A/N: A drabble in every sense of the word. A bit disjointed, and not at all my usual take on the Sasu/Saku relationship (and not how I really think the relationship would work), but angst was what wanted to be written, so angst it is.
She still doesn't know why she said yes.
There hadn't been anything romantic about the way he'd asked her. They had been walking down the street together--coming from training, or perhaps going to Ichiraku to meet Naruto and Kakashi, she can't even remember what they were doing, but she knows that they were walking. Out of the blue he had turned to her, looking down at her calmly and almost expressionlessly, and asked her, as offhandedly as if he'd been making a comment about the pleasant weather. I want to rebuild my clan, and I can't do that on my own. I need someone to do it with me. I thought that I might ask you to help me. Distant, flat, purposeful--hell, it wasn't even a question, it was a collection of statements, with nothing so humbling as asking involved--containing no unnecessary emotions or flowery wording, because it wasn't about emotions or romance.
His expression had been cool and intent, a direct contrast to her suddenly self-conscious and confused one. She had been happy and upset and half a dozen other things in that instant, and for several moments afterwards nothing had made sense, everything had seemed to screech to a grinding, gut-wrenching halt; then she heard someone's voice--her voice--say yes, and just as suddenly the world snapped back to normal, and all was as it had been before…except for the irreversible fact that she had said yes, and she had no idea why.
It wasn't a wise decision by any means--he didn't love her, she knew that well enough--but it wasn't about wisdom, wasn't about something that anything so limited as the human mind could comprehend.
And before she can get her unquestionably human mind around the fact that she is engaged to Uchiha Sasuke, that her lifelong dream is about to come true, the reception has been planned, the guests invited, the entertainment booked, her clothing has been selected, and everything has been arranged and paid for, and the day has arrived and she finds herself standing in front of the full-length mirror in the room where she will be changing, staring at the half-frightened-looking little girl looking out of the glass at her through large, soulful green eyes. Don't do this, the girl seems to say, and she clutches weakly, helplessly at the front of her shirt. This isn't right—this isn't want you want.
But she isn't really sure of that, and even if she was, it is far too late to change her mind, and it isn't about what she wants anyway.
The wedding kimono is particularly complicated, consisting of three different layers beneath the silky pearl-coloured top garment (two to give the gown the correct shape and one as a simple traditional undergarment, though in the name of comfort she refuses to go without her usual chest wrappings and her underwear).
Ino, though still inclined towards the occasional fit of jealousy, helps her prepare for the ceremony, as does Hinata, and the small, quiet girl's years of experience with traditional clothing come in handy, particularly when the time comes to tie the obi, which Ino struggles with for a considerable amount of time before giving up and telling Hinata to tie it instead, which she does beautifully.
Sakura forgoes the tsunokakushi, the traditional square-shaped hood worn by brides, in favour of a simple wreath of delicate pink and white flowers, under which Ino and Hinata have carefully coiled her long pink hair into a graceful twist that is held in place with several intricately wrought tortoiseshell combs--an early wedding gift from Hinata and Neji. The customary thick make-up is also abandoned, though Sakura allows her friends (chiefly Ino) to apply a reasonable amount of eye shadow, eyeliner, and mascara, and just a bit of lipstick; her cheeks are already so flushed that no blush is needed, though Ino nearly smothers her in powder before allowing her to step to the mirror again to survey their work.
The timid, wide-eyed girl from before is gone, and in her place is a calm, stately, beautiful woman robed in one of the most magnificent outfits Sakura has ever seen, and possessing an air of careful poise and pride utterly befitting someone chosen to marry the head of one of the village's most prominent and powerful clans.
Ino makes a vague excuse of some sort and darts out the door, a wicked grin stretched across her face; Sakura hardly notices, so captivated is she by her own reflection. Is that really me? she wonders, raising a hand and pressing it against the glass, leaving faint streaks on the once-clean mirror.
As she stares at the stranger in the looking glass, Hinata approaches quietly from behind and tentatively slips the traditional red and gold robe over Sakura's kimono before grasping her hands and smiling up her.
G-good luck, Sakura-chan…m-may your years with Sasuke-san be pleasant and prosperous.
A sudden dread blossoms in Sakura's chest; she resists the urge to bite her lip as she normally would (Ino would be furious if she smudged her lipstick), and she suddenly finds that she is still holding onto the smaller girl's hands, her grip almost painfully tight. Hinata's gaze is curious and more than a little concerned, and the tenderness in her pale eyes is such that Sakura very nearly blurts out the truth of the matter—this is a mistake, I can't do this, I don't even know why I said yes!—when there is a sudden knock, and the door slides back to reveal a beaming Naruto, who eagerly pronounces that everything is ready, and wow doesn't Sakura-chan look beautiful?
Sakura manages a faint smile, and releases Hinata's hands after another, much gentler squeeze. Thank you, Hinata-chan. She accepts Naruto's proffered arm with another smile, and her grasp is firm and her steps are unwavering, because this isn't about truth; and if Naruto notices that her knuckles are slowly turning white, and that her grip on his arm is a little tighter than he expected, he doesn't mention it.
The blonde leads her from the smaller outbuilding to the main temple of the Nakano Shrine; the Uchiha clan's symbol is everywhere, though for the most part this is discreet.
The ceremony itself goes quickly. It is a small and very private affair: just seven people in all, including the bride and groom. Sakura's parents are there, as are Kakashi and of course Naruto; Tsunade presides and pours the sake for san-san-kudo, the traditional exchanging of cups symbolic of the marriage bond, all the while chanting the customary prayers to the assorted kami of the shrine and the Village.
Sasuke scarcely glances at her throughout the entire ceremony, which doesn't surprise Sakura in the least; he's never been one to take note of her appearance. After he finishes the last cup of sake, concluding the time-honoured ritual, Tsunade presents them with the documents they are to sign, and then the ceremony is complete.
They arrive at the reception, which is as large and ornate as the marriage ceremony was simple and private. Half of Konoha seems to have turned out for the occasion, which was largely organised by Hinata, and thus of course the food is excellent, the music is beautiful, the venue is stunningly decorated, and the sake is warm and plentiful.
At the head table Sakura sits close to Sasuke as they eat their first meal as husband and wife. Right now anyone who sees them cannot help but smile, because they look so perfect together, and at that moment everything is alright because at this point, it is all about appearances.
The reception passes in a blur. Perhaps it has something to do with all the sake she's been drinking, but Sakura suddenly feels as if she's floating, as if she is no more substantial than thoughts or a dream. She has a fuzzy remembrance of lots of smiles and laughter and best wishes, and though her smile is the brightest of all, though she fairly seems to glow, throughout the whole thing she feels oddly numb and detached somehow, as if she's watching someone else talking and laughing with all these people who care so much for her and are happy for her simply because they don't know any better.
After yet another round of toasts, and a private concession of defeat from Ino (along with some good-natured but toe-curlingly crude remarks about the upcoming night), Sakura suddenly finds that she's been bundled into a carriage of some sort, pressed close against Sasuke's comfortingly firm figure; she still hasn't seen him really look at her once, though he does not hesitate to take her hand and help her from the carriage once they reach their destination: the Uchiha district.
And then suddenly she comes crashing back to herself to find that she's standing there alone in a dark room, looking at the waiting bed with the covers pulled back, and flower petals on the sheets, and quiet music playing, and a garishly coloured bag sitting on a chair across the room shamelessly displaying the name of a local lingerie shop on its side, and she knows that Ino is behind it all, and a sudden sense of panic floods her because she's not ready for this, and she knows what's coming, and she still doesn't know why she said yes.
There is a strange scent to this room, one that even the incense that Ino lit to add to the atmosphere cannot fully mask. It smells like blood, she realises, old blood, and once again she is not entirely sure that this is what she wants, but by now it is far, far too late. Vows have been exchanged, promises have been made, and her fate has been decided.
It doesn't matter how frightened she's feeling, or how uncertain she still is about everything; it isn't about feelings at all, she knows that, and she reminds herself of this as she removes the red and gold robe from around her shoulders and takes a few hesitant steps towards the bed. Right now, it's about customs and duty.
A thin shaft of pale moonlight falls over her shoulder as the doors swing open behind her, and she stops but she doesn't turn. She listens to his quiet steps and the sound of the doors closing behind him and the pounding of her own heart in her ears, and she fights back the panic, wipes the fear from her face, and as the music abruptly cuts off, the sound of rustling fabric fills the sudden silence. She turns her head and silently watches as he removes his hakama, then the traditional black silk kimono, the glossy material sliding smoothly off his broad, perfectly pale shoulders and down his corded arms, and she swallows hard, fascinated by the fluid movement of muscle beneath skin as he meticulously folds the garments and tucks them away in a drawer.
She can't help but admire him, and she finds that she cannot stop staring as he turns and looks at her, clad, surprisingly enough, in a pair of decidedly non-traditional dark-coloured shorts, his expression unreadable.
Before she realises it he is behind her, purposefully unwrapping the heavy maru obi wound tightly around her waist, easily loosening the elaborate bow Hinata had so carefully tied it into, leaving her white silk kimono hanging open at the front. He folds the obi carefully, watching closely as she quickly slips off her kimono, then the layers beneath it, until there is only one left; then she hesitates.
Placing the obi on the chair and ignoring the brightly-coloured bag still sitting there untouched, he takes her robes and lays them carefully across the back of the chair, then moves to stand in front of her. He raises his hands to her hair, and even in the dim light they are sure, easily locating the tortoiseshell combs and methodically removing them, his touch light and cautious and somehow almost soothing.
She thinks she hears his breath hitch a bit just once--as he draws the last of the combs free and her hair tumbles down to hang about her shoulders, falling well below the swell of her breasts--and she thinks that maybe he really does like girls with long hair, but though the combs drop to the floor in a muted chorus of separate, dull-toned jangles, his expression hasn't changed in the slightest so she goes back to not thinking at all. Because this isn't about reason or thinking, and it would probably be better if she abandons the former and simply avoids the latter, at least for now.
His hands are purposeful and surprisingly warm as he continues to strip her, until finally there is nothing left for him to remove. He is standing almost uncomfortably close, perhaps a foot away, yet he studies her carefully, and she can't help but blush beneath his intense gaze. But she is not ashamed, although a part of her feels that perhaps she should be, and she does not cringe or make the slightest attempt to cover herself, the tint of her cheeks the only indication of her discomfort, and that is lost in the darkness for the most part.
He takes another step closer, and her hands hesitantly move towards the waistband of his shorts; before she even makes contact with either fabric or skin, she suddenly finds herself flat on her back on the bed, Sasuke crouching over her; his eyes search her face for a moment, and for an instant, for a brief fraction of a second, she is almost certain that he is just as frightened by all this as she is. But the moment passes, and she finds that she cannot resist reaching up and running a hand over his smooth chest, the other joining the first as her caress moves down his sides and then up his back before setting into a firm grip on his shoulders, and he gives her one last inscrutable look before he allows her to pull him down into a kiss.
There are expectations that must be fulfilled, and those expectations are perfectly normal, and she knows that there isn't anything wrong with what they're doing--they're married for Kami's sake--and yet for some reason she feels dirty as his hand slips down her side to pause at her hip before sliding further, across her thigh, between her legs.
There is a purpose to every movement, and every action is efficient and economical and never, never emotional. His kisses are hard and forceful, hungry and greedy, but those harsh sentiments are all they seem to contain. His hands are everywhere, touching, exploring, though she can tell that he is merely curious, that he has no real idea that what he's doing is sending tingles of arousal through her entire body, making her head swim and her breath quicken and her heart race. And then somehow without her even noticing, his shorts are gone and there is nothing between them but skin.
There is pain as they join, but she is used to pain in all its varied forms, though this is an exquisite and altogether new type, an agonising, simultaneous melding of bodies and souls that don't seem to fit together properly at all. There is blood and a sickening stretching feeling and hot tears, though these he does not see because his eyes are tightly closed and his head is turned slightly to the side, and so she bites her lip and closes her own eyes, strangling the quiet sobs that shake her gently nonetheless.
Her hands find his shoulders once more, wrapping themselves almost desperately around them, and she is surprised to find that he is shaking as well, his breathing deep and unsteady, though she cannot even pretend to know the reason. She tries, and for the most part succeeds, in keeping her voice from sounding choked as she lifts her head to murmur reassurances in his ear. It's okay. I'm alright. Keep going. He does not open his eyes, nor does the slight tremor leave his powerful frame; he merely turns his head back, braces himself, and does as she says.
He is not rough--he is not trying to hurt her after all--but he is not tender either. He is careful and cautious and controlled even in this sort of situation, and he moves slowly at first until the whimpering little moans she can't seem to contain gradually change from pained to pleading. Her eyes had been tightly closed, an external aid for dealing with the pain, but as that pain lessens and the pleasure takes over more fully, she cannot resist opening them to look up into his face, and she is surprised at what she sees. It contains a strange mixture of concentration and contentment and complete, total, and utter abandon--an expression that she has never before seen him wear.
Their breaths meld, and the room that was so very cold before is now almost unbearably warm. Skin slick with sweat and other things slides against skin, unity is achieved in the union as the marriage is consummated, and she cannot tell if it is her own panting gasps she's hearing or his because they are, for now, one being, and she glories in the moment because this is what she's always wanted.
It is over too quickly, though there is a great deal of relief in the release, and both struggle to regain their breath as entirely separate beings once more. I love you, she whispers after she finds her voice again, but there is no reply; his breathing is slow and even already, and she is reasonably certain that he is asleep. And even though she knows that maybe he isn't, she lets herself believe that he is, because this is her wedding night, and she thinks that at least just this once it would be okay to forget that this wasn't about love.
It is impossible to forget in the morning, when she finds herself curled up alone in the soiled sheets, and as she washes herself and then eases her aching body in a hot bath, somehow she knows that what happened the night before hasn't really brought her any closer to the person she cares about most, and she almost despairs because she doesn't have anything else left to give him that she hasn't given him already.
But this isn't about getting closer to him, though she had hoped it might be, and she knows that for certain now.
And for once, she finds that she is absolutely right. Even having achieved that level of intimacy, nothing really changes. He does not touch her unless there is a purpose behind it--affectionate gestures are wasted effort in his opinion--but she's used to that already, and while it still hurts she accepts it. After all, she had known full well going into this marriage what to expect from him; he had not lied to her, or mislead her in the slightest; he had been quite plain in telling her that there was not likely to be any real change in their relationship even after they were married, and that if that was not something that she felt she could live with, then he wouldn't ask her.
But she had told him that it would be alright, and she had agreed to marry him (and yet she still doesn't know why she said yes), knowing full well that it wouldn't be anything at all like she'd once dreamed it would be, but she knew that this wasn't about dreams.
At first she thinks she knows what it is about. She does know that his only real reason for marrying her was to restore his clan, and since he did not want to do so in an improper or dishonourable manner, marriage was a compulsory step towards that goal. She should feel honoured, she supposes, that out of all the girls in Konoha the great Uchiha Sasuke had selected her to be his bride, but she knows all too well that she was simply the most convenient, the most likely to agree, and the most likely to remain faithful regardless of whatever he put her through; he knows that she is loyal to a fault--he has all the proof of that he needs in the two and a half years that she had devotedly waited for him to return while he had devoted himself to gaining power for revenge. If she could not give up on him when he was countless miles away, his location indefinite, then she certainly wouldn't give up on him while he was right there, within touching distance, a deceptively warm body sharing a bed and sleeping beside her every night.
There are times, of course, when his mask slips, when she can see flashes of the man that she fell in love with, the man that she thinks could love her if he would only give himself that chance.
It slips when they are joined together, when he allows himself to be defenseless for a short time, closing his eyes and surrendering himself, body and soul, to her.
Sometimes it slips when he is simply asleep, and on those mornings she wakes to find herself wrapped in his embrace, his face buried in her hair; she treasures these mornings, but they are bittersweet, a reminder of what she had always hoped their life together would be like.
Occasionally it slips when they are simply sitting together talking (though she usually carries the conversation of course), and she can tell from his expression that something she's said, or some look she's given him, or some way she's moved or touched him have lowered his defenses, if only momentarily, and for the space of a few heartbeats, he looks at her like she has always hoped he would, with warmth and compassion and tenderness, and sometimes he murmurs something gentle, a compliment or an endearment; but then the moment is gone, and he retreats behind that accursed mask once more, peering coldly out at her.
It is almost a game, and she does not understand it, but then again, it isn't about understanding.
For some unknown reason, he tends to avoid physical contact, and most of the time he flinches away if she so much as brushes his hand with hers. Occasionally he will suffer himself to be embraced--Sakura knows that he can tell when she simply needs the warmth and solidity of his body against hers--but though he tolerates her embrace, he does not return it; and yet on days that she is particularly upset, usually over something that happened at the hospital, she can expect a hand placed lightly in the middle of her back, and the gentle pressure of his lips on her temple.
He allows her to return the favour and comfort him some nights when he dreams of that night, but after the shaking subsides and he is in control once again, he always pulls away from her embrace, because it's not really about comfort either.
She is provided for, placed in the perfect situation to make her into a contented housewife, and slowly she settles into the routine, working household duties into and around her hospital schedule, but Sakura can tell that Sasuke doesn't really care if she's truly happy. At first she takes offense at this, but before long she realises that perhaps she's being selfish and irrational: after all, Sasuke doesn't really seem happy himself. And she knows that it's not about happiness.
Time passes, and still there are no children, which comes as a surprise to the entire village. Sakura is the most surprised of all however, because the lack of heirs is due to a quiet request from Sasuke himself the night before their wedding; but to this day he refuses to answer her when she asks him why, and he shows little sign of changing his mind, and so Sakura has found one more thing that her life, their marriage, is not about.
Why? she finally demands one day as he stands in the doorway, preparing to leave on another of the long, difficult missions Tsunade seems to enjoy sending him on. She stares hard at the red-and-white Uchiha mon in the center of his back. I thought you wanted children. If not, then why did you ask me to marry you?
His pause seems to indicate that he has something to say, and she holds her breath as she waits for an answer, hardly daring to hope but still longing desperately for him to utter the three simple words that she has spent her life waiting to hear. But after a moment he merely continues forward without a word, without a backwards glance, leaving her to watch his back disappear from her field of vision once again, and for a second time her world crumbles as he goes, and once again nothing seems to make sense.
Because she knows that it's not about duty, not about comfort or dreams, not about honour or convenience or appearances. It's not about happiness, or making the smart decision, or understanding, and it's not even about goals anymore, and it's never been about love, and so she can't help but wonder what it is about, and she fears that the day has finally come that she will realise that it isn't about anything at all, and that she's faithfully clinging to nothing.
And then, as she sits alone and watches the fireflies' slow, hovering dance in the courtyard that night, she realises what it is about, at least to her. It is about them, about him in particular, and it always has been, even when she had thought it was about goals and convenience, when she had thought that love and all sorts of other important things had nothing to do with it.
Love has everything to do with it, she realises, because one-sided love is still love after all, and though unrequited, it is still a powerful thing, and she knows that, for her at least, it really is about love after all.
But sometimes, oftentimes, that sort of hope is hard to hold onto. And when her grip on it slips and she feels cold and shunned and useless, when he continues to refuse to give her any answers, she reminds herself that she knew full well how this would end long before it even began.
And so she smiles and goes on with her life, because she has learned to accept what she has and to be grateful that she has even that much, regardless of what is just out of reach.
Some days are harder than others however; some days she can't help but cry and wish and long for things to be different, for everything to be different, for anything to be different. Sometimes she feels trapped, and then she wants nothing more than to run away and forget that anyone named Uchiha Sasuke or Haruno Sakura or Uchiha Sakura ever existed, but she would never truly consider leaving: loyalty runs deep and warm and red in her veins, and she would sooner die than abandon the person that, regardless of everything, she still loves more than life itself.
She cannot lay the blame on him--she was the one who said yes after all, and he never made any promises.
But she believes in him, and most days, that's enough.
But even the strongest faith has times of wavering and weakness, and it is then that she slips away to sit alone on a cold stone bench in the middle of the night, thinking about everything that has transpired to bring her to this spot, bearing these memories and circumstances and burdens.
And as she listens to the rush and rustle of the wind in the trees and watches leaves whirl and pirouette on the breath of the night, she reminds herself that this is what she wanted after all.