Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
A/N: This chapter is incomplete. When it is complete (but who knows when that will be?), I will delete this chapter and repost the updated version.
To save you some work reading, last chapter is about the aftermath of Konoha's invasion. Sasuke wakes up, and Kakashi tells him that he (Sasuke) is free of all charges. They go to the fallen shinobis' funeral, and the chapter ends with Sasuke about to explain his actions to Team 7.
I know people are expecting explanations in this chapter also, and I'm really sorry that I didn't provide it...
Uchiha Reunion Arc
22. A Hard Choice
By six o'clock, the sky was already a clear, bright baby blue, though the morning air was still chilly. Dressed up with an inconspicuous gray jacket, Sasuke walked through the gates which led to the Konoha village grave. There were mourners scattered here and there by gravestones, incenses huddled beside families, shining tear streaks silently sliding down their cheeks. When Sasuke saw Chouji and weeping mother, he picked up his speed, hurrying past for fear of recognition. There was a small bouquet of white flowers hugged against the chubby boy's chest.
Sakura had told Sasuke the other day, grimly, that the Yamanaka Flower Shop was busy every day. It was not time for people to let go of the deceased only after a few weeks after the invasion.
In his right hand he clutched a grubby batch of flowers. Those lilies he snatched from a neighbor's yard were the best ones he could find, since buying flowers would earn him, the boy with no parents and no connects to the Land of Fire, suspicion. He had to remember to leave a few ryos on Mrs. Shoto's windowsill when he headed back to the apartment.
He did not stop by the Sandaime's grave, as much as he wanted; there were too many people there and, for this once at least, Sasuke wanted to remain hidden. He promised himself that he would visit Sarutobi as soon as he could then took a turn that would take him to a darker, more secluded part of the Konoha Cemetery. The graves here were much more unorganized, their tombstones dirty, weeds grown unhindered all over the ground. Here, Sasuke did not need to fear detection: no one visited the Uchiha graves.
He forced himself to look forward, his own feet taking him to the very back of these tombstones, behind a row of trees that would hide him away from public view. A sigh of wind escaped the leafy branches, and Sasuke shivered. Autumn was nearing, the quiet fading of summer reminding him of other things to come . . . But everything would be fixed in due course. Right now was not the time to think about such matters.
In front of two marble headstones, he stopped.
Sasuke noticed that their graves were the only ones that looked to be recently visited. Immediately, he felt a stab of resentment directed at Sai before realizing that his sempai, as a Chuunin, could not possibly have enough time to clean the burial place of every Uchiha as he had done in the past.
After another casual but careful glance around his surrounding, Sasuke wordlessly divided the flowers and placed them on either graves. He then knelt down and began to pray.
He knew that he had not been their son in this life, and it felt strange when he clasped his hands and bowed his head. No words came to his mind, and for a few seconds silence echoed as he struggled to remember why he had come here in the first place.
Finally, sighing, he decided some introduction was appropriate.
"Uh . . . Good morning, Uchiha-sama and Uchiha-sama. My name is U—Sasuke. My name is Sasuke. Sasuke." He let out a deep breath. "It is a pleasure to meet you. I . . . I am—I mean, I am grateful—no, glad—no . . . Uh, wait. Those two were the same things, weren't they? Ah. I mean . . ." He let the last word trail off.
In the clear morning sky, a crow croaked loudly.
How wonderfully awkward. But he had a speech prepared, didn't he? How did it go again . . . ?
Ah, whatever. He would just ad-lib it. He was a ninja after all.
"I . . . I am your son Sai's teammate. I mean—he's really more of a sempai and I—we aren't exactly friends but we're getting closer and . . . uh, and . . . He helps me with . . . stuff even though we did not have a good start and now I guess all of my suspicions for him were nothing since he is not me and I did not—I mean, I am a protector but I guess I can't really stop anything and—no, we're talking about Sai, right? Well he's a very interesting person, your son. He is very . . . hardworking and . . . emotionless, which is good for a shinobi and all but . . . yeah." For the second time, he ran out of things to say.
Babbling. He was babbling. Sasuke never babbled. Sakura babbled. Sasuke was the one who stayed in the background and watched the scene coolly as if it was not his concern, then later saving the day just in time with a few smooth words.
God . . . why is it so hard to talk to my own parents? he thought. They don't know me . . . but I know them . . . I know how they would react to my words. Mother would be playing with my hair and telling me how cute I look, how thin I've gotten . . . Father would stay back and watch us silently and then say something to me, whether it is good or bad, leaving afterward . . .
A nasty voice that reminded him much of Madara Uchiha sneered, Well, they aren't now your parents after all, aren't they?
The clench in his chest tightened.
Abruptly, the gravesite silenced, the songs of nature stifling. Mikoto's ghost, unseen by mortal eyes, appeared next to Sasuke. She placed a hand on his head, and he immediately felt all the nervousness seep out of his soul.
Taking in a lungful of air, he began again.
"Uchiha Sai is a great ninja," he said slowly, and realized that he felt no bitterness with those words. "I guess it wounds my pride greatly when I say this, but he is. Which," he added hastily, knowing how much Fugaku hated egoistic young men, "might not be much, of course, when I say it, considering I'm a Genin. But I'm the Sixth Hokage and the Second Slug Princess's best friend. I'm not to be underestimated."
Sasuke gained speed. "Now, I guess, what I really want to say is, I will protect them. Even if Madara is out there, I will use my knowledge of the future to defeat him. I will bring your son, Itachi, back. And I . . ."
I will accept Sai to be me—who I am supposed to be . . . He is Sasuke Uchiha of the past, but he will not make the same mistakes I had.
". . . I will try to not kick your son's ass—" Sasuke, remembering Mikoto's disapproval of swear words, corrected himself "—I mean, butt—when the time comes. Before then . . . I guess you can say he's somewhat of an equal . . ."
He talked with them for another hour, on trivial things, on important things. The dead was quiet, and his words were listened to with rapt attention. When he finally stood to leave, he promised another early visit tomorrow.
Behind him, his mother's soft, apologetic smile was unseen.
"Fugaku wasn't able to wait."
Her whisper was like the faint rustling of leaves, barely stirring the air.
"Naruto is going to freak out when he finds out that we're going on a mission without him," Sakura sniggered. Kakashi had informed them that Naruto had headed out of Konoha with Jiraiya earlier in the morning.
To Sakura's words, Sasuke did not react in any way: his eyes were glued to the two Elders sitting behind the Hokage's desk, trying to restrain the killing intent that rolled off him like thunderclouds.
But her tone, full of concern with not the slightest bit of fear, made Sasuke temporarily forget about the Elders. He turned away from both shame and guilt.
How could she still treat him like . . . like a human being after everything? He could slightly understand why Naruto and even Sai accepted him—Sasuke hadn't wrapped his fingers around their necks. But Sakura . . .
Sasuke was constantly torn these days between shaking her to sense and kneeling at her foot to beg for her forgiveness. Being neither an idiot nor Naruto, he did neither.
"Please pay attention, Sasuke-san, Sakura-san," said Sai from their right.
Sasuke released a harsh sigh from his chest.
"It's nothing, Sakura."
She pursed her lips and said nothing.
He redirected his focus to the old farm owner whose field Team 7 was supposed to weed later, trying with all his might to not glare at the murderers who sat behind the Hokage's desk. The farmer was haggling with a bewildered Konoha ninja who clearly did not have any idea what to do in this situation.
"These skinny shrimps ain't worth tha' extra two-hundred ryo! What do yeh take me fer, a dumb ol' country bum? I'm tellin' yeh . . ."
The shinobi opened his mouth many times but was always interrupted by the client. The Elders watched on, as silent as the statues of gods.
". . . when I come 'ere, I 'spect quality treatmen', an' not some ol' shenanigan 'bout weak lil' kids who'll mess up my farm soon as—"
"Sir." The tone in Kakashi's voice commanded respect from even the most stubborn hagglers.
The old man looked at Kakashi, who smiled. "If you do not mind, sir, please allow me to introduce ourselves." He turned to his students. "The ones here are Haruno Sakura, Genin"—Sakura bowed—"another Genin, Sasuke"—Another Genin? Sasuke thought, annoyed, bowing as well—"our very own Chuunin in the team, Uchiha Sai"—Sai tipped his head—"and me. Hatake Kakashi."
The old man flinched, his eyes darting between the apathetic Sai and the still-smiling Kakashi. His face burned red.
Something glinted from the farmer's feet. Sasuke blinked, and it was gone.
"Pah! I'll bet Kumo'll've better service than this! I'm leavin'."
And so he did, slamming the door harshly in his wake.
The Chuunin sitting at the desk sighed. "Hatake-sempai, that was . . ."
"Most disgraceful to our village," Koharu Utatane, the female Elder, finally spoke. "How do you suppose Konoha should rebuild itself with your rash decisions, scaring off every client that seeks our help? Konohagakure cannot function by—"
"Forgive me this once," Kakashi said with a shallow little smile. "I was not thinking clearly."
"We are all emotional over what happened recently," Sai added diplomatically. "It has been hard on all of us. Please forgive my sensei this once, Utantane-sama, Mitokado-sama."
"Now," said Kakashi, "if you would excuse me and my team— It seems that all of the missions Team Kakashi can handle are taken already . . ."
The door opened.
"Please, stay where you are, Hatake-san."
The old, gravelly voice sent chills down his spine. He recognized it . . . he had loathed it, once upon a time . . . had heard it shout out many battle cries . . . had heard it command the Sharingan eyes of his dead clan . . . had smiled at the time it disappeared from this world forever, murdered by Sasuke Uchiha himself . . .
"Ah, Shimura-sama." Kakashi's voice seemed to come from somewhere far, far away.
"I hope you were just on your way to catch this intruder?" Danzou asked. Sasuke was vaguely aware the heavy thud of a body dropped to the ground, of the loud pants muffled against wooden floor, of a man's breath tickling against his heels.
Sakura gasped and whispered, "The man from before . . . !"
"Koharu, Homura, has old age made you incompetent?"
Sasuke slowly moved his head up, watching the scene as if from a dream. He saw Danzou walk toward the Hokage table, felt the floor vibrate every time his cane stomped the floor. Saw Danzou's mouth open and close, speaking. Felt a movement somewhere in the back. Turned. Saw the captive trembling. Saw how the captive had shed himself of the genjutsu, now a heavily scarred young man instead of an aging farmer. Saw the way the man's eyes focused on him, begging. Heard Danzou said something else. Turned around. Saw the Elders flushed red with anger and embarrassment.
"He is a strong genjutsu user, sir." Kakashi's voice seemed to echo, the words bouncing in Sasuke's head but never reaching his brain. "Perhaps equivalent to Konoha's ANBU—It is not Utantane-sama or Mitokado-sama who is at fault—"
"Quiet," Danzo said, glaring at Kakashi with his lone eye. "Have I given you the permission to speak?"
And just like that, Sasuke snapped out of his trance.
This was the man who ordered Itachi to massacre his entire clan. Even more than the two ignorant Elders, he deserved to die.
Sasuke's Sharingan flashed, and he felt the familiar burn in his heart that had once consumed him a lifetime ago.
"You have no right," he found himself saying, "to speak to my sensei like that."
The room seemed to freeze.
A/N: I know that as writers mature—teenage writers, especially—any work they'd written in the past would seem completely horrible. Sasuke, Not Uchiha has been going on for a year and half now, and when I started reading the story again, it was just so, so tempting to rip the entire thing up and throw it into the waste bin. Figuratively, of course.
But you know, I managed to convince myself that the writing I produce now will be pretty much the same as the writing I produced a year ago. To hell with it, you know. I'd already promised that this story would reach its conclusion, no matter how damn far from now that will be.
I am really sorry about the hopeless pacing between updates. I can't guarantee that chapters will be produced any faster, but as before, I'll try my best.
Thank you for all those who continue to support this story. A special thanks also to crazymel2008, Greenerseyes, and my dear brother for pestering me about Sasuke, Not Uchiha.