note: Shhh. Don't say anything. I know I was supposed to have left. BABY-STEPS, OK?

in waking, he dreams

Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck; Sasuke sees Madara heading straight towards Sakura in his peripheral vision, and nearly takes a Rasenshuriken to the face as a result.

This is what you wanted, right?

It is, he snarls in his head. Konoha burning at his feet, the elders speared on the end of his Kusanagi—it is exactly what he wants, and if he has to forcibly remove Naruto from his way, if Madara has to remove Sakura, then so be it. Then so be it—

Sasuke ignores the blonde's next lunge with a parry and does a one-eighty, running towards Sakura, running to intercept the oldest Uchiha's attack—

There is pain, and his eyes are on fire.

He cannot see when he wakes up. There is a cool pair of hands at his forehead, pressing lightly against the skin there, and then the warm tingle of chakra. The touch lingers, fingers combing through his bangs once before retreating. He tries to make a noise, any noise at all, but his throat is stuck with something gummy and his tongue is too dry.

It takes him a while to remember who he is—and when Sasuke does, the smell of antiseptic and musky-flowered death is undeniably familiar.

"Hello," a quiet voice says somewhere to his right. He tries to jerk up, to attack first and ask questions later, but his arms are sluggish, and his legs do not move. It feels like something heavy is pressing against the insides of his chest, pinning ribs and spine and bone after bone into the thin hospital mattress.

"You shouldn't move," the voice says, and he can't tell if he'd imagined the trace of irony in it or if it had ever been there at all.

"Sleep," it tells him when he tries to move his limbs again, "you won't be going anywhere anytime soon."

That's what you think, his brain yells, tries to get his mouth to respond with the appropriate biting curse—Sasuke fails, and falls back into black sleep.

The next time, he wakes up to a conversational it wasn't our fault, you know and out of habit he blinks, languorous and slow, to restore sight to a pair of eyes that do not work anymore.

Sasuke curses, and is surprised when the sound actually makes it past his throat.

The voice apparently doesn't notice. "None of this was our fault. They made the mistakes and left us to clean their messes."

He tries again, louder this time, and the effort scrapes his throat raw.

Pausing, the voice tsks, "I didn't think you were brought up to be so vulgar, Uchiha-san. If you were awake all you had to do was say so."

There is the crinkling of paper and the rustling of fabric, and then the same pair of hands from before are sweeping sweat-plastered hair from his forehead. Then the obligatory probing of chakra and the fingers pressing lightly at his pulse points before the touch retreats, taking with it the faint smell of dry apples.

"Let me go," he says when only silence follows, "let me go, and I won't kill you."

The burn in his throat is almost unbearable, but Sasuke doesn't move, doesn't betray discomfort or pain or emotion.

"You're not exactly in a position to be making demands," the voice hums, and suddenly he is eased into sitting upright, propped against the metal railing of the headboard like a ragdoll.

Sasuke seethes, and imagines breaking the slim arms holding him into pieces.

Tepid water touches his parched bottom lip, and those self-same fingers tip his chin up into a better angle.

He doesn't swallow.

Sasuke says this every day as soon as he is awake and remembering, the darkness some unrelenting thing that he still can't quite believe; let me go, and I won't kill you.

He never gets better, and never moves under his own steam. His muscles never atrophy, and he never bathes or uses the bathroom or molders into unchanged sheets like he is supposed to.

None of this was our fault, the voice had said; none of this is our fault, but who would have seen it coming?

One day, the voice says to him; it wasn't our fault, but who knew you would be so stupid, Uchiha-san? You were supposed to be the smart one, the one who graduated the top of his class. I guess we were all fools.

He never answers or says anything besides his morning rejoinder and the occasional angry noise. After a while, he thinks he might have forgotten how.

Sasuke doesn't remember ever eating through the entirety of his days here, but he thirsts all the time. He never asks for water, or a reprieve from either the disbelieving heat or the frigid cold, but the voice always seems to know when it gets the worst. He will inevitably be handed a cup, and what he drinks will always be lukewarm, with the tinny taste of water that has been left out for too long.

All you had to do was ask¸ the voice commented once. It is day four hundred and forty three, and he finally finds it in himself to reply with a tired then let me go.

There is only ever that knowing hum; sometimes he hears the voice right by his bed, sometimes it is faded and further away. He listens to the rustle of fabric and the scrape of wooden chairs against a linoleum floor during the day and the soft buzzing of insects or the wind banging against the windows at night, but he has never once heard the sound of footsteps, retreating or otherwise.

And the smell of apples never completely goes away.

He doesn't dream. Most of the time, he doesn't even remember falling asleep. There is nothing to differentiate what happens inside his head from what happens with out. The voice creeps into his sleep sometimes, but he doesn't know if he dreams it into existence or if it is the sound of whispers close to his ear.

It's been so long now that it doesn't even bother him anymore.

He still says let me go and I won't kill you first thing when he is awake, but he has trouble remembering why, now.

His world instead consists of the voice and that pair of soft hands. He has memorized every rise and fall of her speech, mapped every callous catching on the heel of those palms with touch alone. She still hums, but now there is a tune, too, that carries through the space he is in and settles itself inside his head. He recognizes the song, sometimes, but he cannot quite recall from where.

And always prevalent, seeped into the skin of her hands and the air that he breathed, is the smell of apples.

It was never a perfume, he realizes one day with the sound of rain drumming against the roof over his head. He is sitting in a chair, and in between trying to remember how he got out of the bed and into the ancient wooden thing that moans in protest every time he shifts, his arm somehow lands on a side table that he never knew was there. Groping blindly, his hand nearly sends a cool china plate crashing to the floor. It is smooth and chill to the touch, and grasping fingers move further until he finds a neatly sliced wedge of apple, his blunt fingernails sinking into the flesh of the fruit, juice welling up and slicking the pad of his thumb.

He is bent close over the table when she finds him, intent on the recollections that he knows the apples should bring.

"I peeled them for you," she says, so quiet that it is almost a sigh, "but you never eat them."

He wants to say that he never knew they were there, but instead raises the slice he is still holding to his lips and takes a small bite.

It tastes sharp and sweet, and for a second he imagines he is looking at a blue summer sky through a canopy of leaves.

"You only had to ask," she says when he finishes the entire plate in silence, and that feels familiar too.

He finally starts dreaming again, and it hurts to wake up because in his head at least, he can still see—he hadn't known how much he missed his sight until the sky and the trees and the wind rolling through green hill grass were given back to him. She's there too, most of the time, but he can never quite see her face. Instead it is long legs tangled in a white sundress, stretched out next to him and her small hand in his, but if he is quick enough, sometimes he can catch a glimpse of pink from the corner of his eye.

They never do much; instead he is perfectly content to sit on the grass and watch the clouds with her, or count the blades of grass. It's idyllic, and he is used to that now—the not-moving, the quiet and the waiting. But sometimes his hands still twitch with phantom memories of half-remembered signs (oxtigerhorse), and she will have to wrap her fingers around his to still the movement. He says thank you half of the time, but even in his dreams she never responds.

With most of his waking hours spent in darkness, listening to her talk quietly about things that he does not understand—of love and betrayal and something called bonds, he learns patience.

She holds his hands every once in a while now, even when she doesn't need to, and absentmindedly rubs his knuckles in a mockery of prayer. He'd tugged his hands back once, partly because he wanted to know what she would do and partly because he will always value his personal space; it ends with her giving him only the most perfunctory of touches for the next three wakings. On the fourth day, when she finally takes his cold fingers between her warm palms again, they both pretend (more for his sake than hers) that he'd been able to hide the instant disappearance of his ever-persistent frown.

Finally, one day—


She looks at him, surprised, and he can see. She sits by his bed in the same chair that he's imagined thousands of times now, and it isn't just a voice anymore, now there is a girl attached. Sakura smiles the same smile that she gave him every day from twelve to thirteen, and then the twelve year old girl is fifteen and angry and glaring at him with death in her eyes. Fifteen turns sixteen and she is sad and resigned, watching him watch her motionless from the bed, waiting as he remembers and praying that he learns. Sixteen turns seventeen and there is the loud noise of battle, of death and dying, of thinking that he'd made the biggest mistake of his life and the darkness, just the darkness—


She gives him his name back.

Uchiha Sasuke wakes up to full afternoon sunlight streaming through a dusty window. He half-sits, a hand raking itself tiredly through his hair, blinking at the realization that it is longer than he remembers. The flimsy metal cot creaks beneath him, and he is surprised to find himself without shackles and the room empty. Outside, there is the faint noise of children playing while a heart monitor beeps steadily next to the bed.

Sasuke takes a deep breath, testing his lungs and tasting the musky smell of aged paper from the air but otherwise makes no move to leave.

"We don't even know if the jutsu will work! I told you shishou only let me take the chakra string off if I promised there'd always be a guard—"

A familiar voice—

"I'm here!"

—coming closer, followed by the clicking of heels—

"A guard who's awake, Naruto."

—and then the door, the door opens.

Sakura (no longer twelve thirteen fifteen sixteen seventeen) comes to a full-stop, the door closing behind her on a spluttering Naruto.

She stares at him for a long time, uncertainty reverberating in the tense lines of her body as he looks back, eyes steady and unwavering.

"Good afternoon, Sasuke-kun."

This time, he is sure that he's not dreaming.


a/n: Yeah, I don't know either. For Unicorn Paige and her request of "write me something pretty." Ummm, I tried?

Really interested to see if you guys will see this the same way as I did, and any feedback is loved!

/wanders away to accidentally walk into a car or something