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Tightrope 22

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Chapter 22 – The Start Line to Killing

It was the next day. Sasuke volunteered to bring back hunted game by himself so that could get away from the querying eyes of his team. He knew they meant well, but the concern was suffocating.

Sasuke chased down a deer, and just as he was getting ready to heft the deer onto his shoulder, he heard a rustle in the trees and then a voice thrilled, “It’s my lucky day.”

Sasuke froze. It was a voice from his nightmares. Shivers ran down his spine.

“Your group stole the bounty that I was tailing,” the voice said conversationally. “It’s a crying shame, but it looks like I found something better in its place. I wasn’t certain at first, but you’re the little baby Uchiha we kidnapped, aren’t you?”

He forced himself to look, to confirm the face of his nightmares.

“You’ve gotten even prettier over the years.”

Suddenly the man was in front of him. It was one of the missing-nin that had participated in his kidnapping all those years ago.

It was the same one that Sasuke strangled to death.

The man took another step.

Too close.

Sasuke brought his hand up into a seal. “Kai!”

The man was still there, and now he was smirking at Sasuke in amusement. “I’m very much alive, baby Uchiha.” He brought a hand up to stroke the side of Sasuke’s neck. Ice spread through Sasuke’s body and froze him to the spot. “You should’ve done a better job at making sure I was dead. You weren’t ruthless enough.” Then he cocked his head to the side and hummed, “But I see you’ve seeped yourself deeper in blood since then.” He licked his lips and Sasuke shuddered.

Fanfiction by Vanilla Muse. Please read this on vmnovels (dot) com

It was his nightmare coming to life in the light of day.

Sasuke shook his head in denial.

The man pushed Sasuke on the chest and the boy fell to the ground.

“I never got to have my fun,” the missing-nin purred, clambering onto Sasuke’s torso.

Sasuke’s eyes widened. He bit his lip and forced the memories back. The muscles in his hands twitched with the itch to grip his weapons.

The missing-nin licked the blood from the corner of Sasuke’s lips.

That was when panic finally translated into action and Sasuke reached for his weapon pouch. The missing-nin intercepted his movement. He caught Sasuke’s hand, and immobilized it by stabbing a kunai through the boy’s palm, pinning it to the ground.

Sasuke screamed, and the man leered down at him.

“Sasuke!”

He heard Naruto’s voice. An orange and black blur rammed into the missing-nin and knocked the man away from Sasuke. He was hyperventilating. Shock, he thought and took deep breaths to calm himself. He was vaguely aware of Naruto and the missing-nin fighting, but he couldn’t get himself to focus on the goddamn present.

The faster he tried to get himself to calm down to focus and help his friend, the more his body rebelled and panicked.

“Sasuke.”

He looked up to see blue eyes juxtaposed with a streak of red blood trailing from his teammate’s temple to the chin. The blond was covered in minor injuries, but he was alive.

“The missing-nin…” Sasuke’s breathing was finally starting to slow down.

“…He won’t hurt you anymore.”

Sasuke looked over to see the unmoving lump of the missing-nin’s body.

Naruto touched a hand to Sasuke’s forearm, and Sasuke noticed the kunai still stuck in his hand. He ripped the throwing knife from his flesh. Blood spurted everywhere, but he didn’t care. He staggered over to the missing-nin. He held the kunai in his uninjured hand. The steel blade was thick with his blood.

The missing-nin wasn’t moving.

You should’ve done a better job at making sure I was dead.

Sasuke flipped the man over onto his back. Sightless eyes gazed up at the blue, blue sky.

Sasuke plunged the kunai into the man’s eye socket, going deep for the brain. He wrenched the kunai out with a sickening squelch. He slit the man across the throat. He thrust the blade in between the missing-nin’s ribs. He sunk the weapon into the man’s liver.

He pulled the kunai out. Blood sprayed everywhere. He drove the kunai down again only to have someone catch him around the wrist.

“Enough, Sasuke.” It was Kakashi. “He’s dead.”

The blade dropped from his hand. Sasuke sobbed, his entire body convulsing. He ripped his arm away from Kakashi’s limp hold. He stalked towards the river, stripping off his blood soaked clothes along the way. He plunged into the icy waters and scrubbed at his skin until he was raw and pink. Lines of blood trailed his skin where he had dug his nails in to claw out the filth.

A splash alerted Sasuke that Naruto had joined him in washing off the blood.

From the shore, Kakashi watched with hooded eyes and heavy shoulders.

They burned everything.

They burned the body, the bloody clothes, and even the blood-drenched kunai.

Naruto and Sasuke stayed in the river where Sasuke healed their injuries, while Kakashi went to fetch a change of clothes for them.

They returned to Sakura and Tazuna cleaned and uninjured. The girl was pulling her hair out with worry, but she couldn’t leave her post by Tazuna’s side.

Sasuke learned that Naruto had sensed a foreign chakra signature in the vicinity of Sasuke, and had run off to aid his friend. Naruto must have been actively keeping tabs on Sasuke when he went off to hunt. Sasuke turned to Naruto with new eyes. In all the time he knew Naruto, he never suspected that Naruto might have a gift for chakra sensing, and he was infinity glad for it.

Sasuke threw his arms around Naruto. His body trembled, and while his eyes were dry it was as close to crying as he could come. Naruto wrapped his arms around Sasuke and twisted his fingers into the fabric of Sasuke’s tunic. He pressed his eyes into Sasuke’s collarbone and if the brunette felt something warm and wet, he didn’t say anything.

Fanfiction by Vanilla Muse. Please read this on vmnovels (dot) com

All the while, Sakura looked on from a distance, impotent to help. She had no idea what had happened and Kakashi wouldn’t give any specifics, but she saw when Naruto went tense and alert and then bounded into the forest, and she heard when Sasuke’s scream echoed through the copse.

The fact that they came back with no injuries meant nothing in light of Sasuke’s medical abilities. Not to mention, Kakashi had went after Naruto only to come back alone to get clothes from Sasuke and Naruto’s packs.

Whatever happened when her boys were away, she felt like it cut a chasm between her and them. She wanted to bridge that gulf to be there for her teammates, but at the same time, some subconscious part of her wondered if she had what it took to cross that chasm, because once she crossed that line, she knew she would lose a piece of irretrievable innocence.

xxx

Tazuna hadn’t felt this shoddy since his son died, and as a sign of respect for the brunette-haired ninja in his escort, he didn’t even have the comfort of alcohol to drown in. He was on pins and needles ever since the ninja attack the day before. He understood intellectually that Gato was out for his blood, but up until yesterday, he had not yet faced an attempt on his life, and yesterday’s experience solidified his justified paranoia.

But more than Gato and his cronies, Tazuna found that he was starting to fear his escort, the group of ninja brats, especially the dark-haired one that had killed two adult men and didn’t even bat an eye. He had simply said “oh,” and that was that. It was a chilling reminder that these children were trained killers. He was a lot more respectful towards them after that encounter.

Still, it wasn’t until now that he felt sadness and pity for the young killers. Apparently these children could feel, and they did mourn. They just didn’t emote in the same way that Tazuna might have. It took him stumbling upon Sakura crying for her teammates by herself for it to truly hit home how young these people were. They were barely even teenagers.

Now, these children were walking across water and pushing along the boat that would take them to the Country of Wave. Tazuna learned to never take ninjas lightly again, no matter how young or stupid they might look. Actually the young and stupid ones were probably scarier, because regardless of intelligence or age, ninja were dangerous, trained killers.

xxx

“Kakashi-sensei…” Sasuke murmured the name so quietly it was as if he didn’t want Kakashi to hear, but the jonin heard him.

“Yes, Sasuke.”

The boy flinched, caught in the limbo of wanting to keep his silence and needing to spill his heart. When he murmured Kakashi’s name he turned over the decision to the jonin and the jonin had responded.

“…My first kill. That missing-nin was my first kill.” Sasuke’s words made no sense at first, but he continued. “I thought I strangled him to death, but apparently he wasn’t as dead as I had believed.” Sasuke bit his lip. His entire body seemed to fold in on itself with the next exhale. “I killed him out of desperation. After that… I kept telling myself ‘what is the blood of one more?’ and that was how I survived to return to Konoha.” He looked up at Kakashi with imploring eyes, as if beseeching the man to understand why he was shattering inside. “He was the first, the start, the gateway…” Sasuke clenched his fists, drawing blood. “If I had not killed him first I would not have killed the second and the third… Not this easily…”

Do you understand?

And Kakashi understood; the sardonic irony of the situation. Sasuke’s hands would’ve been free of blood till today if he had not thought he killed that missing-nin. He could’ve stayed clean for just a little longer. But he believed he had already killed in desperation. Then it turned out that the man he killed was alive all along.

In essence, the boy became a killer first not out of necessity, but out of choice. It was a devastating realization.

Kakashi thought the cosmos must really have it out for the youngest Uchiha.

“Sasuke. Do you dream of the people you killed?”

It was a rhetorical question.

“Do their deaths weigh on your conscience?”

A slow nod.

“Then it wasn’t easy,” Kakashi said gently. “Sasuke. Killing is easy. Taking a life is hard. As long as you can still feel, then it will never be an easy thing to do.”

It’s okay, Sasuke.

Kakashi pulled Sasuke into a hug, one hand around the shoulder blades, the other one lose around the head. Gentle and loose, but encompassing.

You’re not a monster.

Not yet.

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