born to blush unseen—I know that we were made to break.

「summer」do you remember, sasuke-kun? how it felt to live beyond the boundaries of this prison? how it felt to hold my hand in the warmth of the sun, in a place just beyond the horizon?

(the smell of fresh paint)

Sakura's bare toes brushed the marble floor from her precarious perch on the wobbly oak stool. She leaned her side into the wall in the hopes to regain balance, her ribs colliding uncomfortably with the crown molding.

"I don't see why this is a necessary aspect of pain-" She wobbled unsteadily on the stool, fingers reaching out instinctively to grasp the easel in front of her, squawking in surprise. "-ting!"

Her fingers slid through scarlet and deep blue paint, smearing her work just as stability returned to her, a deep frown crinkling its way onto her face.

Sai, on the opposite side of the sunroom, was busy dabbling light pinks on a large canvas. "Risk breeds curiosity. Curiosity breeds creation."

She scowled upon readjusting herself, staring at her stained fingers morosely. "No, all your risk bred was destruction. I ruined my painting. And I smell like old oil, now."

Sai raised his head, tilting his head to the side upon inspecting her work. He exhaled deeply.


His paintbrush met the edge of the palette with a soft clatter, and he walked up behind her slowly. "Ah, I see. It's not pretty anymore."

Sakura threw her hands up in the air. "I am aware! I just told you that I ruined it."

"On the contrary. It's exquisite. You have a skewed perspective of what it means to make art. It's not about making pretty things—daffodils in the sunset or glittering tea sets," he said purposefully, referring to her previous works. She narrowed her eyes at the implication.

"Art is about illustrating life-from its most glorious thunderstorm to the most miserable passing of time. Not everything is beautiful. Sometimes the most vulgar can be the most spectacular. You of all people should know that, Ugly."

Sakura turned towards him, too thoughtful to address the particularly offensive nickname. "It was a painting of the royal family. Now it looks like they're dark wraiths, slashed and bleeding."

Sai returned back to his canvas which was leaning against one of the larger windows, brooding and swapping out the light pinks for a deep gray. Sakura, all too used to the moody artist, brushed off the lack of a response and slid off the risky seat, padding towards the basin to wet a towel and cleanse her hands. He didn't respond until the end of their session together, a full twenty minutes later when the sun had started to sink below the horizon. "Princess, that may perhaps be the most accurate painting that has ever been done of royalty."

When Sasuke found her half an hour later, the sunroom still smelled of fresh paint, but the white marble floor reflected the oranges of the setting sun, the easel dragging out lengthened shadows across the room. She was cross-legged on the floor, head tipped back, staring, mesmerized, at the deep gash running through the Crown Prince and the Queen.

"Is there anything wrong in wanting beauty, Sasuke-kun?"

He didn't respond.


Her mother always told her that her father had believed being royal was exactly like indentured servitude, and even though she'd been raised far from court in a palace in the countryside, Sakura agreed. Leaned forward on a horse, bareback, she knew that she'd never be allowed to do anything but side saddle, knew that this trip would be forbidden, knew that even now it was heavily regarded with disappointment from her governesses and ladies-in-waiting.

But ever since her mother, Tsunade, had taken her on biweekly trips to the clinics and orphanages in the neighboring village as a child, the practice had been ingrained.

"They're my people," she explained as she swept through the streets next to Sasuke. "They need me."

Sasuke scoffed. "No, what they need is medical attention. And you need more luck. It's a wonder you haven't caught something fatal yet."

Sakura sneered, turning her head back to the dirt path winding through the back gardens of the palace towards the stables. "Yes, Lord Uchiha," she drawled irritably. "We've all heard your insufferable opinion before."

"Watch out," he said suddenly, reprimanding tone swapping out for one of concern.

She was quick to reply snippily. "For what? Your awful sense of empathy?"

"For the mud."

She blinked, bottle green eyes lifting upwards to yank aside her mare a few seconds too late. The puddle of mud splashed up the side, the hem of her gown gathering six inches worth of gunk. "Ah, fuck!"

Sasuke raised his eyebrows as they slowed to a stop, the stable hand already waiting to take care of the horses. Sakura had practically leaped off of the horse, angrily striding towards the large wooden doors at the back of the palace. Sasuke caught up easily, fingers winding around her elbow to yank her to a stop.

"You need to breathe," he instructed, meeting her eyes calmly. "You can't go back in there looking like a mortar about to pop off." She inhaled obediently, frustrating still glimmering in her eyes. "I didn't even know you knew that word."

"I read Sasuke-kun. It's a side effect of being intelligent."

"Hopefully your insistence upon not listening to me is a treatable symptom. I seem to recall your physician saying it's a birth defect."

Sakura seethed, turning away and gliding down the path, her steps slightly hindered by the now excess weight of dirt and water soiling her clothes. A trail of water dripped behind her, and Sasuke sighed, all too used to these bouts of anger, but like always, he followed faithfully, responsible for watching her back.

They made their way up the steps in tense silence, Sakura's hand curled delicately along the hand-carved banister, making for the back door, but the heavy mahogany swung open before she could get within reach. Tsunade swept out looking markedly frazzled as her gaze locked on her daughter, holding an ornate card in her left hand. "You're late. I've had the ladies pack your things; we leave in two hours. Go freshen up and change," she paused in her instruction, finally taking in her sweaty and muddy appearance. "For god's sake, what did you do-swim in manure?"

All the irritation evaporated from Sakura's lungs in an instant, ignoring the sour barb. "Leave? What? Why?"

"The Crown Prince is to be married. We're going to court."


The carriage bumped and rolled along, and Sakura leaned back heavily against the plush seat, blowing the hair falling in front of her face. The heavy pearl and ruby baubles were sagging from their previously careful place in her hair, but even their disarray didn't compare with the unsettled look on her face.

"Penny for your thoughts?" Sasuke asked, nudging her ciselé velvet covered ankles with his boot.

Sakura scoffed, brushing aside her hair with a flourish of her hand, gold rings flashing in the rain-washed light, tittering falsely. "Oh, please. My thoughts are worth vastly more than mere pennies. At least several thousand diamonds."

Sasuke exhaled in amusement. "So you're thinking about court, then?"

The façade melted off of Sakura's face, and she faced the window, leaning her forehead against the cool glass. She sighed, her breath fogging temporarily, gaze focused on the way the rain drops collected across the pane. "I'm…" she paused, gathering her thoughts. "I'm worrying."


"About you."

Sasuke blinked. "What?"

Her gaze flashed to him for a brief second before returning to the muddy grass and small, poverty-stricken villages they were passing. The torrential downpour did nothing to disguise the black smoke rising from the chimneys, and Sakura wondered if she'd smell burning flesh or just fire if she were to open the window.

She finally leaned back into her seat again, tearing away her gaze from the state of the country. Her hand stretched forward and brushed away the hair from his face, gloves all but forgotten on the seat. Her fingers lingered on the edge of his jaw, tracing the stubble. As she pulled away he caught her fingers, pulling her forward until she was off of her side of the carriage and seated right next to him.

Unbidden, her cheeks flushed, and with the proximity, the teeth she had so precariously clenched to hold back the gales of her thoughts relaxed.

"I'm worried about you seeing your brother for the first time in more than a decade, I'm worried about this plague that's annihilating the countryside, I'm worried about wools becoming more expensive in the quickening winter, I'm worried about the resistance towards the practicality of the 'tasteless' potatoes, I'm worried about gossip, and I'm worried about what returning will do to us. To me, to you."

Sasuke's warm, rough fingers wound through hers, squeezing, his gaze holding hers. "It's my job to worry, not yours."

"Just because there's some silly contract dictating your life to be forfeit to mine does not mean I have no valid right to worry or be concerned about yours."

They settled into silence, but the slowly heightening cries and pleas from outside her gilded cage had her looking back out the window. There, lining the streets as they took the final turn towards the distant castle, were the beggars. Their grimy fingers pressed against the glass, their tremulous voices wailed out in desperation.

"I am so afraid." Sakura said finally, voice trembling, unable to rip her gaze away from the stark vision of death against her own comfortable luxury.


Slipping her hand into her pocket, she pulled out a handful of gold pieces and pulled away from Sasuke's grip to crack the window open, letting the coins slip through and hit the puddles with a sharp clatter.

She slammed the window shut again before anyone could get a grip in, turning and sitting back where she was originally. Sakura busied herself, arranging the heavy, luxurious cloth of her dress, readjusting the glittering pins in her hair. She pulled the soft gloves back on like it was ritual, and the clamoring outside faded away into the sounds of cacophonous rain pattering against the roof as they passed the front entrance gates and continued up the circular drive.

"Dying before I can make a difference."

(there was no warning)

Sometimes, Sakura forgot that she was always guarded by nobility. Sasuke's title wasn't one that was ever spoken of in the public arena, and the history that tarnished his last name had led his family into contractually signing away their freedom to hers in order earn their place in court back, to regain the trust that they had lost a century ago.

Since birth, every Senju was tied to an Uchiha to watch over them, and her Uchiha was Sasuke.

But despite the fact that Uchiha was synonymous with betrayal and darkness and maybe even military might, despite the fact that those trademarked looks were never to be treated as meaningful, Sasuke still carried himself like a Lord and people noticed.

There was no warning to the way court life unfolded before Sakura, with the way she had an almost practiced ease in pulling apart reluctant secrets and gossip like a shy bud forced to bloom under her capable fingers.

But there was even less of a preface to the way Sasuke commanded attention. For him, petals fell away without lifting a finger. Just the slice of his gaze and the knowledge that his word was backed by hers was enough.

He was the iron fist to her soft power, the smoldering embers to her glowing spark. Within days, her reputation was built on her wit, her charisma, her intellect, and her kindness. His, just behind her shadow, was built on his authoritative command, his keen eyes, and his unquestioning loyalty to her.

"This past week has made me realize one thing," she said to him one evening as they glided around the ballroom in a waltz, his hand tucked at the respectful curve of her waist and her fingers lightly gripping his shoulder.

"Oh? And what's that?" his lips curved into an amused smile at the fierceness in her posture, and his hand slid lower to caress her silk-covered hip.

She nodded firmly. "I have realized that I can accomplish things here if I really wish to. After all, I have a will made of fire."


She did her best to remember that what they have couldn't be touched by the light of day, but in the moments where the honeyed rays crept through the drapes and the air was still, she'd let herself forget. Just for a few moments.

He was warmer than the sun.

His nose was tucked in the crook of her neck, his legs curled around hers, and even with several layers of clothes separating them, there was something intimate about the moment. Maybe it was the way his fingers were woven through hers, the way she could have sworn his breath mapped the cartography of her slight shoulders.

She unfurled her arm from beneath his, reaching towards the bedside table to her worn copy of The Tale of Genji, pulling out the pressed dandelion bookmark that he had given her a lifetime ago.

He roused at her movement, joints cracking and stretching as his eyelashes fluttered somewhere near the nape of her neck. She hadn't even managed to read a page before he'd shifted, pushing her onto her back fully, and nudged her arms apart, settling himself in the cradle of her hips.

"Good morning," he said, a playful, wicked look in his dark eyes.

She sighed, a sort of gentle amusement warming her expression. "Hello," she breathed. She stretched, carefully tossing the book back on the night stand.

His fingers traced over her collar bones and she did her best to repress the goose bumps, though she couldn't stop her eyes from closing in response. She only cracked an eye open when his fingers dipped around the hollow above her clavicle, catching the gold chain of the jade necklace she always wore.

"Why do you wear this? It's cursed," he said, voice gravelly from sleep.

She smiled. "I've already told you, I thought. Or maybe you asked that when we played hide-and-seek as kids, so I never answered. Regardless, it's not cursed. People just happen to be unlucky."

"Why take the risk?"

"It was the first Senju King's necklace, passed onto the eldest child every time. When mother abdicated the throne in favor of Kushina, the necklace still passed to me. I'm the eldest of the eldest. It…" she stopped thoughtfully, fingering the jade pendant. "It reminds me that there's so much to accomplish, so many dreams unrealized. It reminds me that you make your own luck, and that I intend to make mine."

Sasuke ducked down and tugged the cotton sleeve gently, pressing his lips to her newly exposed shoulder. "I still think it's cursed," his words muffled by his kiss.

"I am not cursed," she replied adamantly, winding her fingers through his soft hair. Her words dissolved into a hum of pleasure as he pressed more kisses up towards the shell of her ear.

"Yes, you are. You'll be the death of me."

She hit him playfully, bucking him off of her with her strong thighs. She rolled over until she was perched just on top of him, hair messy from sleep and eyes bright. Her hands cradled his jaw, and he couldn't remember a time when her smile had been wider. "Shut up," she whispered, just as she claimed his mouth for her own.

The sun rose steadily, and just for that day, she reveled in the light.

(night in)

"So? How goes the man hunt? Any goods good enough to keep nestled between your thighs?" Tsunade barked, a wicked smile creasing the lines in her aging face. She swirled the glass and knocked it back, cackling. Only an hour had passed since they'd begun their impromptu ladies' night in, complete with drinks, finger sandwiches, and butter biscuits, and already Tsunade had drunken herself into a haze.

Karin, second in line and the sister of the Crown Prince, Naruto, looked like her eyeballs were about to roll out of their sockets at the unfiltered question. Mikoto chortled from her careful position near the door, always alert just like her son. Even dressed down in a silk nightgown, hair carefully braided for the night, she still somehow looked the part of the fierce guardian.

"I, um," Karin began unsurely. "It goes…well, I suppose," she ended lamely, fingering the shortbread cookies on the plate in her lap.

Sakura giggled into her cup of tea, and Tsunade poured herself another gin and tonic. "Mikoto, sit down," Tsunade called, patting the empty space on the canapé next to her. "Nobody's going to assassinate me today."

Mikoto sighed, giving one last look to the wall she was leaning against, and came to curl up beside her longtime friend. "I know that my, um," she paused, echoing the word like a foreign term, "man hunt, was an eye-opening one. I learned that men get turned on by way too many things, and I learned that the uh," she stumbled over words again, searching for the most politically correct, "nether regions are a bit…"

"Unsightly?" Tsunade suggested, looking thoroughly amused.

Mikoto coughed, the apples of her cheeks blooming, and her lips twitched, holding back what Sakura presumed to be laughter. "Ah, yes. Well, the last thing I learned was how transformative a new last name could be. It was like being reborn. A whole new you.

"And there's a certain…" her voice trailed off. "There's a certain power. In marrying. Somehow, even though there's a Queen sitting on the throne, having a man back your words is the same as carrying a sword around all day. You get to change the air about you, remake yourself. It's a metamorphosis unlike any other."

Tsunade nodded in assent. "But what's most important," she began, a nostalgic look in her honeyed eyes, "is that he makes you feel whole, even though you were complete when you met him."

Karin nodded absently, fingers winding around her luxurious long locks of hair. That particular scarlet fever ran in the family, the marker of their house. Sakura knew that because she was fourth in line and thus considerably close, her almost-red hair would never let her go unnoticed in public. For her cousin, the deep red trademark was even more of a beacon.

Mikoto spoke again, this time her expression lined with something between honesty and bitterness. "I'm sure that whenever you find someone, he'll be worth it. As my mother would say, you could not be so beautiful for nothing."

Karin smiled briefly at the compliment, but seemed to be lost in her thoughts. Mikoto subsequently turned her attention to Sakura who was curled up on the floral chaise. "What about you? Any special men in your life?"

Sakura stared down into the swishing black tea leaves, licking her lips thoughtfully as images of dark hair and safety and condemnation flashed in the reflective surface of the porcelain teacup. The brown tea sloshed against the edge as her hands shook, and she remembered the golden coins in the mud, the desperate need for power and change.

"No," she said, shaking her head. Her lips were askew, eyes creasing along the corners. "Not yet."

Mikoto's dark eyes, so similar to her son's, were penetrating, absolute. Sakura looked away, managing to keep the humor light in her voice even as her throat tightened. "Besides, I'm not sure I'd like to be defined by anyone but me. As they say, I am the empress of my own happiness."

(night out)

The chamber orchestra in the gallery was perhaps her favorite thing that evening. Even the arched ceiling's brilliant fresco could not compare to the breath of fresh air that she swore filled her lungs every time the music crescendoed.

"I'm falling in love," she said to Sasuke as they stood in the sidelines, watching as couples seamlessly filled the marble dance floor.

"Oh?" he responded, eyes penetrating. She fought the blood rushing to her cheeks valiantly. Even the mundane task of examining the seam in her gloves wasn't enough to ignore the sensation of his breath tickling the hairs at the nape of her neck when he stepped just behind her.

She exhaled deeply, and she could have sworn she heard him chuckle.

Although court was a trial of servitude, even Sakura couldn't deny that this the loveliest engagement party she'd ever attended.

The bride-to-be, Lady Hyuuga Hinata, was a vision in dusky pink, and Sakura's cousin, the heir to the throne, was a ball of exuberance next to her grace. She appeared to float as she walked, and he drew attention to himself like the sun. Following closely behind them was Itachi, dark eyes ever-watchful, ever-careful.

Something in his posture reminded her so much of Sasuke, and anticipating the tension, she easily maneuvered herself to wind her hand into the crook of his elbow, loosening the wound up muscles.

"Your Royal Highness," a vaguely familiar, mischievous voice called, and she turned to the side, her long hair sweeping over her right shoulder as she did.

She blinked. "Uncle?"

His grin was distressingly familiar, and he bowed deeply in response to her automatic curtsey. Her heart pounded in her head, and all the plans she had made fell between her and the world. Her free hand was now cradled in his larger ones, and against her satin gloves he pressed a kiss. "It's good to see you. And didn't I tell you to call me Nawaki? We're nearly the same age, after all."

Sakura's happy glow had flushed out of her skin, leaving her paler than normal. Her voice shook a little despite the undeniable fire of conviction in her eyes. "It's…wonderful to see you as well. When did you arri—" she cut herself off, her thoughts overrunning each other. "I have something for you."

Even Sasuke, knower of all her secrets, was perplexed. "Oh?"

Pulling the precious gold chain out from beneath her dress, she unearthed the jade pendant only to undo the clasp and tuck the necklace in Nawaki's palm.

"I know I'm breaking tradition, but…well, I'll get it back if and when I have a child. I know how much you wanted to be king when you were little, and I think my mother, your eldest sister, even if she says otherwise, wanted you to have it before I came along."

Nawaki looked stunned against the background of tapestries and gentle laughter. There was a large berth around them, and the nobles playing the wallflower looked on curiously at the exchange.

"I—thank you, Princess," he said, voice cracking in a way that it hadn't done in years as he bowed deeply.

She made to plaster a smile on her lips but upon noticing the approaching footsteps, she swapped it out for her own deep bow of deference.

"Your Majesty," Sasuke was the first to speak, Sakura and Nawaki echoing the sentiment closely behind.

The smile Queen Kushina had playing at her lips made Sakura cock her head to the side. "My dear niece," the older woman began with a sigh, taking both Sakura's hands into her own and pulling her into a hug. "It is so good to see you after so long."

Sakura's beryl eyes watered under the veil of deception, breathing in the heady rush of power.

She could still feel Sasuke's imprint at her neck, the feel of his lips on hers. A touch that ignites, her mother had called the feeling years ago.

"Well don't you just shine up like a new gem!" Kushina laughed delightedly, all genuine and benevolent, taking a few steps backwards to examine Sakura as her fingers tucked the stands of stray pink hair behind Sakura's bejeweled ears.

From over the Queen's shoulders, somewhat tuning out the excited chattering, she met Sasuke's gaze steadily, finding the safe harbor, finding her way home.

(the student becomes the teacher)

"Just trust me," he said between pants, breath hot against the corner of her mouth. Her lips were a slick, swollen pink, her hands unable to stop tracing over the lines of his body.

She couldn't look away from his eyes. "There's nobody I trust more," she managed, eyelashes wet from blinking back the sudden tears. "You know that."

His mouth brushed against hers again, a kiss so soft that her eyes watered again, the upheaval of emotion getting to her. Her pulse leaped, toes tracing against the sides of his calves, fingers ghosting over his abs. He rolled them over without warning, and she used the leverage to push herself up on him, surprised. "What…are you doing?"

One hand cupped her bare breast while the other went to bury itself in her soft hair.

"I want you to do this, not me. I want," the words came haltingly, "you to give yourself this. I don't want to hurt you, and it's your virginity—"

She shook her head determinedly, pulling the hand from her breast and guiding it down to her core. His gaze darkened as she pressed the tips of his fingers between her heated folds. "This," she breathed, breasts heaving, "has always been yours. And I trust you." She smiled then, continuing cajolingly as she slid his fingers deeper into her. "Besides, Sasuke-kun, being on the bottom doesn't mean I'm a submissive non-participant. Not if I choose it."

Rolling off of him, she pressed a kiss to his bicep, her fingers lacing between his to tug him back over her. She grazed his jaw with her teeth, moving upwards before capturing his mouth for her own, twining her tongue with his.

"When I'm with you," she began softly as he lined himself up with her, fingers traveling the length of her legs as he hooked them around his narrow hips, "I'm—"

He slid into her, and her bright eyes squeezed shut, all the air in her lungs leaving her at once, all her frayed nerves tied up neatly, all her thoughts finally, finally quiet.

He kissed her soundly as he thrust again, and she gasped. His hand found its way back to hers, squeezing tightly. He found the word to finish her sentence. "Safe?"

She shook her head, smiling in wonderment, her free hand cupping his jaw. "Home."


The quiet mind didn't last long.

The itching need for change returned as a force to be reckoned with, and seeing the jade dangling around Nawaki's neck at the parliament session earlier that day only served to fire her up more.

The quick trip to the apothecary and greenhouse, her face hidden by the hooded cloak she wore, was all the beginnings of something close to cowardice.

Assassination, she knew, especially the quiet kind, was weakness. There was no bravery in being too pathetic to be able to face her opponent head on—none at all.

But she convinced herself this was what she needed. This is what her country needed. Education, vaccines, equality, a guiding hand, love, a better economy, a leader who was born royal but who learned from the people.

They needed her, and this was what she had to do.

She spent the afternoon in the back garden of the servant's quarters with a mortar and pestle, grinding her herbs into something lethal, placing the fine powder into a velvet pouch in her pocket. It stayed there, heavier than a bullet, as she let her ladies maids pull her hair back in an updo with a decorative ivory and silver comb, place diamond and pearl earrings on her ear lobes, and secure the back of her corset with nimble fingers.

She transferred it from the old dress pocket when nobody was looking and brought it along with her to the private dinner between the closest royals. She arrived early, gliding into the kitchen to peek into the dishes, charming comments spilling from her mouth like blood. The head chef, a nervous young woman, giggled, averting her eyes shyly at the barrage of compliments just as Sakura spilled the ashy powder into the stew, dissolving as it hit the surface.

Her fingers clenched into fists around the empty pouch, and she dumped it in the trash discreetly as she walked back to the dining room. Her hands tensed, and she bit the inside of her cheek, trying to regulate her breathing as best as she could.

She focused on the swirling patterns in the luxurious carpet, focused on the basket of fresh forget-me-nots in the center of the table, focused on anything but the way her heart threatened to leap out of her chest and onto the floor.

She watched as her cousins and other relatives filed in before finally having a conversation with Naruto—the first she'd had since childhood. She was placed between Karin and Nawaki, the both of them completely involved in the conversation, leaning forward eagerly. The courses came in one at a time; the stew, spooned carefully into pristine bowls, was the first to be served.

Sakura sipped exactly one spoon—enough to clear her name. Her eyes locked onto the jade necklace like a hawk, so aware of the way Nawaki's neck moved when he swallowed.

And then, a few moments later, the room descended into chaos as, across the table from her, Naruto collapsed. She stood immediately, the panic that she'd long suppressed bubbling up from beneath the numbness.

Her hands were shaking; she could still see how the whites in Naruto's eyes stood out even as her vision blurred with panic. All too clearly, she heard the second thump as Nawaki fell to the floor. "We need a doctor!" she screamed, the tone in her voice unrecognizable to her own ears.

She fell into the lessons she'd learned by heart, pressing her fingers to Naruto's pulse and then clambering to the table as the limited amount of poison in her system began to curl around her bones as well.

She grabbed for the glass of water and, the life liquid spilling everywhere from her erratic movements, nestled Naruto's head in her lap, opening his lips and forcing him to swallow. Her fingers felt for his forehead as she watched how his eyes focused and unfocused.

Distantly, she heard screaming and the rush of feet. Her head turned slowly, mechanically, to lock eyes with Nawaki who was still, so still. His glassy gaze was empty.

She clawed desperately at the gilded buttons on Naruto's tunic, losing control of the situation. Her nails chipped under the force, and she forced her eyes to return to Naruto's. "Stay with me," she said hoarsely, barely feeling the hot tears leaking from the corners of her eyes.

She only loosened her grip when medics pushed her out of the way, a few reassuring hands on her arms, and she swayed dizzily, the remnants of her own poison finally getting to her. "I don't know what to do," she said weakly. "I don't know—"

"That's okay," a voice said soothingly. "It's okay. We just need to get you to the medical ward."

"I don't know what to do when people leave," she whimpered, her voice small. Her eyes were unfocused, only clearing up when she heard the familiar call of his voice in a terrified tone she'd never heard.


She blacked out.


"I knew, even if no one else did. You should have told me," he snarled at her a week after she was released from the medical ward. She was curled up on the canapé, a blanket wrapped around her stiff shoulders. Her gaze was flinty as she stared into the flames of the fireplace.

"What? I should have told you what? Oh, Sasuke-kun, I was wondering if you would lend me your hit man services so that I can impulsively kill a man to move up in line for the throne because nobody else understands what needs to change in this god forsaken country."

He paced, the tension in his shoulders visible. "I would have said yes."

Sakura blinked. "You…what?"

"You would be a great leader," he said honestly, stopping in place as if to emphasize this point. But the pacing began again as quickly as it stopped, and a raw edge overtook his voice. "Fuck, Sakura, you are so lucky you didn't get caught."

Despite herself, she relaxed her guard, fingers playing with the tassels on the hem of the blanket. "I don't understand."

Sasuke sighed, raking his hand through his hair, seating himself next to her. "Anything for you," he said softly then, his fingers brushing her cheeks. "I would give the world for you."

She leaned sideways, her cheek meeting the crook of his neck. "It will not be beautiful," she warned. "It will not be brave. It will be selfish, and it will be broken."

He turned his chin, pressing his lips to the crown of her head. "Anything."

She stood, then, her bare feet soundless as she crossed the carpeted room to the cherry wood writing desk and pulled out the contract long ago signed in childhood. The contract that made his loyalty and his friendship and his love hers. She ripped her mother's seal open before taking a quill and dipping it in ink. He followed behind her, watching intently as she wrote at the bottom.

I, Sasuke, give Sakura anything.

She handed him the writing utensil, and he crossed out the last word, amending it with a better one. The sealing wax was always ready beside the fire, so after they refolded the contract in silence, they only had to pour a dollop of crimson.

He grabbed the signet ring kept on her desk with her family's coat of arms and placed it on her left ring finger. Sakura, with an exhale, pressed the engraving into the wax.

He took the contract from her, pulling her forward into a soft kiss. "We can't let anyone find this," he added as he pulled away to breathe, his forehead pressed against hers. "Not ever."

"The fire?"

"The fire."

Sasuke tossed the parchment into the flames, watching as the edges shriveled and blackened, the red seal melting again and running across the remaining paper like blood.

I, Sasuke, give Sakura everything.

"With you," Sasuke echoed between kisses, his fingers already working at the row of buttons down the back of her nightgown, "I'm home."

notes: a million and one thanks to sonya for rigorous editing, to les for a lot of screeching and love, to miko for a pair of fresh eyes, and to nicole for giving me the initial set of prompts to inspire me to conquer the one AU that I've wanted to do for years-regency.

but lastly, dedicated to the most recent wonderful chapter. happy sasusaku month!