A Last Request
Written by: Mikami
Summary: It suddenly happened; Uchiha Sasuke's death, though unforeseen, was not in vain after the final mission of his life. His last words were taken in by the most unexpected comrade, Hyuga Neji—" Don't let her be unhappy, Hyuga……I don't ever want to see her unhappy."
Author's notes: This story was written some time in 2003 and was taken down around 2005 due to...things. I had "retired" but I guess not completely since I do browse the site on occasion. Anyway, Naruto is not mine.
Warnings: Profanity, sexuality, main character death.
It was the only word used to describe the actions of rage, agony and blinding fury as streaks of red, black, yellow and orange exploded beyond the mist-filled terrain of the forest clearing. Two down; there were three left to fight.
An earth-shattering holler was heard clearly through the fog, coming from the faint outline of a figure bound in tattered, bloody clothing. Body hunched over from exhaustion and pain, it also twitched with anger and seething determination. Speed kicked up its heels, rushing headlong into the enemy but getting harshly thrown to the side, tumbling away and skidding through the mud. A sickening thump resonated into the atmosphere, combined with the other sounds of splintering trees and the vicious rustling of falling branches.
Three down, two left to fight.
He didn't want to be the one to tell her. News like this would be highly inappropriate to be coming from someone like him, someone that didn't even know anything past her name or her appearance. He didn't know where she lived; he had to ask directions from Kakashi. Most of all, he wasn't even a friend, let alone an acquaintance that had the justification to watch the world crumble before her eyes.
The sun was annoyingly hot today and the air was sticky and humid. But despite the clamminess, birds were chirping and trees were sweeping the cerulean blue sky clear of the cotton ball clouds as random village folk enjoyed themselves outside to relax, play or fancy an outside snack. The scene was a complete picture of a cruel mockery in its own ignorance from the stench of horror, chaos and death. However, despair was soon about to have its turn.
Five paces. Hyuga Neji had unconsciously counted how many he'd have to take until he reached Haruno Sakura's front steps. He took a wrong turn a few minutes ago but corrected himself, therefore ending up at the right destination at last. Expelling a forced sigh, Neji proceeded onwards until he was facing the wood of her door. His fist connected against it in a slow but cordial knock.
A few hellish seconds passed by, rendering Neji a bit impulsive and anxious to put this moment behind him. For awhile he entertained the thought of leaving and pushing the duty onto someone else that was better suited for it.
Neji's foot moved an inch backward as his brain started to give into the solution of leaving Sakura in the dark. But the padding of running steps on the other side of the door suddenly rooted him to the spot. The door opened, revealing a pair of emerald eyes and a wide smile. Her petal-pink hair was down that morning, long and glossy from the shower she just had and for once her attire was different. In place of the usual sleeveless, red dress that was uniform, she wore a strapped, ivory-white sundress.
Her appearance made Neji's lack of enthusiasm grow tenfold. It made it harder and more inappropriate, seeing as how her pretty attire was solely put together for the return of Uchiha Sasuke.
The wide smile on Sakura's face dropped a few joyful watts when she realized the young man standing at the door wasn't the person she missed every day for two months. Nonetheless, she was still able to give Neji a greeting smile since he was apart of the team Sasuke led to the Earth Country.
" Neji," she said with obvious astonishment. This was truly a revelation; there wasn't an incident where she and Neji had a one-on-one encounter before.
As usual the expression on his face was bare of any emotion with lips set at a grim line. He gave her a short, curt nod in greeting instead of voicing it.
" This is a surprise," smiled Sakura, opening the door wider. " Won't you come in ? You're standing in the horrible heat."
" No…it's fine. I'll just stand here," He replied, flinching inwardly at her good mood.
" Don't be silly. You're already sweating buckets."
Before he could say anything further, Neji found himself inside her house. It was a quaint little place; not too big or too small. It was clean but looked cozy and lived-in. He vaguely remembered passing by a conversation she had with Hinata in the past; something about moving into a place of her own once she turned twenty-five. And here it was. The living room was plush with a loveseat and two extra chairs while the kitchen had a cheerful yellow theme to it, complete with a round table fit for four or five people. Further from the entrance where he stood rigid, stairs led the way up to the rooms.
" Are you thirsty ? I'll get you a glass of water." She retreated into the kitchen without giving him a chance to refuse.
Her good mood was threatening to force him out. If it had been a regular day in the past, she wouldn't have invited him in and offered him a drink.
" I don't need anything. I just want to talk to you." He said gravely.
" What ? Could you say that again ?" Sakura's voice rang from the kitchen.
Neji sighed exasperatingly and met her at the doorframe as she momentarily fumbled around to pour him some water in a glass that was decorated with swimming, multicolored fish.
" Listen to me." Neji began again when she shoved the glass into his hands.
" Okay, just a sec." She said distractedly. Then opening a cupboard, she stood on her tiptoes and tried to reach for a jar.
" Sakura…" He was becoming impatient.
Sakura hadn't caught wind of his edginess as she continued toward the table in the kitchen. On top of the table sat a small and charming-looking cheesecake. The jar she opened held a sweet smelling strawberry preserve, which she began spreading on top with a spoon.
It was too hard. Neji fought to keep his impatience from overriding the foreign feeling of the emotion they called "compassion". Sakura's actions and happiness before his eyes were big red signs leading him to the conclusion that all this preparation was for Sasuke. And him, Hyuga Neji, closest to the status of a stranger in her home, was about to ruin everything for her.
" We just got back last night…" He said tonelessly. " I'm sure you already knew about our arrival."
" I was counting down the days." Sakura smiled again.
" The mission was successful but..."
" Of course it was. You, Shikamaru, Lee and Naruto were in Sasuke's unit."
After another labored pause, Neji continued, " That's not the point. Our team endured severe handicaps; Lee suffers third degree burns on his upper body, Shikamaru's arm and leg are badly fractured and Naruto…is in a coma."
The smile on Sakura's face faded quickly with the description Neji put forth. It was also the first time she noticed, since she let him in, the numerous bandages around both his arms and legs, as well as the way he limped. The young woman gasped as fear slowly seeped into her eyes. It began to travel down her spine and into the core that was her stomach.
" Are-are they alright ? Everyone's here at the hospital aren't they ?" Her voice turned pleading. She took a step toward him imploringly and heedlessly began to grasp the jar in her hands tighter.
" Yes, they are." Neji pursed his lips firmly afterward.
Shock was already encircling through her veins and the proclamation of a successful mission was reduced to nothingness. Sakura had also noticed Neji's failure to mention the raven-haired Uchiha.
" I…I have to see Sasuke." She managed out. " Tell me where he is."
Silence. Neji's pale, glassy eyes stared into her widened emerald ones. His face was set in the grimmest fashion, body unmoving to her pleas. On the counter his drink remained untouched and abandoned. He couldn't find the proper words so instead he opted for her to figure it out herself. One by one he could count the number of emotions that passed over her face, including confusion, anxiety, stress and all else in between.
" Neji, tell me where Sasuke is ! Is he hurt ?" Sakura's voice rose in a desperate demand as a ball of fear knotted her insides.
But the Hyuga turned away, reluctant to answer her and to see the raw emotion in her eyes. Emotion was too much of an discomfited and useless complexity to him.
His silence made her angry. Sakura abruptly closed the distance between them and grabbed fistfuls of his beige shirt.
" Where is he ? Answer me !" She begged, her voice on the verge of yelling.
Neji inhaled tensely, looking down at her with the answer on his face. A searing ache cut through Sakura's chest; her face crumbled while a small choke erupted from the back of her mouth. Her breathing became labored; it turned into straining struggles against the onslaught of hot, painful tears. The grip she had on Neji's shirt tightened drastically as her teeth clenched in a desperate attempt not to believe him.
Sakura began to shake her head with the new appearance of small sobs.
" Sa…Sasuke……no, no, no !" She choked out. " No…you're lying. Stop lying to me ! He's…he's not…"
He knew it would be like this. So that's what it felt like to end someone else's world in a totally different way—not by taking their life, but by bringing upon them something they dreaded to hear. Neji stared down at the weeping girl; he also knew she was angry with him.
Of all people, Sakura questioned inwardly why it was Hyuga Neji that brought her the news. Obviously not Naruto because of his physical state but why not Kakashi ? Didn't he care about how she felt ? Sakura felt anger rise up with her tears. Neji didn't know anything; bringing her this news probably was just a mundane and unwanted task.
Sakura's shoulders began to shake violently and Neji discovered her lack of balance because her legs were giving way. Her body became slack, having no desire to stand any longer and so she fell against him, his chest being the only support. The fistfuls of his shirt that she held tightly in her grasp were hardened and through the fabric, her nails dug into the flesh of her palms and made crescent moon wounds.
Her sounds became louder against his chest with each second but were muffled from their true volume because of his shirt and Neji felt her warm bitter tears seeping through.
The situation, though heartbreaking to another person, felt foreign and awkward to the Hyuga. Although his stance supported her slender frame, his shoulders tensed and his arms stayed rigid at his sides. But he wasn't completely without compassion. A tiny corner of his heart, among the hardened and cold interior, gave her the sympathy she desired at that moment.
Slowly, Sakura's sobs became low, grieving moans and when she finally had the strength to look up at him, her face was terribly tearstained. The bright emerald eyes that shone before were hollow and full of despair, reddened from the flood of her tears.
" I'm sorry." Neji spoke finally, in a hushed tone.
Sakura resisted against another wave of anguish and forced herself to let go of his shirt, which now had specks of blood from her palms.
" Did you……bring back his body ?" she asked in a whisper.
" Yes. Uchiha Sasuke is to be put to rest here at Konoha."
Neji felt her nod at his answer. The next question he expected from her was to ask about how Sasuke's life ended but she stayed silent. All sense of emotion and awareness seemed to be drained from her body, leaving a lifeless shell. Sakura's shoulders stopped shaking and so did her cries; however, tears continued to blur her vision, slipping down her cheeks in mournful paths.
Her legs finally gave way and Sakura fell on her knees with a thud. Wrapping her arms around herself, she reeled over and screamed. She screamed and screamed and screamed.
The shattering noise of bark and splinters were dead giveaway that Naruto had just been put out of commission. Through the fog in the distance, the outline of a muddy orange jacket and pants were stationary on the ground.
" NARUTO !" Shouted a cracked voice to the right.
The enemy grinned widely in excitement at the sight of rage in his next opponent's eyes--the red and black eyes of the Sharingan. Sweeping quickly to the left, the enemy cleared the spot, lashing out a speeding fist, which the raven-haired young man barely avoided.
A heated shower of fire rained down from the ceiling treetops from an unseen position; the enemy looked up. He had only a few seconds to react to dodge the blanket of inferno.
Eyes of the Sharingan blinked in horrified surprise when his flames were made useless. The follow up assault came from behind; it was the searing pain of a kunai, jutting forth from his back.
Then the world began to fall as his body was made into a motionless rag doll, plummeting helplessly to the ground.
Footsteps were heard near his head and a flash of long, ragged, chestnut hair was seen.
" Sasuke !" The voice choked.
But there was no time to react. Sasuke reached behind his back and grasped the handle of the kunai, which was buried deeply into the base of his spine. Hyuga Neji who was ahead of him, rushed forward to another tackle to buy Sasuke time to regroup.
However, there was no more time. Sasuke was unable to move his legs.
Gasping half from pain and half from desperation, Sasuke let go of the bloodied kunai--it was too deeply lodged inside. He looked up just in time to see Neji absorb a chakra-powered blow to the ribs. A stream of blood splattered onto the robes of their enemy.
Sasuke's wretched arms extended in front of him, grabbing a hold of the slippery dirt below and began to drag himself to the fray. At an ailing cost, the damaged base of his back caused his agonizing gasps to double. He reached behind one last time and with a battered hand, pulled out a tattered scroll.
Neji shook his head quickly of memory as his head once again was filled with the cries of Sakura.
His duty was done and now it was time to depart. He had no more of a wish to watch her drown in her own sorrow. Without any words of comfort, Neji turned around to exit the kitchen.
Suddenly, he felt a hand grab his ankle. Looking back slowly, he found Sakura on the floor, holding onto him with a shaky grip.
" Please...please don't leave me alone...I...don't want to...be alone right now..." She sobbed softly.
Neji was highly unwilling to grant her request as he dubbed her actions as a waste of time on his part. But her cries, heavily burdened by despair, forced his own desires down and he finally complied.
Sighing hesitantly, Neji dropped to his knees to face her.
" Thank you..." Sakura managed to whisper.