Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.

They needed to burn the body. The secrets of the Sharingan had to be destroyed immediately, just in case an enemy—a member of Akatsuki, perhaps—came by and tried to take him. Even dead, Itachi was a threat to them.

Hinata remained numb, sitting motionless, when the corpse was pulled away from her.

Sasuke's ashen face was indifferent, but beneath that, Hinata knew that he too, was greatly shaken. "I'm going to leave no trace of him," he said, the statement sounding distant, empty. To Hinata, they sounded like tiny pieces of ice. She watched as Sasuke placed his brother a safe distance away before returning.

Forming rapid seals with his hands, Sasuke performed his family's trademark skill. "Katon Goukakyuu no Jutsu!" The command seemed to echo for miles as a burst of fire streamed from his mouth and engulfed Itachi's body. It disappeared in the blaze.

Behind them, Neji was standing stoically.

He had arrived just in time to witness the death of one of the greatest Konoha shinobi to ever live. Before he knew it, Itachi had been bleeding on the ground and Hinata was beside him. He could not hear the words that passed between them, but soon they had stopped too.

Maybe now Neji understood a little why Hinata could not have been free without witnessing Itachi's end. There was a need for a conclusion … for their story to come to an end.

Such an eventful and mysterious life Itachi had had, Neji though reflectively. It was anti-climatic that it should end in a humble manner such as this.

No celebrations, no rejoicing, just the bitter cold.

Itachi's infamous name was mentioned in the history of Konoha's massacre, and the fire in his eyes had suggested a violent unrest that could be called evil. But regardless of his past, that demon among men had chosen to do the humane thing.

Though the question "why?" resonated in his mind, Neji had but a single theory.

When Itachi left Konoha he had been young. He would likely have still been a genin if not for his genius. The child had grown up too fast seeing and giving death, and therefore, it was the only thing that he believed in.

It was partially their fault for pushing a child to enter combat before he was old enough to judge things for himself, and Neji would bear this firmly in mind on his return to Konoha. They should always remember Itachi and his fall.

However, he was not as kind as Hinata to believe in Itachi's goodness.

No, Neji reasoned at last. Itachi had not done it for anyone. He had been selfish and arrogant, like a man who always had what others never would possess. Jealous, for the one thing that he could not have.

At the bottom of things, he had come to love Hinata but circumstances did not allow him to be with her. And that was the simple truth.

That was reality— something none of Itachi's illusions could ever change.

At this, Neji felt a twinge of sympathy for him despite the bad blood between them. He could not understand Itachi's actions, but he did know what it was to long for something unattainable. Once, he had also known that pain. Once, he had also endured and struggled.

None of the three present turned away from the pyre. And so the curtain closed.


Hinata did not cry much. Itachi was not the type of man who it was appropriate to mourn for. His body had been still and cold when she held him, yet, she could not believe it.

Like Sasuke had promised, there was nothing left of him. Not even ashes.

It had happened a day or two ago, but memories fresh in her mind, Hinata knelt in the spot where he had lain and reflected on the past month. Bowing down, she touched her forehead to the ground. How was it possible that he was gone from the face of the earth when he had been such a menacing presence only a while ago?

For as long as she lived, Hinata would not forget him. Even if his blood was no longer in her, his influence was deep within. If she shut her eyes and focused, she could almost feel his presence. Omnipotent, yet still fragile at the heart.

She was struck by a sudden wave of overpowering loneliness. Without Itachi, she was alone. Empty.

There was a flutter of cloth. Someone had placed a cloak on her shoulders.

Startled, Hinata turned around to see the concerned eyes of Neji. "Hinata-sama," he said gravely. She did not know that he had been watching her throughout the day and night. "You could catch a cold."

"I'm all right," she murmured, pulling the cloak tightly around her. It reminded her of Itachi's, and she was comforted.

"Hinata-sama," Neji began, sounding wearier than ever. It pained him to see her mourn the death of someone like Itachi. "I know that he meant something to you." The words came with extreme difficulty. "I won't pretend that I understand, but I'll wait, Hinata-sama." His voice was filled with emotion. "I'll wait for his shadow to lift just enough."

And Neji had left her in peace, his walk quick and abrupt. Hinata thought at first that he was hampered by his injuries, but she saw that he did not walk with his usual confidence. Even when wounded, Neji never let go of that pride, but now… He was hurt, feeling rejected.

Neji-niisan, forgive me, Hinata thought sadly. Her heart ached again. I've not considered your feelings.

Her connection with Itachi was on a different level. She doubted that her feelings toward him could be named by terms so simple as "hate" or "love." It was a place where he could not reach her and she could not reach him.

At long last, Hinata got to her feet and walked away. She could not believe that this was it. There was no return.

Hinata may have looked back a few times, but there was nothing there. Even the wind was still. There was absolutely nothing to hold her back; the freedom was unfamiliar. Hinata breathed deeply to steady herself.

Then she ran.


As the party made their way back to Konoha, Neji and Pakkun led and scouted ahead for possible dangers.

Behind them, Sasuke adjusted his speed to match Hinata's. He meant to settle the sour way their last encounter had ended, but as he opened his mouth, his voice seemed to disappear. The apology did not come easily to his lips. "I'm sorry, Hinata," he said. "You would've died if—"

"No," Hinata interrupted quietly, slowing almost to a stop. Although her stammer was gone, probably forever, she had returned to her old habit of twiddling her fingers. "You did the right thing; nothing could change what he did."

"But there was no act in what I saw," Sasuke asserted. The scene repeated itself in his mind, but it still made no sense. Itachi had died refusing to use her as his shield. He had started to frown, but when he spoke, his voice was small like a child's. "I guess a part of the older brother I looked up to was still there," he murmured to himself.

"Have you found your peace yet?"

"It was a mistake to try take on everything myself," Sasuke replied truthfully, shaking his head. He knew that now. Keeping things inside had done nothing but to increase his sorrow. "I… can't feel happy even if it was a death that I have dreamed of for years."

From the way his shoulders slumped, Sasuke seemed uncomfortable, as if still unacquainted with the idea that Itachi had not been plotting everything out beforehand. Hinata nodded, knowing why it was strange. "He had nothing to gain from my living, only everything to lose," she said mildly.

"If it wasn't my brother, I'd say that he was acting on impulse," Sasuke added. Both were very quiet as they contemplated this. Soon, they both gave into soft laughs.

Itachi acting on impulse? It hardly sounded possible.

The mood soon took on a darker tone. "Hinata, look, I'm sorry… Sorry, that it had to end like that," Sasuke ended lamely, realizing that by now his words were redundant.

"Don't be. It was the only way." A small smile tugged at the corners of Hinata's mouth. "This isn't a bad end. Everything else will turn out all right as long as we're satisfied with what we have."

Itachi's influence was just as beautiful as it was deadly. It made her blood run hot, but too long and it would destroy her. It was a high price to pay, and at the end of the day, perhaps all Hinata wanted was peace.

A peace like what she felt now… This calm…

Sasuke's look was quizzical. What was it like not to have a goal to pursue? What was it like to not have worries for tomorrow? A single memory came back to him, one from a faraway time.

"Another day, Sasuke," his brother had said, brushing him off yet again. Once again, he had ignored Sasuke's requests for practice lessons, but his younger brother wasn't upset. With that simple statement, it seemed that all the furious ravages of yesterday had been forgotten.

The clan, the hatred, the struggles, all of them.

Watching Itachi's departing back retreat into the light, Sasuke had smiled. He had prayed that the harmony would last and that he would never have to see his brother fight the clan again and to see the family torn in two. He had told himself, gratefully, "My big brother… hasn't changed."

As it turned out, many things did change. So much so that Sasuke could not have foreseen it in a thousand years. Yet, somehow, the bittersweet feeling was the same.

Sasuke closed his eyes and stood in the opening of the leafy canopy. Unbidden, the same smile of relief from long ago formed on his lips again.

Yes… This was enough for now, wasn't it?


"Hey, they're back!"

Sasuke sauntered in leisurely as Neji and Hinata entered the gates first. Their friends were already there waiting, waving. Feeling a little apologetic for ignoring their warm welcome, he quietly slipped away to the old Uchiha compound. It was there that he hoped to finally put his thoughts of revenge to rest.

He was hardly missed.

"Welcome home, Hinata-chan!"

Surprised and embarrassed by the concern that her friends showed her, Hinata could only blush and stammer her thanks. Though she had doubts before, Hinata felt glad to be back home. She held onto Neji's hand as they let themselves be hustled around.

At last, they ended back at the entrance to Hyuga compound where Hiashi was waiting, dignified and remote. Unlike the noisy reception earlier that day, this was a solemn greeting.

It was a moment that Hinata had both welcomed and dreaded. She did not know what to say to her father because she could only think about his reaction. Would he cast her out when he found out that corrupted blood ran in her veins?

Even if Hiashi didn't want to, he might be pressurized into it, for it was the truth. The purity of her blood was no longer the same as it was.

Though Hinata had waited patiently for the poison's effects to disappear, they did not. Itachi had intended to erase the evidence of their meeting, but not even he could retrieve what he had given to her. His antidote had failed to serve its purpose. Her Sharingan, only a shade lighter than Itachi or Sasuke's, was still clearly recognizable.

And gradually, Hinata had come to accept that it was there to stay.

Now the question was, would her clan tolerate the imperfection? The thought of rejection was almost enough to make her consider turning her back and dashing away.

Sensing her distress, Neji nudged her gently and encouraged her ahead. With his support, Hinata took a step forward to her father. She remembered training until she could no longer stand and him reprimanding her for being weak. But before the days of her training had begun, she also recalled clinging to his side when she was too shy to face the world on her own.

Bitter as some of her memories were, Hinata could not blame her father. She could see that inside, he had not wanted to abandon her anymore than she had wanted to be cast away. Beyond being the head of Hyuga, Hiashi was her father, and she loved him.

Breaking into a run, Hinata suddenly remembered herself and stopped in front of him. Immediately, she bent in a respectful bow. There was an awkward pause before she threw her arms around him and hugged her father for the first time in many years.

Just a little longer… Hinata just wanted to be Hiashi's daughter a while more before she let him know that her Byakugan was gone—never to return— and replaced by the eyes of a betrayer.

As Hinata had predicted, there were numerous outrages and disputes in the days that followed. Her father stood by her, and for the first time in his life, went against the clan that he lived for. Finally, after so many discussions and aid from unexpected places, the storm had died down.

And so, life went on as normal. But Itachi's cold mansion did not fade from her mind. The Sharingan did not fade. Although others might say that such an incident could be forgotten, Hinata could not agree.

Itachi's promise of always haunting her was real.

Every time Hinata looked to the sun, she would also look at the shadow that crept on the ground behind her. The dark corners and the shroud of the night sometimes took his form and towered over her, but when the lights came on, she would find that it was only her imagination.

Hinata kept her word. She was never afraid, and the shadow never did more than to stay harmlessly by her side.

Note: My original plan was to have Itachi die, and I still think that his death is a suitable end, but I couldn't bear to leave it like that. So the above was the epilogue for those who want this story to end already. It's probably the last organized chapter.

But if you're still interested in my wayward plot lines, feel free to check out the second half. It's basically a continuation that follows up in a scenario where Itachi didn't die. It's rather lame, but there was no way I could continue with a central character dead. Just read and see for yourself.

By the way, thanks for the support everyone!

The sun did not rise on the Akatsuki headquarters for it was hidden in a cavern somewhere in the dense forest. The entrance lay in the side of the mountain, inconspicuous as any other cave. But the opening was only the tip of the iceberg; the tunnels stretched far beneath the ground to deter any intruders, unintentional or otherwise.

"Home" was too familiar a word to describe it, but it was the one constant place for the Akatsuki members to meet. It was within this hideout that Itachi woke.

The first thought was that it had been a nightmare; it would not be the first time that he had dreamt of his death. Almost immediately after, Itachi's hand flew to his chest, searching for the wound that Sasuke inflicted. It was no longer bleeding; the ugly scabs of a half-healed injury covered it instead. He tried to move his limbs, but they were stiff and Itachi grimaced as the twinge of pain caught him by surprise. It was very real indeed.

Slowly, he sat up and pulling his cloak tightly around him, covered the loathsome sight of his bandages. Itachi frowned deeply. For him to still be alive… Someone must have had rescued him from the battlefield.

"It was him, wasn't it?" Itachi directed the question to Kisame, without raising his gaze. His longtime partner had appeared at the entrance to his room and was waiting patiently to be addressed. In his ill humor, Itachi's tone was dry, "Should I feel honored?"

"Lose the sarcasm, Itachi," Kisame advised as he approached his friend of sorts. "You would be dead if not for his help." Itachi's reaction puzzled him. The familiar hard edge to his words made it seem as if he had not changed at all, but Kisame hardly knew what to expect of him now.

Itachi strolled languidly to the mirror and examined his appearance. Other than the damage from the Chidori, he had just suffered minor injuries. The pallor of his skin was the only other thing that betrayed his near death experience.

"You were the one who informed him," he stated tonelessly.

"Yeah." At Itachi's glare, Kisame replied, defensive, "I was right to, wasn't I? You couldn't handle it yourself. I saw you struggling even in your dreams. It was bad, all right."

Barely listening, Itachi's eyes had fallen onto the ring lying on the table— his. It must have fallen from his cloak because he had not been wearing it during the fight. He did not move to pick it up. "If that is the truth, then I deserved death," he said questioningly, facing his partner. "There was no reason to intervene." Akatsuki members did not make it a habit to go out of their way to help each other.

"I thought that he'll send me or someone else if he was feeling charitable," Kisame commented with a shrug. "But he was exceptionally interested this time. Probably surprised that you would be so stubborn."

Itachi scoffed. "Is that so?"

"He'll want to speak to you," Kisame informed him. The meeting would be unavoidable.

With an air of resignation, Itachi decided to take the first step. He swept by Kisame and passed through the doorway. "Where're you going?" his partner asked, alarmed. "Isn't it too early?"

"I've recovered enough for this," Itachi replied, his footsteps already drifting further down the dark corridor. Nothing Kisame said or did would sway him. Determinedly, he took one turn after another as he proceeded to the center of the headquarters.

Meanwhile, he turned his mind toward figuring out the mysteries surrounding his escape.

It was obvious that the Leader had been at the scene of the fight. While the others were focusing on the dying Itachi, he had performed a genjutsu to turn their attention away. An illusionary technique was used to replace Itachi's body with a fake virtually identical to the real one. After that, the Leader had secretly taken Itachi back to the headquarters for treatment.

Chances were that Sasuke had torched the clone and no evidence of the switch remained. Thus, the Leader had successfully retrieved his comrade and also covered all his tracks. It was a simple, yet effective plan.

All the Leader's missions were executed with a certain finesse, and this one had his mark written on it.

But despite knowing this, it was still beyond Itachi to comprehend why the Leader would have troubled himself to save a colleague. After all, to die on a mission was expected; Sasori's death had not been a great shock to anyone. It should have been the same here.

Wryly, Itachi supposed that his succumbing to the emotions was an oddity. The sheer absurdity probably intrigued the Leader enough for him to want Itachi around for further study. Even among his own kind, he had little place. He found that while thinking, he had already reached his destination.

The door to the central chamber opened as he stood in front of it. Readying himself, Itachi entered.

Inside, there was nothing but a massive mural that ran all over the walls. Images of demons chased each other around before halting at the huge statue that stood in the middle. The strange energies in the room were produced by the chakra from the demons that they had already captured. This room represented all that was divine and whole to Akatsuki.

Itachi went before the great statue and went down on his knees. Looking up, he saw that its shackled wrists gave way to a hideous face. Was it in agony? Itachi had pondered on that question when he was in a reflective mood. Did it want to be free?

Without a word, he bowed low until his hair fell over his forehead. There was no more time for frivolous thoughts.

"Why do you return?"

The voice sounded all around in the emptiness of the large chamber, but Itachi still did not raise his eyes from the ground. The slight movement in the air alerted him to the presence of none other than the Akatsuki leader.

The other shinobi's red gaze was calculating, as if attempting to penetrate Itachi's mind. Swiftly, he pushed every memory from the recent month to the furthest reaches of his mind. "I wish to redeem myself," he said, standing and rising to the Leader's level.

"When you came to us, you were determined not to stop until your potential was fully realized," the Leader said gravely. He made it a point to know the goals of each and every of his allies. "Did you return because it was a mistake?"

"It was not," Itachi replied. He did not regret meeting her; he could not turn away from something so important, painful as it was. However, he had made his decision. Better than anyone else, Itachi knew that he had no desire to give up yet. He could feel the promise of his destiny humming in his blood—that pull guided him back to Akatsuki.

"You did not save me for nothing, so let me rejoin Akatsuki," he said.

"You know the rules," the Leader stated. He was referring to the initiation rules, of course.

Itachi's expression darkened. He remembered all too well, and by now, he was no stranger to pain. He had never been a coward; Itachi would choose his own trial. To the Leader, he said, "Remember that I do this of my own volition." His meaning was clear as their eyes met, red on red.

The Akatsuki leader was taken aback even though he knew that Itachi had always been determined and unforgiving of others and himself. Perhaps he did not like Itachi personally, but this was deserving of some respect at least. Without a word, the Leader disappeared into the shadows.

Itachi took a short moment to prepare himself after noticing that he had his privacy. There would be no turning back even if he wanted to, because unlike lower-level genjutsu, Tsukiyomi was a dream that could not be broken by pain.

Haltingly, he activated the Mangekyou Sharingan.

Almost instantly, the stone chamber warped into the background, and the Uchiha compound came into his view. People from his past walked the streets, smiling and talking to him. When did the day come that he could no longer stand the sight of them?

The air had become impossibly heavy.

It was because they called him a genius and made him bear the burden of their hopes. But he was not a god. He did not have the power to make their—or his—dreams come true.

Holding fast to his resentment, Itachi thought of the kyuubi's host, Naruto. The boy had grown up shunned because the people were could not accept him and what he carried inside him. Wouldn't it have been the same with the Uchiha? If the truth was revealed, would the people ever trust them again?

Itachi was not naïve enough to believe so. He had heard and seen places where women and children were killed solely because of their bloodline abilities.

His father had often said that Itachi was to be the bridge between the clan and the village.

But he was wrong. The only thing that Itachi could succeed in doing was to drive the wedge between the two factions even deeper. To destroy—that was his only use.

The constriction on his throat tightened and Itachi feared that he would succumb, for if he died within Tsukiyomi, he would die in the real world as well. He struggled hard, drawing on every last reserve of hatred that he had left.

It was in vain; not even that powerful emotion was enough this time. Itachi hung his head, breathing heavily as black spots clouded his vision. Was it hopeless?

"You're not a demon… Don't define yourself with that."

Why did her words carry so much meaning? he asked himself, forcing himself to think before he crumbled under the pressure. How did they manage to sway his firm beliefs, making the ground unsteady like he was floating instead of drowning?

Though her words had fallen on deaf ears, Hinata had attempted to remind him that a clan was more than a cage. It was also a family. Strangely, as obvious as it was, he had never seen it that way before.

Deep down at the heart of the clan, there was trust. A trust that he had destroyed.

Itachi did not understand how Hinata could afford to give forgiveness so freely as she did—to Neji, to her father, and to all of Hyuga— and with her, it felt like a part of him could be redeemed. He did not deserve it, and for very long, he had not wanted it. Even so, the thought was comforting. The illusion was not so terrible after all.

And when he closed his eyes to accept the inevitable, he was saved instead.

A harrowing week later, Itachi finally fell out of his hallucination. In his dim consciousness, he wondered if sins were ever forgiven. Then, if he could only forgive … Before he could get a handle on it, his thought drifted away, out of his reach.

When Itachi came to again, he was not alone. His colleagues surrounded him, the clouds on their cloaks illuminating the otherwise pitch-black chamber. No doubt that they had gathered and debated his worthiness while he had been taking his trial. Despite his weakness, Itachi's fist clenched as he braced himself.

It turned out that the verdict was in his favor.

"Welcome back," the Leader announced. When he stretched out his hand, Itachi saw the precious ring that lay in his palm. It was his for the taking.

From the shadows, he saw the eerie gazes of his colleagues. From some he detected disapproval and disgust, but he did not care for their thoughts; he never had. Ignoring them, he stood up to claim his prize and slipped it on. Instantly, Itachi felt its power seep into him. As he had on the first day, he vowed to prove his worth.

After the group had dispersed, Itachi found that Tobi was following him. The masked one was the newest member, mysterious but jovial to the point of being annoying. Stonily, Itachi tried to ignore his eager questions, but he could not block out the chatter.

"I want to see this girl," the junior member ventured enthusiastically. Knowing that he was pushing it, but still unable to stop himself, Tobi asked curiously, "How come you never seemed like the kind to die for love, Itachi-senpai?"

Tobi flinched as soon as the words were out of his mouth, already prepared for Itachi's blow. He had received enough to know when one was coming, and this was definitely one of those times.

He waited, but none came. He was amazed.

Sure, Itachi seldom ever showed his anger, but Tobi had been certain that the taboo word would have at least drawn a reaction. Instead, Itachi's expression remained frighteningly neutral.

"Y-you're not angry?" Tobi stuttered. It had to be a trap, because there was no way that Itachi would let him get away with such an accusation. He shook his head vigorously in disbelief, "You're really mad, aren't you?"

Itachi looked at the ground in deep thought. "Why? There is no reason to be," he said suddenly. When Itachi raised his gaze again, it was not the molten glare that he usually wore. It was almost … mournful.

"The only thing that I regret is that I never saw it before this," he said, a confession that he would never repeat. And then Itachi disappeared in a poof of smoke, all traces of him gone by the time the fog cleared.

Confused by this odd incident, Tobi paced the cave as he thought about the rumors flying within Akatsuki. Could what Kisame said have been true? About Itachi soon being unable to see anymore? It was whispered that the destructive Mangekyou Sharingan was a curse that threatened to take everything that its user treasured most. It would slowly take his sight until he could only see foggy images and, finally, just darkness.

Tobi stared at where Itachi had stood up seconds ago, brooding on this depressing news. Even though Itachi did not speak of it, it was surely happening to him. Was it the ironic fate of the Uchiha genuis?


Exiting the dark tunnel, Itachi found that it was the middle of the day.

Disturbingly, the light seemed dimmer than before.

He scoffed at his own foolishness. This was only to be expected, considering how often he had been using his Mangekyou Sharingan recently. He knew the danger, but he had ignored it.

However, Itachi could not forget that he had already received his first warning sign.

When his power had flowed into Hinata, his sight had gone completely and he had succumbed to the power of his own Sharingan. He had eventually regained control, Itachi was sure that it would happen again if he continued to do nothing. There would come a day where he would over-stretch himself and it would fail him in battle.

But there had to be a solution!

Whatever the cure was, Itachi knew that he could not die before he found it. He could not perish until he found the thing that had compelled him to leave Konoha and join Akatsuki. That part of him was still missing, and he had to find it no matter what.

Itachi had never intended to die; he had merely acted out of impulse in the moment where the decision had to be made immediately and without further consideration. That moment of danger had shown him his true feelings.

His heart was weak.

As long as he kept himself focused, Hinata could not reach him.

But even if he could not meet her, talk to her, or even speak her name… He could not help but wonder if she would still think of him kindly .

So that's the intro! We'll be skipping ahead a few years in the next chapters so stay tuned. Reviews are welcome!