Disclaimer: If I owned Naruto, my manga would sell better.

Author's Note: Holy batch of cookies. Is this a story? Yes it is. This is my long-promised story that I have started typing since January. As a matter-of-fact, I'm STILL not finished with it.

But I've started updating anyway. Because I promised lizuchiha I would have it up before New Year's.

Alright, I REALLY wish you would read this chapter through before you judge it. I personally am really proud of the way this thing has turned out. You have to admit that the plot is original.

But stop listening to me. Read and enjoy. It's a rollercoaster of drama. Hooray.

No need to review. Review only if you feel the need to, because otherwise, your words won't be sincere, will they?

Chapter 1
:::Open your Eyes:::…
Snow Patrol

"Let's do this, Itachi."

Brother and brother stood in the dark room, their only source of light the moon that shone through the crack of the wavering curtains. It illuminated the face of the clown-shaped nightlight, turning its innocent grin into a menacing, snarling, foaming from the mouth –

"Are you sure you're ready, Sasuke?"

Focus!

"Yes, I'm – ah! Too tight!" Sasuke couldn't help but squirm to get into a better position. "Stop, you're hurting me!"

"Sorry . . ."

Uchiha Itachi loosened the crimson blanket he had fastened around his younger brother's neck, who visibly relaxed.

"Better?"

Sasuke nodded his underwear-bearing head and grinned, flashing his older brother the peace symbol with two little fingers. Clad only in pajama shorts much too big, he grabbed his flashlight from his bed and said,

"Let's go get the Boogeyman."

(Did you just smile?)

Itachi smirked and grabbed his own flashlight. Sasuke had been having nightmares that kept the entire Uchiha estate up at night and so Itachi had volunteered to help Sasuke face his fears. They were going into the closet tonight to stop the Boogeyman once and for all.

"Wait, we have to make sure everything's good to go," he said.

"Okay, okay!" said Sasuke impatiently. "Flashlights, check?"

Itachi waved his around. "Check."

"Capes, check?"

Itachi fixed his table cloth. "Check."

"Boogeyman-repellant headgear, check?"

Um . . .

"Itachi!" whined Sasuke, stamping his feet for emphasis. "You can't help me fight the Boogeyman if you don't have the Boogeyman-repellant head gear thingy!"

"But it looks ridiculous!" retorted Itachi. "I already agreed to wear the cape!"

Before he knew what was happening, Sasuke had jumped from the bed, screeching like a banshee. In his hands was a pair of brightly-patterned . . . underwear.

"Sasuke!"

The boy managed to crash into Itachi, successfully pinning him to the ground. They struggled for a bit, but in the end, Itachi sat up with a new hat, a disgruntled expression, and Sasuke cheering happily.

(You did smile!)

"Boogeyman-repellant headgear, check?" he chirped.

". . . Check . . ." grumbled Itachi. He adjusted the underwear so the crotch didn't cover his eyes. Oh, Sasuke was going to pay for this. He stood up, straightened his night shirt, and turned to his mentioned little brother, who was shifting from foot to foot nervously.

". . . Maybe you should go first," he said hesitantly.

"Alright, but when I call for help, you'd better come, got it?"

"Good luck!" the younger whispered. "Don't forget to shine the flashlight on his nose! That's his weak spot!"

Itachi smirked once more. "Thanks for the tip," he said before turning around to open the closet.

"Wait!"

Sasuke's short arms were suddenly around his midriff, squeezing for dear life.

"I love you, 'tachi," he whispered.

And though he dare not show it, Itachi smiled softly in the shadows of the darkness.

"I love you, too, Sasuke."

Minutes later, Itachi was shouting for help from within the closet.

"Sasuke, come quick!" he screamed. "I think one of its tentacles has my ankles!"

Sasuke bit his lip and shifted from one foot to another.

What should I do? What should I do?!

His eyes darted around nervously before landing on the closet. His brother was in trouble! He had promised to help him! Swallowing his fear and puffing out his chest, he turned on his flashlight and ran forward.

"I'm coming, Itachi!"

(Mother! Mother, he's smiling!)

He thrust the door to the closet wider and shone the light inside the darkness. Itachi's figure was writhing around, knocking over several books and piles of junk Sasuke refused to throw out. There was even a ballerina tutu lurking in the corner . . . not that he ever used it . . .

"I'll save you!"

But he sounded a lot braver than he felt. His hands were shaking as he held the flashlight out and randomly waved it around in hopes that it hit its target. One of his shaking hands covered his eyes.

The room was suddenly dead quiet. Sasuke peeled his fingers from his eyes warily. When there was no sight of his older brother, he gasped.

Oh my gosh! I killed Itachi!

And then . . .

"You did it, Sasuke!"

Itachi's eyes were suddenly staring into his, his hands on Sasuke's smaller shoulders.

"You've killed the Boogeyman! He's gone! You did it!"

It took a few seconds for Sasuke to fully comprehend his achievement, but when he did, the boy grinned widely and thrust a fist into the air.

"Alright!" he exclaimed. "I did it! No more Boogeyman! No more nightmares!"

(Sasuke? Sasuke, can you hear me?)

As he watched his younger brother celebrate, Itachi stealthily hid the stuffed snake he had been wrestling with behind his back.

Hey, what he didn't know wouldn't hurt him, right?

BAM!

Sasuke watched Itachi grow older in the blink of an eye. Older Itachi was now hunched over a desk, piles and piles of papers surrounding his figure. A single light was on in the room. The curtains, drawn closed, hid the pitch black of night in its shadows. Everyone in the house was asleep.

Or so Itachi thought.

There was a tap on his shoulder. Turning around with weary eyes, he spotted his brother, older, his figure sharper. He held a white canvas beneath one arm and a set of paints in his hand.

"Itachi," whispered Sasuke, so that their parents would not wake. "Paint for me."

"Not tonight, Sasuke," Itachi replied with a sigh, turning around once more. "I've got too much work tonight."

"You have too much work every night!"

Nonetheless, Sasuke left his brother in peace.

(I swear I'm not lying, sir. I saw it!)

Looking back at his brother, Itachi saw him asleep, the canvas discarded at his bedside, the paints strewn across the floor, and the most serene expression placed on his pallid face.

Itachi painted that night.

BAM!

The scene suddenly changed again.

He was falling . . .

. . . Falling . . .

(Sasuke, please, just open your eyes!)

Who was that?

"Itachi?" Sasuke called out to the darkness that pressed itself against his eyes.

The wind was whistling around him as he fell into oblivion. Oh look, it's the ground.

"Hello, Sasuke," said the ground. "Come closer so I can meet you. We'll become the best of friends, I'm sure. While I'm at it, why don't I give you a massage . . . maybe even a complete body makeover?"

(Open your eyes!)

WHAM!

Sasuke tried to lurch forward, screams gushing from his throat and cold sweat breaking out over his skin. All he felt was pain. Aching, unbearable pain and nothing else. Someone in the distance was sobbing hysterically.

Where the hell . . .?

He could vaguely feel powerful hands covering his chest, forcing him back down to the ground – no, bed? He opened eyes he didn't know he had closed and saw blurs and white.

When did I get here . . .?

"Sasuke!"

He turned his head painfully towards the source of the voice. A dull throbbing in his head blurred the image of the person completely. Sasuke tried to bring his hands up to rub his eyes, but they felt like heavy weights on fragile sticks of bones and if he moved them, they would break the sticks.

"Sasuke? Can you hear me? Can you see me?"

Ah, that was quite the familiar voice . . . he had heard it a few moments ago. What was his name . . .?

The vision cleared slightly.

"Itachi?"

Easier thought than said.

There was his brother, older from his previous – dream? –, disheveled, and eyes showing so much emotion that Sasuke immediately knew something was horribly wrong.

"What . . .?" He couldn't continue. There was something wrong with his voice. It wasn't coming out the way he wanted it to, as if he hadn't used it in a long period of time.

The crying was getting louder and on Sasuke's nerves. He turned to barely make out the outline of his mother. Her face was buried in her hands and her charcoal hair met her back in tangled, unkempt wisps. Whether it was a trick of light, Sasuke didn't know, but her skin took on a sallow tinge.

"Wh's go . . . ng 'n?" he managed to croak hoarsely.

He wanted to know why Itachi looked as close to crying as he ever had been. He wanted to know what had gotten his mother into hysterics. But most of all, he wanted to know why there was such blinding pain in his body!

"Oh thank God."

And suddenly, Itachi was hugging him.

Hugging him.

He hadn't shown such affection in years!

Something was definitely wrong.

"I-Itachi?" He turned to his mother. She was advancing on him with her arms outstretched. "M-m-mom?"

"He still remembers!" his mother choked out as she enveloped him in a bone-crushing, pain-inducing hug. Sasuke winced. "There's no memory loss!"

Memory loss?!

"Do you remember everything?" Itachi asked when their mother unwound her arms from Sasuke and began stroking his hair. "The last thing you remember?"

What was he supposed to remember?

. . .

Oh.

The memories washed over him with the same force as a tsunami.

He was falling . . .

. . . Falling.

"No," he whispered. His arms started working again. Adrenaline, he thought. He had so much of it all of a sudden. With shaking hands, he grasped his hair wildly, masochistically, his eyes growing wider. "No, no!"

"Calm down, honey!" said Mikoto, trying to gently pry her son's hands from his hair. "You shouldn't try and sprain anything after you've finally woken up!"

"Finally woken up?" exclaimed Sasuke. "How long have I been asleep?!"

It was Itachi who answered after a long pause. His voice was monotonous, but Sasuke could still sense the bit of hesitation.

"Comatose for six months."

One . . .

Two . . .

Three . . .

"Six months?!"

Sasuke jerked forward without restraints this time, the bed sheets pooling over his legs and revealing his bandaged torso. His nasal cannula ripped savagely at his cartilage and several needles and wires disconnected from his body painfully, but he was too preoccupied to notice. Panic suddenly coursed through him. There was something wrong. There was something more wrong than wrong!

"Mom, why can't I feel my left leg?" he asked. Blood was beginning to drip from his nose and down his mouth. The taste was nauseatingly familiar.

Warning! Warning! Panic levels rising! Evacuate immediately!

His eyes grew wide and the sweat that had dried broke out once more. It was all happening too fast. Things were all going downhill too quickly. This wasn't real. This wasn't real! Sasuke put one hand on the sheet to wrench it away, but Itachi stopped him.

"It's natural for you not to be able to move your muscles," he said. "You haven't been used to moving them, so you've got to go into physical therapy."

Some part of Sasuke knew he was lying. That part jerked from his brother's grasp with the words "Don't bullshit me!" and flung the covers off of his legs.

He gasped.

Mikoto looked at him through tears that had sprung anew.

"I'm so sorry, honey . . ."

Sasuke's eyes rolled to the back of his head. The heart monitors suddenly sprang to life, having not been disconnected from his finger.

"What's going on?" Mikoto cried shrilly.

"Shock," Itachi whispered to himself at first. Upon realizing the danger, his eyes widened. "Shock! He's going into shock!"

He was at Sasuke's bed in an instant, yelling for a doctor as he patted his brother's cheeks roughly. "Stay with me, Sasuke! Stay with me!"

But his brother's eyes were already blank.

And he was unconscious.

o.o.O.O.o.o

Sasuke grumbled in the backseat of the car, crossing his arms over his chest and looking out the window. It was a bright summer's day, perfect for swimming, playing in the park, and having a picnic, which was exactly what he was going to do.

That didn't mean he wanted to do it.

His father was in the front seat of the Bentley convertible, mouth set into a firm line and eyes watching the road. They were supposed to meet his mother and brother at the park by the freshwater creek that ran from their town to the next.

Tap, tap, tap . . .

Sasuke grit his teeth.

Tap, tap, tappity-tap . . .

He looked around for the source of the annoying sound. It turned out to be his father's fingers. They were twitching on the steering wheel.

His father never twitched . . . or showed any emotion whatsoever.

Weird.

He turned back to the window.

Tap, tap, tap . . .

"Would you stop tapping your fingers, dad?" he demanded, spitting out the last word as if he had chewed on a lemon seed.

"Keep your mouth shut, son."

It was good to know the hate was mutual.

Sasuke hated his father – loathed his father. There wasn't anything he hated more than being in his very presence. He gave a growl and stared out the window once more. They were heading over a bridge that ran high above the creek. He could see people the size of raisins sitting on the lush fields that led down to the banks, some blocked by trees, others running with their dogs – llamas – what?

Sasuke smirked as he recognized his mother's orange hat. He could barely see her, for he was so high up and she looked like nothing but a mere ant, but he knew it was her. After all, who else would wear such a silly-looking hat? Seeing a block of white beside her, Sasuke knew it was a canvas, and knew that his brother was hidden behind it, painting.

The car suddenly stopped.

Fugaku chuckled.

What the hell . . .?

In all fifteen-soon-to-be-sixteen years of his life, Sasuke had never once heard his father chuckle, let alone laugh.

Oh, something was wrong. So very wrong.

His father suddenly let out laughter. It wasn't sincere laughter, no. There was nothing funny at all. No clowns hanging in nooses, no killer going on about the town . . . absolutely nothing funny in Sasuke's eyes.

It was more like . . . insane laughter.

"Dad?" Sasuke questioned. He leaned forward on the seats. Fugaku turned around to face him, a grin apparent on his face, making Sasuke reel back ever-so-slightly. Behind them, several cars honked. They were still at the beginning of the bridge and Sasuke could not see its end in the distance.

Looking into his father's eyes, however, made him shiver.

There was a maniacal gleam in them. He'd never seen it before. It seemed like his father was almost insane.

"Dad, are you okay?" asked Sasuke. He'd never uttered those words before. "Maybe you should step outside . . ."

"Worthless," whispered Fugaku as he turned to stare back at the roads. "You're worthless. Everything's worthless. Everything's wrong, so very wrong, and so very right, wrong, right, wrong . . ."

Fugaku went into a drawn-out rant. Sasuke's eyes were wide. He knew his father thought of him as worthless, but to go out and say it?

"Pathetic . . ."

That just hurt.

But then he realized that his father must not have been in the right state of mind. There was something terribly wrong. Fugaku pressed on the gas pedal, lightly at first.

"Dad, maybe you should stop and step outside for a breath of fresh air."

He pressed harder on the pedal.

The car was speeding up.

"Pathetic!" his father exclaimed. "Everything in this world is pathetic! No money! No nothing! Everyone is incompetent! Losers, incompetence, fucking good-for-nothing maintenance –"

"Dad, stop the car!"

But Sasuke realized that his father wasn't going to stop the car. They were breaking the speed limit now and were still high above the creek. The end of the bridge seemed to get farther and farther.

His father was insane. Sasuke understood that now. He wasn't safe anymore. Something bad was going to happen. Something really bad.

Panic rose as Sasuke fiddled with his seatbelt that just wouldn't come off!

"Dad! Dad, stop!"

His voice had raised itself several pitches.

"Die! Die, that's it! That's perfect!" his father rambled on. "You'll die, and I'll die, and we'll all die, and live happily ever after in hell! And we'll –"

"Dad!"

There were tears in his eyes now. Tears of fear. Sasuke had managed to unlatch his seatbelt, but the doors were still locked and wouldn't open if he tried and besides, they were going at speeds too fast for him to jump out of the car and survive.

"Dad, please! Stop! Stop!"

He was begging now. Begging for his life.

"Die, die! That's it! That's the perfect solution!" He let out a disgusting cackle that only made Sasuke scream. "Die! Die! Die!"

Fugaku jerked the steering wheel to the side. The car swerved violently and before Sasuke's very eyes, they broke through the railing of the bridge.

"Dad!"

"Die, die!" his father chanted. "I want to die!"

And he was falling . . .

. . . Falling . . .

Sasuke never heard the crash.

He was already unconscious.

o.o.O.O.o.o

"Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem."

- Phil Donahue

o.o.O.O.o.o

What had happened . . .?

Oh, that's right . . .

I woke up, didn't I?

Hello, pain. We meet again.

Tap, tap, tap . . .

Sasuke groaned and clenched his teeth.

Tap, tap, tappity-tap . . .

"S-stop," he whispered. His jaw ached.

Tap, tap . . . tap?

"Sasuke?"

Oh, it's that voice again . . .

Sasuke groaned and rustled around in the sheets that had been wrapped tightly around his body. He squeezed his eyes to brace himself for the lights to come, only to open them and see that there wasn't any light at all. He was still in the hospital room, but the fluorescent lighting above him was turned off and the only thing that illuminated his brother's grim face was the moonlight shining from the drawn-back curtains.

How nostalgic . . .

Looking blearily into his brother's eyes, he was surprised to find the sudden range of emotion passing through them: from relief, to depression, to downright fury, and then to a contortion of all three. But it all disappeared into a mask of oblivion the second he spoke.

"We thought we lost you again," he said. "I thought you'd slipped back into your coma."

The memories came rushing back. Sasuke closed his eyes briefly and swallowed the bile that had risen in his throat from the horrid images. He dared not remove the covers on his legs. Maybe if he didn't make sure what he had seen was true, then it wasn't true.

Itachi stood from his chair to loom over Sasuke's immobilized figure. Sasuke could clearly see the emotion in his eyes, no matter how hard Itachi tried to hold it back.

"Do you know how many times we almost lost you?" he said in an ominous whisper. Sasuke stayed silent. "Twice, Sasuke."

Itachi suddenly whirled around and slammed his fist into the hospital wall. Sasuke jumped from the movement and the heart monitor's emerald line jumped with him.

"Twice! You went into cardiac arrest twice! And just over four hours ago, you went into cardiogenic shock and the doctors were almost sure you'd die! Or you'd slip into a coma that you'd never come out from!"

Sasuke didn't understand why he was angry. He didn't understand a lot of things in the hazy daze his mind was occupying.

"Mother is currently being sedated." He was much calmer as he spoke this time, but his fist never left the wall. Sasuke could see small rivulets of blood flow down his knuckles. "She went into a fit of hysteria when you went into shock."

Itachi's eyes were suddenly right in front of his, boring into him.

"Just . . ." he began in a whisper. "Just don't do that again."

Sasuke swallowed the bile that had risen once more and nodded painstakingly slowly. He tried to wet his chapped lips, but found that his tongue was already too dry.

"'tachi," he croaked. "D- . . . did . . . really hap'n?"

Please no . . . please no . . . please no!

"Yes."

Well thank you, Mr. Blunt.

Sasuke didn't know what to think. Half of him still believed his leg was fully intact. The other half kept replaying the vision he had seen: the stump of his leg wrapped in bandages and missing from mid-thigh. His throat closed and his eyes widened. Panic was suddenly invading his mind again. Itachi saw this.

"Sasuke, don't panic," he said.

"Don't p-p-panic?!"

"You'll go back into shock, or you'll get a heart attack, and I don't think you'd be able to survive through another –"

"Leggone!"

"It's not as bad as it seems –!"

"Not 's b-bad?!"

Sasuke was trying desperately to sit up, his limbs aching and the pace on his heart monitor beginning to quicken. The sheets were pooling around his waist again and he could almost see it . . .

His limbs began to jerk uncontrollably. He was losing control of everything. Even his mind seemed to jump straight from his head and appear in front of him, like it wasn't totally his, like it wasn't completely real.

And then Itachi was hugging him.

Again.

Sasuke jerked in his grip, but Itachi only tightened the embrace. "Calm down," he urged. And then, in the most pleading, desperate voice his brother had uttered in all twenty years of his life, he said, "Please."

Sasuke had to stop.

Tears. They were coming now. He honestly had no idea where they came from. At first, he had thought of it to be blood from some unknown cut, but when they reached his gaping mouth, he could taste them. They flowed over his cheeks and rolled down his chin to get absorbed into Itachi's shirt. Before he knew it, his face was buried into his brother's torso and his hands gripped at his shirt's material desperately.

"W-what happ'ned?" he sobbed out, still unable to correctly form his words. "Why? Why me?"

Itachi, who had never been in this situation more than twice, awkwardly patted his brother's back.

"Are you sure you want the story?"

Sasuke was hesitant at first. Had it been that bad? But he nodded his head as best as he could and ignored the dull throbbing in the entirety of his body. Itachi sighed and decided not to beat around the bush. It was his specialty, after all.

"Father committed suicide."

Sasuke's breath hitched in his throat. He knew that. And it was his fault.

"Mother and I could see it from where we were sitting. There were people pointing and screaming and when I saw the Bentley, I knew who it was. And I knew it was bound to happen."

He knew? What . . .?

"I just didn't expect you to be in the car with him."

"Acted strange. Him," whispered Sasuke. "T-told him t' stop, but h-he kept screaming. Wanted d-d-die. The seatbelt was s-stuck and moving –"

"I know," Itachi interrupted. "Just listen. People all around us were calling the police and the paramedics. The car sunk in the creek and since there wasn't a current, I knew it was still in one place. It was a hundred-foot drop. So I did the only thing I thought of. I swam."

o.o.O.O.o.o

"Itachi!"

"I know, mother!" Itachi screamed back at his frantic mother. "I know!"

There was chaos all around the picnic area. People were running about in search of authorities, dogs were barking at the wave of water that had erupted, and Mikoto was giving off a high-pitched scream at the sight of the sinking Bentley.

It was soon submerged completely within the creek. People gathered at the banks and whispered in gossip.

But Itachi was actually going to do something productive.

Running at full speed towards the creek (and pushing past several people that had crowded around), he removed the casual t-shirt he had worn, the undershirt beneath, and even his jeans, leaving him clad in nothing but black boxer shorts. Knowing that clothes would only weigh him down as he swam, he had to do so, even if it meant people staring at him.

With practiced expertise, he ran forwards . . . and dove.

It was freezing! Despite being early in the summer, the creek hit Itachi with such coldness that he swore if he survived, he would have been able to survive in the Arctic. There was no current, but the water was deep and had turned murky due to the dust storm the impact of the Bentley had kicked up.

"Itachi!" he vaguely heard his mother scream. "Itachi, please!"

But he dove down into the darkness of the waters with a single breath. He had to work fast. Beneath the temperatures, his breaths wouldn't last long.

With adrenaline building in his veins, he searched desperately for the Bentley. It had no chance of explosion, but still . . .

There!

He barely suppressed a gasp at the shape of the vehicle. The entirety of the front was submerged deeply into the sandy depths. What was visible was half of the vehicle from the passenger's seat. And in the seat, a head. A head of black.

Sasuke.

His bare feet quickly rocketed off of the sandy grounds and his head broke through the surface of the water to meet gasps and whispers. Ignoring them, he dove back down.

When he came along Sasuke's side of the car, he could see that it was completely filled with water. And to his horror . . . blood. The red liquid mingled with the water and hazed the surrounding liquid so that he could only see his brother's hair floating hauntingly within.

Clenching his teeth, he tried desperately to pull on the passenger's side of the door.

Stuck.

The sand encased it. Every time his hands tried to push it away, the water would push it back. In absolute desperation, Itachi knew there was only one thing he could do.

He punched the window.

It caved in immediately, the shards floating eerily in the water. Itachi ignored the blood flowing from his broken and aching fingers and instead focused on his brother. From his position, he could see the front seat as well.

And something he never wanted to see in his life.

His father, strapped to his seat by his seatbelt of doom, was crushed between his seat and the condensed front of the car . . . metal ripping his torso to shreds and a serene smile upon his face.

Itachi clasped his hand to his mouth as quickly as the water would let him and rocketed towards the surface once more. When his head broke the surface, powerful hands took him beneath the armpits immediately and dragged him to shore.

Police sirens wailed in the background and radios went off incessantly. Someone was asking him if he could stand. His reply was emptying his stomach's contents onto the sand, watching his knuckles bleed . . . like Sasuke had . . .

"Get the man a blanket!" someone barked.

"Itachi!"

"We've got a submerged car in the creek. Flew straight off the bridge . . ."

". . . Witnesses say there were two passengers . . ."

A blanket was suddenly around his violently coughing figure. Mikoto was kneeling in front of him, asking if he was alright.

No, he wasn't alright.

He wouldn't be alright.

Not until he knew his brother was alive.

o.o.O.O.o.o

"They carried you out of the water and brought you into the ambulance so quickly I only saw blood. The paramedics were trying to revive you in the ambulance. I let mother ride with you because I knew she'd be too hysterical to drive the car, which I took over.

"The second they put you beneath surgery, you went into your first cardiac arrest. They managed to revive you with jolts to your heart. Hours later, with you still in surgery, you went into your second cardiac arrest to which they said you wouldn't survive through."

Sasuke relaxed slightly. His muscles were slacking and his grip on his brother's shirt loosened. With drooping eyes, he tried desperately to stay conscious as his brother told him the rest of the story.

"You slipped into your coma after that and everything went pretty chaotic at the beginning, but then it calmed down in the end. . . . Father had died in the crash. The front of the Bentley was completely destroyed."

Itachi noticed his brother's slackened grip and released him, gently easing him back into the bed. Sasuke welcomed it with a small groan as he closed his eyes.

"I think mother wanted to tell you this, but seeing as she is incapable, I shall do so: we're moving."

". . . Mo . . . ving?"

Itachi nodded despite knowing Sasuke couldn't see him. "Father's empire crashed. Our money was taken away and if we continue to live in the same house we have now, we will eventually be out on the streets. We have to move to an apartment and Kisame – you remember him, don't you? My good friend in Konoha? He helped us find a good apartment in a nice town while you were incapacitated and we've already finished packing."

"We . . . poor?" croaked Sasuke, his eyes still closed.

Itachi grimaced. "In a way."

"Pay hop'sital bills? How?"

Sasuke knew they must have been up to their necks in bills. Six months beneath heavy machinery in the hospital was sure to put up a large price.

"Insurance."

And the moment they've been waiting for:

"My . . . m-my leg?"

Itachi sighed and ran a hand through his hair, looking twenty for once and not forty, as he acted. Upon opening his eyes again, Sasuke took in his brother's look completely for the first time since he'd awoken. His face had become gaunt and slightly hollowed as if he hadn't been eating properly, which Sasuke suspected he hadn't. The once healthy-looking hair atop his head was tangled and lacked its usual sheen.

The older Uchiha took a seat in the chair he once occupied so that the moonlight illuminated his face to the point that he looked like some sort of ethereal messenger from Heaven.

"Transfemoral prosthetic," he said. "It's a little more expensive than a transtibial prosthetic, but since your leg was severed from mid-thigh, it's needed."

As if Sasuke understood the difference.

"'tachi?" Sasuke whispered quietly. He was seconds away from sleep.

"Mm?"

"L-leave me? Don't."

For the first time in six months, Itachi smirked.

"I'm not going anywhere."