, and bringing her back to bed.
"Sasuke-kun?!" An obstinate look crossed her face. "No! I'm not staying—"
"You're going to disobey both your husband and the Hokage, Sakura?" he asked, smirking at her teasingly. "I won't be gone long. Stay home and rest." He brushed her hair back and kissed her forehead.
Pouting, she crossed her arms. "Uchiha Sasuke, quit using kisses to quell me."
"Do I do that?" His cocky smirk grew wider. "Go back to sleep."
"How can I sleep until I know what's going on?" She sighed, rubbing her swollen belly.
He placed his hands on either side of her stomach, bending down to kiss the baby tenderly. Sakura rested her hand atop his head and he redirected his next kiss to her lips. "Don't worry. The dobe probably just got into some trouble and he needs a character witness."
Her eyebrows rose in disbelief. "…and he sent for you?"
She laughed. "You're a terrible liar."
He nodded, brushing his thumb under her chin. "The sooner I get there, the sooner I come home." With one last kiss on her cheek, he added, "If you can't sleep, interrogate Sai until I get back."
Sasuke chuckled when Sakura's eyes lit up. Now she had her own mission.
"You're not serious, Tsunade-sama!" Kakashi growled. Sasuke hadn't said a word yet, but the glint of red in his eyes and the dark scowl on his face spoke volumes.
Tsunade's eyes narrowed at her most trusted Jounin. Kakashi knew how she felt about the now-dead daimyo of Wind Country, but with the threat of war, she had to treat the situation with delicacy.
"We were there!" Kakashi insisted. "I saw her chained to the wall, scarred and broken, her psyche as fragile as cracked glass under pressure! The daimyo kept Sakura leashed up like a pretty pet he didn't trust. How dare they pretend now it was anything but a prison!"
"Lady Takani is grieving. Her husband has been murdered and she claims to have witnessed his death at the hands of Uchiha Sasuke." Tsunade handed over the letter, which Gaara had personally delivered, to Sasuke and Kakashi. "If I do nothing, she vows to start a war."
Takani Kerria was demanding Konoha not only turn over Uchiha Sasuke for trial, but his wife, Uchiha Sakura, as well. The daimyo's wife claimed the male child Sakura carried belonged to her husband and, as such, was the next leader of Wind Country and must be raised at the palace. If they denied her demands, she promised to break all ties between the two countries and commence hostilities.
"She's insane," Sasuke muttered.
"Or crafty," Kakashi added. "We can't let Sakura know of this, Hokage-sama. Even the thought of going back there could frighten her beyond repair." He knew his student was just getting over her ordeal. This news could easily send her into a dangerous tailspin. He also remembered Sakura recounting how she told the daimyo that if he kept her babe safe, he could have the child. It chilled Kakashi to think that she might somehow be held to that vow legally.
A knock at the office door preceded Gaara's entrance.
"Kazekage-sama." Kakashi nodded in greeting, setting a hand on Sasuke's shoulder to keep the young man from doing anything rash.
Gaara read the situation. "Relax, Hatake-san. I know there's something suspicious going on, but my hands are tied here." The stoic Kage turned toward Tsunade. "We must come to a resolution."
"I'm not giving you Sasuke or Sakura."
Sasuke decided right then that Tsunade was going to be the godmother of his child— of all his children.
"May I suggest you put Uchiha Sasuke in prison here for the time being? I can leave one of my men in Konoha to assure Lady Takani that you're keeping your word. As for Sakura…"
Gaara paused. The Lady Takani had been most adamant that Sakura was carrying the son of her late husband. If that really was true, he was duty-bound to protect that child for his country and make sure he was installed in his proper place. But he also knew it wouldn't be easy. He'd seen firsthand how fond the Hokage was of her apprentice—as protective as a lioness with her precious cub.
Tsunade put her foot down, crossing her arms under her ample bosom. "As Sakura's physician, I'm telling you that she's in absolutely no condition for travel, Gaara. Any more stress and she could lose the baby," she informed him brusquely. "But, if you bring a sample of the daimyo's DNA after the child is born, the baby will be tested to see who he belongs to. That ought to be enough to appease that guttersnipe," she added under her breath.
Sasuke bit his tongue not to curse at them, discussing his son as if he could possibly belong to another man. The very idea was ludicrous. 'Sakura never even met that bastard until the Rising Sun bandits kidnapped her. By then, she was already pregnant,' he scoffed. 'And locking me up while Sakura is so vulnerable? I've had enough of this bullshit.'
"I won't go," Sasuke announced defiantly.
Tsunade sighed and rubbed her temple. "Uchiha…"
"If I was going to kill that bastard, I'd have done it long ago, along with everyone else in that place. Once I saw Sakura chained to a fucking wall…" He closed his red eyes and paused to control his temper. Whenever he thought of her fear and the way she trembled, sobbing in his arms, he had to struggle to stop the murderous thoughts that came into his mind. "I wish it had been me," he growled. Brushing Kakashi's hand from his shoulder, he faced the Kazekage boldly. "I'd volunteer to stay in Konoha's prison to avoid a war, but there's no way I'll leave Sakura alone. Whoever did kill Daimyo Takani is still out there and Sakura's most likely their real target, seeing as how they went out of their way to set me up."
Gaara understood why the Uchiha was angry, but he would brook no insults laid at the feet of his country's leader without clear evidence. To threaten his daimyo was to threaten him as well. "It looks as if you'll have to leave her alone either way." The Kazekage gave him a sharp look. "I'm willing to compromise because I knew some of the story before this happened, but don't think you're in the clear, Uchiha."
Team Seven's relentless search for Sakura was not news to Gaara. Recently, he'd heard of a great battle in the desert not far from the daimyo's palace, near God's Hand Rock. The few men who'd survived told wildly, haunting stories of fighting evil spirits that, frankly, no one believed. Red-eyed devils had supposedly taken on legions of the daimyo's best soldiers and then simply disappeared. Not surprisingly, soon after, he'd gotten word that Sakura was home safe.
Part of the reason he'd come to Konoha was to satisfy his own curiosity. He wanted to hear Kakashi's account of exactly how they'd found Sakura and where. Tsunade had shown him the contraption used to restrain the powerful kunoichi. Gaara understood their frustration, but he would have to search deeper before a permanent resolution could be found.
"If your Hokage hadn't already sworn to me on her honor that you haven't left Sakura's side since you've been back, you'd already be in chains because Lady Takani's word holds great weight in Wind Country. If I didn't come, she would've sent another envoy who would be far less accommodating. I'll do what I can to clear up the matter, but if evidence cannot be found to clear your name, Uchiha, Lady Takani might end up with everything she demands."