- for elle (ohhaitharitselle)—you're amazing, and we all miss you, but mostly, we love you for bringing us together.
- for my grandmother—I'll always love and miss you no matter how far apart we are, no matter that we're separated by that fine line between life and death.
- for nicole (AkieriN)—I'll always be your friend. don't you forget it.
- for all my lovely condiments—you're like a second family to me.
- for my fellow aag-ers—even though I don't nearly spend enough time with you all, I love you to bits.
written by seleneswan
She didn't think she would find herself here, but alas, here she was.
Her fingers twisted in her dull pink hair as she hummed an unrecognizable tune, perched on the edge of the examination table, the thin paper crumpling beneath her bony, almost gaunt, form. A sense of impatience was beginning to creep upon her as she waited for the doctor to return.
It was Christmas Eve, and she was nine.
The strands ensconcing her fingers began to slip from them and similarly from her scalp, a chunk of softness escaping her head, floating almost delicately, horrifyingly, towards the ground. She frowned, confused, tugging free more loose strands. The humming had ceased, but her lips were still parted in surprise.
Her vivid green irises flitted up towards him, as if she knew he had been watching the entire time, and he stared back mutely.
She played with the hair in her hand, detached from her head, and wondered if she could have been Rapunzel's twin whose hair, instead of growing to unimaginable proportions, fell away to nothing on a daily basis. She stared out the window at the snowfall and then back at the boy in the wheelchair with the shock of black hair.
That would be her fairy tale, she decided. She would like that very much.
She began to hum again, lost in her dreams.
The snow continued to fall, and the boy, gaze inquisitive, was pushed away into another room by an older nurse. He was just eight.
That was the first time Sasuke saw Sakura.
It would be another two years before he saw her again.
It was summertime, and she was packing her bags with the help of her worn parents. In went her clothes and her teddy bear and the photos of her friends. A clock from her grandmother and a stuffed turtle from her aunt.
She wouldn't see them again for a long time, she thought, as she stared out at the front lawn, fingering the paper crane in her hands.
She wouldn't see much for a long time.
It was Christmas Eve, and he was ten.
The knocking on the door outside his hospital room tore his gaze away from the icy gusts of rain outside his window. The door cracked open, and she shuffled inside.
"Hi," she whispered, fingering the cloth wrapped around her head, her green eyes significantly dimmed from the last time he saw her, from what seemed like a lifetime ago. One arm was behind her back, holding something away from view.
He barely recognized her without the falling locks of hair. He barely recognized her at all. She was paler than before, clearly not having visited the sun in some time. And as she passed under the bright corner lamp of his room and shuffled towards him in a threadbare nightgown, the blue veins on her neck and wrists stood out.
From behind her back she thrust towards him a candy cane, decorated in an obnoxious red bow. "Merry Christmas!"
He reached for the cane, his fingers curling around the peppermint gently, the plastic crinkling ever so slightly under his grip.
He looked up from the treat, and his feet shifted under the thick fleece blanket, unsure. "Thank you."
And even in her sallow state, she laughed, smiling brightly as though an invisible flame of life was lit. "You're welcome," she replied warmly, and flounced out of the room.
He would forget about her again until next year.
She met Itachi in the early summer as she took a walk in the rehabilitation garden of the hospital, finally feeling up to something other than laying listlessly in bed and throwing up. The tulips were in full bloom, and she was sitting on the wrought iron bench, taking in the hazy light and the warm air.
She felt alive.
A smile tipped at her lips and she gazed around, taking in the fact that the nurses were watching her from the wide window that led back to the building. They were a little overbearing, sometimes.
She wanted to run.
"So why don't you?"
Her head snapped up from where she had been examining the little slug worming its way across the dirt. "Huh?" she replied unintelligently, disoriented.
"Run," the man clarified. He looked familiar, but she knew she had never seen him before.
"Oh, I said that out loud?" She paused. "It wouldn't be prudent. I could fall and get injured and then the nurses would fret, and I'd never be let outside again." She took in the angular structure of the man's face, and the familiarity suddenly clicked. "Are you Sasuke's…?"
"Brother," he supplied, taking a seat next to her, filling the open space of the bench.
"He's two floors up," she provided helpfully.
He didn't seem to be fond of wordiness like she was. "I already visited."
A dragonfly buzzed and flitted around her, and she wrinkled her nose, subtly shifting away from it. The sun dappled on her skin through the leaves of the large oak planted directly behind her. A comfortable silence settled between them.
"The doctors say I don't have more than four years. The drugs that suppress my immune system can only work so long before they let in something horrible, before they work against me. That's why I'm stuck here, why I can't run, why those people," she said, pointing at the window, "are watching me to make sure that I stay perfectly intact. I had to put up a real fight to be allowed to sit here by my lonesome. They said it was my early Christmas gift."
She sighed, and pulled her knees up to her chest. "If I even get a cut, I could die like…this," she said, snapping her fingers softly. She bit her lip, a force of habit. "They don't know what I have."
The silence resumed, and she bent to pick a tulip from the ground beside her, plucking the petals off one by one.
"Sasuke needs a heart," he said finally.
She peered up at him, and he had his head buried in his hands. He was still a head taller than her, even sitting down. "Sometimes, I think I need one, too," he whispered.
That was the beginning, for them. From that day forward, he visited her every week.
It was the autumnal equinox when Sakura padded into Sasuke's room unannounced and sat on the edge of his bed. "You should tell your brother that you love him, too."
He looked up from the book he was reading in a chair by the window.
She tugged at the ends of the silken patterned scarf wrapped around her bare head, letting the cloth pool into her hands as her scalp was exposed to him. There wasn't a single pink strand. "There's only so much time people like you and me have. It's important to say these things before you can't say them ever again."
It was Christmas Eve, and she was thirteen.
Sasuke was wheeled, as per hospital policy, through the halls and to her room, knocking on the door before gripping the knob and turning the handle, stepping out of the wheelchair and walking through the open doorway.
She was curled into a ball, nursing what appeared to be a cup of hot chocolate between her hands. Her nails were painted orange. The scarf normally around her head laid forgotten on the nightstand.
He'd never seen her look so vulnerable.
There was a whole shelf of books on the opposite wall, and the blinds to the window were pulled up, allowing her to see the swirls of snow against the dark of the evening sky. She turned to look at him, and her lips pulled up into a smile, unguarded, and she scooted over on her bed before patting the vacant space next to her.
He didn't hesitate to relieve his feet of the icy hospital tiles and clambered on the mattress, seating himself next to her.
"Every year, I write a letter to a Santa that doesn't exist asking for a new immune system," she said, her eyes tightening a little.
They sat in silence then, watching the frost on the window.
Neither of them saw the shadow pass outside the door of her room as Sasuke slipped his hand into Sakura's, about to knock as he did weekly but then deciding against it. The shadow let his hand slip from the knob and walked away.
It was her birthday.
There were no candles on her cupcake; the nurses didn't want any accidents to happen, as just last week, her neighboring long-term patient, Naruto, had lit fire to his curtains while trying to make the flames turn pretty colors with various ingredients for a blind lady friend of his named Hinata.
She licked the pink icing off of the small offering, knowing no wish would help any of them, now.
One week in May, Itachi visited twice. The first as per schedule, and the second to present to her an article he had printed out from online. Someone by the name of Tsunade, a highly acclaimed woman in the medicinal profession, had performed what the article called "magic".
She had replaced an immune system.
Tears gathered in Sakura's eyes as the smile that broke across her face was brighter than any he had ever seen. She tossed the covers off of her and leapt at Itachi, arms wrapping around his neck in joy as she hugged him tightly.
"Thank you," she said fiercely, tears slipping down her cheeks rapidly, pressing a kiss to his cheek.
Even if Tsunade could perform magic like a sorceress, it would be Itachi that was the fairy godfather in her own upside down fairy tale.
It was his birthday, July, a late summer's evening. She wore a dress and carried a radio in her lap as she was wheeled by fawning nurses to his door, picking up her luggage of sorts as she stepped out of the chair. She didn't bother knocking anymore, and walked in comfortably, plugging in the radio as tunes came pouring out of the radio station set to her choosing.
He looked up, having been thoroughly absorbed in the novel of his choosing.
She grinned, radiant even without hair, reaching for his hands as she pulled him off of the bed, dancing like a crazy person as she did. With limbs flying and feet bouncing, she danced and danced, ushering him to join her.
The colorful, thin dress flowed with her movement, and he could have sworn she had fallen right out of a dream.
A smile quirked at his lips at her giddy laughter. "C'mon! Dance!" she said between giggles, moving his arms for him.
The music was old-timey, classics from the days of their parents. The song ended and switched to some gauzy jazz tune, but she danced like music couldn't contain her.
"Dance," she insisted, swaying.
But instead he wrapped his arms around her and pressed his lips to hers.
The music floated around them, and there was silence.
He got her a music box for no reason one day in September.
Itachi had gone out and bought it on request, but Sasuke had been the one to gift-wrap it and set it in her open palms.
It played that same jazz tune in a high falsetto.
When she opened the music box, she smiled. It had a heart that spun inside of it.
"Sasuke needs a heart," Itachi said one day, hollowly. He looked tired. Shadows lingered under his eyes, and stubble covered his chin, indicative of the lack of self-care he'd had recently.
Sakura frowned, playing with the scarf in her hands contemplatively. "I know that."
"There are no matches available anymore; his needs are too rare, and a man from the Upper East was dying and rose on the donor list. We have to wait for more." He sighed, getting up and beginning to pace. "He needs a heart."
His footfalls stopped suddenly and he turned his face into the crook of his arm, coughing. Blood soaked through the sleeve, and he licked his lips, crossing his arms to hide the incident that was evidenced on his clothes.
Sakura looked at him, concerned. "You need to rest. You're pushing yourself to hard. Thinking about this isn't helping anyone at all; it's just causing you stress, and you're going to fall ill."
He raked a hand through his hair.
"Okay," he conceded, leaving the room, putting a hand up in a wave goodbye. He turned and left, and it wasn't until he reached the parking garage and opened the door to his car that he stared at the patch of red, willing for it to burn away to ash.
Violently, he tore off the dress shirt, buttons flying off in anger as he did so. He crumpled the offending piece of material and tossed it in the backseat, pulling on a hooded sweatshirt to insulate him from the cold, instead.
It was only then that he rested his forehead against the steering wheel and allowed himself to breathe.
It was the late summer when Sakura and Sasuke wheeled out to the rehabilitation garden together.
The plants were withering, but the oak was still sturdy and strong. An evergreen, it was.
She admired that tree.
Even the tulips she so adored were wilting, bowing down in defeat to the elements. The leaves were crumpling slowly, and some blossoms had died completely. But still, even in their destruction, they were still beautiful.
Even as their lives waned, they were stunning.
Out with a bang, she thought privately. She'd like to go like that.
She reminisced back to the immune system breakthrough and to her dreams before closing her eyes and grabbing Sasuke's hand from across the armrest of her wheelchair. Her eyes closed, and she smiled.
She didn't need a long life, she had decided a long time ago when it became clear, after several failures, that the method was not foolproof. She gave Sasuke a glance filled with promise and her lips tipped upwards further. No, she only needed a fulfilling one.
It was Halloween, and Sakura was surrounded by nurses as shivers wracked her body, her face sallow and sweaty with the disease that clutched at her system. Rasping out some unintelligible words to the nurses, she tossed and turned, tossed and turned.
Coming loose of the grasp of the distracted nurse named Shizune, she rolled to the edge of the bed and threw up, hacking and coughing up her dinner in splatters onto the hospital tiles.
She lay still, then, chest heaving, limp.
It seemed like the worst was over. A wet towel rubbed over her face and mouth, wiping off the excess vomit and clearing the sheen of sweat.
The room quieted and the door clicked shut as the doctor finally walked in.
But the urge to throw up returned and she vomited a syrupy, with saliva and bile, blood concoction. The red dripped from her mouth and now into the bucket that they had procured for her.
She turned onto her back, staring at the patterns in the ceiling as tears leaked out from the corners of her eyes.
She wondered if this was what dying felt like.
Elsewhere, Itachi's throat was raw, and the blood that had erupted from his own lungs was slowly floating down the floor of the shower towards the drain, traveling in wisps.
His lips tipped upward in a smile and he chuckled.
Maybe this was what fate had in store for him.
Water sloped down his nose and he closed his eyes, tipping his face up to the spray of the shower and thought about the dream he had, of the happy life for his little brother, and the lonely girl in the hospital gown.
"You're beautiful, you know that?"
Sakura blinked as he rolled her wheelchair through the rehabilitation garden. The tulips had withered away entirely. "What?" She turned around in her chair, facing him, pulling her fingers through nonexistent hair.
His lips curled up in a painful, bitter smile.
And for some inconceivable reason, seeing that expression marring his face, she wanted nothing more than to cry.
Itachi died on Christmas Eve.
It was the early hours of Christmas day, and Sakura pondered mortality as she curled up next to Sasuke, tears slipping without indication of stopping. Her collarbones were sharp and her shoulders were bony, but Sasuke said nothing as she dug into his side uncomfortably.
She was so frail.
He only buried his face into the red scarf wrapping her head.
The snow still fell outside, same as always.
His heart was a match, and amazingly, so was his immune system.
Tsunade had arrived at the hospital hours ago.
The nurses came in to prep them both for their surgeries and Sakura pressed a kiss to his lips before she was placed in her wheelchair, about to be transported back to her room.
Sakura's voice was soft and tight when she spoke just before passing through his doorway. "If this is what Christmas miracles are like, I'm not sure I want to celebrate this holiday."
Sasuke dreamed and drifted and floated. He awoke New Years' day to the feel of Sakura's small hand tracing along the surgical scar. His own shifted and laid itself on top of hers and her eyes snapped up to him. Her skin was flushed red, something he'd never seen before.
And instead of the scarf on her head was a small layer of pink fluff.
She had bandages covering her from head to toe, and tears welled up in her eyes.
She could feel his heartbeat beneath his skin, so close to the surface.
"He always said he needed a heart, but he had more than enough for the world," she finally said.
It was Christmas day and she was twenty six. She stood outside in the cold winter and took in the snow that she could touch and feel and taste.
It was Christmas day, over a decade had passed, and she was alive.
She fingered her light pink hair, amazed, and splayed her hand over her slightly rounded tummy.
That spring, she decided, she was going to plant tulips.
afterthoughts—I'm not sure I like this at all. sigh. oh well. also, happy holidays to you all!