The Hand of Fate
The whistling wind brought forth the calming cool of the coming season. Hues of red and orange had not yet dusted the trees of Konoha, but Fall had arrived. An old woman eagerly waited in her room for today was a special day. She was getting a visitor. The excitement of the visit ran through her blood, giving her the strength to sit-up. Of course, the effort did have its consequences as she wheezed with each breath she took.
"Grandma, take it easy. Here, let me help you."
She felt her body ease as her granddaughter propped some pillows up behind her. She had the best view of the door now. When they entered, she would know.
"You're probably excited to see her, aren't you? I know you'll love her. She's beautiful."
The woman smiled and nodded her head. She knew she would be meeting her soon: her great-granddaughter. She was born on the same day as her son-in-law. The very thought chagrined her if only because of how she treated him in the past. She had never thought that she would live this long, but she should have know she would. After all, it had been foretold to her long ago that her future was set.
A young girl looked nervously at the worn wooden cottage. Her mother urged her to go inside since she was now sixteen and it was the night of the harvest moon. It was tradition in their family that the woman had their fortunes told by the old fabric weaver. She had never gone inside the cottage before, but had seen the old woman who made the fabrics her family used. Taking a deep breath, she entered the cottage and was greeted by the warm smells of toasted cinnamon. Dried flowers and freshly spun fabric adorned every corner of the cottage. A large loom sat in the middle of the cottage with a rich red fabric only partly complete. She was so enraptured with her surroundings she wouldn't have noticed the plain wooden table and chairs if it weren't for the scent of sweet cakes and tea. The girl crept slowly up to the chair situated in front of the older woman.
"Your timing is excellent my dear. The moon is bright and clear tonight. Perfect for seeing what your future will be."
Nodding with a strained smile, the girl sat down and extended her hand.
The woman held the girl's hand and looked into her eyes. "Look straight. Don't blink. Let me see whether or not you will show me your future."
Silently, the girl did as she was told and stared straight into the dark abyss of the fabric weaver's eyes. She felt her soul being stripped naked and laid bare for the world to see. Her heart raced as the seconds ticked by until after a minute, the woman released her hold.
"Very interesting. Your future is quite clear to me. Certainly not the easiest to read, but very clear indeed."
"What is my future?"
The woman smirked. "You will live out your life until your hands no longer feel and your eyes no longer see. It will be a painless quiet death of sleep. Your heart will be touched by the grandchild of your progeny. You will be cursed three times, but blessed once with child. A man who is far from a thief will steal your heart."
The girl soaked in all of her words cautiously. "What does that mean?"
"That's for you to find out my dear," the fabric weaver smiled as she sipped her tea.
"But, that didn't really tell me anything. Can you be more specific?"
"What fun would it be if I tell you everything? But remember. Though I may have told you your future, how you live your life is still your own choice. Now have some sweets and drink your tea. Then be off with you."
The girl did as she was told and then left the cottage hardly believing anything that she was told. It wasn't until a few years later when she ran into a man she thought was stealing her underwear that the first part of her fortune came true.
It had been seven years since the fabric weaver gave her a reading. So far everything she had said had come true. Her husband didn't believe in the fortune, but she knew that no woman in their right mind would fall in love and marry an accused underwear thief. Her husband still swore that it was all a simple misunderstanding that he happened to have her unmentionables in his hands and wasn't trying to steal them.
This would be the first time in seven years that the woman came to the cottage for something other than the colorful fabrics made in the old cottage. Rubbing her stomach, she clutched her husband's hand and entered to the sweet, crisp smoke of hickory. The fire was crackling and a vibrant orange fabric rested incomplete in the loom. There were already two cups of steaming hot tea waiting for them at the table when they entered.
"Did you tell her we were coming?" her husband asked surprised.
The older woman gestured for the pair to sit as she put down a pink blanket she was knitting. "You've come at the right time. The moon is full tonight."
"Yes, I know."
"I see you brought your little thief with you too. Did you want me to read his fortune?"
"You can?" The woman asked surprised. Her mother had told her that the fabric weaver had only been able to tell the fortunes of those in their family.
The older woman smiled. "I can try."
The woman looked to her husband who merely shrugged as he held out his hand and stared straight into the woman's eyes. After a few seconds, the fabric weaver laughed. The couple stared at her confused. They had to wait until she took a few sips of her tea to calm herself before she could relay his fortune.
"Be careful around the butterfly, he might eat all of your wares."
The man paused while looking at his wife and then back to the fabric weaver. "That's it?"
"That is all that I can see. You are not one of the few that I can see their future up until death. For you I only see a glimpse; a flash of lightening."
"And what you saw was a butterfly eating all the food I sell?"
Incredulous, the man turned to his wife. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
The woman nodded. "She's been correct with me so far. I just want to know," the woman paused as she placed a hand on her stomach.
Sighing, the man relented and squeezed his wife's hand in support.
"She's your fourth, isn't she?" the old woman asked suddenly.
"How did you know?"
"I've seen your future, remember?"
"So will I carry her to the end? Will she be born alive?"
"You have already been cursed three times, have you not? She is your blessing."
"She? A girl?" The woman sighed in relief. It was exactly the sort of thing she needed to hear. The baby was due in five months and she didn't want to suffer through more heartache. She'd wanted to start a family so badly; it would have broken her if she had another miscarriage.
"Do you want me to try and read her future?" the old woman gestured to the growing baby bump.
"You can do that?"
"I can try. If she is your daughter, then I might be able to catch a glimpse. But with half of your husband's blood, it will be interesting to see what comes up."
"What do you need to do?"
The fabric weaver walked over to the woman and knelt beside her. "Sit towards me. Back straight. Now I'm going to put my hand on your stomach. I'll see if I can read her."
The woman watched as the fabric weaver touched her stomach and closed her eyes. The only thing she could feel was the warmth of her hand as the sweet smells of cinnamon and nutmeg wafted through the room. Suddenly, the fabric weaver fell back and opened her eyes with a gasp.
"Are you alright?" the woman's husband asked as he got out of his chair to help the fabric weaver.
"Yes, yes. I'm fine. I just need to sit," the older woman wheezed. After being helped to her chair, she took a few steady breaths to calm her nerves.
"What's wrong? Is everything alright?" the woman asked worried.
"Everything's fine," the fabric woman waved her off. "I was just surprised. I saw your daughter's future."
"That's great. What was the shock for?"
"When I saw her future, I saw more than what I normally do with my readings. For her, I saw everything. Her fate has already been carved into stone and she hasn't even been born yet."
The woman smiled as she rubbed her stomach. "Well, what is it?"
The fabric weaver paused before finally speaking. "I will warn you again. Though I may tell you her future, how you live your life is still your own choice just as how she may live her life through her own decisions. Do you understand?"
The woman nodded while her husband watched the scene unfold with morbid fascination.
"There will be a great catastrophe in the Land of Fire. Your daughter will die for the man who embodies the spirit of a demon-fox. Her name will be etched in history by her own hands. Two men will shape her into the woman she will become, but only one will protect her heart. A red ribbon will tie her to her greatest rival and closest friend."
The couple looked at each other in awe as they processed their daughter's future. However, the excitement was short-lived as they remembered the line about their daughter dying for someone. A seed of fear was planted into the woman's heart, taking root over all reason.
"Do you know when my daughter is going to sacrifice herself for the demon-fox?" the woman asked.
"She won't die for the demon-fox. Only for the man who embodies it. And though I'm sure I could tell you when it will happen, I shouldn't. All I can say is that it will be at the time when a great catastrophe happens in the Land of Fire."
"Is there anything else you can tell me? How old will she be? Who is the man she'll die for?"
The fabric weaver put a reassuring hand on the woman. "Though you may worry about her fate, there is nothing you can do to change it."
"I can't accept that. I won't accept that."
"If you want, bring her here when she is of age and I will read her again. But her path is something I have never seen before. It is unmoving, solid: harder than the strongest rock. It is almost like a clear marble. I do not think there will be much change."
"Then we'll have to see what happens in sixteen years."
"I'll be here," the fabric weaver said with a cryptic smile.
The couple left the cottage with a mixture of excitement and dread. They were pleased with the reassurance of their daughter's pending birth. But the knowledge of her fated death weighed heavily on their minds. They constantly wondered about the man who embodied the spirit of the demon-fox.
It wouldn't be until a year later when their daughter was six-months old that they finally unraveled the mystery. It started as a night like any other until tragedy struck. A young family struggled to survive on a night of horror where more than just the safety of their lives was at stake. It was the night of the Kyuubi attack.
She would see him running in the streets. Other villagers talked about him as if he were the Kyuubi incarnate. They all despised him, afraid that he would release the demon he housed. She hated him also, but for a different reason. Because every time she saw him, she thought about her daughter and how she was destined to sacrifice her life for that boy; a destiny she was going to thwart if there were anything she could do about it.
"What is it Sakura, dear?" the woman asked. She had been grateful that Sakura had met that nice girl at the Yamanaka flower shop. Her daughter was starting to bloom. There wasn't a day when Sakura didn't have a red ribbon in her hair, pulling her bangs up to accentuate her pretty face.
"I made a new friend today!"
"That's great sweetie! Who is it?"
"His name is Naruto. Isn't that such a funny name for a boy?" Sakura blushed as she talked. She hadn't noticed all of the color draining from her mother's face.
Sakura's mother unconsciously pulled at the clothes she was sewing and the seams ripped. She took a deep breath to calm herself before speaking. "Sakura, I don't want you playing with Naruto anymore."
"He's the village prankster. If you play with boys like that, it will only lead to trouble."
"Really? He seems nice and he's really funny."
The woman threw the torn clothes down on the table. "It's just a dirty trick. He's trying to make you his friend so you can be seen as a bad girl. Only bad girls play with boys like that, do you understand me?"
Tears were forming at the corner of her eyes as Sakura nodded her head in understanding. The little girl didn't want to do anything that would upset her mother, so she resigned herself to never seeing Naruto again.
"Sakura, sweetie, come here," the woman opened her arms to her daughter. Embracing the young girl in a hug, she whispered, "I know you may want to play with Naruto, but you are my sweet precious little girl. Know that everything I do is because I want to keep you safe and happy. That Naruto boy is no good for you. Trust Mommy when she says that it's best that you stay as far away from him as possible. Can you do that for me?"
"That's a good girl. Now did you want to cross-stitch while Mommy works on fixing Mr. Yamaguchi's clothes?"
Sakura nodded her head with a smile as she ran to get her pattern. The pair passed the time in amicable silence. Occasionally, Sakura would ask her mother how to fix a stubborn knot or what to do when the thread started to fray. The woman worked vigorously to finish the stitches on the jacket she was fixing and repair the tears she had accidentally made. Life was good. She was teaching her daughter her trade and most importantly, she was slowly steering her away from the fabric weaver's prediction.
Things had been going well. Sakura excelled academically in the ninja academy. Even though she and her husband had numerous sleepless nights worrying about whether or not they should have allowed her to enroll, their daughter wanted to be a ninja like her best-friend and they couldn't deny that to her. Sakura wasn't going to be a seamstress, but she still found time to brush up on her skills sitting across from her mother while they both worked.
She couldn't have thought of a better time in her life where there wasn't a constant fear of Sakura meeting Naruto, even if he was also in the ninja academy. Anytime Sakura talked about boys, it was always about some boy named Sasuke. The one time Sakura mentioned Naruto, there was a hint of disgust in the way she said his name. It made Sakura's mother proud.
But all good things had to come to an end. That happened the day Sakura learned that Naruto had been placed on her Genin team. The Haruno matriarch's heart dropped after hearing the news. She didn't think there was anything she could do to change the Hokage's team assignments, but that didn't mean she couldn't try. A mother's love for her daughter was something more tangible than shinobi politics, which was why she sat in the Hokage's office with a cup of tea in her hand.
The Third Hokage pushed aside some paperwork and folded his hands in front of him before speaking. "I apologize for having you have to wait a week before I could meet up with you. I understand that this has something to do with your daughter's team placement?"
"Yes it does. I'm afraid that I'd like to request my daughter be placed on another team."
"Is there any particular reason for the request?"
"I'm concerned about her safety."
"I can assure you that she is under the supervision of one of the most skilled Jonin that our village has to offer. There is nothing to worry about."
The woman shook her head. "That isn't good enough."
Taking a puff from his pipe, the Third Hokage leaned back in his chair and blew a ring of smoke in the woman's direction. "I see. So I take it this is about one of her teammates then?"
"Yes," the woman said as her hands twisted the fabric of her dress.
The Hokage's eyes narrowed. "And that teammate is?"
She swallowed hard before mustering up the courage to answer. "Naruto Uzumaki."
The Hokage leaned forward and stared straight into the woman's eyes. "I am usually a very lenient and kind man. I have done what I can to serve this village to the best of my ability. There are times when I question whether or not I have made the right decision. But I guarantee you that any decision that I've made concerning Naruto Uzumaki is the right one and is for the better of the village. You may disagree and you may have some prejudice against him, but my decision will not change. If your daughter truly wants to become a ninja, then she'll be on Naruto's team. There is no such thing as guaranteed personal safety in this profession. Will there be anything else?"
"No, sir," the woman shook her head. Never in her life had she been as intimidated as she was now. She knew that it would have been an uphill battle, but she thought that she would have had at least some footing she could make. It was her fault for not fully understanding the power of the Hokage. Now she knew why he was the strongest ninja in the village.
There was very little that could ease her fears of her daughter's future. She had met with Sakura's Jonin instructor and expressed her concerns to him, but the man merely shrugged them off. Then she learned what her team did for their missions and she breathed a quiet sigh of relief. Pulling weeds and picking up litter was hardly anything to be worried about. Her husband had even tried hiring a Genin team to help sell some of his imported foods, but that was a complete disaster when the fat kid from the Yamanaka girl's team ate it all before they could sell it. Thankfully they were offered a full refund for the services and were reimbursed for the cost of lost goods.
When Sakura went on her first long-term mission outside of the village, she barely slept. Her husband tried to tell her to forget about the fabric weaver's predictions and just let Sakura live her life. She tried, she really did, but nothing could take away the fear that had latched onto her heart; especially seeing the change in her daughter after that mission. It was very subtle, so subtle that if she weren't a more observant mother, she would never have seen it. The long held animosity towards Naruto had blunted. It was still there, but she talked about him as if he were a mere annoyance that she had grown accustomed to rather than to avoid.
Then the Chunin exams came around. Sakura's attitude shifted even more after failing the exams. This time her daughter found more of a desire to train and become an able-bodied ninja. She hated to see Sakura fail. So like a good and proud mother, she predicted that Sakura would make Chunin on her next try.
What she couldn't have predicted was the invasion that occurred. Nothing could hide the confusion and fear on her face as she and her husband were led into the mountain safe houses. Each explosion and tremble against the rocky walls echoed like an avalanche of death. The entire ordeal was made worse since she had no idea where her daughter was. The last time she had seen her, Sakura was going to watch the finals of the Chunin exams.
After what seemed like an eternity inside of the mountain, the village was finally secure and the civilians allowed to return to their battered houses. The collateral damage could have been much worse. It wasn't until a team of ninjas had informed her that her daughter was alive and resting in the hospital that the Haruno matriarch was able to breathe a sigh of relief. She didn't learn of the details behind what put Sakura into the hospital until days later. In retrospect, the events of the invasion had the potential to be what the fabric weaver predicted. It made the woman feel very small in comparison to the workings of the fates and her fear in the inevitable even greater.
The boy had been gone for over two years now. The Haruno matriarch was starting to get used to the comfort and peace of his absence. Sakura immersed herself in training and studies, even making Chunin. Her ears would pick the bits and pieces of conversation around the village praising her daughter's accomplishments and growth. She always knew that her daughter would blossom more without her team. It was a pity that she wasn't able to change the Third Hokage's mind. At least the Fifth Hokage had taken a genuine interest in keeping her daughter well-trained and safe.
The lovely state of bliss was all shattered the day he returned to Konoha. She should have known that the peace could never last. She had hoped that the distance and time away from Naruto would diminish the bond between him and her daughter. Sadly, that was not the case. It was no secret to her daughter that she did not want her to associate with him, but like a rebellious teen, Sakura ignored her mother. Mission after mission she would give Sakura a kiss and hug before she left, afraid it would be her last.
Her husband once had the gall to say that he thought Naruto was a nice young man. He even tried to convince her to invite him over to dinner one day.
"I think it would be a great idea to have him over. Maybe we could get to know him better and see what type of guy Sakura's teammate is."
"I can't believe that you're honestly suggesting that. Don't you remember what the fabric weaver said?"
"You still believe that mumbo-jumbo? Give the boy a chance."
"Why should I?"
"Because despite what you've tried to do, Sakura is close to Naruto. She smiles more when he's around. Isn't our daughter's happiness worth anything?"
"Not when her life is at stake."
Her husband shook his head, but never brought up the subject again. If it had been any other boy, she would have been more than friendly. But it was Naruto. Perhaps if her judgment wasn't clouded with the fabric weaver's prediction, she would have had a different outlook. She may have seen the way Sakura's face would soften whenever she mentioned him or how the villagers were speaking about Naruto with pride. She may have even discovered how much Naruto cared for her daughter. But she couldn't because of what the fabric weaver told her. The vice in her heart had taken root to an aversion for Naruto that was illogical except to her.
Her outward animosity towards Naruto had become painfully obvious. Sakura hadn't minded it at first. All of that changed after the failed mission to the Tenchi Bridge. Sakura began defending him. Sakura bragged about Naruto learning how to use his elemental affinity. She had heard her daughter talk for days on end about how he used a new technique to defeat a dangerous S-class ninja.
The Haruno matriarch tolerated Sakura being on Naruto's team, but she couldn't stand hearing her praise him. The more she ridiculed Naruto, the more distant Sakura became. When he had left the village to go on a training mission, she was relieved that he wouldn't be around for a while. She hoped it would be another two year journey at least. Then the unthinkable happened. Konoha was attacked.
She was certain that she had been buried underneath the rubble of her own home. Somehow the Fifth Hokage had saved her and everyone else in the village. The only thought going through her mind wasn't her own death, but where Sakura was. She had heard the survivors saying that Naruto had come and was fighting the enemy that destroyed Konoha. Sifting through the rubble, she tried to find Sakura. When she finally found her she hugged her as if her life depended on it.
"Mom, thank goodness. I'm glad you're alright."
"No, I'm glad you're alright."
"It's going to be okay now. Naruto is fighting the enemy. He'll win. You'll see."
After hearing those words, Sakura's mother hugged her daughter even tighter. Tears streamed down her face and sobs wracked her throat as she was unable to utter anything except the scattered whispers of relief and fear. Once the dust had finally settled and the village began rebuilding did the Haruno matriarch breathe a sigh of relief. Sakura was still alive. Her death had been averted once more.
They were given a wooden home to live in as she worked tirelessly to mend, stitch, and sew clothes for everyone in the village. There wasn't a single person who wasn't trying their hardest to bring Konoha back to its former glory. The future of Konoha was uncertain, but Sakura's mother knew that eventually another catastrophe would hit and when it did, Sakura would die.
She didn't think much about it when Sakura came home one day to tell her that she would be on a mission to find and talk to Naruto. It was probably because she was wrapped-up in sewing the numerous orders she had. Then her daughter returned to Konoha from the Land of Iron.
"Sakura, how was your mission? Was it a success?"
No response came from the teenager as the girl slowly unpacked her gear. Her mother watched with sad eyes as her daughter ran through the motions with a heavy heart. That was all she needed to know to see that the mission was a failure.
"Did you get hurt?"
Sakura visibly winced before shaking her head. "No."
"What did he say to you? You're upset and I don't like it."
"Naruto isn't the main reason why I'm upset."
"Then why are you? Wasn't your mission to go and talk to him? Did he say something to upset you? Did he try to attack you? Honestly, I can't believe that you still have to be on the same team with him. You were doing so well without him."
The sound of splintering wood silenced the woman as Sakura punched through a wall in anger. "So what! So what if I'm Naruto's teammate? At least he treats me like one. You always try to bring him down, but you know nothing about him. Why do you hate him so much?"
The woman took a few deep breaths, shocked by her daughter's reaction. She had never seen Sakura lash out at her like that and it was all over him. It was time her daughter learned the truth. "Sakura, there's a very good reason why I don't want you associating with Naruto. It's something your father and I learned a long time ago. There is a tradition among the women in our family where when we are of age, we go to the fabric weaver's house on the night of the harvest moon to get our fortune's told. I did this when I was your age and soon you will go to her as well.
"Traditionally, we only get our fortunes told once. But soon after marrying your father, we tried to start a family. I miscarried three times. Then I became pregnant with you and I wanted so badly to know whether or not you would be born full-term. So your father and I went to her house. She told me you would be born because as part of my fortune, I was supposed to be cursed three times and blessed once. I didn't understand it at the time when I learned my fortune and I don't really understand the rest of it either, but when we were there that day we were able to have the fabric weaver read yours. She said many things about you. The thing that I remember the most is that on a day when the Land of Fire would suffer a great catastrophe, you were supposed to sacrifice yourself to the man that embodied the spirit of a demon-fox."
"Naruto," Sakura whispered as she rubbed her left arm.
"Yes, Naruto. Now you know why I want you to avoid him. Now you understand why I can't stand seeing you go on missions with him."
"What else did the fabric weaver say?"
Sakura's mother shook her head. "I don't remember. The only thing that truly stuck with me was what I told you."
"Where does she live? I want to see her now."
"But Sakura, you just got back from a mission. Don't you want to rest?"
Sakura shook her head. "I'll be fine. Just tell me where to go."
"You have to wait until the next harvest moon. That's when her predictions are the most clear."
"Mom, if she can see my future, then she should be able to see it anytime. Now where is she?"
The older woman sighed as she looked at the determination on her daughter's face. "I'll take you there."She had never taken Sakura to the fabric weaver's house before. Since her daughter had decided to become a ninja rather than a seamstress, there was no point in showing her where to get good quality fabrics. When they finally reached the woman's home, Sakura walked in with her head held high. The Haruno matriarch waited patiently outside during her daughter's reading.
A chill in the air made the atmosphere feel even more foreboding. There were no warm smells of cinnamon or hot tea to soothe her nerves. A cloud of uncertainty hung over the trees blocking her from the view of the clear night sky. She was helpless and she hated it.
After some time, Sakura finally emerged from the cottage. She stared at her daughter's face trying to see if there was any sign that Sakura understood her actions. When Sakura's blank expression came into view she looked on confused. She was about to speak, but Sakura walked past her without so much as a word. Deeply hurt, the Haruno matriarch followed her daughter back home. Sakura walked with more confidence. Gone was the simple girl who craved affection and attention. Her daughter had grown-up.
It wasn't until they both entered the house when Sakura finally looked at her. There wasn't any understanding or gratefulness, but at least the coldness was gone. Instead, there was only pity. It was so startling, she didn't know what to expect.
Sakura walked up to her mother and pulled her in for a hug. "I think I understand. I know how hard it must be for you, but please. Please. Let me live my life. I know you've been trying hard to protect me and I thank you for that. What I do is my decision and there's nothing you can do to change that. I'm not going to say I have to protect Naruto because it's my destiny. Honestly, I would do it even if it weren't. I trust him. He would sacrifice himself to save me in a heartbeat. He's saved me countless times. It's only fair that when the time comes, I repay him back because I want to."
"How do you expect me to feel? You're my only child. I can't lose you," Sakura's mother cried.
"You're not going to lose me, not yet. There's something that you don't know about Naruto. He's not going to die anytime soon. He has a dream that he has to achieve so until he does that, he's not going to die. I believe in him. So please, no more complaining about Naruto, no more trying to persuade me that he's going to get me killed or try to get me removed from his team. Let me choose. Let me live. That's all I ask."
She closed her eyes and silently wept as she let her daughter pull away the gnarled roots of hatred planted in her heart. Now there was nothing but emptiness. With a nod of her head, she acquiesced, "Alright."
The single most difficult thing for her to do was to stay silent while Sakura lived her own life. She had foolishly allowed it without knowing about the pending Fourth Shinobi War. She had to bite her tongue on numerous occasions while Sakura prepared for the frontlines. There was nothing she could do or say to dissuade her daughter. It had been out of her hands long ago. All she could do was wait.
News came frequently about the progress of the war. What came far too slowly was the list of those who had perished. Her husband reminded her that the fabric weaver said it was supposed to be a catastrophe in the Land of Fire that killed Sakura and not the war that Sakura fought in. The thought did little to help since Konoha was deeply involved in the war efforts like every other shinobi nation.
The only thing that kept her mind off of the war was her work. Each stitch was one second when she didn't worry about Sakura or whether or not she was still alive. It kept her busy until the day the war was won.
She had been working on some clothes for Kurenai's new baby when she heard the news. Her husband burst into their home telling her that the war was over and they had won. The pair rushed out of their house and followed the crowds along the busy streets as everyone lined the entrance to Konoha. Shinobi were slowly making their way into the village with smiles of victory and relief.
People cheered as more and more shinobi walked into the village. Civilians ran up to them giving them flowers. Families came up to their loved ones and embraced. The Harunos waited patiently for any sign of their daughter among the crowd. Ahead, the cheering of the crowd increased to a thunderous applause. People were jumping up and down in excitement as the Fifth Hokage walked through the gates. Behind her was Naruto holding the unmoving form of their daughter in his arms.
They watched horrified as Naruto leaped over the crowds with Sakura. The Fifth Hokage didn't follow, but instead stayed to address the crowds about the results of the war. The couple didn't stay to hear what she had to say as they pushed through the crowds to try and follow Naruto. He had gone towards the hospital. When they finally made it, the building was already filled with the injured from the war. Nurses and doctors were busy tending to patients and bringing them into rooms. Luckily, a nurse that worked with Sakura recognized them and told them where their daughter had been taken.
They quickly made their way through the halls until they reached her room. What they saw made the Haruno matriarch seethe with anger. Sakura had been hooked up to an I.V. drip with various bandages covering her arms while she lay unconscious on the bed. Sitting beside the bed and stroking her daughter's face was the source of her ire, Naruto. She walked up to the boy and as he stood to address her, she slapped him across his face with all of her strength. She didn't even wait for him to recover as she started to push him out of the room.
"Get out! Get out!"
Naruto didn't offer any resistance as he left the room.
Her husband looked disappointed as he addressed her. "That wasn't necessary."
She didn't even answer him as she took the seat Naruto had previously been sitting in and carefully stroked Sakura's bandaged hand.
"She's alive. She's fine. There's nothing to worry about," her husband said.
"You think she's fine? Look at her! Look at our daughter! She's hurt and I know it has something to do with Naruto. It's his fault she's like this."
"Do you know that for sure? How do you know it's his fault? You haven't spoken to him. You didn't even give him a chance to talk to us. For all you know maybe he saved her from getting killed and she was hurt by the enemy."
"That doesn't matter. He's the reason she's going to die and I just can't stand the sight of him."
Her husband paused as he looked at her with the same look of pity Sakura had a few months ago. "I thought you had promised Sakura you would let her live her life. You have to let go of your obsession with her fate. There's nothing you can do to change or stop it." He quietly left the room and closed the door.
It was true that she had made a promise to Sakura. She really should have known better. Try as she might, there was no way to fight years of mental conditioning. Her desire to keep Sakura alive was much stronger than her logical reasoning to give her daughter the freedom to live: to choose. She would have to apologize to her husband for her behavior. She supposed that she should apologize to Naruto as well, but that wasn't something she was ready to do yet. For now, she was content watching the rise and fall of her daughter's chest as she breathed in and out.
She was still watching her daughter when she heard the door to the room open and close. She thought her husband had come back, but when she turned to face him, she saw the Fifth Hokage standing before her. The power emanating off of the woman reminded her of the Third Hokage. It made her feel small and helpless. She knew that whatever was going to happen, she was going to be no match for this woman.
She watched the Hokage pull up a chair and sit down in front of her. "I heard what you did to Naruto," the Hokage said in a clipped tone.
She winced at her words and for once felt ashamed of her actions. "I apologize Madame Hokage. It was the heat of the moment."
"Just call me Tsunade. I want this conversation to be as personable as possible."
The woman nodded.
"Do you know how Sakura got hurt or what's wrong with her?"
She shook her head.
"She was hurt trying to heal Naruto after he finally defeated our last enemy. She's suffering from chakra depletion and chakra burns. The I.V. is for dehydration. I'll spare you the details, but the injuries are minor compared to what could have happened."
"And what's that?"
Tsunade paused to look at Sakura as her faced softened. "Sakura overdid it when she healed Naruto. That's part of the reason why she's in the hospital. But what she doesn't know and what you don't know is that she nearly died after she lost consciousness."
"Sakura forgot one of the biggest rules before healing a patient. Make sure that the area is secure and safe. She was in such a rush to get to him, she didn't realize that the ground was unstable where Naruto was lying unconscious. She used up all of her chakra to stabilize him and passed out. After she lost consciousness, the ground beneath them started to give. She's lucky that she's such a good medic and Naruto heals so damn quickly. He managed to recover in time to get them both to safety. If he hadn't done what he did, both of them would have perished."
Her eyes widened in shock. "I didn't know. I didn't know that he saved her." Sakura's mother squeezed her daughter's hand, holding on to what she almost lost. Her daughter almost fell into death's arms, but Naruto saved her from it. It was so absurd to think about, she started gasping for air as tears ran down her face.
Tsunade put her arms around the woman to try and comfort her. When Sakura's mother finally calmed down, the Fifth Hokage held her by the shoulders and looked straight into her eyes. "You need to let go of your fixation with Sakura's future. Your husband told me about some sort of prophecy where Sakura's supposed to sacrifice her life for Naruto. Trust me, as a woman who has dealt enough with curses, prophecies, and signs of impending doom, you need to let this go. I've made a lot of mistakes in my life. Most were from sheer inexperience and others because I didn't let myself trust my heart. I don't want to see my apprentice make the same mistakes I did when I was her age."
"I know what I need to do. But it's just so hard. I tried doing it for Sakura. I really did. But I just can't stand the thought of losing her."
"Death is everywhere around us. I've seen enough of it to know that no matter what you do, no matter what precautions you take, it will come eventually. Instead of thinking about preventing your daughter's death, try to think of the future your daughter will have. Put a little more faith in her decisions and let her live her life. If she already knows her future, then the decision is hers to make, not yours."
Sakura's mother nodded her head. She knew what she had to do, but couldn't bring herself to accept him just yet. It would take time. For Sakura's sake, she was going to try.
The faint mumbling from the bed surprised the two women as Tsunade checked Sakura's vitals. Sakura's mother held onto her daughter's hand and smiled as Sakura's eyes fluttered open.
"Yes, I'm here. How are you feeling?"
"Tired," Sakura said as she looked around. "Where's Naruto?"
"He's fine," Tsunade answered. "I can go get him in a bit. Just stay on the bed and get comfortable. You're suffering from chakra depletion. And do expect a stern lecture after you've recovered about the important rules a medic must follow before treating a patient."
Sakura balked and then looked at her instructor sheepishly. "Sorry, Master. I got a little carried away."
Tsunade smiled before leaving the room. "I would have done the same thing if I were in your shoes."
After the Hokage left, Sakura's mother gently hugged her daughter. "Thank goodness you're okay."
"Of course I'm okay. Sorry I worried you."
The mother-daughter reunion was short lived as the door burst open with Naruto racing into the room. His eyes paused over the scene of the pair hugging and he almost started to walk back out, but Sakura's mother stood up and motioned for him to stay before he could leave. The older woman gestured for Naruto to sit as she stood and slowly made her way towards the door. Sakura stared at her mother in silent appreciation while Naruto looked on in shock. She hoped that her earlier behavior wouldn't completely scare Naruto away, but when the two teens finally made eye contact; her presence in the room was immediately forgotten. Her husband was right; Sakura did smile more when Naruto was around.
She closed the door giving the two teenagers some privacy while she thought about how foolish she had been all of these years. She started to cry again as she sank to the floor. The emotional drain of the day had taken its toll. She felt an arm around her and turned to see her husband sitting next to her. She rested her head on his shoulder while he held her in a comforting embrace. She didn't want to think about the future anymore; not what would happen tomorrow or even in a few minutes. All she wanted was the present; the warmth of her husband beside her, the reassurance that her daughter was alive, and the joy that the war was over.
Her relationship with her daughter had improved since she returned alive from the Fourth Shinobi War. Things with Naruto were touch and go for a while. She didn't know how to act around him and he didn't know what to say to her. Suffice it to say, Naruto spent most of his time either talking to her husband or wooing her daughter.
It was no surprise to those who knew the pair that Naruto had finally proposed to Sakura. Of course, her husband knew about it well in advance since Naruto had to get his permission for Sakura's hand. Even she knew about it since her husband was kind enough to give her fair warning so she could prepare herself. When stitching up the fabric for Sakura's wedding kimono, she tried not to think about the fabric weaver or Sakura's fate. There were occasions when she slipped into her old habits and sat up late worrying about how her daughter was going to marry the man that would get her killed. But those moments were becoming few and far between after the couple married.
Shortly after Sakura and Naruto married, the Harunos got the news that they were going to become grandparents. Sakura's mother was ecstatic. Any thoughts of her daughter's pending death were overshadowed by the upcoming birth of her first grandchild. It was also when the Haruno matriarch finally made peace with Naruto for her past actions.
She was able to have a private conversation with him during a baby shower for Sakura. She was helping him carry presents into the nursery while her husband and Sakura entertained guests downstairs. She hadn't intended to start a conversation with him, but the mood struck as she watched him tenderly place several stuffed animals around the room.
"You'll be a wonderful father," she had told him suddenly.
Naruto turned to his mother-in-law and smiled sheepishly. "You really think so?"
The woman nodded.
"Thanks, that means a lot coming from you."
She knew what he meant with those words. "Can you ever forgive me for how I've treated you?"
Naruto shrugged. "What's there to forgive?"
"I was so cruel to you. I told Sakura to stay away from you and I did things that I'm ashamed of because I knew Sakura's future."
"Your husband told me about it. I never minded it so much because back then, everyone treated me like crap. But I'm glad that you didn't hate me for the same reasons everyone else did. Heck, if I were in your shoes, I would have hated me too," Naruto said with a smile.
She had never noticed his smile until now. It was infectious. She could easily see how this man had won her husband's approval and her daughter's heart. There was clearly no one better to father her grandchildren. "Thank you, Naruto. Thank you so much."
"It's not a problem. Just know that I love your daughter. She means everything to me. There isn't anything I wouldn't do to try and prevent her death. I promise that I'm going to try and stop it."
The woman shook her head. "You don't have to promise me anything of the sort. The only promise I want from you is that you'll make her as happy as possible and be the best husband for her, the best father for your children, and the best Hokage for this village."
"I think I can do that," Naruto said as he gave her a thumbs-up and one of his famous smiles.
That smile only got bigger after Sakura gave birth to a beautiful red-haired baby girl. They named her Kushina, after Naruto's mother. It was an indescribable feeling becoming a grandmother. She had all of the joys of taking care of a baby, but without the sleepless nights or pain of childbirth. The young parents were doing a wonderful job. Kushina was healthy and happy. Watching Sakura and Naruto taking care of baby Kushina made her realize that there needed to be a change in one of her family traditions.
She went to the fabric weaver on a personal errand. There wasn't any fabric in the loom this time around. The wall was bare save for some fresh spring flowers that adorned the mantle. A cup of herbal tea was waiting for her at the table.
"I hear congratulations are in order," the old woman said.
"So tell me why you've come to my home today?"
"You're the fortune teller, you tell me," Sakura's mother shot back.
The old woman cackled. "Finally grew a spine, and some smarts too. You know your daughter used that exact same line on me all those years ago. She's nothing like you at all."
She wasn't sure whether to take those words as a compliment or an insult. "I'm actually here to tell you something important."
"The women in our family will no longer be coming to you to have our fortunes read. You will never meet my granddaughter."
Surprisingly, the fabric weaver was not offended at all and merely gave her a warm smile and a nod. "Perhaps, that is best."
"Yes, perhaps that is."
A few days later, the fabric weaver passed away. Her children and grandchildren continued the trade of fabric-making, but her gift of foresight died with her. Sakura's mother paid her respects to the old woman in the best way she could by sewing her the finest burial robes out of her fabrics. It was an homage to the fabric weaver and a final good-bye.
It started off as a peaceful day. All of her grandchildren were over eating lunch while Naruto and Sakura had business to attend to. Kushina had just turned ten a few weeks ago. Her two younger brothers and her younger sister were all passed the age where they needed diapers and constant supervision. Despite who their father was, they were also all very well mannered and polite.
Minato, the eldest boy, was the first to notice the tremors. When the walls started to shake, everyone in the room looked at each other in confusion. Then the tremors increased in intensity and the kids shrieked in fear as they hid underneath the table. Sakura's parents flanked the children on either side to protect them from falling debris and furniture. The screams of hysteria could be heard over the breaking glass of their windows.
They didn't know if an enemy was attacking the village or if there was some other force at work. After what seemed like hours, the shaking stopped and Sakura's father quickly surveyed the house to see what damage had been done. The children were crying and scared. She did her best to soothe them and held the youngest in her arms, gently rocking her back and fourth.
"I just checked outside. No one really knows exactly what happened, but they don't think it's an enemy attacking the village."
"How is it out there?"
"There's a lot of debris on the streets. I think a few people are hurt, but I don't know."
After a few minutes, several messenger shinobi ran through the streets relaying the important news. There was no enemy attacking the village. Instead, the cause of the tremors was an earthquake. The shinobi didn't mention anything about how much damage the village sustained or if they were any casualties. The Harunos heard from a neighbor who walked down the streets about the damage and destruction. They knew based on what they were told that not everyone got out of the earthquake alive.
Looking out her window, she could see the crumpled homes and buildings on fire. The damage was catastrophic. It reminded her of the fabric weaver's prediction that she had tucked away in the far corner of her mind. It should have come as a surprise when she saw Naruto standing at their doorway with a look of utter sadness, but somehow she knew.
The first thing he did when he stepped foot into the house was to give each of his children a hug and kiss. He held them for the longest time as he kept his eyes closed, as if that would stop the tears from falling. He hadn't even said a word yet, but both she and her husband already knew what he was going to say; Sakura was dead.
They were worried about the kids. They started to ask their father where their mother was and why she wasn't with him. Naruto tried to speak, but he wasn't sure what to say. Neither she nor her husband knew what to say either. So she did the only thing she could do, hold them and whisper that everything was going to be alright. The children all had their mother's intellect and figured it out. Nothing could stop the tears from falling. Everyone was hurting.
When night fell and the children had finally cried themselves to sleep, Naruto returned to their house after surveying the damage to the village. He looked ragged and worn, like a man who had lost everything. Sakura's mother brewed him a cup of tea and he accepted it graciously.
"I wanted to stay out there and continue to help find survivors, but my friends convinced me to come home."
"They were right to do that."
After a moment's silence, Naruto asked a question that had been on his mind since the earthquake. "Are you mad at me?"
"No, I'm not."
"Why? Her fortune was right. She ended up pushing me out of the way of some falling rocks. If it weren't for me, she would still be here."
The woman pulled her son-in-law in for a hug and whispered. "Yes, I was angry at you for a time and I hated the idea of Sakura dying on your behalf. I'm over that now because it was Sakura's choice to live and die they way she wanted. You've made me a grandmother four times over, you've brought peace to this village, and most importantly, you made my daughter very happy."
"I don't know what to do," Naruto cried. "She was the best at knowing what all the kids needed and making sure the hospital was in order. She calmed me down and kept me sane. She even made me eat healthy foods and things like that. But now . . . she's gone and I just don't know what to do."
"Your friends are here, the village is here, and we're here. You have many people who will help you. You know how much I adore watching the kids. The villagers love their Hokage and they'll help you grieve. We're going to miss her. We're all going to miss her so much."
In a touching moment, she helped Naruto get to the spare bedroom and tucked him in like she always did to Sakura when she was a young girl. As the lights from a lingering house fire died down in the moonlight, she hummed one of Sakura's favorite lullabies to him and watched as he drifted off to sleep.
The first thing she noticed when they brought her in was how beautiful she was. She had always thought her grandchildren were adorable, but there was something about seeing her great-grandchild that outshone even the most gorgeous babies. Kushina's husband brought her over and helped position the infant comfortably in her arms. A knit pink cap rested on her head while she was swaddled in a pink blanket. Naruto took pictures as he gushed over his first grandchild.
After posing for the camera with the tiny infant, she looked at the baby curiously. "What did you name her?"
Naruto turned to his daughter Kushina and smiled before facing her again. "They hadn't named her yet. They were hoping you could do the honor."
Admiring the infant, she pushed the pink cap off of her head and was amazed to see a light fuzz of pink. She brushed the fine hair with her hands and smiled down on the baby girl. The baby opened her eyes and stared back at her with an alarming alertness for being a few days old. The great-grandmother could see a hint of color in the little girl's eyes that brought her back to a time many years ago when she first laid eyes on her daughter. The resemblance was uncanny. There would be no argument over who this girl would be.
"Sakura. Her name will be Sakura."