"So what do you think we should do? It is imperative that the council come to a decision tonight!"
As if to emphasis his point, Hiashi Hyuga slammed his fist against the hardwood table where the other clan heads had gathered, rattling their glasses of water.
It was the first Monday night of the month and the heads of all the elite families in Konohagakure had gathered to discuss the village's future. Sasuke, as the head and only member of the Uchiha family, was reluctantly in attendance. This was the only place where his role in the village was openly acknowledged, even though the current Hokage was still adamant about keeping him officially at genin status.
That would change tonight, if he could help it.
The issue after all, was who would become the successor of the current Hokage, when Tsunade retired in the fall. Coming to a decision and appearing to be united behind one leader was detrimental to the stability of the country, and their allies had been waiting for news for many months. The ill effects of their slow progress had been felt last month when a group of rogue ninjas had attacked a small town on the fringe of Fire Country.
This was an offense, which would have never taken place had they been more organized and had the council been more capable of agreeing on whether to spend more money on national security.
As a genin, Sasuke had been not been included in the select group that was sent out to the township of Tanchō as a relief effort and to protect against further harassment, but as an Uchiha, he had been a witness to the lack of accord between certain parties within the village council.
Himself a victim of the village elders' lack of good decision-making skills, the incident had infuriated him at the time, but he had chosen to remain silent and bid his time.
Tonight was the night.
The other council members were all arguing amongst themselves, and hardly any noticed the young Uchiha heir get to his feet until he was standing in the middle of the room. Somehow, without uttering a word, he was able to command their silence, and as the group simmered down, he finally spoke: "Allow me to say something."
"Most of you have lived your lives, sitting behind desks will others risk their lives for this village. To serve, to protect and to follow out on the decisions you make in this room. Very few of you understand what it means to be on the battlefield, with no idea of what the outcome will be when you go out to face an enemy. Such is the life of a ninja."
His audience was captivated.
They were being granted the opportunity to see a side of him that he so rarely revealed: that of vulnerability.
"My own history," he continued, "is not unknown to you. If there is one thing I am familiar with, it is how poor decisions made by those of you this room can affect not just the current population, but also the generations to come after us. It is with that outlook that I propose Uzumaki Naruto, as the heir to our current Hokage."
Immediately, the room was abuzz.
Everyone had an opinion. He was too young, he was too inexperienced, and he was a ninja whose best use was on the battlefield and not behind the scenes. Did he have the same analytical background that Nara Shikamaru had? Was he as deserving of the title as Hatake Kakashi? Would he understand matters outside of issues relating to war? In short, what could he bring to the table beyond a desire to lead and a strong will?
There were so many questions, and nobody was willing to sit still long enough to hear his responses.
In an instant of frustration, he momentarily considered willing them all into obedience. But, shaking off the idea, he instead bent into a deep bow, his hands resting against his knees, "Please."
The room fell silent once again.
"Consider my proposal."
Then, because he was unsure of how much longer he would be able to restrain himself, Sasuke turned and left the room. Most of them had already decided what they wanted to do next, and he refused to participate in pointless discussion. Tomorrow, they would all participate in a vote, and the new Hokage would be ordained.
Naruto would have to become Hokage.
If they chose anybody else, it would be one of the most difficult things he would have to come to terms with in recent times. The dobe, after all, was the best fit for the village. Fire country needed a new leader in order for real change to be made.
It was that desire for change that drove him.
The desire to ensure his brother and his family had not died in vain.
Stepping out into the cool afternoon sunshine, the young Uchiha heir made his way across the street and began the short walk to Konoha Regional hospital. His next stop for the day would be an eye exam, where he would see her again.
She was the only doctor he would ever allow near him.
Everyone had known that, without having to be specifically told.
Still, today's visit would be far from pleasant.
She was no longer engaged because of him.
People were talking about her, and the circumstances around the end of her relationship, because of him.
He knew she was angry.
He knew she felt used.
But that had not been his intention. If there had been some other way, he would have taken that route. To let her continue onwards, making rash decisions would have been reckless. She would have married the guy, unless he took action.
Sakura was exactly the type of woman who would bite of her nose to spite her face, as the saying went.
So he had intervened.
That was all there was to it. And as for gossip: over the years Sasuke had given his village enough material to keep them busy for a lifetime. What was another thing added to that list?
It didn't take him very long to get to the hospital, and when he did, instead of checking in with reception, he turned down an empty corridor (usually reserved for ninjas who were returning from S-rank missions), and took the stairs to the third floor three at a time.
There, in a corner, was a silver plaque, reading: Dr Haruno Sakura.
He knew she wouldn't appreciate him storming into her office, instead of waiting politely in the hall, but he had never been one for ceremony so he let himself in.
She was sitting behind her desk, a pen in her hand, her thick hair pulled up in a tight bun at the top of her head. The piles of papers and files before her were daunting, and when she glanced up, he could see the exhaustion on her pale face.
The minute their eyes locked, it was as though new life was breathed into her.
Launching to her feet, the girl stared him down stonily: "You can't just let yourself into my office. Wait for me outside and then I'll take you to exam room number nine."
She was furious.
He could see it in the rigid set of her shoulders, and in the stormy expression in her emerald green eyes.
Then, instead of listening to her instructions, he stepped into the room and locked the door behind him. He had only a moments warning before the girl began hurling objects at him- first her pen, then two massive files containing hundreds of papers, followed by a flower pot and half the contents of her steaming coffee cup.
Before she could launch anything else at him, Sasuke flash stepped behind her.
He was fast.
So fast that he had enough time to grab her by the shoulders, forcing her to a stand still.
"Let me go," she growled, but made no attempts to free herself.
Probably because she knew her efforts would be fruitless.
"Not until you calm down."
"If you wanted me calm, you shouldn't have come here!"
"We have an appointment."
"Not anymore. I've already handed in my resignation with the Hokage. I can't be your doctor anymore; it would be inappropriate."
This was news to him.
He whirled her around, his fingers digging into her arms unconsciously.
Sakura could see she had finally gotten under his skin. "You heard me. I'm done."
"With me?" He took a step closer.
He took another step closer, until his nose was practically touching her forehead. "Why?"
Unnerved, the girl attempted to pull away. "You know why. How can you even ask me that? Look how you're behaving right now. You don't respect me!"
"Respect? Is that what you want from me?"
She was so angry she was shaking. "It would be a nice place to start! You've ruined my life, so the least you can do is show me some common courtesy and not bully me at my workplace!"
"You call this bullying?"
"What would you call it?" she shot back at him, eyes flashing.
His response was not long winded: "Helping."
Sakura scoffed, throwing her head back, "Helping? Me? You can't be serious. You have always done whatever you could do to make my life difficult. Even as…" she looked away from him, the fight seeming to die out of her, "even as children. I really don't understand you."
Almost without realizing it, his hands moved and he lifted her face up so that he could see her eyes. He could see the frustration in her expression, and felt, that perhaps it would be best for all of them if he expressed a little of what he had always known to be right.
"I have never made your life difficult." His words were blunt, matter of fact even. "And I don't think this little tantrum of yours has to do with our doctor, patient relationship so what is it about? Your little ex-boyfriend?"
"Ex-fiancé," she corrected him. "There is a difference, you know."
"Whatever he was to you, it never meant anything."
"Why did you come crying to me as soon as I returned if you didn't want me to end it?"
"Are you crazy? Just because I want to- to reconnect and talk about old times, does not mean I wanted you to interfere in my life! I don't remember asking you to kiss me," she flushed red, and then lowered her voice, as though worried someone would be listening outside the door. "I never asked for that."
"What if it was what I wanted?" His hand was tracing her jawline, moving across her defined cheekbones. "What was it you said to me? I would still do anything for you. Wasn't that it?"
She froze, surprised to have her words thrown back at her.
Sasuke leaned his head down, pressing his forehead against hers. He was so close he could smell the light, fruity scent of her shampoo. Everything about her was so delicate, from her build to her emotions where it concerned him. "Do you love me?"
The question was so out of left field that for a moment the girl before him stood, her mouth slightly open, gaping at him. Then, almost unable to believe her own ears, she gasped, "I-I'm sorry?"
He raised an eyebrow at her. "Well?"
Sakura licked her lips, and for a moment he thought she would lie to him. But to his surprise, her answer was honest: "I always have."
It was all he had needed to hear.
"Then, if I have ruined your life, you are my responsibility."
She was gazing up at him, with wonderment, clearly not understanding what he was trying to communicate to her.
Would she never change?
"I don't want you to ever see that loser again." The expression on his face was serious. "You are involved now."
Green eyes widened with surprise.
If he were anybody else he would have laughed at her.
She looked stunned.
"Are you asking me," she began slowly, as if still trying to digest his words, "to live with you…as your girlfriend?"
Sasuke drew away from her, leaning back to rest against her desk, his arms crossed over his chest. Sakura stood before him, feeling like twelve years old again, begging for the boy she loved to acknowledge her.
"If that's what you want to call it."
For a moment all she could do was stare at him, and then she began to ramble.
"This is, unexpected. I don't know what to say to you. Do you even like me? I don't know. What will my parents say? I can't just go and live with you! That would be crazy! Everyone would be so shocked." She pressed her hands to her heated cheeks, turning away from him to pace the room. "I don't know, Sasuke-kun! How can you ask me such a thing so suddenly?"
Sasuke was beginning to lose patience with her.
"Che, you're annoying."
She stopped in her tracks.
He approached her, his hands casually in his pockets. "Let me know what you decide."
Just as he turned from her, she called out after him.
"I'll do it."
It was his turn to stop.
"I'll move in with you."
He could feel a negotiation coming so he didn't move.
"Under one circumstance."
Really, he had underestimated his opponent.
"I can't just step out of my old life and into yours," she told him, her voice low and serious. "I don't want to hurt anybody unnecessarily by my actions. I'm also renting an apartment, and my lease only ends in six months. So I keep my apartment, and we keep this a secret for the next six months to keep up appearances."
He titled his head to one side, surveying her. "I'm not interested in keeping up appearances."
"For me." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, shrugging, "It's a small thing to ask, and you get what you want. If what you want is….is me."
She sounded as though she doubted his intentions.
Agreeing with her stipulation was not part of the plan, but he didn't really care if people knew she was his officially or not. The time for that would come. Right now, it was just important to keep her close and away from the troublesome men of Konoha.
Sakura had her head bent, a curtain of thick pale pink hair hiding her face from him. But when he agreed, she glanced up and he saw her lips twitch into a small, satisfied smile. "I'll meet you at your place tonight after work. I may be late because I'll need to bring a few things with me."
It was Monday, and he knew from his familiarity with her schedule that she would only be finished with work at eleven o'clock at night.
The last thing he wanted was for her to be roaming the streets at that hour, and be obliged to wait up for her to get her settled in.
"No. I'll meet you here when you're finished. You'll need some help bringing your things. Women usually do."
Then, considering the conversation closed, the young Uchiha heir unlocked the door and left the room. He heard her call out after him about his medical, and he smirked.
Didn't she realize he had never had any intention of getting examined?
Sakura could hardly concentrate on work that evening.
Her patients noticed a difference in her, and remarked that she must be reacting badly to her breakup with her fiancé. Truth be told, Lee was the last thing on her mind. She knew that and it made her feel horrible.
She had broken his heart after all.
But how could any girl think of Lee when there was Sasuke?
She had seen a completely different side of him that afternoon. He had been as arrogant as ever, bossing her around in her own office, but he had been open and he had expressed a desire to be with her- exclusively.
But to what end?
She knew he wasn't in love with her.
In fact, she highly doubted Sasuke believe in love at all.
He just wasn't that kind of person.
He didn't have a romantic bone in his body.
So what was the purpose of having her live with him? And why had he chosen her? There were so many women to choose from, and if the rumors were to be believed, he certainly had no shortage of sexual partners.
But he wanted her.
The idea of it made her feel giddy.
Sakura was nervous and on edge when her shift finally came to an end. In the changing room, as she took of her scrubs she stood before the mirror and studying her reflection. The simple white cotton panties and bra she were had been selected for convenience and comfort rather than allure.
What would Sasuke think?
Would he try anything funny with her?
She knew she wasn't unattractive. Years of working as a kunoichi had left her with long, toned legs and she believed her body had been admired by a lot of her coworkers. Several had attempted to hook her up with prospective partners over the years, but nobody had ever compared to the one man who had become something a fixture in her life.
Sighing, Sakura turned away from the mirror and slipped into the red polka dot dress she had worn to work that morning, sliding her feet into the black ballet flats she had purchased with Ino a few weeks back. The outfit made her look young and childlike, a fact that she now felt self conscious about.
Reaching into her purse, Sakura pulled out a tube of lip-gloss and a brush. Smearing on little bit of the gloss, she smacked her lips together to spread it evenly and then began brushed her hair out of the conservative style she had pulled it into that morning.
Satisfied with her presentation, Sakura finally grabbed her bags and walked out of the room to say her goodbyes to her coworkers and Ayumi, the front desk receptionist.
Stepping out into the night, the kunoichi looked around for the man who had said he would meet her.
True to his word, and as on time as ever, Sasuke stood across the street, a dark silhouette under the streetlight above. Without exchanging any greetings, the Uchiha heir turned and led the way back to her apartment.
Sakura watched him as they walked.
It was hard to think of herself as his girlfriend. Isn't that what he had said she would become?
As a girl, she had always imagined that if they began dating Sasuke would be as in love with her as she had always been with him. In her imaginations, he would kiss her frequently, compliment her on what she wore, and they would shop for fripperies for their new home together.
The reality of the situation was a stark contrast.
The man before her was as enigmatic as always. He hadn't offered any explanations for his strange request, and she was scared of what his answers might be.
Before long, Sakura found that they had reached the small brick apartment building where she lived. Sasuke was looking at her expectantly, so murmuring an apology for being so listless; she reached into her purse and drew out her key to let them in.
Sasuke followed her in, and she led the way up a series of flights to apartment 6B.
Opening the door with her card lock, she held the door open, inviting him in.
She found herself wishing she had cleaned up that morning as he walked in. a neat freak like him would hardly approve of her breakfast dishes being pilled up in the sink, clothes and magazines strewn across the small unmade bed in the corner of her studio apartment.
"I'll just grab some of my clothes. Umm, make yourself comfortable."
Then she stepped into the adjoining bathroom. Pulling out a duffel bag from the cabinet beneath the sink, she began throwing things into her overnight pack arbitrarily.
A toothbrush, toothpaste, a few bobby pins, her favorite fluffy pink towel, deodorant, sanitary pads, and her favorite shampoo all went into the bag.
When she returned, she found Sasuke staring out the window, deep in thought.
"I'm sorry if I'm taking too long." She shuffled over to the large chest beside her closet, and threw in a change of underwear, a clean bra, and a black skirt and white blouse to wear to work in the morning. "There, all done. We can go now."
"Naruto lives close to you."
It was more of a remark than a question, but she responded: "Yes, he does. Just down the street actually."
If Sasuke had spoken for a reason, he did not share that reason with her.
Instead, he grabbed her duffel bag, ignoring her protests and walked out.
The walk to the Uchiha compound took significantly longer than she had anticipated. She had spent a good deal of chakra at the hospital that day, and it was taking all of her strength to fight back drowsiness as they walked.
So, in an effort to stay awake, she began conversation. "Do you cook?"
At first she thought he wouldn't respond, but to her surprise he said: "Yes."
"What do you cook?"
She scowled at his back, and sensing her disapproval, he amended: "Simple dishes."
Sakura could tell that was the most she was going to get out of him on that subject, so she sighed, wrapping her arms around herself: "It's a little chilly tonight isn't it, Sasuke-kun."
He didn't reply.
Giving up on conversing with her silent teammate, she followed behind him obediently until they came to the stone gates that led into the compound. In the dark she couldn't see very far, but it was obvious that Sasuke was still working on the property.
He led her down a gravel path, and then they came to the front of the main house.
This was where Sasuke lived.
All alone on this gigantic estate.
She wondered if he ever felt lonely.
Letting her into the house, the young Uchiha heir motioned around him. "All the bedrooms in the house are not livable except mine. You will sleep there with me."
Then, as if there was nothing else to discuss, he took the stairs and left her standing alone in the hall.
Realizing that it was silly to feel shy about their arrangement now, Sakura followed him upstairs, trying hard not to stare too much around her.
This was where Sasuke-kun had grown up.
These rooms had been filled with his family once: a mother, a father, and a brother. Did they meet on this landing, to wish each other every night before bed? Had they all been happy?
There was so much about his life that she would never know.
Sasuke's bedroom was large, and sparsely furnished. There was a futon in the middle of the room, and a large closet on the other end. Nothing was lying around; the hardwood floors were polished to perfection.
Dropping her duffel bag in the corner, Sasuke pointed to a small door to their right.
"That's the bathroom." Then, without warning he pulled his shirt off and announced his intention to take a shower.
Sakura stared after him opened mouthed.
This was going to take some getting used to.
Thankfully, when he returned he was dressed in loose pants and a white shirt so she had no occasion to blush.
"I've forgotten to bring something to sleep in. Do you think I could borrow something of yours?"
Sakura waited awkwardly as he grabbed a folded t-shirt from the large closet where he kept his things. Thanking him for quietly, she slipped into the bathroom and took a longer shower than usual, hoping he would be asleep by the time she returned.
Stepping back into the room, dressed only in his t-shirt and a pair of underwear, she was relived to find the lights switched off, with her old teammate lying in bed, his back turned to her.
Moving as quietly as she could, the kunoichi lifted up the covers and slid into bed. At first she tried to take as little space up as possible, keeping herself almost at the end of the futon.
But then, realizing that the man beside her would have made a move long ago if he were so inclined, she relaxed a little and turned towards him.
How many other women had been in bed like this with him before her, she wondered, watching the slow rise and fall of his chest.
Had he been attracted to them?
Was he not attracted to her?
It was ridiculous to be so fearful of having him make a move, and yet feel disheartened when he didn't.
She was just about to turn away, and finally get some rest when he spoke.
"Are you disappointed?"
Sakura blushed, and was glad he couldn't see her expression. "Disappointed? No, why should I be."
She felt the mattress shift under her as he moved until he was above her, one hand at either side. Her heartbeat began to race, and she was suddenly aware of what could happen between them.
Sakura wanted to be close to him, and yet was terrified of being just another name on the list of woman who had shared their bodies with him.
More importantly, she was terrified of having her heart broken.
But all considerations of what could happen swept from her mind as he leaned down, pressing his mouth against hers. His kiss was slow, spreading a low heat through her body. Her hands moved as she responded, tugging at the hair on the nape of his neck.
She was so caught up, she didn't realize he was trying to pull away until he gently grabbed her hands and pried them off.
Then, without exchanging another word with her, he withdrew, leaving her to stare up at the ceiling until her heart rate returned to normal. She knew that in taking her relationship with Sasuke to the next level she was playing with fire, but she had not anticipated the rush of affection she would feel for the man beside her when the amount of physicality between them existed.
Sakura did not know what the future would hold, but she hoped he would not hurt her.
(A/N: Finally, another chapter! This one was pretty long to make up for the lack of updates. Enjoy!)