Blue Romance

Disclaimer: All rights go to Kishimoto.

Chapter Thirteen: Meeting the Wife

A/N: This was supposed to be released on the fourteenth—my birthday gift to myself—but then MoonVeil's computer swallowed the chapter and we've wasted a lot of work time trying to get it back. So enjoy this late release!

MoonVeil: I hate Vista. I hate it.

Indeed, my dear.


Konan laughed. Sakura was silent, pale and unable to respond.

"Oh, Sakura, its fine I promise." The blue-haired teen paused at a red light, sending Sakura an amused, loving smile. The smaller girl couldn't return it. "Kahoko is a very nice person. Warm, giving; she's just nice to be around, really."

Adjectives that should—and really could—never be used to describe Orochimaru in any way, shape or form. And putting something with those adjectives near him was just as weird. The girl tugged at the sleeve of the blue sweater Temari and Shikamaru had given her the week before. The day was chilly and Konan had mentioned it would be a perfect time to wear the gift.

She had to admit that it suited her well; fitting snugly to her slim form and enhancing the color of her hair and not clashing like she'd anticipated. She'd matched the sweater with a pair of white flats and a pair of dark jeans. Somehow she still felt underdressed sitting next to Konan's immaculately.

"I—I don't even k-know anything about her," Sakura whimpered. Each light brought them closer to the unknown and farther from the safety of the city. Orochimaru lived in the wealthiest neighborhood in Konohagakure; where every huge, sprawling mansion had its own personal drive and a few acres of land. This, too, didn't suit his image.

"What would you like to know?"

Sakura considered the question seriously. She thought back to the things that had been most nagging at the back of her noggin. "H-How old is she?"

"She'll be turning twenty this year." Sakura goggled at her in shock and Konan added, "Orochimaru is nearly thirty seven, I believe."

"Isn't…that a l-little old?" she asked, voice strangled. That was a BIG age difference!

The older teen suddenly tilted her head in though, "tell me something, Sakura. How much exactly has Sasuke told you about Kahoko and Orochimaru?"

"Nothing."

The girl rolled her eyes. "No wonder you're so worried. Well, I suppose I should do some explaining."

Konan turned off the main, three-lane road, taking a smaller two lane. The buildings had suddenly thinned out and were disappearing entirely. Soon they were coming upon private, fenced off land and large houses that seemed to have come directly out of the past. Occasionally Sakura would see a house with a barn for horses or cows, but most seemed to be dominated simple by the house and drive.

"Kahoko and Orochimaru didn't marry for love," Konan's musical voice brought her back out of her cow-stare at the houses. She turned to the girl in surprise. "It was a match decided by her parents—similar to Itachi and Ino, it was to join forces; to bring their companies together. When they approached Orochimaru with the deal, he could hardly refuse. Her family makes a powerful ally and refusing could have started a company-war."

"So," Sakura hesitated. It seemed so horrible a thing for someone's parents to do; to marry their daughter off to a man seventeen years older than she was…And on top of that someone like Orochimaru.

"So," the teen picked back up, "they married shortly after Kahoko turned eighteen and they've been together ever since. But—," she smiled in amusement, "—Kahoko was very much not what anyone was expecting."

Sakura's brow wrinkled. "What d-do you mean?"

"You'll understand soon enough." Konan smiled down at her, taking a turn down a smaller, private road.

The land was gorgeous; sprawling green grass and tall, sweeping trees. About a mile ahead a house could be seen; it was old-fashioned and lovely. The building was at least three stories tall; a porch wrapped around the first level and white beams braced up the second story's deck.

It was somehow cozy, despite its impressive size. There was a circular driveway that stopped in front of the house, but also branched off to a ridiculously oversized garage. The lawn was filled with pretty plants that had obviously been professionally planted; no one else could have such perfect placement on where things should go.

As Konan stopped the car before the house, a girl came out to greet them, smiling broadly. She was very small and startlingly beautiful. Her hair was very long, coming down to her waist in gentle waves—her face was heart-shaped and set with delicate, small features. She was slender and moved with the hesitant steps of someone who had a tendency towards clumsiness and didn't pay much attention to her feet.

But, when she stopped outside the car to wait, Sakura saw her best feature to be her eyes; they were a very dark shade of brown that neared black. They were warm and gentle, and somehow made the fear Sakura had felt previous disappear with only one look.

"I'm so glad you made it, Konan." The girl said as they got out of the car. She didn't have the same musical kind of voice as Konan, but it was soft and lulling. The safe feeling in Sakura's chest strengthened and she didn't hesitate to follow Konan's lead towards the girl.

"Hello, Kahoko. You're looking nice."

The brown-haired woman laughed softly. "Thank you, dear. It's been too long since you last came to visit."

Konan laughed with her, as much at ease as Sakura. "You live in the boondocks; come to the city."

The girl made a face at that. "You sound like Sasuke saying that. Always complaining—you all could use the fresh air."

They were interrupted by the front door opening, a large dog rushed out, barking like crazy as he nearly knocked Kahoko down in his haste to get in the middle of their talking. It was Kabuto standing in the doorway, the glare of his glasses blocking out his eyes. He smirked at them.

"Ladybug, hush," Kahoko told the wiggling dog. He licked her hands frantically, not calming down. He did stop barking, though and the girl frowned at Kabuto. "If you've come to complain about lunch, Kabuto, you'll just have to wait."

"Complain? Me?" The white-haired boy shook his head, "not I."

Sakura watched their interaction, surprised, somehow. The last time she'd seen Kabuto, he'd been like an ice cube; not only that, but he'd scared her just by looking at him. But now, in the presence of the girl before them, he seemed to have thawed out some. It was making her wonder if this was what Konan had meant earlier.

The girl got the dog to sit at last, ignoring it when it looked up at her with huge, adoring eyes. "I'll be making lunch soon, okay? Tell Orochimaru not to complain—if he's too hungry to wait, he can make himself something."

Kabuto snorted, "yes ma'am." The screen door shut with a tap behind him.

"Men," Konan said in disgust.

Kahoko laughed, shaking her head. "My dear, you're much too young to be saying things like that. Now," she turned her intense eyes on Sakura and the girl took a nervous swallow. There were little crinkles around her eyes when she beamed. "You must be Sakura. It's so nice to finally meet you. I've heard so much about you."

Sakura blushed when the girl gently folded her into a hug. Though Sakura was barely five three, Kahoko had to be at least an inch if not two smaller. She seemed somehow delicate and Sakura was careful when she tried to embrace the girl back. She really wasn't used to hugs, though; the only person who ever gave them to her was Naruto and he didn't care if you hugged him back or not.

The woman pulled back and studied Sakura's face though the layer of hair between them. Whatever she saw seemed to satisfy her; she smiled more brightly and released Sakura.

"Shall we go inside? I'm boiling water for our tea. I've also got some cakes baking and I can make sandwiches if you're hungry?"

Sakura nodded dumbly. It'd been a few hours since she'd eaten breakfast and she got the feeling that Kahoko was a master chef, despite the fact she could have easily paid someone to cook for her.

The girl looked at Konan. "You won't stay to join us?"

Konan sighed lightly, "I wish I could. There's another meeting, though, and Itachi needs me there."

"It'll be over soon," the woman told Konan comfortingly. She spoke with experience and Sakura knew she was referencing back to her own engagement. "Just wait until the wedding! That'll make all these meetings look like nothing."

"Ugh," Konan groaned unhappily. That was obviously something she didn't want to think about. "I'll see you later, Sakura. Have fun, okay?"

Sakura yanked her head up and down, feeling like a mute puppet on loose threads. The teen waved to them as she went back to the car, revving it up before she took off back down the drive.

"Ah," Kahoko sighed. Her tiny little fingers were threading through the dog's fur. It sat loyally at her feet, eyes on her and her alone. It was odd; Sakura had never seen such a devoted dog. The woman followed her eyes and smiled slightly. "This is Ladybug; we rescued her when she was about two."

Sakura hesitated and then, at the woman's nod, pet the dog's head awkwardly. It turned towards her, tail thumping the ground like a huge dust buster. Smiling shyly, the teen scratched its ear, rewarded when the thumping increased in pace.

"She likes you." Kahoko watched Sakura closely. "Ladybug has excellent taste in people."

"Um, I—t-that is—don't m-mean to be rude…"

"Yes?"

"W-Why is her n-name—?"

"Ladybug?" The woman giggled a little. "When we rescued her, she'd been named Lady previously. It sort of became a nickname to call her Ladybug and then, before I knew it, she wouldn't come to Lady most of the time. Orochimaru despises it."

Sakura blinked.

"It's good punishment for him naming the cat, "Cat"." She rolled her eyes at the idiocy. "Honestly, he could have called him anything and Cat was the best he could manage."

Somehow, put like that, Orochimaru reminded Sakura of Naruto alarmingly. Naruto had mentioned previously that he got along with the man, but she didn't think they'd be similar in this way.

"Well, shall we go inside? I should check on the cake."

Sakura nodded and followed the woman and dog up the stairs and into the charming house. Inside it smelled wonderfully of fresh cake and the faint aroma of lavender. Kahoko headed down the hall towards the strengthening smell of food, leading Sakura into a large, clean kitchen. Its wide marble countertops gleamed and the new, expensive appliances looked as though they had just been installed. It was the kind of kitchen people dreamed about having, but could never afford.

The woman popped on a baking glove on and pulled out a long glass baking pan. She poked a toothpick into its center and inspected it for a moment. "Done!" The girl lugged out the pan and tapped the oven shut with her hip. She walked the cake to a baking rack and carefully began the process of tumping the cake onto it, upside down.

Brown eyes drifted up, spotting Sakura standing like an odd log in the entrance to the kitchen. The woman smiled briefly, "please sit, won't you?"

Sakura nodded jerkily and moved to sit on one of the stools at the island counter. She watched Kahoko clean up the mess she'd made and started to whip up a topping for the cake. It was fascinating, sitting here, staring at this person she'd so wrongly imagined. The woman was everything Orochimaru was not—her aura radiated softness and it put Sakura at ease.

She couldn't understand someone as gentle as this could survive around someone as crushingly dark as Orochimaru. It really didn't add up; the pieces weren't meant to match one another and forcing them was absurd.

"So, Sakura, I heard you play the piano." Sakura blinked from her daze. Kahoko was leaning on the counter across from her, watching Sakura with equal curiosity. "Sasuke says you're quite good."

"W-What?"

Kahoko tilted her head, pursing her mouth. "That surprises you?" Her lips curved into a secretive look of amusement. "Sasuke speaks of you often."

Sakura mulled on that for a moment, feeling embarrassed. But not as much as she would have imagined; somehow the deep, warm brown of Kahoko's eyes made her feel as though she could trust the woman with any and all of her secrets. She understood why this woman was the one person Sasuke confided in.

The girl reached out to pat Sakura's hand. The smell of lavender and spring blossoms fell lightly over the girl and she relaxed immediately. It was simple impossible to be stiff around Kahoko.

"Would you like sugar in your tea?"

Sakura was grateful the woman had changed the subject. Though she was finding it harder to hate Sasuke (though he was still a massive turd as far as she was concerned!) it wasn't an easy subject to broach. She didn't understand the way Sasuke felt towards her, nor the way she felt about him.

"No thank you," she mumbled. Her stutter was barely pronounced. She was too at-ease in this wonderful place that seemed to have a magic centered on Orochimaru's odd wife.

Kahoko came with a teapot made of delicate, ornate china. Pale blue flowers circled the belly of the pot and green vines slithered out like searching hands. The girl slipped a tea cover over the pot; it was handmade and lime green. Somehow, without having to ask, Sakura knew Kahoko had knitted it herself.

The tea cups she presented matched the pot; Sakura was careful when she picked up her steaming cup of tea. Kahoko took a moment to load her cup with a hearty portion of sugar and milk. When she took her first sip, she beamed across the table at Sakura, looking very young and sweet.

"So," the woman began, setting down her cup. "There is much I want to speak to you about, Sakura."

Sakura hurriedly placed her cup back onto its saucer. "Y-Yes?"

"I know that your past with Sasuke is not what it could have been." Kahoko sighed when Sakura winced; the memory of her first meeting with Sasuke playing cruelly in her mind. "But don't give up on him. He needs you—especially now."

"W-What—what do you m-mean?"

The woman licked her lips and leaned forward close. Her eyes had gone totally black; they were intense, full of a fire that felt like it was licking at Sakura's face. She could scarcely breathe.

"Your ignorance keeps you safe, Sakura. For now. But things are moving; things neither you nor I can stop. Things that have been in motion for many, many years."

A chill slid down the pink-haired girl's spine. She remained motionless, made captive by Kahoko's gaze.

"I trust you—Sasuke, Konan, Itachi…these people believe in you, and I believe in them. You have the potential to protect Sasuke from the truth." The woman's eyes creased in pain. "For the truth is sometimes far more painful than lies."

All at once Sakura understood: Kahoko was offering her information. She was offering a look inside, at the carefully wound secrets. At the things that Orochimaru—in his underground world of thugs and liars—had found.

"Listen to me, Sakura. This may not make sense to you now, but one day, hopefully not soon, it will. The Uchiha family is a lie. Itachi's past—Sasuke's past—they are all lies. Do not believe what you hear."

Sakura took a shaking breath. She dug her fingers into her palm and forced herself to remain calm. She'd been wanting someone to tell her the truth; had been unhappy that she was still not trusted with secrets. She knew, from the brief snippets of conversation she'd caught around Temari and Kankuro, that whatever Itachi had done in his youth, it involved Gaara.

It was the reason Gaara was always gone. Why he was rarely at home. It was a part of the secret to Deidara and Ino's troubled past. And Kahoko had trusted her with it all—had believed in Sakura without hesitation.

"Thank you," Sakura breathed, feeling the constriction in her throat that meant tears weren't far off. It felt so good to know that someone trusted her. To know that someone thought she could be of use.

The black faded back into brown and Kahoko sagged back into her seat, looking older and weary. "Forgive me for involving you Sakura. It is selfish and cruel of me…" she murmured softly, "but I will do whatever I must to make sure that Sasuke is safe."

The girl looked up again, rubbing away her tears. One of the woman's slim fingers was tracing the rim of her tea cup. She looked very small and forlorn.

"I feel, sometimes, as though Sasuke is my son. Though he's nearly my age, I often feel more like an old woman." Kahoko laughed softly, "I cannot help but do my best to shelter him from reality. I indulge him, really. We all do—Orochimaru, Itachi, Kabuto. He's just a child."

"Itachi d-does?"

"Why do you think he's marrying Ino?" The woman frowned. "Originally it was Ino and Sasuke who were engaged—the marriage was very nearly finalized. But complications arose and the marriage fell through. Inoichi was furious; he refused to let go of a deal with the Uchiha company. So Itachi stepped forward to allow Sasuke his freedom, and to save the family business."

"I—I," Sakura tried, unable to speak. Konan had always implied that Sasuke meant a great deal to his brother, but to sacrifice his own love life for Sasuke was incredible.

The sliding door to the kitchen opened and without warning, Orochimaru; tall, dark and creepy, swept in. Sakura went rigid instantly. Kahoko, on the other hand, sprung up, smiling widely.

"Darling, come to whine for your lunch?"

The man snorted, his hand stretching out to her. He cupped the back of her neck and pulled her towards him, kissing her like the lead in a romantic movie might. Sakura's jaw dropped at she gaped at them, brain stuttering in shock.

"I don't whine," he murmured in his predator purr. When one of Kahoko's slim, delicate eyebrows rose, he frowned at her.

"They're ready," she winked at him playfully and darted out from the circle of his arms. He almost pouted—somewhere, in the dim corners of her mind, Sakura was reeling over a pout. She'd never imagined Orochimaru could even sort of have that kind of expression. It was unfathomable.

"Good," Orochimaru muttered. "We've been waiting forever." Gold eyes slid over to Sakura and he walked over, taking Kahoko's vacated seat. He picked up the woman's cup of tea and began to drink it, ignoring her outraged cry. "Hello, Sakura. Good to see you again,"

"Ah," the girl said intelligently.

He smiled darkly at her. Like the last time she'd been in his presence, he had the feel of danger wrapped around him like a thick cloud. She could almost picture the blood on his hands; the dangerous, evil look in his eyes as he watched his enemies die at his feet. It was absolutely terrifying and not even Kahoko's magical powers could fix that.

"I hear you've been having problems at school. Anything you'd like help with?"

Sakura opened her mouth in horror, but Kahoko beat him to it. "Orochimaru, you're scaring her. We are not talking about hits at the table. We've been over this."

There was a definite sulk to Orochimaru now; like a scolded child he set his lips out into an unhappy pout. His foot started to kick lightly against the island counter. "Fine," he said, "what can we talk about?"

"Sakura and I were discussing what a talented piano player she is."

Orochimaru shot her a skeptical look, but didn't question it. "So I've heard; from both Kabuto and Sasuke. I still have yet to hear. You should play this afternoon."

"Oh yes!" Kahoko cried. She was chopping something green at incredible speeds. Sakura'd only ever seen skill like that on the Food Network channel. "We have a grand piano in the living room."

The evil overlord looked impressed with his work. "I wish I could stay to watch, but Kabuto and I have some errands to run in the city tonight. We're leaving after lunch."

The sound of chopping stopped. Sakura watched something pass between the couple; the man, looking confident and assured, the woman quietly fearful. It must have been hard for Kahoko, to watch him leave, knowing he was going up against people who desired his death. For the first time, thinking back to the woman's words, she wondered if Gaara was going through that sort of thing, too.

It was no wonder that Naruto always seemed so relieved to hear Gaara had come home safely. Though she was beginning to suspect this was also due to the blonde's intense crush on the Suna leader (unfortunately she still had yet to find proof).

Kahoko picked up moments later and the soft noise of knife hitting chopping board resumed. "Be careful," she told him.

"I will."

"Don't be reckless."

He snorted, "never am."

"Come back." She said firmly, "I'll have leftovers for you in the fridge."

"Stop worrying; you're going to go gray." He rolled his eyes and smiled at Sakura.

"Just you wait, Orochimaru," Kahoko said darkly. She was grilling up long pieces of chicken on the stove top and fixing up a large salad. "I'm going to fill this house with children—tons of them—and then we'll see who goes gray!"

Orochimaru had gone very pale. "You will do no such thing." He hissed, though it didn't carry real anger. He seemed almost afraid of her statement. "I won't stand for it."

"Humph." The girl flipped the chicken; it was perfectly grilled and the smell was intoxicating. "Afraid of children."

"I am not afraid," he disagreed. "I just don't like them."

Sakura took a gulp of tea to hide her smile. She'd never, ever—in a million years—expected that this would be what she found upon her visit. Kahoko made Orochimaru seem human. He needed her, whether he realized it or not.

It reminded her of Kahoko's previous statement; made her wonder if the girl was hoping she would be Sasuke's reason for being good. Could she really affect someone on that kind of a level? It seemed impossible…

"Oh, by the way," Orochimaru said as though recalling something. "Suigetsu and Tayuya will be on guard duty tonight, so you'll be safe while I'm gone."

Kahoko frowned at him. She was slicing the chicken into strips and putting it onto bread already loaded with tomatoes, mayonnaise and lettuce. One had mustard, but the rest didn't. "That's really unnecessary, Orochimaru. I'm perfectly safe."

"So you think," he argued. "But I don't. I won't allow you to be hurt, Kahoko. Don't fight me on this one."

There was something in the way his voice dipped, when he spoke of Kahoko being injured, that made Sakura shake in fear. She could almost feel it; the towering, impossible rage he would feel if he lost her. If she were hurt.

And she felt a stab of real sympathy for whoever hurt the woman. Because, looking into the man's cold, hard eyes, she knew that he would dismember them slowly. They would surely suffer for it. Though he sat here now, relaxed and playful, the darkness lurked in him and she was the key to it. He would be a monster without her.

It was both wonderful and terrible, their love for each other.

Kahoko finished up the meal she'd made and got out a couple of plates from one of the cupboards. "Go get Kabuto, darling. It's time to eat."

Orochimaru scowled at the fact that she'd changed the subject, but left to find the boy. The woman sighed and joined Sakura at the island again. "Men are so foolish when they have something to protect. Remember that."

Sakura nodded.

oOo

Sakura played a few of her favorite Chopin tunes before switching to Schumann and back again. While she played the piano, Kahoko sat in a large, plush armchair, knitting tirelessly. She was making a blanket out of a soft colored material. It was large and very lovely; from the look of it, it was sure to be warm as well.

Shortly after lunch, which had been delicious, Orochimaru and Kabuto had left, replaced in minutes by Tayuya, who looked tired. The girl had been on night duty and hadn't gotten much sleep before she'd been put back on guard duty again. At Kahoko's endless insistence, she'd finally curled up in another armchair and dozed off to the gentle lull of Sakura's playing.

As always, the melody came out mournful and heavy. But Kahoko never complained about the music being depressing and Sakura was able to carry on. It felt very nice; homey and comfortable.

The girl was still waiting for Temari's text to alert her to get ready to leave—until then; she found that she would not at all mind continuing on. As she reached a slower part of the song she'd been playing, she let her eyes drift to Tayuya, her hands moving without hesitation on their own. The red-haired teen looked very tired. There were dark circles under her eyes and there seemed to be a permanent crease between her brows.

It made her wonder what Orochimaru was so worried about that he pushed his underlings to such an extent. She also wondered if it had anything to do with what Kahoko had said about the Uchiha clan. Sakura hit the next few keys a little hard as she pondered, in annoyance, the new mystery set before her. She hated mysteries.

Kahoko glanced up, smiling a little before she returned her eyes to her knitting. "Something the matter Sakura?"

The pink-haired girl looked up sharply. Her fingers slipped and hit the wrong notes, making an unpleasant noise chime out. She went very pink and hurriedly corrected her fingers over the piano, beginning where she'd left off.

"No. I'm f-fine."

The woman cast her a knowing look, but didn't push it. Tayuya, who'd been woken from her nap by the noise, was sitting up. She yawned hugely, groaning when her jaw cracked. "Kahoko-dono you got any fucking food around?"

"What would you like?" She set aside her knitting. She didn't say anything about Tayuya's foul mouth; she didn't even blink.

Tayuya considered the question. "Anything is fine, with a preference to something cheesy."

Orochimaru's wife laughed, "something cheesy it is."

The girl had waited until she was gone from the room before she looked at Sakura. "Enjoying yourself, huh?"

"Y-Yes."

"That's good." Tayuya settled back in the chair, rubbing a hand lightly over her dark eyelids. The movement was sluggish and though she was fighting to stay awake, Sakura could see her body fighting her every step of the way.

"Tayuya," Sakura began slowly; hesitantly. The other teen opened her eyes, eyebrows raised. "You d-don't have to answer, but d-does your being o-out last night have anything to do w-with Sasuke?"

"With those bastards the Uchiha, you mean." The girl smirked at her, but it was as tired as all her other expressions. "Yeah. It does." Tayuya appraised her for a moment. "Are you sure you really want to know, though? Once you're in it's impossible to get back out."

"I would l-like to know as m-much as you can tell me."

"Very well," Tayuya sat up reluctantly. "We're keeping an eye out for someone who should be dead, but is very much alive and causing trouble. He keeps coming back to Konohagakure, but we're not sure why." The girl frowned very slightly, "I'm sure you've heard that Gaara is away often, on business?"

Sakura nodded. Her heart felt as though it was going to burst free of her chest. She ignored the tight, nervous feeling and made herself pay close attention.

"That business is connected directly to Itachi—and to the Uchiha family as well, I suppose. It's all really fucking complicated."

"T-This man…is he d-dangerous?"

"Not to someone like you—not yet, at least—for now, the only real people in danger is the Uchiha council. Well, everyone but Sasuke-sama."

"Not S-Sasuke?"

"Yes. Only Sasuke-sama is protected against him," Tayuya said. "I can't tell you any of the stupid details on why, only that it has something to do with that prick Itachi." She flicked her hair back, settling into the armchair and closing her eyes again. "No doubt, with your luck, you'll know the whole story soon enough."

Forced to be satisfied with what she'd gotten, Sakura nodded and resumed her playing. She put her frustration into each tapping of the keys and the noise emitted was melodious, mournful and a little irritated. Kahoko wandered back in, smiling fondly at Sakura's obvious discomfort and taking the tray in her hands to Tayuya, who looked refreshed at the delicious smell wafting off the food.

Kahoko had boiled up some noodles and made a thick, creamy sauce for them; she'd also brought a large bottle of soda. Tayuya took a huge gulp from the bottle. The sugar and caffeine settled quickly into the teen's system and she took the tray, settling it in her lap. Kahoko went back to her own chair, picking up her knitting as Tayuya dug into her food.

The red-haired girl polished off the food and soda in record time, looking very much refreshed. There was still the lingering tell-tale darkness around her eyes, but she seemed as though she wouldn't fall back asleep at any moment.

"Hey, Sakura."

The girl stopped playing, looking up in surprise. "Y-Yes?"

"Have you met Suigetsu before?"

She thought for a moment, "does he h-have white hair?"

Tayuya snorted. "That's him. Pointy, retarded looking teeth, too. Fucking dumbass." Sakura was just wondering why she'd brought the boy up, her only thought being that Orochimaru had mentioned he would also be on guard duty… "He's going to marry my sister, you know," Tayuya remarked in an oddly quiet voice.

Sakura looked up sharply. There was something…very off in Tayuya's tone. Something she'd never, ever heard before. She couldn't understand it at all.

Kahoko looked up in worry, her face taut with unease. Sakura took that in, too, feeling lost. Something was going on her that she didn't understand. More mystery, she internally sighed.

"But whatever, she can marry him. What a pair of fucktards they'll make. A bitch, and a dumbass."

"Tayuya," Kahoko murmured, trying to sound admonishing but coming off sad. Tayuya rolled her shoulders like she was preparing herself for a boxing match. She cleaned up her tray and stood.

"I'll take these things to the kitchen."

The brown-haired woman bit her lip, "dear…"

"Don't worry, Kahoko-dono. I'm fine." But that dark look was back and Sakura realized something; understanding clunking into place in her brain. She stood numbly and followed Tayuya into the kitchen, Kahoko watched them go, shoulders drooping as she took back up her knitting.

"You didn't have to come with me," Tayuya remarked. She was washing off her dishes in the sink. The sink she worked in was bright silver, large and as immaculate as everything else.

"Tayuya," Sakura began carefully. She highly valued and enjoyed her friendship with the teen and didn't want to make a mistake her and ruin it all. "Do you…h-have feelings for…?"

The girl froze, holding out a dish towards the open dishwasher. She forced herself to keep moving, placing it in with the others. "Picked up on that, huh?" She laughed without humor. "Suppose I must be see-through at this rate. Kahoko-dono's always fucking worrying about it."

Sakura opened her mouth, but closed it. Tayuya shut the dishwasher with a snap when she'd loaded up all her dirty dishes. She didn't face Sakura, instead she kept her eyes firmly on the window over the sink. From it, there was a splendid view of Orochimaru's sprawling land. Her hands curled around the marble countertop.

"Yes. I like Suigetsu, have since I was little. So goddamned stupid, I know," she clenched her teeth, but didn't stop. "And then of course the engagement went to Karin. Perfect, immaculate Karin," she spit out her sisters name.

Sakura jumped. She felt like an intruder on a private moment of grief, but she couldn't leave.

"Karin always got everything when we were little; our parent's devotion and love, the position as Ino-sama's right hand. I hated it—hated her. I was always less than her, always second best." The girl forced herself to turn around; to Sakura surprise there was a shine in her eyes that hinted at tears.

"And then I met Sasuke-sama and he didn't mind I was second born," she looked at her shoes. "That I was second best. He valued me simply for my skills. I also met Suigetsu and like a dumbass I couldn't help but fall in love."

Sakura stood uselessly on the other side of the room. Tayuya felt a million miles away.

"And then, of course, fate decided to go and make them fiancés." The teen ran her fingers harshly through her hair. "I was so bitter, so furiously angry that I couldn't help but step in that day…"

The memory of Karin attacking Tayuya was still easily fresh in her mind and the girl nodded mindlessly.

"Orochimaru-sama had ordered me to protect you, and I will always do so, of course…but I wanted freedom. I wanted away from that place. For good." Tayuya smiled at Sakura, "course, it's not so easy to get away from Suigetsu."

Sakura nodded in sympathy, but then seized on something just said. "W-Wait—Orochimaru ordered you?"

"Well, first it was Sasuke-sama complaining you weren't safe enough, and then Kahoko-dono imploring Orochimaru-sama to keep you guarded…"

Sakura was beginning to see a clear pattern imprinting itself in this house. The terrifying image she'd had of Orochimaru's home life was completely torn apart. No matter how much she feared him, she didn't know if she'd ever be able to completely forget how easily Kahoko had wrapped him around her teeny little fingers.

"Hey, Sakura," Tayuya piped up, breaking her train of thought.

"Mm?"

"Thanks. For letting me vent."

The girl smiled shyly, feeling warmed. Happiness threatened to swamp her completely. Forcing it down she replied quietly, "thank you, too, f-for letting me hear."

Tayuya smiled—a true, soft thing—that made her seem so much prettier than she ever had. She was, Sakura told herself, being mean, much prettier than Karin!

oOo

Temari came around an hour later, apologizing profusely, though she never really explained in full why she'd been so very late. Sakura didn't mind, though, knowing it was probably something she didn't want to worry Sakura over. Or it was something she still couldn't tell her.

Kahoko and Tayuya walked them out to the car, Kahoko making Sakura promise to come back and visit her soon—hinting that Sasuke would be more than happy to bring her. Temari withheld her dissaproval of that idea. Sakura, happy by the invitation back, hesitantly mentioned her Valentine's Day performance with the band, extending the invitation to Kahoko as she had with Kushina.

The woman seemed immensely happy to receive the invitation and agreed without hesitation. Sakura figured it was as good a time as any to mention to Tayuya—who'd looked unhappy at the mention of the dance—that Naruto didn't have a partner and that she'd suggested they go together. The redhead seemed less than pleased at the idea, but there was relief hidden behind her façade.

She didn't want to go alone.

Sakura settled back in her car seat as Temari drove them home, asking questions about her day and seeming happy that Sakura had enjoyed her stay.

Temari was wearing her hair down, something Sakura had not yet seen. She was also wearing pajama bottoms and a loose t-shirt that looked as though it'd been around a long time. Sakura had never seen her look so sloppy before and it made her wonder even more what she'd been doing previously. Afraid, after the trust Kahoko had shown, that Temari wouldn't want to speak to Sakura about it, she held her tongue.

If Temari was worried by how little they spoke, unlike usual, she didn't mention it. She kept her eyes on the road as they neared suburban Konohagakure once more. Only when they were closing in on Sakura's house did she venture towards conversation.

"You're wearing the sweater. It looks good on you; I knew it would."

Sakura glanced down at the blue material, having forgotten she was wearing it. "Oh. Y-Yes, I like it very much."

The blonde smiled at her, "good. I'm glad for that, Sakura. I want you to be happy."

They were silent for a moment before Sakura opened her mouth with the intention to flat out ask where Temari had been and what she'd been doing. She closed it, panic seizing her throat and robbing her lungs of oxygen. The car stopped in front of her house. The lights were on in the front sitting room and Sakura knew Hikari was in there, waiting patiently for Sakura to come home and talk about her day.

"I'll s-see you at school," she told Temari quietly and fled the car. She didn't look back as she went into the house, feeling sick and terrible for how she'd acted. Inside, Hikari opened her arms and Sakura fell into them. Her mother didn't ask why she cried; only held her until she stopped and walked her into the kitchen for a cup of tea.


Chapter notes, chapter notes~~Hmm, I turned nineteen on the fourteenth. And then promptly had to work all day and go to school for the remainder of the night. Happy birthday, indeed. This chapter was late thanks to MoonVeil's computer becoming diseased and then Moon herself having a very serious health scare.

But we're all feeling better now, and there's a new chapter—I'm glad Kahoko's finally here, though a little nervous at the reactions to her. She's got an important role in the future, so I hope you all like her.

I'm sad to say the likelihood of an update coming in June is slim to none, since Moon's going to Virginia to play with a friend. On that note—is anyone going to Anime Mid-Atlantic? If you are, you should go hangout with Moon and get some pictures for me!

I had hoped to be going as well, but I ended up having no money and no time. Meh. Screw college!

Shout-outs: MelodysFall (I admit defeat; I've fallen in love with you, I'm afraid. Yes, I do come home smelling like coffee—my whole apartment smells like it, since I drink it constantly, too. FF13 rocks, I vote muffins, banana nut preferably!) — sachiko haruki (:dies laughing: Omgosh, I seriously love reading your reviews! Have a cookie for being totally awesome.) — mizu-benten (It's okay, I still love you!) — silent nox2 (Moon says thank you for the birthday wishes, and put like that, how I can I NOT take a theft as a compliment? Thank you so much for the review, it made me really happy reading it ;D)

If you're going to AMA mention it in your review so I can tell Moon to find you and get some pictures. Everyone else, don't kill me for making Orochimaru OOC. He needed it. D:

*is shot*