A/N: This Chappie is late, yes, I know. But I tried. I really did. And because I sat on it and revised it so many times, I'm really hoping it's the best I could make it be!
Thank-you to xREWIND, CandiesMoe, Cali0623, Bitter Faerie, Joh, ThePervertedGiraffe, Heaven Cobra, Boejangles, Jellybean06, Wrath of the Wrathful, PrincessAmioKi, M1nks, skepsis66, lovesephy15, MrsHellman, Shinobi Mi-chan, LynLin, Royaldark, theGreyPebble, Interrogated Pyjamas., spiffycaptainj, robinbirdz, Aimi Willows, Identity, A Kiss For A Kill, Anime Atomika, Teng a Ling, MagentaDusk, RASENGANXD, QjD, UkeSasuke, EmmaTheSpottedBat, cajega, orange sheep of the flock, Aiwin, elveljung, Teddyloverr, OrangeSpiral, hollowsmile, pinktears, dragonsfairy, Hopelesslielost, Kisa167, egglorru, utoi, MCrind, StreetRacerSakura, redhedinsanity, Positively, Faery Goddyss, EdSpikeSesshyGirl, Blood Zephyr, and fan girl 666.
Now this Chapter is intended as a... more reflective one, per se. Reflecting on relationships and the inherent ambiguity of everything. If that even makes sense o.O. And I'm quite sure that somehow my writing style has changed yet again but that's bound to happen anyway, and it's not always a bad thing.
Either way, tell me what you think in a review!
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
(T.S. Eliot: The Hollow Men)
He turns. "Yes, little brother?"
"I love you."
"I know," he says. "I know.")
I remember one summer a year or so ago when a great heatwave had struck Brisbane, temperatures rocketing up to forty or more, so that everywhere you went out the streets were empty, people shrivelling into their houses and cars, not trying to fight nature but trying to live by it, turning on air-conditioners and hand-held fans.
I'd sat in my home office that faced the road. I hadn't had an air-conditioner – I'd moved in just a month ago – and so I'd opened all the windows, trying to catch a breeze, propped my face on an elbow and stared out at the blank street, waiting for the syrupy day to end.
No breeze had come. But black flies had, tiny black bodies seeking to escape the baked sunshine. I'd watched their thin wings as they'd flown round my ceiling, the light glancing off them in translucent facets.
In the afternoon I'd closed all the windows again.
Some time afterwards, when the sun had died back down, a fly that had flown in when the windows had been open had begun to throw itself against the closed glass.
And I remember that there had been something very tragic about the sight – watching this tiny thing struggle with something much greater than itself, struggling to comprehend this invisible force (was it Destiny?) that slammed into it again and again and again, choking its life away even as it choked off its freedom –
That year, the heat had killed forty in Brisbane.
And that year, Sasuke had married Sakura Haruno.
There will always be a gaping void between what I know of myself and what I pretend to believe, and that is something I understand and cannot deny.
Some people will say, But you must know yourself. After all, nobody knows yourself better than you. And they will tell me that it is like being inside a great house – that only you yourself can know the inside of it, know each intimate room and corner, but others can only stand on the street and stare in, trying to guess the real whole from what they glimpse through the windows.
But I think – that cannot be right, can it?
Because what if you haven't built that house yet – or if you have the plans, but you've built it lopsided – or if you tear it all down because the timbers have rotted, and you want nothing more than to rebuild it again but can't, because you can't remember how to rebuild it healthy, how to rebuild the entire foundations whole –
What then? What are you supposed to do with yourself then?
Who are you even supposed to blame?
(If I could bottle the world and let it sit still, the whole universe given up to silence as the right and the wrong sifted out like two colours, bleeding apart from a centre of grey –
Afterward, would the world still be the same?
Is it even possible to reduce the whole world to two separate fragments, two plain-perfect halves? Is it possible for us to sit there and say – you are good, or you are evil, or you are or you are not to blame –
Is it possible? And what does that even mean?
When I was little Neji used to take me out to the city, back when my parents still owned our family business; and because on weekends they rarely came home and Neji had nowhere to go, he took care of me, took me out to pass the time, and we'd wonder like ghosts through the grid-like streets, visiting bookshops, cafes, museums, shopfronts; sitting together beneath the sandstone arches of the Casino and looking out at the people just drifting on by, trying to guess pasts by the set of their faces.
And I remember the feeling so, so clearly – that sense of soaring, the white in the blue of the sky; only the two of us still while the rest of the world moved on, crowds flowing, changing, merging, dividing. It was a freedom that started somewhere inside and pushed outward like a bubble, a great, golden bubble; the two of us trying to suppress it because it was so unreasonable that we should feel so happy, so free –
– and then, suddenly, the bubble growing too big to hold back, and the smiles would break out across our faces and for no reason at all (and that was what made it so beautiful) we'd just laugh, and laugh, and laugh, and laugh.
We didn't think very much of the world around us, in those days. We didn't really care. And I loved it, I loved him, I loved it that way.
When I was about eight my mother died and my father took in a second wife.
And the whole world changed. Neji changed.
All my life I never quite understood why.
We still did the old things – went out on weekends, sat on street corners. But everything was different now that Mother was gone. The bubble had burst, and neither of us knew how to conjure it again; so that when we looked at the people around us we couldn't see anything, or at least not the things that we once used to see.
I became quiet, uncertain, confused, unsure. And Neji became cold, and foreign, and harsh.
Every now and then I remember he would point out certain people, not caring if they saw him or saw me stare.
And he'd say to me, That person is bad, Hinata; and then I'd ask him why, and he'd say, I can tell.
Once I remember asking him how he could tell. And he'd told me that he could see their colours – see whether they were black, or whether they were white; whether they were good, or whether they were bad.
You'll understand one day, Hinata, he'd told me. One day you'll be able to see the truth like me. Whether a person's heart is straight or not, whether or not it lies in the right place.
At that time, I hadn't understood. The colours had not yet come to my eyes.
But when they did come – and I can't remember when they did – I'd still not understood, not understood his words at all.
Even now, I still do not understand.
Because straight is a line, or the way of a street – but a human heart...?
I wonder that it can be defined at all. In my mind, I never see it as black or as white.
No matter how long I sit and I stare, the human heart has always been grey.)
I wake. Silence.
Open eyes. Silence.
I stand. Silence.
The moonlight is bleeding right into my arms.
Everything has happened.
When I went up to see her she'd opened the window, and in her bra and underwear she was trying to pack.
From the doorway I watched her. Shadows dipped at her back. Only when she straightened again did I see they were bruises, morbid blossoms that lounged out all over her skin. Her left shoulder where she'd charged into the mirror I'd tried to bandage, but I had not done a good job and it was coming undone. In the wash of milk-moonlight the dried blood blanched faint purple. A piece of pale mirror tangled tears in her hair.
What are you doing, I said.
Nothing in her paused. It was as if she had not heard me at all.
I waited a moment, unsure. The first time between us that I did not know how to handle her. Not glass like Naruto – but pieces of glass, and I was afraid that if I spread my cupped fingers I'd lose her.
(And I was afraid of the fact that I seemed to care, and couldn't understand why on earth I did.)
I cleared my throat. Sakura? I said.
Something tightened. She turned her head a fraction. And her face was very careful, little pieces slid into place, she was hiding behind the soft green of her eyes.
I'm going home, she said.
I swallowed hard. What did you say?
I'm going home, again.
I couldn't think of where she could possibly mean. Her parents had died well over a year ago. She had no other relatives alive. I stood there in silence for a long while trying to understand her; she waited, and then started packing again.
I saw that her hands were shaking, just slightly. In the light they only served to make her more fragile, give her the suspended look of a precious vase – a fragility only apparent when the vase is broken.
I bit my lip and looked away.
Where's that? I asked finally, looking anywhere but directly at her.
America. She went to the dresser, opened it. The moon chased her every movement in silver. I have – there's a boy there. He used to send me letters.
I forgot myself. Letters? I hissed, very softly, and I crossed the floor and grabbed her arm.
She didn't fight me. But she tightened again.
I remembered the bruises on the skin of her back.
And then, strangely, and very, very slowly, I let go of her and looked away again.
It was a notion of being utterly helpless, so completely unable to make sense of things. She'd changed and I couldn't possibly blame her. She'd become like Naruto now, and I had this vague feeling – that somehow everyone in my life was moving, and I was the only one standing still, and one by one they were leaving me behind. It terrified me in a way I couldn't possibly define.
Did he – love you? I asked tersely, my fingers brushing her arm again.
She moved away as if my touch had burned her.
I think – he used to. It was a very long time ago. Before I lov – before I married you.
When are you leaving, then?
I haven't bought the tickets yet.
Are you going to –
She looked up at me and the words caught themselves in my throat. I swallowed them. They didn't seem to matter anymore, just vain little flaps of air, signifying nothing. I folded my arms over my chest instead and turned my head away from the green of her eyes.
She took a step towards me. I snapped at her. Don't touch me.
She stopped. Turned away.
And I could feel everything in the air between us, the hours and the days and the months and the years, all the times I'd hated her, all the times she'd hated me, and all the times she'd loved –
I tried again.
Are you going to come back? To Australia?
It depends on whether – whether he'll still have me. She made a weak attempt at a was no accusation in her tone and that stung me more. Nobody wants damaged goods, right?
I flinched inwardly. Tried to keep my expression impassive but failed somehow, a few things slipped out between the cracks.
She misread the look on my face.
I know you won't want a divorce, Sasuke. I know that – that you have a reputation you have to keep at the Corporation. So I won't ask for a divorce. Just a – separation. For a little while. Until things get better. You can just tell them that I've gone to visit a relative or – gone for a holiday. They don't need to know.
A holiday, I echoed weakly. My voice gave out halfway. Alright. If – if that's what you want, Sakura.
I nodded. She went back to her packing.
And then we lapsed into silence, because it seemed fitting somehow. The blind words couldn't break themselves out of my mouth.
The house is quiet but the world is loud; and outside the grey wind is lashing at trees, brooding, each furious blow heavy against the walls of my house, trying to rip the fabric of my being apart. No matter how many years pass me by I always find that I'm surprised at the sheer force of the world, find it hard to reconcile it with who I am deep at heart.
And so normally I never go outside at night – because it is easier to stay inside, watch the world from my window, and know that the glass (this house) insulates me from the chaos outside.
But tonight, the wind calls me. The black shadows writhe.
I go out and the impending storm tears at me with claws. I watch the wide world as it heaves and it sighs, a great demonic thing with eyes that glow black in the moon.
And I find the only constant thing in this world is my shadow: dark and deadly, but staying right by my side.
When at last I turned to leave she caught at my shoulder, just a soft brushing of pale fingertips.
Do you love him, Sasuke? she asked very quietly.
I didn't speak. She took her hand away from my sleeve. And she knew the answer, even though I didn't speak it; she knew it, because she'd felt it before.
From the moon I could see the grey of her shadow, still and empty on the opposite wall.
I've failed you, haven't I? she said.
The wake of her words chased me out of the room.
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
(T.S. Eliot: The Hollow Men)
(It is a bit like falling, like starting down a steep slope; when things start breaking apart you know you can't stop them, because if you want to stop falling you must have something to hold onto, and the closest things to your hands is the sky.
And it's at this sort of time when you gradually realise – that from the very beginning you'd known it would end, but because you'd had hope (because you were only human) you'd let it all happen, you'd let yourself go.
You had always known that you were falling.
And I know now, why it had never seemed to bother me before – because before, Sasuke had fallen along with me; and it hadn't seemed to matter how far I fell, as long as I did not fall all alone.
Selfish, isn't it? But that's what we are...)
Guilt is a precious, precious thing.
It is perhaps one of the subtler emotions – not so blatant as happiness, or sadness, or anger, but nonetheless still terrifyingly potent.
When Sakura left the house for the final time I stood upstairs by my bedroom window, watching as her car pulled out of the driveway. In the night it was hard to see her face through the windscreen. I tried – twice – but then she was gone, and soon not even the shadow of her car remained.
The house was so, so very quiet without her.
I closed the window and then the curtain behind it. The thick drapes felt confused and alien beneath my hands. And through the numbness I felt – familiar, but not entirely so – I felt a distinct loneliness, now that I had destroyed everything I possibly could've, now that I was left with nothing but what I'd started with –
– an empty house, the shimmering dark, and my own shadow a stark reminder beside me.
I looked at it for a while. It seemed very complacent. There was a unifying but still a separateness about it, as if it didn't quite belong to me. Or perhaps I didn't quite belong to it.
Who was I, anyway, to lay claim to such an abstract entity as a shadow?
When I went to the ensuite to wash my hands I'd looked up and caught my reflection in the mirror.
Could I even lay claim to my own reflection?
Was it my reflection?
I'd looked into the dark eyes and realised how inhuman they looked to me now, how very similar and yet unrecognisable the expression in them was.
I turned the tap off and trailed wet fingers on the glass.
Sasuke, I'd said to the mirror as clear as I could.
But that didn't feel right. That made it seem – as if the real Sasuke was the one in the mirror, that I was calling to him from across the glass, because I was a sham – an empty shell – and I knew I couldn't live without the truth of a name.
That didn't feel right.
No, I'd said, to amend it. I am Sasuke. I am Sasuke. I am.
The reflection had seemed to say, You don't know who you are at all.
I know who I am, I'd said then to the silence.
The dark eyes had watched calmly, completely unconvinced.
I know who I am, I'd repeated again. I am Sasuke. I am –
But my own eyes had known the lie in those words. With the emptiness had come a sense of utter loss, an utter inability to understand who it was – was it Sasuke Uchiha? or somebody (something) else? – that lingered in the shadows behind the mirror.
I didn't know who I really was at all. It wouldn't matter how many times I tried to say it.
Silence would have been better.
I wake because I hear a car starting, and when I look up at Sasuke's house I see the garage door begin to raise.
I am afraid. There is something tremulous in the air. I open my car door and stand out on the road, knowing that the stars are a strange off-white, and when I see Sakura's car pulling out I feel a grinding weight in my stomach.
She can see me. I know it. I stand by the road.
But she does not stop for me – doesn't even pause; and as I watch her red tail-lights turn the next street corner I know I have failed her, in the worst possible way.
The stars blink at me. Their judgement is cold and serene.
The place where her car has turned away is shimmering like heat, a torpid sienna that stings the back of the eye. Like twin clots of blood they trail away up the asphalt. I feel as if I could reach out my fingers – touch each scale of colour and watch them bead on my skin, bead and then roll off like swollen drops of rain.
My throat is dry. I look back up at the house. And it too is the same brick-baked, deadened red, not new wounds but old ones reopened, uncleansed, no sudden truths but what was there all along, simmering beneath a thin surface no-one had dared to release.
Something has broken today.
I tremble in the face of it. Like a terrible gust of cold wind.
And to prevent myself breaking I sit down on the curbside, stare up at the single lighted window in the house. A shadow moves into it like a giant black hand. Beside me dandelions are pushing up through the grass, choking to death but still trying.
(Naruto was wrong.
There were photographs – photographs of me, my family; the world as it could've been before Itachi had torn it all apart.
In those days, photographs meant nothing much to us; we took them and we forgot them, slotted them away like prisoners into photo albums, put them onto the bookshelves where they collected – not memories, but dust, windows into days gone by.
We had never been the perfect family: my father was stern and always away on business, my mother too soft, too pliant, too gentle. Like stone and water my parents held us together, raising me and raising my brother as if they never quite knew what to do with us. My father favoured Itachi. My mother favoured me. And so divisions began, tiny cracks beneath stone; spreading silently outward, a slow corrosion.
I had always loved Itachi.
It was something ingrained in me; Itachi was clever and charming and talented. He was the first-born son of the Uchiha family. People lowered their eyes in respect when he passed them. I loved him as one might love an idol, a deep admiration that throbbed like a heartbeat through my chest: and like a heartbeat my love for him held me together, kept me alive and – strangely – kept me whole.
And so we grew – we grew together, together but somehow always apart, two branches of the same tree peeling away from its trunk.
By the time that we were both old enough to realise that gaping chasm between us it was too late, we were already too old, nothing could bridge us anymore.
Nothing could change what had already been done.
We could only try and fix it – patch it together – like trying to bind two minds together with twine. But even as we tried we both knew we were failing; we were just too different, and yet just too much the same, so that when we tried to quantify what we were to each other we always fell short, never quite knew the answers.
So I've always wondered –
Why did he do it?
Is it even possible to feel such desperation – such despair – that you would turn the gun on the ones that you love?
Is it possible? If you had that choice – would you take it?
I suppose Itachi and I are not so different after all.
Except I am perhaps the better murderer – not killing from the outside with the quick silence of a bullet; but killing from the inside, a slow spreading rot.
I am worse than poison. I kill from within the heart.)
That night I sat by the bed and watched him.
He was still asleep. The black cupped around him like a hand. When he breathed a little strand of soft blonde hair quivered over the side of his cheek like a sunbeam, so slight and inconsequential I could almost believe it was air.
Temari came in through the doorway behind me.
Something had happened. I could tell by her stance. And almost immediately I knew what the problem was, because I'd been expecting it, and anyway Temari had become predictable these days.
I could feel her. She was restless. She had something to say.
I could've put her out of her misery and broached the topic myself – but I was curious, I wanted to know how she'd approach it. What way she'd frame things. What weapons she'd use. I'd always known that was the surest way to tell what somebody thought of you.
And so for a moment that was just all there was – her shadow from the doorway spilling over my back, pure silence, more shadows, and quiet muffled breath; and absolute stillness but for a strand of blonde hair.
I reached out and brushed the strand away.
The movement broke things. It ended her silence. From the shift in her shadow I knew she'd made up her mind.
Why did you bring him here, I heard her say.
She'd surprised me by avoiding the subject altogether. Just testing the waters. I didn't turn to face her.
He needed somebody, I said at last to the air.
Are you sure that's the reason, Gaara?
Yes. I'm sure.
She moved and I heard the rustle of skirts, the dulcet stab of a high-heeled shoe. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her hand inch towards me, as if to try and touch my shoulder. I turned and looked at her. The hand stopped halfway.
She smirked. Testing the waters again.
You seem very defensive, Gaara, she said. Are you sure you didn't bring him here just because you needed somebody?
On Temari's bed Naruto slept on, the sharp stab of light from the open doorway spearing thinly at the tip of his throat.
I don't need anybody, Temari, I said then, quietly. To me, everybody is dispensable. Even you.
Dispensable? I hope that's not a fucked up way of insinuating that you'd kill me, Gaara. Unless you plan on killing Kankurou to shut him up too.
What must be done must be done, I said very calmly. In my mind I could see the sudden flash of white metal, the mesmerising splatter of arterial spray on a wall. Subconsciously, my hand grazed the top of Naruto's arm. Now go away, Temari.
She didn't. Fuck you. I want answers.
I looked at her. Her lips were pinched into one white line, so that the shadows under her cheekbones and nestled warm at her throat were even more pronounced, jagged shapes on the edge of her pale skin.
No, I told her.
If it wasn't for me, Gaara, you'd be in jail right now. I think I'm entitled to some fucking idea of what is going on around here – !
And if it wasn't for me, Temari, you'd have died years ago.
She snarled. I'd gotten to her; her hands were shaking. I watched as she leant forward to hiss the words into my face, a Temari entirely different to the cynical journalist she pretended to be.
That was your mistake, not mine. You had the choice, you didn't take it. You know that I can still end things now. The police are out looking for you right this minute.
I looked at her throat. You forget that I can end things too.
Is that meant to be a threat? – a semi-masked growl, but beneath it a quivering, anticipatory fear.
I kept my eyes steady. Not a threat. Just a promise.
She clenched her fists. Her knuckles tightened to white. And for a sudden, surprising moment I saw her morph into me, saw the fury that clenched her green eyes to black. She leaned forward again as if to kiss me, and in resignation I waited – but instead she just placed a finger against my lip.
I don't ever want to see you again, she hissed. You're a murderer. Get out before I call the police.
I smiled at the thin membrane (so very, very breakable) that stretched out over her white collarbones.
Her eyes sparked. Get out! she snapped. Get out!
I smiled again. She really was quite predictable.
I'm not a murderer, Temari, I told her then, and her finger rode over the curve of my lips.
When he smiled I knew he was looking at my throat, and suddenly a dark lash struck across my back like a splinter and I snapped beneath it.
Get out! I yelled at him. Get out!
And then he was smiling again, with that terrible, cool jade in his eyes, as glassy and expressionless as that of a corpse. I was suddenly afraid. My finger felt glued to his lips.
I'm not a murderer, Temari, he said to me then.
I lifted my hand and slapped him. Hard, across the face. The sound of the blow ricocheted off the walls, came back like an echo and swooped us again.
He turned his face back to me with a peculiar, deadly look in his eyes. I'd seen that look before only once in my life.
A sudden flash of silver caught my eye and I looked down to his left hand.
He had flicked on his lighter.
You're a liar, I hissed shakily then, still staring at the lighter. You're a liar!
I'm not a murderer.
I took a step back. I don't believe you!
I – don't –
A smile tweaked the corner of his pale, dead lips. You see? I told you that you wouldn't believe me.
I started away from him with a cry, pulled my arm back to myself. My voice climbed in jagged staggers and leaps. I didn't feel like myself at all.
You – monster – you killed him, I know you did – !
How would you know?
I just – know – !
When he opened his mouth each word fell like a death-knell, the silent shadows within them pummelling me into the dark. Behind him, as if in a glass-sealed slumber, the form of Naruto Uzumaki dreamed on.
I didn't kill him, he said.
(The last twist of the knife.)
When I arrive he is standing outside his own house, arms spread out before him, tilting forward into the fringe of an imminent storm.
He looks at me slowly. He raises an eyebrow.
I want to see her, I tell him quietly then.
About the article?
You want her to withdraw it from print.
It is not a question; it does not need to be. I am surprised. He has read my mind completely.
He looks away again, and lowers the spread of his palms. I have her address, he says softly. But you might want to wait until the storm passes over.
I don't want to wait for anything now, Shikamaru.
The tone of my voice surprises him this time. He brings his dark eyes to my face once again, pricks and probes it, searches into my eyes.
Finally, he nods.
Yes, he says then. Shadows clasp at his back as he turns to go back inside. I suppose if you start the storm then there's no point in waiting for it to pass you over.
Best to end it, his silence seems to say; and I follow him quietly back into his house.
The boy, when he comes, is tall. He has a tan leather jacket and slightly-ripped jeans, a black shirt under the jacket, a cheap ring on his hand. He has a duffel bag slung carelessly over one shoulder. I try to see his face but I can't. He avoids the light from the few streetlamps, preferring to stay safe in familiar territory, melts himself back into the consuming darkness.
He is brown – a rich, solid, red-brown. The colour of deerskin when it's dipped in water, a wet sort of darkness that fades away in the sun. The moment you tangle your fingers in that colour you think of wood – and yet not wood entirely, because if you breathe it as well it is not the sweet scent of timber but an earthier one, the scent of blood and sinew and bone.
It is the scent – the colour – of movement, of yearning for greater things. Of heavy, leafed branches stretching out to a sky.
A shadow stirs behind him. I catch a glimpse of a dog.
And then he steps into a ring of light – reluctantly; I see it in his sudden spike of grey – and as he steps up to the front of Sasuke Uchiha's house I catch the twin red scars slashing down his cheeks.
I gasp. The dog turns its great brown head.
So does the boy.
And it is only then that I realise that I'm standing by my car, the dandelions behind me, staring out across the road. Above me the night starts up restless and snarling. The weight of two sets of dark brown eyes settles onto my shoulders, makes my body waver. Cast within them I feel myself weak and confused.
Lightning comes a sudden white fork in the darkness.
The storm breaks.
I turn. I smile. "Itachi?"
"I know," I say. "I know.")
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
(T.S. Eliot: The Hollow Men)
A/N: Okay, first things first:
If you didn't understand that little exchange between Temari and Gaara, don't worry, it'll make itself clear later. Mwahaha. I love tossing in these little... distracters? No, they're not really distracters, they do actually serve a purpose in terms of themes and whatnot, but... well, they're not really there for the main plot. Did that make any sense? Probably not. I very rarely make sense. O.o
And yes, I am intending... to bring in Itachi... sometime soon...
No SasuNaru in this Chapter (or GaaNaru either, which I'm sure some will see as a good thing – and no, I'm not planning to have GaaNaru in this Fic as a major pairing anyway, so don't get worried) – but there will be. In the next Chapter.
How will it happen?
Guess you'll have to read to find out... (When I find the time to post it, that is. Haha. And yes, my new One-Shot for reaching 300 reviews will be coming out of the works soon as well!)
In the meantime, REVIEWWWWW! :P