I do not own Naruto.

Nii-san...No matter how far I have to plunge myself into darkness, I will do it in order to kill you! Vowed Sasuke, adding poetic weight to the silent promise by sinking heedlessly deeper and deeper into the frigid lake water. The rising pressure in his lungs felt... good. The more urgently it pressed against his conscious thoughts, the more his muscles seized against the cold, the less he was able to think about anything other than his immediate physical needs. He had made his oath; now for just a few heartbeats of peace, escape from the never-ending nightmare.... His lips parted of their own accord, releasing some of the air trapped in his lungs. Darkness pressed at the edges of his consciousness, a reminder that his body was still weak, nowhere near its usual stamina. Just a few more moments, and he would allow his instincts to take over and propel him back into the light. He had a brother to kill, after all.

An iron grip closed around his right arm, startling the last of the air from his lungs in a panicked gasp; the water began rushing past him, dragging at his clothes and finding ways into his mouth and nostrils as he tried to fight his unseen assailant. Had he been followed into the shattered Uchiha district? Was there something in the lake he didn't know about? The water was getting everywhere, he was choking and involuntarily swallowing more. He wasn't going to make it....

Someone was pounding his sore back, forcing water to spew out of his mouth and nose. He coughed and choked and gathered the tattered remains of his strength to glare balefully at the ceramic ANBU mask hovering in front of him.

"Want to kill yourself, kid? Sorry, but you won't be getting away with that on my watch." The tone was somewhere between harsh and conversational, and the voice was female. Sasuke knocked his glare up a notch and struggled into a position where he might be able to support his own weight. He was wet, he was cold, and he really wanted to be alone. Of course his traitorous limbs would choose this time to start some uncontrollable shivering.

The ANBU sighed and gathered him into her arms. At a nod from another animal-masked ninja standing silently nearby, she bent her knees and launched upwards, clearing the walls of the Uchiha district with a few bounds and heading in a direct path over the rooftops of Konoha. The boy in her arms kept still and tense and quiet. He briefly considered attempting some struggling, but a paralyzing emptiness was rushing over him now, so he just stared at the overcast sky with blank black eyes and let her carry him where she would. If only that cursed trembling would stop....

Sasuke was still shaking when the Hokage slipped into his hospital room forty-five minutes later. If he hadn't been so tired, he might have felt angry to cover the shame of appearing so weak and helpless. As it was, it was all he could do to stare fixedly at the slightly fuzzy image of the ceiling and thus avoid the pity he was sure was dripping from everyone else's eyes. He couldn't think of anywhere else he really wanted to be, but to have been returned so abruptly to the hospital had to be one of the worst options. And now the Hokage himself was here.

The man should be saying something, doing something; but from what he could sense without giving up his stubborn perusal of the ceiling tiles, the great Sandaime must just be standing there, staring, doing nothing. DOING NOTHING! Where were you? Why didn't you protect them? WHERE WERE YOU?! Where was all of Konoha while my family...!! But no audible words came; there was just the sudden stab of pain in his arm as his muscles strained into the white-knuckled fists wrapped unconsciously around bunches of white sheet.

"Sasuke." The old man's voice was very quiet. Sasuke tried to find pity or apology in it, but the tone was entirely unreadable. So he focused on unclenching his fingers from their death-grip on his sheet (it hurt, after all) and tried to listen to what the Sandaime had to say. "Would you like to be released from the hospital?"

Of everything the wretched child had thought the old man might pronounce, this was most unexpected. Stunned, the little boy turned startled, rubbed-red eyes to the Hokage's tired face. The old man regarded the small face for a moment, then spoke again, patiently.


"Y...yes," whispered Sasuke.

"There is one condition," rumbled the Hokage calmly. He watched as Sasuke nodded slightly to show that he was listening. "You will not return to the Uchiha district."


"Do you accept this condition, Sasuke?" This time the deep voice was stern, a hint of command layered into it. The boy looked away, stared at the sliver of window he could see from his prone position on the bed. He was an Uchiha; where else could he go?

"You don't need to decide immediately," the Hokage offered kindly. "I'm sure that the doctors would like to keep you under observation for a few more days anyway." He stood to leave. He reached the door and felt an ANBU shadow fall into place behind him before a small voice called out from the bed. Not quite catching the words, he looked back over his shoulder enquiringly.

Sasuke had pushed himself up into a sitting position and was staring at him defiantly. "I wasn't trying to kill myself."

"...Okay," replied the Sandaime agreeably. "That's good news, I suppose."

"So let me go home."

"The condition stands, Sasuke." The grandfatherly figure was almost through the doorway.

"Where else can I go?!" This time, the little Uchiha couldn't keep the pleading--and the desperation--from his voice.

The Sandaime paused, but didn't look back. Only the ANBU could see the sad little smile lifting the corners of the man's haggard face.

"Don't worry. I have a special place in mind."


"Hey, hey, hey Old Man!" bawled Naruto, shoving his way past the flustered door-guarding ninja and worming his way into the Hokage's office. "How come I hafta change apartments? Huh? Huh?"