Pairing: Sasuke/Hinata, in a way.
Relevant notes: Spoilers for current manga chapters; AU.
A/N: This was inspired about a year ago by posts at the NarutoFan forums, in the Sasuke/Hinata fanclub, but the recent manga chapters and my inability to finish anything else made me write it. So, thanks to those whose posts gave me this idea, even though I can't remember what the posts were actually about now!
In order to get the five events I wanted to write about, I had to mess with canon, so please don't expect a consistent following of canon events. You'll find the dates/ages are vague too, for this reason (or maybe because I'm too lazy to make each 'break' fit into a logical timeframe).
Five Breaks Along the Line
She is standing in the middle of the clearing. The wind tips slender trees her way and she watches them bend, like dancers.
She hears a rustle of branches and she calls out his name, acknowledging his presence even before she sees him. She doesn't know whether it is because of her shinobi training, finely tuned senses forced into existence because of such a dangerous career, or because they've been friends for so long that his presence sounds a silent alarm.
'Hinata,' he returns over the wind.
She smiles, but there is a careful blankness in his face as he approaches that worries her. She recalls the message he'd sent her, asking to see her, and an odd panic stirs in her stomach.
'Is something wrong?' she asks, even though she thinks she knows the answer as his eyes flicker away.
'Hinata, I can't be your friend anymore.'
The words stun her. She looks at him, searchingly, but his face betrays nothing.
'I want to kill Itachi,' he continues and his tone frightens her. 'One day, I'm going to do something that you'll hate me for, and I can't-'
He stops. She considers it for a moment.
'Sasuke, it doesn't matter,' she says, and it's true. 'You know how I feel about all this, but I'm your friend. I won't abandon you, no matter what you do.'
She genuinely thinks that there is nothing he can do that will make her hate him. I know him, she thinks. He isn't capable of doing anything terrible.
'No,' he says abruptly. He gazes at her steadily. 'You don't understand. I need to be strong in order to kill him and I can't do that if I'm around you. You're weak, Hinata, and you'll only be a hindrance to me.'
He spins around and stalks off. Later, alone in her room, she will reflect and it will occur to her that maybe he was acting, pretending to scorn her so that she wouldn't object to severing their friendship.
Now? Now, she believes his act completely, and it hurts.
x . o . x . o . x . o . x
Years pass and Sasuke's prophecy is fulfilled, slightly. Every time she sees Naruto, Sakura or Kakashi, she feels a spark of anger that he hurt them, just as he'd hurt her, though more, maybe. He'd cut ties with her early, but he'd dragged them off the cliff with him.
She wonders what it would have been like, if she'd never been his friend. If he'd chosen a different seat during their first day of school, across the room rather than next to her, how would she feel now? Would she have simply observed his actions with the indifference of a looker-on: the brief shudder at how someone she knew had turned out and the more lasting pity for his friends?
Her friendship with Sasuke, for all intents and purposes, is dead. She trains with her team and feels an affection for them that she can't remember harbouring for him. No one really remembers what she and Sasuke had once been to each other; she thinks that Shino remembers, from the way that he looks at her when they learn something of Sasuke's latest whereabouts and actions. He never speaks to her about it though, and she is glad.
Naruto returns from his three year training with Jiraiya, all cheerfulness and joy. She's happy to see him, but his return seems to throw a veil of dread over her heart, a foreboding that she can't shift no matter what she does. She tells herself she's being silly.
All too soon, she finds it is justified.
Tsunade informs her team that they are to accompany Naruto's group in a search for Sasuke. It will be dangerous, Tsunade tells them.
She wants to ask 'why us?'; instead she nods and bows politely, resigning herself to her fate.
A few days later, they are battered and bruised. Sasuke finds them, looking angry, terrible, dangerous. The field they meet in is soon a green canvas streaked with red and all she can hear are shouts, becoming inhuman in their intensity. Naruto is red, fiery, unrecognisable.
Her mind works in a series of recordings and pauses:
A flash of blue. Sasuke, bearing down on them. A howl. Kiba, bleeding.
'Save Akamaru first,' he demands in a whisper, as her hands work furiously to stem the blood spilling from his stomach. She looks over at his dog, lying nearby in as much pain as he is in.
And she realises two things:
One, that there will not be any 'saving first,' because Kiba is dying.
Two, that Sasuke had been right.
'One day, I'm going to do something that you'll hate me for...'
x . o . x . o . x . o . x
She slips into the tiny restaurant, thankful to be out of the storm. Her target- twenty-seven, light brown hair, head of a slave-trade in several countries- settles in at a table in the corner and she breathes a little easier. She orders a bowl of noodles without any intention of eating it and watches the rain dripping outside the entrance.
The waitress has just arrived with her order when her target abruptly leaves. Hinata tosses money onto the table, ignoring the waitress' surprised look and dashes out after him. He is sprinting down the silent street and she follows closely. Does he know I'm after him? she wonders. She keeps to the shadows of store doorways just in case.
Her target rounds a corner and she does too, only to be stopped by three men. Two are large, rough, but the third is slim and dark-haired. She thinks it's odd that the third one has her more on edge than the others.
'Why the rush, pretty girl?' one of the big men asks, leering at her. 'Stay a while.'
'Move,' she demands. 'Now.'
The man laughs and does as she says, only he moves forward instead of to the side. Her skin crawls with disgust and her hand strays to her kunai pouch. Before she even has the chance to pull a weapon out, someone knocks her aside and suddenly, the three men are halfway down the path, unconscious, their attacker a blur.
'It's been a while, Hinata.'
She feels her eyes widen, because Sasuke is standing in front of her, unchanged but for his height and his eyes. She wants to say something, but she doesn't know what to say to someone she has loved and hated in such equal measure. What do you say, she asks herself, to someone who's killed one of your best friends?
'Pay more attention to your surroundings next time,' he tells her, before he begins moving away, and suddenly- suddenly, she knows she can't just watch him go without saying something.
'Wait!' She grabs his arm and he tenses beneath her hand. 'You know I can't let you leave.'
'What are you going to do?' He laughs, and it's such a cold sound that she shudders inwardly. 'Fight me, Hinata? You're a Jonin now, I know, but being one of Konoha's elite isn't actually a sweeping achievement.'
There are a thousand things she wants to say, but all that comes out is-
He looks at her.
'Why did you have to kill him?'
'This is war, Hinata,' he says calmly, understanding. 'People die.'
He says it in such a matter-of-fact way that her breath catches and for a moment she can't speak.
'War?' she finally manages. 'Between you and us?'
'Me and Konoha,' he confirms.
'Konoha is your home!'
'Konoha,' he snaps, pulling his arm away, 'has not been my home in a long time.'
'And you'd be able to destroy everyone in it without any remorse at all?'
He hesitates and she grasps onto that tiny shred of humanity.
'Come back with me, Sasuke,' she says softly, and she means come back so that you won't kill anyone else. 'You told me years ago that you wanted to kill Itachi. You've done it. Why are you still refusing to return?'
'Because now I know things that make that impossible.' He looks at her and she tries to read his expression, but she can't- and she realises then that she hasn't been able to understand him for a long time now.
'Sasuke-' she begins, but he interrupts her.
'Tell me something,' he says, watching her. 'If I hadn't come, would you have killed those three?'
He'd seen her reach for her kunai, she realises. She looks for an answer and it startles her.
'Yes,' she answers.
'You've changed,' he tells her and then he disappears, gone before she can blink.
I've changed because of everything you've done, she thinks bitterly, and she continues on in search for her forgotten target.
x . o . x . o . x . o . x
Another mission, another journey home.
She doesn't like leaving Konoha so often. She supposes she could take on a team of students and with it, the right to remain in Konoha for longer periods of time, but she knows that if she were to lose a student, she would fall apart the way Kakashi and Kurenai didn't. It would break her.
She leaps lightly off a branch, feeling her heart lift with every step closer to home. She is tired and perhaps it is why she doesn't notice the group ahead until it's almost too late for her to stop.
'What now?' someone asks.
She stills her breath and pushes further back against the tree she is standing on. A quick touch of her pouches tell her she is nearly out of weapons, having lost most during an unexpected battle. She waits.
'Now?' a deep voice repeats and it is a familiar one. 'Now, we see who it is lurking in those trees over there.'
There is the sound of movement and then a sword at her throat. Someone drags her off the tree and onto the clearing below. She straightens, ignoring the blade, and stares at Sasuke, who is flanked by a giant of a man and a tall, haughty looking girl.
'What are you doing here?' she asks. The sword presses down, the man behind her tightening his hold on her arm, and she feels a sharp pain on her throat.
Sasuke's eyes drift down and look at her neck for a moment.
'Let her go,' he orders.
The protest from behind is answered by a steely look. She is released with an unceremonious push.
'What are you doing here?' she asks again, forcing herself to ignore the pain.
He ignores her, walking away without so much as a second glance at her. The three follow and she sees the man who'd held her captive, a smirk on his face.
It launches a series of memories and phrases: Sasuke, furious, 'This is war,' 'I know things that make that impossible,' Tsunade's constantly grave expression, older Jonin suddenly more alert, fact-retrieving missions becoming more common, but never for her or Shino... The sightings of Sasuke and his group, progressively closer to Konoha and now, this close...
'Why are you here?' she screams at his back and he freezes and turns, the girl beside him doing the same.
He meets her desperate gaze easily.
'To end the war.'
x . o . x . o . x . o . x
It comes down to this: the villagers herded into safe zones, every shinobi recalled from their missions, all those in Konoha being ordered into positions around the village. It comes down to this: tense anticipation, blossomings of fear, goodbyes and last kisses delivered despite the constant repetition of it'll be okay.
She is one of the many positioned at the gates to Konoha. They- Tsunade, her advisors, Naruto, Sakura- think he will enter this way. It is a bold and confident move and they think he will make it.
She tries not to think of him as she waits, even though the constant question in her mind is why, after so long, he has decided to 'end the war.'
'Do you really think he'll come?' Ino asks her, her face pale as she keeps a firm eye on the road.
'Yes,' she answers without hesitation. Ino lets out a deep breath and straightens up.
The afternoon wears on. They know this is the day, but they don't know when, exactly, he will arrive. She hates playing the waiting game, even though with each passing minute, a tiny spark of hope flares up in those around her. She doesn't try to smother it.
'Why isn't he here yet?' Naruto bursts out, drawing every person's attention to him. 'He should be here by now.'
'How sure are they that he'll come this way?' Hinata murmurs. 'Unless...?'
She turns and runs back into the village. Ino and Naruto call after her, but she doesn't listen. Her feet carry her to the gloomy ruins of the Uchiha compound and a question drifts out to greet her.
'Where would we be if this hadn't happened?'
He sits on a low wall, surveying his lonely surroundings with an intensity that makes her think he can see the bloodstains that she can't. She stops in front of him.
'I would have been a better person, I think,' he says, glancing at her.
'You still can be,' she returns and she doesn't believe it at all.
'No.' He stands up, stretches, and looks up at the sunlight trickling through the old trees. 'It's too late for that. And to tell you the truth, I don't think I would do well as a good person.'
She scoffs and turns the conversation.
'You never intended to arrive through the main entrance, did you?'
'Oh, I did, but only after I'd had everything prepared. No point in disappointing their expectations.'
'Naruto and Sakura still haven't given up on me. That's why it was so easy for me to do this. I suppose they thought that they would be able to talk me out of it.'
'You played on their friendship and love for you-'
'-which is wasted on me. They should have been like you, Hinata...'
'If you hadn't killed Kiba, then I would be in the same position they are.'
'Really?' He looks at her intently. 'And everyone else I've killed, directly or indirectly, in order to get here?'
He's caught her. She can't answer that.
'I knew that the first person I killed for my own goals would take our friendship to their grave. Naruto and Sakura don't like killing any more than you do, but they can justify the deaths of those I kill.'
'Probably not,' he agrees and he moves, restlessly. 'Still, they have hope left for me, which begs the question: are they just better friends than you are?'
'How is this suddenly about my loyalty?' she asks him, coldly. 'A true friend wouldn't put those they love in such terrible positions.'
'You're right,' he says, smiling as she frowns. 'I'm sorry.'
It's ridiculous, she thinks, that he's about to destroy everyone and everything she's ever loved and yet they're standing here, discussing what true friendship is. She opens her mouth to reply, but there's a clatter of approaching footsteps.
'You won't join me, then, Hinata?' he asks suddenly.
It's a stupid question. They both know what she'll say and still, she feels the need to answer.
'Maybe in another life, Sasuke.'
He flashes a genuine smile at her response and she's suddenly so sorry that it's come down to this, and she ponders again, what if he'd taken the other path?
'Another life,' he echoes and a quick movement of his hand sends a blue streak into the sky. There is a responding explosion somewhere in the direction of the Hokage's offices.
Naruto and Sakura and too many others for her to see clearly burst into the compound and she thinks of Kiba's grave and she wonders if anyone will ever tend to it again, if it will even be standing after all this has finished.
She listens as another explosion rips through the air. Sakura's pleading screams mingle with Naruto's furious shouts. She catches Sasuke's eye and his expression says that he's sorry. She doesn't know if it's real.
A clash of metal. Mocking words. An explosion, this time right where they are standing.