Day/Theme: March 5/I am nothing, you are wind and devil and God
Character/Pairing: Sasuke; Team 7
Rating: PG for a bit of violence and a bit of swearing
Notes: I'm a little late, but I've been working on this for several hours this night, so let's just pretend I'm in CST for once.
Three days ago, Naruto had dragged Sasuke into Konoha by the rope around his waist. Sasuke had been too weak to fight and too stubborn to walk. He could still feel the dirt grinding into his hair as Naruto pulled, could still see the back of Sakura's head above him.
Two days ago, Tsunade had delivered her edict as a marginally cleaned Sasuke sat bound before her. "You have seven days to decide whether you will submit to interrogation and punishment to be decided later, or whether you will be executed. Three days is the norm, but there were special circumstances."
Sasuke had not said so, but he could look at Tsunade's face and know what the special circumstances were:
You protected Sakura. You saved Naruto.
And he knew that Tsunade was caught by their spell as well, but at least it wasn't tearing her heart out.
Sasuke had taken to hiding in the woods surrounding Konoha. This had two benefits and one drawback.
The benefits were clear enough: Naruto could not find him, and other people could not see him.
The drawback was that it gave him time to think about why he he thought that was good.
Naruto had singlehandedly toppled Sasuke's plans to achieve his vengeance and brought him back from an edge he'd been barely aware of. Sasuke wished he could hate him for it. Instead he only hated himself.
Itachi had been right there; Sasuke, although he was worn out from his efforts to shield Sakura, had seen the opening as his brother lunged for Naruto. Sasuke could have killed him there and then.
Instead he had thrown himself in front of Naruto, taken the blow for him. This time he couldn't even claim that his body acted on its own. He had seen all the possibilities, and he had chosen to sacrifice himself for Naruto.
As he lay there and bled out, Sasuke felt his life dissolving around him in more than the physical sense. Felt something in his head shattering. And suddenly, as Sakura dropped to her knees at his side, Itachi was no longer his center of gravity anymore. Nobody was. He was empty and free and, stupidly, he was grateful. He had failed his clan, failed everything, but at least he no longer had to live with himself. He closed his eyes.
When he opened them again to see Sakura in a heap next to him, unconscious from the effort of the healing, and Naruto ragged and panting at their side, he knew he was tethered once again, but not to Itachi anymore.
Now Naruto and Sakura held him.
And even now, with his fate lying before him in the place he'd once called home, he still couldn't bear to be near them.
They were too real, too whole, too bright. Sasuke was sure he was an empty shell with nothing inside except the ashes of old hate, not worth the fierce care those two gave him. When he had fallen, they told him, Naruto had flown into a rage and torn into Itachi (taken Sasuke's vicious dream and shook it until it was dead). When he had fallen, they told him, Sakura had flown to his side and thrown her whole being into healing him (taken Sasuke's final peace and ripped it away from him).
Didn't they understand? He wasn't worth it.
Wound up tightly in those thoughts, Sasuke almost missed the way the branches rattled behind him. By the time he turned around, it was too late. Naruto was already upon him, forcing him down to the ground.
"You asshole!" Naruto yelled, even though he was close enough that Sasuke could have heard him if he'd whispered (too close; he burned at this distance). "What are you doing moping around out here?" His eyes gleamed with anger he didn't bother to contain. "Why aren't you back in the Hokage's office right now telling her you're ready to give up whatever secrets and information and all that crap they want to let you stay here again and live?"
Sasuke kneed Naruto hard in the gut and took the chance to push him off and scramble back up to his feet. "Because I haven't made my decision yet, idiot."
"What decision is there?" Naruto said, glaring at him. "You're not gonna die here. Why would you want that?"
Sasuke thought, for a crazy moment, about telling Naruto everything: his frustration at having both his revenge and his peace stolen from him, his inability to cope with the sheer love that had been shown to him, his helpless unsurety of his future--
--the way Naruto's eyes burned him and Sakura's face stopped his heart.
But something halted the words far down in his throat, and instead he sneered as he always had. "Maybe I still have some pride left." He didn't. He had nothing left. He was bare and broken. "Maybe I don't want to let this place crack open my head and use what's inside." There was little inside his head and even less inside his heart. "Maybe I want to die with some dignity."
Naruto snarled. "You won't die with dignity. Because if you don't go over there and give yourself over to Tsunade right now, I'm going to bash your fucking head in and kill you right here and now." He looked like he might cry with rage, shed those great streaming tears of messy fury that he did so well.
Sasuke shook his head and turned to walk away.
Naruto was on him in an instant, raining heedless punches down on him. Sasuke tried to twist around and fend off the blows, but it was too late, and Naruto was too furious. He went down.
And then other ninja were peeling the flailing boy off of him. "What the hell!" Naruto said, trying to twist out of their grasp.
He failed. Sasuke rolled his eyes. "They're ANBU, Naruto. Did you really think you could attack an important captive without getting your stupid ass hauled off by them?" He walked away, swallowing against the tightness in his throat.
Everything in the world needed the sun, thrived on it. But if it got too close, the world burned up. Sasuke needed Naruto in stupid, embarrassing ways that he couldn't even begin to explain, but being near him hurt like fire.
It was something of a relief to be back in the empty apartment he'd been assigned. The place, bare and impersonal as it was, felt suitable. He didn't belong in a real home now, didn't deserve it.
Sasuke sat in his one chair, tipped his head back, and stared up at the blank ceiling. In a matter of moments, he knew what he had to do. He had to flee here. Maybe someday he would be far away enough. Maybe someday he'd have left them behind, and the needing and the hurting and the feeling would stop.
He had a plan in seconds. With a cry of mock pain, he flung himself back against the wall, sending shudders through it. Then he sprung to his feet and kicked over the chair. "Get away from me!" he yelled to the empty room (to himself).
The door was flung open, and the ANBU who had been guarding him rushed in. They paused, puzzled at the empty room. Before they had time to realize they'd been lured into a trap, Sasuke had taken them down: two with the hypnotic power of the Sharingan, two with a sharp blow to the neck (for some reason, he found himself carefully avoiding making those hits fatal). The final one gave him a brief tussle, scoring a shallow gash on his shoulder with a kunai, but he was too disoriented by the speed of the attack to last long.
Sasuke got to his feet and started for the door, his breath coming out in a sharp hiss. He had some new jutsu to disguise himself on the way out, and he knew they were unfamiliar enough to Konoha to last until he was well clear--but only if he started immediately. He opened a window, now unguarded, and started to lift himself up to the sill.
A hand suddenly rested on his shoulder, the injured one, and it pressed down hard enough to make him wince. "Ah," said a familiar voice. "You aren't leaving."
Sasuke whipped his head around to glare into another Sharingan eye. "You don't know that," he said. "Get out of my way."
Kakashi yanked him back from the window and slammed it shut. "No." He leaned down and picked the chair back up. "Sit down, Sasuke."
Sasuke responded by loosing two shuriken at him (both of them aimed strangely away from where they might cause a fatal wound). While Kakashi was distracted with fending them off, Sasuke flickered through a series of handseals, and then a slender snake shot out from his sleeve and snagged Kakashi by the leg.
His former sensei almost stumbled, but before he could be too disadvantaged, he'd pulled out a kunai and hastily cut through the snake. Its body dissolved in smoke. Too frustrated to bother with ninjutsu anymore, Sasuke threw himself at Kakashi, his leg snapping upwards to kick him back, hard.
Kakashi stumbled several feet back as the kick connected, and suddenly he was wide open. Sasuke rushed at him--
--and tripped over one of the prone ANBU members. As he sailed towards the floor, he felt Kakashi lightly catch him by one arm and flip him backwards, so he fell to the floor flat on his back.
Kakashi had never really been unbalanced by that kick after all. He'd simply seen how Sasuke's frustration was clouding his judgment and lured him into a heedless rush.
Sasuke glared up at the ceiling once more, but his sweet blank vision was interrupted when Kakashi's head heaved into sight above him. "Now," he said, "are you going to stay?"
Tears threatened Sasuke's eyes. He blinked them back swiftly, and when he was done, the red of the Sharingan had faded from his vision. He pushed himself back from Kakashi and sat up. "I can't," he said simply.
Kakashi took a step back. "Oh?"
Sasuke's heart pounded furiously, and he knew he would burst if he didn't try to explain to someone. And Kakashi--he could at least try to tell Kakashi.
"I can't stay here," he said. "It hurts too much, being around people like them," and he knew Kakashi would knew who he meant, "and being this empty. I have no vengeance anymore and I haven't had a life for a very long time." He lowered his head. "If I leave, I can--" He struggled for words. "I can fill up the empty parts of me with pieces of them as I go. And eventually it'll stop hurting, and I'll be close enough to whole that, if I get far enough from here, no one will be able to tell the difference anyway."
He looked up again, and Kakashi's expression surprised him. It wasn't chiding or weary, but genuinely shocked and oddly regretful. "What?" he said.
"That's it? No? Why not?"
Kakashi grabbed him by his shoulders and pulled him to his feet. Beneath the mask, he was smiling, and as he spoke, his eyes squinted closed. "Because you're not me. You're one of them."
Sasuke opened his mouth to speak and found he had no words. He closed it again.
Kakashi stepped back and bent down to pick up one of the ANBU and start dragging him outside. He didn't speak again until he'd come back for the second one. "By the way," he said then, "Naruto wasn't the one who killed Itachi."
"What?" Sasuke looked up, blinking. "But I heard he turned into a terrible monster after I--"
"Yes," Kakashi said. "He wounded Itachi badly, but he was too out of control to finish him off."
"So who did?" Sasuke demanded.
Kakashi smiled. "As far as anyone asking witnesses or examining the body knows, you did, just as you were taking that final blow. Naruto merely savaged him afterwards."
"Why would they think that?"
Kakashi did not answer, but he glanced down at his right hand in quite a contemplative way as he left. And though his heart still ached and burned, Sasuke felt some weight ease off him.
And yet he still had no idea what to do or how to live with himself.
The stars guided and comforted everyone upon the earth, but their light was too cold and distant to truly change anything. Kakashi understand Sasuke better than anyone, but in the end, he could offer him no help.
They took his chair away after his attempt to escape, leaving Sasuke with only a plain bed. It was good enough for him now, if anything was. And the ceiling was fair enough entertainment.
It was the fifth day of his last week, and a knock sounded on the door.
He ignored it. It was Sakura; he knew that. She had knocked on his door the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that, and the first day he was here in this apartment. She would go away soon, and he would no longer have to hear his heart hammering at her nearness, feel his mind race at the thought of her trying to reach out to him. She was so much more considerate than Naruto, that way.
The knocking stopped. He let out out a soft breath of relief.
Then the doorknob rattled, and the door opened, and Sakura stepped inside.
Sasuke sat up abruptly. "Get out of here," he said, even though he wasn't sure that was what he wanted.
"Not today," she said. She walked closer to him, until she was near enough to touch. "What's wrong with you, Sasuke-kun?"
Everything. Nothing. "Don't call me that." He shook his head as if to clear off the honorific.
"You've never had a problem with it before," she said mildly.
"Of course I have," he said. He hadn't. He'd been grateful for it in a strange way. But that was before he realized just how much he didn't deserve it. "I've told you. You're annoying."
She smiled. "I know. I am. It's all right." She lifted a hand to touch his face.
For a moment, he was lulled by the strange softness of it--not her hand itself, which was calloused from her work, but the gesture, the look in her eyes. Then he snapped out of it, pushed her arm away. "It isn't!"
He stood up. The rush of emotion was overwhelming him, and he knew, finally, that he had only one way out. "I'm going," he said. "I've made my decision."
Sakura reached for his hand; he jerked it away. "What's your decision, Sasuke-kun?"
He gave her as cold and hard a look as he could muster as his answer, and he turned to go. He had lied to Naruto; he didn't care about meeting death with dignity. He just wanted to get out. He wanted it to be over.
"Sasuke-kun," Sakura said. There was something strange and oddly compelling in her tone. He turned to meet her gaze.
Her fist landed square on his jaw with more force than he could believe. He staggered back, staring, and then he crumpled to his knees.
Her punch hadn't been like Naruto's. There was none of the need he put into his violence, none of the craving for Sasuke's attention, none of the longing. She let that shine in her face and her voice instead of hiding it in her fist. No, this had been a clean, simple blow, with only anger and reprimand to fuel it.
But before he could even really register the pain, she was down on the floor beside him, her arms around him. "Naruto told me what you said to him," she said, "eventually. You were lying, Sasuke-kun. Why do you really want to die?"
Her arms were too close and her face was too warm against his own. His heart finally did what it had been threatening to do every time she or Naruto approached him: it burst. It wasn't empty after all, but full of a desperation that finally overflowed into shocking tears.
"I have to," he said. "I have to. I can't live. I can't."
Sakura clasped her hands tight behind his back. "Really?"
"I, I, I," he said. And finally it spilled out. "I don't know how."
"Silly boy," Sakura said; what a strange thing for her to call him. "Of course you do. And if you've forgotten..." She turned slightly, enough so that her mouth brushed against his cheek. He thought for a moment that it was supposed to be a kiss, and then he realized that it was a promise. "We can help you remember."
"Naruto and Kakashi are waiting outside," she said. "Come on." She stood, pulling him to his feet with her. "Let's go tell Tsunade your decision."
The earth did not burn or inspire, but it was unyielding and embracing. Sasuke held onto Sakura as they walked outside.