Disclaimer: The Uchiha's speak to me at night, but I bear no claim on them. The reverse is also not true. sighs

Keywords: Sasuke. Post-time jump in the series. No slash (awww). Much Angst.

January 2006: Updated with something actually resembling an introductory scene.

Author's Note: I'm fascinated with Sasuke's "I must kill him!" life mission. I'm fascinated by the potentially true-er motive and hidden meaning behind that life mission. And because I heard a voice in my head at 2am and it was telling me his story. Only he never bothered with a time line, woke me up 3 times and kept me awake till well after 4am telling me his story and repeating parts until I got up and finally wrote it all down. But it's all about the angst, right?

--- / ---

Deep down, he knew it was only a matter of pride. Unyielding, yet breakable with the right kind of pressure. And no matter how far he ran, no matter how hard he fought, and no matter how thick he stained his hands with blood -- the moment he closed his eyes, HE would be there standing before him. Waiting, smiling half-heartedly and amused. The word foolish forming on his crimson lips, teasing from crimson eyes. And always HE spoke those three magical words so powerful, so damming in their simplicity:

Foolish little brother.

Forever and ever and ever, into oblivion.

--- / ---

She caught up with them a few yards away from their training site. Sakura had stayed behind that afternoon to relay a message to Kakashi from Tsunade-sama. Already she was regretting having chosen the same route back to the village as the boys. She had heard Naruto's unusually loud voice long before she saw them, standing on opposite ends of a clearing. They're fighting again, she sighed as she took her customary position somewhere just off from the middle of the two. Neither spared her more than a glance as Naruto continued the argument.

" -- he's not even really evil. Just a big jerk, which I guess runs in the family."

Oh no, this is about...

"I mean, come on!" Naruto laughed, completely oblivious to the dark aura emanating from Sasuke's figure. "How many big bad shinobis do you know take the time and effort to get their nails done? Not even Orochimaru! And you of all people should know from the past three years that he's one scary perv--"

But Naruto never got to finish the sentence. He didn't even recall the hit, much less how Sasuke could've approached him so quickly (but he could make a pretty good guess how. Even Kakashi was only beginning to grasp an idea of the full power the Uchiha had gained the past few years). Naruto just knew that it had happened, that it had knocked him off his feet, and that he would feel sore for the rest of the evening in that point of impact just below his left shoulder blade a few inches from his heart, kyuubi healing power or not. His back connected hard with a tree in a sickening crack! and bark chips fell around him where he lay at the base. The tree creaked and whined in agony as it began to lean precariously over Naruto's hunched figure.

"Sasuke-kun!" Sakura screamed, horrified

She was at Naruto's side and assessing the damage in seconds, but he shook his head and pulled his arm away when she began to heal it. He looked up confused and angry at the cause of this latest insult. Though it had been three months since his rather reluctant return, Sasuke was still pale as a ghost and his hair long and dark as night. Both hands were still clenched tight at his side as if anticipating a counterattack, but his face was tilted away – cold, unreadable and refusing to acknowledge Naruto's glare.

And that was what really hurt - the refusal to meet his eye much more than the actual physical blow. Naruto willed himself not to reach up with his good arm and rub his injured shoulder. He'd be damned if he ever let Sasuke know the true impact of his cruelty. So he raged instead. "What the hell was that for!"

"Now now," Sakura tried to smile. "I'm sure Sasuke-kun didn't really mean it. And Naruto, you didn't really mean what you said either, right?"

Good old Sakura. Always the peacemaker. Always ignored.

Their eyes met reluctantly and the things Sasuke saw in Naruto's wide, blue orbs… did not move him. He maintained his passive stance and mask devoid of any discernable emotion. This infuriated Naruto further. "SASUKE!"

Hearing the ungodly shriek that was supposed to be his name seemed to do the trick and Sasuke snapped from whatever unfeeling daze he was in, because when he blinked again, he seemed aware at last of what he'd done. He turned his back to them.

"Naruto," he began in that hushed, deep tone of voice that always succeeded in catching the rather hot-headed boy's full attention and stop him from whatever hot-headed act he was about to commit. "… never talk about him again."

Naruto stared in disbelief at his comrade's back, suddenly finding himself fighting back a tear he couldn't explain as another, more lethal shot of pain cut close to his heart. "Why not?" he retaliated indignantly. "You hate him!"

"I want to kill him," Sasuke managed to reply calmly, somewhat surprised by his own words. "There's a difference."

A chuckle came from Naruto's throat to mask the bitterness as he pulled himself up on shaky legs. "Then you'll never win." Can't you live for anyone else? He glared at the Uchiha crest on Sasuke's back and wished he had the ability to manipulate fire and burn a hole into it. "Geez, you're an idiot." He sneered for good measure before leaping onto the closest tree branch to start the speedy trip back to the village.

Sakura did not want to leave Sasuke alone, fearing the possibility that he'd disappear on them once more, but she knew the other boy was still in pain and that maybe now that he was out of sight of Sasuke, he might actually let her treat his injury. Reluctantly, she went after Naruto.

Finally alone, Sasuke relaxed his fists and closed his eyes. The pain on Naruto's face and his last words continued to haunt his mind. Then you'll never win.

"Maybe," he whispered to himself. But one day I'll tell you, Naruto. The words I should've said a long time ago.

--- / ---

"Why are you laughing?"

"I remembered something funny."

"Just now."

"Yes. It's strange. I didn't understand before. I don't think I wanted to."

"Only when you're near death do such revelations occur."

"Maybe."

If I survive this, I'll tell you.

--- / ---

Some time after the third bowl of ramen, Kakashi laid his chopsticks down neatly beside his bowl and sat back in his chair to study his young ward. He'd been watching all three very closely the past few months since Sasuke's return. "I think I know what you want to hear."

Naruto paused his attack on his fifth bowl and looked up curiously. "Mm?"

"But he will never say them," Kakashi continued.

"Oi, Kakashi-sensei, if this is another weird…"

"Naruto," the white-haired jounin spoke gravely now. "You have to let him go."

"Eh?"

Kakashi sighed deeply and shook his head. "If you keep holding on, he will destroy you too."

If pushed hard enough, Naruto would admit that sometimes he was a bit slow. But he was never ever stupid. It was just easier sometimes to let people think so. Now was one of those times. "Haha, I get it!" he chuckled nervously. "You can stop kidding around now, Kakashi-sensei."

The jounin got up from the table and looked down sympathetically. "Just remember, Naruto: he will not say them. He'll destroy himself first."

--- / ---

"You can't kill me."

"Just watch me!"

"No matter how strong you try to be, you cannot." Locked in a deadly embrace, one of them screams. "You will not. This is the only way we can continue to exist."

"Why?"

"Because you will never be worth killing."

"Shut up!"

"Was that not what you wanted to hear?" There was a low chuckle, but no response. "No? But I won't say the other." A loud crack echoes in the darkness as a body hits the wall with sickening force and falls like a rag doll. Not yet.

--- / ---

She found him sitting on the rooftop just above her office looking rather forlorn. Her first instinct was to tell him to get lost. But then she remembered Kakashi's latest report and decided to go with her second instinct: to talk to him. She could see right away the reason for Kakashi's concern. "I'm too old for this," she muttered. Naruto was absently rubbing his left shoulder blade when she took a seat beside him.

"Granny-sama!" he gasped in surprise.

He hadn't sensed my presence, she thought. How sloppy. Tsunade looked up and pretended to be fascinated by the overcast skies. "It's been a crappy day, hasn't it?"

Naruto's shoulders slumped in agreement. "Yeah."

She raised her brow curiously at the usually boisterous young man. Aw hell, might as well get it over with. She reached over and spread her palm over the top of his head. Just looking at it, she wouldn't have expected the blonde mop of hair to be as soft as it was. Tsunade sighed deeply and rolled her eyes, already feeling extremely embarrassed about what she was about to say. "I acknowledge you," she forced herself to say with the most sincerest attempt at being sincere she could muster. "As an equal."

He looked up at her in surprise, and for a moment she saw in those wide ocean-blue eyes the spirit of her little brother. A smile spread slowly from ear to ear, and for another moment, Naruto became The Fourth. Then there was a tightness around her waist and a head of blonde sticking out from just below her breasts.

"Granny-sama!" Came a muffled cry from her abdomen as Naruto tightened his squeeze on her. Thank you. You're not the one I want to hear it from, but it'll do.

… and several rooftops away, a torn and bloody figure disappeared once more into the darkness.

--- / ---

Itachi's eyes narrowed with displeasure on the unwelcomed visitor. He was trailing blood.

"There is something I need to hear you say."

"You ask a death wish," he spoke gravely, sounding almost sad in his warning.

No. I'm only imagining it, Sasuke thought. His breath came hard and labored. "Why?"

Itachi's brow raised ever so slightly. "Why?"

"Why won't you?" Sasuke gasped. His knees buckled beneath him and he reached for the doorframe to keep from falling completely. Shit, I've lost too much.

Suddenly, his brother was before him, kneeling down on one knee to meet his eye. "Foolish brother, " he chided. "You will die the harder you try to stay alive." Itachi put both hands firmly on his brother's broken shoulders. The gentleness in his movements unnerved Sasuke, but he couldn't pull away. How ironic that the same hands that had massacred his clan were now the only things steadying him. His head was spinning and everything was rapidly fading to black. Sasuke pressed his forehead to the back of his arm still clinging to the doorframe and gasped as his lips touched his wet skin and tasted blood. His blood. His entire existence was drowning in it.

Smooth, cool fingers gently lifted his now blood-stained face. "Sasuke."

It was an effort to open his eyelids. He hadn't even realized they were closed. But when he did, he saw his brother – not the Akatsuki member and killer of the Uchiha clan, but his aniki. His beloved older brother who once told him one fateful night that power made one arrogant and lonely. Or had it been arrogant because of loneliness? "Nii-san…" his voice came out softer than a whisper. Sasuke's eyes rolled back into his head and he felt himself fall into a dark, fatal embrace.

--- / ---

"I love you. I always have."

"That's not what I wanted you to say."

"Maybe. But it should've been."

A pause.

"Maybe."

And somewhere deep within the darkness, a little boy cried.

THE END

--- / ---

Unofficial follow-up series: It Could've Been Sweet.

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