hey, y'all. it's sasusaku month.

prompt 1: holding hands.

Sasuke thinks that if this is where it all ends, he has much to be grateful for.

She's beautiful in sickness and old age, pale skin wrinkled and with laugh lines around her eyes. She smiles at him, pretty pink lips and all, and her hands, once so sleek and deadly, are gentle where he holds them tight in his own.

If this is where he must say goodbye to her, forty-two years of marriage, two wonderful children, and six grandchildren later, he can't begrudge God for taking her away from him.

Their family isn't there at the hospital with them. Sakura, willful and proud as she was the day he married her, has sent them home with smiles and kisses and gentle scoldings to take care of themselves, and each other. There is to be no grief, she has decided.

As though a person can decide a thing like that.

Sasuke shakes his head and stares at her hands, listening to the dim beeping of the heart monitor. At the moment, it's the most precious sound in the world to him, because it means Sakura's still alive.

He knows their time together is running out. So does she. She's a medic, but more than that, she's the wisest person he's ever known. Not even Shikamaru, for all his shrewd strategy, can challenge her bone-deep intuition. And the end is coming soon.

There is to be no grief, she has decided.

"You'll need to make sure Ita-chan registers the twins for the Academy," Sakura tells him benignly, propped up on her pillows as she ticks off things for him to do like a grocery list. "He's so scatterbrained about that. And make sure that Mikoto-chan's husband is taking her to her prenatal appointments. Without me around, I know she'll try and skive them off, but…"

Sasuke knows he shouldn't be angry, but he is. Because here she is, his wife, his heart, minutes, hours, maybe less than that from leaving him forever, and she's giving him jobs to take care of like it's a normal day.

She'll die, and he'll be left to suffer. To survive, alone. And that was always his destiny, wasn't it. Whether he died at sixteen in the wrong battle with his much-missed brother, or whether he watches his world succumb to sickness and old age all these years later, it seems that Uchiha Sasuke's destiny has been to live long and suffer.

What he wouldn't give, to switch places with her.

"Sakura," he interrupts her, voice gruff and deeper than it used to be. She's not the only one who's gotten older. His back aches perennially, relic of straining so hard in his youth. He's got a bad set of knees and his eyesight isn't what it used to be. Deep lines around his mouth, he sees himself reflected in green eyes that never lost their shine, and wonders what he'll be tomorrow, when he wakes up and she doesn't.

Sakura pauses in her diatribe, sees the look on his face, and sighs.

There is to be no grief, she has decided.

"Don't do this, Sasuke-kun," she murmurs. She's never dropped the honorific, even after all these years. Even when just a simple Sasuke would suffice, even when he's never so much as dreamt of adding –chan to her name. "We said we wouldn't do this."

"You said we wouldn't do this," Sasuke corrects her harshly. "I never agreed."

She shakes her head and sits up higher on her pillows. The heart monitor neither slows nor accelerates. Her hands in his are still. And he wishes the rest of the world could join them frozen in time, frozen in yet another argument, the way it must always be for his heart to keep beating with hers.

"I've got no chance of surviving this," she says simply. "You knew this. The kids knew it. Hell, even Naruto knew it. And it's okay, Sasuke-kun. It's okay."

His eyes narrow at her, because how can anything be okay. Nothing will ever be okay, again. Not until his name joins hers on the memorial stone will anything ever even remotely approach 'okay.'

"I've done everything I've ever wanted to do," Sakura tells him, with a secret smile. "It's been such an adventure, with you."

Against his will, he smirks back at her, because 'adventure' is exactly the word he'd use, too. From childhood friends to reluctant teammates, from schoolyard crushes to sworn enemies, from shy first kisses to explosive hours spent writhing in satin sheets, from changing diapers at midnight to missions carried out under cover of darkness…

Never a dull moment. Never time for anything but the grandest adventure of all:


And family.

"The kids are okay," Sakura goes on, ticking off her laundry list as her pulse begins to weaken. "They'll miss me, so will the grandkids, so I need you to be there for them as much as you can. And you, mister, are gonna make sure you wear your reading glasses when you're reading, d'you understand?"

"Damn it, Sakura."

"No, I'm serious. Because that Council needs to have someone with a lick of sense perusing the mission reports and if you can't see the writing properly, imagine how terribly all that can…"

"Sakura. What about me."

She pauses again. Sighs again. Sits up a little straighter. Still thin and delicate, still beautiful even with frosted hair and laugh lines, still the stubborn girl he married.

And he grips her hands tighter, because though she has decided against grief, he hasn't.

"I'm…I'm a fuckin mess without you," he admits, deciding that he's never been one for words, but now that he's run out of time, here they all come full force, begging to be heard. "I can't even wrap a Christmas present, how the hell am I supposed to get on without you?"

"It won't be that bad, Sasuke-kun. It'll be…"

"It was supposed to be you and me," he snaps, giving in to his anger, because anger is the best deflection for marrow-deep sorrow and that's all he's capable of processing at the moment. Because their last moments shouldn't be spent in a hospital room, hands intertwined and arguing with each other, but here they are. "Always. You and me. That's what you promised when you married me."

"This was always bound to happen, whether it was me first or you. And…"

"You promised I'd never be alone, if I stayed with you!"

And Sakura's green eyes well up with tears and she smiles and she pulls on his hands until their foreheads touch. And Sasuke thinks that maybe his eyes really are going because it's hard to see her even up this close, but then he realizes that he's crying, too.

"You never will, Sasuke-kun," she vows, fingers trembling inside his. "I'll never, never leave you. You'll never be alone. You still have Itachi and Mikoto. The grandkids, all of them adore you. Naruto, and Sai, and the others. An entire village who relies on you. Sasuke-kun never worry about loneliness anymore. It doesn't apply to you. It can't."

"I have family and friends," Sasuke tells her, repeating words screamed to him on a warm, balmy night by a wild fairy girl, "but without you, it'll be the same as being alone."

And Sakura lets out a choked sob, and she releases Sasuke's hands only to wrap her arms around his neck instead. He holds her, tightly, committing this to memory, because in the morning, that's all he'll have. Four decades, countless embraces, kisses taken for granted, and this is all he's got left. Time running out. Down to the wire.

"I'll miss you so much," she whispers, and he wonders if that's true of heaven, if everyone in heaven can miss those on Earth the way he knows he'll miss her. "I can't…I can't thank you enough. There aren't words, in any language, to thank you for what you've given me. I'm so sorry, Sasuke-kun. I'm so sorry."

It's a strange twist of fate, that fifty years practically to the day have passed since the day a little girl begged for a little boy to stay, and the little boy offered the little girl a thank you; now, the positions are reversed, and an old man begs an old woman not to go, and all she has to offer him is her gratitude.

Strangely, bizarrely, it is enough.

Full circle. They've come full circle.

"Please take care of yourself," she begs him, her voice muffled by his shoulder. And she fits like she always has. "And the family. They'll need you. Promise me, Sasuke-kun."

"Still annoying," he breathes into frosted pink hair, and she giggles through her tears.

"Always," she promises. "Always, Sasuke-kun."

And this is where it ends.

Lonely, but never alone, because that's what she promised with her last breath, Sasuke closes his eyes and tries to begin again.