Sasuke watched his son, and he watched the woman gazing sentimentally at the boy's profile as it lit up with infantile amazement. He tried to remember how it felt to be two years old and fascinated by the fireflies and the static peace of a home that couldn't be anything but eternal.
And he couldn't remember, but it was a comforting illusion.
Earlier that evening they had taken the boy outside, into the cloud of light and noise of the summer's nightly insect chorus. After all, it didn't take much to amaze a child – and this one was so determined to soak up the world's small wonders that the very second they had opened the screen door, he had stumbled out of the house and off the porch, had very nearly dragged his parents along the side of the stream that wound its quiet way around the Uchiha estate and joined the small lake that rested in what one might have called their backyard. Sakura had thrown an old blanket on the ground underneath a tree, and she had been watching from that vantage point ever since.
Of course she was watching the child more closely than the night, however lovely it might have been. She had experienced the night thousands of times before and she had only had that piece of herself for two years, more or less. (Though time went so fast then that it probably didn't even matter how old he was anymore – only that he kept growing.)
She had wanted Sasuke to join her on the ground, but he had refused – instead opting to stand guard over the lakeside scene, his hands shoved in his pockets. He didn't like to sit when there was something worthwhile to see, to watch for or watch over.
For more than a half hour, the child had been perfectly content to chase the night, to be distracted by the sights as yet unfamiliar to his young eyes. He would reach with tiny hands, fingers splayed outward, waving hello to the sky, or to nothing in particular, or to the bugs – and he would babble as if he were trying to introduce himself to them. Occasionally he would stumble and fall, get up and laugh – so undeniably glad in his existence that it was almost confusing to see.
"Children are wonderful, like that," Sakura had said, once, as her green eyes glittered with laughter. "Such good sports."
Perhaps, Sasuke thought, that was why they trained them to be shinobi at such a young, tender age – when they were still malleable, still too unaccustomed to pain to dwell much over it, still willing and ready to fall. After all, the younger you were, the shorter the expanse you would need to cover to pick yourself up again.
Thoughts of that nature were almost depressing – as solid and unchangeable as they were unimportant to that moment. So Sasuke turned his head to other matters and his heart toward the place it should have stayed to begin with – toward his family, toward the simple, frustrated glee of a child who has just discovered that with such limited motor skills, fireflies are not easy things to catch.
The world around him seemed to like his son – or at least, it tolerated his nonsense with good humor. Sasuke might have gone so far as to say it had been good to the boy in his very short life.
Light caught on the child's profile while wind grazed lazily through his hair – the hair that, for all Sasuke insisted otherwise, was a rather spectacular shade of deep purple. Sakura had admitted her relief over the fact that it wasn't pink, but her glee over the unusual color it had turned out to be was more than somewhat lost on her husband. He supposed it was her way of gloating over the fact that her son wasn't an exact miniature of his father – that she had contributed somewhat to his physical appearance.
Tonight, in the world dyed blue under the misty flame of the half-moon, the uncertain light of fireflies lit his son's face in such a way that he was reminded how very much the boy did resemble Sakura. His nose, the shape of his face, the unsubtle way joy and pain and fear and love would flit across his features – these were all hers. It was stupid that she didn't see it.
One rather significant detail had been the single one to convince Sakura that her son had inherited nothing of her looks other than the bizarre accident of blended hair color.
If the boys of the Uchiha clan tended to take after their mothers in other ways, they certainly always retained the family's eyes. And clearly, this boy – in whom Sakura apparently saw a sort of small clone of his father – had not inherited the bright green gaze of the lady of the Uchiha clan.
She is smug and exhausted, and as she hands the baby to him, her eyes light with the warning fire of the protective, motherly instincts that are awakening to rage beneath her skin.
Sakura wants her husband to be able to hold his firstborn son, of course, but the concern and reluctance – which, to her credit, she has tried valiantly to push to the back of her mind – she expresses upon holding him outward is completely understandable. Because Sasuke feels as if he has no idea what to do with the infant whatsoever.
In most every sense of the word, this child belongs to him – and yet, it is as if holding him is somehow wrong… or as if he might break. The baby is all light, softness, fragility – and Sasuke is far to accustomed to dealing with things that will not or simply cannot break under his grip.
Her turns to Sakura – who, for all the shattered, childish ideals she had once held, had proven to be one of the most unbreakable people he knew – and for a moment, is confused, trying to decide whether the child truly does look like either of them. He doesn't think so in those first several minutes.
But then, he allows that there is an irritating haze of unfiltered, irrepressible emotion wrapping around his mind like so much flimsy gauze, and it might be altering his judgement.
At any rate, this is an innocent being whose entire existence is depended upon him.
He is painfully, almost shockingly aware of that fact, even without Sakura's muttered threat of, "If you drop him, so help me I will cut you open with something dull and unpleasant."
Though he's sure she's completely and utterly serious despite the fact that her own mind is currently fuzzy with painkillers, he offers her a flat stare. "How inept do you think I am, Sakura?"
She doesn't take her eyes off the child for one moment, and merely raises one pink eyebrow in response.
"I'm not going to drop him. He's my son, too, you heartless wench."
"You're lucky I'm watching him too closely to listen to what you're saying…"
Sakura leans back against a pile of pillows, folds her arms and sighs deeply. Sasuke had already been completely on his own as far as holding the baby went and couldn't have easily handed the child back to her. But her sudden distance, and somehow the fact that she turned her eyes lazily to gaze at him, makes him even more conscious of this fact.
'Wonderful – she picks this moment, when I'm reduced to the state of an incoherent idiot by an infant, to watch me. How typical of her…'
Sasuke knows he looks amazed and overwhelmed and he wouldn't be able to hide that from her even if he'd wanted to. She is satisfied in her knowledge, he can tell, and her amusement shines on her face along with the white light of the half-moon that shines in from the high window on the western wall.
Without interrupting her intent searching of his face, she half-closers her eyes and quietly offers, "It's okay."
He thinks that neither of them knows quite what "it" she refers to. Nevertheless, he answers, "I know…"
Answering her, he almost misses it.
About to offer something further, he snaps his mouth shut as the infant's eyes flicker open.
These, he understands without any speck of doubt, are his. Somewhere in the back of his mind, a small voice asks him how much that truly surprises him, though the forefront of his brain's activity is occupied with shock.
The eyes are dark – incredibly dark, black like mirrors that, as of yet, reflect nothing.
But in them, he still manages to see himself and a thousand possible futures he suddenly wishes more than anything for this small person to avoid.
The world tilts, and he can hardly form a coherent thought.
Apparently noting his sudden bewilderment, Sakura chuckles.
"He opened his eyes, didn't he?"
Sasuke, almost afraid to admit to the overpowering emotion, the silent sense of amazement, is unable to speak as he watches the child who has all of an hour of a past, and he reels mentally over the fact that he, himself, is no longer bound so fixedly to the things that were holding him fixedly in his own.
As it is, one of his childhood goals literally stares him in the face… and it's like freedom.
A lifted curse. A broken illusion.
Softly, and yet still with a conviction that begs him to heed what she has to say, Sakura breathes, "It's alright to be amazed by your first and only child, you know."
Sasuke swallows, nonetheless, and hopes against reason that he won't start crying like a child, himself. "I know that, too."
In that light, far-off from dawn, the world is suddenly much more than goals.
It is anything and everything they will it to be.
-Freedom has a scent like the top of a newborn baby's head.
Long grass shuddered in the wind. The cicadas called out their ancient song in the blue-black dark of the evening. Fireflies flitted by, and random things – tree branches, blades of grass, the still-chubby fingers of her firstborn – lit sweetly up among the changing shadows.
Darkness was thick like liquid, here, and tangible like the sensation of depth that the blackest of eyes cast – eyes that cannot be read, eyes that will themselves to be indecipherable, eyes that seem deep like well-water. But there is a hidden depth of sweetness to be found in the deepest of wells, just as in the blackest of eyes and in the bleakest of evenings.
Sakura was no longer amazed when she unlocked the occasional mystery of the eyes that she, as a child, had tried so desperately and forcefully to read. She was no longer awestruck when she could enjoy a beautiful evening. But she would forever take pride in her ability to shatter Sasuke's guardedness with a soft or casual touch, and in her determinedness to keep spirit even during the longest hour – the most painful hour.
Evening – sunset – was like that, she supposed, because no matter what science or hope had to say, one could never be sure that the sun would once again rise for them.
And humid summer nights like this one were especially biting – lonely, even, when she allowed them to be – because they reminded her of that night: the one that had nearly denied her the treasure-full future she sat in, now. She hated remembering it, because an inner masochistic streak would always force her to look at him then, to seek out his well-guarded eyes… and for a moment, she would resent him. And given the fact that she loved him, that was terribly inconvenient.
So on summer nights, Sakura liked to watch the fireflies, and their dance of shadow and light.
She turns her head and looks out the window, spotted glass and yellow-gray clouds steering her thoughts swiftly from the textbooks lying on the table before her. At any other time, she wouldn't have done more than brush a glance along the glass fitted in that southern-facing wall, but today the contrast of the end-of-summer colors against the fallish-gray sky is too much to be ignored.
Immediately, of course, she is reminded of that day – the day clouds not unlike these had come and, when they had gone, swept away an entire chapter of her life.
The day the object of her love had punched a fist-sized hole through another very important friend.
Light had shone through the clouds like intangible hope, that day – yellow-white against gray and looming black. It had been almost gloriously – contrasts of light and dark, cold and patches of lukewarm, dying sunlight – for a moment. And then the sky had blanketed shut – stifling even the string-like shafts of light – and turned to cold, iron gray. For a day that had begun unmarred and cloudless, it had darkened eerily and completely.
Nature spoke in metaphors. That day had proved it.
Sakura shakes her head and, instead of symbols, tries to occupy her mind with the beauty to be found in the way the shadows fall in the yellowy-green trees just outside the window, on the misleading placidity of swiftly roiling clouds that might soon turn to thunderheads.
There had been a thunderstorm several days ago. Strange and heavy, it covered the village, battering it and only seeming to get worse – until one morning, when in place of the clouds, there sat a heavy pre-autumn heat that had everyone wishing for rain again. Even this morning had brought with it clear skies, but there had also been almost unbearable humidity and brief gusts of wind. Sakura guesses it might rain again, after all.
Momentarily, she is struck with the very ridiculous desire to spring out the door and down the stairs so she can turn her face up to that sky that is at once desolate and wild and far freer than she feels.
Inner Sakura has quite an easy time pinpointing just why it makes the girl feel so nostalgic – even if she is doing her utmost to ignore it.
The night Sasuke had left Konoha, she had had a dream – a dream of a wide field with tall yellow grass and a gray sky that didn't look quite so desolate – merely wistful… and there had been two shadows on the dusty ground, winding their way through a path that looked like it hadn't been walked all too often, before…
That field was lonely, but much had gone on there – something hinting at fires hung in the air, a trace of the thick smoke that had hung there like a lowering cloud. Red would have fit there nicely, she thought. But brief flashes of a day when the tall grass had been bent and broken and the clouds had let in pinprick shafts of sunlight – yellow and gold, triumph and something far-too-bright… when there had been blood splashed over the dirt, and dripping down the yellow blades like a crimson rain, absorbed into almost-black patches that would never quite fade… Those flickering images kept her from taking herself too seriously when she thought that red was a color meant for that silent place.
…what startled her the most, however, was the way the plain shifted from night into day whenever she found herself in it – for somehow, she knew, without another to illuminate it, the field could be… no, was perfectly as ease being as dark as a winter midnight and just as cold. And for the brief moment of the change – a moment she somehow always forgot, once it was over – there were shadows of the breed cast by moonlight: brilliant pale white cascading down onto grasses turned an unnatural blue, like the desert sands during a full moon. It was dark like sad music, like loneliness or like the remains of a charred, ruined house.
Which, in a way, she supposes the field is.
Now that it is a recurring dream, she knows it is symbolic.
In the dream's darkness, she can sometimes see him standing there, alone, looking up a sky wide and filled with stars that reflect in his black eyes in the same way they would have in deep water.
Even in the daylight of the dream – hell, Inner Sakura comments, even awake and disillusioned – she still sees, in his eyes, the nights of those reflected stars, the moon on black water… curiously pure, oddly transparent, even. And still concealing all, like a deep lake, secret water, not to be treaded without the light of day to turn it to shades of blue and green and gold.
Ironically, she feels closer to tears than she has in months. And she still wants to run outside and dash over a grass-covered hill, slick with rain… skip and perhaps fall down, laugh at herself, tears and rain mingling on her face.
She'd probably end up breaking an arm. And she knows if she allows the little girl who still dwells under the surface to emerge, she will never hear the end of it from her friends, whom she has fooled – or from Tsunade, whom she is sure she has not.
So she laughs at herself, tucks her hair back behind her ears, and turns again to the safety that the world of the written word brings to her.
Zipping darts of blackness and lighter switches of bright color against black-velvet evening.
You know these to be insects, but you can't keep from jumping, from turning your head too sharply to watch them. You can't help but feel a little disturbed by the world, made bigger in its obscurity – even when home is somewhere safely behind you, and you have friendly green eyes watching your back.
You run, they watch you, and you, at the very least, feel safe knowing that they always will.
For what must have been the thousandth time, Sakura wished she could tell what her son was thinking.
She looked at her husband, and knew that he was thinking that they'd better start heading back to the house – though she knew that he wouldn't say so aloud.
There was clearly distraction in his eyes, however, even as he watched the boy who was not yet tired of running through the scattered cloud of fireflies.
She wondered briefly, mischievously, whether he was at all occupied with what had transpired between them during their son's afternoon nap.
It had been the first day in a long while that they had been together, in their house at the same time for more than a brief stretch – and both of them had been able to forget, for the hour, that they were prime examples of what a shinobi was supposed to be. As the light began to turn from the white of noon to the gold of summer evening, they had been at liberty to stay lazy, still, and silent, holding each other as the sun peeked in dusty streams through the slits in the blinds.
And in fact, Sasuke was occupied with thought of a golden afternoon – but not the one she assumed.
There is a wedding going on across the lake.
Late afternoon sun stilts down into the small valley, casting long shadows along the bases of wiry trees. A chill wind sweeps over the water, picking up leaves and mussing bangs as it goes. Children run amuck, play-fight and shout high-pitched babble that conquers the hollow whistle of the breeze. The place smells like sweet grass and clean lake water.
What had possessed him to come here on such a day is a mystery – until he feels a warm weight press further into his side.
"Isn't that cute?"
He is unsure as to her subject – the irritatingly colorful assembly down the hill and across the shining body of water, or the tiny bundle sitting in the basket directly in front of her. But he can hear the smile in her words as she speaks, simultaneously resting her head against his shoulder. Winding an arm around his, she finds his hand and laces her fingers through his – probably more to take advantage of his body heat than anything else. He can't help but notice that the soft, bare skin of her arm is cold to the touch. And as if to prove his suspicious correct, she shivers – a deep chill that starts at the center of her chest and has her teeth clicking together.
The tremble in her jaw is even more blatant when she asks, "Aren't they?"
He makes a face at her – half because he knows she can't see it. "Who, them?"
She feels him nod toward the colorful crowd, the wedding party. She looks from them to the rest of the families scattered around the glassy surface that was the small lake, knowing that the unspoken last half of that question is 'or the child you insisted had to come out her today in this weather of all weather.'
In truth, it isn't really very chilly at all – mild, even, for a winter in the Fire Country. But if their seven-month-old son catches a chill on this their first family excursion away from the clan home, he can blame it on her idiotic sense of timing.
Smiling, not seeming to mind his slightly snuff-joy ways – or at least used to them – she replies, "All of them, I suppose."
Shivering again, she buries herself as far as she can into the warmth he offers, bringing the hand that isn't locked with his into her sleeve. In another time, he might have shifted away from her. But she is his wife now – and it can only bring trouble to him if he makes her angry.
"Why'd you want to come here anyway? You're freezing."
She is quiet for a second. Nodding at the wedding party, she explains, "I wanted to watch them."
"You don't even know them."
Indeed, she doesn't know them. They are a pair of random strangers surrounded by a glowing flock of yet more strangers. Though some faces are familiar, she sees nobody whose first name she knows.
After a long moment, she offers, "You're right. I don't know them." Peering seriously into his face, she insists, "But they're two shinobi of our village, and they've found happiness with each other. I think that's reason enough."
They are silent – not uncomfortably so, for they have grown accustomed to the comfortable silences of familiar friends and lovers – for a long while. The light is changing to heavy gold with late afternoon, and something about the day's raw, powerful beauty makes her want to smile and cry all at once.
Her smile wins out, however, when a tiny shriek from the basket before her calls her undivided attention.
Their son is blinking up at the sky, seeming to watch the clouds that roll lazily by, studying ancient lines and shadows which, to him, are brand new. His face is all amazement, his eyes all brilliant blue reflected on brilliant black.
He is in awe of the sky – wide and sunny and cloud-filled over him. But his parents are in awe of the sky shining in his eyes.
And for a split second, the two allow themselves to look upward – in tandem, if only for trying to remember a time when they were still children who knew how to be amazed by the sky.
But now that baby was really too big to be called a baby, anymore, and there was another one on the way.
Already it seemed as if Sakura was going to be one of those exceedingly fertile women – two kids in three years, quite clearly, was no mean feat. Perhaps it was no accident that her name had been Haruno – of spring.
The harsh, clipped, dry sound of the nightly chorus was beginning to remind Sasuke that they should have been back inside already. But the house was still fairly dark behind them, even with the lamps lit there. (They could leave them burning because of the anti-flame seals – which the house had to possess, given its owners – placed along the entire foundation.)
But Sakura didn't seem likely to move on her own unless he asked her – and in a way, he didn't want to, because she looked content, at peace.
And his son was suddenly babbling incoherently and laughing ridiculously, loudly, at something. Apparently, the bugs were far better playthings than Sasuke had thought, and the decision to take the few steps over the long grass to stand directly at the boy's side was not a difficult one.
"What can possibly be so amusing?" he asked
The child tilted his head upward, nearly falling backward as he looked up into his father's face. (Sasuke kneeled down to steady him quickly enough.) Shortly, a flicker of understanding crossed the boy's face, and seeing that he had something to share his discover with, the child pointed at a trail of ants that was lit sporadically by passing fireflies.
"Ah, I see." Sasuke smiled slightly. "And you don't even know why they amuse you, do you?"
"Of course he doesn't," Sakura retorted, grinning crookedly as she strolled toward them, folding the blanket she had been sitting on, brushing damp grass from the fuzzy surface. "I think logic goes on the backburner of development until the age of five, at least."
The child smiled, confirming Sakura's declaration without saying anything – still giggling to himself as he blinked, uncomprehending.
There was no meaning, no logic in it – but then, the child didn't need such things. His laughter screamed it clearly enough: life was something to be enjoyed, even if one lacked reason.
To Sasuke, it was as if the boy was speaking for him.
Inspired by the poem "Speaking" by Simon J. Ortiz (go to my livejournal if you wanna read it – link is in my profile), which is beautiful in its simplicity – and I don't know quite why, but when I read it, I saw this scene. If you read the poem, you probably won't think automatically of SasuSaku… but after reading this, you'll hopefully understand why I did.
If you'll notice, all the flashbacks are in present tense. (It should be easy to tell which are the flashbacks and which are the current timeline bits, I hope…) Yes, I did that on purpose – and I'll bet you if you've watched the series carefully, you'll know why. XD
The quote at the end of the second section is from the U2 song Miracle Drug.
All-Purpose-Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, the characters (except for their son… who has no name in my head, yet…), or the quote. Or the poem that inspired me. But inspiration is free – which is why we have fanfiction in the first place.
This is technically my first Naruto fanfiction. It is a stand-alone, but there is a series of one-shots that can go with it. These have yet to be polished, however, and I have to figure out their vague sense of continuity before I post them anywhere. XD
Thanks for reading!