By: firefly

Note: Written for Lykomancer with love. I was sort of doped up on cold medication while writing this and was in one of those…semi-angsty moods? XD I just hope that explains the oddness of my Sasuke fics, including this one. Still, hope you all enjoy it. And reviews would be LOVELY. (Goes back to working on One of the Cool Kids ch.5)


Whole-heartedly hating someone, Sasuke found, was quite possibly the most difficult thing in the world to do.

Hate took practice, diligence, and concentration. Hate required every iota of your attention. Hate was self-mutilation; invisible lacerations on the psyche. Hate was poison; a slow deterioration of sanity. And true hate, he realized, wasn't possible to accomplish when the world was full of distractions.

A smile was a distraction. A wave was a distraction. A slap on the back was a distraction.

He couldn't concentrate on hating when the world around him was brimming with distractions, the biggest of them all being his team.

Filling yourself with loathing and odious emotion every breathing moment was difficult when your friends were around. Being angry every second of every day was impossible when every other person you knew smiled at you, naïve and ignorant and everything you wanted to be.

Hating one person, truly hating one person, he learned, required hating everybody else.

Sasuke tried to early on and failed miserably.

He tried hating the grocer, he tried hating his neighbours, he tried hating his academy teacher, he tried hating the mailman, and he tried hating the children who played near his house.

He couldn't.

The grocer gave him homegrown tomatoes, the neighbours lent him rice when his ran out, the academy teacher smiled too often, the mailman told him terrible jokes to make him laugh, and the children gave him candy.

When he'd asked why, they simply said it was because he looked so sad.

Hate hurt, but remorse hurt even more. So Sasuke gave up.

He took to distancing himself. If he couldn't hate them, he simply wouldn't see them. They were distractions, so to speak. They made his train of thought falter, made him contemplate his goals and wonder whether all the hate and effort to hate was all worth it.

Sasuke couldn't let them do that, so he kept himself apart, staying home on off days and occupying himself with chores and training.

If he couldn't hate them, he'd resort to the next best thing.

Their comings and goings, their daily activities, he simply wouldn't concern himself with them. If someone needed help, he'd let another person take care of it. If there was a fire, he'd let the firemen put it out. If someone in front of him needed comforting, he'd take the back door home. He would resort to apathy.

Simple as that, easier said than done.

Returning from training, Sasuke paused outside the entrance to the Uchiha manor one Saturday afternoon, turning his head to look over at his neighbour's house.

The very pregnant woman was struggling to carry her groceries up the stairs to her small house, one hand clutching a bag of groceries and the other alternating between grabbing the railing and supporting her back.

Becoming apathetic, Sasuke realized, had been easy enough. Staying apathetic, however, proved damn near impossible.

Itachi had taken it all—had practically razed him of all humanity and left him to rot, save for one thing. As time eroded away his sanity, little by little, day by day, his morality remained. His sense of right and wrong, the basic knowledge that one shouldn't laugh at those who fall down, the simple lessons taught by his mother of helping those in need, they lingered.

In the end, he was left with nothing but his integrity.

And in the end, he couldn't help but care.

So Sasuke pocketed his key and walked over to her, quietly mumbling for her to let him take her bags. He tried his hardest to avoid looking at the wide, grateful smile she gave him.

"Oh, Uchiha-san. Thank you so much," she said breathlessly, straightening. "It's getting harder and harder to move around these days." She patted her bulging stomach, laughing lightly.

Sasuke merely nodded and carried her bags into the house, setting them on the table and pausing long enough to absorb the odd, warm scent lingering about her small kitchen, so unlike the sterile smell of his house.

"Would you like some tea, Uchiha-san?"

Sasuke turned to glance at the woman.

She was petite, with large brown eyes and a warm, round face. She kept her hair in a braid and had an infectious smile. It was hard to believe her husband had been killed on a mission only nine months prior, in her first week of pregnancy.

Sasuke attributed her recovery to strength of character. She attributed it to the baby—a promise of new life, she called it.

"It's okay," Sasuke politely declined, keeping his face impassive. "I'll be going, then."

She smiled gently, almost sadly, and nodded.

"If you ever want to talk, Uchiha-san…I'm here, all right? It's just…" she said hastily, averting her eyes from his blank expression. "You're so quiet. Not…not that that's a bad thing, of course."

Sasuke unconsciously reached up to scratch his head.

I'm quiet hereHis fingertips absentmindedly traced his temple. But it's very noisy up here.

"Thank you," he said automatically, nodding. "Goodbye."

The next time he saw her, her belly was much smaller and she was carrying a bundle of blankets up the stairs to her house. She saw him watching from the front gate and waved him over, smiling widely.

A few minutes later, he found himself sitting on the worn sofa in her living room, stoically holding on to his teacup to spare himself from having to hold the baby. Its face was bright pink and tiny, hidden within the folds of the blanket, and he listened to her prattle on about its resemblance to the father.

Sasuke nodded periodically, politely declining when she asked him if he wanted to hold the baby. The utter terror that plagued him at that moment was not at all visible in the calm way he shook his head and returned his attention to his tea.

He'd seen a newborn before, once, when he was seven years old. A friend of the family's had the new addition, and he could remember standing on his tiptoes near his mother's side as she held the baby, flawless in the way she handled the small bundle.

Sasuke wanted terribly to be able to hold it, too, and he asked repeatedly, only to be chided in return.

You're too young. The baby's very delicate. Wait till you're a little older.


"Can't let little kids hold 'em," an uncle remarked with a grin, his smile vivid and wide in Sasuke's memory. "There was this one time a couple had a baby, and the father wanted to hold it even though he didn't know how. You have to support the head—always support the head. But he didn't, and you know what happened?"

Seven-year-old Sasuke had shaken his head dumbly.

The man's grin disappeared.

"The baby's head fell off."

Within a second following that announcement, Sasuke had developed a debilitating phobia of holding newborns.

If fathers couldn't even do it right, what chance did he have?

And now that he was old enough, he was terrified that she'd force him, terrified that she'd trust him and he'd forget to support the head and the head would fall off and he'd scream and panic and scream and—

"Uchiha-san, are you sure you don't want to hold the baby?"

Sasuke shook his head dumbly.

She smiled understandingly. "Maybe in a few months, then?"

Yes, when it's older—older and with stronger neck muscles.

There was a moment of silence, and then his neighbour suddenly made an odd, muffled sound. Sasuke regretted looking up.

The instant their gazes met, she burst into tears.

Muffled, heart-wrenching sobs filled the room, the harsh cries and dripping tears the only sounds in the house. Sasuke watched in dumbfounded silence and the baby beside him slept on, oblivious to its mother's grief.

Sasuke stared and wondered why he didn't set his tea down, excuse himself, and walk home. He wondered why he didn't tell her to suck it up. He wondered where all the apathy had gone.

Silently, he set his cup down and crossed the living room, heading into the kitchen and returning a moment later with a bundle of paper towels. He tore off a sheet and offered it to her, remaining by her side as she cried, handing her a fresh one every so often.

He felt displaced. Right now he should have been at home, training and meditating and practicing how to hate, not comforting a widow he could hardly remember the name of and saw only once every few months. He couldn't comfort. By all means, he was bad at it, but still he tried.


The distractions were everywhere; right here, right now, right in front of him, and he was letting himself be distracted.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, voice hoarse. "I'm so sorry, I just…"

He shook his head, hesitating only a moment before speaking.

"I know."

An awkward pat on the shoulder relayed his condolences and congratulations, and he departed a few minutes later without looking back. When he stepped into his dark, silent house, he forced himself to swallow the painful lump in his throat.

It's quiet in here, he thought complacently, rubbing his aching head and staring at the wooden floor. But it's noisy up here. Too noisy.

Does thinking to yourself constitute talking to yourself? Is there a difference?

"I'm not crazy," Sasuke murmured aloud in the kitchen, rummaging through his fridge. "Not crazy…just…"

He slowly closed the fridge door, then calmly sat down next to it, his back to the cupboards beneath the sink.

Can I take a break from hating? A small, weary voice inside his head asked, pleading and weak as he stared blankly at the wall. I'm tired…I'm so tired…

Is there such a thing? He asked himself. Can you take a break from hating? Does that even make sense? It's hard…it's so hard, going on like this, hating and hating, non-stop, every day. I can't do it anymore…not tonight, anyway. I'm tired, nii-san, I'm so tired…

Sasuke slowly leaned over till he was lying on his side against the cold tiles, eyes closing wearily. He wrapped his arms around himself, exhausted and cold and too tired to move.

The Sun sank from sight and darkness spilled into the manor, inky blackness coating every inch and blanketing his still form. He slept and dreamt of a compassionate nature he didn't want and tender, newborn necks.

He spent the next four months traveling in and out of the village on missions with his team, returning only to replenish his supplies and get rest. He didn't see his neighbour or her baby during those months, but some nights he wondered how she was coping and what she'd named the baby.

Then he'd shake his head and close his eyes, forcing the thoughts from his head.


Seven missions later, he was granted leave. He bid his team members goodbye at the village entrance and headed home. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of black smoke spiraling lazily into the blue sky.

He walked on, checking every so often to see if the smoke had stopped rising. It didn't.

He watched it now, brow furrowing as the tendrils of smoke grew into great black clouds, too close to his house for comfort.

Sasuke quickened his pace.

A crowd blocked his path and he squeezed his way through them. Through their fevered conversations, he still managed to hear the sounds of roaring flames and splintering wood.

He emerged through the throng and stopped, staring in silence at the sight that met his eyes.

His neighbour's house was on fire.

Sasuke stared for a moment, face blank with shock, before he automatically turned his head in the direction of the hysterical screams.

There was his neighbour, being restrained by two men. Tears streamed down her face and she fought tooth and nail to get free. The women around her were also in tears.

"My baby!" she screamed, her voice unlike anything he'd ever heard before. "My baby!"

No one moved. The flames had practically engulfed the entire right side of the house and were quickly spreading. The black smoke was literally opaque, ominous and noxious as it billowed up into the pale blue sky.

Sasuke slowly turned around and started walking back to his house. The hysterical screaming and hushed murmuring continued behind him as he calmly unlatched the gate and headed inside. He placed his knapsack near the door and walked over to the well.

Reaching for the rope, he pulled and began drawing up the bucket, feeling the weight of the water inside it. A few seconds later, he reached inside and pulled it onto the stone ledge, watching it slosh against the sides of the grimy, wooden bucket.

Cutting the rope with a kunai and holding the water-leaden bucket in his hands, he walked back out past the gates.

Sasuke stopped near the crowd with the bucket in tow and stared at the house. He'd be lucky to put out the fire on the door at this rate.

Unconsciously, he took a few steps forward, thoughts dormant and mind blank. There was a faint ringing in his ears as his grip on the bucket tightened.

Their comings and goings, their daily activities, he simply wouldn't concern himself with them. If someone needed help, he'd let another person take care of it. If there was a fire, he'd let the firemen put it out. If someone in front of him needed comforting, he'd take the back door home. He would resort to apathy.

Sasuke took a deep breath and slowly exhaled.

Simple as that, easier said than done.

A few people in the crowd turned to look when they heard a loud splash.

Sasuke closed his eyes as the water dripped down his face, waiting till he felt it seep into his clothes and coat every inch of his skin. Then he dropped the bucket and ran off into the burning house.

He heard the shocked cries of people behind him, saw them reach out, but the roaring flames encompassed everything behind him once he crossed the threshold of the house.

The heat was incredible, the air before him rippling and moving in waves as glowing ash rained down from the ceiling like black snow. The house was practically screaming—the violent noise of wood splitting and splintering and crashing down and around him mingling with the roar of flames.

Glass shattered near his head and he shielded his eyes, darting forward into the house and up the stairs.

The baby's room would undoubtedly be near her own. He knew that much.

As he dodged another flaming piece of debris, a complacent voice sounded within his mind, clear and calm amidst the chaos.

What are you doing? It asked him. What the helldo you think you're doing?

Sasuke couldn't think of a coherent reply.

He held the wet cloth of his collar over his mouth and nose, squinting into the hot, oppressive air as he emerged onto the second floor. Flames licked at the walls on either side of the narrow hallway, and he braced himself before dashing through.

The water hissed and boiled against his skin till it evaporated, rising in lazy white plumes of steam, only to be engulfed by the billowing black smoke around him.

His eyes watered and lungs burned, ears deaf to everything but the sounds of roaring flames and splintering wood. Pungent smells assaulted his senses and made his head swim, a blend of burning plastic, turpentine, and wood forming a noxious miasma.

He emerged from the smoke, stopping before the first closed door that came into sight.

Wheezing and stumbling, he shielded his eyes and took a running leap at the door, bracing himself.

It caved beneath his weight and was torn off its hinges, sending him and the snake-like tendrils of smoke ensnaring him tumbling onto the clean, white carpet.

The flames crept into the untouched room immediately, burning the carpet fibers against his feet till they darkened, smoked, and receded inwards like cigarette ashes.

Black smoke slithered against the warm pastel walls, creeping closer towards the crib situated in the corner.

Sasuke forced his legs to move, unconscious of the way his breath rattled in his chest and skin burned as he leaned over the crib.

A small, untouched bundle met his eyes. Tiny, peach fists beat fitfully against the soft downy mattress, a small, round head with huge brown eyes gazing up at him in curiousity.

"You shouldn't be here," Sasuke found himself saying, as he reached inside the crib.

It felt like the baby barely weighed anything; it was just a bundle of blankets and softness. His blackened hands awkwardly arranged the blanket around the baby's small, tender head, his fingertips grazing the downy tufts of hair.

A lump of pain and fear rose in his throat momentarily as he moved to support the baby's head before lifting it out, loathing himself for hesitating in the face of a ludicrous fear. But the infant merely gazed into his face, leaning its head back into the warmth of his black palm and looking utterly content as he picked it up.

Sasuke stared back at the child he held, frozen as the room around him filled with smoke.

Tiny pink fingers splayed against his burnt and soot-darkened shirt, clenching a tiny fistful and tugging with a strength that surprised him. Eyes that knew no fear, no hatred, no recognition, no anything—they stared at him, guileless, clear, and wide.

I'm going to die, Sasuke vaguely realized, staring down at the baby expressionlessly. I'm going to die to save this kid…whose name I don't even know. I'm going to die…without killing Itachi or rebuilding the clan, and that's…

The baby tugged on his shirt once more, eyes imploring.


"Okay," Sasuke found himself whispering, trembling. "Okay…"

The ache in his throat grew worse, eyes burning from heat and held-in tears as he gently, carefully rested the soft head against his shoulder, arm gingerly rising to surround the frail body. His knees buckled as the baby made soft sounds near his ear, gurgling and mumbling as he carefully draped the blanket over its head.

As he did this, Sasuke realized he had never been so terrified in his life, so terrified that screams and sobs were reduced to a small, wispy smile and a loud ringing in his ears, to a slight stutter in speech and uncontrollable quaking in his limbs.

This was death, and death was frightening because it was not ambivalent, because it was ruthless, because it would hurt, and because there was no coming back from it. Did dying by fire equate dying in glory?

Last Uchiha Dies in Heroic Attempt to Save Baby from Fire.

His legacy would be an eye-catching headline. Somehow he felt gypped.

"We have to move quickly, okay?" he muttered to the quiet bundle against his shoulder, turning and putting his palm against the back of its head. "Don't fidget, otherwise I won't be able to save you. We'll both die."

You're talking to a baby, the calm voice in his head said. And it doesn't understand a single goddamn thing you're saying.

He paused, thinking of what to say to try and stop his teeth from chattering.

"Your mother will be upset."

As soon as he heard his own words, the lump in his throat grew to twice its size, suddenly and completely stifling his voice. The held-in tears fell, the release unbidden and uncontrollable, each drop sizzling against the burning carpet.

I still have to kill Itachi. I still have to kill Itachi. I still have to…

I can't die here.

Soundlessly, holding the baby tight, Sasuke turned and stepped out of the room.

His head swam, the noxious fumes and smoke poisoning his senses, only to clear away at odd intervals and be replaced with the delicate, soft smell of newness and baby powder emanating from the bundle in his arms. Flames licked at his elbows and singed the ends of his hair, blistering the skin of his feet as the soles of his sandals melted.

He couldn't die here, and not only because it would leave his goals unfulfilled.

It hurt too much. He couldn't fathom dying this way—couldn't fathom the idea of his body becoming ash.

And the baby, the baby had to live. It hadn't lived long enough to do anything wrong. It was cleaner, purer, and better than he'd ever be.

It was a she, an achingly pristine girl, one who'd grow up and be a mother like his mother, love her sons like his mother, smile and laugh like his mother, be cherished like his mother.

She would be loved.

Live, Sasuke thought vehemently, ignoring the searing pain in his shoulder when he ploughed through the burnt, crumbling wall.

Live and die old…when you're so old you don't care about living anymore.

Sasuke bit his lip forcefully, staggering and wrenching himself away from the splintered wood that tore into his shirt and flesh.

Live…because I won't. Not for long, anyway…

He bled and burned, ached and throbbed, but still he didn't release the gentle, reassuring hold of his palm against the back of her head.

Somehow I just know he'll be the one who kills me…maybe in a few years from now…

Coughing violently, he staggered down the stairs and dodged the falling wood, leaping over the collapsed floor into the kitchen.

I have to beat him…but I probably won't.

The door was twelve feet from where he stood, intact and ajar.

But I still have to try…because really, that's all I'm living for…nothing more.

He burst through the front door, leaving the flames and black ash behind and emerging into a shower of cold, glistening water.

His world swayed, orange and blue and vivid through the glassy mirage his tears created.

Air had never tasted sweeter, and he nearly fell to his knees after taking his first mouthful. Breathing harshly, coughing violently, he stumbled forward into the nearest pair of outstretched arms.

Hysterical sobbing met his ears and Sasuke stared at the tear-stricken face of his neighbour, her face unrecognizable through his smoke-fogged eyes. But he still moved to give her the baby, mumbling incoherently for her to make sure she supported the head.

Then the bundle was taken from his dirty, soot-coloured hands, and Sasuke slowly took a few steps backwards, feeling lighter than he'd ever felt in his life. Light-headed and warm and…the clouds were spinning.

She cried out his name.

The medics rushed over to him when he took a few steps back and abruptly collapsed to the ground.

Four blurred heads blocked his view of the spinning blue sky and he muttered at them to move, his voice hoarse and hardly above a whisper.

The soot had darkened his face completely, the only patch of clean skin visible through the tear-streaks that ran from his eyes down to his chin.

His clothes still smoked, charred in some places. The skin of his elbows, hands and feet were raw and pink, the skin peeling and throbbing incessantly. Tears continued to flow freely down his face. He felt none of it.

A mask was forced over his nose and mouth, feeding him pure oxygen, and he lay back and listlessly observed the sky, realizing how close he'd come to leaving it all behind.

The thoughts, the insomnia, the friends, the pain, the hating.

All for someone he didn't know the name of.

Hating is hard, nii-san, he thought groggily, watching the sky fly by overhead, arm hanging limply over the side of the stretcher. I'm tired…so tired of it…but for you, I can go on trying.

His eyes closed, and when they opened again, he was lying in a hospital bed with his neighbour and her baby sleeping in the chair beside him.

The sound of thundering footsteps and a familiar voice hollering his name sounded somewhere outside in the hallway, alarmingly close to his room, and Sasuke closed his eyes again because it hurt to smile.

Hating was hard, but it wasn't impossible.

But not caring at all, apathy—that was hardest of all. Apathy was for the ruthless. Apathy was for the hollow.

And in the end, Sasuke couldn't help but care.