Chapter 1: On the makings and breakings of Team 7.
It feels like a fairy tale by now, but the first six years of Sasuke’s life were simple. Straightforward, with so much happiness and love that he can barely believe it’s true. Every day was defined by the interactions he had with Itachi. Not that there was only Itachi, of course- there’s Mother who hums as she tries to teach him to cook, patience honed from years spent as a teacher, and Shisui, with the strong hands that lift Sasuke to sit on his shoulders, laughter bright and warm and oh so brilliant as they run through the streets. Aunts and Uncles who smile at him and sneak him fun places behind Father’s back (though they learnt very quickly to make sure he kept it a secret after the T&I event; Mother nearly killed them for smuggling in a four year old), cousins who teach him tricks and moves, telling him stories all about their teams and what they’ve done. He had a family, a clan, larger than life and filled with the fierce love they only showed their own.
(He doesn’t think of Father, who only saw disappointment in his youngest son even to his dying day. He doesn’t think of the Elder’s and the elitists, who only saw the Spare, the son who would never bring their clan glory).
But it’s Itachi who he adored, the one who Sasuke chased after like a bird the horizon, the Brother who he loved above everything else. Itachi was the one who Sasuke sought out when he couldn’t sleep, the sun and the moon all in one; Itachi was his Brother and from the moment he could walk, Sasuke chased after him. Every moment with Itachi was one he clung to, the thing to fuel him through the days when Father’s scorn was too much to bear or when he woke up crying from nightmares. When he tried hard in school, it was Itachi’s praise he sought, and when he didn’t understand something Itachi’s word was law. Throughout his childhood, the brightest memories- the good ones, the best- involved Itachi.
But then he’s six years old; his parents are dead, his brother a traitor, and every good thing has been twisted until he’s not sure what was real and what was not. Three weeks he spends in a coma, watching the massacre on replay over and over, again and again until everything’s a blur and he doesn’t understand -
(whY diD nii-san Do iT why why why did he leave me mother father shisui whY)
He doesn’t understand. Not even the interrogation changed that- the masked, terrifying figures who push and push and push, demanding answers he doesn’t have until Sasuke feels brittle. Cracked, like shards of glass that haven’t been put back together right so everything feels wrong. Eventually, they grow tired of him or have gotten what they need or something, because he’s shoved back into the empty district. In that time, Itachi has gone from Brother to That Man, and all that Sasuke knows is his clan is dead and his duty is to avenge them. And to do that, he can’t let the pain dull; he can’t let himself be weak, to forget that night.
(Not that he ever will, with it burned into his brain through a combination of his own Sharingan and That Man’s).
So in the district he remains, left with nothing but the ghosts and a whole clan’s worth of empty houses to serve as a home. Healing never is something he gets around to doing, not really. Sometimes he’ll wake up with the Sharingan spinning in his eyes and a tangle of hurtgriefanger caught in his throat, swelling with each passing day until it feels like he can’t breathe. On those days, he’ll work himself to the bone when he’s not in the academy- practise jutsus until he’s on the verge of chakra exhaustion, run laps until his muscles burn and lungs ache; on those days, he’ll train, train and train some more, because it’s the only thing stopping him from exploding.
(If his teacher’s see anything wrong then they don’t say anything, merely slip scrolls and books into his desk. Perhaps, were times different, they might have taken him aside and tried to help, recommended him to a psychological expert or something to circumvent the risk of another Uchiha snapping, but the tension between countries was fit to snap any day now, and the threat of war was big enough that it was in their best interests to encourage his excessive training rather than stop it.
Were times different, they might have learned from their mistakes rather than repeating them).
Most of the time, though, he only feels cold. Hollow, like he’s been unseamed and everything is spilling out. Where he drifts through everything, a clone malfunctioning; he’ll go through the motions and wonder why he doesn’t just… stop. Stop breathing, stop moving, stop trying- why survive when he’s only here on the whims of a mad man, when the only thing to keep him going is an age old duty to his dead Father and the knowledge that to stop would mean dishonour. To stop would mean to forsake everything and face the disappointment of those long since lost. Those days are the worst, the ones where he gets weird looks from those around him and not even working until he bleeds can stop the thoughts, the voices, the ache in his chest.
(He prefers the anger).
But he forges on, despite being unable to sleep without driving himself into exhaustion first and the fact he’s injured so often he becomes a regular sight in the hospital. By the age of seven his control of the sharingan is comparable to that of most adults before their death, and he can complete enough jutsu’s of the higher ranks to make a Jounin jealous. He’s mastered every chakra control exercise they’re taught in the academy and ran with them until he’d all but invented his own- he’s good, is what he is. A genius for his age, with the hard work to back it up, could probably defeat a chuunin with ease if he tried, the best performer in his year group even with the Hokage’s son there-
But it’s not enough. He’s not enough, and he never will be. For every step he takes, That Man is half leaps and bounds ahead; for every improvement he makes, he is well aware that he is lagging behind enough that he’ll never catch up. He may be a genius in comparison to the rest of his age group, but in comparison to Itachi he may as well be the Dead Last, a failure. At this rate, he won’t even graduate until the age of ten and that- that is unacceptable.
(Itachi was already in ANBU by then, had graduated when he was six, and Sasuke has to catch up. He has to graduate and soon, even if it means killing himself in the process. Heck, it would simply mean he wouldn’t have to wait for Him to do it).
When he is seven and a half, the Third Shinobi War breaks out and his prayers are answered (if not in the way he expected).
Sasuke graduates at the age of eight, standards lowered as the focus in education shifts from quality to quantity (and perhaps that’s why the teacher’s all became grim faced and harsh, pushing everyone to their limits so that they can churn out another lot of cannon fodder to ship off to the front lines. Perhaps that’s why they abandoned any attempts at subtlety and started to outright hand Sasuke B and A rank jutsu scrolls like creating a stronger genin might help turn the tides in their favour.
Compassion has no place in a war, after all).
In the space of a day he gains both his forehead protector and a team, another stepping stone to bring him closer to his goal, to the end of his duty. And that- that was all it was supposed to be; a tool, a means to an end, something that he could use until it was no longer necessary. He had thought that it would be the same as it had been in class, where it had been something akin to survival of the fittest even with the cliques that formed, where the only concern shown from those above was when they feared they might lose another shinobi to madness. He hadn’t expected them to grow on him as they fought through thick and thin, to be friends- to become something more, even.
(Family, is what he thinks when he sees them, are the words he will never say aloud. Will never risk, because family dies and betrays and fragments, but Team will never part. This team is forever, and he thinks he might love them for it).
There’s Naruto- rival, best friend and brother all in one, a bond forged from trial and tribulation, the boy who smiles like he put the sun in the sky as he forces a twenty-story fox under his heel with every breath he takes, who looks his father dead in the eye and says ‘I’ll beat you to the hat,’ as much a promise as it is a challenge. Naruto, who went from snarling at Sasuke to bumping shoulders with him, who tore his way through a battalion when Sasuke was kidnapped in a mission gone wrong, who takes his hand and stares down the world like he dares it to come closer. Who says, ‘Sasuke’s ours,’ and makes it feel right.
Sakura, who goes from fangirl to sister in the time it takes for them to complete their first mission, who stands between an A-rank missing nin and his bleeding body with nothing but a kunai and manages to fend them off long enough for back-up to come, grins with a mouthful of blood and tells the world, ‘Nice try, but not good enough.’ The girl with hands that can break ribs just as easily as she can heal them, who holds them both by the hand and warns them not to die; who looks him in the eye when he tells them of his duty, squeezes his shoulder as Naruto does his hand, and says, ‘We’ll be right by your side; a threat to you is a threat to us.’
And Minato-sensei, who teaches them how to kill in the same breath he does teamwork, who fusses over them all as he does his son, and somehow manages to combine bumbling idiot with terrifying genius and make it work. Who tries, even though he doesn’t always succeed, and works to ensure they all get training suited to them alongside support to keep them from going off the deep end. Who doesn’t talk down to him when he says he needs to avenge his clan, is there for him on the nights where sleep is a distant memory, convinces him to leave the compound because no good can come from exasperating old wounds. It is him who invites Sakura and Sasuke to live with him and Naruto- who welcomes them into his home because ‘we’re a team now, and that makes you as much my kids too.’
They’re thrust into hell together, thrown into the darkest parts of the war the moment they’re deemed competent enough, and soon he feels like they’re as much a part of him as his limbs. He starts to think of them as his family and it isn’t until much later that he learns that this is a dangerous thought- look at what happened to his first family after all.
It isn’t until much later that he learns that some things can’t survive the weight of tragedy.
Sometimes Sasuke wonders what Naruto was thinking when he decided that his final action as a dying man would be creating an Uchiha jinchūriki; sometimes, he wonders exactly how Naruto, the golden boy, had gotten to that point of martyrdom that he actually thought it would be a good idea to push all his hopes and expectations on Sasuke, who was always the runt of the pack, the dark horse who never quite figured out how to kick. But then he would remember Sakura as she was at the end: lying on the ground with pink hair seeping red, her face so destroyed that she was barely recognisable, so very still. So very dead, even with the ground around the destroyed enough to signal to anyone ten miles off that she’d put up one hell of a fight, even with the fact that it was supposed to be a routine mission. They were supposed to get in, take care of the small group of Iwa-nin that should have been there, retrieve the package, and get out again- it wasn’t supposed to end with her dead.
(No-one was supposed to die- they were chuunin already, experienced enough that they could be trusted with some of the more vital missions of the war, and their team leader was the Yellow flash. They should have been able to handle it).
But she was and they’d failed her, both of them- left to her face of a bunch of Kumo Jounin (who shouldn’t have been there, the mission hadn’t planned for them) with nothing but a few traps, her weapons and some chakra pills for back up, all because they’d been too stupid to realise the two of them were chasing bait. None of them realised until they’d returned to the camp to find it destroyed and Sakura dead, hadn’t understood until Minato-sensei appeared frantic, spilling warnings that faded off as they all realised they were too late.
(Always too late- it was his curse, Sasuke realised later on. He would always be a step too late to save anyone he cared about).
Naruto had been angry- oh, he was so very angry, in the aftermath, when the ones to blame were dead (he’d hunted them down, Sasuke and Minato-sensei unable to do anything but follow him as he tore through the forest) and Sakura’s body had been burned. And the thing about Naruto was that he felt all his emotions like he was the fire and they were the gasoline; he blazed with them, so intense that it could fill the room, and as long as it had oxygen, these feelings would kindle on.
Naruto’s anger didn’t cool when Sakura’s ashes did, nor in the years that followed; he let it consume him, to the point that he was more fox than human, nothing in the world able to calm him down back to the person he was before. It terrified even Sasuke to see, despite how Naruto was still soft to him in a way he wasn’t to anyone else-made spending time around him feel like you were being choked beneath a whirlpool of chakra. By comparison, Sasuke’s own grief seemed inconsequential. Inadequate, even- he’d loved Sakura as fiercely as he did the rest of his Team, felt her death like someone had carved open his ribs and spat, but he was familiar with death. Knew it like an old friend, so when everything that had been numbed by years of companionship came surging back up, no-one looked twice- not even himself.
But Naruto- Naruto had never lost anyone like this before, For all that he’d killed more people than most jōnin, had lost his mother shortly after he first drew breath, he’d never had to grieve before. Not someone he’d known and loved with the fierceness he put into everything he did in his life; not for someone who was his.
(“You guys are like part of my soul,” he’d said once, when they were lying under the stars as they waited for Minato-sensei to return. “I love you so much I don’t think I could survive losing you. I don’t think I want to.”
And Sakura had squeezed both of their hands and replied, “Then it’s a good thing you’re never getting rid of us.”
Sasuke wished it had been him to die instead; she was their anchor, the one who could ground them and direct them where they needed to go. She would had known how to comfort Naruto, how to deal with this in a way that was healthy, and for all that Naruto would have still been hurt, it wouldn’t have been like this. It wouldn’t have destroyed him.
It’s surprising, Sasuke thinks, how many problems could be solved if he had simply died in someone else’s place).
He drifted away from everyone but Sasuke, even his Father (and God, Sasuke prays he never sees another man look like Minato-sensei had in those weeks leading up to the explosion), recklessness only growing after the war ended and you had to seek out dangerous missions by clawing your way past the restrictions and paperwork. Naruto would never let Sasuke out of his sight as though afraid that the moment he blinked he’d find that two teammates had died instead of one; all the missions they took were together, if Sasuke went out to go see someone then Naruto would tag along, they even started sharing a bed because otherwise Naruto would come and check on him every hour. The only time Sasuke was ever alone was when Naruto would go to the memorial stone, staring at the spot where Sakura’s name was carved for hours on end until Sasuke eventually came to drag him back to their home.
(It was too big for three people, the lack of Sakura’s presence all too noticeable).
Naruto drifted for two and a bit years, barely passing as human, until Sasuke woke up one night when they were on their way back from a mission to find him gone.
(To find that he was alone).
It took ten minutes to send out an SOS to the village, a further hour to locate him, and by the time Sasuke arrived it was too late. Naruto was barely standing, bleeding sluggishly in a way that spoke of a wound left for too long, glowering up at a man with orange hair, a lot of body piercings, and the sharingan in one eye (which what the genuine fuck) and a twenty story fox. When Sasuke grabbed him, all Naruto did was smile weakly at him and say, “Sorry, looks like I’m not going to become Hokage after all.”
Minato-sensei burst into existence, distracting the pierced guy just long enough that Naruto could restrain the Kyuubi with hand seals that struck horror in Sasuke’s mind.
He said, “Promise me you’ll live, Sasuke- for me, and for Sakura-chan,” and slammed his hands against Sasuke’s stomach before he could so much as scream, and then all Sasuke knew was pain.
He wakes to the sound of sobbing, Naruto’s lifeless body cradled in Minato-sensei’s arms, tears of blood on his face as the sharingan shows him the world with more clarity than he's ever known before; he wakes in a world that is so very wrong, and yet it isn’t until a snarl that isn’t his echoes through his mind and he catches a glimpse of slitted red eyes that he turns over and vomits.
(He’d failed once again, and somehow it’s not even a surprise anymore).
Sasuke spent two weeks confined to a secure room in the hospital as Konoha did some combination of trying to figure out what the hell to do with him, spreading false rumours to the wind to try and stop it from becoming public knowledge, and having people proke and prod at him to see whether he was stable- both in terms of the seal, and his mental health.
(Unsurprisingly, one was better off than the other and it wasn’t his mental health).
During this time, Minato-sensei doesn’t come see him once, no-one quiet manages to look him in the eye, and Sasuke dwindles away, left with nothing but his memories and the new voice in his head (salt in the wound, considering how every time the Kyuubi reminds him of its presence Sasuke can only think of Naruto and the blood on his hands). When he’s finally released he finds out (from Ino of all people, who’d never been close to him and the only bond they shared was Sakura) that Naruto’s funeral had already taken place and that just- that just-
(Funerals were awful and he hated them, but they gave closure- they let you know, through a ceremony where the body was dressed beautifully and you had one final chance to look at them, to say any final words, to memorise their features- and Sasuke needed that. With Sakura all they’d been able to bury were her ashes, and with his family there hadn’t been enough coffins for them all, but Naruto- they had a body. At the very least, Sasuke would have been able to see his face in something resembling sleep without the blood smeared everywhere and to imagine that any moment know he’d open his eyes and smile-
But apparently he was worthy of even that small mercy, his part in Naruto’s death too significant a sin, and so all he has is the hurt and the grief and the hollow beat of his heart in his chest. He hopes, dimly, that it will be enough).
When Minato finally speaks to him it is from the other side of the Hokage desk, promoting him to Jōnin with eyes that can’t quite look him in the face and the order to work hard enough that no-one will dare try to kidnap him. There is no warmth in this, none of the pride of a teacher watching their student make a name for themselves- there is only the clinical tone of a superior speaking to their subordinate, all emotion buried deep behind the veneer of the professionalism, and Sasuke can’t even find it in himself to blame him for it. After all, it should have been Naruto standing there, alive and strong and one step closer to his dream; it should have been Minato’s son wearing a flak jacket tailored specially for him, a future ahead as bright as his hair.
(It should have been Naruto to survive, not Sasuke).
And for all that the feeling is lined with hurt, Minato is all he has left (his mentor, guardian, and practically his father), and Sasuke loyalty will not waver. So he takes the words to heart: he becomes a regular sight at the mission desk, taking every A and S rank they’ll give him to get his face seen and his strength recognised. He stretches himself to the limits, performing feats that seem out of place in the hands of someone still too young to drink by civilian standards, and before he’s even sixteen he has a page in the Bingo book with a ‘flee on sight’ order, ‘the Kyūbi's jinchūriki’ printed in small letters beneath ‘Uchiha clan survivor.’ He doesn’t feel any pride in it, not like he thought he once would- not even with the knowledge that Itachi would have seen it, or how Ino (who seems to have taken it upon herself to ensure he socialises) drags him out to celebrate with those still alive from their class, or how Minato manages to give him a tight ‘you did good’ and even ruffle his hair briefly (the first time he’d touched him since Naruto died). All he can think is ‘would this make you happy, Naruto?’ and ‘Am I doing it right, Sakura?’
All he can think is that is shouldn’t be him.
Whenever Sasuke’s actually able to spend the night in their home, it’s rather like living with a ghost; Minato is always in the office, to the point that even his bodyguards are concerned (something they inform Sasuke of whenever Ino drags him to the routine gatherings, Shikamaru with a yawn that can’t quite hide the sharpness and Shino with a smattering of questions he answers himself). Not that their concern is misplaced- each time Sasuke sees him Minato is always just that little bit gaunter, just that little bit deader, and Sasuke finds he can’t see any trace of the man who was once his teacher in those eyes anymore. It’s worrying, but Sasuke can’t bring it up- not when the air between them is still so heavy, wrought with guilt and grief and anger from both sides, and how they can’t look at each other without remembering that two was once four.
By the time Sasuke’s sixteen, Minato is so much closer to a corpse than a man that Sasuke can’t even bring himself to be surprised when he drops the hat and the robes on his desk, declares that he resigns, and leaves on a mission before anyone can breathe a word of protest. Less than eight hours later the Fourth Hokage is found dead, killed by a lucky Kumo-nin in the middle of a suicide mission (they were only lucky because he didn’t even try to fight them). Less than eight hours later the village lowers their heads in grief as the Sandaime dons the hat once more, everyone gathered in the square to watch the grand procession that makes up the funeral. But Sasuke- Sasuke does not attend. Sasuke sits in a house that was built for four but now holds one, surrounded by echoes of the dead, and wonders if it was one final act of spite on Minato’s part that had Sasuke finding the body, or if it was just his luck. Wonders at how he feels so numb that he barely even notices his hand clenching around the blade of his sword, or the way the red in his eyes is not entirely due to the sharingan.
(He wonders why he ever thought it would be different, this time- why calling family by another name would somehow avert the tragedy.
He wonders when he became so stupid as to think he alone could be happy).
Chapter 2: On ANBU and Friendships
Being Sasuke is suffering.
This chapter continues directly from where we left off last chapter. Also, to anyone who needs the clarification, I have
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sasuke is given one week bereavement leave before he’s recalled back to active duty, despite the fact that it is normally at least two months with a mandatory psych eval at the end that may lead to an extension. The Sandaime claims it’s because Minato-sensei was a public figure, thus meaning they can’t afford anyone too special treatment, but they both know that it’s a lie; Sasuke is both a powerful weapon and a flight risk, the Sandaime enough of a war hawk to make the prospect of losing such a tool something that must be prevented. Too valuable to be unused, too dangerous to be allowed autonomy, the Sandaime clasps a leash around Sasuke’s neck and pulls it as tight as they dare (tight enough he couldn’t breathe).
(If Sasuke weren’t still buried in his grief, he might have rankled against this treatment- left the Village and become a missing nin because the only people his home was in people, not a Village, and now that they were dead he had nothing left. If Sasuke were of a different mind, he might have found himself a life in freedom, outside of the prison they call a Village, and let himself live as Naruto had asked him to.
But the Sandaime gave him the mask when he was still wandering through a sea of hurt and trauma, emotions tangled in such a way he can barely even pick at the edges, and the idea of following in his teacher’s footsteps was still so very appealing, the only thing stopping him from actively seeking it being Naruto’s final words. The Sandaime locked him in when he was still vulnerable, and so he received compliance).
Minato hadn’t wanted him in ANBU, hadn’t wanted any of his students there- had pulled so many strings to avoid such a thing happening, even when he could barely look at Sasuke- but Minato wasn’t there anymore. The hat is back in his predecessor’s hands and whilst the Sandaime isn’t Danzo in terms of his views on the final Uchiha, the compassion he has can only go so far; he is a Konoha shinobi through and through, an incarnation of everything that makes up the system.
(Every flaw, every crack, every drop of poison running through its veins, Sarutobi Hiruzen embodied them- exulted in them, even, to the point that Sasuke doubted he remembered that there was a life beyond the Village. To him, The Nation was everything and to protect its sanctity, he would do anything, would sacrifice anything.
Even, as the case may be, an entire clan).
So ANBU was where Sasuke was shoved, another cog to oil the machine, another pawn on the chessboard of the Great Nations. The war was over years ago, but Sasuke wasn’t allowed to be anything but a soldier, denied escape from the horrors of the front lines on account of his birth and his circumstance.
Sasuke became Hound, following the steps of That Man into the depths of Konoha’s uglier sides (of which there are many), and submerged himself into the work like it was the only escape offered to him (and it was). The missions he received were difficult, dangerous enough that they would have been suicide for most people, and he swept through them with the dogged efficiency of the soldier he was. With every success he was given recognition in the form of harder and harder missions, until he spent more time with the mask on than he did without and he could barely remember the last time he was in the Village for more than a day. It was something to do, a distraction from the images of dead friends that cling to his eyelids and the crushing weight of his pain, and that was all it was to him; a job. Others did not agree.
(‘Look,’ they’d whisper as he walked through the compound, ‘it’s the Uchiha genius. Trying to follow in his brother’s footsteps- five years behind, of course, but what do you expect from the Spare.’
And others, ‘Just don’t get put in a Unit with him- he’s cursed. All of his team dead within the space of four years. Even the Yondaime was a victim of it.’
‘Don’t forget that he’s also got—that. Do you think he killed his teammate for it? All so he could have the power.’
‘Wouldn’t surprise me; he’s an Uchiha, after all. Crazy, the lot of them. Kin butcher and friend killer, all in one family.’)
The deeper he’s dragged in to ANBU the bloodier his hands grow, the Sharingan burning every image into his mind like clockwork. There’s no forgetting the dirty deeds he carries out, no place for him to go that he won’t be haunted by the things he’s seen and done under order. He comes child killer and assassin, destroyer of Villagers and torturer of innocents; if the Village tells him to burn down a bridge, he burns it down. If they tell him to poison the Daimyo, he poisons the Daimyo. He follows orders because there’s nothing else for him to do, all the while the anger grows inside of him; he sees the Villages hypocrisy whenever he closes his eyes, feels sick every time he looks around it and knows exactly what its founded on, and he hates. Every time he steps out of the gates it becomes all that much harder to step back in, and only the knowledge that his team would’ve been horrified if he left stops him from turning his back on Konoha.
(And even that is dwindling with time, the hold of the thought fading with every month that passes, every time he looks at the mask in his hand and thinks, ‘a dog of Konoha.’
He wonders what he’ll do when it runs out).
He looks at Konoha and sees corruption, but when he looks in the mirror? There is only a liar, a murderer, a failure; a man who can’t even hold onto that last anchor that is keeping him from becoming the trash so wants to see, a man who’s committed so many crimes for a Nation he hates and continues to do so, all because of three people long since dead. Somewhere along the line, his hatred of That Man faded into the background, buried beneath what he feels every time he walks through the streets of the Village and hears someone speak of the ‘Will of Fire.’ Now he can’t even look the Sandaime in the eye without having to count in order to prevent himself from doing something that would brand him an S-rank criminal; can barely muster up anything more positive than apathy any time he thinks of his next mission, his next return.
Somewhere along the line he began to hate the Village that his Team loved and he’s not sure what that makes him, in the grand scheme of things.
(He thinks that his Team wouldn’t be able to recognise him, were they still alive).
In the end, the only reason Sasuke is able to scrape through the years without cracking and following in That Man’s footsteps is Unit 5. The missions he has with them are a reprieve, a companionship he’d long since forgotten, and he trusts them in a way he hasn’t since the day Minato died. For all that they will never quite fill the hole his Team left, they become his friends and that is enough for him to hold on. When he’s with them (Tenten with her Dragon mask, a wit as quick as her weapons and a good nature founded upon steel; Kiba with the Cat mask and an easy humour that never dims no matter what horrors he faces, kind and empathetic in the rough Inuzuka way; Akamaru, who makes a habit of draping himself over Sasuke whenever they are seated, giving affection as much as he demands it; Shikamaru the Sloth, whose inherent genius is matched only by his laziness, the one person Sasuke would ever place blind faith in to keep them alive), the darkness isn’t so loud, the hatred dimmed by the knowledge that he’s not alone.
(The Uchiha have always been family orientated, loving so fiercely that they don’t know what to do without it).
But for something like him- a weapon so destructive that its reviled and revered all in one- group missions are kept to a minimum, and so he’s only really able to see Unit 5 when they manage to find each other on the rare occasion they’re all in the village at the same time. They try, they really do, but it’s not easy to make their schedules match, and so they don’t often get to spend time all together. As such, Sasuke continues to be sent out solo, submerged so far into the shadows that he’ll sometimes wonder what exactly is different between him and Itachi, and the smoke swells to choke him. The hatred
griefhurtdisgust is as natural as his heartbeat, now, and the only way he can stay sane is through distraction. When he’s not on missions, he’s either training or in the hospital, to the point that his friends make a point of finding him whenever he returns so they can strong arm him into socialising. More often than not it’s Ino, because her job in T&I doesn’t require many out missions and she’s become dear to him over the years (she was the only person to actively try to befriend him as he retreated further and further into himself, the only person who shared his grief for one of his Team and didn’t blame him for it), but whenever they can members of Unit 7 will be there too.
(Every now and again, when he can’t drive away the voices through his usual methods, he’ll turn to more unconventional methods. He never drinks at the same time he has sex, but both of them work just as well in stopping himself from thinking. Sex is more common than drinking, since the jinchuuriki metabolism makes it so that he burns through alcohol quick enough to make staying drunk more effort than its worth, and the loss of awareness is not something he’s keen on.
Not that the latter occurs very often, because he has a very finite list of people he trusts enough for such a thing and he’s very aware that too many nights of fucking could destroy that. Needless to say, he doesn’t have many nights trying either).
Life is simple for him, in that he’s not really alive- is barely even surviving- but he is functioning. He has a purpose, even if it is one he hates, and for all that he hates a lot of what he is made to do, he likes the fighting- the adrenaline of pitting himself against another person, the weight that comes from the knowledge that every move might be your last, the thrill of the battle: to him, fighting feels a little like freedom, and so he hopes for it with every mission he’s given.
(And if part of it is the niggling wonder that maybe, just maybe, someone will finally help him rest.
But they never do- he’s too good for many to kill him, vicious in battle in the way of a rabid dog; those who can succeed aren’t the kind you’re likely to encounter on a regular basis, and he’s not about to spit on Naruto and Sakura’s graves by taking his own life. No, it’s not his life to take- hasn’t been since he was six years old and had a brother he adored).
In the end, what disrupts this downwards spiral that was going nowhere is a mission gone wrong. Or, well- wronger than they usually do, because Sasuke’s luck was shit on a good day and missions so very rarely go the way they’re supposed to. It started off like this: the Sandaime called Unit 5 to his office and they arrived to find another ANBU there (Tanuki, an unfamiliar mask). They were given orders to examine one of Orochimaru’s hideaways that had been discovered near Iwa and destroy any experiments still left there. Simple, right?
Things went smoothly until Tanuki (who had not said a word) took advantage of the Units distraction as they argued over summoning scrolls (Sasuke and Tenten thought they should appropriate them because it would be a waste to destroy them, Kiba and Shikamaru disagreed) in order to try to kill Sasuke. With Ink. With moving ink.
(Lots of people have tried to kill Sasuke before, but never with ink of all things. Really, he must have seen it all now. What next, weaponised origami? Exploding clay? It’s bewildering; he prefers a good old sword any day).
What follows is a short struggle (longer than expected, because apparently the ink thing was actually pretty darn strong, but it was still five on one) that ended with Tanuki restrained from several sides; Sloth paralysed him with his shadow, Cat and his hound stood guard, and Dragon ripped the mask from his face to reveal the palest man Sasuke has ever seen. Disturbingly pale, which was saying something coming from Sasuke considering being pale was literally in his genetics; this guy looked like he’d never seen the sun in his life.
(It would explain why he thought attacking someone when they were part of a full team of ANBU was a good idea- like, really, either this was a suicide mission, he’s missing some important chemicals in his brain, or he’s got some other angle at work because that was the worst plan Sasuke’s ever seen. And Sasuke’s seen a lot of stupid plans in his life- it’s a hazard of being in a team with Naruto).
Of course, the first thing out of Tanuki’s smiling mouth was: “And here I’d thought it would be easy to kill you, Beautiful.” Because apparently flirting was how to interact with the man you’d just tried to kill. And then he followed this up by calling Tenten ‘Gorilla,’ which promptly led to her punching him in the face.
(It was satisfying, but Sakura could have broken his jaw like it was butter. Butter).
The interrogation that followed was incredibly long and incredibly frustrating, during which little of actual use is said; instead, Tanuki dubs Kiba ‘mutt,’ Shikamaru ‘spineless,’ and Akamaru ‘rat.’ (Unsurprisingly, he gets punched again). In the end, the only reason they learn anything is because they catch a glimpse of the seal on his tongue and Shikamaru’s magnificent brain does all the work based on what information he already had and what he could infer. Thus they managed to discover that Sai was a member of an illegal organisation called ROOT and had been ordered by Shimura Danzo to assassinate the last Uchiha (and probably take his eyes). Which was lovely, really- apparently Sasuke was so popular that even the Village that was supposed to be his home couldn’t get enough pieces of him. As if he didn’t have enough reasons to hate them.
(“Wow,” Tenten had said, from where she was sharpening one of her many, many swords. “And he didn’t even buy you flowers.”).
And then, just as they were trying to figure out what to with this ‘Sai,’ Iwa nin burst into the room and things took a nosedive right into Hell.
Three months later the five of them limp into the Sandaime’s office, all thoughts of assassination long since shoved aside by the kind of camaraderie that only develops when trapped in enemy territory with nothing but themselves to stay alive. The sight of them caused a lot of raised eyebrows: Sasuke and Sai were the only thing holding each other up, one suffering from torture and chakra exhaustion, the other from torture and starvation; Tenten had one eye bandaged haphazardly with a scrap of ripped clothing, the wound still bleeding sluggishly as she holds onto Akamaru’s back like it’s a crutch; Shikamaru is slumped across Kiba’s shoulders, a concussion yet to be treated whilst Kiba favours one leg. All of them are covered in so much blood it’s hard to tell where clothing ends and skin begins. In other words: they looked like they’d been through Hell and back.
(Which was probably because they had. Quite literally, as well- Iwa had a prison that had been pretty successful in replicating such conditions, magma and all).
“Report,” is the Sandaime’s order, and they do, in voices hoarse from screaming and-on some occasions- from behind gritted teeth. Once everything has been said, the Sandaime turns to Sai and says: “I will give you a choice, now, and I suggest you choose wisely.”
And Sai- who’d changed more than any of them in the past three months, to whom these new bonds were as strange as they were wonderful, the idea of choice something he’d thought a dream- chooses them.
(Only Sasuke, Kiba, and Akamaru were able to hear the hitch in his breath at the words, as if he thought the Hokage would strike him down there and then; one was due to closeness, the other special hearing.All three of them held their silence).
The Sandaime nodded, smoke curling from his pipe, and tells them to go to the hospital whilst he speaks with Danzo. They never learn what is said, but the next day Danzo releases Sai into the Sandaime’s custody.
And so Unit 5 gained another member, and Sasuke, a friend.
- Sai is a little less messed up in this because I hc that ROOT is still a WIP, so Danzo has yet to develop the test-brainwashing-thing. As such, Sai didn't have to kill his brother, so even though Shin still died from his illness, Sai is still at least somewhat a functioning human being.
- Tenten having a dragon mask was inspired by subtlyfailing's fic.
- Sasuke is 16 at the start and about 18-19 at the end.
Chapter 3: On clan and promises
In it is finally revealed how Obito is still a thing.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Sasuke is 10 when he discovers he is not, in fact, the last surviving Uchiha in the village. Sakura is not yet dead and their team is still whole, so when the Sandaime summons him from the front lines, Sakura and Naruto stand at his side, Minato hovering behind them. They stand there, a united front as the Sandaime huffs at his pipe, eyes sharp in a way that suggests whatever he is about to say is a risk. The expectation is that there’s another mission of some kind that specifically needs their skillset, or that someone had finally hunted down That Man, but instead what comes out the Sandaime’s mouth is-
“We have found that you are not the only Uchiha to avoid death five years ago.”
-and Sasuke finds he can’t quite breathe past the glass in his lungs. What, he tries to say, but all that comes out is a strangled wheeze and suddenly the world is all too clear- he can see every wrinkle in the Sandaime’s face, the way his chakra is tightly coiled in the way of a man used to lying, can see the nerves threaded through the four guards that remain hidden from view. It feels like the room is spinning around him, like there are thorns in his mouth, in his throat, in his lungs, and suddenly he’s seeing that night all over again, his parents dead on the ground, blood on Itachi’s sword as the world turns red and everything repeats, his clan dying and dying and dying, a thousand times in a thousand different ways as Itachi carved hatred into his mind.
(Sometimes it was Sasuke killing them as Itachi taught him the steps. Sometimes Shisui was there, his other brother, the one who always taught him games and showed him the best foods to eat, eyes missing from his face as he tells Sasuke, ‘it’s all your fault. This happened because you are weak,’ and then he too falls, Itachi’s sword through his stomach.
Sometimes all the clan members are missing their eyes and when Sasuke looks down there’s a bloody sword in one hand, a bloody bag in the other. ‘Open the bag,’ his mother says with Itachi’s voice, and he does; inside, dozens of sharingan stare up at him accusingly.
Sometimes Itachi kills him too, and he watches his own body fall to the ground as his head is held up in the air a few feet away).
“Sasuke. Sasuke.” he hears, the words coming to him from a thousand miles away. “Come on, look at me.” He blinks as he realises there are hands on his arms, and then blinks again until Minato’s face registers in his mind. His mouth opens and close as he finds he can’t breathe, and Minato moves a hand to his hair. “Breathe now, come on; do it with me.” Minato inhales an exaggerated breath, and Sasuke copies him on autopilot, in and out, in and out. When he’s able to do it normally again, Minato manages a smile. Says, “That’s good, Sasuke. Now can you turn of your Sharingan?”
He does, and his eyes sting; he hadn’t been blinking, he realises, and the knowledge is more than a little distressing. He’d thought he was past all this but no, he’s still weak enough that something like this is able to send him spiralling back into that night. “Are you alright now?” Minato asks, and though he likely doesn’t believe him, he accepts it when Sasuke nods and moves aside. Naruto and Sakura are looking at him with something like horror, and the Sandaime’s face is twisted with an emotion Sasuke can’t quite discern.
(Guilt, he’ll realise, many years later when the man is long dead).
“How?” Sasuke asks finally. “And who? I counted all the bodies- no-one could have escaped.”
“One of your cousins, we believe. She was stolen from the clan when she was quite young and forced into an illicit organisation. We uncovered her a year ago, and she’s been in rehabilitation ever since.”
Sasuke only realised that he’d drawn blood when Naruto gently peeled apart one of his fists, sliding his hand in to hold it as a replacement. As it were, his heart was pounding in his chest, something teetering between despair (it wasn’t anyone he knew) and hope (he wasn’t alone). “Then why am I only finding out now?” he asks, a little light headed.
“We couldn’t be certain she was an Uchiha, for all that her appearance indicated so; there were things preventing her from discussing certain things. We only recently found out how to remove this, and confirmed her parentage.” He hesitated a moment, and then gestured at one of the ANBU, who offered Sasuke a folder, which Sasuke took with a shaking hand.
“It’s her file,” the Sandaime said, and Sasuke clutched it like it was a lifeline.
“When can I see her?” he asked, hope climbing its way up his ribs for the first time since that night, and Sakura pressed her shoulder against his in reassurance. The Sandaime does not quite avoid his eyes, but there’s something flinty about his look that has Minato placing a hand on Sasuke’s shoulder, as if in preparation to Hiraishin them out of there.
“You cannot,” he sighs, and hope is sent tumbling down. Sasuke stiffens, but before he can even open his mouth Minato speaks for him:
“If you don’t intend to allow Sasuke to see his family, then why did you inform him about it, Sarutobi-sama?”
“Because it is his right to now-”
“Just as it is his right to see his family, Sarutobi-sama? It makes no sense to deny him a visit.”
“It’s a security risk- the girl is under witness protection.”
“Then informing us of her existence is foolish.”
“Your decision is final I take it, Sarutobi-sama?”
“Then with all due respect, we have no more business here,” and the only warning he gives is a flare of chakra as the Hokage’s office vanishes around.
The moment they are back inside their house, the Team all bundle Sasuke on to the couch, Minato and Sakura on either side, Naruto at his feet. “I still have family,” Sasuke says, eventually, still staring at the file in his hands.
“You do,” Minato agrees, voice quiet.
“Itachi didn’t kill everyone.”
There’s silence for a long time, Sasuke staring at the picture that looks out at him from above the words ‘Uchiha Himeko’, at the cousin he’s never met; it should be a comfort, knowing that it’s not just him, but somehow it only makes him feel cold. Somehow, the only thing he registers is that it’s not just him, and yet he’s still just as alone as he was the moment Itachi killed everyone and left.
“They won’t let me see her,” he says, and then starts to cry for the first time in four years. Minato holds him close, letting Sasuke cling to his shirt like a child (because he is a child, just as he was four years ago, and grief has festered in him too long). Sakura and Naruto don’t say a word, but they each place a hand on his back in quiet reassurance- a reminder that he has the three of them.
He falls asleep like that, and when he wakes up he doesn’t breathe a word of the outburst beyond to quietly murmur, ‘Thank you.’
Minato and Sakura both smile at him, whilst Naruto grins and steals some of his bacon, starting a war.
(They don’t talk about Uchiha Himeko again, but Sasuke has the file memorised and kept near his bed, and sometimes Minato gets that look that says he’s up to something; they don’t talk about it, but none of them forget it).
In the end, his cousin comes to him. Their first meeting goes like this: she climbs in through the window when it’s just Sasuke in the house, everyone else gone out for some reason or another. He whirls, throwing kunai at her, Sharingan already activating, and she knocks them out of the air with her sword, her own eyes not shifting from black. They stare at each other for a long, contemplative moment, cousin to cousin, until she says, “Nice throw, kid.”
He frowns, shifting on his feet, and says, “thank you?” because manners had been engrained in him since he could walk. She grins, facial muscles pulling in a way that implied she was still unused to such an expression, and put away her sword in a deliberate signal of peace. Sasuke deactivated his Sharingan in response, still watching her as carefully as she is him, both of them drinking in the sight of this family member they didn’t know they had; she looks like Aunt Kagami (her mother, it seems), her hair shorter than Sasuke’s, and carries her body in the way of someone whose unused to not needing to fight.
Nearly two minutes have passed before Sasuke finally asks, “The Sandaime said we weren’t allowed to meet.”
She snorted, “So you’re teacher told me. Well I say ‘fuck him’; you’re my family, if I want to see you then I’ll bloody see you.”
“You’ve spoken to Minato-sensei?”
“Yeah, he came and found me a few days ago; told me all about you and the Sandaime’s little order.” Her lips twisted with something like dislike. “The old codger hadn’t even told me you were a thing- was too busy trying to make me become a civilian so he wouldn’t get the hat pulled out from under him. So when your teacher told me how to find you and here I am.” She finished the little speech with a gesture at herself, and Sasuke frowned as he thought over it.
“The Sandaime is trying to make you into a civilian?”
“Yeah- I don’t have the sharingan, so he’s hoping that he can pass me off as not being an Uchiha in order to avoid all the awkward things he’d have to deal with if the truth came out. Naturally, this means that it would be counterproductive to his efforts if it were to be known I was regularly meeting with you, so here we are. All subtle like.”
“…I see.” She’d given him a lot of things he’d have to think over, but for now, he had more important things to focus on- like his cousin and the fact that she was in front of him, alive and real. “I’m- glad to see you.”
She smiled, “I’m glad too, little cousin.”
(She stays for two hours, during which they talk like two people who’d been trapped in silence for years; she tells him what she can about her life before being discovered by the Hokage- which is little- and he drinks in the words with interest, Sharingan activated so he can save this meeting in case it’s the last. He tells her about the massacre, about the clan that had been taken from them, and she places her hand on his shoulder and says: ‘Your brother is a filthy liar because you’re the strongest kid I’ve ever seen.”
She tells him how life as a civilian is weird but not awful [‘They worry about some really strange things, but it’s kind of cool being able to actively talk to random vendors without there being a mission behind it.’] and he talks about his Team [‘They’re- good for me. I’m not sure what I’d be like if I hadn’t had them.’]. They talk and talk and talk, and when she leaves it’s with a ruffle of his hair and a promise to come visit again.
When she leaves, he feels like he has a clan again).
Himeko keeps her promise. At first, it’s only in the few times she’s able to break in without being caught, quiet visits where they sit together out of sight of the windows and learn each other, piece by piece, word by word; they have to do it so as not to be noticed, a stealth mission among a village of shinobi. But then, when Sasuke’s in his 11th year, Minato becomes the Hokage and one of the first things he does is to abuse his authority so Himeko and Sasuke can meet openly, and then the world is open to them. They meet together as often as they can, trying out different food vendors and playing games and sharing what it means to have clan; he teaches her as much as he knows about the clan, including things such as the Katon jutsu, and in return she teaches him as many high rank techniques as she can, even how to make his own.
(The first time he performs Kirin is with her, and the way awe and pride mingle on her face as she hugs him was almost enough to make him forget That Night. Almost).
They spend as much time as they can learning how to be a family, making up for lost time in all the years they were without, and for once they don't need to hide it; everyone in the streets knows that the Uchiha have been increased to two, and though few dare to approach them about it (with the exception of one notable time when a civilian came to spit at their feet, fuelled by an age old mistrust and a grudge with no other target, and in response Himeko had broken their nose). Once, she even comes to watch Team 7's training sessions, and instantly wins her way into their hearts when she declares Sakura a fierce kid and teaches Naruto how to make exploding clones.
("It's good that you have her," Sakura had said to him that night, smiling as they all play cards together.
"Which means we're glad you have one relative who doesn't suck," Naruto had added, to Minato's distress.
"Don't be rude, Naruto!" was followed pretty quickly by a pause and then, "Though it is true."
Sasuke had snorted at them, before placing down the hand that won him the game, where he could then hide his smile in their loud protests).
And then one night she turns up at their house, when Team 7 are cooking dinner together, beaming like she’d just swallowed the sun, and can barely wait for the door to be shut behind her before she blurts:
“I’m pregnant and I want you to be the Godfather.”
The rest of the Team were speaking around him, but he could barely notice over the way those words rang through his mind and the joy in her gaze, so bright that you’d never be able to guess at her past. He had so many things he wanted to say, from ‘we’re going to have more family’ to ‘are you sure?’, but what comes out of his mouth is: “You don’t look pregnant.”
Sakura laughs herself sick at his expense whilst Minato makes apologies that are rendered moot by the amusement in his gaze, but Himeko merely pull him in so she can ruffle his hair. “I’ll take that as a compliment,” she’d said, even her voice vibrating with happiness. “Now is that a yes?”
“Yes,” he’d said, and felt the fluttering of excitement in his chest.
“Good. If I’m not able to look after him, you’ll have to. You promise?”
That night had turned into a celebration, with Naruto and Sakura good naturedly suggesting weird names, the sound of laughter carrying on well into the morning. Sasuke had sat there, with all his family together, and thought, once again, life is good.
Himeko gives birth to a son, a tiny thing with a cry loud enough to drown out her yells, and she presses him into Sasuke’s arms with a tired, proud smile. “His name is Obito,” she says, “Uchiha Obito,” and Sasuke stares down in awe as this tiny child- his godson!- opens his mouth in a wide, gummy smile, reaches up one tiny hand to touch his face.
“Obito,” he breathes, and it feels like he’s holding a miracle. “Obito,” and it feels like hope; like the only way they can go from here is up.
And then Sasuke is 12 and Sakura is dead and his world is crumbling to pieces in his hands. Himeko tries to be there for him, tries to support him as much as she can, but Obito is her priority and what she can do isn’t much; Naruto still dies, Sasuke is a jinchūriki, and he doesn’t have much time for anything anymore.
(She still brings Obito to see him whenever Sasuke is in the village, this small boy with a smile like the sunlight creeping through the curtains after an endless dark, who says ‘Sasa!’ and demands to be picked up, and in those moments Sasuke feels a little like he’s 6 again, whole and undamaged. In those moments, Sasuke is able to pretend that he isn’t cracking at the seams and narrows himself down to Obito’s Godfather and Himeko’s cousin.
But then, inevitably, Sasuke has to leave on another mission and the illusion fades away).
At 16, Minato dies, the Sandaime takes over, and Sasuke becomes Hound, busy enough that these visits become a dream. A few months afterwards, Himeko dies and Obito becomes an orphan. Sasuke isn’t even in the village at the time- finds out by a messenger bird Ino sent when he was knee deep in Lightning country, leaving him to deal with his grief from behind a mask as he cut a swathe through a camp of missing nin. It takes him two weeks to finish the mission and make it back to the village, and what he finds there is that Obito has been placed with a temporary carer until he’s old enough to take live alone.
(6 years old, by Konoha’s standard, just like how they left Sasuke to rot in a compound still filled with the blood stains his family left).
When he demands custody, he is denied. When he demands visitation rights, he is denied. When he tells them that he is the Godfather and thus it is his right, they tell him it was overridden by the Hokage’s word. When they deny him a meeting with the Hokage, he tells them they can go fuck themselves and barges in.
“Ah, Sasuke-kun,” the Sandaime says, placid, even while his guards burst up into place behind him and the chuunin he was debriefing startled hard enough to drop whatever they were holding.
“Why the fuck won’t you let me raise my own fucking Godson?” he snarled, chakra flaring around him with the force of his anger (and hurt and grief and hatred), the edge of it from the Kyūbi causing the Guards to tremble despite themselves, and the Chuunin to faint. The only indication it at all affects The Sandaime is the way he grips his pipe, the slight tightening between his eyes, and Sasuke imagines ripping it from his hand and shoving it up his nose until it hit his brain. Feels a dark laugh rumbling through his mind that said the Kyūbi shared the opinion.
“You’re too unstable,” he says, as if it isn’t the sum of all his fuck ups that made Sasuke like this in the first place. “Too dangerous to be responsible for a child,” he reasons, as if he doesn’t frequently throw children at worse things than their Godfather.
“On what basis?”
“On mine,” and there was an edge of steel to the way he met Sasuke’s eyes. “It’s final, Sasuke-kun; you are not allowed custody.”
Sasuke breathed in, two, three, four, out, two, three, four. Went over every reason why it would be a bad idea to kill the Hokage in his office and make a runner with Obito, starting with Naruto would be disappointed, and ending with the fact that Sakura would probably also be very disappointed. “Then why does it extend to visits as well?”
The Sandaime sighs. “Think about it, Sasuke- kun; if you were to visit him frequently, then he would question why you don’t just raise him. It would only be bad for his mental health, the constant confusion as to where he stands.” A pause and then, cajolingly, as if he’s a wizened grandfather talking to a particularly stubborn child: “It’s for the best, Sasuke-kun. Don’t make it any harder for Obito-kun than it has to be.”
Sasuke stared at him for a long, weighted moment, almost choking on the hatred that pooled on his tongue and the crushing sense of uselessness that came from the realisation that, for all his genius, he couldn’t see a way past this that wouldn’t be deemed drastic by most people who were not him. He thinks, once again, about that small child who’d smiled at him despite how Sasuke was powerless against so much of the world, and the promise he’d made to Himeko all those years ago. Feels the awareness that if he fights any more on this, the Sandaime will only make life harder for him.
There is no happy endings, a voice whispers in his mind, one that sounds all too much like Itachi. Not for someone like you, a friend-killer and oath-breaker. Somehow, he can’t bring it in himself to disagree; Obito is a statistic now, just another promise broken. Another person to add to the list of those he’d failed, and Sasuke wonders why he even tries.
“I understand, Hokage-sama,” he says, the words tasting like iron and rust on his tongue, and when he leaves it is through the window, already cataloguing the quickest route to the ANBU headquarters to get his next mission; he needs to leave here before he snaps and does something that would make the dead hate him more than they already do.
(Part of him wishes that when he hits the ground, he doesn’t get back up, but- as with most things that he wants- it doesn’t happen like that).
So finally members of the new Team 7 start to appear! Lots of people were confused about how Obito would still be an Uchiha if the clan had been killed already, and this is the answer I came up with! I went the OC route because it seemed like the safest bet to work with in this story, though someone in the comments has given me really interesting ideas about an alternative parenting for Obito and that could be really fun to write, so at some point there may be an AU of this AU.
Chapter 4: On Jinchūriki (Part 1).
This was originally going to include Rin's story as well but I couldn't quite get it to fit without the transition being awkward, so it gets it's own chapter. Updates are going to be a little less regular than before, I'm afraid, because University has started up again and it owns my ass. I hope you enjoy this, anyhow!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
If someone were to ask Sasuke how he managed to develop the sort of bond with the Kyūbi that none of his predecessors had ever managed before him, then Sasuke would say it was a long, arduous process that required a lot of patience and an ability to cope with hostile takeover attempts. He’d tell them that for all that it should have been impossible, considering how bitter they both were- all sharp edges that caught on everything around them and anger neatly honed by years of practise- they were stuck together, and that meant that like it or not, they’d had to learn how to deal with each other. This would be entirely plausible to someone who had never had a giant chakra beast stuffed inside them and thus lacked the experience to understand how such a thing was unlikely to invite friendship and cooperation and all those other warm, fuzzy things you read about in team bonding pamphlets. It would also be an unmitigated, unabashed lie.
In reality, the only thing the Kyūbi wanted from Sasuke was to wear him like a meat suit so he could piss on the world that had imprisoned him for decades, and for all that Sasuke was hardly socially inept, he’d never had that natural charisma of Naruto or Minato and talking was never his favourite way of dealing with anything (he’d always preferred good old fashioned fighting). It didn’t help that Sasuke’s being an Uchiha only intensified the Kyūbi’s hostility due to his dislike of being controlled, and the Kyūbi was something of a giant, sentient, prickly reminder of how Naruto is now decidedly dead. As such, the only interactions they ever head often involved an attempted hostile takeover and the brutal suppression of it through Sharingan.
The truth is much less glamorous, and it is something that Unit 5 will take to their graves. Because what actually happened is that, after months of being subjected to the various kinds of torture Iwa shinobi could think of, trapped far enough below the earth that there were areas where magma could be seen, weak, desperate, and perhaps a little bit delirious, Sasuke had ended up ripping the seal from the cage and releasing the Kyūbi. The ensuing fight between him and the Kyūbi had taken hours, consisting of both of them shouting at each other a lot, but eventually Sasuke won (somehow- he’s pretty sure it’s down to stubbornness, because God knows he was hardly in fighting form) and the control was his.
And Sasuke- Sasuke could have shoved the Kyūbi right back into another cage, trapped him there so very easily and walked away. It would have been the pragmatic thing to do but- he didn’t. He didn’t and for all the reasons in the world as to why it was a bad plan, the only explanation Sasuke can think of that made him do it was that he could relate; he too was trapped in a prison, bound there by hundreds of tiny little chains that all build on each other until the weight makes it hard to move, and for all that they weren’t quite the same in their magnitude, Sasuke could sympathise.
So he sits down near where the Kyūbi is pinned to the ground, and he asks. He asks the Kyūbi why’s and who’s and what’s, waits patiently even when it looks like the Kyūbi isn’t going to answer, even when at first all he gets is snarls and insults and anger; he sits and he waits and he prods until eventually, the Kyūbi talks. And Sasuke listens. He listens, and listens, and listens, and then- in an act of recklessness that would have made Minato’s hair go grey- he removes the bindings on the Kyūbi.
He says, “I will not let you control me and my body is my own, but I will not serve as your warden,” and the Kyūbi stares at him, suspicious. The Kyūbi attacks him thrice more, each fighting as vicious as the last, and each time Sasuke holds firm; doesn’t bind him. And eventually the Kyūbi looks him in the eye (as well as you can when you’re a twenty story fox) and says, with something a little like disbelief, something a little bit like amazement:
“You’re actually serious.”
“You’re crazy,” he said, and it actually sounded almost fond.
“Are we stating the obvious now?”
The fox had laughed, lying down so it was on the ground, and waved a claw at Sasuke. “Shoo,” and Sasuke was shoved from his inner world to the real one.
He wakes on the ground, with the sun on his face and rubble all around him, with more injuries than he remembers having before; a ways away, all holding on to each other for support, stand Unit 5, watching him as one would watch a time bomb. When he spits, he spits blood that isn’t his, and the nails that he remembers having pulled off last week have regrown into something that could resemble claws.
“What the fuck,” he says, and his voice is hoarse as if from a Katon jutsu gone wrong; he doesn’t even try to stand because he already knows his legs won’t support him. After a few moments of silence in which everyone is staring, Kiba starts to laugh with a touch of hysteria, which soon turns to tears that spread through everyone like a wildfire.
He finds out, later, once everyone has stopped crying and hugging each other and they’ve managed to move to a place safer than a crater in the ground, that he’d went on a rampage that had destroyed the prison and almost everyone inside it. He’d gotten up to the eighth tail before it finally stopped, wavering there for a long time, and then retreated entirely.
“It was rather impressive how out of control you were, Beautiful,” Sai had said.
“Like rampaging bull in a china shop, only strong enough to flatten buildings,” was Shikamaru’s contribution.
“Fucking terrifying,” Kiba told him, supported by a bark from Akamaru. “Please never do that again.”
When he told them how it had been for him, they all listened with emotions varying from horror to interest to resignation, or some hybrid of them all.
“Shodai’s festering asshole,” Tenten said, looking at him like he’d grown another head (or tail, as the case may be). “And I’d thought Naruto was the impulsive member of Team 7.”
“I think crazy is the word appropriate here,” Kiba supplied, nose wrinkled like Sasuke still smelled of danger or whatever it is a rampaging Jinchūriki smells like. “No offense, Sasuke.”
“None taken; I’m sure the psych eval people would agree with you if it wasn’t for the fact that they’ve been bribed by the state.”
Sai tilted his head to the side. “Is this not a matter that would be of great concern to the village? A security risk, is the term I think they would use, and security risks are something that are always dealt with.”
There was a quiet as they all considered this, all invariably reaching the same conclusion, and Sasuke murmured, “Put me down like the rabid dog I am, huh?”
“The Hokage would likely have an aneurysm, first,” Kiba said, though there was no actual amusement in the statement; only grim awareness that they were still in a pretty dire situation and it had the potential to become more of one. “And for all that it’s doubtful that he’d have you killed, the other council members would likely take it into their own hands.”
“Even Sasuke the Death Bringer would eventually die if they sent enough assassins after him,” Shikamaru agreed, and his eyes flicked to Sai at this; Sai merely smiled, which was answer enough. Danzo would likely jump on the chance, considering that he’s already tried (and failed) once. Sarutobi may be the Hokage but Danzo is also a war hero, and if he spreads word that the seal is compromised, then the Village will likely believe it and Sarutobi’s hand will be forced. It’s a realisation that settled heavy over everyone, like the stone ceiling they’d become accustomed to these past few months.
“…Raise your hand if you agree that this information should never be shared with anyone because Sasuke is our friend and we don’t want to see him knifed?” Tenten declared, raising her own hand as she did so. Everyone raised their hands, including Akamaru, and Tenten smiled. “Marvelous. Shikamaru, you’re the smart one; get thinking of a cover story.”
“Troublesome,” Shikamaru groaned, but the complaint was dimmed by the way he was already moving into his thinking pose.
(Exactly three months later, when Sasuke has yet to turn back on his word and continues to try to maintain civility with the Kyūbi, the Kyūbi says, “My name is Kurama.”
And Sasuke says, “Cool name.”
It’s not quite friendship, not yet, but it’s the start of one).
This was really difficult to write because Sasuke can't pull the 'Talk no Jutsu' bullshit that happened in the canon fight. But on the bright side, Kurama and Sasuke's relationship is one of my favourite parts of this au, so that's fun.
Chapter 5: On Jinchūriki (Part 2).
And Rin appears (kind of. sort of. not really). I hope you enjoy this more than Sasuke did!
When Sasuke wakes one night to find one of the Sandaime’s summons tapping on his window, he is instantly wary- nothing good ever comes from a summons, at least not for him (most people would say the exact opposite, but he’s never been allowed the luxury of being like most people), and the fact that the Sandaime went so far as to send a summon rather than a simple messenger hawk implies that whatever it is he wants, it’s Important with a capital I. This wariness only rises when he arrives in the office a few minutes later, kitted out in his ANBU gear, to find Unit 5 standing around inside, grim and silent in a way that said they too felt the same way he did about such a summons. A few more people file in after Sasuke, and then the door is shut and a privacy seal is activated.
“What I’m about to tell you,” the Sandaime says, solemn, pipe conspicuously absent, “doesn’t leave this room.” To the side of the desk stand Ino’s boss (and father) and Shikamaru’s father, both looking tense and aggravated.
They all murmur their agreement, even though it’s not required, and he stares at each of them for a moment before tapping his hand on the desk- wanting a smoke, no doubt, and the fact that he wasn’t getting one was telling all on its own. He dips his head in a gesture and Shikamaru’s father steps forward, handing every ANBU there a file. Nohara Rin, it says, printed neatly below a picture of a young girl with clan markings on her cheeks, and Sasuke exchanges a glance with Tenten, trying to communicate their confusion with nothing but their eyes.
“16 hours ago this girl was abducted by Kiri shinobi,” Shikaku says, not reacting to the way several people startle; Kirigakure is known for many things, but kidnapping children from the heart of another village is not one of them. Especially since, for all intents and purposes, this girl seems to be a civilian born, unless the sperm donor listed happens to have been a shinobi. “We do not know if the target was premeditated or an accident. The teams sent in pursuit managed to find her and deal with the attackers, but they were not in time to stop them from initiating the plan of sealing the Sanbi in her.”
“Isobu,” Kurama hisses, layered with hurt and anger and an age old melancholy that seems a little like longing, all the emotions twisting up and up until Sasuke has to resist the urge to shudder under the weight of it. There are eyes on him, no doubt thinking about what this means, but he keeps his shoulders slouched, carefully suppresses the instinctual activation of the Sharingan.
“From the information we have been able to gather,” Inoichi said, which was innuendo for ‘forcibly extract through thumbscrews and mind invasions.’ “the rescue team were able to prevent the Kiri nin from enacting their plan in full. After sealing the Sanbi inside the girl, they intended to destabilise it and then return her to the village to later lose control, acting as something of a bomb.”
There was quiet as everyone digested this, a collective horror as they considered the damage that such a thing could have caused. Only Unit 5 seemed to fully understand the magnitude, as they were the only ones to truly witness the damage a rampaging Jinchūriki could do in the form, and for it to happen right in the heart of the village? It would have been a massacre.
Inoichi continued to rattle off more of the information they’d managed to extract from the shinobi, which was then followed up by Shikaku’s report on the girl’s status.
“The seal has been revised so it is more stable,” he said, and not once did they mention her emotional state; it didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, no doubt. After all, what was one child’s wellbeing in comparison to that of the nation? When both men had said everything important, everyone turned to the Sandaime, who looked them all in the eye (or where their eyes would be in the mask).
“No-one outside of this room may know,” he warned. “Not whilst it is vulnerable. All of you here will be involved in the protection detail. As far as all other villages must be concerned, we only have the one Jinchūriki.”
There are nods and bows, the subdued agreements of everyone who understands the weight of this announcement, and the number begins to disperse with shoulders tense, spines straight. Sasuke himself is just about to step through the door with Tenten when the Sandaime calls, “Hound.”
He stills, and steps back into the room, meeting the Sandaime’s gaze levelly as he stands at parade rest; Shikaku and Inoichi both give him a considering glance before they too leave the room, and then the door is shut once more leaving just Sasuke and the Sandaime (and the three guards hidden out of sight). He tries to hide the way Kurama’s agitation is bristling beneath his skin as the fox paces this way and that through the flames that make up Sasuke’s inner world, the way that Sasuke can feel nothing but contempt as he looks at this man and the hat he wears; the weight of the mask on his face has never been so welcome, for he isn’t certain he succeeds.
“The seal has been adjusted by experts in Fūinjutsu, but it’s still unstable, especially in comparison to your own seal. We can’t expect it to be considered a reliable for too long, especially considering the stress it would be under when she becomes a shinobi. Due to your- unique disposition, you will be her teacher when she graduates.”
And that- there are so many reactions he feels appropriate to this statement, the mildest being to body flicker out without replying, the most extreme involving destroying the office and defecting from the Village. The nerve of him- from the same man who told him he was unfit to look after his own bloody godson, and yet now just because there’s some benefit to reaped he’s the perfect one to teach a child?
“Rip his throat out,” Kurama snaps, and honestly Sasuke is finding it hard to disagree. But he doesn’t (something that he thinks deserves a medal), instead counting to ten as he breathes, and eventually asks:
“And if she doesn’t want to be a shinobi?”
“Wants don’t come into it, unfortunately,” he says, and the regret in his voice is sincere- the same sadness there that was visible when he visited Sasuke in the hospital room after he’d woken up from the coma that came about from genjutsu inflicted torture. It wasn’t enough then and it isn’t enough now. “There is no other path available for her, now.”
Sasuke tips his head into what could pass as a bow instead of replying because he doesn’t quite trust his voice to hide the many emotions he is feeling right now, all of which are negative and most of which would probably lead to him being marked as a red flag. When he straightens the Sandaime is eying him with something like pity in his eyes, alongside something else he doesn’t want to think too much on, and Sasuke decides that body flickering is actually a really appealing idea right now.
When he arrives in his house he spends a good ten minutes retching over the toilet bowl, shaking under the weight of two different people’s emotions. Once he can stand once more, he grabs his sword and his pack and heads to the mission desk.
Four hours later he’s neck deep in fighting, blood in his teeth and on his face from where he took Kurama’s advice a few times, and the anger finally starts to ease enough that he can shove it down to that deep, dark pit where they all gather inside him to rot.
Chapter 6: How to build an ideal Shinobi (Step 1: give it enough emotional baggage to sink a ship). [Completed step 1].
Kakashi has been giving me so many problems and real life has been trying to feed me dirt, so this chapter is like months after I said it'd be up. But oh well, here it is. I hope you enjoy it more than Kakashi did.
Sasuke was never anything that could be considered close with Hatake Sakumo; he knew him only as one of Minato’s friends, who often had a few warm words for Team 7 when they passed in the street, and as the White Fang of Konoha, a hero in his own right. He knew Sakumo was kind, for he’d been one of the only people who sought out Sasuke to give condolences after Minato died and even went so far as to cook him a meal when he found Sasuke hadn’t been eating, and that he’d been one of the people that had helped Minato find his feet in trying to raise Naruto after Kushina’s death, but that was it. Perhaps they could have been closer in a different world, but in this one Sasuke was already too far gone for Sakumo to be able to make much of a difference, and the man had his own problems to focus on- his dead wife and infant son, for one.
(Sasuke remembers Minato bringing them all to see him, this small thing with tufts of white hair, and the way Sakumo had smiled at them despite the grief in his eyes and the gauntness to his face. He remembers the way Sakumo had made his son into anchor that held him to life, channelling his pain over the loss of his wife into ensuring the last thing they shared together flourished.
Sasuke wondered, sometimes, spite digging its claws into his mind, why Minato couldn’t have done the same with him after Naruto).
But you didn’t need to be close to him to know that Sakumo was a good man and a good shinobi, who loved his son with the same fierceness that he protected his comrades; the White Fang was a name that brought fear to their enemies and comfort to their allies. Which is why everyone was shocked when he went missing. There was no grand build up to it, no warning- just one day Sakumo went on a mission in the Land of Hot Water and didn’t come back. Nobody begin to feel alarmed until two months had passed without word, and Sakumo’s son started coming to the Hokage Tower asking if his Father was back yet.
(The answer was always no).
Search parties were sent out- Unit 5 among them- but they never found Sakumo. The only trace anyone could discover was the remnants of his team in a forest 10 miles from the border between Hot Water and Sound. There were signs of a fight all around, the bodies so horrifically mangled that the only way to identify them were by the objects they carried with them and the identification numbers on their headbands. Sakumo was not among then.
Then, the whispers began. The Village turned on their own as easily as breathing, digging their claws into these fragments of information like they were scraps thrown to starving dogs.
“Hatake killed them,” they said. “Broke the rules and abandoned the village,” they said. “A traitor,” they said.
There was no proof, nothing beyond people’s imaginations piecing together the fragmented knowledge available in order to reach the answers they so desperately needed; they didn’t like the uncertainty of not knowing what happened. There needed to be a story, even if it meant other people got bowled over in the process. And so the White Fang went from being a hero to a traitor, a missing nin in everything but the official sense; the Sandaime never spoke on the matter, and the villagers took it for agreement.
Then came the resentment, this contagious poison that spread through the Village until it seemed like almost everyone was united under the need to see Hatake Sakumo hung, drawn and quartered. And like with all mobs, they needed a scapegoat, and what better target than the man’s own son? So all the attention was channelled onto Hatake Kakashi, this small child with his Father’s looks and the tentative title of orphan; he became the pariah, the bomb that everyone is waiting to explode. Eyes followed him when he passed in the streets, malicious words whispered behind hands, some even going so far as to refuse to serve him if he entered their shop.
“A traitor’s spawn can only be a traitor,” they’d say. “God, look at him- his face makes me sick. Just like that man.”
And Kakashi, who heard every word, felt every eye on his back and all the pressure on his shoulders, did everything he could to prove them wrong. He started wearing a mask to hide his face and worked hard to be the model student, following the rules so stringently that even his Teachers were concerned.
(“I’ve never actively wanted a child to just cause mischief before,” Shino had said. “But here I am hoping every day that Kakashi will just- throw an eraser or draw on the walls. It’s disturbing to see him.”)
He worked desperately to prove everyone wrong about him (to prove himself wrong), to prove that he wasn’t anything like his father, to the point that it consumed him, leaving behind nothing but a caricature; to the point that he stopped trying to be ‘Hatake Kakashi’ in his quest to become ‘the model Konoha shinobi.’
(Sasuke passed him in the street once, this child with his shoulders stiff and spine straight enough that it could be carved from steel, eyes hard in the way of someone who shoved grief away in favour of hatred and mindless obsession. There was a mask on his face and his hair was white instead of black, but Sasuke had missed a step in his surprise because for a moment- just a moment- he’d seen his brother).
Chapter 7: Team 7 of old and new.
Here we go people, the end of part 1! When part 2 comes it'll have the new team 7, but for now Sasuke's journey is on pause. Thank you to everyone who kudosed and commented on this, it's thanks to you people I was able to keep writing! I hope you enjoy, as this is my favourite chapter so far!
When Sasuke is 23, the Sandaime summons him to his office once more. He arrives to find the old man’s face tight, the room already filled to the brim with smoke, and the silence hands in the air for a long time before the Sandaime finally says:
“It’s time for you to retire, Hound.”
There’s ten seconds following that statement where Sasuke thinks the man is joking, but then it settles in that he really, really isn’t. And that feels a little like someone has just shoved the contents of a sewer system down Sasuke’s throat before lighting a match, because it is not something he knows how to deal with (idleness is a stranger he hasn’t known since Naruto died, and he’s fairly sure that if he’s not even allowed the outlet of missions out of the village he truly will end up snapping and going rogue) and it’s also not something he ever expected to hear from the man who had seemed most gung-ho about getting as much use of weapon as he can. Inside, Kurama is alert and listening with a rumble of suspicion, echoing Sasuke’s own wariness with an added layer of concern, and it takes more restraint than Sasuke would ever admit in order to limit his reaction to light confusion as he asks, “Retire, sir?”
“Yes. To teach a genin team.”
The Sandaime breathes in smoke like it’s the only thing that sustains him, and Sasuke reflexively catalogues all the ways he could kill the man, because otherwise he’ll be counting all the reasons that this is a bad idea and that’s only liable to induce him to ask if the Sandaime has gone senile. Really, if this is what age does to people, then Sasuke is lucky he’ll likely die young.
“The Nohara girl has graduated?”
“Yes, she will be one of yours. These,” he pushes three files at Sasuke, two closed and one open on the picture of the girl who now houses Isobu, “are her teammates.”
Sasuke picks them up and flicks the first one open to find Hatake Sakumo’s child, the boy genius who took to wearing a mask so as to separate himself from the image of his Father; one year younger than the rest of them, interestingly enough, because Sasuke was fairly sure they’d stopped allowing people to graduate early since the war ended. It wasn’t ideal, since Sasuke was doubtful he was the best person to teach someone who was a sort of inverted reflection of what he was like when he was younger, but it’s not the worst possible situation- he’s pretty sure it’ll end horribly, but it’s not like there’s a high bar to beat for it to turn out better than Sasuke’s own team.
(Though there is the minor issue that Sasuke is the exact antithesis of everything Kakashi seems to have made himself stand for: Sasuke has always been the kind of person who is rather iffy when it comes to grand things like rules and morals and the Village, tending to put a bigger focus on people rather than anything else. The only reason he hadn’t left this thrice damned place is because of promises he made the dead and the fact that the people important to him would likely not share his views on leaving. Kakashi, on the other hand, was practically the embodiment of what Konoha looked for in a shinobi; a genius who worshipped the rule book like it was the rule of God, focusing on the Village and the Village alone.
All those years ago Sasuke had looked at the kid and seen himself, but now he realises he was wrong. The kid is more like Itachi than anything else, and that is the much more uncomfortable comparison).
He shifts that file to the back and opens the next one, fully prepared to scan it, only to freeze. Stare at the image that stares out at him with a wide smile, the name printed underneath it, and forgets what it’s like to breathe. Because that’s-
“Uchiha Obito?” he snarled, glaring at the Sandaime as the Sharingan activated subconsciously. The Guards appeared, raising their weapons as if to attack, only held off by the Sandaime signalling them to halt, but Sasuke didn’t care; all he could see was anger. “You wouldn’t let me raise my godson because of some bullshit excuse, but now I’m to teach him? What, did you stop believing your own deceit all of a sudden?”
“You have improved over recent years, so you are now considered capable of being responsible for a child-“
“No,” and the boiling inside of him was overwhelming enough that he barely even felt the way his voice became two toned, an edge of Kurama leaking through the cracks. “It suddenly became useful to you, is what. Let me fucking guess, now that he’s a genin you hope he’ll develop the Sharingan and the fact that I’m the only one with it means that you will oh so graciously let me see my godson now?”
The Sandaime was silent, staring at him as Sasuke dragged in breaths that were just a tad too short, only to finally say, “It was never intended to hurt you, Sasuke.”
The laugh he got in response was bitter and angry and scathing all in one; two of the guards had fainted from the chakra Sasuke’s leaking, and the third looks a little unsteady on their feet. It would be so easy to just- let it swell until he crushes them all beneath its weight.
“Come on kid, easy. You’re losing it here and you need to calm down,” Kurama told him, in a tone that passes for soothing from him, and Sasuke closes his eyes. Counts around every breath until the chakra has been reigned in and he feels- as close as he’s probably going to manage to get to composed. When he opens his eyes again the Sandaime is still staring at him with something a little like caution, something a little like sadness, and when Sasuke says nothing, he sighs.
“You’ll start tomorrow, when they’re given their assignments.”
And that was it, in the end; Sasuke’s opinion on this didn’t matter, just like it never did. To the Village, it didn’t matter if he was terrible at teaching (his only experience was with ANBU and helping Obito learn to speak, neither of which counted), or if it meant that he’d have to confront the godson he’d spent the past few years resigned to watch from a distance. He was only a tool, after all, and in this case he was the only tool who could do this to the extent the Village wanted.
("Sometimes," his Father had said all them years ago, "it’s necessary to sacrifice one person for the betterment of many.")
“Understood, sir,” he says, voice as empty as his face is without his mask, and he turns to leave. He’s just about made it to the door when the Sandaime calls out, voice weighted with more sincerity than Sasuke’s ever heard him use:
“I’m sorry, Sasuke,” there’s a pause. “For everything.”
Sasuke doesn’t say, ‘it’s too late for sorry.’ He doesn’t say, ‘then give me my life back.’ He doesn’t say, ‘then let me fucking leave- I want out, I want out, just give me a fucking out-‘ because he doesn’t say anything at all; he swallows all his words behind gritted teeth and jumps out the first window he sees. The files feel like shackles in his hand, the weight of his forehead protector a curse, and he tries to keep his breath steady, his face blank; he tried so very hard.
(And yet he failed all the same, just like he always does).
He stands. He breathes. He lives.
(Despite how much easier he thinks it would have been if he had died so long ago, how tired he gets sometimes of continuing to slog his way through the quicksand).
He looks to the sky, to where the monument towers high above the Village, Minato’s face forever inscribed there. Sasuke likes to think that he’s watching over him from the Pure Land, but he knows that’s an empty hope; the dead are dead. They don’t watch anything, and Sasuke isn’t sure that Minato would even want to, considering how it was towards the end- just the two of them, the shards of glass that couldn’t hold up against the weight of grief, until the only thing that remained was the abandoned student and the body of his mentor.
(Sasuke will never be able to forget what he looked like that last time he saw him, when Minato returned to the apartment after already selecting his suicide mission, giving Sasuke a hug for the first time in a year, and said, “I’m sorry.” Sasuke had known something was wrong, felt it screaming in his gut, but then Minato was gone and then- then he was dead. The scene is burned into his mind by the Sharingan, revisited in his nightmares often enough that it’s become rote and if Sasuke had any artistic talent, he would probably draw it.
But in the end it’s just another death to his tally, another reason to add to the list of his failures).
There’s an empty space next to Minato where Naruto would have gone (should have gone, because that spot had always been his from the first time he declared his dream to the world), his bright smile carved into stone for everyone to see, and that is what Sasuke thinks is one of the greatest injustices of them all. The world should have known Naruto’s name, shaken to its very core by that drive of his, and Sakura had wanted to be like Tsunade- wanted to heal as easily as she could kill, because for all her temper she was so very kind. And Minato- he’d been changing Konoha, had been taking steps to make things right in a way they hadn’t been since the ideal of the Shodai became twisted by interference and time. They should have gone down in history, those three- his teammates who were brilliant and could have been so much more if they’d had the chance- and instead they’d been deprived such a chance.
And in their place? There was only him- Uchiha Sasuke, the boy so weak his brother refused to kill him, who’d been deemed so unstable his godson had had to raise himself, the boy who’d let the people he loved down over and over, again and again. The spare even his own Father hadn’t wanted, a weapon with a short life expectancy, and yet now he’s expected to teach? To educate children so that they can die for a Village he hates, to somehow support them psychologically and emotionally when the only reason he hasn’t snapped completely like Itachi is because of the demon fox in his head and the insistent care of his handful of friends?
(When every time he saw a Sakura tree there was a split second where he imagined it destroyed with pink petals died red, and some days he couldn’t even smell ramen without his throat clogging up at flashes of orange and yellow and oi, Sasuke, it’s your turn to pay!)
Sasuke loses track of how long he’s been standing there, staring unseeingly at the Hokage monument; around him the Village lights up and the sky is painted with the colours of the night, but he doesn’t notice any of it. Nobody tries to approach him from his spot on one of the rooftops, most not seeing him and those that do too used to the strangeness of shinobi to try and make a fuss, and Sasuke might have stood there until his body gave out if it wasn’t for Kurama opening an eye and sighing.
“Hey, kid,” he said, with a patience that once upon of time might have given Sasuke whiplash, the concern clearly visible through the hard edges that will likely never truly soften. “It’s time for you to go inside; I’m not having you dying on me because you fell asleep in the middle of the street.”
Sasuke’s reply would almost be a drawl if it wasn’t for how the anger and hurt are still simmering inside him, so very easy to pull on: “Why Kurama, I could almost think you cared.”
If this had been years ago, back when their bond was tentative and they were still trying to move themselves towards trust and away from the reflexive anger, then Kurama would have snarled at Sasuke now, perhaps even tried another hostile takeover. But that was then and this is now, and they’d come too far since then- they were friends, now. Family. So all Kurama did was huff and: “That’s the thing, kid; I do.”
Maybe it’s the sincerity of the statement, maybe it’s because affection is still something Sasuke craves even now, or maybe it was simply the hardened evidence that things weren’t the same as when he was 16 and Team 7 had been reduced to a single member, but that all he had to do for Sasuke to comply.
(When he collapses into bed fully dressed an hour later, gruffly coaxed into brushing his teeth and taking off his shoes, he falls asleep to the image of an orange-and-blue mask and a hand reaching for his face, of Naruto crumpled on the ground as mismatched eyes watch dispassionately, of Sakura smiling at him from a face wrecked beyond recognition, of Minato’s back out of reach as he walked away one last time-
A red eye piercing his, and then he dreams no more.
Sasuke wakes up six hours later feeling better rested than he has in a full decade. His grumbled, ‘thanks you nosy fox’ is met with only an upturn of lips and a flash of teeth as he pretends to sleep, despite the fact that they both know Sasuke can literally feel that he’s awake.
He thinks, ‘life is a shithole but it’s a shithole I’m not alone in’, and knows it to be true; knows it, and is more grateful than he’ll ever be able to say. But that’s okay, because neither of them really need words to communicate, and Kurama curls his tails around him in the world only they can access.
They lie like that for a while, curled up together, and it feels like serenity).
For the first time in years, Sasuke stands inside a classroom, children spread out as far as the eye can see. They are joyful, these children, their forehead protectors new and shiny where they’ve been tied like a badge of pride; they’ve yet to learn the true nature of being a shinobi. They’re untouched by war, by grief, by guilt- have never killed a man or heard the sounds a person makes as they try to hold their entrails into their body until a medic nin arrives. These children are how Sasuke once was, an age ago, and it makes his skin crawl with the knowledge that he’s going to play a part in robbing them of it.
Sasuke stands there at the front of a classroom, listening to the chatter filling the air, and finds breath heavy in his lungs; from the same part of him that always tells him he should just let himself bleed out whenever he is injured comes the thought that he should just reach for his sword, activate the Sharingan, and end it for them right there and now rather than waiting. And then comes the disgust at how he could think such a thought, the wonder that maybe- just maybe- the people who compared him to Itachi weren’t so wrong after all.
“Easy,” Kurama murmurs, an anchor throughout all his turmoil. “You’re nothing like you’re brother. Brooding is your hobby, no killing kids for fun.”
Sasuke inhales a breath that feels like the drag of nails against his lungs and plunges his hands into his pockets, watching as the Jōnin slowly disperse with children trailing after them. Thinks, almost instinctively at this point, ‘It’s not too late for me to run,’ because every second drags like he’d been plunged into the Tsukuyomi. ‘We could still make it.’
“Sure, and I’m a fuzzy bunny.”
“Well you have the eyes for it,” and the laughter in his tone is faint enough that it’s barely there.
“Brat,” and though his tone is gruff, Sasuke can hear the concern, feels the attentiveness as Kurama watches to see if it’s a situation that he actually does need to drag Sasuke away from.
(They’ve had to do it a few times before because, as Kurama likes to put it, “your’ kind of reckless is the kind that- if I was capable of having them- would give me nightmares.”
“Well that’s an achievement- do you think I can get them to put that in my Bingo Book entry? ‘Terror to the Demon’s in your head.’” )
When the chuunin teacher in the room finally glances at him, he’s too wrought to hide the glower, his face carved into the patented death glare that was perfected party from genetics, partly from practise. The chuunin flinches under it, and Kiba muffles snickers into his hand as the children remaining go deathly silent.
(Sasuke wonders if Minato-sensei had felt this sick at the thought of teaching, or if it was just another sign of how much a fuck up he was?)
Sasuke kicks Kiba in the shin sharply and he responds with a theatrical grunt, before Sasuke finally looks at where his three students are (and fuck, isn’t that a frightening thought?). The three of them are sitting near the front of the room, Kakashi one seat away from them in a placement that was no doubt purposeful (though on whose behalf is still questionable), affecting an expression of boredom that didn’t quite manage to hide the calculation in those eyes, whilst Rin and Obito have matching wide eyes, Obito’s mouth slightly agape.
(And oh, looking at Obito is like a kick in the gut. His godson had grown so much over the years, and the knowledge was a reminder of just how badly Sasuke had failed him).
His scowl deepens minutely, and Kiba’s next laugh is met with an elbow to his gut. “Team 7 to the roof. You have five minutes,” he orders, and then body flickers the hell out there before they have a chance to react. They could find their own way up- he wasn’t their teacher yet, inspite of what the Sandaime said; they would have to pass a test first, and since he was setting the criteria then it’s not like anyone can question him for failing them. The Sandaime couldn’t exactly punish him for it, except by giving him unpleasant missions (which really wasn’t much of a deterrent, considering Sasuke was pretty sure his trauma had trauma by this point), and Sasuke wasn’t joking whenever he mentions leaving.
(Part of him ponders just leaving right now, just running until he’s far enough from the Village that no-one can stop him, but he doesn’t; he would miss his friends, and he can’t quite bring himself to abandon Obito without giving the kid a chance first. He owes him- and Himeko- that much).
Up on the roof, Sasuke settles against the railing and tips his head back to look at the sky. Rests a hand on the hilt of his sword, and says, “Well, Minato-sensei. Looks like we’ll soon see how well I remember your lessons in how not to fuck up children.”
At age 8, Sasuke finds a team and with them learns what it’s like to have a family again.
At 12, the team is down to three, Sakura reduced to nothing more than another name on the monument, another body to add to the pile.
At 15, Naruto has joined her, killed by the red sun, passing his burden to Sasuke with his last breath. Two can’t make a team, and so Minato-sensei isn’t far behind.
At the age of 16, only Sasuke remains, with the grief worse than it was all those years ago and his failures a heavy weight on his back. He loses everything once more, and somehow he still has it in him to be surprised at the pain.
At 22, the narrative starts again: another team, another sensei, another year. And yet, is there no end but tragedy?