She had not expected to hear such happy news.
Sakura hadn't meant to eavesdrop on Tsunade-hime that time, really. She had just been at the Hokage tower to deliver her latest mission report, since Naruto had been too lazy to do so, saying that he had helped her write it already. She had been grumbling to herself, really, eyes scanning over the papers to make sure that Naruto hadn't made any errors in his writing. She had been disappointed mostly because they hadn't been able to find any further information on Sound, any information on Sasuke in particular.
She hadn't meant to stop at the door of the Hokage office, scrambling through her bag for a pen when she found a rather childish grammatical error in the report. Sakura had only frozen there when she heard the adamant refusal that Tsunade-sama had stated, her voice dangerous in its decision.
Looking back on it now, she should have realized something was wrong just by the tone of the conversation she had heard.
Sakura had raced away from the office when she had heard enough of what was going on, her papers entirely forgotten and fluttering to the floor as her face split into a, at first hesitant, wide grin.
Why, it was such wonderful news! She had to find Naruto as soon as possible to tell him... he had, after Sasuke had left, become one of her very best friends despite how much he could annoy her and they sometimes couldn't understand each other. They, along with Kakashi-sensei, were all that was left of team seven. And no matter how annoyed Sakura could get with Naruto, she was ecstatic to deliver him good news... especially seeing how little good news Naruto got all the time.
Her quick footsteps brought her to the Ichiraku ramen stand where, as she had expected, Naruto was sitting with Iruka-sensei, having finished eating and was currently retelling the tale of their mission in his boisterous voice and exaggerated hand motions. Iruka-sensei was sitting quietly, although he had a small smile on his face as he watched his former student.
"-and then the second guy turned like this/, and did /this/, and all the shurikan just went /whoosh after us!" Naruto's voice grew elevated as he nearly bounced in his seat, seeming so much younger than his fifteen years. "And then, (are you listening to this, Iruka-sensei?) Sakura-chan did these seals," he demonstrated the seals for Iruka, "and she managed to knock all of them down! Of course," he added hastily, "it wasn't as if I couldn't have taken down all the shurikan myself! I managed to beat their asses after that, though! Ha! Those second-rate ninjas have nothing on Uzumaki Naruto!"
Iruka-sensei was laughing openly by this point as Naruto whooped his fists in the air in triumph, and Sakura could feel her own face break into an indulgent smile as she stalked up behind her team-mate.
Sakura grinned before Naruto could notice, and hit him lightly over the head with her knuckles. "Baka." she said warmly, ignoring his indignant yelp as his hands went to protect his head from her. It wasn't like he was hurt from that, with his skull as thick as it was. "You defeated them? Don't make me laugh. If it wasn't for me and Kakashi-sensei, you would probably be in the hospital right now!"
Of course, that wasn't true. Naruto really had done most of the fighting, and he really had been able to take out those Mist ninjas during that fight. But it was tradition that she deny him the fame, just as it was tradition that he wouldn't protest when she was the one doing it.
"But Sakura-chaaaaaaan..." Naruto whined, trying to save his dignity in front of Iruka-sensei.
Sakura smiled at the Chuunin teacher over Naruto's head of blond spikes, bowing briefly in greeting. "Hello, Iruka-sensei!"
The brown-haired Chuunin smiled back at her. "Hello, Sakura. How have you been? Naruto's been talking all about this new technique that you've developed."
I'll bet he has, Sakura thought with a mental eye-roll, but said, "I'm doing okay. I heard some great news today!"
Naruto blinked up at her tentatively, hands still cover his head. "Great news?" he asked. "But... I just saw you ten minutes ago, Sakura-chan!"
"News can spread fast," Sakura responded airily, taking a seat next to Naruto. She noticed that his bowl of ramen was already empty. He probably was only sitting there to prolong hanging around Iruka-sensei. "But, actually, this has to do with you, Naruto!"
"With me?" The blond looked confused, blue eyes darting between Sakura and Iruka-sensei for a moment. The Chuunin teacher shrugged as well, indicating that he had no idea what Sakura was talking about. "What about me?"
Sakura's smile grew even sunnier, and she remember for a moment (with just a flash of shame, but more pride at how she had grown out of it) of how stupid she used to be- how she used to say things to hurt so easily, how she had gotten on Sasuke's bad side at first by insulting Naruto. That was something she wouldn't do now, of course. Naruto was one of her best friends. Anything that pained him inevitably pained her by association.
For a moment, she wondered how she could phrase the information she learned, but then decided to just cut to the chase.
"They found your mother, Naruto!" She beamed at him, seeing his and Iruka-sensei's shocked faces. "I overheard some ANBU... they were arguing with Hokage-sama, I think, on whether they should bring her back to Konoha or not." Now that she thought about it, why would anyone argue that? Whoever the woman was, she had a wonderful son in the hidden village that she would be so proud of. Why shouldn't she come back? "Isn't this /great/?"
It made her ecstatic to deliver this news. She had known from the beginning that Naruto was an orphan, that he had been orphaned at birth and that he lived alone all his life and had never known his parents. He had confessed to her and Sasuke once while they had camped out in the forest during a mission that he had wished he'd known them. That he had wanted to be able to tell his parents about his likes and dislikes, wanted them to be proud of how he wouldn't give up on his goal to be Hokage, no matter how far away that dream seemed.
She used to see the longing in his eyes when he looked at other families, and had tried her best to ignore it because, really, what could she have done about that? Both her team-mates were orphans, but Sasuke at least knew what it was like to have a family.
Sakura wanted desperately to be able to see Naruto smile that sunshine smile of his again, the way he used to smile before Sasuke had left. His smiles were different now; darker, more reserved.
"Ano sa, Sakura-chan," Naruto wavered in his words for a moment before giving her a pained grin. "You must be mistaken. I don't have a mother."
"Of course you have a mother, Naruto!" Sakura amended for him. "Everyone has a mother- don't you want to meet your mother? Tell her how you did in the Chuunin exams? Show her what you've learned?" Make her proud of you? Sakura added in her thoughts.
Naruto's grin didn't falter. "My mother died when I was born, Sakura-chan! So you see, I can't meet her, because she's already gone."
Gone. Gone as in dead.
Sakura blinked in confusion, her eyebrows drawn together as she watched Naruto's painful smile, her own happiness starting to dwindle as her team-mate's reaction took a turn for the unexpected. Shouldn't Naruto be happy? But... was Naruto's mother already dead, then? What were they talking about in the Hokage tower? She was absolutely positive she had heard the ANBU members confirm the woman who was Naruto's mother...
"Ne, Sakura-chan!" Naruto voiced, still sounding so cheerful. How could he sound so cheerful? "I need to go train now... I'll see you later, okay?" He turned his head and gave Iruka-sensei a matching grin. "Thanks for lunch, Iruka-sensei! It was great!"
"W-wait, Naruto...!" She reached out a hand to him, but he had already turned on his heel and left the stand before Sakura could stammer out an apology for bringing up an obviously painful subject. She really hadn't meant to upset him! She had thought to bring him good news... she only wanted to see his eyes light up again like they used to when they were twelve.
"Don't take his reaction too harshly, Sakura. He knows that you meant well."
Sakura lifted guilty eyes to see Iruka-sensei smiling at her, that same smile he used to have when parents were being called in because of their children's behaviors, and he should shake his head and smile and console them and say that they're just children and how their child's misdemeanors really weren't that serious an offense.
Sakura could understand why Naruto liked him so much.
"But, sensei," she protested quietly, the muscles around her mouth tense and one hand brunching her clothes nervously under the gaze of someone whom she had once worked hard to please, because he used to be the one who would mark her tests, and the one who would assign the Genin teams. She felt a childish urge to try and reason her way out of the mistake she had made, to try and tell herself and him that it wasn't her fault, truly. "I did overhear the ANBU speaking with Hokage-sama... I heard them speak about Naruto's mother, and how they had found her..."
"They probably did, then." Iruka-sensei said amiably. Sakura gaped at him when she heard that, but he lifted his hands in defense. "I'm not saying that you're wrong, Sakura. I know you're not the type of person who would upset Naruto on purpose. The ANBU most likely did find his mother, then." He paused for a second to let that sink in, and Sakura's confidence took a leap to learn that she hadn't been wrong.
"But," Iruka-sensei continued, "I don't think that it would be something that Naruto would want to hear about."
"Why not?" The statement sounded childish even to her own ears. Sakura plowed on, "I know that Naruto's wanted to learn about his parents, about what family he has. If they really have found his mother... why wouldn't he want to know? Why wouldn't he be happy about it?" Because Naruto had been anything but happy when Sakura had broken to him the news.
Iruka-sensei took a moment to think about Sakura's words. The shop owner had come, and Iruka was thanking him for the meal, counting out change to pay for the ramen. Sakura waited patiently for his response. It wasn't like she had anyone else to ask. After all, Iruka-sensei had been the closet thing Naruto had to a parent back when they were in the Academy.
"It is," he said finally, after laying out the correct amount of money to the shop owner, and getting ready to leave, "a pride that orphans have, Sakura. Especially pride that orphans in Konoha have. Being an orphan in Konoha means that your parents have died. It usually means that your parents have died in battle, and that they died an honorable death, protecting the village." He gave a little self-decimating smile. "It's all a matter of pride. No one wants to think that they are orphaned because they are unwanted. It is easier to believe that parents had no choice in the matter, that they loved their child more than anything and would never give them up.
"That is something that Naruto wants to believe."
Iruka-sensei left not long after that, unnoticed by Sakura who was too lost in her own thoughts. Was that why Tsunade-hime had been so adamant against Naruto's mother coming to Konoha? The older woman had, after all, always been so protective of Naruto. Was this why she had never called Naruto in to tell him the news? What kind of woman would abandon her child? Especially a child as happy and bright as Naruto?
Sakura nodded to herself, and stood up.
Tomorrow, she would find Naruto and apologize to him. She would claim that she had heard wrong, that she had misinterpreted information because she had been tired and thinking about him. He would probably tease her and make a ridiculous claim about how she must have a crush on him to think about him, and she would probably hit him over the head and yell at him for that.
She would have to speak with Tsunade-sama first. Come up with a suitable lie to work with. She wasn't the smartest kunoichi in her year for nothing, after all, and even if Naruto never made it a point to ask Tsunade-sama about what Sakura had overheard, she liked to cover her tracks. She was a ninja. It was what she did.
Even if it was a lie, Sakura felt that she might be able to understand a little part of it now.
Naruto's happiness, after all, meant more to her than that of some unknown woman she had never met.
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