Blood. The walls were stained with it, the wooden floor rendered unrecognizable, taking on a new hue of red. Doors had been slashed, kicked from their positions, wall scrolls hung loosely from their hooks. The moonlight, a dark red, streamed in through the windows, illuminating the bodies that littered the floor, hiding a man's face in shadow.

Uchiha Sasuke stood in horror, disbelieving, staring at the man he had always idolized, the one man he had always believed in throughout his life. And there he stood, a specter in the endless darkness, his crimson eyes gleaming and dilated, his bloodied sword hanging loose in his hand.

Sasuke was paralyzed with fear, unable to speak or to move. His mind burned with questions, racing; his heart pounded painfully in his chest. He blanched as Itachi raised his eyes, then turned slowly to face him. In that instant, Itachi's eyes locked onto Sasuke's, and irrational fear pierced his soul. He was next, he knew it, he was going to die, die just as his parents had. His gaze flickered to the bodies of his parents on the floor. His mother lay sprawled on the floor, face up, her eyes shut, a long gaping slash across her chest. His father lay on top of her, eyes wide, blood still streaming out of his mouth.

Sasuke closed his eyes, and waited to die. He heard footsteps – Itachi was getting closer. He heard the clatter of the ANBU sword, heard the sound of blood dripping to the floor. Itachi was silent, he said nothing. Nothing to justify his killing of the Uchihas. The footsteps came to a stop in front of him and Sasuke tensed up, knowing that soon the cold metal blade of his brother's sword would slice through his body, and then it would all be over.

Suddenly, there was a loud clatter – the sword had dropped to the ground. Sasuke risked opening his eyes, wondering what had happened. Had someone, perhaps, killed his brother and saved his life?

His eyes widened at the spectacle before him. Uchiha Itachi knelt on the floor in front of him, his sword flung unceremoniously to a side. His eyes, now dark as the night, were gleaming with tears. He reached out with a hand, and placed it on Sasuke's shoulder, smiling grimly as his younger brother flinched at his touch.

"I'm sorry, dear brother... I failed to protect our mother." He choked, tears spilling down his bloodstained face. Sasuke stared, uncomprehending. What did he mean? Was this really his older brother? The Itachi he knew would never cry, would never display emotions as strong as this.

"Forgive me, Sasuke." Itachi whispered.

"W... what happened?" Sasuke finally managed to ask. Itachi shook his head and put a finger to his lips. Sasuke fell silent and listened carefully. He barely managed to pick up the sounds of a shrill whistle in the distance, and he grimaced. It was the ANBU's signal, in minutes, the Uchiha estate would be swarming with ninjas.

"I do not have much time, little one, so listen well. I cannot stay in Konoha any longer." He shut his eyes, breathed in heavily. "I killed the Uchihas." Sasuke's eyes widened again. He opened his mouth to speak, but stopped himself as Itachi flashed him a stern gaze. "But I assure you, there was a reason for it. I cannot explain it now, it would take precious time I do not have. You have enormous potential, Sasuke. Grow to be a powerful ninja. Restore the Uchiha clan, and prove my innocence. But most important of all, you must protect Konoha at all costs. The safety of this village was the reason why I killed tonight, Sasuke. Konoha's safety now lies in your hands."

"Brother... what...?" Sasuke tried to ask, but Itachi shook his head again.

"You will understand in due time. Know this and know it well: Konoha is the one place where you can truly grow strong, Sasuke. There is no other place."

"I understand." Sasuke put on a look of determination, pressing his lips together. Itachi smiled, and ruffled his younger brother's hair. Picking up his sword, Itachi vanished through the doorway into darkness.

All Sasuke could do was stare, and dissolve into tears.

----------

"Itachi!" The mentioned paused in his flight at the familiar voice, and came to a rest atop a tree branch. No more than a second later, a second figure joined him, decked in full ANBU gear, his face hidden behind a dog mask. A mop of messy silver hair could be seen, and Itachi smirked.

"Hatake Kakashi." Kakashi nodded, removing his mask. His face was unusually serious, his Sharingan spinning. Itachi stared at it for a moment, recalling the story of how Kakashi had obtained it. It had been during the night of Kyubi's attack. Kakashi's teammate and best friend, Uchiha Obito, had been mortally wounded in battle, his right eye destroyed by one of the demon fox's attacks. Kakashi had not gotten away unscathed either, his chakra was almost completely drained, and his left eye had been torn out. As Obito took his final breath, he asked Kakashi to take his eye, and Kakashi had made sure to honor his friend's last wish.

"Was the mission successful?" Kakashi asked, snapping Itachi out of his thoughts.

"Yes... the Uchiha clan has been decimated."

"I wish you didn't have to do this, Itachi." Kakashi murmured, his eyes downcast.

"There was no other choice. There was no other personnel available for this mission, and it had to be done solo to avoid getting unwanted attention."

"Still... it was a great risk. This was an S rank mission, Itachi. Even ANBU captains can fail at those. Not to mention that now you can never return to Konoha. The only reason Hokage believed your story is because of your loyalty to Konoha; without evidence, you will have to be classed and treated as a Missing Nin."

"As long as I can protect Konoha, I do not care." Itachi snapped, his voice terse and cold. "The Uchihas deserved what they received." Kakashi nodded solemnly, knowing better than to argue with the Uchiha when he was in a bad mood.

"I'm going." Itachi vanished from sight, without waiting for Kakashi to reply. That was how he had always been, and how he would always be. Kakashi sighed, then quickly did a few hand seals.

"Kage Bunshin no Jutsu." He muttered, and an exact copy of himself appeared on the tree branch next to him. Then... "Henge!" And the copy's image shifted and solidified to form that of Itachi's. Kakashi nodded curtly at it, and it took off into the darkness. Heaving another sigh, Kakashi straightened himself, and took a whistle from his pocket, blowing into it shrilly. His teammates reported in almost immediately, and he pointed in the direction the clone had run.

There was the rustling of leaves, and the howl of the night wind, and then all of them were gone.