A/N: Okay, you know why I love author's notes? It makes the pages seem a lot less blank and intimidating for me to write on when there's a big fat author's note sitting at the top of the page. Anyways…This, as you can probably tell, is a SasuSaku fanfic, that I started writing as a result of the despair I was feeling from Sasuke leaving Konoha, becoming evil, and most importantly, hurting Sakura. Meh, I'm tired of reading fics where Sasuke just randomly comes back, gets together with Sakura and live happily ever after. (grins evilly) I wanted to make something more complex than that. Title is both figurative and literal.
Disclaimer: I sadly do not own Naruto—because if I did, I would have bashed Sasuke over the head with the Fork of Common Sense, thereby preventing his departure from Konoha. I don't own the Fork of Common Sense either. That belongs to Muffin-moto :3
Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always preserves.
- 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Chapter One: Blackness and Darkness
Today, Sakura was dressed entirely in black.
The usual red tank top, with the white trim, which she regularly wore, was tucked away in her closet that day. Instead she was wearing a long-sleeved shirt that covered her wrists and part of her hands, and long loose pants replaced the usual pink skirt that went with her shirt. If she wore socks with her sandals, they would have been black too. The only thing that was not black about Sakura that day was her brilliant viridian eyes, her petal pink hair, and the red forehead protector that kept her hair back.
She was walking now to work at the hospital, where again she would practice the skills that the Fifth Hokage, Tsunade, had taught her. She smiled readily as she went, and waved to people she knew, greeting them brightly, however each and every person stared at her attire, though none could find a polite way of commenting about it. Sakura did not mind, in fact it was better for her if they did not ask—she did not want to have to explain to anyone why she was wearing black, it was just too painful to think about.
Despite the smiles and cheerful waves she gave people as she went, a dark feeling of gloom rested on her shoulders. She had a good reason for wearing black that day, for it was almost exactly—
"SAKURA-CHAN!" came an exuberant exclamation from behind her. A small smile appeared on her lips as Sakura shook her head from side to side. Perhaps a dose of Naruto would be enough to keep her mind off of her sadness.
Turning her head back down the path that she had just come from, Sakura saw Naruto sprinting towards her, waving energetically at her. A broad grin was on his fox-like face, and Naruto's other hand was towing a very reddened Hinata along. He skidded to a stop in front of her and almost crashed into some people who were walking by, much to Sakura's alarm. Naruto on the other hand seemed undaunted (or he simply did not notice) and looked at Sakura happily.
"Heya, Sakura-chan!" he grinned.
"Good morning, Naruto, Hinata," she smiled to both of them, "Why are you two in such a hurry this morning?"
"Oh, well…not really in a hurry," Naruto scratched the back of his head thoughtfully, "It's just that I bumped into Neji, Hinata and Ten Ten, and I decided to treat them to ramen tonight. I was wondering if you wanted to come, Sakura-chan, because you seem awfully…I dunno, distant lately."
Off to the side, Sakura could see Hinata blushing over the fact that Naruto was treating her to ramen. She kept glancing at Naruto's hand that was clasped with hers. Sakura smiled slightly. It was almost like a double date, even if Naruto was too stupid to realize that Hinata liked him very much. She shook her head politely at Naruto.
"Sorry, Naruto," she apologized, "I have a lot of work to get done today at the hospital, and I don't think I can make it tonight." Not to mention that she would feel out of place, being the only one without male company. Additionally, she would rather be alone that day.
"Aw, come on Sakura-chan!" Naruto begged, "It'll be lots of fun!"
"Thanks for the offer Naruto," she shook her head a little more firmly, knowing that if she gave him an inch, he would never give up begging, "but perhaps another time. I'm just too busy. I'm really sorry that I can't come, as much as I'd like too."
"Couldn't you just skip out on work today, Sakura-chan?"
"Definitely not," she said firmly, "People are depending on me. And besides, I'm sure you don't need my company. Hinata, Neji, Ten Ten and you can have a wonderful time without me."
"Sa-Sakura-san," Hinata spoke up shyly, "They do say, the more t-the merrier."
"Well, they also say that less is more," Sakura smiled in return, "Humans sure contradict themselves, don't they? Anyways, I'm going to be late if I don't hurry. Thank you for the offer, but I'll come along next time if I'm able. Ja ne!"
Naruto sulked while Hinata nodded understandingly. Sakura smiled and waved before turning and walking briskly down the street. She had wasted too much time as it was. Tsunade was very strict when it came to being on time. 'You could save a life if you come even just a few minutes earlier,' she had emphasized and Sakura remembered absently wondering how she dealt with Kakashi, who was always late.
Pushing open the doors to the hospital, Sakura greeted the smell of disinfectants and cleanliness with the usual twitch. How she hated that smell. And to be greeted by it every day was not nice. She supposed the smell was a relief for those who went down, thinking they were going to die, and waking again to find the smell of the hospital in the nostrils. However, Sakura was not one of those people; to her the hospital reeked. She shook her head firmly, not wanting to waste any more time by dwelling on the stench of the hospital, she ran up to the reception desk.
"Good morning, Sakura," the receptionist greeted her, smiling, "Tsunade-sama is already waiting for you with a patient on the fourth floor, room four eighty three."
"Thanks a ton!" Sakura replied, running to the elevator. Checking her watch she squeaked in apprehension, she had only three minutes to get up to the fourth floor. The elevator seemed to be taking forever and she mashed the button on the wall impatiently. After what seemed to be an eternity, the door opened and Sakura dashed inside, pushing the button for the fourth floor. She breathed a sigh of relief as the elevator began to move upwards. Looked like she might be on time anyways.
It was damp—always damp. He hated damp. Being a fire user, damp always irked him, for reasons unknown even to him. It was not like it was anything new to him, it had always been dank in the underground that was Orochimaru's base, and one would think that after three years of residing in various underground bases, he would have grown used to it. But even after that extended period of time, Sasuke still hated the musty smell.
Perhaps it was because of the tinge of apprehension he felt that day that the smell and the feeling in the air bothered him more than ever. Orochimaru had summoned him, said that he needed to speak with him over a small matter. Sasuke scoffed quietly to himself, he was not stupid, and Orochimaru knew he was not fooled, and therefore had placed the room heavily under guard. Not that he couldn't deal with the guards—it was just the inconvenience of causing a ruckus, thereby bringing more Sound Ninja onto his tail. Then it would be difficult to continue to escape.
Sasuke slammed his fist down hard onto the concrete wall next to his bed, so hard that it cracked and crumbled slightly from the force. It was not supposed to end up this way! Orochimaru had promised him power, and granted, had given it. But Sasuke knew that Orochimaru had not trained him to the full extent of the Sannin's power; he feared Sasuke, and therefore did not want to give him more power than he could control. He was probably going to wait until he had taken over Sasuke's body before continuing to strengthen his host.
Sasuke had had it all planned out: by this time, three years from when he left Konoha, he would have trained and used Orochimaru's power to eventually surpass the sannin, and kill him. Afterwards he would go forth and use the Sharingan to collect different techniques in order to exceed his brother's skill. It was obvious what he would do afterwards. He would avenge his clan.
But of course his plans had naturally been ruined when today Sasuke was called forth to 'talk' with Orochimaru over a small matter. The small matter in question, of course, was the transfer of Orochimaru's tainted soul into his body, something that he had planned on keeping from happening. But he realized that at his current state, he had no chance in defeating the sannin; he could perhaps put up a decent fight, and injure his sensei critically, but Sasuke knew that he would most likely be dead before Orochimaru. And that of course was unacceptable.
Sasuke held his head in his hands, his fingers tangled in his dark locks; his jaw was clenched and a scowl was visible. It was almost time… Orochimaru would obviously have him escorted to have their little 'chat', and then Sasuke knew his own body would be out of his control. His sensei didn't give a damn about his revenge, and most likely would not avenge the Uchiha clan, even if he requested it.
Standing up abruptly, Sasuke began to pace around the room in an irritated manner. There had to be some way out of this. He had not strove to become stronger only to end up being Orochimaru's host. He knew he had been used, he had known from the very beginning that he would be used, but of course he had planned to have Orochimaru dead before he would actually be used. If there was one thing that bothered Sasuke more than anything else, it was being used. He had to think of a way to get out of this situation without getting killed. He refused to be used.
'Think!' he reprimanded himself, his fists clenching and unclenching behind his back as he paced back and forth. There must be some way of preventing it; there must be a way out—a way that Orochimaru would not want to take over his body.
He paused and looked at his hands, flexing them slightly. There had to be a way… He closed his eyes, going over in his head what exactly Orochimaru needed him for. There were only a couple things, come to think of it. Orochimaru wanted him for his Sharingan…aside from skill and speed, there was no real point in keeping him alive.
Slowly sinking to his knees on the concrete floor he closed his eyes and sighed. The only thing he could think of doing, was unthinkable. If he did that, there was a good chance he would never be able to defeat Itachi. He could probably break his own bones if he needed, but that would only prevent Orochimaru from temporarily taking his body. That bastard, Kabuto, could probably heal any disfiguration he caused himself. Kabuto, as much as Sasuke did not want to admit it, was skilled in his arte, and any injures would mended as good as new, not hindering his speed or skill. Sasuke grumbled to himself, pacing again, trying to think of alternative ways of escaping, but only drew up blanks.
He thought again to his first choice of action… it was so risky. To live, free of Orochimaru but not be able to defeat Itachi, or to be inhabited by Orochimaru but most likely have his desires rejected. Either way was a no-win situation. He thought about it some more, his mind growing ever anxious as the weight of the situation crushed him. He had to make his decision, quickly.
He turned over his only other option in his head… There was always a slim possibility that he could work around the hindrance…but he could see no way of ever recovering completely. He knew that if he were to do it, it had to be in a way so damaging that not even Kabuto could fix it, for if he were able to recover, Orochimaru would see to it that Sasuke would, and then take him as a host.
Sasuke drew a kunai from the pouch at his hip, and turned it over in his hand, watching the dark metal glinting dangerously. He closed his eyes for a moment, thinking deeply about what seemed the only other course of action other than being the next vessel. Against his will, his brother's hateful face appeared in his mind, speaking to him softly, darkly.
Run, and survive in the most despicable way.
Sasuke wrenched his eyes open, clutching the kunai tightly in his fists, not noticing the blade digging into his fingers. Survive in the most despicable way. Sasuke took a deep calming breath and slowly relaxed his hands. His knees hurt on the floor on which he was kneeling, the cold ground keeping his senses sharp and alert. Survive in the most despicable way.
Then he heard it, faintly at first, but unmistakable—there were footsteps in the hall, and they were coming this way. He glanced sharply over his shoulder, then down at the kunai. His heart began pounding in his chest, his brow and hands breaking into a sweat; he bit into his lip fiercely, tasting blood. The kunai glinted dangerously in his hands, the footsteps getting louder still. He dropped his left hand and clenched the kunai's handle in his right, his arm shaking.
The footsteps were outside his door now and had stopped. He heard Kabuto's voice ordering the guards to open the door. There was a clinking of keys. The doorknob turning, and then he heard the slight creak of the door being opened.
The most despicable way.
With a determined resolve, Sasuke raised the kunai above his head and with great force he slashed the sharp blade across his eyes. The damp odour of the underground was soon stained with the scent of blood, and the silence was punctured by an agonized scream.
"That was good, Sakura," Tsunade praised her pupil as she came away from the ninja's newly healed body, "You're getting better everyday. You are a very talented girl."
"Iie, Tsunade-sama," Sakura shook her head, "I couldn't do it without your help."
Tsunade smiled and put her hand on the shoulder of her pupil, and chuckled. Sakura smiled back, the Inner Sakura rejoicing at the praise.
"You did well this morning, you deserve a good break," Tsunade smiled, "Come to the cafeteria and I'll treat you to lunch."
Sakura shook her head apologetically, "Oh, I couldn't let you do that. I'm just doing my job as your student." In reality, she just felt like being alone.
"Nonsense," Tsunade said firmly, before turning to exit the room, "You deserve a reward. Come now, let's go before the break is over."
The way that she stated it, Sakura knew that she would be unable to argue further. She smiled slightly at Tsunade's retreating back—Tsunade was a strict teacher and a smile was a rare thing to get out of her, she did feel proud that she had managed to heal the ninja's severe wounds, but that did not make her misery go away. Inner Sakura, who had rejoiced at the praise, went back to sitting in the emo corner of Sakura's mind, sitting depressingly as she had done all day.
Slowly Sakura walked after her teacher, not letting her Inner Sakura show outwardly. Tsunade was holding the elevator ready for Sakura and she quickly scampered over and entered, the doors closing behind her. Tsunade began to make comments on her chakra use, speaking about how Sakura did her medical healing in a slightly different method than herself.
"It's still as effective, perhaps even more so," Tsunade was saying, "It's an interesting technique you have. It's a way that I never thought of using, perhaps because it makes it slightly more difficult, but it seems to work well enough for you."
"You flatter me, shishou," Sakura said smiling, but she was only half listening. Part of her outer Sakura was sitting in the emo corner with the inner one.
They chatted idly as they proceeded to the cafeteria. Contrary to the popular belief, the food there was better than your average hospital, and Sakura had no qualms about having to pick food from there to eat. She and Tsunade sat down and ate lunch in silence. Sakura's mind wandered about, letting her depressing thoughts float about the room; she saw people come and go, nurses running about, patients being cared for, but not did not really take it in.
Turning her attention away from her depression, her outer self focused on Tsunade, who was staring at her student in a perceptive manner, "Yes, Tsunade-sama?"
"Tell me," she said, poking her salad with a fork, "why you are wearing black today."
It was not a question, it was an order; the tone stated that she could not refuse answering. Sakura blinked for a moment, then opened her mouth, carefully choosing her words, "Well, my regular clothing gets so dirty when I work, I thought perhaps black would hide the grime more. Then at least I could walk around without looking disgraceful."
"I see," Tsunade replied, sounding skeptical. She took a sip from her glass of water—which Sakura insisted she get instead of going and getting some sake, "You just felt like wearing all black today so that you wouldn't get dirty?"
"Sakura," Tsunade's voice was in a warning tone; Sakura knew that her sensei did not like to be lied to.
Looking down at her half-eaten lunch, Sakura hung her head. She spoke quietly when she finally managed to open her mouth, having difficulty choking out the words, "It's been three years since I heard that Orochimaru took on another host other than Sasuke. This year…is the one where he can take a new host… this year Sasuke…Sasuke-kun is…"
The words died on her mouth; unable to force them out, she did not even bother to try and speak further.
"I see…" Tsunade took a bite of her salad, munched on it for a while then swallowed, "You know, Sakura, the chances of him returning to Konoha were reduced almost to zero as soon as he left for Orochimaru's power. You knew that he might never return. It is even less likely now that he will come back at all."
"I know," Sakura murmured quietly, "It's just that he is such a caring person, even if he never showed it."
"Was," Tsunade spoke sharply, "Was a caring person. I think he had already lost his ability to care about anything right before he left the village."
"Tsunade-sama, please don't talk that way about Sasuke-kun," she spoke quietly, "I know from when I met him leaving the village, that there was a shred of hope for him."
"A shred is a very small thing, Sakura," Tsunade replied tersely, "It has been out of our hands for quite some time now. I suggest that you get your mourning over with quickly, so that you are able to focus on things more important than lost comrades."
"Yes, Tsunade-sama," Sakura responded inaudibly. Despite Tsunade telling her to do otherwise, she did not want to forget about Sasuke, he was her first love, her last love, her only love. Not wanting to look at her teacher at the moment, she wracked her mind to for things to talk about other than Sasuke. Sakura could find nothing to say; her mind was so burdened. She found the silence awkward, even though it had only lasted a couple of seconds.
Mercifully, as if by some unknown force, Shizune seemed to appear out of now where, brandishing a large stack of papers in the Hokage's face.
"Tsunade-sama! I have finally found you!" Shizune reprimanded the woman, clearly flustered. Sakura looked up slightly at the young woman, who looked like she had combed the town over twice before finding the troublesome Hokage, "Why are you taking a lunch break when you have all these papers to go through?!"
"Calm down Shizune, I was going to get around to them…"
"Most likely tomorrow if not later!" Shizune retorted in a frustrated manner, "Please, Tsunade-sama, come to your office and get as many done as you can. Please?"
Tsunade stood up with a heavy sigh. "Fine, fine! Just stop badgering me!" she turned to Sakura, "Sakura, finish your lunch and I'll see you this afternoon. Try and forget about Sasuke; even though you remember him, he has most likely not bothered to remember you."
Sakura nodded mutely and took another half-hearted bite of her lunch as a very agitated Shizune dragged her teacher off.
Tsunade's words had hit her painfully, and she knew in her heart she could never do what her mentor asked. She could never forget about Sasuke…ever.
It was a very angry Kabuto who was dragging him along the musty hall, that was all Sasuke could tell. His eyes hurt like the fires of hell had entered them, and he could no longer see; only once before had he had wound that hurt even more so than this one, and that was when Orochimaru had given him the curse mark, had given him power.
Blood was running over his face and into his nose and mouth, he could taste and smell it distinctly. He was crying out in pain; he could hear himself yelling out, even though he was not consciously aware that he was actually doing so. He struggled slightly, his eyes burning, but he was too weak from loss of blood to put up a fight. He didn't know what would happen to him now, but he did not care, it had been his choice to blind himself. He could end up a dead man either way, blinding himself or no, but even blinded, he could at least have a chance of survival.
There was a creak as the door to Orochimaru's chamber opened, and Sasuke was dumped unceremoniously down on the ground, at what he assumed was at Orochimaru's feet.
"Orochimaru-sama," Kabuto stated in an important tone, though Sasuke could hear a faint tremble in his voice. The coward no doubt knew that he would be held responsible for what happened to his master's new vessel, "We have a problem."
There was a scuffling, and the rustle of clothes and Sasuke found his chin being nudged by someone's foot, in an investigative manner. Sasuke had his eyelids shut tight, though the pain did not abate. It felt less strange to not be able to see when his eyes were closed opposed to when they were open. The foot dropped away then kicked his shoulder hard; Sasuke merely winced, as the pain was nothing compared to the burning of his eyes.
"Why, Sasuke-kun?" came Orochimaru's silky voice, near his head. The voice was soft, but it dripped with anger and loathing, like poison from the fangs of a snake, "Why have you done this terrible thing, Sasuke-kun?"
Keeping his mouth tightly shut, only emitting groans of pain, Sasuke did not reply, knowing that in order to live he had to play his cards carefully. He felt Orochimaru rustle past him and over to the other side of him.
"Kabuto," the voice was still deadly, "Can he be healed?"
Someone, most likely Kabuto, kicked him over onto his back, and the warm breath he felt on his face suggested that someone was examining him. A hand grabbed his chin roughly and held his lolling head still. There was a pause, then the hand and breath receded, allowing Sasuke to curl up on the floor.
"I could heal the wound, but he would never be able to see again, let alone use the Sharingan," came Kabuto's serious voice, a slightly nervous tone laced uncertainly into it.
There was a long pause, and the tension was laid so heavily in the room that it could have been cut with a kunai, "I see."
"What would you like me to do?" Kabuto asked as rustling fabric made its way away from Sasuke's injured form.
There was another long pause, "Make sure he is duly punished and then dump his body in the woods."
"Would you like him killed?" Kabuto asked.
"It matters not, with the amount of blood he's lost, he will die soon," Orochimaru replied, "Make sure his last moments are painful."
"Would you like the memory erased?"
Another pause, "In the unlikely event that he does survive, remove only the important parts."
"Yes, Orochimaru-sama," there was a rustle of fabric as Kabuto bowed over to his master, and then another rustle. The voice was projected in another direction as Kabuto spoke again, "You, take him to the dungeons, I will be there shortly."
"As for you, Kabuto," Orochimaru's voice grew fainter as Sasuke was dimly aware of him being dragged away, "We have to discuss your carelessness in letting our little Sasuke from getting injured in such a manner."
Sasuke could not make out Kabuto's response as his mind hazed, and he lost consciousness.
A/N: Chapter one! Please review with your questions comments and concerns. I'm sure there are some major concerns for Sasuke, granted the state he's in. I'm trying to stay constant with all the "kuns" and "samas" and the like, but it's kind of difficult to remember who calls whom what. I try, I do. But just for future reference, Sakura will be dropping her "kuns" for Sasuke for a while. There's a reason in the story for that, but my personal reason is that it annoys me. It makes her sound like a fangirl to me when she calls him "Sasuke-kun". Don't ask me why, it just does.
Anyways, please review! Arigato gozaimasu!