I want to be just like my big brother.
I love Itachi, he's the best ninja I know, and if it's the last thing I do I'll become as good as him. I don't care if Father doesn't think I can do it, I don't care what anyone thinks, I will do it one day.
Sometimes I think he knows everything. I stole one of his notebooks one day and tried to read it, but it could have been written in Ancient Iwan for all I could understand. Not the handwriting, Itachi's notebooks look like they've been typed. But my big brother knows and understands things I've never even heard of.
It helps to have a genius for an older brother, especially when you need help with homework. Right now he's reading over my Tactics class assignment, Plan an invasion of the stronghold shown using three of the four-man teams listed. I'm meant to be getting on with my Math work, but I can't help but steal a glance every now and again. His face is impassive as it always is, but every now and again one corner of his lips will quirk upwards, or his eyebrows will knot together slightly as he spots a problem. After a few minutes he passes the paper back to me, his narrow, tidy notes making my own look messy.
"You have some excellent ideas, little brother," he tells me in his calm, soft voice. I grin happily at the praise. "But be careful of your flanking, you're leaving the third team exposed to attacks from the rear." My head tilting to the side in confusion, I look down at my diagrams, searching for the mistake. I sigh heavily- I hadn't seen that. My third team would be slaughtered. "Think about whether the main team needs to be flanked. They have a genjutsu specialist and a weapons expert, why waste a whole team defending them?" Taking my pencil, he sketches out a new formation for the third team. Even I can see this new plan is flawless- just what I'd expect from my big brother. I'll bet he really does know everything.
I raise my head to thank him. Usually he smiles back, sometimes a small nod as well. But today... his lips barely twitch. My own smile drops from my face, and I move a little closer to him, wrapping my small arms around him as best I can.
"You miss Shisui, don't you, big brother..." I mutter. He sighs almost inaudibly, slips one arm around me and returns the embrace loosely. I miss him as well, but Shisui was Itachi's best friend, like a brother to both of us. Ever since his death, Itachi hasn't been the same.
"I miss him..." The arm around my shoulders tightens, and I feel his head rest against mine lightly. "But you can't turn back the clock, Sasuke. There's no use bemoaning something you can't change." I nod silently against his chest.
"Do you think Shisui's happy where he is?" Itachi lets out a tiny half-laugh at the childishness of the question.
"I hope he is," he replies softly. "He deserves to be."
"What happens to you after you die, Itachi?" I ask quietly after a moment. Itachi stays silent. My eyebrows knitting together slightly, I push myself away from him, looking at him in curiosity. He's staring out of the window, avoiding my eyes. "Itachi?"
"Why don't you go and ask Mother to make you some tea," he suggests softly, turning to the pile of books and beginning to tidy them into two neat piles, his and my own. "You've been working for a long time, you need a break."
I wait a few moments more. He glances up to see if I'm still there. "You don't know, do you." It's a statement, not a question. His dark eyes fall for a second.
"There are certain things a person isn't meant to know, Sasuke," he tells me, a tone to his voice I can't place. Sadness, maybe. He looks up at me again, and there's a smile on his face now, but it wavers at the edges slightly. "Why don't you go and get that tea now."
"'Kay..." I get up and leave the brightly-lit room, my ears catching his sigh just as the door slides shut. I find my mother in the kitchen, just as she always is. There's a book in her hands, but she lays it down as she hears me enter, not even marking the page.
"How's the homework coming along, Sasuke?" she smiles, throwing me a tomato from the bowl on the table and taking one for herself. I don't answer her, just stare at the scarlet fruit in my hand and drop to the floor next to the table. "That bad, eh?"
"It's going fine," I finally mumble, twisting off the green stalk from the top of the red globe, watching it drop to the table top alongside hers.
"Then why the long face? Surely you can't be having that much difficulty. Not with your brother helping you." I wince slightly at the mention of Itachi, and her keen eyes pick it up straught away. "Have you had an argument?"
"No!" I deny immediately. She quirks one dark eyebrow at me, looking straight through my words. My mother doesn't need Sharingan to see through me. "Well... Not exactly..."
"Then what?" she probes, one hand smoothing out my hair. I shake it away.
"Well... I asked Itachi what happens after you die... and he didn't know..." She lets out a soft laugh, making me scowl slightly.
"Sasuke, your brother is a genius, but he doesn't know everything," she smiles, holding out one arm to draw me into a hug. I shuffle round the table, nestling into her side. "Can you imagine what a burden knowing that would be? There are some things a person just isn't meant to know." She kisses my head softly. "Why would you want to know that sort of thing anyway? You're not usually so morbid."
"I asked Itachi if he thought Shisui was happy where he is now..." I mumble the words, almost ashamed of wanting to know something so childish. She gives a soft "Ahh..." of realisation.
"And what did he say?" she asks, a note of her own curiosity in her voice.
"Nothing... He didn't say anything." I look up at her. "I don't think he knows that either."
"Of course he doesn't know, Sasuke," she laughs gently. "The only person who knows that is Shisui, and Itachi knows that. To find out he'd have to ask Shisui, and he can't ask because he's..." She bites back the word "dead". "Gone. It hurts Itachi that his closest friend isn't around anymore. Those two were like brothers." I stay silent, my eyes on the floor. "What's wrong?"
"Wasn't I a good enough brother for him?" I mutter, almost too quietly for her to hear. She hears, though, with that super-sensitive hearing that only a mother has. Sighing softly, she tightens her grip on my shoulders slightly, kissing the top of my head.
"Of course you were, sweetheart. But you're so much younger than Itachi... He needed someone his own age, his own intelligence. Which does not mean," she cuts me off, seeing me about to protest my own cleverness, "that you aren't clever, because you are. Itachi's just..."
"Special." I recite the familiar word with a sigh. She nods, smiling slightly.
"Exactly." She pulls me tightly into a hug, whispering conspiratorially in my ear. "But you'll always be Mother's favourite!" I laugh happily, wriggling round till I can slide my arms around her. "There you are... Now then, how much homework do you have left?"
"Just my Math," I reply, grinning against her shoulder. I know exactly what's coming.
"Oh, you can have that done in seconds," she laughs. "What do you say we go into your father's office and I beat you at shogi?"
"You wish, Mother!" I shoot back, just as I always do. I know she'll beat me, and she does, but the point isn't to win. It's to distract my mind from things a six year old shouldn't know.
Maybe I'll never be as good as Itachi. Maybe I'll never be a prodigy, be Father's favourite, know everything I want to know. But I'm only six.
I've got plenty of time later in life to find out what happens when you die.