in the dark

"You're late," she says. There is no trace of mirth in her voice, none of the irony that he'd come to associate with her.

She is right though. He is late. Much, much too late.

She sits at the edge of the concrete sidewalk, pale skirt spread around her. The glimmer of the gauzy fabric under the single flickering streetlight reminds him of the crushed wings of a butterfly.

There is some blood smeared across the corner of her chin. He can see the crumpled tissues half sticking out of her tiny bag. The red on it tells him that she'd try to clean herself up before he'd gotten there.

She is able to smile at him though, even through the dark bruise blooming around her eye. His throat tightens, and he almost asks who.

But he knows. They both know.

She is the only weakness that the president of the Uchiha Corp has allowed himself. He wonders if it isn't out of habit, having known her since they were both small, abandoned children in the care of an almost derelict orphanage. Before his father had found him again. Before his brother died and made him the sole heir to one of the largest corporations in the world.

He's managed to erase all traces of his past, make a new man out of himself. Except for her. He hadn't been able to leave behind the girl with the pink hair and green eyes.

"Here." Sasuke kneels, moving strands of hair away from her face with a gentleness that never manifests unless he's with her. Gingerly, he wraps an icepack in a towel and presses it to the area just under her eye, his other hand taking out bandages from the first aid kit he'd also brought along and handing it to her. She brushes his hand away, dislodges his grip and holds the pack to her face herself. His throat tightens and he looks away.

But she is suddenly holding his wrist, and when he slips out of her grip to offer her his hand, she takes it, letting him pull her up off the ground.

She looks worse now that he can see her fully under the light. There is a long cut across her forehead that he hadn't noticed before and he can see more bruises exposed by the short sleeves of her shirt.

The summer night is heavy and oppressive; the only sound the buzzing of the streetlight, but his stare says it all.

She has always been the best at reading him, he remembers, and in response she gives him the most reassuring look she's able.

It isn't until they've both gotten into his car that he speaks.

"No."

She looks at him from where she's sprawled in the back, taking up all three seats, flats off and feet propped against the door. Her skirt pools around her thighs and her long legs are bared, skin glowing in the faint dashboard light.

He meets her eyes in the rearview mirror instead, bright even in the dark, and says, "You can't do this anymore. You can't keep getting hurt because of me. I…can't save you all the time."

She says nothing, only moves her gaze to the roof of the car. A small sigh ruffles pink strands of hair that'd fallen across her face.

He frowns, glares at the road instead. She does not get it. She never has, even bruised and battered in his car, tangible proof of his failure.

"Sakura. I mean it."

"What do you want me to do, Sasuke? Stop talking to you? Move out of the country?"

Her voice cracks when she first speaks, but it gains strength as she does. He ventures another unamused glare into the mirror. She is sitting up now, hard flecks of green boring into the back of his head.

"Because I won't, Sasuke. I won't. That means they've won. They've gotten to you. If I was really important to you, you'd fight to keep me. That's the Sasuke I know."

She doesn't speak any louder, but the words themselves, they get harder. His grip tightens around the steering wheel, but she isn't finished.

"If you try to make me leave, if you tell me that we can't ever speak again and say that it's for my safety, then I'll know you're a coward, Uchiha Sasuke. I'll know what you're telling me is that I never mattered enough for you to keep," she slants a look at him from underneath lowered lashes, and try as he might, Sasuke can't escape the cutting green of her gaze. "Maybe this was what you wanted all along: an excuse to keep me away. After all, you were always so eager to lose the past, weren't you?"

He turns the car then, swerves out of the nearly deserted road to screech to a haphazard halt next to the sidewalk. Before he knows it he is out of the car, slamming the door shut behind him, yanking open hers and pulling her outside.

She glares at him, defiant even with the blooming black eye, pink hair in mussed disarray.

She is still beautiful.

"Don't you ever say that, ever again. You know it's not like that. You of all people should—Sakura. Sakura, look at me."

Because she isn't anymore, instead her angry green eyes are looking over his shoulder, through him, over him, never at him, and he doesn't like it. Not. One. Bit.

In the end he has to tap her chin. Gently, carefully, ever-aware of her cuts and scrapes yes, but still hard enough to bring her eyes back to his. Better. It was always better when she was looking at him.

"You know that I'm…that I'm not good with words. But you also have to know that you're…important to me," his voice is rough and suddenly he is gripping her shoulders tightly, "You have to know."

"Then fight, Sasuke. Not just for me. Not just for us. But for yourself. Show them that they can't cow you."

This time he has to look away from the weight of her gaze.

"I was late."

He repeats her words from earlier. The smile she gives him in return is the first real one tonight. When she steps closer, he instinctively widens the circle of his arms. She moves so close that she is nearly burrowing into his chest, arms looped around his neck. Her head fits perfectly underneath his chin, and Sasuke allows himself a small moment of respite as he presses his face into her hair, still smelling faintly of vanilla after everything tonight. She is the only one he has ever allowed this close. She is probably the only one he ever will.

She is his only weakness—he can admit that easily.

She is his only necessity—that one is much, much harder, but no less true.

Sasuke's arms tighten around her once and he finally gives in under the glow of a half-lit moon.

Her breath warms the skin of his neck with her next words, "As long as you show up, Uchiha Sasuke, you're never too late."

end


a/n: I don't know where this came from, but I kind of like the universe. Might do more with it later. Brainchild of Paige's prompt "You're late" (which was originally for the drabble collection but got too long), too much Bones, and the bulldozers outside that won't let me sleep. Still.

Reviews and feedback appreciated as usual!