--chapter one--

I will love and protect you forever.

She stared at his portrait for a long time, letting the truth sink in slowly.

It hurt.

The truth hurt her heart terribly. Her soul. He was gone and she could do nothing about it. Not exactly her lover, he was her best and closest friend. A kind heart, free spirit and her long-time childhood crush. Back then, his sky blue eyes lifted her heart and made it soar. And his bright blonde hair brought a sunny warmth to her bosom.

She aspired to be like him. And she fell for his spirit, his courage.

His strength.

All of which she had, hidden behind her shy exterior, unbeknowest to her. But she did love him as deeply as she thought. Nevertheless, she did love him, and when her father forced her in marriage, he valiantly and selflessly came to her rescue.

Uzumaki Naruto.

The smooth black frame sat atop an equally smooth black slab of marble, behind a bouquet of white roses and candle. The sky was just as dark, heavy with rain and lightning. The others were beginning to file out of the cemetery, slowly and solemnly.

"I'm sorry, Hinata-chan," Sakura's gentle voice came, accompanied by a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

It wasn't long until the clouds opened up and let out its' tears onto the newly widowed young woman. She soon became aware of a presence close by as an umbrella fell over her head. The warmth of another body stood a bit behind her, she was familiar his chakra's signature and accepted it gratefully in silence. It wasn't until the candle fizzled out of the warm light and left them in the chill breeze.

Finally, she placed the single red rose she had been holding among the other white ones and turned around to faced her companion. His face was as stoic as ever, though this time with a tinge of melancholy. His black hair and eyes matching the black attire he wore. He turned his attention to her now, looking a tad rougher than he usually appeared.

"I bet you're driving the nurses back at the hospital crazy," she smiled slightly. "Wondering where you are... Especially in your condition."

Uchiha Sasuke shrugged and looked away, replying in a rough voice "I hate doctors."

Hinata nodded in understanding and walked past him, pausing to speak.

"Let's get you cleaned up then," she said." Naruto would have nagged you to death if he saw you like this."

Surprisingly, as she left, he followed her faithfully at her side, holding the umbrella steady until they reached her small apartment.

"I'll go warm up some water," she steered him toward the couch and continued into the kitchen on her own.

Sasuke looked around the room. He'd been over many times before, but now the warm, sunny atmosphere was absent and shrouded in darkness. A lonely emptyness seemed to take over. Hinata returned shortly, dressed down into a more comfortable attire of sweatpants and a t-shirt. In her hand she held a tray of hot tea with cookies and a medical box in the other.

"Sit down, please," She insisted gently as she placed the tray down on the coffee table in front of the couch and the box in her lap.

Sasuke obediently sat down and began to nibble on a cookie as she applied a cooling ointment to a cut on his forehead, smoothing it evenly and gently. His gaze continued to wander around the room, as if seeing it for the first time. His eyes roamed along the coffee table, across the walls and through the doors.

He finally settled on a framed photograph sitting on the table behind Hinata and beside the couch. Dim light filtered through the window and cast its' sullen mood across the joyous scene. It was none other than their wedding portrait.

Hinata wore a gorgeous white wedding dress, a headband and veil on her head with a bouquet of blue and white roses cradled in her hands. The look on her face was one of pure happiness as she smiled brightly. Beside her was Naruto, clad in a white tuxedo and blue tie having placed an arm around her waist and grinned shamelessly at the camera.

Sakura, who had served as the maid of honor, wore a pale blue dress and stood behind him, bending a bit to the side and waving cheerfully. Kakashi towered behind Naruto as Sasuke stood behind Hinata, hands stuffed into the pockets of his pale blue tux and white tie. He, of course, had been nagged by Naruto to be the Best Man. Everyone else was in the picture as well, crowded in front and around the newlywed couple.

x-x--

The reception was extravagant. Hinata stood beside Naruto, filled with utter relief of what could have happened and excitement of what was to come. Not only was she free of her father, but she was wed to the one man whom she felt comfortable with. He was more than her best friend yet not her lover. And she was happy with that.

'This is as good as it gets.' She thought blissfully.

"I'm going to mingle a bit," Hinata leaned over a bit to tell her husband before taking her leave and disappearing in the crowd.

Sasuke glanced at her before turning his gaze to his blonde friend, then away as he cooly stuffed his hands in his pockets and leaned against the wall.

"What's this all about?" His tone was rather exasperated, tired of Naruto's complex ways. "Suddenly eager to get married to Hinata when I thought you were just friends."

Naruto turned his curious eyes to the dark haired man and chuckled, glad that he was opening up more and more each passing day.

"Last month, Hinata's father suddenly wanted to marry her off and threatened her that he'd choose a groom for her if she didn't find anyone in the next three weeks," He turned slightly and spoke in a hushed voice, taking a sip from the glass in his hand. "You know how close me and Hina are, so when she came crying to me, I figured, why not?"

"She DOES know all of this then," Sasuke raised a brow. "That you don't really love her."

"I love Hinata." He stated firmly, glancing back into the crowd where she was kindly checking on her guests. "But not that kind of love. She knows that and feels the same way."

Sasule nodded stoically and earned a grin from the energetic man.

x-x--

"-hat all?"

Sasuke was whipped back to reality and jerked his eyes to Hinata's. Catching onto his absentmindedness, she smiled slightly and repeated herself.

"Is that all?"

He nodded slowly and she began to put various things back into the metal box.

"You can spend the night here," Hinata offered as she walked back into the kitchen. Sasuke opened his mouth to decline but she quickly cut him off as if she had psychic powers. "You aren't going anywhere in that condition. One unauthorized outing is enough for today."

She reappeared in the doorway with blankets and a pillow. Helping him settle into the couch after she coaxed him to finish his tea with a small pill, Hinata bid him good night and retired to her room for the night.

Sasuke winced as he lowered himself into the cushions and held his freshly bandaged side. His stared up at the ceiling and listened to the quiet whimpers of supressed cries.

'Idiot.'

He rolled over onto his uninjured side and willed himself to sleep.