Disclaimer: Naruto is not mine. Plot elements borrow heavily from Amanda Quick's "Seduction".
Notes: Again, I apologize for the delay. I actually am not sure how happy I am with how this chapter turned out. I am really hoping to focus on this story and finish it soon (hopefully before the year ends) since I've been itching to write a different story. This is quite a heavy chapter and the truth is going to unravel quite quickly soon.
Wija, thanks for defending me. Anon user, since you have not left any way to contact you, please refer to my note in Chapter Five, it's in bold, otherwise read FukuWija's review. Thanks.
On a very early Monday morning -much too early for Sakura's taste- she and Sasuke made the short trip to Kakashi's home. Their former sensei had invited them for breakfast the previous week and Sakura assumed it was to discuss her grandparents' move to her and Sasuke's home the following Saturday.
Kakashi had somehow managed to ruin scrambled eggs so they ended up having a breakfast of buttered toast and orange marmalade. Sasuke seemed to be the only one enjoying it.
Sakura caught her husband's eye right as he was scooping an unhealthy amount of marmalade with a tablespoon. He quickly nodded in her direction and put down his bread and spoon.
"So, Sasuke and I have talked with the movers," Sakura began smoothly, "and they'll be here at eight on Saturday. We'll both make ourselves available in the following days to help Nana and Gramps with any last minute packing."
Kakashi and Nana Haruno simultaneously stopped chewing - and not because of the horrendous taste of orange marmalade. Her grandmother and her former sensei exchanged surreptitious glances. The elder Haruno nodded encouragingly at Kakashi before he faced Sakura once more.
"Listen, about that, Sakura," Kakashi began unsurely, "Nana, Gramps and I have been talking about this move for the past couple of weeks…actually we've sort of been talking about it off and on since the two of you decided to get hitched. We've deliberated and considered absolutely everyone and everything involved, and there are a whole slew of people involved and we do have to be fair to everyone –"
"Oh for gods sake, just spit it out, Kakashi!"
"Thank you, Gramps, that was very encouraging and helpful," Kakashi deadpanned.
Nana Haruno put a hand on her husband's arm just as he was about to throw some stale toast Kakashi's way. She smiled gently at Sakura and Sasuke before she spoke.
"Sakura, dear, we all think it's best if we delay our move to your and Sasuke's home, indefinitely," she said sweetly.
Sakura stared blankly at her grandmother. "I'm sorry, I don't think I understand what you're saying."
"Well, I think what they're trying to say is they want to stay here for longer," Sasuke supplied.
"Oh shut up, I know that, I'm not an idiot. I'm just at a loss as to why. We've talked about this already," Sakura said shortly.
Kakashi placed his hands on the table as if preparing to argue his case. "Sakura, you and Sasuke are young and newly married. You have a lot of things on your plate and I'm quite certain you are on your way to starting a family of your own. We don't want to intrude on that and besides, we all don't think it's a good idea to uproot Gramps from his home while he's still not fully recovered."
"I'm family, their home is with me," Sakura answered staunchly.
Nana Haruno dropped her knife on the table with aplomb stunning everyone sitting around the breakfast nook.
"Young lady, you and I, outside now," she said sternly.
Sakura rarely heard her grandmother use such a tone on her or anyone for that matter. With stiff movements she followed the elder Haruno who was already walking towards the foyer. For an octogenarian she moved rather quickly.
The Haruno matriarch pushed the screen door and exited towards the front porch. Sakura followed shortly.
As soon as the door swung shut, Sakura opened her mouth. "Nana, I thought we agreed —"
But Nana Haruno interrupted her before she could finish her thought. "That was very cruel, Sakura, to say that Kakashi was not family."
Sakura balked at her grandmother's words. "That's not what I meant, Nana."
"But it is what you said." She sat down on the wicker sofa facing the front lawn and beckoned Sakura to sit beside her. The pinkette, who'd looked a bit humbled, followed.
"You never tell me anything, but I'm not as clueless as you think. After your parents died, we had a lot of debt; hospital bills, funeral costs…and none of us knew how to fend for ourselves. Kakashi took us in with no hesitation. He's sacrificed a lot for us and I…your grandfather and I, we've come to love him like a son over the years. Now you've found someone to share your life with, are we supposed to just leave him behind?"
Sakura sighed deeply. "But who'll take care of you if I'm not there?"
"We've been doing quite well this past month. We're not as helpless as you think my dear," Nana Haruno answered as she wrapped an arm around her granddaughter, her cold hands soothingly squeezing her shoulder. "And besides, if we go to live with you, who will take care of Kakashi?"
Sakura chucked softly. "He still can't cook to save his life, can he?"
"And he needs someone to entertain his lady friends in the morning," Nana added innocently.
Sakura slapped her palm on her forehead. "Oh god, I can't believe he lets you do that."
"I quite enjoy it, they've all been lovely girls so far," she answered gleefully.
Sakura leaned her head against her grandmother's soft shoulder. "It still feels like I'm leaving you."
Nana Haruno pinched her granddaughter's nose playfully. "You're so dramatic, just like your mother. You live ten minutes away from us, you can come visit us anytime and when you and Sasuke have children, I'll even come live with you a while to help you take care of my grandchildren."
"Do you promise?"
She kissed Sakura's hair softly. "Nothing would keep me away."
Sakura and Sasuke made their way back to their home in the Uchiha district sometime past ten. The house was quiet, with the household staff probably taking a break in their quarters or the backyard after finishing the morning's general cleaning and other errands.
Sasuke offered to hang her cloak in the downstairs closet for her so she can head on upstairs to their bedroom. They've both taken the morning off from work and wouldn't have to leave their house for another two hours. She could really use a nap, she just felt drained.
Sakura opened the door and leaned against the doorjamb, staring long and hard at their empty bedroom. Their sheets were still askew, reminding her of the previous night's restless sleep.
She felt her husband's hand slither its way around her waist as he placed a lingering kiss on the side of her neck.
"Are you alright?" he asked, voice muffled by a tuft of pink hair.
Sakura sighed. "Am I being insane? It's not like they're going to live on the other side of the planet."
She felt his wan smile against her skin.
"It's always hard to let some things go, especially things that are very important to us."
If only he knew all the things she wanted to let go. Things she wanted to forget. Promises she wanted to break.
Forget about her past.
Forget about his past.
And just live out her happily ever after with the man who was slowly conquering what was left of her damaged heart.
"Let's go away," she said as suddenly as she turned around in his arms to wrap her own around his neck.
He furrowed his eyebrows in askance.
"Just for the week, we can both get off work. I haven't taken a leave in years and you're…well, I'm pretty sure you won't have a hard time taking a leave. We can go to Cloud, I heard them say it's the happiest place on earth," she rambled on.
"Well, Shikamaru, so his opinion might not be the most reliable," she conceded. "But we can just go anywhere, far away. It'll be like our honeymoon. We've never had a honeymoon."
He smirked at her. "I remember that being your fault," he teased. "You do realize a honeymoon involves a plethora of sex with me?"
"That's not so bad," she said shyly as she rested her head against his chest.
Sakura felt the rumbles of his laughter against her ear.
"What a glowing review of my performance," he joshed.
She playfully punched his chest in retaliation. Sakura lifted her head and looked up at him. "So? What do you say?"
Sasuke exhaled heavily before placing a kiss on his wife's wide forehead. "My darling wife, as much as I would love to have a week-long sex excursion with you, which I assure you would be both very romantic and very dirty, I simply cannot leave work at the moment. We're screening new inductees for the Konoha Military Police, you know that, it's going to be a bloody week and my father might actually castrate me if I just up and left at this point. I'm quite certain you won't like that."
"Oh," she breathed out, failing to hide the disappointment in her voice.
Sasuke wrapped his hands around hers and pulled her inside, leading them to sit on his side of the bed. He pulled out the drawer on the night table next to their bed and picked up a manila envelope in his free hand.
"This was supposed to be a surprise," he started, "my gift to us for our third month of marriage."
Sasuke opened the envelope and pulled out a brightly colored travel brochure. He placed it on Sakura's lap and turned it to the first page, a picture of white sands, the deep Blue Ocean and endless skies.
"I had rented a private yacht so we can hop around the islands of Mist, just the two of us for an entire week. You can spend the days sunbathing in a tiny red bikini while I unattractively drool all over you," he finished with a wink.
Sakura giggled softly. She was quite sure Sasuke Uchiha was incapable of looking unattractive. She opted not to tell him, his ego really didn't need any more encouragement.
He turned to the fifth page of the brochure, this time a scene of the countryside, cows and all.
"Then we can spend another week in the Wind country, enjoy the windmills, milk some cows and then if you're up for it, get arrested for indecent public acts," he suggested.
"Hopefully not with a cow," she returned quickly.
Sasuke tapped his chin with his index finger as if in thought. "That could be interesting."
She elbowed his stomach.
"I see you've been working out," he groaned out. He swallowed the unintentionally, he'd like to think, painful jab. He proceeded to place his hands on the side of her face and kissed her soft pink lips. "So can I take a rain check to a month and a half from now for an upgraded two-week long sex excursion? I promise you it will still be both very romantic and very dirty."
She smiled widely at him. "This actually, would've been a really wonderful surprise. I'm sorry for ruining it. I've just, gone crazy for a minute, I guess."
"You didn't ruin anything," he assured her. "I would've loved to just run away with you, but there are things we still need to finish right here."
She lowered her eyes, unable to meet his gaze and instead tucked her head under his chin and focused on the hollow of his throat. "You're right."
In the end, they all ended up here, civilians and ninja alike. Hundreds of thousands of generic file folders, some thicker than the others, all containing the investigations of the deaths of Konoha villagers for the past twenty years, were housed in the cold and dank archives of the Konoha Military Police. In a country with such a powerful hidden village, it became a necessity to treat every single death as suspicious.
Sakura had felt guilty using rank and name to intimidate the newly minted chuunin guarding the archive's doors to allowing her access inside the room. She'd find a way to apologize to him, but she had other more important things to focus on.
She made her way towards the very back of the archives, the deeper she went, the colder it got. The smell of mothballs and stale air offended her nose but she barely noticed.
It was easy to find her name, the Uchihas have always been known for tradition. Such a foreign sounding name was a rarity. It was a lot harder to pull out the rusty metallic file drawer.
Even cold and lifeless, Patrice Uchiha had an elegant beauty.
Sakura remembered the day her body was brought in to the autopsy room. It was nearing the end of her shift at the hospital and she was eating a tuna sandwich when she was called in. It was only her second autopsy in her short career as a forensic examiner. There were only two thoughts running through her head, one was getting the job done as quickly and efficiently as she could, and two was, this woman, no, girl, was much too young. It didn't even register that she was examining the lifeless body of Sasuke Uchiha's wife until she had filed her report.
Sakura thumbed through the pictures, close-ups of the young girl's hands and feet. The cause of death was clearly asphyxia by drowning but there had been no signs of struggle. Her nails were well-manicured and completely intact. There were no broken nails or splintered fingers, typical of drowning victims, usually a result of struggling to to hold on to something while submerged underwater. But that wasn't entirely unheard of. There was no trauma, no signs of a possible concussion. It was very clean, just a little too clean.
Sakura read through her report and subsequent police report. The body was found at roughly four in the afternoon and by the time Patrice was brought to her at seven in the evening, rigor mortis had already set in, making her estimate time of death between one and four in the afternoon. Everything was well according to time frame.
There were several witness accounts, courtesy of the household staff, saying they had heard a splash sometime between three and three-thirty. And just as Yuri had told her, that was all. No yells for help, nothing, just a loud splash.
Sakura turned to the last page. It was a short profile of Patrice Uchiha. Her face turned white as she read the last entry.
"So what are your conclusions?"
Sakura turned on her heel to come face to face with Itachi Uchiha, leaning against an adjacent file cabinet, the usual aura of smugness was diminished by his somber expression. She shouldn't have been surprised, ever since her conversation with Sasuke, she had suspected her dear brother-in-law was having her followed.
She had no idea how she had sounded so calm and together, but somehow she managed. "I shouldn't have to tell you, I'm quite sure you already know."
Itachi stood up to his full height and walked towards her. "It was all circumstantial."
Her lips were set in a grim line. "She was part of the swim team in her old school. She grew up in a house overlooking the beach. How could an excellent swimmer drown in a shallow lake in their backyard?"
"Anyone can panic in some circumstances."
"There were no signs of struggle, no yells for help. And there was absolutely no evidence that she could've lost consciousness before or after she fell into the water. Didn't you find that the least bit suspicious?" she returned almost desperately.
"Your report states it clearly, the time of death was well within the time frame when she would've fallen in the lake," Itachi returned.
"That time frame was not absolute! There was a three-hour window that wasn't accounted for. Did you even try to find out what she was doing or whom she was with before that? What was she doing there in the first place!" she asked, trying to eliminate the hysterics from her tone.
"What's the point?"
"The point is your brother's wife had just died and how ever little evidence it was, there was enough to suspect possible foul-play. I refuse to believe a ninja and investigator of your caliber would just let it go with some brittle arguments," she said.
Itachi scoffed. "A wife that made his life a living hell throughout their entire marriage. I wasn't going to let her ruin it further with her death." His voice held conviction but Sakura didn't miss the way his shoulders slumped. "He had gone through enough."
Sakura shook her head. "But Sasuke had an airtight alibi. Several ninjas from Sound can attest to the fact that he had been at Orochimaru-sama's the whole day."
"Do you think that would've mattered to the general population of Konoha? Don't tell me you've never heard the way the villagers talked about my brother? The way everyone mocked him as his wife traipsed around with her latest conquest. And even now some of them still think of him as the demon that murdered his young wife. How much worse would it have been if his own brother pronounced that her death could've possibly involved foul-play?"
Sakura would never understand many things about Itachi Uchiha, but in that moment, one thing was clear. In his own twisted way, he loved Sasuke very much. And she knew this because her own love for Sayuri had driven her to do things she would never have thought herself capable.
She bit her lip, letting an untouchable moment of understanding pass between them.
"But it isn't about him, is it? It isn't about Sasuke, or you, or me for that matter. It's about a young girl who had her life stolen. Whatever decisions she made in life, that doesn't give us the right to deny her justice in death."
Itachi slumped against the file cabinet once more, seemingly weakened. Hidden truths always had a way of draining the heart and soul of its vigor.
"Why do you care so much?"
The corner of Sakura's lips curled into a sad smile. "She reminds me of a girl I used to know."
Sakura meticulously put the investigation papers back in order before putting it back inside the yellowing file folder. She slipped the packet inside her knapsack, slowly as if daring Itachi to make a move.
She moved to walk past him, her loafers squeaking pitifully against the cemented floor.
"I won't stop you," Itachi said just as she had reached the door. "But you're going to have to tell him before you do anything. Don't blindside him, if you care any for my brother, that is."
Sakura turned to face him and met his gaze. "I know, and I dread it more than you think."
An hour. All she wanted was to be selfish for an hour.
She couldn't have her week, so she would take her hour and she would think of nothing but her and the man on top of her, whispering sweet nothings in her ear, making her feel, even just for a short fleeting hour, that they were the only two people that mattered in this world.
She knew it wasn't right but it had been so long since she had been this happy and content, how could she not take her hour when all of it could be gone in the next few moments?
She mentally swatted herself, this was Sasuke, and she trusted him.
His hot breath fanned the side of her face as his body collapsed on top of her. She welcomed the comfort of his weight.
"I…that was…" he panted near her ear.
Sakura wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of her hand. "I know."
His deep chuckles reverberated through his ribs, tickling the peaks of her breasts. He kissed her once on the lips before hiding his face in the hollow of her throat. "I think I regret not taking you up on that offer to run away for the entire week."
It might've made her a terrible person, but a part of her regretted that too, knowing what she knows now.
Sakura threaded her fingers through Sasuke's messy hair, her soft touches making him sigh contentedly onto her bosom.
"Tell me something true, something no one knows," she whispered into the night.
Sasuke looked up at her, eyes still glowing from their intense bout of lovemaking. He licked his lips as if contemplating his answer. He turned to his side so he was lying beside her, head propped up with an arm as he looked down his wife's face.
"When they brought to me the stack of names of the women that our advisers have recommended to become my wife, Ino Yamanaka was on top of the list," he began. Sakura's eyes widened in surprise. "Trust me, it's true."
Sakura couldn't help but giggle.
"They were actually really pushing for me to pick her. She was from a well-respected clan, quite a capable kunoichi and was practically bred to be an Uchiha wife. Plus, I was pretty sure one of the barristers was lusting after her in the most disgusting way possible with the way he obsessed about her measurements."
Sakura threw her head back and let out an unladylike guffaw.
Sasuke caressed her face, tracing the dips and curves with tips of his finger. "But I refused. Even if you hadn't talked to me in two years and it was pretty much clear that you wanted nothing to do with me…I couldn't do that to you. It felt like I would be choosing her over you."
Sakura shifted to her side and raised her head to level with her husband's. "I wasn't on the list, was I?" she stated the obvious. She doubted the Uchiha advisers considered her worthy of the Uchiha name, to them she was still just an ordinary ninja born from civilian commoners, even with all her accomplishments.
Sasuke shook his head. "I wished you were." He exhaled through his nose. "Actually, I wished I'd been strong enough to not pick anyone at all. I was nowhere near ready for marriage at that time."
Sakura leaned forward and kissed him softly, wordlessly telling him that she understood. Sasuke leaned against the stacked pillows, tucking Sakura's head under his chin, his fingers tracing patterns on her back.
"Sometimes, I wonder what her life would be like if I'd never picked her name off that damned list," he said somberly.
Sakura shut her eyes tightly; unshed tears managed to seep out the corners. It was cruel to do this now. But it would be far more cruel to delay it longer.
Sasuke looked on with confusion as Sakura wrestled away from his hold. She put on the thin white robe that he had haphazardly thrown on the floor earlier before standing up and walking towards her knapsack sitting in one corner of the room. He watched as she rummaged through her bag before pulling out a non-descript folder.
Sasuke stood up and picked up his boxers from the floor before putting it on. "What's the matter, Sakura?"
She turned around, folder clasped tightly in both hands.
"I think you should sit down for this," she said lowly.
Sasuke followed suit. She placed the folder in his lap. The typewritten words had faded with time and wear, but he would recognize that name anywhere.
"What is this?" he asked warily.
She looked to the floor, unable to face him. "I'd been having dreams about Patrice, and I know I shouldn't put so much stock on dreams, but I couldn't ignore this." She twisted the wedding ring around her finger, as if the gold band was her only source of courage. "I couldn't ignore what she was trying to tell me."
Sakura lifted her head just enough to watch Sasuke open the folder to inspect the contents himself.
"Sasuke-kun, that report should never have been just closed without further investigation, there were too many holes, too many important things that should never have been overlooked," she said, trying to approach the situation from an intellectual standpoint. "She didn't exhibit signs of a typical victim of drowning, the three hour window for her estimated time of death wasn't accounted for and…"
"I never knew she was a swimmer," Sasuke said suddenly. "Three years of marriage and I never knew she was a swimmer."
Sasuke ran his hand over his face. He laughed awkwardly, trying to mask the deep pain and confusion coursing through him. "It wasn't an accident, was it?"
Sakura moved forward and kneeled before him. It wasn't in her plans but she couldn't stop herself as she watched Sasuke, looking like a lost child who'd just had his world pulled out from under him. "If you want me to just drop this, I will," she started, "but know that whatever you decide I'll stand by you." She kissed his hands lovingly. "Together, right?"
He pulled his hands away from hers and she felt that he might as well have slapped her.
"I need to…I need to be alone right now," he said without thought.
He stood up and walked towards the door and opened it. She waited for the click of the door lock so she could break down and cry in peace but it never came.
She felt arms wrap around her as Sasuke kneeled down in front of her. "Together, I haven't forgotten. But I need to think about this alone. You understand, right?"
Sakura finally opened her eyes; green met with obsidian and an unspoken promise was made between them. She nodded her head.
That night she slept alone in their bed, holding on to the promise of together.
To be continued…
Next Chapter: Too many conversations, not enough Ino, but she'll squeeze her way in somehow with a little of Naruto and Hinata because all this drama is getting to me.
End Notes: So, I'm still not sure about this chapter. I managed to move the plot forward, I'm just not sure if I'm completely in the zone, writing wise. I feel like I made some missteps in the prose, IDK.
Thank you so much again for all those who reviewed! It really encourages me to keep writing so I hope you'll continue to support this story. So, um, there are 400+ people who have this on their alerts, it would actually be nice to hear from you :) The review box is right below, it wouldn't take you long and I would really appreciate your feedback.