Title: After Giving Up
Rating: T
Words: 800
Summary: It's the last choice that makes the difference. Not to his victims but to himself. Sasuke-centric.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything you recognize, sadly. Kishi does.
Notes: This was written for naruto_contest's Week #66 theme 'noble' and also fills my Cotton Candy Bingo Square for 'three wishes'.

There are three times in Sasuke's life that he wishes he was truly noble.

The first time, he's barely six, and understanding for the first time that Itachi, nii-san, is always going to be better than he is. No matter how hard he tries, how much he trains, Itachi is always going to be ahead of him. He can't catch up.

It's written in his mother's consoling smile (though he loves her, deeply and desperately, for honestly not caring that he's not as good as nii-san), in the lines of his father's face, who only smiles for nii-san and never for him, and in nii-san's dismissive attitude and contemptuous but fond rough-handling.

He's not noble enough to keep from being upset. If he were a little nobler, a little stronger, he'd be okay with being the second best, with trailing behind his brother. (Who is, after all, older and more experienced and this contest was unfair from the start.)

He's not that strong.

The second time, it's more complicated than childish wishes and unreasonable expectations of himself, though both of those play a part in it too because while thirteen is far older and wiser and smarter than six, it's not much less childish when it comes to feelings and since the deaths of everyone who mattered at the hands of his beloved nii-san, Sasuke's been in an emotional holding pattern anyway.

What makes him want to be noble, at thirteen, isn't Naruto's shrieking (though that reminds him constantly, as he's dragged into argument upon argument, of what family is supposed to be). It isn't Kakashi-sensei's lackluster approach to training two thirds of the team and focusing mostly on him. (When he thinks about it, Sasuke feels uncomfortable and guilty for that, though it's not his fault, and so he resolves to think about it less and less as he gets used to his team.)

It's Sakura's tears as he tries to leave the village. It's the way she cares about him, even though she totally and completely doesn't understand him, and how she promises that they'll do something fun every day-forever.

For a few precious seconds, Sasuke wishes he were noble enough to give up revenge and take her up on her offer. It sounds blissful.

But the poison in the seal and in Orochimaru's mind have leeched in and twisted him and make revenge more important than living and he leaves.

Once again, he's not strong enough.

The third time, he's sixteen and he's learned the meaning of power, discovered that his beloved nii-san wasn't a traitor, that he'd killed the family on orders because the family, his family, his father and his mother and the aunts and uncles whose faces he can barely remember, were traitors.

Itachi dies smiling.

Sasuke lives.

He has a choice, then, to make.

Does he decide that his life's goal-revenge-has been amply fulfilled? (It has been; Itachi's dead.)

Or does he take that anger, that uncomfortable, seething rage and turn it on the people who have destroyed his family?

For long moments, he thinks of the fact that he could disappear, begin a new life, maybe find happiness-something fun to do every day. Nobility wars with weakness and, like the first and the second times he's wished for that depth of character, to refrain, he loses again.

Revenge it is.

That's when he stops wishing he'll ever make a noble choice.

When Naruto finally defeats him, clearly with the intent of making friends, making amends, dragging him back to Konoha to be a part of a team (a family) again, that's when Sasuke's nobility (dormant, brittle, uneasy) wakes up and points out, for the very last time, that there's two choices to be made.

One is death. It would be easy enough. Just a little to the side, not dodging as much as he should, as much as Naruto knows he can do, and it would be Naruto's fist through his chest.

Or he can lose but live.

Make amends.

Sasuke doesn't know if it's possible. He's twisted and broken and he's destroyed more lives in his quest for revenge, in is drive to sate his anger, and people aren't going to forgive him.

No one will, except Naruto who already does.

It will be hard.

He loses and lives.

Atonement should be hard.

"Naruto," he rasps, lying there beaten and bleeding and raw inside and out, "take me home."

Naruto's smile is like the sunrise.

It's going to be hard. The hardest thing he ever does. People will hate him, do hate him, and he deserves that hate.

But as Naruto picks him up, for the first time, unreservedly, since he was seven and his world crashed down around his ears, Sasuke's happy.