When the start of winter begins to make its presence known, Haruno Sakura, age of twenty eight springs, ends her daily rounds as the new and talented intern of a small rural hospital.
Living alone in the countryside for almost four years, there is a sweet feeling of relief from the simple peace this town brought her. Her clear, yet distant, gleaming jaded irises stares at the gloomy horizon behind the floating pliant wisps, the sun shines weakly like a fading grief.
Even though the bitter wind whiplashes the stray strands of cropped roseate hair against her flushed face, she smiles and looks at the cream colored horizon and shoved her hands in the large pockets of her hand-me down, comfortable coat.
"It's time to visit."
--always read underneath the underneath--
Seven years ago on that same day, the twenty third of December:
"Breaking News: to ensure the fragile stability of the government--"
"Has officially announced earlier, that the Overlord is going to be--"
It was already three o' clock in a Monday morning when Sakura was eating her bucket of gooey chocolate ice cream. She sat on her very run-down chintz chair in the center of a huge dormitory room. Her knees were drawn up, supporting the delectable dessert, with a plastic spoon dangling in between her teeth. Exhausted olive eyes were glued on the small minute fonts of her broad course book on her lap, trying to absorb the whole medical gibberish with her already bombarded mind.
"The candidate was already chosen by The Council but it still remains as a secret—"
"All twenty one year old females in the country were screened--"
The daily morning news was blared on the radio, but its sole audience was not even paying any attention. The droning sound of the announcer's voice was enough to keep her awake, but the need for sleep was already overpowering. With an instinctive glance to the digital clock around her wrist, she was informed that only five hours left before her examination for med school would start.
"Now, in weather reports, it looks like snow will fall later to--"
"We might have a white Christmas on the twenty-fifth, folks. The temperature will drop--"
There was that buzzing anticipation in her chest because she would finally be able to attend The University again. Ever since her family died because of the lack of financial means to get the best medical attention, she had sworn that she would do whatever it took to become a doctor.
Finally deciding that she needed to attend to her sleep-deprived body, she stretched her numbing limbs, slammed the thick textbook and proceeded to return the brown, fluffy sweetness to the refrigerator. As soon as she shut the door of the cooler, a shrill ringing of a phone drowned all the unintelligible broadcasts.
With the sharp twist of her neck, she glared at the innocent, dark, metallic cell phone that was laid on the coffee table.
That cursed communication gadget was the bane of her existence in almost a decade. It was a customized sleek, black cellular phone which could never be used for anything. The phone could not be utilized to send messages or call someone else; its only function was to receive only one call from a certain man.
The person who nearly made her insane all her life.
Picking it up, she flipped it open with a swift flick, pressed six numbers as a code and the screen suddenly lit up.
"Are you alone?"
"Yes, sir," She replied curtly. As she slapped the freezer with her right hand, she reached out and turned the small knob of her old radio to increase its volume, "At this time?"
"It's in our deal," Her hoarse voice felt awfully sticky, "that I'm to be exempted from all that crap when I'm attending school matters."
"A new deal, then," She could definitely hear him sneer, telling her that he was becoming impatient. "I will grant your freedom."
All Sakura could hear now was the sudden rush of blood in her head and the palpitations it caused.
"Freedom," She weakly responded, suddenly flopping back down to sit on the counter.
There was a chuckle from the other side of the line, "A chance to be 'normal', like you always say."
Stiffening her relaxed body, a pair of green glittering eyes alighted in suspicion, "You're not pulling my leg?"
"I won't even give a damn about you if you accomplish this."
"And the money?"
"Enough to last until your final year of residency."
She gritted her teeth and finally gave up.
"Okay. Fine. You win."
Rising from her slouched position, she paced towards her window to draw the blinds to a close. Her callused fingers wrapped around small copper keys, which hung from a hook, concealed behind a frame. The intricate, little keys unfastened an assorted set of locks of the small armory hidden underneath her bedroom closet.
Clipping the phone in between her cheek and shoulder, she crouched to reach for the latch and asked, "Who?"
"You don't need to use the guns right now," A malicious snicker reverberated from the speaker. "Not the big ones. This calls for a long-term assignment."
She dropped the keys to her cold floor, wide startled eyes staring at the chipping wood of her nearly dilapidated closet, "Are you out of your mind? He's got the top security. Not even the personnel in his palace can enter his office or bed chambers without any thorough inspection. And you're telling me to kill him? I did kill some of the big shots under him because I can draw them out of that heavy security but this! This is different!"
"You are the chosen candidate."
How in the seven heavens did he--?!
Sakura knew that this was a very, very bad idea.
"How in the world would you know? The public doesn't even--"
It means: Shut up, no questions, do your job.
She bit her lips to prevent herself from shouting out what her befuddled brain thought.
"At exactly 0800 hours, two of his personal guards will pick you up. Both of them will discreetly take you to the palace," The apparent electronically manipulated voice droned on. "They will drill you details about his background, his work schedule and his direct, close vassals. You will also be oriented about your duties."
"Gain his trust. This might take years, but you need him to be unguarded," With a drawl, he continued, "You will not kill him until I give you the command."
He's closing the call.
If the line went dead, she could never call him back.
"Hey!"Better cut across his words, "Wait a darn minute!"
Of course, that never worked, "Good luck, Lady Uchiha."
When the click signaled that the phone call had ended, she cursed violently with her scowling face directed on the keys that was scattered on her stone floor.
Looking back at her digital clock, she surmised that she would have about three hours to dismantle her firearms and figure out where to hide them. Of course, as a foresight, they would search her house to look for any evidences that she could be a threat. She might as well start now to prepare for her role.
Besides, she needed to figure out how she could finish this assignment.
If she was lucky, maybe the man slept with a gun underneath his pillow.
Weakly grinning, she estimated that the available time for her to get a wink of sleep would only be two hours and that was if she would start to move her lazy ass now.
Her old, reliable wristwatch told her that they did not arrive at exactly eight in the morning, like what her cunning employer had told. They were already knocking on her bolted door thirty minutes before their supposed time of arrival. She felt exasperated that the inevitable came way too early, not even giving her the chance to drink a decent amount of caffeine.
Knowing that she was going to turn the brass doorknob for the last time, her mind unconsciously began to glorify this quaint little room. It was not as extravagant as the other suite deluxe that University students were provided with, but at least she was given a very comfortable shelter. Besides, the area was secure, undisturbed for most of the time and just plain perfect for people who had too many secrets to hide.
Unlocking the door chains, she opened the door slowly. Outside, three people heavily dressed in black suits with their thick sunglasses stood rigidly. Lips thinning, she gave them a lukewarm 'good morning' and a polite, exquisite bow.
"I believe you are Miss Sakura," The shortest of the three spoke tersely, a dark auburn-haired female who was glowering at her, obviously scrutinizing her behind those tinted glasses.
"Of course, dimwit," The young man on her left responded, grinning mischievously, "The profile said pink hair. It's a shade lighter than yours, if you forgot what the color pink is."
"Yes, May I help you...?"
Letting the sentence end in eclipses, she allowed them to fill her in on the details about why they were here. They did not know that they were expected after all.
"We're from The Palace, Madam. I'm Suigetsu," replied by the young man with sleek, pale turquoise strands held back in a low ponytail. Outstretching a hand for a shake, Sakura complied with a firm grasp. Then he pointed to his two companions with a jerk of his thumb, "Juugo." The indicated person nodded his head, "And the red bimbo is Karin."
"Shut up, pointy teeth," Karin growled and socked his mouth with a clenched fist, after which Suigetsu howled and nearly chomped off his companion's fingers, but the aggravated female was really too fast for him to avoid the retaliation, "That's for acting so stupid."
And this was point where she decided to reply, "Excuse me, Miss Karin?"
"You are coming with us," She then pulled her arm, rumpling the white sweater covering it and tugged Suigetsu by his fish, er, ponytail, "I will explain all the details as we go to The Palace."
"The Palace? But Juugo--?"
"He will inspect your belongings and determine which will be delivered to your quarters."
She was right. That huge, almost indifferent carrot-top was going to inspect her apartment.
"I don't understand, Miss Ka--"
"Not now," Her voice was cut rather impatiently, "We are already late."
Her treacherous cell phone, which was the only incriminating evidence of her true identity, was hidden inconspicuously in her pocket. Strangely, that small little thing that she loathed for years was now her reassuring amulet.
They descended the old, unpolished stairs of the dormitory and finally reached the dark, glinting long limousine that was stationed in front of the small establishment. With a courteous opening of the door, the confounded woman entered the car without any inquiries.
Sakura's simple spring green blouse, fading pair of jeans, overused white cardigan sweater and mud-crusted sneakers were an absolute contrast to the expensive items inside the car. Once inside, she inhaled the fresh scent of wood spices and fidgeted uncomfortably. She was certainly out of place in all of these costly things. She sat on the glamorous fresh leather seats, enclosed in these solid, bullet-proofed tinted windows and was leaning her elbows on a small, overflowing ref bar beside her.
After a second, Suigetsu's face was shoved into a seat in front of her while Karin took a place beside him.
The moment the car door snapped shut, the vehicle revved its engine and slowly drove to the completely empty streets.
It was really this quiet in the Capital, especially on such an early morning. The Uchiha insignias that hung on the lamp posts fluttered against the gentle wind, reminding her that this might be the last time that she would be able to freely view the city.
"We must now begin," Karin finally spoke in a dead-pan voice and Suigetsu, who was going to pull off another stunt to annoy Karin further, ceased when her glowering burgundy eyes halted his actions, "First of all, I would like to tell you that as of today, you are Lady Sakura Uchiha. You have been chosen by the entire Council as the most suitable wife for Lord Uchiha."
A recalcitrant silence.
Both of the guards were amazed at how calm and composed she was. They were expecting some kind of jubilant reaction but they only received a slight increase in her breathing, which indicated that she was uneasy.
"One of the criteria for Lord Uchiha's wife would be a twenty-one year old, like him."
"So I've heard," Sakura agreed.
"According to those files, you are quite brainy, sister. Not bad, since you're quite a looker too," The pale-skinned young man whistled and slid his glasses down an inch. "You're ten points above Karin in IQ, you know."
A soft crimson streak accentuated her cheeks in embarrassment while Karin's red flush was caused by a different kind of humiliation.
"You moron! Will you shut your trap?!"
Pulling him back to his seat and glaring at the young man that would make any feminist proud, Karin gave a disgruntled cough and proceeded, "According to the deliberations made by the Uchiha clan, even though you have no noble blood in your line, you are quite an exceptional student. Not to mention that you were orphaned in a young age, which means that there are no...future troubles that the clan might encounter with your family."
"But before I go on," Karin now turned to the pile of folders that sat in between the two, "I would like to orient you first about the true reason of your marriage and how the reign of the Uchiha clan started. It was--"
"The Namikaze Clan was the first to rule the country for almost five generations," Sakura nearly smirked when both of them gaped in disbelief. She had enough of being interrupted when speaking, after all, "Upon the death of Minato Namikaze, the only remaining one from his descent, he passed a testamentary document, or his last will--in layman's terms. It was stated that the Uchiha Clan, the next powerful clan after his death, will decide among themselves on who will replace him. The Uchiha clan was renowned as the most powerful elite force in the military; they know the political affairs and the needs in handling the country than any subordinate of the late Lord Kamikaze."
"...," Both of them were silent, surprised at her suddenly speaking long sentences.
"It was then decided that the youngest son from the main family would take over the position. That also made him the youngest Overlord in history, who managed to rule Nippon-koku at the age of sixteen. Because of this, coup d' etats run rampant in the past five years. Recently, there were about ten assassinations of his subjects and three failed attempts on the Overlord's life," With a shrug, she gave an exhausted sigh. "I guess making him marry a commoner like me will at least show that the government does not overlook the society and that the higher-ups do care about the poor masses. It's an overused facade, but it does work, with the entire ruse in media right now."
"You are right on the mark," The red-head agreed with a grim smile, "How did you get to spew such rubbish?"
"Newspapers," She laughed at their dumbfounded expressions. "And I took some subjects in political science and government in my general academics as a requirement for premed. I'm just reciting one of the answers I gave for my oral examinations back then."
"We both slept in History," Their only male companion grinned, "Karin thought that you need the review lesson."
"What I want to know," Her pink head inclined, slightly leaning her temple against the tinted window pane, "Is why Uchiha Itachi did not ascend the throne since he is the eldest in the direct bloodline."
"I'm afraid we cannot tell you," Karin pursued her lips in vexation. "The Council deemed it as something that should never be disclosed to anybody."
"But I'm not 'anybody'," A wry grin flitted across her face.
"As much as I want to answer your question, Milady," There was a mocking tone in Karin's rich alto voice as she mentioned the title. She was probably annoyed at being unexpectedly questioned and lectured with an impromptu History lesson, "We need to discuss his work schedule, his vassals and your duties."
"As our Mistress, you were chosen not only because you are incredibly reliable to learn many things more swiftly than any average commoner, but because genetically, you are capable of producing a perfect, intelligent heir for the throne."
If it was possible, Sakura felt her intestines summon up her chocolate ice cream to rise up her throat.
"He-heir," She did not choke on air. Oh no, no, no.
When Suigetsu smirked like that, she really wanted to imitate Karin and deck him to hell.
"Of course, that was the fatal mistake of Lord Minato. So we are going to make sure that the throne won't go to the wimps, see," Sakura was looking a little green on her pale cheeks, which made the male guard add quickly, "It won't be problem, Milady. I assure you that your partner is really as good-looking as you've seen him in the tube. But I can't really say when you get to the bed part. Because we haven't confirmed if His Lordship is really--," He then held up his hands and imitated putting quotations on his words.
"Suigetsu," There was a dangerous, lethal growl that escaped Karin's furious face, "Stop talking and just drink from your tumbler!" With that, Karin shoved a turquoise container to his mouth, nearly missing his nose from being punctured with a plastic straw.
Sakura managed to drown out the squabbling when she saw tiny flecks of snow whizzing pass her window pane. Reflexively, she clenched the fabric of her denims, but she did not show any other signs that she was truly afraid. The deal said that this might take years, yet the nerve of that blasted employer! He did not even tell her that she was getting herself knocked up with a kid.
But, she could not help but feel so stupid. Of course, this was like a royal family.
She needed to bear children.
With a weak rationalization, she calmed herself that she might even get to murder the bastard before he could even make her pregnant.
It was already nine o' clock in the morning when they arrived in front of large metallic gates that hurdled the view of a huge, ancient estate. As soon as her red-haired companion spoke hoarsely to a radio lapel in her collar, the gates opened and the vehicle finally swerved to a clean, smoothly cemented lane.
Sakura could not help but be astounded at the sight: a huge palace founded on white stones, with large, quaint windows that were overlooking a humongous frozen lakeside. The place was incredibly furnished and decorated with wooden bridges over the man-made canals, finely structured murals and artistically crafted hedges. If she came here during spring, the lawn would probably be filled with lush greenery and blooming flora all over. Instead, the towering trees were bare and it was apparent that the winter was not really complimentary to such a regal place.
"Milady," She was shaken off her reverie when the car door was opened and both of them were calling her from the outside. Stepping out of the compartment, she finally let her numbing foot on the rough marble.
She did not expect such a number of people to be waiting outside, dressed in frills of fluffy white and with such beaming smiles on their faces. They were on the lower appendage of the elongated staircases that lead to the huge entrance of the Palace.
"Welcome," They all curtsied uniformly, with their heads bowed. The handmaidens were about eleven females, with a large-breasted blond female in her thirties in the very middle. Almost all of them were very pretty and younger than her, but then a slight cough from her right told her that it was appropriate for her to say something in response.
She stumbled upon her words, "Thank you. Please take care of me."
"I'm Tenten," came a woman from her left with her chocolate tresses arranged into two elegant buns. She had striking hazelnut eyes and a firm smile that was meant for business. Raising a hand which Sakura shook with the same strong grasp, the girl in the power suit bowed at her politely, "I'll be your personal secretary, Milady."
Then astoundingly, the females descended on the stairs rather swiftly, flanking into a triangle formation with its apex reaching her. Sakura nearly tripped over her own feet when the big-breasted blond woman inspected her flushing face closely, a firm hand on her chin, "Hmm, nice complexion. So we're going to keep it all peachy-natural."
"This woman has some serious issues about clothes," A blond woman with baby blue sky eyes glinted with mischief, looking at the choice of her wardrobe disdainfully as she glanced at her appearance from head to foot. Then she wailed at her frilled companions with a worried expression, "Can we make it? We might need to cover this hideous forehead."
"Excuse me," Sakura glared at the concerned female who was looking at her with a teasing smile.
"Nah. Just kidding," The girl laughed and proceeded to inspect her nails with a positive appraisal, "You just need to freshen up, I think."
"We need to change some accessories. Her hair is a shade lighter than the pins. I never saw such a nice color. It's like a cherry blossom petal," A dark-haired female combed on her long pink tresses, snagging a few stray tangles when she reached the strands' end at her waist. "But it needs more conditioner. The whole thing can be fixed into in an updo about an hour, though."
"Then, can we ask for an extra thirty minutes," Tenten nodded towards her two companions earlier. She seemed to write down the comments that the ladies were firing off about her on an electric organizer, "The ceremony is this afternoon, after all."
"We can inquire for more time," Karin answered haughtily, "But we can't promise you."
"No need for any extensions," The tall blond woman in pigtails, who remarked about her skin earlier, bellowed to the younger females bustling around her. "We can do this if you follow my instructions. Ino, inform the make-up artists about the change of foundation then prepare her after grooming. Shizune, get the hair stylist. Tenten, go ahead and make some calls about the ring size. The others, prepare her chambers and I'll be in charge of her ladyship. We have until noon."
It was like the end of a trance when all of them snapped up their postures and began walking off to different directions. If Sakura was edgy earlier, now she was plain terrified. But she only managed an exasperated glance and did not reflect the storming and tremulous myocardial infarction that her hidden, dormant, violent self was undergoing.
"Come along," said the commanding lady who gave the orders earlier, inclining her head to follow her large strides. Sakura kept up, walking briskly beside the tall woman. When they reached the entrance to the grand beautiful, white-stone built palace, its elaborate carved doors opened to reveal a large hall.
"What's happening," Sakura was now dreading for the answer as she tried to keep her pace normal across the black marble floor. Her awareness took notice of the busy strides of people inside the amazing hall. There were hanging elegant, contemporary chandeliers in the high ceilings and large windows that gave the view of the small flakes which were gradually descending to earth.
"I'm Tsunade, your Lady-in-waiting," It was very short and curt.
"Ah, Okay," They were silent as Tsunade led her to a maze of doors and corridors. If Sakura was not nimble enough to follow the quick pacing of her newly-introduced Lady-in-Waiting, she would easily get herself lost.
Then to her surprise, the elder woman halted her steps and grinned.
"Don't worry, Lady Uchiha."
Those golden bronze stared confidently at her vexed expression.
"We'll make you the most beautiful bride the world has ever seen within three hours."
After that electrifying statement, she was whisked away by a horde of females, carrying cream towels and bottles of different colors imaginable. It was all happening too fast for her liking, but before she even had the time to protest, she was dunked into sweet-smelling bubbles, aromatic candles and a warm, lulling tub. These made her intelligence drop temporarily and savor the onslaught of comfort seeping through her cold bones.
It was granted that she could afford heated water in her dormitory, but she could only enjoy it once a month. However, the fact that she could have this everyday, bathing and scrubbing frequently in such a cozy and warm thing, made her forget that there were so many wrongs in this bizarre situation. The relaxing, languorous ordeal went for about thirty minutes until she was woken up frantically and dressed in a fluffy, pink cotton robe and abruptly shoved her into a suite room that was bustling with adrenaline-powered females.
The whole thing was like a raging blizzard of fabrics, powders and pins.
All around her, they were panicking out of their wits and waving needles, beads and brushes like they were possessed.
Slightly fidgeting near the comfortable plush stool, which was nearly impeding the circulation to all of her limbs, she snuck a sly glance to every individual in the room. One was sewing small, rough diamond crystals in patterns on a white long chartreuse cloth. Some of them were arguing on the type of cathedral veil she was going to use. Others were creating silver chains in what looks like a high-heeled shoe that she could surely handle later on, if she concentrated enough.
But Sakura was slightly not herself, as the events that came washing down on her finally got to her.
Med school is definitely not as nerve wracking as this.
"Crazy," She muttered under her breath as she placed a shaking palm against her damp forehead, "What I'm doing is crazy."
The young girl, wearing a lavender apron over her frilled white uniform, came up beside her. "Milady, you can sit down now."
This was the one who insulted her forehead earlier. She complied with a guarded expression.
"Call me Sakura, please," The title was unnerving her.
The blond helper responded with a congenial smile as Sakura sat on the prepared seat, "Can't. If somebody hears us, it's my life on the line. Call me Ino."
"No one can call you here by your first name," She then grabbed her head and began to start on unwinding the soft towel wrapped around her drenched locks, "It's because you will be different from us."
Sakura was silent, staring at the methodical way Ino gathered the cord of that bright yellow hairdryer and a round, thick brush. She could still feel the rush of footsteps that were thundering and scampering behind them, but she stopped paying attention to them when Ino started to attack her hair and she felt the warmth of air caressed her nape.
"I-," Her chapped lips opened up, chilled and shivering, "I never imagined that I'll even get married."
Laughter, small and unbelieving, made its way to her wet ears as Ino spoke up cheekily.
"Believe me honey, many of us dreamed of marrying Lord Uchiha."
Sakura knew that. It was very apparent that Lord Uchiha was not only famous in politics but also internationally for being the most handsome representative in every country expedition during treaties. That was why more and more females were willing to be ambassadors of their countries in order to have the chance to meet him in person.
Those pliant fingers began massaging her scalp, which felt so wonderful, "You met Karin earlier, right? She's absolutely smitten with our dashing Overlord, along with the rest of the female population," Then the comb spines began tracing the lines of her tresses, "Naturally, I am also one of them, but because I'm a servant of the court, I think that dream won't be realized." Rolling her light cerulean eyes, Ino snorted in disbelief, as if remembering something, "Besides, Lord Uchiha is just too resistant to our 'girlish, stupid, troublesome' charms."
"Really," Sakura managed to raise an eyebrow in cool interest.
"Yeah. But still, it didn't stop me from creating my own dream wedding," Ino supplied as she began to untangle knots that accumulated at the bottom of her waist-length hair. "When all of us learned that Lord Uchiha was going to get married, I was actually kinda worried."
Her lax spine became rigid with that statement.
"Hey, relax," Ino smirked as she pressed her thumbs on her tense shoulders. "I was just about to say that because you never imagined any dream wedding of your own," And she then began to squeeze the tip of her scapulae gently until the muscles uncoiled, "So I'm going to give you mine."
"Well, it's because I approve of you to become his wife. So be proud," The smirking blond winked, "You just don't feel sure that Lord Uchiha will like you, right?"
"No," Sakura breathed a shaky sigh, "Not really."
I'm just thinking about how I will ever survive this situation.
"Hmm, I think a complete updo doesn't suit you."
Glad for the change of topic, Sakura inquired, "An updo?"
"It's like raising all of your hair on the crown of your head," As if on emphasis, Ino gathered her pink strands and created an intricate, albeit messy, twist at the back of her skull. "But because your hair is thick and pretty, a half updo will suit you better," She then let the hair on the base of her head to hang to show her point.
"An updo is often used in weddings," Her mindless chatter was comforting to Sakura, as if Ino sensed the confusion and anxiety this chaotic scene was making her feel. "It's because it makes the woman feel more elegant than what she usually feels, but I think that with your odd appearance, you command a sort of presence that captures the attention of every man."
Her throat constricted with those words. Her mind could not decide if she was going to take that as a compliment or not.
It was really uncomfortable for Sakura, who took pride in her knowledge of various topics, to possess the inability to confront the subject of fashion. All she had worn all her life was simple sweaters and blouses, with only one floral skirt to make her look feminine. Besides that, all of her lower garments were jeans and shorts. She never minded being fashionable and looking good too much because it might get some attention.
The only thing she owned that she knew was chic was her single all-black attire of calfskin stiletto boots, leather jacket and fitted jeans. The sole wardrobe she had that made her more of an independent woman was unhesitatingly burned in the waste incinerator before dawn. The scent of blood adhered on the clothes so much that it became too overwhelming and noticeable if she were to bury it along with dismantled firearms.
"Don't be so nervous. It shows on your face," A pinch on her cheek snapped her up from her train of thoughts, "Right now, feel like a queen."
She did not need to be told. With all the amount of attention and detail that these professional people were giving her, she felt like she was not only a queen, but she was taking an uncomfortable place in a bright, blinding spotlight.
"I don't know how to act like a queen," Sakura frowned," Or even look like one."
"That's why we're here," In a sudden twirl, Tsunade came with a sequin studded corset in her hands and a purple-haired lady hairstylist beside her, chewing on a bubblegum with a bored expression. "Ino, everyone decided that we're going for an empire cut. The bouquet needs some pink."
"Alright," Swiftly, Ino put the dryer and brush back into the table beside her.
"Be sure to use small FLOWERS," Tsunade hollered the last word furiously after her as the blond swiftly ran to the doors.
"Will dooo," It echoed through the hurriedly opened door.
"Stand up, Milady. We'll start on fitting the corset," Then Tsunade scowled, "And don't you give me that look. You can breathe on this thing."
"I will not wear that," Sakura asserted. She was going to be the lady of the house right?
"If you want to know, yes, this can be easily removed later this evening. Have faith on that boy's skills," Tsunade smirked sinisterly when she saw that Sakura's face turned into the deepest shade of red. There's the beautiful blushing bride.
"Then, we go to your hair. It's slightly damp, but this will be fine for the curling. Name's Anko, dear," That Cheshire cat grin on Anko's face made her wish that she could just follow Ino's advice and not be intimidated. "We won't let you use the mirrors until you're all dressed up for our grumpy groom."
After two hours of pampering and primping, Sakura was instructed to stop looking so nervous and was finally dragged to stand up. The dark-haired assistant of Tsunade, who introduced herself as Shizune, greeted her and asked to insert her feet in the diamond-studded stilettos, patterned into delicate blossoms. She was just about to bite her lip--out of habit--in order to keep herself from saying that she was in pain from asphyxiation of that irritating corset, when she was reprimanded that the pink lip paint might wear off.
"Here," Ino suddenly popped out and slipped a small roseate cylindrical tube into Sakura's hands.
A lipstick? Sakura asked to herself incredulously.
"That's for back-up," There was a burst of laughter, "After he chews your mouth on the altar."
"Good thinking!" Tsunade snickered, "Okay, Shizune, open them."
With an amused grin, Shizune complied.
It was a three-way folding, full-length mirror.
And the reflected images of an astonishing woman that she had never seen in her life surrounded her.
Her pale, ivory shoulders were bare, revealing her soft, supple arms, which complimented her lithe figure. Her gown was amazing with its length, with its snow white gossamer silk underskirt slightly exposed. This was covered by soft layers of white satin, with patterned laces and beads on its edges, then a third layer of translucent tulle with laces on its hem, albeit shorter than the rest of the layers, completed the whole look. All the fabrics were gathered, seemingly crumpled and stitched together with careful embroidery in the center of her slim waist.
"Turn around," She heard some encouragements.
Too flabbergasted to be even answering, she merely did what she was told.
On her rear, the lacy corset crisscrossed over her well-formed back, stopping its descent very lowly on her waist when two white pleats ran through her backside till it swept the dark marble floor. On the opposite edges of each pleat were white swarovski crystals patterned like small, vine blossoms. She ran a well-manicured finger over the sleek, hanging curls that accentuated her heart-shaped face. Half of her hair hanging to the middle of her back was curled into soft ringlets. The other long strands on the uppermost of her head were sleek and smooth, held together with a vintage antique barrette band, embedded with hard, clear-cut pink diamonds fashioned to resemble the flowers of her namesake.
"Is this even allowed?" Sakura whispered as the small vanity in every woman's own beauty reawakened at the sight.
"This gown is sweeping the floor, and this gown is so expensive! I feel exposed, and there are too many pretty things that I am wearing. And--," Her mouth could not help but babble. The effort she exerted to restrain herself from speaking too much so that she would not be too close to anybody was finally diminished. She gave in because of the strong urge to express her appreciation for the sudden transformation, "It's just, I want to say thank you."
"Don't be stupid," Tsunade narrowed her bronze eyes in mock sternness. "It's your wedding."
"And brides are the most beautiful creatures in weddings," Shizune added, "It takes a little tweaking for you to be the best of them all."
"Lord Uchiha will surely be pleased with our work," Ino clapped in excitement.
Sakura was already beet red with their compliments when the doors suddenly burst open to reveal a panting young brunette.
"Tenten," The three females, except Sakura, worriedly inquired.
"The bride," She panted, trying to steady herself in her heels. "Follow me. It's starting."
Gathering the heavy layered dress into her hands, Sakura walked clumsily over to Tenten who was already offering a hand for her to take. Tsunade motioned for three servants to carry the ten yards of the lacy cathedral veil. Ino whisked a bouquet filled with white lilies, cream orchids, pale-half opened roses, small buds of cherry flowers and minute cosmos blossoms wrapped in a thin layer of tulle.
While they hurried in the dizzying maze of hallways, they finally made it somewhere outside where a large overhanging path, sheltered with a pretty white stone ceiling that was supported with delicately designed pillars, was seen.
"Where are we going," breathed Sakura, who was already finding it hard to keep up.
"The cathedral near the garden court, Milady," The secretary replied without so much of a nod except doubling the burst in her steps.
"A cathedral? Inside the palace?"
Sakura heard a burst of giggles from the females trailing behind her.
"Yes, yes, hold them for a minute. We're already halfway there," Tenten spoke swiftly and her right fingers pressed a device on her ear, allowing her to speak through the hidden black transmitter, "No, can you allow the bride to freshen up for two minutes when we arrive? I know." Sakura heard the faint crackling monotone voice. "Well, those meddlers were gatecrashers in the first place so tell them to shut up," Grimacing, Tenten then added with a yel, "And please, stop making us hurry! Try to walk in heels, girly boy!"
"Neji," Ino quipped.
"That prick," Tenten agreed and pressed the lapel again when another crackling interrupted her. "And I don't care if you heard that."
Finally, after passing through the endless path of withered greenery and soft flurry of flakes dancing in the wind, they finally arrived at a wide succession of stairs.
"Milady, I can only give you three minutes. The doors will open after that," With that, Tenten--breathing heavily--stalked away.
"We are lucky that its winter, or else we have to redo that beautiful makeup. Quick!"
But she was too accustomed to hard workouts to even shed a sweat with merely a long walk in high heels.
Tsunade muttered furiously under her breath instructions to the maids that were paling the white thick veil over her head, swallowing her whole. Then the bouquet was quickly shoved into her hands and the others begun to arrange the fabrics into order. As they checked each fabric arrangement in her gown, two warm hands touched her clammy shoulders.
"An Uchiha does not have any excuse for disgrace," There was certain seriousness in Tsunade that made an impression on Sakura, "Don't forget that once those doors open."
Sakura hardened her features, straightened her spine and gave a small, impassive smile, "I shall remember."
And thus, it began. The creaking of the probably century-old door revealed to her a magnificent view of assorted colorful stained windows. They were about sixty feet tall, in every side of the ancient establishment. Chandeliers hung from the unreachable, painted ceiling, accompanied by rolls of white chartreuse and cream orchids that decorated each gothic-themed pillar. But what astounded her was that there was a mix of white rose and cherry petals that floated with the slight breeze, like wilting leaves every autumn that spiraled towards the crimson carpet beneath her feet. Her nose caught the smoky scent of fragrant incense; from that alone she surmised that indeed, this was a pre-planned wedding all along.
When the first notes of Pachelbels Canon In D started on the strings from the unseen orchestra, Sakura held her head high and saw from the endless stretch of the aisle flashes of white, fluorescent lights. There were cameras whirring and filming, hushed whispers that floated all around the over large space among the pews. She could see reporters and other people who were peering up to her curiously, but she never heeded their abrupt attention. Her eyes only stared ahead of the minister who was like a small dot in peripheral sight because of the long distance.
It was as Ino described.
A dream wedding.
She went on silently, oblivious to the soft words (either praising or condemning) around her, when a man with hair as bright as the illuminated lightning sky approached her and took her elbow.
"Stand-in as your father," The man whispered behind his mask. Sakura did not lose her composure, but merely slowed down her already gradual pace.
"Who are you?" She asked behind her teeth and grinned, in order for the cameras not to catch the awkwardness on her painted face.
"Hatake Kakashi," He chuckled. "Just very glad that my seemingly asexual pupil is getting himself married first than li'l old me."
Noting the obvious distress in Sakura's eyes, Kakashi added, "I'm also making sure that you won't trip."
"Is that it, geezer? I can handle my own heels, tha--" Abruptly, Her logical mind, defenses and everything that existed was gone.
"Hey, hey. I'm helping you out, you know. It won't do well when you're on national tele--" He saw the direction of Sakura's gaze and could not help but smirk underneath the cashmere collar that made up his mask.
It was different seeing Uchiha Sasuke painted across a billboard, or when he was behind a glass or just someone who you knew lived in a palace to rule over all the people. Or someone that you knew would end up on the receiving end of your silencer one day. But seeing him up close, real, made an impact to her. Standing meters away from her with his cold coal eyes meeting her gaze equally without any decipherable emotion, and looking delightfully sinful in a simple black suit that she knew he probably wore everyday in state meetings but the only difference was the small white bud on his jacket, was the youngest and most ambitious Overlord in the history of Nippon-koku—the man she would be marrying right now.
She now fully understood what Ino meant.
If she was normal, like Ino, she could have dreamed of something like this.
But Sakura realized that since she was going to marry such a man, this would probably be called an ideal fantasy.
She then held his unblemished hand and reminded herself that she will not fall.
It was a disgrace for her true purpose, whether she was an Uchiha or not.
For Sakura, the whole thing was supposed to be like a festival, but with the way this wedding was conducted, it was like a white funeral.
She was inside a great indoor garden, with a glass ceiling that revealed that it was already night. It was supported with golden plated steel frames with grandiose chandelier hanging from it, a soft light casted over the silent people alike. There were fragrant flowers everywhere, the sweet scent of white night flowers starting to bloom, as the warmth was welcomed by her already freezing bones. Seated in the glamorous presidential table with the ever impassive ruler on her left, she ate silently, never minding that her husband was not even touching the food laid in front of them.
She wanted to break the tremulous silence, but she was in untested waters.
So she settled for not talking with her only companion in this long, lonely table, merely glancing at him.
He would not catch her sneaky glances. He was too busy with his calculating gaze over their guests.
"It's time for the pictures," A man with a black bowl-haircut approached them. Then he smiled brilliantly as if blinding the whole audience.
Sakura wanted to decline but she remembered that this was a wedding. A very publicized wedding where she had to stand up, socialize and pose with these well-wishers, scattered in the seemingly hundreds of tables.
It was very disturbing. But she had to do it.
Standing up, while her hands gathered the heavy trail of fabrics, she gave an assuring smile and answered with a tired affirmative.
The camera whirred sporadically every now and then. A vapid smile was set on her face as they walked around the tables. However, she figured that this was already dragging far too long as she felt her lower limbs finally starting to loose their sensation. And though she did not let it appear on her features, her stomach was already clamoring for a bite.
And that was when she saw a bright, blond man, loud and brash, near their table clapping his hands against Sasuke's back. Her nose picked up the scent of ramen even with a few steps away. He was wearing a black suit, but unlike Sasuke's white and black combination for his shirt and tie, Naruto wore a bright yellow shirt and a dark blue tie underneath his black coat.
"Congratulations, you bastard," Grinning like there was no tomorrow, Naruto turned to her, "I was engaged first. But he's the first to get hitched."
Sakura could not help but blink at this sudden revelation, "Um, I'm--"
"Idiot, this is Uchiha Sakura. Sakura, this is Uzumaki Naruto," Her husband introduced, with his monotone voice overshadowed by a wild protest from Naruto, who was riled up upon hearing the word 'idiot'.
"Me? An idiot? Hah, if it weren't for me, you wouldn't be here getting married and will still be branded as an ase-"
"Shut up, idiot."
"Oi, oi, have you told her that I saved your butt back in the academy?"
"I have no intention of telling anything her about your stupidity."
"Um, pictures?" Lee, the photographer, inquired as the males conversed in sarcasm.
As soon as the click and the flash was finished, Naruto managed to shake her hand with a foxy grin while Sasuke inclined a nod to excuse himself for a minute to converse with some of the dignitaries on the other side of the table.
"Hah, so you're the wife, eh," he whispered, as his tanned hands were shoved into his slacks, which he looked so uncomfortable with right now.
"Huh," Sakura only managed an intelligent response.
"Well you see, that bastard is my best friend," Naruto gave a wry smile. "We were team mates under Kakashi back overseas. So I really know him."
She followed her husband through her careful, green gaze, "Hmmm?"
So this was Uzumaki Naruto, one of the two individuals who could enter the Overlord's offices without any inspections.
"Sakura," He gravely lowered his voice, so no one could hear him address her name, "Did you really agree to this?"
"Yes," She answered resolutely.
"Because you like him?"
"Because it's something I have to do," Sakura persisted, olive gaze firm, "I was chosen, right?"
"Ah, marrying such a bastard is tough," He chuckled with a grin. "But I think you'll do fine."
Naruto then bowed before her and walked off, as Sasuke came and held her hand to introduce her to his awaiting family.
When everyone was satiated and Sakura was totally ravenous, the couple finally sat back on their table. The bride, who was already dead tired and hungry, was finally munching on a heavenly hors d'oeveur when a man with an infectious grin, dark eyes and unruly hair stood up and shouted,
"I would like to propose a toast!"
Sakura turned her head to see this young man, around his early thirties, grinning as he carefully raised his wine glass.
"For their union and the betterment of the clan!"
She knew him to be Uchiha Obito, the youngest member of the Uchiha Council. As soon as his declaration was made, Hatake Kakashi and a woman she had not been introduced with (she was probably Rin, whom she just knew by the news) stood up and raised their glass.
"For a Prosperous rule!
And soon, people started to voice out their well wishes.
Sakura could not help but sigh at all the fuzz.
These were the rare moments that made her quite thankful of her real profession.
"For my little brother," Sasuke stiffened at the sight of Uchiha Itachi, which Sakura took notice of very well, "And his wife."
"For the success of the night later," Naruto raised his glass and gave a mocking snort.
This earned him a glare from the Overlord.
A Hyuuga lady, dressed in her clan colors of blue and white, smiled serenely then stood timidly, raising her glass with the grinning Naruto.
So that's the fiancée. Sakura thought, amused. As if Naruto's ill-wish was not enough, Sai stood up and made another idiotic comment for his younger cousin. (Sakura could not help but agree with Sasuke.)
"And for the brats as its result," The clammy, white skinned man smiled a false upward curve on his lips.
Sakura swore that she saw her eyes almost flare in anger with Sasuke.
Then Uchiha Fugaku and Mikoto stood up, with their faces soft and tender in old age. (Probably to prevent casualties from his temper).
"For their happiness," And they raised their glass.
With these, the entire crowd motioned to stand up, prompting Sakura to finally get up to her feet. The delicate champagne flute on her steady hand swirled the alcohol inside. She was about to thank them and wait for her husband to initiate the drink when Sasuke stood up and raised his glass. He said his swords in a smooth, modulated voice, yet it was loud and clear for everyone to hear.
The words were thrumming like a heartbeat in Sakura's ears.
"For Lady Uchiha."
And as they drank, she did not know why those half-hooded stares were solely focused on her.
When the reception was over and all formalities were finally finished, Sakura followed her silent companion as they went through the marvelous halls of the palace. They were walking leisurely together, yet there was a distance between them—both lacking the usual intimacy that married couples had.
As they reached the largest wing of the estate which gave the most breathtaking view of the frozen lake, Uchiha Sasuke smoothly grabbed his keys and inserted them to a black door. As Sakura motioned to follow him, a disgruntled Karin held up a hand and told her that she needed to be inspected for a minute. Smiling at the soft congratulations from the three who would probably stay up late all night, she whispered a gentle thank you and followed her husband.
The Uchiha Grand Suite was filled with muted colors of steel gray and midnight black. Upon entering, there was a tempting black leather sofa in front of a huge plasma television that hung in the dark ash-colored wall. Opposite this wall was a vast glass window that served as their veranda, though covered with dark chartreuse with silver angel trims. Behind the sofa was a small table that could be used for meetings and for welcoming guests who would visit. A high crystal chandelier was suspended from the ceiling, giving a majestic air to the minute room.
As Sasuke unceremoniously opened the door to their bedroom, she was struck in awe at the sight of the large space that greeted her.
She just married the Overlord, of course, what did she expect?
A king size bed framed with sturdy mahogany was in the center, covered with a dark silky comforter and surely customized soft black pillows. Beside it was a desk that was filled with paperwork and a lampshade that was still alight over it. A small bar was on the other side of the room near the curtains while a vanity mirror was placed on the opposite side. The walls were lined with gray and black stripes, which gave the room a more restful atmosphere than the usual blinding whites that she saw today.
Taking off her veil, while Sasuke took off his coat, she dismissed the thought that she felt his eyes on her when she was surveying the room.
Not bothering to undress herself, Sakura walked over to where her husband was, uncovering his white sleeves.
Her spouse was already raking his hands through his raven strands in exhaustion when she turned to him with a determined face.
"Honestly," Sakura placed her hands on her hips, brows furrowed and annoyed. She glared at Uchiha Sasuke, who disentangled the dark necktie around his neck and was now unbuttoning his white collared shirt, "I think you're really good-looking."
Sasuke stopped and stared at her, but it was still expressionless.
So she continued,
"But I don't like you."
Closing their distance and raising her head up to meet his cool onyx stare, her mouth went on.
"I know what you want. What your family wants. I agreed to this damn marriage. Hell, I even agreed to be married on the day I learned that I'm engaged. But I will not," She then pressed a finger to his chest, knowing that she could not find it in herself to punch the daylights out of him (Because he was really that pretty.), "agree to bear you an heir. Do I make myself perfectly clear?"
The young man merely removed the offending finger off his sternum and glowered at her with the same intensity, "You have no word in this matter."
Sasuke then stormed off in front of their bed to and smoothly took off his shirt.
How dare he? This insufferable man, who made her whole day almost unbearable to survive with all this tension, turned his back on her. She was hungry, she was tired and she was really full of his indifference and silence.
"What?" Sakura fumed, followed, still in her gown, and grabbed his elbow, turning him to face her angry countenance, "I do have a say in this--"
She did not know how it happened; all she knew was that she was already flat on her back, as she felt the very soft, comfortable mattress, with Sasuke hovering over her.
"You are annoying."
Sakura wanted to retort back. Something witty. Something that would surely help her win this argument. And to tell him that he was more annoying.
But Uchiha Sasuke was here, in his half-naked glory.
The soft light of the lamp made his pale ivory features glow, ghosting over his aristocratic face, while his eyes glared at her with silent fury. Her eyes skimmed over his well-formed body, over the planes and soft, sharp edges that lined his chest, his abdomen, then to his arms that imprisoned her head only to stare at those unseeing onyx eyes.
Her mind (or her alter-ego whom she called Inner Sakura) was rational and screamed that she should open her mouth and say 'move'.
So she moved her jaw. She tried to let her voice take over this awkwardness but her dry throat closed up and she could not even say a word.
And she felt the heat flushed her face, realizing that this was the first time she was this close to the one she must kill.
The one she was so attracted to, right at this very moment.
Stunned, her body was immobilized as his lips fell lightly over hers.
Maybe it was the alcohol that took over, or her cramping calves or her itchy undergarments, but all she did was close her eyes and feel.
"We now have the delightful coverage of the marriage of the Overlord and the now Lady Uchi--"
"It was such a wonderful wedding and the bride was astounding. Thumbs-up to the seamstress and the--"
Uchiha Sakura woke up earlier with a headache and an empty bed. Right now, she was drinking a cup of chamomile tea which she found earlier on the small counter outside their bedroom and was now watching the large, prattling television.
"Extraordinary! Her hair is in an outstanding shade of pink. Nobody could have that--"
"Graceful! She walked with poise that could have rivaled--"
With all the praises that deafened her suddenly sensitive ears, her head began to ache again.
She wished for med school right now so badly.
An intercom, on the elegantly furnished coffee table, beeped in front of her,.
"Lady Uchiha, your induction to the Clan will be in a few minutes."
Sakura managed to croak out a sensible reply, "Yes. Please send Ino to help me."
Although at least, she was lucky.
He was indeed sleeping with a point 45 caliber pistol underneath his pillow.
Grinning and shutting the TV off, she started to prepare for her day.