Sasuke defeated Itachi when he was seventeen. The day had been inappropriately beautiful, he remembered, one of those spring days when the sun is out and shining, everything is in bloom, and the air is still crisp enough to be comfortable. Sasuke and Itachi managed to level all blooming plants within a five-mile radius of where they were fighting. This, Sasuke later reflected, had probably made it extremely easy for Naruto and Sakura to find him afterwards.
Naruto and he fought, of course, because that was what they did, but he was exhausted from fighting Itachi and Naruto was strong. Strong enough to give Sasuke as much trouble as Itachi while Sasuke was at his full strength. He couldn't really bring himself to care that much. He felt numb. The type that comes from shock, from reaching the objective you have worked towards for the past nine years, have thrown everything away to accomplish, and realizing that not only are you still alive, but that it has achieved absolutely nothing.
Well, that wasn't entirely true. It had destroyed the one chance he ever had for answers to his questions. Why? he thought desperately, as Naruto slipped past his defenses and slammed him into the ground. Why not me too? Had you been planning it for a long time, or had it been a spur-of-the-moment decision? Why the hell did you never tell me Itachi didn't answer, couldn't answer, because he was dead, and Sasuke was still here, still alone; and this time, he didn't even have hate to keep him company.
Sakura healed them both after the fight (just because Sasuke was in shock did not mean he couldn't inflict some serious damage. He had, after all, trained under a psychopath while in a drug-induced haze for three years. He was very good at fighting while his mind was elsewhere), and they spent a night in the clearing-turned-barren wasteland to let Sasuke recover a little before Sakura tied his hands behind him, Naruto slung Itachi's decapitated body over his shoulder and packed the head into a bag, and they all set out towards Konoha. Sasuke considered running, but he was too tired, both mentally and physically, and Naruto and Sakura were both, admittedly, powerful ninja and likely well briefed on what he may have learned from Orochimaru. Plus, he was afraid that if he thought too hard about the fact that his goal was complete and his life in tatters, it would break him and leave him in a crumbled heap for Sakura to sling over her shoulder and carry back like the corpse Naruto was holding. That, and no matter how good a medic-nin Sakura was, she couldn't heal the types of injuries he'd picked up from Itachi in one night.
Naruto, of course, was completely healed. Lucky dumbass.
The pace his two former teammates set was a slow one, and the part of Sasuke that made observations and calculations without his conscious effort informed him that it would take about four days to get to Konoha from where the clearing he had already unconsciously begun thinking of as The Battlefield. The main problem with this, as became apparent on the first day of travel, was that cadavers did not take four days to begin to decompose. Naruto, who had taken it upon himself to carry the body of Sasuke's brother all the way to Konoha, complained for about a half-an-hour straight to Sakura about this when they finally stopped for the night. Sakura, showing patience Sasuke was unaware she had, let the dead last do so while she checked Sasuke over and cleaned and rebound injuries. Then, still completely ignoring what was actually coming out of her teammate's mouth, she walked over to Naruto and unceremoniously tugged off his chuunin vest, obviously intent on doing the same. This effectively stopped Naruto from ranting about the smell of a decomposing body when said body was slung over one's shoulder.
"Oi!" he shouted instead, trying to squirm out of the pink-haired kunoichi's grasp. "Sakura, what are you…"
"I don't care if you think you're completely healed," Sakura interrupted. "I want to check anyway."
"You know I'm completely healed. You saw the fight. The bastard over there didn't get that many hits in!"
"Which," Sakura stated, "is precisely the point. So hold still." Naruto held still, and silence reigned for a moment, while Sasuke wondered vaguely why Sakura would re-examine someone she herself admitted didn't really need to be examined. Finally, the blond grinned lecherously.
"You know, there was a time when I'd have killed for you to have to… ah… examine me." Sakura swatted him lightly without looking up. "Ow! Hey! Injured ninja here! Aren't you supposed to take a vow not to hurt people or something like that?"
"That's only civilian doctors and you know it," Sakura said absently, concentration firmly on checking Naruto's heart-rate and breathing. "Medic-nins are called into the field just like any other ninja." She frowned, and then prodded Naruto in the center of the chest, making him whine about abuse and unfairness to the unwell. "You shouldn't be carrying a 170-pound corpse." Naruto bristled, apparently completely forgetting that he'd been complaining for half an hour about having to do exactly that.
"I've carried heavier, Sakura-chan, and you know it." The looked thoughtful for a moment, then grinned. "Besides, Uchihas are skinny. I'll bet Itachi wasn't more than 145…ow! Stop hitting me!"
"Stop acting like an idiot, then!" Sakura returned, apparently unconcerned with Naruto's head. She continued their conversation as though Naruto hadn't decided to take a moment to show precisely how much of a moron he was. "I don't understand why you wanted to bring anything but the head anyway. I mean, traveling with a cadaver isn't precisely pleasant at the best of times, but when a party needs to move slowly due to injuries it quickly becomes downright unbearable."
Naruto glanced over at Sasuke who, suddenly realizing that he was openly watching them and listening to their conversation, refocused his eyes on the fire. When Naruto spoke, it was much softer. "I thought… well, he was the last family member he had, you know? I thought maybe there was some sort of super special Uchiha burial ceremony that he'd want to perform or something." Sakura sighed.
"Don't you dare start," Naruto snapped. "He's never attacked the village…"
"I attacked him! He's never attacked Konoha; he's responsible for the deaths of two of the most powerful Konoha missing-nin…"
"He's a missing-nin himself…"
"And he is returning willingly," Naruto finished stubbornly, as though he hadn't been interrupted. Sakura sighed.
"I'm pretty sure he's only returning willingly because he doesn't feel up to running away," she murmured.
"It doesn't matter why," Naruto insisted stubbornly. "It matters what, and what is that he came back with us, and he did it under his own power without trying to escape."
It's the first night, Sasuke thought sardonically but didn't say aloud. Give me some time, dead last.
"It's still only the first night," Sakura unknowingly echoed Sasuke's thoughts.
"He won't run," Naruto asserted.
"How can you be sure?" Sakura asked reasonably.
"Because he knows if he does that I'll just track him down again," Naruto returned fiercely, and that was that.
o o o
In the end, Naruto and Sakura burned the body. Sakura came up to Sasuke the third day and hesitantly suggested it, and then accurately interpreted Sasuke's silence to mean he didn't care one way or the other. They scattered the ashes through the canopy of the nearby forest, an old Konoha tradition for ninja that fell in battle far from home (though, of course they didn't take the time to change their course after doing so. After all, they weren't behind enemy lines, and leaving traces of themselves behind would do no more than perhaps baffle a few passing animals).
At about noon on the fourth day, Sasuke sensed a new presence around them in the forest. The forest had been slowly getting thicker as they traveled, after a while making it impossible for three fully-grown people to travel on foot and forcing them to the upper branches. Sasuke, who was now much better thanks to three days of Sakura's care and what by shinobi standards was a slow pace, and whose hands were now free for convenience's sake, considered vaguely for about three seconds trying to make a break for it. He eventually decided it wasn't worth the effort, as he could die in Konoha just as well as he could outside of it. This view also led him to remain silent when he felt their new travel companions. He could, after all, die as well outside of Konoha as inside.
It became obvious fairly quickly that the new presences were not going to attack them. Well, they weren't going to attack Naruto and Sakura, and probably wouldn't attack him as long as he continued to move toward the village. He caught a sight of an ANBU mask and allowed the perfectionist in him that had earned him the title genius to think sloppy. Sound ANBU wouldn't have been sensed, let alone seen.
Even with Konoha ANBU and his newfound apathy, however, he hesitated upon seeing the gate to the village he had abandoned. He'd fully prepared himself years ago to never so much as see this place again, and had spent those years creating in his head an extensive list of why he was better off without it. Now, faced with the fact that he was likely to never leave those walls again once stepping inside, he understandably balked a little.
Naruto, as though reading his thoughts, glanced back. "Keep moving, Uchiha," he said, uncharacteristically serious. "You're about ten yards away from 'returned willingly.' You could do worse than the village you were born in." Sasuke didn't respond, but he jumped down after Naruto and Sakura into the road that led out of and into Konoha, then followed them past the guards and through the gate.
Their shadows immediately walked in after them and blocked their party from moving forward or back.
"Uchiha Sasuke," one of them said. "You are charged with abandonment of your village and collaboration with Konoha's enemies, in addition to injuring a Leaf-nin in the course of your attempted retrieval. Please follow me." Sasuke, who didn't care one way or the other, shoved his hands into his pockets in a sign defenselessness (or disrespect), and did so. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Naruto and Sakura walk up to one of the masked shinobi and begin talking in soft tones, or rather, softer tones than usual. He wasn't sure Naruto was actually capable of quiet speech. He felt Naruto's eyes on his back the entire trek out of the blond man's sight.
Four hours later, he entered the apartment he suspected would be the last place he ever slept. It was an apartment complex right in the center of the village, different from other complexes only by its location (next to the headquarters of the Hokage) and the fact that it had no windows and an ANBU guard stationed at the door of every inhabitant. There was a bedroom with a bed, a chest of drawers, and a couch, and a bathroom with a toilet, sink, and bath/shower. He was to be a good boy and wait patiently until the Hokage and Council got to his trial, for which he would not be present and was allowed no representation, and the result of which he would likely discover only after it had been decided, stamped, and signed. He was allowed no visitors. Somehow, this made the whole situation a little better. At least he wouldn't have to see anyone he used to care about before they executed him.
He still wasn't completely healed, he was hungry, and he needed a shower and a change of clothes. Instead, he fell into the bed and went to sleep.
o o o
Sannin Tsunade, Godaime Hokage, former pupil of Sandaime Hokage and former teammate of Sannin Jiraiya and Sannin Orochimaru, stared over her desk at the young man in her office doing his best impression of a drowned cat. Uchiha Sasuke stared back. He had the vague impression that she wanted to laugh at him, but was refraining in favor of looking intimidating. He manfully resisted scowling at her, and also beating the ANBU behind him, who had thrown water at him before allowing him to come before her to a bloody pulp. They had claimed he smelled, since he had not showered in the two weeks that he had been back. He reserved judgment.
Finally, Tsunade sat back in her seat, opened a file by her elbow, shook out a piece of paper inside, and began. "'Uchiha Sasuke, you have been charged with abandonment of your village for a period of five years, endangering and injuring fellow Konoha ninja with the intent to kill, and collaboration with said village's enemies. You have been found guilty on all counts by unanimous vote of the Council and Godaime Hokage,' that would be me," she added before continuing, "'and for this, the penalty is death.'" Sasuke nodded. He'd known that. "However," Tsunade continued, setting the paper aside. "As a certain blond chuunin in my employ quite energetically pointed out to me, you have also returned willingly, bringing with you the deaths of two of our most dangerous missing-nin." Sasuke internally rolled his eyes, picturing (quite accurately) Naruto bursting into the Hokage's office, screaming Sasuke's merits and waving his arms wildly. "Therefore, as I am the final say in your sentence, I have granted you life. With conditions."
Sasuke blinked. …Well, he hadn't expected that. He was a tool, and he had effectively stolen himself to use as he pleased, thus putting many Konoha secrets firmly in the hands of her enemies. He was supposed to die. Hell, he should die. He felt vaguely annoyed that the Hokage didn't share his opinion on the matter. Tsunade picked up the paper again and continued to read aloud.
"'You are henceforth stripped of your title of genin of the Leaf, though not genin, and placed under house arrest until the Council decides your true merit, and then will be allowed to earn your right to take the chuunin exam. You are to have a guard, chosen by the Hokage, with you at all times. This is for your own protection and to ensure you follow the rules of your parole. You are under no circumstances to use your chakra or attempt to train in taijutsu, and will not be allowed to own and carry weapons until either the Council or Hokage judge you fit. If at any point the Council feels you have failed to comply, you will be executed immediately.' And we won't tell you we're gonna do it when we decide to, so watch your step, kid." She nodded at the ANBU behind him. "You will go back to your assigned apartment now and wait until your guard shows up to get you." With that, she turned away, and picked up the next file on her desk. Sasuke assumed this was a dismissal, bowed (if he'd learned anything from Orochimaru, it was politeness to authority), and left, the two guards not so much leading him as scrambling behind him to catch up.
He went straight back to his cell and waited for his guard, the ANBU standing vigilantly outside his door. An hour later he was still waiting. He wanted vaguely to break something, but didn't have the energy (or the something). He settled for glaring at his pillow.
Screw the Council and Tsunade, anyway. What did they know about what he'd done or hadn't done? Stupid Naruto, for sticking his nose where it didn't belong. Again. Sasuke went and sat on the pillow, leaning back against the headboard of the bed and fuming. First, Naruto had the audacity to follow Sasuke. Then, he found him right after he'd fought Itachi and dragged him back to this hell-hole. And if that wasn't enough, he'd gone and intervened in his execution for breaking one of the basic laws of being a shinobi. And now, he was left to deal with the fact that he had gone on some stupid as all fuck crusade to kill the only person in his family left to tell him what the fuck they all were thinking when they up and died, leaving him all alone… he stopped thinking about that and moved on, as he'd been doing every waking hour for the past two weeks. To top it all off, Naruto hadn't even tried to visit, and had left him alone with thoughts he didn't want until the damned Council had deemed him important enough to actually deal with, and his guard still wasn't here and it was somehow all Naruto's fault.
At this point the door slammed open, and the object of all his anger stood there, orange, black, and glowering. Sasuke blinked, surprised. He hadn't actually expected Naruto to show up… he glowered back, irrationally annoyed that Naruto had shown up just as Sasuke was getting good and mad at him for not doing so. "Let's go," Naruto growled and spun on his heel.
Sasuke glared at him. "I'm waiting for my guard," he answered coldly.
"I am your guard Uchiha. Now move before I make you."
Sasuke sighed. Of course. Only he would be subject to such torture. He got up and followed Naruto, hearing angry mutterings all the way. Without warning, Naruto stopped walking. "Where do you live?" he snapped out, not looking at Sasuke.
Sasuke's eyes narrowed even further. "The Uchiha compound, moron." Naruto spun around and gave him a glare that would have sent anyone else running.
"Seriously? I would never have figured that one out. WHICH HOUSE?" Sasuke blinked. Why was Naruto mad at him, anyway? It wasn't his fault he was in this god-forsaken mess…in fact it was the other way around.
"Main house, idiot," he answered sullenly. Naruto spun back and they continued their walk across the village, Naruto muttering the entire way about 'figures he'd still be living there,' and 'Orochimaru' and 'sullen, mopey bastard' and 'no wonder he went bat shit'. Sasuke said nothing, choosing to ignore the man walking before him in favor of regaining his apathy. He was, unsurprisingly, failing miserably, the muttering drilling its way into his skull and refusing to be cowed in its mission of driving him, to borrow a term, 'bat shit.'
When they reached the Uchiha compound, however, he stopped dead in his tracks. "They painted it," he said in shock.
"Of course they painted it. It's not like you were here to, and they couldn't just let it go to ruins. It's a big house. It would get the village a lot of money. Now stop gaping and come on." Sasuke decided to overlook the fact that the Konoha Powers That Be were going to sell his house in favor of more pressing matters.
"But it's all red," he whined. "Obnoxiously red. What were they thinking?"
"Well your house colors are red, blue, and white, aren't they? So, they chose a color. Cheaper if you buy in bulk." Naruto was looking vaguely vindicated, but Sasuke was too distressed to notice.
"So why didn't they choose blue, or white? Blue and white are normal house colors. Red houses are ugly."
"So are you. Now get over it and come on. You're not supposed to care, remember?"
Sasuke did remember, and he went back to sullenly trying to radiate apathy, the dazzlingly red walls irritating his peripheral vision. Naruto walked up the walkway and opened the door, apparently immune to glaringly bright colors due to years of wearing orange. "Are you coming, or are you going to stand outside and wait for it to rain so you can perfect your image?" Sasuke tilted his chin up, and walked through the door Naruto had opened for him as regally as possible. Well, he thought, I'm back. The door slammed behind him.