I'm gonna put in some song comments for the folks at home. Replace with whatever you like, but this is what I was really listening to when I wrote this monster.


By Geno Calamari

/To start, I suggest a nice helping of 'Somewhat Damaged' by Nine Inch Nails./

Uchiha Itachi lay on his back. Most of his body was numb, but he could still feel the torn blades of grass on the back of his neck. He tried to move his left arm, but found that in its current, broken condition all it did was complain. Painfully.

His head shifted so he could look out over his left shoulder. Yes, the arm was indeed broken. And stabbed. And maimed. Not that it mattered really; he was in a bad way all over.

His sharp eyes caught Sasuke dragging himself upright, but only getting to his hands and knees. From the way he was shaking, Itachi surmised the damage he sustained was extremely severe. The younger man would probably collapse again in a few… no, there he goes.

Pitching face down, Uchiha Sasuke crashed most ungracefully to the packed earth, a small cry of pain slipping from his lips. His brother had broken most of his ribs. It took everything he had to roll himself onto his back.

Itachi snorted and Sasuke twitched violently. His head snapped around and examined his fallen brother. The face betrayed shock, his mouth open in a silent 'o.' "You're still alive?" his voice was incredulous, but it wasn't surprising considering the sheer power of the final technique he unleashed on Itachi. The elder brother stared back impassively.

"Aa," he said after a pause. Itachi disliked conversing with Sasuke, because his brother always had all these irritating questions like 'Why?' and 'What's wrong with you?' and, recently, 'How did you manage it all?' But stupid questions like that were Sasuke all over. Itachi believed that by now, Sasuke should already know the answers to those questions.

Now if he would just hurry up and finish the job.

It wasn't that Itachi wanted to die, but he understood well that he had to. For the sins he had committed, he was destined for punishment. It did not anger or sadden him, because the anthracite-haired man knew that was the way the world worked. Didn't mean that he wasn't going to fight it every step of the way, because Itachi was the sort that believed in going the whole nine yards on everything. But it did mean that he had enough dignity and foresight to not embarrass himself by kicking and screaming and making a bloody idiot out of himself when that punishment came.

Or cry out some long-winded exposition. Those had always irritated him, because he was an efficient man by nature and habit, and when an opponent wasted his time trying to talk his way out of fighting, Itachi felt it was his duty to correct this misconception.

No, Itachi wanted Sasuke to expedite the process because he knew Orochimaru was skulking around somewhere, much like a snake in the proverbial grass the man was so fond of. Itachi knew his limits well enough to know that he was not fatally wounded and, if he knew his capacity well enough, he was almost positive that he was incapable of fending off the snake sennin in his present mangled condition. And Orochimaru wouldn't hesitate to take Itachi back to his lair and peel out his soul and take a walk in the Uchiha's skin.

After all, why would anyone want Sasuke when they could have Itachi?

For the first time in almost a year, Itachi frowned, truly distressed by this thought.

Was this Orochimaru's plan all along? Get Sasuke to weaken me to the point where he could take over my body without resistance? His brother was struggling to get up again, but toppled like a small child once again. It fit, knowing Orochimaru as well as Itachi did. The man was seductive, manipulative and utterly ruthless. People said Itachi was callous, but Orochimaru made him look downright friendly by comparison. Well played, he thought bitterly, knowing there was nothing he could do now to stop him.

"I can't go on." Sasuke admitted, ashamed.

"Che," Itachi's mouth pressed into a hard line, "To come so far, only to fail," he sneered, hoping to engage that righteous anger his brother often exhibited. As it was, all he could feel was disappointment. He had been almost positive that Sasuke would do it this time.

Sasuke glared right back at him, but did nothing. There was silence for a while, though how long, Itachi did not know. His eyes were beginning to see double, and he would have bet money that Sasuke had given him a concussion, were he a betting man. For a second, Itachi hoped that he would pass out from the pain before his little brother began asking him questions.

"So…" Sasuke began, trying to sound cool and casual but failing, "what do we do now?" the older man cursed under his breath.

"Lay here." The elder brother's head rolled back to gaze impassively at the sky, and that annoyed the younger brother greatly.

How dare he ignore me after I kicked his ass! Look at me, you bastard, look at me! Had Itachi been looking at him, he would have seen this desire reflected in Sasuke's onyx eyes. Do something! Anything!

"Talk to me," the boy with the midnight-blue hair demanded.

"Why?" Now Itachi just sounded bored.

"Because I beat you," Sasuke growled, "and after all this fucking time, I deserve some goddamn answers, that's why!"

"You didn't defeat me," Itachi corrected, "and if you were really capable of doing so, you wouldn't need me to tell you answers." His voice was rough from under-use. The taller man could speak in short sentences and not have it be obvious, but years of silence had taken most of the lustrous quality that Sasuke could remember from their childhood. But the disappointment was still unmistakable.

He flinched as though slapped. It was the first time he could really remember Itachi ever sounding scornful.

"I knocked you into the ground, damn it!" the boy raged, "I kicked your ass! I won this time!"

Itachi scoffed. "If you won, then why are we having his conversation?" the younger man could not hold his brother's intense gaze, "Did you not swear to kill me and avenge the clan, Sasuke?" he flushed with embarrassment as the elder Uchiha continued, "You aren't even strong enough to do that much, so how can you be strong enough to endure the answers you so desperately desire?"

They didn't speak again for a few minutes. Each brooding silently, their foul moods grew exponentially.

Eventually, Sasuke risked speaking again, "Why did you do it?" Itachi looked over at him, his eyebrows furrowed in a glare, "Kill them all, I mean," he clarified.

It was unnecessary. The grey-haired man knew exactly what Sasuke meant, even before he had spoken. It was the benefit of knowing his brother almost as well as he knew himself. He didn't answer for a long time. In his mind, he was weighing the pros and cons of telling Sasuke. Getting him to shut up was a definite plus and far outweighed the nagging annoyance of being misunderstood.

"There is always more than one reason for an action. Do you really want to know?"

"Yes," Sasuke answered, without vacillation.

"I killed them because they were weak and deserved to die." He said nothing more and went back to staring at the flock of birds overhead.

Sasuke rolled his eyes, "Why though?" His brother had always been purposefully vague whenever he spoke. The marked Uchiha had once thought it was because he wasn't old enough to understand what Itachi was talking about, but as he had grown older, Sasuke came to realize that some of the things that his aniki told him made absolutely no sense. Probably on purpose, cause his brother had always like to do things like that.

"Because the clan wanted to gain knowledge without bothering to understand it." By the look on his little brother's face, it was obvious that he did not understand. Typical. He sighed, "They took any technique they wanted without bothering to learn how or why it worked. The Sharingan does not require us to understand the technique to use it. That is why the Uchiha were feared."

At least he's paying attention, both Uchiha thought. "So what?" Sasuke asked, still unsure of the point.

"True strength isn't the number of techniques you know," Itachi said, "True strength comes with self-understanding and the knowledge of 'Why' and 'How,'" a delicate grey eyebrow peaked, "If you were truly strong, then you would not have had to ask 'Why?' Sasuke. With this true strength you would have defeated me..."

"So you're saying the most powerful clan in Konoha was weak?" he had a hard time imagining his father and uncles as anything but pillars of strength. But Itachi had killed them all, so that would make him what? A god amongst men? Sasuke had just proved that wrong by immobilizing him.


Had Sasuke been capable, he would have thrown up his hands in frustration and walked away. As it was, he lay there and stewed in his own anger. When the quiet had stretched long enough to be considered uncomfortable, Sasuke spoke up again.

"Why didn't you go all-out on me?" his voice came out softer than he had expected.

"Hn," was Itachi's clever retort, clearly amused by the question for some unfathomable reason, "the Mangekyou Sharingan would have canceled one another out, Sasuke. It would be a waste of chakra." When Sasuke nodded as though it were news to him, his brother's eyes narrowed, "You did know that?"

Now Sasuke gave him a feral grin, "No, I didn't." The grey-haired man hated it when someone knew something he didn't.

"But, if you have the Mangekyou Sharingan, that much should have been obvious," his eyes widened as a stray thought nudged its way into the spotlight, "Certainly you have…" Sasuke's grin spread, "the Kyuubi boy?" Sasuke shook his head slowly, delighting in the confusion in his brother's eyes, "the girl?" again, Itachi was denied, "that idiot Hatake?" if Sasuke didn't know better, he'd have to say the other man was begging. He still shook his head in the negative.

For a blind moment of panic, Itachi realized that he had completely overestimated Sasuke's capabilities. His mind fumbled for the name of another possible sacrifice… "It was the Yamanaka girl, right?" he almost felt relieved when he finally came up with a person.

"No aniki," now his otouto's voice was measured, but a mocking note of satisfaction rang through, "You once told me to run and live miserably. I did just what you asked."

Confusion spilled out of Itachi's eyes and ran down his face. There was respect, shock and a little bit of horror there now and the boy knew his brother understood what he was saying already. But he said it anyway, knowing that he would take pleasure in his brother's reaction.

"I never let anyone get close, Itachi, just like you told me to," his brother's mouth was hanging open in disbelief now, "I can't use the Mangekyou Sharingan!" Sasuke had never before taken such glee in his own shortcomings.

Deep down, Itachi was squirming, shocked to know that his useless, pathetic little brother had never mastered the technique that had given him so much strength. How could he have injured me so severely without it…? It didn't make any sense, and Itachi hated it when things didn't add up.

And guessing by the smug look on Sasuke's face, he must have understood exactly how his brother felt.

There was a time in his life when Itachi would have been pushed to violence by a smirk like that. But it had been so long since someone had actually understood him that he considered it enough of a novelty to allow Sasuke his moment. He had thinking to do instead.

When Itachi didn't ask, Sasuke's superior attitude slipped. "Well," he glowered, "Don't you want to know?"

"No." Itachi's head rolled to look away from Sasuke and the younger man distinctly heard the sound of bone grating together. He frowned, knowing his brother was unable to see it. How close to breaking his neck had Sasuke come? Just a few inches higher with that last kick? Just a little bit harder?

"I have figured it out." And his brother didn't doubt him. He wasn't a genius of frightening potential for nothing, after all.

"Oh," Sasuke said, non-plussed. His moment of triumph was swept away and all he had now was the aching pain along his spine and limbs.

He had used a kinjutsu to beat his brother. It was one of the more self-destructive of those sorts of techniques, but it was forbidden none-the-less. It had taken quite a lot to get someone to teach it to him, and once he'd learned it, he had left the Leaf for good. People had cried, Naruto had threatened him, and Sakura had begged him to stay, but it was not to be. The calling for his brother's blood was far too strong, regardless of what he was offered.

So he ran headlong into Orochimaru's clutches, knowing full well what the snake would do with him when he completed his objective. But he knew that the sennin would allow him to achieve it. Hell, he'd do everything he could to assist him, because Orochimaru was terrified of Itachi, and with good reason. Rumor among the curse seals was that Itachi was the reason Orochimaru lost his original body. Whenever Sasuke spoke his name, Orochimaru seemed to pale just a little more than usual and a fine sweat would break out on his forehead.

The sennin had taught him jutsu and trained him to be the strongest of all his many subordinates.

But Sasuke had never told him about the kinjutsu. It was his trump card and who knew where Itachi had ears and eyes.

So he had waited and trained until the day had arrived when he was confident that he could fight Itachi for the very last time. With his training complete and his physical body perfected, Sasuke had gone about perfecting his soul. He had abandoned the memories of his old life and the Uchiha clan as he set ablaze the sprawling Uchiha compound. He had given away his compassion when he found a familiar face injured on the side of the road.

"I never expected this of you, Uchiha." Neji fingered the bandages on his arms and chest as though they were bonds.

"Just say 'Thank You' Hyuuga and tell me what you know about my brother." His arms were crossed over his chest and his lips were set in a hard line.

So Neji had, and he told him of the accord they had struck during their short, one-sided battle. Neji had walked away the loser there, but it was not surprising. No one but Sasuke could kill Itachi and that Hyuuga was fooling himself if he believed otherwise. That's just how it was.

To say the least, Sasuke had been surprised. A little relieved, because one of his duties was lifted now, and it had hardened his resolved even more. Even Orochimaru had been shocked when Sasuke strode boldly through the front doors and demanded to speak with him. The bastard had recovered his equilibrium quickly, though.

He had found Itachi in the middle of the night and they had been battling for hours. Genjutsu is just slightly better than useless against a Sharingan, so they had both dispensed with that quickly. Itachi was quite a bit better than Sasuke in the fields of Ninjutsu and Taijutsu, so he had been at a great disadvantage through the fight.

It had been foolish to count on the cursed seal. The mastery of flames given at the second level was as nothing in comparison to the Amaterasu Sharingan. Where Sasuke could bend the flame to his will, Itachi could make it dance. Fire followed his every thought and whim, spreading and condensing and consuming on a level Sasuke could only hope to imitate. When in the thrall of the sun god, Itachi became the very essence of the inferno, destroying all that dared to touch him.

Except Sasuke. His immunity prevented that. Only an Uchiha can stop another Uchiha.

So Sasuke had lunged to grapple his brother, and they had fought a desperate taijutsu battle that pushed both to the limits of their strength and reflexes. Itachi was still superior. The younger Uchiha could feel the gap between them, and for the first time he understood that it was simply impossible for him to ever surpass his elder brother.

So he had activated the kinjutsu, without hesitation or reservations. Because it was the only option he had.

"You opened the gates," Itachi's voice was dripping with poison. Sasuke didn't flinch.

"Yeah. I know you're better than I am at everything, Itachi. So I did the only thing I could to win," he said it without remorse, "I opened six of them."

He had been pushed away, long enough for Itachi to draw his ninjato. Sasuke came in hard, almost too fast for his brother to see. The flickering image of dark hair contrasted with pale skin had been the only warning the older brother had received. He reacted, slicing across the approaching blur with all the strength he possessed. Sasuke's Sharingan eyes had picked up the counter, but he was unable to avoid the blade. That same speed that made him near-invisible trapped him into making his moves too fast for his reflexes to allow for adjustments.

So he batted it aside with his hand. It had cut off the last three fingers, but it had not slowed his momentum appreciably. He was almost positive that Orochimaru would be extremely irritated that his perfect host body was missing fingers. Sasuke didn't care anymore.

He didn't need that hand for the Daishishi Rendan, anyway.

And here they were. Both of them broken and battered, neither one able to move, and waiting for Orochimaru to come and claim his prize.

"As much as I wanted to be, aniki, I am not you," Sasuke laughed bitterly, "I just couldn't kill anyone for this technique, you know. It has to be my closest friend."

Itachi was looking at him now with an expression that clearly asked for Sasuke to cut short his self-aggrandizement and get around to the point. It was a cold and cruel look, and Sasuke had to force himself to stop his recoil. But he mastered himself, imagining his skin as steel, his soul hard as diamond for what he had to say.

"There was only one person who ever got close enough," he smiled, a bittersweet smile, "Aniki, you are my closest friend."

The implications hit his older brother quite squarely in the face. His callous expression went slack and he drew a breath, perhaps to denounce him as an idiot or to tell him some other vague nonsense, but it didn't matter anymore, because Sasuke had said what he wanted to say. But the look in his brother's eye shocked him as all the walls and defenses fell away, leaving nothing but the fragile core of Itachi's mind.

Then the elder's face broke into the first true smile he had smiled in years. He looked ten years younger. A dry rustling noise reached the younger Uchiha's ears. It took him a moment to realize that the gentle twitching of his brother's shoulders and this odd noise was laughter. Uchiha Itachi was laughing.

"Brilliant," he said, his voice low and breathy. He had always been a great admirer of efficiency, and this was just perfect, as far as he was concerned. "I underestimated you, otouto," his eyes were smiling along with the rest of his face. Sasuke could only nod.

"Forgive me, Sasuke."

/Switch to 'The Fragile,' again by Nine Inch Nails. This is the one I absolute require that you listen to./

They were silent again, and Sasuke began to wonder when Orochimaru would show up and ruin this perfect moment.

The elder brother broke the stillness for the first time, "Why'd you do it?"

Clearly caught off guard, Sasuke said the first thing that came to his mind. "Do what?"

"Throw everything away," he imagined the other waving his hand in an expansive gesture, "you had everything, you know."

"Che," Sasuke rolled onto his side with great difficultly and stared directly as his brother, "I lost everything I really wanted," he chuckled, "Sakura… that stupid girl… she offered me everything if I would just stay." His brother raised an elegant eyebrow and Sasuke answered his question, "She even went so far as to offer her body… but when she started kissing me, all I could see was mother and father… and I just… couldn't put my hands on her body. So I pushed her away and left Konoha as fast as I could."

Itachi said nothing. He was absolutely awful at being sympathetic. The word 'pathetic' was in there, and nothing about the renegade Uchiha was 'pathetic.' But he did understand. Comprehension was his gift.

"So I came after you, because this has to end, Itachi. I can't keep living looking over my shoulder, expecting to see you there," he shook slightly, "I can't keep living knowing that you're still alive and free and able to do it again."

His brother looked away and Sasuke trailed off into silence.

So softly, the words trailed on the edge of Sasuke's hearing. But they cut through his consciousness like a chidori, "Did the Hyuuga keep his promise?" It was almost like his brother was uncomfortable with the subject.

"Aa. It's been dealt with."

Truth be told, Itachi was not comfortable with the topic of conversation, but he found his thoughts to be straying to it more often these days. It wasn't so surprising, he figured, but it was… irritating that his mind drifted so frequently, even if the topic did fill him with this odd sense of pride.

Sasuke was talking again, and he had to focus hard to bring himself from his memories, "It'll fulfill our clan's destiny, just like you wanted." A small, satisfied smile crept onto the elder Uchiha's lips and Sasuke knew better than to mention it. His brother might raise those impenetrable defenses and then he'd be lost again.

"Did you love her?" Instantly, Sasuke regretted asking. His brother's eyes hardened and looked away from his face. Cursing himself a fool, the younger brother shifted himself closer to his only living relative.

"I could ask you the same question," Itachi snapped, his voice clipping each word precisely, betraying his anger.

"Gomen," Sasuke mumbled, looking away to hide the pain washing over his face, "I shouldn't have asked. It's just that…" he sighed and swallowed his pride, "I don't know what love feels like anymore… and I was wondering if you knew… it was wrong of me to ask."

Itachi did not look back at him, "I don't know," he answered, "I just might have." His little brother didn't respond, but he knew that he felt the same way.

"Why did you leave her?" Sasuke queried.

"Why didn't you stay with her?" Itachi countered. Sasuke had to admit he had a fair point. They both had things to do. Itachi was a wanted criminal and couldn't bring that down on her head. Sasuke was an avenger without a chance first, and a person a distant second.

He had pushed Sakura away, yes, but he had asked a favor of Naruto, just after the blonde boy turned sixteen.

"Naruto," he said suddenly, "Don't ever stop loving her."

"Huh?" the blonde had mumbled, his eyes squinted in confusion, "What the hell are you talking about now, Sasuke-baka?"

"Don't stop loving her," the raven-haired boy repeated, "because I'm going to be gone someday and she'll need you."

"Bah," Naruto scoffed, completely missing the point, "you're not going anywhere as long as I'm around, Sasuke!"

All Sasuke had done was turn around and walk away, smiling ever-so-slightly.

Because he knew Naruto would care for her and protect her. It's just the way the kitsune-boy was. And because Sasuke, as much as he was loath to admit it, was concerned for the pink-haired girl. Sasuke may have been cold and had to experience emotion through other people, but he was extremely observant and objective. He understood Naruto; he could see past the shell that he erected around himself and he knew the blonde's inner-self very well. It hadn't been enough to crack Sasuke's own shell, but it had been enough for the Uchiha to call the Uzumaki friend.

So he had left, because he knew that if he stayed too much longer, he would have to kill one of them. And he just couldn't handle losing so much again. But everything was complete now, except for one last detail…

/And finish it off with some mellow 'My Immortal' by Evanescence. Or something like it./

"Itachi…" he spoke softly, so as not to startle his daydreaming brother. Itachi snapped back to focus so quickly, Sasuke was left wondering if he had just imagined it, "I have to ask you a favor."

When his brother didn't respond, the younger man took it as the go-ahead, "I want you to kill me."

"What?" Itachi half-spluttered, clearly surprised. Then he composed himself, "Why?"

"Because I promised Orochimaru he could possess my body after I killed you. He's been suspicious of me for a while now so he made me swear that I wouldn't injure myself in anyway, otherwise I'd do it myself," he looked back at his brother, onyx eyes burning into ebony with an intensity it hurt, "I don't want him to get the Sharingan, aniki. I've seen how horrible he is first-hand and I know now how much suffering my betrayal will cause everyone. I can't do anything about it now, but the least I can do is make sure he never gets his slimy hands on it," he was pleading now, his brother having reassembled his impassive façade, "But I need you to kill me, aniki."

"You…" Itachi's throat was tight and he couldn't quite explain to himself why, "should just go back to Konoha. She would take you back."

"Why are you resisting, Itachi?" Sasuke pulled himself a foot closer, "You killed our entire clan in one night, why is it so hard to kill me as well?" Itachi looked away, unable to bear his brother's intense gaze. "Is it because we're so close? Is it because we're brothers? What, Itachi? Tell me!"

He spoke softly, his voice raw with suppressed emotion, "I could not kill the one person who cared…" Sasuke's jaw dropped, "You always used to care, Sasuke… when you were a small child, I could see that, even though you were foolish and young. You were the only one who was interested in me as anything other than the perfect Uchiha or the perfect killing machine or the perfect ninja. Everyone was so afraid of me, frightened by my incredible genius, but you were oblivious to the way everyone looked at me with those cold, frightened eyes."


"I can't kill you. I wanted to run, to escape far away from the clan… and maybe to start anew… but I could not abandon you to their capricious desires, otouto. You have to understand Sasuke, I did it all for you."

"B-But why?" he stuttered.

"They would have broken your spirit Sasuke, even more assuredly than I have buried it. They would have made you their puppet. Your life, your habits, your wife, your home, all of it would have been dictated by a clan full of weaklings perpetuating their own weakness. And father would have made me the Clan Head. It was my responsibility as the first son. So you would have been living the life I chose," he shook his grey-haired head, "I do not believe that I have the strength to do such a heinous thing to you."

Sasuke looked on with barely disguised sorrow. His brother had never admitted any feelings for the younger man, but he had always thought, deep down, hidden away in some secret corner of his heart, Itachi cared for him. And now, just hearing it, hearing the words, was almost too much. He had fled from emotion for so long that it took everything Sasuke had to root himself to the spot and listen. Goddamn you Itachi! You could have just taken me with you!

"Aniki," he said after a while, "I don't understand you at all."

"That's alright, otouto," Itachi replied softly, "You're foolish. It will pass someday."

The younger Uchiha shook his head, his eyes tearing. "Itachi-nii-san." They both knew a lie when they heard one. Because there were no more 'somedays,' not for either of them. Itachi would die this day, and Sasuke would be possessed by the most heinous of villians.

Damn Orochimaru to whatever depths await him! Orochimaru was a malignant blotch upon the face of creation, and Itachi instantly regretted not excising the nefarious cancer when he had the chance.

Would it be any different than before, if he abandoned Sasuke for the comfortable oblivion of death? How would that be any less of a betrayal than leaving the boy in the clutches of the clan? If anything, it would be even more of a slight, for Orochimaru's plan for Sasuke was far more dire and repugnant than any the Uchiha could have assembled.

"What about…" he trailed off, unsure how to ask what was on his mind. The subject was embarrassing, because Itachi didn't really want to care about it, but he found that he couldn't help but be disturbed by the thought of it. That hardly mattered, for Sasuke had already figure out the question anyway. It took him a moment to formulate an answer.

"Sakura's taking care of it," then, almost as an afterthought, "Naruto will be enough to stop Orochimaru." Itachi raised an eyebrow and he decided to elaborate, "That idiot surpassed me long ago…" his eyes shone with bitterness for a second, but they recovered quickly enough. The Uchiha always hated to lose and their youngest scion was no different.

The elder brother thought on this. If the Kyuubi boy was really enough to kill Orochimaru, then Itachi had no reason to be concerned. For a second, he doubted Sasuke's word, but decided that his brother knew both men and their relative strengths better than he. It was rather difficult to imagine any man surpassing the might of a sealed demon, so he put the thought out of his head. He took a deep breath, "I will do as you ask, Sasuke." His brother looked up, and for a second their eyes locked.

They moved quickly and without further words, Sasuke finally dragging himself to his hands and knees. With his help, Itachi reset his dislocated shoulder, grunting as a fresh wave of agony tore through him. He bore it as stoically as he could. Flexing his fingers experimentally, Itachi nodded, satisfied with their performance.

"Don't bother," Itachi said as the younger boy attempted to shift the compound fracture of the other arm, "It's fine as it is."

He pulled himself onto his brother's stomach, because Itachi couldn't sit upright anymore and Sasuke couldn't stay up without the use of both hands. The elder man hissed quietly, but did not complain further.

"For what it's worth, otouto, I'm sorry." He seemed to understand that it meant absolutely nothing anymore. But Sasuke just couldn't bring himself to be angry anymore. The sheer hypocrisy of lecturing his brother about betrayal, after all he had done, was laughable. It made him chuckle nervously.

"How?" Sasuke asked, gesturing to Itachi's good hand.

"Karyuu Endan." The dark eyebrows of the younger man rose. "One-handed seals."

Itachi began twisting his fingers into complex seals, one after another, until he had completed somewhere close to thirty. The difficulty of performing a jutsu with one-handed seals is increased because they lack the stability of two-handed seals when it comes down to molding the chakra. For such people as Haruno Sakura and Uchiha Itachi, with their near-perfect chakra control, they can easily use the single-handed seals in place of the normal, two-handed ones. In some cases, they might even transcend the need for seals altogether.

Sasuke's good hand locked together with his mangled hand in a series of seals. Even missing fingers, the flow of the Chidori was so familiar it was more second-nature to summon it. Hardly required effort, really. The blue lightning coalesced around the splayed fingers of his perfect hand, painting them both in the cold wash of electric light.

"I never figured it would end like this," Sasuke said.

"I hoped it would never end like this," Itachi replied.

The Chidori plunged down through Itachi's chest, vaporizing his heart and left lung in a blaze of azure lightning. But not before the Karyuu Endan burst forth, charring Sasuke's skin and immolating his body instantly in a bonfire of chakra.

Though his body was covered in flames, Itachi could make out his younger brother's slight nod of satisfaction before he slumped off to the side, dead before he hit the ground. His vision narrowed down to a pin-point, but Itachi's powerful genius mind held on just long enough to hear approaching footsteps. He smirked, truly satisfied that all had gone well and all his affairs were in order.

His eyes slipped closed and darkness took him.

/Let's take it on home with some 'Appalachian Spring,' by Aaron Copeland, because I'm feeling happy./

"Aniki," a voice called to him. He jumped, startled for a second, thinking that he had just been somewhere else, and that voice had been very different. He looked behind him to find a seven-year-old Sasuke standing hopefully, arms behind his back.

"Today, you were going to teach me Shuriken Jutsu…"

He paused, unsure of what to say because he knew he had to say something. Didn't he have something to do today? Someplace to be? Wasn't he in a forest? And… dying? For the life of him, he couldn't remember. It bothered him. A strange sensation of deja vu hit him and he closed his eyes tightly until it passed.

"Aniki?" Sasuke interrupted, unused to being blatantly ignored, "Are you alright?"

Itachi released the breath he had known he was holding, "No, otouto. Everything is fine."

They left the house together that day.

Author's Notes:

Man, so I went and killed me some Uchiha. Anyway, this is the bridge to some of my stories, and it answers the 'What Happened to Sasuke,' question.

I'm not sure how I feel about this one. I like the ending with the suicide/murder thing, but I'm not so sure about the middle. I like the vague references to Itachi having a woman, and I like the Sasuke and Sakura part, but I'm not so sure the stuff about Itachi giving up on the 'Cold and Vicious' routine is solid. I think I may rework that.

Itachi's lady friend is extremely unimportant, as far as the story goes, but she'll make a showing eventually. I need a good name, so go ahead and shout them out, if you like. I've always been really fond of the villain being tamed by a good woman thing, because I think some people just really need redemption.

Now, does anyone out there think the Mangekyou Sharingan looks uber-super-mega retarded? Yeah, me too. In my opinion, it looks so much cooler at the beginning of manga chapter 223.

Last but not least, I think I should mention the idea of continuity. Sasuke is nineteen during this fic. I was hoping to throw in a part where Itachi's like 'I was hoping you would kill me before I turned thirty. But since the sun's rising, I guess that won't be happening,' as though it were Itachi's birthday, because I thought that would be rather funny, but it never materialized. This means that Itachi is ten years older than Sasuke, just because I think Kishimoto's a crazy, crazy man making Itachi 17 in the present day. I ignore most of what Kishimoto has written about Itachi, because I think it's completely unfair that he humanized Gaara, the kid who was born to kill and summarily loved it, but didn't extend the same courtesy to Itachi. Man… that really burns me up.

If you are interested in this continuity, you should read, in this order: Shoutei, Impasse, Hardened by Fire, Brothers, Interlude: Life of a Modern Kage. There are three more pieces (there may be more, but I don't have any more ideas… yet), two of which are Neji-centric (I like Neji and you can all shut the hell up because Kishimoto has NOT killed him) that deal with the repercussions of Itachi's deal with Neji. I'm not sure what they're called, because they aren't out of the planning stages yet, but I've got em simmering on the back burners. The third is a Kyouji fic. I'm not really sure what I want to do with him, yet. But it'll be something deserving, I'm sure.

Anyway. That's all for now. Geno Calamari signing out.