Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. Or Kakashi. Or Sakura...but you already knew that.
AN: This the revised, improved, expanded version of an AU KakaSaku plot bunny that's been eating at me for some time. Many thanks to all for the kind reviews to the original version, and the constructive criticism from Emmy Kay, GirlDichotomized, charredfeathers, and asherlev1. It's because of you that I felt this story was worth getting right.
My Lady Sakura (2.0)
"Happy Birthday, Sakura."
"Thank you, Mother." She bowed low, respectfully, and then knelt down on the tatami floor, careful not to wrinkle the heavy brocade of her kimono.
"Fifteen years old today. A fine, ripe age."
"A good age for a girl to be married." Her mother's head bent closer to the scroll on which she was currently painting a winter scene in slow, thick brush strokes, and tiny gold bells attached to her elaborate ebony hair ornaments tinkled musically.
Pink eyelashes quivered.
"Is it, Mother?"
"Yes." Sharply. Her mother sat back, rested the brush on its wooden stand beside the ink stone, and waved one of her attendants forward to remove the painting. "In fact, a suitable husband has already been chosen for you. You will go to him at the beginning of next month."
As simple as that.
"Next month? That's so soon!" Sakura took a sip from her tea cup to hide her wince. Although she considered Ino to be her best friend, in recent years they had not been able to meet often, and she had forgotten the piercing quality of the blonde girl's voice.
Ino leaned forward to take a sweet rice cake from the tray on the low polished table, and glanced shrewdly at Sakura. "Are you nervous about it?"
"Yes." I'm terrified. "You're so lucky, Ino." Ino had long been promised to wed the only son of the Nara Main House, Shikamaru, who had also been her close friend and playmate since her childhood.
"I know, at least I know what to expect with my husband. 'It's so troublesome, Ino.' 'You're such a troublesome woman.'"
The two girls giggled.
"When you leave this house, you may take only three of your personal maids with you. Your husband's house will provide you with all the other attendants you will require."
A cold, sick feeling flooded through her.
"But mother – "
"However! Your father has agreed that if there is a retainer whom you think may serve you well in your new house, you may request for that one to accompany you also."
Sudden relief, so strong she felt almost dizzy.
"If there is such a one, name him now."
"Mother, if it pleases you, I ask that you give me Kakashi."
A soft, drawn-out sigh sounded from out of the shadows to her mother's right.
"How much further?"
"We should be there by nightfall."
She let the translucent curtain drop back into place, but through it she could still see her new personal retainer, tall and strong, always riding close by the window of her carriage.
Sakura could not remember the first time she had met Kakashi. She was told that she had been only four years old when a tall, silver-haired young stranger had been found bleeding and unconscious in the rice field of a Haruno serf. Neither insignia nor crest had been found on him, and his only weapon had been a finely-crafted white ceremonial dagger…which had been broken into two pieces.
After his recovery, the young man had begged to be allowed to stay on the estate and repay his debt to the Haruno house. He was no more than a wandering shinobi, he said, but such fighting skill as he had he wished to dedicate to the service of the house that had saved his life.
Sakura could not remember the occasion of her first meeting with Kakashi. It didn't matter; for as long as she could remember, he had been her favourite playmate and confidante, helping her climb trees, playing hide and seek with her, and telling her funny stories about people in white masks who could walk on water, and little brown dogs who could talk to people.
Once, when she was fourteen, she had asked Kakashi if he remembered the first time he had met her.
"When I was presented to the members of the Haruno household, my lady, you were there too."
She had felt a little disappointed by his bland reply.
At the wedding ceremony which bound her to a boy she had never seen before, Sakura was struck by two things; his startling beauty, and the opaque coldness of his dark eyes.
When they drank the ceremonial cups of sake, his fingers brushed against hers. Hers were cold from nerves and weariness. She did not know why his were so cold.
On her wedding night, she had bitten her lip to stifle her gasps of surprise, then of pain. Pleasure had no part of this act where her new husband could not even meet her wide-eyed gaze.
She lay still after he left, and tears welled up in her eyes.
Not more than a few minutes had passed when a dark shape loomed suddenly over her. The moonlight glinted off silvery grey hair, and her scream of alarm died before it left her lips.
He dropped to one knee beside her and laid a gloved hand on her bare arm. She almost jumped at the warmth that radiated from him.
"My lady, you're cold."
Without hesitation, he swept the cloak from his own shoulders and wrapped her in it. The scent of pine needles and sweat and night air enveloped her soothingly.
Her tears dried and she drifted into sleep with her retainer's warm hands stroking her head.
A month after her wedding night, Sakura discovered the library in her husband's house. She began with historical texts and philosophy, and worked her way through to war tactics. When she found medical journals, she was enthralled.
Her husband's older brother, the clan head, was indulgent, and allowed her the use of a room to set up as a workshop. She sent Kakashi on trips to the forests and to the marketplaces.
"Here is a picture of the plant I want you to find."
"Yes, my lady."
"Bring back as many as you can. Using it, I can make an ointment to heal cuts and bruises."
The first ointment she made smelled terrible and dried in hardened lumps. The second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth were equally terrible. One night, she left the seventh batch to set and returned to her chambers. Her husband was waiting for her, his beautiful face as cold and unreadable as ever. A chill ran through her, but she lay down submissively and waited. It was less painful than it had been on the first night, but no less empty. After he left, she stifled her sobs as best as she could in her pillow.
The next morning she went to check her seventh batch of ointment. It was perfect.
Later that day, she smoothed the brown, gritty paste over the torn skin of her retainer's battered knuckles.
"What were you doing last night, punching a tree?" She scolded him, half-joking.
"Yes, my lady."
His voice was completely serious. She had no idea what to say.
One day, she found scrolls on spiritual energy and training the body and mind. Fascinated, she read that this energy, or chakra, could be channelled through the body and used to fight, to summon creatures in battle, to change one's outward appearance, or even to heal sicknesses and leach poison from wounds.
"Yes, my lady." He was always there, hovering on the edges of her awareness.
"Do you remember when I was little, and you showed me how to make my hands glow with green light?"
"Yes, my lady." Guardedly.
"Why didn't you continue to teach me?"
"The Lady Haruno forbade me, my lady."
She smiled. "But I am your lady now, am I not, Kakashi? And I wish you to teach me again."
His single visible eye curved, and she knew he was smiling back at her.
"Yes, my lady."
One year after her wedding night, a lone visitor came to her husband's house. His hair was even brighter than her friend Ino's, and his eyes were the colour of the sky. His name was Namikaze Naruto, and when he came into their courtyard, calling out loud greetings and stamping the mud from his boots, Sakura saw her husband's smile for the first time.
"Oi, Sasuke, you bastard, it's been too long!" She watched as this young man easily caught her husband in a rough embrace, squeezing his shoulders familiarly.
"You're as noisy as ever, dead last." Her husband's shining eyes belied the coldness of his tone.
Releasing him, Naruto took a step back and looked straight at Sakura. His blue eyes were piercing, yet warm, and she found she could not look away.
He walked towards her and swept a graceful bow.
"My Lady Uchiha, greetings to you on this fine day. I beg you will forgive me for the lateness of my visit to pay my respects to you." He spoke with the polish and ease of a nobleman.
Sakura inclined her head in return. "Not at all; our house is honoured by your presence, Lord Namikaze. Please make yourself comfortable and be welcomed in this house."
"Beautiful, well-born, well-spoken," Naruto grinned broadly, abruptly switching back into his casual tone as he nudged her husband, "Looks like you picked a winner, Sasuke!"
Her husband looked at her blankly for a moment, then turned his back and began to ask Naruto about his recent journey to the Wave country. Sakura felt the polite smile slip from her face.
Sweat dripped into her eyes. Her shoulders and thighs were aching. Sakura slowly walked over to an ornamental cherry blossom tree and dropped down to rest in its shade. It was summer, and the blossoms were over, and the green leaves hung thickly from the branches.
Kakashi was breathing a little faster, but not as raggedly as she, and when he sat down in front of her, his movements were smooth and controlled.
"Bring water for my lady," he called, and one of her maids, who had been watching the training session, hurried off into the house.
"How – how am I doing?" Sakura asked, panting.
"Very well, my lady. You have improved greatly since we began."
"Good." Sakura smiled and shut her eyes, leaning her head back against the tree's smooth trunk.
She heard a suddenly in-drawn breath, and then, so lightly she could barely feel it, callused fingertips hesitantly brushed her forehead, pushing back her sweat-dampened hair.
Her eyes flew open; Kakashi was nowhere to be seen, and her maid was approaching, a cup and a water jug held in her hands.
Three years had gone by since her wedding night, and she had borne no children. She had not seen her husband for two months; he had left with his brother and the Uchiha's personal guard unit, to crush a gang of bandits who had been attacking travellers on the mountain paths.
After three months, a letter sealed with the fan-shaped Uchiha crest arrived for her. Kakashi brought it to her, but stood in a corner and waited patiently while she concentrated her chakra, drawing poison from the stomach of a little boy who had accidentally eaten toxic berries.
"What is it?" She turned to him at last, wiping away sweat from her face and neck with a handkerchief.
Silently, he extended the envelope towards her. Upon opening it, she found a few brief sentences written in unadorned, utilitarian brush strokes.
To Young Lady Uchiha,
Greetings and good health to you. The bandits have been successfully suppressed. My younger brother and I are well. We will stay for a month at the estate of Namikaze Naruto, who assisted us in our endeavours. You will be informed before our return.
It was signed by her husband's older brother, Itachi. It contained no message, no word, and no token from Sasuke.
She sighed, unsurprised, and did not see when Kakashi slipped the handkerchief into his pocket.
Seasons passed, and Sakura could barely remember the last time her husband had entered her chambers. She supposed she should have felt lonely and neglected; she had heard of noblemen's wives left alone, who had taken lovers and caused scandals. Her bed should have felt cold and empty. Yet somehow, it didn't seem to bother her; she wasn't sure why. Puzzlement stilled her brush for a long moment as she sat there, writing out directions for treating spinal injuries at her low table, her thick padded robe keeping out the winter's chill.
She looked up and met her retainer's gaze. Kakashi was sitting cross-legged on the veranda, facing the frozen garden, but his head was turned toward her and his dark gaze warmed her indescribably.
"There is a jutsu that I have modified. It might now be more suited to your chakra capacity."
She smiled, unable to help herself.
"Then teach me this afternoon."
"Yes, my lady." He definitely sounded pleased.
She turned back to her work, and her brush skated confidently across the parchment.
Sakura dropped to her knees, heart pounding as if she had been running for miles. She pressed ice-cold hands to her flushed face, and squeezed her eyes shut, but she could not erase the image of her husband, blushing and moaning, pinned beneath the muscular, tanned body of Namikaze Naruto.
At first she could not feel much else besides shock and humiliation, which dawned into the sickening realisation that, as a wife, she was a failure. Her husband would never love her. She would never bear children. She was useless.
Blindly, she fumbled through the drawers of her dressing table, until her cold fingers felt a flat, thin package wrapped in silk. It was the ceremonial dagger that had been tucked into the front of her wedding kimono; the only possible recourse for unhappy brides.
She unsheathed it without a thought and was lifting the blade to her throat, when strong hands closed around her wrists, gripping numbingly tight. The dagger clattered to the floor.
"My lady! Sakura!"
She had never heard that deep voice sound so panicked; enough to forget himself and call her by name. Her vision cleared, and she saw one wide, pained dark eye, expressive in a way her husbands' eyes had never been, and a black mask.
Kakashi. Always Kakashi.
That night, she fell asleep as she had done five years ago; wrapped in a heavy cloak scented with sweat and pine needles, and her retainer's warm hands stroking her head.
Everything seemed brighter in the morning. Sakura yawned and sat up, let the cloak slide to the floor, and called for her maids.
After breakfast (eaten alone as usual in her private rooms, with Kakashi standing guard in one corner), she sat down to write a letter to her mother.
Infidelity alone was not always enough cause to annul a marriage, but the fact that while in this marriage her chance of bearing legitimate children was little to none, Sakura was fairly certain that her mother would be swayed in her favour.
When the letter was signed and sealed, she turned to find Kakashi kneeling, hand outstretched, ready to receive it.
"Take this to my mother, and bring her reply for me."
"Yes, my lady."
"Go and return safely, with all haste."
In a sudden blur of movement, Kakashi was gone.
The days crawled painfully by as they never had before, not even in the long first month of her marriage, before she had discovered the library. Sakura finished her exercises and looked around, feeling unbalanced for no reason that she could see. She had been having the same feeling upon waking up, while eating, reading, treating patients, sleeping at night.
All her rooms felt too large, too bare. Something was missing. Even the peaceful garden seemed somehow desolate, despite having her three maids in attendance, holding towels and cold water in preparation for her.
She sat down and leaned her head back against the smooth trunk of the cherry blossom tree. Her maids crowded around her, offering water in a cup, and patting her sweaty skin with soft towels. She closed her eyes and relaxed under their ministrations.
A light doze was settling over her, when she suddenly had a vague impression of rough fingertips brushing back the hair from her forehead. Her eyes flew open, her heart pounding.
Her maids looked at her with puzzled expressions as she sank back, a lump in her throat and her mind spinning with realization.
She knew exactly what was missing.
As abruptly as Kakashi had left, he returned. It was nightfall, and Sakura had just finished being dressed for bed, and when Kakashi had materialized in the doorway, she felt her whole body turn ice cold, then hot, before all her blood decided to rush to her heart and set it thumping loudly in her ears.
Kakashi dropped to one knee before her and produced a sealed letter from inside his jacket. Sakura took it from his extended hand, and felt keen disappointment that their fingers did not touch.
"Thank you for your hard work; you were very fast." She said, lying through her teeth. He had in fact only been gone for 6 days; it had felt like 6 weeks.
Kakashi nodded. "You bade me go and return with all haste, and I understood the urgency of this letter, my lady."
She paused, hesitated. Before she could think better of it, she let the words slip out.
"I spoke not for the urgency of the letter, but rather out of desire for your quick return, Kakashi."
She turned away quickly without waiting to see his reaction, and opened the letter.
It contained all that she could have hoped for.
"Do you release this woman from her vows of marriage to you?"
"Yes." She felt no hurt at the ease of Sasuke's reply, merely relief and a strong sense of liberation.
"From this moment she is no longer your wife, and she is free to return to her family's home and accept any other marriage proposals that she may receive."
"Sign the document here."
As simple as that.
It was her husband's elder brother who wished her a safe journey in the main courtyard. She had not seen Sasuke since the signing of the annulment; perhaps he had gone to the Namikaze estate.
"Farewell, Lady Haruno. This house was greatly benefited by your presence these last five years."
For a moment she was disoriented by the use of her family name, and then smiled. I am Lady Haruno once more.
"Thank you for welcoming me in your home, Lord Uchiha."
The corner of her former brother-in-law's mouth quirked ironically. "I suppose it never truly felt like your own home; a failing on our part. Forgive this house, my lady."
Sakura inclined her head gracefully. "Goodbye, Lord Uchiha."
He bowed his head in turn. "Safe journey, Lady Haruno."
She let her maid draw the curtain across, and the carriage jerked into motion.
Three months had passed since the annulment of her marriage and her return to the Haruno estate, and Sakura could count on one hand the number of times she had been able to speak to Kakashi beyond a "Yes," "No," or "Thank you." Now she was back in her old chambers, and Kakashi was back in his, at the other end of the estate, with the other retainers. Why couldn't he sleep in the servants' quarters adjoining her apartments, she thought fretfully. After five years of having him constantly within speaking distance, she could not readapt to thinking of him as her father's retainer again, because it just wasn't true.
Kakashi was hers.
The thought sounded petulant and childish. Unexpected tears pricked at her eyelids. She was not a child anymore; she was a woman. A woman free to live, and to love.
"My lady, there is a servant asking to see you."
Sakura almost dropped her pestle and felt a rush of warmth in her face.
"Show him in," she almost stammered, hastily smoothing back her hair and standing up to remove her apron, which was stained with dirt and herbal preparations.
When she turned around, kneeling in the doorway beside her maid was a female servant she had never seen before. Sakura sighed and sat down again, waving the girl closer with an indifferent hand.
"Well, what have you come for?" Disappointment lent an edge to her voice. The girl crawled forward, prostrate, and, face turned to the ground, held out a clumsily bandaged hand for Sakura's inspection.
"My lady, five days ago my hand was burnt while cooking, and now it is red and painful. Please give me healing, I beg you."
Carefully, Sakura unwrapped the hand and inspected it. A good poultice on it for a week would do wonders, she thought. Aloud, she asked, "Why have you come to me for healing? There is a doctor appointed to care for the servants, is there not?"
"Forgive me, my lady; it was the guardsman Kakashi who told me of your skills. He is a very kind and good man, so I trusted his word: that the healing by your hands would leave no scar."
Sakura stared down at the girl's bowed head, the sleek black hair and delicate ears, and felt a cold chill run through her. Abruptly she reached out and grasped the girl's chin, roughly forcing her head up. The girl's wide brown eyes looked startled, and afraid. Her full, shapely lips parted in a little gasp of surprise. She was probably only a year or two younger than Sakura herself.
"Don't be frightened," Sakura released her chin and sat back, feeling worn and dull. "There will not be a scar."
After the girl had left, her hand treated and bandaged, Sakura sat staring at her desk, wondering how many young, attractive female servants were employed by the estate, and how many of them thought Kakashi a "very kind and good man."
Within two weeks, the servant girl's hand was as good as new, and Sakura had a line of servants kneeling outside her chambers, begging for healing. Some she sent away, feeling guilty at stealing the livelihood of the appointed physician, but others she treated, just to keep her learning fresh in her mind.
The newborn baby of one of the serfs was brought to her, coughing and choking, unable to swallow. Summoning her tiniest chakra blades, Sakura painlessly severed the extra growth of flesh which had hindered the movement of the baby's tongue. Sweat rolled down her forehead, and her fingers were trembling when she finished, but as the baby at last suckled happily from its mother, a smile spread over her face.
Sakura stood up and stretched as one of her maids ushered out the mother and child, then turned automatically, words of satisfaction on her lips, only to be faced with an empty room. She shut her eyes, steeling herself against the loneliness that threatened to engulf her. It didn't work.
"The first time I saw you, you were fast asleep in this very room."
Sakura gasped with surprise and turned, eyes searching the shadows for the source of that deep, familiar voice. A lamp flickered into life, and Kakashi hung it from a hook protruding from one of the wooden pillars supporting the roof of the garden pavilion, before advancing on her. He was different somehow; his movements were still graceful, but somehow more intense. His usual easy-going air was gone, replaced by a kind of focus, or determination, as if nothing on earth could stop him from approaching her. It was a little frightening, but at the same time completely exhilarating. Wide-eyed, Sakura stood still, unable to look away from his dark gaze.
"You were so small and pale, like a doll. I'd never seen anyone with that hair colour before."
He paused. Sakura leaned back against the wooden railing, feeling as if she couldn't quite continue standing by her own strength.
"And there was a man, about to kill you."
Her mouth fell open.
Kakashi took another step toward her.
"He was my target. It was my mission to follow him and observe his movements. I'd trailed him all the way into the Haruno compound, watched him steal a few private documents from your father's chambers, and then he came into this room."
"And he was about to kill me?" Sakura gasped.
"Well, he saw you and he took out a knife. I wasn't going to take any chances," Kakashi said coolly.
"Take any chances?"
"I failed the mission. I killed him without a sound. You slept through it all. The man who had funded the mission wasn't very happy when I brought him a dead body. I was…punished as he demanded, then left in that field where the Haruno serfs found me."
Sakura's knees gave way, but even as she fell, Kakashi was there in the blink of an eye, hands under her elbows, holding her up.
"You killed a man? You disobeyed your orders? To save me? Why?" She fisted her hands in his jacket, staring up at him, emotions tumbling through her too quickly to name.
Kakashi looked into her eyes.
"Because when I saw you, even then, I knew I'd found something worth protecting."
Sakura opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She coughed and tried again.
"Do my parents know this?"
He shook his head.
"Kakashi, why are you telling me this now?"
He hesitated for a long moment. When he spoke at last, his voice was low and sombre.
"Because I may not have another chance, my lady."
The very next morning, Sakura was summoned to her mother's chambers. There was something familiar about this scene; her mother sat, brushing ink in slow deliberate strokes across a scroll, as a spring landscape took form beneath her brush.
"Good morning, Mother." She knelt gracefully and easily in her kimono, now well-accustomed to the heavy folds of silk.
"Good morning, Sakura."
"You wished to see me?"
"Yes, to speak of your future."
Slender shoulders stiffened.
"Yes. Your second marriage, in fact."
"I can't do this, I won't," Sakura paced her chambers, fuming. "I will not be sent to another man's house to be caged and controlled again. I will not!"
Ino, four months into her third pregnancy, sat and sipped a cup of tea sedately.
"Is that the only reason you're so against a second marriage? You know, as a fully mature bride, I'm sure you will be able to arrange your life and apartments to your tastes. Your new husband would hardly deny you that."
Her blue eyes narrowed thoughtfully as she watched her friend raging. "Or is it something else?"
Sakura whirled to face her. "Like what? Isn't that enough?"
Ino shrugged. "Well, yes, perhaps, but not enough to explain this vehemence. Is there something you're not telling me about?" A sly smile played around the corners of her lips. "Or is there someone you're not telling me about?"
Her smile widened into a grin of triumph as her friend's face flooded with colour.
Out of respect for her mother's wishes, Sakura agreed to meet her intended second husband and mother-in-law. The meeting place was set for a well-known tea house by the lake, which was a spot famous for its view, overlooking the mountains which divided Fire Country from Earth Country.
When Sakura came out to enter her carriage, she was startled to see Kakashi, astride a bay mare, bantering casually with her mother's retainers, who were similarly mounted in preparation to leave. He bowed low when their eyes met, but offered no explanation for his presence.
"Why is Kakashi accompanying us?"
"One of my attendants was unable to come with us today. Apparently he sprained his ankle this morning and is unable to walk."
Sakura opened her mouth, and then shut it again. She had no wish to be obvious about anything, particularly to her mother, and especially when they were on their way to meeting her intended second husband.
She spent the rest of the journey watching Kakashi; somehow he was always riding just by the window where she could easily see him, through the thin curtain.
Fuyukawa Satoru was a thick-set man of few words, whose narrow dark eyes roved over Sakura's form in a way that made her distinctly uncomfortable. His mother, who sat beside him, chattered incessantly in the heavy accents of southern Fire Country. Her heavily be-ringed, plump hands fluttered anxiously as she offered to refill their tea cups.
"Your son is almost thirty? A rather late age to be married, is it not?" Sakura's mother commented, reaching for a miniature rice cake to nibble.
"Yes, indeed it is, Lady Haruno, but there," his mother sighed, "such prosperous men are often too busy for matters of the heart! It is always my prayer that he may soon find a worthy girl who will warm his bed, and fill my house with heirs!"
Sakura, who had been sipping her tea, choked at these words and had an embarrassingly prolonged fit of coughing.
"Sakura! What is the matter?" her mother exclaimed, looking annoyed. Sakura shook her head in reply, and pounded at her chest a few times, but to no avail.
Abruptly, she heard the rice paper screen behind her slide across, and the next instant, to her mortification, a familiar deep voice was murmuring soothingly to her, while a large warm hand rubbed in slow circles on her back, and another clasped one of her hands comfortingly.
"Kakashi," she coughed, finally managing to clear her throat, "Please leave, I am quite well, I assure you." Only after she had taken a few deep, unimpeded breaths did Kakashi believe her. With a bow to Sakura's mother, and a sidelong glance at the man sitting on the other side of the table, he left the room.
Her mother looked highly exasperated; Fuyukawa and his mother, merely bewildered.
On the way home, her mother said caustically, "Well, at least Fuyukawa-san seems quite taken with you, despite your apparent inability to drink a cup of tea unaided."
Sakura wasn't sure, but she could have sworn she heard a soft snort of laughter from outside the carriage window.
She didn't know what to do. Nobody Sakura knew had ever been in this situation; the only references she could find were the stuff of fiction, and there were no happy endings.
The noblewoman who fell in love with her husband's vassal.
The rich merchant's daughter who loved a poor fisherman's son.
The moon goddess who yearned after a woodcutter.
Somehow, they all involved a lot of lies, midnight escapes on horseback, and finally jumping off cliffs or into swift-flowing rivers, wrapped in each others' arms. Such stories made for tear-jerking theatre in the market square, but were not much of a guide for real life.
Sakura left the library with a frown on her face. She had only one month before the wedding day.
"I'm smarter than this," she muttered under her breath, "I can do better."
Even as she spoke, a thought struck her. Her steps slowed then stopped.
Sakura turned and hurried back to the library. Once inside, she headed straight for the legal scrolls.
On the night Sakura had discovered her husband's betrayal, she had lain wrapped in Kakashi's cloak, soothed by his warm hands on her hair. A few times she had woken suddenly, every muscle tensed as if against an attack, eyes straining to see in the dim light. Each time Kakashi had been there, shushing her, gentling her with soft words and touches, as if she were a frightened animal.
"Hush, my lady, I'm here, it's alright."
"You promise? You won't leave me?" She had half-whispered, mostly asleep, but desperately seeking some kind of reassurance.
"I'll stay as long as you let me, my lady. My life is yours." He had replied quietly, but with the force of a solemn oath.
Kakashi's shoulders tensed visibly, but his head remained bowed. Sakura could feel her nerves fraying as the silence grew between them. She had seen or spoken to him alone since the night he had entered her chambers, and she could hardly reconcile the image of that intense, forceful man, with the servant kneeling before her now.
"Kakashi?" she paused, then made herself go on, "If you think this is beyond you, that is, if you really can't, I mean, this is a request, from myself personally, it's not, not a command – I," she faltered, and stopped.
Kakashi raised his head slowly, but his gaze was fixed on the floor.
"My lady, I have told you that my life is yours." His voice was quiet, his words slow and measured. He did not at all sound like a servant whose lady and mistress had just asked to accept her hand in marriage.
"Yes and I thank you for it, but," Sakura hesitated, fingers clenched in the fabric of her robe, "knowing that any children from the union, even sons, will be considered sons of the Haruno, knowing that your own family name will not be passed on through you, are you still willing to take me, er, take my hand?" She blushed helplessly and waited for his answer.
He still did not look at her. "I understand that is the legal requirement for this marriage to be permitted, and I accept it. At least the children will be assured of a good name and place in the world."
"Yes, yes they will be." Sakura agreed, not quite knowing what to feel, unable to believe that they were calmly referring to their future children. "It is settled then. I will have my mother formally break the betrothal with the Fuyukawa house, and then our wedding ceremony will be held as soon as possible."
Kakashi rose gracefully from his kneeling posture and bowed low. "Yes, my lady." The words were cool and deferential, as if Sakura had asked him to fetch a new ink stone.
Something twisted inside her, just a little bit.
At her first wedding, Sakura had been travel-weary, curious and more than a little nervous.
Her second wedding was much the same, only without the travel-weariness and curiosity, so really it was just the nerves.
Her mother had given up her matchmaking plans and agreed to the marriage willingly enough. Her father had seemed fairly satisfied that the Haruno line would now be continued safely. Ino and Shikamaru had come to witness the ceremony and to help celebrate. Ino was all giggles and bawdy jokes about the superior stamina and dexterity of older men, which Sakura tried desperately to block out of her mind.
She had no idea what Kakashi was thinking. The mask did not come off throughout the ceremony; even when the customary cups of sake were drunk, his face remained covered.
It did nothing for her already diminishing confidence.
Couldn't he look happy at all? Even a little bit?
Maybe he was thinking about the future; about how for the rest of his life he had to be married to this wilful young noblewoman, with no chance of starting his own family, of continuing his own line. For all she knew, he might have been in love with somebody, and he had given them up because of his duty to her. Sakura began to feel sick. After all, just because she felt that Kakashi's presence by her side was as necessary as air and that she wanted nothing more than to make him smile, didn't mean that he was obligated to feel the same way.
Was this whole thing a huge mistake?
When at last they were alone, husband and wife, together in her chambers, the first thing Kakashi did was to bow respectfully and bid her good night.
"Good night? Are you, are you leaving?" Sakura exclaimed in consternation.
He looked mildly surprised. "Well, I imagined that you would be fatigued after today's festivities and would wish to sleep, my lady."
She bit her lip. "I do wish to sleep."
He nodded and turned to go. "Then good night my la –"
Afterwards Sakura could never remember how it had happened, but in an instant, she had crossed the room and caught hold of his wrist, pulling him back to face her.
"But not alone."
His single dark eye gazed down at her piercingly. She could not meet it; instead, her hand slid up to grasp the front of his jacket, and she hid her face against his chest. Kakashi did not move a muscle.
"My lady?" His tone was soft and questioning, surprisingly gentle. It brought sudden, irrational tears to her eyes.
"Sakura," she said, weakly at first, then gaining confidence as his arms slowly moved to encircle her, "My name is Sakura, and I am your wife."
It was unlike anything she had ever experienced before. Kakashi's soft kisses on her skin awoke a fire within her. Sakura wound her fingers in his hair, gripped tightly and was rewarded by a deep growl of approval. She laughed aloud, delightedly, as he swept her feet off the ground and dropped down with her onto the handmade cushions.
"You don't know," he said, hands loosening her robes, "how I've wanted this. How I've dreamed of being with you, like this." He leaned back suddenly, to look down at her as she gazed up at him in surprise. His gaze grew impossibly tender as he murmured, stroking back her hair, "Just like this. My Sakura. My love."
A lump came to Sakura's throat at the words. How was it possible to bear so much happiness? Unable to speak, she reached up and dragged him down into her arms.
The following morning dawned dull and overcast, with a light drizzle of rain shrouding everything in fog. Sakura looked out on the dripping garden and thought with distinct satisfaction that it was a perfect day to stay in bed.
She said as much to her new husband when he joined her suddenly, wrapping strong arms around her waist. Kakashi chuckled sleepily and kissed her ear.
"I could not agree with you more, my Lady Sakura."
AN: I hope you enjoyed this as much as the original.