Upon the Altar

Disclaimer: Own Naruto I do not.

So poised you to fly that I did falter,

My own wings, plucked,

And left to rot.

So raised you us upon the altar

Of wasted sacrifices,

And empathy's tired warmth;

Now lost

She wrote the double digits in imaginary ink with her right index finger. A symbol for ten, then one for six.

Sakura was an adept mathematician. It had been, to be very precise, a decade and six years, four hours and point two-five of a minute since she'd been brought into this world - give or take a few seconds, she speculated, for badly-synchronized Konoha clocks. In this calculating manner she sat surrounded by the slow beeps of medical machinery, amidst the pungent odour of strong disinfectant, and within the stark confines of white-washed walls; and she could not help the uncharacteristic inclination to brood.

Oh how favourable a way to spend one's coming of age so! Away from the beauty of moonlit outdoors and warm gatherings of friends and family. Sakura's dramatic sigh went understandably unnoticed by the room's second occupant.

What was really funny about turning sixteen, though, was that she didn't feel any different. Last she checked, she was still cranky with volatile mood swings, still touchy about her bust-size and still at constant conflict with a violent second personality that fought her outer self, every small chance it got, for freedom of speech.

Sakura raised pale fingers to her face and traced them over familiar contours of smooth skin over fine bone. She didn't look any different, that was for sure. The slender digits then spread over her pink-framed forehead and Sakura had to pause so she could stop her eyes from rolling. Yep, definitely no change there.

Aforementioned forehead gleamed in protest.

When she was younger, she'd always entertained the notion that growing up would be somewhat more exciting than… a graveyard shift at the hospital. Sakura wondered briefly why she had ever acknowledged childhood idealism. Life was… life, and most things would never stop operating in their time-honoured routines. Even now the ugly grey second hands of her regulation medic's watch ticked to a hypnotic, universal rhythm.

Tick, tick, tick, tick...

It was a never-changing tempo, signaling time's irreplaceable passing… and it was getting on her nerves. The offending object found itself uprooted from a creamy-white wrist and shoved into an equally white-walled pocket, just as its owner huffed and dropped her chin to the soft fabric of the surface before her.

She didn't care too much for the time. It was not like she would have anything on her agenda for a while yet. A twirling finger drew lazy shapes in soft hospital sheets, mussing the fabric and providing a small source of entertainment for half-lidded green eyes to focus upon. Not a particularly mind-wracking task, but it took up her attention well enough. Contemplating the meaning of life could always come later.

Sixteen, and nothing had changed. The sun still rose from the east, the sky still looked blue, Tsunade-sama still gambled excessively (albeit still losing badly every time). Naruto still craved the Hokage position, Kakashi-sensei still read that… abomination. And she? She still…

You're annoying.

She stopped her torturing of bed sheets and sighed. Would he still think that when he awoke? She doubted she'd make much of it if he did. Growing accustomed was really all one could do to verbal abuse you've heard about ten hundred times before. He really had quite the limited insult vocabulary, Sasuke.

Sakura's emerald eyes shifted their attention to the pale face of the bed's lone occupant. Dark hair, splayed upon pale sheets, caught in dark lashes that framed pale skin that hid dark eyes; it was an appearance that suited him only too well.

Black upon white upon more black. Monotonous, lacking in colour.

Describe Uchiha as best you can, one would ask a person who claimed to know him. Quiet, pensive, intelligent (prodigious even), arrogant, confident, good-looking; adjectives that described him at surface value was about all one would get. What had happened to lost, or determined, or hurt, or lonely, or duty-bound, or deeply, emotionally scarred? One would then wonder. He never showed that side of himself, would be the reply.

She knew this from experience. The boy opened up about as easily as a dead bolt without a key.

She prodded sluggishly at his side in protest. And he did not stir. She shifted in her seat to get comfortable then slouched back down to rest her head on an outstretched arm. Of course, it wasn't like she'd been expecting him to awake any time soon. No, not at all. The bored finger flicked nonchalantly at the lump his body made in the sheets.

Change was inevitable, people said. It was the only constant thing in life, someone had told her. We grow from it, had said another. It is a good thing.

Well she, being the opinionated young lady that she was, had developed a view of her own.

Change was overrated. She'd concluded this by way of logical deduction. Change swept you up into one viciously confusing cycle, where it muddled your thoughts and baffled you to an extent (it is amazing how lost one becomes when pulled out of a scheduled comfort zone), and then deposited you not so far from where you started off.

Seasons came and seasons went, over and over in a never ending spiral of routine but ultimately, they always returned in much the same fashion every year. In the same way, Sasuke-kun would wake, feel intensely guilty for the wrongs that he'd committed, become a recluse and live the remainder of his life in a small shell of repentant isolation from her, and from Naruto, and from the rest of the world.

Same old, same old. Yawn.

Naruto, all-forgiving, all-righteous idiot that he was would try constantly to bring him out of his brooding solitude with 'friendly' sparring matches ('Sense-beatings' in Naruto-language) and trips to the famous Ichiraku Ramen House; all efforts ending in semi-failures that would never really be enough to completely discourage the fox boy from trying again.

Furthermore, people would continue to keep The Last Uchiha at a safe distance, albeit more out of distrust for the former protégé of evil incarnate than awkward pity toward the loss of his family like it had been when they were children.

And of course... of course, she would always be supportive. Actively, stupidly. Smiling and comforting and caring and… loving. All to be done for a cold, unappreciative block of ice who would never reciprocate her emotions…

Yeah. What was new?

Sasuke-lump remained idle.

Her pink head lolled to one side to relieve a steadily-numbing left arm and the angle forced her gaze to the side of his head. What she saw made her perk up and scrunch her nose in distaste. He really needed a hair cut. What, had his time at Orochimaru's made him forget about all the basic principles of personal grooming? Not that she was prejudiced in any way. No, not at all, because really, long hair could be quite the alluring feature if properly maintained. It was just that he looked far too much like ol'snaky-boy for her to be at all comfortable with. She clicked her tongue, because she knew he wouldn't hear.

So her hand found itself on a new agenda, reaching up deftly to part ebony bangs from Sasuke's face. Sakura didn't like it when anything obscured his eyes from view. She liked his eyes. She thought they were pretty. She rose to let her palm smooth itself entirely over the span of his forehead in an effort to brush more of the dark strands away from his face. Because darn it but there was just so much of that hair getting in the way of her Pretty Eyes. Finally moving a last stubborn lock with her thumb and forefinger, she revelled in her handiwork. There. Now she could see the beautiful obsidian of his eyes…

…She could see his eyes!

Her throat constricted in a near-scream, because pale eyelids had chosen at that moment to slide open. He was awake. He was awake! Chanted her brain.

Say something, dummy.

"Er."

How long had she imagined this moment in dreams and fantasies? Why, only for years and years. Only in every waking moment of every day since he'd left them at the age of twelve. Only for every minute of the last twenty-nine days since he'd been brought back into their lives (forty-one thousand seven hundred and sixty times). Sakura should have been ecstatic, but wasn't. She had a million words churning in her head, waiting to be uttered, but couldn't. The shock needed some wearing-off time first.

"……"

If her wide eyes and gaping mouth were any indication, Sakura could have safely said that she resembled a pale, pink goldfish. God they were boring into her, those eyes…

"……"

She cursed the silence. Stupid silence. Why did it have to be so silent? She tried willing her facial muscles into wiping that guilty expression off of her, to not much avail. Why she felt that way was a mystery; it was hardly like she'd been doing anything indecent toward him in his incapacitation. Various other irrelevant thoughts entered her brain as it started to regain functionality at a moderately slow rate. She'd just about picked out the three words necessary to make an apology when his voice stopped her, and all semblance of thought crumbled again into nothingness.

"Identify yourself and tell me where I am,"

He demanded in typical Sasuke fashion, to which she smartly replied,

"Huh?"

Inner Sakura mocked her incoherence. Sakura wanted to die. How useless she was.

But the scornful laughter that would have echoed in her head was cut off when Sakura felt the sudden prick of a blade at her throat. It's funny how one's mind tends to only start working in synchrony when the body is physically threatened. Sakura even managed an entire blink before wind rushed past her and the world flipped onto an angle. A soft surface slammed into the length of her back, and the warm, rigid pressure of the boy's body settled onto her front. The kunai he gripped gleamed eerily at the edge of her vision. Oh? Maybe Sasuke-kun had sensed her plight. Perhaps he would put her out of her misery like the gallant gentleman she had always envisioned he was somewhere deep in the cold abyss that was his being. Maybe…

"Are you mute? Or do you not have the intelligence to answer me?"

She let out a startled grunt when he thumped her head into the pillow a second time to emphasize his ill-will. Curses. He really did mean to kill her. Briefly Sakura recalled a childish romantic notion she'd once had about dying in Sasuke's arms. This scenario wasn't quite accurate.

She nervously laughed.

Then regretted it when Sasuke shoved her roughly, further into the mattress with the forearm he'd used to pin her torso down for leverage. She felt slick moisture down the side of her neck where the kunai it held had drawn blood. Oh smooth, Sakura, real smooth. Like the polished kunai blade she about to die from. Speaking of which, where had he gotten a hold of said throwing dagger?

"Answer me!"

The command snapped her out of her inner diatribe and reminded her that she should very well be obliging him his request. His dark eyes had intensified their icy tinge, (Sakura had always found it endlessly intriguing the way only Sasuke managed to make such a deep colour as black look frosty), but within their shadowy depths, they held an emotion akin to distress. Their pupils dilated with it.

Alright, she had to think fast. She needed to calm down, shake her head and regain some semblance of rational thought, because being able to remember months of intensive medical training in this situation would be most useful.

She listed the possible reasons for Sasuke's apparent lack of memory toward her. One, he'd hit his head. Two, he'd hit his head hard. Three, she was too insignificant and he'd simply forgotten her - Sakura cringed at that. Four, he couldn't… Green eyes widened.

He couldn't see her.

Understanding impacted in so sudden a flood that she gasped. His eyes, they were black; not frightfully red-tinted, not a dreadful blood-colour; they weren't so much boring into her as they were resting, still and unfocused straight ahead. What she'd thought an icy countenance had really been the glaze over unseeing pupils. Sakura cursed her stupidity and vaguely recalled Tsunade-sama warning her of this, but she'd been so enthralled with the notion that Sasuke had finally returned that she'd simply not processed the information. Stupid, really.

She had to say something.

"Sa-"

The sound caught in her throat, and he mercifully relieved some of the pressure on her upper torso. She wheezed and tried again.

"Sasuke-kun it's me," and when the blade she'd been expecting to lift, didn't, "It's Sakura," she elaborated.

It was getting severely uncomfortable being… under him, so to speak. The position was kind of giggle-worthy, yet she was hard-pressed to think much of it. How could she? When the watch she'd discarded earlier to her pocket was digging so painfully into the back of her left hip.

Suddenly, she needn't have wondered why the kunai holder on her thigh felt flat and empty. Even with so severe a handicap, the boy was not a force to be trifled with. Her blade burned mockingly at her throat.

His eyes regained no spark when the first waves of remembrance fell upon them. Small quantities of moonlight that filtered through the room's windows allowed her to see them vaguely, before they were again masked under the veil of shadowy bangs. How Sakura hated that hair.

"Sasuke-kun," she insisted, trying to free her caged left arm to give his shoulder a reassuring shake, or perhaps she had meant to push some of his weight off her. Neither intention mattered in the end when Sasuke's hold relented and the appendage rose, as if of its own free will to where it felt it was needed most. Her hand brushed itself over his cool forehead to move soft charcoal hair away from his eyes. Sakura held the strands in their place, pressed above his hairline. She tried to read his eyes; an impossible task.

"Sasuke-kun?"

At this, the boy visibly snapped out of whatever reverie he was in. He drew back, stunned, snatching her hand off his face and slamming it down on the mattress beside hers.

"Sasuke-kun -"

"I can't see."

Straightforward Sasuke. Short. Concise. Typical.

Now that he'd gotten over his initial disorientation, he'd made the statement in his normal detached tone. It was as if he'd pondered the possibility of losing his sight so many times over, that it no longer came as much of a shock now that it had finally occurred. He had been prepared for it, why else would he have used his eyes to so dangerous a level?

I am an avenger.

"Y-yes. The sharingan…"

She trailed off as the kunai left her throat and returned to its home. Sakura squirmed as his fingers brushed her thigh in the process. The boy then rose to slump in a half-sit against the bed's metal headboard; silent and reflective.

She pushed her body up to mimic the posture beside him.

What followed was a series of awkward silences that lasted till dawn. They were broken only by sporadic bursts of Sakura-rambling, as she tried to explain his circumstances to an unresponsive Sasuke.

When the first rays of morning shone and the hospital day-staff ran from them, screaming for Tsunade-sama to be called, Sakura dropped her head and gave in to sleep's tempting pull; for the night had been almost too long. She was too tired to notice herself slouch against Sasuke's bandage-clad shoulder.

He remained unblinking and unmoved.

To shadows that beckon with brutal claws,

You're slowly pitching forward;

Past stillness,

Past silence,

Into nothingness you fall.

Tsunade-sama would not restore his sight.

Her skills, she explained, were reserved only for the loyal citizens of Konoha. He had forfeited that right four years ago. It was his punishment, for what better way to punish a warrior than to take from him his very means of survival, his way of life. The sharingan was his very identity.

Sasuke had frowned, as if he didn't quite understand the situation, but Sakura knew better. Uchiha Sasuke, outstanding ninja prodigy, was good, if anything at understanding complex situations. It was in the area of coping that she considered him lacking.

It had dawned on her then, the precarious nature of the position she had fallen into. No doubt being the sole pupil of a legend in the medical world had its drawbacks, and this was one of them. Tsunade-sama had not taught her the jutsu that enabled sight-restoration up front, but Sakura had certainly learnt enough from her to know how one would work in theory.

Yet the Godaime had not spoken a single word that forbade her to master or use it to her own intentions.

And so it was, that the pressure of whether or not to restore Uchiha Sasuke's sight fell suddenly upon Sakura's shoulders. She supposed the situation gave her some semblance of power over the boy, for he could attain his sight through no one but her. Yet Sakura could not ignore the possibility that he'd twist it to his advantage. Just about all of Konoha knew of her affection for him, and the boy could be unassumingly cunning if the necessity so arose.

Sasuke, however, seemed nothing short of accepting of his predicament. Weeks passed, in which he hadn't once acted violently in anger, nor uttered a single word of discontentment. In fact, he scarcely said anything at all. It seemed her theory was coming true. 'Recluse' loomed threateningly overhead.

Sasuke was not yet totally blind. She had discovered that in reasonably bright light, he was still able to see shapes and impressions. He could, for example, make out a vague, shadowy blob whenever he held his hand out in front of his face; and see a black ocean of moving silhouettes in the market place during working hours. He could tell that she was Sakura by the way that she moved, or sense that Naruto was near by the sheer boldness of his presence. All these, she had learned by keen observation from rarely leaving his side.

It was obvious, though, that his sight could only deteriorate from there on, and no amount of rest or restoration would help slow the process. She'd told him so, because what good would it be to lie about the inevitable?

Three months.

The look he'd given her had been one of his stranger ones; the incredulous half-stare that he usually reserved for Naruto, who was the only person Sasuke had shown anything more than aloof indifference to since he'd returned to Konoha. It had given her a great rush, that look. She felt like she might have been getting somewhat through to him. She knew, of course, the absurdity of such a thought; but she had liked reveling in it for the day or two after it had first struck her. Perhaps he'd been puzzled that she hadn't jumped at the chance to be of service to him. He probably knew that she would be capable of restoring his sight if she so wanted.

She still peeled apples for him. The red fruit seemed to prompt new discoveries for her concerning Sasuke. It was at a very early stage that she'd found out Fuji were his favourite.

It had come to her, one day sitting and peeling the reddest of apples in his empty kitchen. As she carefully avoided cutting too much flesh along with skin while waiting for him to emerge from the shower, she'd watched the once-white apple tissue start to turn the faintest of yellows.

She'd stared at the knife she held; for it had been her use of it that had caused the phenomena. She'd peeled the fruit's defenses back, peeled it and left it vulnerable. Left to oxygen that would otherwise give life, the apple, cool and hard, softens without its coverings. In a while yet, she would watch it whither, become inedible and useless to its kind...

This day was much like that. Sasuke had emerged from his room, using the wall as a brace to find his way to her just as she finished squeezing some lemon onto his fruit; to stop them from further browning. He'd never said a word to her about what he thought of her constant care, merely went along with the arrangement because he needed to keep on Tsunade's better side. The issue of execution that often accompanied a missing-nin's capture loomed always in the background.

He could not yet die; his goals had not been fully reached.

He knelt at the table in silence, as was natural for him to do. And she went to the sink to rinse out the vegetables she would use to make him lunch. She had never been so domestic in her life, but for some reason, she wanted her hands busy. It was a methodical process, leafing a cabbage. Peel, rinse, dump in bowl. Peel, rinse, the process continues.

She didn't much care for brain-power in the morning.

She turned to grab the knife from the small kitchen table behind her, but found her wrist suddenly clamped in an iron grip. The action was so abrupt that she nearly dropped the blade in surprise.

It was highly unlikely that Sasuke's eyes could have made out the questioning gaze she shot him; their unfocused nature lessened the impact of what would have been a hard stare on his part.

"Stop this."

There was that commanding tone again. That bitter, arrogant way of speaking. Sakura had a love-hate relationship with that manner of voice.

"This?"

She slid the plate of apples in his direction, skirting the subject because it annoyed him. He had fixed her with a blank stare. She understood perfectly well, of course, what he was talking about. He resented her involvement in his life, he resented relying on her. Truthfully, she'd been wondering how long it would take for him to finally snap. Now she had her answer. She counted four weeks to the day that he awoke. Sasuke could be predictable like that.

When after several minutes of silence, he still refused to touch his fruit, Sakura sighed.

"I don't pity you, Sasuke-kun."

A disbelieving scoff.

"Don't you?"

Sakura refrained from heaving another patient sigh. Why would she, she wanted to retort, when he had enough self-pity for the both of them combined? But of course, being that Sasuke was the one she conversed with, none of these words were spoken. She'd never truly been willing to talk back to him. It was a charity that she reserved for no one else; and one that he threw constantly back at her face. He could sadden her, make her weary with false hope, yet he could not anger her.

"Please eat, Sasuke-kun."

Her voice was kind, calm. Almost motherly. It must have grated on his nerves because he lowered his head to hide the immediate clenching of his jaw.

"Sasuke-kun -"

Her would-be question fell short.

"This is what you've always wanted, isn't it? Uchiha Sasuke at your mercy."

"Of course not," she was aghast.

How misguided a view of love he had. No one was at no one's mercy. She could very safely say that they were now on even ground. Not like when they were twelve, not like when he could destroy her with very little intention on his part.

Now he had a weakness too.

A short, cynical half-snort was the only indication he gave to signal his leave. He lowered his head and raised himself to his feet.

"Sasuke-kun-"

"I won't beg, Sakura."

The statement puzzled her, so much so that she paid only some attention to the fact that he'd said her name for the first time. She waited patiently for him to elaborate. Hands folded themselves on her lap. That was her; patient and waiting.

"You've danced around this for all the time I've been back."

Her silence must have irked him. She wasn't supposed to be the silent one of their relationship.

"If you'll not heal my eyes, then why all this?"

He gestured to the peeled apple. His eyes glanced momentarily to the cabbage near the sink.

"What are you planning?"

She laughed, loud and bright, at that. Perhaps it was the harsh, almost sulking way that he'd said it. It reminded her of the child he had once been, so long ago. The child he'd left behind, the one she treasured with all her heart; the one who didn't always think that everyone else had some sort of motive against him.

He frowned and turned to leave when she gave no answer. He took no more than three steps before pausing in bewilderment when he felt her arms come gently round him from behind. It troubled him that he hadn't heard her approach. She could feel it. Her voice was muffled by his dark shirt.

"Planning, Sasuke-kun? No, no. I'm passed planning. I made my decisions a long time ago."

With her eyes closed, she could feel the tensing of his muscles under her cheek with more clarity, but he didn't pull away. He said nothing; he couldn't.

The choice had really been quite easy. To give or not to give Sasuke his sight? She'd chosen the latter without much thought. Because really, what good would the use of his eyes bring him? Itachi had fallen, rendering his urge for revenge sated. He hadn't any great use for them anymore. Well, apart from the obvious, of course. But Sasuke was shinobi, born and raised; his other senses were just as highly attuned and sufficient, if need be, for survival and combat.

"Naruto will be here soon," she whispered in comment against his rigid back.

Sakura was not so naïve as to believe that Sasuke could really change. Change was overrated, after all. A chameleon, under all the vibrant guise of camouflage, would ultimately still be a chameleon.

No matter that he'd exacted his revenge, no matter that he'd rid himself of Orochimaru's curse, one taste of power was all it would take for an addiction to form. His own level of strength would never nearly be enough. Why else would he have surrendered to the curse of Orochimaru's seal? Why else would he have used his sharingan to the forfeit his sight? His was a constantly moving goal; like a dog chasing its own tail for an impossible bite.

But now… now he was vulnerable; his defenses forced down and his person left weaker than it'd been in a long, long time. This way they could get through to him; this way was best.

Because Uchiha Sasuke, the most vulnerable person she knew, had been dying from the inside since the day he'd returned home to blood-spattered walls. The sharingan had only slowed the process of decay by building up false barriers. Itachi and Orochimaru had merely given him their own temporary somethings to live for. And in the end, all of that had amounted to -

What?

The sharingan meant power, but it dragged suffering and misery in tow. Sakura would relieve Sasuke of that burden. Maybe she did pity him in that sense; for forfeiting life and becoming a slave to fate. Why give him incentive to leave them again? Why let him wallow in the misery that was his bloodline? She would make this investment to ensure the continued peace that Konoha had earned through great hardship. And she would make it for him.

Sasuke would not leave again. He would remain Konoha, where he could withdraw himself from society, and be dragged out on friendly sparring matches with Naruto, and be invited to Ichiraku for ramen on occasion.

Recluse, recluse, recluse…

As if she'd willed it, the doorbell rang, signaling Naruto's loud arrival.

"You're probably sick of my cooking. How about we go for ramen instead?"

Her voice was light, cheerful. She felt Sasuke slump in defeat.

When she released his waist to hook her arms through his and dragged him to the door, he didn't try to protest. Sakura forgot entirely, about the fruit on the table.

Left untouched, even the lemon-covered apples eventually soften.

And when

These futile knockings cease,

To be replaced by eerie calm;

When fear's grip grows

Chokingly cool

Perhaps you'll know, then

The blind will come to see.

Above all else,

Cruelty is a trait you share

With me.

End

Author's Notes: I know I'm not speaking for myself when I say that Sasuke's not exactly number one on my 'Most Favouritest Characters of All Time' list, but I liked writing this. Yay for Sasuke apples.