Author's Note: A few years ago I published this story on another site in German. This year I decided to try something new and write in English for a change, which is why I rewrote it. I tried my best, but seeing that I have zero experience it might still suck. I'd be honored if you tell me whether it is any good. I'm very much interested in your honest opinion.
Four Kinds of Love
A mission gone wrong brings Sasuke back on Itachi's trail. But does the mysterious stranger really know Itachi's whereabouts? One-sided ShisuIta; also kind of a what-if situation that is shamelessly screwing with facts to suit its purpose.
"Sasuke! Come back at once!"
Kakashi's cry had almost gone unnoticed, so fast was he moving from branch to branch; loathe to waste even a moment's time. This was a pursuit he couldn't break off and Kakashi was unable to stop him, due to the fact that he had to take care of both the idiot and Sakura. How typical of him to try and safe those morons instead of completing their mission, even though they were the ones to blame for the current fiasco in the first place. What kind of fool still fell for a couple of shadow-clones at their age?
Sasuke wasn't complaining though. As long as Kakashi wasted time saving the useless lives of those wannabe ninja, he couldn't forcefully keep him from chasing the fugitive assailant. Sure, their mission's rating had leapt from a B to an S unexpectedly and he wasn't too sure he could handle this particular opponent, considering that he was on his own and tired to the point where he didn't know how much longer his eyes could take the strain of his sharingan. But this was the chance of a lifetime! That man knew where Itachi was. The insinuations he'd been making had been as plain as can be. Sasuke would be damned if he let him get away!
Why had the guy even decided to run? Certainly not because of Kakashi. He must have known that Kakashi's mind wasn't set on fighting anymore and how badly he wanted to get the idiot, Sakura, and their client to safety in order to treat their wounds and to let them rest. Kakashi was weak like that. So why the fuck had the stranger left? He was stronger than him or even Kakashi, Sasuke could tell. And yet he ran. Had he achieved whatever objectives he'd pursued by attacking them from an ambush?
Their assignment had seemed simple enough: Accompany a somewhat shady bookmaker to his branch office in the Land of Tea, stay for some important appointment of his, bid goodbye and embark on a boring yet quiet journey home. And even though said bookmaker acted suspiciously nervous from the very beginning and didn't seem too pleased with their presence, Sasuke was unable to imagine anyone to take an interest in offing a petty little sewer rat like him. What the hell could the stranger possibly want from him?
Sasuke's eyes were burning and he felt a splitting headache forming. The stranger was freaking fast. Even using the sharingan it was hardly possible to track his movements. And then, suddenly, he completely disappeared from Sasukes's view.
He stopped abruptly and sharpened his senses, but his immediate vicinity remained silent. Only birds could be heard chirping in the trees. He could only assume to have lost the man for good and still he didn't dare to move. The stranger was so incredibly fast that Sasuke couldn't tell if he had well and truly vanished or if he lay in wait somewhere. He had to be alert. Somehow, he really expected the guy to attack.
And yet he walked into the second ambush blindly. He'd been wary and focused like never before and still the kunai at his throat took him completely by surprise. He hadn't seen it coming. At all.
"Why did you have to come after me?" The stranger's voice sounded strangely pained. It was the last thing Sasuke heard; then everything went black.
Sometime later he woke to excruciating pain. Every last bone and fiber in his body hurt so much he almost wished to lose consciousness again. He had no clue as to what had happened and when he warily opened his eyes he couldn't see anything but little white spots dancing in absolute darkness. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't feel much chakra coursing through his body. He was totally drained.
Where was he? How had he come to this place?
One thing he knew for sure: he couldn't be back in Konoha, since there would have been at least a sliver of light to be seen. Here he couldn't even see the walls, though he believed that he could feel them close. He lay uncomfortably, most likely on the bare ground, and when feeling returned to his arms and legs he realized he was bound and shackled. Sasuke breathed a silent curse. Without chakra he couldn't hope to free himself.
"Are you awake?" the stranger calmly asked from somewhere within the pitch-black room. The air smelled faintly of green tea. Just like his mother's kitchen when the servants prepared breakfast in the morning.
Of course, Sasuke remembered, he had given chase to the man. That man who knew about Itachi.
"Couldn't you have stayed with your friends? That would have saved the both of us a lot of trouble."
By way of answer, Sasuke scowled at the complete and utter darkness that surrounded him, knowing full well that the owner of the seemingly disembodied voice wasn't able to see him either. Or was he? That guy was a creep, but an accomplished Shinobi too. Maybe he could see perfectly well. Sasuke wondered whether he might be caught in a genjutsu. Without the powers of his sharingan, and in the deplorable state he was in, he wouldn't be able to see through it. Right now he couldn't do much else than wait and see what plans the stranger had in store for him, which made him feel pathetically helpless. Just once before had he felt like this, and it was precisely the memory of that particular incident that had gotten him into trouble now. Sometimes he couldn't find the words to express just how damn much he hated Itachi. It was because of him that he was completely at the stranger's mercy now. How utterly degrading and humiliating! And what's more, he couldn't die here. He simply couldn't. Not before he found that poor excuse for a relative.
Speaking of which …
"Where's Itachi?" he asked, sounding slightly petulant, and the stranger opted to ignore him. Instead of answering he grabbed Sasuke by the collar like a kitten, set him upright and held a cup to his lips.
"Drink!" he advised him in a calm tone of voice. "You have to regain your strength. I don't feel like carrying you home."
Sasuke refused, despite not having good reason to. Not by any stretch of the imagination could he understand what was going on. The stranger had been able to defeat him easily, had beaten the living daylights out of him, and now he wanted to nurse him back to health and take him home? That didn't make any sense. The stranger could have just left him in the woods. Kakashi was certainly looking for him already. He would have found him sooner or later, and – as embarrassing as that turn of events might have been – Sasuke would have liked it better than this humiliation. He wouldn't let the stranger see him give in and cooperate, but now that he was here, he could just as well try and figure out how much exactly he knew about Itachi.
"Where" is Itachi, he wanted to repeat his question, but was cut short when he choked on a mouth full of green tea the stranger had poured down his throat, using the golden opportunity Sasuke himself had provided.
"Can't you let the dead rest?" The stranger sighed and once more Sasuke couldn't shake the uncomfortable feeling that he knew a whole lot more than he let on. Earlier, during the fight, the stranger had mentioned ANBU and how their current members generally lacked talent. There were no more prodigies, he'd said, unlike Itachi Uchiha, who now – what? Right then Naruto had had to butt in and interrupt the man mid-sentence. Sasuke needed to find out what the stranger didn't get to say. And why the stranger knew him, too.
"Where's Itachi?" he tried a third time and the stranger sighed again; more deeply now.
"What makes you think I know? You should have asked your client when you had the chance. As far as I know, he's planning on meeting a man in the Land of Tea who might be in touch with your brother."
"I don't have a brother."
"Don't be stupid!" Sudden anger turned the stranger's words into a threat, yet Sasuke himself was far too furious to be afraid, or to wonder why the stranger was so deeply invested in the history of his clan. "Listen: I don't like you and I'd have loved to slit your throat and be done with you once and for all, back then. If you don't come to your senses and stop boycotting my hospitality soon, I might forget what kept me from doing it."
Sasuke snorted defiantly, but kept quiet.
"Ah, there you go", the stranger acknowledged his victory. Sasuke heard him take a deep breath, as though he tried to calm himself, and marveled at the astounding extent of concern he displayed. There were no survivors. None at all. There was no one but Sasuke who remembered the wanton destruction he had witnessed. No one but him still cared. No one but him could exact revenge. He was all alone in that.
The stranger didn't seem bothered by the bloodbath that brought his family to an early grave. On the contrary: He didn't like Sasuke. He'd even admitted to wanting to kill him, so he had to be an enemy of the Uchiha Clan. Surely he knew where Itachi was and helped him cheat justice.
Sasuke would have voiced his thoughts, but the stranger beat him to it.
"I can imagine what you're thinking. It's arrogant to assume that the whole world revolves around you and the injustice that was done to you ages ago. Do you think you are the only one who ever lost a loved one? There's not a soul in your village that didn't have to live through that at least once in their lives!"
Losing a friend or two during a mission was a whole different thing than having to watch your brother brutally slaughtering your family, Sasuke thought. He didn't say a thing, however, afraid to stir the stranger's wrath. Should he change his mind and kill him after all, he wouldn't gain a thing. Sasuke was livid, he was fuming with rage, but he wasn't Naruto and could keep his temper if he really needed to.
"When I was a child, there was war", the stranger continued. Sasuke heard the rustling of clothes; a match was lit and soon after the warm light of a candle flickered in the dark. The light was too faint to illuminate the room in its entirety, but Sasuke could tell now that he was sitting in a small cavern. The only exit led to a narrow passageway ascending steeply after only a few feet and presumably running around a lot of curves and corners, seeing that not a single ray of sunlight reached the stranger's lair. The man was crouching on the floor; vigilant, alert and agile like a hungry predator. He was enveloped in a mangy brown coat with his face half-hidden underneath the hood. Still, Sasuke was able to detect that the stranger's eyes were missing both irises and pupils. They were cold and milky white and it didn't take Sasuke long to understand that they were made of glass. He had allowed himself to be defeated by a blind man. What a disgrace! On the bright side, now that he was aware of his enemy's weakness, he might be able to take advantage of it. He didn't hesitate to give it a go and carefully examined his bonds. The ropes were tied up into complicated knots, but he knew that, given time, he would be able to loosen them.
The stranger chuckled quietly and it made Sasuke pause.
"Don't assume that I can't see you just because I don't have eyes", he cautioned, yet his voice sounded less threatening than teasing. "Do you know how bats locate their prey at night? It's possible to use chakra just like ultrasonic waves. I need neither light nor eyes to know what's going on. Don't bother."
What a monster, Sasuke thought and shifted closer to the wall. The stranger, however, didn't seem inclined to pursue the matter any further. Rather than punishing Sasuke for his attempted escape, he simply handed him a second cup of tea, which Sasuke took without any further resistance. If the alleged weakness turned out to be nonexistent, he had to be patient and wait until he found a real one.
"You don't know how lucky you are not to have grown up during a time of war", the stranger took up the former issue again. "To survive, a child needs to know how to hide and look after itself. You get dumped in a dirty hole and the grown-ups who know where you are, that you even exist, they leave and die. After one day you have nothing more to eat. After two days, there's no water left to drink and you know that you're going to die if you don't step outside, onto the battlefield, and try to fend for yourself somehow. Soon you learn to steal and to rob from the helpless or wounded or dead. Have you ever known the acrid smell of burning flesh? Did you ever have to seek shelter underneath corpses that are old and blue and bloated and full of maggots? Corpses you once knew as people – neighbors, relatives or even friends?"
He paused for a moment and fixed the gaze of his eerie glass eyes on Sasuke as though daring him to venture a remark. Sasuke remained silent. He thought of the dead he had seen as a child, thought of the carnage Itachi had shown him, and deemed it worse than the war the stranger had told him about. At least it wasn't someone close to you being to blame for the outbreak of war between villages.
"Had I been on my own back then, I'd have wanted to die", the stranger admitted. "In war you need something to live for, something you value so much that you don't mind crawling through the mud or sleeping next to your own vomit. To me, that something was a little cousin. Before the war he was just some relative I didn't spend a second thought on, but during the war he became my reason to go on. At some point death becomes a sweet temptation. It is one thing, though, to throw away your life, and another matter altogether if your death endangers someone who depends on you completely. If you go to great lengths to keep someone alive, that person becomes more and more important to you. Someday you find yourself incapable of giving up. I supported the both of us, I comforted him and I made promises I couldn't keep just to make him feel a little better. At the same time I took comfort in his presence. Without him, I wouldn't have survived as well as he couldn't have survived without me. I'm ashamed to admit that it took a war for me to learn to love a relative."
That was a lesson Sasuke had never required. He'd always loved his family and loved them still. That's why Itachi had to die. It was hardly surprising that the stranger couldn't relate to his strong desire for revenge, if he had needed to live through such desperate times to grasp the meaning of family. Sasuke didn't understand what he hoped to achieve with his story. Was he trying to tell him to cherish what he had, before it was too late? If so, he was barking up the wrong tree. Sasuke didn't have anyone anymore. Itachi had taken them all away.
"What then?" Sasuke asked, surprised at his own interest in the life of another, that wasn't his business and didn't concern him at all.
"Then the war was over", the stranger continued. "But once you've seen war, peace seems like a patchwork carpet. Somewhat makeshift and unreal. Everyone has lost somebody, but they have to try and forgive all the same, so that the slaughter doesn't start anew. My cousin and I had survived together, which is why I came to love him above everyone else. Until we became chūnin, we were together almost every day, training and watching the clouds and all the other things you do, when you're young and the war is over. I thought he could be a brother to me and I indulged in the illusion for a while. Then he actually got a little brother and the dream came to an end. I was right to assume that one could only love a little brother the way I loved him back then, as I saw the same kind of love in his eyes whenever he was with his newborn sibling. Blood is thicker than water, they say. Apparently the damned baby was so cute that in-between missions and babysitting, he didn't have time for me anymore. I was jealous. Frankly, I can't stand the brat even to this day. After all, what had he ever done for my cousin? Did he help him survive the war? Did he try to drive his fear away through soothing words and empty promises? I thought I had more of a right to his love, but then I understood: love isn't subject to merit, especially love between brothers. It's not about experiences shared. It's about having the same mother. As much as I'd have liked to be, I couldn't be a brother to him."
Sasuke, on the contrary, wished he'd never had a brother. The stranger was right, of course. He had loved Itachi at some point, without good reason. What had Itachi ever done for him? He remembered one or two occasions, on which he'd shown him how to throw a shuriken correctly, but otherwise he'd rarely taken notice of him. In retrospect he thought that it would have been for the best, had he accidently thrown a shuriken or two at Itachi. His parents would still be alive, then. No, he didn't have a brother anymore. In fact, he might have never had a brother. Maybe he'd just been too young to realize how much of a cruel and egoistic bastard his role model had really been.
If, for whatever messed up reason, the stranger wanted to give him a lecture in brotherly love, he had to be stark raving mad. There was no way he didn't know what happened to his family, if he was as familiar with Sasuke's background as he appeared to be. Shortly after a war had ended, forgiveness might be imperative, but that was a whole different story.
No one could seriously expect Sasuke to forgive and forget what had happened back then. That sudden, unexpected breach of trust had utterly shattered his life and left nothing but ruins and an empty shell; a daily routine of just going through the motions, the pretense of vitality, while all he did was keeping alive in order to one day punish the man who had taken away everyone and everything he loved in just one night. The stranger should be glad never to have had a brother.
"You don't know what you're talking about!" he retorted rudely, surprised how much venomous disdain could be expressed within so few words.
The stranger's empty stare seemed to burn holes into his forehead.
"I always know what I'm talking about", he said and carefully put down his teacup, before cutting Sasuke's shackles with a kunai. "Get up. It's time to go."
Silently Sasuke obeyed, though he was having a hard time finding his balance, with his hands still bound and being drained of Chakra. He wouldn't be able to run from the stranger like this, although he had come to doubt that it was truly necessary to escape. The stranger blew out the candle, subsequently shoving Sasuke into the pitch-black mouth of the adjacent passageway. It was a long walk and when they finally reached the exit, it was dark outside. Only the pale silvery light of a full moon illuminated a piece of woodland Sasuke didn't recognize. Konoha had to be a long way from here, he concluded.
"Make haste!" the stranger hurried him along. "I'll drop you off at your friend's camp to make sure you're safe. I don't have all night, though."
"Why do you even bother?" Sasuke wondered aloud, trying in vain to ignore the agonizing pain in his joints and muscles. "I'm perfectly able to walk on my own. It would be for the best, if you'd just let me go."
"To feed the wolves with that mulishly stubborn head of yours?" Resolutely the stranger shook his head. "I don't think so. No way in hell I'll let you wander off alone, considering the pitiful state you're in. Just hurry up and you'll be rid of me in no time."
"And who do think is to blame for 'the pitiful state' I'm in?" Sasuke hated to be treated like a helpless child on the best of days, let alone by a creepy strange shinobi, who had held him captive for no reason at all.
"It was your fault for chasing after me in the first place", the stranger explained with the same kind of forced patience people used when talking to petulant toddlers or the mentally deranged. It only fuelled Sasuke's anger. He felt belittled and really wasn't in the mood to take any more lectures the arrogant prick had to offer.
"Tell me where Itachi is, already!" he stubbornly insisted. "You know where he is, don't you? You want to prevent him from finally getting what he deserves, and that's why you refuse to tell me! Are you working with him? Are you hiding him?"
Without any prior warning the stranger punched him in the face with so much force that his nose immediately started bleeding. Then he proceeded to say in a dangerously quiet tone of voice: "I do not know where Itachi Uchiha is. And if I knew, I certainly wouldn't tell you. Just look at you. You're nothing but a weak and silly child and if I take your stubborn narrow-mindedness into account, I think it'd be for the best, if you never found out."
It was the eyes, those awful, artificial glass balls that silenced Sasuke, even though he wanted nothing more than to scream his anger and hurt out into the night.
"I'm sorry about your friends", the stranger said and breathed the cold air like an elixir of life. "They stood in my way. You all did."
"They are not my friends!" Sasuke protested firmly. He didn't have anyone anymore. He had nothing to live for but revenge. How could the stranger not see that?
"Don't be stupid", the stranger reprimanded him sternly. "You should be glad to have friends like them and actually make an effort to keep them. I had friends too, in the past. They're all gone now. I don't think anyone suspects I'm still alive. It's better this way."
For a while, they walked on in silence; on foot and on the ground, as Sasuke couldn't make his way through the treetops without chakra. At this pace it would take a small eternity for them to reach a village or Kakashi's camp and the silence soon became deafening. Sasuke was almost relieved when, eventually, the stranger decided to continue his story.
"When I couldn't be a brother, I tried to be a friend. And not just any friend. I wanted to be the best, since I loved my little cousin more than any of my team and class mates. It didn't really work, though. To survive a war means to grow up fast. You start thinking that duty and purpose are everything. But if you work too hard and give all your loyalty to your village or clan instead of those, who are truly close to you, you'll reach a point where you can't spare time for your friends any longer. Something else is always more important. There's always a reason not to visit and then, suddenly, it's too late. Before you even realize, a chasm opens out between you and you can't cross it anymore. I misplaced my loyalties and had to spy on my best friend. When I finally realized that the problem was rooted elsewhere, it cost me an eye. Do you know how it feels to regard your best friend as a traitor for weeks on end and then realize that you're the one who's actually siding with the wrong people?"
No, he didn't. However, Sasuke knew what it felt like to be betrayed by your own brother and to wake up each and every morning to an empty house, reminding you of what had happened and that you hadn't just imagined it.
"I'd love to spare you that awful feeling, but some things you have to experience firsthand to well and truly understand. It pains me to say this, yet it's true. When I eventually came to see the truth, it was far too late. We were past the point of no return and I knew I had to let him go. It is the thrice damned common good that always swallows the best of society first, utterly destroying them and leaving nothing but a heap of bones. There was one more thing I came to understand, back then; I …" He hesitated, for the first time seemingly uncertain whether to speak on. Far in the distance a dog was barking.
"I loved him still. Not as a cousin or a brother or a friend. I was in love; head over heels in love. I love him even to this day. You're probably shocked now. Nonetheless it's true. I couldn't tell him, of course. Not with disaster about to happen. Truth be told, it was all so hopeless that I wanted to die. I gave up my second eye for him and tried to drown myself in the river. He saved me and took me away, shortly before he left the village and everything that was dear to him. I have no idea, who or what they pulled out of the water in my stead."
The sound of dogs barking came closer and the stranger suddenly stopped dead in his tracks. He was obviously wary, but seemed determined to finish his story all the same.
"Ever since I first learned to see without my eyes, I started looking for him. The guy you've been guarding was my first lead in months, so I couldn't just let my chance slip away. I …"
All of a sudden the stranger forcefully pushed Sasuke away; only seconds before a shower of shuriken came pelting down on him. Snarling and growling, ninja-dogs broke out of the bushes, quickly surrounding him, and then Kakashi appeared from seemingly nowhere. Unwilling to engage in close combat, he tried his best to keep the stranger at a distance, until he got his student out of harm's way. A kunai was the last thing he threw before he reached Sasuke. The blade brushed the stranger's hood – Sasuke was sure he had deliberately let it happen – and pulled it off his head. Underneath, the headband of Konoha was revealed. Deep scratches right over the village sign betrayed that he was in fact a nuke-nin, just like Sasuke had expected him to be.
Kakashi raised a hand and the dogs fell silent. There was no need to fight.
"The man your bookmaker intends to meet is called Kakuzu", the stranger said out of the blue. In the moonlight his skin was wan and pale as though he was already dead, as though he had died in the river just like he'd wanted to. Short and tousled raven hair surrounded the corpse-like face just like a picture frame.
"He's working with Akatsuki." The stranger smiled weakly. "Hiya, Kakashi! Long time no see."
Sasuke, who had landed face first in the mud, struggled to his feet to see what was so special about the stranger that it rendered Kakashi speechless. He recognized the face, albeit not immediately. It was one in a long row of dead faces he hadn't thought of in a long time.
"Shunshin no Shisui", Kakashi stated in a low voice, torn between shock and awestruck disbelief. "You're alive."
Shisui gave a polite, confirming nod. Then he put on his hood again and vanished in the blink of an eye. It was impossible to trace his movements with the bare eye, for he was too fast.
Kakashi let him go and it never occured to Sasuke to object. All of a sudden the stranger's story made a lot more sense than he could bear. He understood now. The four kinds of love Shisui had told him about were all meant for his big brother.