Well, here's to (hopefully) good beginnings! I don't own Naruto in any way, shape, form or fashion; besides, I think it's perfectly fine being owned by someone else. _ I'd ruin it the first day I had it.

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Prologue – The Burning

He coughed violently, trying to keep the smoke out of his eyes. His eyes were watering so bad, he could hardly make out where he was heading. He pushed himself further still, determined to make it in time.

Fire burned all around him, destroying everything he held dear to him. He vaguely made out a family photo, burning and crinkling in the fire. Curtains fell, floorboards strained from the stress, expanding, contracting, and ready to give in. Carpet was now black ash, yet he continued, coughing, pushing, forcing himself onward, away from the only escape route, determined to go.

His feet kicked the bottom of the stairs. He knew he was unable to climb them, so he crawled up them. Every stair-step was a step further into the ever-climbing smoke, putting pressure on his lungs. He could barely breathe, yet he forced himself upwards, further still. He remembered racing up these very stairs, laughing as he went, counting them. He forced upwards onto the ninth step, subconsciously knowing that there were only four left.

When he finally reached the top, he became aware of the state he was in. Burn marks ran up and down his clothes, as well as his arms. He heaved heavy breaths, yet could not feel any relief from the breathing. He felt the burning ashes all over him, in his eyes, in his lungs, burning him from the inside-out.

He was aware that he would not live through this. He didn't care, either.

He pushed himself up, stumbling from the weight forced back onto his legs. Slowly, he managed to walk down the hall. The only thought running through his head, as he watched the walls burn, floorboards cave in, as he heard his only home fall into what seemed the very pit of hell itself, the one thought running through his head…

'I have to make it…'

His vision was almost completely gone now. He felt his way down the hall, holding himself up right. He felt the sharp pains of burning metal against his hands, signaling a door knob. Yet he knew this door would get him nowhere. He had to go further.

Further into the chasm of nothingness. Into the burning pit of hell. Some place he knew he would not return from. But he had to go on.

Finally, he became aware of the door to his left. He had finally made it. Still coughing violently, and still unable to breathe, he used the last of his strength, opening the door.

His eyes widened with fear.

Fire had already turned this room to ash. Nothing remained of the bed, clothes, furniture… except…

A lump… No… A body… crumpled up in the middle of the room.

His heart stopped beating, his brain no longer functioning. The former thought died out, followed by another…

'I'm… too late…'

His legs gave in, his eyes watering from something other than smoke. One word was on his mind, repeating itself. One word that boiled, burning, engulfing the rest of his body in pain. Finally, after all that pain, suffering, all that work, he knew he was too late…

With his final breath, came his final word. The thought boiled, until it could burn him no more. His mouth opened, and he screamed, louder than he ever had before.

"SASUKE!"

"God, Itachi, shut UP!"

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Itachi shot up in bed, breathing heavily, sweat covering his entire body. He blinked, confused about his surroundings. He didn't understand how…

The sound of a baby crying came from near-by, disrupting his thoughts.

"Nice going, kid. You woke it up." Itachi jumped, his eyes resting upon a grouchy-looking man, who looked to be in his late 30's. The man rolled his eyes at him, storming out of the room.

Itachi sighed heavily, then shivered. He pulled his legs up to his chest, resting his head on them.

"That's right… Just a nightmare…" He closed his eyes, worrying over his little brother. Fate had been cruel enough to take away their family… But that hadn't been the end of their suffering…

Sasuke, who was still only nine years old, was separated from Itachi. Itachi, being twelve, could handle the situation, at least enough to make everyone think he was okay. But Sasuke…

Itachi's eyes watered. His little brother had been so scared by the fire… Then, Itachi had to tell him their parents didn't make it. He still remembered Sasuke's face; it was burned into his memory.

To top it all off, he had to watch Sasuke get into some stranger's car, and watch him cry as he was driven away. He just hoped the foster home Sasuke was at currently was better than the one he was at.

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A few months after this happened, a man named Madara Uchiha came to take Itachi to live with him. Itachi vaguely remembered his 'Uncle Toby', but was thrilled at the opportunity to leave his foster home.

Sasuke was in the car, waiting for him. He cried, of course, happy to see his aniki (big brother). Itachi just smiled, happy to see Sasuke as well, deciding to take his guilt to the grave…