DNON

A/N~For reals, guys. I am currently working on the very last chapter of Gravity!

OMG! I'm not the only one squealing gleefully over the new manga chapter, am I? SasuSaku 3

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Gravity Chapter 43—The End is Near

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"Kazekage! Is my husband's child all right?!"

Gaara bowed to Takani Kerria, the widow of Daimyo Takani. The black silk of mourning she wore for her husband hung loose around her. Her pale complexion, hollow eyes, and the absence of the small bump of her growing child which had filled her kimono told him that she must've miscarried in the days after her husband's death.

"Where are the prisoners?! The girl with my baby and her murderous husband? Where are they?!" Her unkempt hair and nervous brown eyes concerned Gaara—where was the strong, yet sorrowful woman he'd spoken with just a few days ago?

"Uchiha Sasuke is under ANBU guard in a cell in Konoha by order of the Hokage. His wife, Sakura, is unable to travel without risking her health and that of the unborn child."

Kerria's hands became fists as she struggled to hold her temper. "You told the Hokage my demands?!" She turned aside, hissing to herself under her breath. "They're protecting that kunoichi, damn it!" She whipped around, slamming her fist on the dais. "Did you warn them that we will attack?! Surely they don't want war!"

He shook his head. "I am to bring back a sample of the daimyo's DNA. If the baby Sakura is carrying matches Hanshu's DNA, the child will be given to you and the two Uchiha will be brought to swift justice. Tsunade-sama, while quite upset about her apprentice's internment, does agree that the child belongs with his real family."

"That was not my order! That girl promised to give my Hanshu his child. She is a thief and at least partially responsible for my husband's death! And I want Uchiha Sasuke here now to stand trial and receive punishment!" Agitated, she turned away once more, speaking to herself. "The girl will just have to take the chance of traveling. I want my baby immediately!" She turned her piercing eyes on him. "If you cannot follow my orders, I'll find someone who will! You can be replaced, Kazekage."

If Gaara had eyebrows, they might have risen at the ludicrous threat. As it was, he only looked to the side door as her brother came in and put an arm around her, supporting his sister as she collapsed on his shoulder.

"That's enough, Kerria. I'll take care of things from here," Kunene assured her before addressing Gaara. "I'll be joining you on your next visit to Konoha, Kazekage. We'll get this matter straightened out so my sister can grieve her loss and find some solace in her husband's son." He whispered in Kerria's ear and gently handed her off to a waiting maid. "I'm sure the Hokage will see sense and release the two into our custody after I speak to her. Nobody wants a war."

Gaara nodded, his sharp eyes studying the man. Kunene seemed quite comfortable giving orders in his brother-in-law's stead. Once Kerria was busy doting over a new baby, he wondered if she would appoint her brother as acting head of state. Upon her return to Konoha, Sakura reported that this man, with Karin's help, ambushed and smuggled her into the palace of Wind Country.

"If that's all you have to report, we can leave for Konoha tomorrow morning, Gaara-san. The steward will show you to your quarters." A small smirk played at the corner of his mouth. "I hope you enjoy your stay."

"Hn." Gaara nodded and followed the steward to a new wing of the palace, wondering why they felt the need to add on to the sprawling castle. Upon entry to his room, he noticed a panel on the wall near the door. His eyes narrowed. "What is this button for?"

The steward looked uncomfortable. "Uh, forgive me, sir. It's an old service bell that's out of order. If you wish for anything, you need only inform the guard in the hall." The steward bowed and scurried out of the room as quickly as decorum allowed.

'An old service bell in a new wing? That's…strange.' Warily, Gaara inspected his room. It still smelled of fresh paint and, although the stonework matched closely, it appeared part of the wall had been replaced in the lavishly decorated room. 'If this room is new, why would the wall need to be replaced? Unless…'

His blood boiling, Gaara stepped out onto the balcony to see the wall from the outside. From there it was obvious—new stone replaced the hole Team Seven made while rescuing Sakura. It took a great deal to test the Kazekage's patience, but the boldness of putting him here where one of his friends had been tortured and kept prisoner pushed him to his limit! A portentous eddy of sand appeared around Gaara, swirling ominously. Not usually one to sympathize with others, he gripped the railing of the balcony, beginning to understand Uchiha Sasuke's homicidal feelings.

The sun was near setting on the plains of sand as guards changed shifts and the staff returned to their quarters. Guards, dressed in uniforms which didn't belong to the Wind daimyo's house guard, rounded a corner outside the palace. His fingers moved swiftly through familiar hand signs. He closed one eye as another eye formed out of the sand swirling around him. With a nod from Gaara, the third eye drifted off to spy inside while he investigated outside.

Beneath the balcony of Gaara's room, an oasis was the only break in a view of endless sand. Below was a gardener, carefully grooming the small haven. Sand collected beneath Gaara's sandals, carrying him to the retreat until he stood in front of the gardener.

"Good evening, ojiisan," he said to the old man, whose eyes widened in surprise before he smiled and bowed, pointing at his ear and shaking his head. Gaara nodded, understanding that the man was deaf. The Kazekage's dexterous hands slipped easily through sign language. "May I ask you a few questions?"

The old man shrugged then nodded.

"There was some renovation done here recently?"

The old man nodded, pointing toward the new wing.

"Yes. And a girl visiting for a few months?"

He looked confused.

"With pink hair?"

He nodded and pointed up to the balcony. The old man's hands fumbled excitedly, saying, "The daimyo's niece stayed up there."

"Niece? She spoke with you? Did she seem all right?"

He shook his head. "The girl never communicated with me, but she seemed quite sad."

"I see." Gaara didn't want arouse any suspicion. "Do you know what happened to the girl? I'd like to express my condolences for her uncle's death."

The old man shook his head, signing anxiously. "The daimyo's murder was a grievous loss indeed. Strange omens surrounded his death. I even found a great, white snake hiding in the oasis early on that day. The snake should have brought a blessing on the palace, not a curse."

"A white snake…in the desert?" Gaara asked.

The old man nodded excitedly. "Yes! An enormous one, unlike any serpent I'd ever seen. I went to get something to collect it in for safekeeping, but when I returned, it was gone." The old man scratched his head. "To tell you the truth, sir, I'd forgotten about that snake with the misfortune that happened later."

"A great snake, hn? Thank you for your honesty, ojiisan." Gaara bowed. "Your gardens here are remarkable. Keep up the good work."

The old man smiled and nodded, waving to him before going back to work. Gaara returned to his room to think over what he'd learned.

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At first, Sakura believed she'd seen a ghost. Hadn't Hanshu told her that Karin was dead? After she'd attacked Sakura and the guards at the palace…she was sure he'd told her that.

"You… I heard you died," she whispered. "Hanshu killed you."

Karin raised her claw-like hands and jumped at Sakura, her long tongue flicking out creepily. "Boo!"

Sakura's eyes widened, her mouth dropped, and she held her hand over her stomach, looking down.

"Did you jusst pisss yoursself, Haruno?" Karin laughed out loud. "You did, didn't you?! That'ss rich!"

Sakura felt the warm liquid running down her leg and shook with fear, but not because she was afraid of Karin—she knew the water pooling at her feet was from her broken amniotic sac. 'Dear god, please, not now. I can't have the baby with her here,' she thought, knowing it was too late for a prayer. There was no turning back now. One way or another, the baby was coming.

"Looksss like you're not ssso tough anymore. Don't have the big, bad daimyo here to protect you and now widdle Sssakuwa is ssscared." She laughed again, twirling the kunai on her finger casually. "Now it'sss my turn."

Sakura noticed Karin's newly-confident air and relaxed stance. 'If she thinks I'm terrified, maybe I can catch her off guard.' She forced her hands to tremble. "Please, Karin. You-you wouldn't hurt Sasuke's son. He'd never forgive you."

"Ssshut up! Sshut up! Don't you even sspeak hisss name! Sssasuke-kun is mine!" A dark madness burned in her red eyes. "That baby will be mine too as sssoon as you're dead!"

Sakura took a step back as the whole building quaked. Something big shook the earth, but it was not nearby. From the sound of it, it was over by…"Sasuke-kun," she said softly, knowing he sat in a cell, defenseless.

"You better give that baby up before hisss father getss injured, too! No telling what Kabuto will do to him if Sssasuke fightsss. Now, give me that baby!" Karin lunged at her.

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"Raikiri!" The blinding light of Kakashi's electrified jutsu hit Kabuto's enormous dragon, busting one of its horns. The creature hissed, snapping at the Copy-nin.

"Hatake," Kabuto hissed, in irritation, although he was actually quite pleased that all of the members of Team Seven were near. That meant that Sakura was not under heavy guard. 'Now, if only Karin can keep from fucking up, things should go smoothly,' he thought. 'How hard could it be to overpower a woman heavy with child? And Karin's got an excellent incentive to succeed.'

"You're late," Naruto and Sasuke barked at their sensei.

Kakashi shrugged and tossed something to Sasuke. "I think that belongs to you."

"Thanks." Feeling more secure now that he had his favorite sword, Kusanagi, by his side, Sasuke turned toward their enemy.

Kabuto chuckled. "Three on one? Tsk, tsk. We'll have to do something about that." Two of his bunshin appeared, each clone standing at one side of the dragon before splitting up to flank Naruto, Sasuke, and Kakashi.

Suddenly, Sasuke's eyes widened. 'My summons! It's been destroyed!' His hands ran swiftly through the signs for a Kuchiyose and the little, white snake gave him images of all it'd seen—Sakura panting, holding her back, doubled over in pain and, lastly, the flash of long, red hair just before he'd been sent back to Ryuuchi Cave. Karin was lying in wait for his wife!

"Kakashi! Sakura's in trouble."

The silver-haired nin nodded. "Go check on her. Take her to Tsunade for safekeeping."

"Yeah, Teme!" Naruto agreed. "We got this. We'll save you some snake to carve up…maybe." He placed his fingers crosswise and called forth two blond bunshin.

Sasuke nodded and moved to go when Kabuto's snake-like head appeared in front of him, glasses reflecting the sunshine into Sharingan eyes. "Where are you going Sasuke-kun? The fun's just begun."

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