Damn Madara. And damn the elders, too.

Sasuke leapt from branch to branch through the crowded forest to the village of Konoha with the other three members of Team Hawk. Sasuke in front, then Karin and Juugo, while Suigetsu stayed at the rear of the group.

He was distracted, to say the least. He knew he was beginning to scare his teammates, too, but he couldn't find it in himself to care. His mind kept replaying the last few minutes he'd spent with his brother. The conversation ran over and over in his head and he tried to block the anger and grief and confusion the confrontation had caused from his mind.


He'd finally won, finally beaten his brother. It hadn't come without cost, and he certainly couldn't say that he was satisfied with what had happened, but he'd finally accomplished his life's goal. He'd killed the only family he had left.

And now, Itachi was telling him – only now, after Sasuke had killed him – the story that would have explained everything. The story that would have made Sasuke give up on his quest for his brother's blood.

"Don't blame Konoha for the fall of our clan, Sasuke. I know Orochimaru must have told you that the council ordered me to carry the mission out, but the one who was really behind it… it was Uchiha Madara." Sasuke raised a questioning brow, but his brother couldn't have seen it; he could barely raise his head.

"He saw an opportunity and molded the situation to his desire. He knew our father would have opposed his plans, and our clan with him, so he decided that we were in the way…" Itachi said quietly.

His brother's blood was slowly dripping down from an outstretched hand, into the chasm that huge chunks of upturned rocks had created. He lay on the largest platform, a testament to the battle that had taken place only moments ago. More blood dripped down the elder Uchiha's face, and his clothes were near tatters. Itachi coughed roughly for a moment. It shook his frame, those coughs, and Sasuke almost winced. Almost.

He stood over Itachi, nearly as injured, but refusing to rest on the ground. His stupid pride refused him that relief, even as he called himself a fool over and over in his mind, regret pooling hotly in his chest. He almost didn't want to hear this. He didn't want to hear that he had killed one of the two people who had always been there for him. He'd always had doubts, deep in his heart. But he'd buried them without a second thought, betraying his only family, the one person who had always deserved his trust.

He knew that the man in front of him had only minutes to live, and he would listen to his brother's confessions until that time was through. Even if it killed him inside. He wanted to hear his brother's reasoning from his own mouth and, of course, he wanted to know who this Uchiha Madara was. He needed to know who exactly he needed to kill after this. It would help to figure out how exactly this man, supposedly long-since dead if it was who Sasuke thought it was, managed to destroy one of the most powerful clans in the ninja world.

"…Madara turned to the council and managed to manipulate them with his Sharingan. Soon after, they called me to the task of exterminating our clan. I declined when they first gave me the assignment; I couldn't see why the Uchiha were considered such a threat. But they incessantly assured me that Father was the leader of a major coup d'état by the Uchiha clan and showed me evidence of his treachery."

Itachi shook his head, almost apologetically, and turned his head with difficulty to look straight into his little brother's now dark, Sharingan-less eyes. "You know how I was back then; I accepted everything the leaders said as the undeniable truth. I never thought to verify the evidence as the real thing. So I accepted the mission and, a month later, I led the massacre of our clan that night and fled Konoha, as had been prearranged."

"Wait." Sasuke interrupted. "Led? Konoha said you were the only one involved."

"…that's almost true. I was the one who began the attack, but I refused to kill everyone. The children, for example, were innocent of their parents' crimes. The council suspected what I planned and sent others to kill those who were left while I was trying to…to fool you. I thought I'd gotten away with it, but when I left our home…"

Sasuke grimaced and he felt his anger towards Konoha rise, before he reminded himself that the massacre was apparently the work of only a few. He took a deep breath and kept listening. Itachi seemed lost in the past.

"Two years after that I joined Akatsuki. I learned, from piecing together the information I gathered during my travels, that I had been tricked by the council, or rather, through them, by Madara. There had indeed been a plan for a coup d'état but it hadn't involved the entire clan, and my actions had been almost totally unnecessary.

"While I was with the Akatsuki, I discovered many things about Uchiha Madara. Until recently, he has only directed Akatsuki from the background, masquerading as one of its members under a different name. He is consumed with jealousy and greed, but he's all the more powerful for it. He craves power, which eventually led him to search for the Bijuu, which are under control of the Jinchuuriki."

Sasuke's eyes widened just a little, but Itachi caught it. He nodded at his little brother's understanding. Then he stopped and winced as he clutched at his side, which was still bleeding from a deep slash Sasuke had dealt him with his blade, but Itachi took a few deep breaths and continued as if nothing had happened.

"Because our father had been a friend of the Yondaime Hokage and wanted to respect his wishes for the Uzumaki boy to be protected, he would have most definitely gone against Madara's plan to use the Uchiha clan's blood-line limit to gain control of the nine-tails. That was why Madara saw Fugaku and the Uchiha loyal to him as a threat to his plan."

Sasuke gritted his teeth in anger, wanting nothing more than to turn back time and make sure none of this ever happened. But he knew it wouldn't happen. It made the little boy inside him who had never quite grown up cry to see his older brother lying so pitifully upon the ground. This whole mess could have been prevented if only he'd just…but, no, there was no use in wishing for something that could never happen.

"I do not regret what I've done, Otouto, I have finally paid my dues. But…"Sasuke looked away and studied the ground. With a knowing, almost sad tone, Itachi continued, "I was told only moments before I came to find you here; you might be too late to stop him from taking another person from you, but I can help you try."

Sasuke looked up sharply and stared at him, somewhat confused. "What are you saying, Itachi?"

"Madara is moving to take possession of Uzumaki Naruto."

"What!?" Sasuke gasped out. Itachi answered his obvious surprise with a slight smile.

"Do you remember Mother telling us about the attack on Konoha by the Kyuubi, Sasuke?" Without waiting for an answer, though Sasuke nodded, Itachi continued. "I learned that Madara was the one who provoked the fox into attacking Konoha. He wanted the fox to be sealed away because he couldn't control it fully otherwise. He wanted a tool that would bend easily to his will. He initiated this plan long ago, but all of his pieces have been in place for quite a while. He's only been waiting for the right opportunity.

"The remainder of the Akatsuki has started moving towards Konoha and will soon attack. A small army containing ninja from Oto and some of the smaller hidden villages who oppose Konoha accompany them as well. And while the attack goes on…" Itachi trailed off.

"Madara plans to lure Naruto from the village and into his trap…" Sasuke completed the thought, and then continued with a thought of his own. "How is Madara still alive? I thought he died in his fight with the First Hokage." he asked his brother slowly.

"You know about... Orochimaru's soul transfers?" Sasuke nodded, he knew them too well, having nearly been Orochimaru's new body. "Madara's are something like that... only more stable." He paused as a wave of pain apparently ravaged him. "Otouto?"

"What is it?" Sasuke asked, not unkindly.

"Come here…" Itachi extended his uninjured arm. It shook, but stayed in the air.

Sasuke stepped closer to his side and knelt down. He saw Itachi's hand move toward his face and he closed his eyes for a moment as an old memory washed through him. He felt a soft flick on his forehead and opened his eyes to see his older brother watching him just as he had, before everything that had happened to their family. As if he would do anything and everything to protect him. Sasuke had never realized it was there before, but now, he knew it must have been, all this time.

Itachi's eyes slowly drifted shut and his body completely stilled. Sasuke felt an itching feeling at his eye and when he put a hand to his cheek his fingers came back red. He faced a momentary panic before he grasped exactly what his brother had just done. When he finally breathed in his next breath, it was shaky.

"Goodbye, Aniki." He rested the hand against his brother's cheek for a moment before standing stiffly and going to rejoin the other members of Team Hawk at Nemure, the village he had left them at.

Sasuke sighed and looked back to where his brother's body had finally found his real brother amidst the mask of cold cruelty, and he was left on his own again. All the same, he had the oddest feeling that something was off, and it had nothing to do with the attack on Konoha.

He turned back to face the distant village in front of him. A sadistic smirk filled with anger began to form at the corners of his mouth. He would save Naruto from the trap he was walking into and he would take some anger out on the oldest living Uchiha while he was at it.

Once an avenger, always an avenger.


"Hey, Boss, why are we going back to your village now?" Suigetsu asked, interrupting his quiet leader's thoughts.

"To assist Konoha in repelling enemy forces." The Uchiha replied simply.

Suigetsu didn't push for a more in depth explanation simply because he knew he wouldn't get one. Besides, if he asked again, Sasuke would probably murder him, teammates or not, and he'd probably enjoy doing it, considering the dark mood he was in. Karin, on the other hand, decided to test his patience.

"But why bother going back, especially if it's to help them? I thought you hated Konoha." She was tired and ill-tempered. Her irritation was a result of giving Sasuke some of her healing chakra, and although she constantly and enthusiastically hailed the man as one of the greatest men in existence, she just couldn't understand his reasoning for returning to the place that had abandoned him to Orochimaru's clutches. Even if it had been his choice to begin with, no one deserved to be left to that.

"I left because they couldn't train me well enough, I didn't hate Konoha." Sasuke muttered, suddenly thinking back to that day. When he and Naruto had fought.

Suddenly, Juugo changed the topic, wrenching him away from unhappy thoughts. "What do you want us to do when we get there?" He dodged a low-hanging branch as he spoke.

Sasuke blinked and thought for a moment. "If the battle is ongoing then you will split up and reinforce the weakest areas. If it has yet to begin, then go and alert the Hokage. She should be able to verify the information soon enough. Do not fight if she tries to detain you and explain that I sent you. If the battle is already over, search for survivors." He said, rattling off the scenarios as if he had been running them through his head the whole time.

"What will you do?" Karin asked.

"Search for Naruto; he's the target of the attack."

"Why? I mean, who's targeting him?" Suigetsu questioned.

Without warning, Sasuke picked up the pace. No one from Team Hawk complained; they were used to it by now. They just pushed more chakra into their jumps and tried to keep up.

"Uchiha Madara" he stated simply in a low, hard voice, not elaborating further.

Karin adopted a curious expression, catching the family name of Uchiha, and began to ask who he was talking about but stopped when she saw the warning look that Juugo threw at her. When she looked more closely at Sasuke, she saw the reason for it; He looked positively murderous, and even she wouldn't weather that mood. For such a young ninja, Sasuke was surely one of the most intimidating of them all when he was mad.

Sasuke was still wearing the outfit from Orochimaru's place, although he had long-since abandoned the Akatsuki cloak. His now long raven-black hair was drawn up at the base of his neck to keep it out of his eyes, almost like how his brother's had been. He had a hand on the hilt of his katana and, if his white knuckles were any clue, he wanted to draw it now. For any reason.

His eyes, though, were all the reason Karin needed to shut up. They were the Mangekyou Sharingan, the eyes his brother had since passed on to him, or so Sasuke had told his team. They were in the form of three, overlapping red-lined, pointed ellipses. Where the colored parts of his eyes were supposed to be, inside the ellipses, they were black. The other parts were red.

She shut her mouth with an almost audible snap and the rest of the journey continued in silence until Sasuke spoke again.

"Mask your chakra; we're almost to Konoha…"

The four entered a clearing and Sasuke's voice trailed off as he looked over the edge of the cliff, which presented a view of Konoha to them as if it were a painting.

"Don't bother. Go find the survivors," was all he said before leaving his three teammates to stare in shock.