The first time she had really looked into Leo's eyes, she was rendered a stuttering mess.
But now, with a new crown settled in his hair and a ruler's cloak around his shoulders, all she could register was shock, shock at the weariness in his eyes.
She bowed low, painfully aware of the fiery glares from the other Nohrian nobles in the cold court. "I thank you for welcoming me, High King Leo."
Sakura was the reluctant but ready choice as an envoy to Nohr during the post-war efforts. Ryoma was busy juggling duties as the new king, while Hinoka was either too blunt or too honest, which were not desirable traits in matters of delicate political diplomacy.
Takumi was out of the question. His forwardness and prejudice clouded his normally clear judgement. Once his retainers had to hustle him out of an agricultural meeting (aka passive-aggressive argument about rice fields) with a Nohrian lord that had gotten too heated. Yukimura struck him off the list of potential envoys after the incident.
No one asked Corrin. The hero was too deeply tied personally to Nohr, not to mention that the royals there still harbored a small seedling of resentment against the young half-dragon for defecting.
That left Sakura. Though shy and utterly bashful, the young Hoshidan princess was compassionate as well as soft-spoken, and despite her seemingly innocent (ignorant, several Nohrians sneered) appearance, was well-versed in policies and governmental matters.
So when Yukimura approached her with both the proposition and a tentative expression on his face, she had steeled herself and quietly accepted.
"It's not going to be pleasant." The strategist told her unnecessarily, flustered at her ready answer. "There will be extreme prejudice and hostility from the Nohrian nobility, as well as difficulties regarding-"
"No one else is available." Sakura replied firmly, cutting off the now rambling Yukimura. "And I am willing to go there if it means we can smooth out relations with Nohr."
Of course, that shut him up pretty quick.
She runs her hands along the silky tapestries lining the walls of her quarters, reveling in the quality of the fabric and the lushness of the cloth.
Hana is pacing the ground restlessly, rubbing her arms as if she's cold. "What is with the climate here? It's perpetually freezing!"
"The weather is more tempestuous than in Hoshido." Subaki replies curtly, but he's shivering too. The fire in the black stone fireplace is a roaring blaze, and yet the chambers still chill them to the bone.
Sakura knows the real reason for their unease isn't the cold of the foreign land, but rather the equally frosty reception of her from the people of Nohr.
The proud kingdom chafed at the idea of welcoming a victorious enemy princess into their realm. And though Sakura arrived with a modest ensemble, they glared at her and muttered about her audacity to arrive so shortly after the war, so eager to rub her nose in their defeat, so haughty with her head held high...
Sakura understands their response. She sympathizes, but she refuses to be cowed by their stares. She has done too much of that in the past.
So when the small princess sits in court with the young Nohrian king, discussing taxes and boundaries and such, she is polite but firm. Her voice is still a quiet murmur, making others frown and lean in to hear better, but her tone holds command over the conversation, and the usual stutter is all but gone.
But, in private, after the grueling meetings and tense dinners, she collapses onto the four-poster bed and weeps into the silk pillow until she falls into uneasy sleep.
Leo remarks on her change in behavior.
"You seem to have grown since I last saw you." He comments over a private dinner in a smaller banqueting hall, away from the piercing gazes of the other nobles.
Sakura blinks. The last time he had seen her clearly was when she was held by the wrist in a vice-like grip from that horrible illusionist, Zola. A shudder runs through her at the memory, at the recollection of the thin man's dying screech as roots erupted from the ground and strangled him right in front of her.
"It's been a while since you saw me." She replies demurely, taking another sip of the hot soup the servants had set out. It does wonders for her constantly cold body.
"A long while." Leo agrees quietly, and she reads pain in his eyes. Sakura dimly recalls why the crown is on his head and not another tall blonde royal's, and she changes the subject.
The first assassination attempt happens in the night, and Sakura gasps as a dark figure looms over her, a flicker of magic circling his upraised hand. She is too frightened to even scream, clutching the heavy coverlet of the bed for all that she's worth.
Hana's blade sinks into the assailant's chest, a snarl on the retainer's pretty lips, and the man falls to the ground with a heavy and wet thud. His limp hand catches at the covers and drags it off, leaving a rosy stain on the pristine sheets.
Sakura would not stop shaking for the rest of the night.
In the morning, two more men, fellow conspirators, are executed publicly. Leo watches coldly from the balcony as their heads roll onto the cobblestone ground, the crowd very, very quiet.
Of course, he apologizes deeply to Sakura during court, and the nobles shift uneasily as he reiterates the point that "it will not happen again".
But of course, it does.
Leo takes it upon himself to accompany her more often around the castle or the city.
When she protests, he shrugs it off. "The people need to see you and I together." He tells her during a casual tourney a few days later, where she sits directly next to him.
Sakura tries to focus on the knights and rogues alike clashing down on the field, demonstrating remarkable physical prowess, but all she could register was the noble woman sneering behind her and to the left. "Now that Hoshidan fool is trying to bed our illustrious king! Will horrors never cease?"
She never sees the woman again.
There is a simple ball held in her honor, and Sakura almost wishes she could refuse.
She stares at the plain but beautiful gown cut in the Hoshidan fashion, a milky white fabric with scarlet accents, and all she could think was how the Nohrians would react.
She puts it on anyway. Sakura is a royal princess of Hoshido, the blood of the Dawn Dragon flowing in her veins. She will wear her kingdom's colors with pride.
Down in the ballroom, with dark curtains and dusky muted colors on every lady, Sakura glows like a candle, and though she feels extremely self-conscious when the others stare, she refuses to tremble.
Leo takes her hand and smiles, and her heart skips a beat when she realizes that his tunic, though styled Nohrian, is a beautiful shade of muted red.
Princess Camilla asks her to tea one brisk morning, and Sakura obliges.
The Malig Knight wears a shapeless black gown that covers her from head to toe, and Sakura observes this detail silently.
Camilla is kind but not gushing. The only Nohrian princess has a haunted look in her eyes, but though her smile is fleeting, it is genuine, and they spend a good few hours chatting about staves and wyverns.
Camilla clasps her hands before she retires to dinner. "Thank you." She says quietly, and only later does Sakura find out that today was Princess Elise's birthday.
Sakura wanders the castle gardens forlornly on the last night in Nohr alone. Hana and Subaki are paranoid and anxious, but Sakura waves them off, asking for some time to herself.
The grounds here in Norh aren't like the lush and colorful gardens in Hoshido. Rather than pale pastels and tender blooms close to the ground, the flowers here are dark, fierce, and beautiful, yet hidden among sharp thorns that instantly stab Sakura's hands when she tries to pluck a rose buried in the hedge.
A gloved hand reaches behind her shoulder and breaks the rose free of its stem, startling Sakura, and Leo holds the bloom as he snaps off the provoking thorns deftly, finally handing her the flower when the stem is spike-free.
She thanks him. He smiles sadly. "Elise loved these."
Recalling the tea party with Camilla, Sakura swallows. "I'm sorry."
Leo tries to shrug again, but his eyes glisten suspiciously in the faint glow of the lanterns by the path, his crown looking sharp and heavy in the dim light and Sakura impulsively holds her arms out.
He embraces her tightly, and she closes her eyes as he buries his head in her shoulder and breathes in shakily, a sob shuddering on the cusp of his inhalation.
He is as warm as a summer night in Hoshido.
In the morning, she is bidding Princess Camilla and King Leo goodbye in front of a few other royals, the Pegasi already saddled and ready to depart.
Princess Camilla smothers her in a fierce hug. "Come back next year, will you?" She croons softly, a hint of the old Camilla ringing in the motherly tone, and Sakura smiles and promise to try.
Leo takes her hands and kisses it, keeping his lips pressed against her knuckles for a long while. Just when Sakura is beginning to fidget and blush, he lets go, smiling warmly at her. "Do come back next year." He echoes his sister's words. "I-We will miss having you here."
She catches the quick slip of his tongue, but says nothing of it, returning his smile, which has gotten attractively shy. "I will."
And even before her pegasus takes off, wings beating against the air, she feels like flying.