(story revised as of 7/17/04) This was my first attempt at fan fiction and it's a divergent timeline. Spoilers through manga vol. 16. In this story, Naruto hasn't left to train with Jiraiya and Itachi/Akatsuki haven't come to the village yet. Also, please be aware that this story may possess scenes that might make the more sensitive of readers uncomfortable.

With thanks,

Mizerable

Wasted Years

by Mizerable

Ch. 1: Hazy and Faded

It was raining again. The aching in his bones signaled the weather before he'd even a chance to look. Even given the chance to sleep in a real bed for a change, his weary body was becoming less and less forgiving to its brutal treatment. Debating whether or not to rise just yet, he allowed his body an experimental stretch that served only to remind him how sore and stiff and fatigued he felt. More pertinent to the moment, his head was killing him again. The cause was most likely from attempts to drink away the bitter regrets that were killing him last night. If it wasn't one thing, it was another...Lying here in another unfamiliar room bathed in washed-out, gray light left him wonder to just how he ended up becoming such a mess in the first place.

How long had it been since he'd left, anyway? Three years? Five? After traveling thousands of miles and a million worlds removed, it certainly felt like he'd been gone for over a millennia's worth of time. Wherever he traveled, it always seemed to be a little colder than he ever remembered home being. And it always seemed to be raining.

He felt more drained than he had in quite some time. Arriving at whatever obscure village late last night after traveling for days and drinking until even later, it just hurt to get up today. More so than it had yesterday and even more so than the day before that and so on and so forth. So with full intention to just roll over and sleep off his fatigue and hangover, he silently cursed at what woke him up in the first place. Exhausted as he was, his body was desperately craving a nicotine fix. Smoking helped kill his appetite so he could deal without eating for longer periods, it kept him slightly warmer when camped out, it kept his frayed nerves from unraveling. But that, coupled with the exhaustion and the drinking, was proving to be a custom he shouldn't offer so much patronage to. Yet all were traditions that were becoming increasingly more traditional.

He lit up. After this, he'd get some more rest.

But the knock at his door said otherwise.

"Hey, Uchiha! Get your ass outta bed! We're moving out."

He watched the smoke lazily curl towards the ceiling, adding to the gray haziness the room was already drowning in. How had everything ended up like this?


Two years had come and gone but the chaos of Konoha tumbled along just the same. After the death of the Third Hokage, a permanent replacement had yet to be elected. Jiraiya had begrudgingly taken on an interim role but refused to extend it past that. He wanted to keep the village from completely crumbling but lacked interest in taking on the complete and total responsibility the title of Hokage entailed. A search had been made for Tsunade so that she could take the position, though she had no desire to be found and the results were therefore fruitless. The village recognized how vulnerable they must seem to the outside. It was a dangerous situation to float about in, so its shinobi were made to train more intensely than ever before to make up for the deficit.

"I…don't think he's going to show up," Sakura murmured, her voice lost in the thrum of raindrops. She rubbed her arms in a nervous gesture disguised as an attempt to keep herself warm and dry beneath a leafy tree. "Ah, you know him. Mr. Perfect's too good to come out and play in the rain," Naruto grumbled coolly, idly nailing falling leaves to tree trunks with his shuriken. Or at least it was what he tried to do, as his aim was far from standard just as his voice lacked its sarcastic edge. He never was good at hiding his emotions. "Kakashi-sensei?" Sakura turned her eyes to her teacher, hoping he had any ideas.

"Hmm?" Kakashi had his trusty book out and seemed to be rather absorbed. Or rather, that's what he wanted to convince the other two of. He was very aware of the absence. More importantly, he was noticing the habit. And he did not like what he was seeing. While it was likely his other students had a vague impression that something wasn't right, he doubted they noticed just how serious things were becoming with their teammate. With a sigh, the book was closed and slipped back into his pocket. "Alright, let's call it a day."

"But, Senseeeee—" Naruto whined. Just because some people don't show up to train anymore shouldn't mean he had to miss out, too!

"It's already late afternoon and pouring again. A big part of the day's been lost so it's senseless to get started now. You should go home and rest up a bit so you don't get a cold from the weather." Even with the mask, Kakashi offered what could be interpreted as a warm smile. They would certainly never know it was strained. After much glaring and griping, Naruto finally conceded. But, of course, not before adding how he'd go try to weasel free ramen out of Iruka-sensei. So off he went and Kakashi decided it was time he departed as well. There was someone he needed to speak to about their multiple absences. But he paused after noticing Sakura was rather rooted in place.

"Aren't you going home? A nice hot cup of tea should life your spirits." Kakashi knew this wasn't going to be easy. While Naruto knew something was wrong, he dealt with it by being grumpy and would take out all his confusion in training. Sakura was different. She—

"Sensei…I've never once been to his house," she began and Kakashi already didn't like where this was leading, "Could you—Would you—Can you show me where it is?" Despite his better judgment, considering what the reaction from the owner of the house would be, he couldn't help but agree to her request.


After all the debating, tossing, and turning, he gave into the incessant pounding at his door. It was rare for anyone to visit and even rarer for anyone to be so persistent in their efforts when they did. Opening the door, he didn't find himself too surprised when he discovered Kakashi waiting on the other side. Nor was he surprised that his teacher did not seem pleased with him. "It sure is raining hard out today," Kakashi stated casually, "Can't blame you for not coming out in it, though would you be so kind as to invite us in?" The sarcasm was not lost on him, though he was puzzled by one thing said. " 'Us'?" he remarked coolly. And, lo and behold, Sakura popped out from her hiding place behind Kakashi. "I brought you some soup—I figured you mustn't be feeling well, Sasuke-kun…"

He really felt like snorting at her in irritation at that moment. If her antics and "infatuation" weren't enough of a bother, it was even weirder for her to suddenly become as timid as the Hyuga girl. But since he could bet Kakashi had one hell of a lecture for him, he kept his mouth shut and opened the door a little wider for them to enter. Kakashi said nothing as he entered, using Sakura's attempt to give Sasuke the soup as a distraction to do a quick assessment of the boy. He'd most likely just woken up when they knocked, still in his bed clothes that hung from a body becoming increasingly skinnier. The heavy rings under his eyes suggested an exaggerated lack of sleep, though. Kakashi could pick out several scrapes and bruises that certainly hadn't been earned the last time he'd decided to grace them with his presence in training, including a couple of questionable cuts on his arms. No, he definitely did not like how this was going.

"Sasuke, I'd like a word with you." Best to just get this over with. That's what he kept telling himself. "I'm sure you won't mind if Sakura makes herself comfortable here, right?" Sasuke said nothing and just followed after Kakashi, leaving Sakura standing alone at the door with a cooling thermos of soup in her hands.

"I'm not pleased what's been happening here lately. I'm sure you know that," Kakashi said bluntly and Sasuke chose not to defend himself. Better to just let his teacher get it out of his system. "It's also come to my attention that whatever training you're doing to make up for the time you spend missing ours is anything but helpful. Do you mind explaining what's been going on?"

"The curse seal," Sasuke answered flatly, "I don't wanna be bothered by the other two about it during training so…" Kakashi paused a moment and realized he shouldn't have been as surprised as he was. Of course Sasuke wouldn't want to get too involved at practice and have it activate. "Ah, so that's why you hold back so much when all of you train together…And those?" He gestured vaguely at the marks on Sasuke's arms

"I gotta snap myself out of it one way or another."

This really was not going well. Sasuke was such a promising ninja, yet here he was completely falling apart at the grand age of fourteen. So consumed with revenge and regrets to begin with, Kakashi almost wished Orochimaru's curse had killed the boy immediately rather than drag out his inevitable collapse. This was painful to witness. "Why are you doing this to yourself?" Kakashi finally asked, "Why train to the point that the seal even activates? It could kill you." Silence was an unwelcomed guest that kept its stay for an extended amount of time.

"That man—My brother was the Anbu captain when he was thirteen…I'm not even a jounin yet," Sasuke admitted, eyes lowered, "I can't do anything at the level I'm at now. I can't even keep up with that dead-last idiot anymore. There's no way I'm just going to sit back and fall further behind."

"And then what? Say you do manage to kill Itachi, what will even be left of you in the end?" Sasuke gave a noncommittal shrug in response

"If and when you do fight your brother, with the way you are, you'll probably die in the process…"

"Probably," Sasuke answered, head bowed, "But as long as he's dead, too…."

With all of his training and all of his knowledge, Kakashi could think of nothing to comfort his student. There was such an agony locked within Sasuke, such an emptiness, that nothing could soothe it away. Sasuke finally raised hardened eyes to his teacher. "Are you finished?"

Kakashi nodded vaguely. He just couldn't reach him, not like this. "I do expect you to show up for practice tomorrow. And show up well-rested." There was nothing he could do. Sasuke seemed only to respond at all when demands for training were made. Returning to the front door, Kakashi was startled to find Sakura still waiting there. "I don't know your house at all so I didn't want to snoop…" With a sigh, Kakashi slipped his shoes on and prepared to exit. Maybe she could—

"Oh, and Sasuke? Be a gentleman and let Sakura stay here for a while this evening. It's such nasty weather, and all." Before Sasuke could argue at all, Kakashi had already departed.

The two stared at each other, Sakura looking completely surprised and Sasuke indifferent as always. "Whatever…" he muttered before turning away. He did glance back to watch her putting on her shoes and open the door. He hadn't expected her to leave him, considering her obsessive nature when it came to him. But more importantly, he hadn't expected her to leave after Kakashi made it pretty clear he expected her to stay.

"I know you don't want me here," her voice barely came out above a whisper, "And we didn't train much today so I'll just go home to—" Sakura froze when a hand gripped her wrist tightly.

"Train here. It doesn't matter," he stated gruffly and all but yanked her back inside.

"Sasuke-kun…" she murmured before trailing after him.

And so he let her train with him, more or less. He wasn't paying much, if any, attention to her but that was fine. Sakura wanted more than anything to just stay by his side, a task that was becoming increasingly difficult with each passing day. He just kept fading further and further away; so much so that she could barely see him anymore in the person with her right now. Where had her Sasuke gone? In this large home with no one but himself to greet him, it seemed the emptiness was swallowing him whole.

Sakura was snapped out of her revelry when she heard a pained gasp followed by a thud. "Sasuke-kun!" She rushed to his side while he lay crumpled on the floor. Shock crossed her features while she watched the curse seal cross his. "What have you done to yourself?" she whispered, feeling tears prickling her eyes. Sasuke gripped onto a kunai with a trembling hand, about to "snap himself out of it" but Sakura managed to hold his arm back. "Sasuke-kun, don't! Please don't hurt yourself!" She froze as he glared at her through Sharingan eyes filled with a madness she'd grown to fear since the first time she witnessed him like this. In a flash, she found herself thrown against the wall with a wrist pinned by Sasuke's hand.

He could hear the blood pulsing. Was it his or Sakura's…? He couldn't tell…The curse brought out an ugliness that he wasn't able to control. Didn't she realize that by now? This is why he could no longer train with anyone but himself. With Naruto there, he became too desperate to catch up. He couldn't train far from his home, should he be unable to gain control over himself. And in this house, he was reminded more tangibly of everything he lost. This curse was going to eat him alive with all his hatred and bitterness adding more fuel to the fire. And yet she—

"Get…Out," He managed to growl out. Sasuke knew he was losing his grip on himself and it wasn't safe for Sakura if she stayed. He had no interest in getting involved with Sakura, or anyone. But he was human and this curse certainly reminded him of the body's human urges. God knows what he'd do in this state…Sakura looked positively terrified. So why wasn't she making any effort to leave?

Sasuke could feel the tremendous pain burning throughout his body as he made a last ditch attempt at getting a hold of himself. Damn it… "Sasuke-kun…?" Sakura reached with her free hand to gently touch his arm. Why hadn't she noticed? Why hadn't she seen that the curse had been slowly taking her Sasuke away over the past years?

She heard him mutter a curse and that was the only warning she received before his mouth was pressed hard against hers. Her eyes widened in disbelief and it took a great deal of time for her to realize he was actually kissing her. Finally coming to her senses, all she could think was: Not like this.

Sakura wanted to be kissed by Sasuke for as long as she could remember. But he wasn't in control of himself now. She knew how much the curse altered his personality. No matter how much she wanted it, the real Sasuke would never kiss her.

So she tried to fight back, to shove him away. But he had always been stronger, regardless of the curse. She opened her mouth to shout in protest, only to have his hot tongue find his way inside and all her words were swallowed. Her muffled sounds and struggling seemed only so excite him further as he deepened the kiss and began to grind against her, as if trying to feel her all at once. If she questioned his desire at all, she could feel the evidence pressing against her thigh now. Try as she might, she couldn't help but gasp. She couldn't deny how good this felt, and that's why it hurt so much to know she had to stop him. He didn't want this and she knew it.

Her lips now freed while he began to kiss her jaw line, she could finally voice her thoughts. "Sasuke-kun, please stop!" His hand found the zipper of her red dress and was in a hurry to yank it open. "I know you don't want to do this! Sasuke-kun! Plea--aahhh" He began to suckle on her neck while his hand cupped her breast. She was so ashamed of herself. Why couldn't she be strong and fight him off? Why did this being have to wear Sasuke's face? The tears were streaming freely now as she thought of how much Sasuke would hate her when it was all over. Her wrist was still firmly pressed against the wall and all she could manage was to wiggle her fingers a bit. He was too strong and she was too weak and—

"Sakura…" he murmured in her ear. His grip was no longer overpowering and as he began to sink to the floor, she realized the curse had receded. Falling to the ground, Sakura could only murmur apologizes through her tears as she held his unconscious form.


God, it hurt. Though having no recollection of even going to bed last night, he woke to a drilling headache and an aching body. What happened yesterday? The last thing he could recall was training. Kakashi had left Sakura with him—Sakura!!

He shot up in bed, surprised when a wet cloth fell from his forehead to his lap. Wide-eyed and confused, he looked around wildly and found a startled Sakura kneeling next to his futon. "Sasuke-kun, do you feel bet—"

"Are you okay?" he immediately asked, "Were you injured at all? Did I--?" Sakura was too stunned to answer all the questions asked in rapid succession, even after he cut himself off. It was a rare occasion for Sasuke to blatantly show his worries so outwardly. "I—I'm fine, Sasuke-kun. You didn't hurt me." That answer was all Sasuke needed to withdraw in on himself, his cold mask slipping back on his face. The rain rattling against the roof filled in the blanks of their silent conversation that rambled on at a slow, steady pace.

"It wasn't your fault," Sakura finally spoke softly and to this he visibly flinched, "This is why you've been avoiding us, isn't it…"

"I don't want anyone to see me when I'm like that," Sasuke mumbled, "You don't know what I'm capable of…the horrible things I…" He trailed off when Sakura took his hand. "I still believe in you. We all do," she whispered, "Please come back to us, Sasuke-kun. Even Naruto misses you." He couldn't help but let a bitter smile tug at his lips. That complete idiot worried about everyone, friend or enemy.

The tension within the room lessened ever so slightly, allowing Sasuke to find his nerve. He had to clear things up right here and now. "Sakura, you need to understand something," he spoke gravely and held her absolute attention, "What happened back there…You know I wouldn't…." He just couldn't say it. He wasn't one to be afraid of something like this, but the words just wouldn't come out of his mouth.

"Of course I know you wouldn't…force yourself on me. It was the stupid curse seal that made you…." Sakura couldn't finish her sentence, either. She was too busy attempting to ignore the cheers of Inner Sakura, who more than enjoyed the feeling of Sasuke's hand in hers. Try as she might, she couldn't get the incident out of her mind. His body had been so close and intimate with hers…Just the thought of it made her whole body flush. And that was more than enough to add to her rising guilt. It hadn't really been Sasuke. How could she be so foolish?

None of this escaped Sasuke's observations, either. Curse seal or not, he couldn't forget her squirming against him or the gasps she tried to hide or how hard she tried not to give into him despite how much pleasure she felt. "I know you liked a lot of what happened there," Sasuke noted the shock, shame, and anger cross her features. As she prepared to deny that accusation, he continued. "You should know by now that I'm not really interested in having a relationship with anyone. There are things in my life that, more than anything, I must complete. Everything else will get in my way. So don't expect anything like that to happen for real--"

"I know," Sakura replied, "I know how important avenging your clan is to you…"

"Then we have nothing left to discuss." Sakura remained silent by his side, her gaze focused completely on the tatami mat. With a heavy sigh, she finally rose to her feet. "It's late so I'm gonna go home. I'll see you at practice tomorrow, okay?" Sasuke knew it was obviously what she should do. She needed to get out of here, probably to sort things out so she could even have the nerve to see him again. Things between the team were strained enough and that could cause serious problems on a mission. But he rashly said what came to mind anyway.

"Stay."

Sakura blinked rapidly in confusion while Inner Sakura applauded the idea. "Sasuke-kun?"

"It's late and it's still raining. Just stay here tonight." This was a completely stupid idea, he realized, but Sakura was so damn fragile. He had to put some sort of confidence in her or she'd very likely wind up dead on their next mission. Hopefully she wouldn't get the wrong idea.

Either way, this plan seemed to have her more than a little nervous as she was wringing her hands together. He also was able to notice how bruised her one wrist was. "So I did injure you," he realized aloud.

"Huh?…Oh, this? It doesn't hurt. Really," Sakura was lying and they both knew it. Despite Inner Sakura enjoying the basic idea of having been so close to Sasuke that night, even that part had been just as completely terrified as the rest of her. She was trying to be strong through all this but it was late and her resolve was failing. Sasuke knew he made a horrible mess of things. Putting aside how they were towards each other, if Kakashi found out he might receive severe punishment. He may have hinted to his teacher that the curse still acted up but if he knew how little his control was over it, he could be forced to quit his life as a shinobi.

"I'll prepare the guest room for you." God, he shouldn't be doing this. Sakura hesitantly approached his futon, "Can I—Can I stay here with you?" She squeaked out. Sasuke was absolutely stunned. How could this girl still want to be near him? After what he did, how could—

"Aa," he answered despite his thoughts eating away at him. That was definitely the wrong decision… Slowly, she knelt down and curled up beside him. Her hands were shaking, though he pretended not to notice. No need to embarrass her further. Despite feeling it would be difficult to find sleep that night with all the confusion and hurt filling their hearts, both dropped off into slumber with backs staring at each other.

For reasons unknown to them, neither felt surprised that they awakened wrapped up in each other's arms. Sakura snuggled closer, knowing after they moved this would never ever happen again. Sasuke, feeling drained as he always did in the morning, let her indulge while his body adjusted to consciousness

Lying in silence for an extended stretch of time, Sasuke was the first to pull away. Now sitting, he chose not to face her as he spoke. "Don't tell anyone what happened last night. If they find out about the curse seal, I'm finished." He knew she didn't like it but he hadn't expected her to. She chose not to say anything. In his own way, he told her that he didn't dislike her. It was far from being any semblance of affection but the thought was comforting in its own right.


Naruto showed up well after they arrived and couldn't hide his relief to see Sasuke there before he set his face into a scowl and tossed out a string of insults about how much of a slacker a "genius" could be. He was promptly stomped on by Sakura. Once Kakashi showed up in his timely fashion, Team Seven went to work. He made note of Sakura's bruised wrist but chose not to pursue any questions, as his team seemed relaxed for a change. Well, as relaxed as was normal for them these days.

Beneath the gray-faded sky, it was a successful training session.

To be continued…