Author's Note: Welcome to the last chapter of The Weak's End. It's taken me nearly a year to complete this story, even though it's not that long. For those of you who stuck with me this entire time, thank you, I appreciate it more than I can say. For new readers who didn't have to put up with my month(s)-long absences between posts, you may be the lucky ones. Either way, it's been a journey that I myself had no idea where it was going until the very end, but I think it turned out rather well. For those that are curious, the songs did come before the chapters and were my main inspiration, so to enhance the reading experience, please look them up. I found nearly every one on youtube. With that said, and without further ado, I present you with the conclusion to my beloved story. Enjoy.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, Emery or any of their songs.
Chapter 10: The Secret
Sakura awoke to the rolling rumble of thunder and a darkened room. Her first thoughts were to simply stay conscious, chasing off the effects of drug-induced fatigue. Her head throbbed and spun as she blinked glass-green eyes, attempting to focus her fuzzy vision. Another grumble from outside her window past by and she wondered vaguely how long she had been asleep. It felt like forever.
It was then that she noticed a silhouette in the corner of the room. Her fine brow wrinkled as she closed her eyes against the wave of dizziness rewarded for her efforts. A moment later, Sakura reopened them to concentrate on the shadow which may have been just an odd refraction of light. But a person was definitely there, watching her. Their presence slowly filtered throughout the room, becoming strangely ominous. It moved forward as soon as it was recognized.
"Shishou?" the bed-ridden kunoichi stared in confusion as her mentor stepped into the thin silver light.
"Sakura," the older woman started, approaching her side, "I'm glad you're awake. There's something you need to know."
Lightning struck somewhere not so far away, the force of it seeming to shake the entire building. A storm was brewing, although rain refused to fall, and somehow Sasuke felt relieved by it. Unlike the day where he lost an eye, his only sibling and his lover, this weather was suited to the occasion. The sun was blotted out by swirling black clouds opposed to the cheerful rays that had lit the scene of tragedy. Now, as the time came where he would finally relent his life, the conditions would be rather cliché. Perfect.
For reasons beyond him – the convicted Uchiha hadn't requested it – those who stood guard allowed him to see daylight, or what was left of it, for the last time. What he saw was an ode to a proud, fallen people not meant for the world. Suddenly, everything gained finitude and become pointless in the male's mind. All he had worked for, all he was passionate about added up to nothing and Sasuke found himself regretting that he hadn't been more selfish, if that were at all possible. Maybe then he would be facing death at the hand of his own village with more to show for his hollow existence.
Absently, the dark man brought a hand up to his face, the other following limply – being bound by chakra-infused shackles. Long, calloused fingers touched his brow for the first time since the encounter with his brother. Slowly, those fingers traveled down the deep scar that ran nearly the length of the right side of his face, ending beside the corner of his mouth. There was a fleshy cavern that once held his most precious ability, now sealed shut to obstruct the view into his skull. The slice had once been clean, a score specific to a sharpened katana blade. But with the wound marking the start of the battle, it became ragged over time. And now, as the once arrogant male considered the demise of his eye, there was little remorse.
What will I say when I see her again? It had become a new obsessive thought. Ever since his sentencing yesterday, all of Sasuke's energy was placed into his musings of reuniting with the one person he wronged the most. There were several scenarios that involved drawn out, heart-felt apologies and telling her things that he never said before or what he should have done differently. Though words would always be fleeting, especially for the man who wasn't in the least bit eloquent, and the most genuine request for forgiveness would be presented through actions. If the higher powers did allow them to be together again, he would plead her pardon with his hands and mouth. There would be no hesitation or reservations revolving around self-importance that had kept him from her in the past. No other thoughts would occur beyond worshiping the woman who deserved so much more than he could ever hope to offer. If only he had been so open-minded before now.
Then again, fantasies always held ideal outcomes. There was a more realistic chance that she would just walk away and leave him in the darkness he so warranted. Hell. Sasuke's Hell would be nothing short of her complete rejection of him.
How the mighty have fallen, he thought. Though to be great means that, inevitably, one must be humbled. And so he sat there and watched the light reflect within a turbulent sky from beyond barred windows, a grave expression adding years to his appearance. Each clash reminded him of his previous potential and how, at one time that felt so far away now, he could harness such power.
'Sakura…' He didn't know if it would be within a fog, in the light or shadows.
'Sasuke-kun,' her eyes would be wide and innocent as ever, just like he left her. No more pain dwelled in this place. She was so uncontaminated. 'What..?'
'Sakura, I'm sorry.'
A growl of thunder and then the rain that had threatened to fall all morning finally came down, starting slowly and then tumbled in sheets. It hammered at the glass.
'Please, don't be sorry.'
'But I am. How can I make it up to you? Anything, anything at all in my power I will do.'
"Uchiha, it's time," a nameless voice spoke and remained faceless to the man ushered to his feet and away from the window.
'Love me,' she whispered it, but the words resonated through every inch of him.
They traveled through passageways, down a flight of stairs before the cold stone walls of the building became white-washed. It was almost as if he had stepped into a hospital, but the way their shallow footsteps bounced off the barren walls, he knew it was nothing like the life-saving place. It smelled of bleach and death. They finally came to a heavy door at the end of the hall. It had a small plexiglas window and inside he could see a medical cot surrounded by steel trays and electronic equipment.
'Don't worry,' he sounded so light-hearted there with her, as if he were the man that he was intended to be and not who he had actually become. 'I already do.'
This was it. He always imaged entering into the dusk of life through some courageous mêlée. His name would have been carved on that stone at the center of the city, or else he would be revered throughout the nations, his reputation blown out of proportion just like any other legend. Disgrace was never in the plan. Dying in the heat of battle, by a fatal wound or even old age after he lived a secret life, perhaps. But never this.
Death by lethal injection.
He kissed her then in his mind and she welcomed the embrace. They were caught in a zealous exchange as he stepped through the door and began to make love to her as it clicked closed behind him. Soon, so very soon.
The heavens appeared to open up, pouring out all it had as a pregnant silence was cast over Sakura's recovery room. The rain thrummed almost rhythmically and the kunoichi found herself lost in the sound as Tsunade's news sunk in. The man she risked everything she ever strived for was scheduled for execution today at noon. Today at noon. Noon…
Those words hit her like a physical blow, causing the woman to shoot up in her bed, eyes searching frantically for a clock. The digital time stared back at her, red numbers unyielding. 12:07.
"No…" it was barely audible as she watched the clock in disbelief, almost as if she were expecting it to change its mind. When the seven flicked to an eight, the healer's protest was gruesome.
"No!" was the blood-curdling shriek, emphasized by the sharp, piercing crackle of thunder.
Tsunade was there, holding her like a child as she wailed, rocking the woman to try and calm her. Stroking her matted pink locks, the elder made soft shushing sounds.
"That's not what I came here to tell you, Sakura," the Hokage spoke against her ear. "There are a lot of things you don't know, so it's crucial that you listen carefully if you want to see that man again."
Her whole body trembling furiously, the apprentice looked up at her master with deeply confused eyes, probing the other for any ounce of hope that she could cling to. Hiccupping, Sakura tried with all her might to settle enough to concentrate on what was to be said.
"What d-do you mean?"
Bottomless, sorrowful bronze eyes met with her own as her mentor paused, rummaging for the right words.
"There is so much I have to redeem myself for, Sakura. I know that I have mistreated you in many ways, so granting your life seems to be the least I can do."
"Only he can save himself."
"Take one more step and I'll slit your throat," a low, gravelly voice said from behind them, and the kunai that threatened the guard glittered with promise beyond the shadows.
There was only one person that rumbling tone belonged to, but Sasuke never fathomed that his stupidity stretched this far. Glancing about, the Uchiha confirmed the thought, seeing three men in white coats already spread on the ground, unmoving.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, Naruto?" the darker man hissed.
"Uzumaki, just you wait!" the nameless shinobi started once his attacker was identified. A swift blow to the neck and a collapsed body later, the warnings were silenced.
Sasuke couldn't contain his shock, something akin to dismay carving itself on his ashen face. Though upon closer inspection, none of the fallen were dead, but he suspected once they were conscious again, his former teammate would be buried up to his ears in condemnation. He turned to the blonde and opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off.
"Let me make my own decisions, Teme. I know what I'm getting myself into," he sounded much too confident, but there was something else in this expression. Light brows tucked in close as eyes drooped. They were only in their early twenties, but Sasuke could see the lines forming in the other man's face.
"Naruto, you damned blind idiot, I deserve this. I -"
"Will you shut up and stop with the pity party for once!" the demon vessel snapped, all traces of exhaustion dissolved into fury. "The entire time that I've known you, all you've done is feel sorry for yourself. Yeah, it's been a pretty shitty life, but get the hell over it. You have no idea what I've gone through to be here to save your miserable ass, and you complain about it."
From the moment he left Sakura's bedside the day before, Naruto had set out on a personal mission to correct all the wrong-doings involving his friends. Being a self-imposed hero, how could he do anything less? It was the trend for over ten years and he only built momentum. The hospital was a few blocks over from the Hokage's tower and the blonde made short work of it. A few leaps and bounds and the next thing he knew, he was pounding on Tsunade's door.
"Open up, Baa-chan, we need to talk!" the only reason he didn't storm right in was because the door was uncharacteristically locked.
There was silence from the other side. "Granny Tsunade, it's important!" his fist continued to hammer on the wooden barricade.
When Naruto finally heard footsteps approaching, he gave it a rest in eager anticipation. The face that greeted him a few seconds later was that of the Hokage's assistant, Shizune. The woman tried to smile politely, but her soft features were unmistakably grim.
"I'm sorry, Naruto-kun, but the Lady is extremely preoccupied. Why don't you come back tomorrow?"
"It'll be too late by then. You don't understand, I need to see her now," the much larger man started to advance, but was cut off as the dark haired kunoichi closed the door until it was a mere slit to talk through.
"The Hokage can't take visitors right now and-"
"Tsunade!" Naruto, who was never one to take no for an answer, bellowed through the crack while attempting to shove it open again. "This is a life or death situation, so I'm not leaving until I speak with you!"
"Naruto-kun!" the apprentice pushed at the door with all her strength, but soon became no match for her opponent.
The blonde came barreling in, nearly stumbling to the ground with the force of his persistence. The welcome he received wasn't exactly warm from the woman perched behind her desk. A scowl took over her delicate lips, reaching all the way to her now stony brown eyes.
"Don't you have sense enough to listen, Naruto? I'm much too busy to discuss trivial matters with you," and by the mountains of paperwork that nearly smothered out her writing table, the statement wasn't far from the truth.
"You're always busy and this isn't trivial! People are saying that Sakura is dead and Sasuke just got blamed for it. I want to know what's going on."
"That's a private case and not of your concern."
"Like hell! How can it be private when it's all the media can fucking talk about?"
"Watch your tongue!" the Hokage slammed her hands against the desk and rose from her chair. "It's none of your business."
"They're my best friends, of course it's my business!" by this time, they were both roaring, trying to override the other. Naruto, never one to be shown up, was also leaning up against the desk on the opposite side. His face grew ridged as he evenly looked the woman in the eye, his tone shifting to be low and serious, "I won't let you kill them."
"Don't look at me like I'm the murderer," the lady's pitch mimicked his as the cerulean gaze pierced her. "I'm just doing what's best."
"By taking away their lives? I hardly see how that's a good decision."
The Hokage frowned before the anger melted away into something different – regret. As she sank back into her chair, just for a moment, her true age seemed to show through the lovely mask she wore.
"There are things you don't know, Naruto."
"Then fill me in. I'm not leaving until I know they are safe."
"Hn, safety is an illusion," her bitter words revealed experience.
"It doesn't even count if they're dead," his urgency was still apparent.
Tsunade lingered on her thoughts for what felt like forever, folding her hands as she stared off to one side. She looked as if she was indecisive on the topic. Finally, she spoke.
"I did it all for her," the blonde leader spoke softly, not making eye contact. "She's been through a great deal; so much so I don't think even time can heal it at this point. I started all this because I care her like my own daughter and I only want to make things right again."
"So you're executing the man she loves?" it didn't make sense.
"Yes, if he allows it."
"What do you mean?"
"Sasuke can live if he can break out."
There is one condition, her words still rang in his mind as he looked almost desperately at his life-long rival. You cannot tell him that Sakura is alive.
"I didn't ask you to save me," was the Uchiha's retort, although it lacked it's usual venom.
"No, but that doesn't mean you're not in need of rescuing," as he said it, the blonde moved around to unlock the shackles from Sasuke's wrists, but to his surprise, the convict wrenched away.
"Stop trying to be a damned hero all the time," a scornful ebony eye was turned on the lighter man as for a moment, an old passion was back in its depths. "If I wanted out, I would be long gone by now."
"I wouldn't have to be a hero if you had any common sense and tried to beat this!" Naruto's anguish cracked his voice.
"That's almost funny coming from you. As if you had any knowledge of common sense."
"At least I'm not the one sulking in chains waiting to die!"
A heavy silence passed over the room with only the dull hum of electronic equipment filling the gap. The two males, once childhood friends and enemies, stared one another down, neither relenting with unblinking eyes. Rage and confusion and hope; it was all there, tangled into a mass of duty and justice. It was war between what was and what should have been, but there was no clear-cut answer.
He needs to leave on his own accord, she said it as if it were a simple task. It should have and would have been in the past, but now Uchiha Sasuke was a different man. Perhaps by facing up to his accumulated transgressions he felt as if he was atoning for them. But this wasn't the way to do it. There was still something out there for him to live for. Someone.
"You're taking the easy way out, Teme," so if reason wasn't the way to change his mind, goading him on was the next best thing.
"You think this has been easy?"
A man to their right began to stir, his soft groan sending a wave of panic through the blonde. He was running out of time.
"I think you're giving up. You're quitting because the game got hard."
Next thing he knew, Naruto had been body-slammed against the frigid stone wall, pressed there by the man still bound. Sasuke's mouth turned up into a snarl, his teeth glistening as he growled through them.
"You don't even know what hard is! You've had your nice cushy life here in Konoha running around playing ninja. You have no idea what I've done or been through. I have lost everything and you say I'm taking the easy route?"
It was true. Even now as Sasuke went into a fit of rage, he couldn't summon enough chakra to turn his lone eye red. But you haven't lost everything…
"Then prove me wrong. Get out of here and survive with your dismal life," the fox couldn't retract the pleading from his voice, although it was subtle through his scornful tone.
Another grunt sounded from one of the lab technicians, and he knew this was it. They were shinobi too, so they wouldn't stay out for long. Naruto knew this fact even before he infiltrated the room. The way the other man's stare shifted to the side, as if he were listening, told the blonde that Sasuke realized it as well.
"Leave," the traitor stated frostily, not even looking at his rescuer anymore.
Sasuke stepped back and turned his profile to the male, head declined somewhat, releasing his captive.
"Not without you," this wasn't going according to plan.
"This isn't you're choice to make," the darker man snapped. "For once, just back off and let me do what I want."
There was a long, hurtful pause before the blonde hero's shoulders slumped in defeat and he gave a shuttering sigh.
"I'm going to unlock you if you like it or not," and with that the man moved forward with his stolen keys and dropped the cuffs from his friend's wrists. Just touching them, he could feel the thick metal sucking furiously at his energy. He tossed them away quickly.
The fallen nin started to lift their heads, one by one coming to. Sasuke shot his former teammate a glare, signaling him to retreat, but Naruto hesitated. Those sky blue eyes practically begged for the criminal to change his mind, but the last Uchiha held his ground, hands limp at his sides.
"So, I guess…" Naruto dragged the reluctant thought out, "this is goodbye?"
Sasuke inclined his chin slightly in acknowledgement, face as inflexible as ever.
There were tears gathering in the demon vessel's eyes, scrunching his features, "Please reconsider. Run away with me," it was a whispered plea.
The whimper that escaped from the blonde as he fled sounded like that of a wounded animal. Sasuke didn't watch as his old friend slipped from sight, instead thinking towards the fallen men and a needle that waited for him. This was it.
"I'm the one that killed you. It was all part of a bigger plan," the elder woman's confession rang without faltering, but took a moment to process for her apprentice. "And now it's time for you to begin anew."
"You…you're the one who told all of Konoha I was dead?" the Hokage herself had started such a series of lies and it seemed so unbelievable.
"Yes, I am. I wanted to give you a chance at really living, and not just with the soiled existence I made you endure in the past."
"What if I didn't want another existence? What if I wanted to be happy here in Konoha? This is where I built myself, where all I have resides!" It was all finally sinking in and Sakura suddenly felt used. She was only a marionette in some grand scheme and just now having her strings be revealed. "How dare you take my fate into your hands and… toy with it?"
"Because I could see so much more clearly than you in the end."
"How? You were never around. You received second-hand information and decided to play God with it. Do you think being Hokage grants you the right to do such a thing?"
"I saw that he loves you."
Several heartbeats went by as the pink-haired kunoichi's mouth opened and closed repeatedly before she settled on, "What?"
"I had heard the reports, yes, that Sasuke was found over you and then went raving mad when they pulled him away. It sounded suspicious, but I saw the man as he was ushered to the penitentiary. There was nothing left of his spirit. I knew it was risky, but that's when I developed this plan. He would have been executed anyway, but adding your murder into the mix was to test him – and free you," Tsunade's face softened into something like sympathy. "The moment I mentioned you in the court, he looked so lost and distraught. It was then that I knew. He loves you."
"And yet you sentenced him to die anyway?"
"I couldn't just let him off, Sakura. Nothing is ever that easy."
Of course, how could she think otherwise? This wasn't the movies. Life rarely held happy endings. The young medic suddenly felt very tired. It would have been too perfect if she could just roll over and go back to sleep, never to wake again. She felt her mentor's eyes on her slouching form and turned her glassy green gaze back to the woman.
"So will he die?"
"I sent Naruto after him to talk him into escaping. It's really up to his success, or lack of which. Though I did give him the instruction not to tell Sasuke you're alive."
The kunoichi's mouth fell open, "Why?"
"He's not going to think rationally if he knows you're alive. He would probably storm all of Konoha in search for you, effectively blowing our cover that either one of you is dead. Then I might have to execute him for real."
Sakura wished that didn't make as much sense as it did.
"So it's up to Naruto?"
"It shouldn't have been," a weary, depressed voice sounded from the doorway.
His face looked as wet as her windows, but she knew it wasn't from the rain. As he stepped into the room, the blonde stumbled some, his vision clouded by tears. He made it over to his partner's bed and crumpled, his hands fisting in the sheets as his head dropped onto her lap.
"I'm sorry, Sakura. I'm so sorry."
The shinobi came to with ghastly headaches, each recalling the quiet attack. Honestly, they didn't see it coming, but none would admit that out loud. The leader of the group, Katou – who had the most experience –rose shakily to his feet and glanced about at the others. All were intact thankfully.
"It looks as if they got the prisoner as well, sir," one of the younger men, a light-haired apprentice, said as he stared at the floor.
There was the convict, laying face-down on the cold tiles. His hands were unbound and sprawled, as if someone had released him. He appeared to be out cold.
"Quickly, someone get him over to the chair before he wakes up. I don't know what happened here, but we don't want a repeat of it."
The amateur medic who had spoken before scrambled ahead to do as he was bid. Another stepped forward to help tug their captive off the ground, hulling him to the seat where they would extinguish him. Once there, they went on to buckle his arms and torso to it as the man's dark head rolled to one side. The chair held similar effects as the cuffs, draining those who sat in it of their chakra. The shinobi breathed a soft sigh of relief, knowing now that the difficult part was over and they would be safe to carry out their job. No, it wasn't ever pleasant to take the life of another, but the men and women who entered this place usually always had a good reason and deserved their punishment. What they did here was justice, or so the medic told himself.
"Ready the equipment," his voice sounded more confident as he regained control.
"Yes, sir," the third lab technician, a middle-aged man with long hair panned out.
His locks fell around his face as he opened the Uchiha's shirt, applying the pads that connected to a heart monitor. A moment later, the machine blipped to life with a steady rhythm. Two more round sensors were placed on the man's temples. Brain waves were solid.
"Prepare the syringes."
Three needles were lined up on a tray with three vials beside them accordingly. One was to numb the pain and the second was to put the victim to sleep. The third would make sure he never awoke. The long-haired man proceeded as ordered, carefully filling the chamber of each syringe, tapping out the air and setting them back on the sterile surface in a meticulous formation. By the time the last of the chemicals were put in place, the offender's head began to bob, as if fighting for consciousness.
"Sir, I think he's coming around," the technician reported, casting a dark gaze to his superior.
The head medic stepped forward, his gait tentative. The traitor's lashes fluttered, and while the chair was designed with the healers' safety in mind, he couldn't help but feel nervous. This was an Uchiha, after all, and with that list of felonies against him, who knew what someone like that was capable of?
When a foggy black eye revealed itself, shifting throughout the room with what appeared to be confusion, panic set in.
"Gentlemen, we can fill out the charts later; let's get this over with." The delusional man in the chair opened his mouth, muttering incoherently. This only fed the medic's urgency, "Now."
"But Katou-sama," the youngest if the group started, only to be stopped short with a harsh stare from his director.
"The computers are already recording information," the long-haired medic supplied in a monotone drawl. "The middle ground of explaining the process to the prisoner is the only step we're skipping."
"Oh," the youth nodded, still feeling uneasy over their course of action, but he was the rookie and didn't understand short cuts around formalities.
"Proceed," their overseer instructed, shuffling through papers to read over Sasuke's charges as the other men alcohol-swabbed the captive's inner elbow.
As the list rambled on, the senior of the two technicians ejected a few drops of the numbing serum from the hollow needle, his face blank.
"Do you understand your allegations?" it was a pointless question, but a necessity for the documentation.
The bound man blinked up at the medic, his brow ruffling before exuding a low, ambiguous grunt. He didn't seem to really comprehend the situation, but that might have been a blessing. It was certainly better than fighting with the male. Katou nodded at the man posed with syringe in hand, signaling the commencement of the execution. It only took three heartbeats for the tech to empty the chamber into Sasuke's arm.
The ebony-locked man cringed once punctured, staring down at the entry wound. He blinked again, wobbling in his seat some as if drunk.
"Wha-?" his speech was slurred and motion labored as he lifted his head to the man readying the next needle. "No…" he started to form words as he registered what was taking place. Futilely, the Uchiha began to struggle, tugging at the restraints that held his arms and upper body tightly in place. The monitors attached to him burst to life, becoming erratic.
"Don't worry," the head of the group said in a gentle tone that was obviously forced, "you won't feel a thing in a minute."
Still, the hostage strained against the inevitable, though his efforts were soon slowed.
"But I don…" the words drabbled off as his once dignified mouth went slack, flapping still without success. The man's legs jerked before they too became affected by the drug. A solitary, onyx eye was the only means of expression left, looking horrified in its wideness.
No need for permission, the second of the injection series was given and within a minute, even the terror in that orb was snubbed out. The heart monitor slowed to a steady pace as he was lulled back into a state of unawareness. He went completely limp.
"Yuki," the eldest of the three looked at the young medic who appeared for all the world to be sick, "would you like to do the honors?"
The man, barely out of boyhood, cast his overly-innocent gaze to his commander, then to the syringe being offered. What choice did he have? If he refused, it would take years to regain any respect from his coworkers. Not one to be labeled squeamish, Yuki stepped forward and took the small instrument, dripping it as the other had once before. His uncertainty must have shown.
"It's just like giving any other shot; don't be afraid."
"Sir," he nodded slowly and approached the sedated criminal.
With a shaking hand, the novice pressed the tip into the other's clammy skin and flinched. Nothing happened. The infamous traitor of Konoha didn't react at all. He pushed the plunger down, the poison leaking into an overused vein. A moment that seemed like an eternity later, the electronic beep, once just white noise in the room, grew into a fixed, high-pitched hum.
Uchiha Sasuke was dead.
"Lady Tsunade," a meek voice came from the door.
The blonde lifted her head from the scene of her apprentice and successor grieving to glare at the small nurse in the passageway. The girl shrank under such a scolding frown, but spoke despite her intimidation.
"The coroner's office called. They want you to come down to," she paused looking at the members of Konoha's notorious Team Seven, hesitating to continue, "…to sign some papers."
"Paperwork can wait. There are much more important matters I have to address, as you can see. If they call again, inform them I am in the middle of a meeting or something. Sound convincing."
"But Hokage-sama, it's in regards to," again, the medic stopped abruptly before mouthing, "the Uchiha," behind her hand.
Tsunade was tempted to tell the girl to stick him on ice and she'd be there later, but to do so would be insensitive to her company. She had never really cared for the male, but at least she could be considerate to those who did. With a sigh, the leader rose from her spot on Sakura's bed and made a flimsy excuse for her departure, promising to return after while. If nothing else, it would give the two time to themselves.
"This had better be good," she grumbled as she followed the nurse out, then making her way to the morgue.
It was obligatory that she confirm all executions of prisoners, identifying them, cause of death, and so on. It usually didn't take much more than a glimpse and a signature, so why would it be so pressing now?
"Lady Hokage," the head of the coronary team bowed his head as she entered the chilly, sanitary room of the examination.
With a returning nod, she picked up his chart and scanned the facts. Everything seemed to be in order. Chocolate eyes looked over at the body beneath a customary white sheet lying on the operating table.
"If you would," a gesture toward the sheet.
But as it was drawn back, Tsunade couldn't help the curse that slipped through her lips, "That son of a bitch."
The dark head that greeted her belonged to a man named Shinji – one of the lab techs that often carried out death sentence procedures. His long hair was swept away from his face and the Y-incision marks were distinct by his shoulders.
"Ma'am, we have a killer on the loose," the physician, as if seeing the body for the first time, spoke over her shoulder.
"No, this one's our fault. I'll take care of it," the woman's voice was controlled as she walked over to a cabinet and pulled out another death form. Gazing over to the man, there was a distinct twinkle in her eye. "I trust this information will not leave this room?"
"Ah," the medic looked taken aback for a moment before waving his hands, "No, of course not, Hokage-sama. It's strictly confidential."
"Good. Thank you; that is all."
Not knowing what to make of the situation – that body had been Uchiha Sasuke just an hour before – the examiner stumbled from the area, going to busy himself elsewhere. The lady watched him go before filling out another chart. She put Shinji down for congestive heart failure. Once complete, Tsunade recovered the corpse and filed both reports.
"Sakura, say your goodbyes."
The rosette nin looked up at her mentor from Naruto's shoulder, eyes swollen and raw, "Huh? Why?"
"Because you've only got one chance."
Those were the words that spoke themselves over and over as she ran. Only one chance to catch up with him; only one chance before he disappeared forever.
'He's in the disguise of a man with long, dark hair. He may seem average to the untrained eye, so be careful who you overlook.' That eliminated the whole of one-third of the village. The odds were so beyond Sakura's favor, but she pressed on regardless of them. 'And don't forget your own circumstances, as well. There is no one else who has hair like yours, so be discrete if nothing else.' Changing her hair color to her default chestnut was the least of her problems now. Tsunade had given her a quick healing, repairing the last of her wounds from the week or so before, but the kunoichi's energy levels were barely up to par. Waves of dizziness still struck her mid-stride, but Sakura ignored them – resolute to find her target.
It didn't help that Sasuke had gotten a significant head-start. For all she knew, he could have booked it out of Konoha, never looking back. It wasn't as if he had anything to wait on. Sakura shook the thought off and scanned the crowd, most under umbrellas to guard against the drizzle that lingered over the region. So far, she stopped four men, but one look into their inquisitive eyes and she knew none of them were him. She would recognize him, feel him, but she was running out of time.
'Goodbye, Sakura-chan,' the light was gone from her best friend's face when she embraced him.
'You make it sound like it's forever.'
'Isn't it?' maybe that was supposed to be the intention.
'No. I won't let it be forever,' she had smiled with that hollow hope of a person who hit rock bottom and only had to scratch their way back up.
'I'll hunt you down if that's not a promise.'
'Oh, I know you will.'
A tiny smile spread over the shinobi's lips as she fought back tears. She was abandoning everything and all for what? A chance. Even if he was already gone, Sakura knew that with some firm determination, she would make more of them. No, this wasn't it. She wouldn't curl up and wait like in the past. She knew what she wanted and wasn't against fighting for it. I won't quit!
But by the time she reached the gates to the city, the only real exit, it appeared as if she were too late. There was no one in sight except for the guards at their posts.
"Excuse me," she addressed them. A twinge of recognition flickered on their faces and Sakura remembered to lower her voice an octave, putting a little foreign dialect to it. "Have you seen a man with long hair pass by here?"
"Not today, miss," one answered, "Is he a tradesman?"
She shook her wet, brown head, "Thank you."
Did that mean he was still here? She had bee-lined to the gate, so maybe. All of a sudden it struck her. No, Sasuke never took conventional means to Konoha. Her mind took her back to their habitual meeting grounds – on the training field. Without thought of her disguise as a civilian, Sakura took to the rooftops at her swiftest pace, praying she could move fast enough over the slick tiles.
Of course, she couldn't.
Panting, bottle-green eyes searched the area frantically, hunting for any sign of the male. A few seconds later, her dull senses caught up with her, as well as a faint chakra signature. He had definitely been here. Where he went was another issue altogether.
Forcing the lump from her throat and her legs to move, Sakura sprinted forward, kicking up mud and grass in her wake, and leapt into the trees. Exhaustion be damned, the kunoichi reached out with all she had for another trace of the escapee. Countless minutes of incessant circles went by before she discovered his trail, headed for the east. Her skin was carved into from the branches she neglected to dodge and her reserves of energy were way past depleted when she finally spotted the man. He was only a speck, maybe a cast shadow or trick of the patchy light, but he was moving and looked solid enough to pursue.
Oh, God, what do I say? 'Surprise!'? What a foolish thing to think of now.
Mustering every spare ounce of will she had left, Sakura transported herself in front of the long-haired man, causing him to slam into her. Unable to react, limbs tangled and footing lost on damp bark, both shinobi were sent tumbling to the ground below. The male, with another in his arms, instinctively twisted so when they landed, it was his back that took the blow. It was a few seconds for either of them to recover.
"Excuse me, sir," the feminine voice said rather breathlessly, "but do you have authorization to be in this forest?"
Slowly, Sakura picked her upper body off his, bracing herself by the arms on each side of his shoulders. As she gazed down into a much older, unfamiliar face, a pang of regret stabbed her in the chest. Was she wrong again? But slowly, a depthless charcoal eye opened to meet hers, the other skewed by mahogany locks. No, this was him; it had to be. He stared at her, almost unseeing, as she reached out a trembling hand to brush back the obscuring bangs. A gasp past through her parted lips. There was nothing there. A pink socket. He was never able to fully alter those clan-given eyes.
"Sasuke," she rasped, all other words eluding her mind.
But as soon as his name left her throat, Sakura found herself slammed to the soft ground harshly, said man pinning her to it.
"Don't," he spat, his lips pulling back into a resentful sneer. "Don't say my name. You're not real – you can't possibly be."
"But I am," the woman started weakly, her voice caught up with emotion. Unable to hold her cover any longer, brunette hair bled back to the natural rose hue. Maybe if he could see…
"Shut up! I don't know who put you up to this, or…" but it didn't make sense, what he was about to say. No one knew he wasn't in that executioner's chair or where he was headed if they found out. Sure, the genjutsu might have worn off on that body by now, but they couldn't have figured it out this quickly. "You can't be real," he whispered again callously. "You're dead."
"So are you."
"Yes, I am. I've been dead for years, but the final killing blow was when," the male stopped, clenching foreign teeth as grief visibly shook him. Unwilling to reveal vulnerability too long, he allowed rage to take its place. "When I let you die!" he shouted in her face, fingers digging bruises into her arms. "I watched you go with that – that fucking smile, so don't you dare haunt me now! Just leave me be."
Sakura had never seen this proud man mourn, in all his days with all his losses. But now she watched with the deepest anguish as tears cascaded from his single eye and dribbled onto her cheek and neck. He went to release her, to turn away from the phantom that adhered to his conscience, but she caught the Uchiha by the hair, dragging him to her chest. Sasuke didn't struggle, but collapsed, clinging to what he perceived as his memory. Sakura didn't notice as she held him that her own tears manifested and fell to mingle in his sooty locks, the masquerade falling away from his true body.
"We'll be ghosts together," she muttered near his ear after a long while, her fingers tracing down his soaked back.
Slowly, Sasuke lifted his dark head, his too pale face puffy around the edges. His thin lips parted and breath scratched between them as he stared at her, looking as if he'd just now seen her for the first time. There were twigs tangled in her hair and soil splattered her cheek. A number of cuts etched her arms and chest, but the way her jade eyes shown so brightly behind new, unshed tears, she couldn't have looked more beautiful. More alive.
"Tell me this isn't real," he eventually whispered, bringing a grimy palm to her clammy face. "Or that I've grown delusional. I watched you die. How-?"
"It's a secret, just like us."
Somehow, that spoke all the truth in the world. This wasn't about the village, this didn't revolve around a clan. They were as spirits to wander the land, to grow into legends in their own right. They had the opportunity to start over with only a few to know the jumbled web that brought them there.
"Sasuke, I have something to tell you," the woman mumbled against his lips once they met at last. The man pulled back to give her a questionable gaze. "I hate you."
A smirk slid over his mouth before abducting that of the kunoichi's feverishly. A minute past before he retracted again to say, "I hate you, too, Sakura. I always will."
Emery – The Secret
way to grey Covering me When I hear
the rain Why do you look at me that way? Is it over? I'll be leaving Can't you see? Yesterday's gone I
still love you. I always will
I could hardly wait
to see you again
to feel your hands.
till the storm is done
what seemed to be the end
was not the end at all.
should I be afraid?
For my, for my
for my... life.
I told you that I was too busy to see you.
I would never keep a secret from you
I am fine.
Thank you dearly
for your time.
don't you cry
I'll be back soon
at least I'll try.
There is no time to think
Can't turn back now
I won't quit.
I always will.
I always will.
When I hear
Why do you look at me that way?
Is it over?
I'll be leaving
Can't you see?
still love you.
I always will
Author's Note II: Thank you all for reading. :Bows: