Summary: Maybe she imagines it, but Sakura thinks she can already feel the slight swell of her belly beginning to shrink, the warmth she once carried already replaced by a cruel emptiness. TW for miscarriage. (Permission to end me: granted.) I swear I don't hate these two - I just have a sick, sad obsession with putting characters I love most into angsty situations.


A Life Left Behind

-o-

The sun shines on her back, warming her shoulders and easing the crick in her neck. She'll be almost three months along soon - it's too soon for things like sore feet and back aches, and she jokes that it's a sign they might have twins this fall.

"You never know," Sakura laughs. "It's not impossible. It might even be just in time for your birthday." Her cheeks are pink from the brisk winds of March, and Kakashi thinks that she looks beautiful basking in the springtime sun and glowing with anticipation. They're on the terrace of the Hokage's mansion, a picnic lunch spread out between them on their blanket. As she bites into her apple, she catches him staring.

"What?" Sakura laughs, poking his shoulder.

Kakashi smiles and shakes his head. "Oh, nothing. Speaking of birthdays, I was just thinking of what we should do for yours, seeing as it's right around the corner."

Sakura looks thoughtful. "Well, you've been so busy these days - I think it would be nice to have a quiet night in together. What do you think?" She asks, eyes glimmering with quiet hope. He feels a stab of guilt as he thinks of all the evenings she's spent alone these last few weeks.

"Of course," Kakashi says, taking her hand. "That sounds wonderful."

-o-

A mission addressed with Sakura's name arrives on the Rokudaime's desk the day before she turns 24. A neighboring village and partner in agricultural trade is requesting assistance from the Leaf's best medic - immediately. Kakashi reads the report several times before throwing it down on his desk, sighing in aggravation. The consequences of ignoring an A-rank assignment from a pivotal political ally aren't lost on him.

"Don't you have work to do here? I don't need you to watch me." Sakura laughs but sounds on the edge.

"The only way I'm allowing it is if I go with you," Kakashi says, resolute. "Aren't you forgetting your condition?"

"My condition?" Sakura repeats, looking confused. "Kakashi, I'm pregnant, not an invalid. I'm not even really showing yet! It's only a two hour walk, and I'll only be there two days at the most. Besides, as a doctor I took an oath-"

"I won't be watching you," he interjects, impatient. "I'll simply be there if you need any help."

"All right," Sakura relents. "But, I'll have you know that I've never felt better. Besides, it's only a two hour walk, isn't it? It's going to be beautiful out all week. We can enjoy the fresh air and sunshine."

-o-

They spend the night of her birthday in a small hut eating sukiyaki and taking refuge from the sudden drop in temperature outside. Kakashi places more wood into the fire and sits next to her, rubbing his hands together for warmth.

They've been up since the early hours of the morning, and with their leisurely pace (which she eventually agreed to at his insistence), it took them three hours to get to the village. She's been healing the village's children and elderly since the early afternoon; a fire had ravaged several homes, leaving limbs burnt and lungs heavy with smoke. In between carrying well water and working on repairs, he'd watched her wrap bandages and place splints and pump medical chakra flawlessly. By the end of the day, she's tired but otherwise fine. He wonders if he's starting to worry too much, if it's a sign that he's entering old age.

"Does it feel good to get to escape the village for a while?" Sakura asks. "I don't know how you stand being cooped up in that office all the time." Despite how busy she is at the hospital, she still manages to sneak in a B-rank mission now and then.

"I live vicariously through the shinobi I send to dangerous foreign lands," Kakashi jokes, shrugging. "That's good enough for me."

"Well, I'm glad you came along," Sakura laughs. "I have to hand it to you for helping them rebuild so fast. You really are becoming the people's Hokage." The love in her voice makes his heart swell. Kakashi smooths back her hair, wishes he could put into words how much he admires her bravery and selfless spirit. He settles on holding her close and kissing her instead, one hand ghosting protectively over the faint swell of her belly, their bodies growing warm by the light of the flames.

-o-

The villagers give them a pleasant farewell: a basket of baked goods, healing balms for her medical kit, and an impressive wage for their hard work. As Kakashi speaks to the village elders, he watches Sakura talk with children eager to ask about what life is like outside of a rural farmland. She smiles and looks at ease as she indulges them with simple games. It's a sight that reminds him of greater things to come.

By the late morning, they head off. The weather is nearly perfect, and Sakura's heart is filled with contentment. "What kind people," she remarks. "I'm glad we got to help them."

Kakashi squeezes her hand. "So am I." He won't say that he's eager to take her back now that their work is done, won't admit that he's happy they didn't have to stay a moment longer than necessary. They walk deep into the heart of the forest and get on the path home.

-o-

Noon fall. The sun is shining brightly through the trees, dappling Sakura's skin. They've only been walking an hour or so, but the basket feels a bit heavier on her shoulder. She notices a nagging feeling of a sudden discomfort that springs up from a place you can't quite name. She thinks of standing for most of yesterday and suggests they stop to rest and enjoy the budding foliage of spring.

She pauses by a stream and watches the reflection of light and water skeeters dancing on the surface. Then, the first spasm hits. It extends from her lower back and wraps around to her pelvis, lasting for the briefest moment. She wonders if she's imagined it, until it happens again.

"Hold on just a second," Sakura says, trying to hide the strain in her voice. She walks over to an old oak tree, extends both palms and leans into a stretch. Kakashi is close behind, rests a hand on her shoulder.

"What is it?" He asks. Suddenly, his voice sounds very far away. She feels the spasm again, and this time it's in her lower belly and it's strong - strong enough that a soft cry is torn from her throat. It's a cool day, yet sweat begins to form on her temples with the fear flooding her stomach.

"Sakura?"

"Kakashi-" Sakura cuts herself off with a moan and sinks to the ground; it's simply too much. The basket falls from her shoulder as she buckles and curls into herself.

"What's wrong?" Kakashi asks, insistent, pulse quickening. And her heart sinks when she realizes that she's going to break him - break them, shatter the hope they've carried.

"It's...it's the baby," Sakura gasps, because the spasms are starting to settle deep into the muscle, and the sudden stabbing in her belly is enough to make tears gather in the corners of her eyes. A cool sweat comes over her as she realizes that the odds are against them: they're deep within the woods, far from anyone, and it's all unfolding so quickly.

"No, no, no," Sakura mumbles, voice breaking in panic as she feels the first trickle of blood, begging her body to reconsider such a cruel act of self-sabotage. Babies dragged into the world this soon simply don't live.

"Try to hold on," Kakashi says, and he doesn't allow himself to feel, to try and process what might be happening as he gathers her in his arms. There's only a single thought on his mind: shelter. He remembers the small cave they passed earlier and heads south, walking quickly with heavy footfalls, trying not to jostle her too much. By the time they reach the small enclosure, she's crying heavily into his shoulder. He feels the blood that has already begun seeping onto the backs of her thighs, and the powerlessness that hits him is like a blow to the chest.

"Oh, it hurts, oh God - it hurts, it's killing me!" Sakura moans, feeling as helpless as a child as he sets her down. There's a brief intermittence between one wave of pain and the next, and she starts to cry. "Too soon...it's too soon, Kakashi. It's too soon." She's pale and breathless.

"We...we have to get these off," he swallows heavily, patting the side of her leg. "I'll help you." For a moment, Kakashi wonders if he's in a dream. But when he lifts her hips and helps her out of her pants and underwear, the sight and smell of the blood reminds him otherwise. Her labor is fierce, surprisingly efficient, her body doing everything in its power to expel the life within. She wails and rocks forward into the contractions, grips his hand tightly enough to break it. He can do nothing else murmur broken words of comfort and hold on.

Judgment comes to pass less than an hour later, the forest surrounding them still in anticipation. Sakura's screams shatter the silence, rattling off the stone edges of the enclosure. The remainder of the baby comes in a sudden flood; where there should be a cry, there is none. Kakashi has seen countless shinobi perish in battle, yet he's unfamiliar with a tragedy as intimate as a child being ripped away from its mother. It's a unique kind of sorrow, the pain that's etched into her features as she stares at the mess on the ground, and the anguish in her heart echoes back in his.

The unnatural horror of it all seems to make time stop. But then the world comes crashing down when she leans over and wretches, and Kakashi's stomach sinks to his feet. He kneels beside her and props her up, takes the water they have left and helps her drink it.

"I need to lay down," Sakura whispers, and he very gently moves her toward the back of the cave, away from the mess that he covers with his blood stained cloak. He reaches out to stroke the side of her cheek in a gesture of comfort and only realizes then that his hands are shaking. They sit quietly in the fragile calm after the storm, the moments dragging by as they struggle to find their equilibrium.

"I'll go for help," Kakashi thinks aloud. The chaos had clouded his mind, but now he's painfully aware of all that can go wrong.

"No. No - I'll be fine. I still have chakra left. Just give me a second." Sakura tries to sit up, yet her body rebels and starts to weep again, releasing a fresh spell of blood and grief. She goes rigid.

"Sakura - it's only getting worse," Kakashi says, jaw set.

"Just hold on," Sakura murmurs, hissing as she shifts her weight. "I can take care of it. I promise, I can." But her voice quivers and he can't stand it any more. Kakashi starts to walk toward the edge of the cave with a renewed sense of purpose.

"Please!" Her scream bounces off the walls, stops him in his tracks. "Please - don't go. Don't tell anyone! I..." She loses her voice on a cracked whisper, pupils blown, lower lip trembling, unrecognizable. He sinks to the ground, fighting back sickness as he watches her funnel traces of chakra into her lower belly until every last trace of their child is gone.

-o-

She eats the hardtack in his pouch, takes the rest of the water and forces herself to move. They walk a short pace into the woods, away from the blood etched into the stone, a permanent reminder of a life gone too soon. She's halted the bleeding and it's enough to convince him that she can make it the rest of the way. Sakura wraps her cloak around her, shielding him from her ruined clothing before she climbs onto his back. Maybe she imagines it, but she thinks she can already feel the slight swell of her belly beginning to shrink, the warmth she once carried already replaced by a cruel emptiness. The shameful sense of failure weighing on her chest makes her go silent.

The walk home doesn't take them more than an hour or two, but it's enough time for Kakashi to think of the things he needs to hide from her by the morning: the rattle, the sweater she started to knit, the books for expectant mothers on the coffee table. His stomach wrenches but he carries on. By the time they reach the village gates, the sun is setting and she's thankful that the streets are vacant of anyone they know.

When he unlocks the front door, a strange stillness hangs within their apartment. Her boots and workbag are still in the entryway, the fresh daffodils she cut are still in bloom, and his mission reports are still in neat piles on the table. Nothing has changed except for her. She's suddenly too afraid to move, terrified by the idea of bringing evidence of this kind of tragedy into the space they've built together.

"Let's get you into the bath," Kakashi murmurs, breaking the spell, and she nods, biting her lower lip almost so harshly she draws blood. But the lukewarm water soothes her and she closes her eyes, tries to forget as he takes the washcloth and cleans her back in rhythmic, gentle motions. Kakashi gets her out of the tub and dries her hair, helps her dress, takes her to bed.

"I'm sorry," Sakura whispers, throat thick with tears. "We were supposed to be happy. I just..."

Kakashi crawls in beside her and holds her close, drops kisses on her temples and cheeks, wishes he could explain that it isn't her fault. But he knows she isn't listening - death is speaking in her ear, loud and insistent.

"We'll be alright," Kakashi says, even though the pain he feels for her in this moment makes him wonder how anything could possibly ever be right again. And they hold each other even more tightly, protected by the still darkness that covers the room and shields their hearts from the reminders of the life they've left behind.