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Sakura is twenty when she causes a minor diplomatic incident.

In her defence, it’s not entirely her fault. 

It happens like this: Gaara walks over to exchange pleasantries like he always does. The delivery is a tad awkward like it usually is but Sakura returns them all the same because she understands that he was a socially awkward murder child for the first twelve years of his life.

(If her memories of how she treated Naruto when they were younger come up whenever she and Gaara do this song and dance routine, well, Inner is kind enough to shove those memories in a box for later).

Then, out of nowhere, he asks about her wife and Sakura can feel her mind screech to a halt. 

She blinks. “My what?” 

“Your wife?” She imagines that if Gaara had eyebrows, they would be lifted in question. “Temari informed me that you and Yamanaka-san married and I felt it would be remiss if I did not ask about her.”

Sakura knows that everything he said was important, but the only thing she can focus on is that she thinks he just said that she and Ino are married. 

“Ino and I are what now?” 

“Married. Temari-”

“Okay, so I did hear that part correctly.” Sakura waves him off. “Gaara-kun, why does your sister think that Ino and I are married?”

“You live together, and have been for some time according to Temari,” he says matter-of-factly.

Sakura frowns. “We’ve been living together since we were fourteen,” she says.

Gaara matches her frown. “I was unaware that the legal marrying age in Konoha was so low,” he says quietly, sounding somewhat disturbed. “In Suna, two individuals cannot be wed until they are at least sixteen.” 

(There’s a lot to unpack there, Inner chimes in).

(Sakura ignores her).

“It’s the same in Konoha,” she says hurriedly. “Even for shinobi.”

“But you and Yamanaka-san have been living together since you were fourteen.”

Sakura nods. “We have. My parents-”

“But you say you aren’t married?” 

“No, we are not,” Sakura replies. “But-”

“You’re not married?” Kurotsuchi cuts in suddenly, eyes narrowed. “Did I hear that correctly?”

“Uh…” Sakura rubs the back of her neck. “I’m…engaged?” she says and immediately winces because ancestors, she may be a shinobi - and a Kage to boot - but she’s also a terrible liar when not on an official mission. 

Kurotsuchi’s eyes narrow even further. “Are you asking me or telling me?” she demands with a force that her grandfather would be proud of.

“Ah…”

(Sage help us, Inner moans).

“Hmph. Well, I have the perfect person for you, Hokage-sama,” Kurotsuchi says.

There’s a scoff from Mei. “As if Haruno-san would prefer anyone you suggest. She’ll go for a water bride, it’s in her nature,” she says.

(There’s a snort from Inner. Ino’s affinity is earth, Inner points out).

It’s why they work so well together - wood cannot form without earth. 

“Thank you both, but I’m currently in a relationship-”

“I have a shinobi who is just your type,” Darui says from his position on the couch. “Karui’s strong, opinionated, just like Yamanaka. Except she has red hair.”

Sakura barely manages to bite back a comment about how there is no one like Ino, if only because this is already a mess and she’s not about to make it worse.

“I was under the impression that Karui-san is currently in a relationship with one of my shinobi,” she says instead, doing her best to keep her voice even.

She knows that Karui is already involved with one of her shinobi - Choji, to be precise.

There’s a quiet hum from Gaara that catches all of their attention.

“May I offer Maki-san?” he suggests. “She’s the head of Suna’s sealing corps and also a rising star at our hospital.”

His face is a perfect deadpan as he says it. The only reason Sakura knows that he’s not serious is because of the way his eyes gleam. 

Her eyes narrow in response. 

(That shithead, Inner snarls).

“I am in a relationship,” she says through grit teeth. “A very happy, committed relationship.”

“But you’re not married,” Mei says.

“No, we are not.” 

Yet. 

There’s a ring in a storage scroll that Sakura has had on her person for the better part of two months now.

“Well then-” There’s a gleam in Mei’s eye that Sakura’s not sure she likes- “Until my intelligence agents can confirm that you are married, I’m afraid that it is in the best interest of Kiri to continue its pursuit of your hand.”

(What? Inner asks flatly because honestly, what the fuck?)

“Gods, how dull,” Darui groans. “Well, I’m afraid Kumo has to make the same announcement, Sakura-chan.”

“Because Kumo wants the Mokuton?” Kurotsuchi snaps.

He shrugs. “I mean, it certainly doesn’t hurt. But also because she’s so damn scary, it’s hot.” He gives her an apologetic look. “No offence.”

“None taken, I think,” Sakura says numbly.

(What the fuck is happening? Inner asks).

Sakura has no idea. This summit is supposed to be about trade routes and village mission allotments. It’s not supposed to be about her love life. 

The building argument suddenly stops with a cough from Mifune. 

Sakura glances at him, as do the rest of the gathered Kage, but his gaze seems to be pointedly aimed at Sakura’s feet. She follows it to find-

Oh.

Petunias and love-in-a-mist flowers are blooming at her feet.

Sakura can feel her face turn bright red at the sight. This hasn’t happened in years - flowers blooming in response to her emotions. 

“Love-in-a-mist!” Mei exclaims, voice full of glee. “That’s has to be a sign in Kiri’s favour-”

“Pardon me, Mizukage-dono,” Mifune cuts in, “but if I recall correctly, those flowers are expressing Hokage-dono’s request for this line of conversation to cease. And the petunias are-”

“A warning,” Sakura says before she can stop herself. 

There’s a groan of dismay from Shikamaru behind her.

“A warning?” Mei asks.

“To stop trying for my hand while you’re already behind, Mizukage-sama,” she says coolly, her patience on its last thread.

The hungry look in Mei’s eye is unnerving. “Maa, Sakura-chan, that almost sounds like a challenge.”

And just like that, the thread snaps. 

“Believe me, it’s not.” Sakura smiles the same sweet smile she gave Sasuke right before she punched him in the face. “Besides, you’re not my type.”

Silence reigns.

(I completely agree with you, but by the Sage and ancestors, you have got to be the dumbest genius I have ever met, Inner says in disbelief).

(You’re me, she reminds her).

(And I’m horrified by what you just said. That should tell you something, Inner fires back).

It tells her a lot. 

Unsurprisingly, everything goes downhill from there.

-

There’s a thick stack of official looking paperwork on her desk when Sakura returns from the summit four days later.

She frowns at the sight of it. 

(Didn't we finish all of our paperwork before we left? Inner asks).

Sakura hums a verbal confirmation.

"Where'd it come from?" she asks the nearest ANBU agent, Bear.

He tips his head. "They arrived via courier falcon, Nanadaime-sama."

Sakura can feel her frown deepen. She makes her way over to her desk and starts flipping through it, eyes widening as she reads the pages.

By the time she's finished skimming her way through the stack, Inner is raging and Sakura is right there with her. 

“Ne, Sakura-chan-” Naruto starts, but Sakura ignores him.

“Shikamaru, get me Yamanaka Ino, then all of you get out,” she orders.

Twin blinks. 

“Uh, what?” Shikamaru asks.

“Get Ino and bring her here,” she says slowly, as if speaking to a child. “Once she’s here, I want all of you to leave because she and I need to discuss some things.”

“Uh, is this lesbian thing?” Naruto asks. 

Sakura gives him a flat look. 

“Right, shouldn’t have asked that,” he says. “I’m just gonna go with Shikamaru.”

“Please do.”

Both men all but sprint out of the office, leaving Sakura alone with her ANBU agents.

“When I said I want everyone to leave, that includes the rest of you,” Sakura says without looking up from her paperwork.

“Hokage-sama,” one of the ANBU starts. 

“Ino won’t kill me,” she cuts him off. “Even if she was going to, she wouldn’t do it here. She’d do it at home by making anmitsu or something.”

Her ANBU trade looks. 

Sakura sighs. “That was a joke. Her anmitsu is fine, it was her coffee mitsumame that gave me and Inoichi-san food poisoning a few years back.”

Another set of dubious looks get traded across her office. On another day, Sakura thinks that she would find their ability to trade expressions behind masks amusing. All it does today though, is make her sigh.

“I’ll be fine,” she tells them. “You can stand outside the office if it makes you feel better, but I’d like to be alone with Ino.”

One of them - Monkey, she thinks - coughs. 

“Not like that!” she groans. 

(What, you don’t think about having sex in the Hokage’s office with Ino? Inner asks).

(With these windows? Would you like to share Ino with the world like that? Sakura retorts).

(A dark growl is the only response that she gets).

Her ANBU don’t get a chance to respond because the door opens, revealing a confused looking Ino with Shikamaru and Naruto by her sides. 

“Hokage-sama,” Ino greets. “I was told you requested me?”

Sakura nods. “I did.” She motions to her ANBU and advisors. “All of you, out. Now.”

One of the agents - Tiger - seems ready to protest, but she’s dragged out by Monkey and Bear.

“That order includes you too, Kitsune,” Sakura says dryly. 

Kitsune huffs but otherwise says nothing else as he walks out.

Ino raises an eyebrow. “Everything okay, Forehead?” she asks.

“You tell me, Pig,” Sakura drawls. “You’re the head of intelligence, correct?”

She doesn’t miss the way that Ino’s brow furrows at the question.

“You know that I am,” Ino says, bemused. 

Sakura leans forward and folds her hands in front of her face. “Have you heard any information about...us?”

Ino’s bright red face is her answer.

“Right, okay,” Sakura sighs. “How long have people been under the impression that we’re already married?” 

Ino shrugs, face still beet red. “At least since the war ended.”

Sakura can feel a headache building. “And you never thought to tell me?” she asks, doing her best to keep her voice even.

“I didn’t think it mattered,” Ino defends.

Sakura keeps her face blank so that Ino doesn’t see how hurt she is by that statement. 

“It matters,” she starts, “when I go to an official summit and get asked how my wife is. A wife, mind you, that I didn’t even know I had.”

“Sakura-”

Sakura raises her hand to cut Ino off. “How much of your clan thinks that we’re already married, Ino?”

She sees Ino bite her lip. “None of them, actually,” she says slowly.

Sakura raises an eyebrow. 

“A few of the elders expressed...displeasure-”

“Because I’m a woman or because I come from a civilian family?” Sakura asks dryly.

The Haruno were warriors before they became merchants, but the shinobi of Konoha have forgotten that fact.

“Neither, actually,” Ino snaps. 

(Dumbass, Inner mocks).

(Shut up, Sakura fires back).

Ino’s eyes flash with anger. If Sakura weren’t so angry right now, the sight would have her stopping in her tracks and taking a chance to breathe. She knows that Ino isn’t a fan of when she and Inner come to mental blows. 

“They were unhappy because we didn’t have a ‘proper ceremony,’” Ino says, fingers forming air quotes as she speaks. “I cleared things up and let them know that you and I weren’t actually married after I had to stop a few of the younger clansmen from breaking into the village archives to find our marriage certificate.”

Sakura winces. Still, she asks, “Why didn’t you tell me?” This time, she can’t keep the hurt out of her voice. 

They live together. They share a bed. Sakura knows every Yamanaka in the village by now. Hell, she even tends to their gardens on the rare days that Shikamaru and Naruto manage to force her out of the office. 

“I would’ve-”

“Don’t you dare finish that sentence, Sakura,” Ino says, voice dangerous. “That right there is exactly why I didn’t tell you, because I knew, I knew you would say that.”

Sakura’s eyes narrow. “I didn’t even finish it,” she says. “How do you even know what I'm going to say if you don’t let me finish?”

(Sage, you are a moron, Inner sighs).

(Sakura ignores her).

Ino folds her arms. “Go ahead then. Say what you were going to say.”

“Fine.” Sakura exhales. “If you’d told me, I would’ve asked you to marry me.”

Never mind that she’d been thinking about it for a while now.

“Would you have meant it?” Ino questions. “Or would you be asking because of an obligation?”

Sakura can feel Inner bristle at the question and so does she. 

“Loving you is not some obligation for me!” she snaps. “I want to marry you!” 

(Then fucking ask her already, you dolt, Inner snaps back).

“Ino-” Sakura starts, only for Ino to shake her head.

“No, don’t you dare ask me like this,” she says. “Don’t ask me to marry you because we got into a fight. Don’t ask me because you’re angry. Ask me when you mean it.”

Sakura bites her tongue because, angry or not, she does mean it dammit. 

“Fine,” she eventually says. “Fine.”

They stand there in silence for a few breaths, each processing everything that had been said in the last few moments.

Ino is the first one to break the silence. “I am sorry,” she apologises, “for not telling you sooner. I just, I wanted to avoid all of this.”

Ino motions around the room vaguely. 

“I know.” Sakura sighs, fight draining out of her. “I’m sorry for getting so upset.”

(I’m not, Inner mutters).

Ino smiles weakly. “It’s a justified anger,” she says before worrying at her lip. “Sakura?”

“Yeah?”

“Are, are we okay?” Ino asks hesitantly. 

(Oh, yeah, everything’s fucking peachy. We just found out that the other Kages think that we’re married and our girlfriend doesn’t want us to ask her to marry us, Inner snarks).

(That’s not true and you know it, Sakura growls).

Ino flinches.

Sakura rubs her temples. “I won’t lie, I’m upset that you didn’t tell me, if only because of the diplomatic ramifications that this could have had if the other Kage weren’t who they were,” she says. 

(Shit, can you imagine if it had been A instead of Darui? Or Onki instead of his granddaughter? Inner asks, sounding faint).

Sakura pointedly does not respond to either of those questions. Wars had been started over less. The only reason she thinks that things didn’t end up worse despite her outright rejection of Mei’s advances is because Shikamaru finally stepped in to remind everyone what exactly the summit had been called for. It also helped that Naruto would obnoxiously clear his throat anytime someone tried to bring up the topic of marriage.

“But overall, yes, we’re okay.” Sakura exhales. “With that said, I’m going to stay with Tsunade-shishou for a couple of days.”

“Sakura-”

“I need time to process and cool down, Ino,” she says gently. “I’ll come home in a few days. I promise.”

She knows that if she goes home like this, with her head twisted up and Inner itching for a fight, there’s a good chance that she’ll say something that both of them will regret. She and Ino have made a concerted effort to not fight at home even before they started dating. Sakura isn’t about to break the peace that they’ve worked so hard to establish.

“Okay.” Ino’s hand twitches, then moves to reach out hesitantly as if Ino’s afraid that Sakura will slap it away. “I love you.”

Despite their earlier argument and the frustration simmering underneath her skin, Sakura takes Ino’s hand and gives it a squeeze.

“I love you too.”

Ino pulls away. “Should I tell Shika and Naruto to come back in or do you want to be alone?” she asks.

“Tell them to come in. I’m behind on paperwork,” Sakura grumbles.

She doesn’t miss the raised eyebrow that Ino sends her way. “You’re never behind on paperwork, Forehead,” she says.

Sakura waves the concern away. “It’s mostly just damage control paperwork,” she says. “Kurotsuchi-san overheard me tell Gaara that we aren’t actually married and kind of cornered me in front of the other Kage, so now I’m fielding off marriage proposals left and right from Kumo, Kiri, Iwa, and Suna.”

At least three out of four of her fellow Kage appear to be apologetic about the proposals. Mei is not; if anything, the Mizukage seems intent on marrying Sakura herself.

“I’m telling them no, Ino,” she adds when a stiff silence settles in her office. 

The smile on Ino’s lips is thin, but her eyes clearly show relief. “You fucking better be,” she growls.

(Now she cares about marriage proposals, Inner grumbles).

(Stow it, Sakura says).

“Just let Shikamaru and Naruto know that they can come in because I do need their help for some of this,” Sakura says.

Ino nods, then moves to leave. She barely opens the door before both Shikamaru and Naruto, along with Sakura’s ANBU guard, come spilling in.

Sakura sighs at the sight.

-

“So,” Shikamaru drawls once Ino has left and the ANBU are back in their proper places. 

“You’re getting off early tonight,” Sakura says.

He raises an eyebrow. “Am I?”

She scowls at him. “Cut the shit, Shikamaru. I’ve seen your Academy records to know that you’re not as big a moron as you’d like people to think,” she says.

Naruto snorts whilst Shikamaru sighs.

“Alright, what do you need?” he asks.

“I need you to take my girlfriend out for drinks and let her bitch to you,” Sakura tells him, then fixes him with an appraising look. “Speaking of girlfriend, did you tell Temari that Ino and I were married or did you just let her come to that assumption by herself and never bother to correct her?”

“Things got lost in translation,” he says. “She mentioned once that some of Suna’s elders were looking to pitch their grandsons to you and I told her that you would never go for it because you and Ino were together. I didn’t know that she took that to mean that you both were married.”

He has the decency to adopt a look that’s a perfect combination of sheepish and apologetic. It’s so perfect that Sakura immediately narrows her eyes.

“I expect you to correct that mistranslation,” she orders, “so that her village stops sending me marriage proposals.

She slams her fist against her desk to make a point and pointedly ignores the way it splinters under the impact.

Shikamaru visibly pales. “I will, Hokage-sama,” he says quickly.

“Good.” She nods. “Naruto?”

The blonde snaps to attention. 

“Do you know anything about clan marriages?” she asks.

Years ago, she would have laughed at the thought of asking him something like that but time has taught her that Naruto is wiser than he appears. He knows things about the village and its history that not even the elders remember.

“Eh…” He rubs the back of his neck - a tell that lets her know that whatever he’s about to say is the truth. “A little bit. I’ve been reading up on Uzumaki traditions, ‘cause Ero-Sennin mentioned some stuff before he...died.”

There’s a collective wince shared by everyone in the office. Four years later, Jiraiya’s death is still a sore spot for Naruto.

“Most clans don’t talk about their marriage traditions though, unless they’re like allies or something,” he says. “I mean, you’ve got the occasional douchey clan shinobi who gets mouthy in the Red District, but they’re usually so low on the clan totem pole that whatever they spit out isn’t anywhere close to the full picture.”

“I take it most clan heads don’t frequent the Red District, then?” Sakura asks.

She knows from tales that she overheard from her father that some civilian clan heads do, but she isn’t sure about shinobi clans. Perhaps they do, they’re just more discrete.

Naruto shrugs. “Unless they’re going out of their way to confirm the existence of a bastard, no,” he says easily, like he’s talking about the weather. 

Sakura brings a hand up to her temples to rub away the headache that’s now starting to pound with a vengeance. 

“Anything in the archives that would give me a clearer picture of what I should expect?” she asks, knowing that he’s made it his personal mission to break in at least once a week. 

“Clan marriage traditions generally aren’t written down for outsiders,” Shikamaru speaks up. “Especially the founding clans. They tend to keep their stuff in the house unless they’re arranging marriages between clan heirs or clan heads.”

“Does that mean you have information to give me, Shikamaru?” she asks hopefully.

She deflates a second later when he shakes his head.

“Nope. You want Nara traditions, I can tell you,” he says. “Yamanaka...they’re actually the most secretive of the three of us. They don’t share them with anyone but other clan heads and with mom still the head of the Nara for at least another six months, I won’t get read in anytime soon.”

Sakura groans, “Great.”

A thoughtful look crosses Naruto’s face. “Tsunade-oba-chan might know,” he says. “She’s been the head of the Senju clan for years. I think Shizune-nee mentioned something about a Yamanaka proposing to oba-chan a little after Dan died-”

“Yamanaka Toru, he’s Ino’s granduncle,” Sakura says.

She knows his name and story well. Yamanaka Toru is still alive, though he hasn’t been an active shinobi since the day he asked her shishou to marry him almost thirty years prior. He’d been forced into retirement after Tsunade nearly killed him - something that he, thankfully, appears to bear her no ill will for.

“Yeah, him.” Naruto nods. “Although, I can’t remember if Shizune-nee said that oba-chan tried to kill Toru for attempting to propose so soon after Dan died or because she was offended that he was the second son of the Yamanaka clan head at the time.”

Sakura is willing to guess that it was a combination of both. She may have been born into a civilian family, but even she knows how offensive it would be for the second child of a clan head to offer marriage to another clan head.

“Alright,” she exhales harshly, “looks like I’m talking to shishou then.”

She grabs a blank scroll on her right and starts writing. After a few moments, she hands it to Naruto.

“What’s this for?” he asks, confused.

“A B-Rank mission for you,” she says. “You’re to-”

“‘Buy the most expensive bottle of sake in the village and bring it back to Hokage Tower,’” he reads, then glances at Shikamaru. “Uh, ne, Shikamaru, doesn’t this count as an abuse of power?”

Sakura clears her throat. “See these?” She asks, motioning to a small pile of paperwork to her left. “These are all the marriage proposals that arrived while we were at the summit. I call them a diplomatic clusterfuck because no one bothered to tell me that the rest of the world thought I was married .”

Naruto and Shikamaru both share a wince.

“If I’m going to be talking to shishou about clan marriage traditions, then I’m going to end up having to talk about my relationship with Ino,” she says. “Knowing shishou, she’s going to ask me questions about our sex life-”

Shikamaru groans.

“And I’m not about to do that sober. Got it?”

Dual nods. 

“Great. Now, Shikamaru, help me sort my paperwork. Naruto, get me that sake,” she orders.

“Troublesome,” Shikamaru grumbles without any real heat.

“Ne, Sakura-chan, can I charge the sake as a Tower expense?” Naruto asks on his way out.

Sakura shrugs. “Why not?”

He cheers and sprints down the hall.

(We’re going to regret that, Inner says).

“You’re going to regret that,” Shikamaru says.

“Probably.”

-

Tsunade-shishou does not ask her about her sex life.

Instead, she eyes the bottle of sake in Sakura’s hand and tilts her head with an amused grin on her lips.

“Alright, brat, what’s on your mind?” she asks in lieu of an actual greeting.

Sakura uncorks the bottle and pours them each a cup. Then, without waiting for Tsunade to take the first sip, she immediately downs her own cup before going for a second pour.

The second one goes down just as smoothly as the first. She’s not drunk or even buzzed (having trained under Tsunade herself, it will take a truly ungodly amount of alcohol for that to happen), but she does feel the slightest bit looser.

“Shishou,” she starts, “what do I need to know about clan marriage?”

There’s a cough from Shizune that has Sakura furrowing her brow. It turns into a frown when Tsunade-shishou lets out a long sigh and hands over a fifty ryo note to Shizune.

“You couldn’t have waited another two weeks before asking me that?” Tsunade complains without any real heat.

Sakura stares. “You were betting on me proposing to Ino?!” she eventually sputters out once her brain manages to reboot.

“Me and the whole damn village at this point,” Tsunade grouses out. Then, she smiles. “Okay, brat, what do you want to know?”

Sakura returns the grin. “Everything.”

-

Tsunade does tell Sakura everything as she remembers it. She may have been out of the village for a better part of a decade, but there are some traditions that Konoha’s clans will never change.

Each custom, Sakura learns, reflects what the clan values. The Uchiha value battle and thus require a prospective suitor to battle the clan head. The Nara require that the one seeking a clan member’s hand outwit their prospective spouse in a game of hide and seek.

“And the Yamanaka?” Sakura asks.

“Vulnerability and protection,” Tsunade replies. “Give your wife your weakness and offer the clan a means to protect itself.”

Her eyes turn to steel.

“Whatever you do, do not lie to the Yamanaka,” Tsunade warns, voice grave. “Or you will find an enemy for life instead of a wife.”

Sakura nods. “Understood, shishou.” She bites her lip. “Is it true that the Shodaime removed his armour in front of Mito-dono when he proposed to her?”

She sees Tsunade blink at the seemingly random question. “He did,” Tsunade says slowly. “Why, are you looking for another way to emulate my late grandfather?”

Her eyes sparkle, telling Sakura that Tsunade is teasing her.

Sakura smiles. “The Haruno were samurai, once,” she says simply.

According to the legends of her clan, that display had been what secured the loyalty of the Haruno clan to Konoha. As a people who were rarely parted from their armour, the Haruno understood the magnitude of that display and what it said about Hashirama as a person.

She sees understanding dawn on Tsunade’s face.

“Well then,” Tsunade eventually says, eyeing her, “I suppose we should see if his armour will fit you.”

Now it’s Sakura’s turn to blink. “Wait, what?”

“A samurai needs armour, don’t they?” Tsunade raises an eyebrow.

They do, and Sakura does. If her parents were still alive, Sakura would ask her father for his armour. He would give it to her and they would resize it together. Her mother would help her put it on whilst reciting the history of their family. None of those things will happen now. Her father's armour was destroyed when the house was razed to the ground during the Crush and her parents have been dead for five years now.

“I can’t take his armor-” Sakura tries.

She knows how precious the Shodaime and Nidaime’s belongings are to her shishou.

“You’re not taking it,” Tsunade cuts her off. “I’m giving it to you.”

“Shishou-”

“Sakura,” Tsunade sighs. “I will never have children. You and Shizune are my legacy. Allow me this.”

Sakura feels the fight leave her when she hears the unshed tears in Tsunade’s voice. She wonders if her shishou is thinking about Nawaki. Would he have worn the Shodaime’s armour if he lived long enough to marry?

“Okay, shishou,” she says. “Okay.”

-

The Shodaime’s armour doesn’t fit.

Sakura is slightly disappointed by this until Tenten catches sight of her in it and offers to resize it for free. Sakura tries to pay, but Tenten isn’t having it.

“You’re the Hokage,” Tenten says.

“I’m still a shinobi,” Sakura protests. “I should have to pay like everyone else!”

The Haruno were samurai once. Even after they became a clan of traders and merchants, they never forgot the importance of paying a fair price to those that crafted the tools that they used. Though the clan had dwindled by the time that Sakura was born, she had learned from her father that same lesson.

Sakura wonders if Tenten knows that, because she sees her eyes narrow.

“Consider this my wedding present to you then,” Tenten says shortly.

That’s one way around the Haruno honour. It may be bad form to not pay, but it's even worse to refuse a gift.

Still, Sakura protests, “Ino hasn’t even said yes yet!”

Tenten gives her an unimpressed look. “You really think she’ll say no?”

Sakura shrugs. She hopes not, but their argument from earlier in the week is still fresh in her mind.

Tenten sighs. “And people wonder why it took you two so long to get together,” she mutters.

(Inner howls with laughter).

(Sakura only feels slightly offended).

-

As different as the traditions of Konoha’s clans are, there is one ritual that they all share: the prospective suitor must present themself to the clan whose member they wish to marry. Not even the Hokage is exempt from it.

(Even if she was, Sakura would still present herself anyway).

Sakura walks to the Yamanaka compound - a place that is less a compound and more a sprawling neighbourhood situated between the civilian and shinobi districts. She keeps an even pace with Tsunade to her right; Naruto and Sai are at her left, although Sai is positioned slightly behind that of Naruto. The positioning of all of them is a statement: Tsunade is the closest thing she has to a mother now, Naruto and Sai are her brothers.

Two squads of ANBU - led by an agent with a Kitsune mask - are at her back. Their presence has a two-fold purpose: to protect the Hokage and to remind Konoha that the Haruno were samurai who once commanded armies of their own.

She draws stares as she walks. She thinks that half of them are because of the people flanking her sides and back. The other half are because of the armour that she wears; no one forgets the sight of Senju Hashirama’s armour, even if it is sized to fit a woman almost eight inches shorter than him.

Sakura finds that walking in armour is odd. She’s not used to making so much noise with each step, nor is she used to weighing so much; medical ninja have to be light on their feet and quieter than infiltrators in order to get to their patients without being noticed in the middle of a battle. She doesn’t mind it, though. It makes each step of hers purposeful. As an added bonus, the weight itself is rather grounding.

By the time Sakura arrives at the main Yamanaka house, word has clearly reached them if the crowd of Yamanaka clansmen is anything to go by. Sakura regards them all with feigned indifference until she catches sight of Ino at their head and feels herself choke on her own breath.

Sakura raises a hand in a fist to signal to her people to stop.

“You ready for this, Sakura-chan?” Naruto asks quietly.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” she mutters back before turning her attention to Ino, who has since stepped forward.

“Nanadaime-sama,” Ino greets.

“Yamanaka-sama,” Sakura returns.

“You come dressed for war,” Ino says. “Do you seek battle with my clan?”

There they are, the opening words. This is the last chance that Sakura has to turn back. She doesn’t take it, though. She’s come too far, both figuratively and literally, and waited too long.

“No.” Sakura takes a deep breath and steps forward. “Honoured Yamanaka Clan Head, I come not to seek battle, but instead to make a request.”

“A request?” She sees Ino raise an eyebrow.

Sakura bows low. “Honoured Yamanaka Clan Head, I request permission to enter your grounds and join your people.”

She kneels, pressing her forehead to the dirt road. “I seek acceptance,” she continues, “from the Yamanaka Clan and the blessings of its gardens.”

Sakura is aware of the significance carried by both her words and actions. The Hokage does not need permission to enter a clan’s grounds in their own village, and they only bow to the Daimyo and their fellow Kage. To be the Hokage and do both, to bow before a clan head and ask to enter their lands, speaks volumes.

She hears Ino step closer.

“And what,” she hears Ino say, “do you have to offer us?”

Thanks to Tsunade, Sakura knows that the question is a trick. It contains an unspoken component that aims to measure the sincerity of a suitor.

She sits back and meets Ino’s eyes. It’s a calculated move, looking into her eyes. There are three clans in Konoha whose eyes you do not meet: the Uchiha, the Hyuuga, and the Yamanaka. To meet the eyes of any of them is done at one’s own peril.

Sakura smiles. Then, as Senju Hashirama did in front of Uzumaki Mito almost a century prior, she removes her armour.

She lets the shoulder guards drop first. Then she pulls off her chest armour and lets it crash to the ground. She brings her hands to the knot holding her hita-ate in place on her forehead and unties it, never once letting her gaze waver from Ino’s. It too hits the ground.

“I offer my hands for your gardens and the forest to your people.” Sakura brings her head to the ground again. “To you, I offer my mind.”

Gasps ring out from many of the Yamanaka. To them, the mind is a thing of contradictions. It is the strongest organ in the body but also a shinobi’s greatest weakness. To offer one’s mind to a Yamanaka is to give them everything you hold dear. Nothing will be secret between them.

She keeps her eyes on the ground even when she hears Ino’s knees meet the dirt. She doesn't lift them until Ino's hands are on her face. 

She meets Ino's eyes, blue as the sky and shining like the sun. There are tears that Sakura would normally panic at the sight of, but she doesn't because Ino is smiling. 

Sakura keeps her eyes on Ino's as Ino reaches down to pick up the fallen hitai-ate. She stops breathing when Ino leans forward. 

She doesn't cry when Ino brings the hitai-ate to her forehead. She doesn't cry when Ino reaches behind her to tie it in place. She doesn't cry when Ino sits back and places her hands back on her cheeks.

She only starts to cry when she feels Ino's chakra brush against her. It feels like springtime, just like Ino. 

(Crybaby, Inner snarks).

(Sakura ignores her because Inner is sobbing too).

“I welcome you to Yamanaka ground,” Ino says. “Your secrets are mine, my gardens are yours.” 

“Your people will always find refuge in the forests,” Sakura recites. 

“Your mind and all its secrets shall find safety with me,” Ino says. 

“Your gardens will flourish under my hands,” Sakura finishes. 

They aren't wedding vows - those will come later. These promises that the two of them have crafted over the years, promises whose roots were planted the day Yamanaka Ino saw a crying girl with pink hair and decided that she needed a friend.

The kiss that brushes across Sakura’s lips is chaste. Sakura would pout at how brief it is, but she knows why Ino keeps it brief; for someone who’s seen as a social butterfly, Ino is remarkably private when it comes to her relationships. That kiss is for everyone around them. Anything deeper will be for the two of them alone.

“Would you like to stay tonight and join us for a meal?” Ino asks.

“Would you like to stay forever?” Sakura hears a Yamanaka elder shout from the crowd.

Tsunade snorts behind Sakura.

A red flush creeps up Ino’s neck. “Hana-oba!” she growls.

“Don’t Hana-oba me, girl! You have the Hokage on her knees in front of you! Make an honest woman out of her already!”

Sakura can see the mortification on Ino’s face and decides to intervene. She leans to the side to get a look at the impish elder who isn’t hard to miss with a grin on her face that reminds Sakura of Tsunade.

“I’m working on it, Hana-oba-sama,” she says.

“Don’t encourage her!” Ino hisses.

Hana cackles. “Oh, I like you.”

Sakura sees the outrage forming in Ino’s eyes. She squeezes Ino’s hands before the blonde can snap at the older woman.

“I would like to join you for dinner,” Sakura says. “May my people join yours?”

She watches Ino blink in confusion at the question.

(Will Sai have a home here? Inner asks because Sakura can’t ask the question herself in front of so many people).

Ino’s eyes widen. “Of course,” she says, smiling. “Your people will always have a home here, if they wish.” 

Sakura feels Sai’s chakra flutter behind her.

Ino holds her hand out. “Shall we?”

Sakura takes it, fighting back a grin when Ino pulls her up with ease.

(Okay, that was kind of hot, Inner says).

(Please, for the sake of our ancestors, behave , Sakura groans).

Ino must be listening out for Inner because her cheeks turn pink. She coughs, likely to keep herself from verbally responding to the voice that only she and Sakura can hear.

“Is curry okay?” she asks instead.

Sakura grins. “It’s perfect.”

“Good,” Ino says, moving so that she’s somewhat behind Sakura, “because it’s your turn to cook dinner tonight anyway.”

Sakura can’t help it. She laughs at Ino’s words because just like that, the tension in Sakura’s shoulder bleeds away.

She sees Ino’s lips twitch into a smile. “Let’s get inside, I’m sure your people would like to warm themselves by our fires,” she says.

“We welcome your hospitality,” Sakura replies.

She still knows where they are. The traditions and rituals do not end until they’ve crossed the threshold of the house (their house, Inner murmurs) together.

The two of them make their way towards the house with Ino half a step behind Sakura. 

(She's not lesser than us, Inner grumbles. She should be next to us).

Ino's hand settles on the small of Sakura's back, almost as if it's a response to Inner's remarks.

"I have you, Haruno-sama," Ino says.

Haruno-sama, not Nanadaime-sama or Hokage-sama. The message in Ino's words is clear: she will protect her future wife regardless if Sakura is the Hokage or not. 

Sakura swallows back a lump in her throat. She knows why Ino has addressed her as such but it doesn't sting any less. It's just another reminder that she is currently a clan of one, both the last Haruno and the last Haruno clan head. 

"Thank you, Yamanaka-sama," Sakura says without looking behind her.

That too is another move with a statement, her way of making it clear that she finds the protection satisfactory.

(She’s always done that, protect us, Inner says quietly).

She has. Ino has always had her back one way or another.

Sakura shifts ever so slightly as she walks so that she can press herself into Ino’s touch on her back. 

Ino’s chakra brushes against her in response.

-

Planning a wedding when you’re the Hokage and your fiance is the head of a Founding Clan is harder than fighting a god, Sakura finds. At least when she fought a god, she punched said god in the face. Between her usual responsibilities that come with being the Hokage and all the attention that planning a wedding requires, Sakura is exhausted. She does her best to power through it, but when she starts signing paperwork with a rushed drawing of a cherry blossom flower, Shikamaru sends her home. 

(She pretends to not notice that he has Naruto tailing her ANBU to make sure that she gets home safely).

When she gets home, Ino is already in bed. 

Sakura faceplants next to her. “Tadaima,” she mumbles into the covers.

She hears Ino giggle. “Rough day?”

Sakura rolls over so that she can look at Ino. Her fiance (the word sends a thrill through her still) has a warm smile on her face.

She reaches up to brush a hand against Ino’s face. “We should just elope,” she says.

Ino snorts. “You’re already dealing with one political firestorm. You want to deal with another one on top of that?” she asks.

“No,” Sakura pouts, “but I don’t want you to have to deal with this headache.”

By all accounts, Ino is dealing with this better than Sakura is. But Sakura can tell that it’s wearing on Ino, if the lines on her face and shadows under her eyes are anything to go by.

Ino shifts so that she can lay down and place her head on Sakura’s chest. “It’s not a headache for me, Forehead. I actually kind of enjoy the logistical planning part,” she says.

“Hah,” Sakura chuckles lightly. “That’s true.”

An easy silence settles over them. Sakura absently rubs Ino’s back as she listens to the blonde’s breathing.

“I still need to order armour,” Sakura says quietly, breaking the silence. “I tried to have Naruto place an order for me at TenTen’s smithy, but apparently she has so many other orders that if she’d accepted it, she wouldn’t have it finished in time for the wedding.”

Her and every other smithy in Hi no Kuni, from the sounds of it. 

“You’re not going to wear the Shodaime’s?” Ino asks.

“No. It was…fine to propose in,” Sakura says, “but I don’t want to get married in it. I can’t.”

She knows that Tsunade likely wouldn’t have a problem if she got married in it, but the Shodaime’s armour is not Haruno armour. It’s been sized to fit her, but it will never be hers . It will always be the Shodaime’s and whilst Sakura knows that people have called her his second-coming, she doesn’t want to be seen as him.

“If my parents were still alive, I would wear my dad’s armour, but…” she trails off. 

She feels Ino squeeze her hand. “I’ll figure something out, Sakura.”

Sakura raises her head to glance at Ino. “Ino…”

Her words die in her throat when she feels Ino press kisses along her jaw. 

“Let me worry about it, wife,” she hears Ino murmur.

Sakura grins lazily. “Not your wife yet.”

Ino’s chuckles. “Tell that to the rest of the world,” she husks.

Sakura’s grin widens, but she otherwise remains silent so that she can enjoy the feel of Ino’s lips against her skin.   

“Ancestors,” she sighs, “I love you, Ino.”

She feels Ino smile against her throat. “I love you too, Sakura.”

The tension in Sakura's body bleeds away. She allows herself to drift off with Ino still trailing kisses across her skin.

-

It’s the night before their wedding when Sakura comes home to a set of armour in their bedroom. 

It takes a minute for the sight to fully register with Sakura’s brain, but when it does, she feels her heart stop. 

“Dammit, I was hoping to catch you before you got upstairs,” she hears Ino mutter behind her.

“Ino, what is that?” she asks.

She can practically hear the blonde’s eyes rolling. “Armour, Forehead,” Ino deadpans.

“But where…” Sakura trails off.

Where did it come from? The set is clearly handmade and brand new. There’s no way that it came from any of the smithies in Hi no Kuni because as far as she knew, none of them had the availability to craft such a set at the moment.

(Maybe she put the order in before we proposed? Inner suggests).

Sakura inhales when she feels Ino wrap her arms around her waist. 

“I asked TenTen if she would make you a set for our wedding,” Ino says.

Sakura’s brow furrows. “But she told me she didn’t have the availability to make a set before then,” she says.

In fact, Naruto told her that TenTen had said that if Sakura wanted a set of armour, she should’ve put the order in six months ago.

“Yeah,” Ino draws out, “she lied. And she also got the rest of the smithies to lie as well because she took point on the order.”

So that’s what Ino meant when she said that she would figure something out.

Sakura doesn’t know if she should be annoyed or impressed by that. “But why?”

“Because one who marries into the Haruno Clan is expected to provide armour to their spouse, as proof that they will protect them,” Ino replies. “At least, that’s what Hana-oba told me.”

“You’re a clan head-” she tries to protest, only to fall silent when Ino presses a kiss to her cheek.

“I’m marrying another clan head, Sakura,” she points out. “You can’t seriously expect me to not follow your clan’s traditions after you’ve followed mine.”

Sakura bites her lip. In all honesty, she didn’t expect Ino to abide by the Haruno wedding traditions. She knows that few shinobi clans are willing to lower themselves by observing the traditions held by civilian clans. The Haruno were samurai once, true, but they are civilians now and she is a clan of one. 

“Besides,” Ino continues, “I wanted you to have something that was yours.”

(Ancestors and spirits of the Founders, we don’t deserve her, Inner says).

(We don’t, Sakura agrees).

“Do you like it?” Ino asks, suddenly sounding nervous.

(Like it? Inner demands. We-)

“Love it,” Sakura finishes. “I love it.” 

The overall design speaks to the traditional samurai armour worn by her ancestors, rather than the armour today. Unlike her ancestors’ armour though, this set is obviously designed with a shinobi’s movements in mind.

Sakura glances over her shoulder. “Will you help me put it on?”

She can’t stop the blush that rises to her cheeks as she asks. It’s an intimate request to make - akin to asking Ino if she can wash her hair when they bathe together. Ino clearly recognises that, because her cheeks turn pink.

“Of course,” Ino says.

They step out of the doorway and into the room. 

“Do you know how to get it on me?” Sakura asks as she sheds her haori.

“Tsunade-sama walked me through it,” Ino replies, removing the armour from the display form. “It’s bottom on up, though, right?”

Sakura nods. “It is.”

That’s how her father had put his on. It was also how her mother had done it when they’d had Sakura try her father’s armour on.

She lifts her arms so that Ino can tie the haidate in place around her waist. She raises an eyebrow when she feels her chakra sink into the metal.

“Chakra metal?” she asks.

Ino nods. “TenTen said it would be attuned to your chakra. She mentioned how it’ll end up making the armour feel lighter or something.”

It already feels lighter. Sakura remembers the weight of her father’s armour on her small frame. His haidate had nearly brought her to her knees from the weight alone. 

Sakura shivers when Ino places kisses along her wrists before sliding the kote up her arms. Her mother had done the same for her father.

For luck, her mother had said when she kissed Kizashi’s left wrist. 

And for protection, her mother had added, kissing Kizashi’s right wrist.

“For luck and protection,” she hears Ino whisper.

Sakura swallows back tears at the words. It’s an old Haruno superstition, kissing a loved one’s wrists as you armoured them. It’s supposed to be a way to catch the attention of the ancestors and remind them that the person you love has someone waiting for them at home. 

(Wonder how she knew it, Inner muses).

“Tsunade-sama mentioned that Mito-dono would do it to Shodaime-sama after she noticed the Haruno samurai on her guard doing it,” Ino explains. “I figured I would too, but if you don’t want me to-”

“No.” Sakura shakes her head. “No, you can. I just, I wasn’t expecting it.”

The last people who had kissed her wrists had been her parents and that had been right before the Chunin Exams. She’d had no idea at the time that that would be the last time either of them would do that.

(We would’ve kissed their wrists before the Crush if we had known, Inner says quietly).

She lifts her arms again so that Ino can slide the chest plate on her. She chances a glance down and feels her breath stutter in her chest.

The Haruno circle is on full display.

She doesn’t know how she missed it before. The sight of it makes the armour on her body feel real, more so than the weight of metal and cloth pressing on her body does.

“This is your armour,” Ino says. “Yours. It’s the Yamanaka’s gift to the Haruno clan, a gift from the Yamanaka Clan Head to her wife.”

Sakura watches Ino take a deep breath. 

“It’s my promise to protect you and that I will always have your back in one form or another.” Her eyes meet Sakura’s eyes. “I have you, Forehead.”

Sakura surges forward and presses her lips to Ino’s. This is the kiss that they won’t share for anyone but themselves: passionate like the rivers that rage to the north of Hi no Kuni and firm like the forests of Konoha. It’s a deeper expression of what they whisper at night when their bodies are slicked with sweat and their chests are heaving from hours of lovemaking.

I love you.

I'm here.

I will always have you.

“Give me your hand,” Sakura whispers once they break apart. 

“What?” Ino looks confused.

“Your hand. I,” Sakura swallows, “I want to attune my armour to you.”

She knows exactly what she’s doing. She’s already offered the greatest weakness a person could to Ino, but this? This is the greatest offer she could make as a Haruno. Ino may be able to help her put the armour on, but she can’t help Sakura remove it. Right now, the clasps will only come undone by Sakura’s hand and chakra. If Ino adds her chakra to Sakura’s armour the way Sakura wants her to, then she will have Sakura’s life in her hands whenever Sakura wears this armour.  

She closes her eyes when Ino presses her forehead against hers. 

“Are you sure?” she hears Ino ask, voice soft. 

Sakura opens her eyes. “You’ve always had me,” she whispers. 

If Ino didn’t, Sakura never would have offered.

“Okay.” Sakura keeps her eyes on Ino’s even as she hears Ino’s hand skim against the metal of her chest plate. She imagines that she can feel it moving to settle over her heart. “Okay.”

Sakura places her hand on top of Ino’s. “Just a little bit of chakra,” she tells Ino. “I’ll take care of the rest of it.”

“Okay.”

Sakura feels Ino’s chakra flutter under their joined hands. It feels like a spring breeze - comforting and fresh and so uniquely Ino that it makes Sakura smile. She adds her own chakra to it and pulls them both across the metal covering her chest.

It’s an odd sensation, Sakura thinks, to feel chakra carving through something that you’re wearing. It doesn’t unnerve her like she thinks it would because she knows that the chakra running alongside hers means no harm. She flicks a glance to Ino’s face and notes that the blonde’s face is flushed.

(Is ours like that? She wonders).

(Inner's soft laugh is the answer she receives).

She doesn’t know how long it takes before the sound of her armour latching shut reaches her ears. She is breathing heavily and so is Ino, although Sakura doubts that either of them are breathing that way because of exhaustion.

“So…” Ino drawls. “Did it work, Forehead?”

Sakura moves their hands so that Ino’s is touching the clasps, then drops her own. “You tell me, Pig.”

She bites back a gasp a second later when she feels Ino’s chakra flare against her side and across her chest.

The latch comes undone with a click.

Sakura lets out a breath she hadn’t realised that she’d been holding. 

Ino’s chakra flares again. This time, Sakura feels it brush across her mind. She presses her forehead against Ino’s once more.

(Thank you, Ino murmurs. I love you).

(We love you too, Inner says for the both of them).

Sakura brings a hand to Ino’s face and places another kiss on Ino’s lips, softer this time. Her lips twitch into a small smile when she feels Ino kiss her back.

-

Naruto and Sai walk her down the aisle. 

It’s not her original plan; Tsunade-shishou and Tenzou-sensei were the ones who were supposed to be on either side of her. Then, Naruto found out that Shikamaru and Choji were going to be walking Ino down the aisle and insisted that he and Sai do the same for Sakura.

Her knee jerk reaction had been to say no, but now that she’s staring down the aisle with them by her side, she finds herself thankful that she said yes.

“You ready, Sakura-chan?” Naruto asks, voice low.

“Would you believe me if I said that I’ve been ready since I was six years old?” she mutters back.

“I can,” Sai says.

“Good, because it’s the truth.”

Even when she had been chasing after Sasuke, Ino had always been in her thoughts. 

(It’s always been her for us, Inner murmurs).

“Let’s do this,” Naruto says. “After you, Haruno-sama.”

He’s grinning as he says it. Sakura would roll her eyes if she didn’t feel so touched.

Sakura takes the first step forward. Naruto and Sai follow half a step behind her, staying to her right and left, respectively. 

They draw stares as they make their way down the aisle. It reminds Sakura of the day that she proposed to Ino. Weeks ago, the people of Konoha had stared at her because of the armour that she wore and the people at her back. Now, they stare for the same reason but this time, no one in the crowd has any idea who to focus on.

Sakura knows that the three of them make an interesting sight together. Naruto draws eyes and rumbles with the old set of Uzushio armour. The Uzumaki swirl is prominent on his back whilst his shoulders carry the Haruno circle - a design choice that marks him as her brother.

(The armour is a gift from Sakura, who found it buried in the archives. He teared up when she gave it to him, because his mother had worn a similar set when she first arrived in Konoha all those years ago. When Tenten offered to resize it for free so that he could make it his, he broke down sobbing).

Sai’s armour is plainer compared to either Sakura’s or Naruto’s. It's a dated standard issue set that was popular during the Second War - basic yet functional - but whispers still break out all the same at the sight of the emblem on the back: the Haruno circle with the Yamanaka bush clover inside of it.

(His petition to use both clan symbols before the wedding had ruffled more than a few feathers within the Yamanaka. Ino had ultimately granted his request, but not before first putting him through a wall.

My brother’s name was Fu, she told him. Danzo killed him the same way he killed Shin.

I can’t bring him back , Sai told her from his position on the ground. He could paint her a million pictures of the man, but he could never bring back what she lost.

I know. The sad smile on her face told him that she truly did know. You aren’t him. But you will stand for him because you came back).

Sakura's armour draws the most eyes with its blood red colour and white circle painted on the front. Whispers follow as her pure white jinbaori flutters in the breeze as she walks. There are cherry blossom petals embroidered along its hem and upon its back is the Haruno circle with the Yamanaka bush clover nestled inside. Unlike her boys, whose hair lays as it always does, Sakura's hair is tied up and held in place with tama kanzashi that once belonged to Uzumaki Mito.

(The tama kanzashi are a gift from Naruto, who said that she and Ino should have at least one thing on them that matched. Sakura cried when he gave them to her).

“Haruno Torii to Haruno Ise,” Sai mutters quietly as they walk. “Haruno Ise to Haruno Hachigen-”

Sakura’s breath sutters in her chest. “Sai, are you-”

He stops whispering. “Am I doing it wrong?” he asks. 

(No, Inner says softly).

“No,” Sakura echoes. “No, you’re doing it right.”

He gives a small nod, then resumes, “Haruno Hachigen to Haruno Hiyori-”

“Haruno Hiyori to Haruno Shinji,” Naruto says, obviously catching on to what Sai is doing.

“Haruno Shinji to Haruno Kensei,” Sai continues. 

Sakura keeps her eyes forward, ignoring the burn of tears rising in the corners of her eyes as Sai and Naruto continue to recite the names of Haruno clan leaders. She had wondered why she received a report that both Naruto and Sai had broken into the archives. Now she knows: they broke in to do this, to know the names of her foremothers and forefathers and recite her lineage as is customary of the Haruno.

(Those are our boys, Inner says).

(Yeah, they are, Sakura agrees).

She had expected to make the walk in silence with only the leaves and the spirits of her ancestors to whisper the history of the Haruno clan. Trust her boys to shatter that sad expectation.

“Haruno Kuna,” Naruto’s voice snaps Sakura from her revere, “to Haruno-”

“K-Kizashi,” Sakura stutters over her father’s name. “Haruno Kizashi to Haruno-”

“Sakura,” Sai finishes.

“This is the line of the Haruno clan, reduced but unbroken and remembered,” Naruto says evenly, like he’s spent ages memorising what to say. “They were warriors once-”

“And we shall continue to be warriors until our children no longer have a need to remember war,” Sakura finishes.

That was why, despite not being a shinobi himself, her father hadn’t died at home during the Crush. He had died in the streets of the civilian district with a sword in his hand and his wife at his back as they tried to get their neighbours to safety. They had succeeded, but they hadn’t been able to escape themselves before Orochimaru’s summon crashed through the civilian district.

Sakura takes a shuddering breath. “You both have no idea what this means to me,” she says quietly.

Out of the corner of her eye, she spots Sai’s smile. It’s shy and small, but genuine. 

“This is what family does, is it not?” he asks.

She nods ever so slightly. “Yeah, it is.”

His smile gets wider. It makes Sakura smile.

(Emotionless tool my ass, Inner grumbles).

(Danzo was a fool, Sakura says).

She doesn’t realise she’s leaking killing intent until Naruto discretely elbows her in the side. 

“Might want to rein it in, Sakura-chan, otherwise the civilians might think that you’re going to kill your future wife,” he mutters out of the corner of her mouth.

Sakura takes a deep breath. “Thanks, Naruto,” she says.

“What frustrates you, Sakura-chan?” Sai asks, voice as quiet as Naruto’s.

(Danzo trying to use our girl as a human shield, Inner growls).

“All the people here. We wanted a private ceremony but…” she trails off with a sigh. “We should’ve just eloped.”

“You’d be dealing with a whole different political shitstorm,” Naruto says matter-of-factly.

Sakura smiles. “Ino said the same thing when I mentioned it to her.”

“She’s wise,” Sai notes with a nod.

“It was a joke, I wasn’t serious about eloping,” she mutters.

(You totally were, Inner says).

“Naruto’s jokes are better,” Sai says.

Sakura keeps her eyes ahead despite the urge to give him a withering look.

Naruto lets out a small outraged sound at the backhanded compliment. “Oi, my jokes are-” 

“Stow it,” Sakura orders. “We're here.”

Both of her boys fall silent.

Sakura climbs the three short steps onto the dias, stopping only when she reaches Tsunade and Tenzou.

“Shishou,” she greets. “Tenzou-sensei.”

Both of them each carry a framed photo of her parents in their hands - her father in Tenzou's hands, her mother in Tsunade's.

Tenzou sighs. “Maa, Sakura-chan, you shouldn't call me sensei anymore. You're the Hokage and-”

“And you'll always be my sensei,” she cuts in. 

He was a better teacher than Kakashi was. For that, she will call him sensei until one of them dies.

Tsunade laughs at the put-out look on Tenzou's face.

“She's Naruto's teammate,” she says. “It's obvious she gets that from him.”

Tenzou sighs, put-out look vanishing to be replaced with a smile. “Well, I can't argue against the past and present Hokage, especially when one of them is a bride today,” he says.

Sakura returns his smile as three bells clang, signalling the arrival of the other bride.

“You really can't,” she says. 

-

Ino is breathtaking.

There’s no other way to describe it.

“Ne, Sakura-chan, you’re drooling,” Naruto whispers.

“Shut up,” she grumbles, but brings a hand to rub her face anyway just in case. 

“Ino-san is worth looking at,” Sai chimes in quietly.

(She really is, Inner says).

Sakura hums her agreement with both Sai and Inner because it’s true. With her pure white shiromuku and red uchikake catching the sunlight perfectly, Ino looks like the goddess Kaguya desired to be. From the distance that she’s at, Sakura can just make out the cherry blossoms and bush clovers embroidered across Ino’s uchikake. A top Ino’s head sits…

(There’s no way, Inner says in disbelief).

“Naruto, is that Mito-dono’s kushi?” she asks under her breath.

“Ino-chan’s gonna be family,” is his reply.

So that was why he had said that she and Ino ought to have at least one thing that matched - he’d given Mito’s kushi to Ino.

“I thought that Mito-dono’s kanzashi were considered national treasures,” Sai muses.

They are. 

Naruto shrugs. “I’m an Uzumaki and her great-grandnephew through Tsunade-oba-chan.”

That’s…a stretch, but Sakura doubts that anyone was willing to challenge him on it. She would, if only because she enjoys seeing how his mind works, but she doesn’t have the time or the chance to do so because Ino is climbing up the steps with Shikamaru and Choji by her side.

Sakura flinches when Naruto elbows her in the side, more from surprise than pain.

“Remember to breathe, Sakura-chan,” he hisses.

“It will look quite poor if you collapse on the altar before the wedding has commenced,” Sai adds.

“I hate the both of you,” she grumbles.

She doesn’t even have to look at either of her boys to know that they have cheeky grins - or the closest approximation of one, in Sai’s case - on their faces.

“Sakura,” Ino greets, a warm smile on her face.

Just like that, Sakura’s irritation bleeds away. “Ino. You, you’re more beautiful than a cosmos,” she stutters out.

She sees Ino blush. “You can’t make me cry before we’ve said our vows, Forehead,” Ino says. “Shika’s mom worked way too long on my makeup.”

Sakura almost calls bullshit because Ino wears the barest of makeup, save for a bold red lip that Sakura wants to kiss and a light dusting of blush. Then, she catches Nara Yoshino’s eye behind Ino and the eyebrow that rises in challenge, and backs down. She recognises the look that Yoshino gives her. It’s the same look that her own mother would give whenever Sakura tried to raise a challenge that she stood no chance of winning.

(Shit, now I get why Shikamaru’s terrified of his mother, Inner says).

Instead, she leans forward and brushes her lips against Ino’s cheek, pointedly ignoring Tenzou-sensei’s cough. 

“Apologies, Pig,” she murmurs.

“You’re lucky my mom’s just out of hearing range, otherwise she’d kill you, wedding day or not, Sakura,” Shikamaru groans.

“It’s all right, Shika,” Ino reassures him.

A throat clears to Sakura’s right.

It’s only her years as a shinobi that keep Sakura from startling. She glances over to see the priest overseeing the wedding.

“Hokage-sama,” he greets, bowing slightly in respect. “Yamanaka-sama.”

Both Sakura and Ino offer shallow bows in return.

“Are you both ready to proceed?” he asks.

Sakura and Ino trade small smiles. 

(We’ve been ready since we were six, Inner snarks).

“We are,” Sakura says.

“Very well.” He nods. “Haruno Sakura, who stands with you?”

“Uzumaki Naruto and Yamanaka Sai, my brothers in every way but blood,” she responds firmly. 

She will not have anyone ever question their presence by her side, especially not on her wedding day. Naruto and Sai are her boys, her brothers. 

“Senju Tsunade and Tenzou,” she continues, “stand for my parents, who themselves stand amongst my ancestors and the spirits of Konoha’s Founders.”

“Very well. Yamanaka Ino,” his voice is sharp, “who stands with you?”

“Nara Shikamaru and Akimichi Choji, my brothers in every way but blood,” Ino says. “Nara Yoshino and Akimichi Chouza stand for my parents, who like the parents of my wife-to-be, stand amongst my ancestors and the spirits of Konoha’s Founders.”

Her voice is strong, but Sakura can see the grief in her eyes. She wants so badly to take Ino’s hand and give it a comforting squeeze like she always does, but the ceremony keeps her hand still. She lets her chakra brush against Ino’s instead, as a way to offer the comfort they both need without words.

“Let this ceremony be seen by the heavens then, so that the gods may share in your grief on this day,” the priest says, “and let us commence this union before them so that they may also share your joy.”

There’s something laughable about the priest invoking the gods before her, Sakura muses. She punched a god in the face to save the woman standing next to her, after all. Besides, Sakura doesn’t hold to Konoha’s gods; her family may have been with Konoha since its founding, but they have held to the spirits that they carried from Uzushio since before it fell.

She doesn’t wait long to tune the priest out. His words mean very little in the grand scheme of things. If she and Ino had their way, they would be married in the Yamanaka gardens with only their friends as witnesses instead of in public before all of Konoha. 

Sakura feels Ino’s chakra touch her mind as the priest continues to drone on. It's subtler than usual - meant more to attract Sakura’s attention than to fully touch her consciousness - but it has Sakura raising an eyebrow in a question that goes unseen by everyone but Ino all the same.

It takes a few more barely perceptible flutters of Ino’s chakra and a tiny, fond grin on Ino’s lips before Sakura finally catches on.

She glances at Ino. To anyone else, it’s a shy look given by a nervous but eager bride. For Sakura, it’s a way to catch Ino’s eye.

Sakura lets the world fall away as soon as her and Ino’s eyes meet, extending a mental hand towards the blonde who takes it without hesitation. Soon, it’s just the two of them standing in a field full of cosmoses.

“You could imagine any place, but you always seem to think of this one,” Ino notes. “Why?”

“Because we fell in love with you here,” Inner answers from behind them.

Ino startles slightly but Sakura doesn’t. She knew that Inner was lurking; different as they are, they’re two sides of the same coin, after all. This is Inner’s vision as much as it is hers. 

Am I as pretty as a cosmos flower, Sakura-chan?

Sakura looks over in the distance when a younger version of Ino’s voice reaches their ears. She finds a younger version of herself and Ino sitting amongst the cosmos, caught up in their own little world much like she and Ino are now. The girl that Sakura once was, the civilian girl with pink hair whose strength was only supposed to be her test scores, looks absolutely besotted by the younger blonde.

“Don’t mind me, Ino-chan,” Inner says with a teasing smirk on her lips. “I’m just here to keep an eye on things while you two get lost in each other's eyes.”

“Is that what people think is happening?” Sakura asks, curious. 

“I dunno.” Inner shrugs. “Inton makes time move differently in spaces like this. It’s why I’m keeping an ear out, so that you two can pull yourselves out when you need to.”

Sakura nods whilst Ino reaches a hand out for Inner. She sees Inner blink, but nonetheless takes Ino’s hand.

Ino squeezes Inner’s hand, then pulls her close to press a kiss to Inner’s forehead. “Thank you,” Sakura hears her whisper.

Sakura can feel phantom heat on her cheeks - the only sign that Inner is blushing. She looks away, if only to give the two of them the illusion of privacy, and directs her attention back to her younger self.

Her younger self is smiling now whilst a younger Ino chatters on about something Sakura can no longer hear. She doesn’t know how much of what she sees is a memory and how much of it is wistful thinking, a way to clamp down on the regret over how much time she and Ino wasted fighting for Sasuke.

Sakura jumps when Ino wraps an arm around her waist, but easily settles to lean into the embrace. 

“We were cute as kids,” Ino muses.

I was cute, Pig,” Sakura scoffs without any real heat. “You on the other hand?”

She lets the question hang in the air, drawing a small noise of outrage from Ino.

Sakura chuckles and kisses the side of Ino’s head. “You were beautiful.”

She feels Ino bury her face against her neck. “I’m going to be so red by the time the ceremony is over, Forehead,” Ino complains, but Sakura can feel her smiling.

“You can always blame it on all the layers you’re wearing,” Sakura points out.

Ino hums, snuggling closer. An easy silence settles between them as they watch their younger selves interact. Their younger selves are still giggling, trading nonsensical conversations that Sakura and Ino can’t hear.

“They look happy,” Ino says quietly.

“They do.” They are happy because Sakura had been happy at that age. She and Ino both had been happy then.

“Do you ever…” Ino starts, then trails off.

Sakura raises an eyebrow. “Do I ever what?”

“Wonder about what things would’ve been like if we hadn’t fought?” Ino asks. “Do you think we would’ve stayed like them?”

She nods towards the two children still playing amongst the flowers as Sakura remembers them.

“I did, once,” Sakura says truthfully.

It had been the day that she and Ino had broken off their friendship in the name of pursuing Sasuke. She had awoken in a field full of Ino’s favourite flowers and cried until her whole body ached.

“Just once?” Ino asks.

“I couldn’t ask for the ribbon back,” Sakura says simply. “And then we fought and you handed me my hitai-ate like it was that ribbon and…”

And Sakura had fallen in love all over again. 

Sakura exhales. “I don’t think about the what ifs because I can’t change them,” she says. “The most I can do is move forward and thank my ancestors and the spirits of the Founders for giving me a second chance with you.”

Ino is silent for the longest time. Then, just before Sakura can start to get nervous, she hears a soft, “I wondered for a while. Then I found you that day in the Forest of Death and decided that I wasn’t going to wonder anymore.”

Sakura kisses the side of Ino’s head. “We were pretty dumb when were younger, weren’t we?” she teases. “Cute, but dumb.”

Ino scoffs. “Excuse me, you were the dumb one. I dressed like Sasuke to get your attention and it didn’t work.”

Realisation dawns on Sakura. “So that’s why you started wearing the arm warmers,” she mutters, more to herself than to Ino.

She doesn’t even have to look at Ino to know that Ino is rolling her eyes. Whatever Ino is about to say in response is cut off by Inner reappearing.

“The old temple geezer’s finished talking. Might wanna back head out,” she says.

Sakura nods in acknowledgement, then glances at Ino. “Ready?” she asks.

Ino’s hand slips into hers. “I’ve been ready since I was six, Forehead.”

Sakura grins, then kisses Ino gently. “Funny,” she murmurs against Ino’s lips, “so have I.”

-

“-seal this union, blessed by the gods as it is, and join the clans that have accompanied Konoha since its founding.”

Even before the words have fully registered with her ears, Sakura finds herself biting her tongue. It isn’t the gods who have been kind enough to bless her and Ino; it is their ancestors and the spirits of the Founders that have been kind. 

(To be fair, we did punch a god in the face, Inner points out).

“Haruno Sakura,” she straightens when the priest directs his gaze towards her, “your oaths.”

Sakura takes a deep breath, then reaches for Ino’s hand. She ignores the scolding noise that the priest makes. Instead, she keeps her focus directly on Ino. 

“Ino, weeks ago, I promised you my hands for your gardens, my forests for your people, and my mind to you,” she starts. “Now, not only do I continue to promise those things, but I vow to be here for as long as the forests of Konoha are deep, to love you, and that I have you.”

She knows that her promises sound odd to those that don’t know her or Ino, if the priest’s face is anything to go by, but she doesn’t care. All that matters to her is that Ino understands what she’s saying and the truth’s built into her words: that the only thing that will keep Sakura from Ino is the Shinigami himself.

(And even then, Sakura might still come out on top).

She squeezes Ino’s hand and lets her chakra flow between them. Slowly, thin vines wrap around their joined hands. A few moments later, morning glories, forget-me-nots, zinnias, and bluebells bloom along the vines holding their hands together.

Sakura doesn’t miss the tears sparkling in Ino’s eyes.

“I have you,” she says again. 

Always.

She doesn’t say it aloud because whilst her ancestors and the spirits of the Founders may be kinder than the gods, Sakura and Ino are still shinobi and their lives are full of uncertainty. She will say the word in silence, in whispers made in a darkened room with Ino by her side, but she will not say it in front of others. She is a god puncher, not a fool.

The priest clears his throat when it becomes apparent that Sakura is finished. “Yamanaka Ino, your oaths.”

“Sakura, I promised you that your secrets would find safety with me and that you and your people would always find refuge with my clan,” Ino says, voice steady and strong. “Now, not only do I continue to promise these things, but I vow to be by your side for as long as the forests of Konoha are deep, to have you as you have me, and to love all of you without hesitation.”

Sakura feels her heart stutter in her chest at Ino’s words. She can read underneath the underneath of what Ino is saying and hears what goes unsaid: that Ino’s love and promises extend to Inner. Ino will protect Inner the way that she protects Sakura.

“I have you,” Ino says.

There’s another disgruntled noise from the priest, who is obviously annoyed by their cryptic promises and vows to one another. It’s clear to anyone with eyes that neither woman cares about his annoyance because their words are for each other and no one else.

“Haruno Sakura, do you take Yamanaka Ino to be your wife as the Sage took his wife?” he asks.

Sakura nods. “I do.”

“Yamanaka Ino, do you take Haruno Sakura to be your wife as the Sage took his wife?”

Ino nods. “I do.”

“Do you both vow to share your joys and sorrows together and live a peaceful life with each other?”

“We do.”

He nods, the barest hint of approval on his face. “Then with the gods as heaven’s witnesses and the people of Konoha as yours, I pronounce you married.”

The priest has barely finished speaking before Sakura surges forward to kiss Ino.

Later, Ino will help Sakura remove her armour and Sakura will ask to wash Ino’s hair. They’ll fall into bed together and Sakura will whisper her thanks to her ancestors and the spirits of the Founders in between kisses to Ino’s heated flesh. She’ll hold Ino close as Ino falls apart underneath her, relishing the way Ino’s nails dig into her back, and repeatedly tell the blonde that she loves her. She’ll try - and fail - not to cry when Ino flips their positions to trail gentle kisses down her body and eventually, they’ll fall asleep together as the sun rises over Hokage Rock, more content in each other’s arms then they ever have been.

But that will be later.

Right now, Sakura wraps her free arm around Ino and kisses her with everything that she has. Even with the tears running down her cheeks and the salt that she can taste on Ino’s lips, Sakura decides that this kiss is perfect.

Because it is.