AN: So. In the matter of a couple days I wrote this fic. I posted it. I decided I hated it. I deleted it. Then, like the regular freak show I am, I redid it and reposted it. There's pretty much no difference, but let's pretend there is, yeah?

But, to save me from the fate of repeating the whole freaking process, tell me what you think. Ok?




It starts That Day.

Sasuke is only a child, only a little boy, and the bodies that seem to completely cover the familiar streets of his childhood scare him with that deep, complete, heart-stopping fear of the very young. He cries as he runs – faster, faster, faster – home. He must tell his mother, he must tell his father…

At the time, he never thought of what would await him. His infantile mind was one-track in his horror. He took it for granted that they would be there; his father in strength and ability; his mother with warmth and comfort. They would just be there. His parents could make it batter.

Of course, that is not what happens.

Itachi is there. Standing over them. And even though there blood is on his sword, even though his smirk is evil and proud and shouts I did it, little brother, Sasuke thinks it's a mistake.

(He's trying to save them… Someone else did it… Nii-san is saving them…)

But it's not.

Sasuke knows, then, that he has a heart. He knows because it is exploding in his chest. It is pulsing and stinging and trying to escape his ribcage. The pain drives him too his knees and forces even more tears from his (no longer innocent) eyes.

Sasuke's heart didn't shrivel that day; didn't die. No.

It grew so large it hurt.


He goes into protection mode after that.

Everyday, he slips into his mask, his shell. Beneath its pristine exterior, Sasuke hides everything he doesn't want Itachi to see.

Everyone thinks it's for his own safety.

They're wrong.


Sasuke doesn't want to be part of a team.

He doesn't want to be tied down to these strangers for the rest of his life. And he doesn't want to be hindered by their no-doubt less-than-his-own abilities.

Mostly, though, he doesn't want that extra weight to settle on his heart.

Because Naruto is loud and stupid and overly confident. (And as unlike Itachi as a person can be.) And Sakura is shrill and annoying and has hearts in her eyes than scare him slightly. (But there is a side of her that is just like his mother.)

So Sasuke protects them the ways he knows best: By forcing up walls.

He belittles Naruto every chance he gets. With insults and physical reminders, he tries to squash the boy's dreams of success. It is cold and it is harsh, but Sasuke is hoping that, someday soon, Naruto will realize that he is too bright for the darkness and hate of combat and war. And when he sees this hope impossible, he trains with the other boy and throws his best moves with the silent prayer that this practice will be enough to keep him safe.

When Sakura brings him treats and smiles, he glares impassively. With nothing but a raised eyebrow and exasperated sigh, he can bring tears to those green eyes. And even though his heart throbs a little every time, he doesn't give in. He stands firm and frigid and doesn't let anything show. He calls her weak because he is certain it will make her stronger – and he needs her to be stronger.

(It will hurt too much to loose them.)

From behind pretenses, he tries to guard them. He lets them think he hates them.

It hurts.

(But these walls have ears.)


When it really matters, he lets the ramparts fall.

He dives between them and harm without a care, even though he knows what death will cost him. In the heat of battle, he sheds some layer of this skin and doesn't stop those few small rays of truth from shining through. They see, then, some little fragment of his armor fall and they begin to understand.

He's not as angry as he should be.


When Itachi returns, it is a painful reminder of many things.

For one, Itachi isn't even there for Sasuke. His concern is not on his still weak, still-foolish little brother. Sasuke isn't worth the effort of returning to. It is proven with his pitifully easy defeat.

Itachi is after Naruto, and that burns.

Of course, it angers him because it makes him feel unworthy. Jealousy ignites within him and fuels his every movement. Sasuke lets Itachi feel this, lets the knowledge seep into the monster as their one-sided fight continues. As sick as it is, Sasuke feels a trickle of happiness at the knowledge Itachi sees this bitterness.

Because it cloaks the other truth. The greater truth. It hides the overwhelming fear Sasuke feels, and the anger, that Itachi dare go after his Naruto.

Even though Sasuke is livid to have lost the battle, he silently sobs out his thanks at not losing so much more.


After that, the cracks begin to show.

It is becoming too obvious, too blatant, and Sasuke now knows his fears are justified. In a last ditch attempt, he tries complete withdrawal.

It doesn't work.

Sasuke feels the pressure. Danger is ever present, but he feels it most in the peace. (The walls. They can't know.) There is a way out, a way that will satisfy everyone. It scares Sasuke, and he tries to put it off.

But Kohona burns ever brighter in his nightmares. Something must be done.


Of course, Sakura catches him.

There is something about her, some unknown force, that gives the uncanny ability to just know. So she is there. Waiting for him as he tries one last trick to keep her safe.

She screams that she loves him. (And he has to swallow back his reply of, "I know! I know! Why do you thing I'm doing this? Don't you see? I love –")

With tears in her eyes, she gives him reason after reason to just stay. It's a useless battle, and he thinks she knows that, but she stands firm and refuses to give into defeat. Some part of him is proud at the strength she has gathered in so little time. He almost – almost – tells her.

She offers to come with him and for a moment, before he remembers why he is doing this, he considers. Sasuke is horrified of Sound, scared to death at the prospect of training under Orchimaru. It is enough to give him a pause, to let his weaknesses fester and grow. He wants to accept, to agree, to have her – his safe base – with him in the dark.

But then his heart twinges.

(And he remembers the walls and the danger.)

When she threatens to scream he knows he has no choice. But he thanks her before he knocks her out. He thanks her because it is as close as he can get to the truth.

She'll wake up and something in her will die. Just knowing that kills some small part of Sasuke.


Fighting Naruto is the hardest battle of Sasuke's life.

The pain is present of so many levels; in so many forms.

Part of it is physical – brought on by the sheer power of the other boy. Their fight is vicious and unrelenting, more intense than any either had ever been in before. But because it is between the two of them, it is difficult on another level.

Sasuke knows that to kill Naruto would be to gain power. To destroy this blonde best friend would be to hold the key to destiny. The self-restrain it takes to force back these thoughts is incredible.

When Naruto is finally down, unconscious at Sasuke's feet, he considers. Like a monster, he weighs the pros and cons.

But then he catches himself and feels a wave of terror. He runs the whole way to Sound, trying to escape the thoughts that lead him down a path he fears above all else.


Sasuke hates Itachi.

He hates everything he stands for and all the things he's done. He hates him for everyone who can't (anymore), and for those who don't know to hate him (yet).

But the sad fact is this:

Sasuke loves Itachi with all his heart.

This is part of why he runs to Sound. Maybe, surrounded by hate rather than love, he can force himself to really want his brother dead. Maybe this fear and utter sickness he feels at the thought will fade.

(It's a useless hope, he knows. But he needs a reason.)


Sound is dank and cold. Orchimaru is sick and twisted.

Everything about Oto disgusts Sasuke and the only way he can escape the awfulness is to train until nothing else seems real. Here, in the bowels of fort after fort, the shell adds new layers. Soon, they begin to feel real.

In the dark, light becomes a memory. It is too dangerous to continue this way, too dangerous to fall into this web his teacher weaves: Sasuke makes another choice.


There are dreams that Sasuke holds onto. There are dreams he refuses to let go of.

In these fantasies (hallucinations) there is no older brother to kill. Itachi is gone and in his place at the center are Naruto and Sakura. Naruto is the same, all smiles and laughter and "Oi! Teme!"

Sakura is there too. In these daydreams she still loves him and grins at him the way she always did.

They love him.

(And since Itachi is just gone, Sasuke isn't scared of the walls and he can allow himself to love them back.)


It is easier to desert Orchimaru than it was to leave Kohona.

He forces the snake from his body and finds a new team.

They are replacements, chosen to match a certain, preset profile. Because he misses them, misses them in a way that eats at his insides like a constant wound. He'll never tell (the walls), so he has to find a way to remind himself.

The girl has red hair. It's not pink, but it's as close as he can get. And even though the girl is only Sakura in the worst of ways, it is enough to make him smile, a little, when she screams at the boy.

And the boy too, is a reminder. In little actions, he recalls to mind a best fried that Sasuke can only hope is still as light as he was.

His plan backfires, though. Because even though their only replacements, only substitutes, he feels that ache again. Once more, he cares too much.

(He loves them too.)


The time is coming. Ever faster, ever more slowly.

It's terrifying, because Sasuke is so damn unsure. He had to do it – not matter what anyone says. The ghosts whose hands he swears he can sometimes feel on his shoulder deserve it. He deserves it. Everyone he's used to get here deserves it.

(But he still doesn't want to. He still prays, every night, after he has prays for each and every name, that he won't have to. That for once in his life Fate will be kind and let someone else, anyone else, take the duty away. Because he doesn't know how he can.)

What will he be when it is over?

(And the answer comes to him in nightmares with a tall, leering, red-eyed man that feels like a reflection.)


Sasuke's greatest wish is that, someday, when all this is over and he has finally succeeded (in breaking his heart into one-thousand serrated pieces), he will return. He will tell them the truth and take whatever punishment they give him. He will let the lies fall away and he will tell them all – Naruto and Sakura first – what they actually mean to him, what they have always meant to him. More than anything, he wants to have them hear and have them understand.

(His greatest fear is that he will never get the chance.)




AN: In which I drabble and angst and try to understand Sasuke. Because I refuse to believe he's a cold-hearted bastard – even if he is screwed up. Wanna know why? Because, seriously peeps, I think he's allowed to be messed up. I think anyone whose family is slaughtered by their older brother is allowed to have all the freaking problems they like.

For serious.

But what do you think, eh? That is the true question. You should tell me. In a review. Because I'm not quite sure whether or not this is absolute, nonsensical crap. (I'm pretty sure, but, whatever.)