notes: бог (God), боль (pain), конец (end). It's a little painful to post the end of this, but also very satisfying. Too many things inspired this for me to name them here. Thank you so much to everyone for reading and reviewing – you're wonderful, and all deserve happy endings.
"To be godless is probably the first step to innocence," he said, "to lose the sense of sin and subordination, the false grief for things supposed to be lost."
"So by innocence you mean not an absence of experience, but an absence of illusions."
"An absence of need for illusions," he said. "A love of and respect for what is right before your eyes."
- from 'The Vampire Lestat', by Anne Rice
Dark strands of hair were hanging over his eyes – eyes cast downwards at his lap, not daring to look anywhere else. The memory of a pale face stricken. His hands, the hands of someone still a boy, were clutching his knees and his shoulders were tensed, doing their best not to tremble. Breathing. Then standing.
Then walking away.
The image of Sasuke ripples and fades smoothly, capsizing, and sinking beneath the surface without any resistance. Itachi is able to label this "memory", and lets the sensations that always come along with it die away, overthrown by the dull roar of the engine and the wind streaming by outside his window. His temple is pressed to the cool glass and there is a light sweat developing on his neck, sticky against the collar of his shirt. It's a warm Sunday in May; the afternoon sunlight is harsh, letting all the world erupt in brilliant colour as it races by. The leaves are greener, the flowers vibrantly yellow, pink, blue (because of the light, yes and that's all, right? Because he hasn't seen such things for a long time…). Illuminated.
"Itachi? Ah, you're awake."
His mother's eyes peer at him in the rear-view mirror. Kindly, he decides, (as he sees it that way). She's smiling.
"We're almost there, but you can sleep a little more if you want. It's a long ride, I know."
They hit a bump on the road and Itachi's limp body is thrown back a bit before he steadies himself once more. He likes that Mikoto isn't trying too hard, or forcing conversation (they'd spent the three and something hours since she'd picked him up in a comfortable silence). It would be unpleasant if she were trying too hard, or if he were trying at all. He closes his eyes again, just letting things be as they are. Letting himself adjust. Those two and a half years seem like a long time, just now.
It wasn't like he went all that time without seeing them, though. No, they visited on his birthday, on Christmas, a few times during each summer. Still, these were only glimpses of them – his mother, his brother, these people he used to know and who used to know him, but it wasn't really like that anymore. (In his mind's eye: Sasuke, taller and less boyish, handing him the gifts – always books – they'd brought with soft, delicate hands, but not looking at him yet. His family had separated from him, grown different in a way. The only way he could think of describing it was "brighter". Or had he become duller?) Things were different inside there, but he got it all sorted out. Now he can keep it straight all by himself, and he's gone, finally – gone from days passed the same, over and over inside of that dull room, with those people trying to pry inside his head. They asked questions and questions and questions until finally it all spilled out!
He had been surprised, honestly, how good it felt when that happened. Cleaning up was a bit difficult, but it was done, over – "the past" (meaning not something he has to worry about anymore. So they told him. How? he wonders, because isn't his past and his memories what makes up "Itachi" as he is now? Perhaps "Itachi" has just created these things for himself…). He's got all this time ahead of him now that he has to think about. After the approaching summer finishes, he can go back to high school to finish up (he can pick up where he left off but it's not quite the same), and what after that? Anything he wants. He can choose anything he wants! Anything, anything, anything. What a word that is.
Again, he opens his eyes. This time they're turning into a gravel driveway, with large trees on either side, branches reaching up to the sky. Glancing back, he can see a field on the other side of the road, stretching on and on in waves of green and gold. Wisps of clouds floated just above the horizon, tangling with one another as the wind pushes them on, a single airplane cutting through the sky high above.
The car comes to a stop and Mikoto cuts the engine.
"Well, here we are." She leans back in her seat, rolling her shoulders a bit to release the stiffness built up from the drive. "You can head on in, look around. I'll get your things from the trunk."
Itachi hops out of the car, feeling the blood in his legs begin to move again as he takes a quick, squinted look around. Hidden behind voluptuous branches is the house, it seems, its walls patterned in shadows cast by the leaves. It's not very large, with white siding and wild-growing flora scattered around its perimeter. This, where his actions have brought him, the future he had a hand in creating…
He inhales, thickly, and heads inside.
At first, as he carefully closes the door behind him, Itachi feels a little like an intruder. A little unwanted. But he shouldn't, he knows, because this is where he's going to live now. They want him to live here, with them, so it shouldn't feel so forced. He tries to relax a little as he slips off his shoes. It's nice inside. Streaks of translucent sunlight cut through the room, dust floating lazily inside of them – this is the living room, he guesses. There's a television against one wall with a sofa in front of it, and a half-filled bookshelf to the side. And on the far wall, there, yes, a piano (their old piano, has to be) with its cover open to reveal the keys.
He pauses a moment, uncertain, before taking a few steps forwards. There's a small landscape painting propped up on top, and a few picture-frames in front of it, some filled with old photographs and others new ones. His eyes roll over them slowly – he can remember when some of these were taken, and honestly it feels a tiny bit strange to look at himself in a younger state, and now, adjacent this…
Feeling as if he's been caught (doing what?), Itachi whirls around, one arm reaching back to stable himself. His splayed hand lands on the keyboard and a mishmash of tones ring loudly for a moment, disappearing again as he quickly pulls his arm back to his side. His breathing is short and heavy now but he tried to calm it, looking up, up further, there. Standing in the doorway, dark eyes focused on him, is Sasuke. It's the older, less boyish version of Sasuke who visited him and who now lives in some photographs.
"Hi." Itachi isn't sure what else to say. He discovers it's harder than he expected to look at this person – this new Sasuke that he doesn't yet know, this new Sasuke whom he wants to know and is staring at him (curiously?). His sunburnt lips are held taut, inky strands of hair hanging about his head uncombed. He's taller now, definitely, and slimmer as well; a slender neck rising from out of a loose black – no, just a deep blue T-shirt, from finely rounded shoulders (but it's just a neck, just shoulders). Maybe, Itachi thinks, I should look away.
A soft "meow" comes from the ground by Sasuke's legs, where a chestnut brown tabby cat has begun weaving in and out around his ankles, demanding attention. This new Sasuke (he'd be eleven now, wouldn't he?) looks a little embarrassed, bending down quickly to scoop up his pet.
"Ssh," he tells it, holding the feline like one would a child. "Quiet, Phe, I already fed you." He looks back up at Itachi. "Her name's Ophelia. We got her… I dunno, a while ago."
Itachi wants to smile but settles for a nod, watching as the cat jumps out of Sasuke's arms and scampers out down the hall (Sasuke grimaces at the cat hair on his hands and wipes them on his shorts). Should I say something?, Itachi wonders. Probably. But what should he say? There's so much – maybe even too much.
Luckily, Mikoto comes in at this moment, her arms full of boxes. Sasuke rushes to hold the door open for her and Itachi ends up feeling useless. An interesting thing for him to feel, useless…
"Thank you," Mikoto says, glancing from Sasuke to Itachi, and back to Sasuke.
"Mom, do you need some help carrying all that in?"
"No, no, I'm fine. There's only one more." She strides across the room without taking off her sandals, calling over her shoulder, "but why don't you make some tea or something, Sasuke?"
Sasuke looks at Itachi, who is surprised by his brother's boldness, (and maybe a little frightened by it – a thrill it is to feel that again…). There's hardly any hesitance in that look. "You want some tea?"
Itachi nods, and follows Sasuke into the kitchen. The sun is prevalent here as well, shining through the curtains to fill the room right up. Mikoto has some chimes hanging in the open window, glinting and spinning as the wind saunters in.
"What kind?" asks Sasuke, rummaging through the cupboard.
"Any kind, I guess," Itachi says.
"Mom's been on a tea kick lately," Sasuke explains quietly while they wait for the water to boil. "It's a little weird to be drinking it when it's so warm out, but she loves it. Last month she did a lot of things with eggs. She's…" He pauses, eyes thoughtful as he searches for the right way to say what he's thinking (and Itachi knows this can be hard). "She's been really happy the past while. Things were rough at first when we moved in, and she started working from home – she does advertisement design, that sort of thing. She paints as well, when she has the time. I guess she wasn't used to being so independent, but she really likes it now, though Grandma's right down the road if we ever need her. It's only a short walk into town, too.
"This place seemed like the middle of nowhere at first, but I don't mind it now. It's… oh, sorry, you've probably heard all of this before." Sasuke looks down, cheeks reddened (but only slightly).
"I don't mind," Itachi says. He quite liked listening to Sasuke talk, actually, settling into the rhythm of his voice (deeper now, richer). However, he doesn't say so.
The kettle begins to whistle. Steam rises from its spout, uncurling from tight ribbons until they're too thin to be seen any longer.
Leaving a cup steeping on the table for Mikoto, Sasuke and Itachi take their drinks out onto the back porch. No sunlight reaches them there, leaving a cool well of shadow for them to sit under. Sasuke takes a seat on the bench-swing and holds his tea tightly in his hands, blowing on the surface to cool it off (ripples, lapping against the sides and threatening to spill over). He glances up at Itachi, vaguely amused.
"You can sit down too, you know."
Staring at his reflection in the surface of his cup, Itachi does.
For a while they just remain there, soundless as they sip away their drinks. Itachi pretends to be fascinated with the garden beyond the railing (all this life!) but really, he's trying to sneak glances at Sasuke whenever he can. It will take time to adjust, of course, he can't rush it. It's hard not to, though. He wants badly to be a part of this again. Well, not again. This is a whole new thing here, a different thing – though is it really that different? He doesn't know. Nevertheless, he'll find out in time.
Sasuke leans down to put his empty cup on the floor, and then he pushes against the floor his feet so swing rocks a little – back and forth, back and forth (an innately comforting motion). He sighs.
"At first, I wanted to hate you. Thought it'd be easier that way – I wouldn't miss you if I was glad you were gone. It didn't really work though… And you know, now I'm glad that you're back with us," Sasuke is murmuring. "It does get a little lonely, being a two person family. I don't know where Dad is now, and I don't care." His voice is callous for those words, fingers tightening into fists. A few moments later, he calms. "Doesn't matter, I guess."
Yes, this new Sasuke is different in ways from the old Sasuke he used to know, but Itachi knows that he himself has changed too. It's unavoidable. As time passes, one changes, and grows, and has to leave childhood behind, eventually. But the death of the child marks the birth of an adult. Without change, there can be no progress.
"I think you'll like it here," continues Sasuke. "We saved the piano, in case you still want to play. You don't have to. I mean, I'd like you too…"
However, just because something changes doesn't mean what it was before will be entirely lost.
Itachi swallows his last bit of tea, lukewarm liquid trickling down his throat – a sensation. Everything was – the humming of bees in the garden, the casual brush of Ophelia's tail against his leg, the refreshing cool of the shade, and Sasuke beside him, pushing the swing gently with his feet. Impossibly intricate yet so simple and effortless, all at the same time. This is life, brimming.
This is a second chance…
Setting down his cup, Itachi reaches over tentatively to loop an arm around Sasuke's shoulders. Both of them pause momentarily as they touch (while the swing keeps going, back and forth), glancing at each other (eyes meeting eyes, we're here, we're real) quickly before the distance is closed. The familiarity of it is reassuring – Sasuke's temple against Itachi's collarbone, one of Itachi's hands in Sasuke's hair. The embrace is loose, and it feels right. This is right, it has to be, Itachi thinks, feeling Sasuke exhaled against his chest, heart beating strongly, swelling. Living – we're living now, aren't we? This has to be real, doesn't it?
"Welcome home, Nii-san…"