chapter fifteen: hear
We brought Sasuke home. It took a longer than it should have, because Itachi was still beaten up pretty badly, and we had to wake Sasuke up and tell him the truth and oh, God. That was bad.
There was a lot of screaming involved. A lot of thrashing wildly against bonds I was nervously positive would not continue to survive the abuse. Sasuke called me names and threatened to kill me about five hundred times. He spat at Itachi and growled like hell rumbling. There was crying. Mostly mine, because even if I had thought I was ready for this, I was not. Itachi, too, because he has never even pretended to be ready for this face-off, and for him it was the same as meeting your greatest fear head-on. And, finally, after screaming rage and monstrous bouts of burning hate, Sasuke.
He just broke. That is the only way to describe it. Sitting there, tied up and looking at Itachi, who was kneeling in front of him, he took a deep breath, face a sneer. I waited for the next round of shouting. Instead, he exhaled like wind whistling through a dead forest, bowed his head, and cried.
I came home with two broken enemies trailing behind me.
We were about ten steps in when the shadows took form and we were surrounded. I am pretty sure that surprise was the only thing that kept them from attacking right away.
"Do not attack," I said, jutting my chin and outstretching my empty hands. I tried to look peaceful, but every muscle in my body quivered, ready to protect. "My name is Haruno Sakura, ninja of the Leaf, and I need to talk to the Hokage right –"
Naruto was there. Naruto's arms were around my ribcage and my feet were not on the ground.
And even though he spluttered and yelled and cursed and flailed over my company, he listened when I told him I had to get to Tsunade right away, and that Itachi and Sasuke could not be hurt and Naruto, Naruto, I missed you so much. He listened and he helped me make sure that when the anbu stepped forward it was only to make sure Itachi and Sasuke were properly subdued.
We went to Tsunade.
Tsunade listened. She shook her head, sighed, looked old and broken.
She said my name like she was about to break my heart.
I told her that I was ready to throw my headband at her feet. At my back, Naruto (who has never let me down and who never will) glared and said he would do the same. I reached my hand back to squeeze his fingers and wondered what I had ever done to deserve such perfect loyalty.
Tsunade nodded. She sighed. She stood up and reached out to hug me.
"We missed you," she said.
I think she was proud.
My mother cried and Naruto laughed. I ate ramen and slept in my old bed and lived through a thousands hugs, a million kisses, a lifetime of happy tears and countless voices telling me, we were so worried.
"Itachi?" Naruto asked, walking me home late one night, our arms linked because I had realized that some people are forever and they deserve to know it.
"Yeah," I said.
He didn't ask why, but I said, "Listen."
Itachi and Sasuke were sent to prison for six months.
(I screamed and curses and slammed by hand down hard enough to remind everyone I was not someone they could control, anymore. I fought and changed and I think I surprised everyone, because since when did little Sakura stand up tall enough to keep the weight of power from toppling her?)
Naruto and I took turns sitting on stools outside their cells, eyes alert and glaring every time someone walked by with disgust in their eyes. I didn't care about their distain, I didn't care what they thought – all I cared about was the feel of Itachi's fingers in mine and the pressure of duty that extended beyond rationality on my shoulders.
The whispers started, cruel and vicious.
Why? my friends asked.
We are happy, now.
It was worth the time. It was worth the effort.
Sasuke and Itachi talked, separated by bars and a thick wall of concrete.
Whenever the conversation started – slow and hesitant – I would leave, go for a walk, and leave brothers to heal old wounds.
Shortly after they were freed from prison (but still on house arrest, still watched from every shadow), I had a talk with Sasuke.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm sorry that – that I attacked you."
"You love him," he said.
He shifted in his seat, didn't look at me. Sasuke was different. He didn't know who he was anymore, I realized. He had a brother and a future and friends who still hadn't given up on him. He didn't know what he was doing.
"I love him too," he said, finally, hardly more than a whisper, only maybe meant to reach my ears. He cleared his throat. "So – so thanks. For stopping me."
"And, Sakura, I – " he looked me in the eyes, grimaced, was almost the boy I knew, but not quite because before my eyes he was becoming more, "I'm sorry. For everything."
After that, we were more friends than we had ever been before.
I healed his eyes, just as soon as I could. It was right after the days of being locked away in a small apartment he called his own. He was sitting in my family's living room, my mother and father's voices in the background.
"Are you sure?" I asked, surprising myself.
"Yes," he said, pressing his mouth to my temple.
One day, Itachi, Sasuke, and Naruto went to have ramen together.
I saw them, on my way back from the hospital.
They were sitting there, on those little stools, Itachi Naruto Sasuke. Naruto was talking, his face alive and his hands waving. Sasuke was smirking, and I watched as something he said made Naruto's face turn red, changed his words into shouts. Itachi sat to the side, smiling small, watching carefully.
It was perfect.
I turned around, careful not to be seen, and went home. The whole way, I cried.
"Is anything wrong?" my mom asked, reaching out to fold me against her.
"No," I laughed. "Everything is perfect."
Itachi and Sasuke, a year after our return, went to find Madara.
It was part of a plea deal by which they would be cleared of all charges. It was part of an unspoken contract between the two of them, a means to bridge that final gap between brothers. It was part of the way Itachi held me, as if scared the world was going to rob him once more.
I didn't want them to go. I especially didn't want them to go alone. But Itachi took my head between his hands, traced his name against my cheek, and told me that they needed to. That he would be much happier if I please, please stayed home.
He said home, and he wrapped his arms across my back and tucked me beneath his chin.
I made him promise to come back. "Safe, in once piece, and – you know – happy, or something."
He laughed a huff of air into the side of my neck and promised he would.
And they did. They came back triumphant, bittersweet, more true brothers than they had been when they left and a little more whole than either had been in entirely too long.
I remember asking Itachi, my lips near his ear, if he really, truly was ok.
"Better everyday," he told me.
We are happy, now.
I am a ninja and Sasuke is too and Naruto will be the next hokage.
Itachi will never be a ninja again.
"Am I a coward?" he asks me sometimes, voice muffled against my shoulder, crumpled and weak and human for a moment.
"No," I tell him. Then I smile all goofy and sad and sappy and true. "You're braver than the stars."
He thinks he might want to join the police force.
He says, only half joking, smirking in a way that breaks my heart and puts the pieces back together even more whole than before, that he might just be my housewife.
I tell him that I love him, and he smiles without a care in the world.
Sometimes, we fight. We bicker and we scowl and we make snide remarks about the other, when we are feeling particularly nasty. Sometimes, Itachi makes me want to pull my hair out and sometimes, he has to leave the room because apparently, I drive him crazy. Sometimes, he says things he doesn't mean and I say things he takes the wrong way and being in love doesn't mean you feel warm fuzzies for someone every second of everyday.
Sometimes, I knock on his door and apologize with downcast eyes. Sometimes, he knocks on mine.
Sometimes, we fight.
But we always make up.
We're not married, in case you were wondering.
But we will be, someday.
(Whenever I remind Itachi of this, he looks like he is going to cry for a second, but then he picks me up and twirls me around the room and I am reminded of rain and my own high giggles.)
People have gotten used to him, finally.
He doesn't get as many glares, there are not as many whispers that haunt his steps.
People forget. People move on. It's what they do, how they survive. I am sure that before too long, the Uchiha massacre and the old clan's black sheep will have been forgotten for tomorrow's gossip.
But, still, when my friends, when acquaintances – when people I don't even know – manage to get me alone, they are more likely than not to lean close, glance around nervously, and ask me, "Why?"
Itachi is happy, now.
He's broken around the edges. He's shattered and tattered and the world has thrown too much his way. There is an Itachi, lost somewhere with all the other unrealized possibilities, that will never be; that died before he ever lived. And I know he's not perfect, I know that he has monsters under his bed and ghosts in his closets, I know he's lived on the brink of sanity and can never truly be ok – I know.
But by God is he beautiful.
You should see him, wandering around the village, eyes wide and face soft. You should watch him, puttering around his new apartment, fingers reaching out to trace the windows and the doorframes. And when he looks at Sasuke, eyes faraway and sad, mouth smiling but soul crying, adoring as anything I've ever seen and heartbroken as anything I could ever imagine… I think it is those moments, when he is most vulnerable and most human, when he is raw and hurt and needing, but somehow still strong and courageous and miraculously happy– I think that is when I love him best.
I am happy, now, happier than I ever imagined I could be.
Every day, Itachi turns to me, face soft and mouth smiling, and I realize all over again that life is a beautiful place to be. I grab his hand and I feel it, welling up from my toes, building and swelling and it is everywhere, echoing in my empty spaces and filling them up. Love feels like trying not to laugh at the funniest joke you've ever heard; like the hot, hopeful tears that burn your throat and light your heart with bittersweet joy; like realizing that you've found what's been missing since the day you were born. It is sweet and painful and my chest aches something fierce, my eyes sting and I'm a sap, but I am so happy, because this matters like nothing has ever mattered before.
I kiss him until the world glitters starlight bright.
I love him.
Everyone wants to know why.
I love him.
the big bad end note to end all end notes:
Look at that. Sugar-sweet cliché as you please happy ending. It was always going to end this way, because no matter how many times I considered gloomy-doomy-doom, I couldn't do it. I am not sorry. So they are happy, because they have fought for it, and life is not an exercise in despair, and sometimes you can win the impossible battles. Right? Right.
(Remember that: You can win.)
On to more important things. Namely, how grateful I am to everyone reading this. This story started tentatively, and I suffered more than my fair share of moments of wanting to quit, but – look! It's done. And, truth be told, I am super proud of it, typos and moments of idiocy aside. The support of readers has been fabulous. And sometimes entirely too good for my ego. Seriously. AND I HAVE FANART, I am going to tell you a mini-story: Once upon a time, the only creative writing teacher I have ever had told me I sucked and that I really, really should just stick to science. And then I was all fuck you, man and found and take that, world, I just wrote a long story with actual chapters! Largely thanks to you, person reading this.
Love all around.
If you have made it this far, you get a prize! Did I mention that in the course of creating this story, I have pretty much fallen in love with Itachi and Sakura? Because I have. And I don't want to let them go, because I am selfish like that. (Who would have thunk? Not me. Didn't expect this story to become my baby at all, but here I am cooing and coddling and that's how it goes.) Sooooo. Sequel? I think yes. Only, not more than a chapter. And in one-shot format. And because you have read this whole long note and I love you, you get to contribute! If you want. Here is how it will go: You will either ask a question or provide a prompt (a word, phrase) and it will be included. For example, someonestolemyname informed me via PM conversation, wants Naruto and Itachi to have a conversation. She also wants something based on the prompt ends.
(disclaimer: I will try my best to include everything and to answer every question, but I am utterly imperfect so this is a hesitant promise that should not be mistaken for an absolute guarantee.)
Start looking for it in… a week?
Got it? Cool!
May your days be full of pretty words, perfectly imperfect people, and enough sunshine to make sure you can see the beauty of being alive. Be happy, yeah?