Title: Places In Heaven
Author: Pickled Death
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG-13
Summary: one-shot; Sasuke. Naruto. Sakura. Team 7 in their final hours. Learning the meaning of "comradeship". Or "suicide".
Author's Notes: Hee! Don't ask about the end bit I stole from amazing-esque author Sunfreak. Ack! Sorry Sunfreak! (runs)

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—in the absence of summer, there is winter and spring as the autumn will pass—

It ends here, Sasuke-kun lightning arcs, traces a zigzag race across pitch skies and the rain staples pale pink hair to porcelain shoulders, and water clouds her vision but she sees with the dry clarity of summer I'll love you forever, but forever isn't ever enough, you know?

—in the absence of summer therein lies renaissance and death, but never concurrently—

I know she's standing on a slug, the surface like algae, slick and sprouting and lingering on moss-rocks. She's crying and no one is watching, not even the summer sun, limbs akimbo, wet red silk clinging to her curvaceous form, and she's beautiful when she's murderous, isn't she? Please, just LEAVE, I am ASKING you to LEAVE or you will GET hurt

Sapphire, a slip of it, a star in a bloodshot sky and a solemn cry for help from gritted fangs, fingers quivering with adrenaline like the sweetest poison overworking his heartbeat lest it stop and lest he die.

And then Uzumaki Naruto is elevated upon the speckled back of a solemn help-reply, and Gamabunta swears he's seen this play before and the rain is like the dull age-flicker of a silver screen.

Be careful, Sakura-chan. and his heightened senses aided by the living battery that is the Kyuubi hunt the steady tumult of a snake wriggling in sifting damp earth. The sky rains liquid needles, black and all-encompassing and the clouds thirst for the rise of souls I wish it didn't have to end like this he whispers and his lips are moving but thunder, a fabled lion's hungered roar, blots out the sound.

but it must so it will

Sasuke hears it anyway.

(don't trick yourself; I have no desire to be your enemy, please please please don't trick yourself because

(I DO

(love you.)

—in the absence of summer, the autumn will pass—

—in the absence of winter, we'll live the lives stolen from us—

Trepidation is such a vile thing, betrayal and pain tugging at the broken chords of his ash-black heartstrings, and his subconscious sings a sorrowful tune so at home in the rain.

Then it sings an incantation, and disobedient chaos embodied in the snake king emerges from the ground; hold a tool too loosely and it will tumble from your fingers, but Manda has found a master he can respect.

Or he will die trying.

The song stops in favor of the dullest silence and Gamabunta swears he's seen this play before and the rain is like the dull age-flicker of a silver screen.

Silent movie.

Words. Wheels turning in a little blond head, cogs creaking, the pitter-patter of (I want a family and you…want…a…clan) raindrops weaving their way through the labyrinthine forestry, the all-encompassing maw of the Fire Country woodlands so vast and trees the width of god-knows-what twisted like braids,

the kind she couldn't sweep over her shoulder anymore because her hair was too choppy.

Eyes like diamonds dyed peridot and thrice as robust, beckoning his fate and hers and theirs and Team 7's and ever-empty, reflecting only the grayscale of her surroundings, and things are never the same anymore.

—in the absence of winter, work so winter can kill again—

some things just don't end, even when you graduate

The lunge of a rusted knife kilometers broad, the twang of rain on dismissive steel, a sound Naruto and Gamabunta haven't heard since…ever, since ever, since history appeared so it could begin a cycle.

So that cycle could begin anew.

A leap and an earth-tremor, the Fire Country fears the demise of heroes incarnate; rubbery toad-feet abandon the ground, gravity is a chain and as to whether or not they're flying free that's up to debate, and the woman (you've gotten pretty, Sakura) of cherry blossoms assists, a slug's tail seizing a snake's flexed jaws.

I thought everything ended when you left

this is suicide.

everything ends sometime and we, we end here

if I'm going down you're going down with me

hey guys, do you remember being invincible

All it takes to end a legacy is a memory never forgotten to carry them home.

This is us them.

There's a guy who loves a girl who loves a guy. There's an avenger, a servant of darkness bound to the accursed seal puncturing his thus far unmarred swanlike neck, who owes everything to the darkness, who yearns for the North Star, a guiding light and he's been scrabbling in the dark for it, clumsy, soul having yet to shed its baby fat.

There's a guy who loves a girl who loves a guy. There's a demon child, whose dream went unfulfilled but never unheard. He's given up everything, every ambition, every aspiration for acknowledgement, who owes everything to a number of saviors that can be counted on one hand, yearning for Methuselah.

There's a guy who loves a girl who loves a guy. There's a woman who's a girl, and that's all she'll ever be.

I'm sorry, I don't really remember invincibility but I remember the taste of it you gave me

and all titans fall. Sometimes they fall like dominoes, sometimes they fall like bowling pins, but there are no exceptions and Sasuke's the only one who's ever learned to deal with that. And his hair was fall-dark and his eyes were crushed onyx in the rain, or maybe he was crying but it's a little late to ask.

And sometimes when she touched him all she could see was sapphire skies, vast and fate-beckoning and sometimes he chuckled mirthlessly in his gravel-rimmed throat and all she could hear was the obnoxious we-can-still-be-happy guffaw of a man she didn't love.

—in the absence of winter, spring will flourish but something's always missing this time of year—

—in the absence of winter, spring can touch summer—

Sharingan, perhaps, but you've always been blind

Blood. Blood, blood everywhere, cascading through the ripples of a mechanically stiff cloak, collar upturned so no one can see the curvature of his wax-cold lips when he frowns. Dully aware of a hole in his ribs, the explosion of memories in hues of pink touching the dark spots in his vision. And it's only when he's shattered does he remember.

Pink: the feather-light sting of her farewell.

Red: crimson, ornate hues of fire-blood carving twisting paths in demon's eyes.

Black: the mythical third Sharingan-stage that he lusts for and is repulsed by, because some prices are too much to pay. The color of his mercy, receding like the tide. Kyuubi-slits in a sea of

—in the absence of spring—

Blue: the sting of rejection, the vastest cloudless sea that nibbles on their wanderlust, a tantalizing touch of freedom that he abandoned in turn for nothingness and he has absolutely no regrets. …Sometimes that's what hurts most of all.

And he feels it as the mud gently swallows his body: the flicker of the Sharingan, his vision fragmenting in subsections of three before returning, three commas connected by a flowery ringlet and he knows Manda will be free for a very, very, very long time, because snakes are traitors and so are their students, tutelage beneath an elusive snake-scale, working hard to amount to a nothing he classifies as "something".

Fingertips brush the back of his hand, cold and ashen now, pulsating with blood loss.

This is not where Team 7 ends, he thinks.

Knows.

His fingers curl haphazardly around the now-clammy ones and she's dead and he loves her and knows Naruto's somehow clutching her other hand, tightly, enough to fracture the nerveless bones even as he slips into quiet oblivion

—in the absence of spring—

—in the absence of spring—

but oblivion isn't so bad

·

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if you have people to share it with.

END

.:three graves in the earth, three places in heaven:.