Aster gets dire news about her pregnancy. She makes a dangerous decision and everyone associated with her tries to come to grips with the possible consequences. Naruto and Sasuke have their first honest talk since Sasuke's return. The sanbi is captured and collected by Hidan and Kakuzu. Tsunade receives urgent intelligence.
A scream ripped through the quiet during the early hours of the morning in the Uchiha household. Itachi sat up in his night clothes, looking around frantically, his sharingan activated. Running his hand along the bed as he made to stand, he touched something wet. He turned. Whimpering, and then letting out a wail, Aster lay curled in a fetal position, her face contorted in pain. His heart went stone cold and sank. Glancing over the sheets in shock, he looked at his hand. Blood…
The door banged against the wall as Sasuke, Hikaru, and Sakura all tried to jam themselves through the door. Gasping, Sasuke took in the bloody scene.
“What the fuck did you do?” Hikaru yelled, storming into the bedroom.
Sakura was hot on his heels. “She needs medical attention! Out of my way!”
Ignoring them both, Itachi wrapped Aster in the red and white sheets. Hands slick with her own blood, Aster gripped his shirt and screamed again. Cradling her against his chest, he picked her up. Grinding his teeth, he could feel her chakra burning him through the cloth. Confused, but determined, he elbowed the room’s other occupants aside and began sprinting to Konoha Hospital.
All four witnesses to the crimson scene stood in the hall outside Aster’s door. As mysteriously as she had fallen ill, she had stabilized. Sasuke stared at his brother. Blood stained his shirt, pants and hands. Itachi hadn’t bothered to clean up, too intent on watching Aster’s care through the square, plexiglass window. Eyes narrowed, Hikaru had been watching Itachi and grinding his teeth. Leaning against the wall opposite the three men, Sakura stood with arms crossed.
“You should have let me look at her and make the call.” She frowned, tightening her arms around herself. “That’s my job. I’m her personal medic.”
“Would you have a made a different call?” Itachi kept his eyes trained ahead, his voice even.
“Well,” Sakura sputtered, “No, I would have done the same, but still. It’s my call.”
Suddenly he pinned her with his glare. “Why does it matter who makes the call, as long as it’s the right call?”
Finding her confidence, she stood away from the wall. “Because, Itachi, next time it might not be the right call.”
Clenching his fists as his sides, “I have never made the wrong call when her well being was at stake.”
“I don’t care. Those decisions aren’t yours to make.”
Scowling and moving to continue, Itachi was startled by Sasuke’s hand on his chest. “Nii-san, now isn’t the time or place.” The older backed down, still clearly enraged.
“So, Sakura,” Hikaru said, “Is it time to tell everyone Aster is sick?”
The girl met his gaze, unafraid. “This scenario was just as likely as nothing happening. Even if we declared her in ill health, we couldn’t have foreseen this.”
“Leave her alone,” Sasuke moved in between them. “Aster almost died, and we are bickering? Disgusting.” He spat the last word.
The rest of the group stood, heads hung in embarrassment.
“I have to go try to diagnose this with Tsunade-sama,” Sakura gave Sasuke a look of sorrow. Squeezing his hand and then releasing him, she walked away, disappearing around the corner at the end of the hall.
Folding her arms tightly, Tsunade gave Sakura a harsh look. The older woman then shuffled through the file until she found the page she wanted. Folding back the paper and holding to Sakura, she recited the facts, already knowing them by heart. “Your patient, Uchiha Aster, lost about 19% of her total blood volume. A class two hemorrhage.”
Swallowing hard, the girl paled. “Yes, I see. Anymore loss would have required a transfusion.”
“Why did it take so long to get her to the hospital?” The question was like lead in water.
Taking the file back, Sakura sighed. “Her chakra system was emitting heat and behaving strangely. Itachi deemed it safer to transport her without ninjutsu.”
“Itachi deemed it safer?” Her tone was incredulous.
“Yes.” Feeling defeated, she continued. “He did not allow me access to my patient until we had arrived at the hospital.”
“That is unacceptable.” Tsunade shook her head in frustration. “You need to take control of the situation and do your job.”
Motioning back to the file, “What was it you mentioned about her chakra system?”
“Well I believe the bleeding was an her body’s attempt to reject the baby. I believe this rejection is tied to what happened with her chakra.” Taking a breath, she continued before she could be interrupted. “I’m not sure which caused the other, but the two are definitely linked. The symptoms began together and ended together. A pregnant woman’s chakra system is normally compromised, but hers has been completely useless.”
“What proof do you have of this?” Tsunade asked, heavily skeptical.
“Nothing concrete.” Sakura looked her in the eye, face set in stone. “She can’t sense anything chakra related. It’s as though one of her core senses is missing. This could be explained by her lifestyle as a shinobi, relying on chakra, and now her inability to use it.”
“That’s a weak argument,” Tsunade said without much emotion.
“I know,” she stammered before regaining herself. “But if you were to observe her like I have, I’m confident you would agree.”
The older woman side-eyed her with a straight mouth. “I trust your opinion. You are the best apprentice I’ve had.”
“There’s more…” Sakura frowned. Tsunade waited patiently. “Aster has lost 19 pounds. She’s underweight and still losing weight. At this rate, she won’t make it.”
Eyes wide, Tsunade leaned back on her heels. Finally, she took a deep breath, “Then that only really leaves one option, doesn’t it?”
Lifting heavy eyelids, Aster awoke under thin, icy sheets, clothed only in a gown and surrounded. Wriggling her hands and toes, her eyes first landed on Itachi. He smiled hesitantly. Sasuke stepped up beside him, relief covering him. To her left, Hikaru stood, holding in mixed emotions.
“Nii-san,” she breathed as he returned her gaze. “Don’t look so worried.”
Cutting in, Itachi took her shoulder in his hand. “Do you remember what happened?”
Shrugging, she replied, “Kind of. My whole body was on fire, my abdomen was cramping, and I was bleeding.” The room fell silent, shocked at her indifference. “It must all be okay, right? I’m alive, I don’t hurt, and I’m not bleeding.”
Shaking his head, Hikaru crossed his arms. “They haven’t figured out what’s wrong. Hokage-sama is meeting with Sakura to discuss it.”
“Sakura is a really amazing medic,” Sasuke added. “I’m sure they’ll figure it out.”
Pulling her mouth straight and widening her eyes, Aster responded with embarrassment, “That isn’t necessary. I’m not worth the Hokage’s time.”
Itachi laid his free hand on her stomach. “You are. And so is our child.”
As if they knew they were being discussed, Tsunade and Sakura entered the room. There was a soft whoosh as the door swung shut behind them, and a hush settled over them like fresh snowfall. Tsunade’s face was unreadable, but a profound sadness showed over Sakura. The pair moved to stand at the foot of the bed, the pink haired girl holding the manilla chart.
“We have bad news.” Tsunade was abrupt and concise. “Aster, we would like to speak with you and Itachi alone.”
Shaking her head vehemently, Aster said, “No. Whatever you have to tell me, my family can hear. I’m not scared.” Her blue eyes flashed and she sat up as tall as her withering frame would allow.
Taking a deep breath, Sakura hid her gaze in the folder. “Fine then. First off, your white cell count is high, your chakra system appears to be disabled, and now you’ve had a hemorrhage. It seems your body is rejecting the baby-”
“You body is rejecting the baby. There is no doubt.” Tsunade continued, irritation for Sakura coloring her voice. “Furthermore, we cannot pinpoint the cause of your declining weight. We assume it is associated with the pregnancy. If your weight loss continues unabated, you will die. And at the rate you’re going, you will die before you can give birth.”
There was a collective gasp and the weight of despair fell over the room. Itachi felt his heart stop and then sink to his toes. The palm on Aster’s belly now burned. He looked to her, but Aster kept her gaze averted and locked on her round stomach. Her face was tight and her expression difficult to interpret.
Tsunade sighed, sympathy in her words, “I’m sorry for you both, but there appears to be only one option.”
“No.” Aster met her eyes.
The tension and silence in the room were almost tangible. Her blue-eyed stare was like fire, burning everyone around her. Fists clenched, Sasuke and Hikaru watched the couple.
“No,” Aster repeated.
“Aster,” Itachi took both her shoulders now. “The baby is as good as in the grave. But you don’t need to follow it.”
Giving him a look of outrage, she responded while looking Tsunade dead in the eye. “No. I’m strong enough. I won’t die and I especially won’t let my child die.”
“You’re making the wrong decision here.” The hokage frowned, pity in her stare.
“Are there any grounds on which you can force me to discontinue my pregnancy?” Asked the redhead.
Shoulders slumping in defeat, Sakura shook her head. “No. If you want to commit suicide, no one in this room can stop you.”
“Stop being irrational,” Itachi growled, panic showing as rage. “We can try for another child later, or even adopt. This will literally kill you. Nothing is worth that. You won’t even survive long enough to battle it out in birth. You will die and so will the baby.”
To his horror, she laughed, a light, carefree sound. “No one is going to die!” Aster chided. “Just trust me for this one time, won’t you? I intend to bring this baby into the world alive and well.”
“I don’t give a damn about the baby,” Itachi snapped. “I can’t sit back and watch you slowly die! We are getting rid of it- and saving your life.”
A rage that matched his came over her. “Like hell ’we’ are! You aren’t carrying our child. This decision is mine. You’ll have to physically attack me if you want to end this pregnancy.”
“You’ve lost your mind.” Itachi pulled back and looked around for help. White, horrified faces met him. “I’m not going to attack my wife,” he spat at Aster. “But I will never let this lie. I won’t go down quietly. And I won’t let you go easily.” Standing, he faced her in profile. “I thought you didn’t even want this child. You wanted to be a shinobi. Why are you fighting the natural solution?”
“Because,” Aster breathed deeply, cradling her stomach. “You were wrong about what I wanted. I was scared.” Giving him the full force of her gaze, “I’ve found my courage.”
Sitting at the kitchen table patiently, Itachi waited for Hikaru. He knew that the other shinobi would need to come downstairs eventually. Sure enough, his persistence was rewarded. Hikaru came down the stairs slowly, knowing Itachi was present, but not knowing he was there for him.
“Hikaru-san,” Itachi stood. “We need to talk.”
“Hmph,” He continued past the Uchiha and into the kitchen. “We have nothing to discuss.”
Blocking him into the kitchen, Itachi tried to catch his gaze. “But we do. We need to discuss Aster.”
Finally Hikaru met his eyes, anger blazing in him. “There’s nothing to talk about. You’ve damned her and convinced her that a hopeless pregnancy is worth more than her life.”
Gaping for a moment, Itachi glared back. “I’ve done no such thing.” Gathering himself, he remembered his purpose here. “Look, I need your help.”
“You need my help?” Hikaru scoffed. “Why would I help you? You think your cute speech at the hospital is enough for me?”
Frustration filled him. “This isn’t a game to me. Aster could die. She won’t listen to me, maybe she will listen to you.” Suddenly Itachi had his attention. “You’re her brother, maybe you know something that I don’t. Maybe that something could convince her and save her life.”
“Talking to her is pointless.” Hikaru shook his head. “She has always responded better to action and consequence.”
“That won’t work this time,” Itachi frowned. “Carrying out this pregnancy and letting her die in the process is not an adequate option. We need to talk her out of this somehow.”
“Haven’t you noticed?” He motioned towards the ceiling where she was resting above them. “She’s stubborn. She won’t listen.”
“So,” Itachi growled, “You’re telling me that it’s useless and we should all just watch her die.”
Hikaru froze. Speechless, he watched as Itachi walked away and left through the front door. The slam of wood on wood rang out through the room. Is that what I said? It is, isn’t it… He leaned over the sink, sick to his stomach suddenly. Resolve came over him. He tightened his fists on the counter and stood taller. Determination filling him, he went upstairs.
Clenching his fist until his knuckles were white, he raised it slowly and knocked.
“Come in.” He heard her say.
The door creaked softly as he opened it. Aster sat in her white dress, clutching white bed sheets, with her back to the window’s afternoon sun. Her hair was ablaze in the light and her features sharp and gaunt. Hikaru stepped in quietly and reluctantly. He noticed how large her stomach looked, her skinny body curled around it to hide it.
“Imouto,” he breathed and sat at the foot of the bed. It gave only a little with his weight, and he wondered if she was comfortable here. “I think you know why I’m here.”
“Yes.” Her voice was even and unperturbed.
Hikaru cocked his head. “Then what do you have to say?”
Sighing, Aster let her chin fall towards her shoulder. “You don’t want to hear what I have to say. You’re just waiting for your turn to talk.”
“No,” He shook his head. “I need to know what you’re thinking because… this looks like madness.”
“It’s not.” Leaning forward, she clasped his hand. “I truly have faith I can survive this. And so will my baby. Tsunade-sama and Sakura are wrong about this. Just trust me. I’m right about these kinds of things.”
He gripped her fingers. “You have no logical backing. You’re going on a gut feeling. Imouto-chan, you’ve been wrong before. Look at Itachi. You can’t-”
“Don’t bring your petty hatred for him into this!” Aster cried. “That’s the real reason- you don’t want me to have Itachi’s child. You’d want me to end this pregnancy either way.”
“That’s true.” He admitted, unashamed. “But this isn’t about him anymore. You’re going to die. I don’t understand why you think you can argue that.”
“I’m not going to die!” She replied adamantly. “Sakura has made misstep after misstep in my care. This is no different.”
“You almost bled to death less than a week ago.”
Pulling back, she glared at him. “But it stopped, no thanks to the doctors. I’m still here.”
“Not for long, if you keep this up.” Hikaru stood.
“No matter what, nii-san, I’m a shinobi.” The intensity of her gaze bore into back as he tried to walk towards the door. “I won’t die in a bed, I’ll die on the battlefield.”
“Don’t be a fool.” He responded coldly, opening the door. “You’re going to regret those words. Your shinobi career is over, and everyone but you knows it. Better to give up the baby and continue living, instead of following it into the grave.”
Sakura sat to Sasuke’s right, both of them sipping cups of sake, a small charafe between them. Silence lay heavy between them. The setting sun was blocked out by the curtain along the top of the stall entrance. Yellow, artificial light fell over them, softening their features and tinging their colors. Sakura was drinking fast for his taste, but he understood and didn’t stop her.
Finally, she broke the silence. “This is all my fault. No wonder Aster hates me, I’ve brought her some much chaos.”
“It’s not your fault.” Sasuke sighed. “And Aster has no reason to hate you. She’s being head strong.”
“No,” Sakura shook her head and then rested her palm on her forehead. “I brought her brother into things, and he’s done nothing but cause trouble for her and Itachi. I missed the early signs of her sickness and then down played them. Maybe I could have a cure for her by now, but instead we are racing against a ticking clock. If she dies, it’s on me…”
He took her elbow. “You’re not at fault if she dies. It was her decision. And no one could have known it would turn out like this. As for her brother, he chooses to be an ass. Again, that’s not on you.”
“I should be working on something to help her, not sitting here drinking,” she whimpered to herself.
Pulling her to face him, Sasuke swiveled the seat. “You need this right now. You’ve been beating yourself up and working too hard. Take a step back for a little bit. I’m here to help you.”
Her eyes pleaded with him and his stone face was unrelenting. “Sasuke…”
“Just let it go for an hour. I promise it will be okay.” Gently he kissed her forehead. “Is there anything I can do to help you with Aster?”
Sorrow filling her, she replied. “Unless you can convince her to get rid of the baby… just make her comfortable.”
The sun had fallen below the horizon and the streetlamps had been lit. Itachi put one foot in front of the other deliberately, but without a destination. Lost in his thoughts, he was for the first time in a long time, unaware of his surroundings. The tap of shoes startled him and he turned to see Kakashi standing behind him.
` “I hear there is trouble in the Uchiha household?” He raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms.
Itachi scowled back. “That’s no business of yours.”
Shrugging, he fell in step with the Uchiha as he began to walk away. “The specifics are not my business, but I need to know if this will affect missions.”
“Are you sure?” Kakashi leaned forward, trying to catch his eye.
“Look, if it impairs me, I’ll stay back.” he snapped.
“You already seem impaired to me.”
Turning on his heel, Itachi faced the other now. “Understand something, when I killed my family, it meant little to me. They were evil people and I needed to do what I did. When I lost Shisui, it damaged me irreparably. I only have two people I care about on this Earth. One of them is going to die of their own volition. So forgive me if I am not myself.”
“Suicide doesn’t seem to be an Uchiha personality trait.” Kakashi sighed, unphased by Itachi’s outburst.
“Aster wasn’t born an Uchiha. She doesn’t seem to know what self-preservation is.”
Frowning under his mask, he replied, “That still doesn’t sound right to me.”
“She is deluding herself, saying that she can survive.” Itachi ran a hand over his face.
Letting his shoulders fall back in defeat, he looked to the older man. “Tsunade-sama and Sakura have declared that she won’t live long enough to give birth. The pregnancy is killing Aster. But she is insistent that they are wrong and she will come out of this healthy with a healthy child.”
“Stubborn?” He asked. “Now that sounds more like Aster.”
“This is beyond stubborn, this is lunacy.” he said quietly.
Putting a hand on Itachi’s shoulder, Kakashi held his gaze. “She may be willful, but she’s not stupid. Either she’s right, or she’ll give up in the nick of time.”
Moonlight spilled over the wooden floorboards, illuminating the narrow hall. Aster and Itachi’s door was open. Standing and leaning against Sakura’s door, Sasuke could hear her soft breathing as she slept. There was no indication that Aster was there. He couldn’t feel her chakra signature, or even with his heightened senses hear her sleeping. Cautiously, he crept towards the open door.
Despite her lack of a chakra presence, Sasuke saw her laying the bed, twisted in the sheets, her red hair washed out in the bright, white moonlight. With just enough force for her to hear, Sasuke knocked.
“Nee-chan?” he called softly.
Stirring, Aster rolled on her back and pushed herself up. Her movements were slow and labored. “Sasuke… Are you alright?”
“I’m fine.” He stepped in as she awakened fully. “Are you… Are you comfortable?”
Titling her head, she scrunched her eyebrows together and frowned. “Yes, why are you asking?”
Giving her a stern look, he caught her off guard. “Don’t just say ‘yes’ unless you mean it.”
“Well,” She looked about herself and pushed the sheets to her waist. “I guess the bed is a little firm. An extra pillow or two would be nice. I suppose I can just grab them from the closet.”
Rushing to the closet, Sasuke motioned for her to stay where she was. “I’ll get them. Just relax.”
Aster blushed, embarrassed to have him caring for her and confused by the attention. “Thank you Sasuke. That’s sweet of you.”
He handed her the pillows and helped her slide them under her hips and shoulders as she laid back down. Sadness filled him as he watched her thin form settle into the bed. One arm went under her head and the other wrapped around her unnaturally large stomach.
“Nee-chan,” his voice was almost a whisper. “Is there anything else you need to be comfortable?”
Looking towards the ceiling, she rubbed her chin pensively. “Well, it’s not so much that, but I do have a request for you.”
Curious, Sasuke nodded and waited patiently.
“Did you ever speak with Naruto?”
Surprise widened his eyes. “Well, yes, a little bit.”
“When?” Her stare pierced him.
“He came to see me in the hospital.” Sasuke crossed his arms.
“That’s not what I’m asking, and you know it.” Aster was stern, but not unkind. “Do me a favor and go speak with Naruto. Really talk to him.”
Sighing, “Okay. I understand.” Pain at the thought of losing her burned in his stomach. He wondered if she was doing this so that he would have someone to turn to when she was gone.
“It’s time for sleep. Go to bed Sasuke,” she chided.
Smiling to himself, he squeezed her shoulder and then left.
The wooden pier stretched out into the river like the grasping arm of a child. Naruto sat on the end, his bare feet in the icy, flowing water and ninja sandals next to him. Sasuke paused on the shore, shielding his eyes from the midday sun. Clenching his fist and swallowing the knot in his throat, he forced himself to put one foot in front of the other and walk towards the blonde.
Hearing the creak of the wood under the weight of footsteps, Naruto turned. A wide-eyed, blank-faced Sasuke met him.
“It’s you,” Naruto said, a strange blend of apprehension and hope in his voice. “What do you want?”
“It’s not so much what I want,” Sasuke averted his gaze to peer down stream. “Aster wanted me to talk to you, for some reason.”
“Oh,” he perked up at the mention of her. “About what?”
“Um, I’m not sure,” He shrugged. “Have you spoken to Sakura?”
Turning back to the water, Naruto replied, “Kind of? I heard Aster was sick.”
Watching the Uchiha’s reflection, he saw his shoulders sink, his eyebrows come together, and a frown twist his face. “She’s very sick.” Sasuke sighed. “She might die.”
Naruto turned suddenly, shock playing over his features. “Then shouldn’t we go see her, in case… I mean, what can Sakura do for her?”
“Sakura and Tsunade-sama said that her pregnancy is killing her. She has to terminate it.” Feeling his mouth go dry and his hands tingle, he continued, “Aster thinks they are wrong and she refuses to follow their advice.”
Staring at his lap now, Naruto responded softly, “Sakura’s a great medic. She isn’t wrong then. So… Aster is willing to die for this?”
“It appears so,” Sasuke met his stare as he turned around again. “Look Naruto, I know you probably don’t want anything to do with me, but… For what it’s worth… I’m sorry for all the bad blood. I can’t make it up to you, I know that. I don’t expect things to go back to the way they were. I just… I just want to be able to talk with you sometimes.”
“You’re just saying this because if Aster dies, you’ll be alone.”
“You’re not wrong,” He continued to hold Naruto’s gaze, something unreadable in his eyes. “Still, is there a wrong time or place or reason to reach out to someone you care about?”
Naruto glared at him. “That’s the thing. You made it clear you don’t care about me. You abandoned me, and then joined Akatsuki.” He knew there was more to the circumstance, but his heart couldn’t understand, so he laid it out simply.
“You know all of that had nothing to do with you and everything to do with killing Itachi.” Keeping a straight face and calm voice, Sasuke stood his ground. “And it turned out to all be a mistake. Every last bit of it. I messed up the moment I turned to walk out those gates.”
“Yeah, you did.” Naruto replied sullenly.
Turning to leave, Sasuke said quietly, “Look, you don’t have to forgive what I did, be friends with me, or even like me. I’m only asking you let go of the rage.”
“Sasuke, stop.” Naruto stood, bare feet dripping. “I want to forgive you and be friends like before. I really do. But you hurt me, badly. It’s not easy.”
Looking his former friend up and down, the Uchiha responded, “I understand. Whenever you’re ready, so am I.”
Naruto watched Sasuke’s shoulders as he receded to the shore and then disappeared into the village. His fingers itched to reach for him, but his arm couldn’t find the strength to lift itself. Instead he stood, frozen and silent in the warm, humid breeze.
The coins clattered on the round, wooden table in the cramped shack in Kirigakure. Hidan balled up the small black sack, toying with it in fidgety hands. Across from him, Kakuzu reached out and began to sort them. The money twinkled and made soft, joyful noises in contrast to the irritable pair.
“How many times have you counted it now?” Hidan grumbled.
“Not enough,” Kakuzu replied gruffly. “I need to make sure we weren’t shorted and that you didn’t lose any.”
“I’m not stupid,” He growled. “I wouldn’t lose money.”
Glaring at him, Kakuzu said, “You’re lucky we even got our bounty after what you pulled. You nearly killed the jinchuuriki and prematurely released the sanbi.”
“I was having a good time. Do you have something against that?” Hidan smiled.
Still irritated, he snarled back, “You’re an irresponsible fool. This isn’t about ‘fun’.”
“Not for you it isn’t.” Hidan shrugged. “Our next assignment should be a good time too.”
“It will be a heftier bounty, for sure.” Finally Kakuzu smiled. “We should leave to Iwagakure soon. They aren’t expecting us yet.”
“Sounds good,” Hidan said, standing up and repositioning his scythe.
Sighing, Tsunade frowned and rerolled the red scroll. The messenger crow sat beside her. I wonder if they are in any shape to head out right now. More than half that team will be greatly affected if Aster passes. I should probably try to find someone else, but there isn’t really time. Not to mention, they will all throw temper tantrums like children if they find out I’m holding them in reserve.
Swiveling her chair, Tsunade faced the door. “Shizune!” she called out.
The brunette came tumbling in and bowing. Quickly. “Yes, Tsunade-sama?!”
“Assemble team seven and team SAI’s new rosters for a briefing here in my office.” Her air of authority made the request a command. “Tell them to be ready by to leave by dawn tomorrow.”