Chapter Nine: The Only One
The cool air of a balmy night enveloped Sakura as soon as she stepped out of the large building that housed her last course of the day, the wind threading through her hair and loosening the hold of the thin elastic she had pulled it up with. Giving in, the young woman reached up to remove it, allowing her pink locks to fall over her back and shoulders, tickling the bare skin revealed by her thin tank-top.
It had been a long day, she concluded as she began to make her way down the stairs, though not before stopping for another moment, closing her eyes and inhaling the fresh scent of the young night, listening attentively to the lively noise that buzzed around the campus and allowing it to soothe her whole. She was perfectly aware of the fact that she would only become busier as time wore on and she advanced in her degree, but, with the risk of becoming repetitive, the truth was that she simply could not wait. She truly loved the career she had chosen to follow. It was close to her heart in so many ways it was difficult to express, but at least she knew she was not abnormal for enjoying the time spent within university-owned walls so much.
Starting down the relatively busy street, she glanced down at her watch. It was past nine, which meant that she was most likely already late to her meeting with her friends, but she found it hard to care about that when she was in such a good mood, so she refused to quicken her pace. Instead, she walked leisurely to her destination.
There was no denying the fact that Sakura loved her hometown. Granted, she had never been anywhere else, but there was some type of special magic that Oto had that she was sure could not be replaced by anything any other place had to offer—at least not in her heart.
The nights, for example. Nights in Oto were beautiful. Perfect temperatures, not too warm, yet not too cool, lights of all types and colors casting small shadows on the cobblestone alleys, trees swaying in the slight breeze, people bursting with activities…
Parks were usually flooded with residents in the evenings. Families spending quality time together, couples holding hands, runners giving up the crisp air of the morning in favour of the hyped atmosphere of the night, animal-lovers walking their happy, friendly dogs…
The streets saw much more activity during the night than during rush-hours, as well. College students that were lucky enough to own a car piled up in it with their respective gang to drive to the outskirts of the city, where the bars and nightclubs were not necessarily better, but were something different than what they had at their disposal during the day. Young people that were finished with their work collected their friends or significant others for a night out or a drive or an evening stroll.
There was chatter and laughter and horns sounding left and right, but it wasn't dangerous and it wasn't rushed. It was peaceful and, to Sakura, it was home.
Then there were the cafés in the old city centre, where the traditional architecture had survived the test of time and the calm atmosphere escaped the hustle and bustle of the modern, industrialized society that had thankfully developed in a different section of the town. Not far from the, admittedly, few skyscrapers that marked the busy environment of the modern commercial area, it was an entirely different world to Sakura—and probably that was one of the many reasons why she loved it so much.
She was glad to be heading there for the evening. It was definitely a perfect way to end what had been such a good day.
The centre was busy, as it usually was once the sun set, with people lounging on benches and around the large fountain, while others had secured a spot in the many cafés that spread out into the street on wooden porches. Aptly making her way through the crowd, Sakura walked up the stairs of one of them, her keen ears already making out the sound of her friends' chatter through the loud buzz of the surroundings. Scanning the place with her green eyes, she immediately located them, seated at a table that faced the street, in a corner littered with colorful, potted flowers.
Smiling as she made her way towards them and plopped down on the only remaining chair, she closed her eyes, expecting the barrage of complaints that was sure to be thrown in her direction any moment.
"You're late!" Ino shrieked, clearly annoyed. When she opened her eyes, Sakura saw that she was glaring and pouting at the same time, fingers playing with the straw of her fruity drink.
"Yes, Sakura, that was not very nice!" Temari added in her support, though it was obvious she did it more out of amusement.
The pink-haired woman rolled her eyes. "Geez, sorry!" she apologized. "I had classes, I told you I might be late!"
"But you didn't mention how late you were going to be!" Ino retorted.
Sakura laughed. "Calm down, drama queen. What's your deal, you haven't even finished your drink yet!" she exclaimed, pointing to her half-full glass.
Ino stuck her tongue out at her. "That doesn't matter!"
Once more, Sakura giggled, the girls joining her this time, and Ino's glare slowly receded as her ability to hold it there weakened when faced with the sounds of her friends' cheerful peals of laughter.
"Anyway," she stressed, refusing to join in and thus trying to change the subject, "We were discussing what we are doing this weekend."
"This weekend?" Sakura prompted, calling a waiter over to order a drink for herself. Once that was done, she turned her attention back to her friends. "What's going on this weekend?"
"Our guys are out of town," Tenten answered, before Ino could, once again, start her complaints about how Sakura would have known if she had bothered to show up to their meeting on time.
The pinkette, however, simply blinked at her explanation. "Alright?"
Ino rolled her eyes. "We have to find somewhere else to go, you pink-haired idiot," she clarified, her tone fond and her eyes warm as they gazed at her best-friend. "What was that about you being in med-school?"
"Haha," Sakura deadpanned, tucking a lock of said pink hair behind her ear and quietly thanking the waiter as he brought over her iced tea. "Very funny, you got that online? It's not my fault I don't understand."
"What's there not to understand?" she pressed, smirking. "We depend on the money we're given. We need to work on weekends even if our favorite guys are unavailable."
"What?" Sakura spat, shocked. "You're telling me you're goin—"
"Geez, no!" Ino snapped, interrupting her before she could even finish her sentence. "I have a boyfriend, you don't need to remind me of that! But they will," she stressed, pointing to their friends, who both nodded in agreement, "and you will, too. It's just easier to include myself in the equation. Besides, what's with you and actively trying to make me feel as if I'm married with children?"
"No way," the pink-haired woman said, shaking her head.
For a moment, her friend was confused as to why she was reacting so negatively to what she had said, until it dawned on her exactly what she was talking about.
She rolled her eyes.
Across the table, Tenten laughed, one of her hands reaching out towards Ino, palm up. "Pay up, blondie! I told you she wouldn't do it!"
"Whoa, there," she said, leaning back in her seat. "Don't get ahead of yourself, Tenten, I still haven't talked to her!"
"You guys bet on me?" Sakura asked, incredulously, glancing back and forth between her two friends with a shocked expression plastered on her face.
It was Temari who answered her with an enthusiastic nod. "They sure did! I would have, too, except I really didn't know what to think."
Throwing her hair over her shoulder, Ino turned to the still surprised woman. "Now, Sakura," she said, patting her hand, "How about you prove these two wrong?"
Snatching her hand away, the pinkette almost wanted to laugh. "I'm not proving anyone wrong!" she exclaimed, rolling her eyes. "I don't care about your bet or about your money. I'm not doing it. I'm not going anywhere."
Temari laughed gently. "You're so spoiled it's adorable," she said.
"It's not that!" Sakura denied, vehemently shaking her head. "I… I'm not going to sleep with someone else if I don't have to! I'm—I'm not judging you girls, by any means, but I… I'm not ready for that," she stammered, "I'm not sure I'll ever be."
"If you don't have to?" Ino repeated, raising her eyebrows. "Don't you have bills to pay?"
"I do, but I also have money to pay them because, unlike you, Ino," she said, pointedly, "I save more than I spend."
The blonde pouted, her perfect posture dropping, as the other two girls burst into giggles. "That was a low blow."
Sakura rolled her eyes.
"Anyway," Ino stressed, and glared at Tenten, who continued to grin at her much like the cheshire cat, "Stop looking at me like that and take your hand away, we're not done with this issue," she commanded, making her chuckle as she did what she was told. "As I was saying, we still have to decide where we're going. I have more than one offer."
Sakura grasped her drink in her hand and leaned back in her seat, sipping slowly with the help of her straw as she watched them argue.
There was no denying the fact that she had been surprised—and not in a pleasant manner—by their offer, but perhaps even more by their blasé attitude towards it. She and Sasuke were nothing but sexual partners, and not a minute passed without her being fully aware of it, but the thought of sleeping with someone else repulsed her so completely she was almost unprepared to handle the feeling.
Still, it was something she thought she had been prepared for when she decided to enter this business. The fact that Sasuke had wanted her more than once had been a surprise and maybe even a blessing—because, what would she have done if she were to have been faced with this problem every single week? What would she have done if she were to have been forced to have a different partner every single weekend? It was the deal she had accepted. The terms had changed without her knowing and without her expecting them to change. The other outcome would have ruined her. She would have continued, without a doubt. She would have persevered, because she knew everything she was doing was for a good cause, a cause that she believed in, a dream she had been dreaming of ever since she was a child. But she wouldn't be here, chatting and laughing with her friends, enjoying a warm Thursday night with the thought of whose arms would be wrapped around her in two days' time looming over her.
Maybe Temari was right. Maybe she was spoiled. Sasuke had changed much, much more for her than she had even realized up to this point, and while she was sure he hadn't done it for her… she was grateful. Suddenly, she was choked with the realization of how grateful she was to him. She wished she could do something to show him that, but… but what could she give him that he didn't already have? In the short time that she had come to know him, Sakura had been able to tell that Sasuke Uchiha was a man that had everything he wanted at the snap of his fingers; otherwise, he went out there to search for it—and he got it every time, without fail. He wanted her. And, not for the first time, Sakura wondered what it would be like when he decided he wanted someone else.
"It doesn't matter much to me," Tenten's voice snapped her out of her thoughts, bringing her back to reality, "As long as that Watanabe pig isn't there, I'm good."
Sakura blinked. "Who's Watanabe?"
Temari laughed. "A big, fat, arrogant pig who uses more cologne in a day than I use perfume in a year and who thinks he's the king of the world when the police probably doesn't even know his name," she summarized helpfully, causing her friends to burst into giggles.
Sakura cracked a smile as she shook her head, taking a sip of her drink.
"Alright," Ino conceded, "So, we cut him off the list…"
Gazing down at the ice clinking in her glass, the pinkette felt her amusement slowly ebb away, together with her feeble smile.
With Sasuke's protection gone… what would become of her?
It was much later that night that the four women finally decided on a destination, split the bill, and parted ways.
With it being so late, the streets were relatively silent, with only the occasional sounds of laughter flittering back and forth from lit-up terraces or open windows. Although the chill in the air was now more pronounced, the atmosphere was still warm and balmy. It was the type of night that Sakura loved, and she considered it perfect to walk slowly, in peaceful silence, to her house, where she would then slip into her favorite pair of pajamas, climb into bed, lay her head down on the pillow, and drift off to sleep with the knowledge that she had no classes the following day—and therefore no reason to wake up early—at the forefront of her mind.
Ino, however, who chose to accompany her, seeing as their houses were on the same street, seemed to have a very different idea.
"Sakura," she started, and the unusually serious tone of her voice immediately snapped the pink-haired woman out of her pleasant daze.
Blinking, she turned to look at her friend; her expression, marred by a deep frown, matched her voice. Sakura felt tendrils of worry begin to wrap around her heart in a vise-like grip she knew all too well.
"…What is it?" she asked.
The blonde hesitated, staring straight ahead. "I… I know that this is going to bother you, and… I assure you, I won't like saying it any more than you'll like hearing it, but… but the fact that Sasuke's held you while you slept and gave you a kitten to name after him doesn't mean he's fallen in love with you—or is anywhere down that road, for that matter."
Sakura stopped dead in her tracks, the sound of her old tennis shoes scraping against the pavement echoing into the night. Taking a couple of moments to make sense of what she had just heard while her friend watched her patiently, yet worriedly, from a couple of steps forward, she blinked.
Shaking her head, she started walking again.
"I don't think you could have reached a more ridiculous conclusion if you tried," she told her, still befuddled by her unexpected assumption.
"Really?" the blonde pressed.
Seeing how completely serious she was, Sakura began to feel her shock and confusion ebb away, making place for the type of slow-burning anger that was only ever fueled by betrayal.
"Ino, I never once imagined Sasuke would fall in love with me," she stated, her tone hard and, if possible, even more serious than her friend's had been. "What is wrong with you? I'm not some type of naïve fool—aren't you supposed to know that by now?"
"I never said that's what you were, Sakura," Ino retorted; she sounded frustrated, though not even that could mask her obvious worry. Under any other circumstances, the pinkette would have probably melted under that realization. "But… I know how it feels. Alright? I've been in your place. It's so easy to fall for them, Sakura. Don't you think I know it? They give you the world—how can you not fall for that?"
"I have the world," Sakura snapped, quickening her pace. What should have been a comforting, late-night stroll turned into something she only wanted to escape. "I have my world—and everything I need is in it."
Ino rolled her eyes. "Don't be ridiculous."
"I didn't go there to live the high life," she continued, clearly upset. "I went there so I could have a chance to live in this world—in my world. That hasn't changed. And you, as my best friend, should have more faith in me than thinking that it ever will."
"Sakura, I know," the blonde finally snapped, coming to an abrupt stop and hating Sakura's own movements with a tight grip on her upper arm. "Alright? I know what type of person you are! I know what you want, what you need. It's not much, and I'm not saying you've changed. But that's not what matters to me. What matters to me is how you feel—about him."
"About Sasuke?" Sakura asked, incredulously. "You're asking me what I feel for Sasuke?"
"Sakura, for God's sake! You know there's something there! He was your first, you've been sleeping with him for a while, he makes you feel good, obviously, and I get that," she said. "Really, I do. But you talk about him, Sakura. And that wouldn't be a problem, but it's in the way you talk about him."
Scoffing, Sakura looked away, crossing her arms over her chest.
But her friend pressed on. "What is it about him, Sakura?"
And, whether she said it out of anger or because it was a truth she had never uncovered until then, the pinkette found her answer immediately. "He makes me feel safe, Ino," she said, turning her gaze back to hers. "That's it. He doesn't love me; he only cares about one thing when he's with me—which is logical, and I know it perfectly well, because he's paying me for it. I know he'll never see me for anything more than what I am, I know that maybe no one will ever again see me for anything more, and that's fine, I knew it going in—and I've come to terms with it a long time ago. I'm still perfectly aware of the dynamics of our relationship—and I don't even want them to change; that's not my purpose. Sasuke gives me a sense of security that I haven't felt in so long. I don't know why and I don't really care to find out. And, I don't know what's logical to you, but if he still wants me and still calls me, I'm not going to sleep with someone else just for the heck of it."
With that, the pink-haired woman turned and left, paying no mind to the calls of her name that followed in the wake of her hurried steps. She practically ran up the stairs to the front porch and shouldered her door open, flicking the lights on and not bothering to slip out of her shoes before making her way inside the house.
Dropping her keys on the kitchen table, Sakura heaved a sigh. Her temper had obviously gotten the best of her and she had been perhaps a bit too rash to Ino—something she would undoubtedly regret in the morning. At that point, though, she didn't quite find it in her to want to give her a call and apologize. She wasn't angry anymore—far from it. But her tirade seemed to have exhausted her, and she groaned lightly as she pulled out a chair for herself and unceremoniously plopped down upon it, running a hand through her hair.
Ino had always wanted the best for her; that was simply what true friends did. That having been said, Sakura knew that what really bothered the blonde was the fact that she thought Sasuke to be perfectly capable of hurting her. She'd hinted at it before and Sakura had been quick to catch on, even though she'd never outright mentioned it. To a certain degree, the pinkette was also aware of the fact that her friend also thought of her as naïve; not because she hadn't dealt with her own fair of hardships in life, but because she wasn't experienced enough in matters of sex, men, and relationships—all in that order. Because she was new to basically everything Sasuke was giving her so easily and thoughtlessly, Ino thought of her as not strong and smart enough to see that big, bold, red line that she wasn't to cross under any circumstances—but Sakura did see it, and she was perfectly aware of what she meant to Sasuke.
It would hurt when he stopped calling, without a doubt, and it wouldn't only be because she would have to find another way—or, rather, another man—that could help her out of her predicament and support her through med-school. The prospect did terrify her, but it wasn't only because of it that the pink-haired woman would hurt when her relationship with Sasuke came to an end. That would also be because of this—because of what she felt when she was with him; because of the feeling of safety and security that she had been craving, perhaps, for her entire life without realizing, and that he gave to her probably also without knowing.
Losing Sasuke would mean losing her protector, as ridiculous as that might sound, and the truth was that Sakura had gone through that twice, with both of her parents, and it had always hurt. This time wouldn't be any different.
But Ino didn't want to see that, and she probably wouldn't understand even if Sakura bothered to fully explain it to her, because she simply wasn't in her situation; she couldn't identify with her.
Standing up, Sakura decided to close the subject. She already felt as if she was fighting against the world, and that was tiring enough, especially when she was part of it and had her own war going on inside. She didn't want to fight against Ino, too, so she told herself to let the matter go.
In the morning, she would call her and apologize, and if Ino wanted, she could come over for a chick flick and a bowl of popcorn.
If she didn't… well, then Sakura would have the popcorn all to herself.
"So, Sasu-cakes, are you sure you don't want to come with us?"
Sasuke gritted his teeth, glaring in the direction of what some would also call his best friend. He would, quite simply, call it a nuisance—a stupid, relentless nuisance.
"Perfectly," he spat.
In response, Naruto roared with laughter, clutching onto his stomach as he doubled over. "You stingy bastard, thinking you're better than all of us!" he managed to choke out. "You'll see how it'll all turn out—you, spending your entire weekend in your bed, cold and lonely, with no one to talk to, no one to brood with, no one on whose nerves to get on…"
From behind the still-laughing blond, Itachi smirked. What was true, his younger brother was much too pretentious for his own good, always thinking he could choose the people in whose company he spent his time, always thinking he could choose even his business partners. Perhaps that wasn't entirely bad, but he would definitely need to learn to swallow some pills even if they were bitter; he wouldn't always have the possibility to do everything as he wished.
But, as long as he still did, Itachi preferred to let him have it. Sasuke had been through enough, and if he could handle at least some matters without him needing to become involved, then he would.
That didn't mean it wasn't amusing to watch Naruto as he tried to rile him up because he himself was annoyed that Sasuke got to stay behind and lounge around a blissfully empty house while he had to spend three whole days in the company of such unpleasant people, though.
"Unlike you, you goddamn idiot, I don't need someone to remind me to breathe," Sasuke hissed.
Naruto waved his hand in a gesture of dismissal. "Yeah, yeah, I've heard that before. I'll be waiting for you to call and repeat that when you find out Sakura's not there to kiss you better. You know why? Because she has a life!" he exclaimed, before bursting into laughter once more.
Sasuke narrowed his eyes at him and opened his mouth, about to retort, but Itachi felt it was time to interfere—not to take anyone's side, but rather to test his brother's reaction. "He is right, you are aware of that, right?"
He raised an eyebrow in response, and both Uchihas ignored Naruto's proud proclamation of, "See? Even your brother agrees with me!"
"You might want to know—and you should," Itachi continued, "that the girls will have probably already found somewhere else to go by tonight. So, unless you want to be alone, I would suggest you call Sakura—now, while it still isn't too late." He paused for a moment, before adding, "If it isn't already."
With a huff, Sasuke stood up abruptly from his seat, a full-fledged glare in his already dark and mysterious eyes.
"I don't fucking care," he muttered, pushing past him.
Only that he did care, he later on discovered—and quite a lot, at that.
He didn't know why—he wasn't quite able to tell—but there was something inside of him that was bothered and very, very angry at the fact, the knowledge, and, in all reality, the mere possibility that Sakura might have accepted to head somewhere else for the weekend.
From what little information he had managed to gather about her in the time that they had been meeting, Sasuke would be quick to say she was not the type of woman who would jump from his bed to another's simply because she could, but the fact was, she was one of them—she was involved in this business. The fact was, she had accepted to give her virginity to him, a person she hadn't known, hadn't trusted, and hadn't loved. She'd done it for the right reasons, one could say, if they were to see the greater picture. He could most definitely say he didn't blame her for accepting this deal and everything that it entailed.
But, as he stood there, pacing his living room with a drink in his hand that did nothing to calm his agitated nerves, it occurred to him that if she had been able to share something so intimate and so special, when it came down to it, with a stranger, if she had managed to find the courage to take such a step, being so innocent and so inexperienced and really having such a gullible heart, such big dreams—dreams that would have been almost naïve had she not had the confidence and power to work on achieving them… If she'd managed all that, what could possibly stop her from gathering all of her courage all over again and go to another man for a night?
She wouldn't like it, that was for sure and something no one would manage to convince him of otherwise. He'd come to know her and he trusted what he'd found out about her. She wouldn't find the least bit of pleasure in it—psychologically, at least, because while she shouldn't have enjoyed her first time with him, either, he was able to make her feel good physically. She wouldn't like it, though; he would stand by that. It would make her feel dirty, maybe, but once again, the truth was that Sakura was capable of going to the extremes in order to accomplish her dreams.
And that knowledge stirred something in his chest, made red-hot fury course rapidly through his veins, slowly consuming what was left of his control.
He refused to remain in the house that evening. He couldn't stand the thought of her, and whether he liked it or not, his bedroom reminded him of her now. She'd been in it for far too long—and he saw her now, everywhere.
It was foolish of him to think that he would get rid of her memory simply by relocating elsewhere, though, because she continued to be on his mind, following him, seemingly, much like a ghost, all the way to his apartment on the outskirts of the town.
The image of her in someone else's arms… It drove him crazy, and he knew it shouldn't, but knowing it didn't stop him from feeling it.
Sakura wasn't cut out for this life, but she'd chosen to become involved in it, and what could he do? What could he do, when it was exactly through it that he'd met her?
The pinkette had never slept with anybody else because he'd always been the one to call her. He'd been home every weekend when the girls came over, and he'd even called her during the week once or twice. And, truth to be told, their relationship had been short—too short for it to be truly put to the test. Since the two of them met, the girls had never had a reason to go somewhere else. But now they did—and the question plagued him: so did she?
The rational part of him told him that, yes, so did she; of course, she also had a reason to head somewhere else, because if she hadn't had a reason, he would have never had her in his bed. She was in this for the money, not for him. What was for sure, he gave her more than enough, but what if she needed even more?
Even if she didn't, though, that was not the point. The point was that she didn't have the security of a job with him. She had the security of a job with Ino and wherever she took her. He could stop calling in a second, on a mere whim, and what would she do then? No, his luck had been that he'd always gotten there first; he'd always called her first. That was the reason why he'd always been the one to have her. But she was under no obligation to be faithful to him. He'd known that going in with all the other women and he'd never given a damn—because he'd never given a damn about them. They were a means to an end and that was that. But he'd been aware, for a while now, that he did give a damn about Sakura. What was new to him was that he apparently gave more than a damn about who she slept with and not only about her well-being.
With a growl of pure frustration and annoyance, Sasuke slammed his glass down on the table and grabbed his phone. Clearly, he'd been slow to catch up to what was happening to him, because he had Sakura on speed-dial.
Bringing the device to his ear, he picked his glass back up, knocking its contents back in one swift movement.
She answered on the second ring. Had she taken any longer, he realized, he would have most likely given up. But that wasn't the case, because he immediately heard her soft voice over the line.
"Hello?" she said, distracted, as she was most of the times when she picked up the phone. It was because she was constantly with her nose buried in books. But… could it be that…?
"Sakura," he greeted with a huff.
"Sasuke!" she exclaimed, and then groaned, but he could still hear the smile in her voice as she continued, "I'm sorry! I didn't even glance at the caller ID." Around her, everything was silent; no noises could be heard through the phone, no music or voices. "Are you back in town?"
He cleared his throat and buried his free hand in his pocket. "Where are you?" he asked, ignoring her own question.
More than upset, though, she seemed amused. "Home."
A breath he hadn't known he'd been holding escaped his lips, and he closed his eyes, letting the confirmation of what he'd essentially already known wash over him. He still hadn't opened them by the time his next words came out. "Can you come over?"
He could hear her smile through the phone. "Sure."
Sakura pulled at the hem of her dress as she slowly stepped out of the elevator and began to walk down the long, polished hallway, her green eyes searching the gleaming doors for the number she had been told was Sasuke's.
The building was nothing of what she had expected, but perhaps that had very much to do with the fact that she hadn't known what to expect at all, in the first place. Far from the somewhat traditional mansion she had visited thousands of times before, the building in which Sasuke had decided to set his permanent residence was tall and incredibly modern, all steel and glass; it was fully equipped with an underground parking-lot, and one could go no further than the large gates that guarded its residents without permission. Inside, the floors were polished to the point that they gleamed; the elevators were equally clean, fast as lightning, and made absolutely no noise. And if that was how the mere building presented itself, Sakura was almost scared to discover Sasuke's apartment and the level of wealth it could reach.
The pinkette hadn't even known such a district existed in her small hometown, and she had never felt so out of place.
Without a doubt, it was beautiful, as if someone had cropped it right out of a movie and placed it there, uncaring of how much it contrasted with the much poorer surroundings. But she had never dreamt about meeting such a place, much less living in it. That wasn't because she hadn't dared, though, because in matters of dreaming, Sakura was far ahead other people of the same condition. It was because it simply wasn't her. All the luxury and ultra-modern touches felt terribly cold and impersonal, and being there only reinforced her belief that she wasn't made to live in such an environment.
Tucking her hair behind her ear, Sakura continued to walk forward, and after a few more steps, found herself in front of the right door. Raising her hand, she paused to take in a deep breath, uncharacteristically nervous, before she rapped her knuckles against the steel, twice, and then let her hand fall back down to her side.
The door opened in an instant, leaving her face-to-face with Sasuke, who was staring at her intently with a gaze that was equally heated as it was impossible to decipher.
She didn't have time to study his apartment and determine whether it was as cold as she thought or if Sasuke's touch and presence had made it warm and comfortable. She didn't even have time to smile. All that she had time to do was notice the look in his eyes, before she was suddenly tugged forward, straight into his arms, and engaged in an all-consuming kiss.
A muffled sound of surprise escaped her lips, but he ignored it as he gripped her hips, lifting her easily into his arms, forcing her to wrap her legs around his waist while he kissed her in an almost violent manner. The moment the door slammed shut behind her, the sound echoing loudly in her ears, she was thrown back against it so hard her breath hitched, the air leaving her lungs in a sudden whoosh. Sasuke didn't seem to notice—either that, or he simply didn't care. His lips continued to forcefully move over hers, his hands continued to urgently roam her body, the aggression in his actions not dropping a single notch. Sakura frowned at his urgency, unused to such behavior from his part, unable to recognize the feelings he poured into every action.
Lust had always been an emotion present and visible from the very beginning of their relationship. He always kissed her with lust, always touched her with lust, always gazed at her with lust. Sasuke had a domineering personality and a passion that showed in his eyes more than in his apathetic demeanor, but that transferred, without a doubt, to the mattress. Clearly, he was more enthusiastic about the physical pleasure he could receive from the act of having sex than he was, quite possibly, about anything else in his life—at least from what Sakura had been able to witness.
But he was usually never so rough and uncouth. Sakura didn't know what she'd been expecting when she became involved in such a business, she'd been scared and hadn't had experience, so she found it hard to see the world through the same eyes now, but she remembered thinking, after their first night spent together, that hadn't been it. Sasuke wasn't a loving man in bed, by any means, but he wasn't harsh, either. He always made sure she was comfortable and he never once hurt her or disregarded what she said or did. Sakura didn't know if it was intentional—though she told herself it most likely wasn't—but he made her feel safe, protected; he made her feel as though he would truly, honestly care if something happened to her—and, after the way he'd acted in the incident with her mother, Sakura concluded that maybe he did.
She remembered feeling glad and so incredibly grateful, one day, as she thought about him, that he didn't ask for more than what she could give, that he accepted her inexperience and didn't allow it to bother him in any way, shape, or form. She remembered thanking him, quietly, in a whisper meant only for her ears to hear, as they lied in bed one night and he was sound asleep beside her, for being the way he was.
Now, as she struggled to keep up with his aggressive assault, she felt as a different perspective over them and their relationship was unveiled right in front of her eyes. Everything had an end, and maybe theirs was nearer than she'd thought. Maybe Sasuke didn't have a reason to take it slow with her anymore. Maybe he'd grown tired of treating her as anything more than what she was.
Maybe it was time for her to sit down and truly think about what she would do the moment he decided to discard her and her presence. Less than a week before, she'd been under the impression that she had all the time in the world, that she could simply push the unpleasant thoughts out of her head, since they had no place there.
Maybe she couldn't afford such a luxury anymore.
She was silent, he noted later on, as they lied in bed, side by side, heartbeats still accelerated and breaths still uneven. She was unusually silent.
She had accommodated herself on the other side of the bed, head on the pillow, pink hair still mussed and contrasting with the navy sheets; she made no move to reach out for him, to cuddle into his side or bury her head into the crook of his neck. She had pulled the blankets up to her chest and was staring straight ahead with such stubbornness and determination that it made Sasuke wonder whether she would bother to turn her head if he were to call out her name.
But he had nothing he wanted to say to her, and he decided the end result wouldn't be worth the test, no matter what it turned out to be.
Clenching his jaw, he turned his head the other way and did everything in his power to ignore the living, breathing woman beside him. Short of asking her to gather her clothes and leave, it was all he could do.
He wasn't sure of what he was feeling or why he was feeling that way, but the relief that had coursed through his veins the moment he heard her voice on the phone and realized that she was home, that she was alone, that she was still all his, was long gone. He'd opened the door and he'd seen her there, gorgeous in her lacy dress and high-heels, green eyes peeking out from under thick lashes and dark eyeshadow, pink hair tumbling around her face in soft curls and brilliant smile pulling at the corners of her lips—and he'd realized just how close he'd come to losing her. He'd realized just how close he'd always been to having her slip through his fingers. He'd realized that he'd met this woman through Ino, that she'd come to him one night, as a surprise, as a twist of fate, as something completely unexpected and entirely unheard of.
She'd come as a breath of fresh air that brought along a million of different emotions he'd never felt before. And he'd remembered that he'd paid her for each and every single one of them.
He'd thought back to all the times he'd called her and she'd never called him. He'd thought back to all the times he'd asked her to come over and she'd never taken the initiative once. He hadn't been able to turn the matter over in his head and realize that she simply didn't believe she had the right to use him as such, and if he had, perhaps that would have been a problem in itself.
Slowly, but surely, in a moment he hadn't noticed, he'd started to secretly and unknowingly see her as more. He'd started to see her as a person he could lean on, a person he could trust, a person that would be there for him—and only him—whenever he needed her. She wasn't a prostitute; she was a confident woman with a bright future ahead and with a strength he could only admire, because it would win over his own a million times. She had problems, but she could work them out. She wasn't perfect, but she was, perhaps, everything he wasn't—and that suited him well.
But she wasn't his—and the realization seemed to have been his breaking point.
"Why didn't you follow Ino and the others?" he demanded, the words out of his mouth before he could even comprehend what he was asking, before he could even turn around or begin to prepare himself for her possible answer.
The shock and pain that flashed across her eyes and that immediately followed his question threw him off guard, but the reaction was gone before he could do as much as furrow his brows at the sight of it.
"I'm not a whore, Sasuke," she whispered, averting her eyes from his. Both her tone and her expression spoke clearly of the betrayal she felt for the simple reason that he had suggested that, but she seemed to quickly realize she had no right to feel that way. "Well, maybe… maybe you're right," she added after a moment, her voice almost resigned, as she fidgeted with her hands, twisting them and turning them above her stomach. "Maybe I am a whore—and you're in all your rights to think of me as such. But I don't want to be." Tilting her head, she finally met his gaze, and he was struck by the pained sincerity swimming in her dark green eyes. "And I will be your woman—only yours—for as long as you want me to."
There was a moment of silence after her declaration, moment in which Sasuke fought with all of his might to assimilate her words and gather his bearings once he realized their meaning. A broken whisper in a silent room was all it had taken for his anger to melt away, for his heart to be soothed and all of his doubts and insecurities to be whisked away. The image he'd initially had of Sakura returned, the image of a strong woman who stopped at nothing in order to achieve her dreams, yet could still be soft, cheerful, graceful and gentle, and so loyal it made his head spin, and he realized he should have never doubted it, in the first place.
He knew her—inside and out. Maybe not as well as he would have liked, but that could be easily fixed. And because she had discarded and then tattered his every rule without even consciously trying, he found that none of them could be applied to her.
She was Sakura. That was who she was—unlike anyone he had ever met and would probably ever meet.
For the umpteenth time that night, Sasuke wondered if it was truly so selfish and wrong of him to consider the idea of never letting her to, of keeping her to himself, forever.
But he didn't have the time to think about that, because in that moment, all that mattered was her—her small form in his bed, covered by his sheets, her soft, even breaths, and her tear-filled green eyes.
It wasn't much of a conscious decision when he suddenly moved, cupped her soft cheek into his roughened hand, and pressed his lips to hers—softly, sweetly, gently, so unlike the actions he had initiated less than an hour before. She was surprised, he could tell by the way she didn't respond to the kiss right away; a moment passed before he felt her small hands gently sliding over his collarbone, snaking over his shoulders before coming to tangle in the hair at the nape of his neck.
She then shifted, her entire body leaning into his, giving herself over to him completely, and, had he not been so overwhelmed by the feelings her simple actions evoked inside of him, he would have felt guilty for the way he had treated her before.
For a reason he couldn't understand, it was only now that he saw the trust she placed in him. It was only now that he realized how much it took of her to come to him whenever he asked, fully aware of the nature of their relationship. He had treated her right, but how long had it taken her until she realized that he always would? Yet, there hadn't been a single moment in which she hadn't seemed to trust him with every fiber of her being.
As it was, though, he was too consumed by her.
Aside from the stark contrast this encounter had to their previous one, neither of them realized that something was different between them. Neither of them had ever experienced anything different, so how could they recognize it now? As they joined their bodies in a dance as old as time, neither of them realized they were no longer simply having sex.
They were doing so much more.
A/N: That note on Tumblr last night? Yeah, it obviously didn't work out that way.
This chapter was the death of me. It was hell to edit. I wanted to make sure it was as perfect as it could get, considering not only the long wait, but the fact that it's a bit of a turning point in their relationship, too. But there was a group of idiots outside my window last night that made a hell of a lot of noise, so I found it hard to concentrate. (Closing the window was not an option, because it's freaking hot here!) And then today, when I was in the midst of reading over it one last time, I accidentally pressed the home button, so every change I'd made was lost! If that's not bad luck, I don't know what is! Damn. But, I made it! (Any mistakes that you may find are entirely mine, though. Sorry!)
Please review to let me know what you thought! :)