Stepping from the Edge
By: Virgo

A/N: Okay, okay, so no Shikamaru /or/ Ino, I'm sorry. But it seemed like it had to be done to me. This takes place during chapter 10 of Stumbling Blind. Pretty much a look into why the sudden Sasuke-out-of-characterism toward the end :P

He'd met the new Hokage a few times after he was brought back. She checked up on him occasionally, making sure the seal around Orochimaru's curse was still strong. Every time she did Tsunade always said the same thing:

"How's my little rebel today?"

And he'd scowl because it sounded like a pet name coming from her lips. He didn't want anything to do with her. Or this village. He wanted strength. This tiny place couldn't give it to him and they tried to thwart every chance he had of gaining it.

He hated this place, he hated the people in this place. Most of all, he hated that annoying Uzumaki and equally damnable Nara. It was their fault he was back here. It was their fault he wasn't strong.

"You really should stop it."

Sliding dark eyes at Tsunade, Sasuke growled. Damn her, too. She seemed to know just what he was thinking.

"You're a lot better off here than with Orochimaru than you think." She said smoothly. "You know don't him like I do. He'll toy with you and pull whatever strings will get what /he/ wants. He doesn't care about your needs any more than he cares about anyone. He uses people for his own goals." Raising her eyes in a bland sort of humor Tsunade said, "If you want proof about it, ask Jiraiya about it. Or Anko. Or, better yet," she leaned forward, elbow on the edge of the bed, chin cupped in one hand, "ask me. Go on. Ask me anything."

But Sasuke just turned his head toward her, eyes like glass, compressing light into a thin, smoldering beam. "Don't think you can keep me here." He told her, voice low like the rumble of an awakening volcano slumbering deep beneath the sea. "I'll escape and I'll make everyone pay for holding me back. Dead Last and that Nara bastard especially."

"You know you really should be thankful to that 'Nara bastard'." Tsunade told him conversationally, as if she weren't just being threatened by the strongest ninja of his generation. "He gave you a second chance."

"A chance at what?" The boy growled. "At being weak? At never being able to become stronger?"

"At fighting your brother. On /your/ terms."

Taken aback, Sasuke's agro flow trickled thin. Satisfied that she had his undivided attention, Tsunade turned to face him fully.

"You are a strong young man, Sasuke-kun, you know that. Matching up to someone of Itachi's level is still beyond you, but you can reach it through hard work and perseverance. You still have so many years ahead of you until you even reach your prime. You don't have to worry about trying to extract your revenge right now." A fine boned finger shook lightly at the thought, but the tremor quickly passed. "You don't need to be someone else's dog to gain strength, you don't need someone else's strength to fight your battles." She gave him a grim look. "Would you be satisfied when you finally killed Itachi and everyone would say it was only by Orochimaru's strength? That you rebuilt your clan on someone else's power? You know the kind of man Orochimaru is. He's done worse to people than Itachi has."

Sasuke turned away, a frown tugging at his lips. "That doesn't concern me."

"Yes, it does. Because you are shinobi. You care about the lives of others, you want to protect those close to you, even though you don't want them close. If you didn't care about them, about the lives of your team members, even people you hardly even know, you wouldn't have gotten this far. The instructors here wouldn't have let you."

He wanted to glare, but he suddenly felt as if he didn't have the strength. Sensing his sudden drain, Tsunade stood up, drawing her robes around her once more. Suddenly she seemed like someone different and the hand that patted him seemed so much older.

"You don't have to be friends with him, you don't even have to like him. But know that he is here to support you, so long as you make a true decision instead of running off on impulse." She leaned down slightly, breathe sweet against Sasuke's cheek. "And I'm sure he wouldn't mind a little support, either. He lost a lot for your true gain."

A frown crossed Sasuke's lips and his fingers curled around the blankets just for something to do. But Tsunade didn't seem to be finished yet. "Remember, Sasuke," she said, half turning at the doorway, "if you can no longer feel regret for your actions you're already becoming the same kind of person as Itachi."

But Sasuke didn't acknowledge her. He just sat straight-backed in his bed and looked hard out the window to the entrance to his own mind.
A/N II: Um, sorry for taking so long to get this up. I wanted to have it done for some time now, but I got halfway finished and just hit a brick wall. Any thoughts for any story just welled up and died. Even now I'm practically forcing myself to think of something so this I'm still not completely happy with it. But, well, I'm afraid we're all just gonna have to live with it, really;;

Anyway I have two more side story ideas in my head. One will deal Inosuke a bit more and the other..... well, I don't know how to say it without spoilers, so I won't- Enjoy!