Categories > Anime/Manga > Naruto

Dearest Wish

by khalida-dae 0 Reviews

Imprisoned by the Elders and Danzou, a pregnant Sakura escapes. Now, she must find a safe haven for herself and her unborn son. Help comes from an unexpected source and shifting alliances make alli...

Category: Naruto - Rating: R - Genres: Angst,Drama,Romance - Characters:  - Warnings: [!] [X] - Published: 2009/01/27 - Updated: 2009/01/28 - 16597 words - Complete

I am participating in the 50_Shinobi challenge on Live Journal. This is the first installment. Over the next few months, I will be posting for the challenge and Akatsuki Employee Handbook.
Claim: Haruno Sakura and Zetsu

Theme: #05-Your Precious Someone

Genre: Drama/Romance

Amegakure - The Village Hidden in the Rain

Suna - Short form of Sunagakure or the Village Hidden in the Sand.

Kirigakure - Village Hidden in the Mist; Kiri - short form

Spelling errors are strictly my own. I did look up the names, but different sources spelled things differently. If you have a better spelling, let me know. At this time, I am beta-less. If anyone would like to volunteer, PM or email me. I'll be happy to exchange beta services.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or its characters, nor do I receive any financial benefit or compensation for this fan fiction.

Note:Sakura - age 21. This fic diverges slightly from the manga in terms of Kakashi's death. For the purposes of character background, I am sticking with details from the manga and adding things I make up. In other words, until the manga states Madara is no longer the Mizukage and shows evidence of this (ex. shows the current Mizukage and gives him/her a name), he will remain Mizukage.

Request: This is my first foray into romantic relationships. Reviews, comments, and votes are extremely helpful, and your feedback is an integral part of the learning process. Thank you.


#
Silent sobs racked the small form rocking back and force on the cold floor. She'd lost her voice long ago, just like she'd lost everything else. A small hand pressed to her abdomen. Not everything. She still had a piece of him, but she'd heard the whispers. They wanted her child, not her. She was an impediment--a visual reminder of the old ways--and she would have to go.

Shaking fingers searched for the spot on the wall where she'd created her own tiny memorial--the only surviving testament that they'd lived. Gently, her fingers caressed the wall finding the first mark. That was Tsunade's, her beloved master who disappeared shortly after ameeting with the Elders. They listed her as a missing-nin, but Sakura knew better. After all, she and Kakashi were the ones who found her body. Next was Kakashi whom they'd sent off to face the combined powers of Akatsuki alone. He'd gone out of loyalty to the village, knowing it was a suicide mission and he would never return. That was when he first warned her and Naruto to get out, but they stayed. Naruto loved his village too much to abandon it. Next were marks for their friends. Of the Rookie Nine, she, Shikamaru, and Hinata were the sole survivors. She laughed bitterly, remembering how the Nara and Hyuga Clans had fought the Council and the new Hokage fiercely for their heirs. Her fingers trailed gently over the last one.

"Naruto," she whispered. "My beloved Naruto."

They were smart. She'd give them that. Knowing the Kyuubi would likely grant Naruto's off-spring some new power, if only in an attempt to prolong his own life, they waited. Once her pregnancy was confirmed, they still waited, and then they received the long-awaited test results. The child she carried had several unique, previously unseen genetic markers. That was when they struck. Drug from her lover's side in the middle of the night, she found herself consigned to the deepest pits of hell with the best medical care courtesy of Shizune whose loyalty to the Council was always greater than to her friends.

A bowl clattered through the slot.

"Psst...Sakura?"Shikamaru straightened and glanced around. His ANBU uniform completely obscured his features giving him some measure of safety on his self-appointed mission, but it was only a small measure and time was short.

Sakura moved closer to the door.

"Here. This is yours," he said, slipping a small package through a slot in the door. "Raise the brat well."

Sakura looked at him questioningly, but he was already gone. Hefting the small package in her hand, she debated throwing it out, but decided against it. If anything in it could help her child, it was worth whatever pain the contraband would bring her. Quietly unwrapping it lest she alert aguard, she gasped at the contents. Three kunai, soldier pills, a list of the prison guards and their watch schedules, a small compass, awatch, her and Naruto's hitae-ate, two letters, and a water-proof pouch. She opened the first letter.

Sakura,

The kanji at the bottom of this letter will deactivate the seals placed on your chakra. At best, it will take the guards five minutes to realize your seals are deactivated. Worst case, they'll know immediately.

The borders are sealed tight especially in the direction of Suna. Rain is the only border that we've been unable to seal completely. That border's a war zone, but it's the only one ANBU's been unable to shut down.

I was with Naruto before they murdered him. He wanted me to give you his hitae-ate and the letter. I wish I could do more.

By the time you read this, my ANBU team will be on a mission in River Country. I won't be returning to Konoha. I'll either make it to Suna where my family's taken refuge or die along the way. Either way, it's better than remaining here. If you make it out, send a message to Gaara once you've settled.

Shikamaru Nara

Sakura carefully laid the letter aside, her mind buzzing with possibilities. Shizune would be by in three hours for her check-up. She needed to leave before then. Carefully, she picked up the letter from Naruto. Opening it might delay her departure, but at that moment, she needed his words--his presence--more than air to breath.

My Dearest Sakura,

It is difficult to put into words everything that I feel for you, so Iwon't even try. I doubt the paper could hold them all anyway. Just know that I love you and our child. I will always be with you both.

I don't have much time and this place isn't exactly private, so I can't say everything I need to say to you, but I'll try.

I love you more than words can say. You were the brightest spot in my life and our love was my greatest joy. I know you love Konoha as much as I do and that that love might compel you to stay. If you stay, they will kill you, and our child will be an orphan. I lived that life, and no one should be without a parent's love.

Get out, Sakura. Take our child and live! Do all the things I will no longer be able to do. Eat ramen, train, and tell our baby how much I love you both. My dearest wish is that you will find someone else. Life's too short to be alone.

Do you remember a few months ago right after we found out you were pregnant, and I returned home from the last mission a bit more banged up than usual? I lied when I said I got all those scrapes from a large group of missing nins. It was really just one. I encountered the Bastard at a bar, and I guess we were a bit obnoxious. We were both bragging a bit too much about knocking up the important women in our lives. Anyhow, Salamander kicked both our butts and tried to warn me that this would happen, but I didn't listen. It's not much, but Salamander offered you a home if anything happened to me.

I've contacted Gaara. You have a place in Suna. Personally, I'd prefer Suna. If not, get to the Bastard. Either way, you'll both be safer than in Konoha.

I've asked Shikamaru to give you this in confidence along with my hitae-ate. Sorry if I was a bit cryptic, but you know how things are these days.

Love,

Naruto

Sakura wiped the tears away, determined to not smudge his letter. Looking over the items, she carefully stowed Naruto's letter in the waterproof pouch and touched the kanji, deactivating the chakra seals. For once, she was thankful for Shizune's interference. Shizune had insisted on using seals instead of draining her chakra for fear draining it would harm the baby. The result was that Sakura was now at full strength and had access to both her normal chakra and the large reserve Tsunade had insisted she learn to store. Her heart clenched up once more at the memory of her master, but crying could wait. Today, the Council would learn that it was a bad idea to imprison Sakura Uzumaki.

Sakura stood and grasped her stomach. She called for the guard. When he entered, she killed him, and using a forbidden replacement jutsu to make him look exactly like her, left him in her cell. With any luck, they wouldn't realize she'd escaped until it was too late.

Sakura slammed her way through the prison walls, easily breaking the entire place apart, making sure her double took a nice boulder to the head and setting every prisoner free. In the mad dash for freedom, she easily slipped away, finding the cave where she and Naruto had stashed several summoning scrolls and a survival pack just in case the day came when they needed to flee Konoha. Snatching the gear up, she took one last look at her old home before tugging on the ANBU uniform they'd procured months earlier and spraying her hair down with a temporary dye. At five months, her pregnancy was easily hidden by the billowing cloak. Slinging the pack on her back, she picked up her hitae-ate and knowing no one would give refuge to a Konoha nin unless they were missing, resolutely slashed it. She tucked her defiled hitae-ate into a deep pocket where she could get to it if needed and speed away leaving everything she'd ever known behind.

#
4 days later...

Battered and exhausted, Sakura gratefully crawled into the small cave. She shivered and briefly toyed with the idea of lighting a fire, but quickly decided that was too dangerous. Less than five kilometers inside Rain's borders, she was still too close to Fire's border for comfort. She brushed a stray strand of wet hair out of her face and reflected on her biggest problem--surviving the night. Soaking wet, her body couldn't hold in the heat and the temperature was rapidly dropping. Standing, she stripped off the tattered remains of the ANBU uniform, tied her own hitae-ate around her forehead, and put on her last pair of semi-dry clothes. She pulled out the sleeping bag and wrapped it around her body for additional warmth. Now, all she needed to do was stay awake and pray hypothermia didn't set in. As the hours passed, she began to realize that was a futile hope.

Deep beneath the earth, Zetsu paused.

"Aconitum, also known as aconite, wolfsbane, and monkshood; scientific name: aconitum napellus. Best concentration is in the unripe seed pods and roots. Most likely fatal. Gifblaar; scientific name: dichapetalum cymosum. Source of metabolic poison sodium fluoroacetate. Use ingestion or injection for best results. Fatal with proper dosage. No known antidote..." the voice trailed off and continued listing various poisons, their usage, preparation, and antidotes.

Curious, Zetsu changed his path and slowly emerged from the cave wall. He noted the figure huddled against the far wall. Based on her attire and chakra signature, she was obviously a shinobi. Oddly, she didn't react to his presence. Instead, she remained huddled against the far wall muttering softly to herself.

Gently rubbing her swollen stomach, she whispered,"We're almost there. I wish we could make it to Suna. I know your Uncle Gaara can't wait to meet you, but I can't go much further. Besides, Uncle Sasuke isn't so bad, once you get to know him. Plus, he can tell you all sorts of stories about your daddy. Shh..." Her eyes drifted shut and she whispered, "Naruto, you and that blasted Kyuubi better have been right about this."

Zetsu's eyes widened slightly and he moved closer to the delirious woman. Carefully, he pushed the blanket away from her face. She didn't look much like the woman they'd been told to watch for, but her little poison recitation had him both intrigued and convinced that she was Sakura Haruno Uzumaki. Gently, he pushed the blanket away to assess her condition. His orders were clear. Both she and her child were welcome in Rain and were to be given any assistance necessary.

He chuckled at the recollection. At first, Madara had been livid that Pain and Sasuke would go behind his back and cut a deal. Once he learned that Naruto would willingly give them most of the Kyuubi's chakra and the part of Madara that was sealed within the Kyuubi in exchange for guaranteeing his wife and child a safe haven, he'd quickly changed his tune. He'd even gone so far as to get recent photos of Sakura and distributed copies to every member of Akatsuki and their subordinates.

Zetsu noted her blue lips and fingers. Violent shudders racked her small body. "Hypothermia," he noted. Tendrils grew out from his body as he carefully bound her shaking form. In her condition, it was impossible to predict how she would react to his presence and caution was best. He slung her pack across his shoulder and tucked her restrained body up against his before sliding back underneath the earth and heading in the direction of Amegakure.

#
10 hours later...

"Sir?"

Zetsu turned his head, acknowledging the medic.

"Your wife had fairly severe hypothermia. We are still treating it, but her body temperature has risen and both she and the fetus are responding to stimuli. We have every reason to believe she will make a full recovery. I have a few concerns regarding her pregnancy and extreme exhaustion, so I would like to keep her here for three to four days for observation. At which point, I'll have more information. Would you like to see her now?"

Zetsu started to correct the man's assumption, but something stopped him. "Yes, we'd like to see her." He stood and followed the man down the hall.

Groggily, Sakura glanced around her room. Taking in the two lines on the heart monitor--one for her and one for their baby--she smiled softly. She still wasn't quite sure where she was, but she knew it was a hospital and that for the first time in over two months, she was warm. Sighing, she sank further down into the warm bed and was almost asleep when she heard footsteps enter the room and immediately tensed. One of the chakra signatures felt extremely powerful and vaguely familiar. Laying a protective hand over her stomach, she glanced around for anything that could be used as aweapon. Realizing that unless she planned on strangling whoever it was with her IV tube, she was out of luck, she slowly relaxed her body into a non-threatening posture.

"Sir, I must leave for rounds. A nurse will be by to check on her every half hour. If you have any questions or need anything, just ask." The medic turned and left the room leaving Zetsu staring at the closed curtain. Sighing and mentally cursing his own stupidity for not correcting the man's assumption, he steeled himself for the coming scream and slid the curtain aside.

Shocked coursed through Sakura's body, and then, she took a more careful assessment of her situation. She'd awoken alone in a nice, warm bed with no restraints, guards, or chakra inhibitors. The only thing lowering her chakra levels at the moment was the mental and physical exhaustion associated with her escape. Most importantly, he wasn't attacking her and her baby seemed somehow soothed by his presence."You're Zetsu, right?" she croaked. Mentally, she cringed as the sound of her voice grated against her ears.

Zetsu blinked at the simple question. Of all the reactions he'd expected, this wasn't it. "Yes."

"Where am I?"

"The Main Hospital of Amegakure."

"How..."

"We found you in a small cave a few kilometers inside Rain's borders and brought you here."

"Oh."

"Where's my pack?" she asked suddenly frantic. That pack contained everything. Summoning scrolls for Gamabunta, Katsuya, and Kakashi's nin-kin, Naruto's hitae-ate, the letter...

A gentle hand pushed her back on the bed. "It's in the corner. We brought everything you had with you."

She visibly relaxed back into the pillow. "Thank you," she mumbled before succumbing to sleep.

Quietly, Zetsu slipped out of the room. Before leaving to report his find, he stopped by the nurse's station and told them to contact him if anything came up.

The next several days were perhaps the oddest of Sakura's life. For reasons unknown to anyone other than himself, Zetsu was an almost constant presence during visiting hours. Slowly, Sakura found herself relaxing more in his presence. The first day, he simply sat and read several of the latest academic horticulture publications, including a copy of Poisons Today that she was positively drooling over. The second day, he brought her her own copies.

#
Hospital Day 3...

It was seven thirty in the morning and Sakura had had enough. She was tired of lying flat on her back and being told nothing. All Zetsu would say was that she'd had hypothermia and exhaustion when he'd brought her in and they were keeping her for observation and repeated inquiries with the medics got her nowhere. So on slightly wobbly legs, she stood up and carefully unhooked the heart monitors and the IV. Slowly, she made her way to the door, picked up the chart outside of her door, and flipped it open. If they wouldn't tell her what was going on, she'd see for herself.

Flipping through the pages, she felt her heart sink further into her chest. Fetal distress, possibly due to hypothermia...severely underweight for this stage of pregnancy...high risk...undernutrition... She stopped reading when the chart was abruptly pulled from her hands.

"I'm sorry, miss, but hospital policy forbids us allowing patients access to their charts."

Sakura glared at the pretentious medic. "And why exactly would that be?"

"Patients are ill-equipped to understand the full-import of medical terminology and may panic or misinterpret test results," the pretentious young medic said while he safely stowed her chart behind the nurses station.

Sakura blessed him with her most vicious smile. Reaching behind the desk, she spotted a familiar medical journal, which proudly displayed her research on the front cover. Picking it up, she dangled it in front of his face, flipped to her small bibliography, and pointed to the color photograph. "I am Sakura /Haruno /Uzumaki, formerly of Konoha and I, not you, am one of the most respected medics currently living. Not only do I understand the /full-import of medical terminology/, depending on the subject matter chances are fairly high I either wrote or edited the damn book! Now, hand me that chart."

"No."

Sakura felt Zetsu standing behind her, but ignored him, focusing all of her attention on the medic in front of her. Killing intent radiated off her, causing the medic to shudder slightly.

"Then, I should remind you of one other thing," she said in a husky whisper. "By the time I was eighteen, I was listed in the bingo book of every nation as an S-Class shinobi, and that's not something you earn in an ER." Her finger flicked out and with a loud crack, the desk split in two. Sakura reached over the shaking medic, picked up her chart, and walked back into her room where she re-attached the monitoring wires and IV and slid underneath the covers. Humming happily, she began to slowly read her chart.

A bemused Zetsu followed her into the room where he sat down in his customary chair. "Konan won't be happy about having to replace that desk."

"Uh huh," Sakura replied, not really paying attention to what he said.

"Still it was fun watching you put that pompous ass in his place."

Sakura looked up. For the first time in months, her eyes danced and a small smile was on her face.

"Although I do believe we should find you more suitable attire before you go on any more excursions," Zetsu said with a slight smirk, glancing at her over the top of his book.

Sakura's face burned bright red. She'd temporarily forgotten that hospital gowns left very little to the imagination, particularly when it came to the posterior regions.

"Don't worry about it. Just be glad it was us, instead of someone else."

Sakura nodded and went back to reading the chart. The more she read, the angrier she became. They weren't keeping her in the hospital because of hypothermia and exhaustion. They were keeping her there out of concern for her baby and everything on their list of concerns was avoidable. She'd worried that she wasn't getting enough to eat and that the nutrient balances weren't right, but Shizune had assured her that everything was normal and the food contained more calories and more nutrients than it actually did. Those fools! In their mad attempt to weaken her, they'd put her baby at risk.

Zetsu felt undirected killing intent radiating off the petite woman. Putting his book down, he shifted into a more defensive position. "Sakura?"

Abruptly, the killing intent dissipated, leaving a sobbing woman in its wake.

For the first time in many years, Zetsu found himself unsure what to do. Killing intent he could deal with. Heart broken sobs were another matter. A vague memory stirred of someone stroking his head as a child. He wasn't sure who it was and he supposed at the moment it didn't really matter. What he did know was the memory was comforting somehow. Cautiously, he reached over and gently took her hand in his, watching her closely for the first signs of discomfort or disgust. When she didn't flinch away, he slowly relaxed.

Sakura looked down at the hand covering hers. Through her tears, she noted how hesitant he was, almost as if he expected her to flinch or run away at any moment. For abrief moment, he reminded of Naruto, albeit a much quieter version. She smiled tightly at the odd comparison of her husband to an Akatsuki member. Fairly confident that unlike Naruto, Zetsu would understand what the chart indicated, she passed it to him.

Zetsu slowly read the chart. Well, at least he understood why she was crying, but it didn't explain why she started off wanting to kill someone.

At his questioning glance, Sakura took a deep breath. "Shizune was Tsunade's first apprentice. They traveled and trained together for many years before I came into the picture. Where I was the granddaughter Tsunade never had, Shizune was like her daughter. When I started studying under Tsunade, Shizune became my older sister. She was the person I went to when I had problems understanding lessons, my guide if you will. She was one of my closest friends, and even though Isuspected her of betraying Tsunade, I never thought she would do anything to harm me." She laughed bitterly. "You know she oversaw everything from my medical care to my food intake. No detail was too small for her to micromanage. She assured me I was getting the proper nutrient amounts and that everything was fine. Obviously, she lied. Everything is not fine. All that time I thought she was doing everything in her power to keep the baby healthy, but she wasn't. They were more concerned with weakening me."

Zetsu looked at her carefully. Now, he understood why she was so angry. "They probably planned on making it look like you died in childbirth. That way your loss would be a regrettable accident."

"Yes, and then, they'd have exactly what they wanted with the side benefit that I was permanently out of the way." She gave him a sad smile. "Of course, who says Akatsuki isn't looking for the same thing? It's not like I can run away in my condition. All you have to do is wait it out, kill me, and raise the baby."

"I can't speak for the organization. All I know is that your husband signed a blood contract with our leaders. We've been looking for you ever since his execution./I know they are planning on speaking with you and discussing your arrangements in greater detail, but they wanted you to be a healthier first. /Konan felt we should know more about the risks your pregnancy posed before anyone made a decision regarding living arrangements."

"So why are you here?"

"I don't know. I guess it's because you are as alone as we are, and sometimes, it's bad to be alone."

"You weren't ordered to stay here?"

"No. Would you prefer that we leave?"

"No,"she smiled faintly. "For some reason, I find your presence soothing and the baby seems to like you. Plus, you know which medics have two brain cells to rub together."

He laughed. "The chief medic is overseeing your case personally. He should be by late this afternoon to discuss his findings and long-term treatment."

"The chief medic? Is that the older gentleman with gray at the temples?"

"Yes. I'm surprised you remember him. You've been asleep during most of his visits. Anyhow, Madara and Konan would both like to be here for the discussion, as would I. It's your choice. You don't have to allow any of us in here. Just think about it and let us know."

"I don't mind you being here. At this point, you probably know more than I do anyhow, but why do they want to be here?"

"Konan is Amegakure's Chief Administrator and will be making your living arrangements. When I last spoke with her, she left muttering something about support systems, so I guess it has something to with that. As for Madara, I'm not really sure why he wants to be here. He doesn't share his reasons with us."

"They'll find out either from you or the chief medic, won't they?"

"Yes. Most likely from the chief medic who reports directly to Konan."

"Then, they might as well be here. At least that way the poor man only has to answer each question once."

"We'll make the arrangements."He noted her dropping eyelids. "Get some rest. No one will make any decisions regarding your baby without you." He left to arrange the meeting, fervently hoping his words were true.

A few hours later, someone gently shook Sakura awake. Her eyes fluttered open and she bolted upright. She felt Zetsu's familiar presence. She could forgive herself for sleeping through him coming in the room. He'd been around her enough over the past few days for her to become quite relaxed around him. However, there was no justifiable reason why she failed to notice the other two shinobi. One of the chakra signatures actually felt darker than the Kyuubi's. How the hell did she sleep through it?

"I'm Konan," said the woman with a slight smile. "I thought it might be better if we talked and clarified a few things before the chief medic gets here."

Sakura nodded warily. Any moment now, she expected to hear someone order her arrest and execution, or worse, her return to Konoha.

"Konan, perhaps it would be better if I explained things first." Madara reached up and removed his mask before reaching into apocket and pulling out a scroll and a tiny wrapped package. Looking at Sakura closely, he placed the mask on the bed beside her. "I am removing my mask as a sign of trust. You should know I only have two relationships with your old village. One is spies who regularly report on the various activities of certain unsavory persons with whom I'm certain you are acquainted. The other is that certain clan secrets remain hidden within Konoha. I would see those secrets destroyed least they fall into the wrong hands. For quite sometime, I have utterly despised Konoha and wanted to see it wiped off the face of the planet. That particular sentiment has not and will not change. As I'm certain you are aware, the coup lead by the Elders and Danzou has greatly destabilized the shinobi world and the large numbers of refugees leaving Fire will continue threatening what little stability remains. That instability is causing problems for every nation and hidden village. Additionally, the balance of power is also shifting within this region. I am telling you this because you will have some decisions to make, and I want you to fully understand what we are offering."

At Sakura's nod, he continued. "A little over four months ago, Kakashi Hatake attempted to infiltrate Amegakure. He was confronted and killed by Pain and Konan. During their battle, he apparently used the opportunity to tell Pain that he thought the Elders and Danzou would try to kill both you and the Kyuubi jinchuriki who was Tsunade's hokage-elect. Apparently, he suggested that Pain attempt to cut a deal with Naruto and offered his nin-kin to carry a message prior to his death." He looked to Konan who nodded her confirmation.

"You're lying. That doesn't sound like Kakashi. There's no way he would betray Konoha."

"He said to tell you that those who betray their friends were worse than trash. He seemed to think you would know what he meant," Konan whispered.

Sakura shut her eyes as a piece fell into place. Kakashi had known he was marked for death the instant they found Tsunade's body. He'd used the opportunity to barter with the only group that the Elders feared for the lives of his students. "Please continue," she whispered.

"We sent Naruto a time and place to meet us via Pakkun. At first, we thought he would ignore the request..."

"But then we discovered I was pregnant," Sakura whispered.

Konan nodded tightly. "Yes, we received a frog from Naruto stating that he wanted to meet with us. He specifically requested that Sasuke be there. Sasuke and Pain went to the meeting. Keep in mind, none of us were there for that meeting and everything we know is second hand. If you want to know more, you'll have to ask Sasuke or Pain. I'd ask Pain. Of the three, I believe he was the only one who was sober."

Madara picked up the tale. "Naruto told them about Tsunade's death and who found her body. He also told them about your pregnancy. I want you to keep in mind that your husband was hokage-elect before Tsunade's death. As such, he became hokage the instant she disappeared."

"No he didn't. Danzou did."

"That's not how it works. There is a jutsu that ties the kage-elect to the kage's life force. It makes it so that upon the kage's death or release of the jutsu, only the kage-elect will be able to access certain classified files, spy networks, and orders. Most importantly, atime-space jutsu delivers the kage's signet ring to the kage-elect. If the kage dies without a designated successor, all that's required is the signet ring. It will give the new kage access. This is a standard procedure and is something every kage learns. If they don't learn it from their predecessor, it is the responsibility of the other kages to teach them."

"What proof do you have of this?" she asked. Her voice shook slightly.

Madara pulled out another small package from his pocket and placed it in front of her.

Carefully she unwrapped it and felt the heavy object slide into her hand. Judging by the power running through it, it was the real thing--the Hokage's signet ring. "How did you get this?"

"Your husband was aresourceful man. He sent that along with a letter explaining the jutsu he'd cast on it to me via toad. He entrusted the signet and several other items into my care with instructions to pass them on to you."

"What does this mean?"

"It means that you may either choose to become Hokage or you may designate the next Hokage. It also means that regardless of their delusions of grandeur, the leaders of the coup against Tsunade do not have access to a vast majority of the information required to run a village the size and power of Konoha."

Konan softly spoke from the corner."There's more to it, Sakura. Apparently, as time progressed Naruto became convinced that both you and the child were in danger."

"He was wrong. I was in danger, but they wanted the baby."

Madara chuckled darkly. "Of course they wanted the baby. My dear, do you have any idea why most jinchuriki die unmarried and childless?"

Sakura thought for a moment, recalling all the wonderful moments. Suddenly, she remembered the day before their wedding. Naruto had taken her into his arms and told her no one would blame her if she backed out, least of all him. She remembered the demon's eyes from her wedding night and how he had told she could still back out, but she hadn't. "Because,"she whispered, "you can't truly separate a jinchuriki and his bijuu. When you mate with one, you're mating with them both. As soon as the fetus was old enough, they checked its DNA. I don't know what was found, but they must have found something because that night was when they arrested us."

"Most likely they believe they found the beginnings of a new kekkei genkai. While I believe there is some validity to that idea, and I do think the Kyuubi made some small enhancements to your husband's DNA that were passed down to the child you carry, no one knows if those will be passed down to subsequent generations. It is highly probable that your child will carry several traits that your husband manifested either because of his own bloodlines or Kyuubi's influence. Any guesses as to what those might be?"

"Even without the Kyuubi, Naruto had immense chakra reserves. From the Kyuubi, he received rapid healing abilities and sometimes he could use the Kyuubi's eyes without actually releasing the Kyuubi."

Madara nodded. "And what would the child most likely inherit from you? Think about dominate traits. For example, Naruto's chakra reserves were definitely a dominate trait."

She painfully squeezed her eyes shut and whispered, "Perfect chakra control."

Konan walked over and gently squeezed her hand. "Naruto signed a blood contract with Madara and Pain. In exchange for the safety and freedom of you and your baby, he used a key he had in his possession. The key enabled him to completely remove the Kyuubi's seal, allowing most of it to escape from his body. From there, we captured and sealed the Kyuubi. He kept just enough of the Kyuubi's chakra to make the Elders think he still carried it and that it died with him when they killed him."

Sakura laughed bitterly. "That does sound like something those two would come up with. The whole 'if I die, you die' thing never sat very well with either of them. Plus, they both got one last prank in and what a prank."

Madara placed a small scroll on her bed. "This is Naruto's copy of the contract. Read it when you feel up to it. The important thing is that it is a true blood contract. If either myself or Pain fails to abide by the terms of that contract, both our spirits will be consumed by aReaper." He picked up the small package he'd pulled out of his pocket earlier and gently unwrapped it. Laying the chakra crystal necklace on the bed, he whispered, "Your husband wanted you to have this. He said it was important for a child to have something to remember its father by."

"Sakura, there is something else you should be aware of,"Konan said with a pained expression. "It's something Pain and I learned a few years ago after my first miscarriage, and it may be doubly true in Naruto's case with the Kyuubi in the mix. I'm not sure. I know you've been wearing chakra restraints for the past several months. That may actually have been a blessing in disguise. Children can be born with more than one type of chakra. Your husband was both ajinchuriki and a sage, meaning his body contained regular chakra, nature chakra, and demon chakra. Your child could easily have a mix of these. If that's the case, the pregnancy might become increasingly difficult for you to manage. No one knows much about this one way or another for the simple reason that there has never been a case similar to yours. In my case, we were unaware of any additional strain until it was too late."

"What would need to be done to prevent any complications from this?"

Zetsu covered her other hand with both of his. "Sakura, at this point, we don't even know if it is a problem. /All she's saying is that it is a possibility/."

"He's right. I only brought it up because I discussed the potential problem with the chief medic this morning. I just want to hear his thoughts on the matter, just to be on the safe side. I just didn't think you needed anymore surprises."

The chief medic poked his head in the door. "Mrs. Uzumaki, how are you feeling today?"

"Better, thank you."

He glanced around the room, instantly recognizing the three Akatsuki members. "That's good." He glanced at her chart, which was balanced precariously on the small bedside table. "I understand you did some light reading this morning. Not that I blame you." He pulled out asheaf of papers from his pocket and clipped them in. "These are the latest test results. You can read them later." He rolled a stool and small sonogram machine over to her bedside. "Now, let's take a look at your little one."

Sakura squirmed when the cold gel hit her belly and twisted her head, trying to see the monitor, which was a little difficult to do at the current angle.

"Sorry about that," he said, flipping on a larger display. "Do you want to know the sex? If you don't, you should turn your head."

Sakura was eagerly drinking in the first image she'd seen of her baby and almost missed the doctor's words. "Huh? Actually, I'd kind of like to know." She stared closer at the monitor and smiled. "A boy? I'm having a little boy."

He chuckled, not at all offended that she'd realized it before him. "Looks that way." He put the machine away and re-situated his patient. "Now, I have some serious concerns about this pregnancy, not the least of which is condition my patient arrived in. Mrs. Uzumaki is both underweight and undernourished. At the moment, this doesn't appear to be negatively impacting the fetus, but as she nears her third trimester, the effects will become more dramatic. It can cause pre-term delivery. Added to that, her tox screen tested positive for several chakra inhibiting drugs. These drugs weaken the placenta, as well as inhibiting her ability to absorb key nutrients. Shortly after her body temperature rose, she entered pre-term labor. We were able to stop it, and at this time, I am unsure if it occurred because of the stress caused by the hypothermia and exhaustion or if it was caused by another underlying factor."

He cringed at what he was about to recommend. He'd heard many tales about the young woman under his care, and many of them featured her legendary temper. "I am recommending bed rest for the next ten weeks and a high calorie diet. I have a list of recommended foods and some vitamin supplements I want you to begin immediately."

"What exactly do you mean by bed rest?" Sakura asked in a small voice.

"I mean I want you to remain in a sitting or reclining position at all times. You may get up to use the bathroom and take a quick shower, but other than that we need to keep the time spent on your feet to an absolute minimum. You may use your chakra, but on a very limited basis and only as much as is needed to keep yourself in practice. If you over do it, we'll have to change the restriction to no chakra usage."

Sakura's first reaction was to pinch herself, thereby ensuring this wasn't a bad dream. Then, she interrupted her chakra flow. For the first time in her life, she was disappointed that she wasn't caught in a genjutsu. "This is real, isn't it?" she whispered.

"I'm afraid it is."

"Does this mean she will have to remain in the hospital until she delivers?" Konan asked.

"Well, yes and no. Normally, in cases like this, close friends or a spouse would look after the patient at home. However, Mrs. Uzumaki is both awidow and a refugee. I can't release her without knowing she will be properly cared for."

Konan pursed her lips deep in thought. Originally, she'd planned on offering Sakura her choice of several jobs and a nice two bedroom apartment with the option of joining Akatsuki after the baby was born. Helping her relocate to her choice of Suna or Kirigakure were also options, but her current condition wouldn't allow any of those. Then, there was that stupid contract...

"Doctor, if we may have a few moments, I believe there are some things we need to discuss," Madara said, smoothly interrupting.

The chief medic quietly left the room.

"Sakura, you need to understand that you still have choices and that this will not change those choices, it will just alter the time line a bit. Originally, we were going to offer you a place running our medical corps with a two bedroom apartment and the option of joining Akatsuki after the baby was born. Alternatively, we were going to personally escort you to either Kirigakure or Suna who are both prepared to offer you a similar arrangement. You can still choose to relocate to Kirigakure or Suna and all job offers remain in place, but they are all now after the baby's born. At this point, I suppose the question is do you want to stay in the hospital?"

Sakura shuddered. In many ways, a hospital room was a prison.

"You could stay with me. I can shift most of my duties as Mizukage around so that I can spend more time here, and I'll find someone to cover for me when I'm away," Madara offered.

Sakura raised an eyebrow. She was wondering if he was offering out of genuine concern, curiosity about her child, or if he was simply trying to save his own skin. Something told her it was probably a combination of all three with more of the latter two coming into play.

"It's a moot issue," Zetsu said. "Unlike other members, we can see to our duties from a distance without being there in person. She can stay with us. We'll see to her needs. /She and the babe are already comfortable in our presence, so there won't be a long adjustment period. /She doesn't mind our odd mannerisms. /We both enjoy reading similar journals and books. /She's also fun to share ideas on poisons and antidotes with. Besides, since I don't have a partner, my suite has the extra space for both her and the baby. /There won't be many times when I'm not available, and Madara can stay with her then/."

"Are you sure about this?" Konan asked him. She knew better than anyone else in the organization the level of isolation he typically lived under. Opening his home like this was an extremely generous offer, and she found herself praying to the kamis that Sakura had enough sense to not throw it back in his face.

"Are you sure, Zetsu? I don't want to be a burden on anyone," Sakura whispered. "It won't hurt me to just stay here."

"Positive. Besides I fully intend to keep picking your brain and that will be a lot easier with you in the same suite."

"Okay, but if I get in the way too much, tell me and I'll go back in the hospital."

Konan smiled brightly. "Well, I think that settles just about everything. Sakura, I asked Karin to draw up a preliminary list of what you'd need. She sent some maternity clothes and a few other things that you might be interested in. You're a lot skinnier than we thought you'd be, so Idon't think the pants will fit, but there are several dresses and nightgowns in here that should fit fine. Zetsu, did you ever move anything into the extra room and bathroom?"

"No."

"I suppose I need to find some furniture and linens. I'll also need to get a cleaning crew in there and have someone air it out..."

Sakura's head spun as Konan continued methodically listing the things she would need to buy. "Honestly, I don't need much. Just a futon and a few blankets. That's all. Keep a tally of what I owe you, and I'll find away to pay you back."

Konan stopped her list for a moment and glared at the woman who was spoiling her fun before going right back to planning.

Zetsu backed away from the irate woman. Years of experience with Konan told him to leave her alone when she looked like that.

Madara laughed and pulled out a sheaf of papers. "Sakura, you are an extremely valuable shinobi and we would like you to join the organization after the baby's born. We provide our members with what we consider to be appropriate items, housing, food, and medical care. If you choose not to use something, that is your choice, but as Amegakure's Chief Administrator and Akatsuki Treasurer, Konan is going to provide you with whatever we deem appropriate. As for your other concern, I was going to wait to discuss this with you, but I suppose since you're so worried about it, I should do it now. Did your husband ever discuss his financial situation with you?"

"No, he always said that if anything happened to him, I'd be taken care of. Since I had my own resources, it was never an issue."

"The package he sent me also contained copies of his will and his financial statements. I believe Gaara also received a similar package. Speaking of whom, Konan, please send a message to Suna informing them of Sakura's current status and let their envoy know that she will be able to receive visitors once she's settled in." Setting the package on the bed, he looked her squarely in the eyes. "The basics are that Naruto was the only child of Minato Namikazi and Kushina Uzumaki. At their deaths, they left him avery large estate that he gained control of on his eighteenth birthday. He was also Jiraiya's only heir and inherited the Icha Icha empire at his death. All told he left you a very sizable estate with properties in several countries and multiple bank accounts scattered across the globe. All of the information you need to access those funds is in this folder."

Konan noticed the bewildered expression on Sakura's face and sat down on the bed beside her. "There is enough money in these accounts for you to live very comfortably off the interest for the rest of your life. Financially, you are very well off."

"But I'm a missing-nin, and they executed Naruto as acriminal. They confiscated everything we had. Besides, the civilian villagers hated Naruto. He did everything in cash because they wouldn't allow him to even open a bank account. How could..."

Konan flipped the folder open and skimmed through the list. "Dear, if you'll take alook at this, you'll realize that each of these accounts is a numbered account and none of them are in Fire."

Realizing how incredibly overwhelmed she was, Zetsu stepped in. "I think that is enough surprises for one day. Konan, would you help Sakura change while Madara and I inform the doctor of the arrangements?"

Konan nodded and reached for the duffel bag. She pulled out a soft flannel nightgown that was obviously well-worn. Looking through the bag, she began to realize just how seriously Karin had taken her request. Instead of sending Sakura a few new and uncomfortable outfits, she'd filled the bag with her personal favorites. Reaching into the bottom of the bag, she found a book, which she laid on the bed next to Sakura.

Sakura picked up the book and smirked at the title. "Are you sure this is for me? Why would anyone send a medic-nin a copy of /What to Expect, When You're //Expecting/?" She flipped it over and small envelop landed on her lap. Opening it, she withdrew a small get well card and a folded note.

Dear Sakura,

I'm sorry to hear you're not doing well and hope things get better for you soon. I sent over a few things. They're all very comfortable. Sasuke tells me our due dates are only a few weeks apart. We're expecting our first. As I'm sure you can imagine, he was a little disappointed when he found out the baby boy he'd been hoping for was a girl. Madara actually took that news much better than Sasuke did. Kamis help us when she reaches dating age. If the way I'm being treated during my pregnancy is any indication of how protective the adult men in her life will be, any boy who gets closer than ten feet to her will end up either buried somewhere or cremated. Hopefully, you'll have a boy. At least then, she'll have some chance at a life...

About the book... I know you don't need it, but Sasuke hasn't made that connection yet, which is how I persuaded him to part with the damn thing. Please(and I am literally on my knees begging you to do this) burn this book along with all the helpful little notes that he's scribbled in the margins. If he holds that damn book in front of my face one more time and says "but the book says you aren't supposed to eat/do/think/breathe..." (you get the picture) one more time, our child will be born with only one parent because I swear by all that's holy I'll kill him!

Let me know if you need anything or just want to talk some girl-talk. I know we sort of met a few years ago, but I don't think battles really count. I'm looking forward to meeting you.

Karin

P.S. I would come to visit you in the hospital, but a certain someone will not allow me to go near what he calls a "germ-infested icebox".

Konan who'd read the note over Sakura's shoulder chuckled and held up the nightgown. "Can you disconnect the IVs and monitors so we can get this on you, or do you need me to get a nurse?"

Sakura who was still smiling slightly from the letter reached over and disconnected the IV line, turned off the heart monitors, and disconnected the leads. She reached behind her head to untie the hospital gown and winced.

"Stop. I'll get it," Konan said. Being careful of the many scraps and bruises on Sakura's battered body, she helped her get into the gown and a pair of underwear and watched as Sakura reconnected the machines. She was shocked by how thin and tiny the woman seemed to be. The frail body stood in stark contrast to Karin's healthy glow. "Do you have any hobbies?" she asked.

Sakura thought for a moment. "I used to enjoy cooking, but mostly I read medical journals and experimented with new jutsu on my days off."

"Unfortunately, I don't think you will be doing any cooking or jutsu experiments for a while. Do you like to read anything other than medical journals? Do you knit, crochet, sew...?Is there any activity you might be interested in learning that you can do while on strict bed rest?"

Sakura screwed up her face in thought. "I'm very good at processing paperwork," she said hopefully. Even dull paperwork dealing with rice consumption would be better than twiddling her thumbs all day.

As much as she would have liked the help, Konan shook her head. "Nice try, but that's not an appropriate bed rest activity."

"Ah well, can't blame me for trying. I used to knit a little bit when I was younger and even though Naruto used to complain about my patches, I'm excellent with a needle and thread. My surgeon's knots were the envy of the OR."

Konan nearly choked. Perhaps she should also pick up a book on fabric sewing stitches while she was out.

The chief medic pulled out several folded pieces of paper and tucked them inside the reclaimed chart. He bit his lip and turned to address the two men standing in front of him.

Madara eyed him coldly. "You deliberately left something out. What was it?"

He sighed. "This is a very high risk pregnancy. The mother's physical condition is horrendous. There are signs that some jutsu was used to divert nutrients from the mother's body to the fetus. I'm sure you both noticed how slender she is, but it goes deeper than that. Her bone density is well below what it should be, and her body shows signs of severe starvation. At the moment, we are pouring nutrients into her via IVs, but once she leaves the hospital we lose that option. She'll require a very high calorie liquid diet for the next several weeks. Solid foods will need to be reintroduced slowly. She was anemic when she arrived. That puts both her and the fetus at risk. She also presented with a condition called placenta previa. Basically, this is when the placenta is covering part of the cervix. It may correct itself. If it doesn't there's an increased chance of complications during the delivery, and the fetus may be pre-term. Although, I'd almost say that's a given. The fetus also has unusual chakra paths."Both men gave him blank looks, so he continued. "At this stage in the pregnancy, the fetus uses its mother's chakra to maintain its balance. From what we've observed, there's a very real danger that she will not have the chakra reserves to support both herself and the fetus. Additionally, the fetus almost seems to require a different type of chakra than what she possesses."

"Type?"

"I don't know much about it myself, but I do know it's not following the normal chakra paths."

"Hmm..."Madara turned and politely knocked on the door. At Konan's okay, he slipped into the room and examined the sleeping kunoichi. Stepping outside, he quietly shut the door. "I believe the child is searching for either demon or nature-based chakra. It's difficult to say. If she were at her peak, her reserves would probably be sufficient to support the child throughout the pregnancy, but as things stand..."

An ashen-faced Konan slipped out of the room and silently joined them."I'll see you both later. I need to get her room prepared and make some adjustments to the roster. I'll notify the Suna ambassador in person."She turned to Madara. "I know Sasuke wants an update, but I think we should tell Karin first. She can help prepare him. For the time being, we should leave out the deliberate starvation and torture bits." She literally shook with rage.

Madara and Zetsu both eyed her warily.

"That poor woman," she whispered. "You can count her ribs and the vertebrae on her back. Even though she's pregnant, you can see the sides of her hipbones."

Madara sighed. He and Pain were the only two who knew about Konan's repeated miscarriages and even though she and Pain were now raising several adopted children, no one could ever replace the ones she'd lost. He glanced between Konan and Zetsu, who looked rather worried by Konan's words. He cursed silently. While having his underlings emotionally invested normally worked in his favor, in this case, it could be a disaster. He knew all to well the risks associated with pregnancy, and in a case like Sakura's, the risks dramatically increased. "I'll brief the Organization on Sakura's condition and living arrangements. Konan, when you speak with the Suna ambassador, please recall that he is the Kazekage's brother and was once saved by Sakura. Explain her situation, but keep the rhetoric and emotions to aminimum." He quickly left the building.

Konan ran through her list with Zetsu who made several modifications, including a comfortable garden chair for his attached greenhouse and a baby monitor so he'd know if Sakura needed him during the night.

Zetsu scratched his head, deep in thought. "Konan, could you pick up some of those non-slip thingamajigs for the shower? The tub has stairs leading into it. Idon't think those are slick, but the shower's tile. I had her bathroom painted when I repainted last winter, but I didn't have the bedroom done."

Konan smiled. "I'll place these orders and have the bedroom painted by this afternoon. If I hurry, the furniture should be in later tonight which leaves the linens and clothes for tomorrow morning."

"Good. We'd like to bring her home tomorrow afternoon."

Konan nodded and left. Zetsu's word choice was a bit odd, as was the part of him that said it. Home...the word conjured up a sense of permanence and belonging.

#
Released...

Zetsu stared down at Sakura. She was so bundled against the cold that only the tip of her nose was visible through the heavy coverings. He could feel her soft breathing and knew that she'd fallen asleep shortly after they'd left the hospital for headquarters. Silently, he slipped down the empty corridors to his quarters. Most of the Akatsuki were conveniently being briefed on Sakura's presence and condition, and the normally teeming halls were blessedly empty. Careful not to wake her, he pushed open the door to his quarters.

He walked into Sakura's room. Odd how a few days ago, it was just an empty bedroom, but now it was Sakura's. He gently laid her on the down turned bed. Unwrapping the heavy comforter he'd wrapped her in to protect against the winter chill, he slid the slippers Konan had brought off her feet and covered her with the heavy down comforter. Reaching beside her, he flipped the baby monitor on and quietly slipped out of the room. Sakura didn't stir the entire time.

A few hours later, Zetsu gently shook her awake. Sakura rubbed the sleep from her eyes and slowly sat up. "Sorry, I fell asleep on you again,"she whispered.

"No apology necessary. /You're supposed to sleep/." He passed her a large glass of the chocolate-flavored nutrient concoction the medic had prescribed and pulled up a chair.

Sakura grimaced at the overly sweet flavor. Slowly, she took in her surroundings. A large down comforter covered the bed. Soothing pale blue walls with cream trim, light blocking drapes... A desk was pushed into a far corner along with a chair. Two armchairs were next to the bed, one was fairly large and clearly created for Zetsu's tall form. She frowned slightly at him. Something was different, and then, it hit her. The large fronds around his body were gone.

He smiled faintly. "Kekkei genkai combined with nature chakra. I release it when I'm on base."

"Oh."She continued to study the room. A bookcase was within arms reach of the bed, and a baby monitor was balanced on top of it. She gave him aquestioning look.

Zetsu sighed and pulled the receiver out of his pocket. "I didn't want to intrude on your privacy, but I wanted to keep you safe. I thought this would help."

Sakura nodded faintly, understanding his meaning. Although she didn't like the idea of someone listening to her every move, she knew how feeble her body was. It was nice knowing someone cared enough to listen. "Thanks," she whispered, setting the empty glass on the beside table and drifting off to sleep.

#
Sakura hummed softly and ran her fingers over the soft merino yarn she was knitting into a sweater. Nearly a month had passed since she came to the Akatsuki base, and although things weren't exactly the way she wanted them, they were much better than she'd expected. While the Akatsuki weren't exactly nice, clean-living people, they did go out of their way to take care of her and make her feel welcome. When swollen fingers prevented her from wearing her wedding band, a small chain showed up and Karin helped her grease her finger with Vaseline and work her wedding band off. Her wedding band and the hokage's ring now hung from her neck.

Small gifts from the members decorated the room--a carved horse from Kisame, a journal from Juugo, skeins of soft yarn from Karin and Konan, an odd book on jutsus from Pain, a really weird shark tooth necklace from Suigetsu, and an interesting assortment of child safety devices courtesy of Sasuke. Most of her waking hours were spent either in a comfortable chair, the bed, or out in Zetsu's greenhouse, watching him tend his plants. A small collection of pictures adorned her wall. Konan and Pain's two adopted children and Kisame's six-year-old son, who didn't look at all like Kisame, but greatly resembled Sasuke at that age, frequently gave her drawings and little craft projects they'd made.

She smiled faintly. That was one thing she did like about the Akatsuki. Although their children were clearly learning shinobi skills, they were still children. They laughed and played, running up and down the corridors and clamoring over the large bijuu statue like it was their personal jungle gym. She remembered how serious and intent Sasuke was as a child. These children were nothing like that. She couldn't count the number of times one of their games had gotten out of hand and one of them, frequently Kisame's son, would come flying through the door and beg her to hide them.

It seemed like the adults were determined that their children would not suffer the same hardships they had. That earned them her respect. Staying with them and raising her son with their children was an attractive option.

A sharp knock on the door interrupted her thoughts. She looked up and saw Madara and Zetsu standing in the doorway. A weaker, but familiar chakra was behind them, but she couldn't quite figure out who it was.

"You have a visitor," Madara said, motioning the man behind him forward.

Stunned, Sakura stared at Kankuro. "I didn't think you would come."

Kankuro smiled warmly at her and moved to her bedside. He clutched the hand she held out to him. "Shikamaru said you were knocked up, but I had to see it to believe it." Sakura scowled and he laughed. "Pregnancy suits you."

"Did Shikamaru..."

Kankuro nodded. "He and his team all made it out." He paused for a moment, unsure how she would react to the massive changes that were sweeping through the nations. "The Nara and Hyuga Clans are now officially part of Suna. Shikamaru's marrying Temari, and I'm marrying Hinata to cement the alliances."

Over his shoulder, Sakura saw Zetsu and Madara's impassive faces. Her eyes briefly met Zetsu's before he looked away, ashamed that they had kept the new alliances a secret from her. But the new alliances meant that even if it had a new hokage, Konoha's future was bleak. It would most likely self-destruct within five years. Madara, Konan, and Sasuke had all felt that telling her the truth might endanger her health. In the back of his mind, he knew they were right. Regardless of her new circumstances, when Sakura said home, she still meant Konoha. Given her current condition, confronting her with the reality that Konoha was dying wasn't wise.

Kankuro smiled at her. "Gaara sent you a gift," he said, handing her a small package.

"Thanks,"she said. "You didn't have to do that." She unwrapped the package and gasped. She clenched the small gold circle in her hand, as tears slid down her face. She clutched it to her breast and stood. In a flash, she was past the three bewildered men and out the door, racing down the hallway towards her last link to her dead husband--the bijuu statue.

A moment after she left, Kankuro found himself grabbed by the throat and slammed against the wall. He struggled and gasped for air, but Zetsu was taller and stronger than him. He couldn't break free.

Zetsu watched him go limp and stop struggling. "What did you give her?!" both halves demanded.

Madara placed a gloved hand on Zetsu's arm and indicated he should release Kankuro At the unspoken order, Zetsu growled and roughly released Kankuro, but he didn't back away. Madara activated his sharingan and stared at Kankuro "Young man, answer his question," he said.

Kankuro rubbed his throat. "Naruto's wedding band. He had a mission in Suna not long before his death. He left it with Gaara."

Madara nodded once. "Zetsu, stay with our guest until Konan arrives to escort him out. I'll find Sakura." He turned to Kankuro "Son, you're marrying the Hyuga heiress. Right?" At Kankuro's nod, he continued. "Learn some tact before you say 'I do.' Otherwise, you'll spend the rest of your very short life with a tearful wife and pissed off in-laws." He turned and left.

He tracked Sakura's chakra down the hall and paused outside the large chamber that housed the bijuu statue. He closed his eyes and sighed. The Kyuubi was the link to her past, just as it was to his own. He walked through the door and saw the small figure huddled at the base of the statue. He walked towards her and quietly took a seat beside her. He leaned back against the statue and listened to her heart broken sobs.

He took his mask off and laid it beside him. Then, he reached down the neck of his shirt and tugged out a chain necklace. He took it off and held the chain in his hand. "Sakura," he said softly.

Sakura looked over at him and wiped her eyes. "It's not fair," she whispered.

Madara sadly shook his head. "No, it's not." He held out his hand, showing her the gleaming objects. "Twenty-one years ago, my wife died. We would have been married sixty-eight years that winter." He paused, fighting back the painful memories. "The first week after the funeral I didn't leave the house. When I finally left, everything in Kiri reminded me of her, so I ran. It was several days before I realized that I was circling Konoha. A long life isn't what you think it will be when you get it. You watch as the years creep by and everyone you knew and loved passes on. Their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren all die, while you remain powerless to stop the progression of time."

Sakura gasped. She'd never thought about what living as long as he had actually meant.

"I couldn't live that way anymore, so I decided I would join her. Isummoned the Kyuubi, thinking he would kill me and I'd find peace. When I explained what I wanted, he refused. I attacked him, trying to force him into fighting back. He flew into a rage and knocked me out. That's when he attacked Konoha. Now, he's locked up and I'm still here. In the end, we both lost." He paused for a long moment. He hadn't meant to explain his actions that night. He'd never explained it to anyone, and he'd never publicly admit that what he had said was true. "It took me three years to take off my wedding band. In my grief and hatred, Inearly destroyed my entire clan."

"But you didn't," she whispered.

Madara laughed bitterly. "Not for lack of trying. For years, I was a bitter, hateful man. Then, six months after Itachi's death, Kisame showed up with a new wife and a newborn that everyone knew wasn't his. That little boy showed me that even though life is fleeting and violent, it is still worth living. Your husband understood that better than anyone else I have ever encountered." He reached over and gently prised her hand open. He touched Naruto's wedding band with a fingertip. "Sakura, mourning them for the rest of our lives doesn't honor them. Living does."

Sakura looked up at him and meet his eyes. "Does it ever get any easier?"

He sighed deeply. "Yes and no. The pain doesn't go away, but eventually, you remember the good times. Those offset the pain."

She closed her eyes and bowed her head. "It's just not fair that he left us. We were going to be a family."

He lifted her chin and looked her in the eye. "You still have that. It may not be the family you had planned, but you haven't lost everything."

They sat there for a long while. One was absorbed in thoughts of her dead husband. The other was lending his silent support to the grieving process she had never completed. When the tears dried up and the sniffles stopped, he stood up and held out his hand. He helped her to her feet, picked her up, and carried her back.

"I can walk," she protested.

"You shouldn't." He opened the door and handed her over to Zetsu. He left, silently praying Zetsu wouldn't be burned by her grief.

#
One month later...

It was the middle of the night, and Sakura's head itched. She scratched furiously, but the maddening itch wouldn't stop. She sighed and got out of bed. She stared down at the floor, knowing her feet were down there somewhere, but they had disappeared the week before. She shuffled into the bathroom and turned the shower on. She stripped off her nightgown and stepped into the warm spray.

She wet her hair and reached for the shampoo...

A scream followed by a loud thunk sounded from the baby monitor, and Zetsu bolted out of bed, instantly awake. He raced into Sakura's room and flung the bathroom door open, disregarding her stated need for privacy. He knew she would yell at him later, but didn't care."Sakura?" he called. When she didn't respond, he flung the shower curtain aside.

He stared at the small woman who was slumped on the floor. He turned the water off and carefully moved her out of the shower. He covered her with some towels and pushed an intercom button. Less than three minutes later, a medic came into the apartment.

The medic carefully checked her over. She groaned and her eyes fluttered open. "Don't move, ma'am. Do you remember what happened?"

"I was washing my hair and..." She frowned. For some reason, she couldn't remember what had happened next.

The medic ran his hands over her scull, probing it with chakra. Then, he began checking her other bones and organs. "It's just a minor concussion. Wake her up every hour and keep the lights low. She'll have a monster headache, but she'll be fine. Let's get her into bed," he said, giving Zetsu a look that indicated he had something to say that Sakura shouldn't hear.

The two men dried her off and dressed her. Then, they moved her to the bed. Zetsu tucked the covers around her."Call me if you need anything," he whispered and left, shutting the door behind him.

The medic's mouth was set in a grim line. "Sir, her balance is getting worse and with the condition of her bones she's lucky she didn't suffer a major fracture. Even with you monitoring her, leaving her in a room alone is dangerous. We should move her to the hospital where we can keep a better eye on her."

Zetsu sighed and leaned his forehead against the wall. In Sakura's mind, the hospital was a prison, and she hadn't escaped from one prison just to land in another. "What if someone slept in the same room with her? Would that help?"

The medic shrugged. "If whoever stays with her wakes up with her and helps her to the bathroom and shower, it might."

Zetsu nodded once. "I'll talk to her and the others and see what we can work out. I'll let you know what we will do in a few days."

The medic bowed and left the room. Although he didn't agree with Zetsu's decision, no one argued with an Akatsuki.

Zetsu padded into Sakura's room and gently shook her shoulder, waking her. "Sakura?"

Her eyes fluttered open, and she smiled up at him. "Sorry."

"Stop apologizing." He paused and looked around the comfortable room, suddenly unwilling to tell her the truth. "Sakura," he said gently,"the medic said you needed someone with you at all times."

Sakura frowned. "They're worried about my bones and the baby. Aren't they?" At Zetsu's nod, she rolled her eyes. "If they would just do the procedure to restore my bones, this wouldn't be a problem."

"Sakura, you're a world-renowned medic./ Think like one./ Our medics do not have your level of expertise. You probably could do that procedure on a pregnant woman, but they can't."

Embarrassed, Sakura turned her head away from him. She knew what he said was true, but she hated it. "Does this mean I'm going back to the hospital?"

"Not unless you want to. We're the only ones who don't have obligations this time //of day, so it's either us or the hospital. There isn't room for another bed, but we can sleep in the chair."

"How much help will I need?" she whispered.

"You'll need help with everything. No more unattended showers. We can get one of the women from the kitchens to help you dress and bathe."

Sakura bit her lip. Regardless of the alternatives, she really didn't want to go back to the hospital. "Are you sure?"

He nodded.

She eyed him speculatively. "You can sleep with me if you'd like." She paused when she saw his bewildered expression. "On top of the covers of course." She saw him hesitate. There was ample room for both of them, and it wasn't like they were strangers. Over the past month, he'd acted more like a nurse, than a shinobi, helping her with her physical needs, never flinching from a task.

She knew he was self-conscious and didn't converse with anyone outside the Akatsuki. She also had it on good authority that she was the first female he had ever shown any interest in. A sharp pain stabbed through her stomach, and she placed ahand over her swollen belly, gasping in pain. A moment later Zetsu laid his chakra-laden palm on her stomach. Sakura sighed with relief as the pain subsided. Even if she wasn't ill and had all her chakra reserves, her son needed nature-based chakra, something she could not provide. Without Zetsu and Madara's intervention, she would have miscarried her first week there. She wondered why it wasn't a problem in the prison, but quickly dismissed those thoughts as a warm feeling swept over her. She smiled faintly.

Zetsu sat down on the bed beside her. "Better?"

She nodded faintly. "Thanks."

He sighed and laid his bathrobe on the chair, revealing a pair of pajama pants and a bi-colored bare chest. "If this bothers you, I'll put ashirt on."

Sakura shook her head, and he laid down on top of the covers, leaving about two feet between himself and Sakura. He pulled alight throw over his body. "Are you sure about this?"

Sakura smiled softly. While he didn't have any issues invading her personal space or sharing quarters, he was very protective of his personal space. This was the first time he had remained within touching distance for any length of time. "I trust you, Zetsu. I'm sure."

A few minutes later, she fell asleep. Zetsu lay awake, watching the unusual kunoichi. In their world, sleeping next to another shinobi was the ultimate sign of trust. He drifted off thinking that he wasn't worthy of anyone's trust, much less hers.

#
One month later...

Sakura yawned and snuggled closer to the sleeping form beside her. Sharing abed with Zetsu hadn't been an easy decision for her, and waking up to him the first few times had been a shock. After a few weeks, she realized that she liked sleeping with someone. Just knowing there was someone there and that she wasn't alone was worth any embarrassment the situation caused. She smiled softly and looked down at the black hand covering her stomach.

"Sakura," Zetsu mumbled sleepily, "are you alright?"

"I'm fine. Go back to sleep."

He nuzzled her ear with his nose and contentedly breathed in her scent. He felt the baby kick and smiled softly before falling back to sleep.

Later that night, Zetsu gently disentangled himself from Sakura and stared down at her sleeping form. He gently stroked her face while silently cursing his situation. After a lifetime of loneliness, he had finally found someone, but he would lose her. The moment the baby was born, she would leave and he would once again be alone. He tenderly traced her jawline. She was so beautiful. He shook himself. She was eight and ahalf months pregnant with another man's child. He shouldn't be attracted to her. Unable to sleep, he went and took yet another cold shower. Then, he crawled back into the bed and held her. He would make the most of what little time they had together.

Early in the morning, Sakura felt an odd twinge in her lower back. It wasn't exactly painful, but it was still uncomfortable. She wiggled, trying to work out the kink and accidentally elbowed Zetsu in the stomach.

Zetsu groaned. "Sakura?"

"I'm fine. It's just a little back ache."

Zetsu raised an eyebrow. At Sakura's last appointment, the medic had said back pain was one of the signs of labor, but Sakura was a medic. Surely, she would know if that was happening. "Are you sure?"

"I'm sure."

He began gently massaging her back, causing her to melt against him.

"That feels good," she mumbled.

He smiled and continued massaging. "Have you thought any about what you will do after the baby is born?"

"I'm not sure. I'm thinking about taking Madara up on his offer, but..." she trailed off, unwilling to voice the biggest concern she had.

"But we're Akatsuki, right?"

Sakura nodded. That was the problem. Even though they were becoming the dominant power in the region and a recent treaty with Suna gave them some legitimacy, they were still a criminal organization whose members were all S-class criminal deviants.


Zetsu's fingers stilled as he carefully considered his words. "Sakura, you could always stay here for a few months and see how things work out."

Sakura shook her head."I really shouldn't impose on you anymore than I already am. I mean you're already keeping the baby for a week while I recover from the procedure. I really can't ask you to endure all those midnight feedings."

"We don't mind. /Besides, if it gets to be too much, who says we won't make him into a tiny midnight snack/," he said, clearly teasing her.

Sakura laughed and lightly elbowed him. "Be serious." A spasm ripped through her body, beginning at her lower back and rippling upwards. She hissed in pain and waited a moment for the cramp to subside before continuing."I just don't know. In many ways, I can't justify leaving. We already know the baby will have unknown abilities. Most of my knowledge comes from books. I know nothing about teaching children how to use their kekkei genkai and exploring their own unique abilities. He'll need people like you, Madara, Kisame, and Pain to reach his full potential."

Zetsu shrugged. "He could easily learn the basics at any ninja academy."

"I know, but where would I send him? All of the academies are brutal. Iwill not send my child into..." She stopped when he placed his finger over her lips.

"Calm down. You have another five years before that's an issue, and a lot can change in five years. /I'm serious about the offer. Stay here for the first few months. Get your health back and start training again. Take a couple of missions and take over the hospital. See how you like it./"

Sakura nodded. Another cramp swept through her and she hissed.

Zetsu glanced at the clock. Ten minutes since the previous cramp. That wasn't good. "Sakura, are you sure this isn't..."

"Of course, I'm sure," she snapped.

Zetsu held up his hands defensively and moved away from her. He flipped on the light and picked up a magazine off the nightstand. He flipped it open and began reading. A few minutes later, he heard Sakura hiss again. He stood up, walked over to the closet, and pulled on his cloak. Then, he released his chakra and formed his plant shell.

Sakura raised an eyebrow at him, expecting to hear that he needed to check on enemy troop movements or some other Akatsuki matter.

He picked up a bathrobe and slung a small bag over his shoulder.

Sakura's eyes narrowed. That was her bathrobe and her birthing bag. "What..."

He ignored her and pushed the intercom button. When the operator answered, he said, "Tell the others that Sakura is in labor and we are going to the hospital."

"But I'm not in labor. I'd know if I was..."Sakura hissed sharply when another cramp racked her body. "Maybe I am,"she whispered, "but it's too early."

Zetsu gently picked her up. He saw her panic and lightly kissed her forehead. "Everything will be fine. /You're already inside the time window we were aiming for./Don't worry." He moved them beneath the earth. When they emerged, he removed the earth from them and walked into the hospital. As he walked in, he asked, "Have you picked out a name?"

Sakura whispered something in his ear seconds before the medics whisked her away.

#
Zetsu paced in the waiting room. Whenever a medic walked in, he stopped, but when they didn't come over, he resumed pacing.

Madara sighed. Nothing he or anyone else said could persuade Zetsu to sit and wait calmly. He picked up a magazine off the table and settled in for the wait.

A medic walked up to Zetsu. "Sir, do you have Mrs. Uzumaki's proxy?"

Alarmed, Zetsu nodded.

"Good. We need to do an emergency C Section, but she won't sign the papers."

Zetsu looked down at the clipboard the man passed him. "Is it the placenta previa? We thought that had reversed itself."

The medic shook his head. "No, sir. The baby is in a breach position. Mrs. Uzumaki's physical condition means we can't turn it."

Zetsu pulled out a pen and signed. The medic rushed back to the surgery and Zetsu resumed pacing. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sasuke enter the waiting area and take a seat next to Madara. That meant Konan and Pain had the front for the moment. He sighed with relief. With Pain on the front lines, it was unlikely they would require him until after the birth.

"How is she?" Sasuke asked.

"We don't know, yet. The baby's early. They are doing an emergency C Section. We will know more in a few hours. How's the front?" Madara replied.

"Konoha is still probing our defenses, but so far they haven't broken through. We encountered an exhibitionary force and eliminated it. Kisame's interrogating the prisoners. We will know more in a few hours."

Madara nodded and turned back to the magazine. It was no longer a question of if Konoha would attack in full force. The only question was if Akatsuki and their allies would be able to attack them first.

A short while later, a medic walked into the room. He smiled brightly. "It's ahealthy boy. Five pounds, six ounces. They're sewing her up, and the chief medic is scrubbing in for the bone restoration. She said you had the name." He paused expectantly.

"Satoru," Zetsu croaked. "His name is Uzumaki Satoru. She wants the kanji to be the one for daybreak."

Sasuke stared at him in shock.

Madara burst out laughing. "Well, that's one way to show her appreciation. She named her son after Akatsuki."

"Sir," the medic said to Zetsu, "would you like to see the baby now?"

Zetsu nodded and followed the medic out of the room.

A while later, Madara and Sasuke walked to the maternity ward. They found Zetsu, sitting in a rocker and holding the baby. They had pumped the colostrum from Sakura and given it to him in a bottle. Someone had shown him how to hold the head, and the tiny child was industriously sucking away at the bottle.

Madara's eyes danced at the unusual sight, but he wisely didn't say anything. Instead, he leaned against the door jam and watched.

Sasuke lightly ran his hand over the downy blond hair. It was still too early to tell who he would favor, but it looked like he would favor Naruto. He stared at the son of his best childhood friend and the woman who had once followed him around like a puppy. "At least he doesn't have pink hair," he said and walked out the door. His own wife was three days overdue and would have his hide if he wasn't home by a reasonable hour.

Madara waited until Sasuke left to activate his sharingan. He studied the chakra patterns leaking from the baby. It was still too early to tell definitively, but it looked like he would have the large chakra reserves his father was renowned for. He studied the chakra closer and noticed a faint red thread entwined in the blue. He whistled under his breath. Zetsu looked at him sharply and Madara said, "He inherited both his father and the Kyuubi's chakra."

"Will that be a problem?"

Madara shook his head. "Most likely not. Unlike a jinchuriki, he was born with the chakra. It is a part of him just as much as his other chakra is. It's too early to tell what impact it will have on his development, but he will be quite a handful." He chuckled darkly. "We just think Kisame's little Ichiro is bad. Wait until this one reaches school age. He'll make all the other children around here look like they're standing still."

Zetsu smiled down at the baby and continued rocking. When the nurse came to take the baby back, he shook his head and she left empty handed. A while later, the chief medic informed them that Sakura had come through the procedure with flying colors. Recovering from the birth and the procedure would take a month. After that, she could begin training again.

They brought a groggy Sakura into the room, and Zetsu helped her hold a sleeping Satoru for the first time. She smiled down at her son. "At least he got Naruto's hair," she whispered before drifting off to sleep.

A few days later, Zetsu took both Satoru and Sakura home. Sakura was still on pain killers and couldn't move around much, but she could already do more than she could when she was pregnant. Satoru was a pleasant baby and rarely cried. By that point, Akatsuki had two new infants at headquarters.

#
Sakura focused on Karin. Six weeks after the birth of their children, the two women were sparring, each determined to regain her past strength and return to battle.

Sakura's chakra-charged fist rent the ground, and Karin leaped away. Karin cursed. It wasn't fair. After all those months in prison and then on bed rest, Sakura was out of practice and her muscles had atrophied. Karin had stayed in shape and practiced regularly throughout her pregnancy, but Sakura was still stronger than she was.

The two women closed in on each other and began exchanging a rapid series of blows.

Panting, Karin grinned at Sakura. "You're not beating me this time."

Sakura laughed. "Oh really?," she said and slammed her foot into the ground, causing it to fall out from underneath Karin's feet. She quickly ran through a series of hand signs and trapped Karin in a genjutsu.

Karin finally slapped her hand on the ground in the universal sign of defeat, and Sakura removed the genjutsu. The two women lay on the ground, gasping for breath.

Madara walked up behind them.

"Think we're ready, yet?" Karin asked.

He nodded. "It's a little sooner than I expected, and you're both still alittle rusty, but you'll do." He focused on Karin. "Sasuke will be happy to have you back. Suigetsu is getting on his nerves. Don't you have a baby to feed?" At Karin's nod, he motioned for her to leave.

After Karin left, he sat down beside Sakura. "Have you thought about the offer?"

Sakura nodded. "I have. If the original offer still stands, I'd like to stay here with Akatsuki on a trial basis only."

He nodded. "We don't normally take members on a trial basis, but with your situation that's permissible. Are you thinking about staying on as afull member or just running the hospital?"

She scoffed. "I'm not exactly member material."

He gave her a funny look. "Why do you think that?"

"Well, I'm not that strong. I don't have a kekkei genkai. I'm not the best in battle. Besides, all nine seats are taken. I'm not about to take someone else's place." She stopped when she saw his quizzical expression.

"We have ten rings and ten seats, so you wouldn't be taking anyone's place. As for the other, you are on the few people who have survived multiple encounters with us. At fifteen, you found an antidote to Sasori's poison and helped kill him. Then, you fought with your team against Kakuzu who also died in the encounter. I know you had help, but your record speaks for itself." He pulled a ring out of his pocket and placed it in her hand. "This was Itachi's. Considering how Konoha has treated you, it's only fitting that this be yours. Think it over and let me know. If you do join us, Zetsu would be your partner." He stood up and walked away, leaving Sakura sitting there alone thinking about her and Satoru's future.

She looked at the ring in her hand. For many years, that ring and the man who had worn it had represented everything she stood against. She laughed bitterly. It was amazing how things changed. Bitter enemies had become close allies and friends, and former friends were now her worst enemies. As she turned the ring over in her fingers, she thought about what would happen if Danzou and his minions found Satoru. She thought about Sai and what they had done to him. Then, her thoughts turned to Itachi. She knew both from conversations with Tsunade and later discussions with Sasuke what had happened to him. She stared at the ring for a moment before slipping it onto her right ring finger. It was a perfect fit.

When she passed him on her way inside, Madara saw the ring on her hand, but said nothing. It was only a trial. She hadn't made her final decision.

#
Two months later...

Zetsu stared at the boxes in his living room. "Sakura?" he called. When she didn't answer, he cracked the door to her room and poked his head in. She and Satoru were gone and there were more boxes on the bed. He opened one up and saw some of Sakura's clothes and books. He opened another and found more of her things.

Devastated, he sat down on the bed. He had thought everything was fine. They were partners and their past few missions had gone off without a hitch. She hadn't said anything about her and Satoru leaving. At the very least, he had thought she would tell him first. He picked up the pillow and hugged it to his chest, breathing in her scent and sat on the bed unmoving where Madara found him thirty minutes later.

After several minutes later, a very disgusted Madara left. He couldn't believe Sakura would pack up and leave without saying a word to anyone. He searched for her chakra and found her in Kisame's quarters. He walked down the hall. She would explain her actions or else...

Sakura smiled at Satoru "Were you good for Auntie Saura?" she cooed.

Saura Hoshigaki smiled indulgently and handed Sakura a diaper bag. "He was perfect. When's your next mission?"

"Zetsu and I won't go back out for another three days. Can you keep him then?" she replied, jiggling her baby on her hip.

Madara paused in the doorway. That didn't sound like something she would say if she was leaving.

"We'll be happy to have him," Saura replied. She leaned over and kissed Satoru on his forehead. Like most of the Akatsuki children, Satoru spend nearly as much time with her as he did with his mother and her partner. Unlike the other women in Akatsuki, Saura wasn't a kunoichi. She was just a civilian woman who slept with the wrong man and got pregnant. She was luckier than most. When Itachi died, Kisame stepped in and honored Itachi's obligations. As far as she was concerned, the Akatsuki might be criminals, but they were honorable.

"Saura, would you mind keeping Satoru for a few minutes? I need to speak with Sakura," Madara said from the doorway.

Sakura shrugged and handed Satoru to Saura. "I'll be back in a minute," she whispered and followed Madara into the hallway.

Madara waited until Saura shut the door before he exploded. "What possessed you to move out without at least telling Zetsu? At the very least, you owe him that much."

"What are you talking about?"

"The boxes, Sakura. The boxes. Why were you packing to move without so much as a word to anyone?"

Sakura shook her head. "I was just packing up some old clothes and books from my pregnancy. Satoru will out grow his bassinet in a month or so, and we needed room for a crib. I was moving some old books and the desk out of the room and placing a crib in the corner. Konan ordered one for me afew weeks ago and it's sitting in a box in her office."

Madara closed his eyes. "Did you tell Zetsu about this?"

"No, I didn't think..."

Madara cut her off. "Zetsu thinks you're leaving. He's sitting in your room, thinking that he's done something wrong and lost you."

Sakura felt like she had been kicked in the stomach. She hadn't thought about what Zetsu would think when he saw the boxes. She looked at Madara. "He's the main reason I stayed. I thought he knew..."

"If that's the case, then you should tell him that. Do you want me to keep Satoru tonight?"

Sakura nodded and handed him the diaper bag. She went back in and kissed her son goodnight and left to take care of things with her partner.

#
"Zetsu?"

At the sound of Sakura's voice, Zetsu looked up. He sadly looked around the room. "I guess this is for the best," he whispered. "We were meant to be alone."

Sakura gave him a sad look and shook her head. She walked up to him and tenderly caressed his cheek. "Zetsu, you're not alone. You have me and Satoru and," she said, pausing for emphasis, "we aren't going anywhere."

Bewildered, he looked at her and gestured at the boxes. "Then, what's all this?"

Sakura laughed. "This is stuff that needs to be moved to fit a crib in here."

Zetsu suddenly felt stupid. He had just assumed she was leaving, like everyone else in his life had.

Sakura's heart ached at the expression on his face. In that moment, he once again reminded her of Naruto. She shook herself. Ten months had passed since Naruto's death, and not a day went by that she didn't think of him.

She smiled softly at the man in front of her. She loved him. It wasn't the same as her love for Naruto, but it was love. He was the one who'd held her during the night and rocked her baby to sleep. She remembered feeling his erection pressing against her bottom during the last month of her pregnancy and him getting out of bed and showering in the middle of the night. She knew he was physically attracted to her. If she was completely honest with herself, she was attracted to him, both physically and mentally.

She was also his partner. She had witnessed him disposing of bodies, and unlike some, she didn't think any less of him for that. She was a medic and had dissected more cadavers than she cared to remember. In her mind, there wasn't much difference.

She moved the boxes off the bed and sat down beside him. "Zetsu, there's something I've been meaning to tell you. Satoru and I are staying. We...I need you."

He stared at her in disbelief. "What do you mean?" he croaked.

"I mean that you are one of my precious people. My precious someone. You are the one who kept me going through the last months of my pregnancy. As depressed as I was after Naruto's death, I wouldn't have survived the pregnancy, but you insisted I eat and take care of myself even when I didn't want to. You brought me books and read with me. You even got me to laugh when I didn't think that would ever be possible again. Without you, Satoru and I wouldn't be here."

She leaned in and kissed him gently on the mouth. When he didn't respond, she opened her eyes and looked into his. "You're supposed to kiss me back," she whispered.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. I love you. Both of you," she said and kissed him again. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her closer, deepening their kiss. The plant shell around his body dissolved, and Sakura slipped the Akatsuki cloak from his shoulders.

They slowly undressed each other, revealing in the gentle exploration of each other's body. Sakura gasped when he slid his hand over her bare skin, his knuckles brushing her sensitive nipples.

He smiled down at her, revealing in both the sensations and the amazing feeling that he was no longer alone. "Promise you're not going to leave us?"

"We're not leaving," she said and gave him a hard kiss.

Several hours later, the two exhausted nin lay panting beside each other.

"What would you think about moving your things into our room and turning this into Satoru's room?" Zetsu muttered in her ear.

"That sounds good," she mumbled sleepily.

That night they both slept soundly. For the first time in many months, Sakura felt whole and happy. As for Zetsu, he held his small, unexpected family close to his heart and smiled in his sleep, content in the knowledge that Sakura and Satoru were his and he would never again be alone.


Thanks for reading. Reviews are always appreciated.
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