The room was spacious, the paper walls ornate, the flower arrangements perfect in their simplicity, the tatami mats spotless if not for the puddle of blood that grew larger with every passing second.
The sound of a sword slicing through the air reverberated throughout the room and soon, the walls too were dirtied with blood.
The body fell to the floor with a muffled thud.
His revenge was almost complete, just two more to go.
He flicked his sword, adding another splatter on the wall and took a piece of silk cloth from the sleeve of his Hakama, using it to wipe the blood from his sword, as was custom. He sheathed the katana and turned to leave when he felt another presence barring the doorway.
He looked up, expecting to find another hostile force that he had to plow through to escape, only to find the most fragile-looking girl he had ever seen stare at him with eyes that were pools of a million different emotions, with anger as the most prevalent one.
The frail countenance was a ruse, though, and he knew that underneath those small fists was a strength that could move mountains. She was clad in a formal Kimono, her hair pulled up by a single decorative jade comb, and he surmised that she must’ve come from the formal party downstairs. Briefly, he wondered who her companion was, who she had dolled herself up for, before he caught himself. He had to remind himself of broken bonds and things that no longer belonged to him before he decided that he had nothing to say to her.
He regarded her with apathy, not even sparing her a small glance as he passed her by, his shoulder colliding with hers briefly, and went into the corridor.
His steps, though, were deliberately unhurried, as if willing her to speak her mind. His own mind, however, was screaming at him, telling him that such an action would prove to be rather fatal to his mission, that he needed to hurry and leave as soon as he could if he did not want to be captured. But his feet were rebelling against him and felt as heavy as lead.
It had been three years since he had last seen her.
The kimono looked beautiful on her.
In a moment of sentiment, never rare but always concealed, he thought about how, if things had been different, he would’ve been dressed as formally as her and he might have mumbled a compliment or two, and her eyes might’ve held a different emotion, and he might’ve been happy. But he knew in his heart that it was useless to think of what if’s and what could’ve been’s so he ceased in his musings before they drove him to another bout of melancholy. No, it wouldn’t do for him to indulge in something illogical.
And yet, he couldn’t help but do so anyway. He stood there, unmoving, his back turned to her.
“Say what you have to say and leave,” he said, his voice gentler than he had intended.
He waited for a few seconds, and when there was no reply, he took a step forward, fully intent on leaving.
“Why?”, she asked, her tone accusatory but with a pleading edge to it.
The question hung heavy in the air and filled him with immense annoyance. He told her so many times before, why couldn’t she understand?
“I’ve told you many times before, I’m an av—”
“Avenger, I know… but why Konoha, Sasuke? Wasn’t it your brother who—”
“Don’t speak of things you don’t understand!”, abject anger palpable in his voice. He almost winced, his tone was far harsher than he had intended – a tone he had never, and would have never, used on her.
For a moment, she seemed stunned, surprised at his outburst. She shrank back and it took her a moment of obvious effort before she could regain her bearing.
“You’re destroying everything, Sasuke-kun…”
“I’m only destroying those which are to blame”, he said, his voice resolute.
“And those who are innocent?” He hated her then, hated her self-righteousness, her holier-than-thou attitude.
“You know nothing…” he hissed at her. He wanted to strangle her, wrap his fingers around that fragile throat, rid himself of the nagging voice of his conscience… but he wouldn’t, he couldn’t.
Instead, he kept his back to her, not trusting himself enough. He would not harm his precious people, ignorant though they were. He would not.
“I only know that hundreds died because of that attack you led against Konoha four months ago.”
“I didn’t lead it. It was Madara. He—”
“Oh, but you helped, didn’t you, Sasuke-kun? You had to, or you would’ve all been captured. But that doesn’t change anything, now, does it? You still did it. It was your hands tha—”
He did not want to admit it. But the feel of the blood pumping through her veins, her jugular pulsating beneath his fingers – it excited him. He wanted it to stop. She was looking at him, her eyes filled with fear and pain, and he relished it. Not so talkative now, are you, Sakura? She was thrashing about, struggling, fighting. And it was only when she was starting to grow lax that he let go.
See, he couldn’t trust himself.
What had he done?
She slumped onto the floor, her kimono a complete mess, her face red with the blood rushing back to it. She was coughing, sputtering, gasping for breath.
“I didn’t mean it”, he whispered, his own voice hoarse. He didn’t mean to kill those civilians, just as he didn’t mean to… to hurt her.
But they were all barring his path, the civilians, his old friends, Sakura… always barring his path. And really, he had no other choice.
She was crying, and unabashed sobbing wracked her small frame. He reached out to touch her but she shrank back, avoiding his touch. Still, he persisted. He held her smooth cheek in his calloused palms, wondering at the stark contrast, the warmth. He couldn’t remember the last time he willingly touched another person without the intent to kill. He looked straight into her eyes, silently hating that they were wide with fear. He never wanted to see that look directed at him… from others, maybe… but not from her.
“I’ll kill Madara after all this is over, he’s to blame… I…” he trailed off, knowing that his words would do nothing to help. She was right. He was destroying everything he could put the blame on. He didn’t even want to think about what would happen if he ran out of people to blame… what would happen if he only had himself… what would happen then? How long could he keep on escaping his fate?
He moved his face closer to hers, hating the look in her eyes, and claimed that which was no longer his to claim. She flinched at the contact and he tried hard to stifle the sense of betrayal that threatened to consume him. Instead, he persisted, running his hands through her hair, not caring if he ruined it, and she eventually gave in. He could taste her tears, salty and sweet and his. Desperation and neediness clawed at him. And it showed… it showed in his kiss.
The sound of several footsteps alerted them of the danger and they both knew that he was a dead man if he stayed. Reluctantly, they broke apart.
He stood up, noticing how she didn’t move from her position and refused to meet his eyes. But he knew it didn’t matter. He turned away, intent on escaping… everything. He shouldn’t have done it.
Not surprisingly, he felt her tug on his sleeve. He closed his eyes, waited for what he was sure would be another plea for him to stay.
“Go through the window, but don’t leave yet. Mask your presence and move to the side. Keep to the shadows. And head for the west gate. Hurry.”
Still with his back turned to her, he nodded, understanding that she would help him escape.
It filled him with a sense of déjà vu. But he had no time to dwell on it, as he could hear the footsteps coming closer. He had to leave.
Later, when he was standing a few feet from the window with his back against the wall, completely immobile, he saw someone who looked exactly like him exit the window, with the guards in pursuit.
His heartbeat quickened, and it was all he could do to keep his breathing silent and steady. He hoped that it wasn’t her, that she hadn’t taken such a foolish risk for him. But he knew that no matter how much he hoped, it wouldn’t alter the truth. The deed was done, and any interference from him would only serve to make their situation worse.
He dug into his pockets, and took out the jade comb that he had taken earlier. He looked at it for a while before clutching it tightly in his hands, the teeth digging into his palms.
Two more to go…
With all the stealth and speed he could muster, he sprinted for the west gate, and disappeared into the night.