SPOILER ALERT!

Before you continue you, please be aware that this story begins following Vol. 51, Ch. 480. This is the latest chapter of the manga as of January 27th, 2010. Sasuke has just defeated Danzo by stabbing him through Karin. Sakura, Kiba, Lee and Sai are en-route to assassinate Sasuke. Kakashi, guided by one of Sai's ink-clones, is pursuing Sakura. Kakashi has asked Yamato to go back to Konoha and take Naruto with him. He will deal with Sakura himself.



Prologue:

Summer – 3 months before the Kyuubi Attack.

It was here. He could feel it, practically see it in his mind's eye.

It's been a long time since he'd last laid eyes on it. The beast was probably bigger than he remembered; if it had even grown at all.

Uchiha Madara had to hand it to the King of the Tailed Demons; it'd done an excellent job of hiding itself. Standing on the rocky plateau, he looked out over the deep valley and sheltered bay the Kyuubi had hidden itself in. Located on a remote, rocky island off the coast of Lightning Country, it was almost as isolated as you could get from the rest of the Hidden Countries. No wonder it had taken him nearly ten years to track it down.

He couldn't see the legendary nine-tailed fox but he knew it was aware of his presence. Leaping down a few hundred metres, Madara almost reached the beach where the waves gently lapped against the shoreline before the beast revealed itself. It emerged from around the other side of the headland, the waves hissing as they crashed against the Kyuubi's chakra coated legs. The depth hardly bothered it and with only a few steps, it stood before Madara, lips pulled back in a snarl as it towered over him.

Madara halted and watched it, careful not to let it get within range. The Kyuubi was somewhat more docile than many of the other tailed beasts but it was by far the most deadly and had the worst temper. The only reason it could be considered docile was that it generally kept to itself and disliked the company of other creatures. It went out of its way to be left alone.

"Mortal, why have you come here?" asked the Kyuubi. Its chakra flared as the Kyuubi made its anger at the intrusion felt. Madara wasn't worried by the action though. The Kyuubi had no idea exactly who it was dealing with. But it would soon, it definitely would.

"To speak with you," answered Madara.

The Kyuubi glared distastefully down at him. "I do not speak with mortals, human. Be gone from this place before I decide to rid the world of your existence."

Madara smirked and looked upon the demon confidently. Let the beast say what it will. He would triumph here today.

"You will speak with me," announced Madara.

The great fox's ears flattened angrily at Madara's statement. "Do not try my patience!" it snarled.

Madara ignored the threat. It could not hurt him. "You have two choices Kyuubi," he said to it. "Either you do a favour I have in mind or I will make you."

The beast, if it could be said, sneered at him. "A foolish thing to say to me mortal. I will burn your body and grind your bones to dust for your impertinence."

"So that's a no then?" replied Madara. His eyes, already activated with his Sharingan to watch the beast, shifted to their eternal form.

The Kyuubi noticed the change and snarled. It had seen threatening eyes before and it knew the Mangekyo Sharingan would be a powerful weapon for the mortal before it.

"Do not even think to try it mortal!" it growled. "My flames will consume you in an instant."

The Kyuubi however, did not know it was already too late. The minute Madara activated his Mangekyo Sharingan he set to work bending its will to his. By the time Kyuubi realised the danger, it was already under Madara's sway. The demon screamed and howled with rage within its mind but its body would not move, no matter how hard it tried.

Slowly its struggles died down and it glared at Madara with such hate and rage within its gaze that he knew it would never stop hunting him after this. He was not afraid though. The beast could try but it would never succeed.

"Now Kyuubi," said Madara, moving forward boldly. "Let's discuss this favour again, shall we?"

0-0-0-0-0-0

Spring – 3 ½ years later.

Squealing in delight, three-year-old Uchiha Sasuke ran as fast as his short legs could carry him. Trying not to laugh and spoil the game, his mother, Mikoto, pursued her son, growling like the wicked beast she was pretending to be.

"Run little Sasu-chan! Run! You can't get away from me!" she called after her Sasuke.

It was rare that such fun and games occurred in the Uchiha household but Mikoto made time when she could. Most days she saw to the running of the household. She was far too busy to play with her youngest son and unfortunately Fugaku didn't really approve of her games. That wasn't to say he disapproved of them because he thought them inappropriate for a member of the Uchiha Clan but because when it came down to it, unfortunately Mikoto had married a rather dull man. Fugaku was loyal, determined and hard working – not to mention talented as a shinobi and policeman but he was not anything more. She loved her husband but sometimes Mikoto wished Fugaku would just lighten up a little.

Noticing the doorway leading out to the family's private gardens, Sasuke made for it quickly. He burst out onto the porch, confident he would escape the monster's (ahem – his mother's) grasp only to come crashing to a halt.

Mikoto arrived on the scene just as her youngest son crashed into the legs of her older one. Sasuke fell back onto the deck with a loud "oof!" Itachi, whose arms were loaded down with scrolls, stumbled and dropped the scrolls everywhere.

Her eldest son would be eight in a few weeks and he was already becoming a talented shinobi but in many ways, Itachi was still very much a child.

"Sasuke! Look what you did!" cried Itachi, dismayed by the mess. Several scrolls had rolled off the porch and into the damp flowerbed.

Sasuke took one look at his big brother's face and burst into tears. Mikoto sighed. So much for that.

"Itachi! Don't speak to your brother like that," scolded Mikoto gently but firmly.

"He started it!" complained Itachi as he began picking up his scrolls.

"And I'll finish it," threatened Mikoto.

Sasuke's sobs had already turned to sniffles by now as Mikoto helped her son up. "And Sasuke-chan, I think you owe Itachi an apology."

Sasuke turned tear-filled eyes upon her but it did him no good. Mikoto had gotten that exact same look from her little sister many times and Itachi too when he'd been about the same age. She was well and truly immune to it.

"Sasuke," she prodded.

"But - "

"No excuses young man."

The three year old sniffled and finally mumbled, "sorry nii-san."

Itachi glared and with a huff, marched past his mother and brother and into the house.

Sasuke watched him go and then looked uncertainly up at his mother. Mikoto sighed. Itachi meant so much to Sasuke. They were closer than most brothers were but all the same, they still had the occasional spat. Thankfully they were getting rarer the older the boys got.

"Never mind Itachi Sasu-chan," said Mikoto as she scooped her son up into her arms. "How about we go to the park instead?"

Like any child, the momentary argument was immediately forgotten at the prospect of having some fun. "Really?" asked Sasuke.

"Really," replied Mikoto, smiling warmly. Sasuke grinned in response and wriggled, a signal that he wanted to be put down. With a laugh, Mikoto complied and set her son on the ground. No sooner had his feet touched the wooden floorboards that Sasuke took off. He was fast, especially for his age Mikoto noted. His speed would be even better than his clever brother's when he was older she reflected.

"Hurry up Kaa-san!" shouted Sasuke who had already reached the side-gate by now.

"I'm coming!" called Mikoto as she followed her son. Before she could reach Sasuke however, the gate open and a familiar boy stepped through.

"Shishi!" cried Sasuke as his cousin entered the garden.

"Hey Sasuke!" grinned Shishi. He ruffled his little cousin's already messy hair. "What are you doing?"

"We're going to the park," beamed Sasuke, pushing his cousin's hand away impatiently.

"Oh? Sounds like fun," replied Shishi. "Hi Aunty Mikoto."

"Hello Shishi," answered Mikoto politely. She liked Shishi. He was two years older than her eldest son and he'd been a good influence over the years on Itachi who felt somewhat obligated to perform well for his father. Shishi was the one who dragged Itachi away to just be a kid and Mikoto could see how good it was for him.

"What brings you here today?" she asked.

Shishi beamed. "You'll never guess what."

"Oh? What?" asked Mikoto, amused by the pure glee on Shishi's face.

"I got accepted into a special branch of ANBU! It's going to train genin and kids still in the academy to go straight into ANBU."

"Really?" asked Mikoto, surprised by the news and a little alarmed. ANBU was the elite of the elite and certainly no place for a child, especially not a child like Shishi. She could not even begin to see the light-hearted boy before her taking on such a roll.

"Congratulations Shishi," she told her nephew aloud.

"Thanks!" he beamed. "Well I'm off to see Itachi so I can tell him. He'll be so jealous."

"Alright then, you have fun," said Mikoto. "Oh and Shishi?"

"Yeah?" asked the boy, halting in his tracks.

"What's the branch called?" asked Mikoto.

"ROOT," replied Shishi. "See ya Aunty Mikoto! Bye Sasuke!"

He waved to them and then turned and headed towards the house.

"By Shishi!" called Sasuke and then turned and raced out the open gate. "Come on Kaa-san!"

"I'm coming!" called Mikoto.

She followed her son at a more sedate pace, her thoughts whirling around what she'd just learned. 'Root?' she mused to herself. 'I've heard of that. I'd best speak to Fugaku about it.'

0-0-0-0-0-0

Winter – 8 years after the Kyuubi Attack.

Glancing curiously after his departing squad mates, 13 year old Uchiha Itachi wondered why they were being dismissed and he wasn't. What could the Third Hokage possibly want to talk to him about? He hadn't been the captain of the squad on the mission, in fact he'd barely had to do anything at all – a rarity on A-ranked missions like the one he'd just been on.

He turned back to look at the Third as the old man made his way around the side of his wide desk and sat down behind it. The Hokage interlaced his fingers, rested his chin atop them and then he fixed a penetrating stare upon Itachi. With such a serious gaze directed at him, Itachi felt himself involuntarily tensing. Something was wrong, something had happened while he had been away.

Itachi felt his heart rate speed up and his hands became slick with sweat. A million different scenarios flashed through his mind. Questions burned on the tip of his tongue but he knew better than to speak. Whatever the Third had to say, he would say it before long and with a lump of cold dread sitting in the bottom of his stomach, Itachi knew with absolute certainty he did not want to hear what was to come.

The Third Hokage stared at him for several moments, taking in the form of the young boy before him who'd already accomplished so much. Itachi was slightly above average in height for his age and the small lines already beginning to ingrain themselves in his face made him appear older than he really was. The Third however, knew no shinobi was completely without emotion and what he had to say would turn this boy's world upside down. For all his appearance, he was still only thirteen.

Finally, after a long stretch of silence, the Third Hokage sighed. It was a long, wretched sound which almost made Itachi snap out a question ... almost.

"Gomen, Itachi-san."

And Itachi's life as he knew it ended.

0-0-0-0-0-0

Autumn - 15 years after the Kyuubi Attack.

His subconscious writhing in protest, Itachi jerked into wakefulness. He panted deeply, trying to return his heart rate to normal as he lay in his bedroll beside the dead fire. He wasn't 13 anymore and what he'd learned that night had been a long time ago. He thought he'd forgotten the heart shattering shock he'd suffered that day.

With a heavy sigh, Itachi rested his sweaty forehead against the palm of his hand. His partner, who was on watch, peered at Itachi through the gloom. Itachi could see Kisame's curious expression from out of the corner of his eye. The tall Mist shinobi was seated on an old log with the beast he called a sword resting across his lap. Only by the faint moonlight from above could Itachi make out his outline and the gleam of his strange, fish-like eyes. Of course, the Sharingan would allow perfect clarity but Itachi was disinclined to use it these days unless absolutely necessary. He'd noticed the growing darkness at the edge of his vision over the past year and though he had not admitted it out loud, he was frightened of losing his sight. A shinobi of his calibre hardly needed it but he'd come to rely on his Sharingan and it was a part of who he was. An Uchiha was defined by his Sharingan, he'd never forgotten that and he could admit to himself that he'd come to pride his ability.

"Nightmare Itachi-san?" asked Kisame. He grinned, revealing razor sharp teeth. It was no secret between them that Itachi didn't like Kisame. He found his personality generally tolerable but the Mist nin's thirst for blood and death was something Itachi could not condone. Kisame however, didn't know that. He simply assumed Itachi just didn't like him in general and Itachi was not inclined to correct that assumption. It suited him well that Kisame knew little to nothing of his true thoughts and feelings.

"Memories," replied Itachi softly to Kisame's question.

The exiled Mist shinobi chuckled at his response, apparently amused. "Seems you're not so perfect after all Itachi-san."

Itachi turned his face to look at his undesired partner in this whole mess and glared bluntly. "I am just as human as you Kisame," he replied tonelessly. "Even I am prone to the occasional restless dream."

"Restless?" asked Kisame sceptically. "Whatever you say Itachi-san."

Itachi didn't deign to answer and lay back down on his bedroll instead. They were somewhere in the south of the Fire Country. Not the world's safest place to be for him but better then the Land of Wind where the Sand shinobi were searching for them quite earnestly at the moment. They'd been sighted unfortunately and the Kazekage wanted their heads delivered to him on a silver platter. He knew what Akatsuki wanted from him and he'd sooner destroy his own village than allow Akatsuki to get a clear shot at him. Gaara of the Sand was right to be cautious Itachi mused. They'd been in Wind Country scouting for that exact reason. It would only be another few months and Sasori and Deidra would be sent to capture the host of the first of the nine tailed demons.

Thoughts of the mission had been all that had occupied his mind in recent weeks but for the first time in a while, Itachi found his thoughts returning to Konoha as he lay in his bedroll. Itachi knew Sasuke wasn't in Konoha and that troubled him. He remembered what Orochimaru was like and the Sannin would be merciless when it came to training. Sasuke would either get stronger under his tutelage or he would die. No matter how much older he seemed to get or how much time had passed since he'd last seen Sasuke, Itachi found it did not get any easier to stop worrying about his little brother.

It was so hard to keep up the facade sometimes – to act like the shinobi who had completely destroyed his heart. Itachi had never thought he'd get this far. He had no friends and he had no allies. The whole world was out for his blood and not even Akatsuki would protect him from that fate. Sometimes Itachi wondered why he'd even become a shinobi. At first it had been his own desire and then later a desire to make his father proud. After that, it'd become a duty, something he no longer had interest in or reason for doing. He'd found a reason though and that reason had been to protect his little brother.

Sasuke was everything to him, as only a little brother could be. He was all Itachi had left and he was the reason Itachi got up every morning and risked his life as a shinobi. It was frightening what he knew he'd do for Sasuke; especially what he would do soon. Things were slowly drawing to a head. He only had six months at best to perfect his jutsu and find a solid, defensive location. That was not a lot of time but Itachi would do it or die trying. He had one final hand to play in this game and then the rest would be up to those he left behind. He only hoped it would be enough.