You took a chance and…
You took the fall for us.
Not once, in a hundred, thousand, million, infinite years, would Sakura have believed that she would one day stop loving Sasuke.
For Sakura, he was it. He was the proclaimed and cliché The One. He was everything she believed she ever wanted. He was handsome, graceful, athletic, talented, prodigious…
(And vengeful—so, so vengeful.)
He was the classic tall and dark man. Of course, what first drew Sasuke to Sakura was his physical appearance, but later it had progressed into the obscurity that he held inside of him. Sakura wanted to save him. She wanted to break his fall, to hold him in her arms as he shuddered from nightmares and to cleanse his wounds whenever he was hurt.
She never anticipated that she would soon become tired of taking his bullets and his negative traits would stand out, such as his lack of social ability, interlocking of inferior and superior complexes and the utter frustration received from his incessant heartless front.
He was no longer perfect, or special, or specific, or even significant in the minutest of ways. He was… imperfect, flawed, damaged; and surely, just like everyone else was.
But as contaminated, tainted or diseased that Sasuke may have become, he would never grow to be as sheerly broken as Sakura was. Sasuke would always stay together, even if he was damned ever since he swore retribution against his own brother.
Sasuke would always solve problems, no matter how long he took to solve them. He would always face his demons. He was ignorant and arrogant like that – he was afraid that it would stain his pride to do otherwise.
On the other hand, Sakura would slowly detach herself and fade away painfully, tragically, just like she had been doing with Sasuke. Of course, Sasuke had defected from Konoha so he wouldn't have noticed this change.
Only when he comes back would it crash upon him, akin to a sudden dismantling of glass. And would the shattered shards dig into him and make him bleed…
And maybe, just maybe, he wouldn't be able to stop stinging.
Perhaps this would be the one problem he could never solve.
Sasuke was never a stupid man.
In fact, he was quite intelligent with a searing mind that passed all intuitive aptitude. In most cases, he would realise situations and facts at the given first seconds. But this didn't mean that he would always work by these speculations. Commonly, he didn't.
Contrary to popular belief, Sasuke was a very altruistic and self-defeating person. Too many times has he thought himself as non-deserving, as one who should burn in the depths of Hell while watching others float above in the lights of Heaven.
He was a tortuous boy – and was it heartbreaking.
So when he does arrive back to the gates of Konoha where Naruto confronts him first with a tackling hug and Sakura wavers behind as she watches, Sasuke does not make any further effort to draw attention to himself as Naruto cries in disbelief against the kunoichi chest.
As always, the Uchiha never misses anything. And he certainly doesn't miss the way Sakura looked down at the sun-kissed blonde with a little bit more… with a little bit of that care and adoration that once belonged to Sasuke, and only Sasuke.
Sasuke smirks and the acid behind the expression is not noticed. "Hn, you both haven't changed." You have changed. You have changed without me.
Naruto and Sakura both collectively beam at him though Sakura's smile is not at all much the same, and possibly never will be.
Sasuke receives the punishment of three years' probation, but given the alternative of death penalty that may have arose; the decision doesn't bother him much.
He returns to the Uchiha district with the revelations of the truth of his brother Uchiha Itachi, and he muses how walking through the dusty hallways and gazing at the family portraits aren't actually as agonising as he believed it would be,
Because having lost Sakura is much more painful.
He knows, but as he covers himself with the musky scent of bed in the room that he hasn't been in for years since the massacre, he wishes that everything would transform from reality to idealism and all of his dreams, wishes and hopes would come true. He warps himself with the alternate reality that when he wakes up tomorrow, Sakura would be awaiting him as she was meant to because he was the blasted Uchiha Sasuke and he was the Only One for her and he didn't want to be alone, he doesn't want to fucking be alone and—
Still, he knows.
—he needs her. He loves her. He loves her. He loves her. Loves her. Loves her. Loves her. Her. Her. Her.
He falls asleep knowing, enduring and doing nothing at all about it.
The worst thing he could endure through, Sasuke once believed, was to watch himself lose someone else and knowing that he couldn't do anything.
He had been through that time and time again by the hands of his own brother and his merciless recounting of the Uchiha massacre through the Sharingan. But despite the pure agony and rage the image had channelled inside of Sasuke, he realises that losing someone else without noticing it and knowing that he could've done something was far worse.
With Sakura, this felt as if she had gone to sleep, woken up and forgot about everything in relevance to him. Her eyes were no longer the alive green he had once found; instead they were replaced by a void of nothingness. She could direct kindness, sympathy and good nature towards him, but they were all in a courteous manner. She had forgotten everything he had meant to her. She had forgotten everything that they had been through. And just as easily, so Sasuke thought, had she reduced him to nothing…
As he witnesses Sakura and Naruto inevitably become closer and how they share embraces on the borderline of friends and more-than-friends, he just closes his eyes and smirks. He knows that they now use him as a third wheel on their outings to avoid awkward silences; he knows that both of them neglect his existence now; he knows that in a couple of months Sakura's ring finger will be adorned by diamonds and he knows that he will have truly lost.
Yet, the time to have done something to change this has passed. He has missed it without even knowing. Sakura has slipped through his fingers and Naruto has been more than willing to catch her.
Ironically enough, out of anyone who could have realised it, Yamanaka Ino was the first person to come to realisation of all of the complexities beneath Sasuke's icy exterior.
Given her flower shop's location of nearing to the ramen stand, too many times has she been given the opportunity to watch Naruto, Sakura and Sasuke on their outings together. And too many times has she noticed what would have been to most people small, insignificant things, but she knows all too well that they are truly profound. But not once has she stepped up to say anything.
She notices how Sasuke's eyes dull every time Sakura beams that one hundred-watt smile at Naruto and how his smirk seems to take a little more of a fabricated edge when they finally decide to pay some attention to him. How he holds the beverage cup in his hand, she thinks, is far too tight and restrained. His pale skin has also lost its angelic sheen and how his jaw cages so (agonizingly) stronglyis almost unbearable to watch.
And once Naruto and Sakura skip away as they had done several times before, leaving Sasuke alone in the ramen stand to drown in his regretful thoughts, Ino decides that this is the time to throw away all of the scornful thoughts she had of the Uchiha avenger, because now he is just Sasuke. He is Sasuke and he is a boy that is lost and defeated and God, she can't stand to witness it anymore.
She walks quietly over to where Sasuke is sitting and when she places herself opposite of him on the table, she takes in a shuddered breath at how he doesn't even bother to swat her away anymore. Sasuke is still staring into the distance, as if he could still get Sakura back, as if she wasn't befallen to Naruto.
Ino bites her lip. "Sasuke…" she whispers, but she is unsure of what to say. She is unsure of everything. However, at the mention of his name, Sasuke turns towards her slowly and the smirk on his face is no longer fake, but deathly cynical.
She wraps her arms around her body, looking down to the ground and pacing herself before she looks back at the boy again. "Why are you doing this?" You're letting her go.
Sasuke stares at her with a deadpanning look that makes Ino swear that he could see through all of her, but he turns back to gaze in the distance, lifting the cup to his lips. The bitterness in his voice is blatant when he replies: "shouldn't you know?"
(Despite the bitterness of his tone, Ino knows that the statement in contrast reveals all of the sweetness of Sasuke, the reasons why he should be forgiven, the reasons why he didn't deserve to be condemned, and the reasons why her resolve begins to shatter and soon enough her eyes are brimming with tears.)
He just wants Sakura to be happy.
She clenches her fists. "S-Sasuke… I'm—"
He turns to her again, and he does something that stills her into immobilisation. He smiles. He smiles, and even though it is tragic, it is true.
"I know," he says smoothly. "I know. You're sorry." And I am more apologetic than you could ever imagine.
As the tears topple over, Yamanaka Ino returns the expression and remembers everything she respected of this boy. She nods, forcefully, but firmly. "Y-Yeah. Yeah. I am sorry." And I wish, I just wish, that I could help you. I want to help you. But I can't… I can't.
At this moment, they both turn to linger into the distance and refrain back into the past where everything was okay, because for once – as much as she lamented it – Ino wasn't the only dreamer here.
Sasuke was too.
You're walking through the winding roads of the leaf village of Konoha and you can't help but to notice how lovely and warm and happy everything is. You pass a couple of ramen stands and when you look in the distance you can see the Valley of the End, smell the fresh essence of the crashing waterfall and if you squint far enough, you can see the statues of the previous Hokage.
You can remember how Uzumaki Naruto used to play his tricks of drawing on – at the time unbeknown – his own father's nose with red paint and how Ino and Sakura used to walk down to the academy with competitive stances and how everything used to be so young, innocent, perfect.
But now everything's changed. Konoha is still a community of life but everything has grown, everyone has grown. The village has nurtured and though everything seems colourful on the outside, you tell yourself, don't be fooled. You cannot be fooled.
No matter how much you want to be fooled.
You tail yourself onto the outskirts of Konoha where the ripe vegetation and dark forests begin. You pass the memorabilia of the ninjas who were killed in action and suddenly everything takes a sombre turn. You escort yourself through the old training grounds of Team 7 and you swear that if you listened hard enough, you could still hear the ringing of the test bells and the laughs of a squad that used to be together.
Here it is. Here is your last stop. The Konoha cemetery.
(In the corner of your eye, the Uchiha district, you think, is far too distinct.)
You trudge through the burials and the wind is at a choking calm, but nothing will ever suffocate you more than what you see at the hill of the cemetery… the precipice.
(No, not even how the sky fades into grey at this location or how every stone hedge you walk by seems to have its own disastrous story or how all the trees around you have shredded its leaves or how wilted flowers scream lest we forget will ever tear at you like how the scene in front of you does. No, never.)
The peak of the cemetery is no other than the site of the Uchiha massacre interments.
And there he is, Uchiha Sasuke, leaning against a particular tombstone that has been edged into an angel. Who would it be other than his mother, Uchiha Mikoto? You wish you could fool yourself into thinking that Sasuke was just sleeping against the secret declaration that he hopes was never true, but he isn't. He is wide awake and sobbing and destroyed.
(The secret declaration that his mother is gone. The tombstone says it all, and so does the memories, so does how Uchiha Itachi lies next to her and God, so does how Uchiha Fugaku. Nobody can be a liar here. Everyone is gone. Everyone is gone.)
You're right, you know, to have thought everything and everyone had changed in Konoha, to have thought things took a better turn, to think that this was a beginning of a brighter future.
Apart from one little aspect, of course. Apart from Uchiha Sasuke.
Because he is still alone. The only alternant is that he has never been as alone as he was now.
But if you could change anything, you know it would be the wedding invitation that is crushed in his right fist.
Five minutes later, Uchiha Sasuke removes the wedding invitation from his hand, unravels his fist and smooths out the creases of the delicate paper that he had created from his own despair.
He pushes himself off the tombstone and accepts that his mother's warmth is no longer available. He stares down selectively at his own brother, father and mother and bids farewell.
He has to keep on going, he supposes. He is Sasuke after all, and it is what he does, even at his worst.
And this is his worst, isn't it?
At this certain day, it was hard to be Yamanaka Ino.
It was hard to be the outsider, as if she was watching everything from behind a glass wall and knowing things that others didn't from an omniscient perspective, but there was still nothing she could do.
Today, she was fitting on Sakura's stunning white wedding dress for her and putting together the ceremony that – though she would never admit – would probably upset her more than it would please her.
But this was her best friend… shouldn't she have been happy? However, as she looks towards Sakura who is spinning in the reflection of the mirror, gushing at how excited she is to have found love with Naruto and embracing a new future… Ino can't help but to think if the real question is this: is her best friend really making the right choice here?
Does she even have to be happy for her? She decides not.
Ino tugs the side of the wedding dress, halting Sakura's movements. The air fills with a thick atmosphere and through the reflection, Sakura can see the blonde's cerulean eyes crystallise.
(Two diamonds that are about to shatter.)
"What's wrong?" The pink-haired kunoichi questions her friend; her emerald eyes filled with innocence… naivety.
Ino takes a deep breath. "Do you love him?" She asks, and a sudden wash of nostalgia goes through her at the question. She intentionally coughs to cover the slip. "Naruto, I mean." It used to always be about Sasuke.
At the question, a genuine grin covers Sakura's face. "Of course I do."
The response makes Ino's hand slide from the tresses of the gown, and she looks down onto the ground, crestfallen. She knows her friend is telling the truth and that's probably why it hurts the most. But she doesn't know why that out of anyone, she had to be hurting for Sasuke. Maybe it was because after she got over her girlish and young infatuation for the boy, she had been pining for years that he and Sakura would be together. This idea was perfection to her.
And to even think that at this moment, this utopian picture is crashing down in front of her… it's disappointing, amongst other things. Most of all, it seems all so very wrong.
Silence envelopes between the two girls and Sakura knows immediately something is at fault here in this seemingly spontaneous conversation. The Haruno is not foolish enough to not realise that this is far more than something merely impulsive or mindless – especially when the blonde turns her back on her and walks away, but not before stopping at the door.
She looks at Sakura from over her shoulder, nonetheless once again her eyes fall to the ground, pleading on a second chance, at last minutes.
Ino's voice is barely audible as she whispers, but Sakura can hear how her voice breaks. "He loves you."
(So please. Turn back. Rewind time. Look at him for once. Look at him. Stop dwelling on the fact that you were the girl who waited for him for years and that you deserve all the tragedy and all the consideration and all the happy endings because you missed everything that was in his eyes, everything that he gave to you, and everything that he didn't expect back. He gave you himself, his heart, his spirit, his soul, his all. All those years ago – on that night.
Sakura… thank you.
Stop being selfish, Sakura.)
They both know that they aren't talking about Naruto, and in some instances when looking back at this time, Ino wishes that Sakura was naïve enough to have thought different.
But, all the same, she reasons, the girl needed to hear it.
After all, it used to be the one thing she would've wanted to hear the most.
Hand in hand, they walk on the wedding aisle.
The wedding aisle Uchiha Sasuke dreams would never come to end, even though it will, and it has to.
She is the most beautiful thing that he has ever seen in his entire life, and at one point, she was his. It kills him more than anybody could ever imagine when he realises that despite the fact he holds her so close in these slow seconds, she could never be as far away from him as she was now.
He stares at her the entire time as they walk to the finish. Her eyes are on Naruto.
He understands now, how he has been dethroned. He may have comprehended it many times earlier, but as had been said before, it never meant that he acted by any of these realisations. He had dug this painful resolution to the back of his mind and pretended that everything was still the same, but as they inch closer to the awaiting priest and Naruto…
He finally recognises how much he loves this girl… and how much he has to let her go.
They approach The End. And it is in more than one way the conclusion.
In tradition, they turn to each other. The best man and the bride. Sakura gazes up into those onyx orbs that she once found so mesmerising, but at this time, she finds that they still are. The moment freezes and for just one second, it is only them that exist in the world. Everyone has disappeared in the audience and there is no Naruto or priest waiting at the end and the wedding rings have dispersed into thin air.
There is only them. Sasuke and Sakura. Perfection.
She sees everything in Sasuke that he holds for her that she knows she should've seen years ago, when perhaps it wasn't Too Late. She sees the love he holds for her, and at the same time, the altruism, the selflessness, how much he defeats himself for her very happiness. And he is doing the exact same for her in this moment. He is giving her up. He is giving himself up.
(He is beautiful—so, so beautiful.)
Stepping down and letting himself be dethroned.
(Because nothing else could ever be more of royalty than waking up in the morning and viewing her pink locks under his neck and how she smiled in her sleep against his chest. He would feel crowned and on top of the world. He would be the king and she would be his lovely, ceaseless queen.)
He is not so vengeful anymore. He is not the gruelling fighter everyone had known.
Still, she can't manage to feel as sorry as she is thankful, because he has done so much for her.
He leans forward and his hot breath cascades down onto her nose as he kisses her forehead, brushing his smooth lips against her skin. She feels one tear shed from his eyelid and crash onto her cheek and it takes everything inside of her not to break down and dismantle and explode and cry.
Everyone else is tricked into thinking that it is her that is crying tears of happiness.
And as he leaves her, she murmurs the words in exact identical meaning that Sasuke had done on the night of his defection from Konoha.
"Sasuke… thank you." Thank you for loving me and then being strong enough to let me go.
The next hand Sakura meets is Naruto's, but even given the situation, she knows that a part of her will always love Uchiha Sasuke.
And of some sorts, he will still always be throned as The One.
To DeepPoeticGirl: Mel, I apologise for not giving you the fruitful fluff you wanted, but I promise the next story will be fluff-filled.
To Fishcake-kun: Your review on Days of Static was awe-inspiring. Thank you for such a lovely description of my story, because you perfectly explained every one of my aims with the story, especially with Sasuke's character. You were such a wonderful review to read, and you sounded like such an experienced professional as well.
Well, I've had this story in my documents for ages now, and I almost forgot to upload it. To be honest, I probably hate stories that end like this to the bitter end, but once in a while I try to be realistic with alternative endings that could occur. In my mind Sakura will always love Sasuke, however unfortunately, this doesn't mean they will 100% end up together, so here's what would happen (to my imagination) if they didn't. It's meant to be bittersweet, I suppose, yet enlightening and soft all the same.