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Three hours after her daughter is born, Sakura holds her to her chest and stares down at the tiny little thing. She doesn’t look like much of anything yet- she’s bald, and hot pink, and asleep- but Sakura knows, suddenly that there’s nothing she wouldn’t do for the tiny creature.

 

“Sasuke,” she says, “you can’t leave the village anymore.”

 

Sasuke looks up from his daughter, shocked. “I can’t- I can’t promise you that, Sakura. I go wherever the hokage requires me to go- I can’t just stay here because you want me to-”

 

“No.” Sakura says. She looks up from her daughter and glares at her husband. “No. You have a daughter now. You have a family. If it were just me, you could leave all you want. I can amuse myself, I have friends. But you have a daughter, and I will not let you leave your daughter behind. You are the only father she has, and you will not abandon her. You can’t leave the village anymore.”

 

Sasuke swallows.

 

“I understand,” he says, and Sakura knows that he is lying.

 


 

 That night, they’re sitting at the kitchen table after finally getting Sarada settled in her crib, trying to figure out who her godparents will be.

 

“Shishou’s gonna throw a fit if she hears that she’s not a godmother,” Sakura says. “But then again, so will Ino. So that’s two godmothers, since nobody else is that immature.”

 

“Who’s gonna be her godfather, though?” Sasuke asks. “Obviously Naruto, because he would pitch a bitch fit if he wasn’t, but is anyone else too annoying to cross off?”

 

“Sai,” Sakura says immediately. “He gets so sad, and he gives me those puppy eyes, and I am not going to deal with Ino gloating over him.”

 

“Tsunade, Ino, Naruto, Sai,” Sasuke lists off. “This kid is gonna be spoiled as all hell.”

 

Sakura snorts. “With Tsunade? She won’t be spoiled, she’ll just be able to lift both of us before she starts the academy.”

 

“With Naruto?” Sasuke shoots back. “She’ll get whatever she wants if she asks him.”

 

Sakura just rolls her eyes. “We’re not gonna let Naruto ruin our daughter. Besides, he already has a kid. He doesn’t have time to ruin our daughter.”

 


 

They take Sarada over to Naruto’s place the next month, to introduce her to her godfather and her auntie.

 

Sakura introduces Naruto to Sarada as “Uncle Naruto”, and the moron actually starts tearing up.

 

“I’m an uncle?” He asks, like he can’t quite believe it. He’s cradling Sarada in his arms and looking at her like he’s never seen a baby before. “I’m her uncle?”

 

“And her godfather,” Sasuke points out.

 

“But I’m her uncle,” Naruto says. “Don’t you two know what that means?”

 

Sakura shrugs and takes another drink of Hinata’s lavender tea. She swears by it, and Sakura can’t find it in her to disagree.

 

“It means I’m your brother,” Naruto says, grinning. “You guys think I’m family.”

 

Sakura rolls her eyes. “Yeah, duh,” she says. “Are you only just catching on?”

 

“Seriously,” Sasuke adds. “You really didn’t think we thought of you as family?”

 

Naruto finally looks up from Sarada, eyes wide and teary. “Really?”

 

“Duh,” Sakura says again.

 

“You really are dead last in everything, huh?” Sasuke teases.

 

“I would make you eat those words,” Naruto says- though the effect is more than a little ruined by the tears falling down his face- “but I’m holding a beautiful precious baby.”

 

“Not for long, you’re not,” Sakura says, heaving herself up off the couch. “We have to introduce her to Uncle Sai and Auntie Ino, still. And Auntie Hinata, if she’s around.”

 

“And Auntie Tenten, and Auntie Karui, and Auntie Temari, and Uncle Lee, and Uncle Shino and Uncle Kiba and Uncle Chouji and Uncle Shikamaru, and Uncle Kakashi,” Sasuke lists. “I’m starting to think there’s a gender disparity in this village.”

 

“No,” Naruto protests. “My baby now.”

 

“I’ll fight you for her,” Sakura offers. “Where’s your wife? Is she on a walk with Boruto?”

 

“Probably,” Naruto says. He tickles Sarada’s chin. “I don’t wanna give up Sacchan.  She’s so cute.”

 

“Yeah, duh, we made her,” Sakura says. “Give me my kid before I knock your teeth out, Naruto.”

 

Naruto pouts. “Is that anyway to talk to your brother?”

 

“It is if he’s being a shithead. Give me my baby.”

 


 

Ino and Sai are much better behaved than Naruto had been. Ino coos appropriately, and doesn’t try to kidnap Sarada, and Sai draws about fifty different portraits of Sarada in the hour they spend together. 

 

“She’s just a baby,” Ino says.

 

“That does tend to happen when a child was only born a month ago,” Sai agrees, paintbrush flying across the page.

 

“Sarcastic bastard,” Ino says, in the same tone of voice. “Sakura-chan, she’s so cute. She looks just like you!”

 

Sakura laughs. “Ino, she’s a baby. She doesn’t look like anyone.”

 

“Nooo, she looks like you. She’s got your forehead! And your lips, and… something, probably. Eyes? Aw, nope.”

 

“Thanks,” Sasuke says drily.

 

“Shut up, you know Sakura-chan’s eyes are prettier than yours,” Ino says, waving her hand. “Sakura-chan’s prettier than you in general. Right, Sai?”

 

“Right,” Sai agrees, not looking up from his drawing pad. Sakura is on her usual perch next to him, leaning over to watch him sketch.

 

“Oh, yeah, that reminds me. I’m pregnant,” Ino says, bouncing Sarada in her arms. Sarada gurgles back at her.

 

“Oh, congratulations,” Sakura says. “You and Sai?”

 

“Only biologically,” Ino says. “He’s gonna stick around, help raise the kid ‘cause he’s a sucker like that, but it’s not. Y’know.”

 

“We know,” Sasuke agrees.

 

“I wanna be godmother,” Sakura says.

 

“Of course,” Sai says.

 

“Duh,” Ino says. She pokes Sarada’s nose.

 


 

 

Tsunade doesn’t come back to Konoha until Sarada’s a year old, toddling around and poking things she shouldn’t and giggling and burbling and playing with Boruto day in and day out.

 

Where,” Tsunade demands, as soon as she sees Sakura, “is my precious student’s daughter?”

 

Tsunade, as it turns out, absolutely is the biggest risk for spoiling Sarada, as she comes with three bags of clothes, toys, kids’ books and practice kunai.

 

“You’re a menace,” Sakura says, watching Sarada whack Tsunade in the face with a rubber kunai over and over. “And you’re making my daughter a menace, too. Do you know how hard I worked to make sure she wouldn’t be a menace? And then you turn up, menacing up the place.”

 

“Your daughter is the menace,” Tsunade says. She snatches the kunai from Sarada, who immediately starts crying, and Tsunade immediately gives it back to her.

 

She whacks Tsunade.

 

“You’re the one who gave a one-year-old a toy kunai,” Sakura points out. “You should’ve seen this coming, I feel like.”

 

Tsunade makes a face at her. “Where’s your husband? He doesn’t give me lip.”

 

“He doesn’t give you lip because he’s still terrified that you’re gonna punch him through a wall,” Sakura says. “He’s getting groceries. We’re making curry tonight, but we ran out of rice.”

 

“How do you run out of rice?”

 

“Listen, there’s two active shinobi in this household- one of whom is in ANBU, thank you very much- and a one-year-old. You try estimating how much rice is needed per shopping trip.”

 

“I count three active shinobi,” Sasuke says, as he walks into the kitchen. “Hello, Tsunade-sama. Is my daughter treating you well?”

 

Tsunade makes a face at him, and Sakura almost laughs at how quickly Sasuke backs down.

 

“Go make your curry, Uchiha,” she growls.

 

Sarada hits her with the rubber kunai.

 


 

 

To Sasuke’s credit, he does manage to wait until Sarada is two to leave the village.

 

He leaves the same way he had left all those years ago, no alerting anyone to his plans, in the middle of the night.

 

At least this time he has the decency to leave a note.

 

Sakura tries not to feel angry. Tries not to clench her fists or growl or punch a wall or set a bad example for Sarada. She knows how hard it is for her husband to stay in Konoha, hemmed in by the walls and seeing the village that let his family die, day after day after day, but-

 

But she and Sarada are his family too, and they aren’t dead. Sarada is just about old enough to start forming long-term memories, and Sasuke managed to leave just before Sarada will remember her Papa, and his kindness, and how much he loved Sarada.

 

He had promised that he wouldn’t leave.

 

Sakura isn’t bitter. It’s his nature.

 

But Sakura won’t get angry. Instead, she takes several deep breaths, tries to calm down, have something for breakfast, but then she manages to eat an entire apple, including the core, in about five bites and instead she goes to the backyard and beats up a training dummy who never did anything to hurt anybody.

 

And then she goes back inside, wakes up Sarada and makes her breakfast. Cereal and strawberry milk, her favorite, and she reads the Shinobi Rules to Sarada while she eats.

 

Once breakfast is done with, Sakura gets Sarada dressed- July, so a shirt and shorts is plenty- has her use the bathroom one last time, and takes her over to Ino’s house.

 

Sai answers the door, which isn’t shocking. T&I employees work long hours and tend to sleep until noon when they can, and Sai retired from shinobihood without so much as a fake smile and a passive aggressive comment.

 

“Good morning, Ugly,” he says, blinking. “How may I help you?”

 

“G’mornin’, uggy,” Sarada repeats, waving her hand towards Sai. “Uncle Sai! G’mornin’, uggy!”

 

“Good morning, Cutesy,” Sai says. He reaches towards her- glances at Sakura, just to check- and then takes Sarada from Sakura, briefly lifting her over his head before tucking her against his chest. “Come in, Ugly.”

 

Sakura follows, taking off her shoes, and Sai takes her and Sarada to the kitchen, where Inojin apparently just finished his own breakfast.

 

“Would you like to play with Inojin, Cutesy?” Sai asks.

 

“Inoji,” Sarada agrees. Sai sets her down on the ground and carefully lifts Inojin out of his high chair before setting him next to Sarada as well. Sarada takes Inojin’s hand, gently, and helps him walk into the living room.

 

“What is wrong, Ugly?” Sai asks. He’s not looking at her, instead cleaning up the table. Inojin is a much messier eater than Sarada, and there are splotches of yogurt and berries all over it. “You never come over so early unless you are upset.”

 

“Sasuke left,” Sakura says. She sits down at the table, and Sai’s movements slow.

 

“I see,” he says, and there’s a dangerous edge to his voice.

 

“Killing intent inhibits brain development in children under the age of twelve,” she reminds him tiredly.

 

“Of course,” he says, voice still sounding dangerous but chakra now calmer. Or- not calmer, but more restrained, tied with a chain instead of a rope.

 

“I just-” Sakura shakes her head. “I just had to be with someone who knows how the world works for a little bit. I can’t be in mommy mode all day today.”

 

“I understand,” Sai says. “I occasionally wish to take time to have an adult conversation as well.”

 

“Yeah,” Sakura agrees. “Adult conversations are great.”

 

Sai nods as he rinses off his sponge in the sink. “Do you want to bitch about Traitor?”

 

Sakura makes a face. “Right now, I don’t want to even think about him.”

 

“Of course,” Sai says. “What would you like to talk about?”

 

Fuck, I don’t know. We could talk about how paint dries, and I would be thrilled. Anything but, y’know, him.”

 

“Paint dries very slowly,” Sai says. “Usually it starts at the layer closest to the surface being painted. This is why thicker paints, such as oils, dry more slowly than watercolors.”

 


 

 

The next day, Ino kidnaps Sarada.

 

Sakura doesn’t even notice, because Ino somehow manages to roll herself out of bed before Sakura by a significant enough margin that she stole Sakura’s daughter, and Sakura doesn’t notice until Ino shoves her out of bed.

 

“Whathefuck,” Sakura says, staring up at Ino, who is still on the bed.

 

“Sacchan is at my place,” Ino says, instead of explaining anything. “We’re having a kunoichi day. Get dressed.”

 

“I wanna stay home and watch shitty TV,” Sakura complains. “Eat ice cream. Feel sorry for myself. You took my kid, I can do whatever I want.”

 

“No, you can’t,” Ino says. “And you don’t want to do that anyways, because you know you’ll just feel shittier. And you shouldn’t feel shitty, Sasuke should feel shitty. So get dressed, we still have to go pick up Temari and Karui and Tenten and Hinata.”

 

Sakura groans. “I barely know any of them. And all of them but Hinata hate Sasuke.”

 

“Yeah, he’s not exactly at the top of my list right now either, though,” Ino says, hopping off Sakura’s bed and going over to her closet. “But we’re not gonna talk about your husband. We’re gonna get some food and hang out and have fun, right?”

 

“I don’t want to have fun,” Sakura says. “I want to throw myself a pity party.”

 

“Too bad. I’m your best friend, that means I get to make adult decisions for you. Hey, this dress is cute.”

 

“I’m in ANBU. I don’t have time for cute,” Sakura whines.

 

“If you don’t have time for cute, you definitely don’t have time for self-pity. Get dressed, I’m gonna make you breakfast.”

 

Sakura just groans, even after Ino’s already left and gone downstairs.

 


 

 

It’s not that Sakura dislikes Temari or Karui or Hinata or Tenten. They’re great, and Tenten gives her a discount on weapons for being one of about seven surviving kunoichi from their generation from Konoha, but most of Sakura’s friends are guys. She likes being friends with guys, mostly because they never try to give her fashion advice or ask about her favorite method for putting babies down for naps. She likes talking to Sai about how to insult people, or Naruto about different sparring techniques and coming up with new katas, or Chouji and the best way to cook pineapple, or even Shikamaru and shogi.

 

Sakura hasn’t been able to giggle and chat about nonsense since before she graduated the academy. She can do it on missions easy enough, because that’s all pretend and she’s not even Sakura when she’s on missions, not really.

 

But she can’t sit at the table of some trendy cafe in one had once been the Uzushio, before Pein’s invasion, and drink flavored lemonade and giggle and titter about children and their shenanigans.

 

But every time Sakura starts thinking about just getting up and walking away, Ino shoots her that look that used to mean “don’t be shy, you’re doing great, speak up” but now probably means “if you go back home right now, I won’t give you your daughter back.”

 

So Sakura just keeps sitting there and letting Hinata and Ino and Tenten giggle around her, while Temari and Karui both sit back. Suna and Kumo are both generally more quiet than Konoha- not a lot of people in Konoha know when to hold their peace or how to speak at a volume below a quiet explosion.

 

“So,” Ino says, as soon as there’s a lull in the conversation, “Uchiha Sasuke sucks ass.”

 

Karui nods.

 

“I thought we weren’t gonna talk shit about my husband,” Sakura says. “You said we weren’t gonna talk shit about my husband.”

 

“We’re not!” Ino says, eyes too wide and innocent. “Just li’l old Ino is, that’s all. That’s hardly a we.”

 

“We weren’t?” Karui asks.

 

“I kinda did think this was an intervention-type thing,” Temari says.

 

Sakura sighs and shunshin s away. Even once she’s more than halfway back to her house, she can hear Ino shouting after her.

 


 

 

When Sarada is four, Sakura is assigned a two-week-long S-rank through ANBU. It’s one of the first ones that she won’t be able to take Sarada on, now that the girl is forming long-term memories.

 

Tsunade is visiting, and she seems disappointed that Sakura is going on a mission during one of the few times that Tsunade decides to come back around to Konoha. Disappointed, but not surprised, not rejecting. Just- disappointed.

 

But the important thing is that Tsunade is there, bringing more piles of presents and toy kunai and other things that Sakura is going to hide half away for Sarada’s next birthday.

 

Sakura explains the schedule to Tsunade a couple times. Sarada gets dropped off at her preschool at seven thirty- yes, it’s in the civilian sector, believe it or not civilians actually can learn things without shinobi around, no Sakura isn’t bitter- and gets picked up at noon. They get lunch at the daycare, and then dinner is at five thirty, and Sarada has to have some kind of vegetable with it, and not just cucumber, some peas or green peppers or broccoli or something healthy. Baths every other day, no later than seven, and bedtime at eight, after stories and songs and other bedtime rituals.

 

She leaves behind a list of emergency phone numbers- and that is a handy little invention, don’t even need summons for it or anything- and Tsunade laughs, thinks it’s hilarious that Sakura is worried about there being an emergency that Tsunade can’t handle.

 

“It’s for Sarada, too,” Sakura says, looking her shishou in the eye and trying not to be bitter about how the scent of sake had half-coated her when she was Tsunade’s apprentice.

 

Tsunade’s eyes get sad at that, and she hugs Sakura tight, apologizes quietly.

 

Tsunade smells like lavender.

 

Sarada hugs Sakura good-bye, tells her that she’ll be good for Granny Tsunade, tells her that she knows that her mama’s gonna beat the bad guys because her mama’s the best shinobi ever.

 

And all Sakura wants to do is squeeze her tighter and kiss her forehead and protect her from everything that the world could ever possibly throw at her.

 

Instead, she smiles and leaves, pulling her mask on as she starts running.

 


 

 

Sakura doesn’t realize that she’s successfully completed the mission until she realizes that everything smells, tastes, and looks like blood, and that she’s about to crash out of the trees and to the ground.

 

She puts half of what chakra she has left into a half-missed leap and oh, that was a mistake, because all she can feel suddenly is pain, bright and glaring and cutting through the sensation that is blood.

 

She only just manages to open her eyes enough to surveil her position while she’s midair, and that’s precisely when she clears Konoha’s wall. She falls to a rooftop, stumbling and bringing even more blood and pain, almost overcoming her.

 

She doesn’t have enough chakra to heal her leg completely, so she settles for closing the cut, stopping the blood if not the pain.

 

She can’t make it back to the hokage tower, not in her state, can’t even make it to the nearest ANBU office.

 

Instead, she goes back to her house. Stumbles through the front door, breaks the knob instead of fishing out her keys. She’s opened her cut again, and she’s bleeding again, and it’s all she can do to toss her mask aside before she starts making her way up the stairs.

 

“Mama?” Sarada asks. When Sakura looks up from her feet, she sees her daughter standing at the top of the stairs, holding the corner and biting her lip. “Are you okay, Mama?”

 

Sakura looks up at Sarada, climbs up the stairs, and grabs her daughter in a tight hug. She sits down at the top of the stairs, just holding her baby and trying not to cry.

 

“Mama’s fine, baby,” she says. “Mama’s fine, Mama’s just fine. How’s my baby? Were you good for Grandma Tsunade?”

 

“Uh-huh,” Sarada says. “Mama, you got an owie.”

 

Sakura nods. “Mama’s got a lot of owies, baby. It’s what happens to shinobi.” She presses her face to Sarada’s head and takes a deep breath of her daughter.

 

“Sakura?”

 

Sakura looks up to see Tsunade standing above her. “Hey, shishou.”

 

Tsunade nods and kneels down next to Sakura and her daughter. “Hey, Sarada-tan, it’s bedtime.”

 

“But Mama’s back,” Sarada said.

 

“That’s right, she is. And what do we say when someone comes home?”
 

Sarada pushes slightly away from Sakura to show her her grin. “Welcome home, Mama!”

 

Sakura smiles. “I’m home.”

 

“Good job,” Tsunade says. She pulls Sarada out of Sakura’s lap and sets her aside, back on her feet. “Now that you said welcome home, it’s time for you to go to bed. Mama has to go to bed too, you know?”

 

Sarada pouts. “Just a little longer, Grandma? Please? I missed Mama.”

 

“Go to bed, sweetie,” Sakura says. “Mama has to go to sleep soon, too. I’ll be here in the morning.”

 

Sarada sighs, heavily, and it almost aches at how similar she is to Sasuke, already acting like the whole world is on her shoulders. “Fine. But I’m not happy about it!”

 

“Ah, go to bed, Sa-tan,” Tsunade says. “We’ll have something sweet tomorrow to make up for it.”

 

“Not worth it!” Sarada declares. She spins on her heel and stomps down the hall before she slams her bedroom door.

 

Tsunade sighs.

 

“She’s a little spitfire, isn’t she?” Sakura says. “Glad she doesn’t have my strength, yet. She’d break half the house.”

 

“Glad she isn’t spitting fire,” Tsunade mutters. Her hands are already glowing as she moves them up and down Sakura’s body, healing every cut, bruise, and damage. “Glad she’s not as stupid as her mother is, yet, going out and nearly getting killed, and-”

 

“Shishou,” Sakura says, catching Tsunade’s wrist, “I’m fine.”

 

“No, you aren’t,” Tsunade says, snatching her hand away. “Look at you, Sakura. You’re nearly out of chakra, you’re covered in cuts and bruises and broken bones, and you almost came back dead from some shitty assassination mission! You should have finished that mission in three days, come back top of your game and gone to the hokage tower to give your report instead of stumbling into your house in the middle of the night and scaring your daughter half to death.”
 

“I didn’t scare Sarada,” Sakura argues, but it’s weak. uncertain. Sarada had looked frightened when she had seen Sakura, bloody and stumbling up the stairs.

 

“You have a daughter, Sakura,” Tsunade says, continuing her healing. “Just because you stayed, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to change. Coming back to a little kid, covered in blood and injuries and such- you can’t do that anymore. You have to change.”

 

“I’m better, though.”

 

“Better, yes. That doesn’t mean you get to come off of ANBU missions bloodied and injured, stumbling into your house like you’re drunk. It’s not fair to do that to your daughter.” Tsunade claps her hands off as she finishes healing Sakura. “You should quit ANBU.”
 

“I have to be needed,” Sakura says. She feels like a child, again, trying to get her shishou to solve her problems.

 

Sarada needs you,” Tsunade says. “Your family, your friends, they need you. You want a job that needs you? Work at the hospital. Give your report to Kakashi and then tell him that you want to be the head doctor of the hospital. Shinobi, general, whatever the fuck you want. Don’t throw yourself into ANBU just because you think the only thing you’re good for is being a shinobi.”

 

Tsunade, like always and everyone, walks away.

 

Sakura isn’t bitter that Tsunade walks away. It’s her nature.

 

Sakura isn’t bitter that she has to quit ANBU, either. It’s what’s right for her daughter.

 

She has to put her daughter first.

 

She isn’t bitter.

 


 

 

Kakashi takes her resignation better than she expected. Just shrugs, nods, waves her away.

 

Instead, she tosses her mask on his desk.

 

“I wanna be head of the Konoha shinobi hospital,” she demands. “I’m the best medic you’ve got, I’m smart, I’m strong-willed. The current head is seventy-eight, and his values are about that old, too. I’m the best choice for the position.”
 

Kakashi raises one eyebrow. “And you thought the best way to get this job was to demand it from the hokage?”

 

Sakura smiles wryly. “Two birds with one stone, sensei.”

 

“Two birds indeed,” Kakashi agrees. “Which came first, though? Did you want to quit ANBU to work at the hospital, or do you want to go work at the hospital so that you can quit ANBU?”
 

“Quitting ANBU comes first,” Sakura says. “For Sarada.”

 

“Ah,” Kakashi agrees. “Sarada.”

 

“Yeah,” Sakura says. “Plus, shishou told me to.”

 

“Ah,” Kakashi agrees. “Tsunade.”

 

Sakura nods. “So. Yeah. I quit, and I want to be head of the Konoha shinobi hospital.”

 

“Alright,” Kakashi agrees. “I’ll see what I can do.”

 

“Alright,” Sakura says. She turns to leave.

 

“Ah, Sakura-chan,” Kakashi calls after her. Sakura turns back, raises an eyebrow.

 

Kakashi smiles through his mask. “Tell Sarada-tan that I say hello.”

 

Sakura smiles back. “Will do, sensei.”

 


 

 

Sakura asks Sarada if she wants to be a shinobi.

 

Sakura’s mother and father hadn’t asked. They had wanted their daughter to go to a civilian school, learn a civilian trade and do civilian things, marry a civilian boy and have a civilian baby.

 

Sakura had whined and shouted and complained until her parents couldn’t take her out with them in public. But Sakura was always an angel for the genin who were doing their D-ranks, asking as many questions as she could about becoming a shinobi, until her parents had finally given in and signed her up for the academy the last day that they could.

 

But Sakura asks Sarada. She’s known a lot of shinobi, and a lot of them wouldn’t have chosen to be a shinobi, if not for their parents. If Chouji hadn’t had to be part of Ino-Shika-Cho, he would’ve been a baker. If Gaara hadn’t had the bad luck to be the son of the kazekage, he would’ve been a gardener. If Itachi’s parents had let him, he would have been something that wasn’t a shinobi and he and his parents and his family would still be alive.

 

So Sakura asks Sarada if she would rather go to the academy or to a civilian school.

 

“Academy!” Sarada insists. “I wanna be a shinobi like you, Mama! I wanna be as cool as you are some day, believe it!”

 

Sakura smiles. Sarada’s picked up a lot from all the time she spends with Boruto, including the verbal tic that Boruto had picked up from his dad.

 

“Mama’s going to be proud of you no matter what you be, Sarada,” she says. “If you want to go to a civilian school and become a baker, or a shopkeeper, or a civilian doctor, or a writer. Mama will always be proud of you.”

 

Sarada pouts. “But I wanna be a shinobi, Mama! It’s cool, it’s really cool! And I gotta be a shinobi to be the hokage!”

 

Sakura laughs. “So you’re going to be the hokage, then?”

 

Sarada nods self-importantly. “Only the best shinobi get to be hokage, unless they turn it down, like you did. And I’m gonna be the best shinobi ever in the history of the world!”

 

Sakura laughs again. “Of course you are, baby girl. And Mama’s gonna be so, so proud of you.”

 


 

 

Sasuke comes back the summer that Sarada is five, and she doesn’t recognize him.

 

She hides behind Sakura’s legs, only barely peeking out at Sasuke, who’s kneeling so that he’s on the same level as Sarada.

 

“Sarada, it’s Papa,” Sakura insists. “I’ve told you all about Papa, remember? With his black hair and his dark eyes, same as you. And I know that Uncle Naruto told you about his adventures with your papa, right? This is him! This is your papa!”

 

“Is not,” Sarada insists, with a pout. “He doesn’t look like me at all. He’s ugly, and he’s stupid, and he’s annoying. I don’t like him.”

 

“Come on, Sarada-tan,” Sasuke tries. “I’m your papa. I’ve just been on a very long trip, that’s all. I was there when you were born.”

 

“Were not,” Sarada says. “You’re ugly and stupid and I don’t even know you. I know Grandma Tsunade, and she goes on long trips a lot. But she comes back.”

 

“I’m back now,” Sasuke says.

 

“What does that matter?” Sarada asks. “You were gone.”

 


 

 

They only end up having one date in the whole month that Sasuke is back in Konoha. They drop Sarada off at Ino’s and Sai’s. Ino pretends to be delighted that Sasuke is back, Sai doesn’t bother, and Inojin takes Sarada to come look at his new paintings.

 

Sasuke and Sakura go to one of the few restaurants that’s survived the past fifteen tumultuous years. It’s very traditional, which means Sakura hates it. But she’ll stomach it for Sasuke, who she hasn’t seen in over three years.

 

She asks if he wants to go for a walk or something after dinner, but he flatly refuses. Insists that they’ve got to get Sarada, can’t impose on Ino and Sai any longer.

 

Sarada isn’t even asleep when they go back, and Ino looks surprised to see them.

 

After they’ve gotten home and Sakura’s tucked Sarada in, Sasuke is sitting on the bed that’s supposed to also be his bed.

 

“I’m leaving again,” he says.

 

“Already?” Sakura asks, even though she knows it’s his nature. “It’s only been a month.”

 

“I have to,” he says, not looking at her. “It’s for the good of the village.

 

“If you asked the hokage, I’m sure he could-”

 

“He can’t.”

 

Sakura stands there, staring at Sasuke, sitting on the edge of the bed that should be his.

 

“I’m sorry,” he says.

 

“I’m beginning to wonder if you wanted Sarada at all.”

 

This, of all things, is what gets Sasuke to look up at her. “That’s not fair,” he says. “You know I love her. You know I do. I was right there with you, when she was born. I-”

 

“When you promised not to leave Konoha?” Sakura asks. “When I told you that things had to be different, now that you had a daughter?”

 

“I didn’t,” Sasuke pleads.

 

“You did,” Sakura says. “You were only here for two years. She doesn’t even remember you, Sasuke. I hardly remember you. If you keep leaving, she might forget that she ever even had a father.”

 

Sasuke is silent for a moment. “But I can’t stay.”

 

Sakura sighs. “And I can’t quit ANBU, but here we are anyways.”

 

Sasuke stares. “You quit ANBU?”

 

“A year and a half ago,” Sakura says. She begins  unbuttoning her dress and getting ready to change into her pajamas. “You were gone.”

 


 

 

Sakura is not bitter.

 

Haruno Mebuki had been bitter- first, that her daughter had decided to become a shinobi instead of some civilian career, and then that her daughter had actually been good at being a shinobi, better than Mebuki had been at being a baker.

 

But Sakura is not her mother, never has been. So when her daughter comes home at age eight, proudly showing off that she had already mastered henge and cloning, and even a fire ninjutsu, Sakura isn’t bitter. She isn’t bitter at how quickly jutsu come to her daughter, at how much more chakra her daughter has, at how amazing her daughter is.

 

She is proud- she is so proud, she picks Sarada up and swings her around, makes her put her shoes back on so that they can go out for a special, celebratory dinner.

 

Sarada insists that it’s no big deal. “Boruto already knows the kage bunshin. He can make three shadow clones of himself no problem.”

 

“Boruto isn’t my daughter,” Sakura counters. “Do you not want to go out for barbecue? We can go home, cook some cup ramen, f you prefer.”

 

“Barbecue?” Sarada prods. “And mochi, afterwards? Three flavors?”

 

“You’re gonna eat me out of house and home,” Sakura teases. “I’m way too nice to you. I should’ve tossed you out into the woods when you were born and let the wolves raise you.”

 

“Wolves don’t call me Sa-tan in front of my classmates,” Sarada argues. “ And they don’t embarrass me in front of the hokage or the head of T&I. Wolves don’t let elite ANBU jounin call me ‘cutesy’ as a nickname.”

 

“Wolves don’t buy you barbecue or mochi,” Sakura says. “And they don’t introduce you to the hokage or the head of T&I or to elite jounin. And ‘cutesy’ is a good nickname, Sai still calls me ‘ugly’.”

 

“Uncle Sai calls me ‘cutesy’ in front of Inojin and Chocho and Shikadai and Boruto! It’s embarrassing! He even calls Inojin by his name, he only calls me by an embarrassing nickname.”

 

“Aw, it’s not embarrassing. It suits you! Cutesy little Sa-tan,” Sakura says. She musses her daughter’s hair. Sarada darts away from her with a scowl before she fixes it back up.

 

“Is it too late for me to go to the wolves?”

 

“And miss out on barbecue and mochi? No way. Besides, Uncle Chouji and Aunt Karui will be disappointed if they don’t get to see you.”

 


 

 

Sasuke comes home when Sarada is nine.

 

Sakura and him don’t have a date. They could, if they wanted; could hire a genin to babysit Sarada for the night, could go out and have a nice meal, maybe take a walk.

 

But they don’t.

 

Sasuke is in Konoha for six weeks, and they don’t have a date.

 

At the very least, Sarada manages to call him chichi-ue. Not Papa, like how she used to call Sakura Mama, or tou-san, to match with Sakura being kaa-san. Chichi-ue.

 

The day after Sasuke leaves is a Saturday, and Sakura’s got a rare day off. She’s chopping vegetables in the kitchen, getting ready to make curry for dinner. She thinks she likes cooking.

 

“Kaa-san,” Sarada asks, from where she’s doing her academy homework at the table, “why did you and that man get married?”

 

Sakura blinks in surprise. “Huh? What do you mean, Sa-tan? I love him, why else would I get married?”
 

Sarada props her head up with her hand, avoiding eye contact with Sakura. “But why do you love him?”

 

“Hm,” Sakura says. She pauses in her chopping and leans against the kitchen counter. “Geez, I dunno. I’ve loved him ever since I was a kid. He’s very cool, and very sweet, and very brave. You know?”

 

“But I found a book at the library,” Sarada says, face now in both her hands, “it was about the Fourth War, and all the stuff that you and Uncle Naruto and the man and all the other aunties and uncles did during it, and it said that that man tried to kill you. And that way before the war, he knocked you out and left you unconscious on a bench overnight.”

 

Sakura sighs. “It’s not that simple, Sarada. Your father- he- he was going somewhere dangerous. Somewhere I couldn’t follow. And I wanted to come with him, but he couldn’t let me. Instead, he left me here. And he didn’t- he didn’t try to kill me. I was just in his way again.”

 

“You shouldn’t love someone if they try to kill you,” Sarada says. “And he shouldn’t have married you if he thought you were getting in his way.”

 

“It’s different now, Sarada. We love each other, and we love you.”

 

“Then why isn’t he here?” Sarada demands. “Why is he always gone? Why doesn’t he want to spend time with us? Why does he just leave?”

 

Sakura furrows her brow. “Sarada, he loves you. He does love you.” She walks around the counter and to the kitchen table, squatting so that she’s level with Sarada. “Do you know how I know that he loves you?”

 

“How?” Sarada asks, without looking at Sakura.

 

“You have to look at me for it to work.”

 

Reluctantly, Sarada turns to look at Sakura, and Sakura pokes her forehead.

 

“That’s what Papa does to me,” she explains. “He did that to me when I was twelve, and when I was fifteen, and when I was eighteen. He does that to show that he loves someone, and he wanted me to show you.”

 

Sarada blinks rapidly. “Okay,” she finally says, after a moment of silence.

 

“Really okay?”

 

Sarada nods. “Really okay. I promise, kaa-san.”

 

“Good,” Sakura smiles.

 

She isn’t bitter.

 


 

 

When Sarada is eleven, she tells Sakura that Sakura should divorce Sasuke.

 

“Why?” Sakura asks. “Are you dissatisfied with how he’s acted as your father?”
 

Sarada snorts. “When has he ever acted as my father? I’ve seen him maybe twice that I can remember, and there were four years between those visits. Not worth it.”

 

Sakura hums in acknowledgement. “And what, pray tell, brought on all these thoughts of divorce?”

 

Sarada is very good at not looking at Tsunade, who is standing behind her with her arms crossed and nodding. “I just figured that he’s not good for you. You should get back on the dating scene!”

 

Sakura bursts out laughing at her daughter calling it the dating scene, and when she wipes the tears from her eyes, Sarada’s crossed her arms and puffed out her cheeks like she always does.

 

“Kaa-san, this is serious! Grandma and I are in agreement, we think that you should try dating again! We even made a list of all your best qualities, in case you want us to matchmake for you.”
 

Sakura bursts out laughing again. “ Matchmaking?” She asks. “What year do you two think it is? If I want to get a date, I can get a date.”
 

“Then why don’t you?” Sarada demands. She scrambles onto the couch next to Sakura. “Auntie Ino would go on a date with you! She already said that she likes girls, and she knows you really well, and you two are already best friends! I bet you two would be very happy together.”

 

“How old are you, exactly?” Sakura asks. She reaches over and tickles Sarada. “You’re acting like an auntie. Shouldn’t you be coloring?”

 

Sarada rolls her eyes. “Kaa-san, please focus. If you won’t go on a date with Auntie Ino, you could go with Uncle Sai! He knows you really well, too, and you’re his best friend even if he isn’t yours. Plus, he paints, and he knows you really well, and he stays at home a lot since he hurt his leg, so you know there would always be a mature, responsible adult waiting. And he can cook really well!”

 

“My cooking’s not that bad.”

 

“Is so. Anyway, since you can’t focus on Auntie Ino or Uncle Sai, what about Auntie Tenten? She’s pretty, and she would date you, even if you are younger. Or Uncle Rock! He likes you a lot. Or Auntie Karin, she’s got really sharp teeth. I would suggest Uncle Kiba, but he likes boys.”
 

“Uncle Sai likes boys, too,” Sakura points out.

 

“You could get platonic married,” Sarada explains. “That means you two would just be friends. He’d be better for you than that man is.”

 

“Sai does not want to marry me, Sa-tan. And I don’t really want to date anyone, anyways. I’m way too busy.”

 

“That’s why I suggested an arranged marriage,” Sarada says. “See, me and Grandma made a reference sheet.” She readjusts herself so that she’s sitting in Sakura’s lap. “We have your salary, and your shinobi skills and rank, and how you’re very sweet and very smart and you enjoy long walks at the park and you would like to take a vacation to Suna and even your low points, like how you sometimes repress your feelings.”

 

Sakura raises an eyebrow at Tsunade, who shrugs. “Not like we could put down your temper.”

 

“As much as I appreciate this,” Sakura says, lifting Sarada by the ankle so that she can get off the couch, “I am not going to be going on any dates any time soon. And I don’t want any marriages arranged on my behalf, either. Got it?”

 

“What if I accidentally drop your reference sheet and a really nice and really handsome or pretty person picks it up and falls in love with you?” Sarada asks.

 

“Without a picture? And without my address? I guess I’ll just let them languish in the fact that they’ll never be able to marry me.”

 

On her way out of the room, Sakura sticks her tongue out at Tsunade.

 

“Sa-tan, put down that Sakura is immature as a shortfall, too,” Tsunade says.

 

“You’re making my daughter a menace,” Sakura says.

 

“Uncle Sai says I’ve been a menace since I was two,” Sarada calls. “But Auntie Ino doesn’t think I’ve ever been a menace. She says I’m an angel.”

 

“Auntie Ino also thinks that granola bars are full meals. I’ll pass on her judgement.”

 


 

 

When Sarada comes home with her hitai-ate, Sakura picks her up and swings her around and insists on going out for dinner.

 

Sakura’s parents hadn’t celebrated. They had sighed, and clicked their tongues, and forbade her from wearing it at the table.

 

Sakura isn’t bitter.

 

Everybody’s gonna be going out,” Sarada argues. “Everywhere’s gonna be busy. And we can’t go to Uncle Chouji’s restaurant, because he’s gonna be out celebrating! Chocho got kunoichi of the year!”

 

“Well, I’m not just going to make my precious daughter some rice to celebrate her graduating! We should go out!” Sakura takes Sarada by the hand and swings it back and forth. “Come on, what do you want? Miso soup? Ramen? Udon? Sushi or sashimi? Yakitori? Tempura? Whatever you want, it’s a special treat!”

 

Sarada hesitates. “Can we go to food carts? That way, we can get yakitori and tempura, and some miso soup if we’re still hungry, plus then we could get dessert afterwards.”

 

“Sounds good, Sa-tan!”

 

Sarada scowls. “Stop calling me that! I’m a genin already, I’m practically a grown-up.”

 

Sakura laughs. “You’re my baby girl, that’s what you are. And you’re always gonna be my baby girl, got it?”

 

Sarada pouts. “‘M not a baby. I’m a genin. My whole class are genin, now!”

 

“And your whole class is still somebody’s baby,” Sakura says. “Even Boruto and Mitsuki and Inojin and Chocho and Shikadai. They’re all somebody’s baby.”

 

Sarada snorts. “Yeah, but Boruto won’t let Lord Seventh or Auntie Hinata call him that. He’s being annoying. He still calls Auntie Hinata kaa-chan, but he won’t let her call him baby.”

 

“He’s still their baby, even if he doesn’t want to acknowledge it,” Sakura says. “You should call Naruto uncle, you know he gets sad when you call him Lord Seventh.”

 

“I have to be respectful,” Sarada argues.

 

Sakura rolls her eyes. “You call Gaara ji-sama. You could call Naruto ji-sama, so that he’s still your uncle.”

 

Sarada rolls her eyes back at Sakura. “Gaara-jisama exudes respect. He doesn’t need people to call him Lord Fifth. But Lord Seventh needs all the respect he can get.”

 

“That’s not very nice, Sa-tan,” Sakura rebukes. It’s not very effective, though, as Sakura is busy trying to hide her grin.

 

“It’s not very wrong, either,” Sarada points out. “And don’t call me Sa-tan. It’s Sarada, Sarada!”

 


 

 

Sakura is technically at work when an interning chuunn shakes her awake.

 

“Mmwuh?” Sakura mumbles, because she just been woken up from what little sleep she’s managed to get in the last fifty hours, and it was only three hours’ worth.

 

“Um, Haruno-sensei,” the chuunin says, shuffling his feet like he’s scared that Sakura’s about to punch him out of the building, “you- you have that meeting, with Lord Seventh, at four.”

 

“Mmm,” Sakura agrees, straightening and stretching. “‘N when is it right now?”

 

“Uh,” the chuunin says, “three fifty-five.”

 

Sakura stares at him. “Chuunin-kun, do you know how far it is from this hospital to the hokage tower?”

 

The chuunin takes a step back. “S-seven, eight minutes? Ma’am.”

 

Sakura sighs. “Correct.” She stands up from her desk. Cautiously, she sniffs the sleeve of her lab coat before grimacing and tossing it aside. “Chuunin-kun, go tell Yamanaka-san in pediatrics that I do actually know that it’s her job to get me to my appointments on time. If she tries to yell at you, tell her that I’ll know, alright?”

 

Before the chuunin can stammer out an answer, Sakura’s already punched out a window and jumped.

 

With shunshin and leaping, Sakura can technically make it to hokage tower within five minutes.

 

She stops and gets a coffee anyways, because Naruto can wait five damn minutes.

 

She doesn’t waltz into Naruto’s office, much as she’s definitely arrogant enough to want to. She strolls in, though, and that’s nearly good enough, especially with her iced coffee.

 

“Sakura-chan,” Naruto says. “Nice of you to join us.”

 

Sakura flutters her eyelashes. “Of course, Naruto-chan. You know how I live for these meetings.”

 

Shikamaru coughs. “You’re supposed to call him hokage-sama, Sakura-chan.”

 

“And you’re supposed to call me Haruno-sensei, Shikamaru-chan,” Sakura says with a smile. “Ah, Sa-tan wanted me to tell you to tell Shikadai-kun that he left his senbon at our house, and if he leaves them there for another day, she’s going to keep them.”

 

Shikamaru sighs and scratches the back of his head. “How long have they been there?”

 

“Three weeks.” Sakura takes another sip of her coffee.

 

“As fascinating as domestic life is,” Naruto interrupts, “there is a reason that I called this meeting, Sa- Haruno-sensei.”

 

“That’s unusual,” Sakura says.

 

“You don’t know the half of it,” Shikamaru says. “Last week he ‘called a meeting’ with Iruka-sensei at Ichiraku’s.”

 

Sakura rolls her eyes. “You’re a terrible hokage, Naruto.”

 

“It was important, I swear,” Naruto says. “It was just, y’know, easier to talk about it at Ichiraku’s!”

 

“They were talking about Boruto,” Shikamaru says.

 

“Domestic life,” Sakura says. She takes a sip of her coffee. “Fascinating.”

 

“As wonderful as it is to sling accusations at each other, can we please get on with this meeting?”
 

Sakura looks over at the man standing in the corner and raises her eyebrows. “Hi, Sasuke. Didn’t realize you were back!”

 

“He’s only been back for three days,” Naruto interjects.

 

“Three days,” Sakura repeats. She takes a loud sip of her coffee.

 

“Hokage-sama, can we get on with it?” Shikamaru asks. “Temari’s dropping Shikadai off at five-thirty.”

 

Naruto sighs and rubs his temples. “Please. I am trying so hard.”

 

Sakura takes another loud sip of coffee. “If we aren’t going to have a meeting, can we go home? I’ve been working for fifty hours.”

 

“Shouldn’t you be taking more breaks, Sakura?” Sasuke asks. “You can’t leave Sarada alone for that long. Or is Tsunade visiting?”

 

“She’s a genin, Sasuke,” Sakura says. “And besides that, I’m pretty sure she’s on a mission with Konohamaru-kun.”

 

“Konohamaru? Is he a jounin already?”

 

“I know, can you believe it? So are Moegi and Udon. And Udon finally got some allergy medicine, and Moegi has about a million fidget toys. They’re actually pretty good jounin, believe it or not!”
 

“It’s hard to imagine.”

 

“Please!” Naruto shouts. “Please! I don’t like being the one who wants to get everything done! But apparently, I have to!”

 

After a moment of silence, Sakura takes another loud sip of coffee.

 


 

 

Sasuke gives her the paperwork that night.

 

“It’s not that I don’t love you,” he says. “I do love you, just- just not the way you need it. Not the way that I should, since you’re my wife.”

 

Sakura is already signing it as he goes on his speech about how terrible he feels.

 

“At least you never formally adopted me into the Uchiha clan,” Sakura points out. “That makes it easier. But Sa-tan- does she still get to keep her Uchiha status, or will she be reverted to Haruno?”
 

Sasuke blinks, taken off-guard. “Oh. Uh, no, Sarada will remain Uchiha. She’s half Uchiha, which is enough for her to keep the name and status, and become clan head when I step down. Are you alright? You’re taking this very well.”

 

Sakura shrugs. “Only about six percent of my existence within the past three days has been sleep. I’m probably going to wake up tomorrow and cry, but I’ve managed to get my brain to cool it with the neurotransmitters to save energy when I’m this tired.”
 

Sasuke blinks. “I… don’t know what that means.”

 

Sakura shrugs. “No, I figured you wouldn’t. When I’m sleep deprived, I block certain chakra points in my mind in order to prevent chakra exhaustion. By cutting off those pathways, I effectively leave more chakra for myself.”

 

“That doesn’t sound healthy,” Sasuke says.

 

“Hey, you sound like Sarada. It’s not, and I’m definitely gonna pay for it when I’m older. It leads to a little bit of an overload when I wake up, but if Naruto didn’t want me to punch trees in half, he wouldn’t have become hokage of the village hidden in the leaves.”

 

Sasuke looks alarmed. “If I stay through the night, am I gonna be safe?”

 

Sakura shrugs. “Probably. I’ll probably fall asleep within the next hour and stay that way until… “ she checks her watch. “Noon? Just leave food for me and you’ll probably be fine. Your odds will be better if you send Ino-chan over.”

 

Sasuke grimaces. “You scare me, Sakura.”
 

Sakura shrugs again. “You’re not the first person to tell me something like that. Doubt you’ll be the last, with how the chuunin in the hospital stare at me.”

 

“How come you get to frighten chuunin, but when I frighten chuunin, I get yelled at?”

 

“Because I don’t try to,” Sakura says. She stands up from the table and stretches. “I’d like to say that I’m not giving you any alimony.”

 

“I don’t really want any. I live off the land.”

 

Sakura rolls her eyes so hard that she’s almost afraid of them popping out of her skull. “Yeah, yeah. Go eat a leaf or something, I’m going to bed.”

 

She doesn’t so much go to bed as stumble over to the couch and pass out with only about sixty percent of her body on it.

 


 

 

It’s more of a relief than Sakura expected. It’s not that she ever really went by Uchiha- she’s always been a Haruno, and she’s never changed that. She’s still known as Haruno-sensei at the hospital, and the shopkeeps still call her Haruno-san.

 

Really, the only thing that’s changed is her tax forms. Because now instead of the lines for income being for Uchiha Sakura, Uchiha Sasuke, and Uchiha Sarada, it’s just Haruno Sakura and Uchiha Sarada. Even the house was deeded to Haruno Sakura. Even the letters that Gaara and the mizukage and the raikage and the tsuchikage sent, asking her for advice on the keeping of their own hospitals, were always addressed to Haruno Sakura, every single one of the politely ignoring her marriage. And that had never once so much as irked her.

 

It’s almost like she was never really married at all.

 

“I mean, were you?” Ino asks. “He was really only around for a grand total of, like, two years. Two and a half, tops. And he was never really that nice to you.”

 

“Yes, thank you, Ino, my husband did hate me and leave me alone for most of our marriage. I’m glad you brought that up,” Sakura says, as she punches a tree in half. “If you were wondering, I’m still pissed.”

 

“Me too,” Ino says. She’s lounging in a tree branch instead of going to work, because T&I don’t get sick days but Ino’s too important, self- and otherwise, to get fired. “Want me to egg him when he leaves?”
 

“You’re thirty-three,” Sakura says, as she pulverizes an oak. “Aren’t you too old for that kind of shit?”
 

“Nope,” Ino says, popping the p like she used to pop her bubblegum. “I’m your best friend, forehead, which means I will always be willing to egg Sasuke Uchiha.”

 

“... For me?” Sakura asks.

 

Ino shrugs. “And otherwise. To be frank, I never have, nor ever will, be unwilling to egg Sasuke Uchiha for any reason.”

 

Sakura rolls her eyes. “You’re probably setting a terrible example for Inojin.”

 

“Already did,” Ino says. “Trust me, Sai can’t undo any of the damage I’ve done to that boy. He’s a menace.”

 

Sakura sighs and falls back into the dust of the training ground. “I always thought, when I have kids, they’re gonna be perfect angels. And my kid and your kid will be best friends, and they’ll both be perfect angels together, being sweet and nice and all the other bullshit and whatnot. And now look, they’re both menaces”

 

Ino laughs. “You couldn’t have possibly thought that your kid wouldn’t inherit any of your personality, Sakura-chan. Inojin and Sarada are both too much like us for that to work.”

 

Sakura makes a face at Ino. “I blame you, precisely because you’re the nearest person to me right now.”
 

Ino shrugs. “Chouji and Shikamaru already think that I menaced up their kids, I might as well get blamed for yours, too.”

 

“It’s because you were only the fourth person she ever met,” Sakura declares. “If she had met Chouji, or Temari, or even Shikamaru before she met you, then she wouldn’t be a menace at all.”

 

Ino rolls her eyes. “Whatever you need to tell yourself to ignore Shino at parent-teacher conferences.”

 

Sakura makes an uglier face at Ino. “Shino thinks Sarada is an angel, because my daughter is a master manipulator.”

 

“Send her to T&I, I’m sure we can find something for a cute little genin to do. Especially one that’s a master manipulator.”

 

Sakura laughs. “No, Sa-tan wants to be hokage. Ever since she was little.”

 

“Jeez, are we sure that Naruto-kun didn’t make her a menace?”

 

“It’s ‘cause the hokage is the strongest shinobi around, apparently,” Sakura says. “Reportedly, I turned down the position.”
 

Ino laughs. “Sa-tan is too sweet. Can you imagine her as the hokage? I’m not sure I could cope. I’d have to call her hokage-chama.”

 

Sakura bursts out laughing. “ Hokage-chama! Sa-tan would kill you herself if you tried.”

 

“She hasn’t killed you yet, and you still call her Sa-tan.”
 

Sakura waves Ino’s comment away with her hand. “She hasn’t killed Sai yet, and Sai still calls her Cutesy. My daughter is too forgiving.”

 

“An overly forgiving menace,” Ino considers. “Could be worse. Could be an overly menacing… forgiveness? Overly menacing reparation? I dunno, something like that.”

 

“That’s just Inojin though, isn’t it?”

 

Ino throws a pine cone at Sakura.

 


 

 

Instead of being upset, or disappointed, or angry, or even just a little bit bummed out, Sarada is thrilled that Sakura got divorced.

 

“So,” Sarada says, sitting on the back of the couch while Sakura reads one of Gaara’s letters, “you’re single.”

 

Sakura rolls her eyes. “It would seem so, Sa-tan. Is this going somewhere?”

 

“It’s Sarada. And I think that it could be. If, say, you were going to fancy restaurant with Auntie Ino, maybe.”

 

“It’s always gonna be Sa-tan with me. And I am not going to get married to Ino.”

 

“Why not? She likes girls.”

 

“And she’s an excellent shinobi,” Tsunade adds. “She contributes a lot to Konoha. She knows you very well.”

 

Sakura grimaces at Tsunade. “Shouldn’t you be in Kiri?”

 

“Not till next week, and not when my precious student is failing in love.”

 

“Your precious student isn’t trying in love,” Sakura says. She rolls up Gaara’s letter and whacks Sarada over the head with it. “Sarada, did Tsunade put you up to this?”

 

“No, we’re in agreement,” Sarada says. “What about Uncle Shino? He’s single.”

 

Sakura snorts. “Uncle Shino doesn’t want to date me. Or anyone, for that matter.”

 

“Hm,” Sarada says. “What about Gaara-jisama? Not only is he a kage, but he likes you. He writes letters to you all the time. Plus, he’s really cool, and he’s an excellent shinobi. He could teach me a lot.”

 

“So could Konohamaru,” Sakura says. “And Gaara likes guys a lot more than he likes me.”

 

“Hmm,” Sarada says. “What about Auntie Temari? She’s Gaara-jisama’s sister, and she likes girls. And she’s pretty, and she could teach me how to fight with fans.”

 

“Is this for you or for me? I don’t want to date anyone. I got divorced a week ago, you two are incorrigible.”

 

“We’d be very corrigible if you would just date someone,” Sarada points out. “Grandma Tsunade thinks she knows a girl in Kiri who’d be willing to give you a try.”

 

Sakura rolls her eyes. “I’m not sure why Grandma Tsunade is so invested in my love life, especially when your aunt Shizune is equally single and more likely to let Tsunade get away with it.”

 

“Shizune has a girlfriend in Iwa, that’s why. And my precious student is, unfortunately, incorrigible.”

 

Sakura rolls her eyes again. “I am going to work. Don’t you two plot any marriages while I’m gone.”
 

“No promises,” Tsunade says. “We still have your matchmaking sheet.”

 

“The worst!” Sakura declares, throwing her hands into the air. “My daughter and my teacher are the worst!”

 


 

 

Although, Naruto waking her up two days later at her desk at three AM might make her reconsider those diagnoses.

 

“You,” Sakura declares, sitting on the counter as she makes Naruto make her coffee in the break room, “are the worst.”

 

“How could you say that about your hokage? All I’ve ever done is try to help you. I’m making you coffee, and you won’t even be nice to me?”

 

“You’re annoying, that’s what you are,” Sakura says. “And I’m awake at three AM for no good reason.”

 

“You’re awake at three AM because your my best friend who’s still in Konoha.” Naruto hands her a cup of coffee. Sakura drinks it all in the beat that Naruto takes between his sentences, and hands it back to him for a refill. “And I wanted to talk to you.”

 

Sakura makes a face. “Why? Are you dying? Because if so, not for long. I’m the best damn medic in the world and I’m not letting you die any time soon.”

 

“Not dying,” Naruto says. He hands Sakura another cup of coffee, which she drinks about ten percent slower than her previous cup. She hands it back to Naruto for another refill. “Me and Hinata-chan are getting divorced.”
 

Sakura is grateful that there wasn’t any coffee in her mouth when Naruto said that, because she probably would have spit it out. “What? Why? You two love each other, I think. And you spend time together.”

 

Naruto shrugs, and hands Sakura another cup of coffee. “I dunno. She brought it up. I think she’s just… tired. She’s restless. I offered to take a break, not to get divorced, but just to take a break, y’know? And she said no. She thinks she’s done. She doesn’t want to go into ANBU or anything, she just wants to travel. So I’m sending her on a diplomatic mission. No time limit, regular payment, and she can go wherever she wants in the shinobi nations.” Naruto takes a drink of coffee. “I have to find someone to take care of Himawari.”

 

“Genin are there for a reason,” Sakura says. “How are Boruto and Himawari taking the news? Sarada was fine, but Sasuke… he was never really there in the first place. Hinata’s always been there.” She takes a long drink of coffee.

 

Naruto shrugs. “We’re gonna tell them about it tomorrow. Well, today, I guess. But we’re gonna tell them together. I dunno, I might have to step down as hokage. I’d be spending too much time there.”

 

Sakura takes another long drink of coffee. “Just do what Tsunade and Kakashi did.”

 

Naruto snorts. “What, nothing?”
 

Sakura snaps her fingers to point at him. “Exactly. You gotta delegate. Shikamaru’s got it too good, make him actually do some work. Just leave in the middle of the day to hang out with your kids, and let them watch Shikamaru yell at you. According to Ino, getting yelled at by Shikamaru makes your kid love you more.”

 

“Shikamaru’s scary, though.”

 

Sakura pokes Naruto. “You’re the hokage. What’s he gonna do, kill you? No! He’s gonna do what Shizune always did, and yell at you. And then, once he’s done yelling at you, he’s gonna drag you back to the office to do some paperwork, but he’ll already have done half of it. You see, nobody loses when you leave the office in the middle of the day except for Shikamaru.”

 

Naruto sighs. “I can’t do that to Shikamaru. He already puts up with too much.”

 

“Not enough, if Shizune’s stories are to be believed,” Sakura says. “When you’re hokage, you have to make your assistant regret ever being born, much less ever knowing you. That is all you truly need to be hokage.” She passes her coffee cup back to Naruto. “And according to Ino, Shikamaru deserves it for all of Shikadai’s stuff that he leaves lying around at her house, Chouji’s house, and my house.”

 

Naruto sighs and pours Sakura another cup of coffee. “You and Ino give terrible advice. Shikamaru would never forgive me if I made him yell at me and drag me back to the office.”

 

“Yes, he would,” Sakura says, taking another sip of coffee. “Especially if he gets used to it. C’mon, it’s easier than putting up with Boruto yelling at you, cheaper than hiring genin to babysit Himawari, and funnier than quitting. Everybody wins.”

 

“I’m starting to think that ninety percent of the budget for this hospital goes to coffee,” Naruto says.

 

“Because you only pay me about sixty percent of what I’m worth, hokage-chama,” Sakura says. “Gaara wants me to transfer to Suna, and he’ll pay me twice what I’m making here.”

 

Naruto makes a face. “Panda-eyed bastard. Trying to steal my best medic out from under me.”

 

“He sent you a letter too, Naruto. You just didn’t read it.”

 

Naruto crosses his eyes and sticks out his tongue. “You two cause half of all my headaches.”

 

Sakura laughs. “Does the other half come from Boruto, or from Sasuke?”

 

Naruto groans. “They both cause so many, it’s hard to tell. You’re better at math than I am.”

 

Sakura snorts. “The first time I slept in two days, you woke me up after an hour to talk about your divorce. I’m lucky that I can form sentences properly right now, much less do percentage math.”

 

Naruto grimaces. “Even I sleep. Do you want more people to help you? Like, an administrator, or someone?”

 

“No, ‘cause then I’ll have to teach them how to file stuff properly and how to do everything for the next five months. Not worth it.”

 

Naruto rolls his eyes. “No one ever accepts my gifts.”

 

“We sure don’t.”

 


 

 

Sakura doesn’t even really know why she’s so anxious about the chuunin exams. It’s not the first time they’ve happened since Konoha Crush- hell, it’s not even the first time they’ve happened in Konoha since the Konoha Crush. There’s nothing to worry about, hasn’t been anything to worry about since the Konoha Crush.

 

Sakura’s parents had both died during the Konoha Crush, and she had not been able to stop it. They had died without her, while she had been running after Sasuke and Naruto and Gaara.

 

Sakura sits in the kage box with Naruto (“-because fuck you , Naruto, that’s why, and do you really think you could stop me? Yes, even with Gaara and Mei and the other kages, I could kick all your asses-”) and still yells loud enough for Sarada to hear her and tell her to shut up.

 

Konoha must have been built on top of a cursed graveyard or something, because the climax of the chuunin exams comes when Uzumaki Boruto, Uchiha Sasuke, and all five kages in attendance vanish.

 

For no good fucking reason, Sakura might and does add.

 

And she’s the only one besides the bodyguards stuck in the kage box, which means it’s her job to calm everyone down so that they don’t cause an international incident, as bodyguards are wont to do.

 

And then everyone’s back, without so much of a thank you, and they’re all hurrying off to have another meeting that Sakura isn’t privy to.

 

Sakura takes Sarada to get mochi for a job well done.

 

 


 

 

“You know,” Tsunade says, for some reason, “the tsuchikage is single.”

 

“Get out of my house,” Sakura says.

 

“The raikage is single too, kaa-san,” Sarada says, not looking up from her magazine.

 

“You too.”

 


 

 

The thing about Ino is that she can keep a secret.

 

She can keep a secret, she knows Sakura very well, and she can be very pretty, when she’s not being very threatening.

 

But she does still suck, as evidenced by her turning up in Sakura’s office holding a matchmaking sheet.

 

“High points,” Ino reads loudly, from the top of Sakura’s filing cabinets, “highly intelligent, skilled as a shinobi, enhanced strength.”

 

“Out of my office,” Sakura demands, half-asleep.

 

“Low points,” Ino continues. “Immaturity, temper, sometimes represses her emotions.”

 

“Out of my office before I throw you out,” Sakura tries.

 

Ino switches to a high mockery of a civilian woman’s voice. “I enjoy long walks in the park, and my dream vacation is Suna! I live off of coffee, and sometimes I threaten to kill my friends.”

 

Please out of my office?” Sakura guesses.

 

Ino switches back to her regular voice. “Jeez, forehead, if you were so desperate to get back on the market, I could’ve introduced you to someone. To several someones.”
 

Sakura groans. “I’m not back on the market. My daughter and my teacher are menaces.”

 

“So am I,” Ino says, jumping down from the filing cabinets now that there’s no risk of Sakura actually getting up to hit her. “The common denominator there is you, Sacchan.”

 

Sakura turns her head so that all she can see is the paperwork she should be filling out. “Go interrogate someone who isn’t me.”

 

“We’re fresh out,” Ino says with a shrug. “Might be another war soon, though, I’m betting intranational in Iwa, with Taki hopping in every so often to grab a piece. Might drag Kiri in, which’ll drag Konoha in, too.”

 

Sakura groans again. “I don’t want another war. I’m tired enough as is, and I don’t even have to punch through frontline enemies working here.”

 

“Not yet,” Ino says cheerfully. “So, anyways, if I’m interested in the mysterious girl described by this flier, should I talk to Sa-tan or to Tsunade-sama?”

 

“Talk to the hand,” Sakura mumbles.

 

“Geez, when was the last time you slept?” Ino asks. Sakura can picture her pose clearly in her mind- weight heavier on one foot, hand on her hip, lips sneering but eyes wide. “You look like shit, and you’re talking like you’re a fresh genin.”

 

“Last night. Three hours. Thought peacetime meant the hospital wasn’t busy.”

 

Ino snorts. “Yeah, Tsunade-sama lied about pretty much everything vis-a-vis running a hospital, didn’t she?”

 

“Mm-hm,” Sakura says, trying not to sound too pathetic.

 

“There, there,” Ino says, patting Sakura’s shoulder. “Get some sleep, I’ll leave a threatening note on the door.”

 

“Mm,” Sakura agrees. “You’re the best.”

 

Ino laughs. “I know, hon. Get some rest, ‘kay?”

 

“Mm-hm,” Sakura agrees.

 

Ino laughs again.

 


 

 

“Oh,” Ino says, in between sips of orange juice and a different story about Chouji and Shikamaru, “Hikaru-chan says that you’re scary to wake up, so she makes chuunin do it.”
 

Sakura squints. “Who?”

 

“Hikaru-chan. Uh, pediatrics doctor.”

 

“Oh, her. How do I scare her? You’re related to her.”

 

“I’m not scary, though. Apparently, you’re reminiscent of Uchiha Madara when you’re woken.”
 

Sakura grimaces. “Am not.”

 

Ino shrugs. “I’m just the messenger. And I’ve woken you up plenty of times, Hikaru-chan isn’t that far off.”

 

Sakura makes a face.

 

“Oh, that’s something we can add to your matchmaking sheet! You look like Uchiha Madara when you wake up!”

 

Sakura stabs her eggs like they personally offended her grandmother.

 


 

“So,” Sarada says. “You’ve been spending a lot of time with Auntie Ino lately.”

 

“Yup,” Sakura says.

 

“Any other plans on the horizon for you two?”
 

“Mm. We’re going to get married, and have a romantic honeymoon, and love each other forever and ever and ever.”

 

Sarada perks up. “Really?”

 

Sakura takes a long sip of coffee. “Nope.”

 


 

 

Obviously, Sakura jinxed it somehow, because it’s not two months later that they’re trying to find a way to file the paperwork without letting either Naruto or Shikamaru know what they’re doing.

 

“One of them has to stamp it,” Ino says, rubbing her temples. “Otherwise, we aren’t married at all. But we can figure this out.”

 

“All marriages within Konoha between active shinobi serving Konoha must be approved by either the ruling hokage or the assistant thereof,” Sakura recites. “There’s no loophole here, Ino. We might have to take the loss.”

 

“No,” Ino insists. “We can do this. We can make this a surprise.”

 

Sakura sighs, and begins flipping through the law book again.

 

“Wait,” Ino says. “Wait, holy shit, I might have this.”

 

Sakura looks up and raises an eyebrow. “Do tell.”

 

Within Konoha,” Ino says. “ But, Konoha shinobi can be married within allied nations, so long as they have the approval of that nation’s kage.”

 

Sakura stares at her. “Oh, shit,” she says. “Gaara.”

 

“Gaara.” Ino agrees. “And then we just file it with a chuunin at the records office.”

 

“My wife,” Sakura says, “is a genius.”

 


 

 

Gaara gives them a lovely little cactus as a wedding present.

 

Kankurou gives them a toy puppet that is definitely going to get hidden in the back of a closet.

 

Sai, Shikamaru, Naruto, Sasuke, and Chouji don’t find out for months, at which point Naruto whines and pouts for a week straight, Shikamaru, Sai, and Sasuke sulk, and Chouji congratulates them sincerely and gives them a cookbook.

 

When Sarada finds out, she just about screams. And then the next time Tsunade is in town, Sakura learns that her teacher has been menacing up her daughter even more, because now Sarada has apparently won a bet which she shouldn’t have placed.

 

Inojin doesn’t really seem to mind, which Sakura probably should have figured.

 


 

 

Sakura is happy.