This chapter is dedicated to Slytherin Wife, who somehow managed to find me here without me advertising it. Lol. I know it took me forever to get this chapter out, and even now I cannot promise fast updates for this story. Fanfiction is a way for me to decompress, so I don’t ever want to have to force myself to write it. I hope you can understand. Nevertheless, thank you very much for reading and liking my story.
Chapter 20 – Past Lines Still Bind
Sasuke remembered this road well. He remembered walking along it like it was just last week, in the opposite direction, towards Konoha instead of away from it. He remembered walking along this road in a tight-knit group with Ranmaru, Kimimaro, Karin, and Juugo, being escorted by Konoha ANBU.
As they walked, memories threatened to swallow him. Not for the first time Sasuke was glad that he had taken point. He hoped Kakashi wouldn’t be able to read too much in the tense lines of his back. Then he heard Tazuna burp and the irritation he felt for the man warred with the creeping memories, keeping them at bay.
Eventually their path took a different turn than the one in Sasuke’s memories and he was able to push his memories away and bring his full focus back.
He chided himself in his head. On paper, this was a C-rank mission, but Sasuke knew that things were about to get a lot more complicated. He had to keep his wits about him, because he couldn’t be sure of when the enemy might strike.
Luckily, the first day drew to an end without any untoward activity. They scouted out a spot to set up camp and Kakashi delegated the bulk of the work to his genin while he hung around their client with that perverted orange book in hand.
After dinner, Kakashi set up a rotating night watch. He taught them tips and tricks of signs to look out for, and ways to keep themselves entertained so that they didn’t end up dozing off. Then Naruto took first watch. Sakura would take second watch and Sasuke the third, with Kakashi taking the final watch.
Sasuke set his sleeping bag apart from the others. He released his ponytail. Sakura was mesmerized by the way the dying embers reflected off of the sheen of Sasuke’s curtain of hair. He caught her looking and gave her a wry smile that had her blushing and ducking into her sleeping bag.
Kakashi’s chuckle was part melancholy, part amusement. He couldn’t help being reminded of Rin sometimes when he looked at Sakura. The way that Sakura obviously crushed on Sasuke, but had the presence of mind to keep her affections in check and to also treat Naruto cordially. It helped, though, to see that Sasuke was the one with hands glowing green after a rough training session. As for Naruto, the blond was throwing discreet glances at Sasuke, as the brunette hunkered down into his sleeping bag. Ah, the joys of puberty.
No. This team was not like Team Minato. This team would not end up like his team. He would make sure of that. Team Seven was special and unique. And it was quickly becoming dear to Kakashi’s heart. He would keep his team safe no matter what. This he vowed before Gai, and this he vowed to himself again.
Sasuke shook out his hair from the tight ponytail it’s been in all day. The dark locks fell around his neck and down his chest. He slid into his sleeping bag and turned his back to the group. From the inside of the sleeping bag he peeled off the seal that he had Karin specially prepare for him. As an Uzumaki she had a natural gift for fuuinjutsu, a talent that Sasuke encouraged. He pasted the seal across his throat. With that secured, he closed his eyes and let the darkness take him.
It was a dream that he did not have often. Most nights he dreamed of the times he dimmed the light of another’s life. Sometimes he’d dreamed of his new family and friends dying before him, and him helpless to stop it. Rare were the times he would not dream and wake up to a peaceful morning, but they happened and he savored those moments. Rarer still was for him to dream of the day he died.
When he first woke up as Uchiha Sasuke, confused and disorientated, he had often dreamed of his death. Night after night, the recording of his death haunted his dreams and worked his vocal cords raw. Then one day, dreams of his dying ceased. In his dreams, the one screaming was no longer him, but the man writhing under his merciless hands. Sasuke would watch as the man’s eyes bulged, froth forming at his mouth, and nostrils flaring for air that Sasuke held at bay with a string of ninja wire. That was just the first. The one that followed bore a bloodier dream.
Perhaps it was the change in environment, perhaps it was the sight of Tazuna, perhaps it was stress at the unofficial A-rank mission, or perhaps it was the thought of coming change that triggered it, but now he dreamt once again of that day.
His limbs were unbound and there were no hands holding him down. It was unnecessary. The world swam before his vision in a kaleidoscope of colors, the effects of a cocktail of drugs. His sight and coordination was compromise, but he could still feel. Gods. He could still feel. He felt the bite of metal sliding across his skin. Sometimes it slid across smooth and easy; sometimes he felt it as each serrated edge dug into his flesh. He felt his body give under both sharp and blunt torture. Felt his body being opened and torn apart. He felt hands, smooth palms, calloused fingers, as they wrapped around his neck and squeezed, lovingly and slowly. It was a mockery of a lover’s embrace.
He writhed and kicked his legs uselessly. His limbs would not obey. There was something holding him down. With an anguished cry he lunged forward.
Someone brushed the hair away from his neck and ripped the seal from his throat. Suddenly the night air was filled with his scream. With a jolt, he woke up, but his eyes were unfocused, still caught by demons of the past.
“Sasuke. Sasuke. Sasuke.”
Focus, he thought. He listened to the voice calling… calling his name. Sasuke.
He focused and saw his team gathered around him. Naruto, Sakura, Kakashi, they were all there. A vague part of him was glad that Tazuna was still passed out.
The one that called him back was Naruto. Naruto with his blue eyes blown wide and fear in his pupils. Fear that he might’ve lost his first friend to some unknown shadow of the past.
“What… what happened?” Sakura whispered. She was folded in on herself. Uncertain, small, and terrified.
“Nightmare?” Naruto prompted.
Sasuke could only nod.
Naruto’s mouth was set in a thin line. He looked so serious. In that moment Sasuke wondered when and how had Naruto matured so quickly. He was so much more composed than what Sasuke had expected.
“Kimimaro warned me of this.” Naruto confessed. “I’ve always suspected… from the way your family and Karin speaks about y… of the past. I didn’t think it would be this bad.” He rubbed a thumb across Sasuke’s chin and came away with blood.
Sasuke finally registered the throbbing of his tongue. “Kimimaro… How?” They only had two hours prior to leaving the village, and the only one home for him to tell about the mission was Ranmaru.
“A week after team announcements. He… He told me to look out for you.”
Sasuke scrubbed the blood from his chin and looked down at his hands to avoid the look in Naruto’s eyes. He didn’t want to check to see the expressions on Sakura and Kakashi’s faces, too.
It bothered him, to see the worry in their eyes. The worry that he was fragile. That he might break. Shit. He wanted to punch something. He didn’t need this worry. It would only hinder the team.
Kakashi laid a hand on Sakura and Naruto’s shoulders. “I think we’ve had enough excitement for one night,” he said lowly, gently. “Naruto, Sakura, go back to sleep. It’s Sasuke’s watch now.”
There was some silent eye communication that went on. Sasuke did not bother to look.
Sakura touched his elbow lightly and retreated. Naruto gripped him firmly on the shoulder and then pulled back. Kakashi motioned for Sasuke to walk away from the group. Out of hearing range.
Sasuke wondered if his team would get any sleep tonight. If they did, it would probably be fitful. He hated himself for that. He didn’t want this to happen. He didn’t want to be a liability to his team. To anyone.
He entertained thoughts of becoming a jonin soon so that he could take solo missions instead.
Once they were a fair distance away, but still within sight of the camp, Kakashi stopped walking. Sasuke bumped into him.
Kakashi held out the silencing seal that Karin made, pinched between his middle and forefinger. Sasuke reached to take it but Kakashi held it out of reach.
“Don’t look at me with those eyes.”
What eyes? Sasuke was not aware that he had been glaring.
Kakashi sighed. “Those wounded doe eyes.”
Sasuke’s eyes widened and he looked even more vulnerable if possible. With his curtain of hair wrapped around his shoulder and his eyes expressive and blown wide, Sasuke looked like a child spun from fragile glass. At that moment Sasuke was open and raw, and so, so vulnerable, but Kakashi had to ask.
“Where did you get this seal?” When it looked like Sasuke would not be forthcoming, Kakashi elaborated, “This is a type of seal that T&I might have use of. Why is it in your possession?”
Sasuke huffed. “Did you think I stole it?”
Kakashi said nothing.
“I had Karin create it for me.” Sasuke wrapped his arms around himself and looked away from Kakashi’s scrutinizing gaze. “I didn’t want to disturb anyone, so…” He shrugged helplessly.
“Sakura saw you convulsing in your sleeping bag and not making a sound. She had no idea what was wrong with you. Do you know how frightened she was?”
Sasuke covered his ears and hunched further into himself. “I hadn’t intended on her finding out. I didn’t want any of you to know.”
Kakashi, very slowly, and very deliberately, brought his hands into Sasuke’s field of vision before gently clasping the boy on the shoulders. “We are a team. You can depend on us. You can trust us.”
“I do. I trust you with my life.”
Kakashi held back a sigh as Gai’s words rang in his head. Take care of not just the body, but also of the heart. Sasuke was saying he trusted his team with the safety of his person, but he was deliberately avoiding the topic of his heart. Kakashi wondered how much he could push.
“What did you dream about?”
Kakashi felt Sasuke’s body stiffen under his hands.
“…I don’t remember.”
Kakashi sighed. Sasuke flinched.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Kakashi leveled Sasuke with a long look.
Sasuke let his hands drop to his sides and then he loosened the muscles in his shoulders. “I am strong,” he said. There was no arrogance in his voice. He said it as if to reassure himself. It was a statement to reaffirm his independence. “I can handle it.”
“Sensei,” Sasuke spoke cutting Kakashi off. It was rude, something that Sasuke was often not, and that was how Kakashi could tell that whatever this was, it bothered Sasuke greatly. “Please get some rest. I will wake you when it is your watch.” He met the jonin’s eyes with a steady stare.
Kakashi’s entire body seemed to droop with a silent exhale. To push beyond this point would be counterproductive. They were still in the middle of a mission. If this had happened within the safety of Konoha’s walls, then Kakashi could have been more insistent, but now would be a terrible time for the team to crumble.
If Sasuke said he would not break, then Kakashi would have to trust in his judgment. Of his three genin, Sasuke had always come across as the most mature one. Kakashi could only hope that Sasuke dealt with himself with the same leniency and patience that he dealt with others.
From the way that Sasuke prepared himself for sleep – using a silencing seal and his hair to hide the seal – it looked like these nightmares were a common occurrence. It was not a good sign by any means, but at the very least, it meant that Sasuke was used to dealing with them.
He patted Sasuke on the head and walked back to their camp.
No one in Team Seven slept well after that.
Tazuna snored away, oblivious to it all.