Disclaimer: Nothing Naruto is mine. None of the lyrics to the Seether song "Broken" are mine, either. I'm sure you're all incredibly happy about that. I know I'm happy not to get my ass sued off. Which, I daresay, could be a very painful experience. But you should totally listen to that song. It's amazing. At least, the version with Amy Lee is. But she's awesome, so yeah. 'Nuff said. Are you listening to it yet?

SPOILERS! For some of the most recent manga. No, I don't remember the numbers. Let's just say it's spoiler-y concerning the truth behind the Uchiha Massacre, shall we? That shouldn't be too recent, chapter-wise, but it's best just to let you all know.

A/N: This received the most miniscule of edits because I noticed I, er, quoted some of the lyrics wrong. I know, I'm ashamed of myself, too. So when I went to fix them, I realized that other parts of the song fit a little better. So…yeah. Shouldn't detract from the experience. Hopefully it adds to it…otherwise it'd all be very pointless. Hn.

A/N the second: Oh, and randomly, if you like poetry, I wrote a short poem to this title that rhymes and has rhythm and everything. I would give you a teaser, but the first line's the same as the title, so…It's over on my fictionpress account, which is linked in my profile. It goes rather well with this story, actually, though in an entirely metaphorical sense. Check it out if you're interested, which you seriously should be. I know I'm biased in my favor, but it's pretty freakin' awesome all the same.


how scattered is the shattered glass

i.

(the worst is over now

and we can breathe again)

He didn't know why, but for some reason, he always thought it would be easy afterward.

Perhaps because they had tried so hard for so long to bring him back—obviously, then, they would welcome him with open arms and open hearts and…openness. He could admit that he hadn't expected the idiot's reaction: yells, punches to the face, immediate threats…all those he had quietly prepared himself for on the long trek back to Konoha.

But that? A long, searching look, a huff of breath, and then a, "I'm hungry, bastard. Ichiraku?"

No. He had not foreseen that. Nor had he foreseen that this would become a daily occurrence, that no matter how deeply he brooded in the abandoned compound, the blond Hokage-hopeful would pounce into the manor, barreling through doors and charging down hallways and yelling and yelling for the bastard at the top of his voice (which was considerable).

And when he found him, as he always did, staring blankly out the window across the unkempt grounds, Naruto would fist a hand in his blue-black collar and drag him to his feet.

Sasuke never resisted. He didn't have the spite (heart) anymore.

But he had expected a different reaction from her. He had expected more.

More meaning not just staring at me from across the road, face closed and quiet, and then turning around so all I saw in my dreams for weeks was your back retreating into the bustle of the village.

Sasuke never saw her. Ever. He wondered sometimes if she were avoiding him, but then he was very easy to avoid hiding out in the derelict Uchiha district and only emerging when the idiot dragged him off to the ramen stand for a meal with forced chatter because Sasuke knew, he knew that despite the relative ease Naruto had accepted him, the blond was bleeding inside and pretending everything was as it should be just because that was so much easier.

He heard she was a medic now, so perhaps all her time was spent at the hospital. Yes, that had to be it: she had long shifts and lots of them, and she didn't have time…

The argument gave a weak chuckle and collapsed on itself in defeat. Who was he kidding?

She was Haruno Sakura. She used to make time to see him, pulled minutes out of the day that didn't exist until she said so and that mysteriously disappeared after she had seen him and smiled that bright and sunny smile and offered a cheerful Good morning/afternoon/evening/night, Sasuke-kun! that never, never (no matter how many times he'd rebuffed her before), never anticipated heartbreak. And sometimes he wondered what would have happened if once, just once, he had actually replied.

Her eyes probably would've sparkled, he mused. Her smile would've gotten bigger, if possible. She might have even blushed, and if he were unlucky, she might have tackled him in an exuberant hug.

And then sometimes when he played out that scenario, he found himself removing the prefix from unlucky, and then he would realize that in the depths of his brooding, he was staring out the window at a cherry tree. There were lots of them in the Uchiha courtyards, and if he had been Neji (or, you know, if he had cared at all) he might have mused that it were fate.

Sakura trees in the Uchiha gardens. It seemed fate-like.

Well, maybe it would if he ever saw her. But he didn't. And he had asked the idiot once.

"Where's Sakura?"

Naruto had spoken uncouthly around his ramen, which Sasuke translated to, "Hospital, bastard. Where else?"

Sasuke hadn't retorted Here, idiot, with us. With…me. Where else?

He hadn't. The words died long before they even began approaching his throat, maybe level with his ears. The rant merely continued in his head, and he was so glad he wasn't a vocal person because this all would be deeply mortifying and terribly inappropriate.

She's Sakura, you idiot! She's supposed to love me forever and more than anything and she even told me that once so why isn't she here and why does she never see me and gods above, it can't be possible that she doesn't love me anymore because then I don't…

He didn't finish the thought then, and he endeavored very hard never to do so.

Sakura had always needed him.

He had never needed Sakura.


ii.

(there's so much left to learn

and no one left to fight)

Probation was a fact of life, and he understood that he was exceedingly lucky, perhaps even miraculously so, to have gotten off with such a light punishment. He was certain that the Godaime Hokage herself bore no love for him (unless, perhaps, she saw Team 7 as so many others had seen them, as the child-sannins, as a full circle, and maybe in her heart somewhere Tsunade secretly wanted Sasuke and Naruto and Sakura to reconcile and live and become, in a vicarious sort of way, the team she and Jiraiya and Orochimaru had tragically failed to be).

But even then, he did not believe it were enough to allow him to escape the figurative hangman's noose—because shinobi had their own ways, and letting people swing was so unclean when there were razor-sharp kunai or shuriken. Or maybe they would pluck out his famous Uchiha eyes and cast a genjutsu upon him first because shinobi also despised being betrayed and he was nothing if not a kin-killer and a traitor.

He wondered, in his bleakest moments, if there were an eighth circle of hell. And then he would wonder, even more wearily, if it were called life.

Logically, he knew Naruto had something to do with it, and perhaps even Kakashi, although he wasn't sure if his former sensei could forgive Sasuke for committing a sin so similar to his own, and Kakashi couldn't forgive himself, now could he? Betrayal and abandonment, after all, were not too different. The blond had probably petitioned Tsunade, perhaps even the elders, and pleaded for his former best friend's life to be spared. Perhaps he'd thrown in the deaths of Orochimaru and Itachi, two of the village's most dangerous foes. But whatever had happened, he had escaped alive and relatively unscathed.

He remembered seeing Sakura at his trial; it was the only other time he'd actually seen her. And even then, he wasn't sure if it counted—all he had seen, really, was the telltale pink hair because her face had been shielded by a stylized mask, and even that had been in profile. He realized he didn't really know her anymore, but then again, he didn't think he could rightly claim to ever have known her at all. He would never have guessed in those (untouched perfect) genin days that his weak, annoying female teammate would mature into a devastating ANBU who had surpassed her master, the last sannin, by age twenty.

Naruto, he could have suspected for greatness; the blond certainly proclaimed it often, and when Naruto repeated things endlessly enough, they had an unnerving habit of coming true. But her?

He shook his head, elbows scraping on the ancient, sun-bleached wood of the windowsill, the sleeves of his shirt fraying ever so slightly from the rough surface. He didn't want to think about his (erstwhile) teammates or the past because all that led to was thoughts of…

Sasuke rose abruptly, his bare feet padding loudly down the ghost-hallways of the mansion until his soles graced grass instead of planks, and he sank to his knees in the garden. The grass was long but he didn't care as he slumped by the edge of a fish-pond which had long been vacant. His reflection stared back at him, largely perfect in the calm waters which were only disturbed whenever an errant pink blossom touched upon the surface.

His hair was growing longer, he realized. He had shorn it off upon his return to Konoha, unable to look at a mirror or accidentally catch his reflection in water or glass and see a young man so like his brother staring back at him. Black strands fell across his equally black eyes now, and he raised long fingers to touch them, as if he couldn't quite believe it had grown so quickly (even though it had been months and months since his return).

He grimaced as his fingers brushed the silken strands, and he thought idly about cropping them short again. Sometimes (often) he wished that he had never discovered the truth behind the Uchiha Massacre because it was so much easier to hate his brother for ruthlessly slaughtering his clan and so much harder to do when he knew it was for the good of the village, not to mention against Itachi's very ideals…

Something hot and sharp pricked his eyes, and his hands fisted in the grass, tearing up clumps, as several drops slipped down his fair cheeks to impact on the otherwise still surface of the pond.

Sometimes (always) he wondered if he could have still killed Itachi if he had known all along.

He didn't know if he should hate himself when he realized he might not have done it.

"What's the Uchiha clan now, dear brother?" he whispered, his voice harsh and hoarse, and he tilted his head back to stare at the sky, wetness still tracking down his cheeks. "We are nothing but kin-killers with ruined lives, and did you think this would fix everything?"

He pounded a white-knuckled fist against the ground, snapping an errant twig in two.

"Eh, Brother?" he demanded of the deserted courtyard. "Why would you save me only to destroy me? Did you think this kind of life would be worth living? Did you spare me an easy death only to soothe your own goddamn conscious by allowing me to kill you? I gave you the fucking easy way out!" he roared, the words echoing eerily in the utter silence of the ghost house.

"You don't have to live with it anymore, but I do, Itachi! I'm the prisoner in my own house, in my own fucking mind, and there's no one here to end it for me! You should've killed me," he said, his voice cracking sharply to a half-choked whisper. "You just should've killed me. Then…then there would be no Uchihas…and no Sharingan…and no…no nothing. There would be nothing. And I would be at peace."

He slid sideways, curled up in the grass, impotent tears still streaming across his face. He mumbled nonsense at intervals, sometimes interspersed with coherent speech.

"…should've killed me…"

"…no one here to fix anything…"

"…no one…not the idiot…not…not…"

He bit deeply into his lip, drawing blood and filling his mouth with the taste of bitter iron. He hated the thoughts that filled his mind; he hated having nothing to distract him, goddamn probation; but what he hated most of all was the way his blurred vision kept returning to the blossoming cherry trees as if magnetized.

Hated the way his mind would play tricks on him and slowly tease the pale pink petals into longer strands of hair, and the rest of her would somehow supply itself until she was standing, ethereal and evanescent, before him till he blinked and the moisture washed the image away.

He hovered over a brink of his own making until Naruto found him.

"Bastard! Baaaaaaastaaaaaaard! Are you out he—oy, bastard!"

Loud footsteps, but they slowed as the blond shinobi approached the dark-haired man curled in the grass.

"Sa-Sasuke? Are you alright? Hell, you're bleeding, what hap—"

The truly last Uchiha had acted with a swiftness that belied his emotional state and snatched one of Naruto's kunai before the other could properly comprehend the situation, much less the obvious tears on the "apathetic bastard's" face.

Naruto slipped into a battle stance, but he seemed unwilling to start a confrontation, perhaps due to his friend's clear fragility. "Hey, now. Give that back, okay?"

The blade shook in Sasuke's hand, and something unhinged danced in his eyes, but his voice was perfectly (far too) level. "I will, soon. I just have to decide which artery."

The blond's brow wrinkled, and he responded with an eloquent, "Huh?"

"To cut, idiot," Sasuke snapped, even though his former scathing tone never quite managed to manifest. "The carotid would be efficient, certainly, but slitting one's throat is a very swift death, and I think that's just too good for me…"

Naruto blinked, suddenly catching on. "You—what? Kage Bunshin no justu!"

The clones appeared with their signatures puffs of smoke and hurled themselves at the former avenger along with their original counterpart, but Sasuke had already taken the kunai to the inside of his upper arm and nicked the pulsing artery open.

Ghastly vermillion sprayed everywhere to the pounding beat of the Uchiha's heart, and even as the shadow clones wrested the weapon from his hand and applied swift pressure to the wound by virtue of Naruto's own headband, Sasuke fought and kicked, trying to aggravate the injury as much as possible.

"Let me die!" he yelled, but his chakra-binding bracelets severely weakened him, and the abrupt and copious bloodloss was doing him no favors. Blackness edged in on his vision.

"Just let…me…"


iii.

('cause I'm broken when I'm open

and I don't feel like I am strong enough)

Darkness—a desperate sort of darkness that needed to be cajoled and coaxed into remaining because there was light somewhere that longed to pierce the shadows, and darkness like this (this weak, graying darkness that sometimes was fraught with pinprick holes like miniscule stars) was vulnerable.

Sometimes, in the darkness, there was a soft warmth. It would visit only briefly, registered in brief bursts of sensation and the light would call out, Surely, it is better here! and the darkness would reply, No, no, not yet, not ever.

And sometimes, in the darkness, there were words, stolen snatches of conversations in a world almost wholly removed from him. They floated through like haphazard petals on the wind, dancing about but never landing, never landing.

"…still unconscious…"

"…won't the bastard wake up…"

"…called will and he doesn't…."

"…He doesn't want to?"

"…He doesn't want to."

"But Sakura-chan…!"

When he would hear the words or glimpse the light or have warmth ghost across his skin (some part of him could tell it was on his cheek or maybe his hand or perhaps, even, through his hair), Sasuke would wonder why he held so stubbornly to his darkness, why he would shirk the land of living like any other person would avoid that of death.

He would wonder why he kept himself removed, but he never could find the answer because thinking required waking and he never wanted to do that again; he wanted to wait, patiently, in the darkness until Itachi arrived to tug his hand and pull him off to that deepest darkness where no irritating sensation could disturb the peace. But sometimes sometimes sometimes he would nearly force his eyes open because he was absolutely certain he would catch the briefest hint of pink hair or fair skin or, if he strove hard enough, long enough, maybe even the elusive viridian green of eyes that had once gazed upon him in adoration. And maybe if he tried even harder, he would catch those eyes off-guard and see that emotion there once again.

It was almost enough.

But as time dragged by in his timeless darkness, he found to his displeasure that the shadows were harder to hold onto, that they slipped through his metaphysical fingers with the intangible ease of real shadows, and that the tiny pinprick stars were swelling to gaping holes and the snatches of slurred words lengthened into proper conversation and the touch on his face was definitely a hand and…

His eyes cracked open, registering a blurry world of white. And pink.

He blinked several times to clear his vision, shifting his weak body in the hospital bed (how long? he wondered absently), and realized there was a weight on his hand. He rolled his eyes slowly in their sockets, and he stared at the small, slim fingers curled around his limp ones for several seconds before reality sank in.

And he raised his eyes, half in amazement, half in bewilderment, to the sleeping face of Sakura.

She didn't look comfortable at all in the chair; her clothes were all twisted and askew, and her limbs seemed randomly placed, as if they hadn't been attached when she'd sat down and added at awkward angles as an afterthought. Her other hand was loosely, barely holding a clipboard to her thigh, and her head was tilted to the side, pink strands slipping across her face, and she was most certainly going to have a terrible crick in her neck when she awoke.

He stared at her, searing the image into his mind and memory, and why had he never noticed before how beautiful she was?

Slowly, with great care, he turned his hand over beneath hers, calloused fingers scraping across her palm.

He couldn't believe she was here. She had been avoiding him with so much care, but here she was, napping at his bedside with her hand on his and he smiled ever so slightly, his lips barely curved.

He opened his mouth to articulate her name, but she snapped awake before he could utter a sound.

Her hand flew from his as the anticipated crick assaulted her neck, and she rubbed the spot ruefully for several seconds before she rose heavily to her feet, still blinking sleep from foggy green eyes. Flowing through motions so smoothly they had to be routine, she scribbled notes on her clipboard as she read the machines which cheerfully beeped out his vitals.

Sasuke realized his mouth was still open and managed to breathe, "Sakura…"

She stiffened so abruptly rigor mortis could have set in, and then slowly, in increments, she relaxed.

She didn't look at him.

He frowned, puzzled, as she finished her notes (with half a pencil, as she'd accidentally snapped it in two when he'd spoken) and walked to the door. She slid it open and stood in the doorway and said, in a hoarse sort of voice,

"He's awake, Naruto."

Sasuke stared at her back, confused, and absently noted that her hair was longer again, reaching to the points of her shoulder blades, and then he couldn't see anything of her because she'd disappeared into the hallway and his vision had become a mess of orange and black and yellow.

"It's about time, bastard!" Naruto babbled loudly, grinning ear to ear and distorting his whisker-marks.

"Hn," Sasuke replied, distracted by his other teammate's abrupt disappearance. He tried to see around the blond, but he might as well try to see around a very energetic wall.

"Two weeks by sheer force of will, you sure didn't wanna wake up, didja, bastard?" Naruto continued, and something lighthearted bled out of his voice and was replaced by something edged and sharp, and then Sasuke's head was thrown to the side as a fist impacted his jaw.

He spat a bit of blood but made no other comment.

"That's for being a total idiot, Sasuke," Naruto said, massaging his knuckles. "I'd punch you for Sakura-chan, too, but she can do a much messier job of it herself."

Black eyes flickered back to blue. He wanted to ask where she'd gone, why she'd left, but his old stubborn pride welled up in his throat and he merely spat another few drops of blood.

The red looked so bright, so wrong against the pristine white of the sheets.

"What're you doing out here, Sakura?"

Sasuke tensed, listening fiercely to the exchange in the hallway, which was made more difficult by the fact that Naruto didn't seem to care to eavesdrop.

"Tsunade-sama! I'm…I'm not doing anything."

"And so then I said to Hinata-chan, 'No way, you can—'"

"Why aren't you in there? Is that Naruto I hear?"

"And then BAM KAPOW and she laid Bushy-Brows flat on his back—"

"Does this mean Uchiha's awake? Sakura?"

"Yeah, she totally decked Lee, it was crazy!"

"Sakura?"

"Hey, bastard, are you even listening to me?"

"…yes. Yes, he's awake. And I have to go."

Sasuke sank deeper into his pillows, the energy draining from his body, and his eyelids fluttered shut.


iv.

('cause I'm broken when I'm lonesome

and I don't feel right when you're gone away)

After another week—with a certain pink-haired medic conspicuously absent—he was dearly starting to hate the hospital. It was bad enough that there were watchful ANBU stationed outside his door, and a nurse coming in every half hour to check up on him, but he had to be on suicide watch on top of it. And because of his shinobi training, that meant in addition to the chakra-inhibiting bracelets, he was also strapped to the bed.

He tugged, out of habit more than anything, at the leather encircling his wrists. It gave a little, allowing him to lift his hands some four or five inches off the mattress, but then all movement was restricted. The same was true of his ankles, and broader belts secured his chest and arms and thighs as well. Frankly, he was glad they hadn't gagged him or something equally unpleasant, but he was also forced to wonder why they cared at all. They had been all gung-ho for executing him, and if he offed himself, wasn't he just making their job easier, keeping their hands clean?

The idiot had probably said something, though. Like Keep the bastard alive. Which wasn't very comforting, when you got right down to it, but he didn't know what else to do. At least his window had a decent view; he could see clear across the village, rooftop after rooftop under the cobalt sky. Occasionally he would see ninjas sprinting across the shingles, and he would wonder dismally how his life came to this: trapped in a bed in a freakishly sterile room with only a loud blond for company.

He had seen Kakashi once; the silver-haired jounin had appeared, crouched, in the window, and simply stared at his once-prized student with his single eye. The little orange novel had been absent, and after several unnerving minutes of matching gazes, the elder had shrugged, as if coming to a decision, and then turned about and left.

Sasuke hadn't called after him. He hadn't really had anything to say.

The door slid open with the quiet noise of plastic sliding along a track, and Sasuke did his equivalent of a double-take: he blinked. Because Haruno Sakura, armed with a clipboard and a faintly grim expression, had just entered the room.

The door closed with a soft tch, and the already-tiny room shrank a dozen cubic feet.

Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, bangs still falling around her face, and he mused inwardly that he wasn't used to seeing her ears. She had three piercings, he noted: two in the lobe and one in the cartilage, and he wondered when she had gotten them. Perhaps Ino had made her. Hadn't his former fangirl had her ears done?

Her voice, soft but businesslike, pulled him back to the present.

"You're being released today."

He nodded halfway, keeping his chin tucked towards his chest for a long moment before he raised his head again. "I see," he murmured, eyes straying to the multiple leather straps.

"According to the rules of your probation, you will retain the chakra-binds," she said, gesturing briefly with her pencil. "The standard guard will be posted at and around the compound, but you are absolutely restricted from possessing any weapons in the entire district."

Sasuke glanced up at her; she was staring somewhere to his left, eyes slightly unfocused.

"Yes, that includes any and all cutlery and cooking paraphernalia," she said, anticipating his question.

He snorted. "I don't know why anyone cares," he growled, but halfheartedly.

She flinched. He was positive he hadn't just imagined it. "You are a citizen of Konoha once more," she said blandly, as if reciting, "and as a medic of the village, I am obligated under oath to watch out for your safety."

"Is that all?"

He couldn't catch the words as they leapt recklessly from his tongue.

Something in her face tightened, the skin around her eyes, mouth, but other than that, her expression remained the same. "I am going to perform a final check and then complete your release papers. Please cooperate."

The last phrase sounded odd to his ears; it was almost tinged with pleading, as if she wanted him to make this easy so she could finish in as little time as possible and get out of his vicinity. The thought hurt, far more than he would ever care to admit.

"Aa," he whispered, turning his face to the side so he couldn't possibly look directly at her.

She went through the routine silently, scratching notes on her clipboard as she observed his vitals. Then she set the clipboard down on one of the machines and reached for the first buckle, but she hesitated. He watched from the corner of his eye, and he could see her fingers shake. She clenched them into fists, either to mask it or perhaps deal with whatever stress another way, but then, to his incredible surprise, she slumped on the edge of the bed, not facing him, her fists now in her lap.

He stared at her dumbly, suddenly glad for the restraints, otherwise he might have been compelled to tuck a rebellious pink lock behind her ear.

She let out a shuddering sort of sigh and bowed her head. "Why, Sasuke?" She all but breathed the question.

"Because," he replied lamely, his gaze shifting from her neck to the window. The sun was shining. Brightly, too.

"Because?" she echoed, and he could hear the incredulity, the beginnings of anger, in the whispered word. "You nearly killed yourself because? Because what, Sasuke?"

He squinted against the glare, and he wondered if he could persuade one of the ANBU guarding outside the window to close the curtains, or perhaps to just move a little in front of the glass…

"Because Itachi didn't follow his orders," he allowed quietly. "Sparing my life was his own idea, and he really shouldn't have done that. Spared it to ruin it," he added, echoing his previous thoughts on the matter. "If he hadn't been so misguided, so goddamn noble, I would've died back then with everyone else, and everyone in the entire idiotic world would be happier."

She didn't speak; he didn't know what she could possibly say, either.

"Naruto would've been happier," he said slowly, as if contemplating it. "…You would've been happier."

"It's too late for you to never have met us, Sasuke," she said softly. "Dying now would just…would just…"

"Would just what?" he snapped rather harshly. "Maybe the idiot'd be a little sad, but I sure haven't seen you around here much!"

He hadn't meant to yell the last part—well, yell for him, which meant allowing his voice to rise to considerable decibels.

Her fists loosened, and she raised quivering fingers to her face, brushing her bangs aside.

"I'm sorry."

He stared at her, not in bewilderment or confusion but because her voice sounded now like it had sounded back then, whenever she had been crying. And if she were crying now…if he weren't restrained, he would rip his damn tongue out so he'd never hurt her with his cruel words again.

"It's just…" she struggled with the words, as if she had rehearsed them a thousand times but now that the time had come to deliver, she couldn't find the rhythm. "It's just that being betrayed and hurt and abandoned by someone you love is…is hard, alright?"

He closed his eyes, lashes skimming his skin. "I know," he admitted.

She turned to face him, and he would have been relieved to see no moisture in her eyes, even though tears would befit her expression more than the dryness. But he kept his lids shut, unwilling to look at her, to recognize that what he had done to her, to Naruto, had not been unlike what Itachi had done to him.

A few seconds ticked by while she connected the dots, and then he heard her exhale.

"Oh, god, Sasuke…I didn't mean…"

"Don't," he said brusquely, glancing at her so very briefly before his eyes flicked away.

She frowned slightly, now in confusion. "Don't…what?"

He swallowed, let his hands, jaw clench. "Apologize." Ever again. It's not your fault. It's never your fault. Just once, let me apologize to you. Just once.

"Oh." She blinked, faced front again, stared at her hands. "Sorr—I mean, uh, yeah. Hm." A moment, a pause, and then, "I guess I should unstrap you, then…"

He let her undo one wrist before he halted her, grabbing onto her hand and waiting, ever so patiently, for her to finally raise her gaze to meet his. Her eyes were wide, warily so, and he wondered how long it had been since she had actually been happy. Had smiled. Had laughed. He wondered if he still had the potential to make that happen.

"Sakura…" he began, speaking her name carefully, like it were something sacred, "is it true?"

Her eyebrows crumpled together, a slight frown fixing her lips. "Is…what true?"

He swallowed, licked his whole mouth (because when had it gone dry, anyway?) and steadied himself. "What you said before. You said love. Not loved. Present tense." A pause. "So is it true?"

She stared at him, unreadable, but he could practically hear the grinding as her wheels turned furiously, weighing the benefits of the truth against the benefits of a lie.

He didn't even let her reply, charging ahead. He thought belatedly about something like composure and pride and silence and how that was the Uchiha way, but the Uchiha were dead, damn it, and if he didn't say it now he knew he never would, and she deserved to know.

"You used to love me, and that used to make you happy, and and and—" Stuttering? Was he seriously stuttering? Self-mortification began to overwhelm him, and he blurted the rest, most inelegantly. "And if I could still make you happy, that would be more than enough reason to live."

He shut his mouth with a snap, and she stared at him blankly.

"Hn," he added, for good measure, as if that would restore the world he'd just tipped on its axis.

He realized he was still holding her wrist, but she seemed oblivious as she sank to her knees and sat back on her heels, still staring distantly at nothing. Eventually, she blinked, and eventually, she swallowed. And eventually, she looked back at him, a look of precarious half-hope on her face.

"Do you…love me?" she asked, scarcely audible, but his sharp ears caught every syllable.

He felt a very inappropriate blush creep across his cheeks, and he stared steadfastly out the window. "I…I lo…I love…" he broke off with a sigh, irritated that this was so damn hard to say. Rallying, he tried again. "I love…" Another sigh, but this time he was smiling, ever so slightly, as ebony caught emerald.

"I love the way you laugh."

Before he could even breathe, he was in her arms and he was staring past her shoulder, pink strands floating in his vision. He tried to hug her back, but with only one wrist free, he was rather incapable. So he let her embrace him as he'd never done before and tried to soak in all her warmth and give just a little back.

She finally pulled away, tears glistening in her bright, bright eyes, and smiled a breathtaking smile.

"Thank you," she whispered, completely serious, and he offered a genuine smile in return.

Because with those two words, she told him that she understood everything.

(I want to hold you high

and steal your pain)

fin