Title: "Moon Rabbit"

Author: Shaitanah

Rating: PG

Timeline: current manga arc

Summary: Sasuke watches his current team and thinks that maybe he still has ties to the past. Maybe it's time for them to start caring for each other because they are so much more than a band of mercenaries. Team Hawk; spoilers for 414 Please R&R!

Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Kishimoto Masashi.

Dedication: to Dayadhvam. Happy Birthday, darling!


"Have you ever seen the Moon Rabbit?" Suigetsu inquired like it was the most serious topic in the world.

Sasuke tilted his head and squinted up at him. The water-nin's lilac eyes narrowed to slits and his voice was low as if a matter of great secrecy was being discussed. Taken aback, Sasuke searched for words and finally squeezed out a breathless, "No…"

"Neither have I!" Suigetsu exclaimed triumphantly. He struck his knee with his open palm. The skin made a quiet splashing sound as it touched the fabric of his trousers; his molecular structure still hadn't been restored completely after the fight against the Eight-Tails. "That bugger probably doesn't exist at all. Kinda makes you wonder where all the stupid fairytales come from."

Sasuke blinked his eyes. Of all Suigetsu's strange ideas this one was really too much. He looked away from his teammate's searching gaze.

"Okay," Suigetsu ventured after a lengthy pause. "This is the part where you ask me what the point of all this is."

"I'm not playing along," Sasuke protested.

Suigetsu shrugged, seemingly careless. He brought his jerrican up to his mouth and took a long swig, then said in a detached voice:

"Never mind. It was just my creepy attempt to start a conversation."

Sasuke closed his eyes wearily. This was beginning to get on his nerves. Since when did Suigetsu actually need any excuses?

"I'm fine. No need to be so crazy over a couple of cuts and bruises."

"Cuts and bruises, is that so?" The Mist ninja rose abruptly. "Forget it. Really, it's okay that we nearly died for you and you won't so much as talk to any of us."

As he walked away, radiating bitter exasperation (which Sasuke never knew he was capable of), Sasuke closed the flaps of his Akatsuki cloak around him to drive away the twilight chill and stared at the barely visible moon disc above the shady tree tops.

It could have been worse.

Suigetsu could have pestered him continuously like Naruto had. Juugo could have been a pervert and Karin could have been in love with him.

Come to think of it, the similarities were obvious, and Sasuke wondered briefly if he had chosen his teammates by intuition or by some vague, subconscious impulse to tie himself to the past more securely.

He didn't know how long he had been musing over it. His attention snapped back to the present all of a sudden when he noticed it had long since grown dark. They fought Hachibi, what, seven days ago? Sasuke shivered. It was still too fresh and humiliating a memory. He looked back at the campsite to see Karin fumbling with her bagpack near the fire. The sleeve of her blouse was rolled up; he could see the bitemarks on her arm clearly like mystical patterns etched on her skin. He tried to recall how it felt to consume her chakra, allowing it to restore him back to life. He had no memory of it. In its place was the emptiness he always carried around. Sasuke snorted.

He caught Juugo staring at him from the shadows and nodded curtly despite himself. He didn't want to encourage the man, didn't want to encourage any of them to think there was – could ever be – something more than precarious business relationship between them.

Yet the fight against the Eight-Tails had changed something.

The vision flashed back in his mind. Kakashi reading his ever-present orange book, secretly watching the team with his one visible eye. Sakura smiling at him, her green eyes wide open and shiny. And… Naruto.

Sasuke squeezed his eyes shut.

That was beyond words, beyond any description. He forbade himself to think about Naruto because if he did, then he would be back to square one again, with Naruto being in every sound around him, in every touch, in every smell.

He turned around and saw Karin standing near him with a portion of something shapeless that smelled vaguely like food.

"I really am a fucking kitchen disaster," she said brusquely. "And I won't blame you if you just throw it away 'cause I am honestly not trying to poison you. But, uh, you haven't eaten anything for days and…" She averted her eyes, then shoved the meal into his hands and walked back to the fire resolutely.

Sasuke couldn't take his eyes off the greenish mass in the field bento box. And somehow, against his will his legs began to move, and he ended up in the vicinity of Karin yet again. That was something he would have expected from Sakura.

He remembered the even slices of apple on the plot he had knocked over in blind rage. She wasn't anything like Karin. But right now he could see her right there standing before him and squirming nervously under his unfocused gaze.

Sasuke nipped off a piece of the meal and tasted it. It was… offensive. Karin hadn't lied; it was a disaster.

"Geez, I can see it on your face," Karin groaned. "Don't say anything! Just forget this has ever happened."

He could have spat it out then. He was sure she would have understood. He didn't even care if she would have been offended.

"I've… had worse," he said regardless, chewed it and swallowed. Before Karin could utter a word, he turned his back on her and walked away.

Who were these people, this volatile, dangerous band of mercenaries he had recruited? Why did they still stick together? Sasuke couldn't ignore them now no matter how much he tried; in a way they were his memorial thread to his previous team.

Was Hawk even a proper team? They were hardly any different from a standard ninja four-men-cell; and if so, that made Sasuke their… captain. He shuddered inwardly, realizing with a start how lonely it felt to be responsible for someone you hardly knew. Hardly even wanted to know.

Suigetsu was the hardest case. If Karin and Juugo were the shadows of Sakura and Kakashi, that made Suigetsu the shadow of Naruto. The two had nothing in common, yet somehow Sasuke had made himself believe that if he held on to Suigetsu hard enough, it would mean that he still had a chance with Naruto.

Even if there was nothing but darkness in the future.

He located the Mist ninja by the river. The night was unusually quiet, much like Suigetsu himself. Sasuke thought he had never seen him this quiet.

His mind was empty. He was a failure at reaching out to people.

"It's the markings," he heard himself saying. Suigetsu raised his head and looked at him questioningly. "The markings on the moon; the ancients saw the rabbit there."

Suigetsu snorted. Sasuke lowered his gaze, feeling silly.

"There's actually a legend," he went on, "according to which the rabbit was friends with a fox and a monkey who lived together near the mountain. One day an old man who was actually a buddha in disguise passed by and begged for food. They went to get it, but the rabbit, being the weakest of them, couldn't find anything."

It dawned upon Sasuke that Suigetsu had actually inclined his head to have a better view of him and was listening quite attentively.

"His friends started making fun of him, so he threw himself into the fire, saying he would rather have the old man eat him than be hungry."

Suigetsu laughed. "Now that is stupid!"

"Not at all." Sasuke's lips trembled and curved slightly into a vague smile. "The buddha was so touched that he took the rabbit's body to bury it and drew his shape across the moon for everyone to see."

"Oh, I don't know… This whole self-sacrifice thing is not my cup of tea."

Sasuke resisted the urge to snicker. Oh yes, definitely!

Suigetsu rose and strode silently next to him through the whispering woods on their pointless walk that made Sasuke feel even more uncomfortable than before. He didn't want to be friends with him (wasn't even sure this was somehow possible because Suigetsu was more like a pet piranha than a mate), but still… he wanted something from this.

And he couldn't quite place what.

"So," Suigetsu drew out thoughtfully, "if I die for someone… for you, for instance, what do I get for it?"

"I don't know. Nothing, probably."

"Right. But we're not in it for any reward anyway." He grinned broadly. "Besides, it's nice to know you're shit without me."

Sasuke watched him walk back to the camp and thought that it was something Naruto could say. He thought that maybe if he hadn't missed Naruto so badly, in some other life he still had a chance with Suigetsu and the rest of Hawk.

Maybe even now.

September 2–10, 2008