I first knew I was going to get married two days before it happened. I had no choice in the matter. But I guess I should have expected it. My family is pretty prestigious in Konoha, and I was the oldest unmarried child.
See, there was a war about to start between my village and another, Sound. My council and Sound's council got together and brainstormed on how to nip the war in the bud and save several lives on both fronts. After three or four weeks of negotiating, they came up with a solution.
The best way to avoid a war is to join two villages in an alliance. The best way to do that is to take a prestigious family from either side, search until you find an unmarried, decent looking human being and make them marry someone of the opposite sex and side of said war.
I happened to be the human being they chose.
I should have done something. Kicked up a fuss. Shaved my head. Plead mental instability and drooled all over myself. But I didn't.
So that's how I found myself walking down the aisle in a borrowed kimono toward a man I had never laid eyes on before in my life, with people I didn't know on either side of me. Possibly to keep me from turning tail and running as fast as I could towards the nearest exit. Which, believe me, I was dying to do.
But I had to marry this man. I was going to stop a war. I was going to save countless lives with this marriage. It was a small price to pay to make sure all the people I loved stayed alive.
I lifted my gaze from the floor and studied the man I was walking toward.
My first thought? 'Damn. He's hot.'
And he was. He had the whole, tall, dark, and handsome thing going for him. Dark hair, dark eyes, and a mouth that was trying really hard not to frown. I wasn't too pleased to see him either, but, hey, at least he was good looking.
I stole glances at him all through the ceremony. This was the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with, whether I liked it or not, and I so did not. But my people would be safe. People here wouldn't have to march into war. Families would stay together. Lives would be saved.
It was that thought that let me speak loud and clear.
My name was Haruno Sakura. I had just married Uchiha Sasuke. I didn't know him and he didn't know me, but together we had just saved thousands of lives by sacrificing the rest of ours.
I tried to convince myself it was worth it but the truth was, I didn't like it. I didn't like it at all. And no matter how good looking he was, I was determined to hate my new husband.
As soon as I stopped feeling so sorry for myself.
"Hi," a voice said. I looked up.
A blonde man was standing in front of me, grinning.
"Hi?" People had been glaring at me from a distance, so I was suspicious of someone who was actually smiling. Weren't you supposed to cry at weddings?
"I'm Uzumaki Naruto." He extended his hand. I took it carefully.
"I'm Haru-" I caught myself. "Uchiha Sakura."
Naruto smiled like he understand. He was still pumping my hand. With the other one, he made a swoop around the courtyard where we were standing. Where I had just gotten married.
"This," he said theatrically, "is Uchiha Manor, home of several different clans, one really uptight council, and one bastard."
I tactfully removed my hand. "A bastard huh?"
"Yup." His face went serious. "And I'm sorry to report that you, Sakura, have just married him."
"I'll get over it." I looked around. "Uchiha Manor, huh?"
"You're an Uchiha now, so everything here that belongs to Sasuke also belongs to you."
"Really." Somehow I doubted that anyone would treat me the same way they treated Sasuke. "That's nice."
Naruto tilted his head, studying me. "So, you're from Konoha, right? What's it like there?"
"Really, really green. We call it Leaf because there are leaves everywhere, even in winter."
Naruto laughed a deep laugh that made me think he laughed a lot. He shook his head.
"Well, this is Sound, where there's always noise." He patted my shoulder sympathetically. "Welcome to it."
"Is it really that bad?"
He shrugged. "It takes some getting used to, but it's...." He thought about it for a second. "It's different. They're a lot of things around here that a different and some that are downright bizarre, but most of the time it's okay."
Reassuring, I thought. Naruto waved to someone across the way and left. I watched my new friend, my only friend, walk away. I suddenly felt very lonely. I missed my other friends. I missed Konoha.
Most of all, I missed being where people didn't glare at me. As much as I wanted to, I didn't glare back. I was a stranger in their world. I had no idea what their rules or customs were. They didn't want me anymore than I wanted them.
But we were stuck with each other, and we'd just have to deal with it.
"It's time to go."
I jumped. Sasuke was at my elbow, looking at me with one eyebrow raised, clearly amused. I waited for my heart to stop pounding.
"To our room."
My heart sped up again. Our room. Not his, not mine, our. I was so not ready for this. But I followed him. What choice did I have?
The place was huge. I threw away my dignity and outright gaped, looking everywhere at once, trying to take it all in.
"Oh wow," I breathed. Sasuke halfway turned to me. "This hallway's bigger than my entire house!" I turned a quick circle. The ceiling was twenty feet above my head, and nicer than my walls had been.
"Man, building this must have been a challenge." I half jogged to catch up to Sasuke. "How old is this place?"
"It's been in my family for generations," he said flatly.
There were seven or eight different hallways we walked down. I did my best to remember the way we came, giving up after a few minutes.
I tried to keep quiet- I was clearly annoying my husband of six hours- but his house was really amazing.
"All of this is yours. Every bit of it." He looked at me. "It's surreal. I've never seen anything so big. Even the Hokage's mansion wasn't so large. It's hard to believe that all this," I made another circle, "belongs to one person."
He blinked once. "It's also yours," he reminded me.
My smile faded. "It is, isn't it?"
We looked at each other for a second. I took a deep breath and offered a tiny smile that wasn't returned.
"Be sure to tell me if I overstep any boundaries. I'm not too good at rules."
"Really." He started walking again.
I nodded. "Yeah. If I don't like a rule, I don't follow it."
"Not really. It's easier to make people angry than it is to please them, so why bother following rules?"
He gave me an unreadable look. "I thought you were a politics person."
I swear he chuckled.
Eventually we made it to our room. Like the rest of the Manor, it was huge. Unlike the rest of the Manor, it was bland. All of the hallways had been elaborately decorated and polished. Expensive handmade portraits hung every few feet or so, and there were flowers in vases on tables everywhere.
Our room was roughly eight hundred feet by eight hundred feet. A double king bed split the room in two. On one side, there was a desk, a changing screen, a dresser, and a small mirror. On the other, was all of my stuff.
My vanity had been set up and cleaned. All of my brushes and hairpins were laid out neatly and by size. My clothes were hanging in the closet according to color.
Someone had unpacked my clothes. That bothered me more than it should have.
"Who set up all my stuff?"
Sasuke glanced up briefly. "Most likely the maids. If you want anything switched around, you'll have to take it up with them."
"No, this is fine." I didn't want to bother anyone so close to midnight.
"The washroom's that way." He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "You can have first go."
It took me a few minutes to find everything I needed, but I managed. I slid the door shut and started to undo the several layers of my kimono. Halfway through, I paused. Though I doubted anyone would come barging in, I reached over and slid the lock before undressing completely.
The shower was amazing. The hot water was actually hot and worked out the tension in my shoulders. I wanted to linger some more, but I didn't know how long the water would stay hot and jumped out after ten minutes.
My toothbrush and the face cream I never used were all laid out on the counter. It still bothered me that someone had gone through all of my stuff.
When I came out, Sasuke was sitting on the bed reading something. He rolled it shut and stood when I wandered over to my vanity.
"It's all yours," I said to his reflection. I reached for the nearest brush and ran it through my hair. I kept promising I was going to cut it, but I had never got around to it, so it brushed my hips.
Everybody probably thinks I dyed it, I thought suddenly. They're probably talking about it right now. I tossed the brush down. Let them think what they want. I don't care.
I wandered around my side of the room. The carpet was soft and felt brand new. My cello was propped against the far corner and I suddenly just had to play.
Playing music had always helped calm me down and I had to do something to keep myself from crying. Not caring if there was anyone nearby, I rosined my bow and began to play.
I had gotten married at four o'clock in the afternoon on May 10. I was twenty-two and in a place where very few people liked me. I was a stranger to my husband, and he was a stranger to me. I played something powerful and strong, trying to turn my self pity into frustration.
I wanted very badly to scream.
Sasuke was on the bed when I stopped playing. Did he always sneak around like that?
"You play well."
"Thanks." I tried not to sound too surprised by the compliment. "I've been playing since I was nine."
"There's a music room a few halls over. You can play there if you want."
I didn't know if he was trying to be nice or telling me that I had to play where he couldn't hear me, so I just nodded.
Sleep seemed a long way away, but I crawled into bed when he turned off the light. Lamps on either side of the bed turned on and I blinked.
"Automatic lights. You'll get used to it."
I think he was trying to be nice, but I couldn't tell. The lamps dimmed down a few times before turning off completely. The bed was really big and I almost couldn't tell anyone was in it with me if I tried.
I was more tired than I thought and fell asleep in my new bed with my new husband. Tomorrow I would meet new people and live in a new place because, like it or not, my new life had begun.
It so figured my nightmares would start getting worse. From a psychological standpoint, it made sense. I had undergone a drastic change in my lifestyle without a choice. Everything I had ever known was suddenly yanked out from under me in one fell swoop.
After the third night of waking in a cold sweat, holding back a scream, I decided to go exploring. I hadn't seen much of the west side of the manor, and no one had offered to give a tour or a map. I hadn't even seen Naruto.
I really didn't want to wake Sasuke up and have to explain where I was going, so I tried to get dressed as quietly as possible. Naturally, I banged my shin on the dresser on my way out.
It was almost dawn. I could see the faintest glow of pink against the grey sky. I'd slept more than I had the other two nights. That probably had something to do with getting only three hours the night before.
I started turning corners at random. Thanks to my insomnia I'd learned where the important places (dining room, music room, spare bathroom, my room) were, but I was still pretty much lost.
There weren't too many rooms that took my breath away. They were all pretty much the same. The only one that held any interest to me at all was the music room. I spent most of my day in there, avoiding people. The rest of them were just kind of... there. You'd think a place this size would have something else amazing.
I was thinking that when I saw it. An inside garden. The most beautiful garden I had ever seen. There had to be an acre of flowers, all in full bloom and all standing tall and proud. In the far right corner there was a waterfall and a small pond surrounded by stones. Three giant koi fish swam in the water, which so figured. Koi fish were everywhere in rich people's gardens.
I lifted my kimono and wandered down the dirt path. Who had planted all of this?
The path led me to a cherry tree, also in bloom. That figured too. In a garden like this, a blooming cherry tree was a must. Something buzzed and the sound of water splashing reached my ears.
The sprinklers had turned on.
I darted back to the door before I got wet.
"You're up early."
To my credit, I didn't scream. I jumped, but I didn't scream. I whirled around and came face to face with Naruto.
"What is it with people and sneaking around here?" I demanded. My heart decided to beat again after a few seconds.
Naruto gave me an impish grin.
"Aw, did I scare you Sakura-chan? Are you afraid of big bad Naruto-kun?"
I gave him my fiercest glare. "Can it, Naruto-kun, before I slug you." He just laughed.
"You don't look so good," he said, peering at my face.
"Gee, thanks," I said dryly. "That means so much."
"Have you been sleeping?"
It wasn't any of his business, but I told him anyway. I had to talk to somebody or I'd go crazy.
"Nightmares. I get them a lot."
"Nightmares? What do you have nightmares about?"
I made myself go numb. Instantly, my palms were sweating and I had to blink back tears.
"Nothing. Just forget it."
He looked like he was going to say more, but something in my face must have stopped him. Instead, he took me by the elbow and lead me down the hall.
"Come eat breakfast with me."
"Oh, yeah. The cooks have to get up super early to make enough food for all the people here. I bet they got up an hour ago."
He was right. And even though I thought I had been the first one to rise, there were ten or so people already in the dining room.
I inhaled deeply. "I smell coffee."
Coffee was my best friend. Caffeinated tea ran a close second. I wasn't much of a morning person, but being tired was a lot more appealing than having nightmares every night.
A girl with twin buns on her head and a pretty dark blue kimono waved us over. The table in front of her had the food laid out in the middle. There was a coffee pot every third chair.
"Hi Naruto." She looked at me. "I know you."
"She married The Bastard."
A light bulb went off over her head. "Right, right. Sakura, isn't it?"
She hooked the chair next to her with her foot and slid it out. I sat down and reached for the coffee. A maid shuffled past a put a plate in front of me.
I glanced at the platter on the other side of Tenten.
"Is that bacon?"
She nudged the platter within reach. I managed to grab two slices before Naruto shoved the rest in his mouth. Tenten made a face.
"Do you ever stop eating?"
He didn't answer. His mouth was too full.
Then the door slid open again. A pale girl with light eyes and dark hair spilling down her back silently stepped in. How did everyone walk so quietly? Was it a Sound thing? Or was I missing something?
I munched on my bacon as the girl made her way over.
Naruto choked on his bacon. I whacked him one good time on his back and he stopped. Tenten snickered. "Smooth."
I arched my brow. Tenten laughed into her mug. She glanced slyly at me and winked.
"N-Naruto-kun. Y-you're up e-early." Her face flushed as she said it.
Naruto laughed too loudly. "Yeah. I just.... I um... yeah. Uh, I'm... I gotta go."
He pushed back his chair noisily and tripped twice on the way out. His face was bright red as he stumbled out the door.
Tenten was grinning. Hinata looked like she was going to pass out and sank heavily into the chair on the other side of Tenten.
"At least you didn't faint this time."
Hinata covered her face with her hands and moaned.
"I don't want to do that ever again," she declared.
Tenten took a swig of her coffee. "You say that now, but you know as well as I do that you'll be in here tomorrow morning, looking for him."
Ah-ha. It was a romance in the making. I had to press my lips together to keep from laughing. I hadn't known him long, but Naruto didn't seem like the kind of guy who'd get it when a girl was in love with him, even if he was in love with her too.
Hinata peered at me through her fingers.
"You're Uchiha Sakura, correct?"
"Yeah," I sighed. "That's me." Like it or not.
"I'm Hyuuga Hinata."
"The one who's desperately in love with Naruto," Tenten chimed in.
Hinata squeaked and hid her face again.
"Tenten's in love with my cousin," she whispered.
Immediately, Tenten's cheeks flushed pink. Hinata seemed to be smirking behind her hands.
I looked at one, then the other.
"Which one of you is the lesser evil?"
Tenten sighed. "We're not entirely sure."
We were friends by my third cup of coffee. Hinata was the Hyuuga heiress, who had lived in Konoha until she was twelve. I had never seen her before in my life.
"I lived a sheltered life," she said when I mentioned this.
Tenten snorted. "Lived?"
Hinata pursed her lips. "My father is... controlling of me. He thinks I can't make good choices on my own."
She shrugged. "Who's to say? Maybe I wouldn't make good choices. Maybe I'd make several mistakes. Maybe I need him to control me."
"Yeah, but how would you know?"
They both looked at me.
"How would you know what choices you'd make until you had to make them? You can't learn," I told them, "without living."
They were quiet for a second as that sank in. Women didn't have a lot of power in Sound. The higher authority in families often rested with the men, and women were sometimes seen as weak.
I hadn't even lived in the place for a month and I already knew that that was going to be a problem.
"Just how different is Konoha?" Tenten asked me.
"Very. Power was determined by rank, and rank was decided based on skills alone. No one was singled out because of sex or race. Our Hokage is Tsunade and, so far, she's proved to be a great leader." I leaned around Tenten to look Hinata in the eye. "She radically changed the perspective of several people in my village. She outlawed discrimination. It's because of her my family became so well known."
Hinata was leaning toward me. "How do you mean?"
"People assume my father did something great, but really, it was me." I tapped my temple. "I'm the smartest medical ninja in Konoha." I sighed. "Or, rather, I was. Here though, it seems I'm back to square one."
Now Tenten was leaning in.
"What did you do? Discover something?"
I leaned back and stared at the ceiling far above my head. "You could say that. My first accomplishment was securing a great teacher, then using her training to find my own nitch in the world."
Sasuke was suddenly there, making all three of us jump. I tried to cover my surprise by leaving my face expressionless. I really needed to learn to walk that quietly. Payback was going to be essential.
"You're needed in the courtyard," he informed me. "A member of your family is here."
Now there was no way to cover my shock. I blinked twice, waiting for the punch line.
"I don't have a family."
Now they were all staring at me. I clarified. Hadn't this been in my background check?
"I was the only Haruno." I looked at Sasuke. "Whoever's out there is probably a freeloader after the money I inherited. Tell them to go. I have no desire to see them."
His mouth twisted to one side and he vanished as silently as he had come. It was suddenly very awkward. I took a sip of my coffee and tried to act casual. Tenten let out a breath of air.
"I'm sorry that you had to marry him, but I am so glad that I didn't."
It was lucky I had already swallowed my coffee, otherwise I would have choked on it in surprise.
Hinata smirked. "It's almost time for Tenten to find out who she's supposed to marry. She almost had a coronary when the council told her she might have to marry Sasuke."
Tenten flushed. "Yeah, well, I'd rather marry someone who I at least know. Sasuke? I don't think he knows my name."
"Not too sure he knows mine either." I blew air through my lips. "It could be worse though. Sasuke leaves me to do my own thing, and I really appreciate that."
And I did. Sasuke pretty much ignored me most of the time, but I didn't care. I filled my free time with music and exploration. If I got restless, then I could just go. I didn't have to clear it with anybody, and it didn't matter if I stayed gone all day.
I really wish I had a job. Then, at least, I could do something that didn't involve the music room. Only there was nothing for me to do. I owned half of everything in sight and people treated me as if I was invisible.
This arranged marriage was really starting to get on my nerves.
"When will you get married, Hinata?"
"Oh, she's much higher up on the food chain. Picking out her husband is going to take the council a lot longer than finding mine."
"And that means I'm going to be stuck with a really dreary, much older man," Hinata sighed.
"Yeah, but then he'll die and you'll get all his money. I fail to see the downside to that."
I put my chin on fist and studied my two new friends. They didn't strike me as people who would hang out together on a regular basis, but it was clear they were long time friends.
Hinata was soft and quiet and delicate. Tenten was bold and striking and gave off an I-take-life-as-it-comes attitude. I didn't know where I'd fit in the group, but I figured it didn't matter. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen and I'd deal with it. I had so far. What could be worse than a husband who ignores you and having only three friends?
God I was stupid.