Just an idea I had while half-asleep the other night. Sasuke's P.O.V. SPOILER WARNING: There are some quite recent spoilers for the series in this fic; if you're not up to date, don't read! M for language and references to violence.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.

A Reason to Live.

Fucking root.

It's ironic or something, that the thing that kills me is a twisted ankle. All the times I'd do something stupid, or pretend to hurt myself, just to get carried home, and now my favourite excuse is the truth that brings me down for the last time.
And it would be a root that I fell over. Tree roots, the Root of Konoha, it's all the same.
Not that falling over tree roots is a usual occurrence; I grew out of that bad habit when I was eight. When every detail of my life was shattered, picked up, shaken about then scattered to the four winds. No, I fell this time because I've spent the past...how long? Six hours? Running and fighting Danzo's pet puppets, though their master's been buried six feet under for over half a year now.
Now though, as my vision's going blurry – have I really lost that much blood? I feel cold – I don't know why I bothered. It's not like I had anything to fight for. Anything to live for. The last thing I had to cling to I lost when I turned on Madara.
I mean, why not? The bastard was controlling me as easily as Danzo pulled the strings of the Fire Country's Feudal Lord to gain the title of Hokage, for a few days anyway.
What really pissed me off though was how damn long it took me to realise it. And the fact it took Naruto, Naruto, the dobe, dead last, to point it out to me. When did he get so smart? Or when did I get so stupid?
It's raining again. Falling through the gap in the trees to hit me in the face. Is this what the dobe felt, before he passed out at the Valley of the End? Probably.
I don't get why he and Sakura never gave up. I'm really; really not worth everything they put themselves through for me.
Hn. I wonder when they'll find out I'm dead?

Madara lost - I'm still not entirely sure how I managed that, I guess aniki was right when he said Madara was a shell of his former self. Then again, aniki was always right.
Maybe I didn't lose the will to live when I ran out of people to avenge. I think that might have happened when I realised the man I'd devoted half of my life to killing was actually the one person to protect me, above everything else, his whole life.

I really messed up, didn't I Itachi? I took everything you did for me and razed it to the ground.

What happened to the rain?

Where am I?

The trees are gone. There's just a field. Green grass. Blue sky. Typical summer day from when I was a kid. Am I in Fire Country? My injuries are gone. Even the hole in my chest. I'm pretty sure there was one.
Ouch. Okay, maybe not all my injuries. My ankle's still bust.



I really should be surprised to see my dead brother walking towards me. Really. I should be. But it just seems right – normal – to see him in his old casual clothes, an unmarked Konoha headband on his forehead. Smiling. He still has that sad look though, just hovering at the edges of his expression.
Okay, Sasuke, say something. 'Where the fuck am I' might be a good start.
"Itachi. I hurt my ankle again. Carry me?"
What the hell was that?!
Okay, either I'm in a dying-induced hallucination, or I have finally, officially lost it.
I think this form of insanity is better than my obsession with revenge, though.
When he smiles properly, I know that I prefer this insanity.
"Didn't you learn from the last time? You're really getting too big for this, Sasuke."
...Please tell me I didn't just pout like a five year old. Please. I don't think my pride could take it.
"No need to look so disappointed – I said you're getting too big for this. Not that you are."
I haven't had a piggyback since I was eight.
This should be really weird.
It isn't.
Aniki was always there to pick me up when I hurt myself. Why shouldn't he now? Being dead didn't deter him before.
Oddly, I don't care where we are anymore. It doesn't seem important. Just being carried by my brother, back the way he came, is enough.
There's something, though. Very faint voices, in the background. Too quiet to hear words, but they sound anxious, urgent. They're not important, but they remind me of something. Something I should say. I said it earlier, but Itachi wasn't there to hear it then.
"I'm sorry, aniki."
"For what?"
"For screwing up. I threw everything away; everything you did for me, as if it was worthless, and went and what I thought I should do, even though it was the opposite of what you wanted. I was so selfish, I just went on ignoring you, tearing the world apart, thinking it could go to hell until I realised I had nothing left. There was no reason for me to live anymore. I just gave up, then. Trashed the life you gave me. I was a selfish brat, and there's no way to take that back."
"There is, Sasuke."
"Everything you just said, you don't know why you did it, do you?"
"Of course I do. In my head, my own, fucked up mind, I was avenging you. I was, stupidly, doing everything for you. I just didn't realise how badly I was screwing up until I had some sense beat into me. And then, when I had a second chance held out to me, no strings attached, I turned it away. I knew I didn't deserve it."
Why is he laughing? I've just admitted that I not only wasted my life, which is bad enough, but his as well, and he's laughing?
I think he's a bit insane, too.
"Wrong, Sasuke. It's because you haven't grown up yet."
Thank God Itachi knows how to interpret my silences, because that statement has just rendered me speechless.
"Just the way you can still be carried, you still can't quite walk by yourself yet. You need something to hold onto, to keep your balance, otherwise you'll fall. I used to be the person you held onto. When you lost everything connected to me, when you lost your reason to live, you fell, because you couldn't walk by yourself. You still needed something to hang on to. But Sasuke, now you need to learn how to walk on your own. "

Oh. I think I can see where he's going with this.

"Isn't it a bit late for that, aniki?"
He stops walking. Those voices I heard before, they're getting clearer. Louder. I think Itachi's listening to them.
"No. Not if you're willing to try."
Those voices. I can hear them.

"Dammit, teme, you better not die on us! Not now! If you even TRY I'll follow you to hell, punch you in the face, drag you out then kill you again!"

"Calm down, Naruto. How is he, Sakura?"

"I don't know. He should be dead, but...he's still fighting. I'm doing my best."

I haven't smiled – really smiled - for years. I thought I'd forgotten how. But I can feel that old expression forming on my face as easily as my customary half-frown. It's not much, but it's a smile.
With his head half-turned towards me, I can see Itachi's smiling too.
"Thanks, aniki. I think...I think I'm ready to try walking on my own now."
Why's he laughing at me now?
"Not with that ankle, you're not."
"Watch me."
How many times have I said that to him before, desperate to copy him, be as good as him? Now I know why he was always so far ahead.
Still, he's always watched my childish attempts, encouraging, protecting me from myself as best as he could. He does now, setting me down, making sure I'm steady on one leg. But I think he deserves a rest now.
Hang on.
"Itachi, how do I...?"
"Don't worry, Sasuke. You're too big to carry, but I can still point you in the right direction. Try not to get lost this time, okay?"
That is one thing I will never do again. I say so. He looks happy when I do. He knows I finally understand what he's been trying to tell me all along.
"I just wish we'd been able to talk more. We missed out, didn't we?"
"We did. But we will next time. I promise."
"Yeah, yeah. You always say that."
"I do. And this time I really mean it. I think I forgot something though."
Does he always have to poke me in the forehead? I feel five again. But...
"Miss you, aniki."
...wasn't that when...
"You too, Sasuke."
...we were happiest?

It is fucking freezing.
And raining. The trees are back.
No. I'm back.

Kakashi. I try to answer him, but my mouth really doesn't want to cooperate. I think its frozen shut.
"Teme! You better stay awake, you bastard! We've been stuck in the freezing rain for four hours because of you!"
"Naruto, shut up, idiot! You're going to be okay, Sasuke. I'm almost done – just hold still for a bit longer."
Naruto. Sakura. Kakashi. What...?
This time, ice or none, I make myself speak. I sound like I've been firing katon jutsu all day.
"What happened?"
Naruto, noisy as ever, crouches down next to me so I can see him and opens his mouth to launch into a no doubt exaggerated version when Sakura, calm and professional, in full medic mode, cuts him off and ignores his pout to answer me. I can vaguely see Kakashi next to Naruto. Unbelievably, he's taking out that book of his. His obsession knows no bounds.
"We were tracking you. We caught up just as that earth jutsu went through your chest. Kakashi-sensei and Naruto finished them off while I healed you-"
Naruto, unable to contain himself any longer, burst out with his usual amount of tact;
"Damn it, teme, you got your ass kicked! If it wasn't for Sakura-chan, we'd be burying you right now."
Right then, 'Sakura-chan' decided that Naruto should be kept away from her patient and smacked him upside the head. I'm surprised the dobe wasn't killed on contact.
As if to finish proving to me that none of them had change, Kakashi, amidst Naruto's whining and without looking up from his book, commented in his usual bored tone, "Is tact in your vocabulary at all, Naruto?"
I feel Sakura's chakra recede from my chest, and chance lifting my head to look at the damage. She couldn't have healed everything, surely?
My clothes are as ruined as I expected, but under the scraps of my shirt, there's nothing but smooth skin. A few experimental movements tell me that I don't have so much as a scratch on me.
Even my ankle is healed.
I sit up, slowly, Sakura hovering to make sure I don't fall backwards.
Naruto's still complaining in the background. Despite helping me, Sakura still manages to shoot murderous looks at him. Kakashi's still pretending to read his book. But his eyes are actually on me, watching me. I don't blame him – I've not really proved trustworthy in the past.
But that's going to change.

"Naruto's right."

That shut everyone up. Sakura's looking at me as if she's wondering if I've got a case of concussion she missed. Naruto just looks like the dobe he is, gawping with his mouth open. Kakashi even looked up from Icha Icha. That's how ground-breaking my admittance is.
"I would be dead if it wasn't for Sakura." I turn to the girl in question. "Thank you."
She looks surprised for a moment, then smiles. Not that look of a barely contained squeal because I'd just spoken to her; a gentle, genuinely caring smile. Maybe they have changed more than I thought.
But it's not just down to Sakura, or even Naruto and Kakashi, for taking care of the Root members. There's someone else I owe a thank you. He's not here right now, but there's another way I can repay him.

As soon as I start to try and stand, Sakura's objecting, saying I should rest, or at least let her help me.
Gently, I shake her hand off. I need to do this by myself.
"I'm okay, Sakura. It's about time I started walking on my own."
She looks confused, they all do, but slowly she sits back, letting me slowly push myself to my feet.
The rain's still falling. Looking up, it patters against my face. A few drops land in the centre of my forehead. Looking ahead again, I reach up briefly and touch the place they hit. Slowly, I take an unsteady step forward. The others are around me, looking out for me, but not carrying me. And that's okay.
Together, we step forward again. As I do, I realise this is what Itachi was trying to tell me. There's always a reason to keep going forward. Sometimes, you've just got to have your eyes opened for you.