Hello all, it's been a while, eh? Well, I'm back. This fic is a little different from my most recent jag of Naruto fics. It's more alike in tone to 'Illuminating' than 'Shades.' At least at first. It'll probably evolve into some action later on, but the first several chapters are a lot of thinking and stuff. Fair warning.
This is the first fic I've let my beau (heh. funny word) beta. I'm making him read/watch Naruto, but he's being a little slow about it, so he's not completely caught up. So that means that he doesn't edit as much for content as he does for grammar, spelling, and ease-of-understanding. So any errors of a purely Naruto-nature are my own, as are any lingering technical mistakes. I do my best to get all the corrections he marks into my hard-copy, but I might miss some.
Because of the very cerebral nature of this fic, I've had to alter how I've formatted it a little. Usually I denote emphasis as italics, but with a few different levels of thought going on, I've had to change this to bold-type. It's not my favorite way to show emphasis, but it's the way that works best with my other formatting. Sorry if it bothers you like it does me.
ANYWAY. On with the show. Please read and review. And don't worry if you're somewhat confused at first; so are all the characters, and this is from their point of view. Things'll start to make more sense as we go.
The Philosophy of Self
I'm sorry. I wasn't strong enough for your expectations.
I was never as strong as you…
But I am strong enough to give you this.
He woke, flat on his back, limbs twitching. This was wrong. This felt wrong, this couldn't be… There was too much sound, too much light. The floor pressed on his body harshly.
He inhaled sharply and coughed on the cold air that rushed into his throat and lungs. Or was it hot? His lungs burned…
Opening his eyes, he hissed and narrowed them. This was wrong. Too bright, everything jagged and sharp. His eyes tracked oddly, double vision wavering in and out.
He just managed to roll over before he vomited.
:Poison?: he thought, and nearly screamed at the clamor of noise and pain that went up in his mind.
This wasn't right, this couldn't be right.
He had to get out of here. It was dangerous.
His limbs were still spasming, jerking in movements he didn't command, but he managed to get his feet under him with the help of a table nearby. Hands pressed at the cold metal surface, clutched. Cloth brushed his knuckles, reaching fingers touched… Cold, yielding. Flesh.
There was a body on the table.
It was him. Itwasn'thim. It was…
He leaned over and vomited again, trembling.
His mind spun, and the world around him spun with it. He couldn't… couldn't concentrate. Thinking just made jags of pain lance through his head, temple to temple. All he knew was that something was very, very wrong. And that he needed to get out of there. Immediately.
The ground seemed to pitch and roll under his step like a ship at high sea. Slowly, deliberately, measuring each step against the nausea and the spasms and the twitching, he made his way out of the room.
Dazed, it didn't occur to him to wonder where his slowly plodding feet were taking him. It didn't occur to him to wonder where he was. He knew he had to leave, and that was enough.
He had to leave. It wasn't safe. He had to get as far away as he could.
Things calmed down, a little, once he was under the thick canopy of the forest outside. The sound of the wind in the trees, and the smell of earth and green growing things were familiar.
Belonging. This was right, being among the leaves…
Controlling his body became easier with each step, but the strong sense of disorientation remained, and kept his movements tentative.
He kept moving, though. It was the only thought in him, besides the maddening static that his last lingering spark of Reason called 'Delirium.'
:Still not safe. Have to keep going, have to keep moving.:
Stupid with confusion and exhaustion, he didn't notice there were others in the forest until they had seen him.
The cry jerked his head up from the fierce contemplation of the ground (there, step there next), and he froze. Three people—no, no, more than three—perched in the trees around him. But the three…
They jumped down from the branches, moving in swift blurs.
His senses failed him. His eyes tried to track them, but couldn't. The world bucked.
He crashed to the ground. There was nothing left in his stomach to bring up, so he just retched dryly until the earth was steady under him once more. He ignored the voices that rose, and the wave of Delirium that washed against his mind.
"Sasuke?" a voice, closer now, gentler. Hands on him, and only then did he realize he was shaking, with the steadiness of those hands to play counterpart to his tremors.
He looked up, saw a woman's face set with a contradictory combination of wariness and concern. At the end of his meager strength, he collapsed, unconscious.
Sakura waited outside the hospital room while, inside, Tsunade examined a still-unconscious Sasuke. Beside her, Naruto fairly radiated impatience, while across the hallway Kakashi had his little orange book out with every appearance of nonchalance. It was exactly how she would have expected them to act in this situation. But her own response confused her a little.
:I still can't believe we finally found him. And I can't believe how easy it was to bring him back.: Sakura shifted uneasily. :I can't help but feel like something's wrong with all this…:
The door opened, and Tsunade came out into the hallway. Sakura straightened, and Naruto bounced forward.
"Well?" he demanded.
"Severe chakra exhaustion," Tsunade said. Sakura frowned, but nodded slowly, having seen the signs herself.
"What? That's it?" Naruto demanded. "Did you listen to our report? He was sicker than… than… He was sick! I don't think he even recognized us!"
Kakashi stirred, put a calming hand on Naruto's shoulder.
"His symptoms are consistent with chakra depletion," Sakura said. She hesitated, looked at Tsunade. "But I agree with Naruto. He looked more ill than can be accounted for by simple chakra exhaustion."
Tsunade folded her arms and leaned a shoulder against the hospital room's door. "It isn't that I don't trust your judgment, either of you, but…" She shrugged. "I can't find anything else physically wrong with him."
All eyes focused on the door, as if they could see through it to the black-haired patient lying quiescent on the bed inside.
"There is good news," the Godaime Hokage offered. "There is no sign of Orochimaru's seal, no taint of foreign chakra in his body."
"But we'll still have him watched, I expect," Kakashi murmured. He held up defensive hands as Tsunade shot a glare at him. "I don't necessarily disagree with the idea."
"We don't know exactly what happened," Tsunade said, grumpily. "He disappeared after killing his brother; we don't know what happened so that he was staggering around the forest, as you found him. And after what he's done… We're not going to take chances. I don't want any complaints."
"Understood," they said.
"Sakura," Tsunade said. The roseate-haired medic looked up. "You'll be the attending on this case, but I want you to report regularly to both myself and Shizune."
Sakura looked momentarily surprised, and then uncomfortable. After a longish pause, in which Tsunade watched the evolution of emotion across her face, Sakura spoke hesitantly: "Shishou… Is it… wise, putting me so close to this?"
:Don't you think I'm compromised, when it comes to Sasuke?: She wouldn't say it outright, but Naruto and Kakashi averted their eyes, sensing her meaning anyway. Tsunade lifted an eyebrow.
"I believe you will be capable of maintaining your objectivity. And… I think you might be the least antagonistic liaison for Sasuke to interface with."
That much was certainly true. If they tried to assign any other medic to him, Sasuke would be sure to act as uncooperative as possible, and that medic would probably be too intimidated by the 'traitor Uchiha' to do anything about it. But he might behave himself with Sakura. Maybe. Tsunade said 'the least antagonistic.' That qualifier was telling.
Sakura looked down, biting her lip thoughtfully. If it was indeed only chakra exhaustion, then he'd only be in the hospital a couple of days. After that, ANBU would take charge of him, and he'd be out of Sakura's hands. Surely she could manage that.
"Alright, Shishou. I'll be the attending," she said. Tsunade gave a small, smug smile.
"Are you sure, Sakura-chan?" Naruto asked worriedly, evidently unable to keep from piping up. "I mean—"
"Don't worry, Naruto." The blond fell silent as Sakura interrupted him. She lifted her chin and let them see her set, determined expression. "I can do it."
He woke, and wished he hadn't. The static rose again in his mind, a jumble of words, images, memories. His vision had settled down, though, he found as he opened his eyes and his surroundings didn't jump and swim.
"Sasuke?" The voice was familiar. Hoping his motor-functions had improved along with his sight, he turned his head to see a pink-haired, green-eyed girl watching him with a furrowed brow. She said, again, "Sasuke?"
He blinked, eyebrows twitching together. Why was she…? The screen of one of the machines beside the bed was reflective, from his angle. He looked at it, and saw a face that was very familiar. But it… wasn't his face?
Delirium lapped at his sanity. :Wrongwrongwrong.: That wasn't his face, he was…
"Sasuke?" Alarmed. "Are you okay?"
He realized he was gripping the sheets over his chest, knuckles white, and panting harshly, almost wheezing. He forced his hand open and took a few ragged, deep breaths. The girl, medic, was hovering over him, poised to bring her healing chakra to bear. She watched, hawk-eyed, as he calmed himself. In a roughened voice, he said:
Confusion, then a shadow of anger passed over her face. "Yes," she said waspishly. "You do remember who I am, right?"
There was a biting tone to the question he didn't quite understand. He said, haltingly: "We… fought, once."
A pause. Then, stiffly, "I suppose we did, after a fashion."
"I…" he trailed off, closing his eyes. She called him Sasuke. Was that right? No… But…
"Where am I?" he asked, trying desperately to quiet the roaring in his ears.
"Konoha. The hospital; you have severe chakra exhaustion."
Chakra exhaustion; that made sense. He was so tired. He'd been fighting…
But the memory of the one he'd been fighting had the same face that he was wearing right now. Was that right? Memory told him that the face was Sasuke's… But he wasn't Sasuke. So then, why…?
"I don't understand," he murmured to himself. Haruno heard, and thought he spoke to her.
"We found you, sick with exhaustion, in the forest. Don't you remember, Sasuke?" There was a note of incredulity creeping into her voice.
"But I'm… not Sasuke," he said.
Her face went slack with surprise.