Title: strong is a hidden broken heart

Summary: weakness of the mind has always festered in the darkness. SasuSaku.

Dedication: To Kendall, for late-night chats and commiseration about purple kitchen knives.

Notes: Sasuke-face is in the post-war Uchiha compound. Still an ass, naturally, but with vaguely human emotions.

He looks down at the paper in front of him. It is grey, and marked with an uchiwa fan at the top. Before, he thought it looked…professional. Businesslike. Efficient. Now, he only sees it as empty. Detached. Cold.

How can he fill his words, the words that he has used so often to break people, to heal?

And he thinks of all the times when she healed him, with her open smile and colorful hair and her bright. And he looks at the blank, grey stationary, and knows that there is no way that he can make this impersonal, dull letter, as hollow as himself, become an apology and his ticket to salvation.

But he tries. God knows, that's what he always does. He tries. So he tightens his fingers around the pen, and tries to remember how to say sorry.

The five letters are also empty, and with a single repetition sound meaningless. So he thinks of all his memories of his smiling teammate (friend, the long repressed conscience in his head whispers. She deserves that much), the feeling of the slight but steady thaw in his chest, and the sensation that he never had since he was eight years old and all alone; the feeling of someone else's kindness. He had someone to protect, and someone to compete with, and someone to teach him, and that was what he needed to grow strong. And then the fear. Among these people, made of fire and lightning and sunbeams, his reason for going strong was receding. The ice in his chest was melting, but he needed it to be freshly frozen if he were to accomplish anything. He had a goal, a dream, a target, something he wanted to achieve, and he was watching it evaporate with every second he spent in the warmth.

So he tried. He tried to break his bonds, and pull back into the dark, where he was safe, and could learn tricks from a man who he never really trusted. And that was good. Because trust would get him killed one day, and you could never avenge from the bellies of vultures.

But though he tried, tried so hard to leave all of the light behind as he stepped back into shadow, there was a girl with blossom-pink hair that watched him as he went. And so she was the one who was given a special goodbye. Because though his friend might see him as a brother and mentor might see him as a son, his fairytale pink princess saw him as her happily ever after. Her knight in shining armor and her dark prince all in one, and made better than both by the fact that he was real. And he took her shimmering stained-glass dream, so childish and full of hope, and smashed it at her feet, then left her on a bench. He thought it would be enough.

But it wasn't. He had tried to get rid of the love of the blossom-pink girl, and he never realized that it's impossible to take away someone's self. His brother-in-arms had his will, and his teacher had his experience (weariness, his conscience sighs, watching death, learning to ignore, feeling pain, learning to withstand, experiencing hopelessness, but learning to endure. So, so much like you) but all the cherry blossom girl had to draw on when she was on the battlefield, when she was living life, was her love.

He now understands, in his big, dull study, without a touch of life, that he had struggled so much to break his ties because that was what this wisp-like princess without a throne or prince did; she tied herself to people and used the strength hidden inside of her to keep them. Although he did not succeed in forcing her to let go, he did start to chisel away at the foundation of her weakness; her utter belief that there would always be someone there for her, because of the way she pulled them close. In the way that her girlish flesh had hardened underneath her skin into muscle, so had her soft love had hardened into strength.

That was a blessing in disguise, but this new strength was also the tool she needed to do what he had always intended for her to do: get over him. Sever the tie she had woven around and through both of them.

And now, he muses, he wants to tell her that he's sorry. Get her to return to the past, be the foolish, forgiving girl that he made her stop being, and let him back into the heart that he himself turned to stone. He chews on his pen, and wonders if there are any words in the world to tell her this with.

He starts with 'sorry.'

It is just as empty as he recalls, lacking force and gravity. He searches for the words that mean something deeper, and writes,

I sincerely regret-

He cuts off there. It seems too impersonal already. Like a missive to a stranger, when this is for his summertime princess, his cherry blossom girl. He has learned, now, to accept the feelings, to not squash the words in his head when he thinks of her as 'his'. That child, that ethereal fairy, that glass figurine, has seen him in his darkest moments. She saw as the ugly inky stains smeared his features and his eyes spun red and his hand reached for her white throat. And still loved him. And now the raging, raving boy is gone, replaced with a man who is mature and understands and is searching for the way to make amends. This man knows himself much better now, and he has realized that in all the time he spent among friends, he was afraid.

He has always been afraid. He was afraid when he saw his brother, his idol, dripping crimson on the floor of his house. He was afraid when he was with his team, and he was afraid when he left his family's ancestral home. His heart was stained with cowardice the way that black earth stains marble, and he tried to burn it clean with flaming rage. Now, with his new understanding, he sees that only love can wash away the fear, love and the bravery that comes with it.

Pulling out another piece of paper, he taps his pen. Twirls it. He even throws it in the air a few times. Anything to prevent another failed attempt from coming to life, another balled grey sheet from being hurled at the wall. Instead, he hurls the pen. It stabs deep into the plaster and lodges there. He opens a drawer. He selects a pencil. He scribbles out a drawing.

Two big, happy eyes. He pulls out a gel pen and colors them in. Then another set of eyes, now oozing tears. He draws a third pair, hardened in determination. Then a fourth. These are narrow, angry, and dead. The only thing they have in common with the first are their color: green.

He can't help himself, and soon a second, a third and fourth, and a fifth page are covered in sketches of the same pretty girl laughing at a whiskered boy, or shouting at a lazy man. In one, her face is smooth with adoration, staring directly out of the paper. In another, that same adoration, tempered by sisterly feelings but still endlessly devoted, is facing the striped face of the whiskered boy. This one is brutally scratched out the instant it is finished. He quickly starts on a view of the girl at a very young age, eight or nine. She is reading a scroll, her prominent forehead bent demurely downwards. Right next to it, he outlines her at the same age, maybe slightly older, but still just as timorous. This time, she sits near another girl. The second girl has a ponytail and is holding a flower to her nose. The look of bewilderment mixed with awe on the first girl's face is plain, as though she is wondering why the ponytail girl was sitting with her, but is thrilled at the same time. The background is almost nonexistent, composed of three blades of grass, but very clearly somewhere outdoors.

Then the penultimate and final pictures. A face copied twice, identical in every respect but the tear tracks and the hair.

The man at the desk sits back and smirks, wondering why he was ever jealous of the art skill of his replacement. (You never were, the voice says, you were jealous of what he was. Your replacement.) He slowly begins to painstakingly color each drawing with only one hue, because he does not have a pink pen. When he is done, he looks at all the images spread before him. The cherry blossom girl changes in each, and is sometimes in the center and sometimes peripheral, but in every one she is wonderful. He examines them one at a time, thinking of the memories they are pulled from and for the hundred thousandth time feels a bitter pang of regret. Then he sees in the corner of his eye a rough structure he can barely remember creating. It is made of ugly, straight lines, and is devoid of color. The green of the girl's eyes is invisible behind her closed lids as she lies on the bench.

The smirk melts off the face of the man at the desk. He lifts his pencil and sets it to the paper below the bench, but writes, draws nothing. Eventually he inscribes a few words underneath the picture. Then he finds a different picture on a different page, and writes a few more. He takes all the pages, folds them reverently, and tucks them into an envelope. He stares blankly at it for a while, the mark of Indra on his arm contrasting strangely with the grey.

He addresses the envelope in his neatest handwriting.

Haruno Sakura.

He places a Rokudaime stamp in the top right corner, and stands up full of hope.

A/N: Sequel? Yes or no? Tell me or I'll hunt you down. AND NARUTO IS THE ROKUDAIME ON THE STAMP CUZ HE'S THE HOKAGE! BELIEVE IT!