A Ghost of Mine - Chapter 8 - RoseShower (2024)

Chapter Text

[. . .]

"With a candle through time,I could still see your ghost,

But I can't close my eyes, for it—

For it is there where you haunt me most."

[. . .]

Chapter 8

The Casualties of the Heart

[. . .]

Scooped from the weeping wound of his heart, 17-year-old Uchiha Sasuke has gone sick withmadness.

He's infirm. Ill.Dying,for the past two days.

It's a miracle he hasn't succumbed to the gnawing,rottingremorse spreading its infectious disease into his heart and crawling with serrated thorns into his throat. The filthy poison of attachment is weakening his tongue from sounding out all the things he wants to say, wrenching around his soul like a hissing cobra corroding his sanity bit by bit. Intense, evasive eyes are cruelly rupturing every wall he has spentyearsbuilding.

All of his efforts to keep everyone away, just to fall at the sight ofSakura.

Sakura, Sakura,Sakura.

He hasn't stopped looking at her.

From the moment he'd seen her hanging in his future self's arm, he'd been thirsting his sights on her, swallowing eyeful after eyeful. Shamelessly too, because it's been a solid minute since he's last seen her before he pursued his greatest mistake—a mistake that remains throbbing in the back of his head, fighting its spot against the presence of Sakura.

Undecided on what's important.

Watching her is both a gracious blessing and a vicious malediction.

He's tried to dismiss her becausein truththe time situation is tremendous compared to the feelings for the girl's heart he broke and tried to take for himself that fateful day on the bridge. She is just another victim of his actions, and Sasuke shouldn'tcare, but it's a moot point he's making for himself now. Compared to his denial of Naruto, Sasuke has neverdeniedSakura.

Physically, yes. As kids, her presence became a slight nuisance when she kept forgetting aboutboundaries. And then there were the bittersweet interactions between them as they grew that then became a sinking betrayal that he loathes to feel when he recalls how she had planned on killing him after he rejected her offer to leave Konoha. Together.

Like the foolish, loving girl she is.

He couldn't do that to her. He couldn't let her abandon somewhereshethought of as home, just because he had the power to. But he's a selfish asshole and was inclined to accept (because loneliness is a disease that can kill), just to feel it all crumble to dust when she took out her kunai and claimed she'd kill him. Sasuke was profoundlyhurt. He was hurt so much that his state of psychosis bubbled over, and he thought—hethought

He doesn't knowwhathe thought.

He feels ailed to even think about it. But he does. Constantly.Too much. And what followed after.

Of how Naruto came to save her, keeping the promise Sasuke once asked him to swear.

Hence, physically, he has denied Sakura. Time and time again.

But in his mind, her tree roots kept creeping like a noose around his neck.

Every. Damn. Time.

Every experience,everylook at her, everytouchhe remembers vividly, as all Uchiha who love do. But Sasuke can't love. Heshouldn't, not her, because he's not worth her. He hasneverbeen worth anything except rage, and rage he can understand.

There's a difference between Sakura and Naruto. Naruto, for all his naive beliefs that he'll get him to come home to a disgusting place that'd done nothing but condemn his people, is like the sun. Brilliant, invading, and a ball of ferocious fire that will cook him alive if he casts one glance at it. It's horrible. It's hope, that he exists and Sasuke hates it.

But Sakura is the Earth. Bound to him, cursed to see him revolve and then seeking him out but never probing his space, just drowning in the tsunami of love without him at a distance. And maybe he's a bit of a pompous prick for thinking Sakura needs him to exist, but it's not true. Sakura can well enough take care of herself and has done so without him around, and Sasuke admits in depressive defeat that he'srelievedshe can.

It reminds him that if a girl who loves him relentlessly can let him go andlive, he can go on with his life without the distractions of wicked falsities.

And yet.

She's never left his mind. Not once.Especiallynot now.

The mantra of keeping everyone out has become easy to adapt. He's been dealing with everything else in life—killing his brother, f*cking up Konoha looking for Danzo, finding Itachiagainjust to end up hereright after he's f*cking gone

And she's occupied the darkest corners of his psyche, waiting to pop out.

And pop out she did.

Painfullyso.

Whatever charge currently around her is plungingdeepinto his bones, corrupting the aching marrow from the inside out. Every glance at her follows with a moribund, bleeding squeeze to his heart, emerging a yearning so profound that he cannot preclude the incarnation of scorn he has for himself for causing her the welling hurt on her pretty face.

Sasuke can't stand her. The shape of her soft features, the darkness around her eyes, and the crinkles between her brows pronouncing the bitter down-pour of her lips—all ofherpunctures his chest over and over andover again. And she holds that knife, submerging him in her pool of tears.

She doesn't look at him. She doesn't acknowledge him. And maybe once upon a time this would've been a good thing, but now...

Sasukedespisesit.

He can't...knowthis part of her. Watching her, finding her wasting away because of what he's done. The guilt is suffocating him alive. And he hates that it's guilt squeezing him to death and not anger. He should be angry at her for trying to kill him. He should be upset she chose Konoha over him, that she chose Naruto's sore kindness over him, that she decided to chooseherselfoverher love

Everything.

She chose everythingbuthim.

She claims she loves him but Sasuke doesn't believesh*t.

(But he knows. He knows feeling like this is wrong, that it's his fault, and that whatever he tries to do now will only hurt her more because that's all he has everdone—but he understands she can't give her life to him. He understands she isn't selfish.

Not like he is.)

So that's why Sasuke prefers to linger around the little Sakura. The girl from his memories, who he had grown to like in his preteen years because she was pretty and smart when she wasn't being a weird devotee, but couldn't bother to pursue because of all the contempt killing his heart. An innocent soul. Not the girl that tried to kill him. Not the girl he tried to kill.

(But did. The night he left will never be forgiven.)

She remains asleep next to him and Sasuke feels less overwhelmed because she isn't looking at him with fear, or glaring at him, or—oranything. She merely exists, comatose, and Sasuke can handle that.

At the cost of seeing his younger self hover protectively over her like the obvious idiot he is, but Sasuke can manage. He's ignored himself for a while so it comes naturally now to tune the boy out whenever he asks needling questions about her state of consciousness.

The bigger pest is... theAdultSakura.

Sasuke holds his breath and keeps still when she comes close. He can smell the flowery perfume that is bafflingly good because it's not over the top like the Yamanaka's or plain like that Hyuuga Heiress, though he only notices it because she's next to him. A shinobi shouldn't smell like anything in his opinion, but it's fine.

Sasuke is alittletwitterpated when he saw the older Sakura's toned arms and the bit of stomach earlier.

A woman of her power has the right to fragrance herself however she likes. No enemy can catch her off guard if they watch out for her scent.

He masks the face he wants to make when his adult self comes close to the older Sakura. They talk in hushed tones and Sasuke's teeth grit when he hears the strong woman coo lovingly, dragging the man away after taking a good look at the slumbering girl. His older self follows like a stupid puppy too, and Sasuke wants todiebecause he wouldn't—

He releases a tired exhale.

He can't see himself doing that.

He can't see Sakura—hisSakura—willingly come to him and not...

He closes his eyes, willing the image of her smiling face away.

It's just not how it works. It won'teverwork, not after all the strife he's caused her. Besides, there are more important things he needs to deal with. For example, getting back to his own time. With Sakura, who will never kiss him, or hug him,or

He doesn't know how long he sits.

A while.

Too long.

But he dutifully keeps still, ignoring the tentative plates of sandwiches the older Sakura left, ignoring his youngest self's nuisances,ignoring the world.

He doesn't realize he's fallen asleep until someone's addressing him.

"Excuse me."

Sasuke's heart stops and he snaps himself out of his hazy state to quickly look up at the voice he only hears in his burdensome dreams.

Sakura, he almost says, but doesn't.

She's glaring at him. In irritation, might he add, and Sasuke's desperate leap of his heart plunges into the well of bitterness. (Profoundly grateful and anguished, he notes no amount of hate he expected to see on her pretty face.) His mouth runs dry.

"I need to take a look at her."

Her words take a moment for him to process. He's too enthralled by the sight of her looking at him for once, caught off-guard by the increasing tick of anger between her brows, evident profusely on the heavy scowl that suits a face as nice as hers. Whatever emotion she invokes, she is always tragically beautiful. Sasuke thinks it's unfair.

When he subtly catches her fists clenching, Sasuke quickly moves away to give her access.

(He has yet to see her wrath aimed at him. It doesn't mean it one day won't catch up.)

From the corner of his eye, he watches her take the space and crouch.

She begins by running a diagnostic, something he's seen Karin do with too many handsy gestures he's immensely repulsed by. Her eyes are searching and her chakra is stable, pausing slightly to pour a particular amount he can sense into the sleeping girl. His younger self comes in to ruin the visage like the fly he is, asking curt questions that Sasuke is concededly also asking himself.

They go on, and eventually, the genin leaves to get the glass of water she asked for.

It's just the two of them, again. Technically three, but the 12-year-old girl is unresponsive, and Sasuke has a good eyeful of Sakura's expertise he would much rather focus on than the living corpse.

He doesn't want to, but her gravitational pull is persistent. Strong against the force of his bleeding heart.

The fly of an Uchiha comes back.

Sasuke ignores the conversation, but he boldly chooses to look at her directly. His eyes trace the movement of her lips and the dismal confidence of her stance, writing down unintentional observations that hold no value for the predicament they all find themselves in. Who Sasuke should be attentive to is Itachi. He can respond any day now, and Sasukeneedsto be ready to welcome his brother back with open arms.

The obsessive streak that's stained his mind with his brother's depravity is at a constant, but it keeps fighting for a spot inside Sakura's grief, hoping that his mind can split to focus on both. But he can't.

She's here, and his brother isn't, and—

"Don't worry about him. He's just aloserwho can'tspeak anything but bullsh*t."

His mind goes blank.

What?

His heart begins to race. She's not looking at him, but she'sclearlyaddressed him with the most obvious misdirect in existence. His jaw works and clenches, and he disregards his younger self's worried gaze because he's waiting for Sakura tolook at him, to challenge him andmeanthose cruel words he's never expected to hear from her.

Because why would such a kind girl like Sakuraever say that to him?

Shewouldn't, but shedid, and Sasuke needs her to look at him so that he'llknowif she's serious about them or not.

But she never does.

The nuisance of her older self comes around to grab her attention about hygiene, and Sasuke coils in on himself, looking away like a wet cat that's just had a bucket of watered insults dumped on him.

He stays that way, tucked in a corner, running over Sakura's words in a self-piteous loop for who knows how damn long. That's another thing he's learned about himself throughout all this. This time it's from himself and not what he's seen his other selves do; he hides himself for however many hours and thinks without any care for the outside world.

Which causes unnecessary concern from his older self. It'sf*cking absurdto be at the receiving end of it,considering it reminds him a lot of hislong-deceasedfather.

Sulking, his older self finally approaches him as he expected him to with the young version of his former sensei with a particular gleam in his eye, and Sasuke resists the urge to sneer at them to make them go away.

He doesn't need their f*cking pity.

I deserved that.

Sasuke exhales, sagging further into the wooden flooring. He hears their footsteps go away.

I deserved every word of that.

He closes his eyes in irritated defeat.

I just never expected those words fromher.

His ears catch the sound of a glass plate clinking against the spot next to his ankle.

Sasuke reluctantly opens his eyes and controls his expression lest he lets his older self know how he truly feels but stops short when he sees his younger self looking away from him with his hands shoved in the pockets of his shorts.

"Eat something," The boy grunts with an awkward chuff of his shoe.

Sasuke glances down to inspect the contents of the plate—another damn sandwich.

He doesn't hate them, really. It even has three thick slices of juicy tomato on it.

He's just unsure that if he takes the gesture the older Sakura is clearly offeringagainthis time through different means, she'll take it as a chance to talk his ears off about a future he isn't sure he deserves.

"I made it," The Kid Uchiha reassures like he can read his mind, sniffing disdainfully at him.

Sasuke doesn't believe him. But he takes the sandwich anyway and pointedly looks away when the boy physically relaxes.

Unfortunately, right as he takes a tentative bite to cool the hunger pains in his stomach he can no longer happily dismiss, a weird pressure comes from the direction he saw Sakura walk into. His Genin self freezes, whipping his head to look at him questionably, but Sasuke doesn't know sh*t. So he continues chewing the tomato slice he slipped out of the sandwich, staring at him with a deadpan.

Both of them look at the Adult Uchiha after.

The man is already walking to the restroom with the Adult Sakura in tow. A tense minute passes until Kakashi is off with them too.

His younger self scoops the young Sakura into his arms because the pressure becomes stuffed with killing intent his Genin self is handling rather well, considering.

And then a Naruto clone missing a whisker on each cheekcomes into view.

[. . .]

Itachi curiously tilts his head to stare at the folded paper attached to the hawk's left foot.

The bigger-than-average bird preens the underside of its left wing, perched lavishly on a branch closer to the ground rather than the high canopy of trees it could have a better advantage finding prey from. Yet Itachi is not foolish enough to think this is a normal hawk; the bird is exclusively concentrated on him, colored in familiar patterns he reminisces many of the Uchiha used.

Before I killed them.

Itachi comes closer to the bird. The 17-year-old found it odd that a chakra source slightly bigger than a genin's worth had been tailing him for nearly a week now. Initially, Itachi believed with a wary heart that it might have been Sasuke. Except for the crucial fact that Sasuke is in Konoha,safe, and far from the potential Itachi expects for the future when they finally battle each other to the death.

During one fretful evening his sickness didn't leave him alone, Itachi decided to distract himself by discreetly investigating who the mysterious little stalker might be.

Only to discover that it was the hawk he'd seen more than enough times eyeing him from a distance. It followed him through his mission with Kisame, hiding perfectly between leaves before the shark man could see him and pitch him down. The creature only shows itself to him when he's alone enough and Itachi had questioned why until he decided to indulge it today, unable to quell his curiosity despite the majorly prevalent risks of it being an ambush.

Thus, he humors this likely summon with a fast-racing heart from his unsatiable cat-like novelty.

To his discordant surprise, upon beckoning the hawk forward because he cannot reach for it himself unless he jumps, it answers him, soaring and jamming its sneaky claws on his offered forearm.

The chakra feels splendidly familiar.

The chirp rumbling from its throat is high-pitched but kind after he goes to pet the top of its head, letting Itachi know that the bird intends no harm.A regular messenger, then,he considers, glancing down at the note tied with a red string. Carefully, Itachi reaches for the end of the string and pulls it apart. The note falls on his palm eloquently.

The paper feels similar to stationary rather than the sophisticated surface of regular mail to important officials. He thumbs it, turning it on its folded underside for exterior clues about whatever it could contain. There's nothing but indents on the page. The answer he seeks lies inside.

Itachi unfolds the note and whips it to hurry it up.

His eyes hone on a chilling sentence.

To my Older Brother,

The grip on the dead tree tightens, shaking—the edges crinkle.

Brother?

Hisbrother?

How?

Suppressing a coughing fit caused by the aggressive descent in his heart, he anxiously reads on.

And then stops dead when the hawk poofs itself away and the shadow of a man with a billowing coat lands on the branch the bird used to be on.

This was a trap, Itachi thinks calmly, locking onto a single eye that he has only ever seen in the mirror.

[. . .]

Boruto eyes the teenage Sasuke with internally verbalized commendations minutes after his abrupt appearance that he wassupposedto plan for until Itachi came into the picture.

Alas, when an inter-dimensional, time-jumping, older version of his crush—erhm,Sarada—with a craving for bloodshed lands in the timeline meant to be safe, it's bound to go to sh*t. There's not much else he can dobutreveal himself. Well. That and pay tribute to his young mentor.

While on the outside he's as blank as the Uchiha teenager in the living room he has the grace of settling in, on the inside, Boruto thinks that while the outfit the missing-nin duckbutt wears is over the top, the aura that the teenage Uchiha exhibits ispowerfulenough to grab his idolizing attention.

Already he can see the making of the man he has pridely grown to acknowledge as his teacher. It's bizarre to witness it in person when he's heard so many stories of Sasuke's rebellious days through his Aunt. It's nothing like how he pictured him.

It's just as jarring as seeing his Genin dad again the second time.

Clenching the hilt of his prized sword on the side, Boruto finally looks away when the Uchiha Adult he fondly remembers in his memories walks back into the living room with Aunt Sakura and Old Man Kakashi in tow.

"You look cool," Boruto expresses sincerely, addressing the adult but nodding casually at the silent adolescent Uchiha who stiffens. "The purple rope is a bit much, no?"

As he remembers him, his mentor remains impassive. "How long do we have until the attacker is upon us?"

Boruto keeps his cool. Back to business, then. He's not surprised. "...Probably a day. Two days."

"All the way from Grass Country?" Aunt Sakura asks doubtfully, brows furrowed.

Boruto nods gravely. "They're quick. Quicker than even you, Mr. Sasuke." The only reason he knows the source is from Grass Country is because that's the last place Boruto battled her. There's also the point that he can sense where she's at, should her threatening presence make a return, which ithas.

His mentor's facade slips into a stewing grimmness.

"And you're sure fighting them off won't work?" Kakashi suggests again, which prompts Boruto to shake his head. Earlier on they had a brief talk about what was coming, though most of it was him being threatened and Boruto confirming his identity through a series of questions. The three adults had later made counsel about his truths in a different room, leaving Boruto in the presence of two teenagers and two kids.

Two of which had creepy stares.

"Sorry, Old Man Kakashi. Fighting them is like fighting an army of Juubi Soldiers. As in,allten tails. And I'm not kidding. They're a force to be reckoned with, datteba'sa. I've tried and failed," He drawls, heart twinging.

(Kakashi side-eyes the two adults warily. "Juubi?" He expresses with slight alarm.

Aunt Sakura smiles sheepishly.)

Boruto remembers cutting future Sarada down with immense pain and regret, seeing as there was no other choice when she turned around and betrayed him by hurtinghisSarada—the sixteen-year-old—after she promised she'd help him fight off Kawaki. Upon discovering that she was planning on destroying several timelines—includinghistimeline—Boruto had convicted himself of living with the horror of hurting Sarada, foreign or not.

Except, his mourning was for naught because his blade wouldn't be enough to kill her. The Uchiha Immortal regrew the grotesquely sliced, bottom half of her body the instant he slashed his blade through it and brought her fist to his face hard enough for his karma to shatter upon manifesting it by instinct.

He had been dreadfully lucky. He was sure that a punch of hers would have snapped his head right off his body, spine and all.

Despite the risks, Boruto had todosomething.

It then became a chase through time.

With expertise he had always known she could be capable of, the Adult Sarada opened portal after portal with her left-eyed red Rinnegan. He had endeavored to keep the destruction as minuscule as possible in every timeline and dimension, which wasn't difficult to do because the aggressive Adult Sarada wasn't going around causing an apocalypse everywhere they jumped to.

She was always focused on one target: Sasuke Uchiha.

And the ones he'd seen and could not save were... dreadfully haunting.

The people he couldn't avoid already knew who she was in some dimensions.

The Undead Uchiha, they've called her.

Indestructible. Merciless.

Immortal.

He's unsurehowshe got back here when he made certain to assemble a seal to keep her away. He remembers gathering enough strength to shove her into the portal she created after he found out she gave the little Sasuke the scroll days after he lost her trail, too late to stop whatever madness she was creating.

Knowing that he didn't have the means to chase her all over again lest his timeline enter grave danger, Boruto returned to his own using the scroll he made with the Adult Sarada before she went rogue. He had to go back to the other Sarada,hisSarada, to beseech for her help because he admits he f*cked up, just to find her finished time travel scroll-work protecting his timeline on the ground and hermissing.

He's been trying to locate her ever since.

But two of the three scrolls 16-year-old Sarada left behind were used to return to the corrupted timeline—the current one he's in—that Adult Sarada was in to make it be that the timetable had no changes whatsoever, thus disappearing many of the eccentricities caused by the invader's hand. His Sarada had thought of it last minute, claiming it was better to be safe than sorry, just in case the time became wonky and they needed a safe reset.

However, he hadn't known his young mentor had already activated the scroll.

A fool's gamble and helost.

"Maybe Aunt Sakura can stop them," Boruto continues before they can speak, making them silent. He ponders, remembering all the Sakura's untouched by the woman's fury. Some almost succeeded in convincing the woman not to kill their husband. "That's the best chance we've got. I can't relocate you guys to my dimension; for one, it's too dangerous. Secondly, because the scroll is attached to them," He thumbs to the youngest Uchiha and Haruno, "I can't take them away without risking their lives. The stupid scrolls are attached to their souls in this dimension, so ripping them out of it is like killing them. Also, third, keep in mind seals are barely useful when battling them."

His mentor narrows his eyes. "Why can Sakura stop them but not I?"

Boruto withholds a comment about his mentor's ego. "Well. Sarada only listens to Aunt Sakura."

The room suddenly fills with killing intent.

The parents look stricken, Kakashi bewildered, and the teenagers confused. One of the kids is unconscious and the other is looking between them, trying to figure stuff out.

"Who's Sarada?" The Uchiha Genin inquires, seeing as nobody is speaking up.

Boruto chuffs his shoe. "Your daughter, of course."

The force of the bottom of his sandal against the polished wood of the apartment makes arancidskidding noise. "Daughter?" The teenage Sakura and Child Sasuke let out incredulously.

The teenage Uchiha holds his head.

Boruto winces. "Yeah. So. I'm going to explain why everyone is all..." He gestures to them half-heartedly, "Here."

"Please do," His mentor hisses, and the people in the room tense in accordance.

Boruto swallows. "Right. So this all started because of a bastard named Code. He's been messing around—beforeyou ask, Code is the last and only member of the Kara organization and the failed vessel of Isshiki Otsutsuki, who was supposed to eat a fruit after Kaguya the Rabbit Goddess got absorbed and—whatever, datteba'sa! You get the gist. Anyway, Code's been messing with ancient Uzumaki seals uncovered from the rubble of the fallen Uzushiogakure for power because K..." Boruto makes a frustrated sound, "Kawaki, has been kicking his sorry ass to hell. He's so lame, I swear."

He takes a deep breath and continues. "Becausehe's been putting his grubby hands where theydon't belong, Code triggered something back where the Uchiha of the past resided before Konoha was formed. A place he found with the help of an old Uzumaki map. And no," He pointedly glares at Kakashi, "Idon'tknow where that is, datteba'sa. I've just heard it from his sorry mouth after I beat him up. Apparently, there were some clues of completion between a rogue Uzumaki working with the Uchiha in secret which led him to the old camping grounds. He opened a portal after the discovery, and then f*cked up and got sliced a bunch because it was a portal to analternate dimension."

"...I'm assuming Sarada is the one who came out of the portal?" Aunt Sakura inquires softly, which prompts Boruto to sag.

"...Yeah. She... She recognized me so I wasn't left for dead, which was good, I guess... But she's... She's different, Aunt Sakura," Boruto says, scratching the back of his neck in agitation. "She's the entire reasonwhywe're in this mess. I worked with her for a bit because I needed help dealing with... things better left unsaid.Irrelevant, with this," He brushes off the concerned glances made his way.

"And so... She turned on me. Said to draw up some seals for her to use, which became a big project that lasted a few months. I learned how she came to be here and the deal she made with the people of this dimension using her eyes...?I don't know. Sharingan stuff hurts my head, datteba'sa."

"None of this makes sense," Teenage Sakura whispers, furrowing her brows. The subtle curl downward of the Teenage Uchiha's lips indicates he thinks the same.

Boruto pinches the bridge of his nose. "Yeah. I know. Sorry, okay, wait, datteba'sa. I'm rambling. To sum it up with one sentence: Older Sarada is an immortal with a Rinnegan who possesses the power to travel through dimensions and time and wants to kill you, Mr. Sasuke, who is also responsible for bringing you all here. I don't knowwhy."

Boruto's not ready to witness both parents' devastated look at the news. Aunt Sakura comes forward, eyes beseeching, "And you'resureit's her? Our little girl?" One hand presses against her chest, clinging to it in desperation.

Boruto nods, melancholic.

Aunt Sakura looks back at his teacher. A silent conversation passes between them.

Adult Sasuke's expression slackens. "No, Sakura."

"I'm going," Aunt Sakura snaps.

Kakashi awkwardly shuffles away to stand next to the Genin Sasuke while the two teenagers back away from the wave of killing intent that the adult Sakura begins to emit. Adult Sasuke looks like he stepped in sh*t.

"Borutojustsaid I can stop her," Aunt Sakura rasps and Boruto gnashes his molars together, pained at hearing the ache in her voice. "If she's—MaybeI can convince hernot to."

Before his mentor can speak, Boruto juts in with his experience regarding that poor resolution he's seen fail many times. "Keyword:Maybe, Aunt Sakura."

Everyone looks at him.

Boruto tries to hide his pained expression at the ticking horror she can barely repress. Aunt Sakura is prone to wearing her heart on her sleeve. A lot like her daughter, he's seen. "I've... seen many other versions of you try that. It... It didn't stop her," He trails off quietly.

Aunt Sakura's fists clench. "That'sthem. I can..."

"Look, I'm not saying it'simpossible," Boruto swallows, "But just... be warned that she's not going to stop with a heartfelt speech."

"Has she killed Sakura before?" The Teenage Uchiha inquires, eyes narrowed. If Boruto isn't mistaken, he thinks he can see bullets of sweat gathering around his neck. Weird.

His sudden inquiry renders Boruto stumped for a few seconds, squinting his eyes unintentionally because he's thinking so damn hard about it. "No," He concludes. "As far as I'm aware, anyway. She's the only one she's left untouched."

"Then the best course of action is for the Sakuras to intercept...her," The 17-year-old Sasuke glances at the 17-year-old Sakura.

Teenage Sakura stiffens.

"Except little Sakura is indisposed at the moment," Kakashi drawls.

"Itcouldwork," Boruto lets out a frustrated noise from the back of his throat following his statement, running a hand through his golden locks and ignoring Kakashi. "Maybe manipulate her using a pity party? But the Sasuke'sneedto hide.Especiallyyou," Boruto levels his gaze to the 17-year-old.

The teenage boy looks vaguely uncomfortable.

"Why?" Teen Sakura asks meekly.

"Yeah,why?" Genin Sasuke juts in, jaw clenching and arms crossed.

"I don't knowwhy, but she hates him themost. I've counted more bodies around that age than yours, sensei," Boruto admits. His sensei's lips straighten in a grim line.

Teenage Sasuke clicks his tongue.

"The world must be ending if Naruto's child is addressing you as his sensei, Sasuke-chan," Kakashi hums, though he looks noticeably pale.

Boruto pouts. "Why'sthatso crazy? Just cuz he's dad's rival it doesn't mean I can't admire him, datteba'sa."

"So, what, we're using Sakura's body as a distraction?" Genin Sasuke demands, side-eyeing the girl resembling a corpse just a few feet away. "What if the plan doesn't follow through and she dies?" His tiny fists ball into protective fury.

Boruto's expression harshens. "I'll stop her before that happens."

"How?" Aunt Sakura steps closer, looking immensely saddened. "You said it yourself: she's strong. And forgive me, Boruto, but if you've failed to stop her before—"

"Failing to capture her is different than fighting her," Boruto shrugs. "IknowI won't win, but I can hold her off long enough for all of you to escape. It's Mr. Sasuke she wants, after all."

The three adults in the room look at each other, doubtful.

Boruto huffs at their lack of trust. "Just... trust me, okay? I know it's hard to believe but if we want a chance, this is all we've got."

"And what of an alternative strategy?" Adult Sasuke wisely inputs, still frazzled about the news and the method of handling it.

"Not to mention we have yet to figure out where we're escaping to," Kakashi points out.

Boruto lands his gaze on the tiny Sasuke. "Well. We've got you. I think this timeline is special considering she didn't immediately kill you," He smiles sheepishly at the young Uchiha's visible distress. "So... maybe tricking her into thinking we'll kill you might work?"

"That's stupid," Teenage Sakura blurts.

The entire room swerves on her.

She flushes red, but her expression is severe. "Why not try to seal her away again with a new one? That's what you implied earlier right? About seals not working?"

Boruto rubs his chin, wondering if the scroll activated on the teenage Sakura rather than the little girl. "The problem with that is three things: one, it takes up too much time. I need a month to make another. Two, she can just break it apart again. She's the one who created all these intricate seals. And, three, we need to incapacitate her long enough to seal her off. Which just lands us in square one," Boruto explains.

Teenage Sakura opens her mouth, but Boruto speaks before she can, sensing the weird energy of the object in Aunt Sakura's pocket. "Question... Do you have your scroll on you?" He examines the space between them, honing in on the buzzing energy that his hands are itching to grab hold of.

The Adult Sakura nods and is quick to hand it over.

Boruto reads over it.

He blinks stupidly. "You're kidding me." His smile abruptly becomesbrilliant.

"What?" Little Sasuke demands.

The others lean forward, curious.

Boruto lets out a large sigh of relief. "ThankSage!She's—sorry," Boruto gives her back the scroll, "I think we may have found our alternate solution!" He cheers, pumping his fist in the air. He even lets out a happy laugh. He thought—well, it doesn't matterwhathe thought. Sarada—His Sarada—is alive!

"What is it?" Adult Sasuke asks.

"Sarada, of course!" Boruto exclaims and he's not surprised that it confounds them.

"Huh?"

"Not the Sarada trying to kill you," Boruto feeds into their confusion, watching with delight as Aunt Sakura is the first to get it.

She gasps. "Is... Do you mean our—"

"From my time," Boruto corrects and then suddenly stiffens. "That must mean... she's here... and she's..." The blonde's expression contorts into horror.sh*t. There's no way she...

"What? What is it?" Aunt Sakura grabs his hand gently, swallowing down her panic.

"Um. Mr. Sasuke... Aunt Sakura..." Boruto looks imploringly at them, "How mad would you be if I told you that my Sarada's probably already on her way to fight the other Sarada?"

They don't even have the chance to react to his statement because of what arrives next.

"Sasuke! Sakura!"

The entire room whips their head to the gaping window, finding a panting 12-year-old Naruto holding... is that anolder Naruto?

Boruto blanches.What the f*ck?

"I found you!" Naruto makes a grunt and then jumps off the window sill, falling to his knees when the weight on his back becomes too much. "Look what I found! An older me!" The scroll bound to his hip rattles enough to fall over and roll to Boruto's feet.

The room descends into chaos.

[. . .]

Itachi holds his head in deep distress.

Sasuke's Shadow Clone is seated next to him, waiting patiently for his brother's response, which Itachi cannot give at the moment.

Not for lack of trying. Itachi is simply...adjustingto what he's just been told and revealed so suddenly, news that has completely changed the entirety of his suicide plan. For better or for worse, Itachi can't fathom living more than what he initially thought of, but it's not his plans going askew that have caught him off-guard. He's more floored at the news that the tall man in a cloak beside him is his preciouslittle brother.

At first, he didn't want to believe it.

An older version of his little brother could not manifest himself. It requires Jutsus unheard of, rumors of old legends that have never been brought to light in the possessive Uchiha. However, Itachi understands that creating such an outlandish story needs serious creativity which his brotherlacks. His brother hates him. Why would he make up an elaborate situation so out of physical proportion?So absurd?

Itachihadto listen.

So he decided not to kill the 'imposter' for attempting to trick him, slowly inching into a dreadful emotion when he opened up on the bargaining of a problem so severe that Itachi had to do a double-take in order to understand. The more the clone spoke with Itachi's granted mercy because of the name 'Sasuke', the more Itachi found that everything he was saying was connecting a littletoowell.

In the end, Itachi had to sit down. Otherwise, he would've fainted because of the sudden influx of blood rushing to his head at the discovery that his little brother was behind all this, dying bit by bit because the scroll was sucking his life force away. For revenge.

All because of me.

"I can see you need time," The Shadow Clone rumbles patiently, idly seated on a spare log he'd cut not too long ago for both of them to sit on. One that Itachi took the invitation to because he figured this wasn't something he couldn't justwalk awayfrom.

Itachi numbly studies the white pallor of his calloused hands. "You..." He trails off, expression barely twisted in bewilderment,tryingto say something so that the clone doesn't disperse before he can get a word in. "And... And you'recertainno one else can help you?" What adumb, stupid, question. As if Itachi won't do all that he can to help his brother. As if hehasn'tbeen doing everything for his brother, for a life better lived without him.

He stares at the grass, at the row of ants slaving their lives away, unaware of his grandiose, sentimental, issues.

"I'm certain," Sasuke says with full confidence. Trust, even, can be traced in his tone.

It makes Itachi feel sick. Sicker still, with just a touch of tragedy.

Itachi feels his lungs suffocate on emotion when mustering the strength to look up at the boy-turned-man. The Rogue Uchiha can't help but cover up the wheezing cough that comes out of him at the sight. The familiar proportions of his little brother's face are there, just with the lack of baby fat and a more angular shaping of his head. The eyes are what's giving him severe whiplash though—a legendary Rinnegan, first and foremost, and an eye he knowsdamn wellbelongs to him.

"Those are my eyes, aren't they?" Itachi mumbles, taking them in from the skull of another. He carefully masks his mourning victory, automatic when it comes to facing his brother.

His brother's neutral expression titters just for a second. Sad. "...Yes."

Itachi has no idea how to feel. Bittersweet, maybe. Because the physical manifestation of his regret and sorrow is sitting right next to him. Because his brother has grown just fine without him, just as Itachi hoped.

Itachi takes a deep breath that breaks apart with a cough. His brother seems to stiffen at the sound, and Itachi has no grace to reassure him as instinct wants to. They both know how it all ends. "I will help," Itachi vows, clearing his throat and swallowing the blood back down. Bitter, tangy, remorse gets stuck in his throat.

Sasuke tilts his head, gauging him. "I haven't even told you what I need help for."

"Deciphering the scroll, I assume?" Itachi lifts the mentioned item from the mystery of his inner cloak. His eyebrow twitches from the lack of emotion on his face he's trying to keep at bay. A bad habit, he supposes, when it comes to being around Sasuke.

Sasuke hums, short and low. Knowing, almost. Forlorn, maybe. "You need to be looked at by my wife." He sounds calm, though there's an underlining edge of finality to his tone.

Itachi stares at him blankly, processing his words. "...The little pink-haired girl?" Although he doesn't let it show (more so hecan't, being used to hiding his face for so long), Itachi feels an immense elation burst inside his chest. He always believed his brother had a chance with the little Sakura girl. Quite out of his league Itachi thinks, but a balance for Sasuke's moody demeanor. He hopes his brother didn't give the girl a hard time.

And then his wordsreallyprocess.

"...I do not need to be looked at."

"You're dying," Sasuke bluntly declares.

For a moment, Itachi is surprised. But then that surprise dies down into shame becausethisbrother has known for years that he died not because he had been stronger, but because Itachi was living on his last legs.

Itachi's second response comes naturally; an apathetic disregard for his well-being, thinking 'so?' But he might as well have said it out loud because his little? older?littlebrother narrows his eyes at him in disapproval.

"You're getting looked at."

There is no room for argument.

Itachi looks away.

The Clone doesn't take the scroll back so Itachi puts it away. "Don't antagonize little me when we get there."

Itachi bristles at the random but needed statement.

The Clone continues, "Things won't end the same. You and I both know this."

Itachi doesn't like that. He had everything planned at the start for areason, and this reason was to protect Konoha and his little brother—

"The suicide plan you're following to pay for your transgressions against the Clan is ridiculous."

Itachi can't help but snap his head in his direction and narrow his eyes in offense. It's notjustbecause of that. There's more. Sasukeknowsthere's more to what he is trying to achieve—Itachihasto do this. He must if his desire to keep Sasuke safe prospers.

Liar.

Sasuke looks unimpressed. "I mourned you. So has my teenage self. The child version of me won't go through the same thing. Not when you're alive to change everything," He declares in profound melancholy, gesturing to him in his entirety.

Itachi says nothing.

He doesn't think his little brother is baiting him. But if he is, he's doing a damn fine job of it.

Itachi doesn't think being around his little brother will help. But he's dying, according to this clone of his older self, and Itachi will stop at nothing to keep his brother from an early death. Nothing in the world will matter if his brother is gone. So as much as it pains him to admit it, Itachi is going to have to accompany this clone and reverse all the progress he's made to get to where he wants to be.

"I know you're upset," Sasuke says bluntly.

Itachi neither confirms nor denies—he simply fixes up any slip-ups on his face.

"You are allowed to feel upset. You're still just a teenager."

Itachi opens his mouth to refute that statement—

Sasuke holds a hand up. "Let me finish."

Itachi purses his lips.

"I'm going to tell you the damn truth. Your plan doesn't work. Konoha and younger me get into worse danger than before, and you're left as a martyr. I know you love and care for me, but doing so using psychic torture methods and forcing a young boy to lead a path of darkness to kill the one person he has left in a massacred genocide had andisthe worst possible way you have shown it."

Itachi swallows. His heart raises an uncomfortable pressure on his chest.

Sasuke looks unaffected. "And I'm not going to blame you for it. I have, for a long time even after your death, but you were just a child when you had to make these decisions. You were forced into a position that could've gone differently had our father not been pushed by means of the Hokage's lack of good leadership and Danzo's sh*t, who wasn't doing anything against the oppression of our people. They put you into a situation that pushed you to choose between family and peace."

Itachi's eyes burn, but herefuses. "...There was nothing else I could have done," He attempts to say in a steady voice, but the end of it cracks.

Sasuke's expression softens. "No, there might not have been. Our father's decisions were bound to enforce themselves anyway. It was not his fault, either. Despite letting his emotions take full course when deciding on a coup d'etat, he was simply protecting the Clan the only way he knew how. His failing grace, however, was keeping his sons in mind. Primarily,you."

"Enough of this," Itachi huffs, clenching his fists, and Sasuke goes quiet. He's heardenough. If he hears any more, he might break apart at the seams barely holding his battered body together. "I don't need a repeat of past events I already torture myself with. You already have my help."

Sasuke nods, though he looks like he's waiting on a specific admission.

Itachi allows it to fall from his mouth. "I will... I willfollowthe means you want me to fall under without discourse," The 17-year-old manages through a numb tongue, though he lookssick. "But make no mistake, should events allow me to further my plan, I will take it."

"Knowing that all that you mean to achieve will fall through?" Sasuke raises a cruel eyebrow, but Itachi knows that he doesn't mean to be.

For a moment, Itachi doubts.

There is a lot to unpack that he doesn't want to, and the Shadow Clone of his Future Brother is tearing apart the bags of grief he's kept over his heart. His plan at the start was to keep the peace and keep his brother in safety. It remains that way, and it will be at the hands of his brother who will rise and defeat him, making him a hero to Konoha.

Hoping, for a partial benefit, to let the Uchiha name not die in vain.

A better future requires sacrifices that Itachi has willingly made so that his brother will get to live on without the deceit, hate, and misconduct by officials seeking to stab his back despite the agreement kept secret.It is allto see Sasuke prosper, as he's just seen in the manifestation of a Shadow Clone.

Sasuke isalive. He's even talking him out of a problem, and it's such a happy sight to see even though Itachi doesn't like that it's being directed at him. How can Itachinotgo on to do what he must when he sees the living embodiment of what he hopes to achieve? His brother has awife. He might even havechildren. He's there,alive, and perhaps well, andwhat more can Itachi ask for?

But the poison of the truth has already sunk through. Itachidoubtsbecause though he may see the potential of the future version of his little brother, the grief weighing in Sasuke's eyes—inhiseyes—reminds him that his work came at the cost of his little brother's mental fare.

Itachi isn't a fool. Healing takesyears. Perhaps even alifetime.

It's already too late. He has already subjected his brother to the Tsukuyomi.

But the Clone claims there's achancehe can prevent more pieces of tragedy from falling.

There's a chance that Itachican see Sasuke again.

Andfix what's left.

Sasuke sighs and Itachi blinks out of his tumultuous thoughts. "Read the note my teenage self sent you. Maybe the contents in the letter will convince you," He drones and Itachi reaches inside the pocket of his cloak to retrieve the folded paper he hadn't gotten to read. It's cold, and Itachi nearly drops it, but he manages to bring it out of the unzipped hole he keeps to relieve some of the body pain.

With a shaky breath, his quivering fingers peel it open.

And reads.

[. . .]

Boruto grabs his head in anguish. "I told younotto activate it!"

"Then why'd you gimme it, huh, datteba'yo!?" Naruto yells, standing protectively beside the draped body of his older self that the two Sakura's are quick to begin nursing back to health. "You didn't give me a choice!"

"Idid, datteba'sa!"

"So Ichoseit, asshole! And why do you look like me, huh!? Copycat!"

"Ugh," Boruto holds his forehead, evidently grieved at the situation out of his control. Somehow, the loud whisker-faced blonde of 12 years managed to figure out the poor Iruka cosplay he had on was him, and now Boruto is dealing with his young father's wrath when Borutospecificallyinformed him not to do anything with the scroll until the time was ready.

Though Boruto doesn't know what else he should've expected. It was a bad idea in the first place to give the responsibility of time to a dumb 12-year-old.

Boruto sighs heavily. "Fine. It's my fault."

"Yes," His mentor says, sounding dismal and berating enough to make Boruto lower his shoulders in shame, "It is. The circ*mstances on how Sakura and I came to be here are excused from the strategized decisions of my killer daughter, but Naruto's existence of his older selves falls ontoyoufor manifesting them here. You expect to trust Naruto not to get curious enough to cause unnecessary problems?"

Naruto sticks his tongue out at him, making Boruto's eye twitch in vexation before the boy stops short and glares at the adult. "Hey!What's that supposed to mean, datteba'yo!?"

"It means you can't keep your dumb hands to yourself, moron," Little Sasuke snarks.

"I so can!" Naruto pouts, looking at the Adult Sasuke in betrayal. "I'll show you, Uncle Sasu! I swear!"

Boruto gapes. "You call senseiUncle?"

"What of it?" Naruto sniffs. Little Sasuke makes a face of utter repulsion.

Boruto scratches his nose. "Nothin'. It's just funny. I call him Uncle too. He absolutelyhates it." He smirks at his mentor and the man stares back at him with the driest expression on the planet. It's a face Boruto's seen so many times that the welcome sight of it gives him a slight whip-lash, unintentionally creating the image of a mentor with a missing eye and more wrinkles.

Boruto's smile wanes in slight melancholy. As much as it's nice to see his sensei again, it's nothissensei. Not truly. His mentor is gone, trapped in a tree, and used as a fighter Boruto had to combat with a heavy heart more than once. The hardest part was watching Sarada have to do it too, and the heartache on her face when she realized just what had become of her father.

"Boruto?"

With a wistful blink, the imagined image of him is gone.

The 16-year-old blonde looks over at a concerned Aunt Sakura. Her hands glow green where she touches the teenage version of his father's forehead. It's an eerie sight to see. "What's wrong, honey? You look so sad." Teenage Sakura stops her hovering over his teenage father's chest to look at him too.

The others in the room take careful notice of this, and even little Naruto visibly dampens when it's made clear. He still has a stank face directed at him though, which Boruto thinks is because of how hard he's scrutinizing his appearance.

"Those eyes of yours are scary, Aunt Sakura," Boruto deflects with an awkward laugh.

"I know. What's wrong?" She repeats, frowning.

Boruto shrugs. There's no escape from her. "Just. Memories, I guess. It's nice to see Mr. Sasuke and Dad again," He looks at each of them meaningfully. His sensei gives him a weird look and Naruto squawks.

"Dad?" Naruto turns around with his fists up, looking for him. "Where!? So I can beat him first for letting his dumb son not give good instructions!"

Boruto and Adult Sasuke face-palm at the irony of the statement. The teenage Uchiha seems at his wit's end.

"Look in the mirror, perhaps," Kakashi pipes in gleefully, reading through his orange book on the couch without a care in the damn world. Boruto has half a mind to jab a kunai into it.

"You're an idiot," Genin Sasuke deadpans.

"Huh!?" Naruto whips around to clock the little Sasuke in the face, which the boy dodges with a warning hiss. "What do you mean by that, Kaka-sensei?" Naruto demands and Boruto realizes his young father hadn't evenmeantalmost to hit his young mentor in the face.

Boruto rolls his eyes. "It means I'm your son, old man.Get with the program."

"Son!?" Naruto screeches, grabbing his hair. "Isthatwhy you look as devilishly handsome as I do!?"

"Ugly, more like," Little Sasuke grumps, "Only your dumbass wouldn't notice, dead last." He gives Boruto a dirty look.

"Shut up!" Naruto sneers.

Boruto doesn't like the insinuation of his Genin Mentor, but he does not comment. It'll make the stupid banter worse.

Teenage Sakura, unfortunately, brings back the previous conversation Boruto hoped he evaded. "Does something happen to them?" Her question is earnest, and it makes Boruto feel bad for getting annoyed at her probing.

"A lot does," Boruto vaguely agrees. "But it's better you guys don't know. It's separate from what we're dealing with right now." He lifts the scroll he gave Naruto, grim. "Any minute now, if I'm right, my old man is gonna come out, datteba'sa."

Naruto's still having a crisis. The Genin Uchiha gives him a skeptical glance. "You're saying..." He side-eyes the teenage Naruto whom he's been ogling nearly more than the Teenage Sakura, "That there's going to bethreeof him?" He looks extremely put upon.

Aunt Sakura waves him off. "Oh, don't worry. Our Naruto isn't so much of a hassle to deal with."

"Hey!" Naruto somehow catches Aunt Sakura's comment.

She smiles sheepishly before dropping it for a ruminative look. "That can't be good, though. In his absence, who'll run Konoha?"

"Kakashi will have to get up off his lazy ass and do it," Adult Sasuke gruffs. He looks distinctly like he's had enough of the situation.

"Woah there, sensei. Watch your language!" Boruto teases lightly just to make it worse because he's a little sh*thead, and he's rewarded with a glare. "Nah but in all seriousness, as soon as my old man gets in here we gotta move, ASAP. The longer we linger, the closerShegets."

Naruto scratches his head. "Man.Who?" He's looking at Boruto in accusing wonder, and who is Boruto to neglect some idolization?

"Your greatest admirer," Boruto drawls.

The boy brightens. "Really? Oh, oh, wait! If you're my son, does that mean I marry Sakura-chan?" He has stars in his eyes, jumping up and down in place.

"Blockhead!" Little Sasuke smacks the back of his head, "You literally marry someone else! Besides, does he even look anythingremotelylike Sakura to you!?"

Boruto hides his irritation at the wrong insinuation with a smirk. "Jealous 'cuz she's your girl, huh mini-sensei?"

Little Sasuke turns an angry blotch of red. Kakashi snickers.

Boruto lightly elbows the teenage Uchiha next to him to get him to join in on the fun, who dodges like the paranoid weirdo he is. Boruto takes it in stride. "What do you make of that comment, Medium-sized Sensei? I heard that you were so madly in love with Aunt Sakura when you guys reunited as teenagers that you wanted to kiss her at first sight!" He smiles wide, gleefully watching the adolescent's complexion pale.

From where the two Sakura's are, he hears a choke.

"Boruto, stop teasing them," Aunt Sakura chides without looking in his direction. His teenage dad stirs slightly but doesn't wake.

Boruto puts his hands up. "Hey, look, I'm just saying. I'm never gonna have this chance again."

"Not if we kill you," Genin Sasuke sneers.

"No, Sasuke," Aunt Sakura scolds, and the little Uchiha gawks in offense.

Before Boruto can laugh at his mentor's expense, on cue, the scroll in his hands begins to burn. He hisses and drops the shaking thing to the floor, prompting the room to tense at the sudden action. Little Naruto kicks it away to give it space (from experience, Boruto concludes) and everyone watches with bated breath as the scroll slowly begins to rise and glow an odd red from how hot it becomes.

"Here we go," Boruto whispers.

Everyone covers their eyes when it illuminates into scorching levels before dying down just as quickly. Aclang. Athump.

In the silence, a groan follows.

"Ugh," The unmistakable voice of his dad groans, and Boruto stops blocking his vision with a racing heart to take in his father who he hasn't seen for nearly four years. "My head..."

The 32-year-old Uchiha is the first to push him away and approach the fallen Hokage. Next to his head he stands, looking at the squinting man in deadpan. "Get up."

"...Sasuke?" His father rasps, taking a second, before shooting up into a sitting position in alarm. "Sasuke!You're alive! Where—what—" The 32-year-old Hokage hastily stands and looks around, "You..." He trails off, dumbfounded, taking in the sight of the many people beginning to cramp Kakashi's apartment.

"...Oh."

It takes several minutes of gawking silence (and a wave from Aunt Sakura) until his eyes land on Boruto and widen.

"Oh."

Boruto smiles ruefully.

"Yeah.Oh.Hey, old man. You ready for a mindf*ck?"

A Ghost of Mine - Chapter 8 - RoseShower (2024)

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