Epilogue: Between the Shadow and the Soul

She won't remember this.

That's what Orochimaru had said. Sasuke had thought it was unfair, that after everything, she would never know how much he had suffered for her. But it was for the best.

Because, in the end, she wouldn't have to feel guilt for his choices the way she had done in the past.

And because then, he could finally tell her the darkest, most hidden secret of his soul, tell her that which had laid for the longest time in the shadows of his heart. Demons of revenge had kept him from it, inadequacy and arrogance, and scars that he did not want her to see for a host of reasons. But he could tell her now and not worry about the consequences. Finally tell her before taking her back to Naruto the way Naruto had taken him back to her…

They had walked so far, a journey that could be counted more by heartbeats than by steps… And now it was ending… Life was nearby, he could feel it…

"Sakura," as the light crept up their bodies, as something tugged at him and pulled them into the right river,

as her green eyes turned, searched, and found his, as his throat suddenly became dry not because of thirst,

as something was threatening to separate them, the chains of physical reality trying to tear their souls apart,

as everything happened at once and their visions were being dazzled by light more brilliant than the sun,

He squeezed her hand hard,

And when the shadows were being scattered by the light, let his soul whisper,

Sakura… I…

A week after their return, she found him quietly meditating in his backyard.

When he sensed her approach, when she sat down beside him, he said, "You should be in the hospital. Naruto told me that your injuries are still healing."

"Tch, Naruto worries too much about anyone who isn't him."

"I think," he said lightly because he could not help letting her know that he knew, "that it's just you."

She blushed, squirming with embarrassment, "Well, they're almost gone. Besides, I am a medical-ninja. If something happens, I think I'll be able to do something before calling for a check-up."

She had a point. He returned his attention to the sky before him, waiting patiently for the sunset.


He didn't turn his head. She shifted in front of him, crouched, and stared up at him, "Sasuke--"

He met her eyes evenly, "There's no need to thank me. I didn't do it for you."

It was too obvious a lie. She retorted, "Yeah, well, I benefited, didn't I?"

"…Yes, you did," he admitted with the faintest of grins and fell silent. He didn't want to say anymore. Not of the doubts or the fears or the suffering that he had gone through from the first step to the last. Better to let her think that it had been a quick, easy trip than for her to be miserable and guilty.

"Did you… see anyone?"

Her curiosity, however, was damnable. Her questions made a total lack of explanation impossible. He contemplated all those that he had seen - there had been lessons indirectly taught, pain seen that could not be forgotten. But the one he chose to tell her about surprised both of them.

"My family."

It was clear from her expression that she didn't know what to say. But he could see her decoding those two words, figuring what they covered and hid. She did that better than anyone, even if it caused her a lot of pain in the end.

He would save her the effort this time. Part of it, anyway. "I was offered a chance to stay with them. There, forever. But…"

"But?" Sakura looked at him.

"…they were dead. I was being foolish." For some stupid reason, he tried to laugh it off, thinking perhaps that was what Naruto would have done. Instead, his laugh came out harsh and mirthless.

His face remained blank, but hers crumpled, feeling the pain on his behalf all too deeply. She was always doing that, the idiot. Her head turned slightly to the side was an indication that she was close to weeping and trying to hide it. He cursed himself; for a man of silence, he had spoken too much.

"Don't do that," he said gruffly, "Don't do that, for me."

Her shoulders only shook harder, so he grasped them, an act that once again surprised them both. Face to face, he told her, "I don't want you to ever do that for me, understand, Sakura?"

Then gently, "There's no point. In two more years, I will leave Konoha and I probably won't see you again anyways."

Her expression was so hurt that he wondered if she was still getting over him, if there was unfinished business between them. He decided not to dwell on it. He had promised Naruto, after all.

"Arigatou," he said at last, releasing her shoulders, "I just wanted to say that before the time comes."

"That's all you ever say…" and he knew she was remembering that night as well. "Why? If you speak of pointless acts, why did you bother to save me if you're just going to leave?"

Of all the reasons he could tell her, he would never tell the most truthful one.

"If I didn't come back, I would never be able to face that idiot." In an afterthought, he added, "Kakashi-sensei, too."

Then he muttered, softer, "They need you, you know. More than they'll ever admit."

And so do I, even if I don't always understand why.

Her response startled him, although later he reasoned he should have expected it.

She burst out crying in loud sobs.

"A part of me was so afraid… of being alone forever… All the time that I was--I was… down there… Even without knowing who I was, I just missed everyone… so much… so much…"

Sasuke drew in a breath. So Orochimaru had lied. She had remembered something; otherwise, she wouldn't be burying her face in her hands, the sting of loneliness pricking her heart.

Just a girl, Sasuke marveled at the vulnerable creature before him, Just a sixteen-year-old girl in the end. And it was suddenly no longer a fact to scorn or dismiss without a second thought. For once, it mattered that she was not completely strong because in this one fear, they were alike. For once, her emotions were not completely unwelcome.

It gave him courage to do something he had never done and when his arms were around her, her face not uncomfortably pressed into his chest, her tearful words gave him a peace that he had rarely felt,

"I'm so glad you came, Sasuke-kun. I'm so glad you brought me back…"

"Me, too," he whispered.

You are my sunshine… my only sunshine…

Sasuke had never sung before. Idly, he thought perhaps he should try it more often. Only in his thoughts, of course. He could never do it out loud, no matter how soothing a pastime it was to his trouble mind.

You make me happy when skies are gray..

The years ahead looked cold and unforgiving. The day after his eighteenth birthday, he would leave Konoha behind to search for his brother. He didn't know how long it would take, but he had a feeling that it wouldn't be short. Or easy, for that matter.

The future would hold nothing but regrets and sorrow, just as the past had. He felt it instinctively and yet, he couldn't stop himself no matter how badly he wanted to. This hateful agenda was too much apart of him already. Deep in his soul, it was understood that his thirst for vengeance would never stop until Itachi's blood was on his hands. And even then, the pain might never go away for he was too smart to think that killing Itachi would bring his family back.

He wondered if he really even wanted them back. Their memory gone, he searched his entire being for some scrap of longing, and was afraid to admit to himself that it was not there. The fear raised a new, frustrating question - why was he still doing this, why the hell did he still want it? - that he would not be able to answer until his brother was dead.

Really, in spite of everything that had happened, he would never be able escape that house.

He would probably be like this for the rest of his life. He could not imagine anything else.

And at the same time, he wondered how he could bear it all when the future was colder and lonelier than his heart could stand.

You'll never know, dear…

Funny how it didn't seem so bad when he thought of her. True, she had cried again because of him. She was always doing that, when he thought about it. Their history proved it so. And he had a feeling that the instructions he had given probably would never be followed. But… that time, her eyes had been happy.

…how much I love you…

Her eyes, even as they wept, had been unclouded by hurt. She had been made happy, for once, truly happy by something he had done. And for now at least, when he was haunted by an empty past and facing an equally empty future, it was all that he had.

Naruto's idiotic laugh, Kakashi-sensei's perverted habits, and her tears of sadness…

Naruto's honest friendship, Kakashi's wisdom, and her tears of happiness…

They were all that he had, the only things that would ever really matter to him in the end. He would've laughed at his own poverty if he hadn't felt so rich.

So… please…

The sun was setting over Konoha. It was growing darker by the minute so that any tiny amount of light was precious.

Somehow, as the shadows grew and he sat on his backyard porch where he had hugged Sakura hours ago, unmoving, he knew it was going to be different this time around.

He was going to miss her.

He was going to miss all of them when he left.

It was common knowledge that a dying man's last moments are usually spent thinking of his loved ones. Sasuke watched the sunset completely and thought he could understand why. Those last moments were a fight against the inevitable, the only bright treasures for those in despair, to be cherished and locked away into the deepest part of one's being where they could never be lost or forgotten by the dead.

For him, these moments were kept between the shadow and the soul. For there, they would never be consumed by the darkness of the one nor the emptiness of the other.

There, even if he should die, they would live and always remain.

Please… don't take… my sunshine away…


Finished before the end of well,my break at least. Finished, as promised.