Author's Notes: It is my genuine wish for you all not to ever be too busy or stressed out to continue the things you love doing.

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Title: Love and in War

Rating: T (or PG-13)

Summary: The first time I met Prince Sasuke was the night he saved my life. I never thought I would see him again, and I certainly never expected to fall in love with him.

Pairings: SasuSaku

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.

Chapter 12: Stroke of Midnight

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I set my book down, deciding if I read anymore my eyes were going to permanently cross. I rubbed them and looked at the clock. I had been studying for a final exam in one class all day, and I was starting to get a little crazy from the monotony. Even though it was only the beginning of February, I had a class that was ending. On the upside, it meant that I didn't have class on Fridays. On the downside, this was probably going to be the hardest final of my life. The professor hadn't been that great, the textbook was out of date, and it seemed like the entire class was just out to contradict everything I had learned so far.

I blew my hair out of my eyes and slumped back in my desk chair. Such was the life of a med student…on a Saturday, no less. It was really sad that I was going to use dinner as a study break. I stood up on wobbly, half-asleep legs and flopped face first down on my bed. I couldn't do this anymore tonight. If I looked at my textbook or my notes before morning I was going to burst into tears.

Everyone was out of the apartment, so no one was around to hear my frustrated scream. Hinata was with her family for the weekend, Tenten was volunteering somewhere, and Ino was probably out stalking the mysterious Shikamaru boy, if the amount of makeup she'd put on had been any indication. I wanted to laugh that I actually knew his name, but Ino wouldn't shut up about him. She never complimented him, just complained and whined that she had been trying to get his attention and nothing she did worked.

My phone rang, and I glared at it on my desk. Instead of getting up and walking towards it, I crawled across the floor, plucked it off my desk, and then laid down on the floor to answer it.

"Hello?" I asked. When no one responded, I looked at the screen to see that it was Naruto who was calling. My eyebrows scrunched together in confusion. "Naruto?"

A whispered, "Hey, Sakura-chan" finally answered me.

"Why are you whispering?" I asked him, except for some reason I started whispering too.

"No reason." He whispered back. "How would you like to come to dinner tonight?"

If it meant me getting away from studying, then absolutely. I'd start studying again tomorrow if I had to. "Sure. Ichiraku?" I just assumed the restaurant, since that's where we always ate.

"Um…no. My place. Sasuke is cooking."

I sat up on my elbows, my jaw coming unhinged. "How did you manage that?" I asked in my normal voice, dropping the whispering.

"Sasuke likes to cook, he just never gets a chance to. And I now owe him about twelve favors."

"He doesn't mind me coming?" I didn't want to feel like I was intruding on him, especially if he wasn't comfortable having me around when he was being so…domestic.

"Of course not!" Naruto whispered, causing me to stare at the phone suspiciously. "The more the merrier!"

"Really?" I asked incredulously. There was just something wrong with this scenario.

"Absolutely!" He whispered.

"Do you want me to bring anything?"

"Um…some wine maybe. I have the feeling we're going to need it."

I narrowed my eyes. "Naruto." I said firmly. "What is going on?"

"Nothing! Nothing at all!" He paused for a bit too long to ease my suspicions. "Can you get here in forty five minutes?"

I looked down at myself. I was still in pajamas with a fuzzy robe wrapped around me. Not to mention my hair had literally been thrown into a bun this morning and I hadn't put on any sort of makeup all day. I wanted to laugh at how impossible this feat was going to be, but instead I just let out a strangled, "Sure."

"Great!" He whispered. "See you then!" And then he disconnected.

Suddenly, the boneless feeling I felt five minutes ago was gone, and I shot to my feet and to my dresser. What did one wear to a dinner with Prince Sasuke? I bit my lip, pulling drawers out, shedding my clothes as I looked for something to wear. Something casual maybe…but it couldn't be too casual. I slipped on a dark pair of jeans, pleased with the fact that they looked a little dressy. I pulled on a red blouse next, but looked in a full-length mirror and immediately pulled it off and tossed it onto my bed. The same routine followed for a green sweater and a gray blouse. They looked too dressy. I needed something that screamed "Oh this? I just threw this on this morning to comfortably study in. I didn't even bother to change when I heard I was going to be having dinner with the Prince of freaking Konoha!"

I closed my eyes. Breathe, Sakura. I told myself. Sasuke is a friend. He won't care what you're wearing. He probably won't even notice. And if he did notice, then who cares? He has a girlfriend and I don't think of him as anymore than a friend. So why was I still so nervous?

I looked through my drawers and finally came out with a white camisole with lace trim and a three-quarter length navy blue V-neck cardigan. I did the middle two buttons on the cardigan so the lace edges of the camisole were showing. I looked through my jewelry box and thought about a necklace, but then ruled against it on the grounds that I didn't want to overdo it. I was about to go without jewelry entirely when I saw the velvet blue box. I hadn't gotten a chance to wear them, and they matched so well…

I pulled the drop down pearl earrings from the box and carefully threaded them through my ears. They really did go perfectly with this outfit. Of course they were gorgeous without the outfit. I would have to tell Sasuke that he had good taste.

I retreated to the bathroom and brushed my hair, leaving it loose and uncomplicated. I did the whole makeup routine, but not including eye shadow or lip-gloss. Thankfully my nails were neat even though there wasn't any polish on them. My toes were a light pink, but thankfully the polish was still relatively new and not chipped. I applied deodorant and brushed my teeth, thankful I didn't miss those two things.

I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror. Not half bad, especially for twenty-five minutes worth of effort. I put a hand over my heart and batted my lashes dramatically in the mirror. "Oh this?" I said to my reflection. "Just something comfortable to study in, no big deal." Except for the fact that if most of my daily outfits were no big deal like this one was, I might actually be able to land myself a date every now and then.

I slipped on black flats, a black button down coat, a scarf, and grabbed my purse. I was halfway out the door when I remembered the wine. Thankfully, Ino kept an emergency PMS stash of items in her room. There was chocolate, two of the raciest looking novels I'd ever laid my eyes on (not including Kakashi's), and wine. Although the wine had been in the fridge for days in anticipation of her period, so I was thankful it was already chilled. There was only one bottle, so I grabbed it and made a mental promise to pay her back later. It was red, and apparently a Merlot, but I had no idea what that meant as the different categories of wine weren't exactly my forte.

I finally left, pulling my coat tighter around me at the feel of the February winds. This far south was enough to be frigidly cold during the winters, but snow was rare. Unlike in Oto, where the snow came like clockwork, it didn't snow every year in Konoha. Snow came every few years, but even then it wasn't very impressive, from what I had been told.

A cab came around, and I hopped in when he stopped for me. I told the driver to book it, as I had about five minutes to make a ten-minute drive. Thankfully, he sped through every yellow light we came across and I made sure to tip him well when he dropped me off at Naruto's apartment building.

I rode the elevator to Naruto's floor, looking in the mirrors in the elevator to smooth down my hair again. Thankfully, the heater in the cab ensured that my cheeks hadn't turned overly pink in the cold. I got off on the seventh floor and went to the corner apartment, knocking on the door.

"Teme!" Naruto yelled. "Can you answer that?"

I bit my lip to keep from smiling. I could almost feel Sasuke's annoyance through the door. Nevertheless, it wasn't long before the door swung open. Sasuke looked out like he wasn't sure what to expect. As soon as he saw me though, it was like he had to make himself believe that I was really standing there. He blinked at me for a few beats before I saw his eyes widen and then suddenly narrow in the span of a second. He shot a very dirty look towards Naruto, who was coming out of his bedroom.

"Make enough for leftovers, hm?" Sasuke asked, his voice lowered.

Naruto at least looked sheepish. "The more the merrier, right Sasuke?"

Sasuke ushered me in, and I set the wine down on the kitchen island before Sasuke helped me off with my coat. "You didn't tell him I was coming, Naruto?" I asked disapprovingly. I felt like I was intruding.

"I mean…it was…" He suddenly straightened up. "If you get to invite Karin, then I get to invite Sakura-chan."

I turned to face Sasuke. "So I finally get to meet Lady Karin?"

Sasuke just let out a sigh and returned to the kitchen. "Hn." He said, as if that answered everything.

"And now you see why we need the wine." Naruto commented, getting out glasses.

"Naruto." Sasuke warned lowly, not even turning around.

"Oh please, like you don't feel the need to get drunk around her." Naruto poured me a glass of wine. "And don't call her Lady anything, Sakura-chan. Her ego is bad enough as it is." He leaned over and whispered to me, "She actually invited herself here without asking either of us."

Well, I guess it's no secret how Naruto feels about Sasuke's girlfriend. I suddenly wondered why Sasuke decided to start going out with her. Naruto didn't dislike many people, but if he did then that meant that he had a definite reason. And if Naruto didn't like people, it usually went that Sasuke could barely stand to be around them. I wondered what made Karin so different.

I put a glass of wine for Sasuke beside where he was chopping vegetables on the island. From what I saw on Naruto's stovetop grill, we were having steak, which smelled absolutely heavenly. "Is there anything I can do to help?" I asked.

The Prince wordlessly handed me a knife and a carton of mushrooms. "Slice those in half." He said.

I did what I was told, being silently grateful he didn't hand me the onion waiting to be chopped. I loved onions. I hated cutting them.

"So how's your studying going, Sakura-chan?" Naruto asked me from across the island.

I made a face. "Don't remind me. Right now I never want to look at joints in the human body ever again." In fact, as I was chopping, I was examining the way my wrist was rotating and pivoting and how that joint developed and—gah! I need to stop thinking about this!

"What class is this again?" The blond asked.

I gave him a look. "Musculoskeletal Pathophysiology." I felt proud of myself for getting it all out. It had taken all of us a few classes just to say the course title right.

Naruto raised an eyebrow. "How did you manage to say that without messing it up?"

I smiled while I thought about it. "You just say it and don't really think about it. You kind of just have to let the words fall out of your mouth." I heard a snort from beside me. "It's not funny." I told Sasuke lightly. "The professor has no idea what he's doing, and he keeps remembering facts wrong, and our three hundred dollar books are so out of date that their facts are wrong, so we're having to learn via the Internet." My knife split a mushroom in half a little harder than required. "We're basically teaching ourselves since he's retiring soon and pretty much doesn't give a damn anymore, the asshole." I growled at the end.

Naruto stared at me, his wine glass frozen halfway to his lips. Even Sasuke beside me had paused reaching for the onion.

I took a deep breath. "Sorry."

Naruto pushed my wine glass towards me. "Drink that." He said in a way that was almost an order.

I gave him an amused look. "Trying to get me drunk?"

"If it will get you to unwind then good Lord yes." He gave me a pointed look. "Now drink."

"Yes, sir." I said sarcastically, but drank nevertheless. If we ran out of wine before I forgot about my problems, then I knew where Naruto kept a bottle of tequila.

Sasuke nudged me, and I looked up. "Sit." He said. "I've got it from here."

I nodded, chopping the last three mushrooms before taking a seat in a barstool next to Naruto, who promptly topped off my drink. "So how's work?" I asked.

Naruto grinned. "Sasuke made a cadet cry."

I turned an amused smile onto the Prince. "Oh really?"

Sasuke was glaring at Naruto, and he chopped the onion in half harder than necessary. It made me gulp a little bit, because he managed to chop it in half in one swing whereas it took me a bit more effort. I drank some more wine to distract myself from the way the muscles on his arm were flexing. He was wearing a button down black shirt with the sleeves rolled to the elbows, and he looked…well, okay, he looked way more than decent in it.

"Of course," Naruto amended. "She totally deserved it."

"You made a girl cry?" I asked, feeling the need to stick up for my sex.

"She nearly shot four people at the firing range."

My mouth formed an O. "I mean…way to protect the troops?" I corrected with a sheepish smile. The Prince just rolled his eyes and dropped the onions and mushrooms into a pan, where they immediately started to sizzle.

"Oh Your Royal Highness." Naruto mocked in a high pitched, girly voice. "Will you please show me how you fire your big, impressive weapon?"

My jaw dropped. "She didn't."

"Oh she most certainly did. She would have shot Sasuke too if he hadn't yanked the gun from her and sent her running around the base for two hours." Naruto looked at his friend. "Which was a little cruel, by the way."

Sasuke just shrugged before he turned around to the stove again, not looking like he regretted his decision at all.

"Well I hardly doubt you're sinless, Naruto." I said. "Got any juicy stories I might want to hear?"

Suddenly, both men froze. Before I could wonder what was wrong, Sasuke turned around slowly with a mischievous smirk on his face. At that look, Naruto started to splutter.

"Oh come on, Teme! You can't tell her that!" The smirk hadn't faded. "Please…She'll kill me!"

"Kill you?" I asked. This was getting better and better.

Charcoal eyes trained on me. "This dumbass just doesn't want you to know—"

With no warning, Naruto's hands slapped over my ears. "You can't, Teme! She's too innocent!" Came the muffled voice, and I only heard him because he was yelling. I did my best to pry his hands off.

"Too innocent for what?" I asked.

"Gah! You weren't supposed to hear that!"

"You're yelling, idiot. How can I not hear that?" Throughout our conversation, he had been trying to cover my ears again, and I was pushing him off. This went back and forth and elevated into playful wrestling. I don't remember whose chair slipped out from under whom, but somehow we ended up on the floor.

"Tell me now, Sasuke!" I laughed, trying to keep Naruto from distracting me.

"He'll never tell!" Naruto yelled. "La la la, he'll never tell!" He kept making loud noises so I wouldn't be able to hear Sasuke even if he did let something slip.

"—a prostitute." I heard Sasuke say, and I froze, hovering over Naruto. I had to take a few moments to see if I'd just heard what I'd heard, or if all the studying was making me hallucinate.

"What's this about a prostitute?" I asked Naruto. By the look of horror splayed across Naruto's face, I wasn't going crazy and hearing things.

"He dated one." Sasuke supplied in Naruto's silence.

"That's out of context, you bastard!"

"You dated a prostitute?" I asked a little warily.

"She wasn't a prostitute when I met her." Naruto said.

I sat back on my legs and put a hand to my face. "Oh goodness. You turned a girl to prostitution." Sasuke snorted a laugh from behind me.

"It wasn't like that, Sakura-chan!" Naruto defended, sitting up and scratching his head, trying to think of a way to explain it. "She never told me she was one, and it's not like we did anything. We lasted a week before she decided she wanted her old lifestyle back, and that's when I found out exactly what her old lifestyle was." He glared upwards at Sasuke. "I hate you." He said, but there was something in his voice that said he didn't really mean it.

Sasuke shrugged. "You told her about the tattoo."

Naruto thought for a minute. "Fine. Fair enough."

Sasuke offered me a hand to stand up, and I took it. He hauled me to my feet with ease, and I straightened out my clothes and my hair. "So if it's not that big of a deal, then why are you so wary to tell the story?"

Naruto was on his feet by now too. "Because the only way to start that story is I dated a prostitute once, and then everyone jumps to conclusions." Well that was fair, I guess. I was guilty as charged, since my mind had gone to the worst possible scenario. "But, to be fair Sakura-chan, you probably have a juicy story right?" He asked, looking at me amusedly. "Everyone's got a crazy teenage story, right?" He looked at me and waggled his eyebrows.

"Nope." I shook my head. "No crazy stories." I thought about that for a moment. "Well, except the one with this guy," I nodded towards Sasuke. That had been one of the craziest moments of my life. "I was a teenager then, does that count?"

"Come on, no boyfriend stories?"

"The table needs to be set, right?" I asked going towards the cabinet with the plates.

"Oh no," Naruto grinned. "You're not changing the subject. I'll bet you were quite the heartbreaker in Oto."

I turned around to look at him with one eyebrow raised. "Have you seen the guys from Oto? They're Neanderthals."

"Right, right." Naruto waved his hand. "The Konoha guys are much better." I gave him an appraising look, and hummed in a bit of a non-agreement before turning around again. I bit my lip to keep from smiling when he let out a whining, "Sakura-chan!" Even without looking I could tell he was pouting.

Having them guessing was far better than me telling the truth, since the truth was just lame and would destroy the good mood. I hadn't ever dated anyone. There had been boys in Melody I'd had crushes on, but they hadn't ever given me a second glace. To them, I would always be the girl with the wide forehead. I had male friends there, but none that I would have considered dating. There had been one boy when I was probably four, but it had never grown beyond playing together at daycare.

There had been prospects in high school, I guess. It had been far enough away from home that my reputation didn't carry and by then I had grown into my forehead. I had just started to think about looking for a boyfriend when my father had been killed in the war. After that, I had to work to support myself and never had the time for a relationship. Besides, at that point I'm sure I wouldn't have made a good girlfriend anyway. I was catatonic and unresponsive for those first few months on my own, bursting out into tears for the smallest reasons.

So they could keep guessing, I thought as I took the plates to the table. They didn't have to know that I had never been kissed, or that there hadn't ever been anyone serious in my life. In fact, my relationship with Naruto and Sasuke was the most meaningful relationship I'd ever had, and I wasn't even dating them. I figured I could probably find a date here if I really tried, but between the two men standing before me my boyfriend-to-be had some fierce standards to meet.

Naruto helped me set the table while Sasuke finished dinner. I asked if he needed anymore help, but he declined my offer. It was a little odd seeing him so domestic, I mused. It wasn't everyday that you were invited to be served dinner from the Prince of Konoha. In fact, I could probably make a fortune if I took a photo of this moment. Not that I would betray Sasuke's trust by selling it to the press, but it would give Ino and I something to talk about later.

The front door opened without warning, and the woman who entered could have only been Lady Karin. Her fire engine red hair was a dead giveaway, not to mention she was even more gorgeous than the Internet or the magazines portrayed her. She had on a pair of fashionable glasses that I don't ever remember seeing before. Somehow, they managed to enhance the red of her eyes. Everything about this woman screamed that she belonged in a high-class society. Her posture was perfect, with her shoulders back and her chin high. Her heeled ankle boots made her look impossibly tall. She was tall enough that the top of her head came to Sasuke's eyes when he stood next to her to help her off with her designer coat. Underneath that, she had on a plum colored, gathered sheath dress that made her hair and eyes stand out. She wore black hose and the aforementioned black ankle boots. She looked like she just walked out of a fashion magazine. She could have for all I knew. She looked perfectly qualified to be a model.

She tilted her head up and pressed her mouth to Sasuke's for a quick kiss. Sasuke looked indifferent, which I was a little surprised to see. If a gorgeous girl like Karin couldn't even evoke a response from him, I'd hate to see how any other girl would fare.

She turned to greet Naruto, but she blinked when she saw me, her face clearing of all expression. I stood there feeling anxious as she evaluated me for a few beats, but then she smiled. "Hello." She walked towards me. "I don't think we've met before."

I shook her hand, inwardly thinking that her hand felt so damn dainty and feminine. My hands were used to doing manual labor, and it was obvious to me that hers weren't. "Haruno Sakura." I said. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

"I'm Karin, and the pleasure is all mine." She smiled, and I really couldn't tell why Naruto disliked her. She cocked her head. "Are you Naruto's girlfriend?"

"No." I admitted. "We're just friends."

"Oh that's a shame, you two would make a cute couple." As opposed to how you and Sasuke make the most gorgeous couple known to man? I wanted to ask, but refrained. "And this is such a cute outfit! I envy you for being able to wear jeans." I had a feeling that she was acting a little bit, since no way would any woman worth her salt be envious of jeans when she had on a dress that cost at least one of my paychecks.

"Just something I threw on this morning to study in." By now, Naruto had left my side and was talking to Sasuke in hushed tones in the kitchen. At my last sentence, though, he threw me an amused yeah, right look over his shoulder, because he probably knew I had been studying in my pajamas. I gave him a sheepish smile and shrugged, but I knew he wouldn't dare say anything. No way would he make me look bad in front of someone he apparently disliked. He went back to whispering with Sasuke.

"Oh! What are you studying?" She asked.

"Medicine."

"Well good for you. There just aren't enough female doctors nowadays. If you'd like, I can introduce you to the best of the best. I've met the Tsunade on several different occasions and I'm sure she would be happy to give you some tips."

"I'm actually Tsunade's apprentice." I told her, trying my hardest not to smile in victory when she paused for a moment. Karin recovered quickly and resumed the conversation like I'd just told her I'd made an A on a kindergarten project.

"Wow, you must be pretty good." She smoothed out her dress. "Well, I know what you mean about having to throw on clothes. I had to pull this on last minute to go to one of Daddy's boring parties. I mean, my stylists could barely get me ready on time."

Her stylists? Plural? She had multiple stylists and she had to rush to get ready on time? I could only imagine the heart attack she would go through if Naruto invited her forty-five minutes prior to something. Still, it was amusing that she was getting a little transparent. Silly Karin, I told her in my head. Do you not think that I wouldn't have had to take at least one psychology course by now? It was basic psychology that let me know what she was doing. I had shown her up a little bit with my superior connection to Tsunade, so now she was subtly reminding me that she was the one who had far more power than I did. I had intimidated her a little bit, made her falter in front of Sasuke, and now she was trying to return the favor. She was trying to manipulate the situation so that I'd tell her that she looked beautiful despite the short amount of time, or comment on her dress so she could tell me how much it cost.

Well, two can play that game.

"Well," I said, thinking about how much this was going to get me in trouble. "They did a great job on your hair." In truth, nothing had been done on her hair. It was down and straight and without embellishments. Her smile tightened a little bit, because that wasn't what she wanted me to compliment. She obviously couldn't show me up bragging about how her hairstyle had been left unattended due to time constraints.

"Thank you." She said, and a barely noticeable amount of annoyance creeped into her voice. "I'll let them know you approve."

"Please do."

"Dinner's ready!" Naruto interrupted loudly.

Karin gave me an almost invisible sneer and then immediately pranced to Sasuke's side, where she hugged his arm. "They look wonderful, darling." And then she kissed his cheek.

I was really starting to dislike this woman, but I figured I needed to at least try and play fair. I'd give her another fifteen minutes before I decided that I hated her.

We all sat down to eat, and food was dished out. Naruto gave me an amused, knowing smirk when he saw that my wine glass was empty, as I had downed the rest of the alcohol when no one was looking. Still, I vowed not to drink anymore. I couldn't win a battle of wits under the influence. After she left though, I was going straight for the tequila.

The first thought I had when I put the steak in my mouth was that I thought I was going to moan. I managed not to though, saving a lot of potential embarrassment. I didn't get to eat steak very often, and none this good, which is probably why this moment was so euphoric. I opened my eyes (when had I closed them?) and found a dark gaze directed my way from across the table. I was sitting next to Naruto, and Sasuke was next to Karin. I highly suspected that we had been subtly manipulated around so that Karin and I didn't have to look at each other. And I must admit this actually did a lot to lower the tension between the redhead and me.

I could feel myself blushing under Sasuke's almost questioning gaze. "It's really good." I told him, lowering my head so I could fight this stupid blush in peace.

"Good." He said. I was involved in my meal, so I didn't notice him take the wine bottle and refill everyone's glasses, even mine, until Karin said something.

"Oh no thank you." Karin said. "Red wine does horrible things to my teeth."

"Don't your stylists give you a tooth brus—" Naruto muttered, but he abruptly cut off with a yelp when there was a sudden jolt underneath the table and the blond doubled over in his chair. I looked at him for a moment, and then at Sasuke, who was acting suspiciously nonchalant.

"Did you say something, Naruto?" Karin asked in a voice I was gradually learning was schooled to be calm.

"Nothing important." He muttered again, shooting a glance to his friend that promised pain later.

Thankfully, dinner stayed civil after that. I actually managed to have a real conversation with Karin towards the end of it, which involved a Fujikaze Yukie movie we had both seen. Naturally, she had injected that she had seen the movie with Sasuke at the world premiere, where they had met Fujikaze Yukie herself. Strangely though, not everything Karin said was about boasting her status, like I'd first suspected. Sometimes she was just trying to make conversation, seemingly unused to being around people who didn't go to world premieres of movies in thousand dollar dresses.

It was a little hard not to envy her.

It occurred to me though that halfway through the meal that whenever she went anywhere, it was scheduled. All her outings were on a calendar somewhere, managed by people who probably didn't make enough to put up with her. Whenever she wanted to have fun, or even a moment to herself, it was penciled in. Whenever she went on a date with Sasuke, it was to some world premiere or some party hosted by some Duke or another. Places where she had a camera shoved in her face and taking her picture, waiting for her to falter so she could be the cover of a tabloid the next day.

It was no wonder she and Sasuke were so good at hiding their emotions.

After dinner, we were all far too full for dessert. I think if I ate anything else I was going to burst. It was getting a little late anyway, and Karin remarked she had to be up early so she could get ready for a wedding. Apparently, both she and Sasuke had to be on a jet at six in the morning to fly to Tanzaku Gai to see the grandniece of the Baron of Tanzaku Gai get married. It sounded like it was a small event getting blown out of proportion.

Sasuke cast one look into the kitchen. "You cooked, we'll clean." I told him, ignoring when Naruto spluttered protests. "It's only fair."

Karin and I exchanged our goodbyes with a lot of fake smiling and pleasantries.

As soon as they were out the door, I slumped against the refrigerator, feeling like it was finally okay to drop my defenses. Goodness, I hoped every dinner with Sasuke wasn't going to be like this. The steak had been perfect, the company hadn't been. I looked longingly at the cabinet with the tequila, but then decided against it on the grounds I didn't want to have to find my way home drunk. I was feeling a little buzzed already, and I really didn't want to put Naruto out by sleeping on his couch again. I blew my bangs upwards.

"Yeah," Naruto said, looking at my expression. "Karin does that to people."

"What does Sasuke see in her?" I finally voiced the question that had been on my mind all night.

Naruto raised an eyebrow at that. "He doesn't see anything, Sakura-chan." I frowned. That didn't make any sense then. If he didn't like her then why were they dating? Why were they hanging out at all? Sasuke wasn't the type to cater to people, and he certainly wouldn't be around Karin if he didn't want to be. "He doesn't like Karin at all." He thought for a minute. "Well, he tolerates her, I guess, but he probably won't ever love her."

I cocked my head to one side, feeling out of the loop. "Naruto, what are you talking about? Why would he have asked her out if he didn't like her?"

Blond hair flew when Naruto shook his head. "He didn't ask her out, that's the thing." He leaned against the counter. "Apparently, one day his PR manager went up to him and went, 'You remember Lady Karin, don't you Sasuke? Well she's your girlfriend now.'"

"That doesn't make any sense."

He shrugged. "To them it does, I guess. I think it was all a publicity thing at first, since Sasuke was in his twenties and he hadn't ever shown any interest in dating. I'm sure you've heard the rumors." I nodded at that, remembering how upset Sasuke had gotten when I'd made the gay comment. It was ridiculous though. No one who spent five seconds in his presence thought he was gay.

"So was Karin picked just because she was single?"

He shook his head again. "She's actually really powerful…or rather her dad is. He's a Marquess of some city or another."

I rubbed my eyes. "Can you give me a tutorial on the royal titles please? They all mean the same thing to me."

He laughed. "Yeah, they're confusing. Get Sasuke to explain them to you, he's better at it." He was still smiling as my expression turned into frustration. "Just know if Sasuke, his parents, his brother, and a few of his relatives die, Karin's father stands to inherit the throne."

Oh…well damn. Karin is more influential than I originally thought. But even if she was influential, wouldn't the people in charge of Sasuke's life want what made him happy? And for that matter, why couldn't Sasuke decide these things for himself? "Can't he break up with her if he doesn't want to be with her?" I asked, picking up a dish and starting to load the dishwasher.

"No. It's some weird political thing, but he told me he's been strictly warned not to break up with her."

"So they have to get married?"

Naruto barked out a laugh. "Teme would rather carve out his heart with a spoon than marry that woman."

"But you just said…"

"I think they can break up eventually…?" Naruto said, not sounding like he knew what he was talking about. "Like I said, it's a weird political thing. Ask Sasuke if you're so interested."

I flushed. "I'm not." I told him a little defensively. "I'm just curious." I kept my head down and loaded the dishes a little faster.

He smiled at me. "Everyone is."

I walked around the kitchen island to get our glasses from the table. "It's really sad, in a way." I mused. "When you think about what it's like to be a celebrity, it's glamorous on the outside, but I can't imagine wanting it at all. Cameras that follow them everywhere…the way they're always so guarded. What kind of life is that?" I put the glasses on the island and sat down on one of the barstools, remembering something Juugo told me. "There are all sorts of prisons for all different people, and I imagine that kind of lifestyle is just as restricting as being behind bars."

Naruto stared at me for a moment. "That was really poetic, Sakura-chan. How long did it take you to come up with that one?"

I smiled. "I didn't, actually. The patient that I've been talking to over the last few months told me that."

"You didn't tell me you've been talking to a patient."

"Yeah." I beamed. "He's really nice and wise since he reads so much. We talk about everything."

"He?" Naruto waggled his eyebrows, picking up a chopping knife to put into the dishwasher. "And you said you didn't have any boyfriend stories."

I rolled my eyes. "It's not like that Naruto. We just talk." I thought about our last conversation a few weeks ago. "Anyway, Juugo told me tha—"

Naruto's knife clattered to the ground and I jumped in my seat when he whirled on me, his ocean blue eyes full of panic.

.

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Author's Notes: So I finally got to introduce Karin. She is kind of fun to write, I admit, as I see her as a brat as a result of being in the spotlight her whole life. She literally doesn't know any other way to act. As always please review and let me know what you think! The next chapter will not take as long to get to you! has been giving me a million problems trying to upload this chapter, but I've finally gotten that sorted out.