Title: Ashes

Written For: SasuSaku FC Media Contest [NF]

Mild graphic images.

It's been incredibly difficult to work myself into actively writing fanfiction again. After beginning an outline, and then a prologue, for an original novel, and coping with my last year high school [going to be living away from home in a few months], I've had to put fanfiction on the backburner and I apologize. I can't begin to express how much I miss my fanfiction for all the fandoms I enjoy. This coming summer, plans should finalized, and while I'll be a psychotic-social-butterfly with the friends that I'm letting go, I hope to, upon the gracing of more free / study time, pick up the many stories I've let sit.

Anyway, this was written with strict parameters on it: No cliches, no "Sasuke coming to Konoha", no "Sakura fighting Sasuke", no dramatic sacrifices, so perhaps it seems lacking. But it was a challenge I wanted to attempt. Ah well, read it, review it, tell me your thoughts. Thank you.


.... Ashes ....

Footfalls.

Awaken her to the world. The real one, not her limpid musings of lovely fantasies, imagination-spun.

For what really reigns, is intolerable.

She is running.

Running to nowhere and through nothing, toward obscure promises and unknown guiles. It is that time, she knows, when it all falls apart and there is nothing to find. No one alive. Nothing worth saving. Says the sky, so crimson and beaming, proud of what it reflects, you've lost. This sky is the mirror of what came to pass.

Motionless child there, drunken slog of a father there; the dust is littered with societal dregs. (Most expect the heroes to lie in glory in the rivers of bleeding cobblestones. Not so, not so.)

A hulking presence lingers as her feet stagger past glossy, china eyes. Kicking up not-so-fine silt from a land of horror. Now all we have left is our limited seconds. No deity will save us now.

Don't forget that presence, please: The one pulse-ridden puppet alive amongst the rest, stumbling his way through his second massacre.

Cries and futile mercy-pleads tear through the air, clean-cut in the pressing melody of utter surrender. Shredding, like the control-craving violator who cannot hear "no".

A resounding murmur: "This tussle . . . on the edge . . . has made me think."

Eyes of jagged sea glass survey the horizon; she will not look to her feet, where blank eyes accuse her. Like a timorous fawn, she raises her head at the deep timbre receding, faintly, to that part of town. That part where he died, his child-heart smashed, like china on stone. She will follow as she always does.

And her gaze will not sway from side to side, body to body, woman to child, friend to shinobi. Dishes and tools, dead weapons and a finger or two, and her eyes jump between the gaps of those very palpable objects; she just can't look at those bleeding cobblestones.

"My life has run out. If someone knows my purpose, they will keep me," he said simply. As if it really was not his choice anymore. She cannot see him.

The wind is low, but it cannot mask his steps, in those dark boots. Tarrying feet ignoring the pretty mess on the ground, leading her along on his frigid string of devotion. They travel at a distance, apart yet together, into the land of his childhood, of this-is-what-used-to-be. He takes care not to turn around and she makes sure to keep her eyes to the line, where clouds meet the ground.

Here we are, flouncing in delightful masochism: His judgment day will be where he believes one can only truly be judged.

The sky bleeds. Here is where he lowers himself onto black and blue knees. The graceful arch of a long-forgotten tombstone is his mourning veil; he sinks into the grass. Without invitation, she settles on the other side, on the same sort of knees, with the same sort of view. They will not see one another. What they may do now is stare at the painstaking etchings, one monument representative of a race; he bows his head, and there, his ancestors may judge him.

"This village may not be meant to survive. Neither may I. My purpose has long been fulfilled. What I will be used for now, is up to whatever power watches this place."

Breath catching loudly, she hisses, "I still care."

"I don't doubt that," he murmurs, eyelids shut. "But are we the only ones that will revive what has been destroyed?"

She begins to ignore the truth. "Someone . . . someone else has to be alive."

His response is a sigh.

A faint tumult of air carries fine dust past their noses. Burnt skin.

"Be honest with yourself." Still a staccato statement. "I do not think I would be granted another purpose. That's all life is. I've used mine. Everything inside, leaves me."

He bleeds on the grave.

"There are such things as second chances," she whispers, pale fingers clamping the gaping wound on her upper arm, shut. Not as dire a situation as he, but still, all must flow.

"It is not my choice."

"Yes, it is!" Shrill is her voice, dizzy is her head, numb is her heart.

"I will be judged by fate. I've finished what I wanted; someone else can take what's left."

Don't say it, lovelorn, don't say it. "I . . . want what's left."

A beat hovers above them, on each side of the grave. Blocking them from one another, they cannot see. They never could. They still can't.

"Those that have given their lives to fight for the place that gave them a home and a purpose, are now gone. And one person who comes back for some idiotic--"

"Because you cared!"

"—ideal."

"We're the only two left, and that doesn't strike you as purposeful?" She is irritated, yet grievous. "That doesn't mean anything to you?"

"I sincerely hope that you aren't expecting a miracle," he snapped, his old impatience reverberating in his words. "It'd be typically naïve." Of you. "I returned because this is where I can be properly judged. I didn't expect this." He did not expect the war. He did not expect her. Nor to be alive at the day's end. The sun slowly sets on them, shadows bending around their figures. Giving a wide berth for the judged, for the only ones left.

"Why are you still denying that I care?" she asks quietly.

" . . . "

"Do you not want me to?"

" . . . "

"Or is that why you are here, waiting for fate to let you bleed out? Because you're afraid that you actually deserve something out of life."

"Always wanting something broken, aren't you?" he murmurs, by now, unfeeling. His veins cough, starving.

"Of course. Perhaps your purpose is to break, and break again. And maybe I'm supposed to heal, and heal again. If we're going to think of that way. At any rate, you're right about one thing; I am naïve." Pause. "Things can always be fixed."

An almost challenging tone floated over the erected monument of marble white. "Let's see then. Return in the morning." When I'm dead. "Let's see how wrapped in naïveté you are."

Dizziness swirls her pretty head. She was not moving. "Let's let," she coughs wetly, "the world decide."

On each side they rest. No glimpses of one another: Kneeling in liquid life and every so often, the dust stings their noses, a blunt reminder of what was at stake. And eventually they drift off to a coarse limbo, in which there was no reality or fantasy; only the unknown force which perpetuates growth would have any say. In twilight, existence is nonexistent to them, and all sleeps.

All night, he faintly glows.

Somehow, the sun rises.

Wounds are not healed magically, revelations do not strike them, and no new perspectives emerge from the dreamlike abyss that was a night spent waiting for death's comforting coffin.

Gold shimmers upon them, an ugly coat against the red, dazzling the unenlightened.

His aristocratic mane is streaked with color; head rises to gaze at the etched lettering. Sea glass eyes stare also, unfocused, limbs shaking, still existing.

At first they are unsure if they are whole. But then, breezes sweep through, drying red upon their skin; tousling crusted, knotted hair into dirty faces.

Smells confirm the end of the world. Smoke. Fire. Flesh.

"So," he mutters, shivering.

After a moment, she replies, "We're all that's left." Smirks. Hoarse chuckle. "Someone must love you, up there."

"Us," he corrects.

"I wasn't being judged. I wasn't waiting to die. I wasn't waiting for a sign. You were. I was just there with you," she whispered.

Pause. He raises his battered arm.

SLAP!

Hand rests on top of the arch of the tombstone.

Thin fingers rest on his.

They do not look at one another. There was not any need.

They had the rest of their lives.

Gold still shone on them, baring them to the blue sky, to the wavering grasses, to the rivers (and those bodies floating in them).

And on blue-black knees they rested.

The future . . . it kneels in ashes.