Sasuke slowly knelt down on a thin pillow in front of the wooden altar that had long been neglected up until today. When he had settled in his mind that he was going to be home without any more extended trips, he had promptly moved his wife and daughter out of the apartment that they had been living in. The desire to have a place of his own, for him and his family, was a wish that he didn’t bother lingering on.
The thought had come to mind to reclaim the home that he had spent his innocent years in. Sasuke had taken a trip to the old Uchiha compound and had made it to the front gate of the main house before the tightening in his chest caused him to turn back. Instead, a sizeable home had been bought in an affluent part of Konohagakure and he had left it to Sakura and Sarada for most of the furnishings. Past small details where his opinion was asked, he took little part in the process. It provided him with a sense of comfort as he watched his wife create a home, he enjoyed the excitement in her eyes as she showed him new purchases or discussed plans. It was a domestic pleasure that Sasuke drank in like a man dying of thirst.
There had been one purchase though that Sasuke had insisted on making himself and that was the acquisition of the tall walnut altar that he had promptly put aside into a room meant for reflection and meditation. It had been set up with the basics; there was an incense burner, two vases for flowers and the drawers beneath held an array of tools for maintenance and offerings. It was a room meant for honoring those that he had once sought to avenge but whenever he went into the room with a book to enjoy some moments of silence it took all of him to merely dust the shelves. The tightness in his chest had been paralyzing the one time he had dropped down into seiza and nearly uttered words for his parents to hear. Sasuke had remained frozen in place in silence until he finally stood and left the room.
He hadn’t returned for nearly two weeks after that moment and when he returned it was only to dust the shelves. There was no more reading and past the occasional maintenance, the room was ignored by the Uchiha patriarch.
Sasuke’s eyes slowly traced over the thin black vase that had been filled with fresh flowers before he reached for the two boxes of incense that he had set on the floor next to him. With slow movements, he opened them both at the same time and stared down at the incense sticks that were neatly packaged. The scent that wafted from them was already pleasant but despite that, the meaning of their presence and the meaning of their burning gave him pause.
The distant sound of a dog barking did little to disturb him from the myriad of emotions that churned and crashed through his core. Sasuke slowly placed one hand on either box, with his eyes shifting from the tanned flesh of his right to the stark white of his left. The reality that he now had two arms was still fully setting in as daily tasks were done with greater ease and the fatigue in his new arm faded into nonexistence unless he was training its strength. There were sensitivity spikes through the new limb that paralleled moments with barely any feeling at all. Sasuke wished that right now he was dealing with the latter of the two scenarios.
It seemed though that his body was intent on making him extremely aware of every methodical detail of this moment.
With a soft exhale, he took each incense stick and place them in the burner before he reached for the book of matches. Sasuke’s eyes flickered down to drink in the details of the cover before he pushed it back to reveal the sticks within. He always remembered the label on this specific brand. He had come across a box of them in the altar room in the main house, all those years back. They had been the preferred matches that his grandfather had once used and his father had them in honor of his likes.
Sasuke’s throat tightened and he abandoned the concept of breathing as he flicked the match on the strip and lit the stick first for his father and second for his mother. He watched as the flames licked at the wood and powder before he waved his hand over the top of them to extinguish the flames. The smoke billowed up from the sticks and licked the small fabric tapestry that was newly hung at the back of the altar. Emblazoned on its black surface was the red and white insignia of a clan once steeped in hatred, blood, and agony.
The death grip on his throat slowly ebbed as he forced oxygen into his burning lungs as his eyes slid to the picture of his parents that now had a home out of the box that it had once been carefully stored. His father looked as stern as always though a smile pulled up at the corners of his lips; whereas his mother beamed at the camera with the warmth that he had always adored from her as a child. Their voices were still so clear in his mind. His father encouraged him to work harder, his mother praised him for his hard work. They looked happy in that picture, with their smiling faces.
Dead. They were dead.
They laid there in a pool of blood. Their blood. The lightning outside crackled followed by the boom of thunder and the red eyes of a man flashed from where he stood over them.
Sasuke cried out and stepped forward. He recognized this man. It was Itachi. He’d make it right. He’d find whoever did this and it would be okay.
A kunai whistled past his ear followed by pain blossoming from his shoulder.
“Nii-san!” He called and stepped forward once more despite the tremors that shook his entire body. His knees buckled and he fell to them as Itachi took a step closer with his eyes narrowed in calculation.
Their eyes met and Sasuke was cast into the throes of horror as he heard the screams of his family and friends. He watched the terror in their eyes as they were cut down mercilessly and saw the tears that streamed down their cheeks. Everyone was put down like rabid animals no matter age, no matter if healthy or infirm. The main house was last, his parents were last.
“Stop showing me this! Stop! Stop! Stop!”
‘They died at peace. They felt no pain. They told me that themselves.’ Yukari’s gentle words glided through the bloodshed and anguish.
His mother screamed in the Tsukiyomi that tormented him. Sasuke heard the scream over and over in a torturous repetition. He wasn’t sure how many times he watched his parents collapse on the ground before he regained his sense of the physical world. His reality was still skewed and it was with his brother’s antagonistic mocking plaguing his mind that he fled. He fled until Itachi cornered him.
"There is no value in killing the likes of you... Foolish little brother, if you wish to kill me, then Hate me, Detest me, Curse me, and survive in an unsightly way. Run, Run and cling to your pitiful life." The derision was thick in his voice and the sight of his beloved sibling looking at him with such contempt.
It was too much.
Sasuke came to in the hospital and the following month was a blur of loneliness, tears, and whispers behind his back. He felt broken, betrayed, and the memories of his mother cooking in the kitchen and his father reading the newspaper at the table filled him with longing and sadness that threatened to break him down into tears at every turn.
The second month got easier as he grew used to the quiet of the apartment that he now lived in alone. No one wanted to take in an Uchiha and he no longer had a single relative to find solace in. That was fine though. He didn’t need them, he didn’t need any of them. All that mattered was mastering the shinobi arts.
All that mattered was avenging the agonizing cries of everyone he had held dear.
Sasuke’s eyes opened and reached up to wipe away the moisture that had gathered at the corners. He fought to still his labored breathing and fought further to halt the tremor that shook his hands. The memories were always too vivid and the pain that gripped him when it overtook him never seemed to ebb, even after all these years. He had no desire to forget -- no that would be far too disrespectful, that would be insulting the memory of all those who had fallen. What he wanted was to harden his heart enough that the pain would cease. Sasuke hadn’t wanted to feel anything anymore and wanted nothing more than to focus only on his ambitions. He had succeeded until Team 7 was formed and he was reminded of what it felt like before everything had changed when he was enthusiastic and optimistic.
Once the shaking had subsided to a more manageable degree, Sasuke reached for the pastry that he had put next to the incense boxes and gently placed it on a small black dish. Pastries and sweets had always been a position of disagreement between the two brothers. Even at a young age, sugary treats had never been appealing to the boy. Itachi teased his younger brother and often insisted a treat wasn’t all that sweet at all, only to soon have Sasuke with his nose wrinkled in distaste and his face contorted with displeasure.
Itachi’s dark eyes had always been gentle when he looked at him. As Sasuke aged and Itachi’s demeanor shifted and became more distant, he noticed that gentleness hardened when speaking with others. With him though… even when the words they exchanged lessened and the chasm between them grew, that gentleness never ebbed.
It had been there when Itachi was covered in blood with his brow furrowed and his lips curled into a smile despite the blood that covered his lips, tongue, and teeth. Sasuke could see the strength flow out of him with every step and he swore he could see the light leaving his eyes.
But that gentleness. That love. It never faded.
"Your big brother is here to protect you, no matter what happens."
Words from another life, another time.
Sasuke drew in a sharp breath as the feeling of moisture formed on his forehead. That last time, there had been blood. He had touched his face after his brother had collapsed and had seen the red on his fingertips. The tremor in his hand returned as he reached up and pressed two fingers to his forehead just as his throat constricted once more. The sting of tears burned his eyes as Sasuke closed them tightly and swallowed back the sob that painfully pushed at the lump in his throat.
‘You haven’t grieved them as an adult. You’ve grieved as a child who wanted their parents and their brother. You never grieved the loss of them as a fresh genin, nor as a teenager unsure of how to transition from being a child. You never grieved the loss of them as an adult, of them not being present when you married or when your daughter was born. It’s okay to cry.’
The sob pushed forward and found its freedom as a loud gasp that tapered into a strained groan. Sasuke leaned forward and dropped his chin to his chest as he let the tears that he had long pushed away flow freely. He thought of all that Yukari mentioned in those soft and comforting words. His father holding Sarada, his mother and Sakura talking and laughing, he and Itachi walking together while he tells Itachi of the son he had on the way.
“I miss you all,” He whispered before another sob caused him to curl his shoulders up to his ears. Sasuke didn’t bother to muffle the sound that wanted to come out. He didn’t bother to restrain the years upon years of refusal to face and process the pain that had been left after he had overcome the Curse of Hatred.
Sasuke let himself fall further forward and laid himself prostrate before the altar. With his hands balled into fists on the ground, his shoulders shook as he sobbed, wept, and yelled his grief.
The man himself wasn’t sure how long it was that the emotions flowed through him. Though it was until his throat was raw and his eyes ached and throbbed from the tears that had flowed past them. Sasuke’s body sagged as he remained stationary except for turning his head to the side to stare blankly at the far wall.
He missed them. He missed his parents and his brother. He missed his aunts, his uncles, his cousins. He missed that family and despite visibly insisting otherwise, had never let go of that past. He consistently looked back on them when he looked at the family he had now. What would Sakura think of his cousins? What would they be like at their age? Would Sarada get along well with the other children?
Would Boruto be alive?
Would Naruto be Hokage?
Would he even be married to Sakura or to an Uchiha girl instead?
What of Sarada? What of Koji?
The future was as it was because of the decisions that were made and the repercussions of those decisions. He had made mistakes but the reality of today would not be that reality if he hadn’t done what he had done. Sasuke’s lips pulled into a small smile.
Would Karin and Suigetsu be expecting their twins if not for Taka?
The mizubi that would be his godchildren. Those mizubi that would grow up hand in hand with his son.
Sasuke held on tightly to the need to atone for the sins that both he and his family had committed in the past. While he had overcome the Curse of Hatred and no longer bore the destructive resentment in his heart that had nearly ended with the eradication of his bloodline, he still felt the need to apologize. He had gone on his mission, Sasuke had done countless deeds for the village with no desire for gratitude or thanks. He had left his blossoming family in hopes of becoming the man that deserved the love of Sakura and Sarada.
Once in his life, he had thought that his entire purpose was to avenge the lives lost in that massacre. He had thought after that he needed to seek to punish those that had ostracized his clan and necessitated the hatred of the Uchiha to bubble under the surface unchecked. Then… then he needed to redirect the world’s hatred, to save it from itself under a new regime without the bias and bickering of the Five Kage.
Now… now he had family and friends. Now the world was again being thrust into a war but it wasn’t a war that he needed to shoulder alone. Now was a time where he needed to cherish the blessings that he had been given. Now was the time to nurture the bonds that had been forged with him.
Grief. Anger. Vengeance.
There were three lines of Uchiha now, three lines to rebuild a clan of people who loved and cared so deeply and desperately that loss drove them unflinchingly into the depths despair. Three lines that didn’t know such pain and three lines that are discovering that power wasn’t only formed through the destruction of all that someone holds dear.
The Curse of Hatred would end here. It would end with him. The Will of Fire would burn resolutely in the hearts of all the Uchiha Clan, just as it did with his daughter.
Sasuke drew in a slow and steadying breath as he straightened himself back into seiza and turned his aching eyes to the small embers that remained of the incense in the burner. A small smile curled up on the corners of his lips as he bowed his head low.
“Thank you, Otou-san, Okaa-san, Nii-san. Thank you for all that you’ve done and for… for still being near despite my refusal to pay my respects,” Sasuke looked up and his eyes lingered on the pastry. “You don’t need to say you’re sorry to me anymore, Nii-san but I forgive you. I’ve forgiven you since the last fight and since I saw you take your last breath.”
The pinpricks of tears formed once more and this time, the dark-haired shinobi did nothing to halt them falling. “Otou-san, I’ll abide by your wishes. Sarada will help rebuild where I never could. Okaa-san, I will visit often. Yuruse, Otou-san, Okaa-san, Nii-san. I’m sorry for my failures and I will not take for granted the precious treasures that I have been given.” Sasuke swallowed. “Please look after my wife and daughter. Please look after my soon to be born son.”
Sasuke’s eyes slowly drank in the image of the altar once more before he slowly rose to his feet. His legs ached from his sitting position and the shinobi grimaced as the blood rushed back into them. The feeling was intense, annoying, and painful.
And a sign of being alive with a future to look forward to.
With a smile on his lips and final glance toward the altar, Sasuke turned to leave the room to visit again tomorrow. Until then, he had a wife that he didn’t often show just how much he loved her and there was no better time to start then the present.