I know you are all anxious to read about what happened to Sakura, but I have to ask you to refrain from skipping ahead. The first part of this has a little piece of valuable information you'll need before you decide if this story is a tragedy or completed romance. Please read carefully and enjoy the final chapter of Unsan Mushō.
- - -
Scattered Clouds, Disappearing Mist
- - -
Konohagakure no Deidara smirked as he knocked the final shinobi in the back of the head, his deft fingers striking the pressure point with a sure force, dropping the man like a sack of potatoes.
Fallen ninja lay scattered on the roadway all around him and in unconscious heaps and piles propped unceremoniously against the wall. Scorch marks and broken bits of stone smeared around the fallen men, splatters of scarlet painted the cement beneath his feet.
"That was fun! Did senpai see Tobi's killer moves?!"
Shaking his disheveled blonde hair, Deidara pushed up his ANBU mask and pulled it to the side, freeing his vision. Blue immediately locked onto the swirling, obnoxious orange and spontaneous black that was his partner, his face breaking out into a surprised grin at the pile of shinobi lying at the boy's feet.
"You actually did well Tobi..."
The words had barely left his mouth before the boy swung himself at him, wrapping his arms around his waist, lifting him off the ground and swinging in fast circles.
"Yay! Tobi is amazing!"
His squeals grew incoherent as he buried his masked face into Deidara's chest, chanting and spinning. Shutting his eyes hard against the wave of sudden nausea, the bomb-specialist dug his fist onto the black spikes being shoved into his face, snarling curses.
"Put me down you imbecile, un!"
Tobi released him abruptly and Deidara crashed to the ground, barely able to keep his knees from buckling as he forcefully swung his weight forward to keep from toppling over. He glared venomously at his partner, who began to back away from his flaring eyes, hands up placidly.
He didn't see the rock propping up the gleaming blade of a fallen tanto behind his partner until Tobi suddenly lost balance, and Deidara's quick grab for the boy's flailing fingers fell just short of his grip.
With a sickening crunch, Tobi fell hard on the blade, and the tip of it glinted out against the thin vest over the boy's middle. But before Deidara could even blink, his partner suddenly pulled the tanto clear through, a soft 'ow' escaping the orange swirls when his back hit the rock. The short blade clattered harmlessly to the ground, not even a hint of blood staining the metal.
Stunned, the blonde looked at the discarded weapon before turning his gaze to his – somehow – uninjured companion, the panic that had risen in his chest still flaring wildly in a fierce pound against his ribcage.
"What… what in the hells was THAT?!"
He smacked Tobi over the head, making the boy cower under his beating hands.
"Ow, that hurts senpai!"
His arms wrapped firmly around Deidara's legs, threatening the bomb-specialist's balance. Biting back a curse as his body tilted backwards, the blonde drilled his knuckles into the boy's head to stay upright, growling.
"Why didn't you tell me you could teleport, un?!" (2)
Tobi grasped him tighter, sniffling.
"Tobi is sorry senpai! Tobi thought senpai knew about Tobi's special skill! Sakura-nee asked Tobi to teach her so Tobi naturally thought senpai knew as well!"
Deidara shook as his panic slowly abated; his breathing was harsh and ragged as he stared down at his partner, trying to sound calm.
"Just don't… ever…"
His fist softened on the dark head as he sighed, fighting down his anger, his fingers splaying over the boy's soft spikes.
"…don't ever scare me like that again, you little shit."
Tobi began to nod against his shins before pausing as Deidara's words fully sank in, the hint of fondness in the otherwise harsh words making the orange mask lift up to him inquiringly.
"Senpai was worried about Tobi?"
Suddenly uncomfortable, the blonde turned his head away.
"I might've gotten carried away…"
The boy didn't seem to hear him as the boy suddenly shot upwards to his feet, hands folded like in prayer as he leaned in, mask pressing against the other's nose.
"Does that mean senpai sees Tobi as his friend?"
"Don't you get carried away, un," Deidara muttered at the hopeful tone, but a smirk fell over his lips at the declaration. He roughly ruffled the boy's unruly hair and walked away towards the Tower, not bothering to answer the question.
As if expecting his silence, Tobi didn't pressure him further and easily fell into step next to his senpai, the bright smile wide on his scarred lips hidden beneath his mask.
- - -
Seimei (1) Canyon was serene in the evening sunlight, the faint breeze whistling pleasantly over the rocky crags and rounded boulders hanging off the crimson walls. The call of hawks nesting within echoed over the rocks, creating a rhythm to the melody of the forest beyond.
A cloud of dust sifted into the breeze off of Manda's corpse, now a mere pile of sand and flakes of skin. A hush settled over the great serpent's remains, over the path his mighty tail had gouged from the wood. Birds sang atop the fallen trunks, chirping merrily at the loss of danger. A raven took flight over the scene, leaving his perch atop the crumbling snake and flew towards the wide expanse of the canyon. With a soft caw escaping its ebony beak, it flew over the ledge and down to the cool waters below, gliding effortlessly on the breeze.
All was peaceful. All was quiet.
Sasuke stared over the edge, unmoving, unbelieving. The sun was cruel and hot overhead, bearing down on him, heating his already flushed skin underneath the green vest and black net shirt plastered to his body.
But he didn't feel it.
A calming breeze brushed through his raven hair, teasing the gravity-defiant strands with a gentle wind not too warm but not too cold. It swept his long bangs into his onyx eyes and across his chin, making him blink at the sudden invasion.
But he didn't feel it.
Not the sun chastising his back, nor the wind attacking his scalp, not even the feel of the various rocks and pebbles grinding against his body as he lay against the earth.
There was nothing.
Only the blank chasm of the empty canyon before him, with the blue outline of a river far down below.
He stared forward, unseeing, drifting in and out of conscious.
That damned space; that emptiness.
It was taunting him to go over the edge, to end the pain.
One hand gripped the side of the cliff near his shoulder, disrupting the gravel but not stopping, even as his nails began to bleed under the assailing sharp rocks they were digging into. The other reached down into the chasm, hoping to grab what wasn't there anymore.
Sasuke stared at that hand, that one thing before him that his mind could register, and traced the familiar arches and curves.
He knew his hands well. Each callous showed him the proof that he had forced them to be strong and lithe, quick and nimble; able to pull a kunai out of his pocket in a split second, then block half a moment later. He knew his hands. He had trained them to always be firm and confident, to lead him into the thick of battle, to spring into action before his mind reacted, to do what they had to do and do to do it right the first time. He knew his hands. They had never led him astray. They were always what he had trained them to be, even when he didn't need them to be.
For the first time in his life, Sasuke's hands had failed him.
The Uchiha stared at the outstretched fingers, traced the throbbing tendons and past the split joints, towards the cracked nails. Crimson splotches peppered his fingertips, smeared his palm.
He fought the urge to scream.
He lifted his gaze once more to the dark void before him where she had been, not moments before. He stared at nothing with intent, as though he were trying to memorize it, to emboss every detail into his brain. Details he could see, but wasn't seeing.
Instead, Sasuke found himself staring down into deep emerald eyes, those very same eyes that have been haunting him for almost four years. Those eyes that used to annoy him so with their happiness; that crushed him with their emptiness. Those eyes that, after so many years of causing him pain, finally rose to meet his own, soft with defeat and peace instead of blazing with determination and hidden agony.
Those eyes that, in one moment, showed him something he had wanted to see for so long.
Forgiveness, even though he had failed her.
His gaze slowly shifted back to his wandering hand, slightly amazed that it was now binding tightly into a fist. He was aware of its action, but he watched it in fascination, not comprehending that he was moving it, just that it was moving on its own. Pain sliced across his palm and he flinched slightly, small beads of red sliding down from under his attacking nails.
Just her calm face, a small relieved smile gracing her lips because she knew it was finally over.
She was silent, even as he was losing grip, even as the canyon echoed his pleas for her to hold on, to lift up her other hand and pull herself up.
No sound, even as her fingers stopped gripping his own and slid down his hand in a trail of scarlet.
No sound, even as she fell into the chasm below, as the river swallowed her up.
Slowly, carefully, Sasuke pulled his hand back to himself.
It had taken four years to mend his wounded heart, and now he could feel it shattering and falling into the canyon in a million pieces, leaving him with nothing but an empty hole in his chest.
The sensation was so painfully familiar his voice broke in his throat, making a smothered noise he didn't recognize as his own.
Silence had claimed him once she had slipped from him, and his world ceased meaning.
But now it was coming alive, and he felt a terrible pain, far greater than any pain he had ever been exposed to.
His fist opened and closed in front of his face, the movements jerky as a rage flared up within him.
A shinobi must never show emotion…
Sasuke closed his burning eyes tightly and slammed his fist into the canyon wall, the sheer force of it shattering the rock and sending it down in a shower of broken fragments.
It is a weakness…
Then he screamed, his throat ripping and bleeding, chocking his voice down and strangling him, but he yelled harder against the pain, even as tears were wrenched from his eyes in the agony.
- - -
Naruto Uzumaki looked up as Kakashi approached, his sensei's one visible eye calmly surveying the damage done to the Tower.
"Quite the explosions," the gray-haired man said quietly, swinging to look at his former student. "Danzo's chakra signature has disappeared and Sasuke's hasn't moved out of the vicinity in a chase of any kind. It's safe to assume the battle is over."
The Jounin paused, giving the blonde an once-over before shaking his head, his hands burying deep into his pockets.
"Sakura's signature blinked out as well for a few moments, but there's a chance it'll show up again. I'm sure Sasuke will find her and bring her home."
Naruto nodded numbly, his throat frozen and tight. He caught sight of chakra shackles hanging from the older man's belt, and he sighed deeply, trying not to get angry at the sight of the handcuffs.
"Let's get going," Kakashi continued, ever the voice of reason. "Deidara-san and Tobi stopped the shinobi at the northern roadway. All attacks have stopped. We need to get the rendezvous point and search for Sasuke and Sakura… and to get Hinata some medical attention," he added, gesturing towards the girl resting quietly in the kitsune's arms.
The blonde started slightly before gazing down at the Hyuuga's sleeping face, a gentle smile starting to itch in the corners of his mouth.
Kakashi noticed the exchange but remained silent, a small chuckle vibrating in his throat before he turned and headed for the forest, his student instantly trailing the edge of his shadow.
As he walked, Naruto studied Hinata's features, the peaceful lines of her relaxed brow, the hint of a content smile blooming over her bloodied lips. Crimson smears tainted her pale flesh where he'd wiped the blood from her chin, but she still managed to glow regardless, her lavender scent lulling his tense body to calm.
"… I… love you… Naruto…"
"Why me…?" he whispered down to her, his breath shifting gently through her bangs like a caress. "Why would you fall for an idiot like me…?"
"Because I… love you…"
He still couldn't believe it; no matter how many times her words circled his brain, the truth ringing off every syllable, he couldn't grasp her reason.
He was Naruto the Orphan; Naruto the Nobody, the Demon.
Naruto the One No One Wanted.
Eyes suddenly burning, he pressed his lips to her forehead, his cheeks dusting a pleasant scattering of red.
"Arigato Hinata-chan," he told her, holding her easily in his arms, happy to be the one supporting her for once. She snuggled further into his chest in answer, a smile breaking through her dreams. His own lips lifted in return, his heart beating rapidly underneath her hand resting tenderly on his chest as he stared down at the angel in his arms. His angel.
Blissfully happy for the first time in his lonely life, Naruto grinned into her hair. A few happy tears sliding down his cheeks and snagged in his smile.
- - -
Grab the nearest tissue box… no really. Do it. Now.
- - -
Sasuke Uchiha didn't know how he managed to move so quickly down the canyon wall. Everything was blurring together, his skin was on fire, the rocks under him crunched beneath the onslaught of his sandals. Somehow he'd made it to the river beds with nothing more than aching knees. Closer inspection showed him his hands were cut and bleeding just slightly without his knowledge or permission.
His foggy mind didn't comprehend his descent until he raised his eyes to the top of the canyon edge, where he'd been at what felt like lifetimes before… years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes… seconds. Moments and dreams. He couldn't tell them apart anymore.
Every intake of breath burned through his chest; every step jolted down his spine.
He could feel everything and nothing all at once. He was drifting, driven on by his instincts, by the pull he felt tugging at his pounding heart, lifting his feet, sifting his weight, moving him. His body continued forward, and he followed, unaware of his actions.
Sasuke felt like a glacier had taken form in his stomach, numbing his entire body. His skin felt like lava was pooling down his flesh, searing it clean off through muscle and charring bone, trapping his mind in a painful haze.
He stumbled over a rocky crag and his body jerked forward. He barely felt the hard rocks slicing deeply against him as his body collapsed, moving on its own to shakily stand, to resume its painful trek.
Her name bubbled in his throat, grated over his tongue, stung his lips. His eyes closed in pain as her face broke through his foggy mind, slamming his body down with more pain than any one of Danzo's wind-driven attacks, more white-hot intensity than Naruto's Rasengan, more powerful than Itachi's ultimate defense.
He looked up and basked in the wind pressing against his face. Her voice floated around him, stopping his driving feet, holding him up as he shook in place, feeling more lost than the time he'd scrubbed blood off straw mats his first morning as an orphan.
The voice swirled around in his mind, floating in distant intervals. He found himself moving again and allowed his feet to continue the movement, too lost to the breeze whispering in his ears.
It was all a pleasant dream in a life full of nightmares, and he welcomed the change, no matter the circumstances of its arrival.
He didn't ask why she was haunting him so. It was his fault after all.
His plans, his revenge, his ignorance. But she'd paid the price.
Sasuke was surprised at his own voice, but the shock refused to halt his feet as the wind cradled him in its gentle embrace. His own words echoed around him, captured in the tender gusts surrounding him, driving him onward. He sought penance in every painful step, for every voice, every ghost reaching out to taunt him.
His feet stopped at her voice. It was clearer this time but still too far away. He swallowed hard against the lump in his throat and dared himself to look away from the rocky ground when the world went silent. The wind died but her voice remained, a lover's kiss against his skin.
A raven cawed from high above, drawing his attention. The ebony bird circled in the clouds, slightly ahead of where he stood. It dipped low and he could feel the air shift over his head as it flew over him, turning sharply before shooting forward, clawing at his hair as it passed.
The sharp dig of talons cleared his mind just enough for him to focus on the bird, his eyes following the raven as it ducked down in a figure eight pattern before flying for him again, repeating the abuse until Sasuke managed to duck underneath the onslaught. It seemed pleased with his reaction and perched on an overhang, staring down at him with onyx eyes.
The Uchiha stared right back at the bird, taking in the proud manner of its resting position, its head tilted towards him inquiringly. He lifted his hand out and the raven settled down on his arm, silently gazing over at him.
Ebony flashed as the raven tugged on his sleeve with a sharp beak, cawing once before taking flight again. Without hesitation, Sasuke followed, his pace faster and surer than before.
His guide led him down the winding river beds, the sound of water rushing downstream drowning out the loud rustle of raven feathers striking the wind. He didn't know how long he followed the raging river, stumbling beneath the raven's shadow, but he kept forward. He didn't understand the feelings twisting in his gut as he ran after the bird, but he knew, as long as the raven flew, he'd follow. He didn't ask why.
A form slowly came into his view as he rounded a turn, a mass of black and pale red half in and half out of the water. The water stilled off the edge of the river, forming a calm pool around the figure. The raven made a sound that sounded suspiciously like triumph before it dived for the twisted black shape, back-winging last second to settle on a rock next to it.
Sasuke found himself beside her an instant before his mind had properly identified who she was, and in his next breath he was tugging her out of the pool, lifting her into his arms, cradling her broken form to his chest.
The raven gazed at them in solemn silence as the Uchiha gently brushed matted pastel locks away from her face, bringing her peaceful smile into view.
Her skin was cold and ashen under his shaking fingers but surprisingly smooth. The rushing water had washed away all traces of blood from her still form. She looked like she had just fallen asleep against him, happy to be in his arms, comfortable in his warmth.
He felt his heart shatter all over again.
"I'm sorry Sakura," he choked, lifting her body closer to his own, barely feeling the freezing dampness of her ruined cloak against his vest. His fingertips traced down her brow, her cheek bone, her jaw line, resting over her lips as his walls finally broke, and his eyes closed against the pain of her frozen features, tears pricking at his eyes. His body trembled and he buried his face into her chest, breathing her in, tears falling freely down his face.
He couldn't believe she was gone. It scared him knowing he'd have to see Naruto's face as he carried her body back to the village. It scared him knowing he'd be at the front of the line, pressing flowers onto her grave. It scared him knowing that for the rest of his life, she wouldn't be there, to smile for him, to laugh with him, to hold him tight and kiss him senseless because he needed to shut the hell up.
It scared him because it was his fault.
And Sasuke breathed for forgiveness against her cold skin, his soul screaming for the life they should've had, that had been wrenched from his grasp as swiftly as her hand had slid down his. He broke there, in the bottom of the canyon, his forced down sobs drowned by the folds of her cloak. He wept without shame against her unresponsive form, his body trembling as he clutched onto her tighter. Sasuke needed to hear her voice; he yearned for her voice to come back to him and hold him in a comforting haze but the wind was dead, heedless to his silent screams. She was still and soundless in his arms; nothing had ever ringed so loudly in his ears. Even the rushing river had lost its ferocity.
"I'm so sorry," he told her, over and over again, his broken words muffled against her rigid body.
A gentle touch pulled at his raven spikes; tender fingertips warmed his scalp as they rubbed calming circles into his skin. The movements were so welcoming he leaned into the gesture, his emotions calming to quiet streams. His body didn't recognize the significance of the feeling until a tiny giggle rumbled against his cheek, and a loving caress ghosted across his brow.
"You're… getting my cloak wet…"
His eyes snapped open and he pulled back, his heart stopping as the onyx of his eyes met with emerald.
"Hi…" she whispered, her voice dry and hoarse; the simple word was almost indistinguishable. But it rang one hundred percent Sakura and he blinked in shock, tears still slipping down his cheeks at the familiar greeting.
She smiled shakily up at his tortured face, her fingers sliding over his lips, tingling on his flesh.
"Who else… were you expecting…?"
Her mocking tone knocked a nerve loose in him. He managed to blink, his shock slowly unfreezing his body.
He looked uncertain, his face more open and vulnerable than she'd ever seen. The sight made her heart ache, and she leaned more into him, catching more of his warmth.
"Before you used Chidori… I concentrated my chakra around the blade. Itachi-sensei and I had… tried it before… I knew the risks. My tunnel of chakra kept Chidori from damaging my internal organs and funneled your attack straight to Danzo's bloodstream, full force…"
She coughed, wincing as her throat protested to the harsh treatment.
"The bomb that activated upon his death caught me by surprise... I'm just glad I was able to get you out of the way before it went off…"
He stared down at her, his chest clenching anew as he remembered her dangling off the edge of the cliff, not even trying to save herself.
"So you fell, even though you knew you would… die?"
He only managed to get the end out in a whisper, his eyes closing as he relived the experience. She nodded to his assumption, drawing his gaze back to her once again.
"Better me… than you."
She bit her lip at his anguished tone, her hand fisting into the fabric over his shoulder.
"Akatsuki members can only be… released through death because we know too much. I must admit… my original plans included me being killed by Danzo, but then with the bomb…"
She shook her head, a shiver shooting down her spine despite Sasuke's warmth blanketing her body, determined not to finish the thought.
"I asked Tobi to teach me a teleportation jutsu," she said finally, her eyes continuing to roam over his face in a mesmerized pattern. "Since I learned it from him, it didn't take a lot of chakra. I managed to teleport halfway and I landed safely only five feet above the river. I'm badly hurt, but I'm still alive…"
Her fingers grazed over his face in open wonder, as if seeing him for the first time.
"… I knew you'd come for me…"
He blinked a few times as her words settled in, leaning into her touch.
"So… you planned this? From the beginning?"
Sakura smiled sadly, her fingers catching a few stray drops falling down his face.
"Everything… but the tears."
A gentle smile eased over his lips, warming her heart. She reached forward, pulling his face down so she could press her lips to his. He immediately relaxed against her, breathing deeply, his arms drawing her up more firmly against him. She smiled against his mouth and he answered, his hand reaching over shoulder to slide tenderly over her cheekbone.
"Why go through all this?" he asked, his lips brushing hers with every word.
With a ruffle of feathers, the raven left his perch and took to the skies, his throaty caw echoing around the couple, the powerful beat of his wings drowned out by the rush of the river. Sakura watched the large bird as he disappeared into the clouds and smiled gratefully in the raven's wake, before leaning fully into Sasuke's embrace, her head pillowed on his collarbone.
"That's simple Sasuke-kun," came her answer, a smile and a soft giggle escaping her as he kissed her nose.
She stared into his eyes, emerald drinking him in. Half of her couldn't believe it was over, that she was here in his arms, alive and warm in his embrace, her skin tingling with every kiss and breath shared between them.
"Akatsuki no Sakura had to die… before Haruno Sakura could finally go home."
- - -
Kakashi Hatake leaned back against the tree, pulling his headband down over his Sharingan. His uncovered eye assessed the damage of the forest, the cleared away trees, the scorch marks.
A wide hollow of wood entered into the clearing where he now stood, proof of Manda's wrath. Another path tunneled out towards Seimei Canyon, the burnt state of the fallen trees echoing his former students' relative attacks, the tear in the ground the clear aftermath of their combined strength.
He looked over where Naruto was sitting on a fallen trunk, Hinata still unconscious in his arms. Cerulean eyes were glazed with worry as they swept over the forest-turned-battlefield before settling on him again.
"What is it Naruto?"
"Do you think… Sasuke and Sakura…?"
The blonde couldn't finish and swallowed his fears with an audible gulp. Kakashi sighed and retraced his students' pathway, trying to keep doubt from forming in his chest.
"Sasuke can take care of things," he assured the troubled youth, swinging to face him once again. "He won't let anything happen to Sakura, and Sakura is a medic, so she'd be able to save him if need be."
That simple sentence had the making of a thousand jokes on the Uchiha's behalf, but the sobering atmosphere squandered every one. A smile barely made its way onto the kitsune's face at his sensei's mocking tone before gazing back down at the girl against him, more worry slipping his lips down only a second later.
"That's a pretty nasty tree ornament, un."
Kakashi turned to see the former Akatsuki member standing next to him, eyeing the crumbling remains of Manda as the snake's once glorious scales cracked and smoldered away in the breeze. The Jounin allowed himself a small start of surprise before answering the youth with a nod, ill at ease with how silent the bomb-specialist could be, especially over crisp pine-needles and shriveled leaves.
"Any word from Sakura-chan?"
Deidara's blue eyes were boring into the side of his face, and Kakashi could almost feel the blonde's hatred for the Sharingan.
"Not a word," he mumbled, suddenly feeling useless.
The man next to him growled but leaned up next to him.
"She'll show, un. She has yet to let me – well anyone for that matter – down."
Kakashi sent a startled glance at Deidara's firm words, but the blonde was already walking away, admonishing his partner who had made a sport of jumping on the snake's remains, kicking up columns of dust in his joyous wake. Tobi merely made childish gestures at his senpai, and soon the clearing was echoing with shouts and explosions as Deidara hurled miniature sculptures at the masked boy.
The Copy-nin couldn't help but smile slightly at the display, reminded of a certain blonde and raven acting similarly; curses and kunai and shuriken and shouts and fists. Deidara and Tobi. Sasuke and Naruto. He shook his head fondly at the memories.
"I fall down a freaking canyon and this is what awaits me? What did he do this time?"
Kakashi spun so quickly his neck gave an unpleasant twinge. Sakura didn't seem to notice as Sasuke hefted her further up his back, reaffirming his grip. She was half-glaring, half-smiling at the dueling duo, the same look she'd shared with her fellow members of Team Seven, all those years ago, when the rivalry got particularly heated.
Like nothing has changed…
They walked into the clearing fully, and she sent a tired smile his way.
He couldn't stop the smile from growing.
He felt slightly uncomfortable as he studied the changes of his former student, but he found himself seeing all the similarities that hadn't fully disappeared, especially when Naruto leapt from his perch, looking like he'd won the lottery. He walked carefully as to not upset his precious cargo, but with a bounce only Naruto could possess.
Sakura laughed outright.
"Well it's about time," she told the blonde and the girl settled deeply in his arms, snuggling deeper against Sasuke's back.
Naruto stared at her, incredulous.
"You knew she liked me?"
Sasuke rolled his eyes and Sakura giggled into his raven spikes. Deidara was the one who answered, coming up behind his fellow blonde with a light smack to the back of his head.
"I knew her for five seconds and I figured it out un."
Sakura smiled up at the bomb-specialist and he gave her a lopsided grin, but kept his distance from the Uchiha, his hatred for any and all things Sharingan still potent from his forced membership to Akatsuki by Itachi.
Tobi, however, had no such quarrels and bounded quickly to her side, his words running together in a jumbled mess of squeals, cries, and endless questions. Deidara finally managed to pull him away by the scruff of his neck when Sasuke's impassive stare turned especially murderous, rolling his knuckles onto the boy's head to keep him in place.
Sakura coughed against Sasuke's shoulder, drawing concerned eyes all around, but she merely grinned in her misery, shrugging it off as she relaxed against the Uchiha.
Kakashi approached her then, the shackles dangling from his hands. Onyx glared openly up at him but he shook his head, frowning apologetically at the pinkette.
To his surprise she lifted her arms from around Sasuke's neck and held them out. He tried to ignore the heat of the pair of eyes watching his every move, and made extra sure the chakra cuffs were firmly in place but not uncomfortable.
"Sorry Sakura," he drawled, stepping back after clasping the second one down. "Orders."
She rewrapped her arms around the raven, her cheek resting against his shoulder.
"No worries Kakashi-sensei. It takes a scary person like me who knows Uchiha Kung Fu to remind you all how astounded you are by my awesomeness."
Her words broke easily through the tension, relief raining down on them like a glorious waterfall. Deidara snorted before heading out, dragging Tobi after him. Kakashi smiled and followed, peeking over at the newest couple in his life.
He'd observed the young Uchiha since the first day he'd been ordered into his squad. On the outside, Sasuke looked the same, the same roll of the eyes when Naruto tried to sound intelligent, the arrogant tweak of his lips when he smirked.
But underneath the haughty exterior, Kakashi could see onyx flickering back over his shoulder to Sakura, who always smiled back at him. He saw how the tip of Sasuke's ears would darken to a pretty shade of scarlet when her arms gripped more firmly around him, when she whispered something for him alone. The smirk would soften into something akin to fondness whenever she spoke, and he listened with rapt attention, even if his eyes were glued to the path before them. He carried her with ease because of his height and natural strength, but the way he held her spoke as though he was carrying something fragile and unearthly, something more precious to him than diamonds, than anything in the material world. Perhaps she was.
Kakashi smiled and trudged ahead, one ear listening for danger, the other on the voices behind him.
For the first time in four years he felt hope for his students, hope for Sasuke.
He'd never welcomed anything more.
- - -
Konoha Hospital was a maze, Sasuke decided as he trudged up the fifth flight of steps, his bad mood like a cloud of doom surrounding his imposing figure. People hustled to make room as he stomped upwards, sometimes even pushing clear against the side railing to give him enough access to get through. They knew better than to get in the way of a very pissed off Uchiha.
He cursed Tsunade for keeping him so long from Sakura. She hadn't even told him anything about her present condition, except a curt 'fine.' Well what kind of fine? That's what he wanted to know. Fine as in stable and coherent? Fine as stable but comatose? He cringed at the thought and forced his feet faster.
Room 511, Room 511, Room 511.
It repeated in his head in an irritating mantra. Sasuke kept himself from storming down the hall as he made it to the floor.
To his luck, it was near the end of the hallway… on the opposite side.
He growled but forced himself calm. It wasn't like she was going anywhere.
His shadow of doom was so thick he didn't see a sudden hindrance as it belted from the room, knocking hard into his shoulder. He glared as the blonde grinned sheepishly at him, furiously squashing the jealousy that Naruto had been allowed to see her before him.
But instead of yelling at his bond brother, he took in the kitsune's hassled look and the nervous roll of his fingers. Figuring it had something to do with Hinata, he slid on a mask of default impassive and jerked his thumb over his shoulder, startling his companion who was waiting for an attack.
Naruto nodded in affirmative, but didn't move. Sasuke sighed loudly and pushed the kitsune towards the Hyuuga's room.
"You'll be fine dobe. It's not like you can mess things up. She's only loved you since forever."
The blonde looked guilty. Sasuke resisted the urge to smack him upside the head.
"She deserves a lot more than indecision," he told his bond brother, silently finding it strange he was offering this kind of advice from personal experience – to Naruto of all people – softening his voice to calm the jumpy kitsune. "Hell, she deserves a lot more than you. If you agreed with me, you wouldn't be glaring."
Naruto blinked then flushed, turning once more for Hinata's room.
"But what if I do mess it up? I am the village screw up you know…"
He rolled his eyes before pushing the blonde again.
"She loves you; that's good enough. Take this chance now while you have it. No regrets."
Cerulean looked at him with an incredulous stare, but Sasuke was already trekking back down the hallway, confident the blonde would do the right thing.
- - -
Room 511, Fifth Floor, Konoha Hospital announced the door plate as he grasped the doorknob, surprised when it opened before he had the chance to turn it. Saki bumped into him, her emerald eyes slanting in surprise before she hugged him tightly, eyes streaming tears. Taken off guard, Sasuke watched the door slowly slide back into place before he sighed and hugged his foster mother back.
"Thank you so much," she sobbed into his vest.
The change from anguished tears to joyous ones made him smile as she pulled back to plant a kiss on his forehead.
"How is she okaa-san?" he ventured to ask as Saki dabbed at her face with a kerchief.
"She's doing just fine." There was that word again. His lips twitched as he smothered the urge to scowl. "Dei-chan and Tobi-chan are in their now with her, but she's been expecting you. Don't dally for too long."
He nodded his thanks. She smiled up at him and lovingly patted his cheek.
"I'll be at home. Call me if anything comes up alright?"
"You know I will."
She planted one last kiss on him before wearily walking down the hallway. He watched her go and noticed with satisfaction Naruto had gathered enough courage to go into Hinata's room. Onyx studied the shutting door before he returned to his own entrance, and grabbed for the doorknob, not bothering to knock as he pushed himself inside.
"…and Tobi will come every day to bring Sakura-nee lots and lots of pretty flowers!"
Sakura laughed as the masked boy jumped up and down with his declaration, her eyes meeting the Uchiha's quickly with a smile before she opened her arms wide so Tobi could hug her. The embrace obviously jolted her but she voiced no discomfort as she ruffled his black bangs.
Deidara gave Sasuke a weary glance before stepping closer to Sakura's bed, smirking down at her.
"Good thing the teme is not around, un. He'd be worried sick. Look at you. You look like shit, un."
Sakura swiped for his face but ended up poking him on the forehead, tugging down on his headband so she could hug him as well.
"Thanks for everything you guys."
The blonde straightened from the bed, pulling his partner up with him before Tobi could make another dive for the pinkette.
Deidara threw Sasuke another glance then shuffled for the door, saluting his bedded companion in farewell. He stopped before the raven, blue eyes critical as they sized him up. The Uchiha was slightly amused to see his eyebrow twitching as he held back a full out glare.
"I can't believe I'm about to say this to an Uchiha but what the hell. For some reason she loves you and your brother, un. Take care of her."
Sasuke suspected that was the nicest he'd get from the bomb-specialist. He didn't know what Itachi had done, but clearly the Elder Uchiha had left a lasting impression. He settled for a nod to appease the request, suddenly too weary for a fight.
Deidara's scowl slipped easily off his face when he turned back towards Sakura's bed, firmly holding Tobi's tightly bound scarf.
"Take care Sakura-chan. We'll see ya around un."
Sakura giggled as she waved, unsuccessfully covering a snort as Deidara literally pushed Tobi out the door, a loud string of curses spouting from his mouth when the boy's stumble nearly sent them both crashing to the floor.
Sasuke closed the door behind them with a smirk before his eyes fell onto the pinkette. She smiled pleasantly at him, and he could almost ignore the IV sticking out of her arm, the monitoring machine resting against the wall behind her. Almost.
A chair was resting to her left and he made for it, grabbing her hand gently in his own as he settled beside her, fighting down the guilt as he took in her tired face.
"Hi," she whispered, her thumb caressing over his knuckles.
He felt the beginnings of a smile tugging the corners of his lips.
A small giggle rasped over her split lips and she squeezed his hand.
It felt so unreal being here with her like this. He couldn't help but feel it was all a pleasant dream he was going to wake up from at any moment. The thought scared him more than he liked.
She caught the slip of his mouth and frowned, emerald gently glowing with concern.
"Is everything alright Sasuke-kun?"
He wanted to say yes. He wanted to tell her that he'd never been better, that he was fine no matter how much he hated that word. But he couldn't form the words, no matter how true they were.
Instead, he saw the canyon and the cliff and bloody smiles and tears and please, please, please don't leave me alone.
Sasuke closed his eyes against the painful images and leaned forward, burying his face into the soft flesh of her stomach, his arms wrapping securely around her waist. He tried not to think the bandages pressed against his mouth were covering the wound Kusanagi had carved, even though he could feel the heat of the gouge through the bandages, still ringing with Chidori's electricity. He held her tighter, trying to tell himself it was all a bad dream, that she was here, she was alreight, she was fine just like everyone had said.
Her hands smoothed into his hair, over his shoulders, his neck. Her hands were warm and no longer deathly cold and pale and lifeless and smeared crimson.
The voice from the canyon. The wind holding him steady. The raven guiding him downstream.
He breathed in her scent. He could feel her concerned gaze boring into his skull.
"I… I was so… so… scared."
It was barely a whisper but it surprised him as it slid over his lips. Her warmth surrounded him more completely as the words settled over her, and she held him more firmly against her.
"It's alright," she soothed, kissing his hair, his forehead, his brow. "Everything is alright."
Sasuke felt like a child at her words, but kissed the wound he'd made like the man he was – wanted to be, for her.
Someone better. Someone good. Someone worthy.
"I love you… Sakura."
He wasn't one for tenderness; his past spoke for itself.
"And I love you Sasuke."
He mentally delighted in the loss of the endearing suffix, and kissed the bandages beneath him once again, as though the smell of her, the taste of her would reaffirm that his was most definitely not a dream, that this was real, that she was finally home.
Sasuke pressed his face closer to her skin, his arms secure in their hold. Sakura caressed his face with gentle whispers, soothed his fears with tender caresses.
"I'm home Sasuke," she said, smiling into his hair. She knew he needed to hear it, and pressed another kiss into his hair, holding him tight.
- - -
(1) Seimei = this can be translated a few different ways. The most common are 'life', 'a declaration', 'statement', or 'proclaimation'. A declaration of life. Sakura is alive. :)
(2) LoL Ok, so I kept Madara's teleportation technique because the scene with Deidara was totally awesome in my mind, and they needed a 'friendship' scene. It's also the technique that saved Sakura. Yay Tobi!
(3) Itachi = if you haven't figured it out by now, his symbol throught his story has been the raven. If you decided to go back and reread the story, you'd see lots of ravens. These are Itachi's… and you all though he was dead! ;P
- - -
Fans of my previous fanfiction, Whiskers and Wishes have been waiting patiently for the companion story for it. I was gonna write it but then Unsan Mushō took all of my inspiration. They've been very understanding and since this story is now complete, I'll be working on the companion story as well as a Final Fantasy VII story that I've gotten stuck in my head. I'd like to have the Fruba story completely done before I post it so they don't have to wait for updates longer than they've had to wait for the story itself, so I probably won't be posting anything here for a little while. After these two, I have more Naruto fanfics on my mind: an AU SasuSaku supernatural fic; a Hinata-centric story that will be as cannon as I can possible make it since it'll play off the 'what if' of Danzo sending the entire ninja world into chaos; and a slightly AU Itachi-centric fic in which he was saved from dying in the fight with Sasuke, only to be forced to learn how to 'live again' in the guise of a cat. My friend really wants me to write that one and it's just a light-hearted story. *shrugs* I really don't know where I come up with some of this stuff.
If you're not interested in my upcoming fics and need something to take up your time as you wait, here's a list of my most favorite Naruto fanfiction. These are a must read. Seriously check them out. Consider this a thank you for over 500 reviews, the amazing support, and the actual completion of Unsan Mushō!
SasuSaku lovers, these are a must have in your collection: Biohazard by Yellow Mask; Picking Up Sasuke by KoTaRo-ChAn x3; and my most favorite – second only to the infamous Ripples – Everything is Alright by Neon Genesis. These are all AU, the first and last only because they were written before the ItachixSasuke fight was posted. Please check them out. They were my inspiration for my Sasuke, especially the first and last one.
NaruHina lovers: Catharsis by Inuyatta; Hinata's Gentle Fist by Lythya; and Wish Me My Perfect Christmas by . The first two take place after Hinata's confession, so only slightly AU.
Others in my collection of must-haves include: Meet me at the Playground by crescent-moon-demon; Naruto's Compensation by DisobedienceWriter; Sharpening Iron by WhyMustIWrite; and last but not least, the must have for all Itachi fans: Scarlet by Yamisui.
I hope you take the time to look them over. They are fantastic pieces of fiction that I enjoy no matter how many times I read.
Now as for Unsan Mushō, I hope you all enjoyed the ride. A big thank you to all that stayed with it to the end. I've never gotten this many reviews, and to show my thanks, this chappie is up way earlier than the others. I love you all and I hope you enjoyed. Until next time! This is demonwings737 signing off!