His footsteps echoed in the stillness of the night, pants loud and ragged as he sped up the road. He felt tired, anxious; like he'd swallowed a thousand shards of glass and they were all poking at him, ripping his insides to shreds and making it hard to breathe.
Still, he continued his steady pace, looking around the quiet streets with wild eyes.
Sasuke paused in his run, spinning around and trying to locate where he was. But it was a forced habit more than anything else—how could he ever possibly forget this place?
This was home. The winding road leading to his house up the top of the hill, the empty streets, the quiet houses, the stench of death.
This was home; the only home he'd ever had, regardless of how far he'd traveled since. Sasuke sucked in air and ran a hand through his hair He looked up at the sky and felt his blood run cold, his veins turning into ice.
The sky was red; blood red with coal-like clouds and a dizzying yellow full moon. It casted a shadow, darkened the scenery ominously. Sasuke felt the paranoia begin to prickle him just below the surface of his skin.
It wasn't until he tried to take a step forward that he felt it—cold, wet, and thick. Swallowing forcefully, he looked down at his palm and stared at the droplet of blood, his mind blank and his instincts going haywire. It only began to sink in when more droplets fell, softly at first and then gradually picking up speed until he was drenched in it, with every inch of is body colored crimson.
Sasuke ran a hand through his hair again, falling to his knees and looking around with a crazed look in his eyes, searching for an answer that wasn't there. The sight of the bloodied houses cracked something inside him and he was suddenly screaming until his throat went raw.
So lost in his unraveling, he didn't hear the squelch of footsteps nearing, couldn't concentrate on the presence hovering over him.
"Foolish little brother."
"Everyone's dead," Sasuke croaked, looking around the place, staring at a little broken boy stiffly lying in the middle of the road, as if lost somewhere in his mind, mouth opened in a silent scream.
"You… Itachi, you didn't have to do this!" He looked up at the cruel red eyes of his older brother. "You didn't have to shoulder all of this on your own."
His brother laughed deep in his throat, lifting his arm, the blade of his sword glistening under the full moon's yellow glow. "Foolish little brother, I did this to measure my abilities."
Blood continued to rain over them and Sasuke felt himself growing insane all over again.
"Liar—You're a fucking liar, Itachi!"
"You fucking liar!"
And he woke up.
Sasuke coughed as he sat up, the heavy smell of smoke making it feel as if he were choking. His eyes snapped open as he continued to be shaken, a ringing in his ears blocking out her panicked cries of his name.
He wrapped his hands around her wrists, looking up at her wild yellow-green eyes. He followed her line of vision when she turned to look over her shoulders, her grip on his shirt tightening.
Sasuke felt confused; dazed and confused, his mind fuzzy and his instincts lost. He coughed again, letting go of one of Sakura's wrists in favor of covering his nose and mouth. He felt something inside him twist at the feeling of something sticky against the tip of his fingers.
He pulled away and looked down at the stain, at the blood that covered his fingertips.
"Sasuke," her voice was shaky, breathy and wet with panicked tears. "Sasuke, please!"
There were ashes floating around and Sasuke reached for them with his bloodied hand. The gears in his brain slowly getting back to work, returning him from the haze of his nightmare.
"Sakura," he hissed, as he tried to stand up but was caught in between the tree and Sakura's body, "Sakura, you're heavy."
"Sasuke!" She pulled away, her hands never letting go of his shirt. "We have to leave. You—you—make it stop. They're everywhere. We're trapped!"
Sasuke felt his left eye pulse and he quickly slapped a hand over it, ignoring the squelch of blood under his palm. He groaned in minor pain but the groan died halfway up his throat, a coughing fit taking its place.
He looked at her with his right eye, watching her look over her shoulder again, her chest heaving with fear, her hands clenched tightly around the material of his shirt. Sasuke looked around and finally caught sight of the black flames that threatened them.
The ringing he'd heard in his ears… It was the fire that laughed at them, that continuously ate everything around them and danced their way towards them with the intentions of taking them next.
His senses began to register everything. The thick smell of burning, the incontrollable flames whipping at the air, the ashes falling against his skin, the inability to breathe.
Were they found?
He stood up, bringing Sakura along with him.
"Who did this…?"
Sakura pressed herself against his side, looking up at him with horror darkening her eyes.
"You," she whispered, shaking her head and coughing against his shirt. "Make it stop!"
He felt his stomach clench at the accusation.
"I don't know how—I couldn't—I—"
His right eye pulsed and his eyesight sharpened as his Sharingan activated. His eye pulsed again and Sasuke groaned, reaching up to cover his eyes and stepping back, away from the flames that neared them.
They had to leave.
It was a fact that chanted itself in his brain, causing the chaos his mind was in to only intensify, confuse him all over again and making it hard to decide what he should be feeling—panicked? Lost? Confused? Anxious?
"We have to run," he gruffly said, grabbing Sakura's wrist and looking around for a place to escape through.
But the fire was untamed and relentless in its destructive wave.
Sasuke gritted his teeth, still trying to wrap his mind around everything that was happening; the black fire, the blood on his face, his Sharingan activating on its own and his eyes pulsing.
He parted his lips to speak, to say something—ask something—anything. His left eye pulsed again and Sasuke let go of Sakura's wrist in favor of covering his eyes again, crouching down and trying to think properly.
Somewhere within the chaos in his mind, he wondered when was the last time he heard Sakura sound so small and helpless.
He looked up at her, his hands sliding down to his cheeks. Before he could say anything, Sakura's eyes widened, a gasp escaping past her lips as she took a couple of steps away from him, her expression one of terror.
His left eye pulsed again, sharper than the past pulses. Blood oozed out of his eye, spilling over his fingertips.
Black flames crawled up Sakura's legs and a new wave of panic began to wash over Sasuke as he watched her drop to the ground, kicking her legs and crying. Shrieking and sobbing and trying to stop the flames that licked at her.
This was like an entirely new nightmare—was he even awake? Was this another dream, was he still asleep? Was this real?
Sakura's screams pierced his ears and Sasuke gritted his teeth again. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and tried to calm himself. He wasn't going to be able to fix anything in a state of panic. He had to calm down, think properly, think of a plan to get out of this situation first and then try to figure out how this happened to begin with.
But it was easier said than done. Sakura's screams grated against his veins, knotting his nerves and liquefied every thought that crossed his mind until he felt as helpless as he did when he was seven and an entirely different kind of tragedy happened before him.
This was hard to accept—Sakura's raw screams, her kicking her legs, clawing at the ground, eyes wide and tears trickling down her cheeks. Sakura was someone he saved, someone he could never hurt even in his darkest moments. To see her battling against something he inflicted on her…
Sasuke grit his teeth and pulled at his hair. These feelings were so foreign to him; this desperation, this confusion, this anxiety—this helplessness.
He had to save Sakura. He repeated it in his mind, until the words mushed together. He had to save Sakura. He had to stop the fire and they had to leave fast in case Danzou's hunter-nin were closing in on them.
Her screaming made a shiver run down his spine.
His right eye throbbed again and Sasuke snapped it open, looking up and concentrating on the fire that tried to consume his teammate. His eye pulsed again and his vision blurred but he swore he saw the flames extinguish off of her before he slapped his palm over his eye, swallowing back a choked cry of pain.
She was sobbing, almost lost in hysteria. Sasuke lowered his hand and tried to observe her but the fire devouring the clearing was still intact, causing ashes to rain over them. He groaned, concentrating on his right eye again and willing the flames to disappear.
And slowly, as if being tamed, they did.
Sasuke fell forwards, his eyes clenched tight and his hands supporting his weight as he gasped for air, coughing at the taste of ashes on his tongue, the smell of burning wood in his nose and a million questions numbing his mind.
What… What was happening to him?
His breathing was ragged, feeling like every cell in his body was screaming in agony, making his limbs exhausted.
"Sakura?" he croaked in question, looking up at her and watching as she tried to regain her composure, her medical side taking over and healing the burns on her legs, tears still streaming down her cheeks regardless if she desired them to or not.
"We have to leave," she whispered, trying hard to keep her straight, blank face intact but slowly crumbling in pain. "We have to leave now."
Sasuke stood up from the ground, feeling a migraine pound against his skull. He made to move towards her. He could carry her; she didn't look like she was in any shape to travel. He could carry her and he could get them to the nearest village, find an inn and stay there until everything cleared, until she healed and until he understood what was going on with him and his eyes.
He took a step forward and suddenly his vision blurred again, causing him to stop in his track and stumble.
"W-what?" She sounded unnerved and worried. He hated that she masked her aching with it—that she tried to put him above herself.
Sasuke covered his eyes with a hand, inhaling and exhaling before attempting to open them again.
When he did, his vision was back to normal.
"Nothing," he said, crouching in front of her and eyeing the pink and red marks and the bleeding on her legs. She was healing the more severe burnings, switching her attention when they looked healed enough to not hinder her. "Let's go. You can heal yourself when we find an inn or something."
"I don't think—"
He turned around for her to climb his back, his eyes on the destroyed clearing and the burnt trees. It took her a while but when she wrapped her arms around his neck, pressed her front against his back and moved her legs to straddle his hips, he sucked in air through his teeth, his eyes closed as he stood up and his hands held onto the back of her thighs.
She hummed, her hands clenching the material of his shirt. Sasuke looked at the mess he made one last time before he began to move.
"I brought you dango."
It wasn't a peace offering and it wasn't an act of apology. Dango wouldn't be enough to lift the feeling of guilt nesting itself in between his ribcage and it wouldn't make the echoes of Sakura's screams quiet down for a long time.
Still, he reached towards her and handed her the plate and he gauged her movements, hesitant and quick as if afraid that brushing her skin against his would ignite her in flames again. Sasuke gritted his teeth at the thought.
She'd healed herself in his time away, searching for a meal and for little necessities they would need for their travels. She looked pale under the dim lighting of the little inn; she must have used a lot of her chakra for her healing.
He took a deep breath and sat at the edge of his bed, poking at his onigiri and only pausing when his vision blurred again. It'd been happening a lot since the incident in the clearing, at random intervals that left him with a pounding headache and unanswered questions.
They ate in silence for the most part and, somewhere in the back of his mind, he hoped she'd break the silence. Like she used to when they were younger. But this Sakura was different—jaded and angry, silent, a spitfire without any caution. Sighing, he closed his eyes.
"You were sleeping," she began abruptly, as if picking up his desire for her to say something, say anything. "You fell asleep so quickly. I… Didn't even notice until you started mumbling. You looked really pained, like you were… Like you couldn't withstand whatever you were dreaming of."
He looked up at her, his eyes blinking away any haze and discomfort they were feeling. She was staring at the wall, eyes narrowed and brow furrowed in thought.
"I called out to you when I began to feel worried," she said, turning towards him. "But then suddenly your pain turned to anger and one of your eyes—the left one… It snapped open with the Sharingan activated… except…"
She trailed off, biting at her lower lip and setting her paper plate down on the bed beside her.
"What?" he asked, deciding that he wasn't very hungry.
Sakura furrowed her brow, green eyes darkening as she looked him straight in the eye. "We need to talk."
Sasuke scoffed, "We're talking right now, aren't we?"
"No, Sasuke." She further pushed her plate away, scooting to the edge of the bed. "We need to talk. About what happened to you."
About Itachi—she wanted to talk about Itachi, about his last encounter with him about… About everything. Sasuke sucked in air, jaw clenched and eyes set downcast to the carpeted floor.
He didn't even allow himself to think about that fight let alone everything that Itachi said. He wasn't even sure he said it so much as put him through another genjutsu. The idea of going back and remembering the entire fight left his throat dry.
He looked up at her for a second before looking out the small window, his brow furrowed with something like annoyance both at himself for landing in this predicament and at her for asking him about something he didn't want to talk about.
And what if he did, in the end? How would precious Sakura be able to deal with being exposed to the things Sasuke knew? He gritted his teeth—he didn't think he could even stomach seeing her break that way.
"I don't want to talk about it," he muttered for the sake of buying time. He knew Sakura too well for her to fall for such an excuse again.
"Bullshit!" She stood up from the bed, stomping a foot down and making the room shake in her fury. "I let it go last time because I can understand you trying to escape from something like that. But now my life was put into danger and you don't even seem to know how that even happened! I have a right to know about what happened."
"Yeah? And what fucking right is that? What fucking right do you have?"
"As your teammate! As… As someone exposed to these new powers you have and being threatened by them twice! As someone that cares about you…" She sucked in air, her voice quieting down and all the fight leaving her as she said, "As someone that's always cared... That will always care. Just…"
She sighed, sitting back down at the edge of her bed and running a hand through her auburn hair.
Sasuke merely observed her from under his lashes. Like in the forest upon escaping Suna's siege, she looked like the girl he first met. Vulnerable, biting off more than she could chew, seeking comfort in all the wrong places and carrying her heart on her sleeve despite all the violence threatening it.
He sighed lowly.
Sakura looked up at him, her facial expression carefully blank. Sasuke looked away from her, settling for staring out the window as he willingly lowered his defense, his walls, and let her in.
"The black fire was Amaterasu. It's a jutsu that can be performed when an Uchiha gains the Mangekyo Sharingan."
"To gain the Mangekyo Sharingan, it is said, one must kill their most precious person."
He turned towards her, feeling some sort of wicked satisfaction in the hollowness of his chest at the sight of her eyes growing wide. His twisted glee disappeared as his own confusion resurfaced.
The typical explanation of the Mangekyo didn't explain…
"I didn't kill Itachi." He closed his eyes, crossed his arms in front of his chest. "He was sick long before that. He was at death's door when we fought and fighting me merely pushed him in."
Sasuke shrugged a shoulder and remained quiet, hoping that the silence would convince Sakura that this was the entire story and that there was nothing more to talk about.
"Okay," she began and Sasuke quietly cursed her intelligence. "But that... It doesn't explain what's happening. That time… You summoned Susanoo and I take it that's something that requires the Mangekyo which also comes with Amaterasu which—oh, hey—you somehow have the ability to use too!"
"You have the Mangekyo Sharingan."
Sasuke frowned, snapping his eyes open and glaring at her.
Sakura went unfazed by it, her green eyes wide and bright as it all clicked in her head. She nodded her head, punching a fist onto her other hand as she repeated, "That explains the way your eyes looked when you started Amaterasu and when you ended it. Your Sharingan looked different and the veins that surrounded your sclera… You have the Mangekyo Sharingan, Sasuke. But… But how?"
"I don't know."
"There has to be an explanation to this." She furrowed her brow and began to bite the tip of her thumb. "Can't… I know this will probably be too much to ask and you're probably going to get angry with me but… Can you tell me how Itachi died?"
Sasuke felt his stomach churn and he tried to keep his immediate annoyance at bay. A part of his mind tried to remind him he owed her this much for almost killing her, another soothed him into realizing that keeping it all bottled up was hazardous to his health and another part didn't want to remember it.
He inhaled, closed his eyes and tried to rake his mind for the visions he kept pushing away.
"By the end of the fight I was out of chakra," he furrowed his brow, concentrating on the images of his older brother beginning to approach him. "Even after my strongest jutsu, Itachi stood up and I was out of chakra. He was… He was coming towards me and I was literally against a wall, just… just watching him. I figured I was gonna die.
"Except that when he was near enough he… Began to tell me a story. I thought it was a story anyway. It didn't take long before I realized he was confessing. He was telling me the truth about the Massacre. About how Danzo left him no choice but to kill our entire family, about the Uchiha forming a coup, about Itachi falling through with his orders but being unable to kill one person—me. He formed an entirely different story to get me to seek revenge so he could die at my hands. And how he wasn't this fucking insane man that killed his entire family for the sake of testing his abilities, but did it because he had to. And couldn't manage to kill the only surviving Uchiha because he loved him too much."
He sucked in air, his eyes still closed as he reached up with one arm and poked himself in the forehead. "And then he poked my forehead. And he died. Like that… Just like that. He shoved his full plate onto me, unraveled the truth and then died."
Sasuke scoffed and chuckled. "My brother's always been a selfish bastard."
He opened his eyes and stared at her, observing the way she observed him with her furrowed brow and her lips pressed together in a thin line. The Sakura he knew before would have cried; a part of him was glad that she didn't.
Sasuke didn't want her to crumble under the weight of the plate he carried.
"When he poked your forehead," she whispered. "It must have been when he poked your forehead."
"I—I don't know. I don't know if its even possible but he must have done something when he poked your forehead. Something to awaken your Mangekyo. Like… Like a means for him to protect you because both times that you activated them… You were in danger, in a way. Susanoo happened because of ROOT's ambush and Amaterasu happened because of whatever dream you were having, it transferred into reality.
"The point is," she sighed, "you awakened your Mangekyo after your fight with your brother. You just didn't know it until it began to activate itself to defend you."
There was a deafening silence after that and Sasuke concentrated on the light mist that clouded the scenery outside the window. So consumed in their predicament, he hadn't even noticed how close they were to Kiri.
Sakura stood up after the silence stretched on. She grabbed their plates and walked into the kitchenette, preoccupying herself with trivial things and making more noise than necessary for the sake of filling in the quiet.
Sasuke shifted, lying down on his bed and staring at the ceiling, counting the times his eyes blurred and closing them when a migraine took over.
He woke up when he realized he'd fallen asleep. He sat up, his elbows supporting his weight as he tried to remember what had been happening before he'd dozed off. Stupid, he sneered at himself. He'd let his guard down and dozed off.
It was as if his time in Oto hadn't happened, hadn't gotten him to be tense and alert at every hour of the day.
His eyes landed on Sakura's curled form, staring long enough to catch the even rise and fall of her chest—she was asleep. They'd both fallen asleep and after the day they'd had, he wasn't all too surprised.
You have the Mangekyo Sharingan.
It wasn't that he hadn't expected it—it was the only plausible answer to everything that was happening to his eyes. The blurred eyesight, though, he was simply guessing had to do with the strain Amaterasu brought and it would only increase the more he used the Mangekyo.
You have the Mangekyo Sharingan.
An empty feeling nested itself in the hollow of his chest. Sasuke lied back down on the bed, staring at the gray ceiling and drowning in the feeling that rapidly began to consume him.
Like a means for him to protect you…
He lifted an arm up, his chest filling with something familiar like sadness, heavy with loss. He poked his forehead, holding onto the feeling, pretending the way his nails pinched at his skin was the same way Itachi's did.
Selfish prick, he hissed to himself, continuing to poke his forehead until he fell asleep once again.
He woke up again a little later, this time a bit calmer than the first. He sat up, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and shifting around to sit at the edge of the bed. The one across from his was empty; Sakura was up then, but there was no sound.
Sasuke stood up from the bed, running a hand through his hair and scratching the back of his head to ruffle the drooping spikes.
His intentions had been to grab a glass of water from the kitchenette but he paused in front of the bathroom when he heard her.
A cold wave sent him back to their first day in Suna, where she'd cried herself to sleep, cried with such helplessness, such hurt and such raw betrayal, raw anger. Like she's unable to handle the fact that life turned its back on her.
He listened to her muffled sobs, as broken as the many times he's heard her cry—in Suna, in the clearings when she thought he wouldn't notice—and Sasuke curled his hands into fists, his eyes on the door and his mind picturing her sitting on the ground, her back against the wall and one arm holding her legs while the other one covered her mouth.
After… Sasuke furrowed his brow in annoyance. After their conversation, after he'd told her the outcome of his fight with his brother and the truth that came with his brother's death—she'd taken it all with a straight face because she was too into trying to fix him, like she always was.
Sasuke gritted his teeth and pressed his forehead against the door and listened to her cry.