The Brightest Firefly in Her Jar
Uchiha Sasuke gazed upon the hand of the woman in front of him, whose fingers wore an emblem that signified her new life as an Uchiha. Her new life as his wife. Her new life with him.
The ring bled red opal that blended with her soft pink hair; and the diamond underneath the deep crimson illuminated her skin and her flimsy white dress even more. It was truly as though the heirloom was created only for her. That her fingers were perfectly fit to flaunt the proud emblem.
She had a serene smile upon her face, only for him and for the ceremony that just took place. Everyone had gone now, and it was only the two of them left sitting by their usual table in the visiting hall of the prisons of Kumogakure, as usual.
To have her agree to a marriage despite his incarceration was something he had already given up on – most especially when he hadn't heard from her for a year after his proposal. But she was there, in front of him, wearing her best dress, her most beautiful smile, giving him her only life; all of which made the most precious jewel of his clan lose its usual luster in his eyes.
He led her away from the hall and into a narrow corridor that the prison guards guided them through. All the while, his heart was pounding very loudly and his palms were cold. He was unsure of how to go about this for he never had any experiences with women, and he never kissed his bride before.
When the Kumogakure had officially announced their union, they were busy buzzing Naruto and Kakashi off because of their constant – and loud – cheering for their matrimonial, and apparently first, kiss.
As he closed the old wooden door of the conjugal room, they just stood the longest time staring at each other; sheepish of what to do next. Holding her hand was enough for him that moment, for he knew he had received her soul that day. Her hand was as clammy as his were, but he didn't mind at all. He gained comfort to the fact that her heart was as erratic as his was, she was as queasy and aflutter as he was.
Inside that dark room, with dusts and cold walls and no signs of jubilation for what this day had been, Sasuke held her hand out and had her sit by a dingy chair beside a raddled table. He stood in front of her, watching her bright eyes, as he, still diffident, bent to kiss her fingers.
It was not a girl's dream to spend her wedding night inside a prison; much less was it a girl's dream to marry a convicted man who had destroyed villages and betrayed his friends and even tried to kill her several times over. But like already stated before, she was drawn to his darkness, and in his pain did she yearn to use her strong hands to heal.
She had become his hope in a place where there was none, in a life he had chosen to throw away after the fulfillment of his exalted goals. Despite darkness, his lips drew him to taste her porcelain skin as though her blood was a river gushing out to alleviate his thirst.
Neither knew how long he pieced her fingers; but when his lips finally touched her own, it was a moment, the desire he would look back to every day of his life.
Their first kiss was reminiscent even sixteen years after their marriage, as he walked the halls of the prison to meet her outside, under the clouds of Kumo. He was sentenced to twenty years in prison, charged as an international criminal and a public enemy of the previous war. But he was granted three years parole for his behavior inside. Despite his connections to the influential Hokage, he was never given any special treatment and he had served his sentence as any prisoners should.
After seventeen years, he was finally freed. After decades, he was finally going home.
Right on the front gates she stood, patiently waiting. Of course, this annoying woman, there were tears pouring from her eyes as she watched him walk towards them. To Sasuke, his release from prison was a gift he could finally offer her, the fulfillment of a promise when he took her as his wife, to have and to hold; be there for her for better or for worse.
For he knew no other way than this: to be the man who'd spend a lifetime protecting her, looking after her, and yes, loving her in more ways than one his Uchiha heart had learned to love through years of being married to the woman named Haruno Sakura.
A lifetime wasn't enough, though, to make up for everything she had done for him. She had delivered him from a life of desolation; at that time of his life when passion had left him, when imprisonment saved him from wandering aimlessly in unknown forests, she entered the walls of prison. Although, at first she was repulsed at his pathetic state and was prepared to never see him again. He never knew what he had done to turn things around and made her stay. Or perhaps he didn't do anything at all, since all along she had loved him unconditionally.
Had he went on with his ways of darkness, and she continued to care for him deeply, he would spite her and call her stupid. She, however, turned things around. And for that, he was greatly indebted to her.
She was his salvation.
Once, while on a visit, she whispered her gratitude for making all her wishes come true. He might not have dreamt for a life such as this, nor did he ever think this was possible, but he was glad that she had made an improbability real for him.
On the day of his release, the clouds were overcast, the old prison tower hovered a bleak atmosphere upon the surroundings and barbs around him. No birds sang, and again no signs of celebrations could be seen.
Except for the girl who stood beyond the gates.
Her blossom tresses were all that lit up the skies, were all he could see. She wore a sweet smile upon her face amidst all the tears. Through the years, she still held the blessings of youth and the promise of spring.
Uchiha Sasuke didn't realize he had stopped walking and was standing still, entranced by her very presence, until he saw yellow and pink running from the corner of his eyes.
"Oi, teme! Oi, finally you're here," yelled Naruto as he approached Sakura's side.
"'tou-san! Over here, over here. Hurry!" shouted the child with pink hair and black eyes, almost jumping from Naruto's arms.
He couldn't help but smile. It was Saya, his third child, his only daughter. At the back of his mind, however, he noted to punch Naruto for his contagious loudness.
In no time, the towers and the coldness it exuded were all forgotten and the skies seemed to scatter to let the sun out. As he walked towards the entrance, as Saya leapt from Naruto's arms and into her father's, as Naruto beamed like a total idiot in his best friend's pending freedom from the oppressive gates of prison, as Sakura blinked her tears away, he finally felt grounded and everything Sakura had painted in his mind became real.
Uchiha Sasuke left prison a renewed man. No, that was an understatement. For when he left prison, he was reincarnated into an alternate world he never even thought could happen to him again after the death of his family.
"Okaeri nasai, anata," she whispered. In that moment, as he leaned to kiss her forehead and take in the sweet aroma of her hair, as the child in his embrace held him tightly, his life journey was but a spell broken by her warmth.
"Aa. I'm back."
Where did it all begin? One could say it started with her devout visits in the prison a long time ago. Others would argue it was a whim, a desperate move to salvage his soul and a pathetic cry of martyrdom. For him, it was indeed a whim; a sudden realization of his need for her continued existence; that during those days she had left after her refusal of marriage, it was then that he realized she had spoiled him of mornings spent with her, of meaningless talks, concealed feelings and her overwhelming presence.
For her, she had loved him forever; from her childish fascinations, it had transcended to foolish infatuation towards dark things. His flight from Konoha turned her to a fighter fighting for those she wanted to protect, and whom she wanted to retrieve. No one took her heart seriously, for she was just a young girl believing in mythical kindness found in a broken boy. In time, she finally believed them, that there never was a room for a traitor, for her almost-killer, inside her fragile heart.
But fate had been soft to them after years of watching them suffer. In a twist, they were now meant for each other. Perhaps they had always been, written in the stars to strive for a happy ending, not like those in myths. After all, they were neither prince nor princess to live happily ever after without pain and darkness.
They were meant to fight for a love affair impossible to attain. After all, they were opposing opposites.
It was the beginning of fall, and afternoons were now cool enough to spend outside. Uchiha Sasuke leaned back to the tatami wall by their veranda, overlooking a patio of carefully pruned bushes and a garden of varied flowers. The gingko tree rustled from the west, making a portrayal of cherry blossom showers.
It was a soothing afternoon to spend outside. He smoked his pipe with contented vigor while listening to the high-pitched humming of the woman working at the garden. She was never a good singer, but he had spent a thousand days getting used to it. He had tried rebuking her about it, but he had only received a smack on the head in rebuttal.
"Anata," she called out, with her back still towards him as she continued tilling the earth for a new pot of ornamentals. "Don't forget to check on the kettle. It's almost time for tea."
"Aa." Sasuke continued with his pipe.
"The kids will be here for dinner. Do thaw the meat from the freezer. You know how Naruto couldn't chew his food anymore."
He almost choked as the smoke went to his nasal passage instead of to his lungs. "I thought you said the kids were coming? What's Naruto doing here tonight?"
"Oh, you know how he is, anata. And Saya had also invited Hinata and Ryuusuke-kun over." It wasn't really an odd thing to have Naruto and his family over. In fact, the retired Hokage had been in the Uchiha household much frequently than he had to, much to Sasuke's annoyance. The rivalry between these two never really ceased, but it was a rivalry that was very much like in their youth.
"What about Mamoru and Kyo?"
"Yes, they're just back from their missions. They said they'll be here. The kids will be here, too, of course." Sasuke nodded, and smiled behind his pipe.
After Saya had moved out years ago and pursued her kunoichi trainings, it had only been him and her living in the large Uchiha manor. When Mamoru got married and they had their first grandchild, Sakura had insisted that the new family live with them, at least temporarily. This could also let Sakura monitor Sayaka, Mamoru's wife, and the baby more closely. Of course, it was also another reason for Sakura to pamper and spoil their first grandchild.
Eventually, Kyo also had a family of his own, and the list of grandchildren grew to six new Uchiha running around the manor. It would have been best to have all of them live in the main Uchiha house, but both Mamoru and Kyo chose to live separately instead. However, they were just few houses away, still inside the compound.
It was times like these that the house would get crowded with people again, children all around again. Although Uchiha Sasuke had learned to live all alone before, years with Sakura and with his own family had made him crave for their company. He was always in high spirits for family gatherings.
A lot had changed. His whole life, for one had. After coming back from prison, Konoha had taken him in – with the aid of the then Hokage, Uzumaki Naruto. He had several S-ranked missions after, and had trained students of his own. However, settling back in was never easy. People are still apprehended over the past, and some couldn't bring themselves to trust him again. Though he had already come to terms with the eradication of his clan, and living at the Uchiha compound again was somewhat bearable, thanks to his wife and children, the stigma on his past was still there.
Also, there were now people who were no longer with them. Hatake Kakashi had now died of old age; some friends were lost in battle. It was part of a shinobi life, but it never stopped Sakura and Naruto grieve and be saddened about it in some days. Sasuke had been affected too. That Sai painter was still around, though. But he had been travelling all over; they seldom got a chance to see him. And when they do, Sakura would always, always host dinner for him.
Sasuke puffed the last of his pipe and finally stood to start cooking. Sakura was never good in household chores, only in cleaning and in gardening. He couldn't imagine how they got by when he's in prison.
"Well, Ino was our maid," she once explained. Sasuke was always in charge of cooking, and it was a delight to have him in the kitchen.
Before he could slide the shoji and step inside to prepare dinner – he was thinking of beef stew or sukiyaki or nabe, but that's inappropriate in a big gathering, or not. Of course, tomatoes on the side, either grilled or pickled for the rice; Saya would have wanted grilled beef and the tomatoes, vegetable tempura or just plain baked potatoes – Sakura stopped him and interrupted his thoughts.
"Oh, and try not to make the ramen too salty. You know what the doctor said about Naruto's diet – less salt, less fat, less sweets."
"Who said we'd have ramen for dinner?" Sasuke refuted.
"Naruto," she answered so casually, she didn't even look back from the pots she was tending. Perhaps she had been so used to this petty bickering of her two former teammates that she just chose to ignore Sasuke's petty bickering on Naruto's omnipresence.
"So, Naruto's head of family now?" he muttered loud enough for her to hear, and stomped his feet as he strode into the kitchen.
After all, no matter how much Sasuke showed how irritated he was to their blond friend, Sakura knew the Uchiha always caved in.
"Annoying woman," he muttered again, as he rolled the dough to make noodles.
The evening went by with faces beaming with happy smiles: Saya, the most blooming woman in the room; Sakura and Hinata, their wrinkles sparkling with happy tears; Naruto, proud and gay; most especially, Ryuusuke, who had finally asked for her hand in marriage.
The father of the bride was equally merry, to be honest; but he refused to show it – not in front of Naruto gushing of how powerful and beautiful their grandchildren would be, given the union of their children.
"You make it sound like it's our child, dobe."
But the father was equally having a difficult time accepting. That night after everyone had gone home, he went to his favorite place on the patio and leaned back to the shoji wall. He smoked his pipe in melancholy.
Everything would have been a perfect night to wallow upon the bittersweet feeling of giving your daughter away. But the wife had another plan.
Instead of a peaceful night outside with his pipe, Sakura emerged from inside carrying a futon and a blanket, lying down beside him.
"I'm smoking, Sakura."
"I can see that," she responded.
"You never liked the smell of cigars."
"I don't like feeling gloomy over my only daughter's happiness either."
"Let's sleep outside, Sasuke-kun," she whispered, watching the gardens and the rustling gingko. There was no moon that night. "Everyone's growing up now, and we're growing older. We might not have another chance to do this."
"Aa." And she slept beside him, clutching his shirt, as he sat leaning back to the shoji, smoking his pipe and drumming her forehead with his fingers.
It was a day of festivities for the Hidden Village of the Leaf for it was a day of inauguration for the Hachidaime Hokage following the retirement of Konohamaru, the seventh, after two decades of ruling.
Back in the Uchiha compound, where the matriarch of the clan, already in her late seventies, sat by her garden drinking tea, the music and fireworks could be heard rather clearly. Her children had just dropped her off from town, and she decided to make tea for the afternoon.
Nothing about the celebrations, however, could lighten up her mood. Her children and grandchildren, who were all with her the whole day, also tried to dismiss their sadness to join in with the village. But before they went off to their own homes, they all asked her to stay with them and kissed her goodnight.
She wanted to spend the night here, in the main Uchiha house, in the large garden she had once nagged him to weed, mow and plow. Sakura closed her eyes as she sipped her tea, loving the feel of the wind as it played with her hair, now gray and washed off with time. She imagined it was him, running his fingers through her hair, like the first time he ever did way back in the dark prison room.
It should be a blessing, how he had died so peacefully exactly two years ago. How, that morning after he cooked their breakfast and waited for her to wake up, he sat by his usual corner in their patio and silently died. He didn't suffer, nor did he feel any pain, like how any shinobi should die. He was in his home, with a serene heart and soul; not somewhere in a battle, with hatred in his heart and hand.
Perhaps, Uchiha Sasuke had finally come full circle, finally able to meet his parents, his brother, with pride and integrity as he revived the Uchiha's name in a new light and compassion, surpassing the flags that had once bannered the clan's name in the past. With it, Uchiha Sasuke had ended the cycle of violence and hatred between brothers and clansmen.
Mamoru and Kyo and Saya all were testaments of the Uchiha's prestigious beginnings, rising from the rubble that the Uchiha of the old had brought to themselves. Hatake Kakashi had helped Sasuke on how to attain the powers of Sharingan without bloodshed or sacrificing eyes. But it was never perfect; this was where Sakura had come in. She had taught how power could corrupt one, and her motherly skills were full of love and contentment. If anything, she hoped it would continue on to more generations; that the Uchiha would no longer go back with eyes that can only see darkness.
And yet, despite everything that had gone so well with Sasuke's life, she couldn't help but still miss him so. In times like this, she usually just wallowed while looking at a distant space; this time, however, she took out a piece of pen and paper and started writing, remembering a letter he had once written so long ago, which she hadn't replied to.
Tears poured out as words of longing and love filled the page. She wrote of his departure, of their almost sixty years in marriage, of how he grew grumpier as he aged, but she knew his heart had softened and had become brittle to the slightest worry about his family. She told him she missed him, his tomatoes every single day and how his tomatoes still thrived in their backyard. She asked how Naruto was, and Sai and Kakashi, his family, did he ever meet them somewhere where the souls of the dead meet?
I wonder, anata, if I die, would you be there to pick me up? Like those times you would patiently wait outside the hospital so late at night to bring me home after my shift. But then again, you should be; or I will scour all heavens and hell to look for you and punch your pompous Uchiha face if you are not on my deathbed.
After all, I have waited on you all my life; perhaps it's time you wait on me too. There are times, however, that I wouldn't want you waiting too long; you know how I hated making people wait. Would you be ready for me if I go too soon? Or are you always there, just there beside me, waiting on me.
I miss you, Sasuke-kun. But when I do, I just look around me and see all the happiness you've given that could last me another lifetime. Who would have thought that we'd have three beautiful children when years before, you didn't even like me? Now, now that we've been through a lot and now that I know for sure you love me as I do, I am glad I have restored my faith in you. For what it's worth, the dark days with you were nothing but days to strengthen me, us.
You have granted all my wishes, been the best husband, partner, father, friend despite the dark days you have had. All I can say is thank you. Thank you for choosing me, instead of taking a path on your own. Thank you for trying to change and letting me in. Thank you for loving all three of them with best you can. I cannot ask anything more from you.
Except, maybe, be with me right now. My selfishness and grief could only make me wish for the impossible. But how long a time until I stop feeling this emptiness? Despite the love showered to me by our children and beloved grandkids, I couldn't help but yearn for you, instead.
And yet, death still scares me. If I would be reborn into another world, would you be there as well? Would we tread the same path, or would this be the only world in which we'd meet? It scares me, you see, that when I die, I might lose all the memories I had with you, or I wouldn't be able to find you anywhere after this.
Funny, even in death, I am clingy. If you were beside me, reading as I write, I know you'd be smirking back at me and wanting to slap my forehead. Maybe you've already had, since I wouldn't be able to retaliate and uppercut your pretty Uchiha jaw.
But would you blame me, when loving you had been the greatest curse and gift I received in the world? When even at such a young and stupid age, I had known that my heart would beat the fastest whenever around you? But even in your absence, my heart beats like snares and cymbals when I think of you. Like now. Does that mean, you're somewhere near?
I miss you, anata. When I wake up tomorrow morning, will you be there beside me?
She went to bed that night, dried tears on her cheeks and clutching the letter under her pillow. She took one long look at her finger, which wore the jewel that signified her status as the matriarch of the Uchiha; the jewel that signified how Uchiha Sasuke wanted her to spend her whole life under his name, holding his heart.
And then, she closed her eyes.
When she opened it, she was suddenly on his back, her hands around his neck. And his hair was black again, her hair still pink. They were jumping above roofs of the Konoha of their childhood, when there were only four heads carved in the Hokage Mountain; and they were twelve once more.
"Hn. I see you've gained weight while I was dead."
"W-what did you say?"
"Shut up, Sakura. You're annoying."
AN: Finally, after a year, I was able to write this epilogue. This should have been submitted as an entry to the SasuSaku Month at LJ, but I was late. But, still, it should be posted under the prompt for July 23: Journey.
Thank you everyone, for the reviews, for all the love for this series. And I hope you all like this final chapter.
And so, I end She Was A Wreck, But So Was He with bittersweet feelings. And may these two find their own peace and happiness, together or apart.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SASUKE-KUN!
Chapter Title Reference: Brightest by Copeland.
to love that transcends time. and circumstances.