Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.

Chasing Smoke with Bare Hands

"How do you know when it's over?"

"Maybe when you feel more in love with your memories than with the person standing in front of you."

"Bye, Sakura-chan!" Naruto calls, waving his hand enthusiastically in the air as she walks away.

The pink-haired kunoichi gives a small wave and smiles in return before continuing on the path away from the training grounds.

Sasuke remains mute beside the blond, flicking a kunai around his fingers, a bored expression on his face as he watches their teammate leave. Once she's completely out of sight, Sasuke lets out a quiet sigh and turns to resume his training. But Naruto's sudden words have him freezing in the motion.

"I'm going to marry her."

Sasuke's foot pauses in the air, effectively halting his step. He whips his head to stare, wordless, at Naruto's profile beside him. The jinchuuriki's features are blatantly content—a closed-mouthed smile curving his lips, eyebrows smoothed, bright blue gaze shining with obvious affection as he continues to look down the path where Sakura disappeared.

Sasuke recovers quickly from his shock and a muted snort exits his nostrils. "Good luck with that."

He expects Naruto to argue back, to raise his voice and flail around like he always does when Sasuke ruffles his feathers. But the blond merely remains silent, and after a good ten seconds shifts his eyes to meet the Uchiha's.

They're eerily calm: a steady, radiant blue. It's not the kind of look a normal twelve-year-old should have. He doesn't like it one bit.

"I'm serious, Sasuke," Naruto says quietly. Sasuke hates even more the fact that the blond calls him by his name instead of the ever-present "teme" he's become so used to. It's too formal, he thinks—too serious. "One day—and I don't know when for sure, but it doesn't matter—I'm going to marry Sakura-chan."

The Uchiha scoffs and fixes his gaze on a nearby tree. He can feel Naruto's eyes still trained on him. "What makes you think that," he deadpans, "when all she does is follow me around like some lovesick puppy?"

"Because," Naruto responds simply, and the tone he uses is unwavering—he's completely confident, and Sasuke hates it, hates this side of Naruto he's never seen before, and he doesn't even know why.

And so Naruto continues, "Because one day she's going to realize that you'll never be able to love her as much as I do."

Sasuke's fist clenches beyond his will. He snaps, quick and harsh, "What makes you think I'll even love her at all, you idiot?"

Naruto laughs. He actually has the nerve to laugh.

But it's a sad kind of laugh, tinged with a sort of solemness Sasuke has never heard from the blond before.

"Exactly, Sasuke," he chuckles, and then abruptly his sad laughter comes to a stop. He begins to walk away, obviously calling their short training session to a end. In a whisper this time, so quiet Sasuke has to strain his ears to hear it, he repeats, "Exactly."

Sasuke remains frozen in his spot long after he's certain Naruto is gone, staring blankly at that same damn tree, fist clenching so hard he can feel his nails break his skin. Blood drips silently onto the dirt ground.

And when he finally does move he trains so hard he's bruised and broken and limping on his way back home.

His apartment is dark and lonely, and he collapses onto his bed and tries to block the images of his two teammates holding hands, walking away from him as they laugh and smile and love together.

He doesn't succeed.

The night he leaves gives him a sense of satisfaction he's not expecting. He listens as Sakura confesses her love for him, sobbing and pleading with him not to leave her.

As she cries out to him, he thinks back to Naruto's confident words all those months ago, and he can't help back feel just a little sorry for the blond.

"I love you with all my heart, Sasuke-kun!"

Che. Marry her my ass, he thinks.

And he thanks her—she's given him more than he can explain—but he doesn't stay. He's got things greater than Konoha to take care of—things Sakura is too kind, too pure and too innocent (everything he's not and never will be) to be involved with.

So he leaves and he's satisfied, because although they're only twelve Sasuke doesn't doubt Sakura's love for him. She's seen him at his best and his worst and here she is, still idiotically remaining by his side when the rest of his past fangirls have long since been scared off.

No, he doesn't doubt that she loves him, and with her words he's certain that Naruto's dream will never become reality.

He leaves confident that she'll be waiting for him no matter where fate lands him.

Sasuke sees her for the first time in three years, and he's surprised. She's grown from being a helpless girl to a capable, strong young woman, not so innocent anymore and with a certain fierceness in her eyes that betrays her battle prowess, and when she charges him with her fist glowing green he begins to waver.

But he knows she can't do it—not then, and when he sees her once again and she claims she wants to defect from Konoha to be with him he can see through her lie because she's always been so easy to read. She's planning to kill him but he knows she can't do it.

He's fallen far, though, in the time he's been gone. And he's angry at the world and Itachi's gone—Itachi, the brother he's hated for the majority of his life, the brother who loved him so much as to sacrifice everything he ever had—and he's resorted to stabbing Karin to achieve his goals and Sakura is in his way so what does it fucking matter if she dies too?

Kakashi stops him the first time, but then she has her kunai poised at his back, and there are tears falling in waves down her cheeks when he whips around and closes his hand around her neck. (No, she can't kill him: he's certain she still loves him.)

Naruto's the one to stop him this time. He takes the slice across his cheek for her and carries her bridal style out of harm's—out of his way.

Sasuke seethes, because he hates the fact that he's the one pushing them closer together. Naruto checks to make sure Sakura's okay before he takes a defensive stance against the Uchiha, placing himself in front of her so that Sakura is out of his line of sight.

There's hatred in Naruto's eyes. Hatred for trying to take the life of the girl he loves, hatred for becoming the monster he is. But there's also that same, never-ending resolve to bring him back despite it all. Despite everything Sasuke has done and all the crimes he's committed, Naruto still wants to make sure that Team Seven is reunited.

And Sasuke laughs at this, laughs at the shocked faces of his old sensei and his old teammates and he knows then that he's not in his right mind.

You could've killed her! his mind screams.

"How far have you fallen, Sasuke?"

That's what Kakashi asks him. The scary part is that he doesn't quite know the answer to the question.

But given the horrified look in Naruto's eyes, it must not be good.

Not in the least.

Sasuke watches as Naruto drops to the ground a good fifty feet before him. The blond's merely fallen unconscious from blood loss and the force of his jutsu—it's only a matter of time before the Kyuubi's chakra has him up and moving once again, but for now the strain of their fight against Madara has him succumbing to his body's need for rest.

Sakura lets out a surprised cry from beside the blond and catches him in her arms just before he hits the ground.

"Naruto!" she yells. Instantly her hands are glowing green, healing him, arms gently holding him in her grasp.

Sasuke takes this time to rise from his collapsed place on the dusty clearing floor and walk slowly, achingly over to them. Sakura is so focused on taking care of the blond—and probably too battle-weary to really have it in her to truly pay attention—that it's only when he's ten feet away that she takes notice of his suddenly close proximity.

Her head snaps up to look at him, and then her eyes narrow, gaze blindingly bright: angry and fearsome and sorrowful all at once. In the next moment she has her body placed protectively over Naruto's, hand hovering warily above the kunai pouch on her thigh.

Sasuke thinks to himself that she looks like some sort of warrior goddess. There's blood dripping from a cut on her forehead, diamond-shaped seal still evident, dirt caking her normally unblemished skin. Her jounin vest is torn in places and he can see bruises forming on the bare skin of her arms. Short, pale pink hair whips fiercely around her face, and her stance is not friendly in the least.

"I'm not going to hurt you," he says slowly, quietly.

Her words, when she speaks, are short and clipped. She doesn't rise from her protective crouch. "I don't give a shit what you do to me," she bites back. "But if you touch Naruto I'll kill you. I swear I will."

He doesn't doubt it. There's nothing but pure, unadulterated loathing in her eyes.

Matching her narrowed gaze, he replies flatly, "I just helped the Allied forces take care of Madara. What reason would I have to suddenly turn against you?"

She stares at him, ever wary. But then she heaves a sigh, and leans back from her crouch, hand falling away from her weapons.

"I'm sorry, Sasuke-kun," she whispers. Her eyes shift to Naruto's sleeping form. Automatically the loathing fades away to one of steady, unwavering warmth. One pale hand rises to brush a stray lock of blond hair out of Naruto's face. "I'm just a little overprotective, I guess. He's almost died on me so many times now I can't help but be a little jumpy."

Sasuke watches them through hooded eyes, silent, until Sakura finally turns her attention back to him. Finished with her healing, she gently lays Naruto down on the clearing floor and then gestures to Sasuke.

"Come here," she commands, patting the ground directly to her left. "You don't look so good right now. I'm not exactly much better off but I'll do what I can to fix you up."

Wordlessly he walks to her side and sits where she indicated. Sakura flicks her gaze quickly down his form, pursing her lips at the various bleeding wounds that pepper his body.

Sasuke finds his eyes closing as she flares chakra in her hand and begins to heal him. Her touch is warm and comforting, and he's far too tired and chakra-drained to stay alert as his mind tells him to do.


She says his name in a quiet, subdued tone. He cracks an eye open to peer at her. Even though she's not looking at him, ever intent on her work and thus can't see him focused on her, she continues, "You're coming home, right?"

He shifts his gaze upwards. The sky is filled with smoke from the various fires started as a result of the ongoing war. He's sure that there are thousands of dead bodies littering the ground beneath the very same sky, and with this thought Sasuke closes his eyes once again.

And he decides that it's been a long five years since he's left. Too long.

"Aa," he responds softly, a mere exhale of breath.

He expects her to hug him and start crying, screaming, "Oh God, I've missed you Sasuke-kun!" with tears rolling down her face as she tells him she loves him again.

But instead she merely smiles softly down at the hands mending his body back together and says, "Thank you, Sasuke-kun."

Sakura's eyes flicker to his, and they're serious and calm yet radiating satisfaction. "For coming back to me...to Naruto. Thank you."

He can only nod his head in response.

And it's in that moment, that moment he fails to predict her reaction to his words that he begins to doubt.

He's been in the village for six months now—confined to the dark secludedness of Konoha's prison—and they've just finally allowed him to walk the streets of Konoha under heavy ANBU supervision at all times. He returns to his old apartment—he doesn't know if he'll ever be able to stand living in the abandoned Uchiha complex—and with Naruto and Sakura's help things begin to become normal again.

The war devastated the shinobi nations, but they're strong, resilient, and it doesn't take long for them to be on the steady path to recovery.

Sasuke hasn't felt such peace in years. It's a concept that he's certain will take time getting used to, but for now he steps into the light of Konohagakure's streets and decides that certain things aren't meant to be rushed.

Naruto, of course, drags he and Sakura to Ichiraku's for their first meal together as Team Seven in almost six years. His two teammates do most of the talking and he finds it in him to add a comment or two and ask a question here and there.

He's heard of Naruto's accomplishments—they're talked about throughout all the villages—but he finds himself surprised at the depth and breadth of Sakura's, whose feats are not quite as widespread but every bit as impressive.

She's telling him of her recent scientific research project as they step out of the small ramen stand, talking to him animatedly, all smiles and brightness and everything he can remember from her twelve-year-old self but with a certain hardened, mature edge he can't help but appreciate. She doesn't fawn over him but he figures, watching the gleeful light gradually fade from Naruto's eyes as the blond silently bears witness to their interaction, that this is enough for now.

Naruto gives Sasuke a hollow, solemn look that Sakura misses completely, still caught up in the story she tells the Uchiha. His clear blue eyes are filled with an infinite sadness, but Sasuke stares back without remorse.

Naruto had her attention for a while but it will be like that no longer. His dream of marrying her was merely that—a dream, meant to be revered yet never achieved.

And as they lock eyes this knowledge passes between them and Sasuke can't remember having ever seen such anguish take over someone's expression so completely. He only glimpses it for a second before Naruto clenches his fists, bows his head in defeat, and turns to walk away, giving them the space they deserve.

Sasuke swallows the wave of satisfaction that automatically flows through him and shifts his gaze to focus on Sakura once again, intent on hearing what she has to say—


—but she's not speaking to him anymore, instead staring at the blond's retreating back, her brows furrowed and mouth pulled into a confused frown.

The jinchuuriki freezes, muscles tense. He doesn't turn around.

"Where are you going?" Sakura asks.

Naruto spins slowly to face them and the hope shining in his eyes and the blinding smile suddenly taking over his face makes Sasuke want to obliterate something.

Naruto sheepishly rubs the back of his neck but bounds over to them anyway. He slings an arm over Sakura's shoulder, drawing her close to his side. She smiles widely up at him and Sasuke hates the tenderness he sees there. "Nowhere, Sakura-chan!" he answers, voice coated in undisguised, utter happiness.

He looks Sasuke straight in the eye as he speaks his next words, all previous sadness and disparity completely erased. Sasuke can do nothing but glare in return, and he tries to push the doubt away but the sight of Sakura's smile as Naruto holds her in his embrace—she would never allow that when they were kids—has him slowly thinking that maybe, just maybe he's been wrong all these years.

"I'm not going anywhere."

Months pass and Sasuke hates the way she blushes whenever Naruto smiles particularly wide at her, hates the little side glances they share like they're speaking to each other through their eyes, speaking of things he wasn't around to share with them because of the choices he made so long ago.

She's all smiles for Sasuke, every day—but there's distance in the way her eyes meet his, in the tone of her voice and in the curve of her lips. Because nowadays Sasuke sits and watches as she smiles at him—her usual, everyday smile—and he watches as that smiles grows into something so much larger, something so much more powerful whenever Naruto joins them.

And Sasuke seethes in silence, always watching, as the doubt stabs into him one piercing needle at a time.

The three of them are training together, and he's not too sure what this feeling is inside him but all he knows is that one moment he's turned to retrieve his kunai from where it's imbedded in the ground and the next he's rising from his crouch and twisting his head and staring at the sight of Sakura's smiling mouth pressed to Naruto's in a quick kiss he's certain he isn't meant to see.

He expects Naruto's eyes to widen and for the blond to flail around when she pulls away, but the jinchuuriki simply flushes a little and rubs the back of his neck. Sakura walks away to get something from her bag and Naruto looks at her retreating back with such pure emotion in his eyes and Sasuke knows then that it's not the first kiss they've shared.

The doubt molds into the truth and Sasuke glares heavily at the ground, fingers tightening around the kunai's handle until it snaps clean in two.

Sakura's voice carries over to him. "Sasuke-kun? Is something wrong?"

He looks up and her eyes are worried, brows draw together. She takes a step toward him but he backs away.

"I'm fine," he says easily, smoothly. He's always been so good at controlling his emotions, but he thinks if he stays any longer he might do something to hurt someone.

So he calmly excuses himself from the training session and when he gets home he sits down and drowns himself in the truth that he's certain he's known but simply been in denial about for the past year or so.

It's so obvious, really.

She doesn't love him anymore.

He and Naruto are returning from a mission, resting for the night halfway back to Konoha. It's peacefully quiet until the idiot decides to open his mouth.



Naruto's silent, and Sasuke raises his head to glare at him. The blond has a faraway look in his eyes as he gazes at the fire burning before them.

"What?" Sasuke snaps.

"I'm still going to marry her."

Annoyance settles in his gut. He gnashes his teeth together and tries to calm the growing chaos in his mind.

He can feel the blond looking at him now.

"She was never meant to be yours," Naruto states calmly, simply, as if he's merely commenting on the weather.

What do I care? he wants to scream, pride taking over his mind, but instead:

"She's not meant for anyone," Sasuke retorts.

He realizes the mistake he's made too late—remembering their conversation from so many years ago shows he cares. He's just told Naruto he knows exactly who they're talking about and given him the upper hand. But goddammit he doesn't, he tells himself, desperate, he doesn't care and who gives a shit if Sakura isn't his anymore and—

Naruto releases a short breath of a laugh. Almost in disbelief, not quite believing his own words, he breathes, "I knew it. God, I knew it."

Sasuke has had it with the ambiguities. He rises to his feet so suddenly that Naruto's hand whips to his kunai pouch and his eyes flare with the anticipation of a battle.

But Sasuke is faster—always has been, always will be—and he slams Naruto against the tree across from him, forearm pinning his chest, Sharingan whirling and teeth bared.

Naruto gazes at him with only a slight hint of alarm, not even trying to fight the Uchiha off. It's like he expected such a reaction and Sasuke's rage peaks.

"You know nothing," he hisses lowly.

"You're wrong," Naruto replies, and this time his voice rises, anger hinting in the severity of his words. "You thought that when you came back she'd be waiting for you as if nothing had ever changed. But you were wrong."

Sasuke's eyes narrow. He opens his mouth—

"You don't deserve her," Naruto growls. "Sakura's too good for you. She's always been too good for you and you were stupid to have thought she would wait for you after all the shit you've put her through."

The blatant belief that what he's said is true shines in Naruto's eyes and even though underneath all the anger and blind turmoil Sasuke knows the blond's words to be true as well he can't help—so intent in clinging on to the foundationless scenarios his mind throws at him—but pretend otherwise.

"You just couldn't give up that childish crush you had on her, could you, Naruto?" Sasuke lashes back flatly. He speaks his next words in a cool and emotionless manner, almost robotic in the way they flow seamlessly from his mouth. "You took advantage of my being away to make her think she has feelings for you when in reality if I went up to her this very instant and asked her to walk away from you she'd be in my arms in an instant—"

Naruto punches him. It's a clean hit to the jaw, snapping the Uchiha's head to the side in its unrestrained power.

Sasuke becomes motionless, suddenly silent, staring at the tree he's now facing with hooded crimson eyes. His jaw burns with pain but compared to the inferno of vehemence coursing through his very blood it fades easily into the background.

Naruto's voice drops to a low, furious whisper, chilling Sasuke more than the blond's enraged yelling ever could. "Don't ever talk about Sakura like that again," he seethes quietly. Giving the Uchiha a rough shove in the chest, he pushes himself off the tree and walks back to his seat by the fire. Sasuke remains completely still, unmoving, and it's a few moments before Naruto adds, "Go ahead and ask her, Sasuke. Ask her to be with you."

He wants to think that the blond's next words are arrogant, smug, but he's merely stating a fact so real and wholly based in truth—Naruto could be asking him to go confirm that the sky is blue, so full of unsupercilious certainty his words are—that Sasuke can find nothing to say in response.

"She's going to refuse you," Naruto continues. "No matter how many times you ask, she's going to refuse you."

Another pause. And then, with a smile so evident in the tone of his voice that Sasuke doesn't even have to look to clarify it's there:

"She loves me, you know."

Two days later Sasuke finds himself on Sakura's doorstep early in the morning, staring woodenly at her worn apartment number as he questions why he even showed up.

Mindlessly his hand raises and he knocks lightly on the door. And when she doesn't appear after a good ten seconds he finally admits that this was an idiotic, meaningless attempt to do God knows what and he's just begun to walk away when the door suddenly slams open and Sakura's voice calls out to him.

"Sasuke-kun!" she says, startled. "Sorry I took so long—I was just getting out of the shower. What do you need?"

Slowly he turns back around. His eyes take in her disheveled state: damp pink hair dripping water, a towel wrapped around her neck as she stands there in shorts and a wrinkled black t-shirt with an orange design in the middle that looks eerily familiar.

It's Naruto's, Sasuke realizes after some thought.

His stomach churns.

"May I come in?" he asks in a slightly more biting tone than he meant.

Sakura gives him a strange look but gestures him inside anyways.

"Go ahead and make yourself comfortable," she says as she leads him down the short hallway and into a small joint kitchen and living room. "I don't have much time, though. Naruto's going to be picking me up here in about ten minutes."

He takes a seat on the aged couch off to the side of the room and watches as she grabs the towel around her neck and uses it to hastily dry her hair.

Smiling at him—so beautiful, so tender, and yet not even close to the brilliant smile she shows Naruto—Sakura tilts her head to the side and questions, "So what can I do for you, Sasuke-kun?"

Sasuke breaks their eye contact in favor of glaring at the wall opposite him. Flatly he asks, "You and the dobe are...together?"

He doesn't know why he's doing this to himself. He knows the answer to his own question and there's no concrete reason why he's here because hearing it from her own mouth will surely tear him apart—

She laughs, playful and lighthearted. "Don't tell me you came all the way here to ask me about my relationship with Naruto?"

He doesn't respond.

Sakura hums thoughtfully, and from the corner of his eye he sees her set down her towel and perch comfortably on the kitchen counter. He can feel her eyes on him.

"Well," she says after a few moments, "to answer your question, yes, we're dating."

Ah. It hits him harder than he expected. His fist clenches and the muscles in his jaw jump wildly. Thousands of tiny pinpricks stab into his body and he thinks that he really must be a masochist to be doing this to himself because goddammit he already knows what her answers will be

"Che. I thought you had more class than that," he replies stoically, and to anyone on the outside he would appear perfectly fine.

Sakura is silent. But when she finally does speak, her words are not playful or lighthearted in the least. "Naruto is more important to me than you'll ever know," she replies sharply. "I'm lucky to have him. So I would appreciate it if you would at least try not to insult him around me."

He whips his head to stare at her, surprised at the forcefulness her very being exudes. Her green eyes are narrowed, mouth set in a shallow frown.

And he can feel her seep out of his grasp more and more with each passing second.

"Do you love him?" The words—so bloody unnecessary—leave him before he can stop himself.

Her frown instantly disappears, eyes losing their harsh glint. She smiles with the force of a thousand suns.

He knows then that's he's been losing her for some time now. Probably hasn't had her for years.

I love you with all my heart, Sasuke-kun!

"With all my heart," Sakura confirms.


But of course.

He can't stand to look at her any longer. She's too bright for him—too vivid, too overwhelming, too radiant. Even from being in her mere presence, with her love showing in every ounce of who she is, his skin is crawling with fire.

"I'm leaving," he says abruptly, rising from his seat and stalking robotically to the door.

"Sasuke-kun!" she calls.

He stops, his back facing her. The fire continues to rage, festering within him.

Please don't go!

"When you finally get yourself a girlfriend, I'd like to meet her," Sakura says. "She'll have to be someone really special to win your heart. I mean"—she laughs—"and I thought I put up a pretty good fight. I'm sure it'll be life-changing to meet the girl who finally brings the infamous Uchiha Sasuke down on his knees."

He wonders for a moment what she'd do if he shoved a mirror in her face.

"I'll let you know," he hears himself respond faintly.

And the door slams shut behind him.

He gets drunk that night, drunker than he remembers every allowing himself to be. The alcohol collides savagely with the flames already eating their way through him and he finds himself stumbling home from a local bar around two in the morning, bumping into random people he doesn't give enough of a damn about to apologize to. The street lights burn relentlessly through the swirling haze of his mind and he swears at them under his breath.

His destination is his apartment some five minutes away but instead he finds himself at Naruto's doorstep, leaning wearily against the metal railing that lines this row of apartments. Gazing with hooded eyes at the blond's closed door, he briefly entertains the idea of sending a fireball straight through it. Maybe it'll take some of the fire away from himself.

His thoughts come to a sudden stop when he hears a loud thump from within the apartment. There's a soft giggle—even drunk his ninja senses are as sharp as ever—which breaks off into a long, drawn-out moan.

He's puzzled. It sounds an awful lot like Sakura.

Sasuke banishes the thought the moment it flashes across his mind. One pale hand reaches up to rub against his suddenly throbbing head, and, deciding it's time to finally head home (he's got a mission briefing in about seven hours and while he'll still be hungover he should at least get some sleep), Sasuke pushes away from the railing and makes to begin the short trek back to his apartment—

He freezes.

There's a male's voice. And Sasuke has never hated his over-attentive ears so much than in that very moment.

Because he hears Naruto's—of course, of course the male is Naruto—soft call—no, groan—of their pink-haired teammate's name so easily they might as well be right in front of him.

His stomach churns in a manner that's become common to him lately, but this time the alcohol and the unwarranted information of his two teammates that's now looping through his mind have him emptying his stomach over the side of the building.

He only allows the weakness for a short while, however. Soon he's wiping fiercely at his mouth and forcing his body to move, to walk away.

Down the stairs, back through Konoha's streets—and away from yet another nail in the coffin of the future he so foolishly believed was his.

It's two days before their wedding.

Sasuke's seated next to Kakashi at a gathering of the couple's closest friends. Around him in the small bar his fellow shinobi laugh and converse with each other, high off of the cheerfulness that's been present in the village for the last few days in anticipation for what is to be the greatest wedding of the decade.

Naruto and Sakura, of course, stand in the middle of all the chaos—Naruto gesturing wildly as he tells a few of the Rookie Nine a vibrant story, Sakura just a few feet away as she nods and laughs with some people Sasuke recognizes as hospital staff.

Amidst the rampant attention they're receiving the two sneak a quick look at each other. Almost simultaneously they smile, and Naruto excuses himself before stepping to Sakura's side and draping an arm familiarly over his fiancée's shoulder, her arm rising to curl comfortably around his waist.

Sasuke watches as the blond places a light kiss to her pink hair, and then he swallows and snaps his gaze away. He becomes keenly aware of the abandoned alcoholic blend of who knows what in his hand and is just about to bring it to his mouth when another gloved hand touches his wrist, halting his movement.

He frowns at it for a moment, then flashes his black eyes upward to glare at Kakashi.

"Drinking a little much, aren't we?" his old sensei says lightly, eyes curving as he moves his hand away. "You seem distracted. Is there something on your mind?"

Sasuke knows Kakashi's only asking because at the core they're the same: they simply don't talk about whatever feelings they have, don't open up to anyone and rather prefer to keep to themselves.

And so he knows that Kakashi's not expecting an answer. A grunt or a quick shake of his head maybe, but anything beyond that—

"I could have loved her," he says flatly, gaze dropping to glare intently at the table. "If she'd just given me the chance—"

Unable to continue, he curls his fist upon itself and feels blood pool as his blunt nails dig into his palm.

Kakashi's silent, but then his voice is stern as he says, "Sasuke, I've always thought you were smart, but when it comes to some things you're incredibly stupid."

Of course Kakashi would know exactly who he was talking about. He always knows what it is his students are thinking.

"Sakura gave you all the chances in the world. But your path and hers were just too different. You were too focused on the past and you let that consume you."

Sasuke opens his mouth—

"Are you telling me," Kakashi cuts in coldly, "not knowing what you know about Itachi and your family now that you wouldn't have still left all those years ago?"

He would be lying if he said yes. And that's where his fault lies. Sasuke is exceedingly aware of this.

He glances up to see Kakashi nod, the Uchiha's silence more than enough of an answer.

But Sasuke is stubborn and slightly drunk and he feels if he doesn't get this out now he'll eat away at himself for the rest of his life.

"I overestimated her," he snaps. "I trusted her too much to hold true to her words."

At this Kakashi laughs. "No, Sasuke," the older man chuckles. "Overestimation isn't even remotely part of it. From the day you first saw her as someone important to you you only ever underestimated her. Even back then as genin she was always stronger than you thought, Sasuke." Kakashi pauses. Quietly now but with a certain hint of animosity he finishes, "You underestimated her. And you underestimated her ability to walk away from you. At the core of it all," he sighs, "that's where things went wrong."

Sasuke closes his eyes and lets the words sink into him, lets them tear into him one by one until he's numb from the sickening potency they possess.

And for one last moment he pictures what he could have had if only things were different.

He sees himself instead of Naruto standing across from her on that alter two days from now. He sees her smile that blindingly bright smile for him and for him only, sees the faces of the children they'd have together, sees himself content and peaceful and goddamn happy for the first time since his family dropped from the face of the planet.

She would give it all to him, in this false reality he indulges in for the last time.

Even from age twelve he figured she would be acceptable to take as a wife in the future if he ever needed one. Sakura was decently pretty, he thought, and she obviously adored him and while he found her unbelievably annoying he didn't think she was that bad. Definitely better than any other girls he'd met—infinitely better, in fact—and he didn't think there was anyone else who could put up with all his shit so why not be with her?

His idiotic twelve-year-old mind never once even thought of adding Uzumaki Naruto into the equation.

At least, not until the day came about where the blond declared that she was the one he would marry.

What a shame, Sasuke thinks as he finally opens his eyes, that he only began to realize the extent of how much she meant to him just when she started slipping away.

He gives a short, dry breath of a laugh, feeling Kakashi's wary gaze focused on him. The irony of it all astounds him, and he brings the drink in his hands to his lips once again.

"Sasuke?" Kakashi questions, concerned.

Sasuke tilts his head back and downs the rest of the drink. He doesn't know what it is but it burns horribly and it begins to haze over whatever coherency is left in his mind and right now that's all that matters.

He glances up to see Naruto and Sakura share a kiss across the room, surrounded by the people that love them, laughter billowing out and happiness nearly palpable in the air.

Sasuke looks away, orders another drink from a passing waiter, and not quite able to meet Kakashi's piercing, scrutinizing gaze, replies, "I'm fine."

His fist clenches once again. The now-dried blood flakes away under his fingertips.

Thankfully, the alcohol has set in fully now to the point where he can lie without the truth being blatantly evident in his eyes.

So Sasuke meets Kakashi's gaze straight on.

And the words flow easily, so well-practiced out of his deceiving mouth as he repeats:

"I'm fine."

"A person who makes a fire of straw has much smoke but little warmth."

―Vikrant Parsai

A/N: Yup. That's definitely the end of it. Wrote this one because while SasuSaku's my main Naruto ship I've read too many stories where Sakura and Naruto date but she and Sasuke still end up together (I mildly support NaruSaku). And also because Sasuke's a real bitch sometimes and I hate how he treats Sakura so ha! Suffer, Sasu-cakes.

(Possibly also wrote this because my muse for OSIF is in a coma and I couldn't even possibly think about it before I finished this. Bear with me, though! It shall get finished. Eventually.)


~Silver Echo