Thank you to everyone. :)
The Lake didn't appear to her again, and when Sakura opened her eyes once more, she remembered wondering if the whole thing was just a bizarre dream. It was most likely. Dreams could lead to an idea that could be pursued. But after just thinking about it started to give her a headache she instead focused on her surroundings.
It was the same hospital room with the clicking fan and peeling white wall paint. It was early morning, she guessed, judging by the direction and amount of light filtering in through the curtain-drawn window, and there was the faint scent of rain as well. The smell of it was instantly calming.
The next thing she noticed was the lily filled vase on the bedside table and then the gentle weight of something on her arm. Still drugged, Sakura looked to her left side, staring at the blonde boy sleeping with his hand over hers. A smile came to her lips. Naruto was without his headband and was dressed in casuals of black pants and orange top, a black jacket over it. He breathed evenly and with his mouth open, like he was just getting over a cold or something. He sniffled and she knew she was correct.
It was then she spied something darker in the corner of her eye and found Sasuke slipping out of his chair to her left. His arms were crossed, his head bowed low and his legs tucked under the chair. Asleep. He was dressed in civilian clothes as well; black pants and long sleeved white shirt. She could see white bandages peeking out around his neck, which she assumed was the wound from Samehada.
In that moment, Sakura was relieved. She had forgotten briefly that he had been injured, and so to see him – them – alive and well, it was a huge relief. Her smile widened and she closed her eyes, feeling the tire return. She swallowed, coughing at how dry her throat was, but could see no water nearby.
She didn't have to press the button to call any nurses. The door opened softly, alerting her with a simple click, and she saw Kakashi slip in and then close it behind himself. He turned back and stopped short.
"You're awake," he murmured.
Sakura shrugged slightly and exhaled.
"There's a lot to catch you up on," he said, stepping over to the foot of her bed. He didn't waste any time. "I assume you're aware of the standard procedure of your situation?"
A small frown and then a nod. He sat beside Naruto's arms.
"What's the last thing you remember?"
Kakashi was patient while Sakura cautiously ran over the brittle memories. The ones of her time with the Akatsuki were jumbled like the mixed pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Their audio was distorted, and many of them were blurred due to uncertainty. She knew of the illusions – could remember those clearer than anything else – but then she hit a black wall and nothing.
"I don't… know," she said. "It's all a mess."
"That's alright. Don't push yourself. The Interrogation Unit is interested in anything you might've heard or seen during your time missing, however they will not push you into remembering. After they've learned that you've been traumatised by something, they'll encourage the hospital to assign a counsellor to help regain your memories."
Sakura looked up at her sensei slowly.
Kakashi frowned. "They know something important, don't they?"
She didn't know for sure but her gut told her that they did, and that she was also forgetting something just as important. "Possibly."
His expression softened. "Sakura," Kakashi began, and his voice suggested that it was something significant, something that had to be said so she'd understand despite the fact that he was aware of her identity. "You were taken by the Akatsuki two weeks ago and found six days ago. That's eight days missing. And the state you were in when you were found suggests that something happened."
"I'm sorry, Sakura." That was it. He wasn't going to tell her.
Some part of her was relieved that he'd hide this information from her, but the rest of her was desperately, dangerously, curious to find out what it was, even when the rising panic at the sight of his expression surged inside her. Images of a fight going on returned to her, but she had the feeling that she escaped that relatively unscathed.
She pursed her dry lips, licked them, and exhaled, wincing at the pinching in her ribs. For a second she thought she saw Kakashi raise a hand to her in concern, but he casually instead ran it through his silver hair.
"For now, I think, you should focus on healing your body and mind," he said. "You don't need anything more."
"The Interrogation Unit may let it slip," she responded.
His eye darkened. "No. They won't. And don't ask them Sakura. Trust me. You don't need to know anything more. Just let yourself heal."
His tone was firm, final, and Sakura nodded in resignation. She knew firsthand what it meant when she, herself, told someone not to think any more on their situation, and just on that alone many would try to figure more out because curiosity was damning. She knew he spoke for her sake. She knew how annoying it was when the patients didn't listen. And so she settled back into the comfortable cot, obeying.
"It will take longer for you to recover, this time," Kakashi said, fingering the spine of his book. "Tsunade left Konoha while we were still in Suna."
At this Sakura looked to Kakashi, eyes wide. "She's gone? Why?"
"I hear that she's on a quest. What kind, I don't know. I'm not privy to the details."
Which was odd. If the mission was at all related to her situation, then shouldn't she deserve to know?
Sakura closed her eyes as Shikamaru's – well, her words – returned to memory; to let things go, to understand that she couldn't control everything of the fate of this world, that she shouldn't be playing god. Now, in reality, it was easier to succumb to this thought, and once more she relaxed. She didn't have to worry. She didn't doubt that she would eventually just because it was who she was, but things are different enough now that she didn't need to take hand; now the Hokage could.
"That's alright," she said. It was good to wonder about the future now, even if it was just a little.
"As for your recovery, I think I may know something that can help." Kakashi was grinning, and after she quirked an eyebrow at him, he gestured to the two boys with his book. "These two have been here since you woke up briefly yesterday," he informed her gently, then whacked both boys over the head. Sasuke jerked awake, sliding the rest of the way off his seat and face-planting into Naruto's back. Naruto blinked blearily and lifted his head, pouting at his sensei and rubbing the sore spot.
"What was that for?" he complained.
A single point at Sakura and both boys were as awake as the sun. Naruto's smile lit up the room and he scrambled onto her bed, practically straddling her to hug her, and Sakura would have let him at any other moment but he hit a sore spot and she cried out in pain. Sasuke instantly shoved him off, then a little more coolly pulled Naruto's chair closer to the bed and sat back down. The expression on his face was something she couldn't quite decipher.
Naruto was stuttering, unable to find a way to start a sentence that he couldn't properly form either. His lack of words was unusual, and knowing that it was due to his concern made Sakura warmer inside. In the end he sat on the bed where Kakashi had.
"Sakura, I could kiss you right now!" he exclaimed.
All she could do was smile. Until Naruto had crawled over her body, she hadn't realised just how damaged she was. She was bandaged up from practically head to toe.
"Naruto, relax," Sasuke said, sparing the blond a glance.
Naruto snorted. "Oh, so now you're all calm and cool."
Naruto ignored him and jabbed a thumb at him, talking to Sakura. "You should have seen him when he woke up after we got back."
"As I recall, you were running around like a headless chicken yourself." Sasuke scowled.
Naruto gestured to himself. "Me? Yes. Totally normal. You? No way. Seriously, Sakura, we agreed on something. Actually, I shouted something, he agreed, and then he got more worked up than I did."
"We had been trying to get ourselves on the teams that went out to look for you, but the Hokage shot us down every time because of liability or whatever. Sakura. Seriously. He got angry."
"He scared me so much with how much he agreed with everything I said! It's like we swapped personalities! He did all the talking and I did all the… silencing…. And then when you were found, he went, like, totally insane! I thought he was angry before but clearly I hadn't seen nothing yet, because when he was denied on the Rescue team, he went ballistic!"
"Shut your mouth."
"Okay, okay, so I was exaggerating the last part or so, but the point is, he was worried. And if I didn't hate him so much, I'll admit that it's kinda cute." Naruto finished with a tiny single shoulder shrug.
Sakura, barely able to take all of that in, looked over their shoulders at Kakashi for confirmation. He sighed, shoulders drooping. "It's certainly good to have you back, Sakura," he said weakly. And oddly that said it all; explained how harried and concerned they were, how at odds they were.
Naruto was to be expected, but Sasuke did come as a bit of a surprise. He may have tempered a lot more than the first time she'd gone through all this, but it was still startling to learn that he was as forward about his concern as Naruto. Although, Sakura remembered, she had been taken by his brother. It had gotten more personal for Sasuke the second he learned she was gone, and by whom.
Naruto was still grinning from ear to ear, apparently happy to just bask in the fact that she was alive. Sasuke was busy trying to get rid of his blush (from anger or embarrassment, she didn't know).
She cracked a smile. "I thought worrying was my job."
Naruto laughed, and Sasuke grabbed her wrist through the sheet. He didn't even seem to realise he'd done it. "I guess we just took over for a while. But you can have it back." He sighed tiredly. "It's a… little exhausting."
The hard edges of his face softened. "Must be how a mother feels."
Kakashi's clapping broke the short silence thereafter. "Alright, you two boys. I technically shouldn't have even allowed you have your little reunion. The staff need to be informed, and – well, so on and so forth. Come on. Out. Chop chop."
Naruto grumbled as he slid off the bed. Sasuke rolled his eyes, but in the same reluctant manner as Naruto, he rose from his seat and followed the orange-clad shinobi out.
"See you soon, Sakura!" Naruto shouted just before the door shut behind Kakashi.
Alone in the room, Sakura exhaled in a rush, wincing at the pinches and aches and throbs that came from all over her body and didn't let up. It was sudden but durable, appearing only because she now had nothing to distract herself with. The pain remained as an insistent fly that she focused on ignoring, and to her relief it wasn't long before the same nurse she recalled last time swept in and smiled in relief at the sight of her, while also carrying in a much needed glass of water. She helped Sakura up, and through it Sakura was mentally assessing what sort of pain came from which part of her body.
She stopped when she realised that Kakashi had been right in not telling her the state she had been brought in. She didn't have the energy to properly investigate, but she knew that the damage had been bad and most definitely life-threatening.
That thought brought a hot flush to her as she wondered what exactly had happened during those missing days. What had she gone through? God, she really wanted to know, but was too scared to learn of it. She couldn't remember it for a reason.
She inhaled a lung full of air and exhaled, willing herself to relax. Just focus on recovering.
She did. For the next week or so Sakura remained in the same hospital room, enduring the sponge baths and inspection of her wounds, one of which that would leave a big scar across her chest. Over the time she gradually let herself find out more about the origin of her wounds, but far too often whenever she focused she'd get a flash of the pain that had her sweating in fear afterwards.
It was scarily uncontrollable, that more and more she dreaded the Interrogation Units visit. She took solace in the ones from her teammates, who tried to say hello at least once a day, but they wanted to talk about what had happened, wanted to apologise and tell her more about what had happened their end, and each time they – Naruto, really – careened too far into sensitive territory, Kakashi pulled them away; although they did talk about her cut hair at one point, which twigged a memory of her slicing through it to escape.
Sasuke always seemed to appear like he was bursting at the seams. Kakashi privately disclosed his reason with a few words: "you were stolen by his brother, Sakura."
Others had visited as well. Hinata came to give tips of the healing ointment her clan made. Neji would be with her, and while they were clearly at odds with each other still it was good to see that they could at least tolerate each other more. Neji, though, would stand at the back, watching Sakura with hawk eyes. She had a flash of him once, of him leaning over her, but she chose not to think more of it.
Shino and Kiba came the second time Hinata did, and then Tenten and Lee, who were loud enough the nurses had to ask them to leave. Tenten was a little embarrassed. Chouji and Shikamaru came bearing gifts. The former did at least, with a basket of fruit which had to have been expensive considering a lot of the fruits were not in season anymore. The sight of Shikamaru, however, had Sakura recalling the memory – or now dream, it felt – of when he appeared to her as her sub-conscious.
He didn't say much, instead letting Chouji talk away about anything and everything, but the way he looked at her made her wonder if he somehow knew exactly what she thought of him.
Of all visits, though, it was her parents that had her choking back tears. They were crying the moment they stepped into her room, crying harder as they hugged and kissed her, and Sakura could tell that they wanted to tell her the exact same things Naruto and Sasuke wanted to tell her; how bad they heard she had been, how worried they were. But once she started on the topic of their pottery business, those dark thoughts of worry was put aside and they regaled the days they'd had, and any other bit of gossip or rumour they thought she'd be interested in. All of it was civilian related. Like the others, they didn't stray into ninja talk. Kakashi had made his point quite clear then.
Winter had begun days ago.
Rain fell intermittently during Sakura's stay in the hospital and a small storm had passed by as well, flashing webs of lightning across the darkened sky and growling thunder through the streets. She left the curtains drawn so she could see the fleeting sparks of light.
Her wounds were slowly healing but no amount of visits from her loved ones helped to quell her mind. Sakura was constantly trying not to think about what she forgotten but she'd always end up back to it anyway. It was maddening that she couldn't get a moment's peace of mind to herself without needing someone else beside her; although she was able to piece together the jigsaw of memories with Akatsuki so that a conclusion until the black wall was becoming clearer.
Over the next few days it had gotten worse, to the point she was afraid to fall asleep in case the memories did return and she'd wake up to realise that whatever had scared her was still her reality. It became harder when she knew the Interrogation Unit was due any day now. What if they hit a soft point that had her brain unleashing everything at once? What if they hit any part of her walls and the memory of it was bad enough she had to start repairing herself all over again?
She was terrified. And telling herself not to be terrified was not helping.
Eventually the fear of it all settled to a point where it was like being nervous for an exam; it became a numbing sensation and the tired anger and adrenaline of just wanting to get it over and done with. To her luck that was the day the Unit came in, and like an exam she studied endlessly for she didn't feel quite prepared.
It was raining outside. She listened to it, meditating, when the door opened and a shinobi wearing the crest of the Interrogation Unit on black uniform walked in, followed by a second. They were both tall with different body types. One was muscular, most likely an intimidator by presence and appearance, and had short blonde hair and a single grey eye; his other was missing, a concave of skin pulled over the socket. The other was lanky and wore his jacket unzipped to reveal a white shirt. His brown hair spooled about his shoulders in long length, and he had lavender eyes. A Hyuuga.
This one nodded in greeting to her before dragging up a stool and straddling it. The other closed the door and stood in front of it.
"We'd been receiving updates on your mental health since you woke up," the Hyuuga said. "And while Kakashi told us that you do remember most things, just out of order, it is essential you are still questioned in case you've been compromised. I'm sure you know what that means."
She nodded. It meant she had to be ready for any sort of shit.
"Alright. What was the last thing you remember?"
This she knew. She'd whittled it down recently. "Cutting my hair," she said bluntly.
The Hyuuga blinked. "Good. You seem to have a grasp of the order of things. So tell me, Sakura. Why did you cut your hair?"
She furrowed her brow and said slowly, "to escape."
"Okay. And where was his partner at that moment?"
Sakura sighed, running the events through her mind in order. "We were attacked one morning. Kisame remained to fight the enemy, but Itachi and I were pursued by bandits when we tried to run. It was then I tried to escape."
"Uh huh." The Hyuuga nodded, tapping his fingertips together. "I can let you be vague with the details as you are still recovering from the ordeal with the addition of a trauma, but let it be known that I know that you are skimping on something."
His look was firm. Sakura agreed.
"So! Up until the point of this ambush you had been in the hands of the enemy. Now, when we found you, you had been missing for eight days, and who knows how many of that was you injured. It is safe to assume then that during that time you had been interrogated, tortured even, for information. Since you seem to have a firm grasp of the order of events leading to the end of the ambush, can you tell me what happened during your time with the enemy?" It wasn't a question but an order.
Sakura's throat clamped up. "Yes. Itachi cast genjutsu on me."
"How many times?"
"Several. A night."
"And did they let you rest?"
She inhaled, looking away. "Itachi was injured during the fight with Sasuke."
"We made a deal. They would let me go free if I healed him."
"And what of the information they had captured you for?"
"I wouldn't be released unharmed. I knew that. I knew that by the end of it they would destroy my mind so that I wouldn't remember anything, but I made the deal to prolong things. I hoped that I would be found by the time my skills became useless to what his injury had progressed to."
"And what had his injury progressed to?"
Her hands clenched around the white sheets. "He has function of his arm but has lost all feeling."
The Hyuuga hummed in understanding. "So after a night's sleep, I assume, they had you use what little chakra you had til depletion on his injury, and while exhausted from travelling, would take advantage of your weak state to throw you into several genjutsu."
"What you're saying then is that when these genjutsu were cast on you, your mental barriers, your defences, would have been weakened from the lack of everything else, thus allowing him to probe for information."
"In essence, you could have told him anything and everything."
"No," she said, resolute. "I remember everything in those illusions. I remember fighting him at every chance I could get. Besides, I doubt I would have had anything about Konoha that they'd need to kidnap a genin kunoichi for."
The Hyuuga snapped his fingers, smiling. "Ahh! So why did they capture you in the first place?"
Her brow crinkled, eyes moistening with unshed tears. "I don't know."
The brunette itched behind his ear, then grunted and pulled at the collar of his jacket to straighten it. With a smile that set her on edge, he leaned on the back of the chair once again, arms crossed over each other, and said, "you're lying to me, Sakura."
Her eyes flickered to the other interrogator at the door, who stiffened the moment her attention turned to him. "I can't," she whispered.
The Hyuuga tilted his head to the side, mockingly straining to hear her. "'You can't' what? You know what happens if you don't tell us, Sakura. You're withholding information, which can be considered traitorous to the village." He leaned in. "Why did they capture you? Sasuke, with a relation to Itachi, I understand. Kakashi, I would understand. But why did they capture you? What about you caught their interest?"
It was like he knew about her secret and was goading her into spilling it. The urge to do just that lodged in her throat.
"Do you know something? Are you affiliated with this group?" The accusations just kept coming. An endless stream. The Hyuuga stood. "The most important question I suppose I should ask is: do you think that they got whatever information they wanted from you in the first place?"
Sakura snapped. "I don't know!"
Then a memory returned. An image of Itachi's face just before she cut her hair. Why she didn't remember that earlier, she didn't know. But she knew how to answer his question as Itachi's expression lingered in her mind, the confusion, that at that time she couldn't quite decipher, evident in his eyes amidst the panic.
"No. No, they didn't."
Because he hadn't. He had seen a lot of queer things, and yet he couldn't make sense of them. He'd seen plenty, but he didn't know anything; just that she was odd, and maybe also that she could be of benefit.
She forced herself to not dwell on the fact that he didn't pull her into an illusion at that moment either to keep her.
"You seem confident," the Hyuuga said. "What did you just remember?"
"Just… by how they acted," she responded.
He crossed his arms and straightened. He didn't say anything for a few good moments until he sighed. "That will be all for today, I think."
"What?" Sakura said.
He stood. "The nurses told us you are healing well, and that you'll be dispatched soon. Congratulations."
She will be? She hadn't heard much about her release as she knew that the Interrogation Unit had to visit her before that happened. "Thank you."
"We'll visit you again, Sakura," he said.
She nearly asked them why they'd leave the questioning at that. They had to be suspicious of her. Her response had not answered the initial accusation which she knew was still a main cause of concern of them, so why were they leaving?
Sakura breathed. A tactic, perhaps, to lull her into false security?
The Hyuuga tilted his head in farewell and his companion opened the door, casting her a final look before they left. She realised she didn't care why all too much. She was just glad they were gone for now.
True to their words, in the next few days the casts were finally off and she could stretch her limbs, although gently. They were incredibly stiff that she released a moan of relief when her muscles expanded. To her pleasure she was also given permission to meander, as long as she promised to not push herself; and as a budding medic, she should know when to rest.
That night the rain came down intermittently. Sakura remained in bed watching it through the drawn curtains. With a smile she slid out of bed slowly, grabbed a hospital shawl and tentatively walked to the balcony door. Her legs were still a little weak.
She was greeted with a rush of cool air and slid the shawl over her shoulders. The concrete was even colder against her warm feet, but the thrill of it shot through her body like fireworks. The rain was wonderful against her flushed cheeks.
The sky was black, the moon just visible as a very faint glow behind the dark clouds. Lights were on, scattered about Konoha like immobile fireflies, giving the village a special kind of radiance with the aid of the misty rain.
She whirled and found Sasuke perched on the rail, his hair flat with rain. His clothes – of long black pants and a loose, navy shirt – stuck to him like a second skin. He hopped down onto the balcony.
"Sasuke," she greeted, a note of confusion in his name. "What are you—you're hurt!"
She sped over to him and raised a hand to his bleeding cheek but he grabbed her hand in coarse fingers and pulled her away.
Sakura didn't believe him. Something about this gnawed at her, and it took another once over his body, at his cuts and scratches she didn't see before but now visible through holes torn in his clothes, before she realised it. Was this the night he left Konoha? Had he just been attacked by Orochimaru's minions?
She looked at him imploringly, searching for answers. "Why are you here?"
"Why are you out in the rain?" he shot back, leading her back to the open door. "You're still recovering."
Sakura stepped away, removing her hand from his wet grip. "I'm fine, too. But you're concerning me."
"Because I'm on your balcony?" His voice was half teasing and half serious.
"It's not every day my teammate shows up at night on my balcony." She smiled. "Watching me sleep, Sasuke? How stalker-ish of you."
He had the confidence to blush before he turned away. He inhaled deeply and then released the breath. "I need to check something," he said. "I need to do something."
For a moment it felt like her heart had stopped at those words. Hope glimmered.
"It's not a confession, Sakura."
She frowned. "I gathered."
He looked back to her, eyes dark, water rivulets tracing his face. He hesitated to begin, but he did, with quiet words she almost couldn't hear.
"I hate this place."
Sakura tensed in defence.
"I hate what it does to me. I hate what all the people in it do to me."
Bumps sprouted on her skin and she waited with bated breath.
"But most of all, I hate what you do to me; what Naruto does to me. And Kakashi. I just hate you."
He took a step towards her, and then another, until he was standing right before her and she was staring into his eyes. Part of her wanted to step back, but there was no way she could. She was left to his scrutiny, and she, his. His skin was pale from the cold, and his lips white. They quivered as he parted them again.
"But that's how you feel when it comes to family. Right?"
Sakura fell into silent awe, that spark of hope in her chest now burning so hot she could barely hold back those warm tears. Realising she hadn't responded yet she nodded, tacking on a tight, "yeah."
He pressed his lips together uncertainly. "I've lost my family before. And I've lost my brother. I refuse to lose you guys too."
She was stuck in a trance, those words ringing in her mind like a sweet melody she could listen to over and over again. The song only ended when stiff arms fitted unnaturally around her neck and she was pulled in to a shivering body. She could still vaguely smell blood, but it was his scented candles – pine scented candles – that clung to him the most, even in the rain.
"Sakura?" a new voice came. "Sasuke?"
Both ninja turned to the open door, seeing Naruto standing there looking between them in confusion.
"Did I… miss something?" he asked, raising a finger. "Why are you—what the!"
Sasuke had reeled him into the hug beside Sakura, arms loose around both their necks and his chin resting in the curves of their touching shoulders. Naruto stiffened.
"I promise I won't ever abandon this family."
At the end of the night Naruto had no clue what was going on, though knew it was something important if the Sasuke Uchiha initiated contact – and a hug at that. And unbeknownst to Sasuke, Sakura knew exactly what was happening, and had those warm tears of joy running down her face as she rested her head against his shoulder, an unbreakable smile on her lips.
Sasuke's apartment was dark.
He stepped into it soaking wet, water dripping from his clothes into a puddle already forming at his feet by the entrance. He had stopped, hand on the handle of the door, and then he closed it, lifting his head to look about his home.
Rain drops coated the many windows lining the wall, and sporadically lightning gleamed to illuminate just how empty the room was and felt. It was rather spacey, with Sasuke only requiring the minimum of furniture as he spent most of his time outside training anyway.
There were the essentials: a futon, cupboard, set of drawers, then the kitchen in the same room with a bathroom through a door. In one corner of the room, on the far side, was a collection of kunai and shuriken, empty scrolls, tinder, a grinding rock and pouches of replacements on the floor. Coils of string were piled, and there was an open chest up against the wall beside all this mess.
Silently Sasuke turned on the light.
He had just returned from meeting Sakura at her hospital room, and Naruto, who had showed up at the same time. Recalling what had happened, what he had admitted, made him stumble back into his door and lean his head against it, closing his eyes. A fist clenched tighter.
Up and down his body were bruises and bleeding cuts. His insides felt like mash that it hurt to breathe.
Those guys were strong; he couldn't deny it.
Five of them had showed up out of nowhere as he trained late at the usual Team Seven training ground just before evening. Already tired, Sasuke fought with them, managing to gain somewhat of an upper hand until they started an ability that made his blood boil in jealousy.
They had power. An insane amount of power. One of them beat him to a pulp, and then asked if he wanted this exact power. Because he could get it. He could take it. All he had to do was say yes and meet them outside the village at midnight. And he was tempted, for far longer than he would like to admit.
He then remembered his team; everything he learned and felt in their time together, everything he thought. How he grappled with revenge and bliss, and how Kakashi made him believe that he could have both. For a moment, at seeing that insane power, Sasuke thought again that he couldn't.
Bliss and revenge did not go hand in hand.
But he didn't want to follow his brother. What he told Sakura was true; he didn't want to be like his sibling. Itachi killed and left. He ran away from their roots they called home. And Sasuke decided that leaving was too much like Itachi, too much like how the older wanted him to be moulded; to give up everything for hate to kill him, to do what he said.
Sasuke wasn't going to give it all up. He'd get revenge in his own way, with these people by his side. He'd prove to his brother that hate was not a solitary journey. He'd prove it because that's what younger brother's did to upstage their idols, no matter how much time had weathered the visage.
He hated this village. He hated these people. He hated his friends, and he hated his brother. But at the same time in some warped sense of way he loved them all too; even the man he wanted to kill.
Seeing Sakura and Naruto earlier had cemented these thoughts in his mind. It was the hardest decision he thought he'd ever make, but deciding this course of path lifted a giant weight off his shoulder. There was still strength in Konoha, found in the form of his peers he was beginning to see as a new sort-of family. Kakashi was right about that.
Pushing himself off the door, Sasuke grabbed at the back of his wet shirt and pulled it over his head, pitching it into the hamper by the cupboard. He strolled to his bed and unzipped his full purple backpack he had tossed on there before meeting his teammates at the hospital. Beside the bag was his hitae-ate he left behind.
Grasping it, he sauntered to his dresser and placed it there, then returned to unpack his bag.
He had come far too close to leaving Konoha. Far closer than he would ever care to admit.