"The honeymoon was beautiful," Sakura began. "Everything I've ever dreamed of. Sasuke wasn't compassionate, necessarily, but that's just not his way. I knew the man I was marrying, and I didn't have any unrealistic expectations. I suppose I was blinded by the glamour of it all – at least at first. You were at the wedding; you remember. The weeks afterward followed pretty much the same pattern. There were plenty of expensive gifts. I got this shirt, along with five others very much like it. I also got my ears pierced."

Kakashi's stomach turned a little as Sakura pulled back her hair to reveal a silver charm hanging from each lobe. Really, the earrings were only one more indication of how much she had changed. Ino had been trying to talk her into getting her ears pierced for years, but she had said that it wouldn't be practical for a kunoichi.

He guessed a kunoichi who didn't go on missions or learn new justsu could do whatever she wanted with her ears. Sakura interrupted his thoughts with more of her story.

"Things started getting tense when we got home, a month after the wedding," she explained. "I was a little bit restless."

"Well of course," Kakashi interrupted softly. "You hadn't trained in four weeks. That's unheard of – especially for you, Sakura."

Giving him a weak smile, Sakura shook her head.

"I know, I know… But it's not like that anymore. I'm a wife now – not a ninja."

Kakashi paused. So it was true.

"Is that really what you want?" he asked, somewhat hesitantly.

"It's not an issue of 'want,'" Sakura explained. "It was a conscious choice."

"A choice made by whom, exactly?"

"Made by me!" his companion insisted indignantly. "It's not like it's a needless rule enforced so that Sasuke has some kind of power over me. There's a very good reason for it. I don't need to put the future Uchiha heirs in danger by taking on reckless missions."

Kakashi caught his breath, his eyes immediately focusing on her seemingly unchanged abdomen.

"You're not… pregnant?" he demanded.

There was no response.

Kakashi got up out of his chair, taking a step closer.

"Sakura – "

"I'm not pregnant," she choked out, her head rested in her hand, her eyes covered. "Don't you get it yet? That's the point."

It took several minutes for everything to sink in. Kakashi wasn't accustomed to dealing with so much emotion and guesswork. However, when his former student's meaning hit home, it was like a slap to the face.

"Sasuke won't talk to you because you haven't gotten pregnant yet?" he demanded, his expression beneath his mask one of disgust.

"It's not that simple!" Sakura replied forcefully, looking up at him through red and swollen eyes. "It's not just that I'm not pregnant yet. It's the fact that I can't get pregnant. I'm dysfunctional, don't you get it? I don't serve the purposes I was intended to do."

Suddenly, everything started falling into place.

The "routine" appointment with Tsunade. The anxiety etched on every line of Sakura's face.

"That's why you locked yourself away for so long," Kakashi said. "You didn't want to face the questions from all the other women – from Ino."

"Not even just that," Sakura replied. "I'm not up to shopping and talking and eating dinners out with people. I'm too anxious to sleep most of the time, so I'm drowsy during the day. I'm literally worried sick. And don't talk to me about Ino."

"I'm sorry," Kakashi said reflexively. Then he paused for a moment. "I really am. And not just about mentioning Ino. I'm sorry about… everything."

"Thanks, but I didn't come here for your sympathy," Sakura sighed. "Like I said earlier, I came here for honesty. And I've gotten that, at least."

Kakashi shrugged.

"I've always been good at the honesty thing. It's gotten me into trouble once or twice. But if it's what you want."

"It's what I need."

The two sat in silence for a minute or two. Kakashi was the one to break it, making a statement he knew had to be made, despite the fact that he didn't want to say it.

"You married Sasuke for a reason," he reminded her. "There had to be more to it than just the reestablishment of the Uchiha clan. Didn't you love him?"

Sakura's brow furrowed.

"I think I did. And there was a time when I was sure. But I'm not anymore. You know how obsessed I was when we were children. Then he left, and I began to get over it and grow up a little bit. But when he returned and he wanted me, it was like nothing had changed since we were twelve or thirteen. I had been chosen. I'm beginning to wonder if I wasn't just in love with the idea of him loving me."

"But if he does love you," Kakashi insisted, "then that's reason enough to stay with him… right?"

It seemed to Kakashi horribly ironic that he was trying to convince Sakura to stay with her husband, when all he'd wanted since the beginning was for the marriage not to have happened at all. But it wasn't all about him anymore. It was about the happiness of this broken woman sitting before him. What was good for her. It was a question of honor and loyalty – not selfish jealousy and hurt.

Sakura shook her head slowly.

"Sasuke doesn't love," she replied, chuckling humorlessly. "He needs and he desires and he plans, but he doesn't love. He doesn't even stay the night at his own house anymore – he just leaves and goes off somewhere, probably to train. He's been doing that for three months now. He's given up. As soon as he figured out there wouldn't be any pink-haired sharingan babies, he essentially cut me out of his life."

It was then that Kakashi made the realization.

The one that made all the jumbled information Sakura had given him finally make sense. The reason Sasuke had chosen to take Sakura as a wife rather than taking Ino or any of the others. The reason he had so suddenly and unexpectedly proposed right after getting back to Konoha.

"He's just using you," Kakashi whispered.

Sakura looked up, her eyes widening in concern and confusion.

"How is he using me?"

"He just wanted your genes in his descendants. And why shouldn't he? You're one of the most gifted kunoichi in the Land of Fire. Your healing skills and super-strength, when combined with the sharingan and aptitude for chidori, would be deadly. But it's beginning to sound like that's all any of it was ever about – and that's disgusting."

Kakashi felt a little bit smug about having made the accusation against Sasuke – whom he still resented for both abandoning their team and marrying Sakura – but the look on Sakura's face wiped away his superiority until he felt nothing but pain and shock.

She hadn't realized it. She had been blind to what he was doing to her. In her sweet, young naivety, she hadn't been able to imagine that one person could use another so selfishly. And now she was more broken than ever.

Kakashi bit his lip, wishing perhaps harder than he had ever wished anything that he could steal the words back.

"I shouldn't have been so blunt…" he whispered.

"No," Sakura replied, shaking her head. Though she seemed collected and accepting of what she had been told, Kakashi didn't miss how her voice sounded unnaturally high. "It's true. It's got to be. And it's something I needed to understand."

Kakashi was determined to atone for his mistake.

"You've got to understand something else, though: it's his own shortcoming, and it doesn't say anything about you as a wife or as a person. I can tell you're doubting yourself, but you shouldn't do that. The problem – it's not about you. It's Sasuke. He's the same insecure, treacherous, self-centered person he always has been… "

"That's not what I'm so upset about," Sakura replied, her voice lowered to a whisper. It's just that… I just… wanted to believe that there was a time when he actually loved me."

Sakura finally dissolved into tears, and Kakashi found himself at her side, sitting on the arm of her chair, before he even realized that he had gotten up again. He eased his arm around her shoulders, and she sobbed in earnest into the green fabric of his jounin vest. Even though he was finally holding her, after all the time he had spent dreaming of that moment, it was sadly empty.

"Maybe he did once," Kakashi murmured, desperate to comfort her. "Neither you nor I can say for sure whether he did or not."

"No. He never did. I saw that emptiness in him even before I agreed to marry him – it's hard to miss. But I went through with it anyway," Sakura choked out. "Some naïve little part of me thought that if I loved him enough, he would come around. And I think he still would, if I could give him the heir he wants so badly. But I just can't!"

Kakashi wanted to say something; to tell her that everything was going to turn out okay. But as much as he hated to admit it, he was completely at a loss. Mostly because of a certain crushing emptiness. He felt it within himself and he saw it in her eyes. They were both the unwitting victims of a tempest that was going to destroy everyone in its path.

Of all of the dreams he'd secretly cherished since the wedding of a disheartened Sakura coming to confide in him, he had never imagined how he would react if it actually happened. Random daydreams and thoughts couldn't simulate the feeling of her hot tears soaking through to his chest and the breathy sound she made between sobs.

And, most of all, he had never imagined the pain he would feel in his own heart upon seeing this beautiful, innocent girl so deeply hurt.

"You'll get through this," he whispered, winding the fingers of his free hand through her disheveled hair. "I've seen you face much worse. You defeated Sasori, Sakura, even before you were up to your full potential. You stood behind Naruto for all those years, when all he wanted was to get his lost teammate back. Sakura, you're stronger than this. And besides… you're not alone anymore. We'll get through this. I won't let you face this by yourself – it's too big of a burden for anyone to bear."

Sakura wiped her eyes on her sleeve, and gave Kakashi an expression of bleary-eyed confidence and thankfulness that threatened to made his heart break.

"It means so much… to finally have someone on my side," she whispered.

"Of course," Kakashi replied. "Please come back. Don't try to handle this alone anymore."

"Definitely," Sakura replied. "I wouldn't. I couldn't. I'll come back again in a week, to talk to you again and tell you how things are going. Who knows… maybe then you'll actually manage to get a word in about how your life is going."

Giving Kakashi a quick hug, Sakura picked up her purse and headed for the door, sniffling a couple of times before closing it behind her. Despite the weight he felt on his chest, he watched her depart with a certain hopefulness.

In seven days, she would be back to see him again…