notes: originally for sasusaku month at sasusaku-headcanons. the prompt was: "Madara is winning, which meant the end of the world. The moon is changing into the shades of red and black pinwheels, And only a few remain standing. Sasuke knows that the world is ending, and (on whatever side he is — depends on the author) was compelled to look for something in the field. A pair of confused green eyes, looks at him across."
thank you, miko, for organizing!
Sasuke's memory is visual: not at all surprising, for the son of a clan famed for their eyes. However many Sharingan Kakashi or Orochimaru or Danzo steal, their veins do not run with Uchiha blood. It isn't about genjutsu, and it isn't about bloodline limits. What use is falcon sight to a mole, after all? They hadn't been brought up with twelve words for blue; they see the arc of a kunai and think about trajectory. Sasuke knows, the way he knows the difference between sky-blue and water-blue and the fox-fire blue of Naruto's eyes—Sasuke knows where the kunai will be. On a galloping horse in crosswinds, at a thousand paces, Sasuke still won't miss his target.
The flipside to this—because all things have a cost—is that Sasuke's memory for sound and smell, for taste and touch are poor. He remembers the inkstains on his father's fingers, the way his mother's hair never stayed tucked behind her ears. Sasuke does not remember: the feel of calluses in his brother's hand; the melody of his mother's lullaby; the taste of his great-aunt's cooking; the smell of his uncle's pipe; the way his father laughed, fishing a Katon-exhausted Sasuke out of the koi pond.
Sasuke has never regretted his heritage. It is a source of pride for him, a fire in the heart. Still, he thinks, if Izanagi could recall a memory of warmth, what Sunday mornings felt like, tucked in his parent's bed, squirming up next to Itachi who always remained sober-faced, but sometimes deigned to lean in and blow raspberries on Sasuke's stomach—if Izanagi could recall such things, Sasuke would willingly close one eye to the light forever.
Naruto burned, not the way the fires of the Uchiha burned. Uchiha fire had to be coaxed, a warmth in the stomach set aflame in the heart. It took a patient hand to fan Uchiha fire.
Naruto burned, the way the sun did; effortless, unabashed, far too bright. One could not stare for long without becoming blind. Even when one looked away, the afterimage remained, burned into the corneas. Sasuke's eyes had grown dim by the demands of the Mangekyou, on account of his cursed blood; but his sight had first been compromised by Naruto.
If Naruto too greatly imposed himself on Sasuke's sight, then Sakura—Sakura was a flicker in the periphery. Sakura was a press of desperation along his back, a sob to "please, don't hurt them". Sakura was a cool hand around his wrist, startling against his feverish, new-cursed skin. Sakura was the taste of apples; the breeze of an open hospital window; the stinging pain of a third Chidori. Sakura was the smell of old-fashioned rosewater shampoo, on a moonlit night, the small cold road he meant to take stretched out in front of her.
Sakura was the steadiness of an arm around his shoulder and a hand in his hand, the softness of forest moss under his knees, a voice in his ear telling him, "It's all right. You'll be all right. I'm here."
Sasuke's memories of Sakura are not based on sight. So, of course, he does not remember her very well.
A blood moon was rising. Sasuke at first thought that the reason for the moon's pinkish glow. But it bled redder, the way the Sharingan bled red. Uchiha colors always ran true, and there was nothing redder than fresh-spilled blood.
"I wonder if the moon desires to hide itself forever from the light," said Madara, soft-spoken and amused, coming up quietly next to Sasuke. "Who then would reflect the sun's glory back to it?"
Sasuke looks at him—this great-uncle, the most famous of his clan. They share some recognizable similarities: in the eyes, of course, but in the set of the mouth as well, a certain wryness; and in their dark hair and pale skin. He's family.
"A lovely lad," muses Madara. He slants Sasuke a look, and there is something of Shisui in that: languid humor, well-satisfied in itself. "The moon, I mean. He must tire of the sun, sometimes, don't you think? "
Sasuke is not well-versed in old creation myths, but he had grown up in a very literate and very well-read household. More than anything, he knows his own heritage, old and proud as it is, one which predates even Konoha. He knows who their dojutsu are named after. He knows Tsukuyomi, who had been second born.
"For two who are of the same flesh and blood," says Sasuke, looking back up at the moon, "the older will always be there. Even if only as an obstacle for the younger to over come." He pauses. His brother has lied to him, and often; but not, thinks Sasuke, about the important things. So he is able to say, voice steady, "That's what older brothers are for."
Madara, too, is of the same flesh as Sasuke, of the same blood. For this reason, Sasuke alone is allowed his sword, is allowed free movement of his limbs—while Kakashi quietly bleeds out next to the still body of Naruto, Sakura crouched over the both of them. There should be others too, thinks Sasuke briefly—but Sasuke's heart is a small one. There is Kakashi and Naruto and Sakura. He has never paid any attention to the others.
"What are they teaching you," says Madara mildly. "The eldest of the three was the Sun-Goddess. A girl, you know." He looks at Sasuke again. After a moment, he says, "No. No, you do know, don't you? Ah—that's right. You're Itachi's little brother." Something clouds his eyes for a moment. He says, in a different voice, less flushed with victory: "You could pass for mine, really. You look so much like Izuna."
He subsides in melancholy. Sasuke waits patiently. Naruto, he suspects, would not understand: he knows friendship and bonds and choice; but brotherhood is not a choice. Brothers are bound by blood, and by something deeper still: Sasuke had grown up in the same house as Itachi, and had eaten the same food as Itachi, and—sometimes, during thunderstorms—slept in the same bed as Itachi.
Sakura, he suspects, would not understand either: Sakura, who loves too easily and too long. But brothers are not bound by love either—because Sasuke had loved his brother and hated his brother, and it made no difference. It was only that: if Sasuke opened himself up and opened Itachi up, the same blood flowed in their veins. Sasuke was not alone.
Madara is not alive in any strict sense of the word. Even now, there remains a sense of decay about him. But—all the same—Sasuke is of Madara's blood, of Madara's flesh, and there are things owed to family before they are owed to anyone else: one's sword, one's faith, one's loyalty.
"Shall I let you dream first, my boy?" By the kindness in his voice, Madara is perhaps thinking the same thing. "Hot-tempered bunch though we were," says Madara, with a faint smile, "family is family. Do you miss yours, child? Shall I bring them back?"
He turns to face Sasuke fully. The color of his eyes is the same color as Sasuke's eyes, and the same color as the moon above them. Where are the Hokages? Sasuke wonders vaguely. Where are the armies? But everywhere around him is quiet and still—only the foxfire dancing over Naruto's body, the wet rattle of Kakashi's breaths, Sakura's chakra flickering pale as she works.
At the end of the world, as Sasuke has always suspected, the only ones standing are Uchiha.
The difference, thinks Sasuke, between one cast into exile and one who willingly gave himself up as lost, is that Madara still believes in happiness. So he offers to let Sasuke dream, a kindness sincerely meant.
But things are not about happiness for Sasuke. He does not want to live happily. Sasuke's desires are all rooted in death: to avenge his family, to satisfy their honor, to pay his clansmen every last inch of filial piety he owes for remaining alive. Sasuke has no plans of living long or happily. Sasuke only wants to be able to say to his father afterwards: I have brought no shame to the family.
On a personal level, Sasuke would like a great-uncle, or any family at all, really—even the exhumed dead. But Sasuke, since he was six and crying in the rain, has paid little attention to personal desires. There is duty, and there is death, and those are the two constants of Sasuke's life.
So Sasuke says, "I cannot. Family honor cannot be restored by dreaming."
"Oh, your vengeance, yes." Madara considers him for several moments. "Certainly, Itachi was a clever boy, and he shall be missed; but the rest of the clan—how could they let themselves be slain so easily? Have the Uchiha become so weak? I cannot count it a great loss, if they have grown so soft. What honor is there for those who cannot protect even their own life?" He smiles at Sasuke, and chides him gently, "Honor is the provenance of the strong, child."
No, thinks Sasuke; but there is truth in Madara's words. Uncle Teyaki made senbei his entire life, and Aunt Uruchi had never held a kunai. Uchiha was no longer a clan of only warriors. They had become policemen, administrators, civilians. Honor was won in battle, and the Uchiha did not go to battle anymore. They stayed at home and kept the peace. Itachi was beloved not because he was such a prodigy, but because he was a throwback He was a memory of what the Uchiha once were: dangerous, sharp-edged, a harbinger of death.
"I—" says Sasuke. He does not know what else to say.
Madara is still smiling at him, the benign smile of an uncle upon a favored nephew. He reaches out, touches a cold finger against Sasuke's chin. His Sharingan is spinning lazily. "You are very earnest, Sasuke-kun: I had not expected. I have not seen such a clean fire in a long time. Most of us burn rather smokily, you know."
Sasuke almost falters, almost stumbles forward. It is the language of his childhood: his mother, who sometimes called him her "candlefire", for all of Sasuke's protests that he was a lantern flame at least; his father, who sometimes spoke about the unrulier clansmen, shaking his head over the "smoky" ones, who burned like wet wood. Sasuke is devoted to duty, but sometimes memory is a visceral wrench in the gut. Sometimes, hatred falters and grief closes in. Sometimes, Sasuke is tired.
"I—" says Sasuke, again. It isn't that he wants to accept. It is only that he does not want to refuse, just yet. Madara will not stand for refusal, and either Sasuke will have to kill Madara or Madara will kill Sasuke, because that is what Uchiha has come to mean: kinslayer. So, just for a little while, Sasuke would like to not be the only Uchiha in the world. Sasuke would like to have a great-uncle.
Madara looks at him, and—suddenly, it seems only proper for Sasuke to draw back from the Mangekyou: to meet Sharingan with Sharingan. Madara smiles, as if pleased. "Nephew," he says. Sasuke's sword trembles, and then lowers. "Shall I restore to you your family?" Madara asks again.
Uncle, is on the tip of Sasuke's tongue: and he would not have followed it with yes; but it would not have been no either.
Then from across the field, a voice cries with raw-hearted desperation, "Sasuke-kun!"
The foxfire around Naruto has dimmed to wisps, little glows like firebugs in late summer. Sakura, pale in the moonlight (but it is not just the moonlight), turns away from Kakashi and plunges her hands into Naruto's stomach. The chakra around her flickers dangerously, and there is a strained trembling in the set of her jaw, in how she bends over Naruto. She never did have very large reserves, thinks Sasuke.
"It is no use," murmurs Madara. "The spirit is already leaving the body."
Sasuke does not reply. He looks at Sakura, who—practical as ever—is staunching spirit-flow as she would blood-flow, pressing down on chakra pathways as she would on arteries. But her chakra is a faint thing, spent on Kakashi, and she cannot press heavily enough. The fox-demon is drawn to the moon, and Naruto, so entwined with the fox, must follow.
Madara is right. It's no use: Sakura has not the strength, nor the time. There is nothing tethering Naruto's golden soul to his body, not when the fox would leave and the seal on his stomach has already unraveled.
But, thinks Sasuke, but if I—
"Sasuke-kun," says Sakura again. She looks up, even as she leans more heavily onto Naruto. She is not crying, but it is somehow worse for that. "Please," she says. "Please."
(Please, she had said, please don't hurt them. Sasuke's ghosts clamor for blood; Naruto traded blow for blow so that Sasuke would stay; but Sakura only ever pleaded for life. Don't kill them, she said, of those who had hurt her.)
"She strains herself for no reason," sighs Madara, disapproving. "I cannot abide people who do not recognize lost causes."
Nor Sasuke. Except: the Sakura who cried over his most dead body on a bridge in a fog; the Sakura who would have followed him out of Konoha into hell; the Sakura who, wiser and grown-up and knew her duty, still faltered at the last moment, with her kunai to his back — when had Sasuke not been a lost cause to her? And in return: when, feverish with pain, he clutched her hand and fell into her arms; when, unable take her with him and unable to say goodbye, he told her "Thank you," and lingered stupidly by her bench; when, though striking Karin through the heart was enough to allay Zetsu's suspicion's, still Sasuke said, Kill Karin and you can come with me—when has Sasuke not been rash and impetuous, forgetting himself and duty?
"Yes," says Sasuke. "But—there is not much glory is easy victories."
Sakura tries too hard and does not know when to give up and is terrible at taijutsu. Still, Sasuke has not thought of her as weak in a long time. Sasuke is used to strength which overpowers, strength which kills—Sasuke's strength is the same as Madara's.
Sakura, though: her strength is a more subtle thing, which endures.
Honor is won in battle—but not all battles are waged on a field. There are those fought in one's heart. Had his brother been so strong as to slay the entire clan? Had anyone fought back? Or did his parents give Itachi their blessings—and sat in seiza, and went to their deaths as Uchiha of Konoha, loyal in the end? Had the entire clan knelt, and cleansed their hearts of guilt, and accepted a warrior's death? Was their strength, at the end, Sakura's strength?
When Sakura looks at Sasuke the way she does now, without wavering, without fear, he thinks, Yes. The Uchiha remained true. Konoha will understand what we gave up for it. Konoha will recognize our sacrifices.
It's not that Sasuke is in love with Sakura. That's not the case.
Only: she makes him believe in things which he would have despaired of. She makes him wonder what might have been. She makes him wish that death approached a little slower.
After near-death injuries, when Sasuke is bedridden and recuperating, he allows himself a moment of weakness. He drifts half-asleep, and daydreams about how things might have been had he stayed in Konoha, had his family been alive. He thinks about becoming a policeman, with no greater purpose than to keep neighborhood kids from horsing around on rooftops, or getting the odd cat out of the tree, or occasionally chasing down a petty thief. He thinks about keeping a garden, growing basil and tomatoes; about going flower-viewing in the spring, and leaf-viewing the autumn. He thinks about courting Sakura—bright, clever, sensible Sakura.
If he could, Sasuke would court Sakura with all the pageant of Uchiha tradition. His father, courting his mother, had bound his eyes with a strip of cloth, and had not unwound it until the wedding. His mother, who had been Uchiha too, well understood the meaning of the gesture: that her marriage to him had been the return of his sight. Sasuke, with Sakura, would have done no less: she would have meant no less to him.
This is what Sasuke thinks about sometimes, when he has one foot in death's door. It is not possible, of course—he would not have her marry a missing-nin without fortune or means. But it makes for a pretty daydream.
Sasuke is not in love with Sakura, but in any other life, he would be. He watches Naruto's already faint chakra fade even more, and looks at the terrible pallor in Sakura's face as she strains herself past all sense; and Sasuke knows—the same way he knew, when he was six years old, standing amid corpses—what he must do. He spares a moment to think, In my next life, I will find you; and it will not be like this.
Then he pivots on one foot, ducking low, bringing his sword up. Kusanagi is all grace, and she heeds him. Now, Chidori flaring along her length, she buries herself into Madara's armor, up through his stomach and out his back.
"What—" Madara, for a moment, looks surprised. Then his expression smoothes out again. "Foolish boy," he chides, still sounding for all the world like a benevolent uncle. "What did you hope to accomplish by that? I am already dead, you know."
"Yes," agrees Sasuke. "I only need to hold you a minute, though."
"I am afraid I cannot give you a minute," says Madara, raising up a hand into which his gunbai appears. "And—though you do not shame the Uchiha blood in you—I hope you do not think that you are a match for me."
He swings his gunbai overhead and down. Sasuke braces himself and—then Susanoo is there, one arm blocking Madara. Where the gunbai struck, Susanoo's armor chips. Perhaps even a minute, Sasuke thinks, was an overestimation.
He glances up, at the moon—the kaleidoscope is already formed. Good enough, then. Madara is committed. There is no going back.
The Eternal Tsukuyomi is not easily set up. A chance once passed is hard to come by again. Sasuke thinks: his father bound his eyes shut for his mother.
It is not much more difficult to call on Izanagi. Sasuke does not understand the mechanics of Izanagi very well, but it is not a technique one practices in any case. He knows what he wants: Naruto, too bright and too loud and more alive than anyone; and the moon bright and pale in the night sky, unbound to his mostly-dead clan. I have put my fist in Naruto's chest, thinks Sasuke: I have saved his life and taken his life, and surely—that is sufficient to claim Naruto's life for Sasuke's own. Surely that is enough for Izanagi to extend to Naruto. And the moon, which so proudly displays the mark of Uchiha. Sasuke is the last Uchiha alive. The moon then is his to claim then, as well.
So he prays to Izanagi, and claims Naruto and the moon for his own, and offers in return half of his sight.
His left eye slides shut. Madara asks, voice dreadful, "What have you done?" Around Sasuke, Susanoo flickers, and then disappears; and from his—from his blind side, Madara's gunbai comes down. Sasuke does not see it.
Distantly , Sasuke hears, "Sasuke!" The voice of an idiot who never learned to use proper honorifics, thinks Sasuke disparagingly. Then, even louder than Naruto, Sakura cries, "Sasuke-kun!"
Yes, thinks Sasuke, as the ground rushes up to meet him. He is well-satisfied.
Because this has always been Naruto's story, and because Naruto was born to be hero, Sasuke does not die. What kind of hero cannot save the life of his best friend, in the battle against their ultimate foe? The hero saves the day, and the best friend is indebted forever and ever and ever.
"You're an idiot," says Sasuke, propped up on a wealth of pillows in his hospital bed. He has more pillows, suspects Sasuke, than is strictly hospital issue. On the table beside him, there is a vase of daffodils and a plate of apple slices. Naruto reaches for one. Sasuke slaps his hand away. "These are mine."
"Asshole," replies Naruto, but does not quibble further. He leans back in his chair, balancing against the windowsill on two chair legs. "Why are you still not released, man? I got out weeks ago."
"Because you're a freak," says Sasuke promptly.
"I know you are," Naruto says agreeably, "but what am I?" Sasuke is prepared to lean over and punch Naruto in the face. Naruto doubtless would have happily responded in kind; but Sakura bustles into the room, charts in one hand and the other raised in a fist.
"Naruto," she says threateningly. "What did I say about visiting hours?"
"Okay, okay!" says Naruto, scrambling out of his chair. "I'll throw myself out! You don't have to hit me." He edges past Sakura and out the door. But, in the hallway, he lingers for a moment to tell Sasuke, "Hey, I'll bring you some ramen for breakfast tomorrow, yeah? Do you want pork or mi—"
"Naruto!" snaps Sakura.
"I'll get you both, then. Bye!"
Sakura turns back to Sasuke. She sets her chart down, and smooths out his bedsheets. "Maybe if I hit him some more," she mutters.
Sasuke lets her reach around him to fluff up the pillows. "You know he's going to sneak in through the windows again in an hour or so."
"What the hell, does he think I'm going to forget to feed you?" Sakura huffs, sitting down on the chair Naruto had just vacated.
Sasuke is not in the frequent habit of defending Naruto, and he does not intend to start now. So he leans back against the pillows, and picks the plate of apples, and eats quietly. Sakura watches him for several moments, fond, before picking up her charts again. She spreads the paperwork out on his bed, and leaning forward, sets to work: scribbling down notes and scrawling signatures. When Sasuke finishes the apples, he sets the plate back on the table. His eyelid slipping half-shut, Sasuke drifts a little, half-dozing and half watching Sakura work. Mostly, he listens to the soft rustle of papers, the scratch of a pen, and underneath it all, her steady quiet breaths.
"Hey," he says, after a while. She looks up, attentive. "The plum trees down by the river will probably bloom next week. We should go."
Sakura frowns thoughtfully. "Next week? You're healing well, but I don't know if by next week I can relea—"
Sasuke twitches one leg, rustling her papers. That wasn't his point. He says again, "We should go."
"We sh—" Sakura blinks. "Oh," she says. "Oh," and reddens. "Sasuke-kun," she says.
That's agreement enough. "Hn," says Sasuke, satisfied, eye slipping shut. Sakura is here, and there will be hanami next week. Perhaps, thinks Sasuke, a garden the week after that. And one day, to his mother—one day, he might be able to say to her, Mother, there is a girl who I—
There is yet time to phrase it how he would like. He has time, now. Peaceful and well-content, Sasuke falls asleep.
Sasuke's memories of Sakura are not based on sight. Sasuke's memories of Sakura are based in the heart.
So he does not remember her very well; not half as well as he would like. It's all right, she tells him. She'll be around to remind him. He won't have the chance to forget.