(A\N: Yes everyone, a new story, but this is only a three-shot so don't worry. :) It is something I had planned for a long time so...yeah. Enjoy! :))
Follow the Yello Brick Road
The road back to Konoha was long, it never seemed to end. A dismal, well beaten dirt path. They all traveled down it, searching for something, anything, hoping that somehow they would find what they needed. And in the end they found each other, something none of them had been looking for. She wasn't Dorothy, He wasn't the Tinman, and Naruto was not the loyal, affectionate Toto.
The air was thick and heavy. It clung to him, hot and humid, like heated mist. He was limping, using his sword to steady his usually graceful gait.
But it did not matter. He had accomplished his goal—he could not call it a dream because in the end, all he was left with was emptiness, not fulfillment—and he now saw no reason to stay away from the place that called to him.
Not because he wanted to go back, of course. He had no living ties to such a weak place, after all. And he was not being taken there against his will. No one could make Uchiha Sasuke do anything he did not wish to do. No, he merely needed to see his family's graves once more…to solidify the deed he had done to avenge them.
The pack on his back was heavy, even though it held only one thing. Blood slid down his arm and between his fingers, drying and cracking, only to be replaced with more blood as he continued walking. The bone jutting from his leg moved with each step, sending stabs of pain through his body.
One of the straps on his left sandal had snapped in his battle with Itachi. It dragged behind him, and the loss of the strap caused the sandal to slide in the blood and sweat and dirt covering his foot. He tripped, but never fell. His sword always caught him, along with his pride.
He let out a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding, and his lungs ached with the movement. His throat was dry and sore, his lips chapped and bleeding. Sweat trickled down his face and down his back, making his shirt stick to his skin and the cuts on his cheeks sting.
The road never seemed to end. He'd been walking on it for two days now with no sign of reprieve. It merely continued through the grass—because that was all that he could see around him, a sea of green and brown—stretching on to the horizon. There were no turns or curves, and the beaten dirt of the path never wavered. It did not dip. There were no holes. Not even a piece of gravel to disrupt the flat surface.
There was dust.
The dirt was dry, despite the thick, wet air around him. It lifted into small clouds when his feet dragged in a rare moment of weakness before he corrected it, pushing down harder upon his crutch-like weapon.
He finally fell to his knees, gasping out as pain erupted in his side—that's right, Itachi had snapped three of his ribs with that last kick…
He coughed, blood bubbling to his lips. He spit, and the crimson saliva made a puddle in the dry dirt road. It merely sat there, coagulating. It did not soak into the parched earth as it should have. His eyes narrowed a bit as he watched the small puddle in rapt fascination.
It was never enough. No matter what he did, he would never get his peace. His blood, even if spilled, would not soak the earth. It would remain on the surface, to be washed away later. To be forgotten. He would always be forgotten.
It does not matter. I have severed ties with them all. It is better this way.
It was a broken mantra, something he told himself the moment a flicker of their faces would enter his mind. Because sometimes it was hard not to think of them when Suigetsu did something stupid that made him want to mutter dobe and expect a quick retort of teme in return, or when Karin would giggle and sidle up next to him and call him Sasuke-kun and he wanted to grunt tch, you're so annoying Sakura, or when Juugo would enter their camp hours after he was supposed to and Sasuke resisted the urge to say you're late, Kakashi-sensei and expect a stupid excuse in response.
It hurt a little, a small throb in his chest that he couldn't quite explain. Because he had no heart, so how could it beat and throb and pulse with life when he felt so dead? But it did, and it hurt.
It hurt because they had just been cheap imitations. And it angered him.
It angered him because Juugo was not Kakashi. He didn't share that same loss of loved ones. He didn't give that infuriating, goofy smile as he made an excuse for being late to a meeting. He didn't walk with an easy grace that made Sasuke envious, even as he saw the underlying tenseness to his body. His eyes didn't hold wisdom or the promise of companionship and understanding. He didn't act like he was some goddam psychic who always knew what Sasuke was going to do before he did it. Juugo would never tie him to a tree and preach to him of teamwork and how in his hatred he was being weak and selfish. He wasn't someone that Sasuke could almost almost call the supporting father figure in their dysfunctional little family known as team 7.
It angered him that Suigetsu was not Naruto. His smiles were never true enough, never bright enough to make Sasuke's lips dare to tilt at the corners into a semblance of what could be called a smirk. He didn't try and gain the attention of their female teammate who was too blind to see that love was waiting for her if she would just open her eyes for once and see what she could have instead of pining over someone who could never give her what she wanted. There was no rivalry between them. Nothing about Suigetsu made him want to push himself to get stronger, to become better to prove to himself and to that infuriating dobe that he was the best. He didn't insist on wearing his stupid forehead protector all the time. He didn't drag Sasuke to a damn ramen stand every fucking night. He wasn't the closest thing in the world that Sasuke had ever come to having a brother—because Itachi was not his brother, not anymore.
And it incensed him that Karin was not Sakura. Her voice was too high pitched and whiny. Her eyes weren't green and her hair was too dark. She clutched and touched when Sakura knew to keep her distance—because she had respected and understood him enough to know he needed the space—and Karin wanted him because he was handsome, while Sakura's eyes had always told him she felt more for him than just physical attraction. Karin never cried. She never showed enough weakness, even if she was indeed weak. She never fell to the ground and forced Sasuke to protect her with his life—because he was still human and his teammates meant everything to him back then, the only hold he still had on reality—and she did not hold him when he screamed in pain as the curse seal seemed to eat away at his body. She would never, ever be a sister and a mother and a teammate wrapped up in one. She would never have the possibility of being anything more, like the pink-haired hindrance of team seven. Sasuke would never knock Karin unconscious. He would never leave her on a bench. She would never hear him say thank you.
He missed them; in the back of his mind he accepted that. Because they were something he could hold onto, something familiar and comforting. But he hated them at the same time, because they were a part of his past and he hated that part of his life.
But then he realized that he hated every part of his life. Even killing his brother, watching the light in his eyes dim, had not brought him happiness.
He almost gave a groan as he blinked. His eyes were dry and bloodshot—they hadn't stopped burning since his battle—and they ached for rest. But he could offer no reprieve. When he reached Konoha—home, a voice echoed almost tauntingly—he would allow himself such an indulgence. Until then he would continue on because it was his only goal now. He had no purpose and if he stopped for one moment he would lose himself.
His footing slipped and he felt his ankle twist. He gave a small cough, crimson saliva dribbling down his chin as he stumbled. His sword could not help him this time as it clattered to the ground beside him, kicking up dust and making an imprint in the softly beaten earth of his path.
He was lying on his side, cursing himself and anyone else he could think of.
God why was he so fucking weak? Never enough…he had never been strong enough to do anything. Where were his teammates now? Hadn't they always preached about being there for him when he fell, about picking each other up and protecting them? Why weren't those golden words being put to use?
Because you've been running from them for years. They serve no purpose to you and so you hold no importance to them.
Lies, all lies. Surely fate would not be so cruel? They had always preached of teamwork and friendship. Surely they would come now. But then he wondered idly why he wanted them to come so badly—because they were nothing to him, absolutely nothing.
Why did he want so badly for Team Seven to live up to the glorified image he held of them? Because truth be told, deep down he had always respected them, always. They were all something he could never be. Kakashi, who had dealt with pain and death and loss and had persevered. Naruto, who never let a teammate fall, who stood up for his beliefs to the death. Sakura, who was so gentle and caring and determined, yet so protective when it came to her boys. He had wanted so badly to be one of them, knowing full well that it would never happen. He was too tainted, too weighed down with sin to step into their circle of light.
Because their light would consume him. It would eat away at his skin until Uchiha Sasuke would no longer be Uchiha Sasuke. He would be nothing, because he would be weak and dependent and worthless. What could he possibly contribute to their family? What could he possibly give that they could ever want?
His eyes continued to sting and he suddenly realized that it was not just his Sharingan. And he snarled, rubbing them quickly with the back of his hand as he berated himself for his weakness. His hands felt like sandpaper against his face as he brushed the tears away furiously.
He grabbed his sword, but it felt overwhelmingly heavy. His fingers brushed against the cold steel surface but they could not pick it up. He jerked on the handle and his hand slipped from sweat and blood, skimming the blade itself. He hissed as his palm split open, splattering blood across the ground and painting it crimson. He wondered how much more he could lose before he died.
He abandoned his sword, his crutch, his support. He left it behind because he didn't need it dammit! He limped on, falling every now and then as the broken bone in his leg decided to ache more than usual, or his sprained ankle gave out on him with help from his broken sandal.
Sasuke stared at the lithe figure leaning against the tree—a lone tree, how had it suddenly appeared? Surely he would have noticed it before during his journey?—watching him in silent amusement.
He had always had that look on his face when one of his students struggled, hidden beneath that damned mask of his, as if he knew something that they didn't. Did he find it funny to see his old student trembling like a newborn kitten from blood loss and chakra depletion?
No…he could see it, the lax in his stance. The deep stains on his once green Jonin vest. The weariness and pain in his one visible eye…he was as tired as Sasuke was.
"Kakashi." His voice was raspy and cracked, the end coming out as a cough.
Kakashi merely laughed softly to himself, wincing at the pain the action brought him.
Sasuke studied his old sensei as if it was the most normal thing in the world to do, even as he sat bleeding on that hellish beaten path. Kakashi never seemed to age. Only one eye was visible, as usual, but it was duller now. His hair was limp with sweat. Sasuke could tell he was in pain from the way his muscles seemed to spasm out of control, fingers twitching as blood ran down his right arm in a steady flow, landing on the browned grass that reached to his hips.
"What are you…" Sasuke swallowed, trying to wet his dry throat. He had no saliva left, but the blood in his mouth worked well enough. "…doing here?"
"Walking down the road of life." Was Kakashi's only comment, and his eye sparkled with a smile.
Sasuke didn't reply. An idiot. Always a damn, brainless idiot, he thought with a scornful tone. He merely pushed himself to his feet once more, stumbling a bit before catching himself. He eyed Kakashi, who had yet to move from his place against the tree.
"Go ahead." Sasuke hissed. "Laugh. Say something, anything."
Kakashi merely shook his head. "What is there to say?"
Sasuke merely continued down the road, passing by Kakashi and his tree. He felt Kakashi's gaze on him the entire way, before he pushed himself off of the tree and sidled up alongside him. He was favoring his left leg, and Sasuke saw three paper-thin senbon sticking out of his right knee.
"They almost severed the tendon in the back of my calf." Kakashi explained, almost conversationally, as he noticed Sasuke's gaze.
So Kakashi wasn't any better off than Sasuke was. He was injured, bleeding out. Sasuke wondered what had happened to him, to cause that kind of damage. And what of the other members of team seven? Where were Naruto and Sakura and that emotionless imposter that had taken Sasuke's place, and the older one who controlled wood?
"Why are you here?" He finally voiced his question after another few minutes of uneasy, pained silence.
"A mission." Was Kakashi's bland reply—because he never seemed to actually answer a question, like when team seven had first met and told each other their likes and dislikes. All they had gotten from Kakashi was his name. That was practically all they'd ever gotten.
"We split up after we were ambushed." Kakashi shrugged. "Perhaps we'll meet them on the way."
There was a moment of silence as Sasuke waited for him to speak again, even as they continued their slow, stumbling walk down the dusty road.
"Or they're already dead." Kakashi answered back in that same carefree voice of his. "We didn't really expect to get back from our mission alive in the first place."
"Where's the rest of your team?" Kakashi finally asked, his grey eye peering into Sasuke's own charcoal colored ones.
Sasuke blinked a drop of sweat away as it gathered on his eyelashes. "Dead."
"Aa." Kakashi murmured. Suddenly he choked, staggering a few feet before falling to his knees. He pulled his mask down with one swift movement, spitting up a mouthful of blood. Sasuke flinched, because there was something else mixed with the saliva and blood on the ground, something dark and purplish in color.
"Poison." Kakashi gasped out as a way of explanation, pushing himself to his feet.
It was the first time Sasuke had ever seen Kakashi without his mask on. When he was younger he had always wondered why Kakashi hid his face: did he have buck teeth, or big lips? But his face was normal, and the only thing marring it was a long scar running down the left side. It gave him a look of strength though, and fit him.
Sasuke didn't even know why he had stopped to wait for Kakashi to stand. Uchiha Sasuke stopped for no one, waited for no one. And yet he had stood there, trying to keep himself from fainting from pain and blood loss and fatigue. He told himself it was because he was trying to rest and conserve energy.
"What's in the bag?" Kakashi finally asked after twenty or so more minutes of silence, filled only with their harsh breathing as they stumbled and staggered, pulling themselves to their feet through sheer force of will.
Sasuke shifted the pack on his back—it seemed to have been growing heavier with each step he took. "My trophy."
"His heart?' Kakashi asked, and his voice was strangely teasing.
Kakashi said nothing to this, but Sasuke caught a flicker of disappointment in Kakashi's gaze. And it angered him. What right did Kakashi have to judge what Sasuke did? It was his revenge…and Itachi had told him that to achieve the purest form of the Sharingan he must take them from his brother.
"They're probably contaminated." Kakashi commented offhandedly.
"They're fine." Sasuke answered back curtly. "I'll have Sakura put them in when I return to Konoha."
"Ah, so that's where you're headed." Kakashi murmured.
"This is the road back to Konoha, isn't it?" Sasuke asked, his voice cracking from dryness. Water…surely Kakashi had some water? Or perhaps they could find a stream nearby…
"It is the road home." Kakashi answered.
(A\N: This is just something I have had planned for a long time...before Sasuke decided to go all asshole on us in the manga. So please enjoy...my muse has been going crazy but I wanted to get something out to you guys so...this is it. :) And I'm not writing if it is AU or not because well...you guys will have to decide for yourself at the end. Hehehehe...
Sincerely, Lady Hanaka)