Pyrrhic: achieved at great cost

The ringlets of smoke were infuriating. They rose, dipped, reached out and grasped the air with long thin claws. They shone blue in the light and he was inexplicably reminded of a puddle of gasoline forming on the street. It would never cease to amaze him how beauty was often most prominent (delicate, complex, gruesome, tremulous…) in those ugly little things he usually pretended not to see.

"Beauty isn't something we can hold on to forever, Naruto. It'll decay with our bodies. Bodies die…So let's make a pact to never let our beauty die. Here – let's seal it with our blood…"

There were people all around him. Some talking in low voices, some succumbed to thoughtful silence, some sobbing…but most talking. The rosewood gleamed with their dark reflections like ghosts dipped in ink. They glided across the floor, offering words of comfort to one another…hollow words. They pressed themselves into the room, as if they wanted to imprint themselves in the moment. Why? Perhaps to feel alive in a place of death. Perhaps to be remembered when they were gone. He did not care.

"Yeah I've watched the news…yeah I know they think he's come back. Don't look at me like that, Naruto he's not going to get me. If anything I'll be the getting him. Listen…No – shut up Naruto! Look…I've been keeping this just in case – of course I know how to use it! If he comes, I'll take this out, place it against his head and do what he did to them. It's simple. In a way beautiful… Don't you think?"

They were dressed ridiculously, he thought. Especially the women. Sure they were wearing black but they had put thought into it; thought in their hair, in their makeup, in their shoes and dresses. More thought than they had given him. Naruto can't even remember what he had put on. A glance in the polished window tells him he's not in black. A typical orange t-shirt and some jeans; the same clothes he had been wearing the entire week, from that morning when he had begun to see the world in red. He chuckled, finally understanding why the concierge had hesitated before letting him in, why he had asked skeptically (delicately) if (he had hesitated, words hovering on the edge of his cigarette-stained teeth) he was there for…the funeral?

"Don't lie to me, Naruto. I know I look like shit. I've been…sick. Doesn't really matter anyways…Look I can't stay long. I just wanted you to have this. It's all those pictures we took in high school. I thought you could keep them. I know you'll have a good laugh looking at them. That one's our prom…I can't believe you wore an orange tie. Idiot…We we're really young back then weren't we?"

There was a photo frame resting beside the casket. Walking closer to it, the sun's light slid off the carefully polished glass and the picture within revealed itself to him.

He could barely believe that the face staring out at him had once been alive. He felt more like a memory than anything else…No, not a memory – a dream. A dream so real, so fresh in his mind he half expected him to stroll through the door, hands in pockets, an unlit cigarette hanging from his unsmiling lips. He would fit in so well here, dressed in his signature black. Dark clothes, dark hair, darker eyes still. People would instinctively turn towards him, like stars and meteorites pulling towards a mesmerizing black hole. Sasuke always had that effect on people. He was beautiful; people knew it. He didn't have to try and never did. He didn't spend hours in front of a mirror, carefully styling his hair or examining his (deathly) pale skin. He didn't have to. Perhaps that's why he was obsessed with beauty.

Naruto could picture him in his apartment, alone, wondering why? Why did beauty captivate people, strip them of their freedom?

Naruto had always known Sasuke had had a distorted relation with beauty, ever since he had agreed to seal that pact seven years ago. Sasuke had hated the way he had looked, sometimes to the point where he would speak plainly (a soft laughter to his voice) about wanting to burn his face with acid. He hated how people judged him in terms of his looks. He hated how afraid it made him. That, if were all to just disappear, he would be nothing.

Naruto wasn't sure the pact they had made all those years ago was really about remaining beautiful, more than just remaining alive. It was all the same thing for Sasuke. Beauty and life…He had nothing else. His brother, Itachi, had taken everything away from the earliest age. Sasuke's brother had been a genius in every sense of the word and in being so; he had robbed Sasuke of his voice. His outstanding performance at school had stripped Sasuke of his pride. He had taken their parents' praise, his friends' admiration, his personality. Everything. And then, by some twisted, blood-stained, moon-lit night; he had taken Sasuke's parents. All Sasuke had been left with was a beautiful face. Beauty was all he had left…

"I know I have you, Naruto, you don't have to repeat yourself…Look don't judge me okay? You don't know what it's like to lose everything. You don't…know what life was like for me after…I was always alone with his face in my mirror. I didn't feel alive most of the time…it was only better when I was with you but it wasn't enou- Wha-? What are you talking about, idiot? I wasn't speaking in the past tense."

But his brother was beautiful too and Naruto had no doubt that that was what had obsessed Sasuke the most. It wasn't his reflection he saw in the store windows as he walked down the busy street. It wasn't his large black eyes that stared back out at him. In the end, no matter how much Sasuke liked to pretend it was his body (his life) that he wanted to preserve, Naruto knew it was also his brother's. Because Sasuke's life and Itachi's were but one simple reflection in the mirror. Why? Why remember the single man he had hated more than anything? Naruto did not know. Sasuke was right after all…he didn't understand.

"I'm busy. What? No, I didn't forget about tonight I just…I'm busy. I don't feel well. No don't bother dropping by I won't be home…Hey Naruto? Do you…do you remember that promise we made a while ago? Were we really thirteen? I thought we were older… No nothing I was just thinking about it. We've come a long way since then eh? Listen Naruto…you…you've been a good frie- my best friend…I've got to go…Okay…Bye."

Naruto could see him standing in the doorway, leaning casually with his hands tucked away in his jeans pockets, biting lightly at the end of his cigarette. People shot him uncertain glances, wondering if they should ask him to remove his cigarette. But Sasuke wouldn't care either way. He walked across the room, past his first girlfriend, his silent foster parent, past his teachers and family friends. He only stopped when he was facing Naruto and offered him a single glance, an apology etched deep in the black of his eyes.

"I need an ambulance! He's not breathing! Sasuke, he- he's bleeding. He shot himself…I don't know! I don't kno-…56 K-konoha Street. Please there's blood everywhere. No no no I can't- Sasuke…he's…"

And then the apology flickered out of his eyes and they were but two eclipses once more, turning their attention towards the photograph near the casket, inspecting it with brutal eyes. For the first time, he smirked, a flame bursting to life in those black disks. Naruto could tell he approved of the picture. It was a good picture; the one Naruto had taken of him on their graduation. He was on the school campus and the sun was pouring onto Sasuke's face, shinning brilliantly against his luxurious ebony hair. He's laughing, really laughing. Naruto must have done something stupid just before the picture had been taken...

"I'm sorry I wasn't able to stop him Mr. Hatake. There were signs I should have acted sooner… I just didn't want to believe that he…He gave me his photo album before he…a week ago. I thought you might like to have it. No I've looked at it already. I know the pictures by hea- you sure? Thank you, Mr. Hatake. I'll keep it safe. But I want to show you this one. Look what he wrote on the back…d'you think he was apologizing to us?"

He didn't worry about the picture. He knew without a doubt Sasuke would be glad. Glad that, years from now, people will look at the picture and think what a good-looking boy he had been. Glad that, in the end, he had respected their promise. His beauty would never decay.