A/N: I wrote this back in July and I've counted punctuation so many times my head hurts. If I only imagined that 50th period, can we pretend that it is exactly fifty?


Fragmented
by Pleasantries and the Aftermath

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1.

It starts out small.

Sasuke's shoulders are more slumped and guarded; Naruto's a bit louder than usual. Their arguments are started easier now, this time by a critique taken the wrong way. Their yelling is harsher than usual and the silence that follows is longer too. Sakura tries not to notice.

2.

Next, it's still within the aftermath of the Forest of Death. Sasuke seems changed; Sakura seems wary; Naruto is still annoying. Kakashi begins to show up more, like he's actually their teacher and not some guy hired to play the role of a babysitter. Looking back, he thinks maybe that's where he went wrong.

3.

It's during the finals of the Chuunin Exams. Sand is attacking and Sasuke, for the first time in a while, is running for his life. His heartbeat is in his head and just when he thinks he's about to die, Naruto comes, but Sakura's in danger. For the first time since the Forest of Death, they work together; they're a team.

Maybe they should've taken that as a sign, because the only way for you to go from up is down.

4.

The actual severing of ties does not take long after that. Sasuke begins to lose himself; to his hatred, his fear—he doesn't know. Naruto takes this coldness as hatred; he doesn't understand. Sakura becomes concerned; she has no idea what she's talking about. And Kakashi…he was wrong from the beginning. They were nothing alike, not at all.

That day on the hospital roof was not the break, it was a culmination. Their paths had been verging towards a point and that day showed them that they would part. It was inevitable, as inevitable as the clashing of Sasuke and Naruto.

5.

Sasuke's ties to Naruto are the first to go. They are not immediately severed, merely frayed. The tension is unbearable, even as they are flung in opposite directions by their teacher. The bloodlust is now known; there is no going back, and it's clear to the both of them that the next time they meet, there will be a fight. Sasuke counts the minutes.

The ties with Kakashi are ambiguous—they always are when involving this man. But it's clear their interests are different, and Sasuke knows that with Naruto and Sakura, they will always have him. He will be there for them, even after Sasuke leaves—maybe even more because of the guilt of failure. But Sasuke will not have him. Kakashi is merely a teacher he used to help get stronger, but on the bitterest nights, he thinks that he might have been more like a father.

6.

He's leaving tonight. Sakura is waiting up for him and it's unexpected and not at the same time. He tells her he's leaving and she tries to stop him. He appears behind her and tells her 'thank you.' He hopes she understands what he means, but he knows she won't. He doesn't understand what that 'thank you' means either.

And when he knocks her out and lays her on that bench with care, he looks at her face and does a mental check mark. There is only one last tie he must take care of.

Sasuke counts the minutes.

7.

Their battle is the final battle. They know this—can taste it in the air that flickers with tension. Words ring out, Naruto's final pleads for salvaging the remains, but there is nothing to save. Team 7 is merely shattered memories and even if he puts it back together, it will never be the same. Sasuke tells him this along with all the other things he says and realizing Sasuke will not be reasoned with words, Naruto goes for the second option that always works: he will make Sasuke understand with his fists.

Sasuke crouches into a ready position.

And after Naruto's body falls to the floor, the last flickers of the Kyuubi's chakra dying out in his eyes, the last tie is severed. Team 7 is no more, and what remains are merely the shadows.