Disclaimer: Don't own!
Author's Note: I was rereading the fight between Sasuke and Itachi and this idea came to me. That is one of the saddest fights in my opinion. Spoilers if you haven't read up to that fight yet.
"Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own." –Robert Henlein
Itachi and Shisui had been playing cards in the hospital that night. It wasn't any particularly exciting game, but it had kept them entertained for that long night. They'd spoken of any subject, had wandered the hospital and found the employee's lounge where they stole some coffee to keep themselves awake.
It is nearly dawn when the door opened and both of them looked up and saw a doctor in his long white coat, smiling a little tiredly. Fugaku had stood immediately while the two boys stayed on the uncomfortable seats, not entirely sure what was going on.
"Uchiha-san," The doctor said, "I'm proud to tell you that you have a healthy baby boy."
While Fugaku stayed outside and spoke with the doctor, Itachi and Shisui slid into the room. Mikoto was asleep on against the pillows, her dark hair splayed about her. In a small crib to their left was a small bundle of blankets. Itachi and Shisui pushed a chair so that they could climb atop it and look into the crib.
The baby blue eyes that all babies were born with were already darkening into what they could both see was precisely the same shade of obsidian as their own. A line of downy dark hair much like Itachi's mother's was noticeable against the soft, pink skin. The big, darkening eyes looked at them with curiosity and innocence.
"Your mother said his name was to be Sasuke." Fugaku told them.
Both boys glanced back at him before looking back into the crib. Itachi lowered a hand and lightly ran a finger across the soft hair. A small hand, so small that Itachi's own hand could eclipse it entirely if he wanted to, extended and caught a hold of his finger.
Itachi looked at the little person who was his little brother and he remembered what so many people had said about little brothers. They were annoying and stole attention. Then there were the people that loved their little brothers, that said that they were so… and they would trail off, as if not knowing what words could describe it. Itachi understood it then as he let the chubby fist hold his finger. This little person was depending on him, had only reached out to him. Itachi would have to be the one to play outside with him, to compete with, like Shisui did with him.
His mother had been looking tired lately and Itachi had figured out why. Sasuke couldn't sleep through the night, though when he asked his aunt, his cousin Obito's mom, about it, she told him that he'd been the same way. All babies were.
So the next night that he heard Sasuke whimper, Itachi slunk across the hall to the nursery and looked down at Sasuke. Immediately, the small lips curved into a smile. Itachi bent over and carefully picker Sasuke out of the crib, like he'd seen his mom do.
"Ne, Sasuke, are you hungry?"
Though Sasuke couldn't reply, somehow Itachi knew that he wasn't. Instead, Itachi walked through the halls, listening for any sign of his parents' stirring, but continued walking. Finally, he was outside, watching for the step that he knew was there. He sat on the porch, feet not quite being able to touch the grass yet and positioned Sasuke in his lap. Sasuke neither whimpered nor made any noise at all. Neither of them noticed when they nodded off to sleep.
Mikoto awoke the next morning feeling more refreshed than she had in a few months. Out of habit, she checked on Itachi, whose bed was empty. That wasn't too surprising. Usually, he beat everyone out of bed and was usually at the table making himself a bowl of cereal. When she went to check on Sasuke was when she panicked. He wasn't in the crib and neither she nor Fugaku had gotten up last night hearing him cry.
Searching the entire house, telling herself there was a perfectly logical explanation, she nearly missed her oldest son sitting, leaning against a post. Going to him to ask if she'd seen his brother, Mikoto was startled to find Sasuke curled into his brother inside his blankets and Itachi holding him protectively.
Itachi had one knee to his chest, the other dangling over the edge of the porch, feet able to brush the grass now. His shoulders were rounded as he had his chin on his raised knee and arms wrapped loosely around his calf. Shisui sat leaning on the porch, legs crossed comfortably. It was one of the quiet afternoons when they simply sat and watched Mikoto with Sasuke.
She was trying to get him to walk now. Sasuke had been standing for about two weeks and Itachi's eyes had widened when he saw his little brother standing on his own two chubby legs. Sasuke's eyes met his not far from where the two cousins sat and he shakily began walking. Everyone followed him with their eyes and Shisui rose to kind of duck walk behind him in case he should fall back.
There had been no need for that. Itachi felt something inside him warm when Sasuke wobbled a bit before pitching forward. Itachi moved instinctively, but Sasuke had caught himself on Itachi's thigh and the elder smiled and ruffled the dark head of hair as Sasuke looked up at him and smiled and said, "Hi, 'Tachi-nii!"
Mikoto had gone out with her two sons today. They'd gone to the park near Konoha's center. It was never uncommon to see so many children playing there. But today was the first time Sasuke had ever been near so many children that weren't related to him and Itachi stayed back, absentmindedly swinging himself as he watched his brother. He almost didn't notice when Shisui sat in the swing next to him.
"Watching your brother?" The elder asked.
"Mmhmm. Not too many kids seem to want to play with him." Itachi told his cousin.
"Their loss. But look, Sasuke's playing with the blonde kid."
"Yeah, he's the one that Yondaime sealed the Kyuubi into."
"He looks like a good kid to me."
"He is. He really is. I've talked to him once or twice. He's a troublemaker, but he's gonna do okay. The stupid villagers keep trying to isolate him."
Itachi had noticed, vaguely, that so many people tended to avoid the blonde ball of exuberance, but never really understood until that day when they were walking home.
"An' I played with this kid named Naruto! He knows a lot of places to explore and made up a lot of games an'" Sasuke was telling them.
Mikoto had frozen at the name of the Kyuubi container. She crouched next to her son and looked at him firmly. "Sasuke, I don't want you playing with that boy, alright? He's a bad kid."
Sasuke nodded, but Itachi could still see the confusion and hurt in his wide eyes. Sasuke had made his first friend and his own mother was telling him that it was wrong. Later that afternoon, when he and Sasuke were sitting on the porch, their favorite place, he told his little brother, "Ne, Sasuke, don't tell mom, but when you go to the park with me, you can play with Naruto. He'll be a good friend."
The day that Itachi came home with his hitai-ate, Sasuke had ran his fingers over the inscribed symbol, feeling the grooves and the smoothness of the metal.
"Ne, nii-san…are you on a team yet? Isn't that what you told me? That you'd be put on a team?"
"I'm meeting my team tomorrow."
"You graduated early though. Aren't they gonna be older than you?"
"Yeah, they are."
Sasuke smiled suddenly. "You'll show them. They're gonna be thinking that you don't have what it takes, but you'll show them."
Itachi smiled a little, leaning back on his hands. "Really? You don't think I'd fail? That they'd be better than me?"
Sasuke looked as though the thought that anyone could be stronger than his brother had never occurred to him. "Of course not."
"'Cause you're the best."
And Itachi didn't tell him any different, because how could he want to begin the slow destruction of his own little brother's innocence?
Itachi leaned against a tree, letting Sasuke have the time after school to himself. Sasuke was racing Naruto across the park and he won. Naruto laughed as he playfully pushed the brunette. Itachi tried not to smile at their antics and failed.
"There's something that people don't see very often." Shisui remarked as he mirrored his cousin's position.
"That smile. It's been getting rarer and rarer since you became a chunin."
"Less reasons to smile."
Shisui snorted slightly in amusement. "Glad to know your little brother and his second-best friend are a good enough reason."
Shisui looked at him, dark eyes bright. "To him, you're his best friend."
"That's what that mission is, huh." Shisui looked at him. "And for the Mangekyou…"
Itachi didn't reply, eyes fixed on the river in front of them. There they were, both seated comfortably on the riverbank, like it was any other of the hundreds of afternoons that they'd sat there, letting time pass lazily.
Itachi saw Shisui curve his lips into a bittersweet smile in their reflection. "I can't bear you any ill will if that's what the clan is planning. Itachi…kill me."
His cousin's dark eyes were wide when he whirled to look at Shisui. "No."
"Itachi…the clan can start the Fourth Shinobi War with this plot of theirs. I know you remember what the third war was like. The village would be gone." No matter how much Itachi loved the village, perhaps he loved his cousin more. Shisui pulled out the only thing he knew would convince him. "Make Konoha a safe place for the future generations. For your brother. Don't put him through a war."
Itachi flinched ever so slightly at the thought before looking straight at his cousin. "Are you sure?"
"Pretend I committed suicide. That way you can't take any blame."
Shisui thought about his parents, how much he might miss them. Then he remembered what exactly they were a part of, what they were plotting. "…Yeah. Drown me. It'll hurt less than a blade." A sad smile lit his lips. "Just please, don't let it hurt too much."
Itachi forced himself to look Shisui straight in the eyes as he died, knew that he deserved no less. Anyone with the Sharingan could have copied handwriting; it was a parlor trick for them, but Itachi didn't need his Sharingan to copy Shisui's. He knew it simply from so many years of passed notes in class, from the pranks that Shisui had devised when he graphitized the walls on holidays with spray paint. And the entire time Itachi wrote out the letter, the only way he could keep his hand from shaking was remembering that he was doing this for his little brother, for Sasuke.
Itachi had kept the tears from falling the entire time he killed the clan. He didn't feel very much remorse (It was all for Sasuke, he reminded himself). But when Sasuke had come after him, the raw hurt and betrayal in his eyes had made that single tear he allowed himself to fall.
And when he stood before Pein, not letting the recognition of Madara show, he held himself entirely together by reminding himself that Sasuke would be okay now. He wouldn't be caught up in a war and he had people to watch over him. He'd asked Kakashi and Iruka along with the Sandaime to make sure Sasuke made it through everything else he knew he was putting his little brother through.
And as Itachi draped the black and crimson cloak around himself, he let a mask much more reliable than the ANBU mask ever was at hiding his emotions fall into place. The tear that he'd shed that night because of Sasuke were the last ones that weren't made of blood.
It wasn't until so many years later that he saw his little brother again. He'd grown and wasn't much shorter than Itachi himself. And there was Naruto, looking over at Sasuke, some confusion passed between them, but, Itachi noted, no discord. They were still friends, something that he was glad for. He hated to think that Sasuke had given everything up these past years just to try and kill him.
Kisame had known better than to try and kill Sasuke. While he didn't know the whole story-Shisui had been the last to know everything—he knew, or perhaps even guessed, enough to know that Itachi cared for his brother still.
As Itachi watched the Chidori crackle, he was filled with a sense of pride. Even as Sasuke charged at him and Itachi caught his wrist, letting the lightning fade away, he found himself marveling at exactly how much Sasuke had grown. No longer was his wrist one that Itachi's hand could eclipse easily, and he could feel the muscles in his little brother's arm tense and humming with adrenaline.
And Sasuke was still as stubborn as ever as he stood, even with the broken wrist. Itachi smiled a sad, mental smile. He hadn't been able to see his little brother grow into the person who stood in front of him. And he probably wouldn't be able to see this struggling teenager grow into a man either. That might've been the saddest thing that Itachi had ever considered.
Itachi could envision the man that Sasuke would become as he watched the younger brother take slow steps towards him. He'd be a good man, of that Itachi was certain. Perhaps a little misguided, perhaps getting a little lost on the way, but Itachi trusted Naruto to take care of that. Sasuke nearly was his height now, a bare inch and a half between them.
Sasuke was a graceful fighter, Itachi had known that that would be for years. Itachi wondered if he'd had a 'knees and elbows' phase, like Obito and Shisui had. Itachi had been spared, but every now and then, the elder Uchiha would wonder if it had been a sign of what was to come.
"…Just like…how you used to think I was your kind and gentle older brother." Did Sasuke still remember those times or had he shut them away?
Sasuke was a patient listener as Itachi told him the Uchiha past, something that most people would never have believed he would, or even could, do. He saw the interest spark in Sasuke's eyes when he said that Madara had a younger brother. Sasuke hadn't failed to see the connection.
Itachi's soul shriveled when he took his brother's left eye, even if it wall all illusion. The bleeding illusion of the remnants of Sasuke's eye socket nearly made Itachi cringe, even after all he'd seen in ANBU. The sheer fact that this was his little brother, the one he'd seen reach for him in the hospital, the one he'd walked to first; it hurt more than anything.
"You're skillful, but you used too much chakra." It might have been one of those long gone days when Itachi would help him train and would point out Sasuke's mistakes.
Itachi was awed, though he wouldn't let it show, as he watched the lightning make a link to Sasuke's hand. The lightning dragon sped towards him and he had less than a split second to see it properly. It had a dangerous momentary beauty and Itachi could see what Deidara had been blabbering about. Art was only true art in its fleetingness.
The blow from the lightning was strong enough that it knocked Itachi to the ground, though he didn't take much more damage than that. It took more effort than it should have to get to his feet. Itachi could just barely see the curse mark spread along Sasuke's skin, turning it that terrible dark, muddy brown. Sasuke's eyes weren't really his anymore, surrounded by darkness and being such a light color. Perhaps it showed his current mental state.
"You really have…gotten stronger…Sasuke." Was the shock on the younger's face at his words or the fact that he was still standing?
Itachi watched his brother fall to his knees in pain and it took every ounce of will not to try and catch him, like he had all those years ago when Sasuke had taken his first shaky steps. The eight serpents might have impressed a lesser man, but Itachi could only feel disgust and rage at Orochimaru for putting his brother through the extra ordeal, however much stronger it might have made him.
"Your eyes are mine. I think I'll take my time to retrieve them." It wasn't that he was taking his time. It was that he couldn't move much faster. Already, there was an itching burn in his lungs that told him he was about to pay the price for all the extraneous activities. And he was right, for not two seconds later, his chest constricted and he could taste the blood in his throat, his mouth. Whether it was Sasuke or the illness that would kill him, either way, he wouldn't last much longer.
Sasuke was really giving it his all, flinging the explosive tags at him and Itachi smirked a little. His little brother never did do anything by halves. It hurt Itachi more than a little that Sasuke was backing up frantically, drawing strength from instinctive panic, all to get away from him. The wild panic in the younger's eyes was that of a trapped animal, one that needed a way out. Itachi put all of the energy he had left, not very much, to simply touch his brother's forehead again, hoping Sasuke heard the message that Itachi no longer had strength to say.
Forgive me, Sasuke. But there would be no next time.
The words he did have the strength to say were the words he'd wanted to say for so many years, ever since that night. He forced his lips into an upward curve, his final smile, a true smile meant only for this person in front of him. "Sorry, Sasuke…this is it." The end to my story.
Ravaged by illness, painfully aware of his impending death…he forcefully prolonged his life with medication…all for his beloved little brother….