...More pain than a million glass shards could ever inflict...
The path was illuminated by red moonlight.
"Sasuke, where are you taking me?"
"You'll see; it's just a bit farther!"
Itachi patiently followed his little brother, wondering how the 8-year-old could be so energetic even in the middle of the night. They were walking through a hidden trail in the forest, the moon hanging overhead in a cloudless, starless night.
Sasuke had crept into his bedroom earlier that night. Itachi lay still, expecting his little brother to slip underneath his blankets, grasp onto the ends of his shirt and curl into a ball beside him. All remnants of Itachi's feigned sleep disappeared when he felt a small hand clasp his arm.
"Nii-san, wake up," the boy whispered, his voice light and soft despite the command. Itachi's eyes slowly slid open and the orbs flicked over to Sasuke in faint curiosity. He reached up to brush his bangs from his eyes and Sasuke's breath caught in his throat. He was fascinated and a little envious of his elder brother's natural grace.
"Sasuke, why are you still awake? You have school tomorrow," Itachi said, but his voice softened as his small brother's gaze fell and the warm hands on his arm toyed with his shirtsleeve shyly.
"Nii-san, I want to show you something," Sasuke said, using his sweetest, most innocent voice.
Itachi wanted to refuse the boy's offer, ignore the soft tugging on his arm and fall into another restless sleep, but Sasuke's eyes were filled with a helpless, fragile hope that pierced through him and destroyed all rational thought.
"Just this once."
A half hour later, he was walking through a nearby forest, his little brother's hand clenched tightly in his. Sasuke's pace quickened. Ten steps, a jump, a squeeze between a pair of trees and they had finally arrived.
The shadows of the trees encased them completely; only a few rays of moonlight shone through the wall of wood and leaves above them. In the center was a pond. The water was clear and still, as if made of the finest crystal. What little light crept into the grove reflected off the water's surface and mirrored the crimson sky. Morbid, yet somehow magnificently beautiful, like the blood of a slain angel.
Itachi felt the younger Uchiha's hand tighten around his.
"When I'm sad, I come here and I feel better. You've looked sad ever since those three men came to our house that day..."
Sasuke looked at his brother, searching his face for some sign of approval. There was none. Sasuke's hand slid out of Itachi's and he walked towards the pond in disappointed silence.
Itachi remained passive, betraying the sudden, crushing weight in his chest. It was almost suffocating.
The pair remained silent as the minutes dwindled by, knowing the softest sound could destroy the tranquil atmosphere. Sasuke sat and watched the grotesque pool of water, refusing to beg for the gratitude he yearned for. For once, Sasuke wanted to look strong in his older brother's expressionless eyes.
The red of the sky eventually faded and was replaced by total darkness. Not a star dare shone on that night; there was only the moon to guide the two children from the pitch black.
Sasuke suppressed a yawn and rubbed at his tired eyes, hoping Itachi wouldn't notice. The older Uchiha did notice and finally spoke up.
"Sasuke, it's getting late. We should go home."
Sasuke frowned, but did not protest as he stood up and stole one last glance at the pond before running to follow his brother home. He grabbed Itachi's hand, making sure the two of them couldn't be separated in the darkening night. Sasuke felt a jolt of fear run through him when Itachi tensed and nearly jerked away from his touch. The young Uchiha bit his lip and furrowed his eyebrows in frustration. All he wanted to do was help, but Itachi was only distancing himself more. Maybe there really was nothing he could do...
It was barely audible, but Sasuke heard it clearly, the words ringing in his ears like chimes on a calm, spring day. And Sasuke couldn't have been happier.
That night, Sasuke dreamed of better days and brighter futures, while Itachi lay on his bed haunted by restless thoughts of broken smiles and shattered dreams.
Never again did Sasuke visit the pond after that day.