Chapter One Hundred
EIGHT YEARS LATER
Minato ran into Itachi almost immediately upon entering the hospital. He didn't expect to see the Uchiha down on the lower levels. Minato was late in coming, having received the notification just as he was preparing for his yearly meeting with the Kazekage and Gaara. The meeting had been scheduled to take eight hours, but he managed to finish touching up the seals in approximately five. But why was Itachi late as well? When Minato got a bit closer, he suspected the reason from Itachi's appearance.
The younger man was striding down the hall toward the nurse's station, a modest stack of clipboards grasped white-knuckled in one hand and a carefully neutral expression on his face. There was a streak of blood on his forehead, a thin splattered line as if it had squirted up into his face. He still had scrubs bottoms on, and surgical booties over his shoes. There were streaks of blood on those, too. He'd clearly just come from an operating theater. He swept by Minato without acknowledging him, single-minded focus narrowing his world to his immediate target.
"In a rush?" Minato asked, humor in his voice. The Uchiha turned his head slightly to look at him, entirely not amused. A muscle in his jaw jumped, but he didn't break stride. Minato fell in with him as Itachi continued to march toward the nurses' station.
"Sensei. There was an emergency," Itachi said, and Minato could hear the strain and annoyance in his voice only by virtue of long familiarity. "Two Teams ran into more resistence than expected going after some of the last Oto survivors. They called me in for the two worst off."
"Ah," Minato said in understanding; he'd gotten that report just before heading here, but hadn't had the chance to read it in full. He expected that the Teams had made it; there was a subtle sense of triumph about his erst-while student. Itachi had become the Chief of Medicine a year earlier, making a name for himself as a medic-nin and miracle-worker. Cases that would have been hopeless were given a fighting chance in his capable hands, helped by the techniques Sakura had taught him and the sealing Minato had taught him. His reputation had resulted in his being called in for emergencies at all hours of the day.
It was unfortunate that it would have happened on this particular day, at this particular hour.
"How was Natsumi when you last saw her?" Minato asked, changing the subject. Some emotion flickered across Itachi's face at the mention of his wife—worry, love, pride.
"She was still in the first-stage when I was called," he said. "But… that was hours ago."
They reached the nurses' station, and Itachi set his stack of clipboards down with a sharp click, leaving his fingertips on them as he leveled a firm Look on the nurse on duty behind the desk. "Kiyo-san, I am going upstairs to attend my wife. I am not to be called for any reason. If there is an emergency, Tatsuki-san is filling in for me."
Kiyo's eyes were wide, and she nodded immediately. "Yes, sir!"
"Good," Itachi lifted his hand from the clipboards and turned on his heel, marching toward the elevators.
"It is her first child," Minato told Itachi, "So it will take longer, probably."
Itachi grunted softly. "It's been nine hours. If she isn't in second-stage by now, she will be soon."
"Then, by all means, let us hurry and get you to your wife," Minato said, punching the call button for the elevator. "You mother and mother-in-law are with her?"
"Yes," Itachi agreed tersely. Minato nodded.
"Kakashi, Naruto, and Sasuke are in the family waiting room," Minato said, then flashed Itachi a quick smile. "I'll join them as soon as I can and try to make sure they don't destroy half the hospital."
The corners of Itachi's mouth twitched in a slight smile. "That would be appreciated, Minato-sensei."
The elevator doors opened and they stepped in.
Itachi's stomach was roiling with nerves and worry and excitement, but he schooled his expression to show show nothing of emotional maelstrom that was making his heart beat double-time and his palms itch with sweat.
They got to the maternity ward just as a nurse was pushing Natsumi out of her waiting room in a wheelchair. They were taking her to the delivery room. It was time.
Itachi's mouth suddenly went dry.
His mother and Natsumi's mother were next to Natsumi, holding her hands. When his mother glanced up and saw him, she bent and whispered to Natsumi, who looked up searchingly. "Itachi? Itachi?"
He hurried the last few steps, and his mother surrendered her grasp on Natsumi's hand to him. "I'm here."
She gave him a feeble smile, her face flushed and lined with pain. Her skin glistened with a thin layer of sweat. Her belly pressed against the cotton shift the hospital had had her change into.
"You're here," she agreed. "I'm glad."
"Sir? I'm going to have to ask you to change into these scrubs if you want to accompany your wife into the delivery room," said a calm voice by Itachi's side. He held his wife's gaze a moment before extricating his hand from her steeltrap-grip. Minato, his mother, and Natsumi's mother were gone, presumably joining Naruto and Sasuke in the family waiting room until after the birth.
Itachi changed quickly, stuffing his old, dirty scrubs into a receptacle by the door as he hurried back to his wife's side.
"There you are," she breathed when she saw him. They'd gotten her onto the birthing chair and her feet were up in the stirrups as a small group of nurses and a doctor fluttered around the room, pulling instruments and machines and clothes closer to hand. Itachi watched them briefly before fixing his eyes on Natsumi's red-cheeked face.
She might have said more, but her breath caught and she grimaced, hands clenching in the folds of her gown. Itachi's hands went to her belly, massaging and stroking, feeling the muscles under his fingers rippling and tensing. She sighed when it passed, and glanced at him apologetically.
"Maybe you don't want to hold my hand," she said. "I don't think I can keep from crushing it… it's not exactly voluntary."
He smiled at her, his little civilian wife, sweet-tempered but with a stubborn streak the size of Fire Country, and folded her fingers over his. Using that as the point of contact, he intercalated his chakra into her, blocking pain receptors.
"Oh," she said in relief. Some of the tension in her drained away. "Oh, that's nice."
The nurses and doctor were surrounding her now, and the doctor said cheerfully: "Alright, you're ready Natsumi-san! Next time, I want you to push."
Natsumi's grip tightened on Itachi's hand, and she licked her lips, nervous and excited. "Yes," she replied.
Everything seemed to blur together after that, a whirlwind of Natsumi groaning and straining, hands clutching him, the chair, her gown, the nurses and doctor quietly and consistently encouraging her, reassuring her.
Then, finally, Natsumi was limp and bright eyed in the chair, an expression of wonder on her face as she heard the cries of their child for the first time.
"Doctor?" she asked, lifting her head a little.
"Congratulations! It's a healthy baby girl!" announced the doctor, beaming. Natsumi stirred, lifting her arms.
"Let me hold her. Let me have my daughter!" There was an eagerness in her voice that matched the one growing in Itachi's chest. A daughter!
The nurses finished cleaning the newborn and clamped and cut the cord before laying her gently in Natsumi's waiting arms. Then they returned to the foot of the chair to assist with the afterbirth and clean up, Natsumi and Itachi ignoring them in favor of the tiny new life in Natsumi's arms.
"Oh," Natsumi sighed in wonder and love. "Oh."
She touched the very tips of her fingers to their child's cheek as the little girl wailed. Without hesitation, Natsumi shifted her gown aside and put the baby to breast. She watched her nurse for a long, tender moment. "Oh, Itachi. We have a daughter! What will we name her?"
The newborn had stopped wailing, her face unscrunching as she nursed, and now she blinked open hazy eyes.
They were green.
Itachi caught his breath, and Natsumi lifted her own brown eyes to him. "Itachi?"
Not taking his gaze from their daughter, who closed her eyes again in weary newborn contentment, Itachi reached out to brush his fingers over the crown of her tiny head. "Sakura," he said. "We'll name her Sakura."
Natsumi tilted her head. "In honor of your old teacher? Sakura… yes. It's beautiful."
Itachi smiled. It was.
TH: And with that, Going Sideways draws to a close... I hope you can all read in between the lines for what happened to Gaara, and how Itachi, Kakashi, Minato, Sasuke, and Naruto have pulled together in a sort of brotherhood/familial thing (as seen by how they have all gathered for the birth of Itachi's first child). I also hope you can all forgive me using such a tired old device like reincarnation to end this on a happier note.
For those wondering about Minato's seemingly dull reaction to Sakura's death; the last couple of chapters were meant to read from his point of view (or rather, looking over his shoulder point of view), and are thus written in a kind of numb, shocked tone (cuz, you know, sometimes grief can feel like it's blanketing the world and everything is muffled). But Minato is in an interesting position in that everyone looks to him for guidance and strength, so he can't break down as he might wish to. He needs to accept her sacrifice with aplomb and solemn grace. He's the Hokage, and needs to comport himself as such. The first couple of chapters after her death are him being numb and not really knowing what to do with his grief. But he has to lead his people in grieving cleanly and healthily, and so in having to lead the interment ceremony, he found solace in his own words and was able to grieve and let go.
Anyway. I want to thank all of you for reading this fic. I've enjoyed your support and comments throughout the process (though some of your glowing compliments I am unsure I deserve... this fic is not particularly fine; it's just a bit of fun). I am truly grateful for every review, follow, favorite, addition to communities, and recommendation. You guys rock.
Even though this author's note is getting kind of long, I also want to say that I'm going to be stepping back from Naruto fanfiction for a time. I've been writing in this fandom since 2008 (God, now I feel old), spitting out 10 Naruto fics in the intervening time, and I'm a little wrung out. Since my Rurouni Kenshin obsession has re-emerged with my finally getting to watch the live-action, I think I am going to return to that fandom for a while (which I write under a different penname). So I will disappear from Naruto for an undetermined length of time. I will still be reading Naruto fanfics, and checking up on this account, so don't hesitate to PM or whatever me, if you wanted to. I just won't be writing. Thanks to all you who have been kind enough to humor me till now. (So long and thanks for all the fish?)