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A Marriage Inconvenienced

Chapter Text

Sakura wrinkled her nose as she carried a load of heavy boxes up the stairs. She felt the urge to sneeze grow with every step. Shizune had asked her to bring the files of vaccinations up and plenty of dust had settled in the storage area. Most of the files had not been touched in over a year. Sakura turned around with her back to the door that led to the hallway, attempting to open it with her elbow. The delicately perched boxes threatened to fall from her grasp and she adjusted her angle of attack, bending her knees to adjust her height. She gave the knob another jiggle with her elbow, grunting in annoyance when it didn't work.

The door clicked open and the dim stairwell flooded with light.

"Ah Sakura, there you are," Shizune said as she held the door open. "I was hoping you would be here." She removed the box teetering on top of Sakura's pile, sending a puff of dust into the air. Sakura sneezed immediately, releasing the boxes in her arms to the floor with a thump .

She looked blearily at Shizune, rubbing her nose after another couple of sneezes. "I thought you had an appointment with Kakashi today."

"I did," Shizune replied, as she pushed the boxes to the side of the hallway. "Unfortunately, it looks like the Hokage went out for a mission of his own." Her face grew a little pale and leaned over closer. "Please, don't tell anyone about it. People might have unnecessary concerns about the village's safety. He simply took a little visit to the border." She signaled at one of the nurses down the hall. "Could you make certain that the office by the storage closet has been emptied out? These are the files that need to go in there."

Sakura's mouth grew dry as the nurse disappeared around the corner. "The border? Are you sure?"

"Yes," Shizune replied, as she flicked through the files on her desk. "I wish he had mentioned it before I made my way over there. He was the one who made the appointment after all."

Sakura pressed her dusty hands nervously against her uniform. "Excuse me, Shizune. I need to leave and check something."

Shizune made a slight frown. "Is something wrong?"

"No. NO. It's probably nothing." Sakura gave her a weak smile. "I just need to make sure that I'm not making something up. I mean, um, I would really appreciate it if I could have today off."

"That's fine." Shizune squinted at her. "Are you certain you are feeling alright?"

"Yes," Sakura replied as she gave a hasty wave. "I'll help you with those files tomorrow." She made her way towards the stairs, her body tense. The border? She could only think of one reason why Kakashi would go to the border.

Sakura jogged down the streets, weaving through the shoppers who were sauntering past the shops. Her hand tightened into a fist when she caught a glimpse of Hokage Tower above the rooftops. She made her way to the back of the building, where the Hokage's residence was situated. Peeking out from her hiding place in the shady trees, she saw the coast was clear. It was likely that there was a guard at the front door to shoo away any random passersby, but since the Hokage was gone, the back was deserted.

She raced up the side of the building to the top window where she could see into Kakashi's bedroom. She pressed her hands along the glass surface in a circle, letting her chakra burn at her fingertips. The glass pane fell into her hand and Sakura ducked into the opening to enter the bedroom. Tossing the glass cutting onto his bed, she exited his bedroom. As she passed the kitchen, she noticed the dining room table was covered with maps. Pausing, she glanced at the multicolored lines that traced trade routes and missions. Kakashi had scribbled notes along the paths in his distinctive handwriting. Unable to decipher their meaning with her brief glance, she continued on her way. There were more pressing issues at stake.

The hallways outside of the apartment and in the tower were deserted. The feeling of unease grew more intense as she searched for a familiar face. Finally, she arrived at Kakashi's office and raised her hand and knocked. She was aware of the tension in her shoulders as she stared at the wood grains in front of her.

"Come on," she muttered as she waited for the door to open.

Finally, she heard the knob turned and she peered up to see a porcelain mask.

"I have crucial information regarding the Hokage's condition," she blurted out before the guard could give her a curt dismissal. The ANBU stood up even straighter, an action she would not have thought possible.

"Who's there?" Sakura recognized the faint but stern voice of one of the village elders, his voice sharp with impatience.

The guard did not bother to turn his back and face his speaker, keeping his face straight as he evaluated Sakura. She felt her hand twitch, the urge to curl her fist into his face catching her by surprise. "This woman says she has information regarding the Hokage."

Mutters filled the air, their meaning lost to Sakura's ears. She continued to stare at the blank mask, vexed by his emotionless tone. Once again she was burning with emotion while stagnant mutters and placidity surrounded her. There was anger in her veins. How dare Kakashi leave without assistance? She wondered what would happen if she broke the ANBU's mask with her fist.

"Escort her out of the building," a female voice said. Sakura furrowed her brow as she tried to determine where she had heard it before.

The ANBU titled his head with a slight angle. You heard them.

"Yes," Sakura replied in a cool voice, trying to reflect a collected demeanor that she did not feel. "I'm still not leaving."

"Hold on." The door opened further and she saw Yamato's face from behind the ANBU.

"I have crucial information regarding the Hokage's condition," she repeated, trying to keep the desperation out of her voice. But Yamato knew her too well and her attempt failed. He ushered the guard away and let her in the room.

"So is it true that Kakashi left for the border?" Sakura asked as soon as she stepped into the room. She ignored the crowd of ANBU around her and the elders seated by Kakashi's desk.

"How the hell do you know about that?" Sakura turned to see the kunoichi from Mist. "You don't have the rank for that information."

Sakura ignored Kasumi's question and looked at Yamato. When he didn't deny her question, her heart sank deeper into her stomach. "Why did you let him escape your sight? I thought you were supposed to protect him?" She could feel the stony indignation of the ANBU guards, but ignored them in favor of Yamato.

"The Hokage had prepared a transportation scroll and departed before a plan could be established." Yamato shook his head in disbelief. "We believe that he has been preparing for this event for several months on his own. He is an elite ninja and it's not surprising that he was able to carry this out. You can't place all the blame on the guards." He ran a hand across his hair, disheveling it and accentuating his exhaustion. "It is so unlike the Hokage to rush out without a plan in place. He's rarely so impetuous."

"Indeed," said the elder sitting in his seat. "That's one of the most troubling facts. He was chosen because of his dependability. He is not brash like Uzumaki."

Sakura pressed her hands to her face, squeezing her eyes to stop the tunnel vision beginning to form. A small voice was whispering in her head; one that told her exactly what was going on.

There was a sniff of disdain. "See, that's where I think you're wrong." Kasumi's voice was confident. "I know 'Kashi has a level head. The scroll is proof enough that he had a plan in place. He has some intention; we simply can't see what our next action is to be."

Sakura raised her head to stare at Kasumi in disbelief. It was strange to hear words that were so similar to the thoughts in Sakura's head. Sakura might not have cared much for Kakashi's ex-girlfriend, but Kasumi clearly knew him well enough to look underneath the underneath. Hearing her own thoughts spoken with such blunt confidence made it easier for Sakura to speak up.

Sakura cleared her throat softly, an image of a small girl and a red kite flitting through her mind. "It's a message for me."

"Pardon?" Yamato turned to her, his brow furrowed in surprise.

"I… he… I need to go get him." She could feel the silent stares of the sentinels around her, their disbelieving gazes burning at her back. "That's what the Hokage wants."

Kasumi gave a snort. "And what are you going to do, girlie? Give him a haircut? Kakashi has enough brains to outsmart the Uchiha. And Uzumaki has already been informed of the situation and is anticipating the conflict. The two of them should be fine together. I don't see why you think you are important enough to be there."

The careful hold Sakura held on her emotions snapped with Kasumi's derision. She might not have known how to hold up against sadness or guilt, but anger made her more confident. Sakura took a step towards the older woman and raised her chin.

"You're not the only one in this room who knows Kakashi." Sakura replied in a clear voice. " You are the outsider in this room. And while you might know about Sasuke, Naruto, and Kakashi; you don't know who I am. And that shows you don't know much about this situation at all."

Sakura gave a bitter smile. "Kakashi didn't have to go to the border because Naruto was there, but he went anyway. Kakashi knew I would find out. Those three are the members of my first team; of course I would be interested in any news about them. He left so I would follow him, so I could confront Sasuke. And I know the message is for me. I'm the only one to realize how stupid an action it was, because I am the only one who knows that Kakashi doesn't have the Sharingan anymore."

Kasumi's mouth dropped open in surprise and Yamato's face became tight. Around her, the crowd of ANBU shuffled with unease.

"Why do you make such an accusation?" asked one of the elders.

"Kakashi asked me a few months ago to shut down the Sharingan. Lady Tsunade gathered the medical information I would need before she left. I finished the final phase a few weeks ago. It's permanently dormant now." She picked at a loose thread on the edge of her sleeve. "I told him it was a stupid idea. But you know how he can be, sometimes he just gives you that look and you know that there is nothing you say that would change his mind. You could argue with him all day and all night. Then you would still be on the losing side, without sleep or a voice."

"I do not know how well the Hokage will do in a battle without the Sharingan. It has been years since he had to fight without it." He gave Sakura a steady look. "It would help to have you there if he was injured."

Kasumi looked at Sakura with a shrewd gaze. "I'll take you to the border. I have a jutsu that can get us there in minutes."

Sakura looked at her in astonishment. "Are you certain?"

Kasumi reached into her sleeve, withdrawing a slender blue bottle. "Yes. You had better be worth the extra effort it takes for me to drag you there."

Yamato spoke in her defense. "Sakura wouldn't have come here if she wasn't ready to fight. She pours her heart into everything she does and this situation is no different. I hope you can keep up with her, Kasumi."

Sakura gave a grateful smile to Yamato before stepping forward to her new partner. "Do I need to do anything?"

Kasumi didn't respond; she was too busy taking a drink from the bottle in her hands. A smirk crossed her face when she finished. Kasumi placed a hand onto Sakura's shoulder and they vanished into mist.

~O~

Kakash ran across the wild, yellow fields, heading in Sasuke's direction. He had already met up with Naruto and had sent him the wrong way. Naruto's readiness to fight would be bad in the present situation. Ever since he caught word of Sasuke's attack against Sakura, there had been a few questions. Sakura's confession of Sasuke's bizarre attack morphed his old questions into new ones. Why create a dream world that doesn't exist? Why choose Sakura?

Kakashi had begun to think that Sasuke twisted his friendly advice just to spite him, but he finally had the answers. Unfortunately, it meant that he had to divert Naruto's attention until Sakura arrived. Closure was what she needed, not just for her sake, but for Naruto, for the village, and for the once great clan that held so much promise.

He paused and took another deep whiff of the air, catching an acidic odor. Off in the horizon there was a hill, one that contained a cave shielded by rocks. It was a nice shady hiding place from the bright sun. Kakashi took his time as he made his way over, giving Sasuke plenty of time to sense his approach.

Kakashi stopped when he reached the bottom of the hill and waited.

"I knew you would come here, Kakashi" rasped a gruff voice. It held a quality heard from people whose throats were accustomed to breathing in dust.

Kakashi could see a figure standing in the shadows of the cave. His eye widened slightly in surprise, uncertain if this really was his former student. The silhouette was all wrong, Sasuke's trademark hairstyle had been abandoned and the confident posture was gone. The voice was unfamiliar. But Sasuke had last been seen in a village not too far from here, and Kakashi found it difficult to believe that Sasuke would have left such a prime location. The nearest caves were in Konoha, a two days journey.

"Sasuke," Kakashi said as he reached into his pocket, slowly withdrawing a pair of gloves from his hand. "I hear you've finally poked your head out from the rock you have been hiding in."

"Ever the comedian, Kakashi," Sasuke replied.

"I wasn't joking," Kakashi said as he slipped his hand into his gloves. The leather felt comfortable, and he tightened his hand into a fist. That action was all it took for the thrill of battle to rush through his veins. In an instant, he was aware of the blades of grass under his feet, the dark shadow cast by the rocks, and the faint wind in the air. He would fight the last wielder of the Sharingan, and he would have to do so in a way he had not experienced since he was thirteen, with two eyes and all the chakra in his body.

He took another steady breath.

"I've come here to talk to you about some things. You have caused enough grief to the village. Naruto shouldn't be spending his time out here on the outskirts of border town for the whole year. But he does so because he wants to keep everyone safe from you."

Kakashi saw Sasuke take a step forward. "Naruto was your friend, a person with a deep well of optimism and hope. And now you're turning him into a jaded hermit like yourself. You need to tell him to move on."

Sasuke scoffed from his place in the shadows. "Tch. No mention of battle? You've gone soft, Kakashi. You know, I heard that they made you Hokage. It's only a matter of time before the village crumbles if you are at the head. You don't have what it takes in order to keep the village running. It requires force and a steady hand for guidance which is something you don't have. Your reputation has always been greater than your accomplishments."

Kakashi ignored the insult. "Did you visit the remains of the compound by Lightning like I asked you?"

"I don't take orders from you, Kakashi." Sasuke chuckled darkly as he reached into his pocket. "Did you think you could scare me with your family story and I would do as you ask? Did you think that I care what your opinion of me is? I didn't feel like going to a scavenger hunt, so I didn't go."

"I warned you." Kakashi eyed the kunai that was twirling between Sasuke's fingertips. The sunlight glinted off of the blade and into his eyes with each twist; an unwelcome action he would have been able to ignore with the Sharingan. "I was trying to help you understand-"

Sasuke had had enough of the conversation and flung the kunai at Kakashi's head. Kakashi swerved to the left, taking a few steps back and raised his left hand. Sasuke's weapon met with the metal plate on back of Kakashi's hand, sending vibrations down his left arm. Knowing that Sasuke would counterattack with a spin and another swipe, Kakashi backed away while Sasuke's back was turned.

It was madness trying to counterattack the Sharingan without a definitive plan of attack, he of all people was aware of the ridiculous advantage it gave. Kakashi also knew that one of his toughest opponents had been Gai, who had neutralized the benefits of the Sharingan with an unrelenting taijutsu attack.

Kakashi knew that this was not the type of attack suited for him. He preferred something a little craftier. He rapidly moved his hands, causing four bunshin to appear.

Sasuke paused in his attack, eyeing the four bunshin with amusement. "I can tell which one is you."

Kakashi ignored Sasuke, acutely aware of the different reaction of his chakra. The chakra roared through Kakashi's system in excitement. He hadn't used a significant amount since the Sharingan had been shut down and was unprepared for the reaction. Finally, his body was no longer catering to the eye and was free to respond how it wanted without inhibition. Kakashi knew exactly what he needed to do.

The four bunshin took off, approaching a bemused Sasuke.

Sasuke stayed in position, opting to throw kunai rather than evade. If the situation had not been so grim, Kakashi would have laughed. Sasuke was accustomed to fighting Naruto, who could sacrifice the copies because of his enormous chakra reserves. Kakashi had to be more judicial and as such, had given his clones a sense of self-preservation. They swatted the attack away with their own weapons. Sasuke attempted his own attack and sent a massive fireball to roll across the field. It left a trail as it crossed the dry field, sending out great plumes of smoke in the sky. The clones kept their distance, creating a wall of water to douse the intense flames. Kakashi frowned as he watched the smoke climb up the sky. Hopefully, Naruto wouldn't see it.

"This won't work," replied Sasuke with wild eyes when he noticed he was surrounded by Kakashi's clones. "I have enough ability that I can defeat them all. Don't you understand, Kakashi? I cannot be beaten by any jutsu you know."

Kakashi felt a grim smile cross his lips. "This battle isn't going to be won by showing off your fanciest attack. It is going to be won by whoever has the most skill. Amaterasu requires a high amount of chakra and I can wait it out."

"I heard you took my advice about seeking a family. How are those kids working out for you? " His body tensed as he focused his chakra in his body, causing small bursts of static to dance across his fingertips. Perfect. "I heard that you and Sakura had quite the pair."

There was a long silence as the two stared at each other. Sasuke's body language had changed once more. Gone was the consummate soldier with a perfect stance and cool emotions. Kakashi could see the fury roiling off of Sasuke's body in a way that reminded him of an angry drunk. Sasuke had not been prepared for the question.

"She told you?" Sasuke growled.

"Yes, she told me. She told me about your use of Tsukuyomi and the girl with the kite. You were so close to having it all, Sasuke. I had hoped that your family would have been real rather than fantasy." He dipped his hand in his pocket, his fingers sliding across the loops on the top of each kunai.

"Sakura wasn't supposed to tell you. She wasn't supposed to tell anyone. They were ours to know, ours to preserve. You can't hurt anything that isn't real, and there they would have been safe." Sasuke's face twisted with anger as he crept forward.

Kakashi noted Sasuke's rambling meant he was sufficiently distracted and was also ignoring the bunshin surrounding him. Kakashi's hand came in contact with a kunai that was shorter than the others. He slipped it out of his pocket. Across the plain, his clones followed suit.

"They weren't real, Sasuke. They were delusions of your imagination and you have nothing to show for it. You're still alone, Sakura was hurt, and Naruto lost his faith in you. After every confrontation, those two still held on to some hope that you would be able to find a place to call home. They wavered a little bit, especially with the confrontation with Madara becoming worse. But when the conflict was over they did not try to seek you out. But you stayed away from everyone and that killed you." Kakashi held the kunai in his hand as he watched Sasuke tremble. Any second now…

"I'm not dead yet," Sasuke said as he advanced to Kakashi. With Sasuke's attention gone from them, the bunshi began to make hand signs channeling their existence into a justsu. They poofed into a cloud of smoke as their energy was absorbed into the kunai that they had shoved deep into the earth. Kakashi raised his hands to make the final sign, taking a leap back from the weapon at his feet.

Sasuke was an arm's length away, his katana ready to slice Kakashi's body in half when the world exploded.

~O~

Sakura landed with a thud on a yellowed field, sprawled on the earth in the most ungraceful manner. Swear words danced across her lips as she clutched her head in agony. Her body had been unprepared for the unusual method of travel.

"What the hell was that?"

"Air travel," replied Kasumi in a clipped tone. "I converted our bodies into alcohol molecules and brought us here. Now stand up. You're embarrassing me."

Sakura scowled as she rose from the ground. "Embarrassing you? There's no one around." She scanned her surroundings to see a field of yellowed grass. She could see smoke floating on the horizon, a sign of a nearby village.

"They're nearby, I can feel them both."

"Kakashi and Sasuke?" Sakura felt her heart leap into her throat. "What about Naruto?"

Kasumi took another sip of the flask at her hip. "He's still a ways off, but approaching this way. We should wait for him, I'm certain that he would-"

Kasumi paused as the noise of a faint blast traveled across the field. In the distance, Sakura could see a cloud of dirt begin to rise. Not even glancing at Kasumi, Sakura took off in that direction.

She heard Kasumi yell her name, but didn't stop to look back. Sakura could feel the adrenaline coursing through her body as she raced across the field. She noticed that Kasumi had stayed behind; whether it was to wait for Naruto, or fear, she didn't know.

It had been a long time since Sakura had felt so scared of going into battle. Tsunade had taught her how to trust in her own abilities, Naruto had taught her perseverance, and Kakashi had taught her how to trust in others. All of those things she had learned were useless right now because she was running to Sasuke.

He always knew how to make her feel like a fool.

She ran. Sakura regretted every step she took towards the blast. Her fear of meeting Sasuke again was the reason she had stopped active duty, but right now she was drawn in his direction. And this time, a stitch wasn't forming on her side and she wasn't out of breath. She had picked up her training ever since that unfortunate incident with the caravan robbers. But fear was crawling in every inch of her body, her mind imagining the worst. Kakashi lying facedown on the ground, his hair matted with blood. Sasuke standing over him with an arrogant smirk and waiting for her….

Sakura wasn't aware that her fear only made her run faster.

A peculiar smell filled the area as she drew close, a mix of scents she couldn't place. She sucked in a breath as she saw a lone figure standing in the field. She slowed down. A wave of relief rushed over her.

"I'm glad you made it, Sakura." As far as Sakura could tell, Kakashi hadn't even fought Sasuke. The only sign was a small layer of dirt that covered him.

"Where is he? What happened?" She pointed at the large crater in the ground inches away from his feet.

Kakashi scratched his cheek with a finger. "I tried a new jutsu and it worked better than I thought. Sasuke had to retreat to his cave."

Sakura's mouth dropped open. "What? You…. I don't…. I came here to help you !" She raised her hands, the urge to give Kakashi a good shake with his vest. "I hitched a ride with your ex-girlfriend, who I don't even like , because I thought you were in trouble."

"I'm touched by your concern, Sakura." Kakashi placed a gloved hand to his chest. "But I was only trying to buy some time until you arrived." He gave her a serious look. "It's time to face your demon."

"You're sending me in there?" Sakura took a step back in surprise. She shouldn't have been so surprised.

"Yes, but it's not like you think. Physically, Sasuke's in no shape to attack you, what little energy he had was spent on me. You don't even have to talk to him to find the answers you seek."

Sakura thought Kakashi was insane. But he was just standing there, hands in his pockets as the wind ruffled his hair. If there was anything to fear he would have been more on edge. The sight reminded her of easy times when they took ridiculous missions to Rice Country just so she could buy their premium chocolates. She found comfort enough in that memory to turn around and take that first step towards the cave.

Kakashi watched her climb up the hill with apprehension. He didn't know precisely what would be said, but he did all he could do. The rest was up to Sakura. Kakashi looked at the crater of earth that surrounded him as he tucked his hands in his pockets. Now all that was left for him to do was wait for the two of them to exit the cave.

Popping his neck, he noticed Naruto's presence approaching. Kakashi ran towards Naruto to speak with him.

"Naruto, I need you to stay here." But Naruto made no motion to stop, and appeared downright angry. Apparently, he wasn't pleased about Kakashi's misdirection. "Dammit," Kakashi muttered as he saw Naruto race past him. If he killed Sasuke before Sakura discovered the truth she would never truly recover.

Kakashi raised his hands, his fingertips contorting into several hand signals. There was a flash of light and Naruto stopped in his tracks, falling face down to the ground.

"I'm afraid I can't let you interfere with this." Kakashi drew himself closer along the periphery of the box. "It's the best for all of you." He hated the words even as they came out of his mouth, knowing he was acting like the type of teacher he had never been. But in the case of these three, experience was everything.

"What…utsu?" Naruto struggled to speak, his mouth pressed down against the grass.

Kakashi glanced to the left to see Kasumi approaching in the distance. "I put kunai in the ground that act as a focus point in order to magnetically charge the area inside of it, creating a higher gravity force. I developed this jutsu a long time ago, but it requires a steady stream of chakra and it was pointless to use with the Sharingan sucking most of my reserves dry." He raised a hand and tapped the barrier in front of him, causing sparks to ricochet. "I'm afraid it still needs a bit of work. There's too much energy wasted in the walls."

He raised a hand in greeting at Kasumi. "Yo."

Kasumi looked down at Naruto's prostrate form, as he writhed against the grass. "You and your fetish with grass."

Kakashi chuckled as he heard Naruto begin to emit muffled sounds of indignation. He turned to Kasumi and gave a solemn nod. "Thank you for bringing Sakura here."

Kasumi gave a wan smile. "What else could I do, especially since I knew that part of your plan meant she was an integral part of your plan." She took a gulp of a blue bottle that was tucked in a sash around her waist. "Still, I don't see what a girl like her can do in order to defeat Uchiha."

Kakashi sighed. "She's not supposed to defeat Sasuke."

"Oh?" Kasumi raised an eyebrow in astonishment. From the corner of his eye, he could see that Naruto's struggles had diminished.

"No," said Kakashi as he looked at the darkened cave. "She's supposed to cure him."

~O~

Sakura stood at the entrance, squinting into the darkness. She couldn't see him, but she could hear his ragged breath as he approached. Logically, she knew it was insanity to be entering alone with an S-ranked ninja at her feet. But Kakashi wasn't concerned for her, and she trusted him.

Sasuke was pressed against the back wall and made no movement towards her. She saw a scatter of supplies by his feet, a sleeping bag, some food, and ashes where he lit a fire. He had been there for a while, possibly a week.

"Sasuke," Sakura said as she crept forward. "I have to-"

She snapped her mouth shut as a bitter taste filled her mouth and nose. She hadn't noticed the smell in the field; perhaps the wind had carried it away. Trapped in this tiny cave, there was no way to ignore the heady scent. Why was Sasuke not saying anything about it? Unless it was coming from him?

Wrinkling her nose, she came closer, ignoring the odor to focus on Sasuke.

"You told Kakashi about the children," he rasped.

Sakura felt her heart begin to thump faster in her chest, and ignored her apprehension. She had been terrified of Sasuke before, terrified of what he had done, and her heart was broken by his beautiful lies. But all of that had faded away in the background. There was something very wrong about this whole situation.

Sasuke was shaking.

It was not a mild tremble that could only be caught by sharp eyes. Even though he was sitting down, his arms and legs were moving against their own volition. This was the sort of motion that was caused by fatigue, when the body attempted to continue despite the lack of energy. Sakura's eyes widened. She wasn't looking at a S-ranked ninja; she was looking at a very sick person. The medic in her took over her fear and she knelt down in front of him.

"Sasuke," she said. "You don't look well." Sakura raised a hand to press against his forehead, and was stopped when he put a tight hold on her wrist. Then she looked into his eyes.

The world spun and twirled into a kaleidoscope of color until she was presented the vision of a familiar home. Her heart leapt at the sight of a red kite that was flying in the sky a short distance away. Sakura tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, her hand pausing as she noticed the smooth skin behind her ear. The scar was gone, and this was nothing but an illusion.

"Momma?"

Sakura spun and looked down. Ikuye was looking up at her. She was a small girl with wide, green eyes and nine years of age that she had not earned.

"Could you help me with my homework? We're learning how to make flower arrangements and I don't know anything about them. Maybe I could make one for daddy." She gave a timid smile as she presented Sakura with a grubby handful of wild flowers. Some of them still had the roots attached.

Sakura choked back a sob at the familiar sight. This was only a genjutsu, a fact punctuated by an acrid taste that filled her mouth. Sasuke wasn't strong enough to hide the odor. Kneeling in front of her daughter, she brushed at a strand of black hair on her daughter's forehead.

"I'm so sorry," Sakura whispered. And with that, she gathered her chakra and pushed the chakra into Ikuye's body. She felt the energy retaliate in a familiar way. It was impossible to break the genjutsu by conventional means, but this was the same fight she had with Kakashi's eye.

Sasuke's chakra rebelled against hers, but she maintained her control. She saw the genjutsu around her begin to fade, the sour odor returning to her nose. Pulling all of her strength together, she concentrated and gave her chakra a strong shove.

Sasuke's chakra pathway yielded to her control and the genjutsu shattered. Sakura felt Sasuke's warm blood against her thumbs as he slumped to the ground.

Sakura removed her hands from his head and looked at his still form. She noticed the swelling around his knuckles that resembled an advanced stage of arthritis. A whisper left her lips as she remembered the hundreds of vials stored inside of her hospital office.

"Sasuke, you should have gotten a vaccination."