Title: A Traitor Branded
Pairing(s): Sasu/Hina(Main), Naru/Saku, ChoujiIno, others
Summary: Lies. Betrayal. Manipulation. These are the only constants in this world. Everything else is a sick and twisted illusion. Uchiha Sasuke will not be fooled again, and he will not give Konoha what they want. Their brand will be his reminder, and motivation.
Notes: Yup, final re-written version. Enjoy.
Memories consume, like opening the wound. I'm picking me apart again.
You all assume, I'm searching in my room. Unless I try to start again...
- Breaking the Habit by Linkin Park
x x x x
Whoever claimed death was 'just the beginning' had obviously never been dead before, of this, Uchiha Sasuke felt certain. Had they actually died, they would know death brought nothing. No bright light at the end of the tunnel, no grand halls where the gods awaited you. None of his clansmen could be found anywhere, the only thing welcoming him had been a cold blanket of darkness.
Thick yet intangible, Sasuke merely existed in this void, floating freely and consumed in his thoughts. Being released of his mortal coils had also freed him of his insanity, of Madara's corruption. The sinister voices of his dead kin no longer haunted his every waking moment and his dreams - one did not dream when dead in any case. Sasuke now had his freedom and mind back, his death had brought him some semblance of peace as he reflected on his final moments.
Naruto. Somehow, no matter what Sasuke had accomplished, good or evil, everything had always come back to the blond. Betraying Madara had been a simple affair once Itachi had told him the truth of the Uchiha clan, of how the older male had meddled in affairs for the sake of revenge. An old man with an old grudge, he had doomed his own clan for selfish reasons. Sasuke had gladly joined up with Naruto to kill the bastard.
Then just as easily, he turned around and betrayed Naruto. The final battle, their true fight which had been set aside for the war and ambitions had come to pass. There had been no holding back, no apologies or confessions of lost friendship. Their time had come, and both had been eager, ready, waiting. One of the true moments Sasuke had actually felt free.
He had died with a smile. Thinking of those last moments now still made him smile.
Unfortunately, Sasuke's desire to be reunited with his brother had been denied to him by the gods. The void had consumed him and he had no idea how long he had been floating its endless depths. A part of him did feel a sense of loneliness, Sasuke often wondered if this was to be his eternal punishment for his actions and decisions.
Although Sasuke refused to regret anything, he knew the choices he had made had not all been the best ones. Madara had latched onto him during his moment of pure weakness, using Itachi's death to infiltrate his mind with words and the Eternal Mangekyo. He had willingly given himself over to Madara, had allowed the invasion because he had been so incredibly tired. His entire life had been nothing but a complete lie, the shock and devastation would have made him suicidal, so giving in to Madara had seemed simpler. The enemy? Konoha. Blood for blood, massacre for massacre. To immerse himself in the throes of madness, to continue to be played as a pawn for someone else's grand schemes. Sasuke had known no other life to live and had preferred to remain ignorant.
He could admit to himself that he never should have trusted Madara, but being emotionally weak had undone him. Just like all those years ago with Itachi, Sasuke had been unable to defend himself against Madara's superior strength with genjutsu. Naruto had broken through the darkness with Itachi's help.
Pain and rage filled Sasuke's still heart as images of his undead brother returned to haunt him. Killing Kabuto once had not been nearly enough to repay him for desecrating his brother's corpse, even if doing so had given him those precious few moments Sasuke had needed the same as one needed air to breathe.
"I failed you Sasuke," Itachi's gaze had reflected nothing but pure sorrow, his disappointed tone had brought Sasuke to his knees, begging for forgiveness.
"I did it all for you niisan! Please...please don't hate me."
Naruto had stayed back but the look of anguish and regret had etched into normally jovial features. The two brothers had allowed his presence, because it always came back to Naruto.
"This is the way it's supposed to be." Sasuke voice sounded strange in the Void. No echo, the darkness seemed to suck up the words the moment they were uttered. Closing his eyes, Sasuke tried to shift from a different train of thought, but when all one could do was think - and he had a lot to contemplate on - changing directions became difficult.
Being dead surprisingly made him feel at peace, although he would have preferred better accommodations. The Uchiha line died with him, and Sasuke knew this ending was the right one. With his death, with Madara's death and the uniting of the nations, horrid crimes like the ones committed against his clan would not be repeated. If Naruto still lived - and Sasuke would bet another eternity in his black prison that he was - the blond would make sure true peace would come to fruition. He would fulfill Itachi's dreams where Sasuke could not, and with justice fully served - those council bastards dead - Naruto would make the world the way it should be.
You should be at his side, changing the world.
Sasuke's body went ramrod straight at the familiar voice. Itachi? No...impossible. There were no other presences, Sasuke was sure. The voice was in his head, he merely missed his brother and now was hallucinating his voice.
Could dead people even do that?
You were meant for more than this, otouto.
"No." The word came out thick and slurred, and Sasuke frowned. After what had felt like eternity, feelings and sensations were slowly beginning to make themselves known. The left side of his chest in particular began to thump painfully. "Let me sleep."
Sasuke's dark grey eyes snapped open right as he started screaming.
"Dammit he's awake!" Unfamiliar voices and noises hummed in the background, but all Sasuke could feel or see was white hot pain. His body jerked involuntarily on something soft but solid, he could numbly tell his arms and legs were bound. The constant thumping from earlier now felt a thousand times more intense.
Everywhere hurt and the agony made thinking too difficult. Flashes of color slid past his vision periodically while the shouting - was that his voice - continued.
"Another sedative! His heart rate -"
"Sakura-san please hurry! Uchiha is -"
"Another sedative, now!"
Pink hair, emerald eyes. Despite everything going on with his body, Sasuke surmised that either he was in Konoha or this was still the warfront and the medical shinobi had moved him into the main medical tent. Regardless, he fought through the pain, staring at her until their gazes met. Everything looked white and hazy with Sakura at the end of the tunnel.
"Sakura..." his voice sounded like he had swallowed sandpaper and nails. She kept moving, forcing him to try and move his head to keep her in his limited sights. He swallowed down the urges to scream at constant pain, needing her to know, understand and hopefully respect his wishes.
"Sasuke-kun." She floated back into his vision, blinking back tears to smile. "Sasuke-kun, don't worry, everything is going to be okay." Her hand felt warm and soothing over his larger hand, clenched into a fist. But he didn't want her warm touch, he didn't want any reminders of life.
"Sakura..." Sasuke hissed the words through his teeth. "Don't leave me..."
Darkness enveloped him before he could finish.
x x x x
Back in the Void, but everything was different. Sasuke could feel and had a vague sense of what was going on around him. Noises, muffled but constant echoed in the dark, some familiar, most not. At times he could sense Itachi, a small flutter in the back of his mind, observing. Once he had allowed the reality of the situation to sink in, Sasuke refused to allow the silence between them to linger.
"Itachi, what are you doing?"
Panic seized Sasuke, lodging in his throat and threatening to devour all logical thought. Not like this. He didn't want to go back, could not return to an empty life with no goals or purpose. Death had released him from the shackles of his obligations. Of duty, honor, and vengeance. The voices and demands - murder, death, kill kill kill - were gone, their absence a welcome relief. Pain and insanity no longer held appeal, which had been all of what his life had contained.
Going back meant dancing to everyone's tune, to be used and played like a puppet again. Sasuke's entire life had been planned, plotted out, schemed. Even his own beloved brother had played him, had his life ever truly been his own? Everyone in his life had used him, tried any and every way to force him to do what they wanted. Even Naruto and Sakura were guilty, regardless of pure intentions. He didn't want to go back to that.
It's not about what we want, Sasuke.
"Itachi, I can't..." Yet the sensations surrounding his body became more intense. Heat blossomed against the left side of his chest, the feeling of being in free fall was quickly receding. His head, brain even, felt incredibly heavy. Distant sounds, machines beeping, soft murmurs, echoed in the darkness. The Void flickered in and out, flashes of light and soft colors.
"I can't go back."
Forgive me, but this is the last gift I must impart to you.
Fulfill your promise to Naruto, and to yourself.
"I think he's waking up, sempai. See? His head is moving and his vitals -"
"Don't send me back." Sasuke's voice was thick with desperation, fear riding him hard. He didn't care about the promise, or his clan, or anything involving what happened before he died. Couldn't he just rest? Hadn't he done enough? "I'm tired, Itachi. I just want to sleep."
I know Sasuke. Bear with it just a little longer, I promise when the time comes, it'll feel all too soon.
All traces of the Void vanished, replaced with blinding white light as his eyes snapped open. Sasuke gasped, sucking in a lungful of air, back arching. Red-hot pain seared the left side of his chest as his back slammed down on something soft. A bed? Confusion and panic churned in his stomach, rising up his throat and out his mouth as he spluttered watery nonsense and moaned. The taste of metal lingered in his mouth and Sasuke vaguely registered that he was not moving of his own volition.
"Damnit Ino, I said hold him!" Female. Familiar. Sakura? Sasuke couldn't think straight, all of his focus surrounded the excruciating agony ripping through him in waves.
"You serious, billboard brow?" Another voice, Ino, most likely. "Really, because it's not like he's not one of the strongest shinobi alive or anything..."
"Stop complaining Pig! I can't give him the sedative if he...keeps moving like this. You! Help Ino keep him down!"
His body continued to move, although he had no direct control over his actions. Sasuke vaguely registered a sharp pinprick in his arm - a sedative - before darkness swallowed him again.
This time, the Void did not await him. Sasuke fell into a fitful slumber, dreaming of his mother's smile and his brother's rare laugh. Dreamt of a bright green brand on his forehead, searing through his flesh and into his brain. A colorful field where one of his many promises made were eventually broken. A time before he knew and understood the cruelties of the world. The only time when hatred hadn't brewed in his soul and bubbled slowly to the surface like tar. No voices, yet, only fading memories Sasuke didn't want to relive. Those good times were over.
When he opened his eyes again, the pain in his chest had died down to a strained thump. Cool, crisp sheets were draped over his prone form, the soft beeps of machinery at his side had him guessing he was in a hospital. Konoha's hospital, of those bastards would have anything to say about it. Slowly, Sasuke tried flexing numerous parts of his body only to have his fingers and toes respond to his mental commands.
Sasuke eventually abandoned his efforts, his dark gaze focused on the brightly lit ceiling as he tried to ignore how his body hurt all over. The left side of his chest hurt the most, meaning not too much time had passed since his battle with Naruto. His head swam and his vision blurred when he tried to move his head around, so he quickly ditched that particular effort as well, resigned to remain perfectly still in his bed.
As much as Sasuke could, what with him being doped up on painkillers and still under the weather from dying, he tried to look at his current situation logically. Konoha had to have been a decent distance away from the main front, meaning if he was in their hospital, a few weeks, maybe even a month or so should have passed. A few weeks to determine whether or not moving him would be safe, then perhaps a few weeks for recovery after bringing him 'home'. With Sakura dealing with him, she would have made every possible attempt to ensure his utmost safety.
"We're going to change this world, Sasuke. You and me. So that what happened to the Uchiha will never happen to another clan again."
"Hn. You're still stupid, going on about things you can't understand."
"Make me recognize you. If you can do that, I'll believe your words."
"Heh heh. Alright then. All or nothing! It was always supposed to be like this, in the end."
"I won't lose to you."
"Bastard. It ain't about winning or losing, haven't you figured that out yet?"
Naruto had been right, of course. The connection, the bond between them had never been about winning or losing. Dying had brought about the revelation, the true understanding of what their friendship had always been.
"Change the world...huh?"
"Together, Sasuke. These nations...won't know what...what hit them!"
"You're an...idiot. But I guess...only an idiot would be able to...do something like change the world. Don't..."
"Sasuke? Hey! Damnit don't die on me, you bastard!"
"Together..." he whispered the words, staring blankly at the bland hospital ceiling. With him being alive now, he would have to fulfill his promise to Naruto. He did not question whether or not Naruto lived, this was Naruto, and the tenacious fool happened to have a demon residing in his body, giving him supernatural healing. If anything, once the hospital staff realized he had awakened, Naruto would be storming in, loud as ever, ready to piss Sasuke off with some nonsense or another.
Never would he admit he was looking forward to the confrontation.
Still, with the war over and Naruto a hero - Sasuke wouldn't be surprised if they had named the blond Hokage - the fact that Uchiha Sasuke was a criminal would not go over so easily with the other nations. Naruto might have been able to shine light into the Uchiha's bleak world, but the fact remained that the other nations would not be so willing to forgive. The Raikage especially would be up in arms. If he were honest with himself, Sasuke might have said one thing, but he honestly had no desire to follow Naruto's dream. He could care less about the world.
A part of him wanted to die, because despite all of Naruto's efforts and plans, death had brought Sasuke true peace. No shackles, no responsibilities, no one could use him as a pawn in their games with other people's lives. He respected Naruto, cared for him even, but their mindsets were still completely at odds with one another. As an Uchiha, he would honor his word and help 'change the world', but he knew unreasonable demands would be placed on him.
Sasuke would not apologize. He had no regrets. He felt no need or desire to 'atone'. Everyone would expect these things from him to 'prove' he was willing to keep his word, and all of it felt unnecessary and tedious. Those things changed nothing, and no one had ever tried to atone or apologize for murdering his clan, so why should he?
But now he was becoming lost in his thoughts, a bad habit he picked up from years of solitude and bottling in his emotions. Sasuke could hear footsteps coming closer to his room. Unfortunately, he was still too weak to try and sense the person's chakra signature, but he could make a few guesses.
True to form, Sakura walked into his room, her face pale and dark circles under her eyes. Ino seemed oblivious as she followed behind, chattering too fast for Sasuke's sluggish mind to properly process everything being said. His old teammate started, emerald eyes lighting up with shock and surprise as their gazes met.
"Sasuke-kun." He could hear the awe and love in her voice just before she closed the distance. Sakura's strong arms were surprisingly gentle as she wrapped her arms around his neck, flashing him a brilliant smile. "Sasuke-kun! I'm so...you're finally awake!"
"You're heavy." Sasuke muttered and Sakura immediately stood up straight, wiping tears away with the back of her hand. Her smile never died and Ino remained in the background, giving the two of them a warm smile as she held a clipboard close to her chest.
With a small, watery chuckle, Sakura's medical training kicked in and she looked over at the machines to check his vitals. "How are you feeling?" She asked, pulling up a small blood pressure machine. She took the slender thermometer attached and slid on a plastic covering, having Sasuke slide the object under his tongue. "You've been out for a long time."
"Yeah, you wouldn't believe it if we told you." Ino finally chimed in, moving further into the room but keeping her distance. This was Sakura's show.
Sasuke grunted in response, his focus on Sakura's movements and appearance. He took in the black tattoos lacing up his arm as she strapped on the arm band before pressing a button to take his blood pressure. Seals, which would explain why he had been unable to really move. He had believed his injuries to be the source, now he knew the truth.
"I'll take that as you're feeling fine." Sakura took the thermometer, pressing the top button to eject the plastic cover into the trash. "Everything looks good inside, now we check your wounds."
He allowed the two women to dance around him as they unwrapped the many bandages covering his body. Surprisingly, neither took advantage of the opportunity to cop feels, both girls were clinical and professional with their assessment. Sasuke only spoke up once, which was to tell Sakura not to mess with the raw and marred flesh that was now the left side of his chest.
"Let it scar." He said. Sakura had almost protested, but one good look at him changed her mind. Instead, she nodded grimly and they put him in fresh bandages.
Throughout the ordeal, Sasuke could feel tension in the air. Sakura seemed a little too chatty, although he could contribute that to nerves. The last time they had really interacted he had tried to kill her. Twice. For some reason, she acted as if the encounter had never happened. Her attitude remained the same in the sense she made her feelings for him more than obvious, but the fangirl-ish gawking had matured. The love she displayed now no longer could be defined as immature or silly, which only confused Sasuke. Why did she still love him, after everything he had done to her? She couldn't honestly believe he returned her feelings, or did that no longer play a factor?
In the end, Ino's strange behavior made Sasuke believe the tension had more to do with Sakura and her unrequited feelings for him. The blonde kept giving him strange looks, as if worried she would reveal too much if she stared too hard. He ignored both of them, once again turning his thoughts inward.
Things, people he had stopped caring about long ago now were being pushed back into a life he no longer wanted to live. How many people would barge into his room once the word got out he was awake? If Tsunade still held her position as Hokage, Sasuke wondered if the horde would even be allowed. With the seals placed on his body, there was a solid chance he had been placed in a high security location within the hospital. The room looked like any other, but with his chakra reserves on low, Sasuke could only assume the possibilities of wards and other seals in the area preventing his escape should he make an attempt.
He detested being weak and vulnerable.
"Done!" the two girls took a step back to look at their handiwork. Sasuke continued to stare off in the distance, unable to do much of anything else. After a moment of silence, Sakura turned to Ino and the blonde nodded without a word passing between them.
Then the two ex-teammates were left alone in the room. Sakura smiled nervously, wringing her hands and shifting restlessly. "So..." she began and he closed his eyes briefly. She always had been the sort of person to want to fill the void with chattering. "Um, do you have any questions, Sasuke-kun?"
He did, actually. "Am I in Konoha?"
More and more, Sasuke began to inwardly question Sakura's behavior. Her tone belied a deep discomfort, as if she were trying to hide something important. Some things never changed, Sakura still could be read like a book if studied well enough. If he waited long enough, she would probably reveal whatever was on her mind, if for no other reason than to fill the eventual silence.
"Is Naruto dead?" he asked, and she shook her head, giving him a soft smile.
"No, he recovered a few weeks ago. You've been asleep for a while. Your injuries were severe, it's been almost two months."
Sasuke blinked once at this news before nodding. Two months? Nothing for it, he would have to train extra hard once his body recovered in order to get back in shape. Mostly, he was surprised his chest wound still looked so fresh.
"What's going to happen to me?"
There. The moment the question left his lips, Sakura turned her gaze away, confirming his earlier suspicions of her hiding something from him. She stopped wringing her hands and instead turned her back towards him to head for the bathroom.
"Do you want some water, Sasuke-kun?" her voice hitched ever so slightly, betraying her nervousness "O-or maybe I could get you something to eat."
She spun on her heel to face him, shoulder-length pink hair swaying. Sakura blinked back tears, her hands closed in tight fists at her sides. "I told them not to do it! Naruto and I fought hard but they...they did it anyway! Those bastards!" Her face flushed with anger as she bowed her head, unable to look at him any longer. "The new council...because of what happened before, they -"
"Stop. You're rambling." So they established a new council after he had killed the others. "Do you mean these seals?" Either that or prison, neither of which really mattered to him.
"No." She closed the distance, reaching into her back pocket to pull out a small pink compact mirror. Gently, she placed the object in his hand before her hands moved to form a complicated hand seal. "Release!"
The pressure from the seals around his arms lifted, but his body still felt weak from months of no use. Sasuke's limbs creaked and ached as he brought the mirror to his face as Sakura instructed. The image revealed completely floored him.
Pale skin stretched tight along gaunt cheeks and sunken eyes. Heavy bags rested under his eyes, as if he had been doing the exact opposite of resting for two months. His lips were chapped and his hair had grown a bit, wild and unkempt. His focus snapped to his forehead when he noticed a bit of blue peeking out from his bangs. Sakura sucked in a breath when his hand rose to brush back his hair and he shot her a quick look. What was her deal anyway...
The seal was almost identical to the one the Hyuuga used, with a few exceptions. Instead of bright green, the caged seal blazed blue along his forehead. Two diamonds were lined vertically along the center, what they were for really didn't matter.
Konoha had sealed him. All of Naruto's words and promises flew out the window as Sasuke stared at his new and permanent shackle to the village. Laughter tried to bubble up to the surface, but he shut the emotion down hard, refusing to show weakness around Sakura.
Another betrayal. Another game in which he would be the pawn. Why had he believed in Naruto? All that babble about changing the world, promising no clans would suffer the same fate as the Uchiha. An impossible dream, one Sasuke had allowed himself to buy into because it was Naruto and he made things happen. Whether the individual wanted to or not, the blond idiot had ways of making people follow him, like a true leader. What he lacked for with intelligence he made up for with heart and sheer determination. But in the end, Naruto wasn't God, just a powerful Sage with almost God-like powers.
The ultimate betrayal and yet, Sasuke felt no hatred. Anger, definitely, in fact right now red filled his vision and his breathing grew harsh. Rage burned hot in his chest and throat, preventing him from speaking. He wanted to hate, wanted the voices to return and the tendrils of madness to grip his consciousness once again.
He numbly recognized Sakura rushing to his side, pulling away the mirror he had just crushed in his hand. Pieces of glass, only a few, jutted out from his palm and thumb. Sasuke stared at the blood as thin rivulets trailed along his forearm. By the time he finally blinked and the red haze faded, Sakura was tying bandages along his hand, her eyes full of worry and underlining anger.
"They went behind our backs, Sasuke-kun." her hands closed over his as she knelt down to meet him at eye-level. "Not even Tsunade-sama had known what happened until it was too late. You better believe no one is letting this stand. They took advantage of your situation and we -"
"Sakura." Sasuke turned his head to her, his gaze dull. "I don't care. Get out."
She snapped back as if he had slapped her, standing up straight. "Don't...Sasuke-kun don't shut me out. Don't shut us out." Sakura gulped, but her body language showed only conviction. "Naruto swears he'll find a way to get rid of the seal."
Impossible. If there had been such a thing, the Hyuuga would have suffered from a revolt from the branch house a long time ago. Either way, if not this then 'they' - he guessed she meant the new council - would have found a different way to keep him permanently tied to the village. Konoha simply refused to allow the Uchiha clan to belong to any other nation, continued to exercise whatever means were necessary to keep his dead clan under lock and key.
Never. Sasuke refused to be a tool for this village, or anyone else, ever again.
"Sakura, I won't repeat myself. Get. Out. You have nothing to say that I want to hear."
"Sasuke-kun..." Taking in a deep breath, Sakura wiped at her eyes and nodded, heartbroken. She looked as if she wanted to say something else, thought better of it, and decided to respect his wishes for her to leave.
He waited until she had just about reached the door when he called her name. Hope had flashed in her eyes for a brief moment until their gazes had met. No, he had no intention of calling her back or talking. He closed his eyes, memories flashing back to that day, when Naruto had changed his friend, guided him back to the light.
Sasuke wanted so badly to slip back into the darkness, but he felt too tired to fight anymore. With his freedom went the meaning of his life.
Why did you bring me back to this, Itachi? Did you really love this village so much? You should have left me dead, because I won't live the life Konoha wants from me.
"There's something I want you to tell Naruto." He turned away from Sakura, focusing on the wall to his far right leading into the bathroom. No hatred, as if Naruto had all but ripped the emotion from his body. All he had now was his anger, and not even for the blond would he let go of it this time.
Wringing her hands again, he saw Sakura nod and bite her lip. "Of course, Sasuke-kun. Anything. I was just going to go see him now."
Raising his injured hand, Sasuke's eyes narrowed dangerously. The world would never change, Naruto had been wrong. Even if by some miracle or dumb luck the blond actually managed to succeed, Sasuke wouldn't be at his side. The brand on his forehead made such a notion impossible.
Lies. Betrayal. Manipulation. These are the only constants in this world. Everything else is a sick and twisted illusion. I let Naruto fool me into falling for his promises, but in the end it all boiled down to the same thing.
I won't be fooled again. I won't give them what they want.
"Tell him I said 'The deal is off'."