Word count: 873
Notes: Look, sometimes I have these fits of CRAZY where everything I write is so cynical it makes me lose the will to live. Being currently in the end stages of a SasuNaru fic which is not meant to be a ghastly depressing mess, I was forced to open a new document and write for about an hour to get it out of my system, and this is what resulted. PLEASE DON'T KILL ME.
Title and epigraph from 'The Letter' by Miguel Hernandez.
talking for the dead
my wounds will be / the spilled inkwells
Sai knows that the name that was chosen for him was a fortuitous one, because when his teammates say the first syllable of another name and then break off, embarrassed, it sounds similar enough that he can pretend that he didn't notice.
As soon as they realise he's not going to live someone else's life for their gratification, he becomes a friend. A weapon. A project.
For a while he thinks it's just him who is unable to understand these two and their glances and their paradoxical sorrow over a past which consumes them anew every day. But soon enough he realises that no, nobody else understands it either because Sakura and Naruto won't let them understand, because that would be an intrusion.
Some days their favourite phrase is: you didn't know him.
With the unspoken: not like we did.
Some days Sakura is quiet and Naruto has an old blue scrap of fabric wound through his fingers and Sai wonders if they even remember what kind of person Uchiha Sasuke really was, or if they've stripped him down to the smouldering embers in their hearts -- easily ignited, easily fed into a searing heat when the mood takes them -- and discarded everything else as unimportant.
There is a script.
He learns it.
You're getting better, Sai, you really are.
Encouraging smiles. Forbearance. Making allowances for him like he's a child or a new pet they're slowly training with just the right balance of punishment and reward.
Sai smiles because he was meant to take it as a compliment, and because by now that's just what he does with his face. They don't look fake any more, his smiles. He's getting better.
He draws things and they come to life; he has learned to extrapolate real events to their inevitable conclusions because once you know the script it's just a matter of pattern recognition.
Whenever he draws Sakura she is darkly vivid with confusion and so he cannot keep her stable, the wavering black-and-white lines of her sway and distort before his eyes and he sighs and slices a hand through the jutsu, staining his palm with ink.
He watches her with Naruto and he says, "They're going to have to marry each other."
You think so, Sai, really? Oh, isn't that nice.
'Nice' is one of those words that is a cue to smile. Sai doesn’t think it's nice, the fact that two people can be so obsessed with a shared memory that they have to stay by each other's sides for the rest of their lives or risk it shattering.
That's not nice at all.
Whenever he draws Naruto he cannot get the eyes right. They are hungry and hollow and they keep sliding sideways in search of something. It's revealing; the real Naruto needs the bright bright blue of his eyes so that people will notice that and not the emptiness behind.
Most people are fooled. But when the ink flies from Sai's pen and his drawings leap from the page there are no colours
and reality --
Perhaps inside him there really is a switch for emotions, on/off, but for now he just creates beautiful works of art. Layers of meaning, a collage of body language and tone of voice and complex motivations.
You're practically a normal person now, Sai.
Not that they can talk, Sai thinks.
They love each other because they love the embers of another person within, and nobody else could ever forgive them for wearing the past so raw and blatant on their faces, and each of them is a mirror held up to the memories that they reflect and reflect and reflect between them.
"That's not funny," Sakura says.
Sai looks at her tear-brimming eyes and the way her face twists with the effort not to cry, twists and contorts just like in her portrait, and he thinks: a good likeness.
Pattern recognition: words are spoken in his earshot about complementary power and united-by-tragedy and it's-a-pity-about-you-know-who but these two, look at them, finding comfort in each other, it must be destiny.
Sai knows that books can lie and the dictionary is no exception; that destiny is just a word that people use so that they don't have to admit that life is not ideal, and that sometimes love is what leaves you and sometimes love is just another way of trying to forget the unforgettable.
The day Sakura and Naruto get married, Sai sits through the service with his hands folded in his lap and he smiles because it's a joyous occasion. Afterwards he kisses Sakura's cheek and lets Naruto hug him and then he opens the scroll and brings the picture to life in one neat movement.
A book told him to say that.
"Sai..." and Naruto's face falls, for the first time, from the consuming bright smile.
The likeness is the best he's ever managed; really, it's excellent luck that Uchiha Sasuke can be perfectly reproduced using only the shades of black and white.
Sai raises his eyebrows and says, "Don't look so surprised."
He says, "It's just what you've always wanted."