Author's Note: Don't ask where this came from. It was written as a spur of the moment thing. And for those of you who are wondering about the status of "A Fox and a Shark Walk into a Bar," Chapter 26 is finished, it just needs to be beta-ed.
Sasuke doesn't think about Konoha very often. It isn't so much that the memories of the village he had been born and raised in hold pain so much that there is no longer anything in Konoha that concerns him. He has given up on Kakashi as a teacher, given up on Naruto as a friend (for which the idiot should be thankful, even though Sasuke knows he isn't). He hasn't given up on Sakura, but that is only because that he never invested much in her to begin with. Sasuke can only hope that she has the good sense to give up on him, though he knows that she hasn't with the surety that he knows that Naruto is still looking for him. Some people never listen. Sakura and Naruto are two such people, and will probably always be two such people. Kakashi isn't, but from what his former teacher told him the night before Sasuke's departure, he is far more used to letting things go than the two students that remain to him.
When Sasuke thinks about his old teammates, which isn't often, what he feels isn't anything resembling regret. It is either pity, or contempt. Sasuke has never been able to tell the two apart. They don't understand, and likely never will. They will lose people, yes; people they love and cherish, for they are shinobi after all, but not in the way Sasuke did. Sasuke isn't naïve enough to believe that his pain is completely unique- there have been family killers in the past, and even survivors to come along with it- but he isn't likely to encounter those survivors, and what drives him will never be exactly what drives them. No one can ever completely understand anyone else, and when Naruto had looked at him during their last encounter and told him that he knew Sasuke's pain, that he understood, it was Naruto's false empathy and not the lure of the mangekyou Sharingan that had made Sasuke want so desperately to kill him.
Orochimaru has never bothered with something that pointless. What he has done instead was offer Sasuke a way to achieve his goal, and a price for that way, nothing as transparent as sympathy, which was all Konoha had ever seen fit to give him. Sasuke doesn't actually like the snake sannin- he doesn't like anybody- but what he feels towards Orochimaru is a lot closer to gratitude than Sasuke is entirely comfortable with. Sasuke knows his eventual fate, and accepts it, though not in the pathetic way that arrogant Hyuuga rambled on about. His fate is to be Orochimaru's container because Sasuke made it so, and not because of the whim of some unseen, all powerful force. And Itachi will die, by his hand, even if it is Orochimaru's mind guiding it. He knows Orochimaru will follow through on that much, at least; Orochimaru hates Itachi almost as much as Sasuke does, and would gladly complete that duty even without the promise he had made to Sasuke, that first day Sasuke had arrived in Otogakure.
And Sasuke is getting the training he wants, while he waits. Orochimaru isn't a better teacher than Kakashi, necessarily, but he is far more suited to Sasuke's tastes. While the Copy-nin was inclined the trite sayings that often included the words 'overextending yourself' or whatever else he felt would get Sasuke to slow down long enough to eat lunch, Orochimaru pushes him and pushes him until Sasuke realizes that there actually is such a thing as 'overextending yourself.' And then Sasuke goes beyond that. Half the time he doesn't spend training under Orochimaru he spends in the infirmary, but Orochimaru's scroll library is extensive and Sasuke has access, so even that is time well spent, though Sasuke never manages to get anything done when Kabuto sees fit to loiter around. Orochimaru stopped unnerving Sasuke after the first month after it became apparent that beyond the occasional innuendo and sideways look, the snake sannin had no intention of taking Sasuke's payment out in other ways while they waited for the three years to pass, but there is something off about Kabuto that still manages to make Sasuke dislike the medic-nin's presence, despite a year's passing since Sasuke's arrival in Sound Village. Orochimaru is underhanded in many ways, but after spending more than ten minutes with Kabuto, who never speaks frankly when he can use some other rhetorical device, Sasuke feels the sannin's company to be a relief in its candidness.
The time he doesn't consume training or recovering from said training, Sasuke occupies with other things. Orochimaru has other business to attend to than his wayward apprentice, and somewhere along the line Sasuke had realized he couldn't spend all his spare time brooding in his room, because though the quarters Orochimaru allotted to him are spacious and comfortable, they are also very boring after staring at the walls for hours on end. And whatever else Otogakure is, it isn't boring, though this had far more to do with the inhabitants than the décor, since despite Orochimaru's liking for fancy kimonos, his taste for the beautiful doesn't extend to his surroundings.
Sasuke can admit to himself, though to no one else, that he had spent the first few months of his time in Sound Village purposefully avoiding his new 'teammates.' At least, what was left of them, as Sasuke's predecessor, Kimimaro, had expired mere weeks after Sasuke's arrival (some disease that Sasuke didn't care to hear the specifics about), to Orochimaru's displeasure and Kabuto's… something. The expression Sasuke had seen on the medic-nin's face when he had reported the death of the white-haired shinobi to Orochimaru had at first been appropriately apologetic, but after Orochimaru had turned to glare out the window, Kabuto's expression had shifted into something almost… gleeful. Only Sasuke had seen, and it was that incident more than any other that leads Sasuke to stay away Orochimaru's personal physician whenever possible. Whether Kabuto is a traitor to Orochimaru or not, Sasuke isn't willing to bet his life that Kabuto hadn't had something to do with the death of Orochimaru's prior choice for a vessel, and though Sasuke has resigned himself to his future role as Orochimaru's container, he finds it very difficult to let go of the three years remaining to him. So Sasuke is careful to make sure Kabuto's schedule never coincides with his, that they encounter each other as little as possible, and he never, ever accepts anything Kabuto offers him to drink.
However, even after Kimimaro's untimely demise, there had still been four other Sound elite Sasuke had to evade. Though Sasuke did so not out of any particular dislike for the Sound Four but because he found the idea of comrades foolish when he wasn't going to be around very long, his new team didn't see it that way, and most of them took Sasuke's reclusive nature very, very personally. Unfortunately, Sasuke didn't discover this until avoiding the Sound Four finally proved impossible when after two months in Sound Village, Orochimaru sent him on a mission with Otogakure's most elite (and ridiculously young for their rank) squad to build 'team spirit,' a term that had often been used sincerely in Konoha but said by Orochimaru only when accompanied by an ironic smirk. Why it was so ironic Sasuke found out very quickly and very painfully, as Sasuke had made the stupid mistake of acting like Sound was no different than Leaf. Specifically, he had made the stupid mistake of assuming that the Sound Four would act like Team Seven, and was unpleasantly surprised when he thoughtlessly left Tayuya to guard his back and promptly received a kunai between the shoulder blades.
From his position kneeling on the ground, trying to recover from the unforeseen attack from behind, Sasuke distantly heard the sound of Tayuya's sneering voice a few feet to his left. "Don't expect any of us to watch out for you when you're too much of a fucking snob to even eat with us, leader."
It was only later that day, when the camp was made and Sasuke got to see his new teammates function together, that Sasuke realized the depth of the pit Orochimaru had thrown him into. Instead of there being the expected gap where Kimimaro should have been in their interactions, instead of there being an established role for Sasuke to slide into, the Sound Four functioned like a team that had been working together for years, with no place for Sasuke at all. Like Kimimaro had never existed as a part of the whole. Like Sasuke was trying to intrude on something that would just be ruined by his presence. It made Sasuke consider Tayuya's earlier words carefully, and wonder why she even bothered when it was so obvious that they didn't need him at all. Why she had given him an opening. Why he was even considering it, when being left alone was all he ever wanted in Konoha. Why the isolation so bothered him now, watching a team that was so little like Team Seven in every way but the one that really mattered.
It was with no small amount of trepidation that Sasuke stood up from his position at the camp's edge and moved to join his new comrades around the fire. He was roundly ignored, but as the six-armed, dark-skinned shinobi Sasuke had never bothered to learn the name of passed him a thermos of soup with a half grin before turning back to his book, Sasuke found the silence to be infinitely more companionable than the chatter of Naruto and Sakura, who had never spoken about anything he could relate to or was even remotely interested in.
A month later he had found himself playing chess with the dark-skinned shinobi in the elite common room for no particularly good reason other than to break up the tedium of a winter's day. It was only after Sasuke had lost for the third time running that the spider-nin stared at him with half-lidded eyes across the board and stated factually, "You don't know my name, do you."
Sasuke shook his head, unable to deny it but inexplicably embarrassed for this gap in his knowledge. Instead of being offended, the older Sound-nin grinned companionably. "Didn't think so. It's Kidoumaru." There was a moment of silence as they set up the chessboard for the next game, before Kidoumaru said casually, "Tayuya doesn't like you, you know. Neither does Sakon or Jiroubou."
Sasuke restrained a flinch. With an indifference he didn't actually feel, Sasuke asked. "Any particular reason why?"
Kidoumaru shrugged. "They think you're stuck up." The companionable grin returned. "I wouldn't worry about it too much. Stuck up is a number of levels above Kimimaro's rating. Tayuya might not even let you get stabbed on our next mission."
Sasuke raised an eyebrow. "What was Kimimaro's rating, if I may ask?"
"Complete fucker. We actually threw a party when he died. We probably won't spit on your grave if you bite it, though."
Unable to think of anything appropriate to say, Sasuke reverted to the manners his mother had drilled into him, all those years ago. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." Kidoumaru watched quietly as Sasuke made his next move with a pawn. "You really suck at chess. You know that?"
Little by little, Sasuke has grown used to Otogakure, to the shinobi that live there and the strangeness that permeates every stone. Sound Village is dark, where Konoha had been light. Everything about Konoha had screamed life, despite the catastrophes that plagued its every step, while Otogakure is quiet, and still. For that, Sasuke is thankful. He had never been able to stand Konoha, with its light that shone over everything, casting shadows over its faults. Konoha was false, a village of orphans and cripples that smiled even as tears ran down its face. There is nothing phony about Otogakure, where almost everyone is without family and no one preaches about concepts as hollow as honor or integrity. Though here he is surrounded by silence, Sasuke never feels alone as he had in the village where he had been born. When he trains, Sasuke is at his happiest, but it is in the silence, watching the snow fall quietly on the ground, or in spring, watching the rain drench the forest in a soothing cacophony of sound and muted tones, that Sasuke feels most content, with the presence of one of his comrades always at his shoulder, unspeaking. Just watching.
It is during those times that Sasuke never thinks about Naruto. About Sakura. About Kakashi. About what he has left behind. Watching the snow fall, Sasuke knows that the potentially long life, the meaningless life, he had before is nothing compared to the life he has now, short and violent and full of the purpose that had been absent in Konoha. It is during those times that Sasuke is most confident that he had made the right choice. In Konoha, he would have wilted, but here… here he will reach the apex of his glory. Here he has found peace, waiting for his fate to be fulfilled in blood and silently falling snow. Here, in the cold burning of his curse seal against his neck that has become so familiar, so welcome in the power and assurance it grants him, Sasuke has found home.