Ossia. O sia.
The moon bled. The broken rocks whispered. The still air condemned. The too white snow swore its innocence. The light sought to destroy the darkness, but the shadows lengthened, coiled, surged and it could not stop them all. And the truth seeped through the shadows, through the dirt, through the snow and was buried alive.
Three children who are not children play a game.
In battle, a hand motions sharply, take cover, a head tosses forward, punch the ground ahead, a steady gaze catches another's eye, I'll buy you time. Alone, the language changes. Open mouth against a shoulder, relax, fingers marking hipbones, just like that, hands curling around locks of hair, faster, faster, please, harder, there!
It is a game how everything can be so easily redefined.
A heart hammering against a chest. Heels pressed against another's back. Arms wound around another's neck, feeling hot pants against a collarbone, nails against shoulder blades. Three pairs of hands tightly wound. Eyes closed, driving forward, pulling inward. A cheek resting over a hot, damp temple, a face hidden against the back of a neck. Damp hair lifted away, hot lips pressing against equally hot skin. The bloom of heat, low, shuddering moans, whimpers of a release against the taut lines of a neck.
A heart beating against the hollow of a neck. Feet pounding solid ground. Arms looping around arms, aiming lethal anythings. Hands tightly folded into respective seals. Eyes wide open, pushing forward, shoving emotion away. A hand resting over a hot, heaving wound, faces hidden against the brightness of an explosion. Damp hair pushed away, sweat beading on already sweating skin. The bloom of heat, the rush of blood, low grunts of pain and exertion.
It is amusing how everything can be so easily redefined.
They step outside, oblivious to the stares and the whispers and the calls. Just three. Three alone.
Three children who are not children step outside to play.
With a jagged scream, the earth tore open. Slashes scarred the russet ground. Boulders heaved. Dirt drizzled through the still air.
Obsidian flames slammed into the rising earth. Sakura heard the screams of those caught in the unearthly heat. Taking pity on one, she slammed a flat palm against the boulder still defying gravity and sent it hurtling straight across the plain, crushing one before he could die carbonized. Her chest collapsed at the movement and Sakura knelt. She felt for the jewel on her forehead and released the seal. She could feel the unfettered chakra coil through the skin of her face, over her forehead, down her cheeks. It hit the second seal and burned, waiting, curling, crashing into itself. She closed her eyes and freed it.
It was like stepping into a warm bath, her muscles relaxing immediately. The cool chakra coursed through her body. The scratches, the cuts, the wounds, all closed. A newfound energy propelled her muscles, tensed the tendons in preparation for the fight. She dove ahead.
She ducked around a cloud of needles, flipped over a large shuriken, threw a kunai that cleaved through a man's neck. She never slowed, her feet flying over the crumbling earth. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Sasuke drop to one knee, breathing a massive fireball. Behind him, Naruto's hands folded around a silver-white orb that he threw directly into the heart of Sasuke's flame. The fireball blazed three times its size, the color a hot, blinding blue that lit the ground and challenged the moon's scarlet light.
The enemy nin drew back and Sakura jumped through the evanescent fire, channeling her chakra to her fist. With an furious cry, she struck the ground. The white-coated earth crumbled, jagged pieces heaving up in an ever-expanding triangle. More enemies were trapped, crushed by the surging boulders. Still, she wasn't able to catch the leader. The man sprang back. His hands whipped through the familiar summoning seals.
Sakura reacted immediately. Biting into her thumb hard enough to draw blood, she mimicked his movement and slammed her hand against the ground.
A white slug faced a brown and white osprey, its wings outstretched. The man screamed, the words lost in the howling wind.
The bird disappeared.
Sakura blinked, stepping back reflexively.
"Sakura-sama, up!" Katsuyu warned. Sakura glanced up to see the white underside of the massive bird of prey.
"Buy me some time, Sasuke!" Naruto dropped to a seating position. His hands folded into a meditative stance. He grew utterly still. Below, Sasuke summoned Susanoo, the ghostly figure kneeling around him.
The bird dove down.
Susanoo intercepted the attack. Amaterasu's obsidian flame arced upward. The osprey dove to the left.
"Katsuyu, now!" screamed Sakura. The slug spit a thick jet of acid. The bird screamed as part of his wing was hit.
Sakura craned her neck to find the man on the bird. She was rewarded with nothing. Only the bird crashed into the ground, desperately trying to regain its footing.
"Where is he?" Green eyes ran desperately over the landscape, the red moonlight lapping eagerly at the sharp edges.
"Sakura, behind you!" Sasuke yelled.
The red light dripped down the silver metal. A scarlet necklace wrapped around her pale skin, crimson beads stretching down to hide under the gray of her vest.
My wound is healing.
"What are you doing, Sasuke?!"
He can't kill me. Not now.
A scream. A howl.
Heat. Poisonous heat. Burning her from the inside. It was more than her jutsu could heal. Too hot, too fast, too jagged, too much, too soon—
When she opened her eyes, Katsuyu was curled around them. Naruto lay on the ground, a hole in his chest. The man they were to kill was nowhere to be seen. And Sasuke… Sasuke stood, his pale skin baptized in the moon's red glow, long dark strands of hair falling over his red and black eyes.
Around his hand, Chidori shrieked.
"Sasuke?" she gasped. A bubble of blood grew at the corner of her lips, a translucent red crowned by tiny bubbles.
With a scream, Chidori died. "I had to."
Sakura blinked. "Sasuke...?"
Sasuke turned away.
"Look!" Your friend points. "I didn't know there was a playground here!"
The three of you climb through the rusted boards of the fence. She runs forward to the swings. Only two seats remain intact. The third clings to the bar by one chain and the fourth and fifth have collapsed entirely. She tests her weight on the first.
"You're going to fall," you tease. "And I'm going to laugh."
She sticks her tongue out at you, just a small pink flicker. You respond by mimicking her action. Your other friend elbows you.
"Don't be so immature," he scolds. You blow a raspberry. He scowls.
"Can you not fight for one day?" She threatens the two of you with a shaking fist. Neither worries; you know when she's truly angry. Your life and limbs depend on it, after all.
The chain creaks as she rocks herself, toeing the damp sand under the swing. Her big toe draws thick, swirling lines.
"Let me help," you offer magnanimously. As you walk, your friend trips you; she giggles. You turn to punch the offending bastard, but she calls behind you.
"Let it go! Come here and push me!"
She smiles and you shrug. The look you shoot over your shoulder promises retribution, but he just smirks as you position yourself behind her, palms resting just under her shoulder blades. At your first push, she laughs.
"Higher!" she calls. "Higher!"
And you laugh and do as she asks because you never want them to stop smiling again.
Dark clouds gathered. Insidious gray hid the stars. The ominous rumble of thunder stabbed through the blackened sky.
The fine hairs on Sasuke's arms and the back of his neck stood on end. He could taste the tingle of electricity in the air, slowly charging. Once it was ready, he would stand no chance. No one could outrun Kirin. Itachi had been...
He closed his eyes, safe from blindness by Itachi's sacrifice. Itachi had had Mangekyou. He had had Susanoo. Kirin had struck, but even Kirin stood no chance against Sharingan's abilities.
It would work now. It would not fail. Manipulating the man into position, he performed a simple Great Fireball release. Naruto immediately answered by throwing one of his wind-enhanced Rasengan into the flames. The ball expanded, the heat boiling the very air. The snow under and around collapsed into steaming water.
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught the shadow of Sakura's movement, milliseconds before she moved. Her fist cleaved the ground. The chakra he had channeled to his feet kept him from stumbling. His eyes traced the rapid seals the man performed. He stepped back, barring Naruto's way. Sakura responded by summoning her own animal, Tsunade's massive slug.
Both men ran their eyes over the massive osprey that appeared. Naruto sank to the floor.
"Buy me some time, Sasuke!" he called over the howl of the wind.
The red and black of Sasuke's Sharingan spun, the six-pointed star with Itachi's pinwheels branching away from it. Susanoo solidified around them. It was no longer agonizing, but there was a considerable drain on him. He wouldn't have much chakra left over.
The osprey disappeared. He traced the faint lines of movement upward, its white underbelly a bright target. Dimly, he heard Katsuyu warn Sakura. Not yet, it wasn't ready yet...
Behind him, Naruto's chakra was changing. The usual hectic blue calmed, the color whispering to a soothing green.
Sasuke saw the bird dive seconds before it plummeted. Susanoo stretched upward, forcing it aside. Amaterasu razed the air, barely grazing a wing.
"Katsuyu, now!" he heard Sakura scream. The acid burned through one of the outstretched wings. The osprey fell with a pained scream.
Sasuke closed his eyes, Susanoo flickering and fading. When he opened them, the pupil had returned to Sharingan's basic form. His chest heaved. A faint trembling suffused his palms.
The summoner wasn't on the bird's back. In fact, Sasuke could not find him.
It was a trick. He summoned the bird so he could hide behind it.
Around Naruto's still form. Behind him. Nothing.
It made no sense. He should be aiming for Naruto, the Hokage. Where else could he—
A flicker behind Sakura caught his eye.
"Sakura! Behind you!"
He saw the blade catch the moon's red light, saw the blood that fountained down her ivory neck.
"Sakura!" Naruto dove forward. Sasuke snagged him by the back of his shirt.
He whirled, eyes flashing. "What are you doing, Sasuke?!"
"It's a trap," Sasuke spat through gritted teeth. "You can't go over there. She'll be fine, the wound will heal—"
"Get the hell off me!"
"Mistress!" Katsuyu cried. There was a flicker of chakra, growing brighter. It aimed for Sakura's still form.
"No!" Naruto broke free.
"Naruto—!" Sasuke dove after him.
Katsuyu collapsed into millions of smaller clones. Sakura's body fell through them to safety, but he followed. There was a flash of white light that blinded Sasuke. He could only hear Naruto's agonized scream.
The chakra that broke free was poison. Acid rolling across the landscape. Sasuke's stomach turned, his skin breaking out in goosebumps.
A hideous scream stabbed into his head, his nerves firing.
Seven tails. Seven long, very solid tails whipped across the darkened sky.
Bleached bone curled around throbbing organs. Translucent tissue covered the organ systems. Sasuke could see the beating heart, massive and pounding a heady tone of dread.
Before he could react, Kyuubi pounced.
Ignoring the inhuman heat, Sasuke tried to get past the fox. It shuffled, snarling, and Sasuke had to jump away as a tail crashed down where he had stood.
The clouds rumbled. He caught a glimpse of pink hair. Channeling all his chakra to his feet, Sasuke raced forward. His hand closed around Sakura's upper arm. Katsuyu shielded them.
He completed the jutsu.
The blue-white bolt arced down. It burned into Kyuubi, the demon screaming. He felt Katsuyu tense, the arcs of lightning hurting her.
"Get out of here!" he screamed. "Go back!"
"I must protect the young mistress," she gasped. "I promised Tsunade-sama."
The lightning curled around her, curled around Kyuubi, curled over the blackened ground...and everything was still. For an eternity enshrouded in a second, nothing moved.
Sasuke did not move as Naruto clambered to his feet. He did not move as Naruto stumbled toward him.
"Sasuke...? Sasuke, what...?"
He did not move as Naruto stared at the broken ground, the melting snow, the streams of slush, the blackened marks of lightning, the unmoving woman in his arms.
He did not move as Naruto punched him.
"What did you do?!"
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
He did not move as Naruto fell to his knees and screamed.
You laugh. The one who pushes you laughs harder. The other smiles, but it is enough to reveal his good humor.
Your friend complies. His hands press against your back, provide enough impulse to swing you as you wish. Your laughter rings. It falls around the three of you like silver bells. Chuckling, the one who pushed you sinks into the swing beside you. They watch you as the changing forces push you forward, before pulling you back. Your legs flex and relax in rhythm, keeping up the simple motion. Your toes can almost touch the bright green leaves of the tree before you.
As you swing forward, you let your head drop back, one knee bent, the other straight. Your arms tense, closing safely around the rusted links of the chain. Your hair streams behind you.
"Try it!" You laugh and your voice seems to come from far away. The boy beside you grins. The one before you smiles a little wider.
"Oh, come on! I already pushed you!" Your friend complains loudly, but there is an upward twist to his lips.
"Come on! Higher!" You pout. "Please?"
He bows deeply. "As you wish."
You roll your eyes. The other voices your opinion.
"Stop being an idiot."
You cannot help but giggle as the blond again sticks his tongue out to the brunet.
You hope they never change.
A harsh wind whipped across the destroyed landscape. Each carried with it the bite of unforgiving cold, the blisters of undying flames.
Naruto held his hands before his face to protect himself from the gust. The osprey hovered above them.
This had to end. This had to end now. He had sent too many on missions from which they never returned. He would not lose Sasuke and Sakura. Not them. He would take the battle to Death itself if he had to.
"Buy me some time, Sasuke!" he yelled. He adopted the meditative position Fugasaku had taught him. In no time, he felt the familiar feel of the natural chakra flowing through him. Without conscious thought, his entire body relaxed. The tense muscles no longer pained him; the throbbing in his ankle where he had twisted it faded faster than Kyuubi could heal it.
He felt energized. He felt strong. He felt unbeatable.
His senses stretched out, finding Sasuke first. He could feel Sasuke's struggle, the bone-heavy weariness the dark-haired man did not show.
Just a little longer. Then we can go home and I'll never send you out here again.
He could clearly feel the rush of chakra, circling around a particular point in the air, condensing and collapsing into itself to wrench open a path. Sakura stood on Katsuyu's magnificent head. The white slug quickly took in her new surroundings.
"Stop dawdling, dobe," Sasuke hissed. "Hurry it up."
A few years ago, Naruto would have jumped Sasuke for the insult. He suppressed a small smile instead. He trusted Sasuke to keep him safe. Which was why he ignored the surge of chakra he identified as attacks. He focused on stabilizing the natural chakra flowing through him, melding it with his own. He could feel his body changing to accommodate it and channel it.
"Sakura! Behind you!"
Warmth that wasn't his slashed across his throat. His heart tightened with another's fear. His eyes widened with shock that did not belong to him.
He saw Sakura fall, saw Katsuyu react to protect her, saw the pale man charge an attack.
Everything faded. Time rushed by without meaning, without clarity.
A cry. A howl. A wish. A need. Everything painted a darker red than the light of the red moon.
Fire. Lightning. Water. Earth. Wind. An amalgam of elements, destroying and birthing each other in a never-ending cycle.
Pain. His pain. Another's pain. Everyone's pain. He could feel it all and he closed his hands around his hair and tugged and his head was killing him and his throat was tearing and...
When he surfaced from the stream, his hands clenched around the snow and dirt.
He could hear screams—distant? close?—shatter the stillness, the pieces raining around them. He could feel the warmth of blood—his? not his?—flow through his hands, crimson cast. He could see the scarlet light—imagined? real?—play with the shadows, innocuous glimmers.
His tongue felt heavy as he ran it over his cracked lips. Blood beaded through the breaks, rusting iron.
Everything hurt. The obvious realization prompted a second: why he was hurt.
Naruto staggered to his feet. He stumbled, hands barely coming up in time to break his fall.
They closed around something soft.
Sasuke's skin was warm to the touch, the muscles pliant. Naruto was unsurprised to find him unconscious. He could feel how much Mangekyou destroyed him each time he used it, even with his brother's eyes. His fingers closed around Sasuke's slender wrist, tugging obnoxiously.
"Come on, basta—"
There was no pulse.
Naruto's face grew lax. A dark slash stretched between the broken lips.
Naruto gaped without understanding at the circular mark on Sasuke's white vest. The red dissolved the white cloth.
Sakura stood in front of them.
"He was killing you," she whispered. "I didn't—"
Her knuckles were red.
Naruto could only stare as a single scarlet teardrop stretched the fluid around it. It fell silently, a single dot stark against the black and white ground. Where it fell, it burned the snow away.
"He was killing you," she repeated. Her voice was a hollow shadow.
"He was killing you."
You watch them, these two hopeless fools engaged in foolish games. He pushes her, higher, higher, ever higher. She laughs and he laughs with her. You smile. Laughter is still strange to you after so many years. But you cannot help the twitch of your lips as you watch your oldest friends. Your only friends.
Her mouth opens in a joyful cry. She leans back, green eyes searching for the blue she trusts to always be behind her. She calls out something you don't hear, mere feet away. He answers with something you, who can interpret the smallest movement, cannot understand.
They turn to you, but their words are an incomprehensible buzz. Their mouths move, but there is no meaning, no sense. Your eyes narrow, but you do not know. You have not known. Those ties you severed went deep and the edges are too ragged to sew together again. They flutter in the wind, the soft breeze tugging at the freed threads, unwinding them further and further and further.
"Sasuke!" Your name seems to come from far away.
Naruto stands before you, guileless blue eyes peering closely at you. Behind you, Sakura has stopped swinging.
"Come on, bastard." Naruto grabs you and shoves you forward. You stumble. You feel Sakura's hands on your shoulders, pushing you down. You fall into the abandoned swing.
Sakura beams at you. Naruto is nowhere to be seen. Before you can stand, you feel callused hands at your back, roughly pushing you forward and up. You trace a quarter of a circle in the air. Back and forth. Back and forth. From Sakura's wide smile to Naruto's warm hands. Back and forth. Back and forth.
You are even more surprised than them at the chuckle that drops from your lips.
"I knew you were human deep inside!" Naruto claps you roughly on the back, almost sending you sprawling you to the sand. You glare at your annoying friend who only has the cheek to grin wider. Giggling, Sakura collapses into the swing beside you and Naruto takes turns pushing you both. You let his efforts propel you on the swing. You let your body shift to help maintain the momentum.
The three of you are forgotten by the rest, but no one minds. You build a world of truth and lies around a broken swing set and nothing could be greater.
You do not climb off the swing.
A scarlet light bathed the area. It cast an eerie light over the broken ground, transforming everything before disbelieving eyes. The shadows played. The wind promised retribution. The shattered earth screamed. Crimson flowers bloomed on the too-white snow, dissolving their pallor. Crimson petals shining, their surface smooth as a mirror, glistening hotly against the cold blankets of white.
And the playing shadows and the vengeful wind and the broken earth and the crimson petals hushed. And the truth seeped with the blood and the tears and the screams to join the maggots and the roots and the clods of dirt buried deep in the dark bowels of the earth.