For the moments that we'll come to remember with excruciating detail:
Flower petals dancing in the wind. Cloudless skies. Our tears and hopeful glances.
For every moment that we struggled against the tragedies and triumphs of the past.
Her head abruptly lifted. Her breath hitched. Moonlight watched as leaves all around picked up in a sudden flurry.
Her widened emerald stare remained fixated forward, even as he reappeared behind her—derisively close—just in the pinnacle of that dispersing gale, as if the very score of that cold disruption was solely caused by him.
Time stopped following the moments of his decisive lean forward. They were nearly touching, now. His head over her shoulder, ear to ear, wordlessly looking towards that same unnameable place in the distance. She was painfully aware of his wholesome warmth; like a blanket of fragmentary delusion it diffused along her chilled skin in constant cirruses, even while she deciphered the frigid truth so blatantly entreating. She would almost deny the disparaging thing she could so clearly see, set before them on a limerick so mercilessly absconded from the ballads of their past.
It was the diverging paths of their future. The promise never made.
"Sakura … thank you."
Two persons forcefully crashed into the center depths of an immense waterfall. The velocity of their impact obliterated the mountain edge that was the waterfall's crest; resultant boulders fractured and catapulted, and heavy tons of pressurized water shrouded in every available direction. Currents thrust vertically reached peak altitude quickly; they slowed until they paused, and it was in this pause that momentum shifted, precursor to the onslaught of a terribly massive downpour. The area all around darkened with that volume of water as it cascaded in different shifts, almost as if the sky itself had opened up to relinquish its own supply of precipitation in tandem. The enormity of what hammered down was endless.
Within the newly burrowed space of the mountain cliff's edge, those two—under now more recognizable distinctions of female and male—met unstable ground. Corroded earthen walls impacted and shifted, and the rocky foundation underneath them collapsed. They were taken deeper beneath and behind what was left of the original cavern. Boulders concaved further, and any previously visible sky from within the cliff wall completely obstructed. Within seconds, the commotion of their new location started to settle.
It was somewhat quieter in this plateauing palisade: the pounding of the rain and the hissing of the half-strength waterfall was a drowned hum against the arranged stone enclosure that trapped them: pebbles broke free from larger craters to add their own intermittent ricochets; dripping water escaped numerous cracks and crevices; streams spurted strongly while others seeped. Scanty tendrils of light occasionally reached through shifting crevices past the temporarily diminished water veil to refract off any available watery substance, offering subtle introductions of dampened color.
Uchiha Sasuke was on his back, slightly raised against a fractured wall. His eyes were strained, tired—their natural obsidian color—as he looked up into Haruno Sakura's emerald stare. Her face was mere inches from his, and bore the same kinds of scrapes and smudges that detailed previous physical struggle. She seemed to be positioned above him in some manner: What was viewable of her upper body in the near-darkness was hunched over towards him, and an arm of hers braced against the stone wall above him. Heaps of overly-long roseate hair draped her shoulders to coil onto the denim-blue tunic at his chest; that abundance of saturated hair did well to obstruct the majority of tears and blatant holes sullying the material of her own scarlet slipover.
Silence ensued for the enduring moments that they stared, analyzing one another. However physically close they were, and however more dangerous their surrounding enclosure inclined, neither seemed to care. There was lethargy there. An accusable morbidity. Focus was only on eachother.
Sakura made the first intentional movement. A weak push from the forearm of hers against that unstable wall allowed for her to settle just a hand there. The wall groaned and trembled as she pushed further, as if to fathom a phantom creation of distance between them. Only inches transpired. She had found herself mulling over a phenomenon that seemed to only mature with the expanding duration of their locked attention; lamentable and unwanted, she tried to dissuade this lingering occurrence as an attribute of temporary delirium for the both of them—an anomaly in the face of escalating crisis. But what a tragically familiar, undeniable sentiment it was—this pitiful caricature from her past—rearing to the surface, having creeped from some unknown depths within herself to prickle at wounds hardly scarred over and silently existing till that point.
Such a desperate thing it was, chaperoned by a decade-old memory.
"I love you so much that it hurts!"
She had said that, back then. When she was so much younger. When she was so much more hopelessly desperate.
Her lips parted. A shaky breath released.
"Why?" she soon asked. A question for everything. A plea for all that was unacceptable.
As if on queue, the already fragmented crater beneath Sakura and Sasuke impacted further. The plateau had failed: Surrounding boulders and rocks started to shift with greater energy, and subsequent effects of larger, croaking amorphism ensued.
"Why did you come through here?" She continued.
"Don't go! If you do, I'll scream."
"Why are we here … like this … again?"
There was no reclamation, here. No enduring change had taken place in either of them that he would renounce his current endeavors or that would she would surmise a desire to blindly seek him. There was too much pride on either end for that.
She referred to the trajectory that placed him in near-intersection to Konoha Village—their home. Where there were plenty of routes of seclusion through the Land of Fire that would have accomplished similar expenditures of time towards his geographical objective, he didn't take them. He forsook his usual, careful bouts of extended evanescence and callously traveled with the errancy that forged their re-meeting and forced them to be at odds again—made to rehash futile truths and misunderstandings that continued to persist through each transition of time.
For that choice she had no explanation.
"Sakura"—his gaze slightly shifted to take in more of her face—"I don't need you to understand me." Even in monotone recital, his words held a softness almost non-attributable to his apparent exhaustion.
He didn't look away from her, even as diverted water started to spur and seep through the barricade above them with accelerating, riveting force.
A full moon-lit night.
A cobblestone walkway.
A cold, whispering wind.
Shuttering leaves on tired trees.
She encountered the same heart wrench of helplessness. The same respite and futility. Ten years apart, and she couldn't fathom any dissimilarity in the potency.
Sakura dragged a slow breath in. Her exhale was soundless. And her hand on that unstable wall loosely clenched into an absentminded fist. "How I feel … knowing you've still gone through this world alone, without any semblance of happiness … that's what I'm trying to understand... Why … still, I'm unable to bear the thought."
Sasuke seemed to weigh her words carefully. When he replied, it was with a statement that would forever etch its mark in her memory.
"When ... did I ever mention caring about happiness?" Rhetorical in nature. It was an ode to an existence functional without emotional reprieve—damning, without a forlorn sense of longing or regret. What a vivid reminder they had to the anger and agony that coursed through his veins, never to be stripped or nulled; to the bearing of scars that were to be forever marred within his soul, so unrelenting and so maddening. Sakura had no way to fully understand the eternal retribution sought through a lifetime promise of vengeance: Uchiha Sasuke's Ninja Way.
The majority of the bouldered wall behind Sakura ripped away into a thundering chasm of charged water. Unfiltered light started to peek through in constant channels to form a widened beam that corralled brighter shades of color.
A trickle of blood suddenly presented at the corner of Sakura's lips. It escaped quickly, rounding to her chin instantly. The red ichor's falling path was a slow one: its globby misshaping form as it fell led sight to the background setting in detail: to the outskirts of the puddled rocky floor the two injured shinobi rested upon; to their battered forms made more definite by tattered clothing and abraded skin; and to the slender female hand that the drop fell onto in a splattered stain.
Another score of light swept through in a rekindled splash of full spectrum color.
Sakura's hand, having just been marked with that splash of red, still weakly rested on the masculine hand underneath—a hand already completely covered in velvet—Sasuke's. His was the hand that was a drenched anchor, clasped around the hilt of a familiar sword to steady a blade fully immobilized by its embedment into Sakura's torso. Viewable steel lengths spiraled with blood and coruscated with the water droplets adhering in swathes. It was the confounding factor to their encounter— that sword—having precisely dictated their fallen positions, and having imposed the serious honesty of their words to one another. The brevity.
Sasuke continued to support that sword, and therefore the majority of Sakura's weight, quietly, with unwavering stability.
"I've always considered it unattainable—yours and Naruto's world," he admitted. "That future you two would so fondly speak of … no place exists for me. "
"That place did exist!" Sakura's outburst nearly interrupted him. It was a harsh whisper of a yell pervaded with a declaration of despair; it reverberated off the walls of their makeshift cavern before disappearing against rapid watery torrents with the same audacity that inspired it.
Sasuke's eyes wavered. Only once.
"It was right in front of you," Sakura continued. "You were in that world with us. It was ours."
They emerged from the dense forest—Naruto's first, then Sakura and Sasuke—greeted by strong beams of sunlight on a widened dirt road. While they were catching their breath, Naruto had suddenly said something indecipherable before he shot up from his hunched over position. An arm of his hooked around each of the other two's shoulders, and he pulled them inward. Sakura laughed as she brought up a hand to hang onto his arm. She looked to Sasuke: he seemed disgruntled under Naruto's tight hold, but with a squinted eye he was also looking towards that same entreating sunlight that they had been faced towards, along the same stretch of road that would invariably lead them back to Konoha.
The transition of his scowl into a prominent grin was unmistakable.
"But you talked yourself into believing you couldn't have it ...The solitude you mentioned, that very first time we talked … you held onto that instead."
Visible portions of the rocky platform underneath them started to break apart and descend into cascading waters; and, as if a fuel source, the refurbished veil behind them started to roar terribly louder. Hissing and spurting sounded with each pressurized gain.
"I ...tried to experience the same feelings as you two in those moments," Sasuke finally said.
"I know," Sakura whispered. She didn't realize the way her body suddenly sunk in towards him, or the way her voice seemed to wane.
"I didn't intend to live this life chasing illusions or settling down in makeshift fallacies." There was almost a growing urgency to his tone.
"I know," Sakura restated, more clearly this time.
"It was never truly an option." He insisted.
She raised her head to give him a glance and a half-hearted smile. "I understand. It's okay."
The paleness of Sakura's face was striking. An accumulation of watery salt was still hanging in the corner of her eyes. She shifted her stare in embarrassment of it.
"—I think ... I was so focused on a childish dream, back then." She had intentionally interrupted. She was still looking away. She didn't need for him to try and console her. Not like this. Not now. "It's my fault. For not seeing that shadow you carried all these years... I just...I sometimes imagine what could have happened, you know? Were I to have paid attention. Or were it to have been Naruto that found you that night." Instead of her. Instead of the one person that couldn't ever truly understand what it was like to have experienced life filled with so much pain and solitude.
"It wouldn't have mattered, Sakura."
Sakura re-met Sasuke's gaze. Her response stalled while she analyzed the ameliorative nature of his interjection. It was in a curt sincerity that he meant to dissuade her unnecessary reflections of regret and wondering. She was old enough to understand that part of his nature, now. But she couldn't possibly draw reprieve from it. Because it was undeniably steeped in a bitter truth that would retroactively condemn the very man in front of her—the boy she remembered so vividly—right from the start. No recourse would be left to salvage any type of fairytale scenario.
"Because you had already reached that point," she concluded.
When Sasuke transitioned his eyes to take in more of her expression, almost sorely, Sakura received her confirmation. "I guess … I was really off the mark, neh?" Self-chastising and lighthearted her rhetoric was, coincided with a smile of the purest, most genuine regard—large, ear to ear and teeth-revealing. When her eyes opened, they glimmered—vividly, to the fullest liberty. Her face held an understanding so somber and so fully reflective, it rendered in heartbreaking waves as tears finally took their audienced fall. She didn't turn away this time.
Something in Sasuke's eyes flickered, then. More than once.
A new instance mirrored the beginning of their time together in that makeshift cave. They wordlessly stared at each other again; twice over without discomfort nor relief. This time with an uninhibited translation of transparency, as if they were reaccepting all the events of their lives. The predesigned points of no return.
Sakura's lips pursed before valiantly reassessing a small curvature, and then they parted again, suddenly, as if hesitation corrected over and over again the words she might have really wanted to say. "I... don't see you, Sasuke… I... I can't find that future in your eyes that I used to see so long ago." Her eyes wavered as they started deeply into his, almost desperately. Her lower lip quivered, even as her eyes still glimmered with humble sincerity. "I've lost sight of who you are."
For the first time, Sasuke's gaze fell downcast, before slowly closing. He gave her a solemn return smile—a slight upcurve in the form of a smirk— along with a release of breath similar to a grunt of amusement.
It was to show her that he knew, and that he accepted it: the agony of hers that had so fully conceded to guilt and surrender. He understood and forgave it: that seething sentiment of futility and regret that he was already entirely familiar with. Because he was already in possession of a premeditated verdict, and he had left it ironclad. It was a verdict on the bleak reality of the shinobi world they lived in— to the absurdity bound by singularities of fear and recursive to the machinations of delusion that would make abundant eventualities of pain and violence, and that would color even the most sincerest of affections. These were the habits pre-ordained from the very moments of birth, engrained further with each waking breath.
These were the clutches of antiquated folly, left to a cyclical affliction.
Another resounding wail came from the wall behind Sasuke. The entryway to the waterfall behind Sakura now bellowed at peak capacity. Intermittent flares of spraying mist started to entirely douse them.
With the unconscious tightening of his jaw, Sasuke's smirk disappeared completely. It was audible as he re-secured his hand around the hilt of the sword within their grasp. "You never knew me to begin with, Sakura." The sword started to move carefully, deliberately.
When the blade was fully pulled from Sakura, it traveled with Sasuke's hand to fall to his side, outstretched, with a thud; puddles of water created a splashing patter, and the rest of the blood-burdened weapon clattered.
It was noticeable, then, the harrowing state of damage to that hand and arm of his. There wasn't a single stitch of clothing intact like there was for his other; the nebulous blue material of his long-sleeved tunic was disintegrated to the shoulder, and the skin underneath severely burned and contused—spotted with beads of sweat and blood.
Sasuke didn't wince as Sakura's head fell onto that same wounded shoulder. Both her hands were dropped to the uneven ground to either side of him, splayed out to force her arms into a dead-lock: her only recourse for stabilization.
They both stayed like that—spent—at the end of their whim and with all their energy expended. For moments it didn't even seem as though they were breathing.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - (Song Play) [Melvin Tsui – Crossing the Return Threshold] -
Another sizeable chunk of their foundation disintegrated, bringing them dangerously close to a straight drop into raging waters.
Sakura stirred, and Sasuke's eyes opened slightly, unfocused under half-eyelids.
"Did any part of your heart … ever care?" Sakura's voice was so soft and hopelessly curious it was barely audible against the resound currents completely soaking them with stray wallows of water. "About Naruto and I?"
"What kind of question … is that?" The starting monotony of his return inquiry—low and tired—tapered into a whisper inflected with subtle scores of astonishment. He implied the elementary nature of his answer, and that answer seemed to reach Sakura. She released a breath in a scoff.
After a brief moment, Sakura moved. Sasuke's senses stirred further as her faced brushed against his. He watched the end moments of her upper body struggling to pull away. Her hands scraped against the pebbled ground to hang limply at her sides. Her chin tilted upwards in a full backwards incline. In that moment he glanced to the reformed veil of the waterfall directly behind them, and he looked back to Sakura as she started her sway towards it.
As indecision waned, impulse persisted.
Sasuke's hand grasped Sakura's at the brink, and the momentum of her descent pulled him with her.
The sky outside was completely cleared. The sun shined strongly. Surfaces still burgeoning with the saturation of prior rainfall glistened. The renewed waterfall cliff—before, escorted by a long, barren stretch of arid stone—took its renovated dive surrounded by lush varieties of unearthed vegetation. Deeply rooted trees adjusted to their shifted locations, draping either side of the waterfall's estuary in long green curtains.
Thundering currents continuously lapped at Sasuke, blinding and disorienting him. The ringing in his ears subdued the louder impressions of booming and splashing and hissing as he fought constant submersion with each tiered addition of the waterfall's scourge. It was under the recourse of adrenaline that his senses finally started to excite. Sight. Energy. Focus. He tried to catch his bearings: the expanse of mountain cliff above him remained glaringly obstructed by the sun's blinding prisms while the view below obscured in dense swathes of cloudy mist. Either side of the waterfall's immensely wide girth also proved guageless.
But then he caught, only briefly, a diluted hue of roseate subsisting some distance beneath him. He immediately moved with direction, fully ceding to the surging momentum of raging waters in an effort towards that uncertain area—now just indiscernible aquarium colors of blue and threaded sieves of silvers. Frequent interruptions of debris and other funneled bursts of pressure continued to challenge his progress. Then the vertigo assailed. It came suddenly; his peripheral vision darkened with the black fuzziness of syncope, and sharp stabs of pain crawled his skin with numbness and tingling. Under resound rations of will, he still forced himself to travel farther. For just one more moment, he pushed past the stifling contortions of doubt and oxygen deprivation in order to secure his intent.
And then he took his chance.
A hand of his thrust forward, blindly, just as the last of his vision started to fade.
That lunging hand waded through endless emptiness under a merciless barrage of plummeting knives. Through a pressurized sea of splintering sinks constantly degrading velocity, it started to slow, dampered by loss of momentum and consciousness. Soon it came to an unavailing halt.
Then it collided with something solid.
That contact jolted Sasuke back into focus, and he crawled his fingers to secure a vice grip on Sakura's wrist. Another surge of adrenaline pulled her unconscious form into him by the time that another source of mountain rock barreled past. Futilely, he grabbed at a tree growing on the cliff's vertical descent; hardened leaves and jagged twigs cut like blades as the last of the malleable branches slipped through his grasp. Blindly, he pushed a foot against an eroded outcrop that manifested, but it immediately crumbled. Sasuke lost his balance, then, and the two further tumbled out of control. They soon disappeared within the torrenting depths.
The piercing shrill of the Sharingan suddenly sounded.
It fulminated and echoed around the gargantuan funnel of water before a large burst of chakra energy erupted. That chakra splintered and jarred heavy sheets of misty silver in one powerful undertaking; and through it, Sakura and Sasuke between a sizeable gap of sterling curtains leading and swiftly following behind they continued their descent in a straight nosedive. The gap was already starting to close in as they plummeted into the bulk of steamy clouds entreating from the waterfall's base.
Spouts of hissing mist and thunderous whooshing deafened out all other noise. Any light that punctured through the haze of effervescent condensation was heavily diluted.
Sasuke's eyes—vivid with the blood-red Sharingan— looked upwards to view the destination below them: rapid, thrashing tides and jagged protrusions of high-reaching stones were the bedrock of the wallowing abyss that beckoned them. He was completely calm in the face of it.
"You lied, Sakura," he suddenly said.
The curse mark to the side of his neck—a blackened replica of the Sharingan's spinning wheels hemmed by calligraphic embers—pulsed, and a dark symphony of detailed markings fluttered across the expanse of his exposed skin. "You knew about this so-called shadow. You knew for a long time." He singly winced as his back rumbled and contorted with an underlying force.
When it seemed they would surely crash into that cacophonous chasm of cuspidating ores and whirling waves, their downward momentum abruptly stopped. An instant eruption of raven-colored wings sprouted through an entourage of feathers to completely shred what was left of Sasuke's upper tunic, and with a single powerful flap they were catapulted upwards. They moved forward, still stuck in the condensated shade of the mountain and too close to the jumping rhapsody of spurting waves to slow down. They sharply turned and rolled and narrowly dodged to traverse crying stone pires of basalt and shale, spouting fountains, and sudden boulders still plummeting from unseen locations.
"You were the one that knew when I got to that point," he continued.
A full moon. Wistful gales and dancing leaves along a cobble-stoned pathway.
A young girl with rosy locks stood from a concrete bench.
A young boy of raven spikes stopped mid-step.
"You were the first to openly offer me a place to stay."
A child with pink bundles of hair secured upward by a red bow was facing towards him.
Some distance separated them.
She was leaning forward, with clasped hands behind her back and a closed-eye smile.
It was an invitation—behind her kids were playing.
Sunlight finally hit them. Scores of wind gently pervaded their travel above increasingly calmer waters. They lost altitude quickly, and soon landed in a lushly vegetated area not far from the wayward forest. As soon as Sasuke's feet touched the ground, the curse seal receded, taking his changed features along with it. He abruptly kneeled into tall grass—whether from fatigue or the immediate intention to set the unconscious kunoichi down, his composure did not reveal. He further supported Sakura's head as it lulled to the side. The anemic pallor of her skin and the languid blue tincture of lips were striking.
As he was about to pull away, a memory suddenly hit. A certain golden-haired shinobi's voice resounded.
"Jiraiya-sensei once told me … that a place where someone still thinks of you … that's a place you can call home."
"But it doesn't work like that," Sasuke countered to himself—against both Naruto's tenacious case and Sakura's venerable bane.
His other knee touched the ground. A second hand went to plug Sakura's nose as the prior moved to tilt her chin. His mouth closed over hers, and he forced a breath into her. Sakura's chest rose and fell with each attempt thereafter—two breaths, three, four. When she finally started coughing up water, Sasuke immediately fell onto his posterior and pulled her backside up against him. He maneuvered expertly while in this position: as her lungs cleared to take a meaningful gasp of air, he started removing the harness that held the sheath to his absent sword. As her head lulled backwards to rest against the top of his shoulder, he ripped a pant leg twice over before balling it in two separate articles; they were positioned against the entry and exit wounds of her abdomen and secured by that harness tightly around her. He held her until the major tremoring stopped.
A nearby tree stump, crowded with neonate stubs of flowering plant life, supported Sakura in a sitting position. Her hands were in her lap, and wet strands of hair cleared from her sleeping face to join the wrung-out piles positioned to one side. The chorus of birds loomed overhead, in tandem with the sounds of a glistening substream and the rustling of both trees and tall blades of grass.
From his crouched position Sasuke finally rose to stand—he almost staggered. Under the remarkable warmth of a mid-day sun, he brought up a hand to face height. He took in view the leftover layer of crimson that dried and stained it. "To survive in this world, we choose our burdens."He suddenly said.
A figure of a dot was seen in the distance, rapidly approaching their location. Increasingly recognizable features of gold and orange entreated.
"Mine were made through blood. So long as it courses through me, the curse it bears is mine to carry. Mine alone."
His gaze transitioned to some absent place as he let that hand lazily swing to his side. He didn't look towards Naruto's approaching form, nor to Sakura's resting one, as he addressed her one last time.
"If you survive …choose your next burden. Don't think of me anymore."
Even against all the mistakes that turned into terrible longings, I will probably remember most that the three of us gathered here at the same time.
We chose to fight the fate the world had handed to us.
To the youthful dream of mine that persisted in despair. Now frozen in time.
My antiquated folly.