"The Short Side of Forever"
(Day Twenty-One of SasuSaku Month.)
There's too much blood in his hands, but her blood was starker than the others – bright red as opposed to the dark maroon that's been splattered on the walls of his home years and years before. He can't wash it off; Sasuke thinks he can never wash it off. There's too much, there's too fucking much –
Sasuke snaps into attention, black eyes zeroing in on one of his students. His face is impassive, but inside he feels himself break apart, just a little. His team reminded him a little too much of his old one, and while some people find it amusing, Sasuke thinks it is anything but.
"Namikaze." He says, smoothly rising from his meditative position and taking note of his goddaughter.
He doesn't miss the way Naruto's daughter's eyes flash with hurt. "I – Sensei…"
There is always guilt, but he can't bring it in himself to smooth the misunderstanding out. The Dobe would understand, anyway. "Where are your teammates?"
The Hokage's daughter shrugs. "They're… they're going to be a bit late. They thought you wouldn't be on time again, Sasuke-sensei."
"Hn." It was a known fact that Hatake Kakashi's students had taken up his habit of being late even on the most important meetings, but for Sasuke, today was different. "Do you know when they'll be back?"
"I don't know, Sensei."
Sasuke rolls his eyes at the hunched shoulders of his goddaughter, no doubt feeling guilty about something that wasn't her fault. It reminds him so much of another person that he plops a hand on top of her head and ruffles it, conscious of her disbelief. "Not your fault, Namikaze."
She blushes. Her sensei wasn't keen on displays of affection to his students that she doesn't mind the need to rearrange her hair again into two neat pigtails. "Thanks, Sasuke-sensei."
"Take the day off." Sasuke says, removing his hand and putting it deep in his pockets. "Don't tell your teammates about it though."
"It's their fault they didn't come on time." Sasuke says, heedless of how hypocritical he was being.
Naruto's daughter eyes him, a knowing look on her eyes. "Tou-san took the day off as well."
Sasuke is silent for a moment. "I imagine he would."
He endures the scrutiny of his goddaughter before turning around. "Go. I'll see you tomorrow for training, Namikaze."
He's walking away when Naruto's daughter speaks, voice hesitant. "Ano, Sasuke-sensei. May… May I ask you something?"
Sasuke already knows where this is going, but he responds anyway. "Hn."
"Why… Why don't you ever call me by my first name?"
The question hurts Sasuke more than it should, because time doesn't heal all wounds. It never does. His shoulder's tense up, and he knows that his goddaughter can see the way his fist tightened. Immediately, her voice stutters behind him.
"S-Sorry. I know it must be something personal, you don't have to answer it."
(Promise me that you won't grieve too much if I'm gone. It's only a matter of time.)
"What brought this question on?" Sasuke asks, already knowing the answer. You would if the Rokudaime Hokage continually nagged you because of it.
"I… It's just that everyone calls me Sakura and you never do, Sasuke-jii."
(How much grief is too much, Sakura?)
The sound of her name reminds Sasuke of the one he's lost, so acutely that he closes his eyes in pain and in remembrance. He's so tense he's practically a statue, and if it was any other person he would have snapped at them. But this was his goddaughter, and the customary addition of 'sensei' to his name had been replaced by 'ojii-chan'. It's been a long time since Namikaze Sakura called him 'Uncle'.
"It's not your fault." Sasuke sighed, finally turning around to look at her guilty look. He finds that he has to explain when confronted by that hurt expression. "Your name – it reminds me of someone."
Understanding finally dawns on his goddaughter, and her guilt intensifies. "O – oh."
"It's not your fault." Sasuke repeated.
She meekly nodded. "My namesake… Sakura-baa was tou-chan's best friend, right?"
"He told me a lot about her." Namikaze timidly mumbles. Sasuke knows that she takes on her mother on that account. "You – you three were teammates, the members of Team Seven before us. Tou-chan said Sakura-baa was really kind and strong, Tsunade-sama's apprentice and the embodiment of a perfect kunoichi."
Sasuke nods. "She was."
His student's voice turns contemplative. "Kakashi-jii and Tsunade-sama told me that the reason why tou-chan named me after Sakura-baa was so that I'd be a great kunoichi just like her."
She doesn't even get a grunt in response; everything she said was true.
"I'm sorry for your loss, Sasuke-jii. I wish I've met her, while she was still alive."
Sasuke knows that she had said everything that was on her mind, and with a half-hearted nod, he walks towards the direction of the cemetery.
There's too much blood on him, and the worst thing about is was that it wasn't even his. There's a scream crawling up his throat but he can't let it go because if he did, it would just hurt her more. Instead he settles on cradling her broken and bleeding body against his and memorizing everything about her, unheeding the jumbled mix of voices around him.
The voice of Naruto catches his attention, and he shifts his eyes to look at the blonde. He looked so broken, with tears running in streams down his face and the critical wounds he'd sustained from the war. Crouched like him and Naruto was Kakashi, looking devastated at the feeble form of his only female student.
The might have won the war, but there was no reason to celebrate.
Sakura smiled at the men of the original Team Seven. "Hey…"
Naruto lets out a heart-wrenching sob. Behind him, Tsunade lets go of the strong front she's put up ever since the war and cries. The Slug Sannin should have been healing her, but it was too late – instead she steps aside so that her student can say her last message.
"Oh, Naruto…" Sakura murmured, tiredly eyeing the blonde. "I'm so sorry for this."
Naruto grips one of Sakura's hand, holding it tightly as if she would stay if he held on strongly enough. "Don't leave me, Sakura-chan…" His voice broke. "Not you too!"
Sakura's smile wavers, and tears start to slide down her face. Naruto's distraught plea affects everyone who was nearby, and some of the remaining members of Konoha Twelve started to cry.
"I can't, Naruto." Sakura sobs, breathe hitching when it jarred her broken ribs. Sasuke holds her tighter in response. "I wish – I wish I won't but I can't."
Everyone saw how the admission broke the entirety of Team Seven. Kakashi's head bowed, Naruto's sobs increased, and Sasuke buried his face on Sakura's hair. No one speaks for a long while.
The three men of Team Seven looked at Sakura; it was evident that she was using her last bit of strength to speak aloud.
"Sakura, don't." Kakashi begged.
But she shook her head. "Promise me that you won't grieve too much if I'm gone. It's only a matter of time."
Sasuke pressed his forehead against Sakura's. "How much grief is too much, Sakura?"
Her fingers slowly come up to touch his cheek, and she stares at his face like he's the only thing she sees. He wonders if she missed him as much as he missed her.
Without her, a part of him is missing - a part saved for sunny days in the bridge and missions and ramen, and smiling and laughing and happiness. In his world where he is forced for as long as he can remember to stay unbowed and hard, she is the only sliver of light that allows him to relax for a minute, let warmth wash over him, save him from himself.
It's not until now that he realizes how much he really does needs her.
"Don't go." Sasuke pleads, voice cracking. "I just found you."
Sakura's mouth barely twitches up to give him a smile when the coughing starts. No one could do anything. The light leaves her eyes the same time the fingers on his cheek drops, and everything shatters.
Sasuke doesn't move from his position in front of the epitaph, but Naruto and Kakashi takes the unspoken invitation and sits on either side of him. Silently, they studied the tombstone.
Today was the fifteenth anniversary of the end of the Third Ninja War, and also the anniversary of Sakura's death. Flowers surrounded her final resting place, signifying how many people she had forged her bonds with. Sakura had outlived her two teachers as well as her classmates and friends, and her passing had affected the strongest shinobi of Konoha in more ways than one – her teammates more so.
Sakura had always been their weakness, and without her they didn't have a female teammate to protect anymore.
"Ino sure had outdone herself." Naruto comments, his upbeat tone noticeably absent. He always had a smile on his face whenever his job was called for, but all mask were shed whenever they were here.
"She sure did." Kakashi hummed, fingering two silver bells that were still in pristine condition. The tinkling sound draws Sasuke and Naruto's attention to it. "This place was filled with people this morning."
Sakura's friends had opted to visit her tomb in the morning, because everyone knew that the night was Team Seven's time with her. Nobody had protested at the arrangement, even if it was an unspoken one.
They spend the whole night and a good chunk of the morning with Sakura, talking about inconsequential things and just spending it with her. Naruto does the talking, slowly gaining his previous enthusiasm while Kakashi seconds him and Sasuke merely observes. The former two were gradually being happy with their lives, albeit punctuated by things that would let them remember their missing teammate - but Sasuke never did. His adamant refusal to say his goddaughter's name was proof enough.
Sasuke lived on because he knew that Sakura would want him to be happy. But how could he be if she wasn't with him?
Fifteen years have passed, and he's still an unbelievable mess on the inside.
Oh, the angst. I just do love writing those - I love making people have the feels. I tried on making Sasuke in character, so I hope I did a good job on this. Although I like the plot of this one, I would probably go ballistic if this ever happens in the manga - Sakura better not die or there will be hell to pay.
[Day Twenty-One: Achilles' Heel]