Ino is not pleased.
“More than a decade, possibly,” she hisses, slamming down her pen at the Interrogation Center. “A decade, Forehead. You can’t possibly—”
“I can,” Sakura interrupts with a finger to her lips, looking down at the tiny bundle in her left arm. Sarada is still fast asleep, small and beautiful and vulnerable. Good; Ino’s racket has not disturbed her. “I have to.”
A beat passes, and Ino scowls.
“I know it’s for the greater good,” Ino says, more quietly this time. She sighs and leans over her desk to coo at her niece, fingers gliding over Sarada’s cheekbones. She is uncommonly lovely, long black lashes and soft porcelain skin. “She’s…she’s still so small, though. And she…”
Sakura nods. “She won’t know a thing.”
“Why?” Out of all the conditions—single mother Sakura, absentee father Sasuke, more than a decade—this makes the least sense.
“You can’t tell a child her father is looking for something that might cure her from death at sixteen. Maybe you can tell a twelve year old, but not a child. Sasuke is convinced the kekkei genkai will activate and worsen it too.”
Ino lets out a breath, and sinks back into her armchair. “Her eyes?”
“Still not functioning properly.” Sakura swallows, and Ino remembers her panic when Sarada was first born, the complications with her daughter’s optic nerve and retina and lens and how Sakura’s mouth wobbled when she delivered the news. “Itachi went blind, Ino. Sasuke nearly went blind too.”
Ino swallows too. “That was from overuse, though?”
Sakura bites the inside of her cheek and hums. “It could have also been genetics. Maybe a combination. We don’t know. But Itachi was very very sick and Sarada’s eyes aren’t functioning properly and…”
“It’s still a decade, Sakura.”
“Possibly. It might take two years; it might take twelve. We don’t know. But cures take time, and Sasuke needs to continue taking missions along the way if he’s going to have a good standing as a Konoha shinobi. The Raikage will not tolerate a wandering Sasuke with no purpose.”
Sakura has always fought like this, Ino thinks: with an iron determination, cool logic running in her head even as her heart rages or snaps in two.
“I don’t like it,” Ino says. She watches her niece wake up and begin to fuss, and Sakura hushes her and cradles her closer.
“It’ll be okay.” Ino isn’t sure if Sakura’s talking to her or the baby or herself (maybe all three), but Sakura is strong.
She will endure.
“I’ll take care of you,” Sakura whispers, feeling the warmth of her child—their child—above her fingertips.
This is unconditional love, she reminds herself. Uchihas love with every heartbeat they have. This is the Will of Fire, this is strength. “I swear it.”