In the aftermath of Naruto's death, Sasuke struggles to keep his memory alive. SasuNaru, angst, major character death.
It was, Uchiha Sasuke thought darkly, a perfectly fitting day.
Turning away from his window, the Uchiha heir glared at the small, limp pile of clothing sitting innocently on the bed next to him. The outfit was black, and while this was no incredible deviation from Sasuke's normal apparel, the significance of the color served to deepen the scowl on his handsomely aristocratic face.
The last time he had worn this outfit had been when Sandaime died. It was too small for him now, of course, but he had dug it out from a box in the back of his closet, dusted it off, and persuaded a dubious tailor to make him a larger, better-fitting version.
His fist clenched convulsively on the cloth. He should not have had to pull this outfit out again. Not so soon after the Sandaime's death; not so soon after his ignominious return to Konoha, when he had been carried on Naruto's back, bleeding, unconscious, and suffering from two broken legs as well as several cracked ribs, through the gates he had never thought he would enter again.
With a snarl, Sasuke hurled the outfit away from himself. The clothes made a small 'pap' noise as they hit the wall before sliding down the surface, crumpling silently at the base. Sasuke stared at the sad, dark pile for a moment before slumping forward, resting his elbows on his knees and twisting his fingers in his hair painfully.
"Naruto," he whispered brokenly to the empty room. For a long time, he sat alone, the silence punctuated only by his harsh breathing and the sharp patter of rain against the windows.
Outside, the world mourned.
Yamanaka Ino looked up at her best friend, the black armband in her hand momentarily forgotten. Sakura stood by the window, a slender hand placed against the cool glass as she gazed solemnly at the liquid fury sheeting from the heavens, lashing at the barrier as if trying to claw its way inside. Ino was suddenly struck by how pale Sakura looked, the combination of the dark dress she was wearing and the washed-out sunlight draining the normally vibrant colors that composed her friend. The house was silent; Ino's parents had long ago left, bidding their daughter to meet with them at the flower shop later. They had been reluctant to let Ino go to the funeral at all, but she had been insistent; Ino was anything if not stubborn.
"Rather symbolic, don't you think?" she replied with a weak attempt at a smile. Sakura only sighed, resting her forehead on the glass beside her hand. Her breath fogged the surface faintly.
"He would have hated it." Sakura said sadly, "He always said he wanted to be buried on top of the Hokage monument on a sunny day." Pale fingers tightened, pressing hard against the window. "Tsunade-sempai put the funeral off as long as she could, but the weather just refused to let up."
Ino stood from her perch on the bed. She approached Sakura wordlessly and tied the dark cloth around her upper arm. Sakura merely touched the armband briefly and looked at Ino with dull, dry eyes.
"I helped prepare his body for the funeral," she said as though it was of no concern. Ino noticed the slight tremble in her otherwise steady voice, though, saw the way Sakura's hand tightened briefly around the armband. "He- he looks good. Sharp, even." The other girl turned from her to look out the window again, blinking rapidly. "He's got his Chuunin vest on, like he would've liked it, and we cleaned up as best we could-" her voice hitched and she pressed trembling fingertips to her lips, stifling a sob. "We had to put his hitae//-ate over his throat. He almost looks as if he's sleeping -"
Ino enfolded Sakura in a comforting embrace as her composure finally crumbled, tears dripping silently down her white face as sobs wracked her shaking body. Ino rocked the other girl slowly, pressing her lips to damp pink hair and murmuring meaningless nonsense in Sakura's ear, trying to comfort her as best she could.
"It was too soon," Sakura sobbed, "I never said 'yes', not even once. I always thought - so long as I never said 'yes', he'd have to keep asking, and he'd never /leave/, you know?"
"I know." Ino said.
The gathering on top of the Hokage monument was grave. Usually, only high-ranking dignitaries warranted large, public funerals; for all that Naruto had been irreplaceably dear to those close to him, Tsunade had been unable to grant him the funeral she had wanted. Instead, a very select few had been invited to attend the tiny ceremony. They drifted to the site in twos and threes, walking silently to the glass-faced closed coffin in which their friend lay.
Naruto looked peaceful. There was no other way to describe the almost foreign expression of contentment on his dead features, whiskered cheeks no longer distorted and stretched in insanely energetic expressions, chapped lips still and silent. A faint smile curved his mouth, and the tiny quirk on the right side gave him an impish look, almost as if he was waiting for just the right opportunity to pop out of his coffin, alive and well, and laugh about his newest prank.
The hunter-nin had done a good job of cleaning him up with Tsunade and Sakura's help. Only the slightest discolorations on his arms indicated the areas where the hunter-nin had injected chakra to destroy Naruto's chakra system from within. The seal, which had appeared at the moment of his death, was hidden beneath his clothing, and had been artfully combined with a few carefully chosen tattoos included to disguise the true purpose of the spiral markings. His hitae-ate cleverly concealed the wound that had ultimately taken Naruto's life, sparing his friends from seeing how Naruto's head had been half-severed from his body.
The entire effect, Sasuke thought, was grossly inappropriate.
He had hated the funeral from the moment he had set eyes upon it. It was completely unsuitable for his rival's death, he thought, and it was only out of respect for the others' grief that he kept his displeasure from showing on his face.
The huge bouquets of white lilies that Ino had donated surrounded the bier in a fragrant cloud, the rain dripping off the petals like tears. Naruto beamed at the assembled mourners from atop a small altar, surrounded by scrolls and various small remembrances given by his friends. The image had obviously been cut out of a larger picture; Sasuke could see his own hair peeking from the edge of the frame. It looked contrived, a poor attempt to cover the fact that nobody had ever thought to take a picture of Naruto himself.
Sasuke clenched his jaw and his fists, and tried to keep from screaming.
Tsunade made a short, heartfelt speech to Naruto's friends, speaking of his gallantry, his honesty, his loyalty. Hinata cried nearby, her tears mingling with the rain to drip from her face unnoticed; Kiba and Neji stood to either side of her, their stoic expressions barely masking their own grief as they silently offered their support to the heartbroken girl between them. Iruka was crumpled on the bier, openly sobbing and weeping as he clawed at the glass, as if his anguish could bring Naruto back to life. In the end, Kakashi had to lead the younger man away, his own face so world-weary and sad that Sasuke hardly recognized him.
/'This is all wrong/,' Sasuke thought, wanting to yell at them. Naruto would never have wanted them to cry for him. He would have wanted them to laugh, to remember his accomplishments, to remember /him/. This entire ceremony was a horrible insult to Naruto's memory. '/Naruto may be dead, but he isn't gone!/'
He left shortly after Tsunade finished her speech, and did not return.
To be continued.
Comments and criticism hungrily craved.