title: atonement

summary: Welcome back to the gang life. Welcome to the nonexistent existence of a double-crosser. AU

pairing: sasu/saku, sasuke-centric

prompt: Ghost

an: Product of watching the Departed and signing up for SasuSaku Month all in the same day. I don't own Naruto or The Departed. Or Akatsuki's rings. I do love those rings. Sasuke-centric, but our lovely Sakura-chan is present in at least some ways. admittedly a little rough, but here it is.

.

atonement

When he exits the prison, he breathes no sigh of relief.

He holds in his sigh of resignation.

Sasuke has been informed upon who will pick him up; his last two visitors (who were both extremely cautious to avoid each other) had both agreed which would be more suitable.

It is like a custody battle, he thinks, and the word custody doesn't fail to procure that bitter taste in his mouth, the taste of parentless at eight years old and the trail of those who tried to take 'custody' of him for the next ten years, until he was old enough to officially be one his own.

Not that he had ever really been 'his own'.

The Konoha heat causes the view of the concrete parking lot to ripple. He can see the high-rises on the horizon, blurry and colored with a tinge of beige due to the smoggy city air.

He picks up the sound of the car even before it turns into the lot, rolling up to stop at the foot of the stairs where he stands.

There is no need to confirm that the black vehicle is designated to drive him. The kanji for gyoku has been painted over a small red cloud right above the front tire. He knows whose car it is. Any self-preserving citizen would know whose car it is, or, more like, who it belongs to.

Sasuke does not hurry down the steps, but neither does he drag his feet. From a young age, he had been raised to command respect. From the part of the city he came from, his bloodlines are practically royalty. And he is the last of this bloodline.

A large man emerges from the driver's side, walking around to greet him on the sidewalk.

Sasuke's footsteps are silent and measured—an Uchiha doesn't clank his feet. He walks with stealth and grace.

Sasuke comes level with the man, who has been appraising him throughout his entire descent.

He cracks a feral smile, teeth appearing to have been sharpened to points.

"Welcome, little Uchiha. We were beginning to think you were never going to join us."

His hand lies casually on the gun he doesn't conceal.

Sasuke doesn't need an introduction, because he knows this man, with skin a most unusual and sickly pallor of grey-blue and a matching set of three 'V' shaped cuts under both eyes. He recognizes the yellow ring on his left ring finger. How could he not recognize Hoshigaki Kisame, the partner of his dead-killed- brother.

"You may not remember, but I'm Hoshiga—"

"Kisame," he states flatly. "I remember."

For a second, Sasuke can perfectly read the flash of irritation across Kisame's face. Kisame has a ring. Kisame is important, and this newcomer, this fresh-out-of-jail recruit—despite coming from a valued name—dares interrupt him. Sasuke watches Kisame's fingers twitch towards the knife slung in the belt-loop of his jeans.

But his eyes are staring at his face again, and he knows that he sees the face of Itachi mirrored in his own. Sasuke bites his tongue, steeling his exterior as he feels the acid roll in his stomach. Sasuke will live every day of his most likely short life with the guilt of what happened to Itachi four years ago. It is, after all, his own hand that did the deed.

He can see that Kisame remembers this as well as his grey lips press tightly together. In an odd, twisted way, he knows that Kisame, despite being partnered with Itachi for so long, respects him for this.

He has entered—well, reentered—a twisted world.

"We need to get going," Kisame rumbles, nodding toward the car. "The Boss wants to see you."

"Hn," Sasuke acknowledges, inserting his hands into the pockets of his black-fading-grey jeans before sauntering up to the curb.

Kisame is standing in front of the passenger-side's tinted window.

He raps his fist two times in a quick staccato against the glass.

The window rolls down a crack, revealing a glimpse of white hair and violet eyes.

"Hozuki," Kisame spits, "Get in the back." He leaves no room for negotiation, simply straightens and makes his way to his door, keys jangling.

His violet eyes narrow and Sasuke can hear vestiges of muttered complaints as he rolls up the window and exits the car.

Sasuke recognizes Hozuki Suigetsu, too, but only he remembers him as 'Sui' when they used to run around the back alleys of their streets as toddlers.

Purple eyes glare at him as Suigetsu slams the door shut.

"I thought you were a cop," he hisses, spitting on the ground at his feet.

Sasuke ignores the insult of the saliva near the tips of his shoes and raises an eyebrow.

Not that he feels he needs to give Suigetsu any sort of explanation, he still answers. "I guess the outstanding-citizen role doesn't quite suit an Uchiha."

Suigetsu gives a light scoff and rolls his eyes. "Whatever," he mutters, and angrily opens the door to the backseat.

Sidestepping the spit, Sasuke enters the car.

Kisame is already glaring at Suigetsu through the rearview mirror.

"Stupid little punk. Know your place."

Suigetsu huffs, saying "Yeah, yeah."

Sasuke merely reclines in the leather seat as Kisame starts up the car and drives away from the prison and towards the city. The sun is sitting low, partially blocked by the skyscrapers that become progressively bigger as they drive down the highway.

Kisame doesn't try to strike up a conversation, and for that Sasuke is thankful. His dark eyes glance at Suigetsu in the back.

Suigetsu has nicks on his throat and cheek, the kind that most would write off as the signs of a sloppy shaver. He is still glowering, and Sasuke's sharp eyes do not miss the way the white haired man subconsciously thumbs one of the various knife hilts strapped to his waist.

Suigetsu seems to have taken major offence to Sasuke taking his place up front. Sasuke knows that Suigetsu is not that much of an idiot to challenge Kisame, though. In this world, Kisame is important, one of the most important. He has put his years in. He has proven his loyalty. He has a ring.

Sasuke briefly wonders if Kisame knows, but quickly shakes it off. Of course Kisame doesn't know. Kisame, while important, wouldn't have been told. Kisame, though, would be aware someone like him had existed—all powerful gangs had moles in the city police force, and Akatsuki was becoming the most powerful of all. But no one except one man in the gang would know who he is, the great service he had provided for Akatsuki over the years.

And only one man in the gang knew of his new assignment issued from the Konoha Police Force.

~'~

Sasuke hates sitting around, as he is during the half hour drive from prison to the city, because it allows him too much time to think. Prison was more than enough time to think over his new chosen path in life, and while he knows he is right, it doesn't make any of it easier.

The car ride offers him too much time to think, and he wants to cringe as they pass by the large hospital.

He hears that phantom laugh in his ears, that twinkling giggle that suited someone as innocent as her. Let me help, he can hear her say, her voice a smile, it's superficial but a bullet grazed you in the field today, stupid. Stop being an asshole and let me fix you up. A flash of teeth, another giggle. So stubborn, Sasuke-kun.

He thinks he imagines seeing a flash of pink in his peripheral vision as the car speeds past the entrance, but stops himself from looking back to make sure. It would do no good.

The streets of Konoha are no mystery to Sasuke, who has lived here his entire life. He knows where they are going, what apartment complex they will stop the car at. He knows that they will be heading to the penthouse, and he knows that the Boss is waiting.

Kisame and Suigetsu wait as he knocks on the door.

A tall, pretty girl answers the door, wearing long black boots that would make many men follow the line of exposed skin up to the hem of her short shorts. But Sasuke had no interest in red-heads, only in the girl with pink hair he left behind. He just stares past her bespectacled gaze as she blatantly checks him out.

"Well, hello there you must be Uchiha Sasuke," she says in a sultry tone.

Sasuke resists the urge to roll his eyes.

Suigetsu scoffs behind him. "Ugh, come on Karin. Let us in."

Karin pulls a face at him. "Fine, whatever. The Boss is waiting inside. Second door on your left off the main room."

She brushes aside like a fly as Sasuke steps forward. The room, of course, is impeccably furnished with rich materials and expensive artwork, things that the members hardly care for but like to collect for monetary value. The high-ranking members of the gang lounge in front of the television, and Sasuke's memory still serves him well. Pein, Konan, Hidan, Sasori, Deidara, Zetsu, Kakuzu… they are a strange group of individuals, but their combined individual talents is what makes Akatsuki such a formidable organization. Their rings shine proudly on their fingers.

He makes sure his gait is casual as he walks through the metaphorical lion's den. He can feel the stare of those around him, his brother's old associates. He wonders about how Itachi felt, walking in here every day, talking to them, every day. Did he grow to love them, despite what he was doing? Did he love them, despite being a rat?

Kisame sits down on a leather armchair next to Sasori. They share a quick glance that Sasuke barely catches. For the unforeseeable future, he will be hyper-aware of everything. He will live on a difficult line to balance. He will always be covering—covering and watching and observing everyone and everything. If he wants to survive, that is.

Suigetsu has peeled off and joined the girl, Karin, in the kitchen.

Sasuke approaches the door, alone.

His brother was a rat and he is a mole-turned-rat and all there is are dead bodies and broken promises and broken hearts.

He hardly raises his hand to knock before a voice calls.

"Come in, Uchiha."

Sasuke allows himself to take one deep breath before entering.

The room he enters is also lavishly decorated.

The lighting is dim, but he can tell that he is surrounded by shades of deep purple. The masked man sits in front of a large, cherry wood desk.

"Sit, Sasuke," he says.

The mask is no surprise to Sasuke. Tobi has always worn a mask. He had worn a mask the day he asked the young, revenge-obsessed Sasuke if he wanted a special job within the gang. He had worn a mask when he laid out the plan for Sasuke to take down the city of Konoha from the inside. He had worn a mask at their subsequent meetings, although they usually exchanged information by burner cell phones.

He had worn a mask the day Sasuke informed him of Konoha Police Force's decision to plant him as a mole within the Akatsuki.

The nerves he felt in front of Tobi now had nothing to do with intimidation—he is familiar with this life. The nerves he feels now are those of a double-crosser. Sasuke wonders if he will always have to bottle up the fear in his chest and stash it away.

"We've already spoken," Tobi starts, "about how this is going to work. I trust that you know your place, that you know where your loyalties lie." He laces his fingers together on top of the desk.

Yes he knows how it's going to work. Tobi will supply him with the information to tell the cops. Some will be true—minor things, so as not to make the force suspicious— and most will be false. He will come back and inform Tobi on what his handlers tell him about the workings of the police.

Or at least, that's what Tobi believes is going to happen.

Sasuke has been a pawn for far too long in all of these games.

However, Tobi is not stupid. Someone with so much power running a massive illegal organization could not be stupid. He takes something small, that fits inside of his palm, out of his pocket.

Dramatically, he reveals the object in his palm underneath the dim lamp.

It is a ring, and it gleams scarlet. The shu kanji glints black.

It is Itachi's ring, signifying his rank in Akatsuki.

"Wear it around your neck until further notice. I don't want you to get even more unnecessary attention. You're already an Uchiha."

Doing as he's bidden, Sasuke accepts the scarlet ring on a chain. He clasps it around his neck, holding the reminder of Itachi between his fingers. He couldn't think of a time when he saw Itachi without it on his right ring finger.

The ring is a deep red, red like Itachi's blood, seeping between his fingers as he tried to close the wound he inflicted, tried to stop the damage he'd done in his ignorant rage to the brother that had always loved him. Sasuke lets the ring drop under the collar of his grey t-shirt.

The bulky ring stands out against the hard planes of his chest like a tumor.

~'~

He has his instructions from Tobi as he makes his first contact with his handlers from the Konoha Police force.

Sasuke feels something like relief when he enters the safe house. It is like he has left a large weight on the other side of the door. He sits heavily on the sofa, taking in the shuttered windows and low light.

He already checked the ring and chain for bugs. There were none.

He allows himself three deep breaths of relief before the person in the opposite room approaches him.

Seeing Naruto has never made him happier than this moment, and although he tries to hide it, judging by Naruto's grin he knows he can tell.

"Miss me, teme?"

"Hn. Deadlast."

—and they are standing and one arm hugging and Naruto doesn't ask about the ring he could feel under Sasuke's shirt when they sit back down.

"Where's Kakashi," Sasuke asks, who had noted the lack of his superior as soon as he entered the safe house.

Sasuke had been surprised when he learnt that Naruto, the first real friend he made while working as a mole within the task force—his partner in duty—had been allowed onto the case. Either Kakashi was getting sentimental with his age, or Naruto had simply not accepted that he couldn't keep contact with his best friend.

Sasuke has someone who considers him a best friend. It is still an odd thing for him to chew.

Naruto rolls his brilliant blue eyes. "Late, of course. He told me to start without him, though. Said something about me, and learning, and my job. Basically, he just didn't feel like leaving his room tonight. A new Icha Icha, or something."

Sasuke lets an affectionate eye roll pass at the thought of it, shrugging off his annoyance. Naruto was here.

With a sigh, he begins to do his job, the job agreed to.

They have finished talking, discussing what lies he will tell Tobi and even more future plans.

The pair have descended into silence, and the sun is setting now.

The relief has been instantaneous as he had entered the house, but after more time acting true to himself, the more her absence tore at him, the one weakness he had ever allowed himself to have.

He can't help it. He knows he doesn't have the right, but he misses her. More than he thought he was capable of.

Naruto knows only all too well.

"Sasuke," he says, "Sasuke... you know you can't see her."

Sasuke drags his hands up through his hair and back down to cover his face, before dropping them completely, letting them fall clasped between his knees.

"Well… it's not that you can't. Just that you shouldn't. For her."

His hunched posture casts shadows down his face as he looks up to meet Naruto's blue eyes from across the shambled room in the temporary safe house used for their meetings.

Neither says a word for a moment.

"I know that, idiot. Don't you think I know that?"

Naruto's eyes glance away, and when they return to lock on his they are a duller version of their normal sky. His voice is strained as he starts to speak.

"I'm sorry this happened to you. I'm sorry it had to be this way."

Sasuke's gaze, which had wandered away with the silence, snaps back to Naruto.

"I chose my own path. I chose to finish what my brother started. I chose this," he vehemently hisses.

"This is the way it has to be. There is no other way."

The knuckles of his clenched fists are white against the already pale color of his skin. Naruto continues his uncharacteristic silence, rubbing his chin, with eyes looking for all the world like he had a million words waiting to burst from his tightly pressed lips.

But all he says is okay and stands up to go.

He turns back, blonde hair glinting gold in the stream of light straining through a hole in the covered windows, and pauses.

"Just…" he begins hesitantly, "Don't lose yourself when you go back there."

Sasuke doesn't say that finding out the truth, the truth about Itachi and his family, made him blind with rage, spurring him to double his commitment to the gang, double his infractions against their city. He doesn't say that it was her that unknowingly started changing his heart until he became a man he hardly recognizes, a man that could one day possibly think of his brother and not feel ashamed of all the mistakes he has made.

He just nods.

Naruto gives him one last searching look and leaves.

~'~

A month passes.

Sasuke does not like this game. He is a man of action. He would much rather take out Tobi, the whole organization, in one rash move, some morally tainted killing spree. He hates this, this reporting back and forth, with both sides telling him what he should say to throw the other one off. Sasuke is an independent man, and now, hardly any decisions are his own.

He is not happy, but he doesn't deserve happiness.

He should not enjoy this. This is his penance. He will do right. Even though he knows it's too late, he will try to do right. Right by Itachi, who he never understood until it was too late. Who died by his own naïve hand (foolish little brother). Right by her, even though he hopes she will never know, never guess at all of the awful things he has done. The things he will do.

It is only right that he had to give her up. She is a healer, a blooming flower that makes the smoggy city air somehow seem like a fresh spring breeze. He doesn't deserve that. He has done nothing to deserve that.

He deserves to be down in the gutters, running dirty with sewage and spilt blood, amongst the vermin and cockroaches and rats, surviving in the seediest of ways.

They can say that he is doing a great thing, putting himself through great hardship in order to atone for his sins and aid the city, but all he can see are the dead bodies surrounding him all the way back since he was eight.

Sasuke still wears the ring around his neck, tucked underneath his shirt. Although he had worked for Akatsuki before he flipped, there is no love for his 'family' left in his heart. There is no more room for him to try to justify their actions, actions he has to participate in.

Her and Naruto's love had changed him. As much as he could harden his heart now, the things he has to do to keep up the charade weighs on his conscience now.

The upper hierarchy of the gang were the masterminds, the most ruthless, the most intelligent. He is stuck doing the lower level work, often teamed up with Suigetsu, sometimes accompanied by Karin, sometimes a huge man named Juugo.

Currently they are collecting from the businesses in their territory.

Juugo had just gotten into a rage when the owner said he didn't have the money. He is currently viciously stomping on the man's head. He is past dead, but Juugo, lost to the insanity in his mind, continues.

When Juugo comes around later, he is going to hate himself all over again. Sasuke will have to quell the warmth in his heart that tells him to help the big man. There is no room for sympathy here.

Sasuke hates collecting.

He is glad that she lives on the other side of town. What if she happened to walk by, and see him… What if she was inside one of the shops?

What if he had to hurt her, physically, not emotionally, like the last time he'd seen her, in order to hold his cover?

Sasuke doesn't think he could live with himself if it came to that.

Not one of his precious people.

In all likelihood, she hates him now, but he knows that it is better if Sakura stays far, far away.

Logically, he knows that, at least.

~'~

His apartment has never seemed emptier.

Paid for by dirty, bloody money, of course.

Sakura haunts him here, too, but she had hardly ever been here. He is so gone for her, though, that objects are even enough to remind him.

The lightly-used coffeemaker on his counter is reminiscent to the beat-up piece of junk that she has holed up in her kitchen, providing her with way too strong coffee for her long shifts working at the hospital.

The kitchen table, which brought up visions of her kitchen table where he would read the newspaper in the mornings while she would talk brightly to him about various patients and cases, her friends, little anecdotes about her life. She would make fun of the glasses he needed to read the fine print, and he had found himself teasing her right back, becoming all too comfortable in the warm space of her kitchen, complacent, even, like this was guaranteed to him every day he woke up.

She is like a phantom limb to him now and he misses her more than he would ever admit.

The bedroom.

He can still see the way she looks when she's under him, when he's in her, when every thought of the outside world, of traitors and loyalty and obligation and duty and the entire war within him quiets and all he can feel is her. Sasuke was never one to use words like beauty, perfection, or love—because he has seen too much, been through too much, there are no things like beauty or perfection in such a corrupt, dirty world and love, love could always be used against you and it wasn't a good thing, just something that could be made to hurt—but when she stared up at him with such tender, trusting green eyes, gasping softly in his ear, soft lips pressing against his own, it was like there was just one beautiful, perfect, lovely thing in the entire universe and she had chosen to be the best thing that had ever happened to him, staring up at him with such tender, trusting green eyes.

He is standing, eying the bed. There is no imprint here, no impression of her in the sheets, no scent of her lilac shampoo on the pillow.

Her life isn't easy, he knows, his sharp memory vividly recreating the meager property she managed to pay for despite all her debt from medical school. He remembers because that was once where he went home to, not the polished apartment that he stands in now, the one that she had refused to move in to despite him never having really asked It is pristine, modern, vacant without her presence. She had graced these halls less than a hand's count of times and yet it was enough to leave a lingering ghost behind.

He lays down and shuts his eyes and all he can see is her.

~'~

He catches sight of her pink hair as he walks through the market one day. His dark eyes follow her, documenting the planes of her face and brief glimpse of viridian green eyes before she is momentarily obstructed from view by the passing shoppers. He knows where to find her, though, and sure enough his eyes lock on to her making her way to her favorite produce vender. Her walk is different now than when he last saw her, less springy, less lively. He can see the hollowness she hides beneath her confident, serious gait.

His face is composed. His face is steel. His face is carefully molded to the cold killer he is, is supposed to be.

Suigetsu bumps his shoulder and cracks some asinine joke about the stupidity of cops, and his face is still steel as he gives his normal grunt of acknowledgment that the total idiot is speaking. His insides, though… His insides are heavy but they are not made of steel—they are made of some twisted thing that snakes and coils and burns him from the inside out and he cannot force himself to not look back as they turn the corner out of the market.

The last of her he sees are her unforgettable eyes that widen in recogni— and he loses sight of her as Suigetsu continues to throw out barbs as they walk down the alley.

~'~

"How are you doing?"

"…How is she?"

He knows what the extra half beat of silence will betray to Naruto, the best friend who stuck with him despite all of his lies and bloodied hands.

Naruto's face goes wistful, shaded by those all too familiar shuttered blinds in the safehouse, tinted with some sort of sadness, before answering.

"She's… good."

"…Hn."

"Look, Sasuke, I don't know what you want me to say, what you want to hear. Sakura… is dealing with this the best she can. She just doesn't understand… Everything happened so fast. And," he says, voice raising, tan finger pointing at him slightly, "You handled this really shitty. You did a shitty job on your exit strategy. She knew you. She knew you, probably better than I do. And you just left her. You left and got yourself in prison. That is not one of the ways I advised you on handling that."

Sasuke glares at Naruto, who stares back at him in anger. He knows that Naruto feels fiercely protective of Sakura. He does too. There used to be something unrequited there, but he knows that Naruto would never betray him like that, even if they were no longer together.

"I…" he hesitates, never being too keen on sharing his feelings, or emotions, but months of living the nonexistent existence of a double-crosser has left him feeling numb.

"I… couldn't do it."

He hangs his head.

"What, you couldn't say goodbye?" His voice is almost accusatory.

"Hn."

"Well, that doesn't seem fair to Sakura. She didn't even get a chance."

He knows this. He would never have been good enough for her anyways. The perfect picture of them sitting at her kitchen table could never have been a longstanding reality.

Foolish.

Hurting Sakura is another notch on his long lists of regrets. He has many. The gang had taken him in at a young age. It had been security for him, the family he no longer had. Itachi was there with him, and even though he was bounced from house to house, Akatsuki had been the one thing that had stayed constant. That had stayed true to him. He was blinded by the event that had killed his family, the biggest benefactors of the Akatsuki organization. The city's resources had failed him. The police couldn't stop the killing. The firemen couldn't stop the fire. Itachi was around less and less. Uncle Tobi had been there for him.

When he began working for the organization, he was fifteen. Tobi had big plans for him. He had been trained to kill, and he was good at it. And when he was told that Itachi had betrayed them, was ratting them out to the police, of all people, he did what he was trained to do, followed with all his pent up rage. He killed him.

He proved his loyalty. He became the perfect mole.

His change of heart came too late for him to understand the actions of his brother, nowhere near soon enough to keep him alive.

There is no way for him to make up for it now. He is in too deep with Akatsuki. He is sinfully good at his job.

His deepest regrets about Itachi will have to stay in the past. Sakura will have to say in the past.

If he saw her, if he continued to be with her, they would find a reason to hurt her.

And he wouldn't be able to live with that.

~'~

Life is monotonous now. The thrills and fears of being a double agent has lessened with time. Time stretches endlessly, gathering up enough evidence to be used against Tobi has taken longer than expected. Tobi is good at covering his tracks.

He wears the ring on his right ring finger. He sits with the other ring-wearers.

He is tired, but knows he must continue. It is too late to look back. It has been a year, now.

He trudges back to his apartment.

Sasuke is wary as he senses other life in the hall. Sasuke never sees his neighbors. Has someone else been sent to kill him? Is someone else trying to exact revenge for things he wished he didn't have to do?

A head of pink hair is leaning against his door.

Sasuke blinks, once, twice, as green eyes lift to meet his own.

He has never learned how to give up on her. His heart is seemingly frozen as he left it before joining Akatsuki—only for her.

His first thought is she can't be real.

There is no way that she could still want him. Sakura is one of those happy types of people, quick to pick up again after moments of sadness. He'd witnessed it time and time again after she would lose patients.

"You shouldn't be here," he says, in a rushed, despondently hopeful tone that he doesn't recognize.

She is biting her lip in that way she always did, in a sheepish sorry-not sorry way that he will never forget.

"I don't know where you've gone," she says, her voice trembling a bit, and his hands are tentatively reaching out to her, reaching out and pulling back, like the invisible stains on his hands will somehow create similar tendrils on her own skin, "but let me go too."

.

fin


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