When he slips between her sheets, she pretends.

He touches her because he wants her, needs her, loves her; he comes to her not because she is eager and willing to please, or because he craves the attention she gives, or –

She knows, somewhere behind the heavy haze of arousal he incites within her, the gentle way he treats her body is by no means an expression of tenderness. Sasuke takes his time to enjoy his momentary pleasure, to prolong night before he leaves. It is not for her.

The meetings satisfy both (still pretending, always pretending) – Sakura's need to feel close to Sasuke, and Sasuke's need for sex (she pretends it's not that; she pretends, she pretends it's her he needs…).

She never says no. He never says anything.

He kisses her lips like he would kiss any other part of her body; he does not care about or expect reciprocation. Sakura moans because it is still Sasuke, Sasuke, whose hands stroke her thighs and breasts and stomach and the place between her legs she cannot name without blushing, but never, ever her face (it's okay; he is shy, he always has been).

Maybe she is not ready for this.

Maybe she never would be.

Filtered light from the dusty windows casts the only illumination on their skin as Sasuke fucks her (makes love to her…makes love) and he leaves before daybreak. She strains to see his face in the dark, but he is moving, always moving.

He falls asleep tonight. Sakura, unsure, moves to wake him. Her finger is poised above his shoulder – the lightest tap would wake him; he is not a ninja for nothing – and she shakes with trepidation.

She deserves this.

She deserves to have him here.

Sakura sleeps.

He wakes first the next morning. The jostling rouses Sakura and she lies stiffly for a moment, before turning over to watch him. He is seated on the edge of the bed, still naked, the tension in the muscles of his back an indicator that he knows she is awake. The moment is frozen – Sakura gathers the courage to speak.

"Sasuke-kun," she whispers, her voice hoarsened from sleep.

"Don't," he says abruptly. His voice is too loud, too strong for the quiet moment in her bedroom.

"I'm sorry," she says.

He whirls around at her apology. "Why?"

Sakura shrugs. "Okay, I'm not sorry." She looks away, unable to look at him.

Sasuke seems mildly shocked at her statement. His mouth opens uncertainly and he says quietly, "I…"

Sakura studies him. Her silence prompts him to continue.

"I am."

She looks at him blankly. She wants him to say it. She needs to hear him.

His eyes drop. "I'm sorry."

The apology satisfies her only to a degree. The way he hunches his strong shoulders and hangs his head makes her heart break rather than heal. She still loves him (she isn't pretending anymore) and his hurt is her hurt. "I never said stop. I never said…it's not like I didn't want –"

Sasuke shakes his head and she stops. He reaches for his pants on the chair next to the bed.

"I love you," she says. Strongly. Loudly.

He freezes. She watches as he turns toward her again, shock evident on his handsome face. Sakura's hands clench in the sheets as he shifts closer to her, and the hand previously outstretched returns to the bed.

Sasuke looks at her. Her breath catches.

Sasuke's hand does not rest on the mattress, but continues up the length of her exposed arm, causing her skin to prickle. His fingers tickle her shoulder lightly and he brushes her tousled hair from her face before leaning in.

He kisses her.

He kisses her, moving with her, like she'd always wanted. He really kisses her for the first time. Sasuke's hands caress her face, her neck; all the parts he ignored before ignite as he touches them tenderly (she really is not pretending anymore).

Out of breath, he moves his head next to hers and rests his face in the warmth of her neck.

"I won't hurt you again," he says, and it is good enough.

He does not pretend either.