Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
Note: So some people said that they thought five people conquering the world in three months was unrealistic but no one said anything about how spilling ramen on a computer bringing them to the real world in the first place was, which I think is the stranger of the two.
"Is it just me or is Tobi going mad with power?" Deidara asked, mildly concerned.
"I don't know what you mean," Kakuzu replied. "He seems to be doing just fine. And he's stopped stealing all your clay."
Deidara frowned. "Yeah, but I don't know. Something still seems off about him."
"Who the hell cares?" Hidan asked bluntly.
"What is he doing to concern you?" Zetsu's black half asked.
"And is it really such a problem?" the white half continued.
"I'm not sure if it's a problem," Deidara hedged. "But he's laughing maniacally every twenty minutes or so. And he made orange spiral masks part of Australia's mandatory dress code."
"He's just having fun; it's best to leave him be," Kakuzu advised. "He'll probably take any insanity he has out on the Australians and on the off chance he does snap and try to kill us…well, MOST of us have invested in immortality, so we'll be fine."
Deidara sighed. "Okay, that was officially the least reassuring thing you could have possibly said…"
One week after Sasuke decided to return to Konoha and three days after he actually did, he and Naruto were on their way to confront Itachi. Well, Sasuke was. Naruto just didn't want to let Sasuke out of his sight just yet.
"Have I mentioned how excited I am that you're officially back in Konoha?" Naruto asked, practically bouncing down the street.
His companion rolled his eyes. "Only thirty-seven time since I left Orochimaru."
"Speaking of, do you really think it was a good idea to absorb Orochimaru?" Naruto asked, sobering slightly.
"I don't see why not," Sasuke answered. "It got rid of him, didn't it?"
"True," Naruto conceded. "But it also means Orochimaru has finally achieved his long-term goal of getting inside your body."
"You make it sound so sordid," Sasuke said reprovingly.
"It's kind of hard not to," Naruto claimed. "I mean, every other thing he said to you contained some kind of innuendo. And when you consider that I was travelling with Ero-Sennin for the last two and a half years, if I think it's excessive, you really shouldn't have stayed that long. Not to mention the fact he seems to have convinced you that that was a shirt."
Sasuke glanced down at the material covering part of the top-half of his body. "Of course it's a shirt; what else would it be?"
"The closest Orochimaru got to getting you to walk around shirtless," Naruto replied promptly.
Sasuke decided to ignore that. "What's the worst that could happen?" he asked instead.
"What's the worst that could happen because you let Orochimaru inside of you?" Naruto asked rhetorically, making no effort to make that sound even vaguely appropriate. "Let's see, Orochimaru could take over your body from the inside when you least expect it. Not to mention that in the meantime your face grows flames on it at random intervals and you turn into some sort of mythical creature whenever you have a difficult fight."
"Such cynicism is unusual for you," Sasuke noted.
"If you get absorbed by Orochimaru because you were too stupid to realize willingly allowing Orochimaru into your body was a bad idea, I am going to be pissed," Naruto warned. "And the flames and blueness look really stupid. I just can't take you seriously when you're like that, no matter how powerful it makes you."
Sasuke just shook his head before changing the subject. He'd never actually looked in the mirror when he'd transformed, but surely it didn't look THAT stupid, right? "You know, it's strange but I think you may actually be happier to see me back than my myriad of fangirls and they haven't stopped celebrating yet."
"Of course I'm happier," Naruto agreed. "I'm the one who actually went out and dragged you back with the help of my new personal hero, your brother."
"You didn't drag me back; I agreed to come," Sasuke argued automatically. "And will you stop calling him that?"
"But he did more to get you back here than virtually anyone else," Naruto pointed out.
"What part of 'he's evil' and 'he massacred my family' and 'he left me alone and comatose' don't you get? Evil people are not supposed to be your hero," Sasuke lectured.
Naruto looked at Sasuke in confusion for a moment before comprehension dawned. "Oh, right. You haven't gotten a chance to talk to Itachi yet, have you?"
"You know I haven't. The Godaime just let me out of her sight twenty minutes ago," Sasuke reminded him. "And the minute we got back you dragged me to see her."
"It sure was nice of baa-chan to reveal to everyone that you were on a top-secret mission to spy on Old Man Hokage's killer until you got an opportunity to take him down and us showing up to 'rescue' you provided you with that opportunity," Naruto remarked.
Sasuke looked annoyed. "That's not what happened and you know it."
"So?" Naruto asked with a shrug. "That's the official story so it might as well have happened. Besides, do you really want to have your chakra and your Sharingan sealed and be stalked by ANBU until you've proven your loyalty to make sure you don't try to kill anyone you're not supposed to or leave again?"
"Well, no…" Sasuke admitted.
"Then just go with it," Naruto advised.
"What did Itachi tell people in order to get him accepted back?" Sasuke demanded. "Sakura said something about how even if he resigned from ANBU, he was promoted to Jounin. I know he's strong enough to be one and I could even conceivably accept that he would be back here – although I can't imagine why he wouldn't just be killed or at least imprisoned – but letting him remain a ninja? He already betrayed Konoha once."
"Don't be silly," Naruto said dismissively. "As future Hokage, I could never have a traitor to Konoha as my hero."
"Then you'd better find a new hero," Sasuke recommended. He paused and shot a suspicious look at his friend. "You do realize that a missing-nin is, by definition, a traitor to their Village, right? Which, in Itachi's case, is Konoha."
Naruto flushed. "Of course I do! It's just…well, you should probably hear it from him."
"So where is he, anyway?" Sasuke asked, refusing to give into the impulse to just force the blonde to tell him. "You never told me where we were going."
"He said he'd be at our old training ground," Naruto replied. "He wanted there to be plenty of room and not many people around in case your reunion got a little bit…intense."
Sasuke snorted as they turned down the path leading to the training grounds. "Intense? Now that's an understatement if I ever heard one."
They were quiet until they reached the designated meeting place.
Itachi stopped his training when he sensed their approach. "Sasuke."
"Uchiha Itachi," Sasuke said flatly. He started to charge at his brother, a chidori already forming.
"Wait, wait, wait," Naruto said, sounding amused and a bit frustrated. "You're gone for two and a half years for the sole purpose of getting strong enough so you don't get your ass kicked as easily as you did the last time you saw Itachi and yet your first reaction upon seeing him is to do the EXACT SAME THING as it was the last time? Truly you were right in going to Orochimaru. I can tell you've learned so much."
Sasuke stopped, eye twitching. "I would have activated my curse seal, but I thought you'd start in on your mythical creature theory again."
"Oh, I would have, make no mistake," Naruto assured him. "In fact, I might do it anyway. I don't think I ever told Itachi about that."
"Why are you even here?" Sasuke demanded. "It's hard to get vengeance when you won't shut the hell up."
"You'd think two and a half years in Oto would help you to, oh, I don't know, focus solely on your vengeance to the exclusion of everything else. That's why you left, isn't it?" Naruto asked.
"To be fair, no one in Oto annoyed me nearly as much as you do," Sasuke defended.
"I resent that!" Naruto objected. "After all, Orochimaru was in Oto. And Kabuto, too! Besides, if I left and you killed Itachi before he told you about that tragic misunderstanding, I would never forgive myself. And if I can't save my new hero from death by tragic misunderstanding, how could I ever hope to be Hokage?"
"You know, you seem to give yourself twice as many requirements for Hokage as anyone else mandates," Sasuke told him. Then the rest of what Naruto said hit him. " 'Tragic misunderstanding'? Are you kidding me? What have you been telling people, Itachi?"
"It does not matter," Itachi said shortly, dropping into a defensive stance. "Let's see if your time in Oto has served to make you str-"
Naturally, knowingly perpetuating a tragic misunderstanding was not something Naruto was going to stand for. "What do you MEAN it doesn't matter?" he demanded angrily. "How can it not matter? It changes everything!"
"Look, do you actually know anything or are you just trying to be annoying?" Sasuke asked impatiently. He'd been in Itachi's presence for over five minutes now and had yet to attempt to kill him and that just wasn't right in his book.
"Hey, I don't ever try to be annoying!" Naruto said indignantly. At Sasuke's skeptical look, he backtracked slightly. "Well, not usually."
"Are you ready, little brother?" Itachi attempted to get Sasuke back on the path of trying to kill him. Forcing him to acknowledge that they were, in fact, related usually did the trick.
"What's this 'truth' Naruto claims he knows that changes everything?" Sasuke challenged instead. "I wouldn't want to finally kill you just to find out that it's not really you but you secretly possessed someone else and I have to deal with any complications their death may cause."
"It's nothing of the sort, I promise you," Itachi denied. "Now, let us begin-"
"Okay, I can't watch you do this, Itachi," Naruto declared passionately. "You're just going to end up getting yourself killed."
"That is the general idea, yes," Itachi murmured, wishing he'd reunited with Sasuke when Naruto wasn't present as then they'd surely be locked in an epic genjutsu battle by this point.
"Whose side are you even on?" Sasuke asked, appalled.
"The side where innocent people don't die," Naruto answered virtuously.
"I-innocent?" Sasuke sputtered. "You're sure you're talking about my brother? Have you suffered a serious head injury recently?"
Naruto considered the matter. "No worse than the usual where I say something stupid and Sakura-chan hits me."
"Are you on any drugs that may or may not be legal?" Sasuke pressed.
"What?" Naruto cried. "Of course not!"
"Then what are you on about?" Sasuke asked bluntly.
"We really don't have time for this," Itachi insisted.
That, of course, guaranteed that Sasuke would take all the time in the world to hear what delusions Naruto was operating under. "I've waited eight years for vengeance. I can wait five more minutes."
"Well, I'm not sure I'm the best person to be telling you this," Naruto began. "But since Itachi apparently can't be bothered to do it himself…Eight years ago, your brother was assigned a top-secret mission to infiltrate the Akatsuki so he had to become a missing-nin."
"And the only way he could think of to achieve that status was by massacring my entire family?" Sasuke asked incredulously, his hatred growing despite the fact that many felt that was an impossible feat. "You'd think just up and leaving would be enough for that." He stopped as he remembered his own situation. "I mean, granted, it didn't work that way for me, but I had been led to believe that such lenience was an unusual occurrence."
"Of course he didn't kill them!" Naruto declared sincerely, albeit falsely. "He was assigned to keep an eye on your supposedly dead relative Madara, who was the real mastermind behind the Akatsuki. Madara was apparently all pissy because your family chose to settle down and make peace with Madara's epic rival, the Shodai, instead of continuing to fight like he wanted to do. Madara left, came back to try to kill the Shodai, failed, and pretended to be dead for years. Then when we were all babies, he came back to try and destroy Konoha via the Kyuubi. When that failed, he decided to focus on a more realistic goal and a few years later killed your entire family. Fortunately, you and Itachi weren't home and when Itachi saw what had happened, he knew you'd want to go after Madara and either get yourself killed or manipulated so badly you wouldn't know which way was up anymore. Your brother still needed to leave for his mission as Konoha was next on Madara's agenda and you were a part of Konoha. Because of that, he decided to let you blame him so you'd stay safe and told you to seek vengeance so you wouldn't die of sheer emo-ness and would have a motivation to get stronger. But then you had to throw it all away by running off to Orochimaru…"
One part of Naruto's alternative history really stuck out to Sasuke and so he decided to address that first. "I wouldn't have died of sheer emo-ness!"
"So you say," Naruto scoffed, "but I remember you getting suicidal when you realized Zabuza wanted to kill you."
"I was overwhelmed by killing intent!" Sasuke defended. "And that was three years ago!"
"Excuses, excuses," Naruto said, shaking his head ruefully.
Sasuke rolled his eyes and then turned to Itachi. "Naruto's an idiot but he's also my best friend and he wouldn't lie to me, especially not about something like this. He really believes what he just said. Is it true?"
"Some of it, yes," Itachi allowed. Except for the part about him not being involved in the Massacre and the part where he was assigned the mission for a reason other than he needed something constructive to do while taking the blame for his family's attempted coup. Which Sasuke could never, ever find out about lest he completely lose it and seek vengeance on Konoha itself, which could only end badly.
"So you were just going to let me kill you without ever knowing the truth?" Sasuke realized, refusing to acknowledge the possibility he might not be victorious. "You bastard!" It was difficult to realize that half of his life was a lie, but Naruto wouldn't lie, Itachi had confirmed it, and Konoha had to have had some reason to let Itachi come back. Anger made it easier.
"Sasuke…" Itachi trailed off.
"Why?" Sasuke asked simply.
"I had to go and Madara was still out there," Itachi replied. That, at least, was true.
"So what's changed?" Sasuke demanded. "Why did you come back? Is Madara no longer a threat?"
"Madara vanished three months ago and has shown no sign of coming back and so my mission is over," Itachi revealed. "I was not actually planning on coming back, but Jiraiya was…very persuasive."
Naruto made a face. "Ero-Sennin? Persuasive? What, did he try to give you porn or something and you agreed to come back if he'd stop?"
"No, Naruto-kun," Itachi denied, to Naruto's immense relief and even more immense surprise. "He told me if I returned then Sasuke would follow."
"And then you'd let me kill you and hate you forever," Sasuke said bitterly.
"I wanted you to be able to avenge the Uchiha Clan since that was clearly so very important to you that you'd abandon all else to improve your chances or speed up my demise and it was mostly my doing," Itachi tried to make his brother understand.
"Why vengeance on you?" Sasuke challenged. "Why not Madara?"
Because Madara was out of his league? Because Itachi had been the one to enlist Madara's help? Because he had ultimately been the one to choose to kill his clan rather than let them destroy Konoha from within? "Madara is dangerous and I wanted to keep you away from him," Itachi said finally. "In any event, Madara is gone and so I am the only one you could seek vengeance on." The Clan, for all their faults, deserved justice and Sasuke killing him really was the best way to achieve that. Sasuke, despite his time in Oto, was still innocent enough to believe killing him would make it better but would his anger at thinking he'd been deceived be enough to move the boy to action?"
"So are you honestly trying to tell me that you care about me after all?" Sasuke asked uncertainly.
"You are as important to me as Konoha." That was probably the most honest thing Itachi had said in years.
"And remember, he's not actually a traitor," Naruto felt the need to point out.
Sasuke was quiet for a moment. "I don't want vengeance just for the sake of vengeance, you know."
Naruto had a coughing fit at that, but Sasuke dutifully ignored him.
"If you're not to blame…There's a difference between knowing Madara caused all of this and thinking that you didn't care and killed everyone just to see if you could or to test out your new Mangekyou Sharingan." Sasuke blinked. "Actually, about that-"
"I did kill Shisui," Itachi admitted to his little brother for the second time. "I regret it, obviously, or I wouldn't have gotten the Mangekyou. Still, it had to be done. I needed the Mangekyou for my mission."
Sasuke glanced Naruto's way guiltily for a second before quickly looking back at Itachi. "I'm really not okay with that, but I suppose it's better than you doing that just because you wanted power and then killing everyone for fun," Sasuke decided.
"I…" Itachi hesitated. "I did know that Madara was still alive and wanted vengeance. That was the reason for my mission, after all."
"Could you have stopped the Massacre?" Sasuke had never sounded so serious in his life.
"I do not believe that would have been possible without even more bloodshed and the Clan would have almost certainly ended up decimated anyway," Itachi said carefully.
Both Itachi and Naruto were anxiously awaiting Sasuke's reaction.
For his part, Sasuke closed his eyes and tilted his head back. Finally, he opened then and stared straight at his brother. "Is this the part where I decide that I still want vengeance? That a thirteen-year-old should have stopped a man who could go toe-to-toe with the Shodai and could control the Kyuubi? I never wanted to hate you."
Itachi's eyes widened slightly in surprise but he said nothing.
"Now's the time where you apologize for lying to him and live happily ever after," Naruto said helpfully.
Itachi smiled slightly and said, "I am sorry for hurting you, Sasuke, but I'm not much of a believer in happily ever afters."
Sasuke rolled his eyes. "You spend enough time with Naruto, you'll have no choice. That was actually part of the reason I left. I realized that I had accidentally gone an entire week without thinking about revenge."
"It's not my fault my optimism is contagious!" Naruto protested.
"You make it sound like a disease," Sasuke said dryly. "Although, thinking more on it, that's not a bad comparison."
"You know what?" Naruto said, crossing his arms and glaring at his friend. "I changed my mind. Go back to Oto."
Sasuke smirked. "Too late. I killed Orochimaru and my surprisingly not evil brother is here. You're stuck with me."
" 'Bring back Sasuke' she said, 'he's our friend and we'll miss him.'" Naruto shook his head irritably. "I swear, that's the last time I promise Sakura-chan anything…"