Author's Notes: Well, here I am returning to the Naruto fanfiction realm. This is a story that's been rotting on my hard drive for almost a year now so I thought I'd start posting it. Timeline wise, this story takes the day Sasuke left and just jumps off the deep end. I'd say spoilers through what we learn in Kakashi Gaiden (ch 244) but there will be likely be references to what's currently going on in the manga. I hope I still manage to entertain my readers, though once again I will warn that this story will have its dark moments so sensitive readers proceed with caution.
Regret Not A Thing
Ch. 1: At the End of the Day
The last memory most people could recall of Sasuke had been a good one.
He arrived to the Chuunin Exam with a flashy entrance and gave a stellar fighting performance. It's a shame those memories were soon clouded by the fog of war that followed.
Those who actually knew him could not share the same sentiment.
Kakashi remembers anger and defiance. He remembers venomous words being spat in his face. He foolishly believed he could save his student from making a terrible choice, only to learn later that he'd failed. Horribly.
Sakura remembers cold words and an overwhelming sense of abandonment. She remembers wishing that she could make a difference for once. Maybe if she'd been a little stronger, Sasuke might have accepted her help. Now she had lost the one who mattered most and could share his same feelings of loss and betrayal. She understood him oh-so-perfectly now. But what did it matter now? It didn't end up changing a goddamn thing.
Naruto had been the last one.
And he remembers it.
He can look anyone in the eye these days, and he will know it.
More than the sting of wounds, Naruto remembers his face. It hadn't been the one he'd grown so accustomed to in his lifetime. It wasn't the one the others saw in fragments of this bad dream, either. His skin was the color of dirt, his hair was smeared ash. Before the last hit burned at his chest, Naruto thought he'd caught something important flicker in his opponent's eyes. Thought he saw something that still resembled the person he used to know.
And that is what kills him.
Even if it wasn't true. Naruto cursed himself for being such an optimistic fool. It had all been a lie. Everything he'd been told that last day was a lie. Sasuke dared to even say they were the best of friends before…before…
No. They were never friends. They could never have been friends.
The bond of what might-have-been was shattered irreparably but Naruto didn't feel any stronger for it.
He just felt…empty.
It was truly a horrid sight to behold.
The stench of burned air and saturated earth clawed its way into the sinuses. It forced eyes to water and left bile on their tongues. This unparticular place in the woods had borne witness to a cataclysmic battle, the likes of which that had not been seen in quite some time. Though one could suppose, judging from the damage, such events weren't prone to even having survivors left to tell the tale.
It did, evidently, have its share of casualties unsurprisingly. A torn piece of singed fabric clung to a branch. Unassuming as it was, the black and red material gave a possible indication to who its former owner had likely been. The patches of dying black flames in the surrounding area made for far less subtle evidence. In the distance, a whistle signaled a body had been located. In what could be called a clearing, the group descended upon the site in hopes of putting an end to their suspicions.
The remains of the person were in poor shape, though not completely beyond identification. The eyes were gone, though the residual membrane splattered around the sockets suggested they were stabbed out rather than stolen. The figure was crumpled around the ninja-tou that impaled it. The body fell around the blade in a way that suggested the person had been kneeling at the time of death. It garnered some suspicion as to why the body was then pierced through the stomach rather than being stabbed from behind, or possibly decapitated, if this was an execution. It almost appeared as if the person had—
There was nothing a person could really say. No one could rightly believe they were saddened by this death. And yet, it was difficult to admit these moments were passing completely without grief. Here was a young man that could have had it all. He did have everything at one point in time. But it hadn't been the "right kind" of everything, it seemed. He cast away everything, yet what did it ever really gain him?
A gruesome death, apparently.
Kakashi stared at the body for a good long while. He wasn't studying the forensics or contemplating what he would detail in his report. At this very moment, he merely tried to wrap his mind around the fact that Uchiha Itachi was dead. It was a simply unfathomable thought to entertain. It was even more difficult to imagine who Itachi just might have fought at the end. Obviously one name in particular pulled itself to the forefront. One inescapable name that never really left, he supposed.
"It really is the end of an era."
Kakashi nodded dumbly, having no retort for Gai this time. The body before him had once been a great prodigy, even his commanding Anbu captain so long ago. Even Itachi himself seemed incapable of escaping the tragedy that pooled around the Uchiha Clan. Though he could only speculate if Itachi found any satisfaction at the end of his road. And he wondered—
"There's a survivor!"
Kakashi charged through the trees, past burning wood and over blood-slick grass. His feet turned to lead and fell heavy against the ground, the same shock that held the others rooted in place. The person they found was backed against a tree, completely composed and silent despite carrying grave injuries…But that wasn't what Kakashi and the others focused on. It was the eye, the one that didn't seem so much his own, and its deep amber color. His left arm, already bandaged seemingly from a previous injury, had unraveled to reveal the black splotches covering his skin. This was undoubtedly Uchiha Sasuke and he undoubtedly seemed as dangerous as ever.
"Sasuke?" Kakashi eased forward, trying his best not to upset the situation further.
He raised his eyes, crazed in one and horrifically calm in the other.
"So this is it, huh?"
His voice was rough gravel, worn with time and something Kakashi couldn't place. It wasn't the startlingly resigned quality of his voice that brought Kakashi to a halt, but the knife Sasuke pressed under his own chin— It had been years since anyone had last seen Sasuke. It was also a known fact that Sound Country officially collapsed just over a year ago. Where Sasuke went that last year was even more of a mystery than how he likely spent his time before the fall.
But to think things ended up like this…
The jounin squad and accompanying medical staff were at a loss with how to proceed. Sasuke was a missing-nin charged with everything from attempted murder to treason. It was policy to execute such individuals on-sight with extreme prejudice. But this was not your typical criminal. He was the only person confirmed to have gotten out of the Sound alive. Who knew what kind of information he might have? But more importantly, he was the last Uchiha.
And this was his last mission.
"Sasuke," Kakashi tried to think through his words clearly, "It doesn't have to end like this."
Sasuke answered by pressing the blade harder against his throat, the edge of his knife catching drops of blood. Suddenly he didn't strike Kakashi as being quite like a wanted man. Even now, he was still a lost child.
"I'm not going back."
Kakashi knew to listen for what Sasuke didn't say to gauge where things stood. And Sasuke said a lot with his reticence now.
I can't go back.
I'm not your soldier to order around anymore.
I'd rather die on my own terms.
Kakashi inched forward, trying not to disturb Sasuke any more than he already was. He recalled a time years ago when he told Sasuke the emptiness of revenge. "It would only end in tragedy," he had said. Even though he tried, Kakashi couldn't save Sasuke from this. He couldn't even venture what Sasuke must have gone through to gain enough power to defeat someone of Itachi's unfathomable strength. Now that it was all said and done, what did Sasuke have left?
Perhaps death would be a small mercy…
Kakashi eased in with silence and slipped the knife away from Sasuke's fingers. The lacerations lining Sasuke's left arm were more of a pressing matter than even the curse seal at this point. He all but growled at the medical staff to spring into action and everyone knew better than to question him at a time like this. Not that it truly mattered by now. It was safe to say now Sasuke wasn't in any condition to be perceived as a threat.
Not to anyone but himself.
Tsunade sighed. Then blinked and read the message again. This of course required more sighing.
She was ambivalently surprised over the information. She certainly hadn't expected for the Uchiha kid to show up during a routine scouting mission. What didn't shock her was that he was not only brought back alive without much of a struggle. For as much as he'd been written off as a hated missing-nin, it seemed some people still held a soft spot for the kid.
She'd have to talk to Kakashi about that later.
Tsunade planned out what she should ask Sasuke on her way to his holding cell. Soft spot or not, at least she wouldn't let a criminal squeak by without assessing his mental stability and promptly turning him over to the interrogation squad. (The more unbalanced he was, the more likely he'd be getting Ibiki himself) There was a great deal of unknown information surrounding the fall of the Sound that she assumed he could provide. And that still left over a year for Sasuke to have remained under the radar. What had he been up to? If time with Orochimaru taught him anything, she could guess probably not very good things.
"Has he said anything?"
Kakashi looked up from his floor seat, seeming quite content to lounge with his back against the wall. At least the Anbu were smart enough not to let the man past the outer chamber. He was just too biased to look at this case clearly, in her opinion. An outsider like Tsunade could easily tell Sasuke was not to be trusted. She knew better than anyone that ambition was the greatest corruptor of the soul. She'd seen a man fall to it first-hand. And just look at how well that turned out…
"Only one thing," Kakashi finally got around to saying, "He asked for us to leave the light on."
Odd request, though he was hardly the first. There was something about being held captive and kept in the dark that really seemed to bother people. As she reached for the door, Kakashi decided to add something that hadn't been in the initial message he'd sent. This one fact deserved a whole report in and of itself.
Tsunade swallowed her uneasiness as the door creaked open. To be capable of killing Itachi…It seemed she must have been right to think the little Uchiha was a threat, after all.
Two Anbu guards were waiting on either side of the inner door. Even with a foreboding steel frame and reinforced rivets, Tsunade took more comfort in knowing this door could only open with an unsealing jutsu. And she knew for a fact that there were chakra-binding seals lining the walls of the cell. Konoha was very good about keeping criminals under wraps.
One of the Anbu pushed aside the viewing slat for her and she scanned the tiny holding cell for Sasuke. The bare light bulb gave the room a hazy amber hue and sent shadows diving at odd angles.
In that fuzzed-out light, she could catch his body's slight tremors. He probably got himself banged up pretty good fighting against his brother.
"Well, you've certainly gotten yourself into quite a mess," Tsunade kept her voice chilled. Not that it was so hard, not when it was a young Orochimaru on the other side of the door. He glanced over in her direction with eyes two distinctly different colors. Even under the harsh cold light, she could see the deep charcoal of his right eye and the brilliant honey of the left. She chose not to take in the grimy sickly sheen coating his skin. No doubt a fever had set in…
"What have you got to say for yourself?"
"When will I be executed?"
Hmm…she could commend him for being so direct. The little bit of information anyone bothered to report to her was that Sasuke had threatened suicide when the squad found him. Though it was a tough call as to whether he simply didn't want to be captured alive, or perhaps was distraught in the aftermath of his brother's death, or perhaps--.
"That depends on how compliant you are with our interrogation," Tsunade answered briskly, "There's quite a lot we'd like to ask you."
He was quiet and she took that as a cue to begin her initial assessment. She paused, collecting her thoughts, tried to ignore his trembling. The way his one hand held his other arm in a death grip to likely numb away the pain of an injury. It was not a priority, she reminded herself. He brought this pain upon himself. All that mattered was learning if he was competent enough to tell them anything useful. Even so, she couldn't make her mouth shape itself around any words.
"I'll be bringing in Morino Ibiki to conduct the interrogation. Use this time to prepare yourself."
Tsunade yanked the slat over with enough force to make the steel groan. She just couldn't look at the kid right now.
"Bring him to H-B-4. No one but Shizune is to be informed," Tsunade ordered. The Anbu hurriedly gave their affirmatives to her back as she strode out.
"Where are you going?" Kakashi drawled as she passed.
"To find Ibiki."
Kakashi made a small acknowledging noise but chose not to add anything else. He didn't tell her that it would be must more efficient to just send him or another Anbu member to inform Ibiki of the situation. It didn't matter that using Ibiki was sort of overkill for what the situation required. He also failed to mention that he knew H-B-4 was the area of the hospital underground that "didn't exist."
Tsunade rounded a corner, trying to recall which corridors connected to Ibiki's department. Or that's what she told herself as she paused to lean back against the wall. Her eyes screwed shut, her jaw grew tense, her hand balled itself into a fist. She didn't want to realize this. She wanted to keep memories fresh in her mind from that mission years ago. The shock and betrayal that rippled through the village…That was what she should be recalling.
But she thought of a tragic little boy that made all the wrong choices. And he was a boy she'd likely be putting to death, even though something was making every bone in her body tell her to save him. But she couldn't do that. She couldn't make the same mistake as the Third. She had to be heavy-handed, without weakness. The village—no—the entire shinobi world had to know she did not cave to anyone.
Her fist hit the wall with a crack.
Soft spot, indeed.
To be continued…