so lock all the doors
and put your child to rest
there's fire in the streets now
but it's quiet in your head
Sasuke, someone said from very far away. He would have groaned, but the darkness was thick, like a quagmire, a black oblivion that sucked him down into its depths. The earth beneath him trembled. Around him, coming in and out of focus like a radio that kept losing signal, he was aware of the sound of screaming. He tried to grapple for Kusanagi, but his hand would not obey him. At the very edge of the darkness, where the screams echoed high and piercing, there was pain - sharp and unrelenting. He could feel it creeping up on him, snaking through the darkness to strike him like the serpents Orochimaru had taught him to summon.
Sasuke, the voice said again, somewhere just beyond his reach; high and familiar – panicked. Sasuke, open your eyes. You have to open your eyes.
Something in him bristled at the command. Once, a long time ago, he had taken orders from a masked man with silver hair and mismatched eyes, but for years he had been his own master. No one commanded him. Avenger's obeyed no rules and lived under no laws. When one had a goal to complete, blood to shed at any cost, laws and rules paled and turned to ash. There were no boundaries he would not cross if his vengeance lay on the other side.
The pain stalked ever closer, hovering on the verge of his consciousness and brining everything back into focus. The screaming was starting to get louder and more consistent. Tangled images flashed behind his eyelids with the onset of the pain. He remembered…
A crackle of Chidori slicing up his arm…Naruto's figure engulfed in a radiant, golden glow…the feel of flesh tearing beneath his skin… the ground torn up and blackened with their attacks…the clash of metal nearby and the sound of screams…the smell of blood and electricity in the air…
"Sasuke, wake up," the same girl's voice said, as the darkness receded and the pain started to settle, soothed by something warm and frantic rushing through his body. He could feel hands on his chest, small and calloused. He could taste blood at the back of his throat. His eyes pulsed like fire, sharp pain lancing through his skull.
Sasuke managed to peel his eyelids apart just enough to see a flash of pink. If he had the strength, he would have pushed Sakura away and left her there in the mud.
"Sasuke, come on, come on –please," she begged him and he felt drops of something hot and wet hit his skin.
"Get…away," he ground out between his teeth, pain making him almost incoherent. He pried his eyes open, eyesight blurred as he forced himself back to consciousness. Sakura knelt over him looking, somewhat appropriately, like she'd just been through a war. Her hair was stiff and matted with blood, her face smeared with dust and grime. Seeing he was conscious, her eyes widened. The colour of her irises was not as green as he remembered.
"We have to go," she told him, urgency barely repressed in the cadence of her voice. "He's taken Naruto – we have to go, we have to go now-"
With what seemed like a monumental effort, Sasuke shoved her hands away and staggered to his feet, eyes burning as the Sharingan surfaced.
"Go away, Sakura."
It was all coming back to him – not just the last time they'd met, but the the battlefield, the war. All of it.
Sakura looked up at him with wet, wide eyes, half-dead on her feet and so stained with blood and death, she was almost feral looking. All he could see in her face was terror, but it wasn't enough, none of it was enough anymore because Naruto had beaten him.
She stood on trembling legs, fists clenched, and a fierce determination rising behind her eyes. "You don't understand," she said, the sounds of the battle raging around them seeming to quiet as she spoke. Every word she said bounced off him, fell flat and meaningless at his feet. "Madara, Tobi – whoever he is – he's taken Naruto."
"I don't care."
There was no satisfaction in it – the way those three words made her step back, reeling. Her desperation, her fear; neither could touch him. There was a gulf between them no words could bridge and here on his side, he was curiously numb of feeling. Madara, if that was truly his name, was going to kill Naruto – Naruto who had beaten him – and it was like a circle closing and he felt nothing at all.
"But he'll die," Sakura said, the words tumbling out of her mouth. He could see it in her face that she knew there was no reaching him. She stared into his eyes pleadingly and he felt like ice. "Sasuke, please–"
He turned and started to limp away, blood oozing from the gash across his chest which was still not fully healed.
He kept walking, too depleted of chakra to flash-step away. The sky was blood red around them and as darkness descended, the figures on the battlefield were reduced to flickering shadows. He almost didn't hear her run after him, only felt the ghost of a hand fist itself in the material of his shirt. He stopped and Sakura stood behind him, trembling and small, and the small part of him that wasn't completely frozen couldn't help but consider the parallel – how once she'd thrown her arms around him in a shadowy forest and made the darkness inside him recede. He was too tired, too empty to stop the recollection – but watching it, he felt curiously as though he was watching a scene from someone's else's life. The soft imprint of her hand against his back meant nothing to him anymore.
"Please," she begged him, so very quietly and for a moment it was as though no time had passed – except for the ice lodged around his heart, the sickening pool of blackness which sucked in all of who he used to be and smothered it. "Don't you understand? They're all dead – Ino, Kakashi, Gaara – they're all dead, Sasuke! I can't save him on my own!"
Sasuke had enough of her pleas. It was instinct to ignite the familiar spark at his fingertips, fully intending to silence her forever and be done with it – but Sakura was ready for the attack, it seemed. Her other hand lashed out as he turned and he felt the shock of her chakra blaze through his system as he unleashed the Chidori in full force. Screaming agony went up his arm and he stumbled, the blue electricity slipping free of his hold and burning him, tearing through them both in razor-like webs.
Sasuke hit the ground hard, barely aware of Sakura landing beside him. He'd forgotten how much the Chidori hurt – it hadn't turned on him for years now, not since those early days when he was first learning the technique under Kakashi's guidance.
But Kakashi is dead now, he thought numbly, trying to rise on shaking arms. His limbs spasmed rebelliously beneath him and his face was pressed into the moist earth, the smell of blood and mud mingling together. He could barely move. From the corner of his eye, he saw Sakura force herself back to her feet, her breathing heavy, as vivid, burning welts rose on her skin. His eyes narrowed as he stared at her accusingly. It wasn't just the Chidori. She'd done something to him – that shock of chakra she'd injected into his body, it'd done something that made him slow and barely responsive.
"If you're not with me, you're against me," she breathed, choking up blood and spitting it on the ground. "Don't interfere, Sasuke. I don't want to kill you."
"As if you could," he spat, still struggling against whatever she'd done to him. It was almost too much to comprehend – losing to Naruto and now, being incapacitated by Sakura of all people. "You're nothing – weak."
She smiled bitterly at him, hard and sharp as broken glass. He knew she was thinking of her pitiful attempt to kill him, just as he was. "That was before," she said softly, moving to stand over him, and he could hear pain in her voice, something brittle and unflinching. "Believe me, Sasuke, when I tell you this; if Naruto dies, I will have nothing left to lose."
As she turned away from him and started to follow a path of uprooted trees towards the centre of all things, Sasuke growled, fingers digging into the wet earth. There was a part of him that wondered if he should feel something, some kind of regret that it had come to this between them. Should he regret that to Sakura, he no longer counted among the things she had to lose; that to this slip of a girl who was once his friend, he was already as good as dead?
You can't win against him, he almost called after her as Sakura ran – ran like hell itself was chasing her. He could imagine what would happen in five, ten minutes from now. Sakura would reach the summit where the man who called himself Madara planned to extract the Nine-Tails. She would confront him and fight him...and he would kill her.
Naruto would scream at her – scream and scream for her to leave, to save herself. But she wouldn't and he would have to see every moment of her death. Her limp, lifeless body would hit the ground – eyes half-open and forever dulled. Naruto, who had beaten him, would break before he, too, was killed. There would be an end and it would be glorious, but Sasuke couldn't feel anything, other than the desire to watch.
The world would end… and Sasuke would stand by to watch it burn.
When he finally regained mobility of his limbs, it was almost too late. The ground shuddered violently beneath his feet as he staggered through the trees towards the wide, open space beyond the mountainous ridge ahead – where he knew Sakura had gone. Where Naruto and Tobi would be.
Cracks formed in the earth, splintering apart beneath his feet like flashes of lightning – fast and wild and unstoppable. There were screams in the distance and then… a gentle roaring filled his ears – static and white noise mingling with the cries that carried on the cool night air.
Naruto's pained cry mingled with the reverberations of a terrible scream, both almost lost amid the roar coming from the battlefield behind him – and then his former teammates fell ominously silent.
There was enough thought left in his head to wonder which of them had just been killed. Maybe Tobi got them both in one go. Maybe both of his former teammates were dead.
Darkness was descending rapidly, but the sky yielded neither moon nor stars. When the trees parted to reveal the thick ridge at what felt like the end of the world, Sasuke stopped and took the sight in with indifferent eyes.
Tobi, his mask cracked and broken on one side, stood over the sprawled figures of two people who'd once been his friends. Sakura was utterly still, face-down on the torn earth viscous red pooling beneath her. Naruto was still alive, he could see that much – but barely. The blond was crawling along the ground to his fallen teammate, tears trailing from his blue eyes, blood spilling from the corners of his mouth. And Sasuke knew, without knowing how, that he no longer had the Nine-Tails within him. The sky burned black and red and the world shuddered at its end.
"You…killed her," Naruto gasped, face drawn and skin mottled with sweat.
For a moment, the image of his parents still bodies, collapsed on top of each other in their own cooling blood, flashed against Sasuke's eyelids and he stumbled.
Sasuke wanted to watch the world burn, but this – this was not destruction, this was not vengeance or triumph because it doesn't matter if you beat me, you're the one who's dying, idiot. Seeing two people whom he once loved dead and dying was nothing more than the rotting away of all the bonds he'd twisted around their necks and used to choke them. He pictured ribbons forged in sunshine, tied between them and stretched taut – dipped in blood, stained in black poison as thick as tar until all that was left were threads that hung in the cavern of his chest like cobwebs. They were thin and easy to cut down with a swipe of Kusanagi.
"You look like your father," Tobi said, "but the Uzumaki blood runs strong in you. Your mother survived the extraction, too. It was never anything personal." His voice was cool, distant. "I needed the Nine-Tails and she was its Jinchuuriki."
"Sakura..." Naruto choked, weight buckling beneath him as he reached her side. A trembling arm reached towards her blood-soaked hair.
"As for her, she should have known better than to interfere."
Even as the life slowly drained out of him, Naruto's gaze was indicting, almost bitter.
"You…ruined everything," Naruto accused, a harsh, wet rattle in his throat. "You killed them. My… parents… my friends…" he broke off, choking on his own blood.
Between them, his oldest friends washed the ground red. And Sasuke watched.
"Yes," Tobi said, a curious tilt to his head, like a child who stopped to watch a twitching bird that fell on the ground, pausing long enough wait for it to die. "That's war, Naruto. This – your death and all of theirs – is the price of peace."
And Naruto, with the last of his strength, spat at him.
"You're not doing this for peace," the blond snarled, still struggling as the hands of death stole between his ribcage and reached creeping fingers towards his heart. The beats were numbered now. Sasuke could almost hear the hitch between every desperate thump, the pauses between each pump of blood growing longer. "You – you're evil!"
"And you say this without ever asking why," Tobi told him, lifting a hand to the strange, new mask he wore. "Everyone has their motivations and you never stopped to ask mine, Naruto. Now what kind of hero does that make you? Weren't you going to tear this mask from my face?"
He sounded almost disappointed. Sasuke's eyes flickered from Naruto's pained expression, to Tobi's triumphant stance over him. He knew that he should feel something – anything – but his chest was empty, and he felt nothing at all.
"Here," Tobi murmured, hands taking the mask and lifting it from his head. Short, spiky, black hair was all Sasuke could see of him, but Naruto's dulling eyes widened.
"This is me," Tobi said, softly, standing over Naruto like the victor of those old ninja tales his brother used to tell him. "Take the secret with you to the grave, Naruto. I'm trusting you to do that much."
The words hovered in the air like a promise. Sasuke stood unmoving as his best friend died on the red earth.
Slowly, gracefully, Tobi lifted the mask back over his face and half-turned to look towards the trees.
"So, you're still alive, Sasuke," he said and there was something in his voice that was hard to identify. "Surprising, given that you were three-quarters dead when I took Uzumaki."
His gaze swept down to the ground where Sakura lay, a cooling corpse. With his foot, Tobi rolled Sakura onto her side and Sasuke caught a glimpse of dull, green eyes before her head lolled and she faced away from him.
"What a talented, little thing," Tobi continued, amused. "It's a shame, really. If she hadn't half-killed herself bringing you back to life, she might have been able to save Naruto."
Sasuke, still struggling against the effects of whatever Sakura did to him, almost believed him.
"She always had poor judgement," he said, stepping forwards because he didn't know what else to do. They were dead and he'd watched the life drain out of them. "She thought I would help her."
This time, Tobi laughed. It was a strange and chilling sound and Sasuke frowned ever-so-slightly.
"Oh, Sasuke," he said. "How little you understand women. How little you understand anything at all."
Through the haze of physical pain and the strange, sterile numbness that encased him, he perceived that he was being laughed at. Mocked even.
A simmering anger began to surface, somewhere deep down, but he didn't have time to react. He didn't have time to do anything at all.
Even though he had the Sharingan and saw it coming, whatever Sakura had done to him – combined with the brutal pounding he'd received from Naruto – slowed him down so much, he couldn't avoid it.
Sasuke was fast, but Tobi was faster and the slice of chakra that carved through his ribs made him think of gilded birdcages and the snapping sound that wishbones made.
The first blow sent him reeling backwards, but he didn't fall. The second came somewhere from behind, a sudden strike that burst his lung and forcing blood up – thick and bitter and choking.
The last blow, he never even saw. Sasuke was on the ground, blinking blood out of his eyes and watching the world go dark before he knew what was happening.
"Did you really think," Tobi drawled, crouching over him, mismatched eyes boring down, "that this would end any other way? Let me tell you something, Sasuke. This, all of this – it was never about revenge. It was never about you."
A disjointed drumbeat pounded in his head, because after all this time – all this time – it was the same old tune, wasn't it? They fed him lie after lie and Sasuke bought them all.
He could barely see – half his ribcage was torn away, he was certain, but he sought that black, burning space inside him, the source of the hatred he carried deep, deep down, and felt vindictive satisfaction as the Mangekyo bled to life. Susanoo erupted around him, his best – his most effective – weapon, but a hand shot through the open cavity of his chest and squeezed.
Susanoo died as quickly as it had come. A scream erupted in his throat and split the night air apart and Sasuke realised that, yes, it was him screaming. It was over before he'd time to fully comprehend what was happening – he couldn't breathe and the world was growing dim at the edges. Darkness rushed into his vision like a living thing.
"You were my most powerful pawn, Sasuke," Tobi continued in a low voice. "And I thank you for that. I couldn't have done it without you. But it's over now. You've played your part to the letter." He sighed, a puzzling sound. Almost – disappointed. "I have no more use for you."
Sasuke had been too stupid, too gullible to see the truth. Now, he only thought of the end. And when it came – in all honesty, when it came, that inescapable blackness that rushed through his veins and obliterated everything – death was almost a relief
His head lolled to the side as Tobi's presence disappeared. The sky was red blood and death – an apocalypse of screams on the air. Everything was blurring, but his eyes found them…sprawled together on the ground, fingers inches from each other as they lay in their own blood. Vivid colours, pink and gold. The blackness swelled and expanded, like ink blots crawling across paper, but the colours stayed until the last.
Sakura and Naruto were the last things Sasuke saw as he died.
The darkness was thick and everlasting.
Except, it wasn't.
Sasuke, said a voice, high and clear. Hearing his name felt like rising from the depths of a deep, dark ocean in which he'd already drowned.
"Sasuke," the voice said again and was that gentle rocking the result of hands on his arms? He could feel skin on his. "Wake up."
Sasuke's eyes flew open. Sakura knelt above him, eyes bright and concerned – that precise and unique shade of green he so vividly remembered – the way they were when she was twelve years old.
And then his eyes widened and a scream worked itself up in his throat because – because she was.
sky black and blue
blue turned to red
there's quiet in the streets now
but it's screaming in your head
A/n: So as you guys can see, this is not the promised sequel to TBE. This is a new fic entirely and I'm really excited to be writing it! It's been sitting in the back of my head for a while now, so to finally have the time it needs to devote to it, makes me really happy.
I hope you'll enjoy reading it as much as I'm loving writing it!
Please be extra good, and review :)
AN IMPORTANT NOTICE: I'm actually horrified by this, but I was in such a rush to finally post this chapter that I forgot to mention one very important fact: this chapter was not only edited, but made a thousand times better by the fabulous Sakura's Unicorn. So thanks, C - for not only being such a great pen pal, but also for seeing into my brain and understanding what I'm trying to say.