III: The Experiment

The Experiment Child was not an experiment at all. Karura did not believe in making love in order to make experimental babies, and Hirohiko did not, either. Even if he had, he would have met a very even match in his wife's determination and temper. Temari did not inherit her willpower and boldness from the sky; she got it from her mother.

Gaara, when he was conceived, was conceived out of love, just like his siblings.

The Council, Hirohiko, Karura, and Chiyo all ended up involved in the discussion of whether Gaara would be a jinchuuriki. As the mother and a jonin, Karura was not excluded from those talks. She wasn't some powerless woman, some passing civilian, some passive victim of Suna's evil. She was the Kazekage's wife and a seated member of the Council, along with Yashamaru.

In the end, the decision would be told as "Chiyo tried to warn off Yondaime, and he wouldn't listen. So she sealed Shukaku into Gaara." This compacted three months and 13 people down into a single condemnation — one that most definitely counted out Karura. In a village where women like Chiyo grew to be the most honored elders, the jonin wife of the Kazekage was not a spineless, voiceless sacrifice.

In fact, her true power extended beyond her death, protecting her premature baby's life.

Just as Hirohiko, who genuinely loved his wife, never stopped blaming himself for his wife's death. It was a wound on his heart that could never receive any medicine because Karura wasn't there to give it. In fact, it took Gaara to offer any salve, a salve strong enough to make his father weep.

But before Edo Tensei, before Shukaku's rampages, before the sealing ceremony, there was only a simple couple with a simple family.

Late at night, Hirohiko held Karura in bed, spooning her, his arm around her waist and his hand resting gently on her swollen stomach. He pressed a kiss to her shoulder. She glanced back at him and smiled.

"Are you afraid?" he asked. All the talk of the village's failing economy had come and gone; all the pros and cons of jinchuuriki had been examined and argued. Excessive pressures had been applied in all directions. And in the middle of the night, there was only a husband worried about his pregnant wife.

"I'm a bit nervous," Karura answered honestly. She never failed to say exactly what she thought, just as her daughter would when she grew up.

Hirohiko rubbed her tummy tenderly. "Chiyo-sama is the best." It was all he could offer; he was scared. Scared for his wife and scared for his third child. Right or wrong, yes or no, the answer or more of the problem, it didn't matter — the idea that Karura or his unborn child could be hurt in this process terrified him. What if the baby died? What if Karura died? That was a hell he couldn't even face thinking about.

Rolling over carefully, Karura put her arms around Hirohiko as well. "Let's not worry about it, okay? Let's just let it go. Tomorrow it will be done, over. And then we can focus on preparing our household for our third child." She grinned at him impishly. "And discuss that fourth child."

"Good Lord, Karura," Hirohiko groaned. "We'll have two toddlers and an infant. Let's give ourselves a break." But he knew she was only teasing.

Karura laughed. "Well, we could have twins next time. Two for the price of one."

Hirohiko groaned again, then kissed her on the forehead. "If you want twins, we have to at least wait five years."

"Oh? Okay. But I'm thinking now maybe we could have a dozen." Karura grinned, unabashed.

This time Hirohiko had to laugh. "A dozen? A dozen little Hirohikos and Karuras running around? I don't think the world could handle it. Temari's already taking flying leaps off the couch in order to tackle her brother, and Kankuro is already asking for things like cat-shaped birthday cakes. You want ten more?"

Karura chuckled. "Okay, you have a point. We'll stick to four. But as long as you love me, I don't care how many children we have together."

That made Hirohiko smile. He leaned forward, brushing his lips over Karura's, and she met his lips in a kiss, gently mouthing.

They held each other through the night. Usually, they slept spooned, either with Hirohiko behind Karura or Karura behind Hirohiko. Even if they became hot or uncomfortable, they usually managed to still touch — a hand on an arm, a hand on a thigh. Even when asleep, they showed each other love.

A love powerful enough to protect a premature baby unto adulthood, and a love powerful enough to put two souls to rest sixteen years later.

A/N: "Mother was wonderful. She gave me the medicine that you gave her to give me." — Gaara to Yondaime, ch. 548, VIZ translation.

Thank you to everyone who reviewed parts 1 and 2, and thank you to everyone who reviews part 3!