Author's Note: Oh hello, fandom that will always remain near and dear to my heart. The title of this is the last line from Mary O'Donnell's poem "Fairy Rath."
old gods lean in close
She's lived many lives. Countless lives. Over and over and over over over. She's been rich and poor, beautiful and ugly. Lived in every country, spoken every language, subscribed to every religion. She's been an only child, and a sister of up to twelve. She's been a princess, a priestess, a peasant. A soldier and a seamstress and a singer. She's had different talents, different passions. Different names.
So what is it about her that keeps coming back? What makes her who she is? Her soul?
All she knows is that in every life, she's very intelligent and very compassionate and very stubborn.
And in every life, she dies young. Dies for a boy with dark sad eyes. For a boy who gives her the world, gives her his heart, and lets it doom her, damn her. Who, every time, holds her as she dies, strokes her hair and caresses her face and whispers, "I'm sorry, love. Next time we'll get it right."
Every time, she dies for Uchiha Sasuke.
Not this time.
This time, her name is Haruno Sakura, and she is a third-year student studying biology on a full scholarship at the University of Tokyo. "Hey, baby girl," says Yamanaka Ino, her best friend in this new life, as Sakura joins her in line for coffee, cutting in front of at least ten people. Normally Sakura would never do this, but damn does she need some caffeine, and nobody's going to mess with her when she's with Ino. "You okay? Because you are looking rough."
"Thanks for that, Ino-pig." Sakura rubs her face. "Just tired, that's all. I stayed up almost all night studying."
"That's what you get for choosing a real major," Ino rolls her eyes. "Should have studied business with the rest of us. Another exam today?"
"Yeah, and the level at which I am not prepared for it is truly astounding. When you come back to the apartment you'll probably find me crying into a pint of ice cream and applying for work at all the local fast-food joints."
"Bullshit." Ino bumps her with her hip. "You say that every time, and every time you ace it. That's obnoxious as hell, you know that?" Her phone beeps, and with a slim, manicured hand she extracts it from her pocket, grimaces. "Damn. Gonna be late for practice." She is the captain of the women's varsity tennis team. "Looks like I'm doing volley drills without caffeine. That means when you come back to the apartment, I'll probably have at least one black eye."
"That's a good thing, right? Last time it made you look rugged," Sakura assures her solemnly, and with a laugh and a flutter of her fingers, Ino sashays out of the coffeeshop, fully aware that nearly every male gaze is on her.
Sakura just shakes her head and removes the band from her hair, letting it fall to her shoulders. It's naturally brown, but after last semester's finals she and Ino had gotten gloriously drunk, dyed each other's hair. Ino's they'd bleached blonde, and Sakura's they'd doused with hot pink. Both had kept the colors, though Sakura had let hers fade to a much paler pink.
"Pretty clichéd, you know?" Ino had smirked some weeks ago. "The green eyes, the petal pink hair? You might as well wear all floral prints and one of those chintzy little flower necklaces crusted in rhinestones."
She hadn't bothered with makeup this morning, and knows her skin is blotchy and her lips cracked, that the shadows under her eyes are stark, startling. She had stayed up studying almost all night, but not because she was truly worried about her exam.
No, she was worried because she could feel it, sense it, as she could in every lifetime. A sort of sweet dark soaring feeling, but languid like molasses, moving slow in her veins, slowing her down, stripping her of her sense of self, of will, of agency. Stripping her, she knows, of her dreams, her future, her life.
Her death is on its way.
Sasuke is coming for her. Sasuke always comes for her.
She makes it through the day by downing cup after cup of coffee, rushing from class to class and filling every bit of free time by editing other people's papers, tutoring them. Sure, she's at undergraduate on a full scholarship, but med school is fucking expensive, and she has to save up all she can. She's going to be a doctor one day. She's going to save lives.
She won't let her own be ended too soon. Not this time.
It's late when she finally treks back to the apartment she shares with Ino, her hands shoved deep in the pockets of her long red peacoat. Snow's falling lightly, peppering her hair with white as if she's aged years and years. She feels old. Feels the weight of all her lives on nights like these, nights that make her want to curl up somewhere safe and warm, drink herself into a happy buzzing stupor.
How many lives has she lived? She has no idea. She only recalls bits and pieces of each one: sand stinging her face, the ache the cold stone floor of the temple made linger in her knees. The view from the castle turret, the lemon groves she'd tended. Snatches of laughter caught by the wind, vicious words ringing throughout a courtroom.
And love. Love, love, love. Always love.
And her love has come for her tonight. She's sure of it.
"Hello, Sasuke," she says without turning around. She's standing a mere forty feet from her apartment building. The streetlights cast a lonely glow. "It took you twenty-one years to find me this time. Seems like you're losing your touch."
"Perhaps." And one word, one single word in that voice of his is nearly enough to make her quake, make her sob. Make her want to fling herself into his arms, which she knows he will open for her.
Makes her want to run as far and fast as she can.
But she's tried that before, in previous lives. And never has she gotten far enough.
There's nowhere that's too far for him. Nowhere he can't reach her.
Slowly, she turns. He's standing there, watching her. His name is Uchiha Sasuke, as it has been since their first life, and he is perpetually twenty-three years old, as he has been since their first life. Sakura's been every height, every weight, worn thousands of different faces, but Sasuke does not change. Sasuke is eternal.
Sasuke does not die.
Because there's no one to kill him, is there? He loves her and kills her, tracks her down in her next life to love her and kill her again. It's the same old tune, the same old story, repeating itself endlessly, playing itself out over thousands and thousands of years.
There are myths about them, legends. In them Sasuke is the central character, though his name is not used. No one really knows what to call him, how to describe him. Who or what he is.
But Sakura knows.
Sasuke is Death.
He tilts his head to consider her. He's wearing a black coat, though Sakura knows that's for show alone. He doesn't feel the cold. Blood does not flow in his veins. So that means the faint flush of his perfect white cheeks is something he's affecting for her benefit, to make himself seem more approachable. Seem human.
Dear God, he's lovely.
"Love," he says softly, taking a single step toward her. His dark eyes are shining. That, she knows, is genuine. "Sakura. It's a good name for you. One you've been called a few times in the past."
"Katerina, Meiling, Aaliyah," she says immediately. Her heart is hammering. How much longer will it beat? No, no, she won't let herself think like that. She won't let him kill her. Not this time. "Those were my favorite names." She tilts her head the exact degree that he's tilting his. "But when I was Katerina, you slit my throat. When I was Meiling, you stabbed me through the abdomen, let me bleed out.
"When I was Aaliyah, you smothered me with a pillow." Her voice shakes. "It took forever, Sasuke. Do you know how I suffered? Do you know what it's like to starve for oxygen? To feel your last minutes trickling away from you?" She sneers. "Of course you don't. Of course you don't."
"I'm sorry, love," he says, as he always says. And he means it, he does. As he always does. He takes a few steps closer. He could reach out and touch her now. "I am so sorry. This time will be different. This time we'll make it."
No, we won't, she wants to tell him. I won't let us. Won't let myself fall in love with you. I've tried every way I can think of to escape this fate, and it's never worked. So many different lives, so many different ways I've tried to survive you.
All I can do differently this time is something I've never managed before: not love you.
Yet still he takes that last step toward her, as he always does. Gets down on one knee, as he always does. Takes her hand, as he always does, presses it to his lips.
"Love," Sasuke says, as he always does. "Love, my love. I've found you, and I will never leave you. Never betray you. Never let anyone hurt you.
"I will burn down the world for you."
And he stands, as he always does, and he kisses her, as he always does.
It tastes like eternity, as it always does.
It tastes like sin.
This is just the prologue. It's inspired by Kirsten Miller's series Eternal Ones series, of which two out of three books are out: The Eternal Ones and All You Desire. I have some issues with them, but I do still adore them to pieces, so definitely read them and fangirl over them with me!
It's also largely influenced by Catherynne M. Valente's Deathless, which is absolutely perfect. End of story.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.