When Sasuke showed up one night to walk her home from her late shift at the hospital, Sakura was nothing if not surprised.

It was about a year since the war ended—half since the official reconstruction of the village was deemed complete, and three months since the sole Uchiha survivor and redeemed missing-nin was lifted of his probation and promptly reinstated as a rightful Konoha shinobi.

In that time, Team Seven had slowly, but surely, been working on rekindling the bonds that had been strained and tested throughout their still so short existence. They went on missions together, trained together, and ate together—ramen, and more often than any of the members, beside Naruto, truly wanted.

Sasuke and Sakura had repaired their relationship, as well—the way they always had and probably always would: with Sakura silently forgiving him and Sasuke accepting to pretend nothing had happened.

The truth was, the day he attempted to end the life of the person who had been most loyal to him still haunted the young Uchiha; it was still the cause of his heaviest self-loathing. However, he was a man of few words. If anyone offered him a way out of a predicament that didn't involve him explaining himself and the incomprehensible mass of emotions inside of him, he would take it.

Sakura always did.

Perhaps it was that why he found himself there.

"You came to walk me home?" the pink-haired woman asked, hesitant and confused, unsure of whether she had heard him right.

Sasuke swallowed, agitated, from where he stood in the doorway of her office. "Aa."

Although still surprised, Sakura decided not to press the matter and instead nodded, giving him a small smile. "Alright then," she said. "Thanks, Sasuke-kun, I'll be ready in a minute."

Agreeing with a nod she never saw as she turned her back to him, Sasuke crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the doorframe. Sakura put together a small stack of files, before shrugging her medical coat off her shoulders.

The silky top and lacy skirt she wore underneath had him reconsidering his decision for the first time.

Sakura was the most innocent person he had ever met, the one with the purest heart out of the entire world, the only one who had managed to protect and preserve that part of herself even in spite of everything she had been through. Was tainting her with his darkness truly what he wanted?

"Alright, I'm ready," her soft voice pulled him out of his thoughts, and his eyes refocused to find her standing in front of him, fumbling with closing her small purse while at the same time holding the stack of papers in her hand. He took a step back, allowing her to exit the room and then close the door behind her, after which they both started down the hallway.

Downstairs, the pink-haired woman left her completed paperwork at the reception desk for it to be picked up later by the person who was in charge that night, keeping only the few patient files she had decided to bring home for further study. Throughout her career, many people had told her she was much too involved in her cases, her mentor included, but the truth was that the young kunoichi preferred it that way; only by pouring everything she had into everything she did could she rest peacefully at night.

"So, what's the occasion?" she asked, with a soft smile, as she turned her head to gaze at her silent companion. Sasuke was walking beside her with his hands casually stored inside his pockets, staring straight ahead with the same emotionless expression he had plastered on his face since they were Genin. "You almost never stop at the hospital, even when you're hurt."

Although Sasuke and Sakura were now on what could be called good terms, their relationship was far from close, if it were to be compared with the one he had with Naruto. They could hold a civil conversation when the time called for it, and although Sakura found it hard to make small talk with someone who responded to everything with noncommittal noises, she was pretty good at rambling away by herself; they communicated well on missions and greeted each other when they met by accident. Sometimes, Sasuke even seemed to prefer her calm presence to his best friend's exuberant personality, and Sakura always had a smile ready for him, whether he deserved it or not.

But that was really as far as their usual interaction went. Sasuke stopping to ask her a question when they met on the street was rare, not to mention him coming to pick her up from the hospital.

Though the pink-haired woman did take pride in the fact that he only ever allowed her to heal him.

"I need to talk to you," was his crisp reply.

Sakura blinked. Shifting the papers in her hands so that she was cradling them to her chest, she shrugged. "I'm listening."

Sasuke stopped, turned to face her, and made eye-contact. It was now or never. Taking a deep breath, he second-guessed himself no more and spewed out the two words that, unbeknownst yet to the woman standing in front of him, would turn her world upside down and spin it on its axis. "Marry me."

Sakura blinked once more, and took a step back in shock. Her mind having trouble processing his, albeit loaded, quite simple statement, she stammered over her words as she spoke, "You… You want me to marry you…?" Shaking her head, she blinked again. "Why?"

"I…" With a furrow between his brows, he shrugged. With how simple and logical the entire situation sounded in his head, Sasuke had expected it to be a lot easier to put into words. "I need to restore my clan," he finally said, after a couple of moments of hesitation. "I need a wife for that."

"Oh," the kunoichi breathed out, half in surprise and half in understanding. As the pieces finally fell into place, the picture slowly, but surely, began to make sense. The reminiscence of a foolish girl with long pink hair had her hoping, for a moment, but the woman she had become, loaded with infinite knowledge and overpowered by selfless love, made it impossible for her to feel even the smallest pinch of disappointment. Shifting her weight to her right leg, Sakura cocked her head to the side. "Why me?"

Sasuke scoffed, as if he expected her to already know, and yet, once again, it took him a minute to find his words. As he gazed down at his feet, a frown appeared on his face.

The truth was, he hadn't quite thought about it. Sakura had always been the logical choice for him, the only woman his mind linked the mere notion of children with, and it did it with such vehemence and intensity that, the moment Sasuke decided it was time to steer his life in a different direction, he hadn't bothered to find out why that was.

Instead of letting her in on all of that, though, he opted for the easier way out—always the easier way out.

"You're the only woman I can stand," he told her, bluntly and without preamble and with his onyx eyes sincere, because while it wasn't the whole truth, it wasn't a lie, either.

Sakura surprised him by laughing. "Geez, thanks, Sasuke-kun," she said, shaking her head. Then she smiled, and nodded. "Alright," she agreed.

Logical would have been for her to take at least a couple of minutes to consider his offer, to turn it over in her head, to examine it, critically and analytically, because, as a kunoichi, she must be aware of the fact that rushing headlong into an action without viewing the situation from every angle and considering every possible consequence first was nothing short of a mistake, but what would have been the point in that, when she already knew what her answer would be?

"I'll marry you."

As natural and as unavoidable as the conclusion felt to her, it completely baffled the young Uchiha. He wasn't sure what he'd expected, but it wasn't that. Which was peculiar in itself and made him want to roll his eyes at his train of thought, because if he hadn't expected her to say yes, then why had he even asked, right?

But she seemed completely unaffected by his proposal. She hadn't put a single condition and hadn't asked a single question, but perhaps what bothered him more was that he was sure she was perfectly aware of the fact that he felt absolutely nothing for her. She was a teammate, an acquaintance, and he could even go as far as calling her his personal medic; but she was far from being even his friend. She knew him only slightly better than the average person, and she held onto ridiculous beliefs of there being light and good inside of him. He couldn't open up to her like he did to Naruto because she would never force him, he would never beat her up, and she would never understand. He had rejected her confession and stomped onto her heart, he had left her on a bench and never apologized for that or even for attempting to brutally and intentionally murder her. He never talked and he didn't always listen when she spoke, because he wasn't always interested in what she had to say.

Surely, she must have known all of that; some things he'd shouted to her face, others were more than obvious in his demeanor, but he'd never bothered to dissimulate around her. She'd always had to deal with the real him.

So, for a moment, Sasuke was angry at her for accepting his proposal. He was angry, because what was she doing? Why was she so foolish? Why would anyone willingly enter an agreement that brought them zero benefits but that was more than likely to bring them pain and heartbreak? Sasuke couldn't treat her right and he definitely couldn't love her and that knowledge must have been there, through the bits and pieces of what she had, in time, learned about him.

But then he remembered the reason why the possibility of rejection had crossed his mind, but never lingered enough for him to truly take it into account.

Sakura loved him. She'd never said it again, but one had to be blind not to notice, and despite what everyone said, Sasuke was anything but. No, the last Uchiha was fully aware of which people cared about him and how much each did; his problem lied in understanding why they cared and in the fact that he could and would probably never be able to return their feelings. And, with Sakura, it was plain and simple, black on white. It was in her every action, every gesture, every word and every glance. Perhaps, unconsciously, that had played a part in him wanting specifically her as his future wife.

Still, the pink-haired woman must also be perfectly aware of how much she valued, so how could she not want a man capable of giving her not only the world, but himself, as well?

In the end, though, he decided that all the questions he had no answer to were unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Two perfectly capable adults had made a decision. She'd said yes and that was good for him, because had her answer been different, he would have had a whole new set of problems to deal with.

And Uchiha Sasuke already had enough problems on his hands.

"Maybe we could meet up sometime tomorrow?" Sakura suggested, bringing him back from his thoughts. He looked up to find her still standing in front of him, clutching onto her patient files, still dressed much too delicately for a kunoichi, and still smiling. It was as if she was merely inquiring about the weather and not as if she had just made a choice that would change her entire life. "So we can, you know, go over the details."

Sasuke shuffled his feet in the dirt and, not knowing what to say or how to act, settled for a simple, "Hn."

Sakura didn't seem bothered by that. "I usually have lunch at the café down the road from the hospital. Small, cozy, with flowers up front," she described. "If you want, meet me there at around twelve, alright?"

He nodded in response, and she smiled.

"See you, Sasuke!"

They were the last words she told him, before she turned around and started down the path to her home, without once glancing back. He was left there, in the middle of the road, with no one but the moon to shine down upon him, unsure of what bothered him more: her smile, her nonchalance, or the fact that she'd thought he had no intention of even walking her home after he accomplished his purpose.

On her part, the moment she closed the door to her apartment, Sakura collapsed against it and cried—she cried her heart out, tears and sobs and hiccups that she could not control, not suppress, despite all of her efforts and all of her training as a kunoichi. She'd mastered the art of handling her emotions a long, long time ago, back when she had only started to train under Tsunade, and she had only been perfecting it ever since, but there was something about Sasuke—there had always been something about Sasuke—that disarmed her completely. Not only that, but it made it feel alright—as if it was natural for her to cry for him and because of him.

Looking back, Sakura concluded that maybe it was.

So, she gave up what little control she had left and cried. She cried for all the times she wished she could have but stopped for fear of appearing weak. Cried for all the times he threw hurtful words she wasn't sure he meant in her direction. Cried for the way her heart broke, once again, with the reply he gave to her only question that evening.

But, perhaps most of all, she cried for all of her foolish, childhood dreams that would now never come true. And she cried for the fact that she did not have it in her to stop what was most likely to be a mistake.

"So, do you want a big wedding or a small wedding?" Sakura asked, the following day, as they sat across from each other in the same café she had indicated the night before, perusing the menu.

Sasuke shrugged, not even bothering to meet her eyes. "I don't care," he answered honestly.

The pinkette smiled and placed down her menu, already knowing what she wanted. "Well, that was certainly not the answer I expected, but I asked you because, basically, we only have two options: either we elope or we tell Ino."

The Uchiha frowned. Finally raising his head to meet her gaze, he wondered when it was, exactly, that he'd given her the impression that he wouldn't want her to tell her best friend of their engagement. "You can tell Ino," he deadpanned, watching her carefully, holding her gaze, trying to figure out what was going on through her head.

He found, with no small amount of displeasure, that he couldn't.

"Are you sure?" she pressed. "Because then you'd have to suffer through an engagement party and a bachelor party, without a doubt, and then a big wedding and… you know." Shrugging, she tucked a lock of pink hair behind her ear. "I wouldn't mind getting married and letting people know afterwards. It's not a big deal."

A muscle twitched in his jaw as he clenched it tightly, annoyed with how impossibly hard it was for him to read her. She wasn't being sincere, but had he not known that, from instinct, almost, there would have been no way for him to find out. It occurred to him then, for the first time, that her not being emotionless didn't mean she wasn't just as good as him at hiding what she was feeling; she simply had another method—and, who knew, maybe it was even more effective than his.

"It's fine, Sakura," he grunted, dismissing the subject.

"Alright." The smile she gave him didn't convince him, if only for the fact that he wasn't so sure anymore he could distinguish her real emotions from her pretense.

Maybe he had been foolish all long, for even considering the fact that he could.

They were in the middle of a sparring session when Sasuke opened his mouth to let out the words that sent Naruto stumbling and, as a result, diving headfirst into the rocky terrain under their feet, caused by their own powerful attacks.

"I'm marrying Sakura," he said, and then watched, with a somewhat pitiful expression on his face—unsure of whether he should feel boredom, disgust, or plain old annoyance—as his supposed best friend spit out the dirt that had made its way into his mouth the moment his face made contact with the ground.

"What the hell, Sasuke-teme!" he yelled, straightening to a sitting position, looking up at him with an accusatory glare in his eyes. "Why did nobody tell me you two were dating? For how long has this been going on?!"

Sasuke rolled his eyes. Leave it to Naruto to pick on that, out of everything he had at his disposal. "We haven't been dating, idiot."

The blond frowned. "What do you mean you haven't been dating?" he demanded, annoyed with the fact that Sasuke, instead of elucidating the mystery, only made everything harder to understand. It was typical of him, but that didn't mean Naruto had reached the point where he wouldn't be bothered by it anymore. "How does this work, then?"

Sasuke gritted his teeth in annoyance. It was unbelievable how much the idiot could step on his nerves with a simple conversation, without even trying, and briefly, he wondered why he had lived with the impression that it was him who should let him know. Sakura could have just as well done it. After all, she was also a member of their team, and it was no secret that Naruto saw her as a little sister. Why couldn't she have gone to him, invited him out to Ichiraku's, and then broken the news to him? They could have even done it together, he wouldn't have minded.

But telling Naruto was something he had felt he had to do—not Sakura, not the two of them, not a random old lady spouting gossip in a corner of the marketplace.

Perhaps it was because responsibility represented a great deal of his life and education; it had been drilled into him from an early age—his family, his clan, his village, his brother… Everything was resting on his shoulders—and his future wife and impeding wedding had barely added to the weight.

Perhaps it was because of what Naruto meant to Sakura and what Sakura meant to Naruto; perhaps, because of the sibling sort of relationship they seemed to share, he had felt as though he was asking for her hand in marriage from her family—another remnant of his strict upbringing.

Perhaps it was simply because of his OCD tendencies and the idea that, if he wanted something done properly, he would have to do it himself.

Either way, he ignored the possibility that him and Sakura simply weren't a couple yet—two persons that tended to matters together and not separated.

"I asked Sakura to marry me," he said, with an air of finality around it, "She said yes. End of story."

"Woah, woah, woah, teme!" Naruto hurried to stand up, stopping him when he turned to leave. "It's not that easy! I didn't see it coming!"

The Uchiha raised an eyebrow. "Do I seem to care?"

"You should!" the blond all but screamed. "What if I went into shock or something?"

Rolling his eyes, Sasuke opened his mouth to insult him, plain and simple, because that was how people should deal with such idiots, but Naruto interrupted him before a word could as much as leave his mouth.

"But forget about that," he said, and the sudden seriousness in his tone and expression had him burying his hands into his pockets and nearly frowning. "What do you mean you asked Sakura-chan to marry you? Just like that? All of a sudden? Without… a warning or anything?"

Turning his head to glance the other way, Sasuke shrugged. He'd known Naruto would ask such a question, but he hadn't bothered to find an answer to it beforehand. He'd thought about it, he truly, honestly had, because his best friend had a way of being relentless—and he'd learned that firsthand. Whatever it was that he wanted, he went for it with everything he had, never faltering, never deviating, never stopping. Sakura was the sister he never had, and Naruto would make sure Sasuke would never hurt her again; apart from it being obvious and logical, he'd even told him that, once. So, of course he would ask. But Sasuke couldn't for the life of him find a suitable answer, and he gave up after a mere minute spent trying.

That had been the night before.

Now, as he stood in front of him, he wondered not if he should have tried harder, but rather if he even had done the right thing in deciding to break the news to the blond all by himself. Sakura would have been able to come up with a good explanation. She would have smiled and told him she trusted Sasuke and that she didn't need cheesy dates to know that she loved him. More importantly, perhaps, she would be the only one Naruto would trust with such declarations.

Swallowing, the Uchiha started to speak, but the words that left his mouth surprised even him. "She said yes," he told him, as his defense and justification, as if nothing else mattered. And maybe it really didn't—or rather, shouldn't. Sakura had accepted to be his wife—he was done; his goal was set, he was on track, and he didn't have to worry about much else other than, maybe, making place for her in his wardrobe. He'd found a wife; the worst and most difficult part should be done.

"I got that," Naruto told him, and, noticing that he had no intention of replying in any way, he continued, "Look, teme, I know you want Uchiha babies, you made that very clear back when we were twelve—tainted my innocence and everything—but… why Sakura-chan?"

There were many, many ways in which the young Uchiha could answer that question, many more than he had been able to provide Sakura herself with, the night before, proof of the fact that he had truly contemplated the issue and dreaded the inevitable conversation with his best friend.

I've known her for so long.

She knows me better than the average.

She said yes.

She wouldn't have said no.

She loves me.

She once promised she'd do anything for me.

She's not as annoying as other women.

She's strong and warm and kind—a good kunoichi that would make an even better mother.

She was always the obvious choice.

I didn't have anyone else to go to.

She's Sakura—she doesn't understand, but she accepts what any other women wouldn't.

If he thought hard for another moment, he could come up with another series of complex, intricate explanations. Reasons he could base them on were, apparently, abundant. Unfortunately, that was only because they were so easy to make up. For all his frankness and straight-forward nature, Sasuke was, had always been and would always be, ridiculously good at finding excuses for his every thought and action.

However, not only did Naruto deserve to hear the truth, but he would also not settle for anything less. He would see through Sasuke's every lie and beat him up for it when he reached his limit.

So, he resolved at being honest and not bothering to hide the fact that he didn't have an answer to his question.

But the knuckle-headed ninja seemed to have already known that, because he immediately blurted out an affirmation that he had probably hoped, until the last minute, that Sasuke would prove wrong.

"You don't love her."

It was a statement said without too much emotion; it was as if it was a scientific fact, a truth generally valid—past, present, and future. It wasn't an accusation, by any means, but it made Sasuke want to squeeze his eyes shut, place his hands over his ears and pretend he'd never heard it.

He'd been told, directly or indirectly, one too many times what made a marriage work. Much too deeply immersed in his past, much too interested in his ghosts, much too broken to be right again, he didn't have it—the capacity to love another human being. Sakura couldn't love for both of them. He wouldn't find happiness, she wouldn't find happiness—and their marriage would end in failure, one just as big as all of his other attempts at making peace with himself and his fate.

The more than likely outcome unfolding before his eyes had him regretting, for the first time, his request to marry the one woman that had ever felt somewhat special to him.

Then Naruto went and spoke the words that stopped his world in its place, for a variety of reasons.

"And, I swear to God, if I didn't know you'd take care of her better than anybody ever could, I'd seriously kick your ass for this."

Sasuke honestly didn't know if any of them could be considered good ones.

Sakura was steadily working her way through a towering stack of paperwork when Sasuke suddenly barged into her office, without a warning or an explanation, startling her in so far as she almost dropped the pen she had been holding. With wide green eyes, she watched as he closed the door behind him and stalked all the way over to her desk, pulled out a chair for himself, sat down, and then, with a calmness that was at odds with his previous, urgent actions, placed something right in front of her, on top of the paper she had just been preparing to sign.

Blinking, Sakura forced her eyes to unglue from his own so that they could drop to her desk and stick to the object of his visit. It was a little velvet sack, blood red in color, tied at the end with a small, black ribbon.

She frowned and, reaching to pick it up, asked, "What's this?"

Sasuke's reply was prompt. "My mother's engagement ring."

Her breath was knocked out of her with his unexpected words, her mouth opening but the only sound leaving it being a breathy, "Oh." Her hands trembled as they slowly undid the bow that kept the little sack closed, before turning it upside down, allowing the object in question to tumble down into her palm. A multitude of precious stones immediately began glittering under the artificial light in her office, causing her to blink in pure shock, while at the same time wonder whether there was any way her current situation could be a dream.

Raising her head, she met his steely gaze. Every one of his emotions was carefully hidden behind a blank wall of nothingness, but Sakura was sure that, at that point, she was showing enough feelings for both of them.

"You want me to have it?" she breathed out.

Sasuke nodded once. "Aa."

Her gaze returned to the piece of jewelry in her palm. "It's stunning, Sasuke-kun," she said, because it was. The central stone, sparkling in a million of different ways, was surrounded by dozens of little diamonds, the platinum band itself being halfway padded with the same precious rocks. Sakura had never seen a more beautiful ring.

Briefly, she wondered whether all the money she had gained from the moment she had her first mission up until that very point could cover at least half of its price.

Her eyes filled with tears, and the image of the ring blurred, not because of its beauty, not because she would be the proud holder of such an expensive piece of jewelry, but because of the gesture—and the countless implications that followed.

Standing up, she walked around her desk, meeting the Uchiha's surprised onyx gaze with her own, teary green one. "Thank you, Sasuke-kun," she said, bending down to kiss his cheek. Sasuke stood up, as well, whether because of her tears or her actions, she had no way of knowing, but that mattered least in that moment. She was a woman on a mission as she brought her hand up to his cheek and looked straight into his eyes, trying to convey not only her words and their meaning, but the absolute truth and feelings behind them.

"You have no idea how much this means to me. And, I swear to God… I will make you happy, Sasuke," she said, steadily and firmly.

Sakura had known, from the moment she realized she would never stop loving him, all those years ago, that making Sasuke happy would always be her purpose in life. She'd accepted his proposal with that thought in mind, but with a heavy heart, surprised by its suddenness, deterred by its casualty. This, however, strengthened her previously wavering resolve. She may be lacking in a lot of aspects, many more than she was comfortable with, but she was stubborn, and when she set a goal, she went for it with everything she had and, whether she achieved it or not, she never once lost her way.

"I know it may take a while, I know that… that maybe I won't ever be enough… But I swear, I will do everything in my power for your life to be exactly what you want it to. You deserve it. And I promise I will be the best mother to your children that I possibly can. Thank you for giving me a chance."

"What do you have in mind for your wedding dress?" Ino inquired, blue eyes filled to the brim with curiosity, as she sat at her kitchen table, with her best friend across from her and a mug of hot coffee in her hands.

It was early morning, and the blonde had decided to take advantage of the fact that she had no missions planned and that Sakura's shift at the hospital was, for once, set for late afternoon, and invited her over for a cup of coffee so they could talk more about her impeding wedding.

Although Ino had definitely not seen it coming, which, to be honest, irked her because she prided herself on her flawless intuition, a mixture of female genetics and inherited assets, that didn't mean she wouldn't take advantage of every opportunity that presented itself in an effort to find out more and thus solve the great puzzle that was on the lips of every gossiping individual in Konoha.

"Something simple," Sakura answered, before taking a sip of her preferred hot tea. "Very simple… So simple it will hurt your eyes," she stressed, while giving a small laugh.

"Ha, ha," Ino deadpanned, and with a roll of her eyes, threw her long, blonde ponytail over one shoulder. "Very funny, Forehead. Now, honesty."

"I was being honest, Pig," the pinkette defended, smiling. "I want something very simple. Something that would put this," she emphasized, lifting her left hand, "in the spotlight."

Ino scoffed. "Darling, simplicity won't be an issue. There's nothing on this planet that could possibly shadow that."

Sakura laughed, lowering her hand so she could admire her gorgeous engagement ring for the umpteenth time since she received it. "Yeah, you must be right," she agreed.

"You said it was his mother's?" the blonde inquired, and received a nod as she brought her coffee mug to her lips. Pausing to swallow the hot liquid, she added, "Don't you think it's a bit eerie how it fits so perfectly?"

Sakura chuckled. "What is that supposed to mean? I have nice hands."

Ino rolled her eyes. "That's not what I meant, dummy."

"It doesn't matter what you meant," the pinkette dismissed and earned a half-hearted glare in return, which she pointedly ignored. "I'm glad it fits. I don't think Sasuke-kun would have been willing to alter his mother's jewelry."

"That, I agree with," Ino admitted. A moment passed in silence, before she decided to change the subject, "In any case, do you want to go dress shopping tomorrow?"

Sakura nodded. "I'd like that. Though, only if you keep your mouth shut and not try to force anything on me."

With a frown, Ino raised her hands in a defensive movement. "When do I ever do that?"

"Come on," her friend scoffed. "I don't know, maybe, every time we go shopping?"

Deeming her statement true, Ino shrugged. "Well, a woman gets tired of telling you, in every imaginable way, how hot you are and how you need to show it in order for others to notice."

"Right," the pinkette quipped.

"Have you decided where you want to have the wedding?" she asked, steering the conversation in another direction.

"No, not yet," Sakura replied with a shake of her head. "I'll have to talk to Sasuke-kun before I start making decisions."

"Pfft, who cares about what he thinks?" the blonde scoffed. "If he wants to have a say in all of this, he has to work alongside us, and I'm sorry, but, so far, he hasn't shown any intention of doing that."

Sakura laughed. "When's the last time you saw him?"

"My point exactly!" her friend shrieked.

The young medic simply shook her head. "In any case, I didn't mean it the way you took it. I'm pretty sure there's nothing I can do to make Sasuke-kun care about where we're having the wedding. But I want to see, maybe there are traditions in his clan that he might want to respect. I'd rather take them all into account now than have them appear out of nowhere later on." When she finished her small speech, Sakura was sure she had offered her friend a complete, logical explanation.

Ino's unsure expression made her reconsider the ground she stood on.

"What?" she asked, confused.

The blonde hesitated. There were things that were better left unsaid, she knew that from past experience, and she also knew that this might be one of them, but her open, sincere, and straightforward nature made it impossible for her to be anything less than honest with her best friend.

"Are you sure you want to do that?" she finally said. "For all you know, Uchiha traditions might be all cold and impersonal and rigorous… and a wedding isn't a formal event. It's your special day!"

"It's also his, Ino," Sakura reminded her while taking a sip of her tea.

Her response came in the form of a scoff. "As if men care about their wedding day more than they care about their wedding night."

As soon as the words registered in her mind, Sakura flushed a pink so deep it rivaled the shade of her hair. She was a medic, she was no stranger to sex, what it meant or what it could lead to, but the way Ino spoke about it as if it was a subject she could broach even with the old lady that sold fresh fruits every morning in the far corner of the marketplace had always flustered her. Apparently, the fact that she was about to take a step that meant not only sharing the bed with a man, but having his children, also, did little to change that.

"Listen, I'll ask him," she said, her resolve set and unable to be broken. "His family is really important to him, and since they aren't here, the least I can do is give him the chance to make this wedding into what he knows they would have wanted it to be."

"Sakura, you're supposed to be his family now," Ino pointed out, rolling her eyes. The pink-haired woman blinked, and wondered if she had imagined the no longer playful annoyance infused in her voice. "That bastard only cares about himself, I swear, and if you give him everything and let him get away with everything this soon, I wonder what will become of you in a few years' time. Future Mrs. Uchiha, manipulated by her husband into what he wants her to be—nothing less, nothing more. Because she loves him," she scoffed in an obviously derisive manner, before rolling her eyes once more and, for effect, throwing her hair over her shoulder.

She never noticed Sakura staring at her as though she had crushed her entire world or as though she had betrayed her in the worst manner possible, too engrossed in her own anger directed at the sole Uchiha survivor.

"What's your problem?" the pink-haired woman asked, breaking the uncomfortable silence that had fallen over the room, and it was only then that Ino seemed to notice the effect her words had had on her best friend. Her blue eyes widened and her mouth opened for her to speak, but Sakura never gave her a chance. "Where do you get off saying such things, Ino?"

Coming from her longtime friend and rival, very little managed to elicit a strong reaction from Sakura; she knew her too well and had come in contact with every facet of her personality. Ino could be called an unpredictable woman by many, many persons (most of them men, admittedly), but that was certainly not the case with Sakura. To a certain degree, that could apply to the current situation, as well. Ino only meant well, always, even if she sometimes went about it the wrong way.

In this context, she was worried. She had made it clear from the very beginning that she didn't agree with her sudden marriage, immediately claiming that Sasuke didn't love her—a fact that, unfortunately for her and the sake of her argument, Sakura already knew. In a way, the pinkette saw where she was coming from; Ino couldn't understand why she had accepted to enter a marriage that was more of an arrangement than an unavoidable conclusion based on the love two people held for each other, simply because it was Sasuke who had asked her and simply because she'd loved him since she was a child. She couldn't understand the depth and intensity of her feelings and how far she was willing to go in order to make sure that this man would have at least a semblance of happiness at a point in his life.

But the simple fact that she didn't understand didn't give her the right to throw harsh words left and right in an effort to change her mind—and not in any way, but by hurting her. Best friend or not, Sakura wouldn't stand for that.

She needed people to accept her decision and move on with their lives, because she had already chosen the direction in which hers would head. She didn't need anyone to rub salt on the wound, to point out the holes in her plan, or to tell her anything of what she already knew and tried so hard to ignore.

With a sigh of defeat, Ino visibly deflated. "Look—"

"Forget it," Sakura dismissed and, abandoning her cup of tea on the table, slid out of her seat.

"No, Sakura, wait!" She was quick to react, mimicking her movements, walking around the table once she saw her grab her bag. "I didn't mean it like that."

Pausing on her way out of the room, Sakura abruptly turned around, pink hair whipping around her face. "I know exactly how you meant it! And, you know what? I gave Sasuke the option to elope with me. Yes, you heard me," she confirmed upon hearing her friend's shocked gasp. "I told Sasuke I wouldn't mind having a quiet ceremony, just Tsunade and the two of us, and a slip of paper we could sign our names on. Yes, I love him that much. I don't care about our wedding when I get to have him for the rest of our lives. Do you know what he said? He said, go tell your friend. You, Ino. And I ran all the way over to your house to let you know because I knew you would want to be a part of this. Hell, I wanted you to be a part of this." As she shook her head, her voice dropped down to a pained whisper. "But what's the point? What's the point when it's obvious what you think about me and this marriage? Forget it."

With that, she turned around and stormed out of the room, ignoring Ino's call of her name and subsequent request for her to stop. The moment she closed the door of her house behind her, Sakura felt as though she was closing the door to her friend's life, abandoning her place in it and trading it for a more important one in Sasuke's. Ino would never change her mind, especially since her opinion was grounded and founded logically, so what she thought about her marriage or her husband was there to stay. Sakura couldn't have both in her life.

And she wondered, as she made her way down the street leading to her small, one-bedroom apartment, if Ino had ever even stood a chance in this competition. She wondered if there had ever been a competition, in the first place. She wondered if her choice hadn't been made from the very start and had only been waiting for the right time to surface.

She stopped searching for answers almost as soon as she asked herself the questions. She wouldn't like them, so they weren't worth the wasted energy.

Sasuke sensed something was wrong from the moment he opened the door to a clap of thunder and a fumbling Sakura, playing nervously with the strap of her purse.

"Hi," she greeted, smiling up at him. She was dressed much too poorly for the weather that he was sure would soon follow, in a strapless blue dress and white flats; her pink hair was only slightly curled, most likely from the humidity outside, its ends brushing against her shoulders delicately. "Can I come in?"

Stepping aside in confirmation, he granted her entrance, only to have her stop not far from the threshold, waiting for him to close the door and lead the way.

He wondered if she was being polite or if she had truly never been inside his old childhood home. He'd asked Tsunade for its reconstruction after the war ended, agreeing to hand over the rest of the land that had once formed part of the Uchiha District in exchange. She had ordered for the entire compound to be rebuilt, essentially, the only difference being that the new houses lacked the proud Uchiha fan—and the fact that they were lived in by strangers, some even by civilians.

Sasuke, quite honestly, couldn't find it in him to be bothered by the fact that his clan's land was being used by people outside of it. The cold, isolated district had always caused him more pain than happiness, in any case, so he could almost go as far as saying that it felt nice, not having the road to his home shrouded in silence and darkness, but rather bathed in light—and, more importantly, life.

Sakura had definitely not visited his place when they were Genin, and, with a furrow between his brows, he came to the conclusion that it had only been the dobe that had pestered him since the war ended and he returned to Konoha. He doubted she'd even set foot in his old apartment.

"I'm sorry I dropped by unannounced," she said, sounding genuinely regretful, something he immediately took notice of as he began to lead the way down the hallway. "I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions, if you have time."

He shrugged in response, entering the kitchen, where he had been about to settle down at the table when the doorbell rang.

Sakura grimaced upon noticing that. "You were eating, sorry," she murmured.

"It's fine," he dismissed, motioning for her to take a seat as he prepared to do the same. "Are you hungry?"

"No, thank you. I'm good. Um…" Pausing, she set her purse on her lap and pulled out a small notebook, which she immediately opened, and then started searching for a pen. "I'll make this quick, so I can return home before it starts to rain. I wanted to ask you if there are any traditions that you know your clan respected and that you would want to keep for our wedding."

"No," Sasuke replied. "I never went to an Uchiha wedding."

Sakura blinked in surprise. "Oh. Well, is there anything in particular you'd want us to do?"

Once again, his answer was short. "Not really."

The pinkette nodded, and they lapsed into silence. Sasuke watched her carefully while he slowly ate his lunch; she was playing with her pen, and he felt there was more to her visit than she was willing to let on. The realization that he could see through her pretense was liberating, in a sense, but it also frustrated him, because, while he could tell her mask was on, he couldn't tell what was beyond it. All he could do was guess, and it irritated him more than he'd expected.

Rain started to softly, but steadily, pelt against the windows while they sat in silence. He concluded, after a while, that it was almost as if she didn't want to leave, almost as if something—or someone—out there had made her skittish and chased her there.

What was true, after the horrible fight she'd had with Ino the day before, Sakura found his presence to be awfully reassuring.

"It will probably be a small wedding," she broke the silence with a whisper. "Just us, and the people who truly matter. Would you like anyone in particular to be there?"

Sasuke threw her a bland stare, which she caught as she lifted her head to glance at him.

She shrugged. "I had to ask." Their eyes met, and she forced a small smile to her face. It irritated him enough to prompt his next question.

"Are you alright?"

For a moment, she seemed taken aback by his sudden display of concern, even if there was nothing in his voice or expression that could possibly give it away; his question had been blunt, more demanding than coaxing, and it was simple for her to attribute it to his curious nature.

"I'm fine," she answered, giving him another weak smile. "I just… had a fight with Ino. Women stuff." She shrugged. "I was thinking about asking her to be my Maid of Honor—though I'm sure she already knew that," she laughed lightly. "Now, I'm thinking it would be better if I stuck to a simple wedding, without too many frills and customs and traditions that… that don't mean that much, it seems."

It took Sasuke less than a second, after she ended her speech, to understand what their fight had been about. "She doesn't agree to this."

Sakura winced, as if she'd wanted to keep that piece of information from him. "No, she doesn't," she admitted. "But it's not her who's getting married, so it doesn't matter."

The Uchiha narrowed his eyes, knowing better than to believe such a lie, even if, he had to admit, it was told perfectly. Chewing on his food with newfound annoyance, he watched as she placed the cap back on her cheap, standard pen, and refused to glance away even when she caught him staring.

His stubbornness was rewarded, though, as she gave him a smile that sent his heart racing—not because it was beautiful, not because it was gentle, not because it was stunning… but because it was honest—so painfully honest.

The day Sasuke married Sakura was, ironically, also the day in which he realized and acknowledged just how little he deserved her. The thought must have been there for a while, quietly festering, buried beneath half-worded denials fueled by the knowledge that he hadn't forced her into anything, but it wasn't until he stood at the altar, watching as she slowly made her way towards him, arm in arm with Kakashi, that it hit him, full-force, with absolutely nothing he could do about it other than try to keep breathing.

She was wearing the simplest wedding dress in existence, with no lace or frills or embedded precious stones. It was long, white, with a full skirt and a delicate, see-through strap covering one of her shoulders. The only jewelry she had on was the engagement ring he had given her and a pair of small earrings. Her pink hair was up in a curly up-do, and her green eyes shone behind smoky make-up.

She hadn't gone overboard in a single aspect; everything about her was so simple, so delicate and elegant that it took his breath away.

It was a small wedding. The ceremony lasted no more than fifteen minutes, time in which Tsunade spoke of friendship and teamwork, of love and devotion. Sasuke felt physically ill, and it was only Sakura's genuine smile that calmed him. The moment their "I do's" resounded through the room, he wasn't sure whether he'd just started a new life or ended one before it could truly begin.

It was their first kiss, the fleeting touch of their lips they shared in front of their most loved people. Sakura made no move to take it a single step forward, and was instead the one to pull away with yet another gentle smile. She turned to their audience, and her expression changed, melded into something he had seen before, but that had never been directed specifically at him. Whether it was real or fake, the smile Sakura gave him was always special.

The reception was small, as well, the only persons in attendance being the same that had been present at the ceremony, with the exception of those that had other plans or obligations for the rest of their day. The Rookie 9 was there, together with their teachers, Tsunade, Shizune, and different people that only Sakura knew.

Sasuke wondered about her parents, about the happy family he'd always believed she had. He never asked out loud, and he never received an answer.

Naruto held a speech, when he was sober, and made another attempt at one towards the end of the party, after he had drank himself stupid. Kakashi congratulated them both, publicly, and Ino also spoke for Sakura, though it was clear there were still traces of lingering tension between the two. It was visible in their every word or gesture, and beginning with the fact that the entire wedding was fitted strictly to Sakura's needs and beliefs; there was only good food and good music, and the freedom for everyone to do as they wished, with almost no traditions to speak of.

Sakura didn't force him to dance with her and didn't make a fuss out of cutting the cake. Half of it went all into Naruto's stomach, anyway. She did dance, but not with him, and she did laugh, but without him partaking in her amusement. She talked to everybody present at the party, accepted their congratulations and good wishes, smiled with them and laughed with them, and there was absolutely nothing that hinted at a single emotion other than happiness swirling inside her heart.

And perhaps it was that which bothered him so much. She seemed so happy—so painfully happy. She looked happy and he felt sick, because he knew that would not last. He felt sick because, not only did he not deserve her, but he had selfishly taken away her every chance at the wonderful feeling she was currently experiencing and that she thought would last, at least for another day.

Sasuke didn't know what he'd expected, what foolish dreams he'd had about the outcome of his proposal and the rest of his life, but this hadn't been it.

She was simply so unexpectedly beautiful and delicate, and she gazed at him with such adoration in her eyes, even when she knew, she knew, because she must have seen how their wedding didn't mean as much to him as it meant to her, how he'd never even asked if she could manage it on her own, if she needed help or support or if there was really anything that he could offer her, how he'd given her a ring he hadn't even had to search for and believed his job was done. Even when she knew he didn't feel the same, even when she knew he'd knock her down more often than she could bother to stand up, even when she knew life with him was hard even as teammates and mere acquaintances. Even when he'd tried to kill her, even when he broke the heart she'd so selflessly given him, over and over again, even when he obviously found it easier to reflect on the past and all of his wrongdoings than to stop for a second and tell her she looked beautiful.

Even after everything and even with everything… she was there—and she'd accepted to be there forever.

And there was nothing Uchiha Sasuke could do in a million years, if he had them, to deserve that.

Night was quick to fall over them. Whether that was because of the slowly dimming summer or because of his mangled perception of time, caused by disheartening realizations and gloomy thoughts of the future, Sasuke had no way of knowing. He was too tired to even begin to find out.

Sakura and him made their way to the Uchiha Mansion. She was silent as they roamed the hallways and climbed the stairs to his bedroom. Once there, she sighed and rolled her shoulders back, complaining of tiredness.

Sasuke wondered if she had already moved in. If she had, he wondered how he had failed to notice. He wondered if he had ever clearly told her they would be living at his place. He wondered if it bothered her, if she would have preferred to live somewhere else, somewhere closer to the hospital, if she was truly alright with the move or if she was, once again, merely trying to placate him. He wondered if the reason why he couldn't remember a time when he'd opened his mouth to talk to her about a single matter regarding their future life together was because he'd never done it, period. He wondered if that had hurt her or if, after so many years of knowing him, she'd already grown used to it. He wondered if she'd grown used to pain and rejection from his part.

He wondered—

Sakura stepped in front of him, wearing nothing but a set of dark, lacy lingerie, and he stopped wondering and breathing altogether.

With wide onyx eyes, he took in the sight of her pale, exposed skin, of the pink hair tumbling in messy curls around her face, of the discarded evening gown she had changed into for the reception—and immediately came to one sole conclusion.

"You don't have to do this," he told her, a futile attempt at giving her something, if he had already taken everything away from her.

But she simply smiled and even gave a small laugh. "What are you talking about, Sasuke-kun? Don't be silly, there's no other way to revive your clan."

The air seemed to leave him as soon as her words sunk in his mind. The mere idea of a baby sent his head spinning. He barely knew what to make out of his relationship with Sakura; the fact that she was now his wife seemed to resonate through his mind so strongly because he simply had no idea what it meant.

"I… I don't want children," he immediately blurted out, fully aware of how silly it sounded, considering it was the reason he had given her when she asked him why he wanted to marry her, in the first place. "…Right away."

Sakura blinked in surprise. "Alright," she said, nodding. "You want to wait. I get that. So… you don't want this?" Her heart clenched in her chest at the mere possibility that he would only touch her with a clear purpose in mind, but she tried to swallow down her pain and disappointment—because she should have known.

Sasuke swallowed. At that point, everything in his life seemed to be wrong; every decision, every turn, every word.

After a moment spent contemplating in silence, the rejection became obvious in Sakura's expression. Her eyes filled with tears she tried hard to hide, and she took a step back, opening her mouth to say something understanding, without a doubt, yet something she would not mean. He stepped forward, unwilling to hear her excuse, and she looked up at him in surprise.

For a moment, an internal battle took place inside him, dominated by questions he didn't know how to answer. What was he doing? Was this right? Should he do it? Did she want it?

Settling his hands on her neck, thumbs brushing against her jaw and cheeks, he bent his head down. Another moment of hesitation followed, before he seemed to make up his mind and pressed his lips to hers.

That night, he met a different side of Sakura. He met a side of Sakura that was as beautiful on the outside as she was on the inside. He met a side of Sakura that was not as confident as she was on the battlefield. He met a side of Sakura that was vulnerable, but that didn't mind, as long as it was in his presence. Het met a side of Sakura that was more open and sincere than he had ever seen her, a side of Sakura that didn't lie when she promised him she'd give him everything, selflessly, without asking for anything in return.

Most importantly, perhaps, he met a side of Sakura that was his in every sense of the word.

It was also then that he resolved to make her happy, as much as he could. He couldn't love her, he couldn't give her what she truly wanted, and that was, perhaps, something he should have realized he cared about before he married her, but Sakura must have been aware of it, as well, so maybe she knew better than him what she needed and what her priorities were.

In any case, though, he would try to make a good husband. He would cook her dinner when she was late from work and he would go grocery shopping when she was too busy and he would even walk her to the hospital if she asked. He couldn't be what she wanted him to be, what every woman would want in a husband, because it was physically and psychologically impossible for him; he wasn't normal and he never would be, not after everything he had been through. He had a past that had scarred him and marked him and made it impossible for him to feel certain emotions or do certain actions and live a normal life.

But, for Sakura, he would try to be nice. He would listen to what she said and he would care about what she felt. He would treat her with respect, he decided, and he would try not to hurt her, at least not intentionally.

Gazing at her now, as she slept peacefully on the other side of his bed, the devotion that had always obviously been reserved for him didn't seem so foolish anymore—and it didn't seem to be something he could just be grateful for, either. It had to be something he admired. Because, that day, Sasuke had seen exactly how much Sakura could have, exactly everything that could made her happy.

And he realized that the person she had chosen to give it all up for was him—someone who had hurt her more times than anyone as good as her could possibly deserve.

This woman had given him everything. It was only fair that he gave her everything he could in return.

She deserved that.

A/N: Hello, everybody, and thank you for reading! This will be a short story of about four to five chapters. I initially planned for it to be a one-shot, but plot bunnies took over my head and turned it into a monster! (It happens a lot, though, so I'm used to it.)

Anyway, Heartbeat is basically my shot at angsty, married SasuSaku. Hope you enjoy!

Please review and let me know what you thought about this first chapter!

P.S. Question: Does it say, anywhere, when the Uchiha Massacre happened? (So that I know how to plan the time frame…)