It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
He could taste the ash in the air as he took great gulping breaths. His skin felt tight and hot, blisters already appearing on his right forearm where he had shielded his face from the intense heat. The intense heat that was now to his back and receding with each leap.
He was running.
He wasn’t proud of the fact but he couldn’t quite get his legs to listen to his ego. His survival instincts were screaming at him to get out of the open or at the very least listen for pursuing footsteps. But he didn’t want to listen. He was trying very hard not to listen.
They were screaming. They were burning. They were dying.
And it was all his fault.
He came to a stop and slumped against a scorched wall. The only thing standing upright in at least a block, but it was enough cover to satisfy the screaming voice in his head that said to hide. He closed his eyes against the destruction, but that was worse.
Behind his eyelids images flashed in perfect clarity. Forever etched into his mind. Men, women, children screaming in terror. Lit on fire. Crushed beneath fallen debris. Cut to pieces.
The human body was such a fragile thing.
His team was dead. Karin had been the last. One minute she was standing beside him as they crouched behind a wall, waiting for an opening to escape this hell Madara created and the next minute her body jerked in front of his. His head jerked back in surprise as she slumped against him, warm wetness seeping through his shirt. He spotted the movement high and too his left. A tiny glint of silver. He carefully slid Karin down to the ground before flinging a handful of kunai at his target. He felt a stab of satisfaction as he heard the grunt and then the thump as a body fell from where it had been hiding. but his eyes were glued to Karin, who now lay in an ever widening puddle of her own blood. A kunai that had been aimed for him was lodged in her back, her breaths wet and raspy.
He felt useless. He didn’t have near enough medical knowledge to even patch her up and get her mobile. He knelt down next to her and gripped her hand in his. She pulled weakly, as if she was trying to get up off the ground. He helped her into a sitting position, careful to lean her against the wall in a way that wouldn’t lodge the kunai further in her back.
Karin smiled at him sadly, a trail of blood leaking from her mouth. Kneeling in front of her, Sasuke wiped the blood off her chin. He started when she reached a hand up and grabbed the front of his shirt. She pulled him closer until their noses almost touched. She flashed him a shark like grin before crushing her lips on his. He didn’t have time to react before she was pushing him away. A violent cough racked her entire frame and a pink froth coated her lips.
As her eyes dimmed, one word gurgled past the now steady flow of blood leaking from her throat.
And so he did. With the taste of her blood still on his lips, he ran.
Her death was his fault. He should have been able to sense the enemy before he attacked. Should have been able to block the attack and protect her. Should have known better than to lead his team to its destruction. Should have known better than to trust a lunatic.
A broken sob drug him from the depths of his dark thoughts and he looked up, surprised to find any sign of life in this broken hell. It took him a moment to spot the source of the noise, but he wasn’t known for his eyes for nothing.
He pushed off the wall and hesitantly walked towards the sound. All he could see of the child was a leg and an arm from underneath a partially burned wooden beam. The child was young, probably not even two years old. He wasn’t sure why the child wasn’t crushed beneath the massive weight until he was practically standing over the beam.
The was another body between the child and the wooden beam. He could now see what must have been the child’s mother. The woman was obviously dead. Dead to protect her child.
The child that had stopped sobbing.
He bent down to investigate further and nearly recoiled in disgust. A piece of the beam had splintered away as it fell and had stabbed through the woman and through the side of the child. Thick blood pooled beneath the two and stained the little boy’s clothes a deep red.
He wanted to look away, sure that he was now looking at two corpses. Just as he forced his legs to stand, pain filled eyes blinked open and stared into his.
There was no fear. Just accusation.
It was ridiculous. The child was way too young to know who or what was causing him such pain. Too young to know that he was looking into the eyes of the man that tore his world to pieces. Too young to know such hate.
And then the eyes blinked closed once again and this time he knew they wouldn’t be opening again.
He could feel his entire body shaking as he slowly backed away. He needed to get out of here. His entire body was screaming at him to get out of there. He swallowed back the panic and surveyed the landscape.
The fighting was still raging to the north. His eyes almost seemed to skip over the rolling mass of red chakra. It was like if he didn’t focus on it, he wouldn’t remember that he had helped set that monster loose. The battle wouldn’t last much longer. The village was in ruins. Everywhere he looked he could see smoldering fires or crumbled buildings.
He couldn’t stop trembling. This wasn’t what he wanted. This wasn’t in his plans. This bloodshed, this pain, this useless loss of life. He wanted revenge, yes. But this…
He turned south and headed for what was left of the village wall.
He didn’t have a plan except to run. Run and not look back.
Madara could be the last Uchiha for all he cared, Sasuke no longer wanted the name.
TWO YEARS LATER…
It was hot. And humid. Hot, humid and sticky.
And it would stay that way for at least another hour. The sun had just disappeared and the stars had started to appear in the east. Sasuke stared into his small fire and watched the three fish cook.
He liked night. The heat would break but the ground would retain enough heat from during the day to keep the temperature from dropping too low. It was also the time they showed up.
They weren’t real. He knew that much. Figments of his imagination; memories brought to life by his shattered mind. He was sane enough to know he was insane. A delicate tightrope to walk.
He knew they weren’t real because he knew they were dead. Even if he hadn’t seen two of them die with his own eyes, he would know they were dead.
Sakura always showed up first. She always wore that same red dress and her hair was short. She would be pretty except for the long gash that started just under the right side of her ribcage and tore a jagged line up to her breastbone. She would always sit down next to him and say the same thing.
“They’re always late.”
And then they would wait.
Naruto always bounded in like he was late for some appointed meeting time and he overslept. He was the hardest to look at. Burns covered most of his exposed skin and then there was his stomach. Or really, the fact was, it wasn’t there. From the bottom of his ribcage to the top of his pelvic bone, it looked like something had clawed it’s way out of him, destroying any tissue in its way. Naruto would always greet Sakura with a big smile and Sasuke with a playful insult.
Team Hawk would show up together. There was no tension between the two teams. They were all dead, what did they have to be tense about? Karin would sit on his other side and grumble and complain about something, the kunai glinting from her back.
Kakashi was the last to join their little group of the dead and insane. He was the only one with no visible marks of his death. But chakra exhaustion left no marks.
Sakura and Naruto would yell about how he was always late, Kakashi would use one of his lame excuses and then they would all settle down in the circle around whatever campfire or shelter Sasuke had built.
But tonight was different. Sasuke could feel it in the air. Something was coming. And he had a pretty good idea what that something was.
Madara had been a fool. A fool to think he could control all nine of the bijuu. He thought of them as nothing but a power source, not the nine individual and intelligent creatures that they were. And just as he thought he had won it all, they struck.
Sasuke heard it all from second hand rumors, but there was enough facts blended in with the tall tales to put together what happened. Somehow the beasts broke free. And they decided to they wanted payback for what the shinobi put them through. Villages were attacked, chaos ensued. If it even looked like a shinobi, the bijuu would kill it.
Sasuke had been wondering when one would catch up to him. And he had a feeling which one would have a vested interest in seeing him dead. He felt a strange lack of fear, even when he recognized the thick, rolling chakra headed his way.
He did feel a slight hint of surprise when the creature finally pushed through the sparse trees and walked towards his campfire. It was the size of a small horse, where as it had once been the size of a small mountain. Instead of burning like a tongue of bright flame, it’s body smoldered like dying embers and its eyes were mere flickers of they’re original intensity. His whole body gave off a weary air and all nine of its tails dragged the ground. The great fox settled down on the other side of his fire, like this was all some predetermined meeting they set up long ago
“Would you like some fish?” He was hungry and his mother always told him it was polite to ask guests if they wanted to eat before you ate.
“I don’t want your fish.” The Kyuubi’s voice was like gravel.
“Hn.” Sasuke pulled one of the fish off the fire. “It’s good fish. Can I at least eat one before you eat me?”
If the Kyuubi’s voice was like gravel his laugh was like boulders grinding together. “I don’t want to eat you either. Besides you look stringy.”
Sasuke shrugged as he dug into his fish. He swallowed before saying, “I’m lean, not stringy.”
“Hn. You don’t seem to be afraid. Even when you thought I was going to eat you.”
Sasuke shrugged again, “You’re either going to eat me or you’re not. What is there to be afraid of?”
There was a few seconds of silence before Sasuke lost interest in his fish and stared at the Kyuubi. “Are you?”
The fox looked confused. “Am I what?”
“Afraid. Afraid of dying?”
Kyuubi waved the question away. “What do you know about the bijuu?”
Sasuke reached for another fish out of the fire. “I know they were all one creature once. And that they were divided so that they could be managed,” he added dryly. “They can be bound to human containers. Lots of chakra. “ He took a bite of his fish and gave Kyuubi a look that said, ‘Well?’
“You’re missing the most important part.”
“You’re all some sort of animal or animal hybrid?”
“No.” Kyuubi glared at Sasuke, who was too busy eating his fish to notice. “We all have a specialty.” The tone in Kyuubi’s voice as he said the last word had Sasuke paying attention again. “When we were split all those years ago, it couldn’t be an even split. That is nearly impossible considering our nature. As we were pulled apart, we each took a -- skill, so to speak. The Ichibi has his sand tricks, Yonbi likes to play with lava, and Hachibi,” a strange look came over Kyuubi’s face. “Well Hachibi’s an odd one. Do you know what my skill is?”
Sasuke snapped his fingers. “I know, you must have the special skill of annoying. That explains Naruto.”
Kyuubi’s eyes narrowed. “I really should just eat you.”
“Thought you said I looked stringy.”
“And you said you were just lean.”
Sasuke looked into the fire. “I have one more fish left.”
Kyuubi rolled his eyes. “Aren’t you going to ask me?”
Sasuke huffed. “I asked you when you got here if you wanted a fish-”
“Shut up about the stupid fish!” Sasuke just blinked as the Kyuubi regained control of his emotions. “What skill do you think I possess?” The question was asked with careful calm.
Sasuke thought for a few seconds before guessing. “Healing?”
Kyuubi seemed startled. “That’s actually not a bad guess considering. Maybe that mind of yours isn’t all gone yet.” He stared a Sasuke for a few moments before continuing. “However, it is wrong. My skill is Time.”
Kyuubi nodded. “The manipulation of time.”
Sasuke shook his head. “That doesn’t make any sense. If you could manipulate time, you would just go back and change things around. You would never have been bound to Naruto or allowed Madara to do this,” he waved his hand to take in the bijuu’s weakened state.
“It is more complicated than that,” he answered dryly. “There are certain events that are irreversible once they have occurred. Unfortunately, me being sealed into that brat was one of those events. I can go back to that point, but no further.”
“So go back to that point and change things so that Madara never gets a hold of the bijuu.”
“You could tell Naruto-”
“Ha! The brat would never believe me and even if he did? He would need to be things like subtle and cunning to beat Madara. Those concepts and Naruto do not even belong on the same planet.”
“You do have a plan though, don’t you? You didn’t just come here to teach me bijuu 101.”
Kyuubi nodded. “Yes, I have a plan. I have a way to bring back the consciousness of one person with me, under certain circumstances.”
“A bond between myself and them. A bond formed when a life is saved. A bond that formed between the two of us when you saved my life.”
“I saved your life?” Sasuke asked incredulously. “I think I would remember that.”
“You did. On a bridge many years ago.” He rolled his eyes, “Of course you didn’t know I was inside Naruto at the time, but technically you did save my life as well as his.”
“You want to take me back in time? Why?”
Kyuubi gave him a dull look. “I have my reasons. The question is, are you willing to take the chance? To go back and relive your life knowing the destination of the path you took? A chance to kill the man who truly tore your life apart for a grudge that lasted decades? To save those precious few who could stand to be in your presence?” His teeth glinted in the fire as his smile widened.
Sasuke closed his eyes against the grinning fox and thought of what he was being offered. It was a second chance. A chance to fix it all, to save them all. Faces flitted through his mind’s eye, all those who died because of his foolishness. His eyes snapped open and stared into Kyuubi’s grinning face. “Yes.”
It seemed impossible, but Kyuubi’s grin widened. “You have to know, this only works once. You only get this one chance to change it all.”
Sasuke nodded, and then his world went black.