In the time it took to hear an old man's story wax had eroded away coursing down the length of the single candle. It's flickering light the one thing piercing the surrounding darkness. With each movement the tight bindings of bandages reminded him that the wounds inflicted were non-fatal. Painful and persistent, but if his opponent had been set to kill then he would have bleed out long before help arrived.
The realization Itachi had never intended their fight to be a death match turned his stomach. Were he twelve, Sasuke would have given into the urge to curl inward, let grief wash over and paralyze him. As it stood now, he did not trust his assumed ancestor. He was right about Itachi, but the rest of this elaborate story of Uchiha versus the world, or at least the world Sasuke knew before he left his village behind; sounded too twisted for him to grasp.
Forcing himself to sit upright, dark eyes flicked to pinpoint the person cloaked by darkness and hidden behind a mask. "This mass conspiracy..." a sharp hiss of pain cut off Sasuke's sentence.
"Careful. I may have done a shoddy patch job so you're gonna have to take it easy."
The stranger's tale of bitter resentment and hellbent vengeance was replaced with a tone expressing concern for his well-being. Judging by the dwindling candle, Sasuke had only spent a few hours in this man's company yet in that time there was an on-going war of personalities. Or maybe it was all an act to throw Sasuke off. Who the hell knows.
"I'll tell your companions to let you rest." Before turning away, the old man made a show of putting his orange mask on. It didn't make any difference to his present audience, however he would have to put on a very convincing act to the three teenagers waiting outside in order for there to be peace.
Sasuke snorted in response. Somehow he doubted this man could go toe to toe with even one of Hebi. Karin especially would outright demand to barge in and heal him. She got some perverse enjoyment out of her particular brand of healing. His head was giving him fits, blood dripping from the corners of Sasuke's eyes to further hinder limited sight. Jugo would insist guarding the door. Suigetsu would probably threaten to pick up his sword and leave...
A blink and the world tilted, forcing Sasuke to lower himself to the mat. Trembling arms coupled with crippling pain, but what irritated him the most was the assumption from his host that Sasuke planned on staying. Paranoia and vengeance led him into the liar of one mad man three years ago. Although he gained strength, Sasuke knew it would be a careless mistake to fall sway to someone else's command.
Your brother gave up his life to present you with unprecedented power. Don't throw it away...
Wise words from a foolish old man. With those words, Sasuke knew the old man would live to regret them because he was not going to claim power only to be used as someone's pawn. Not again.
Once left alone, Sasuke fell into fitful bouts of sleep lasting twenty minutes at a time. He'd wake up disoriented and nearly blind, blood smears along his face. Any startled movements or attempts to reach his sword resulted in an out cry of pain and clenching of teeth. Collapsing back, Sasuke attempted to reach past the haze of pain and darkness to reach out for a sense of time. How many hours had passed? Days? His bandages had been changed, right hand reaching out with his digits coming across coarse and soiled the fresh coils had replaced.
His mouth felt as dry as the road to Sunagakure, voice sounding crackled and hoarse. Forcing himself to get off the mat, Sasuke felt his sense of balance shift. Thrown into full force vertigo, he went from attempting to stand to doubling over and dry heaving. Bile clung to the back of his throat, souring each rattling intake of air. Every small motion, right down to twitches and eye blinks felt like being he was being stabbed by a thousand needles. Sharp pain rocketing up his spine, Sasuke found himself clawing at the dirt. More than the pain and being weak against his own body, he did not want to stay here and be set up into an alliance.
He had spent too much time under the care of the old man. Where the hell was everyone? Still struggling to at least get off the floor and to his knees, Sasuke blinked as the door to the dark room opened wide.
"Pfft, wallowing in the dirt like some pig, Sasuke?"
Were he capable of mustering enough energy for sarcasm in return he would have, in his current state though the best the Uchiha could give his companion was a roll of his eyes.
"Are you going to mock me all day or help me up?" he groused.
"Oh, so the last great Uchiha is asking me for assistance. I'm honored, but don't expect me to get so excited that I wet myself."
"Knock it off. We can't leave this place unless we all want to go together..."
Squatting down in front of him, Suigetsu looked puzzled at the commander of Hebi. "You want to leave? In this condition?" The skepticism in his tone was possibly his way of reminding Sasuke that they were all missing nin and wanted criminals by their respective villages. Having one of their own severely wounded would slow down travel progress. Slow criminals were as good as dead if they got caught in the cross-hairs of hunters.
Risky at best, suicidal at worst. "We'll have to take our chances. I refuse to stay here." Sasuke was more concerned for his resolve than his health or the safety of his team. He didn't want to be subjected to the prattling of the old man. Because there was a lingering fear that if he heard enough, Sasuke would find himself forced into joining yet another cause. He abated one other man to power, only to unravel him. He did not want to admit it to anyone, but Orochimaru's defeat was the result of luck for the most part.
He had a feeling luck wouldn't save him against this other Uchiha.
"So stubborn. You just don't care if the rest of us die, do you?" Suigetsu added a small 'tch' at the end. For all his indifference, he did help Sasuke to his feet. "We'll get Karin and Jugo and head out...man you're heavy."
Sasuke gritted his teeth, biting back a retort that Suigetsu carried around a cleaving sword that easily weighted a ton. Best not rise to the bait of the other one's banter. "Less talking, more walking."
Just as Suigetsu balked and complained that he wasn't Sasuke's "Goddamn slave", Karin walked up to the open doorway. "I knew that old bastard was hiding something from me! Sasuke, you look terrible. Put him down you so that I can fix Sasuke-kun up."
It was Suigetsu's turn to roll his eyes, "We could leave her behind."
Sasuke could almost hear the 'cing' of her glasses as Karin adjusted them and delivered a sharp "What?" to the swordsman's request.
Sasuke closed his eyes, head dropped down for a moment beyond exasperated. They would never get out if these two were going to argue with every step they took.
It wasn't long before Jugo accompanied them. They didn't even have to search for him, it was as if Jugo instinctively knew the group was on the move. Or perhaps he was simply keeping an ear out for Karin and Suigetsu's bickering, which still carried on even after they exited the cave. Sasuke found their escape to be too easy. If his ancestor sincerely wanted him to aid his cause, shouldn't there be traps or illusions to dissuade them?
As he considered checking each of his companions for tracing devices, Jugo spoke up. His deep voice cut right through Karin and Suigetsu.
"Did you get your revenge?"
Even in the face of a simple question was, Sasuke was slow to answer Jugo. If he were to believe his ancestor, buy into the story of the Uchiha's always being thwarted and humilated at every turn, then his revenge would be complete once Konohagakure was burnt to ashes with no hope of pulling itself back together. Yet, Sasuke couldn't find purpose in that path. For after destroying his homeland, what then?
"Yes" he finally replied. Sasuke kept his silence about the hollow feeling left over from his revenge. His life had been geared up to the point he defeated and killed Itachi. The defeat was meaningless since Itachi was slated to die anyway or so Sasuke's ancestor told him. If anything, his revenge was a mercy killing disguised as a great battle.
"You don't sound happy about it" Karin observed. Opening his eyes, Sasuke wanted noting more to pin her with a glare, especially since she was giving him look of pity. He couldn't find it within him to squash her down to size. Sasuke wrote it off as a lack of care and exhaustion.
Jugo and Suigetsu must have picked up on the heavy atmosphere and let the matter drop. Luckily, Karin caught on as well that the subject of his revenge and dead brother was now a taboo subject.
"So, where to? We can't exactly wander around the whole continent."
Sasuke had closed his eyes, attempting to rest and heal the abused nerves, but he did have to at least look around to get a feel of the landscape. The grassy plains reminded him of the boggy rice fields of Otogakure. The one place where they could take refuage without being tossed out on their asses or killed for being missing ninja.
"We will go east."
As to what he hoped to accomplish in the old stomping grounds of Orochimaru was a mystery even to Sasuke.
Notes: I wanted to do a story that deviated at the point of Itachi's death/Sasuke's revenge and try to see where the story of Naruto would go and how it would change. Took a lot of liberties and gave Sasuke the benefit of the doubt of him being rational but I hope to tweak it more and attempt to get as close to in character with him and the other characters who will come into play later on. Thank you for reading.