by Linay, February 2007
Summary: Revenge is a sweet flame that consumes everything in its path. Sasuke knows this, but when he and Sakura are caught in a war between the Lands of Sound and Fire, will he regret it? future fic, SasuSaku
Chapter rating: PG
Chapter 1: the first seal
It hurt to breathe.
Sasuke fell to one knee, his face contorting into a pained grimace as he pressed a tightly clenched fist to his side. At least one or two ribs had to be broken, he thought, struggling to even his ragged breathing. He blinked, fighting to focus on the scene that was unfolding before him.
Squinting through the haze of pain, he could vaguely make out the vivid green of the forest, a blur of orange, and the swish of a black cape. He struggled to push himself to his feet, fighting unconsciousness and the murky blackness that was slowly filling his vision. Then, his eye caught sight of another color, one that immediately made his skin burn.
What was it that she had said about revenge on that dark night, he wondered as fire spread through his blood. Hadn't she said that revenge would not bring him happiness?
His mouth twisting into a snarl, Sasuke rose to his feet with his eyes trained on the pink of her hair, the white of her pale cheek and red of the blood slipping from the corner of her mouth.
Perhaps she had been right, he thought as he felt the power of the cursed seal race through his veins. But he wouldn't know until he tried.
Sasuke Uchiha ignored the people who paused to cast admiring glances at him as he patrolled the roads of a small village in the heart of the Land of Sound. No matter how long he had spent training with Orochimaru and his band of Sound ninjas, he was still constantly reminded of how different the Land of Sound was from the Land of Fire. In his mind, the streets of Fire's hidden village, Konoha, were always filled with sunlight and the sounds of warm chatter. But all of the towns and villages of Sound seemed dry and empty, their roads of caked dirt rather than cobblestone and their architecture little more than rickety wooden structures.
It had been five years since he'd last stepped foot in the lush forests of the Land of Fire, leaving his team and his friends behind to seek the power to exact revenge upon his brother. Since that night - the first night he'd raised a hand to her - he hadn't stopped wondering about what might have happened next in the hidden leaf village. When he closed his eyes, he could image Naruto streaking wildly through the streets, calling his name in that annoyingly high-pitched voice. He could see Kakashi-sensei putting down his book and punching the wall. He could hear Tsunade, the Fifth Hokage, slam her fist into her desk and scatter files across the floor. But there was one image he could see even with his eyes open. Sasuke could still see her waking from the unconscious state he'd sent her to, waking and sitting up slowly to rub her forehead and sigh. He could see her crying, her knuckles rubbing her eyelids raw.
He shook the thought from his head, his sharp black eyes resuming their assessment of the small farming village. In a day, Orochimaru planned to move camp again and this community of rice farmers seemed to be a good choice. In all honesty, Sasuke couldn't have cared less where they decided to stay since they'd be on the move again in about a week. All the villages and their inhabitants seemed to blur into one long stretch of traveling and training.
Suddenly, Sasuke stopped in his tracks, a strange color in the shadow of a shop's awning catching his eye. His gaze narrowed as the flash of pink was temporarily obscured by the milling crowd. His grip tightening on the hilt of his sword, Sasuke didn't even realize that he was holding his breath. The crowd shifted again and he was faced with a perfectly clear view of pink hair cut in a pixie-like bob. His throat tightened as his eyes followed the white line of her neck to bright red material of a snug red dress. Just as he stepped forward, she turned to smile at the shop keep, giving him a clear view of her profile.
"Sakura," he breathed, taking another halting step.
The name left his lips in a mere whisper, but the girl's face snapped around as if she had heard, her eyes widening. They were green, dark and deep as the forest. For a moment, their eyes met and held.
And then, before Sasuke could even react, a tall man passed between them. His view of her was blocked for only half a heartbeat, but when the man had passed, she was gone. Sasuke whipped around, his keen eyes searching; but the shop and the street were empty of her. Snorting to himself, Sasuke pressed his palm to his forehead.
Of course, he berated himself inwardly, of course she would not be there, deep in the heart of Sound. Besides, it had been five long years since he had seen her last; she probably looked completely different. With a sigh, Sasuke turned back to his patrol, striding through the village market purposefully.
As soon as she felt his presence fade, Sakura exhaled and stepped away from the shadowed post. She grit her teeth and pressed a knuckle to the bridge of her nose. Five years, she scolded herself, five years and still the mere sight of him made her heart hammer against her rib cage. With a strained smile, she bowed to the shop owner and slipped back into the stream of the midday crowd.
Sasuke knew he wasn't alone. The slight tingling feeling hadn't left the pit of his stomach ever since his trip to the market. That had been hours ago and all the preparations for Orochimaru's arrival had since been taken care of. Now that the sun was just about to dip below the horizon, the feeling had only intensified. He stepped out onto the porch, leaned his shoulder against the post and folded his arms over his chest.
"So, it was you, after all," he said to the trees.
Sakura dropped from the branches of the tree nearby, her supple legs bending as she landed in the grass silently. She fought the instinct to bite her lip as she stood fluidly, meeting his cool black stare with a slight lifting of her chin.
Sasuke's lips thinned at the sight of her. It was obviously Haruno Sakura; he had known immediately by her trade-mark pink hair, sparkling jade eyes and bright red dress. But the similarities seemed to end there. While she hadn't grown much taller in the five years they'd been apart, she'd shed the slight chubbiness of her younger days, her frame slimmer and yet more curvaceous than before. The red fabric of her suit seemed to stretch around her lithe form, the slit at her hips exposing her toned thighs. He still saw a trace of her youthful determination sparking in those bright green eyes, but they were set in a face that had lengthened and grown more elegant.
He swallowed and then spoke, mustering all the nonchalance he could. "So, Sakura, is this a social call?"
She blinked at the sound of her name, forcing her eyes to focus on his face. He was so much taller, she noted absent-mindedly, and much more … Her thoughts became jumbled at that point. His face was longer and more angular, wisps of his jet black hair hanging over hard-set, black eyes. Sound's ninja uniform did nothing to hide his lean build and left the smooth plane of his muscular chest open to view.
"Sasuke-kun," she began quietly.
He raised an eyebrow. She cleared her throat.
"I have come bearing a message," she said, her tone turning official as she straightened, "from the Fifth Hokage of Konoha."
"Have you now?" He murmured, his fingers curling into fists as they lay hidden in the folds of his shirt.
"The Fifth Hokage would like to present you with an offer." Sakura pulled a scroll from the pouch that hung at her hip, holding it out to him with a straight arm. "She is willing to offer you amnesty if you pledge to act as Konoha's spy in Sound territory."
"Well," Sasuke began, "You can tell her that -"
"You have twenty-four hours to come to a decision," Sakura interrupted, looking away, her arm still extended.
There was a long moment of silence as Sakura waited for Sasuke to step down from the porch and take the scroll from her tensing fingers. When she didn't hear him move, she turned back – only to see that he was already standing in front of her, his chest millimeters from her white knuckles. Distantly, she realized that she had to look up to see his face; the top of her head just barely reached his broad shoulders.
"Here," she said suddenly, sending the scroll into his chest with a rough flick of her wrist, "Take it. I will be back for your answer at sundown tomorrow." With that, she turned and fled, bounding up into the trees and disappearing into the sky.
Sasuke watched her go, his fingers curled around the tightly wrapped scroll. He muttered a phrase under his breath and the paper burst into flame. He stared at it, already certain of the details written within as Sakura had felt it necessary to repeat them aloud. The black ashes curled and whitened as they floated lazily to the ground at his sandaled feet. Kicking some dirt over the spot where they landed, Sasuke turned to his room. He slid the door shut behind him with a definitive snap.
The day couldn't have passed more slowly, Sakura thought to herself, as she balanced on the ledge of Sasuke's window.
She had spent the night in the trees, concealed by the leaves with her knees tucked under her chin. Sleep hadn't come easily and dawn had arrived all too soon, its reddish gaze tinting the leaves gold. After a tedious day of surveying the activity in the rice fields and the market, she had made her way back to the manor that Orochimaru had claimed as his for the week.
Gingerly, Sakura dropped into Sasuke's room. As she waited for her eyes to grow accustomed to the gloom, her fingers went instinctively to the black band circling her upper arm to check that it was in place. As the shapes of the sparse furniture grew clear, she straightened and began to creep along the perimeter of the room, the tips of her fingers trailing against the wall.
Suddenly, a calloused hand was on her neck, pushing her back and pinning her to the wall. Knowing better than to scream, Sakura only glared daggers at the man who had one hand on her neck and the other on her forearm.
"Haven't you improved at all, Sakura?" It was Sasuke's breath that ghosted across her cheek, his tone mirthless.
"Actually," she said, letting the tip of her poisoned needle touch the skin below his ear, "I have."
One corner of his mouth quirked upward into a familiar smirk as he plied more pressure to her windpipe. They stared at each other for a full moment before Sasuke darted back across the room in a blur and Sakura flipped the needle back into her pouch with a flash of silver.
"I am here for your answer," Sakura said, pushing away from the wall.
"Did you really need to come back?" Sasuke said with a snort. "It's a no."
"Are you sure?"
For a moment, it was like they were thirteen again as all the longing of five years seemed to infuse her one word question. But then she spoke again and her voice was all business and calculation.
"If you accepted, you would still train under Orochimaru. You would still learn his techniques. The only difference would be that you'd be less of his dog." The last word was nearly spat.
He smiled, and his teeth glinted in the half-light. "Why would I want to go back to that weak little village?"
"We are not weak."
"Then why bother with me?" He asked, "Why is Tsunade so desperate to have me back?"
Sakura didn't look down. "She isn't desperate. This wasn't her idea."
He narrowed his eyes. "Whose was it, then?"
"Does it matter?" She spread her arms. "Do you really want to stay here, to be a vessel for that power-grubbing monster?"
"Hn," Sasuke graced her with his most condescending smile, "I suppose I will let you in on one little bit of information, then." He took several long, measured steps toward her, stopping when they were only a foot apart. "I am not here to be a vessel anymore. Orochimaru has already decided to use someone less…skilled as a body replacement. I am now his apprentice. I am here of my own free will, because I know that I can become stronger here than I could ever become under those fools with impossible ideals."
"Don't you ever think of anyone but yourself?" She was glaring at him now.
"Do you?" He paused. "Why are you even here? Shouldn't you know better by now? I only want revenge."
Sakura blinked rapidly, her eyes bright and her fists tightly clenched at her side. "Revenge, Sasuke-kun, is not all it's chalked up to be."
He smirked at her. "And what would you know, Sakura, with your perfect parents and perfect friends? What could you possibly know about it?"
This time, she did look away. "You're a fool," she said after expelling a long breath. She turned her eyes up to his and, surprisingly, they were dry. "Goodbye, Sasuke-kun."
It seemed to take her a moment to turn her back to him, but after he'd had a good view of the smooth silk of her dress, she vanished from his window with a speed that surprised him, just a little. Shaking his head, he turned away. He had a sparring match with his sensei.
Tsunade gently tugged the rolled paper from the ribbon attached to the leg of the small bird that had alighted on her window sill. As soon as it was free, the bird fluttered its wings and took off into the sky. The Fifth Hokage turned away from the window and headed for her desk.
"Is that the message from Sakura-chan?" Naruto nearly bounced off the sofa to peer at the small piece of parchment.
"Back up and give me some light," Tsunade barked as she carefully smoothed out the tightly rolled paper.
Naruto obediently took a few steps back, but still craned over her desk to squint at the tiny lettering. With a sigh, Tsunade beckoned to the man leaning against the door, who was pretending to read a book.
"Kakashi," she said, "Come read this writing. My eyes are getting to old to try and make out her tiny writing."
Kakashi unhurriedly closed his book and made his way over to the desk, bending over to look at Sakura's carefully coded message.
"He declined the offer," he announced in a deadpan tone.
"What?" Naruto nearly squeaked. "Why?"
"She doesn't say," Kakashi answered, "But she is going to stay in Sound to gather information and complete the mission."
"Foolish," Tsunade muttered, leaning back in her chair to stare at the ceiling.
"Who?" Naruto asked, looking from the Hokage to his teacher.
"Both of them."
Sasuke was sweating in the dojo, his arms aching from sword practice, when he heard Orochimaru laugh from the hallway. He paused mid-swing and turned toward the strange sound. In his experience, Orochimaru's laugh never brought good things. The doors to the training hall slid open and his sensei strode in, a wide grin on his face. Sasuke's lips turned down.
"Look what I found," Orochimaru said, a sinister smile lighting his eyes. He grabbed something from behind the doors and flung it into the room. A small form slid into view and unfolded itself slowly. It was a girl; a very familiar girl wearing red. She pulled her limbs into place slowly and looked up. A bruise was forming under one eye, she had a split lip and he didn't like the way she was cradling one wrist to her chest. She didn't look at his face, opting for his feet instead.
"Little spitfire killed a couple of Sound ninjas before I showed up," Orochimaru was saying, "Put up quite the fight, I must say."
Sasuke's face almost darkened.
"But aren't I forgetting something?" He tapped his chin. "Oh yes, isn't this the little girl you used to fight with? Another Konoha brat? I simply cannot forget this hair." He reached down to ruffle her hair roughly. "Now, Sasuke-kun, what do you think we should do with her?"
Sasuke sheathed his sword and shrugged, averting his eyes.
A long silence stretched out.
"No," Orochimaru said, his voice deepening, "I have a much better idea." He grabbed Sakura by the collar and hauled her to her feet. "After all, she did deprive us of some of our labor force."
Sasuke's eyes snapped back to Sakura, his eyes wide.
"What do you think, Sasuke-kun? Shall I put a cursed seal on her neck?"
Sakura's eyes met his then, calmly watching his expression. He opened his mouth to answer and then closed it, silent. She wrenched herself free of Orochimaru's grip, who only seemed mildly amused by her defiance.
"Kill me," she said seriously, "I'd rather die."
"Would you now," he crooned, grabbing her chin with one hand and planting two of his fingers on her neck.
"Yes," she said, closing her eyes, "But I won't."
In a small puff of smoke, Sakura disappeared, a log dropping to the floor beside Orochimaru. She materialized at the other end of the dojo.
"Replacement jutsu?" Sasuke hadn't realized he'd asked aloud; another question hanging between them unspoken and unanswered. When had she performed the hand seals?
"I have placed a locator seal on one of your ninjas," she said from across the room, her voice clear and confident.
She was still clutching her arm to her chest, Sasuke noticed as he tensed to lunge forward, but her stance was as determined as it had been when she had faced Gaara.
"This information has already been relayed to Tsunade of Konoha. Once they lock onto the seal, she will send a team here to destroy you," she continued, "And only I can undo the it."
Sasuke surged forward at a blinding speed but she was already gone, a cloud of green dust filling the air. Coughing, he leapt from the window to search for her outside. He could hear Orochimaru swearing.
"Find her," he shouted, incensed, "Now!"
Well, Sasuke thought as he raced through across the field to follow the lingering traces of her chakra, this time she'd finally given him a reason to chase her.
He found her easily because, apparently, she had decided to wait for him.
He stopped in a clearing and looked up. She was standing on the thick bough of a tree, looking down at him.
"Remove the seal."
He could see her leg muscles tense.
"Remove the seal," he repeated, his voice dark. "I don't want to hurt you."
She laughed then, a high-pitched, humorless laugh. "You're five years too late for that," she said. Then she leapt from the branch, flinging shuriken as she fell to him.
He met her halfway, his forearm catching her in the ribs and knocking her to the side. She twisted midair and landed on the ground, pulling a kunai from her holster as she spun around to face him. Sasuke turned slowly, pulling his sword from where it was strapped to his back. The light filtering down from the canopy above caught the long blade and it shimmered.
"I won't hold back," he warned, assuming a battle stance.
Sakura smiled a little too brightly. "Don't flatter yourself."
They ran toward each other at full speed. Sakura leapt over the rush of cutting wind he'd released with a slash of his blade, shuriken spinning from her fingers. Sasuke stepped out of their trajectory just as the edges of their blades met. Sakura flipped out of the sword's path while swiping at him with her kunai.
Sasuke could tell from the set of her green eyes that she was serious about cutting him, if she could get close enough. Though his mind told him this fact, surprise still bubbled up from his gut. His lips pressed tightly together, he distantly acknowledged that she'd greatly improved from the time when he could read her attacks without effort.
However, he thought as he swiftly turned, he'd gotten better too.
With a quick jab and a flick of his wrist, Sasuke knocked her weapon from her hands. Mouth open, Sakura turned slightly to watch it pinwheel into the bush. In the hush that fell, she didn't dare look back as the tip of his blade was pressed to her neck.
"Always ahead of the class, Sasuke-kun," she said quietly.
"It's not my fault you lag behind." He paused to let the words sink in. "Now, remove the seal."
"And if I don't?" She turned then, braving the risk of his blade slicing her open.
Before Sasuke could respond, a shadow suddenly passed over the pair. He jumped back defensively as a shower of knives stabbed the ground where he'd just been standing. A set of five dark silhouettes dropped from above, landing in a circle around them. Sasuke smirked.
Five hunter-nins surrounded them, their white masks emotionless as they cautiously advanced.
"You are interrupting," Sasuke said, his eyes going red.
Just before he began the slaughter, he thought he heard her voice. But that didn't matter, he thought, as the cursed seal flared, black patterns flooding across his skin.
After only a few minutes, there was only one hunter left standing between him and Sakura. His hands were covered in blood and there was the smell of charred flesh in the air.
"How uninteresting," he said, madness spinning in his eyes. His hands adjusting their grip on the hilt of his sword, Sasuke rushed forward, intent on skewering his opponent.
In the distance, he heard Sakura scream.
He brushed it off, his steps not faltering as he closed the distance.
A flash of red, a blur of pink and a heart beat later, he stopped, his blade embedded hilt deep between ribs and flesh.
His eyes closed. When they were children, he thought, the red haze clearing … when they were children, she'd stopped him then. She'd held him back, her cheek pressed to his neck and her tears soaking his collar. He'd forced the cursed seal back then, for her.
His eyes opened and they were black and bottomless. Blood spilled over the hilt of his sword, running down his tightly closed fists.
They were no longer children, he thought.
Peripherally, he saw the hunter pull off his mask, exposing Kakashi's familiar face. The mask dropped to the ground. Sasuke thought he had never seen so much emotion in Kakashi's good eye. Even so, he did not move.
He felt Sakura's hands slip from his and he looked down. Her bangs were hanging over her eyes, the blood blossoming on her chest. He shut his eyes tightly and then opened them again. Her fingers were moving slowly, lethargically.
A hand seal?
Heal yourself, he thought as he pulled the blade free and watched her slide to her knees. But she remained slumped and he still couldn't see her eyes – only the line of shining tears that slipped from her chin was visible. Just before she keeled to one side, Kakashi darted in and whisked her up into his arms, carrying her away into the trees.
Sasuke watched them go.
When he returned to the manor, blood-stained and expressionless, he immediately went to see Orochimaru.
"The locator seal should be negated," he said flatly before spinning away on one heel before he could see Orochimaru smile at the news, "She is dead."
As he leapt through the trees, hurrying to get out of range, Kakashi glanced down at the frail body in his arms.
"Were you successful?" He said in a tone so low that she barely caught it.