a/n: Thanks for the reviews!


thirteen.

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"I find it very interesting that you don't devote as much time to work as you used to, Sasuke."

Slightly surprised at the sudden statement, Sasuke looked up to the source of the voice. His jaw hardened when he found Itachi standing at the door, dark eyes impassive, gaze focused on him. He hadn't expected to see him in the office, so late at night.

"Itachi."

Something flashed in Itachi's eyes. "Dearest brother."

"Dearest brother?" Sasuke repeated sharply, sarcasm dripping from his voice. "Is that what you're calling me in front of the others?"

Ignoring his words, the older Uchiha walked into the room and sat down on the chair across Sasuke. After a lengthy silence, he picked up a document from the desk and ran through it. "Well," he said, "It seems like you're managing the company well, even without me."

"You didn't give me any choice."

Itachi looked at Sasuke. "Would you have wanted a choice, Sasuke?"

Sasuke's hand froze midway of signing another document. He snarled, "What do you mean?"

"If I wasn't mistaken," Itachi began, his face unreadable, "you were the one who wanted the company. I didn't give you a choice because you hadn't wanted a choice, Sasuke. You wanted the company, so I gave you the company." A mysterious smirk curved his lips as he added, "For a limited amount of time, that is. I will always take back what is rightfully mine, as should you."

The younger Uchiha studied his brother, feeling sick to the pits of his stomach. It disgusted him that they were so alike, both in appearance and personality. Had he been Itachi, not Sasuke, he was sure he'd have done the same thing. It hurt him to even so much as admit it, even to himself, but it was probably true. He'd take back what was rightfully his, too, because he was an Uchiha and that was what… that was what Uchihas did, really. Mercilessly, ruthlessly retrieve anything and everything that were supposed to be theirs but weren't. Acceptance had never been their strong point, if and especially if their pride had been trodden on.

But not like this.

"You left," Sasuke spat, fist clenching under the table, "You left, you bastard, and you left me no choice. Did you think it was easy? Did you think I wanted to take the company away from you? I didn't, Itachi, and for your information, the company was ours. Not yours. Not mine. Ours. They left it for us. I—" he paused, hesitating for a split second but knowing that he had no other way to back out from this, "I looked at their original will."

"I know."

"You know?"

Itachi stood up and looked out the window, back facing Sasuke. "I've seen the original will, too."

"When?"

"After the accident."

"And you didn't tell me," Sasuke spat bitterly, "You didn't tell me, and you left. What a—what a coward are you, you bastard. What were you afraid of?"

A bitter smirk graced Itachi's lips, but he dared not turn around to show it to his younger brother. "What you looked at was their first will, Sasuke."

"What do you mean?" Sasuke asked, onyx eyes narrowed. He was so sure that he had looked at the right one. He had been very clear and very precise when talking to their lawyer, Ichinose Kurama, about it, making sure that things should go as well as they ought to. He had seen it with his own eyes and he was so sure that there hadn't been any mistake. Unless… unless he missed something. "Itachi?"

"Their first will," Itachi said, a little wearily. "They wrote another one after that one. What you looked at was original, yes, but it's not their… it's not it." He looked up and met Sasuke's eyes, "Ichinose hasn't been completely honest with you, Sasuke."

"What—"

"I asked him to hide some… ah, sensitive facts from you."

"You asked him to lie," Sasuke's face darkened. "What the fuck—"

"Probably not the best decision I made," Itachi agreed, turning around to face Sasuke, "but I had to. I made sure you saw the first will and only the first will before I left you with the company, Sasuke. It was all planned. I planned it. Ichinose was nice enough to help me, but only after I convinced him that it was for the best. It was for your best."

"Why?"

"You didn't look at the legal documents of the company, did you?" Itachi asked back, and when Sasuke's eyes widened and a flash of frustration flickered in his eyes, smiled wryly. They really were very, very similar to each other. "I thought not. I had Ichinose keep them safe so that not even you can look at them, because it's better than you… didn't." The smile disappeared and was replaced by a solemnity Sasuke didn't realize his brother possessed, "We're almost out of time, though."

"What in the fucking world are you talking about?" Sasuke asked, frowning, "What the hell is it that I don't know?"

"The company doesn't belong to us, Sasuke," Itachi replied, "Well, at least now it does, but soon it will belong to someone else. We have a time limit until it's given to someone else."

Sasuke bit back another snarl. "Who?"

Itachi sighed heavily, massaging his forehead. He had wished that there would be an easy way to get around him, but his brother was just as stubbornly frustrated as he was, many years ago, when he discovered what was really going on behind the scenes. Leaving hadn't been the best decision he made. In fact, it could have been one of the worst and his biggest regret. Coming back now was the only option he knew of, coming back and saving everything before it all fell down to ruins. He was the older brother, after all, and it was his job to protect his younger brother, no matter how the latter utterly loathed him.

And the first step to that was to tell him the truth, even if it was the ugliest Itachi knew of.

"Uchiha Madara."

Hearing that name, Sasuke froze, blood draining from his face as he clenched his fists, jaw hardening. "What?"

"Yes, Sasuke," Itachi replied, smiling acerbically. "You and I—we've been betrayed by our own blood."

"How—"

"He pulled some strings," the older Uchiha interrupted before Sasuke could ask how and why and everything else. He had to understand. He had to. They had to work together to come out from this alive, let alone win it. "Got our parents to sign some documents. Twisted the truth, spread false words…" he trailed off, his face sullen when he continued, "and threatened their lives. Uchiha Madara is a more capable man—a way more capable man—than he lets on, especially when it comes to utilizing his resources to get what he wants."

"How do you know this, Itachi?"

"I wasn't born yesterday, Sasuke," was the solemn, sour reply. "You, of all people, need to know that even if he's Father's younger brother and they were brought up by the same people, it doesn't mean that he has the same values. Money is a scary thing, as is power. Too much of that can turn a good man evil, the uncontrollable desire to gain what he should not gain and to ruthlessly destroy everything that stands in the way. Right now, what stands between him and that which he should not gain is you, Sasuke." When Sasuke narrowed his eyes, Itachi continued, "I've spoken to our elders, and they have agreed that you have worked hard for this company. Even if the will of our parents says that Madara is to inherit it after a number of years, it shouldn't be too hard to convince them that you're the one this whole thing still somehow belongs because of all the work you've put into it. That's why I think you should work harder, convince them even more that you're important enough so that they'll fight for you to stay, even if Madara owns it."

Sasuke was incredulous. "Are you helping me?"

"Is that so hard to believe?"

"Yes," came the reply. "You left, Itachi. You fucking left. If you had wanted to help, you would have stayed—and told me the truth."

"I was young."

"I was younger."

Itachi smiled wryly. "If I could turn back time, little brother, I would."

Sasuke didn't say anything. It was too easy if just after this, he forgave Itachi. No matter what happened, it was real. The abandonment, the betrayal, the pain of being left—they were all real.

Real and raw.

"I did not come back to make things right with you, Sasuke," Itachi suddenly said, eyes gleaming with so many emotions all at once Sasuke couldn't read them. "I would confess my hope for the possibility of it, but I do not dare think that things will be alright between us again. All I'm asking from you right now is for you to work with me to save the company our parents worked so hard for so that it doesn't fall into the hands of someone greedy and unworthy of it, someone who only appreciates the financial value and nothing else, someone who actually cares little to nothing for it."

The eyes that stared back at him were carefully curious. "Why should I believe you?"

Itachi regarded Sasuke with a thoughtful expression on his face. "Do you want to save the company?"

"Madara has appeared to be nothing less than supportive for all this time," Sasuke replied, his voice smooth. "He is good at what he does and his endeavors for the company have mostly been successful. He has proven to be exceedingly loyal to the Uchiha's, both in name and in action." He paused, and looked at Itachi sharply, "Shall I remind you that you're the one who hasn't?"

A smirk graced Itachi's lips, one of amusement and… satisfaction? Almost laughing, he said, "Spoken like a true Uchiha."

To his surprise, Sasuke smirked back. And then he turned serious, "I'll make an appointment with Ichinose tomorrow and… have things sorted out," he told him then, "but I want to see everything, and that means everything. No more hidden facts, no more surprises, no more family secrets. Swear on your life that everything I shall see tomorrow is true and all that is there."

"Does this mean you believe me?"

"No," the answer came quicker than a flash of lightning on a rainy day, but what came next was almost enough for Itachi. "but I'm willing to listen—only if you're telling the truth."

Itachi looked away and gave a low chuckle. "You've grown up, haven't you?"

"I've always been this way."

"No," his eyes softened just a little bit, barely visible even to Sasuke, "You've grown up. You've changed. The old Sasuke wouldn't give me the time of his day. He wouldn't even consider what I'm saying, because he was rash and he didn't like to think that there are sometimes things behind things." He paused, and then remarked, "Whoever has changed you, my little brother, tell her I am eternally grateful."

"Her?" Sasuke echoed.

"Yes," Itachi replied, and there was something in his mischievous smirk that made Sasuke think he knew something he didn't, "Send her my gratitude—you know who I'm talking about."

The younger of the Uchiha frowned, but said nothing, only watching silently as Itachi left the room. It would kill him first to admit it, but Itachi did know him quite well. He supposed that it was only natural that he did. After all, they had spent most of their lives together. Still. For him to know that Sasuke knew who he was talking about, for him to understand so well what had changed and all the whys and wherefores, and to actually know who

Perhaps he was more transparent than he thought.

xx

"Itachi said I would find you here."

Sasuke's head snapped up from the documents he was studying, surprised when he saw Ino standing by the door. A smirk curved his lips as she breezed into the room, taking her seat on his desk, her bright blue eyes thoughtful.

"You met him."

"Yes," Ino smiled, "I did. He seems fine."

Sasuke was quiet for a while. "Do you still love him?"

"No!" was the quick reply, her eyes widening in surprise and her lips blossoming into an amused smile, "Oh, God, Sasuke, no! I'm not in love with him. I love him, yes, but certainly not the way you thought it was. I love him like I love you. He's like the older brother I wanted to have when I was a little kid, you know, and… yeah…" she trailed off anxiously, "Are you okay?"

"Yes," he returned her gaze quizzically, deciding to put his earlier conversation with Itachi away from his mind until he had some alone time to himself, "Is there any reason I shouldn't be?"

"Itachi's homecoming?" she guessed, and when he raised his eyebrows, she continued, "Is it wrong to be worried? You're still my best friend, after all, one of the people I care for the most… and I don't want to see you hurt."

Amusement filled his eyes. "Like you don't want to see him hurt."

"I—"

"Ino."

The blonde hesitated. "Yeah?"

"Why do you trust me?"

At that sudden question, Ino blinked. "I'm sorry, what?"

"Why do you trust me?" Sasuke repeated, pronouncing every syllable clearly.

"Is this a trick question?"

"No."

"I…" she looked at him, and then smiled, "I trust you because you're you, Sasuke."

"Right," he said, "then why do you trust Itachi?"

"Because he's him," Ino replied simply. "I trust both of you. I always have and I always will. Because you're, well, you. And because Itachi's him. Because we're friends. Because you've always been there for me from the start and I can't forgive myself if I'm not there for you at all. Because… because I care, and because I don't want to see you hurt."

Sasuke played with the pen between his fingers for a long, long while, his gaze on it before he moved on to Ino, and then on the pen again, and then on her again.

And then it hit him.

There was a difference between Ino and… and Sakura. There was a difference so big that he couldn't believe he missed it the first time around. Ino accepted what other people told her and believed it and never questioned it, maybe because a lot of other people had told her the same thing. She believed that he took the company away from Itachi, accepted it, believed it, never questioned it, and Sakura… Sakura never did. Sakura trusted him, trusted that he was good from the very start, trusted what he said and not what Itachi said.

Trusted him from the very start—even though he was a conniving jerk, a mean bastard who had no manners whatsoever, a stupid prick who acted like he owned the world.

Trusted him.

Trusted him.

And hopefully, she'd trust him until the very end.

You fool, a voice inside him said, it doesn't always have to end.

"Sasuke?"

His head snapped up and he looked at Ino. "I have to go."

"Eh?" she looked confused, "Where to?"

"I'll see you later, Ino."

Blinking, Ino only nodded, watching in puzzlement as Sasuke rushed out of the office, leaving his work unattended on the table.

xx

He had to see Sakura.

He wasn't sure why, actually. He just had to see her. He wanted to see her and tell her that… what? He didn't even know. He had no idea what he would say to her, what he would ask of her; had no idea what would happen when he saw her. He just knew that for now, he had to see her. And maybe when he did, he'd understand why he needed to see her so badly.

Sasuke raised his hand, about to knock the door, but then froze, because the door had already opened with a soft click, revealing Sakura inside.

She blinked. "Sasuke?"

Sasuke returned the gaze evenly. "Hi."

"Hi," she replied, "What are you doing here?"

"I—"

"Sakura?" a voice came from behind her before Sasuke could even finish. A male voice, and then a man appeared behind her shoulder. As he came face to face with Sasuke, a smirk curved his lips. His eyes were dark, very, very dark, and the amusement dancing in them was one whose reason Sasuke found incomprehensible. "Who is this?"

Sakura looked like she wanted to die right then. And then she proceeded to the introductions.

"Sasuke, this is Sai. Sai, this is Sasuke."

.

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tbc.


a/n: I'm sorry because I'm apparently really terrible at remembering to update. Days just blur by and I completely forgot, even if I've had this chapter ready for a while now. Please, just feel free nudge me if I skip another week!