Chapter 1


Sakura squinted her eyes open one at a time, grimacing at the ray of light that streaked across her face. Morning already. She sighed and shifted to avoid the light, stretching her leg out as she did so and colliding with a solid mass. She blinked and sat up. Binders stuffed with deposition testimony and expert reports surrounded her body. To her left several notepads covered in her thin, slanted handwriting lay intermingled with loose paper and pink highlighters. Her laptop sat on the pillow next to her, the screen dark and silent. Sakura lay back down, careful not to move too quickly or risk sending a cascade of papers to the floor. She had fallen asleep working in bed. Again.

Sakura closed her eyes and sunk into the warmth of her comforter, willing herself to fall back asleep. Per usual, Ino had the A/C on blast, rendering their sixth floor walk-up freezing despite the July heat. Live with Ino, they said. It'll be cheaper, they said. But once you took into account the electricity bill, Sakura was fairly certain she could afford a much nicer apartment all by herself.

Not that she wanted to move. Ino and Sakura has been roommates since law school. At the time, Sakura had been more concerned with finding a cheap place to live than a decent place. Ino's only requirement had been central air, which was significantly trickier to find in their agreed-to price range than either had expected. But after weeks of trudging over downtown Konoha in search for the perfect prospect, they had found her. A two-bedroom, two-bath, six-story walk-up with exposed brick walls and a questionable stain in the kitchen ceiling. But even with Mr. Frankie (they had to name the stain something), Sakura had a sneaky suspicion the rent was actually higher than the ridiculously low numbers Ino had quoted. Sakura suspected Ino's parents had made a sizeable donation to the Ino and Sakura Need a Place to Live Foundation.

Despite Ino's many—and Sakura meant many—bad qualities, Ino had always been generous with her family's wealth. Although Ino claimed the Yamanaka children made their own way in the world, Sakura was fairly certain the only reason Ino was living with her in the beat up brick apartment as opposed to a brand new penthouse was a twisted combination of self pride and pity for Sakura's meager budget. Much as she hated it, Sakura had taken the charity.

Of course, Ino and Sakura weren't in law school anymore. They had graduated three years earlier, passed the necessary licensing exam, and were now full-fledged attorneys. Well, Sakura was at least. Ino had worked as an attorney for all of six months before deciding her talents were better spent elsewhere. She worked now for her family business, doing something with marketing. Or maybe it was development? Or was she a business analyst? It had something to do with synergy, of that Sakura was sure . . . .

Sakura, on the other hand, had thrown herself into the profession. She was a third-year associate at one of the largest and most formidable law firms in the Land of Fire, Senju LLP. Although she was very well paid, Sakura made nowhere near as much as people assumed. Lawyers didn't start pulling in the truly insane money until they became a partner, and Sakura was at least four years away from that milestone. What she was paid, Sakura funneled towards her student loan payments and into her emergency savings fund. And shoes. And the occasional overpriced purse. She wasn't entirely boring. But throwing her money away on overpriced rent seemed stupid even to her.

She was close to paying off her debt though, and Sakura knew deep down it would soon be time to face the music and start living sans her A/C obsessed friend. Sakura was turning 28 in a few months, and for some reason that seemed a little too old to have a roommate. Especially now that Ino was dating their mutual friend Sai. No matter how many times Sakura pointed out to them that Ino had both a private bedroom and bathroom for such activities, they always seemed to be starting or ending their fun in the main room.

If Sakura walked in on the sight of Sai's pale, naked behind one more time, she was going to not so gently suggest that Ino look for her own place. Their apartment was—after all—much closer to Sakura's work than Ino's, and Sakura was fairly confident Ino would be happy to be the one to move. Sakura, for her part, was quite fond of the walk-up. It had character, and truly, she couldn't beat the location.

A loud bang sounded from the hallway, jolting Sakura up in a panic.

"INO!" she yelled, untangling her legs from sheets and papers and sprinting to her door. "If you and Sai are working through the Kama Sutra again I swear to god we're going to have a problem. You broke a kitchen stool last time. I liked those stools!"

Sakura burst through her door and down the hall, fully prepared to unleash her furry at the expected site of Ino and Sai bumping uglies. But the main room was empty. The Chinese food boxes that cluttered the coffee table from the night before were undisturbed. Sakura turned and headed to Ino's door, located just a few feet from her own in the narrow back hallway. She knocked softly, then loudly, before turning the handle and opening the door a crack.

"Ino? You in here?" No reply. Sakura pushed the door open just far enough to gaze inside. Empty. The door to Ino's private bathroom stood ajar, the light off and clearly vacant. Sakura stuck her head out, frowning.

Had Ino left for work already? Was that the bang she had heard—the sound of their front door being carelessly slammed shut? Sakura shook her head and headed back to her own room. Ino hadn't left for work a minute before 9:00 AM in her entire life. It couldn't be later than 5:00 AM. Sakura's alarm hadn't even gone off yet!

Sakura froze as a horrifying thought took over. She sucked in a breath and raced to her bed, digging through her sheets until she found her phone underneath a thick binder. She pressed the button. Dead. She hadn't plugged it in last night.

"Shit. Shit. Shit," Sakura cursed as she raced back to the apartment's main room to glance at the microwave clock. The glowing red figures read 9:12 AM.

"Noooo," she moaned, grasping at the bottom of her tank top as she scurried back to her room. As she pulled her shirt over her head she did some quick mental math. It would take her five minutes to dress, brush her teeth, wash her face, and she supposed it was necessary to at least run a comb through her hair. Then it would take another fifteen minutes for her to descend the stairs of her apartment and walk the five city blocks to her firm. Maybe ten minutes if she sped walked. Sakura glanced at the large binders on her bed she knew she needed for the day. There was no way. Walking would take the full fifteen.

Then it was another five minutes to scan her pass to get into the building and ride the elevator up to the 45th floor. That put her arrival at 9:37 AM, which would give her almost twenty minutes to throw her bag into her office, wipe the likely sweat off her brow, and then casually make her way to the firm meeting scheduled for 10:00 AM. Hell, she could even grab a cup of coffee from the kitchen on her way down. Sakura breathed a breath in relief. She would make it.

Firm leadership had circulated an email a few days ago to the eighty or so associates at her office. "This meeting is mandatory. If any conflict prevents your attendance, you must seek approval from Tsunade." No explanation. No indication why a precious billable hour was to be spent on a Friday morning in a mandatory meeting. But Sakura knew if Tsunade was in charge, it must be important.

Tsunade was one of the firm's most powerful partners. She brought in major work, and she headed the firm's governance committee. Tsunade's practice largely consisted of medical device work, and Sakura worked almost exclusively with her on her cases. Although Tsunade was an amazing mentor Sakura knew she was lucky to have, Tsunade's anger was legendary. The last thing Sakura wanted was to show up late to this meeting and be forced to explain her tardiness.

Sakura finished in the bathroom and pulled her last clean suit out of its dry cleaning bag. Sakura zipped on the gray pencil skirt, which fell just past her knees, and reached into her closet for a deep red silk blouse with a pussy bow. The matching suit jacket was double breasted, and the lapel was just so that it looked marvelous buttoned up with the red bow arranged on the outside.

In the interest of time, Sakura swept her hair into a low ponytail and clumsily pushed into her ears the only pair of nice earrings she owned—small pearl studs that her mother had gifted her when she graduated law school. No time for make-up, but her face was washed at least.

After stuffing a pair of heels in her purse and slipping on a pair of bright pink running shoes for the walk to the office, she grabbed her heavy bag and hurried out the door, glancing at her watch as she did. 9:20 AM. A little late, but still ok.

Fifteen minutes later, Sakura practically limped into the building lobby, her large bag digging into her shoulder and hot sweat beginning to dry in her bra. "Why did I wear silk?" she muttered under her breath. Her shirt was probably ruined.

Fumbling for a moment, Sakura managed to balance her bag against her hip as she slipped her free hand into her jacket pocket for her white security badge. Obtained, she pressed it firmly against the security turnstile, waited for the familiar chirp as the gate opened, and walked through to the elevator bank. She hit the up button and an elevator to her left immediately opened. Smiling with relief—sometimes it could take a few minutes until one arrived—she walked in and selected her floor.

"Made it," Sakura gasped as she leaned against the elevator wall and lowered her bag to the ground. But just as the doors began to close, a pale hand with long, slender fingers shot through the opening, forcing the doors to stop their steady progression and reverse. Glaring, Sakura looked up to see who had delayed her ascent, and froze.

Standing at the doors, dressed in an impeccably tailored dark navy suit and deep green tie, was Sasuke Uchiha.

He stood lazily, one hand pushed into a pant leg pocket and the other holding the handle of a black leather briefcase. Her green eyes were wide as he held her gaze, unspeaking. After a few seconds, he walked in, glanced at the selected floor, hit the number for the floor directly below it, and turned so his back was to Sakura. After another beat, the doors to the elevator closed, and the elevator shifted up.

The pair rode in silence, Sakura staring in panic at his broad, clearly well muscled back. What on god's green earth was Sasuke Goddamn Uchiha doing here?

"Haruno," Sasuke said coolly in greeting, not turning to look at her as he spoke.

"Uchiha," Sakura responded with similar civility.

A second later, the elevator slowed, and then stopped. The doors opened onto the familiar white marble floor of the firm lobby. The firm occupied five floors, but guests only had access to the main level, floor 44. Levels 45-48 were only accessible via the internal staircase, or via elevator with a security badge.

Sasuke walked out and turned right towards the receptionist desk. As he turned he glanced over his shoulder to look directly at her, an all too familiar smirk playing on his lips.

"Nice shoes," he mocked, before walking down the hall.

Sakura glanced down and grimaced at her bright pink sneakers.

"Why," she whispered simply. The doors shut, and Sakura used the time to toe off her shoes and slip into the heels stuffed into her purse. The elevator moved up, and Sakura stumbled out, her security badge in hand to let her out of the vestibule.

Moments later, she was down the hall and into her office. She pulled the door open and pushed herself inside, closing the door quickly behind her. She turned and leaned her forehead against the door, letting her bag fall to the ground with a thud.

Sasuke Uchiha, her former law school classmate, her former crush, who she hadn't seen in three years, was here. At her firm. No doubt sitting in the lobby being offered coffee by her receptionist. Well, not her receptionist exactly. But still. It was the principle of the matter.

Sakura backed up and looked at herself in the full-length mirror she kept behind the door. Strands of pink hair had escaped her ponytail and were plastered to her forehead with sweat. As she suspected, she looked like she had just walked five city blocks in ninety-degree heat wearing a full suit and carrying a thirty-pound bag. Which she had, but still, why did she have to look it? Especially in front of him?

She banged her head against the mirror in frustration. Sasuke had attended the University of Konoha Law School in the same class as Ino and Sakura. Sakura and Sasuke had been assigned to the same section their first year of school, which meant they took all of their classes together with the same fifty people. They had never been friends exactly. But Sakura was friends with Naruto Uzumaki, another fellow section mate, who was Sasuke's only apparent friend at school. As a result, Sakura had often found herself around Sasuke, and like many of the other women in school, she couldn't resist his dark looks and brooding demeanor. He was without a doubt the most attractive man she had ever met. It was a shame he was such an asshole.

Sasuke was, in a word, brilliant. He came from a long line of lawyers, and it was clear from day one that he was the one to beat. During cold calls the Professors never stumped him. Sasuke effortlessly answered their questions until they inevitably gave up and moved on to a different student. Sakura, however, had once been called on by her Torts Professor while doodling Sasuke's name in the margins of her textbook. In a panic she blurted out the first word on the tip of her tongue. Sasuke. Her cheeks still grew hot at the memory of Sasuke's cold stare on the back of her neck while she stuttered that she didn't know the answer, but maybe Sasuke did.

Later, she had heard Sasuke in the library, muttering angrily to Naruto while they made their way through the stacks to a study table. "She's annoying, Naruto, and stupid. How she made it into this school I'll never know."

It had stung then. It stung now.

Naruto took Sasuke's legal prowess as a challenge, and while Sasuke was without a doubt the smarter of the two, Naruto had established himself as far superior when it came to client skills. Naruto was even the class speaker at graduation, an honor he had thrown in Sasuke's face every possible opportunity. Sasuke had acted annoyed, but Sakura could tell he didn't care. To the contrary, when Sakura snuck a glance at Sasuke during Naruto's impassioned address, Sasuke had looked almost pleased. The sight of his thin smile had made her heart hurt.

Sakura, though smart and capable, had fallen to the middle of the pack their first year of law school. Her grades were excellent, but she lacked confidence. While Sasuke and Naruto made law review, she hadn't even petitioned for the journal, convinced she wouldn't have made it on, so why try.

But in their second year, things had started to change. Only the first year of school was spent taking classes in a section. The second and third years were choose-your-adventure, and suddenly Sakura was taking classes without Naruto or Sasuke. She found she had an aptitude for health law, and she promptly signed up for every health related class she could. Her science background had been tremendously helpful for the products liability classes. So much so that Professor Chiyo—an expert in the area—had asked Sakura to be her research assistant.

Chiyo was so pleased with Sakura's work she had made a call to Tsunade. Chiyo had no love for Tsunade, but even she knew that when you're the best, you're the best. The traditional way get a law firm job was to spend the summer between your second and third year of law school working for the firm as a summer associate. If everything went well, at the end of the summer the firm might make you an offer to return as a first year associate after you graduated law school the following year.

Senju LLP usually hired a class of ten to fifteen summer associates every year, and had already made its hires for the upcoming summer. Naruto had, of course, snagged a spot, along with Shikamaru Nara, another section mate. But Sakura hadn't even received an interview. Chiyo implored Tsunade to reconsider, and after an awkward lunch interview, Tsunade agreed. The summer had gone well, and so at the end of school Sakura had come to Senju with Naruto and Shikamaru.

Sasuke had gone to his family's law firm, the Uchiha Brothers. Blissfully, Sakura had yet to encounter Sasuke since graduation. Until now, that is.

Sakura's office phone rang, shaking her out of her memories.

"Sakura Haruno," she grunted into the receiver.

"Sakura, it's Shizune. Almost everyone is gathered already in Conference Room 45A. The meeting starts in less than 5 minutes, are you coming?" Sakura slapped her hand to her face.

"Oh god yes, yes, the meeting, I'll be right there."

"Ok, I saved you a chair."

Sakura slammed the receiver down. She straightened her skirt and pushing back her hair. Whatever Sasuke was doing here, it wasn't her concern. He was probably here on a case. Yes. Sakura nodded. That was it. Sasuke was probably representing the other party in matter and was here for a deposition or something. Which meant he would be safely down on 44. She wouldn't need to see him again.

Sakura grabbed a notepad and pen from her bag before strolling down the hall. She needed to focus.

The conference room was large, but it was never meant to hold 80 attorneys. Chattering men and women sat in long rows of chairs, with those who had arrived too late to grab a spot standing along the walls in small packs. Sakura craned her neck over a group of men loudly speculating that the meeting was to announce a firm wide raise (yah right). Spotted, Sakura pushed through the crowd to Shizune. Shizune waived, indicating the empty chair between herself and Naruto.

Naruto caught her eye and a bright smile spread across his face. "Sakura, where you been? I stopped by earlier this morning to see if you wanted to grab coffee but you weren't in yet. Oh, I like your shirt! What's the bow thing called again?"

"Good morning Naruto. It's called a pussy bow, as you well know."

Naruto's smile broke as he snickered. "I know, but I like hearing you say it. Pussy bow. Who came up with that? What a racket!" Sakura ignored his laughter and leaned over him to Shikamaru, who sat staring up at the ceiling fan, watching the blades lazily turn.

"Morning," she called over the noise.

"Cutting it a little close, Sakura? That's not like you." Shikamaru said in reply, keeping his eyes fixed above.

"Long story," Sakura called back. "Any idea what this meeting is about?" Shikamaru's eyes darted to Naruto's, who glanced at the floor, his laughter silenced.

"What?" Sakura asked in surprise. Naruto bit his lip, refusing to meet Sakura's eyes.

"What do you two know that you're not telling me?" She was met with silence.

"Naruto! What do you know?" Sakura ground out, her fingers curling into fists.

At that moment, the far doors to the room banged open and Tsuande strolled in. She wore a crisp cream dress that provided a generous view of her equally generous bosom. The rest of the governance committee—Danzo Shimaru, Homura Mitokado, and Kohura Utatane—followed her, their faces drawn and tight.

Sakura sat up straight in her chair, casting her eyes angrily between Naruto and Shikamaru. "We'll talk about where your loyalties lie later," she hissed at them. Naruto gulped.

Tsunade stood at the front of the room and raised her hands, instantly killing the remaining whispers that radiated the space.

"Good morning," she called, her voice loud and clear. "Thank you for making time this morning."

"Not like we really had a choice," Shizune whispered to Sakura.

"I'm sure you are all wondering why we called you here today," Tsunade continued. "The legal market is struggling right now. Although Senju has steady work, the partnership has decided it is in our best interest merge with another law firm." Tsunade paused, casting her eyes over the group of stunned faces.

"As many of you know, my grandfather Hashirama Senju founded this firm with his childhood friend Madara Uchiha. Madara and my grandfather, however, had different ideas about how to run this place, and eventually, Madara left to start his own practice. He named the firm Uchiha Brothers, a name you no doubt know. We have gone up against them many times over the years, and they are smart and strategic attorneys."

Sakura's hands grew clammy, her mind snapping pieces together.

"Thus, when it came time to consider with which firm we should seek to merge, we could think of no better marriage than between Senju LLP and Uchiha Brothers. Happily, Uchiha Brothers agreed, and so on Monday, we will be announcing our merger. Congratulations, you are all now associates at Senju & Uchiha, LLP."

Tsunade put her hands together to clap, and soon the room followed, slowly, and half-heartily. But as soon as it began, the applause died. Tsunade continued.

"Uchiha Brothers is a small operation compared to us. They only have about forty attorneys, and not all of those attorneys decided to come with the firm in the merger. Given this, we decided that instead of finding a larger office, we would all stay in our current space. This will require some patience from you as we find these new additions offices. The firm comes to us with about ten associates, and it is our expectation that you do your part to make them feel at home in their new space.

"Despite what may seem to you a sudden decision, the partnership has been planning this move for months, and we are confident Senju and Uchiha will be stronger together. Now, any questions?"

The room broke into a frenzy, but Sakura only heard buzzing in her ears. Uchiha Brothers was merging with her firm? The firm she had been so proud to join. So excited and thrilled to know had wanted her. If Uchiha Brothers was bringing associates in the merger, it was clear now why she had ran into Sasuke this morning. Sasuke was a family man, through and through. Uchiha Brothers was where his father and brother had worked before their untimely demise. Sasuke would never leave the family business.

And now he was here. With her.

"Sakura?" Naruto whispered. "You've gone completely white." Sakura whipped her head to look into his bright blue eyes, her own sparking with rage.

"Did you know about this?" She growled.

Naruto's face paled. "Define know . . . ."

"Naruto—"

"Sakura!" Sakura paused mid sentence, glancing up. Tsunade stood by the door, hand on the handle. The meeting had clearly ended, and people were beginning to clear out. "Sakura, a word please."

"Hai, Sensei!" Sakura called, standing briskly. She turned to look at Naruto, whose face was curiously turned away, seemingly fascinated with a bird outside of a window.

"We will continue this later, Naruto," Sakura bit out before hurrying out of the room and after Tsunade.