Done for SasuSaku month over at LJ. The week's theme was AU, and the prompts used were "What are you so desperate for?" and "manipulate".
I do not own Naruto, the Bridgerton series, or any of Pablo Neruda's works. Titles mentioned are purely fictional, and any resemblance to actual titles held by the British Peerage are coincidental.
Her movements were as graceful as ever, but Sasuke Uchiha, Duke of Slaithwaite, knew the 'Dovedale darling' well enough to discern her agitation.
"What is the matter?" he bit out, for he had never been able to tolerate Sakura's unhappiness.
She began to respond, but the motions of the quadrille took her away. She eyed him with emerald contrition, her hand in the Earl of Warslow's.
Sasuke's movements were consequently more jerky than charming as he twirled the blonde Lady Warslow in a circle. The chit, naturally, had the gall to laugh at his discomfort.
"I fail to see what you find so funny, my lady."
"As you fail to see what bothers Sakura, Slaithwaite," Ino Yamanaka replied smoothly, blue eyes twinkling. "Though I am quite certain you would be pleased by her predicament. In fact, I cannot wait to see you jump at the opportunity to rectify it."
The quadrille undulated before Sasuke could seek clarification. Sakura's hand resumed its perch on his arm.
"Well," Sasuke prompted. Sakura was biting on her lip – a nervous habit she'd never managed to rid herself of.
Her pink tongue snuck out to moisten her lips – at this, Sasuke worked twice over to maintain his composure – before she confessed. "I'm desperate."
"What are you so desperate for?"
The quadrille picked up, partners were exchanged, and his question remained unanswered.
"By Jove," he hissed. To his right, the grey-eyed marchioness of Rushton giggled politely. He recovered quickly. "My apologies, Hinata."
"It's quite all right," she said softly. "You are worried about Sakura, are you not? You have always been very solicitous of her."
Sasuke nodded stiffly, not at all pleased by having been read so easily.
"Have you noticed," Lady Rushton continued. "that only Sakura remains unmarried of the debutantes of our year?" She sighed wistfully. "Five long years have passed us by since then."
Of course, Sasuke had noticed. Hinata was the most recently wed, and he had been Naruto's best man. Even that, however, had been two years ago.
The past five years, Sasuke remembered in startling clarity. The decadent, daring red of Sakura's debut gown, the angry, resplendent emerald of her eyes after Lord Denford stole her first kiss, the perfect ivory of her trim ankles as she descended the stairs on Lady Dovedale's last ball… Beyond that, Sasuke remembered every offer of marriage Sakura had declined. And, devil take it, that was an astounding amount to remember.
The moment Sakura entered the ton, she was branded an Incomparable, 'The Dovedale Darling' gentlemen mooned over in White's. She had it all: stunning beauty, impeccable manner, cunning intelligence. Every man lusted after her, every lady wanted to be her – the entire Beau Monde adored her, even as she aged and remained unmarried. Why, only recently did the shops of Bond Street produce fabrics in her name – Sakura Rose and Dovedale Green!
Sasuke was pulled out of his musings when Sakura gripped down harshly on his arm.
"Bloody hell," he exclaimed. "Are you mad?"
Her lips were set in a mulish line, her eyes refusing to meet his gaze. Sasuke capitulated:
"I apologize for my language," he began, almost hesitantly. "Now, what are you so desperate for?"
Her eyes, a study in greens and golds, finally met his. "I need a husband."
A fury the likes of which he had never previously felt welled up in his breast. "I should think you would require no difficulty in attaining one. Have you not already rejected a handful of strapping young lads this Season?"
"I have," she admitted impatiently. "But it is not any old fool I require! I need a man of status! A man of power, a man respected by all his peers." Sakura's eyes were green fire. "I need a gentleman of influence."
"Let me see if I have understood correctly," Sasuke said disdainfully. "You require a peer of the realm, preferably active in the House of Lords. You require a man with an impeccable, untarnished reputation. And I assume he must be passably handsome and in possession of a decent estate?"
The quadrille ended, and the two took their bows. It was the last dance of the night, so Sasuke hurriedly took Sakura for a round about the room before the Viscountess of Dovedale came seeking her daughter.
Sakura raised a hand to pat the artful arrangement of pink curls resting upon her head – hesitation. "Get on with it," Sasuke growled.
"I… I should like to set up a hospital."
"Perhaps I am too daft," Sasuke spoke harshly. "but I cannot understand why you would possibly require a husband for such an enterprise."
"Sasuke," Sakura said. "The ton loves me now, but it is not beyond spiting me the next day." Her eyes gleamed with determination, and her voice was heavy with resolve. "I cannot afford to be ruined. A married woman is applauded for the very things that debutantes are shunned."
"Logic be hanged!" Sasuke interjected. "If a good leg-shackling with a decent Peer is all you require, then marry me and be done with it."
They came to a halt. The words hung in the air the way the smoke lingered long after the fire died down, the way memories haunted man in his quietest moments. Ah, memory. Sasuke remembered every offer of marriage Sakura had declined over the years. But most of all, Sasuke remembered every offer of marriage that was trapped in his throat.
Ironic, that. The one time the words made it through, he ruined them thouroughly.
"You… you cannot be serious," Sakura answered finally, voice cracking and unsteady. "I… my mother seeks me. I must depart. Good evening, Your Grace." She curtsied prettily.
Your Grace. How long had it been since she last referred to him as such?
"Your servant, Sakura."
The sound of her footsteps as she fled him would resound in his ears for the remainder of the evening. He closed his eyes, swept away by how quickly the room had come to feel bereft of any life or meaning. He fingered the weight of gold and gemstones in his waistcoat pocket. There would be no sleep tonight.
Sakura Haruno, daughter of Viscount Dovedale, woke up. She wiped the last vestiges of sleep and tears from her eyes before reaching to summon her lady's maid. Her hand paused in midair.
What are you so desperate for? Sasuke had asked her. He… he had no idea, hadn't he? Was it truly possible that the man was ignorant of the way he manipulated her emotions so deftly?
Sorrow gave way to anger. Her hand resumed motion, furiously tugging on the bell pull. She had loved him for so long. So, so very long. She was trying to move on with her life, give herself some direction beyond the boring routine of day-to-day living. When she had brought her case to him, why, the man responded with derision and mockery! Could he not grant her a single moment of respite?
"Sakura, you rose late today," came the sweet voice of Lady Dovedale instead of her maid's. Sakura looked up into the green eyes of her mother. Morning light was lovely on the viscountess. The way it fell on her hair was perfect - the silver strands seemed to glow with repressed starlight.
"Maman," Sakura greeted. "Good morning."
Lady Dovedale sat on the bed gracefully. It was then Sakura noticed the breakfast tray in her mother's hands. "I came in place of the maid," Lady Dovedale explained. "Your father and I… you worried us greatly last evening."
Sakura turned away. "I apologize. There is no reason to be concerned."
"Are you quite certain, ma cherie? See how red your eyes still are!"
"Absolutement, maman. It is not necessary to hound me; I am no longer a child."
Lady Dovedale smiled sympathetically. "In many ways, you still are."
"Enough, my darling!" Lady Dovedale gave a dismissive – and decidedly Gallic – wave. "Eat up. I shan't have you looking as dreadfully starved as some of these so called English roses." She wrinkled her nose in distaste. "Non, you are much too beautiful to be cast with their lot."
Obediently, Sakura reached for the tray. She mumbled a quick prayer before picking up the knife and fork.
"I must say, it is because are a Frenchwomen you get anything done." Lady Dovedale rose. "These English girls, they are simply that. Only girls. You and Ino, you stand so high above these insipid little debutantes. My sister's fighting spirit rings true in that one."
Sakura chuckled. Her mother was only bitter. After all, Lord Dovedale had been courting an 'insipid little debutante' before meeting the comte du Blaye's pink-haired daughter in Paris. Though Sakura could not understand the bitterness. After all, the 'English girl' had been so quickly discarded in favor of Sakura's vivacious mother.
"Your father and I have matters to sort at Dovedale Manor today, so do stay home for the time being," Lady Dovedale called out as she reached the threshold. She looked into Sakura's eyes, and Sakura could see the underlying concern. "We will be seeing you for dinner, oui?"
Lady Dovedale blew her beloved daughter a kiss, then left in a flurry of blue silk.
Sakura proceeded to finish her breakfast. Her day was free from any responsibilities; she had just been instructed to stay home, had she not? She would use the time for some much needed rest; she could take a novel from the library to peruse at her leisure. Or… perhaps she could form a list of potential husbands.
But none of them will make you the Duchess of Slaithwaite.
The stray thought bothered her immensely. Sakura dug into a sausage much harder than was necessary. She had penned the title after her own name countless times, always finishing the 'e' with a smug kind of flourish.
To be fair, Sakura was likely only one of countless to have done so. Women loved Sasuke – his dark, tousled hair, his menacing eyes, his masculine beauty. He was roguishly stylish, however he could never be called a dandy. He was so unlike most men of the ton, the lot of them besieged by their own greed and ennui. Sasuke was… intense.
Yet he never spared a drop of his intensity for the fairer sex. Oh, he'd had his fair share of woman back in Oxford, but his wild oats were quickly sewn. His father and elder brother had died early, leaving him the title. Of course he had still kept the occasional mistress when he entered the ton and assumed the duchy, but he was very discreet. To the ladies of the ton, he was courteous but never close. In fact, the ton in its entirety was kept at a distance.
Except for she and Naruto Namikaze, Lord Rushton. She, Naruto, and Sasuke had bonded instantly after her debut ball, where they'd met. Naruto and Sasuke had known each other as children and at Eton, however the two had lost contact when Naruto went off to progressive Cambridge and Sasuke to the more traditional Oxford. They had instantly reconnected at her ball. And, initially to her confusion, they had immediately been very attentive to her.
Of course, she came to understand when, as the Season began to wane, Naruto began to pay her court. She had always hoped that it was Sasuke holding out for her – she always thought she saw a stifled longing in his eyes.
To her chagrin, the hope never truly died. She was, after all, the only female barring family Sasuke did not keep at arm's length. Time had taught her, however, that hopes were for children and reality was for adults.
She was no longer a child.
In the study downstairs, Sasuke and Lord Dovedale shared a decanter of brandy. It was far too early for spirits, but the occasion merited the excess.
"Of all her suitors," Dovedale said after a swig. "Slaithwaite, you alone came to me to ask for her." The man's amber eyes, which had been resting on some point in the ceiling, met Sasuke's with unconcealed irritation. "It has been three seasons since the first time you have done so, and every year you have failed to come to scratch."
"There have always been too many suitors contending for her time," Sasuke replied, struggling to keep his bearings. "Now, Miss Haruno consciously seeks a husband with a rigid set of requirements, a set that I meet." Sasuke met the older man's gaze with a confidence he did not feel. "I am certain that this time around, I can finish what I start."
"You will finish it today."
Sasuke rushed to his feet. "I beg your pardon?"
"Yes, today." The viscount had not moved an inch, and on this matter, it was evident he would not. "My lady and I have arranged it."
Sasuke's hands clenched into fists. The viscount softened.
"Lord Dovedale, I could not possibly -"
"You carry a ring in your waistcoat pocket all the time, do you not? Your hands always venture there when you come to meet me." The viscount stood and headed for the door. "I give you leave to come to Sakura's room this morning. She will be expecting her maid." The man paused at the threshold but did not look back. Sasuke eyed him warily.
"From the beginning," the viscount said finally. "You met my requirements. This is why I trust you with my daughter above all others. This is the last time – do not disappoint me." The viscount gave Sasuke a parting glance. "Or her."
"Good morning, Miss Haruno."
Sakura could not believe her eyes.
He stood before her, garbed all in white save his navy blue coat and crème waistcoat. He looked every bit the fallen angel, his hair sinfully windblown and his sensual lips curled in a smirk.
What was Sasuke doing in her room, uninvited and unannounced? No butler could be so addle-brained as to let a grown man walk unchaperoned into his mistress's room!
He ignored her. "Your father permitted me to come here."
She gave a snort. "You must be foxed. What father would allow a man to simply enter his daughter's room?"
Sasuke did not skip a beat. "Yours."
Sakura inhaled harshly. The nerve! "I cannot believe how rag-mannered you are! Does it please you to watch me make a cake of myself? Do you gain some perverse pleasure from manipulating me as you do?" She tucked herself into the sheets, as if the paltry barrier would somehow distance herself from the duke.
To her surprise, he laughed. Sasuke rarely laughed, and when he did, it was magical. It was deep, husky… Every time she heard it, her knees weakened and her breasts felt heavy. This time was no exception. Sakura pulled the sheets tighter.
"What a chit! Behaving like such a shrew," Sasuke drawled when his laughter died down. "Like such a termagant. Have you any right?" Suddenly, his coal eyes blazed. "It is you who has tormented me."
She… tormented him? As if he had any right to speak so! Not after all the years she'd spent thinking of him, tucking her heart away in the hopes that he might someday yearn for it the way she yearned for his.
No more. No more…
"No more!" Sakura yelled, whipping off the sheets and rising. With her standing like this, perhaps he could see the pebbling of her nipples or the faltering of her knees. She did not allow herself to care, blanketing herself in fury. "Why do you do this? Last night, you asked me what I was desperate for. Now, I ask you: what do you hope to gain by disrupting my peace? What are you so desperate for?"
He said nothing, and she began to pace furiously.
"I always thought I was special to you. You never spoke to any of the other girls or women; you hardly ever danced at balls!" She paused to give him a quick glance, then again picked up her thunderous pace.
"But your name has been on all my dance cards. Did you know? I fell in love with you when you took my first waltz, Sasuke." She did not meet his eyes – she could not. She had begun to cry. "No man could ever live up after then. Every other man, no matter how handsome or wealthy or distinguished, fell short of your standard! There was always something wrong with them – perhaps they were rakes or dandies. Perhaps they were more wealthy than sensible, perhaps they had more hair than wit. But you – you –"
She halted then. In a split-second, the decision was made: she would relinquish all her pride. So she looked at him, despite the tell tale moisture dancing down her cheeks and the high color staining her skin. "You were everything, but you never truly saw me. So last night, I resolved to move forward with my life, to forget you…
"Immediately succeeding the resolution, you threw an offer of marriage in my face like it was nothing! When I'd decided to give up, all my hopes and dreams were laid out in front of me with such indifference!"
She walked towards him, angry and terrified and aroused – only he could manipulate her so, only he could bring out the worst in her. She had dreamt of him in all the ways a woman can dream of a man: bringing their children to Slaithwaite Park or tangling their bodies in his sheets…
She wanted in all the ways a woman can want a man.
And, at least for the morning, she would make him want her, too.
Sasuke was fighting a losing battle with himself. Sakura was approaching him, a tragic Shakespearean heroine trapped in a beautiful French courtesan's body. With every word she spoke and step she took, he burned for her.
She loves me. The realization hit harder than any blow he had ever sustained.
He loved her, too, every bit of her. From the moment he'd seen her, he was lost. Gone, even as Naruto declared his intentions.
This was the woman who owned what little of a heart he had left. And whatever potency he had left, at that.
Her nightwear was decidedly French. She slept in a golden silk confection he was certain most unmarried women would not dare to touch. The rounded tops of her perky breasts rose above the decadently low neckline; her nipples pebbled under the fabric. The silk ended above her knees - scandalously short for an Englishwoman - fluttering with the movements of her endless legs. Her skin was strawberries and cream, urging him to dip his head for a taste.
Her hips swayed tantalizingly as she approached him. He gulped as subtly as he could. She could not possibly have been dressed for sleep.
She was dressed to tempt -
Sakura stood two steps in front of him. "But even your apathy cannot diminish this: I love you with all my heart."
- and made to cherish.
Suddenly, she crashed into him. Her sweet lips sought his in a punishing kiss.
Sasuke stifled a groan. His heart stuttered painfully, fighting like a butterfly caught in a man's fist. His cock, already stirred the moment he had seen her in bed, hardened impossibly. How could she engage both parts of him, man and animal, simultaneously?
Sakura had been mistaken. He always saw her, felt her under his skin – she was all the words in language, all the muses of art, all the clouds in the sky.
She was his everything.
He caved. He kissed her back with powerful desperation. One hand sought relief in her sleek pink curls while the other gripped her waist firmly.
He drew back slightly, but did not let her go. "Thank you."
"Don't speak," she growled in return, reaching forward to have her sin again. She would have this one time with him, and that would be the end of it. No more yearning, no more suffering… Just one taste. One bite.
His lips felt as sensual as they looked; for all her inexperience, she recognized him as a master. His lips rubbed against hers just so, and she found her body rubbing against his in much the same way.
His tongue stroked her bottom lip. She complied.
His tongue caressed hers perfectly. She felt a stirring so powerful, she could do little else but tug demandingly on his coat as he plundered her mouth. He gave into her unspoken demand, pulling off his coat.
Sakura could have drunk Sasuke dry. His kisses were ambrosia and nectar. What mortal could resist? She began to pull at his waistcoat. He obediently removed it, and it joined his coat on the floor.
Somehow, lips never leaving the other's, they maneuvered into Sakura's bed. He was so broad, and his size as he pinned her to the bed brought her animalistic pleasure.
Sakura watched as he sat up on his knees, smoothly sliding off his cravat. He reached down to remove his boots. Then his stockings. Then his breeches. Then slowly, ever so slowly, he removed his shirt.
Sakura had never appreciated Sasuke's passion for Gentleman Jackson's or Angelo's as much as she did in that moment: he was Michaelangelo's David. She eagerly ran a hand down his chest. He hissed, throwing his head back. Excited, Sakura allowed both hands to explore his chiseled body.
She wanted to devour him. Letting go of her inhibitions, she bent down and dragged her tongue down his chest. He groaned.
She pulled back abruptly. "Have I made a mistake?"
"No, you have not. But I cannot take any more."
Sasuke pushed her down on her back, then leaned over to press kisses along her neck. A hand cupped the curve of her breast. She moaned, arching her back to press her chest into his capable hand. Never before had her bosom felt so heavy.
His thumb rubbed her nipple through the silk. She gasped, writhing underneath him. With a growl, he pulled down the neckline of her night gown. Without hesitation, his lips found her sensitized peaks. She gave a little shout and slid her fingers into his hair.
"Over the years," he spoke, lips rubbing against her most delightfully. "I have imagined a thousand different pairs of breasts, wondering what it is you hide beneath your bodice." His eyes met hers, and she was taken aback by the emotions blazing in them.
"None can compare to this."
Unconsciously, her hips ground against the hardness pressed on her thigh. Sasuke exhaled violently. "I will try for finesse next time," he promised as he slid off his smalls. "But there have been years of foreplay between us, Sakura." His left hand descended to caress her thighs, hiking up the night gown. Sakura clutched the sheets as his thumb traced her intimately.
Sasuke smirked. "And you are so wet already."
Sakura looked down at him, bewildered. She was a virgin, yes, but she was no innocent. Years of pouring through medical textbooks had rid her of that. He was large, but beautifully formed. This would hurt, she knew, but she promised herself it would be worth it.
"What are you so desperate for, Sasuke?"
They were done with quadrilles and waltzes, silly dances that went no farther than the confines of a ballroom.
It was time they began a dance as ancient as the world itself.
In one fluid motion, he slipped into her.
They lay together, panting. They had reached their crises simultaneously, and it was unlike anything Sakura had ever felt.
She had been stupid. There was no way she could let him go after this, not after the very world had shifted as they became one. Before he could see her tears, she laid her head on his chest. He slung an arm around her waist.
"Sakura," Sasuke said, nose buried in her hair.
"I…" He pulled his arm back, throwing his legs off the bed. He rose, walking to the pile of clothes that had assimilated over the course of their coupling. She closed her eyes, fighting the vulnerability that threatened to make itself known. This would be the end.
"I have been carrying this on my person for the past three years."
She opened her eyes. In his palm was the most beautiful ring Sakura had ever seen. It was a simple gold band, with diamonds, emeralds, and rubies artfully arranged at a point. There was nothing garish about it – it was the perfect ring, timelessly beautiful.
"Every year since the day I purchased this, I have asked your father for your hand." He approached. "There were many occasions upon which I attempted to speak the words that would seal our fates."
He knelt by her side of the bed. "I am but a coward, for I failed every time." He took her left hand. "But for you, I shall always find the strength to fight another day. Sakura, you will never be rid of me. I will be a plague upon you, tormenting you, haunting you."
Sasuke's eyes met hers with the intensity no other man would be able to rival. "Until you capitulate."
He pressed a kiss on her palm. "The windows of my estate ache without you. Be my duchess." Another kiss. "Be my wife." A third. "Be mine."
Laughing and crying, she allowed him to slip the ring on her finger.
"Will I be allowed to put up a hospital?"
First lime, linear narrative, and historical. :) Will edit this sometime soon.
By Jove - Jove is Jupiter, comparable to the modern "my God".
Your Grace - how one addresses a duke/duchess
Ton/the Beau Monde - the upper echelons of society; chiefly the peerage + anyone they deem worthy
Breeches - skinny capris
Duchy - dukedom refers to the land, duchy the title
Gentleman Jackson's - Gentleman Jackson's Boxing Salon
Angelo's - Angelo's Fencing Academy