As much as I would like to, I do not own Naruto.
In the wake of Itachi's death, Sasuke contemplates his future now that his life's goal is accomplished, and he searches for a reason to continue living. A SasuSaku fic.
He was dead.
He was lying in a pool of dark crimson blood, a mixture from two individually bleeding bodies, but the blood was of the same familial line. His blank, lifeless eyes stared out into an empty void, and his mouth was slightly open, frozen forever in a painful grimace. His hand, one that had crushed bones and had broken necks, held Uchiha Sasuke's wrist in a fierce grip, and he wouldn't relent his hold, even in death. Sasuke tried to pull away, the tears now freely flowing from his eyes, but he couldn't move. Itachi's fingers dug into his skin, and the more Sasuke tugged on his arm, the more he bled.
"Let me go!" he screamed insanely at the corpse, though he couldn't make out the stiff figure of his brother through his blurred vision. "Let me go! Let me go! LET ME GO!"
Sasuke screamed over and over and over again, and no matter how long he waited for Itachi to respond, he never did, and the tears poured ever harder down his face. The one man he had idolized as a youngster was really, truly gone. Uchiha Itachi had finally died by the hand of his younger brother, but Sasuke shook his head fervently, unable to comprehend the enormity of the moment.
The fight had been long and hard, and they both had fought with everything they had, but the two things that had led to Itachi's downfall was his underestimation of his younger brother's skills as well as his dependence on genjutsu and ninjutsu. Sasuke, with all his long years of suffering under the cursed seal before Orochimaru was finally defeated, excelled in the art of taijutsu, and he used that along with a mere kunai to finish Itachi off with a clean slice across the aorta in his neck, resulting in an anti-climatic end that they both hadn't been expecting after all the years they had waited for the inevitable fight.
The last words he had sputtered still rang in Sasuke's mind as he stared at the corpse before him, and he trembled, replaying the message over and over, marveling at how much more confused it only made him.
"I did it because I loved you,"
Itachi had rasped as the blood flooded his mouth, slowly suffocating him. "You had potential, little brother, more than I did…I-I did it to set you free…th-they would have…they would have…" He hadn't finished his sentence for by then, his throat was clogged from the red velvet liquid that had been oozing from every opening in his body, but he had managed to say what he needed before he had breathed his last. "Re-remember, little brother…I-I'm sorry…but I-I did it for you…" Itachi had grabbed onto Sasuke's wrist with the last of his strength before his body had convulsed violently, and then there was nothing.
"Let me go!" Sasuke still demanded from Itachi when Kakashi and Jiraiya finally found him. "Let me go! Let me go!" When a hand clamped on his shoulder, he immediately jumped, and his one free arm swung out to strike at whomever it was that had the courage to touch him in such a state.
A woman's cry startled him out of his nightmare, and he squinted his eyes to adjust to the immaculately white room only to discover a terrified nurse crouching just out of his reach, her hands shaking with fear. Sasuke felt his face flush slightly before he shifted uncomfortably on the hospital bed, muttering a soft, "Sorry." He turned on his side, and pulled the blanket close, trying to warm his cold body.
"It's alright," she whispered sympathetically. "You were just tossing so much in bed that I wanted to check to see if you were okay-"
"I'm fine," he cut in flatly, obviously lying, though the nurse merely gave a terse nod and walked out of the room. When she had closed the door, Sasuke let out a slow breath, closing his eyes in relief, and he took a moment to listen to the birds that chirped just outside his window to greet the morning sun. It was one of life's simple pleasures, and all through most of his life, he never really had the time to enjoy such things, especially when his thoughts of vengeance consumed nearly every single moment of his life.
But now, it was all over, and his heart throbbed slightly as he thought of his brother and his last words. He allowed a bitter smile to form on his lips, wondering how it was possible for him to still have a heart after all that he had done and had been through, and yet, there it was, reverberating within his chest with a steady rhythm.
He sighed and opened his eyes as he shifted his position again, and this time, his arm brushed upon a soft hand that clearly wasn't his own, and he bolted up, alarmed. He relaxed when he saw that it was only Sakura, who had stayed by him ever since he had been admitted to the hospital after his battle with Itachi, and she was fast asleep with her head lying over her crossed arms on the side of his bed. She had been so tired that she didn't wake when the nurse had shrieked, and Sasuke studied his pink-haired teammate in silence, wondering for the millionth time as to why she bothered with him at all.
He silently admitted to himself that Sakura had blossomed in more ways than one; in addition to succeeding as a Jounin, her cuteness developed into a beauty that really had no rival in all of Konoha. At 20 years of age, she definitely wasn't the little girl who used to follow him like a love-sick puppy, though there still were times when she fussed over him, especially when he was injured or sick.
As she lay leaning against his bed, he watched as the morning sunlight danced its way onto her hair, giving her an almost ethereal glow, like that of a guardian angel that had been sent to watch over him. But the additional light also revealed the bags that hung just beneath her eyes along with the weary lines that gently creased her brow, as if she were thinking hard, even in her dream. He frowned, knowing that he was the cause of all her stress, and before, he never really used to care. If she wanted to worry about him, he let her do as she pleased, just so long as she didn't interfere with his goal…
But now that that goal was over and done with…
He felt tears well up in his eyes once more as he thought back to his older brother and his parting words. He didn't want to know that Itachi was sorry for doing what he did, he didn't want to know that Itachi loved him, and he especially didn't want to know that Itachi killed every single clan member just for him. It made no sense, and only added to the guilt he didn't anticipate on feeling when he took his brother's life. In the end, even his brother's death didn't change anything; Sasuke still felt as if he were the bane of his clan's existence.
The tears he hadn't allowed himself to release over the years fell, his shoulders racking with sobs as he cried…for his slaughtered family, for Itachi, and for himself.
"It's all my fault," he whimpered, covering his head in his hands, letting the salty drops roll down his cheeks and drip onto the sheets. "It's still all my fault…"
Sakura stirred, blinking her eyes for a few seconds as the sounds of weeping greeted her ears, and she pulled herself up, finding Sasuke breaking down on the bed, so drunk on sorrow that he hadn't noticed her waking up. Without another thought, she stood and leaned over to him, wrapping her arms around him, and at first, he stiffened at the contact, and tried to pull away, but Sakura wouldn't relinquish her embrace. Sasuke, too tired to protest any further, allowed her to hold him, and he felt his eyes droop as her palms rubbed his back in comforting circles, her quiet voice whispering softly into his ear.
It had been so long since anyone had last held him in such a way, and he realized with a start that the only one he had ever allowed to hug him after the death of his entire family was Sakura. During the second test of the Chuunin exam, she had stopped his lust for blood with her embrace, and when Tsunade-sama had healed him that other time in the hospital, Sakura was there again when he regain consciousness, always willing to take him in her arms.
"Sakura…" he whispered, his voice coarse, and she drew away only slightly to gaze lovingly into his eyes.
"Are you still hurting, Sasuke-kun?" she questioned, biting her lip in worry as she studied his face, her emerald orbs searching for any bruises or cuts that may not have been tended to, and as if he were experiencing her genuine concern for the first time, he mutely shook his head.
"Why are you still here?" he questioned, realizing only too late at how tactless he sounded. Sakura frowned, her expression melting away to that of hurt. She slowly removed her arms from him to sit back down in her seat next to him, and she looked away, refusing to make eye contact.
"I-I know you hate it when I stay longer than I need to," she whispered, "but I was just worried, is all. It's just when I found out what happened from Kakashi-sensei, I-I just wanted to stay with you, but it seems I was worrying for nothing, ne?" She flashed him a fake smile that didn't reach her eyes before she concealed her face behind a curtain of pink hair that she grew back to its original long length. "Of course you would be okay, so I shouldn't have worried. I don't want to bother you further, so I'll leave if you want me to-" She cut herself off and stood to leave, but Sasuke grabbed her hand before she could flee. Surprised at his sudden movement, Sasuke let her hand drop, but didn't take his dark eyes off her.
"Stay," he said softly, and she blinked at him before sitting back down.
"What are you going to do now?" she asked after a few minutes of heavy silence.
"I don't know."
Sasuke wiped away the remaining tears that still clung to his cheeks, and he sniffed. He hadn't had much time to think about it, but now that she had brought up a question that he surely would have thought about later on his own, he really was at a loss. What was he going to do, now that Itachi was gone? He had trained all his life for this, and now that that moment had passed, what left was there to do? Killing Itachi was what kept him going through the lonely years, but with his mission complete…
"I no longer have a purpose in life," he heard himself whisper, and he started, wondering why he had spoken aloud, and Sakura shook her head fervently at him.
"Don't say such things, Sasuke-kun," she chided gently. "Of course you do-"
"What left is there, Sakura?" he inquired in a strange tone. "He's dead. My goal was the only thing keeping me going. I trained for that moment, I sought power for that moment, I lived lonely years for that moment…and now, it's over. What left is there?" He stared blankly at some point on the wall across from him, biting back a sob. "Even with Itachi gone, the pain hasn't lessened. I feel guiltier than ever…I've ended up just like him-"
"No!" Sakura argued, cupping her hand under his chin, forcing him to look her way. "No, Sasuke-kun. You're different than him; you are not a murderer-"
"To be an avenger is to be a murderer," he stated angrily, tears brimming his eyes. "Just like him, I killed off the only member left in my family! Just like him…just like him…" He tried to pull out of her reach, but she held on to him, his chin starting to tingle with her tight grasp.
"You are different," she repeated gently, as if talking to a wounded animal. "You are not like him, Sasuke-kun. And, if you decide it, you won't be the only member left in your clan."
"What?" he questioned, staring hard at her, his dark eyes smoldering with hesitation. He knew exactly what she meant, but…could he…?
"You're of age, Sasuke-kun," she said a bit shyly as she pulled away from him. "There are others that have started families at an age younger than you are now. Take Ino and Shikamaru, for example. As soon as the war between Konoha and Sound and Sand finally ended and Orochimaru finally died, Ino-chan and Shika-kun got married, and that was nearly two years ago. You can start over, just like that."
"Yeah, I'm sure my kids would love to have a murderer for a father," he laughed bitterly, shaking his head.
"They would understand," Sakura replied simply. "It would be something they would have to deal with when they're old enough, but you could revive your clan, Sasuke-kun."
"It's not that easy, Sakura," he said, looking away. "I used to say that reviving my clan was something I'd do next after Itachi was…But, what if I have a son who turns out just like him? I wouldn't be able to forgive myself for destroying my clan again-"
"That's something you have to risk," she sighed, shrugging her shoulders. "Who can say for certain why people turn out the way they do? You can't predict those types of things. If you don't try, your clan would die with you. Do you honestly want that?" He fell silent, staring at his hands as he grasped the blanket between his fingers, already knowing his answer. He looked back up at her, black onyx meeting glittering emerald, and he saw something in her eyes that he had seen all along but never really cared about, until now. Her heart was reflected as plainly on her face as ever before, and he gulped, realizing how honest and genuine a person Sakura really was.
"Answer me," he said, speaking in a gentle tone he never knew he was capable of. "Why are you still here…with me?" Her eyes sparkled, this time with understanding as she interpreted his question in a slightly different way than she had before.
"I used to blindly follow you," she began, smiling with nostalgia, "saying how much I loved you, even when we never really knew each other. But being on the same team enabled us to really work together, and it was only then did I realize that my feelings for you grew into something more substantial, more real than anything I have ever felt. I saw you train and struggle, always pushing yourself, and though you did have your weaknesses and stumbled at times, you still got back up to prove yourself. That made us the same in some way; I saw a kindred spirit in you that I hadn't found in anyone else. As we grew older, it was just natural for me to care for you, even when you tried to push me away. My heart has accepted you as you were, are, and will be in the future. You're moody and rude and more often than not, a pain in the ass to deal with since you're so stubborn, but that's who you are, and I wouldn't have you any other way." She paused to take a breath, her cheeks now tinged with crimson. "Above all that, I love you. Just as you are. That's why I'm still here."
Sasuke stared at her, his heart thumping madly at the sincerity he had heard in her voice. He had always assumed that Sakura still harbored the same childish crush that she had had on him from when they were young, but he never imagined that her crush would actually grow into something that strong and solid. He had been too busy with his own goals to really notice it before, but now…
The intensity of her feelings for him should have scared him away like it would have done to any of his other male peers. Most his age were too busy enjoying their youth, wanting to celebrate the freedom of the 'springtime of their lives' as Gai-sensei would say, before settling down and having a family. But looking at Sakura, Sasuke felt an emotional stability that he never truly had ever since his family had been murdered. In Sakura, he could find what he had been missing all his life, and maybe his subconscious mind knew it from the beginning when they had first been assigned to the same team. He had always protected her, and he used to think that it was because they were merely teammates, and she wasn't strong enough to defend herself.
However, he thought, maybe that wasn't the only real reason. His beating heart told him that he might have loved her just as much all along, but never had the time to realize it or acknowledge it. She embodied everything he hadn't been while growing up, and it made him a little jealous, yes, but it also made her precious to him…he didn't want to see her hurt, or see anyone destroy the very essence that made her Haruno Sakura. He had been willing to put his life down to protect her because…he wanted to be like her, he finally understood. Though she wasn't strong physically and never had much stamina like he or Naruto had, she was everything mild, soft, and compassionate…she was everything he lacked but needed in his life. What had been absent all along could be found in her because she complemented and completed him in a way no other could. Haruno Sakura was his other half, the delicate half, one that he had though he had been missing but was right in front of him the entire time.
Is this love?
he asked himself quietly as he gazed at her, allowing himself for the first time to reach to another. She was slightly surprised, but definitely pleased as she let him draw her close to him, and when her cheek rested against his firm chest, she could hear his heart beating uncontrollably in his chest, matching the pace at which her own heart was pounding. She was amazed to see that she had the same effect on him the way he had on her, and she nearly burst into tears at the emotions running through her at that moment. He felt the same way, she knew, even though he never said the words. She could feel it in the way his arms wrapped around her, the way he tightened his embrace as if never wanting to let her go. She felt his fingers slide into her hair, and she closed her eyes as she shivered with delight when he massaged her scalp before running his fingers through the silky threads of pink tresses.
Sasuke couldn't fathom how anything could feel so soft as her hair glided smoothly through his fingertips, and he leaned closer, pressing his lips against her forehead, taking in her delicious sent of sakura blossoms. His lips trailed down the side of her face, pausing to kiss each of her closed eyelids before traveling down to the tip of her nose. He graced each cheek with a kiss and when he pulled away slightly, she opened her eyes to gaze up at him, and he found himself drowning in a sea of emerald green, finding that he desired not to be rescued as he gazed into the glistening orbs.
"I love you, Sakura," he whispered, knowing that as the words fell from his mouth, he meant every single syllable of every single word. A tear slipped from her eye as she beamed up at him, and he was amazed at how four simple words could make her so happy.
"I love you so much, Sasuke-kun," she replied, and without another moment's hesitation, his lips descended upon hers for the first time, and he nearly exploded at the heat that two little pillows of flesh could generate. She tasted salty and sweet at the same time, and he was addicted to her flavor, moving his mouth against hers, slowly prodding her lips open with the flick of his hungry tongue across her bottom lip. She willingly obliged, allowing him entrance, and she moaned into his mouth, her hands gripping tighter to the flimsy hospital smock that barely covered his body. He wanted more, so much more, but his head was starting to spin and he pulled away, feeling slightly light-headed as oxygen rushed into his gasping mouth. He looked down into her flushed face, her swollen lips, and he smiled at her when she opened her eyes.
"I've lost many things in my life, Sakura, but I will not lose you," he said huskily, his throat suddenly tight at the overwhelming emotion he felt running through his veins, and she gave a small smile at how romantic he sounded despite his lack of experience in that field. "You're mine." She nodded.
"Always," she answered, her face lighting with joy, and he leaned down to claim her lips again.
Just outside the door, Kakashi was holding back a noisy blond ninja, who surprisingly enough now resembled the Fourth Hokage, and when Naruto's face turned an odd purple, Kakashi realized that he had been cutting off his air supply and promptly removed his hand from Naruto's large mouth.
"What's the big idea, Kakashi-sensei?!" Naruto growled angrily, his face growing red.
"Give them another five minutes," the Jounin said as he whipped out his favorite book from his kunai holster. "I say they needed it after all this time…" Naruto scowled but silently agreed as he crossed his arms over his chest.