You couldn't sleep for the awful fright
That kept you up in bed last night
While curious shapes shift in the dark
They vanish with the sunlight spark
- 1940; The Submarines
Sasuke’s downward spiral begins with Itachi’s betrayal.
It is the last thing the younger Uchiha expects as he comes home from the Academy. His prodigy brother, his beloved aniki, has managed to disappoint their parents. It is absolutely inconceivable. In Sasuke’s mind, it is a massacre of the very foundation of his childhood.
Nothing about the scene belies its gruesome nature, which only Sasuke seems to appreciate. In fact, their living room looks as calm as ever. On one elaborate couch sit his mother and father, on the couch opposite: Itachi and the woman who would bring this family to the ground. Everyone sips their tea and then the killing begins.
“You will not reconsider?” Fugaku asks. It’s the most strained toned Sasuke has ever heard from his father.
Itachi makes no response but to reach out and grasp Mitarashi Anko’s bejeweled left hand. The woman is the quietest Sasuke has ever known her to be.
The silence stretches on interminably until their mother speaks. She beseeches her husband only once, “Fugaku, please.”
Sasuke cannot interrupt although everyone knows he is there. He stands in his uniform with his bag slung over one shoulder watching his entire life shift on its axis.
Fugaku breathes deeply then pronounces, “If you will not change your mind, I cannot maintain you as the heir to the Uchiha.”
A sword is drawn.
Itachi nods and their father continues; “If you do this, I will not tolerate your presence in this home.”
The blade whistles as it slices through air then substance.
Anko’s back tenses. Itachi remains impassive. Sasuke screams in silence.
“If you insist upon this marriage, you may remain with the company but you will no longer be my son.”
The stab through the chest is rough and unpolished; brutal in its trembling efficiency.
“I understand, Chichiue.” Itachi turns to their stricken mother. His eyes soften at the tears dripping silently down her cheeks but he is as stubborn as the man who sired him. “Hahaue.”
He stands to leave and Sasuke cannot comprehend the betrayal.
So much blood is wasted.
It takes Sasuke far too long to regain mobility. His father has long ago stalked off to fume and his mother sobs quietly in her seat. Abruptly, Sasuke turns and runs. He catches up with Itachi at the main entrance to the Uchiha building.
“Itachi!” he shouts. His brother—idol, hero, rival, savior—turns back. Sasuke pants from exhaustion and the myriad questions he has all manifest into a single word: “Why?”
Itachi walks forward and, as always, flicks his finger against Sasuke’s forehead. Itachi smiles softly at his little brother and wishes him one thing, “One day, Sasuke, you’ll find someone who will make you understand.”
So much blood flows between them.
Ten years later, Sasuke is twenty-six and still cannot forgive Itachi. He still loves him—still has dinner with Itachi and Anko and their son every Tuesday—but he cannot forgive the man for leaving him as the sole heir to everything Uchiha. Sasuke knows he is not Itachi and Fugaku, who will never say the words, knows it too.
Itachi was—is—a prodigy, a veritable and certified genius. Sasuke is so far beyond average he can’t see it but Itachi is still so far ahead, so much a class of his own. Fugaku will never say the words but Sasuke feels every time the thought occurs behind his father’s black, black eyes.
Sasuke can think of nothing short of suicide to escape from this prison of second-best when it happens.
The proposal from the Hyuugas is not wholly unexpected. The Hyuuga girls are a little younger than the Uchiha boys but everyone knew the day would come. Sasuke supposes he’s going to have to work on finding some common ground with the little firecracker.
He doesn’t use 'firecracker' to mean any good thing, he ensures Itachi. The older brother laughs a little. They are both well-acquainted with the Hyuuga girls and Itachi knows Hanabi is more than worthy of her namesake. Personally, Itachi has his doubts about the match. Hanabi is too independent to be the dutiful wife and he honestly thinks the girl wants to skin Sasuke alive most of time. Not to mention that half the time she wants to skin him for things related to Hinata.
“See, this is where the story gets truly complicated,” Itachi tells Anko one night.
His wife arches a curious eyebrow and her hands cease their slithering ascent of his torso.
“Sasuke and Hinata are the same age, they’ve always been...acquainted,” he explains. “Hanabi has always been convinced that Sasuke has thing for Hinata although everyone knows Hinata has been head over heels for that Uzumaki kid forever.”
As this is the first Anko has heard about Sasuke acknowledging the opposite sex ever, she asks, “Does he?”
Itachi shrugs, “Who knows?”
Sasuke knows. Sasuke knows fully well that, given the choice between sisters, he would choose the elder over the younger; sunshine over fireworks; calm over calamity. But he has no choice. He sits in his formal hakama and waits for Hyuuga Hanabi.
She never comes.
Instead, the door slides open and standing there, a vision in her furisode, is Hinata.
Sasuke’s gut reaction is to say no. No, he will not marry Hinata; he will not tie one heir to the next. He will not rip away her happiness for his own.
He can redeem himself in this marriage. A perfect union between the Uchiha and Hyuuga brought about through his dutiful observance of the marriage rituals of the first son where the true first son had failed. He can stop that constant flicker of but-Itachi-would-have in his father’s eyes. He can stop his mother’s constant lamentations of all-for-that-woman-with-no-name. He can stop it all if he says yes. If he takes this sacrificial lamb on his altar, he can give his parents everything they didn’t (don’t) want to take from Itachi because all Anko has to her name is a loose association with a failed legend.
But then he thinks about the lamb and knows he can’t. More than that, he doesn’t want to because… he needs to talk to Itachi first. He needs to understand that first betrayal before he can commit the second.
Sasuke contemplates bringing the Uchiha to the ground as Hinata offers to raise the Hyuuga up once more.
Itachi is waiting for him at his front door. Sasuke hasn’t even changed out of his hakama. Itachi lets him into his home office where Sasuke stalks like a caged animal. Knowing better than to ask any questions, Itachi waits for the explanation to come to him. Sasuke has failed their parents in so many inconsequential ways but, as always, he will never fail his brother.
“It wasn’t Hanabi,” Sasuke says. He grinds his teeth and strangles his voice into something quieter than a shout. “It wasn’t Hanabi they sent.”
Itachi watches the agitation is his brother’s stride increase the more he thinks about it. He asks the obvious question then. “Are you upset that they sent you Hinata?”
Sasuke looks at him like he’s an idiot. It is quite a novel experience for the older Uchiha.
“Allow me to rephrase that,” Itachi amends. “Would you have preferred it to be Hanabi?”
“I could never prefer Hanabi in anything.”
“So why are you so upset?”
And that, right there, is the true question. Logically, Sasuke should have been everything other than upset. He got along well with Hinata, they had known each other practically forever, and they were a quiet sort of friends. She is the Hyuuga he would have chosen were he given the choice. But he is not prepared to accept her as an offering. And, more than anything, he can’t understand why.
“She’s their heir,” he finally confesses. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Obviously,” Itachi drawls, “she isn’t anymore. The Hyuuga would never let their heir marry outside of their network. Hanabi is the heir now and Hinata is doing what she must to bring honor to her family.”
Now you must bring honor to ours, is what is left unsaid.
After Itachi had been all but banished from their childhood home, Sasuke had hated him. He had hated him more than he had ever thought it possible to hate one’s own blood. He hated him more than he hated their father, more than he hated himself. Sasuke resented him beyond anything else on earth for having left the other Uchiha boy to the bear the weight of their name alone. In that seething tumult of hatred and bitterness, Sasuke found but one person who could truly comprehend his position and it is that person he seeks.
Uzumaki Naruto may be Sasuke’s best friend but Hyuuga Neji shares his therapist.
“I suppose congratulations are in order,” is the first thing Sasuke says as he settles onto the barstool beside Neji.
Neji’s response is quiet and composed even in his slightly inebriated state: “I hear it’s mutual.”
Not one prone to avoidance Sasuke asks directly, “Why are you marrying my wife?”
Neji smirks over his glass. “Why are you marrying mine?”
Sasuke glares at Neji’s temple. Neji has always been an antagonistic bastard. It’s why they’re friends, Sasuke supposes. Taking his own drink in hand, he continues his line of questioning. “What does Hinata think about this?”
Finally, Neji pays attention. It is no secret that Neji was duty-bound from birth to marry one of his cousins. It was always assumed that that cousin would be Hinata. Neji has resigned himself to it if nothing else. He does not love her in the way a husband should love a wife. He loves her, yes. His treatment is probably the gentlest of all her relatives in that cold Hyuuga mansion. But he feels no passion for his shy cousin. He has not felt anything close to it since the days when he excelled and she did not and he knew he would never truly inherit any of the prestige his efforts bring to his family. He hasn’t felt passionately about Hinata since the days he spent hating her.
Sometimes, Neji thinks it has been that long since he last felt anything at all.
"Does it matter?" he eventually replies. He locks eyes with Sasuke and asks the real question in everyone’s minds: “Does it matter what any of us think?”
From Neji’s other side, Itachi answers for them both, “No, it really doesn’t.”
None of the men move for a long moment then Itachi speaks again.
“But you can make it.”
Six years before the engagement debacle, Sasuke defied everything expected of him and went away to university. Oh, he had been expected to attend university but travelling thousands of miles away for four years had not been part of that plan. No one understood his need to travel so far away to the best university in the world while there was a perfectly good one in his home town. It had been good enough for Itachi, hadn’t it? Itachi was the real prodigy, wasn’t he?
Sasuke travelled halfway across the globe to best his brother. To the surprise of all, he did. He came home with enough awards and honors to lay waste to Itachi’s achievements. His father promoted him immediately above his older brother. It was a victory that would have tasted sweeter if Itachi hadn’t himself been so damn proud.
That was when Sasuke understood at least a part of Itachi’s betrayal. Now that he is faced with a decision that will impact everything he has worked toward, everything Itachi has sacrificed for, Sasuke thinks he might possibly understand the rest of it.
Twelve years before the engagement debacle, Sasuke’s first girlfriend—only girlfriend, the only one to have that title—breaks up with him because she doesn’t think it’s fair to him that she has a crush on someone else. It takes more guts than he ever expected little Hyuuga Hinata to have.
Eleven years before the engagement debacle, Sasuke’s first real kiss (not that farce with Naruto that will never be spoken of, ever) is a desperate grapple in a darkened academy classroom during one of those inane school dances he is forced to attend. Her lips are soft under his and he isn’t sure which one of them tastes more like cheap wine coolers. What his muddled mind does know is that he is taking what is his. He is not getting anybody’s—Itachi’s—leftovers; he isn’t taking any hand-me-downs. This, above anything else he’s gotten this year, is his. She was his first and her first kiss is his. When he breaks away for just a moment, Hinata gasps for air. She surprises him by diving back in for the next one first.
Eight years before the engagement debacle, Sasuke almost ruins both their lives. She almost lets him. He escapes his own birthday party for one of the rooms in the hotel his brother has rented in its entirety for the night. She’s already there watching the skyline from the darkness. He can’t remember what they said, can’t remember anything except how gorgeous she looked in her dress and how much he needed to kiss her painted lips. Then he had leaned into her and she had responded softly. That hadn’t lasted long because soon he’d had her pressed against the cool glass and she was biting at his shoulder to keep quiet as he worked his fingers under her skirt. They hadn’t realized what they were doing until she was coming down from her orgasm.
Five years before the engagement debacle, Sasuke attends his first charity ball on behalf of his father and the only girl he can stand to take is her. Four years before, he spends a whole week hiding in her hotel room cursing Naruto for convincing him that spring break in the tropics with drunken fangirls was a good idea for final year. Three years before, they spend summer together for no other reason than there isn’t anyone else to hang out with. Two years before, he decks Naruto at Ino’s holiday party after finding out that Hinata confessed and never got an answer.
And over the past year she’s been his closest friend and confidant, closer sometimes than Itachi, and Sasuke has wanted more. More than the occasional hug, more than the little pecks on his cheek, more than a brief brush of fingers or a fleeting smile. Over the past year, Sasuke has lingered—his eyes have lingered, his touch has lingered, he has lingered—and she has let him.
That's the problem, he realizes suddenly. She let him. She always lets him.
It’s not traditional for them to meet outside the sphere of their families’ influence now that the wheels of this arrangement are in motion. Sasuke frankly couldn’t care less. He calls her as he’s leaving work on Friday and asks her to meet him at his apartment. She's already on his couch nursing a cup of tea when he opens his front door. He doesn’t care that somebody let her in without him.
“Hey,” she greets him quietly.
She looks absolutely serene in his space. He stops for a moment to appreciate just how beautiful she is at ease. This is what he could come home to for the rest of his life. She’d let him. And that’s why he needs to tell her no.
He loses his shoes at the door and joins her on the couch. She already has a cup of tea waiting for him and he wonders when she got so in tune with his routine. He frowns at the liquid in his cup trying to find some way to ask her what he needs to ask.
“You’re being a really terrible host, Sauce-Kay,” she teases. Her voice is so soft it’s difficult to hear even the inflection of humor. At least she isn’t stammering anymore, Sasuke thinks. Then his frown deepens and he figures he might as well blurt it out. The method has not failed him thus far.
“Why are you agreeing to this?” he asks. He doesn’t need to clarify what he means by ‘this’. She knows.
Her lips draw thin as she considers. Then she asks instead, “Would you prefer not to? Neji-nii told me that you'd talked to him about Hanabi. I know you were expecting her but—”
“You’re not answering my question, Hinata,” he states forcefully. “Why–?”
He stops himself, realizing his voice is too loud in the calm she exudes. He wets his lips and tries again, “Why are you agreeing?”
She puts her cup down and meets his gaze directly. She has become so much more than that shy little heiress he once had a crush on. She has grown so much and, if Sasuke is being honest, which he is for once, his feelings have grown right along with her. What was once a schoolboy crush has become so much more and it is for that reason that he is about the beg her to deny him. He remembers briefly that Itachi once told him he was the only saboteur of his own happiness.
"Why do you think I’m agreeing, Sasuke?” she asks. Her words resonate with the care she takes in choosing them and the clarity of her purpose.
Sasuke can’t take the non-responses any more. He only has so much tolerance for not getting what he wants.
“Stop that!” he snaps. She almost flinches. He’s back on his feet and, like that night at Itachi’s, he paces like a caged animal.
“You want to know why I think you’re doing this?” he snarls, angry at her for more than he wants to admit, “You’re doing this, Hyuuga-san, because it’s what your clan told you to do! You’re doing this because you’ve been passed over as heir and this is all you’re good for anymore. You’re doing this for the good of the Hyuuga. They’re using you, Hinata and you’re going to let them. You always let people do things to you!”
When he looks at her while he catches his breath, she sits there biting her bottom lip so hard he’s amazed there isn’t blood. And here again, she just lets him insult her.
"See? I'm shouting horrible things at you here and you’re letting me! Is this what you want to spend the rest of your life doing? Letting people tell you things, letting people decide for you? Allowing everything and choosing nothing? Is this what you want, Hinata? Is it?”
Somehow he’s ended up on his knees in front of her, hands wrapped around her delicate wrists. The tears in her eyes glisten but remain unshed and he wonders how she can have that much strength and so little will all at once.
"Does it matter what I want?" she questions.
Sasuke bows his head in frustration. His anger evaporates and he is left with a feeling of helpless rage. It is the same question he had asked but days ago. Then he remembers Itachi’s words.
“We can make it,” he insists. “We don’t have to be pawns, Hinata. The clans—”
“I don’t care about the clan!” she suddenly shouts. It’s not the first time that he’s ever heard her do so but it happens so rarely it always takes him by surprise. He blinks and suddenly her face is so much more expressive than before.
“I don’t care about the clan,” she repeats, tone calmer but still firm. “I asked you if what I wanted matters. Does it matter to you, Sasuke? Because you look like you’ve already made up your mind.”
“Of course it matters.”
“Good.” She breathes deeply then says, “Then, I want you. I choose this, Sasuke. Even if my whole clan said no tomorrow, I would still want this with you.”
It might be an odd thing to think right at that moment but suddenly everything about Itachi’s choices makes sense.
Itachi finds him just before they all converge for the announcement of their final decision. Sasuke is fiddling with his hakama for the twenty-fifth time. Itachi thinks his nervousness is adorable.
“Shut it,” Sasuke snaps when the older brother teases him. Still smirking, Itachi offers his congratulations.
“You don’t know what we’ll say yet,” Sasuke reminds him.
“Oh, Otoutou, you were never going to say no,” Itachi tells him. Leaning close, he whispers, “You finally found the one to make you understand.”
When Hinata gives her verbal consent to the engagement, Sasuke does understand. When he says yes, the spiral stops and reverses. The Sasuke that spent years screaming in silence quiets at Hinata’s pretty smile.
They’re happy and this is what matters.