It's like there's a veil, and he'd drawn it up for her in France. Now, he's back to half-sentences and agitated stares. She wants to shake him and yell at him and ask him what's wrong, what has she done to warrant these silences?

But there's Fugaku's watchful eye (he's staying with us, Sakura. He's my father. It's business. And none of yours, she thinks he must have added in his mind) and she can't, it would be too unbecoming of her.

He's never unkind, never hurtful beyond what she's come to expect of him, but he's not there anymore. They could be eating breakfast at the same table and she might as well be all alone.

"Sasuke-kun. Sasuke—"

Not alone, because there Fugaku is, and he looks at her like she is doing something wrong.

Why can't I talk to my husband, she thinks balefully, isn't that my right?

Sakura spends enough of her days alone wandering the Uchiha estate that she starts to feel like a ghost—like one of those women in stories where loss touches them young, taking husbands, sons, daughters away and leaving behind grief. Except her husband is here, right here, and there's nothing tragic about her situation. Sakura doesn't wear tragedy well; she just feels pathetic.

She briefly thinks about returning to the hospital again; she misses being a doctor—being able to make a difference, the steel of the operating room and her fingers wrapped steady around a scalpel and saving lives. But she never mentions it to Sasuke, not even when they're alone.

Sakura knows the long hours that someone in her profession keeps, and doubts that they'd be suitable for someone married to Sasuke. Rumors would start about the Uchiha wife who stayed out late into the night, coming home rumpled and exhausted. Sure, they would say, she says she's a doctor, that she's just doing her job, but who knows? She's already filthy rich, what does she need to work for? She's a liar and a whore, that one, a liar and a

And that, Sakura thinks, would be unbecoming indeed.

Besides, Sasuke's going to start taking her to society functions and work functions and charity functions and why-the-hell-not functions soon, and if she'd kept to her old schedule it would never work.

She has to prioritize.

2

The dress she wears is too thin in the cold of the ballroom, and Sakura shivers despite the sheer wrap around her shoulders. Sasuke stands next to her, talking to one important person or another, she can't remember. These things—the dresses, the dinners, the balls and the quiet way she has to always trail behind her husband—has started to all blur together. Sakura's starting to feel indistinct too, and it scares her; she's fought all her life for recognition, to stand out and be more than just an accessory to her brilliant best friends, and for it all to fall through now?

She wonders how much you're supposed to give up for love.

"You have a beautiful wife, Uchiha-san."

The words finally break through to her, a second before a large, beefy arm is settling itself around her shoulders. Sakura freezes, not sure what to do, caught between flipping the stranger onto his back and enduring it, statue-still.

A few months ago and there would've been no question as to what route she would've taken. A few months ago she would have broken this man's nose with no hesitation. A few months ago, she would've bristled that she had a name, and it wasn't wife.

Now, she stands and she's still and she wonders if this—this manhandling—will be part and parcel of being married into the Uchiha too; if she is expected to take being treated as little more than decoration without a single complaint.

"Take your hands off of Sakura."

Sasuke's voice is cooler than usual, and harsh. The man splutters, and his arm slips down her side with a small thump; the feel of it leaves her disgusted. More than that though, her name rings in her ears; he'd called her Sakura, and what used to be cursory and routine now holds a special sort of power over her. She's so used to being called Lady Uchiha or Mrs. Uchiha or Uchiha Sasuke's wife that she can't remember the last time anyone's used her name.

Her name buoys her through the rest of the long night, and Sakura can't help but feel like she's grasping at straws.

"Oh, sorry Sasuke-kun, I didn't know you were in here."

He looks up at her from his place on the library sofa, books and papers scattered around him, reading glasses perched on his nose. Sakura hovers in the doorway, and just as she decides that she'll take her reading to her room, Sasuke shakes his head and nods at the space next to him.

She sits next to him gingerly, and is a good few pages into her book when she finally notices that he's still staring at her.

"Am I bothering you? I really can just go read in my room—"

"It's fine. Just stay."

Sakura wants to believe him, and she tries to go back to her reading, but when she peeks at him from under her eyelashes he is still looking at her. The stare unsteadies her, makes it impossible for her to concentrate on the words on the page, and even then she had always hated when people hovered as she read.

"Are you sure I'm not annoying you? Really, I know you have a lot of work Sasuke-kun, it's fine."

She's halfway off the sofa when he interrupts her with a sit, and she can't ignore the irritated tone of his voice. Sakura bites her lip, not knowing if she should stay or leave. "If I was bothering you, you can just tell me…I'm your wife, I'm supposed to be making this easy for you."

Sasuke exhales through his nose, the noise harsh and angry. The library is filled with midday quiet and the force of his contempt.

"It's not your job to make it easier for me Sakura."

She nods and sits back down, but her spine is stiff and she feels like she's just failed a test. She can't concentrate on the book, much less actually enjoy what she's reading, and after about five minutes of tense silence, Sasuke is the one to finally stand and leave.

"Next time, just speak up."

She was in her second year of med school at Columbia when Itachi disappeared, and she didn't hear about it until a week after the fact. It was her fall break and her first time in Japan since the summer, and Sasuke and Naruto had greeted her at the airport like always. She'd sensed the difference the moment she spotted them across the baggage claim; Naruto's face with a pinched smile on it, and Sasuke looking so tense that she was afraid he would snap.

"Your fiancé ran."

Later, she would think about the way he'd said fiancé instead of my brother, but in that moment Sakura had mostly been trying to sort out the relief she'd felt at the possibility of being free, of cutting herself loose from the expectation of a future filled with being Lady Uchiha, and worry for Sasuke. She'd felt awful with herself afterwards, because with Itachi gone all the responsibilities of being heir fell on the second-born—Sasuke, who'd quietly idolized his perfect older brother even though he never said as much. Sasuke, who Itachi betrayed in the worst possible way.

He was different after Itachi left: quieter, less prone to smiles and smirks, more serious than she'd ever thought possible. Sometimes, Sakura thought that maybe Sasuke would've been happier if his older brother had taken him too, if he'd at least bothered to leave a note and a half-assed excuse. Because then it would've meant that Itachi had at least cared enough to try.

That would've made all the difference in the world, Sakura knew as she ignored the urge to go to him during those first few weeks. She wouldn't have been able to say anything of real use anyways, at least nothing that would've made it any better for Sasuke. In fact, it would've been worse, because of who Itachi had been to her, and the things she'd said the last time they'd talked.

And because Fugaku wasn't the sort of man who let go, because he's never let her father forget what he's done for her family, she had wondered where that left her.

"What are you reading?"

His voice startles her enough that she nearly drops her book, and she looks up sheepishly to find Sasuke leaning against the doorway. He has his papers with him again, and she wonders if he's heading to the library or if he wants to use the study. "Nothing that would really interest you, Sasuke-kun. Do you need to use the…?"

Sakura pauses when she notices the tic in his jaw, that little jump that's always told her when he was annoyed. Swallowing reflexively, she tries to tell him again that it's fine, she could go to the living room or the bedroom if he needs the study, but he's gone again before she can get the words out.

Her husband's just asked her if she would like to go to the Autumn Hachiman Matsuri with him a minute ago, and Sakura's still looking at him like an idiot.

Sasuke has to raise an eyebrow bemusedly at her before Sakura finally snaps out of it, "Well, of course Sasuke-kun! Is it for work again?"

"No, but I can take some time off," he says over his pancakes, like it's no big deal that Uchiha Sasuke is talking about a vacation, let alone one right before an election year.

"But you can't—it's ok. We can go to the festival some other year; you can't take time off—not now." And besides, she adds ruefully in her head, you don't even like festivals.

He looks up briefly and agrees some other year, but his voice is considerably cooler than before. Sakura clenches her fingers around her mug of tea and tries to figure out what she has done wrong.

His fingers are slip-sliding over her hips, and she nearly manages to huff a laugh before his lips are slanting over hers again for another open-mouth kiss; she feels like she's suffocating in the late August heat, or maybe that's just the effect he has on her. Her fingers flex around his sweat slicked shoulders and she pulls herself closer to him, breaks away from the kiss to press her mouth against the base of his throat. He makes a noise, hums, and she can feel the vibrations move through her. She answers in kind, pants his name in one strangled cry as he murmurs his approval. He moves under her, over her, and then his body is pressing against hers in a wall of heat and hardness and she feels like she's on fire, that maybe she is on fire, that she's burning up in the feel of him and the friction they create. He pushes against her again and again and there—he's repeating her name low under his breath, and the intensity in those three syllables leaves her aching, even past the sensation of his hands mapping and memorizing her body as hers slide over his own.

And then there's an instance in the aftermath where she's nearly brimming with what she feels for him, when he's too tired to move away from her and they lay flushed together, his head pillowed on her chest, his breath raising goose bumps along her skin despite the heat. The feeling's nearly painful, but it's not bad at all. She wishes they could stay like this, make these few minutes into an eternity and live in them forever, because she's forgotten how to reach him in the same way during the day, outside of moments involving lips and teeth and tongue.

You're not good enough for either of my sons, Fugaku had told her once.

I want her, Sasuke had said.

It's like a switch flips again, and he's cold and distant—brusque. He barely talks to her and never looks at her, and even when his hand is at her elbow or the small of her back to guide her—to corral her from place to place during fundraisers or some other obligatory event, his touch is light, negligible. Except at night, when he pretends that nothing's changed, that he isn't treating her like something dispensable, like something that he wants gone but can't be bothered to throw away himself, and that she isn't looking at him all the time, trying to hold his eyes with her own and a thin, wobbling smile.

Sakura feels like Sasuke's waiting for her to crack, to get angry and yell and maybe even throw things like she might have once, except no, she won't give his father this, she won't let her family down—she can't. And most of all there is her husband; there is Sasuke and there is Sakura's need to be good for him, because he'd chosen her even though he'd known, even though she had been second—

She thinks about love, and how to be the person he wanted her to be. She wonders if it makes a difference that she was supposed to be Itachi's first, and she wants to tell Sasuke over and over again that no, it's always been him.

I love you, I can't—I can't marry your brother, Sasuke. It's too—

Think about your mother and father.

But—

They're your family.

"Sasuke-kun, do you want to go out for dinner tonight? Or would you rather stay in?"

"Either way is fine."

"Are you sure? Then I guess we can go out…which restaurant should I make a reservation for?"

"…what do you want to eat?"

"I'm pretty low maintenance in the food department. You've been working hard on those reforms; we should eat what you like—"

"Sakura, it's fine. We can just stay in."

"Oh…but still, what would you like to have? I'll go ask the chefs to—"

"Surprise me."

"But just what do you think?"

"For once I'd like to hear what you think."

He bends down to kiss her, and she turns away.

Sasuke freezes like that, one hand planted beside her head, the other loose at her waist. They had been getting ready to go out, and she'd come down in a long, slinky red dress with a thigh high slit up the side. He'd frozen when he first saw her too, and when she finally made her way down the stairs he'd walked over to her with a kind of dark intent that she had recognized.

Then he'd bent, and she'd turned her head, and now here they are.

Sakura's heart stutters to a stop, but she can't find it in herself to regret it, not when his kisses these days made her feel slightly used and so wrecked on the inside.

She expects him to back away, to leave, to spend another night filled with tense silences, but Sasuke doesn't. Instead, his hand does a slow slide down her side until it's resting at her hip, his thumb moving back and forth over the thin fabric there, and suddenly Sakura's finding it hard to breathe. Her face is still turned away from him, but a finger lightly taps her chin, turns her head until she's looking straight into his eyes; the pupils are dark and blown, and she can make out the normally imperceptible ring of grey rimming his irises.

Sasuke doesn't try to kiss her again, and she wonders what he wants, wishes that he would let her go before her heart explodes from her chest in a hammering mess. She thinks that she looks afraid, but never of him, just his ability to make her lose her head and to deconstruct her into her most basic of parts.

She counts seven exhales of warm air across her cheekbones before he finally pulls away, and it takes another five shallow breaths of her own until her legs feel steady enough to support her again.

Sakura sits on the veranda in the middle of the compound, legs swinging over the edge like she's still young, and counts the red leaves falling from the maple trees.

He's not happy, she realizes.

And neither am I.

"Are you ever going to come back and finish your residency?"

Sakura looks down at the drink in her hand and avoids Tsunade's stare. "I'm not sure. I just—Sasuke's been really busy, and next year's an election year. I'll…I'll ask about it the year after that."

The café is bustling, and she almost misses her old teacher's snort.

"You shouldn't have to ask for permission. You love medicine, and you've actually got a knack for it; your fool of a husband knows that. You've been working for this for years, Sakura. Don't waste it—your time or your potential."

Sakura hums in vague agreement and Tsunade drops the subject—instead, the woman makes her laugh with clinic stories and Jiraiya's latest escapades. Sakura almost wants to cry, because even though she loves Tsunade and she's grateful that she could find the time to meet the older woman at all, the visit reminds her of all the things that she's had to give up since marrying Sasuke.

She doesn't regret him, but sometimes, sometimes she just wishes that someone would call her doctor again, or even just Haruno-san. Uchiha Sakura still doesn't taste quite right on the tongue.

(When they finally say their goodbyes, Tsunade pulls Sakura into a tight hug—a rare occurrence for her—and whispers into her ear, I know you'll make the right choice.

And she wants to ask: But haven't I already?)

Sakura knows that love and happiness doesn't necessarily have anything to do with each other, but she can't stop wanting both anyways, because wasn't she trying hard enough? To both be a good wife to Sasuke and meet every expectation that Fugaku and the rest of the clan have set for her?

If she's already given up her dreams, her name—have effectively become his, what more is there?

Her father had signed her away, and Fugaku was the one to attach a price to her name, and then there was Itachi in the shadows and always Sasuke up in front, and her trying to chase him, to chase Naruto and Ino and everyone else who had been so extraordinary without having to think about it.

Don't waste your potential.

How much of it did she have, if she couldn't even make her husband happy?

The door to his study stays shut, even after she knocks on it twice. Sakura frowns and turns the knob, pushes it open and—

Sasuke looks back at her, his eyes dark and impassive, the business associate that he was supposed to meet earlier today attached firmly to his arm, pressing wet kisses along his jaw.

There's a beat of silence before the brunette woman notices her, and even though he hadn't been touching her back, even though he'd showed no sign of pleasure on his face at all, Sasuke still hadn't pushed her away.

"Oops—I'll see you next week, Uchiha-kun."

The honorific starts a slow buzzing in Sakura's stomach, in her head, and she stands rooted to the spot even long after the door closes behind the other woman's back. She wants to move, she wants to run actually, toward him or away from him she can't tell—run away or run straight at him, attack him, because he hadn't pushed her away and he's still not saying anything, his face is still blank and she has this urge to smash that careful composure, to smash his heart and pulverize his face and run him through a meat grinder, but all these thoughts are coming from a place far, far away, and mostly there's just this static in her head and her body, leaden and heavy and stuck in this one place.

If he even acts remotely sorry

But his face, Sasuke's goddamn face is like stone, like polished granite or bullet proof glass, and his eyes are killing her because she can't read anything in them and there's not a trace of the regret that she wants so badly to see, nothing like love or grief or even guilt.

He hasn't even blinked, and the red of her lipstick still shines wet and slick against his skin.

Sakura closes her eyes and counts to ten, ignoring the roaring in her ears.

And when she's done, when she's looking at his inscrutable face again, she says—

"I want a divorce."

She can't tell if walking away is the hardest or the easiest thing she's ever done.

tbc


note: Sorry, this chapter's sort of a mess. Thank you for all your reviews, and any thoughts or suggestions are always appreciated!