Insert Disclaimer Here: I don't own Naruto or any of the characters in it. However, after writing this piece as a response to an anonymous writing meme, I liked it so much that I decided it needed to be owned.

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There was that cry again...

Itachi peeked into the nursery with apprehension. That, in and of itself, was surprising. He was, after all, a boy who had already faced the challenge of the ninja academy, faced battle, even faced death, all before turning five. But this was the first time he'd ever faced anything like this.

Does it ever stop crying?

Three days ago, Itachi would have sworn he was fearless. But that was before he heard her screams. He could almost see a massacre in his mind, a sword buried in his mother's stomach, agonizing cries, blood everywhere... And when he reached the top of the stairs, it wasn't much better. Father was pacing. Auntie Uruchi was yelling. Mother was screaming and there really was blood everywhere.

Then suddenly, it all stopped. There was a moment of calm, uneasy silence. And then the crying began.

It was still crying...

"Itachi?" a soft voice echoed in the dim room. Startled, he hid behind the wall. "Itachi, it's okay... Don't you want to come in and meet your brother?"

He slowly peeked his head back into the room. Everything was dark except for a small corner. The rocking chair creaked like a dying heartbeat and Itachi couldn't help but notice how pale, how weak, how exhausted his own mother was. Her eyes were dull. They were tired. But they were still gentle.

Itachi took a few nervous steps closer.

"He doesn't like to sleep..." Mikoto whispered with a soft smile. "You were never like that... You were very quiet. And you would sleep so deeply, sometimes I started to worry that you wouldn't wake back up."

Itachi crept closer. The bundle in his mother's arms struggled and the crying got louder.

"Sasuke, sweetie..." she cooed. "This is your big brother, Itachi."

Itachi looked at the baby curiously. Its round, chubby face didn't match the thin, stubby toes poking out from under the blanket. Its black hair was nothing more than peach fuzz. Its eyes were red, but they didn't look like sharingan. Instead, they just looked strained and worn.

"Itachi... meet Sasuke."

"Hi..." he whispered back, not exactly sure what he was supposed to say or do. Mikoto simply smiled and Itachi blushed.

"...Would you like to hold him?" she asked, once the awkward pause between them started to lift. "Your father will be home from the clan meeting soon. I haven't even started to make dinner yet..."

It was still crying...

"Oh. Okay..." Itachi nodded hesitantly as his mother stood up.

He climbed onto the rocking chair and turned around, stretching his arms up toward her. She trusted him completely, without instruction and without question. And before Itachi even knew what was happening, he found himself face to face, and alone, with his baby brother.

Itachi just gulped. Three days ago, he was fearless. Now, he was terrified. What was it the Hokage said... Itachi thought to himself. Never forget... what was it? Never forget to protect those closest to you. Yes! That was it!

"Sasuke..." he whispered, finally thinking of something to say. Almost by instinct, he started rocking the little boy back and forth in his arms. "It's okay, it's okay now... I'm your big brother. And you don't have to worry... Because as long as I'm here, nothing's ever going to hurt you. I'm going to protect you..."

There was a hiccup. And then, for the first time in days, there was silence. Itachi looked down at the bundle in his arms. It was quiet, and those tired, bloodshot eyes had finally closed. Safe and secure in his big brother's arms, Sasuke had finally fallen asleep.

Itachi glanced back at the doorway. His mother was back already.

"You're going to be a wonderful big brother, Itachi." she whispered, even softer now, so as not to wake the little one. "And one day, when you have children of your own, you'll be a kind and honorable father too."

Itachi blushed again, but he smiled. Mikoto smiled back, and gently poked her son's forehead.

"I love you..."

"I love you too, Mama..."