chapter title: it's a new dawn (it's a new day)
summary: There are three years and a war between the Sakura he remembers and the Sakura he's returned to. Six weeks after the trial, the dust has yet to settle and Sasuke realises that concerning their shattered bond, he is the one who must start picking up the pieces. sequel to the butterfly effect
dedication: to all of you extremely patient people out there, who've waited two years for this. sorry to make you wait so long. surprise?
The inside of the cell was dark and eerily silent, but the presence behind the bars was no less dangerous for it. If she was programmed for that sort of thing, she would have called it the calm before the storm, but they'd beaten the metaphors out of her a long time ago.
"Master," she whispered, kneeling gracefully. The porcelain mask concealed her identity but like all the others, she was a vessel intended only to serve. He was the hand that guided her and whatever he bid she would do without question because they'd beaten that out of her too, squashed the doubt and the curiosity and that muddy thing they called a moral compass until she couldn't find them anymore.
"So there are some still, who are faithful to me." Her master chuckled, a broken sound in the blackness. The floor was cold against her knees, but she didn't move.
"You are the successor and my body is yours to command," she said. "I am here for orders, sir."
"They have not discovered your identity?"
"When the purge started, I destroyed my file as protocol dictated."
That was as far as rules and regulations could carry her before the change threatened to drown her existence. Change was a turbulent wave; in the chaos, she treaded water and waited for the chance to resurface, a root that refused to be dragged out of the dark mud. It was safe down there. She was a girl without a face, without a name and the darkness was all she knew.
"Six weeks," he mused. "I was starting to think none of you know what loyalty even means."
Loyalty. The word should have been sinuous but it fell flat in her mouth, a sound without meaning. Loyalty, justice, mercy - they were concepts she knew, but could not understand. What was justice to a tool? What was mercy to a weapon in the dark?
"I am loyal," she said, because it seemed expected of her.
In his filthy, black cage, she sensed her master smile.
Dawn swept over the village, lighting up the world with sleepy sunlight. Sasuke stared at the lightening sky with eyes which had not slept and counted his measured breaths, the slow in and out of his lungs. Konoha was slow to stir; though the first golden rays of sunlight peeked over the rooftops, the village was still and silent.
Soon, he thought, the birds would start to sing.
Mother always liked listening to birdsong in the morning.
Even the thought of it hurt; it cut with the sharp edge of a knife rather than the dull blade he'd become accustomed to. Given what the day would bring, Sasuke wasn't all that surprised.
Anniversaries, birthdays, holidays – they always hurt the worst, and while today was none of these things, he'd been counting down the days for weeks.
For three nights he hadn't slept at all, too consumed by a combination of bloody memories and ghastly anticipation – a blackness inside him he'd come to know all too well.
I told you to be happy, little brother, Itachi whispered disapprovingly, nothing more than a ghostly voice on the early morning wind blowing through his hair. And Sasuke was trying.
He touched his mother's gravestone with gentle fingers, tracing the kanji of her name in the stone as carefully as a child learning his first letters.
"You can rest, after today," he told her softly. "You can all be at peace."
Still, he couldn't help wishing that simply touching her name could be enough to erase the silence of the other side; that he could feel her arms wrapping around him one last time and see his father's proud eyes.
He wanted an ending other than their cooling bodies sprawled on the blood-soaked ground of the Uchiha district.
His eyes were stinging, but today he knew he needed to be strong – as strong as his father ever was, as strong as Itachi had always been. After all, he was all that was left.
I will make you proud, he thought, rising to his feet as the sky flushed orange and gold like all the fires he'd ever ignited with the roar of his Katon.
As he stared at his parents' tombstones, two chakra signatures made themselves known on the other side of the graveyard – carefully not intruding – and he didn't even have to look to know who they were.
Wherever he turned in the world, those two idiots were always there behind him. Sasuke wondered if that would ever change. He wondered if they'd ever get tired of him – if they'd ever see how broken, how black his heart really was and do the sensible thing, just cut him out of their lives the way his mother would prune the dead branches from her roses.
Naruto and Sakura waited patiently, unmoving. Their chakra signatures formed a steady presence at his back and Sasuke knew they wouldn't leave.
"He looks sad," Naruto murmured in her ear, eyes drawn to the solitary figure of his best friend. Sakura privately agreed; alone amongst a sea of graves, Sasuke cut a lonely silhouette against the sunrise.
"I think he'll always be sad," she replied quietly, chest aching for him in a way which was unwanted but intimately familiar. She'd once hoped that she could make him happy, but Sakura knew now that Sasuke's heart was buried with the dead.
All the more reason to be here, she told herself. She'd barely seen Sasuke at all in the last six weeks. The demands of the hospital robbed her of time, but she'd made certain she had the day off for this, to be here when Sasuke would most need to know he wasn't alone.
Sakura could only hope that they would be enough, this time.
We never were before. We tried and tried, but there was no getting through to him.
Sakura sighed, pushing the memories firmly away. Naruto linked their hands without looking at her, squeezing gently.
"I'm okay," she told him. "Really."
He still didn't look at her and he didn't let go of her hand. "I know."
Sighing again, she turned her eyes back to Sasuke and tried to ignore the clenching of her heart. In the quiet of her kitchen, all those weeks ago, the barriers between them had wavered for an instant with her honesty and his murmured thank you. As he weaved towards them through the headstones, Sakura arranged her features in a placid mask to hide what she was feeling; she'd always felt that his gaze could cut right through her and there was so much now that she didn't want him to see.
"Hey," Naruto said quietly, as Sasuke stopped before them. He towered over her now; they both did. It still surprised her, how tall they'd grown when she wasn't looking.
For a long moment Sasuke just watched them both, his expression as unfathomable as the unseen depths of oceans. It reminded her uncomfortably of that night she first woke up, when he was just a dark-eyed phantom she couldn't face without trembling. He'd been a stranger, then, someone she didn't know at all.
"Hello," Sasuke murmured, hair falling into his eyes with a careless grace which made her heart flutter traitorously. It was too long, she thought absently, wondering when he'd last cut it.
They started walking all at the same time, in a silence which felt as thick and heavy as the weight of an oncoming storm in the air. Sakura didn't know what to say; she guessed by Naruto's uncharacteristically solemn expression that he didn't have a clue either.
What did you say to someone on the day that the orchestrators of their family's demise were to be executed? What did you say to that someone after three years of silence on both sides?
It's hard enough to talk to him even on normal days, Sakura thought guiltily, as the Torture and Interrogation Department came into view. The Council were being held at the deepest, most impenetrable level and part of her shivered at the thought of going in there.
It won't be like Root's headquarters, she told herself. You won't be going back there, you won't be going down into that poisonous dark.
She knew that and yet she knew today wouldn't be sunshine and rainbows – even in justice such as this there was a measure of darkness and one look at Sasuke's face proved it. Even Naruto could feel it; it was there in the silence between them, in the space between their long shadows on the ground.
But maybe after today was done, that darkness would be at an end. Tsunade had spent the last six weeks purging Root from Konoha with Sai's assistance; she could only hope that purge had been successful.
The doors of the T&I department loomed above them, set into the face of a tall and imposing building made of grey stone. The guards on the doors nodded to her as they approached, opening the entrance without a word.
Everyone knew who Naruto and Sasuke were, but it was her status as Tsunade's apprentice that opened doors to places many their age weren't supposed to go.
And I bet they're expecting Sasuke anyway, she thought, twisting her hands together as the shadowy hall enclosed them. Their footsteps echoed ahead of them as they walked in tandem and in any other situation she might have laughed.
But from the corner of her eye, she could see the grim set of Sasuke's jaw and the way his hands clenched into fists which made his knuckles whiten.
"We need to head to level H," she told them in an undertone, pulling ahead so she could lead them towards the stairwell. "Tsunade told me that's – that's where it'll happen."
Neither of them responded and she was thankful she no longer had to see Sasuke's expression.
"Man," Naruto grumbled quietly, following her down the stairs. "Isn't there a lift in this place?"
"If there is, I've never found it. If you're going to be Hokage, you can't be put off by something as mundane as stairs."
Words intended to lighten the mood fell flat around her ears. Though Naruto spluttered indignantly, all her attention was on Sasuke, his looming presence just behind her. Today was not a day for laughter.
Today was duty and justice and a sort of sadness that seeped through the air into her bones. The weight of a hundred graves hung over the whole village, but it was Sasuke who had to wear it on his shoulders for now and always.
They passed five floors, the ground swallowing them up further with every step. Even the air grew colder, damper as they descended. It was almost funny, really. Hell was always depicted as a burning inferno – and here, where the elders and Endo Takumi were being held, could surely qualify as a place for the damned.
Finally they reached Level H, to find Tsunade and her small entourage awaiting them. Her shishou's amber eyes swept over Naruto and herself with a mix of disapproval and resignation.
"I can't say I'm surprised to see you two tagged along," she said, by way of greeting. "I suppose there's no point trying to send you away."
Naruto puffed out his chest. "We're not going anywhere, Tsunade baa-chan!"
"I thought not." The Hokage pursed her lips. "Let's get on with this unpleasantness, then, shall we? Ibiki, if you could be so kind, bring them out."
He bowed once, shallowly and disappeared through a door at the end of the corridor. Tsunade led the way to a room for onlookers, where a pane of glass allowed them to see into the next room where the execution would be.
"You two," Tsunade barked, jabbing her fingers at Naruto and Sakura, "stay here. I mean it. Uchiha, with me."
"But Tsunade –"
"Stay, Naruto! You're not even supposed to be here."
Sakura bit her lip as she watched Sasuke turn his back on them; she watched the straight set of his shoulders, the rigid way he carried himself and wondered where that sinuous grace of his had gone and if today would break him further somehow, or lead to some kind of closure.
"Naruto." Sasuke paused in the doorway, but didn't look back. "It's fine."
The door clicked shut quietly behind him and the blond immediately turned anguished blue eyes in her direction.
"We should be in there with him."
Folding her arms, she turned to the clear glass pane and tried to keep her voice toneless. "He's always had to do these things alone, Naruto."
"But he doesn't have to, the idiot! When is he going to realise that?"
He was so good-willed, she thought, so unwilling to see anyone shoulder their burdens alone. It was hardly surprising, really, but he needed to understand that there were some things you just couldn't share.
"We don't belong in there," she said slowly. "Not for this."
Silence. Sakura felt his gaze settle on her, but she didn't turn. Instead she kept her eyes forward, to the sterile white room on the other side of the glass.
Naruto moved to stand beside her, suddenly subdued. "Do you think this will help?" he asked. "Him killing them, I mean."
There was a lie on her tongue, sweet and kindly meant; an old habit which refused to die quietly. She wondered what it said about her that her first instinct was to tell Naruto the things he wanted to hear, instead of the truth.
Sakura bit her lip indecisively as Sasuke entered the death chamber. He stood in the middle of the room, Kusangi unsheathed. Waiting.
"I don't know," she admitted. "I just hope it doesn't make him worse."
The silence was so thick he could hardly breathe. It felt like a living thing, an ocean pressing in on him from all sides and crushing the air in his lungs until all Sasuke could hear was his thudding heartbeat in his ears.
Even his grip on Kusangi was bruising, the white of his knuckles clearly showing to anyone watching on the other side of the glass – and he had no doubt Naruto and Sakura were pressed right up against the glass, wide-eyed and wary – but he couldn't seem to find that tight control he'd perfected in Sound. His body was a mess of emotions to anyone who cared enough to look.
Breathe, he told himself, slowly flexing his fingers around the handle. He inhaled and exhaled with careful deliberation and smoothed all expression from his face, eyes on the door.
"Make it clean," Tsunade had told him, eyes fixed on his with a dangerous glint in their depths. He could do that, he supposed – a clean death didn't necessarily guarantee a painless one, a distinction the Hokage knew well. It didn't have to be quick, either.
And if that's what she wanted, she shouldn't have been foolish enough to delegate this task to me.
The blood in his veins burned with anticipation and dread, nothing like the way he felt facing down Danzou so many months ago, when the world was spinning around his head and everything was drenched in a crimson so dark it could almost be black.
He could hear footsteps, far away but drawing closer every second. The echo of every step beat in tandem with his heart, a steady boom boom boom which disrupted the uncomfortable silence of the white room.
He thought of ticking clocks and time and how for three-still-beating-hearts, it was rapidly running out. His eyes were fixed on the door, waiting…
Morino Ibiki flung the door open with his usual grim expression set firmly in place. Vaguely intimidating during that long-ago written exam, Sasuke now paid him only the most perfunctionary of glances as the Council was shunted inside.
"Try not to make a mess," the older man said, with a glance to the one-way mirror. The door closed smartly behind him, a key turning in the lock.
The silence settled in again, but it didn't feel oppressive anymore; he was part of it now, a dark, dread thing waiting to gobble them up.
Sasuke was pleased to see they all looked suitable worse for wear, their hair greasy and unwashed. The smell of stale bodies slowly permeated the room. Disgusting. Just like they were.
His voice lingered in the air for a moment and three pairs of eyes stared at him before they obeyed. Endo Takumi was the last to bend his knees, a nasty smirk twisting his mouth as he stared Sasuke down.
"Don't fool yourself into believing you've won," he said, clearly enunciating so that everyone in the next room could hear. "Konoha will always have a dark heart; a tree cannot grow without roots in the muck, Uchiha Sasuke."
Grinding his teeth, he tried to keep his face expressionless, his grip on Kusangi relaxed. The surest way of getting under this worms skin would be to give him no reaction at all.
Things were changing; after all that Itachi had suffered things had to change. There would be no more lost, ruined children with blood on their hands and the weight of the world on their shoulders.
But can you really change the world overnight? a sly voice whispered at the back of his head. Can you change a Hidden Village in six weeks?
Endo Takumi smiled, like he knew what Sasuke was really thinking. "This fragile peace will not last, boy. And when it shatters, all you love will lie in ruin."
"Everyone I love," Sasuke said through clenched teeth, "is already dead. And it's you and yours who are responsible for that."
Koharu bowed her head. "We only did what was best for Konoha. For that, I cannot repent."
"Thousands of lives were spared," Homura added. "The end justified the means."
Sasuke thought of Itachi with blood dribbling from the corners of his mouth, with tears streaming down his face in the moonlight. He thought of years spent turning a blind eye to all of Orochimaru's terrible cruelties in the promise of power.
He thought of his hand around Sakura's throat, squeezing.
"No," he told them, lifting Kusangi as his eyes bled red. "It doesn't."
She could still feel Endo Takumi's eyes on her, as if he'd known exactly where she was standing on the other side of the glass. Despite herself, a shiver went up her spine.
"Sakura," Naruto murmured behind her. "Let's go."
It was hard to draw her eyes away from Sasuke's still, blood-soaked figure; with his eyes Sharingan red and turned towards the floor with lifeless, mutilated bodies stacked around him, he looked again like the avenger from her childhood nightmares.
"Give him a minute, Naruto."
Her breath fogged against the glass. Behind her, Tsunade quietly signalled for Shizune to go and unlock the door to the white room.
The rage went out of him suddenly, eyes fading to a haunted dark grey which made her think of thunderstorms. Sasuke looked down at the blade in his hand which was dribbling blood, shoulders hunching inwards.
She'd seen that look before, but rarely on him. Her hand moved to her chest covering her heart.
"You can go to him now," Sakura whispered, watching as Sasuke turned on his heel and left the little room. His feet left bloody tracks on the floor.
"He needs you, too," the blond said, restless in a way which spoke of urgency rather than impatience.
He's never needed me at all, she thought, but turned nonetheless to follow Naruto out into the hall. Sasuke was already a retreating shadow, a wraith-like silhouette fleeing the scene and she didn't know whether to follow him or run away herself.
Only Sasuke could produce that particular conflict within her veins; the twin desires to build and shatter whatever distance lay between them. The more she wanted to help him – to offer him what comfort she could, the way she had as a girl – the more she wanted to maintain that space he'd put between them over three years and multiple attempts on her life.
Ino would call her a coward, if she wasn't having issues of her own these days. Not for the first time, Sakura spared a thought as to what was going on between her best friend and Shikamaru.
"Come on," Naruto murmured, taking her hand and pulling her along beside him as he chased after Sasuke.
(Sakura was so tired of chasing after Sasuke).
They flew up the many flights of stairs to the surface, but when they pushed out the doors into bright daylight, Sakura tugged her hand free.
"I can't," she said, backing away from him. "I just – I can't, I'm sorry."
His eyes were as blue as the sky stretching overhead, but infinitely sadder. "Sakura, he needs us to be there for him right now."
"He needs someone," she agreed, because Sasuke – Sasuke had always needed someone to pull him out of the dark. "Go and be there for your best friend, Naruto."
There was disappointment in his face, but Sakura couldn't bring herself to care. Putting things back together was a lot more complicated than breaking them.
"I'll see you later," she promised and Naruto ran.
Sasuke, when he wanted to be, was a difficult person to find in a crowded village. It took Naruto two hours, several shadow clones and a foray into sage mode to track him down and even then, it was only because Sasuke had stopped moving.
"I guess I'm not surprised you came here," the blond said, taking the steps down to the dock slowly instead of dashing down them, the way he would have when he was a kid.
"I'm not surprised you followed me," Sasuke replied, but he didn't sound annoyed – he didn't sound anything. As Naruto approached he didn't even turn around, just kept staring out at the lake with his feet dangling in the water, Kusangi laid across his knees.
The blade was clean now, all signs of blood gone. The same could not be said of Sasuke.
He was rewarded with a short, unimpressed glance before his best friend turned his gaze back to the water and his own bloody reflection. Naruto took a seat beside him rubbing the back of his head sheepishly.
"Maybe that was kinda a stupid question," he admitted. "Whatever, you had us all worried running off like that."
He was answered with silence and Naruto – Naruto had never been good at that, had he? He'd grown up babbling away, letting anything come out of his mouth so long as it attracted attention, so long as it reminded people yes, I'm here, I exist, don't ignore me, don't forget about me –
He wasn't good at keeping his mouth shut; not when he had words at his disposal, bright beautiful things full of hope which never failed him. Tazuna was a legend in his vocation, but Naruto was a bridge builder too.
"It's over now," he found himself saying, watching for some kind of reaction. "Your family, they can finally rest. And no one – no one will ever have to go through what you did, ever again. No one will suffer like Itachi did, I promise."
Sunlight was refracting off the water, crisp and golden – the last rays of summer illuminating everything in a warm glow. It too beautiful a day to be marred by the darkness of an execution, but Sakura had told him pathetic fallacy was something which only happened in books.
"Do you really think that is within your power to promise?" Sasuke asked in a voice barely above a murmur. His eyes were far away and troubled, as if he was plagued by some problem no one else could see. Naruto didn't understand it; wasn't this what he'd been striving towards his whole life?
What did Sasuke have to be troubled by now that the massacre of his family could be laid to rest, now that he and the world knew why Itachi had done the terrible thing he did? He had justice and he had answers.
"When I'm Hokage," he assured him, "I'll make sure of it. I promise you, Sasuke. I promise."
That last word hovered in the silence between them, a shimmering thing which reminded him of bubbles – translucent and so easy to break – but at last Sasuke managed something close to a smirk.
It was humourless and tired, but Naruto grasped onto that flicker of emotion with hope in his heart because Sasuke – Sasuke knew better than anyone that Naruto never made a promise he couldn't keep.
notes: hey remember that time beyonce dropped a new album out of nowhere.
notes2: wow okay it's taken ten different attempts but i'm finally happy with this chapter yay me.
notes3: HAPPY NEW YEAR DARLINGS
rain reviews down on me like fire and brimstone, I'm sure y'all have something to say after all this time.