Title: Inheritance of Hatred: Chapter 17
Summary: In the midst of war, Naruto has only one goal: to bring Uchiha Sasuke home. And to that end, he will risk it all to retrieve the one person closest to his heart.
It wasn’t a long journey to their destination, but nonetheless it was a blur to Sasuke. He maintained a calm expression, but it barely masked the emotional upheaval ravaging his conscience. Suddenly, the world was so different, his perspective completely changed. His defection from the Leaf, his ruthless quest for power…it all paled in comparison to Naruto and the revelations he brought with him. Yes, the jinchūriki was strong physically, but it was the strength of his incorporeal qualities that Sasuke had not expected.
I can’t bring your family back, but…you can’t bring mine back either.
In that moment, he realized with a start that in spite of their differences, he and Naruto were intrinsically the same. The blond could have easily walked down the same dark path he himself had chosen and harbored a lifelong hatred of Konoha. Instead, he set out to bring about change, defying the shinobi cycle of war, grief, and retribution.
I want you to forgive me, and forgive Konoha.
Just a few short months ago, the person he had been would have scoffed at such a suggestion. Vengeance and forgiveness were ideas that did not coexist in his frame of mind. Now however, the dark-haired shinobi was forced to reexamine his previously held notions and ask himself: could he find forgiveness in him? It wasn’t too long ago that he would have confidently answered no. But Naruto changed all that, and Sasuke felt as though life had returned to his hardened heart.
The ANBU guarding him finally stopped outside a set of doors. They were made of wood that was a deep, rich brown, flecked with lines of lighter shades. Stretching to the ceiling, they were probably meant to be imposing. That effect wasn’t lost on Sasuke.
They were expected, and two shinobi from within the courtroom pulled the doors open. The Uchiha was slightly taken aback to see quite a number of people gathered. Most of them sat in chairs clustered in a semi-circle around a central platform. It was there that a circular table had been placed, obviously a place of honor. Therefore, Sasuke wasn’t surprised to see the familiar faces of the five Kages seated around it. A part of him marveled at the contrast between this meeting and his first encounter with these leaders: the first time, he’d intruded on their summit with murder in his heart. Now, it was they who would be judging him.
The cavernous chamber had been silent, but now a hissing rush of whispers rose into the air at Sasuke’s entrance. He keenly felt every single gaze focused on him, sensed the apprehension and wariness bleeding off each man and woman like blasts of wind. Some familiar faces dotted the crowd: Shikamaru, Choji, and Ino sat together towards the front. While her teammates remained impassive, Ino visibly paled. Next to her, Sakura sat tensely, her features troubled. She quickly took Ino’s hand, lending comfort as well as taking it from her best friend. Directly in front of them, Temari and Kankuro were alert in their chairs, eyes taking note of the Uchiha briefly before resuming watch of their younger brother. There were others he thought he recognized, former classmates and shinobi from other villages, but Sasuke’s attention was inevitably drawn back to the central table.
Gaara occupied the middle position, and he’d stood when Sasuke had been led in. He hadn’t changed much in the time since the dark-haired teen had seen him, but those black-rimmed eyes possessed a sureness and wisdom beyond his young age. He considered the prisoner before him silently, revealing nothing in words or body language. Tsunade and the Raikage sat to his left. The Godaime also maintained a stoic expression, but beside her, A bore a look of mild irritation. On the opposite side, the Tsuchikage frowned down at Sasuke, his head and shoulders barely peeking over the edge of the table. Next to him, Mei Terumī looked serenely on, a faint smile on her lips.
The four ANBU halted him before the village leaders. They all seemed to be waiting for something, but what that was exactly eluded Sasuke. He belatedly noticed two empty chairs behind the Hokage, and he faintly wondered who they had been reserved for.
Without warning, the buzz of quiet chatter died away. The expansive doors opened once more, this time admitting Kakashi and Naruto. The blond had donned his jacket again, keeping in step with his sensei. Together, the pair mounted the steps to the elevated platform. Tsunade murmured a few words to them as they took their seats before turning back to look at Sasuke. A tense hush settled over the room, and the Uchiha felt cold droplets of sweat trail down his spine.
“Uchiha Sasuke,” Gaara finally spoke, his strong voice easily carrying to the corners of the room. “You have been brought here to stand trial for your crimes against the Five Shinobi nations. The charges against you are many and grave.” The Kazekage’s eyes were utterly unreadable as he talked, and Sasuke felt that surely…his death was forthcoming. “You have been found guilty of defecting from the Leaf; of knowingly and willingly colluding with S-ranked criminals Orochimaru, Kabuto, and Uchiha Madara; for conspiring to bring harm to the Hidden Villages, and unlawfully attacking the Kage summit with intent to kill.” The Sand leader paused, crossing his arms. “The list goes on, Uchiha-san. But treason and high crimes against a village are grounds enough for your immediate execution.”
Sudden motion to the side caused Sasuke’s attention to waver. Naruto had moved, leaning forward sharply as if to speak. Kakashi instantly grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him back. The Copy Ninja seemed to say something lowly to his student; whatever it was, it caused Naruto to snap his mouth shut and sit back, albeit reluctantly.
His mouth felt as dry as the sand Gaara commanded as the Kazekage stood impassively before them. The red-haired shinobi’s eyes flickered momentarily to the side, towards the Raikage. “Do you think that would be a fair ruling, Sasuke?”
Head snapping up, the Uchiha frowned. He hadn’t expected Gaara to ask such a question so directly. “Do I have a choice?” His opinion seemed pointless at this stage. So why had Gaara asked? Sasuke turned his head slightly, looking towards where Naruto sat. The blond wore a similar look of uncertainty on his face.
The Kazekage’s expression didn’t change, but Sasuke felt instinctively he was seeking a specific reaction from him. “There’s always a choice, Sasuke. You of all people should know that.”
Nothing in this world is perfect, Sasuke. Konoha, like everyone else, has made its fair share of mistakes.
He himself was far from exempt from that fact. Naruto had made that especially plain.
“It’s fair.” His words echoed hollowly in the open air. Whispers started anew amongst the audience.
Naruto gasped audibly, rising from his chair. This time, Tsunade turned in her chair and firmly caught Naruto by the arm. “Trust our judgment, brat,” she murmured, using her considerable strength to push him back down. Beside her, A was gazing down at Sasuke intensely, a considering look in his eyes. Tsunade noted his deliberation and cocked her head. “Well, Raikage?”
The large man frowned, but snorted and gave a reluctant nod before turning away. “I think you’re wrong about him, but so be it.”
Hearing this, Gaara’s lip twitched into the tiniest of smiles. He glanced at Naruto, finally letting relief show in his gaze. The blond jinchūriki visibly relaxed, slumping in his seat.
The Kazekage cleared his throat, bringing silence to the room once more. “All right then.” He looked for a minute to each of his fellow leaders, watching for their agreement before continuing. Sasuke felt the tension in his body coil tight, ears straining for each word. “Uchiha Sasuke, the verdict this council has reached is thus: your actions and wrongdoings warrant the harshest punishment shinobi law can give.”
The dark-haired teen felt his blood run cold, nausea rising in the pit of his stomach.
“However, Hatake Kakashi and Uzumaki Naruto have also given testimony in your defense. Based on this and evidence presented on your behalf, we have decided to modify this decision. For your part in helping to defeat Uchiha Madara and end the threat he posed to the Five Shinobi nations, we Kages offer you a choice: in lieu of a death sentence, you may spend your remaining years incarcerated in a location to be determined.”
That hardly sounded like an improvement. “And my other option?”
Gaara took a step back, and Tsunade rose to her feet. “You are a traitor and a criminal, Uchiha. Your other choice is to demonstrate your fealty to Konoha and show a commitment to promoting the welfare of your fellow shinobi.”
This statement confused him: how exactly was he supposed to do something like that? And oddly, Naruto was looking at him with hope clear in his blue eyes.
“You would be required to submit to a seal of loyalty.” Tsunade looked gravely down at him. “Before you choose, understand this: this technique is not something to be taken lightly. You must submit to it willingly, and abide forevermore by its conditions. From the moment it is placed upon you, should you ever again resume your previous path and act against Konoha or her allies…this seal will stop your heart.”
How fitting. Sasuke found himself surprisingly composed at her words: it seemed a strange calm had settled over him. He saw clearly that this was a test of his resolve: if Sasuke ever wavered on this new road, death would claim him immediately. A part of him wondered if it would be easier to waste away in some secluded prison.
We don’t know what kind of people we truly are until the moment before our deaths.
Itachi’s voice echoed as loud as a bell tolling in his ears. But his brother had been wrong. He’d died and after all this time, Sasuke was still unsure as to the kind of person Uchiha Itachi had been. Hero, villain, sibling, murderer…Itachi had played all these roles and left unresolved mysteries in his wake. Was that a fate he wanted to share in? Death was constantly hovering over a shinobi and struck without warning. Was Itachi the man he had hoped to be when he died? In that moment before life completely left his body, had his brother known regret or relief?
He closed his eyes, seeing vividly the memories of that pale, cold face with crimson blood dribbling down his chin. Two fingers, slick with rain and lacking strength, had stretched out to tap Sasuke on his forehead one last time. Itachi had tried to be a brother in his final minutes, of this Sasuke was sure. But…what did that matter when weighed against the years of solitude and pain he had confined his younger sibling to?
Gradually, Sasuke opened his eyes again, looking slowly around at all the faces concentrating solely on him. Itachi’s voice might linger and haunt his thoughts, but Sasuke refused to follow in his brother’s footsteps or be overshadowed by his memories any longer. He was yet unsure as to the kind of person he wanted to become, but Sasuke preferred to find out and fulfill it for more than just a few fleeting moments. He stopped when his gaze locked with Naruto’s. “I choose to be sealed.”
The whispering in the courtroom rose dramatically in volume, but Tsunade made no move to quiet them. “Perhaps you were wrong about him, Raikage,” she murmured to the man next to her.
A’s eyes were still wary, tinged with suspicion as he looked over the dark-haired teen. “We’ll see.” But Tsunade and Gaara had been adamant about sparing him from the death penalty. If their trust in the last Uchiha proved to be misplaced, the Raikage knew well that the seal would correct their mistake without delay. So grudgingly and resignedly, he grunted his agreement.
Turning away, Tsunade made her way around the table, descending down the short flight of steps to the floor. Her robes billowed around her as she stopped in front of Sasuke, rolling up her sleeves gracefully. “Kneel, Sasuke. And remove your shirt.”
He did so after only a moment’s hesitation, feeling the chill of the floor creep up his knees. The cool air made goosebumps rise on his exposed back, but Sasuke ignored it. His attention was focused solely on Naruto, who sat with a strange expression on his face. He only looked up when the Godaime drew a small knife from her pocket. Its silver blade glinted brightly, the edge keen and curved wickedly. This she dragged quickly over her right palm, drawing bright red blood to the surface. Tsunade let the blood pool in her hand before she extended her index finger, watching the vibrant color dribble to the tip. It was then she began tracing a circular pattern in the center of Sasuke’s chest, precisely around the seal Naruto had placed. He’d flinched when her hand touched him, but didn’t move away.
“This technique is similar to the one Kakashi once placed on your curse seal,” she said in an undertone, finger still drawing the kanji in a tight-knit circle. “It relies on your strength of will to remain active. That means if at any time you revert back to the avenger you were, the seal will collapse. If that happens, it will cut off the chakra pathways and arteries feeding into your heart.” She hoped he understood the gravity of what would be done with him. She found herself marveling at the change Naruto had brought about within him. Lesser men would rather be imprisoned and hope for a chance at escape.
But Sasuke merely nodded, feeling a gentle peace filter into his consciousness. “I understand.”
“I hope you do,” she returned lowly, so only he could hear. “You don’t think this is a tighter restraint than a jail cell?”
The dark-haired teen didn’t blink, unfazed by her question. “I think I am chained by many things that your eyes cannot see and your mind cannot comprehend.” His attention slid slowly back towards Naruto. “But for once, I am offered freedom. I have no qualms.”
Tsunade smiled despite the gravity of the situation. “All right. These are the terms of your sealing. Listen closely and repeat after me.”
Naruto sat rigidly in his chair, the sheer amount of relief and hope he felt nearly flooring him. Even after their talk and what had happened, a small part of him had worried Sasuke would choose imprisonment. But now, the lingering uncertainty had finally left those dark, stormy eyes, and the Uchiha looked towards him with a determination that made his heart skip a beat.
“Uchiha Sasuke,” she said clearly, her voice reverberating and reaching every single person gathered in the chamber. “What say you?”
Sasuke remained facing the Hokage, but his eyes never left Naruto’s. “I, Uchiha Sasuke, do hereby solemnly pledge my loyalty to Konoha and her allies. I vow to defend and safeguard her borders, to aid and protect her people, to sacrifice for and honor her leader.” He felt chakra begin to flow down her fingertips like an electrical current, running along the wet markings and activating the seal.
“Do you swear to never raise your hand in violence against the Leaf or pursue goals which would undermine her interests?”
“I do.” Tendrils of energy curled around his rapidly beating heart, feeling painfully uncomfortable for a moment before fading away.
Tsunade gave one final, controlled burst of chakra, removing her hand as the seal glowed and locked into place. “And what do you give?”
“I give my sword and my life, to use as you see fit.” Sasuke’s voice was steady, and Naruto found himself blinking back a sudden welling of emotion in his eyes.
“Then with this blood, I bind you to your oath. Rise, shinobi of Konoha.”
He felt a little lightheaded, but rose as smoothly as he could manage to his feet. The marked flesh on his chest felt warm for a minute, but the sensation gradually dulled until it was no longer noticeable. Naruto’s gaze never wavered, full of unguarded happiness and relief. It wholly absorbed his attention, so that it was several moments before Sasuke registered the words being spoken around him.
The Raikage rose from his seat. “I request an additional provision to his sentence, Hokage-sama.”
“Name it.” Tsunade gestured to the ANBU waiting close by. They resumed their positions next to Sasuke.
“I propose a probationary period — one year in length— set for Uchiha Sasuke. During that time, he will be restricted from leaving the borders of Fire Country.” He didn’t bother to mask the suspicion still lingering in him. After all, this was the man who’d tried to capture Killer B. “After that point, we shall meet again to evaluate his conduct.”
Tsunade pondered his proposal for a moment before looking to the other three leaders in turn. The Mizukage smiled, resting her chin on a smooth hand. “That sounds like a reasonable request.”
“Then so be it.” The Godaime turned back to the ninja in question. “That is our ruling in its entirety, Sasuke.” She nodded at the team of ANBU. “Take him back to the hospital.”
Before he could think to move, the shinobi around him were ushering Sasuke briskly back through the door. He barely had enough time to turn his head, gaze back and catch a look at Naruto’s face. The jinchūriki looked back at him with reassurance in his eyes, mouthing clearly, “I’ll come find you.”