/Wait, it's all that I can take. And every single day, a part of my soul is fading, but now by letting go somehow, unshackled and unbound, I'm calling out your name, I'm fading, so save me../

/

Agony; Burning, twisting, tearing agony. He knew from the beginning that this would be painful, but he had only imagined the slightest degree of torment he would endure. He struggled to keep breathing as the air was forced out of him and his lungs locked up, refusing to allow any more oxygen to pass within.

..It felt like something was within him, ripping parts out as if useless, shredding them and burning them away. The young Uchiha remained bent over, the harsh stabbing affliction growing, but surely as it met its peak, he expected it would dim away. He just tried to endure until then.

He was not one to mistake as weak- He had stood against harsh forces, threatening foes, pain and tortures dreamt up by the most twisted minds, and he always held his ground. He took suffering without a shred of emotion or reaction, just as he was taught to do. But he could admit to himself that he hadn't suffered as much as the average shinobi, not because of his age, but because he hadn't allowed himself mishaps, and he had been the image of perfection in the eyes of many.

His head felt light; Not just from the pain but from how he had frozen without a single breath for a few minutes now. His paralyzed lungs would have to be forced to work, but why wasn't this sharp feeling of destruction burning itself out? Would it end at all, or would this draw the young Uchiha down into the clutches of death? No, he shook his head softly, bangs moving against his fair skin as he denied such a thought, and he focused on breathing.

He finally was able to take in a small gasp of air, but doing so gave way to something even more horrible. It felt like his lungs had lined themselves with some sort of liquid and as he tried to breathe, he was overtaken by the sensation of inhaling water, or something else. His throat objected vehemently, and his chest heaved as he coughed fiercely, unable to control the spasms of his lungs trying to dispel what was caught within.

As the young boy coughed, he covered his mouth with a thin hand, trying to conceal his terrible affliction. A spatter of blood, a rush of liquid crimson was forced out from the boy's lungs, tainting the light peach of his frail fingers. Dark eyes shimmered with tears but only because of the irritation being endured in the young male's chest, up into his throat. Those tears didn't stop the coughing, which went on despite how they made the abdominal pain only worse, but surely this would end. This had to end eventually, or at least the young male was certain that he had handled things correctly, so nothing would go wrong.

And this was when the door creaked slowly open behind the young Uchiha boy, and the echo of footsteps could be heard at his back. It couldn't have possibly come at a worse time.

A masked man, cloaked like a shadow in solid black, crouched at the young boy's side and laid a hand upon his back. That appendage felt so warm and human, but the younger boy wouldn't fool himself into believing his ancestor's intention lied in comfort. (Or that he was anything close to human) Before the teen was even able to breathe properly, the dark stranger in his company spoke up in that deep, harsh tone, bidding answers from one who hadn't yet the ability to speak up.

"..Itachi. What has happened to you?"

When the coughing finally ceased, the boy's bloodied hand dropped away from his face as his downward stare hid his eyes behind hanging strands of ebony. He didn't want that man to look him in the face as he panted, catching his breath at last. It took a moment for him to recoup, and in the silence of the lingering, unanswered question, Itachi's mind devised his answer.

"The fading soul plague."

::

Five lost souls, tied together by the strands of fate, slowly, quietly, wandered into the grayish halls of their new hideout. The one in front, seemingly bound in the darkest shades of ebony, was a mysterious creature who hid his face but called himself by the name of Uchiha Madara.

He had taken this group under his wing for purposes yet unknown, but one had decidedly followed the masked man's lead for his own reasons. Uchiha Sasuke; He now knew the truth of his elder brother's past thanks to his dark ancestor, and he quietly mourned this unnecessary loss while converting his depression and woe into hatred to be used in new lusts for vengeance.

The others simply followed their leader, each having a particular goal in mind, or at least a reason.

They had all been walking for hours, having started their journey at sunrise, traveling until dusk with minor breaks in between long periods. The purpose behind this move was to leave behind one temporary hideout for the preference of at last moving into the main location of Uchiha Madara and Akatsuki's base-of-operations. This move had been delayed by two things in particular. The first was the choice of Akatsuki's secret leader- He did need to make sure his young relative and friends would go along with his plans before he allowed them into his main lair. The second reason was for Sasuke- He needed some time to regain his strength after having faced such a brutal opponent as Itachi, and he also needed time to recover from the shock posed by the truth about his sibling, after having assured (or at least sped up) his death.

The young avenger had hardly spoken since the fight, and at this very moment he didn't show any signs of breaking his own silence. The dark figure that had led the group (newly re-designated as 'Taka') to their new location simply showed them to one single level of the underground hideaway; This level consisted of a selection of rooms, any of which could be used for the purposes of rest and privacy. He didn't seem to care which room they chose, or if they all stayed in the same room to keep each other warm, but he showed a moment of hesitation when Sasuke paused before one certain door.

The teenage Uchiha had black, starless eyes poised downward, but his hand had reached out without his consent, causing him to stop in his path, and it shook his mind from whatever dark thought it had been wrapped up in all day. As surely as he shifted his concentration to the present moment, his face lifted slowly to peer at the door his fingers felt the need to so gently rest against. At the same time, the eldest of the group spoke up in that calm, rumbling voice, watching Sasuke's actions from behind his mask.

"...When he was here, that was Itachi's room. Though, it can be yours now, if you'd like.."

The ancient man paused to see a reaction, but when Sasuke merely stood as if in thought, Madara lost any interest he may have had, and finally turned his back to walk away, leaving the others in the dull glow of the hallway's candlelight.

The avenger blinked, clearly lost in thought, inwardly considering whether or not his emotional state could handle looking at Itachi's abandoned dwelling; He concluded that it couldn't possibly do him any more harm that life in general had already done, and with this in mind, he pushed the door open, and gingerly took the first few steps into the space, seeming as though he were walking on hallowed ground.

It was difficult to see, however, with only the candlelight from the hallway, but the graceful Uchiha found his way through the darkness to a tiny paper lantern placed upon a small table. (Those years of living in Orochimaru's lair really paid off in the end.) After lighting up the little lantern, the teen Uchiha turned to observe the room, noticing that while Suigetsu and Juugo had gone about their business, Karin was lingering in the doorway, glancing around with as much curiosity as Sasuke.

Sasuke ignored his female accomplice, for now, his eyes only finding any tinge of fascination with the current surroundings. There really wasn't much to the room, in general. The walls and floors were all dark and stony, of course, and the ceiling was slanted slightly, the shorter wall having little shelves carved into them, and those shelves even held one or two left over items.

On the same wall as the door itself was a modest bed set low to the ground with light, solid colored sheets and blankets. It was difficult to decipher exactly what color the sheets were, because the dim yellowish candlelight didn't make it very clear. The table where the lantern sat was directly next to the bed, and a mirror hung upon the wall just beside the table.

What caught the most attention from the young Uchiha was what waited against the wall opposite the bed, toward the middle of the small room. He walked slowly, almost cautiously toward the objects left behind by his elder sibling, looking like he was nervous that some haunt could be spooked from a hiding place. But Sasuke remained in such a state of unreadable revery due to something that shook nostalgic, old feelings from the very depths of his soul. These old feelings were not necessarily bad, just very distant in his mind, from when his family remained by his side and he was still a very young child.

Near the wall waited a cushion for kneeling upon the ground and the young Uchiha sauntered over to it, moving down to his knees on the cushion. He could hear Karin taking the notion to approach, surely wanting to know the meaning behind Sasuke's actions and the objects before the young avenger, but she didn't yet speak up so Sasuke continued to mostly ignore her presence.

Before the cushion was a table that was lengthy, but not very wide, and only a few centimeters off the ground, meant to be within reach of a kneeling humans arm. At one end of the table was a collection of candles, which Sasuke lit so to illuminate the area and allow him a better viewing of it all. It was a small shrine of sorts, based of off a very old spiritual belief that was followed once by only the Uchiha clan, as well as a few scattered individuals who somehow became involved. Here and there, members of other clans throughout Konoha would show some interest, but they hardly ever made it a stout dedication.

In Sasuke's childhood, he found that only the older members of the clan remained truly engulfed in the following and not even the boy's parents believed in any of it anymore. It had been dismissed by younger generations as mere mysticism, and the teenage Uchiha could even recall his father referring to it as a waste of time and effort. Sasuke also remembered that it had been Itachi that those words were directed toward.

For whatever reason, Itachi would visit the shrine in the Uchiha district from time to time, and he would even stray into the ceremonies on rare occasions, being sure to bring his Otouto along with him. Now that he looked back on it, Sasuke was sure Itachi thought it was all mysticism too, and it was just a way of spending time with Sasuke, but now the teen would never know if this assumption was factual, especially considering that Itachi had obviously collected a number of the items associated with the prayers and ceremonies.

Sasuke couldn't recall exactly when, but he knew that when his elder brother started to get more and more tied up in his shinobi missions, the two brothers just stopped sneaking into the ceremonies, though Sasuke had really missed it, if only because he got to be near his Niisan all the while. He took a deep breath slowly into his chest before he released it as a softly audible sigh, the pleasant memories serving to break the boy's heart that much more, once he thought about them. Still, he didn't yet turn away because he had hardly investigated at all.

Upon the table were a collection of items that Sasuke let his eyes first wander over before he dared to shift them about. Near the candles were two finely decorated boxes; They were painted and carved with intricate designs, and one sat atop the other, the one on top a bit smaller than the one beneath. There were a couple a glass bowls, also painted with the most delicate designs, and like the boxes, one smaller one sat within a larger one, with a tool for mixing and grinding just beside the two glass objects. The avenger's fingers strayed outward to touch the object, noting that it was the perfect size for Itachi's dainty hands.

At the other end of the table was an antique incense burner; It sat upright on three tiny, curled legs, and had a removable top, allowing the user to place incense within, light them, and close the top so the smoke would come drifting out of the small holes. Directly beside the burner were two clear glass bottles, which contained little incense cones in shades of red and brown. Sasuke pulled the loose-fitting cork from one of the bottles, letting the scent drift from within, and it served to further remind him of the old days. The incense were made from herbs grown in the forests and meadows near the Hidden Leaf and they were common to find. Sasuke supposed that Itachi kept a few bottles so that he wouldn't run out so easily, given that Konoha was so far away. The teen shook one cone from the bottle and held it between his fingers as he corked the glass object and placed it back where it had been sitting. Sasuke then opened up the tiny incense burner, and placed the fragrant cone inside, lighting it so it caught flame just to let the initial fire burn out and leave only slow-burning embers. After that, Sasuke put the top back on the burner, letting the twirls of smoke filter out and upward.

Near the burner sat a couple of idols that appeared to be carved from stone or perhaps ivory- One was of a spiritual creature that the Uchiha particularly regarded with respect. The other carved figure was one that Sasuke did not recognize, though it resembled a dragon.

Upon the wall hung a few depictions of highly regarded spiritual creatures; These beings were not necessarily worshiped but they were considered to be on a higher level than other animals, closer members to the human soul. They could represent all things from the spirit itself, to healing or preserving the human form, to death and reincarnation, as a cycle. But, aside from the respected creatures, were a few commons texts, and art of important celestial occurrences. Then, hanging by a thin, red thread was a traditional carved mask, this particular one resembling a bird-like entity, and it was painted with a few common markings in a brownish shade which the teen assumed was dried blood.

Sasuke could remember going to a mask painting ceremony with his brother; Being given a freshly carved mask, a tiny bowl of ceremonial blood, and a feather quill in which to paint the small, intricate markings.

Having investigated enough, Sasuke felt satisfied with his findings and merely closed heavy eyes before bringing his hands together before himself; He also recalled visiting the shrine with Itachi, offering a few coins, taking a moment to pray, and then the two were off on some venture that only young kids knew of. Sasuke never really knew or understood exactly what people prayed about in particular, and that especially included Itachi. He wished now that he -could- know what things his sibling prayed for so long ago.

Sasuke, as a boy, mostly just remained quiet as he imitated the praying position, and he contemplated this and that to himself, unsure what he should be thinking. That was also what he was doing now; breathing the lovely scented smoke and wondering if Itachi was watching him be so melancholy. Could the elder hear Sasuke's thoughts now? Would Itachi be so kind as to answer Sasuke's prayers? Probably not, because the teen was sure he didn't deserve it. Regardless, Sasuke couldn't help but silently speak to his brother, asking Itachi to please forgive him, not just for killing him, but also for what Sasuke planned to do next, how Sasuke intentionally was set on going against what he assumed his brother would have wanted.

This quick prayer was interrupted, however, when Sasuke heard Karin finally kneel next to him. This was certainly not because she wanted to pray as well, but most likely because she wanted to snoop.

The avenger opened those charcoal eyes to peer over to the woman at his side. She wasn't looking at him and, instead, had those calculating, framed optics flickering over the entirety of the setting. She did well pretending to be interested in Itachi's old belongings, but after a day of keeping her mouth shut, her urge to speak with her infatuation had to be overflowing, and this was her true purpose. She proved this theory shortly after Sasuke took the initiative to look at her.

"What are all these things?" The woman shifted her glasses on the bridge of her nose as she gave the items a skeptical glance, her mind somewhere between confusion and curiosity. With careful fingertips, she brushed over a tiny shelf hanging just above the table, shifting a few old scrolls about before pulling one out to give it a glance.

Sasuke watched her, if only to see what her reaction was; He concluded that she didn't make much of whatever she found to be written in the scroll, but she did at least give it more than just a quick glance, so the avenger kept himself from being offended by her actions. The red-headed kunoichi didn't show a shred of disrespect for the fallen Uchiha, which the teenage boy appreciated to a certain degree- Otherwise, he wouldn't have bothered responding.

He did finally break his silence, however, his voice soft from disuse, and because of how eerily quiet the surroundings were. "...They are items related to a dead spiritual following."

"They were... your brother's?" The woman turned to the avenger, and she quirked one delicate brow, still looking like she either didn't believe or that she was generally confused concerning not only the connection between the brothers, but the finer details about the elder. All she had known, after all, was that the older of the two had killed Sasuke's family, and this was the reason for Sasuke's initial revenge. (More or less, the only things Sasuke ever told her.)

The young Uchiha, in response, simply nodded to his female company, thinking she would probably go about her business soon enough, if he just gave her silence. He hadn't been finished here, after all, and he turned his countenance back to face forward as he closed his eyes, still inwardly bidding the fates to favor him in any upcoming struggle.

Karin, however, felt safe enough remaining with her infatuation for a bit longer, even if it meant she had to remain quiet. This was part of Sasuke that she had never seen before (as it was surely intended to be private anyway.) And for that matter, she was learning a thing about the avenger's dead brother as well. That could only serve to aid her in her pursuits, right? If she understood Itachi a bit better, then she could console Sasuke so genuinely!

A thin hand came next to the top upon the small, painted box, and it was lifted free so that nimble fingers could probe within to understand the contents, or at least acknowledge them for -what they were-. This ended up being a harder concept than the kunoichi originally thought, though, as she pulled a few tiny glass bottles into her palm to examine.

The contents were a mixture of different shades and textures, and mostly indecipherable as to exactly what they were. One bottle contained a liquid, while others contained dry, powdered substances, and yet another seemed to contain some lightweight sort of fibers, like thin threads cut into the shortest lengths. One other little bottle was filled with tiny flakes, some colored and dusty, some clear. It was all mostly a mystery to Karin.

"What are all these things?" She whispered in an honestly curious tone, but kept herself very meek in her words, just in case Sasuke was aiming to not be disturbed.

He took her questioning relatively easily, though, shrugging his shoulders without interrupting his own praying, and he gave an answer based solely on his memories. "Who knows.. Blood, bones, herbs, insect wings.. It could be anything."

The woman took the answer she was given with a shrug in response, mildly disgusted, though she wisely choose not to show it. She placed all the tiny bottles back into neat little rows, just as how she found them, before she found herself giving a small drawstring-bag a nudge. It shifted with a recognizable rattle, making it obvious that nothing more was contained inside but small, smooth stones. This was a concept that the woman did, indeed, recognize.

"Chakra stones." She spoke up to herself, though she smiled slightly, wondering if Sasuke noticed her moment of cleverness. It didn't take a single sideways glance, though, to tell that Sasuke had just pretended he didn't hear her, or that she wasn't there. The red-head sighed softly, in disappointment, before she left the stones in place and closed the smaller box, just to move it aside and take a gander into the larger box. With a quick movement, she lifted the hinged top.

Similar to the smaller container, the larger of the two held this and that, though luckily enough, the substances seemed more whole and were much more easily identified. This way, the kunoichi could know what things were before she picked them up.

With one hand she fingered her glasses up a bit once again, (since they slid down with the angle of her head.) and she rested the fingertips of her other hand at the edge of the opened box, letting her eyes scan the objects over first. From what she could see, it seemed that this was mostly a collection of animal-derived items. A few different sorts of bird feathers, some with tips fashioned into points used for painting smooth, fine lines, and others which were threaded with various colors of woven fibers tied to beads or coins or ornaments of some kind.

Also present, the shinobi woman found cuts of antlers and fragments of bone, even a perfectly shed snake skin, and a butterfly preserved in an amber resin. True, these things were kind of repulsive, but at the same time, she found them just a bit interesting. Something about knowing the person who collected these things happened to be Sasuke's brother intrigued her, though it was hard for her to understand why; It made her wish that she could get such a personal glimpse of the avenger himself, like this.

"Hm?" She blinked, the smallest tinge of an inquisitive sparkle arising from the depths of her reddish-pink eyes (though they looked murky red in the dim light.) as they were laid upon the one item that seemed out of place in the box. The kunoichi immediately assumed that this item must have been particularly special, and maybe if it was something that would interest the Uchiha at her side, then.. Well, she would just have to figure that part out! With an inkling of a grin on her lips, her fingers finally reached out to clasp a smaller sort of scroll from within the container.

She held the object in her hand at first, able to clearly see what it was, but it was different from the typical ninja scrolls. First, it was contained within a sort of protective tin jacket, which -had- to mean it was important, and secondly, as Karin tried to slide it open, she found it was either locked or jammed.

She let out a barely-audible huff of exasperation while she searched the metallic surface for the latch which would open the thing. That task was simple enough, but once her fingertips met a tiny button in an attempt to slide it to the side and pop the case open, the woman found that it was just a bit on the stiff side. Still, she persisted, putting all of the strength she had in one thumb behind pushing the tiny button, and eventually, it snapped aside, chorused by a sound that resembled cracking.

"Whoops.." With one tiny word to label her potential mishap, Karin glanced nervously over at her leader with a slight blush and an apologetic grin; Sasuke had looked up from his own silence and he returned her look with a rather unimpressed look of his own.

Investigating, just to see for sure if something had gotten broken or not, the red-headed woman slid the paper scroll from the sleeve and unrolled the sturdy-feeling object. The paper was definitely thick so it likely wouldn't tear very easily, but it was surely possible. The text characters upon the yellowish scroll were completely unrecognizable to the young kunoichi, and she noticed that it all fell between two smudged, reddish-brown lines that ran lengthwise upon the top and bottom of the rolled paper. Then, at the far end of the scroll, the lines met with a sealing symbol.

Then, just above the seal was a tiny glass vial which was bound to the paper with wire threading. And, it just so turned out that the vial was the very thing that had cracked upon opening the scroll. The kunoichi was immediately afraid that this was some sort of fail-safe to keep the scroll secret, and it would ruin the object she initially assumed could be very important. (And it seemed even more so now) However, the clear fluid that leaked out didn't seem to stain the paper or erase the writings, rather, it did no harm at all, leaking along little crevices in the paper, conforming to the lettering and the seal before evaporating; This had no obvious effects. (At least not that were apparent to the human eye.)

Karin, admittedly, could not be any more relieved, especially as the dark-headed male at her side continued to give the scroll a semi-interested sort of gaze. He looked as though he, also, was attempting to figure out the meaning of the writing upon the paper, but the tiniest wrinkle in his brow and a slight shake of the head showed his defeat. He spoke his defeated attempts in a soft, neutral tone, while cool, black optics remained upon the print as they continued to flicker across it.

"..I've never seen anything like that before..It probably has nothing to do with this.."

The kunoichi gave Sasuke a half smile, though she could tell his mood hadn't really improved any. Because of this, she -attempted- to keep herself in a somber appearance, lest she cause friction to Sasuke's current state of mourning, and doing anything to get pushed aside was unacceptable. She spoke up in response, her tone striking the same state of neutrality as the young avenger.

"It is obviously some kind of sealing scroll.." She looked from the scroll to the protective jacket she had set aside. "When I opened it, the latch in the protector struck a pin attached to the glass vial which was threaded to the scroll. It not only allowed two separate substances inside the vial to mix, but then they wet the seal itself.."

Suddenly feeling a surge of nervousness along with some relief to counteract that exact anxiety, Karin quickly found herself rolling the scroll back up and carefully placing it back inside the holder, though she laid it down upon the table instead of slipping it back into the box it had come from. Her reaction stemmed from the realization of how complicated a device it was that she had meddled with, and subsequently she also realized that any device that had so much thought put into it would typically -also- have some kind of consequential effect. She only breathed a sigh of relief because nothing had happened yet.

"That could have been some kind of trap.. Thankfully, whatever effect it was supposed to have didn't work.." With a nervous brush of her hand against her forehead, the red-headed woman paused, before meekly adding to her previous statement. "I don't think."

The young Uchiha gave hardly a reaction, aside from a shrug to reflect an 'I-couldn't-care-less' attitude. This was returned by a partially disbelieving and partially enamored sort of expression from the kunoichi (Because she was mixed between thinking her fine friend was a bit strange for being so unworried, but at the same time, he was just so darn cool about everything, and it was..hard to resist.) as Sasuke at last returned to his feet.

He didn't feel the need to explain his reasons behind being unworried as he turned on heel, but it was something rather akin to, 'Itachi setting a trap that could cause me harm? At this point, that would be hard to believe, and Itachi wouldn't even risk such a thing.. Assuming he just didn't consider the risk was also foolish. Itachi thought of everything.'

As Sasuke took a few steps toward the door, he was halted with an abrupt inquiry from his obsessive female teammate, but since he had a decent amount of tolerance for her behavior, he very patiently cast a dark stare over his shoulder to give her his attention. The question she posed, which had stopped the avenger in his tracks, was a very simple one and yet it seemed hardly relevant (or any of her business for that matter.)

"..Where are you going?"

With the same detached tone, Sasuke spoke his response to the question Karin had thrown him, and though he turned his eyes back toward the door as he spoke, he was kind enough to elaborate on other things before attempting to leave, as opposed to giving her a one or two-word answer. (Even if it wasn't really for her sake.)

"I don't think I would want to stay in this room, so you can if you wish. But I would advise that you leave Itachi's things alone."

With a soft, nervous laugh, the young woman nodded, having already decided that she was going to stay out of this mysterious Itachi's possessions, just in case. Otherwise, she had no problem with staying in the room, and since Sasuke suggested it, she would. She would have followed after the young Uchiha to accompany him in the rest of his explorations, but he still didn't seem to be in a decent enough mood for it. She sighed, disappointed, as he disappeared out the door.

The heart-broken avenger, as he left, found himself all too pleased that Karin did not follow. He wanted to submerge himself in his gloom and self-pity, and for that.. He needed to be alone.

:::

The battle was a fierce one; Suigetsu was pushed aside like nothing, and while Juugo was able to assist, he still didn't seem to match the opponent.

And Sasuke, he was acting so strangely, fighting more recklessly than Karin had ever seen. He rushed in so obviously, heading straight for close-combat, not thinking things through. He didn't bother trying to lure his opponent into a trap, and it left the kunoichi wondering, had the avenger gotten full of himself, or was he intentionally trying to get himself killed?

Had he really become so depressed? Or had he become so blinded by emotion that he fought as if in a state of madness? This was wrong, all wrong, and the red-head fidgeted nervously as she watched, feeling helpless.

She tried to help by dragging Suigetsu's unnecessarily large sword over to him and giving him a stout cussing to get him off his ass. (She couldn't understand why Sasuke picked him. Sure, he couldn't be killed by a blade, but his fighting style was so useless.. Then again.. No, she wouldn't put herself in that category, she WAS useful in some regards, at least!)

Before the kunoichi could even get turned back around properly, she saw Sasuke get shoved back by an immense, deadly force. She gasped as the avenger rolled across the ground and she ran with all the speed she could muster to dive in and break his fall somewhat. She was able to successfully catch him and stop him from rolling any further, and she pulled him onto her lap to investigate for any injury.

And, of course, he had gotten himself hurt. She looked up, seeing that for now Suigetsu and Juugo were holding off the opposition, but how long could that last? She had to be quick- Sasuke needed her help, fast. With speedy, diligent hands she partially unzipped her jacket down beyond her collarbones, exposing the skin of her chest slightly.

"Sasuke, bite me quickly."

She was panting from nervousness, knowing their enemy could force his way past the other two at any moment, yet at the very least Sasuke could still hear her and make out what she had said. She saw those strong, ruby eyes reveal themselves just the smallest bit from beneath pale lids and black lashes, and she knew Sasuke would do as she asked, which would give him at least some of his strength back.

As he forced himself up enough to try and reach the flesh presented, the red-headed kunoichi pressed him to make haste by helping him up a bit, her fingers laced in those glossy spikes as she pulled his head closer until she could feel the warmth of his mouth on her skin, and his teeth biting down on her, and then..

/Ahhh, God, SheJustCouldn'tHelpHerself, ItWasSoAmazing, Fuck, OhYeah!/

Actually, no, it really wasn't, in fact she quickly found herself wincing. It felt more like Suigetsu's razor-sharp teeth, digging right into her skin and it really, really hurt! But, for some reason, Sasuke wasn't stopping as he usually did. No, instead, he was holding more tightly, digging his teeth in. He was latched on and even as Karin voiced a complaint, he only clutched her that much more tightly. With a whine she tried to push him away, feeling her chakra leaving her to an almost fatal extent before...

...

"Huh.. Oh, it was a dream."

The groggy kunoichi lifted herself up onto her elbow as she rubbed at her sleepy eyes and yawned. She must have been more tired out than she realized after the trip yesterday, because she had gone to bed soon after Sasuke left the room and she fell asleep so quickly that she hardly realized she was dreaming. Usually she slept without dreaming, and when she did dream, she always knew in her mind that it wasn't real and that she could wake herself up easily enough.

A delicate hand came to rest against her chest, just beneath a collarbone, and she rubbed at this area with dainty fingers. Strangely, it felt a bit sore, as if her dream had really happened, but it was most likely some bruise she had gotten at a previous time without knowing how it had gotten there. Why it started hurting in her sleep, she hadn't a clue.

She reached over to the table next to the bed, quickly lighting the tiny paper lantern and then she grabbed up her glasses. 'What time is it?', she was wondering; Surely it couldn't have been late, as she typically found herself waking during the early morning hours, years of habitually doing so now entirely imprinted upon her behavior. She sat completely upright, brushing a stray hand through her hair before she pushed her glasses to their typical spot on her face, and she looked around with her vision finally clear enough to see, and the first thing she laid eyes on was-

"Ahhhhh!"

She practically jumped out of her skin as wide eyes stared at what appeared to be a person sitting at the end of her bed, watching her with empty-looking black eyes, just staring without a single flinch or a blink. She quickly rushed to back herself against the wall behind her, which the bed sat against, though thankfully this creature who was watching her didn't come any closer.

The kunoichi took quick, frightened breaths, though as a hand darted to take hold of a kunai that had been sitting on the table next to her, she felt just a slight bit safer. She had to remind herself that she had come here from a prison full of goons, and that they never got an advantage over her because despite her appearance, she could deal out a pretty brutal beating, and on top of that..

The thing in front of her didn't seem to be a 'thing' at all, but rather, it was a kid, and despite the fact that it (She couldn't tell if it was a boy or girl) had a countenance without a splinter of emotion, it was actually.. Pretty cute. That aside, Karin was still cautious within decent reasoning. She had no idea where this kid came from or if it -was- a kid, or just.. A wolf in sheep's clothing.

"Where the hell did you come from?" The red-headed woman spoke sternly, sharply even, not sparing a kind tone for the one who had startled her so terribly. She hoped that by showing her harsh side first, she could discover if this was an enemy or if it was really just a little kid.

"I come from Konoha."

"Konoha?" The young woman blinked, noting that this was, of course, where Sasuke came from and therefore, was it possible this could be somebody who was looking for him in some kind of clever disguise? It didn't seem like they would give an answer that would ruin their cover if that was the case, but then again, maybe they expected people to think like that?

"Then why are you here?"

The young child just gave a shrug, its face looking mostly distant but at the same time, the red headed woman swore she saw a trace of worry in the kid's big, dark eyes. She relaxed her tense muscles slightly as she further observed the kid sitting at the end of her bed. Its skin was awfully pale, and now that Karin thought about it, it did look a bit like Sasuke- It was in the little child's face. And then there was also the kid's charcoal-black eyes and that shiny obsidian hair to the shoulders.

"Are you.." She paused, a worried expression coming over her face, and she pulled the blankets up over herself a bit, keeping her eyes on the still figure that was staring at her. "...a ghost?"

To this, the little kid knitted its brows together, looking a bit confused, and blinking at last with a slight tilt of its head. "No, I'm a boy."

Karin gave an uncertain nod, lowering the blanket down and she leaned a bit to the side, trying to get a glimpse of the little boys 'parts', just to be sure. The 'boy' was sitting with his legs drawn in and his arms wrapped around them, his ankles just covering his private area. He certainly was a modest child, but, why didn't he have any clothes in the first place? That seemed very odd. He had to be cold.

Now that she thought about it, given a slightly closer examination, the boy did seem to be shivering a bit, though it was harder to see in the dim light. The red-headed kunoichi crawled over to the boy, and laid her hand against his shoulder, being given a wary look from him in return- She wasn't sure if he was hiding his emotions or if he was just weak from whatever had happened to him before he ended up here, but while he was obviously a bit shaken inside, he wasn't as a typical child would be, or so Karin could imagine. Wouldn't a lost child be in hysterics?

That didn't make much difference right now anyway- The boy's skin was absolutely freezing, so there was no time to waste with over thinking who he was and how he got here. The woman sighed to herself, finding these circumstances a bit regretful; She really wasn't much of a babysitter. "Let me try to find some clothes for you, okay, until then, just get under the blankets alright? They should still be a bit warm."

Her framed optics watched the little boy as he nodded to her and crawled sluggishly toward the top of the bed, pulling down the blankets in order to slide his thin frame beneath them and absorb the body heat that still rested underneath. She moved over to the shelves, looking through the clothes she had brought with her. (Which was not much) She had an extra change of clothes, but despite how tight they were, they still would probably be too big for the tiny boy. On top of that, they wouldn't cover very much skin, so it was pretty much useless.

Oh wait, she did have one thing. She glanced around sneakily, as if somebody could really be spying on her, before she dove after one of her stashed trophy items. With a sly smirk she held the thing in front of her face- It was Sasuke's old shirt that had been discarded when he first came to Orochimaru's layer. Karin wasn't sure why, but the avenger had held onto it for a while without throwing it out, and when she got a chance, she swiped it.. He wouldn't miss it anyway! It had two gaping holes in the back, before, assumably where Sasuke's wings erupted from his back, and the kunoichi went to the trouble of stitching the holes up.

She held it to her face, taking a deep breath with a pinkish tinge across her cheeks. It had been washed in the past, but it still smelled just like Sasuke. It made her almost sad now that some other boy would be wearing it and it was destined to lose the lovely scent that clung to it. With a sad sigh the woman grabbed her extra pair of shorts, just to try them on the kid.

When she walked back over the boy had his eyes closed, and almost appeared as if he had fallen asleep. He really must have been weak from some kind of ordeal. She did notice before that his movements were very lethargic. Maybe this was also why he couldn't recall what happened to him, maybe it was something terrible?

She sat at the edge of the bed, laying the clothes next to her, and she reached a gentle hand out to touch the young boy's head. His eyes almost instantly opened in response to the soft fingers in his raven locks, and Karin tried to smile at the boy as she spoke up in a mildly concerned tone. "Hey..Do you feel okay? You seem like you might be sick or something.. Are you sure that masked man didn't bring you here?"

With a slight effort, the young male lifted himself up into a sitting position, and Karin handed the clothes to him. He spoke up as he pulled the shirt easily over his head. "I don't think I'm sick.. And I don't know how I got here. The last thing I remember is being home, and then I was here."

That shirt fit him well enough for now; It was baggy and looked like a nightgown but as long as it covered him, then it was best that he wear it. He tried to put on the girl's shorts, but they were simply too big for his tiny bottom. She figured they would be- Even if they were tight on her, a woman's hips were just too wide for a young boy to wear their pants. The boy showed the smallest sign of frustration, and Karin apologized, taking the shorts back.

After she gave him what she could to wear, she moved onto his next basic need, clearly quite sympathetic toward him. He said that he didn't feel sick, but he was so pale and looked terribly weak, so the kunoichi spoke up in curiosity, trying her best to strike a sweet tone.

"Are you hungry? I don't know if there is any food here, but I think I had some ration pills with me, if you're absolutely starving.. That will be some kind of nourishment until I can get real food for you, anyway."

The pretty little boy looked up at her as she spoke, those wide eyes seeming like they could see everything all at once, or maybe they could see through people to grasp a deeper understanding of a human soul and intentions. It was honestly frightening, but just the same, he looked so harmless otherwise. He looked so utterly innocent as he nodded softly but with certainty, blinking to let long, fine lashes graze his pale, rounded cheeks.

Kami, he looked just like a delicate doll. Karin had never laid eyes on a prettier child. (That WASN'T a girl) Her admiration for the boy could probably be seconded by other people, but she knew well enough that it also was due to her affection for a certain Uchiha. She even came up with a strange, sudden notion that perhaps this boy was what her own child would look like, if fathered by Sasuke.

She blushed, distracted for a moment by such an adorable fantasy, but she snapped out of it quickly enough as she recalled what she had been doing; That was when she sifted through a bag she had left on the floor near her bed and she found her stash of emergency ration pills. In a neatly sealed box she carried about ten of the food pills, meant to be a quick source of nutrients to shinobi in the field or otherwise away from other sources of sustenance.

She took one from the box, and held the dry mass between her fingers, looking it over. It was roughly two or three centimeters thick, and as a last-second thought, the kunoichi considered that since it was meant for teens and adults, people with a greater body mass than a child, it would be a bit much for the boy. Because of this, she first bit the thing in half, hoping the boy wouldn't be terribly offended by the fact that it had touched her mouth. If anything, the kid would probably be more offended by the flavor of the food substitute, because, though these were better than others Karin had tasted in her life, there was no such thing as a 'good' ration pill.

"Here.." She spoke softly as she sat beside the boy, offering the brownish half-ball to him. He looked at it warily, but reached a small hand out to accept the gift he was being given, obviously either famished or else he had enough manners within him to realize that being stubborn to somebody trying to help you was incredibly rude, and could cause a loss of any last resource you may have.

The young boy spared not another second of thought, he just slipped the makeshift food into his mouth, chewing it before he even had time to taste it. However, it was fairly apparent at the very moment he did catch the taste of the thing. It may have been slight, but he wrinkled his nose in the most subtle way and he had a look deep in his eyes that spoke a wordless disliking for the horrid flavor in his mouth. The kunoichi watched with concern for the boy, yes, but also with a partially amused grin that she attempted to cover with her fingers. Her previous fantasy had stirred admiration within her, and now she couldn't help but find this kid adorable in everything he did, even if it included dealing with the flavor of ration pills. But, yes, he -must- have been starving, though at least he was fed somewhat now.

But the situation was playing out to be a taxing one, in the end- Karin was in no place to be adopting a child, plus she had no clue how this kid even got here, or what to do with him. She didn't have any other clothes for him or any food either, and she had no idea what to do with him. With frustration mounting in her mind, she sighed softly to herself as she gave the quiet boy a pat on the head.

"I guess the responsibility of helping you falls on me. Nobody else around here is going to care enough to do anything with you."

The woman paused, looking down into those dark eyes and that round face, almost expecting the boy to hand her a logical suggestion. She hadn't a clue why her mind had even played at such a thought, because the boy was obviously confused himself, and he even further showed this (And perhaps some amount of shyness) because he remained silent. The red haired kunoichi tried to smile to herself.

"I don't have very much money, but maybe after we find some real food for you, and get you a bath, we can head toward a nearby town and find you some clothes.. From there, we'll just see what happens."

To this suggestion, the boy gave the woman a nod and Karin nodded in return.

::

/No I can't forget tomorrow, when I think of all my sorrow, when I had you there but then I let you go. And now it's only fair that I should let you know what you should know. I can't live if living is without you, I can't live, I can't give anymore/

/

This is what it all came down to. This was the only thing Sasuke had managed to figure out over the past few days; Itachi was gone and it was his fault. Sure, there were others to blame, but what did that matter? They were all old, prune-faced, shriveled heaps of shit. It was better that they suffer and wither with age- They were living punishment right now and the avenger saw no need to release the cowards from it.

And this was probably not what Itachi had in mind for Sasuke either, but surely it was better than what the teen Uchiha had originally planned.

With a sad sigh, and a last moment to consider this choice, Sasuke let his eyes fall shut as his hand locked the door behind him. He had searched his soul for enough anger and hatred to go on living, if only long enough to punish the murderers who had seen to it that Itachi would die. But, finding only those sweet memories of the past, those memories of a loving older brother, and knowing Itachi lived, suffered and died for his sake, Sasuke just couldn't take it, and in the end.. He was the one who deserved punishment the most.

He opened his eyes, charcoal optics being laid upon a small, rectangular room. Like the rest of the place, the walls and floors were an ashen stone, though in this room the tiles were at least smooth, and they had a marbled effect within, a swirl of creamy-white and obsidian amongst the gray.

The same as in all the rooms, there were shelves carved into the walls, and upon the right wall waited a sink set within the stone as if it sat upon its very own shelf, with cabinets just beneath. Then, straight ahead was a bathtub set deep into the smoky stone, shelves carved into the surrounding walls.

The teen Uchiha took a few slow steps forward, his heart racing in his chest as he inhaled deeply, releasing shaky breaths each time. A thin hand reached down into the tub to close the drain before it lifted to turn on the tap, the basin's bottom being suddenly wet with a fresh flow of hot water. There were a few candles lit, melted, white wax weeping down the slender structures, and Sasuke lifted one into his hand, using it to light various other scented, white candles that waited upon the shelves.

A small jar of fragrant bath salts waited on the edge of the tub, and the teen took it into his hand to be opened. The small crystals were of a light purple coloration, and just opening the container brought about a rush of their lavender perfume. It was such a lovely, relaxing scent, and it brought Sasuke back to memories of his brother, his skin and clothes always bathed in the smell of lavender incense and clover blossom fields during sunny mornings. The young male took a handful of the gems and sprinkled them into the steaming water collecting within the tub before he closed the jar and placed it back were it belonged.

Tied to his sash was a drawstring bag that he had brought along and he loosened it from his waist to be taken into his hands. Inside the silvery threading of the bag were pink petals from the sakura trees in full bloom. They still held a soft, lovely smell, and he took some of the tender, rosy petals between his fingers, and he let them fall in a scattered line just before the tub. The rest were sprinkled into the warm bath water.

The small bag was set aside and the fallen avenger untied the sash around his waist before letting in slip to the ground with a soft rustle. He unzipped his white top and it softly slid from his shoulders, caressing the boy's pale arms as it went, and it finally hit the ground to collect around Sasuke's bare feet and ankles. Lastly, the avenger pushed his pants down to fully bare himself, the steam from the tub caressing his naked, alabaster flesh and he hesitated no longer before he stepped into the bath.

He lowered his frame into the warm grasp of the purple-tinted water, his skin being flushed a rosy hue from the heat, though he easily adjusted, relaxing himself to soak. One hand extended toward the edge of the tub, laying a single, sharpened kunai within reach; For now the avenger laid himself back against the wall of the tub, his muscles easily losing their tenseness.

He wanted to drop himself to a relaxed, mellow state before he ended it all, and while he prepared himself, he could let his mind be filled with thoughts of Itachi, and Sasuke could have a few last minutes to consider whether or not this was indeed the right decision.

What kind of life had the Uchiha heir really imagined for Sasuke beyond revenge? Did he really believe Sasuke could go back to that forsaken place they originally called home? He thought Sasuke would live happily as a hero, finding solace in his only brother's death? ..That couldn't possibly be right. Even the avenger saw that something was amiss in this story, yet he knew deep inside himself that his brother did indeed love him beyond any other.

How he wished he could have heard his brother tell him so. He would give anything to rush up to his brother and be flush to him in an embrace like he had so many times in his memories of long ago. If only he could live a moment with Itachi right by his side, hearing him speaking words of reassurance and of praise like he always had. Kami, what Sasuke would give to see his brother again, to look up into those pretty eyes and see Itachi looking right back at him with one of those soft, elusive smiles. It would mean the world to the teenage Uchiha..

If Sasuke could have just remembered all those things before he donned a smile while he made the greatest attempts to take away Itachi's life. He watched with gleeful eyes each time he hurt his brother, so utterly pleased with himself as he payed Itachi back for all the pain he had caused; Sasuke had been so stupid. As cryptic as his words had been, Sasuke now understood what Itachi had been saying to him before. The elder, in his secretive way, had been trying to tell Sasuke that there were always other truths beneath the surface of any situation. Even Sasuke knew this before his brother mentioned it, yet Sasuke ignored those words, pushing Itachi to his grave, and for what?

For more heartache. For guilt.

And that man who claimed himself to be Uchiha Madara had scolded the vengeful teen for his plans at further revenge. (That hypocrite.) He said it would completely disrespect Itachi's wishes by going against what the heir had planned, though.. Who was that man to say what all Itachi had planned? Regardless, Sasuke would never know what Itachi's true plans were, but some part of him believed what Madara had said. Pressing this foolish revenge any further would probably be a ridiculous notion. Madara claimed more than anything that revenge would be unnecessary soon enough and Itachi probably did see it ending with him anyway.

But certainly Itachi, who had lived and died for Sasuke's sake, would not want to see Sasuke die so soon after, either. The young avenger could feel his heart clench even further as he reached for the kunai, knowing his brother's pain and sacrifice equally meant nothing if Sasuke died here, but.. Sasuke had nothing else to give. He had no reason to live without revenge driving him, or without Itachi to love him. The teen couldn't live with the guilt and pain of Itachi's death on his soul.

Holding the sharpened blade in his left hand, the Uchiha dipped his hand beneath the heated water in order to press the pointed tip of the kunai to his wrist. He took a deep breath, letting his tongue slide out a bit to lick his lips, his mouth suddenly so dry as he breathed rapid, deep breaths. He already felt terribly light-headed, but he ignored it, focusing on what had to be done. With the exact force necessary, Sasuke put enough pressure behind the blade to dig it into his flesh and he slowly let it be dragged down along his arm, making a long, clean cut.

Ribbons of vibrant crimson immediately drifted out into the lavender water, the delicate veins appropriately enlarged as the avenger was not only sure to drink enough water as preparation, but the warm water helped keep them this way, nice and willing to spill the blood flowing within with ease. Sasuke smiled bitterly, seeing that his plans for leaving this world would surely not be foiled and he took the kunai next into his right hand, repeating his previous action, cutting his skin open deeply to allow the very essence of his life to escape.

He then set the kunai aside as he laid his head back against the back of the tub; Yes, this was best, even if Itachi was weeping in the afterlife. No matter what, Sasuke knew he couldn't live as his brother wanted or planned, he knew he couldn't go on pretending he was happy. And while Sasuke might could go on his revenge spree in order to take those old bastards out with him, why bother? There was no sense in going all the way to Konoha and making mad attempts at killing their higher-ups when he would likely be captured and detained in the end and he would be made to wait, probably interrogated for information before he finally met his end. Why bother letting them laugh at his pain? Why bother letting them judge him, call him crazy, and place all the blame on him when he already knew and he didn't need anybody telling him that much?

He saw no reason to cause himself that misery. He wouldn't allow them to make a mockery of him or Itachi when he could just quietly fade from existence in comfort and dignity.

And he could already feel himself slipping away so easily, so blissfully. Itachi would be upset with him, but soon enough Itachi would be here in this room with Sasuke when his heart finally stopped. Itachi would be standing there all beautiful and perfect, looking healthy and glowing, reaching a hand out to his beloved Otouto and he would pull Sasuke into a long awaited embrace, and finally they would be together, forever.

In fact, with a move of the teen's heavy head to the side, he opened his eyes and he could see the face of his brother moving toward him. Itachi was slowly walking over to the tub and crawling into the ruby-stained water to lift Sasuke up and hold him, to comfort him in his last moments.. It felt so warm and welcoming, and the teen let a single tear slide from each dark eye as he smiled.

:::

Okay, so it was a silly idea to buy new clothes and then put them on a kid who hadn't had a bath yet, but what was Karin supposed to do? The boy looked relatively clean anyway, and besides that, she had taken him into town wearing nothing but Sasuke's old shirt. It covered him, yes, but it was one flutter away from showing off the kid's little white bum.

She just couldn't let him keep wearing that. She bought the first thing she thought suited him, and she took him into the dressing room to change. (Oh, and she wanted that shirt back anyway.) She had maybe splurged a bit, but the town they had wandered into was already deep into a festival, and everybody else was wearing yukata, so she got the pretty little boy his own fancy jinbei. It was for girls, however, but the top was long enough on him to cover the shorts, so it looked like a regular yukata. And he just looked so pretty in it, she couldn't resist.

It was woven with soft cotton, mostly white with the exception of a few pink and purple flowers, growing on vines up along the cloth, shedding a few delicate petals here and there to decorate the almost-empty, white areas of the festival-wear. It was simply divine and it suited the pretty child, no doubt. In fact, Karin was so gratified by her choice of outfit that she paraded around town while searching for food, and she found herself acting even more like the boy's mother, simply because she would be so proud to have such an attractive child. (Fathered by Sasuke, of course.)

The kunoichi was forced to settle for buying the boy some onigiri, however, because after the spending most of her money on his clothes and some other simple food items for the rest of the gang back at the hide-out, she was completely out of money. The rice balls seemed to satisfy the boy, though, and Karin was grateful enough, seeing him eating happily. He had slowed down from his urgency before, thanks to the ration pill, and appeared utterly satisfied as he ate, his hands holding the ball so daintily and he ate so carefully, almost as if getting a single grain of rice stuck to his cheeks would be such a blunder.

He eventually finished up, the food serving to perk up his personality just the tiniest bit, and once he had the energy to walk on his own, Karin no longer insisted on carrying him the distance back to the hideout.

Once they made it back to the dismal hide-away, (These men and their underground hideouts) the kunoichi put the food supplies away in her room, and walked briskly to where the washroom was located, coaxing her young company along behind her, his tiny hand in hers.

It was with a groan that she discovered Suigetsu lingering near the door. She pushed the young boy behind her a bit, trying not to draw any attention to him as she approached her 'teammate', her demeanor looking more tough and irritated than she had attempted all day. Once she made it near the door to the washroom, she spoke up in a growled, irate tone.

"Hey! What the heck are you up to out here?"

The woman's reddish glare was returned with a mocking expression from the sword-toting, smart-mouthed brat lingering in the hall like some kind of weirdo. He tried to act like he was some smooth, hot-shot, but Karin knew how to get to him, if only to chase him off since he also knew exactly how to get at her as well.

"I'm waiting to get into the bathroom.. Sasuke is in there bathing and for some reason he locked the door, so I can't even get in to take a piss. Though I don't blame him for locking the door, with creepy chicks like you around."

Suigetsu smiled in a smug sort of way as Karin frowned, a vein in her head surely making itself visible as she took to glaring even harder at that stupid pest. Though, she kept her cool for now, returning the smug grin quickly enough and she made a waving gesture.

"Tch, why don't you just go outside and piss yourself to nothing, then maybe Sasuke wouldn't lock himself up to avoid you always following him around like some kind of lost puppy. And you say I'm a stalker, I think you're more in love with him than anybody!"

It was at this moment, as Karin's attention completely slipped away from the young boy behind her, that the little male inched quietly from where he was positioned and he halted himself directly in front of the bathroom door, those black eyes staring as if his soul had been ripped from him; He looked so strangely vacant.

This was also the moment that Suigetsu took note of the kid; For a moment he was quiet, confused almost, but in a second his disposition switched to that of hysterics. He let a bout of laughter burst out of him as he pointed right at the boy Karin had been taking care of. The kunoichi had been sure Suigetsu would say something about the kid, but was it really that hilarious? What was he thinking? She hated knowing that he was going to say something, but at the same time she was honestly curious.

"Oh wow, what is that? Did you honestly go into town and steal some Sasuke-look-alike kid? What the hell have you been doing with him, molesting him? I wouldn't be surprised, you did serve that creep, Orochimaru, pretty loyally, I'll bet he rubbed off on you."

The water-nin remained practically bent over in laughter with the red-headed woman staring with an extremely unamused expression; Meanwhile, neither noticed as the young boy's hand lifted to rest against the door, the light in his eyes finally flickering back to the present time and seconds after, his hands were clutching his chest, and he dropped to his knees in front of the door, a small, uncomfortable squeak the only sound that managed to escape from him.

"Huh?"

"What's wrong?"

Suigetsu and Karin both immediately turned their heads to look upon the little boy in sudden, unexplainable discomfort, and simultaneously they both exclaimed their confusion. The young woman, concerned for her helpless charge, immediately kneeled at the little boy's side, quietly beckoning him to please tell her what was wrong.

The raven-haired child looked up to the door, his voice coming out in a pained whisper to answer the question posed. "..He's dying.. He's dying in there.."

One thing was immediately certain- Karin had no idea how this kid could possibly claim to know such a thing, but she wouldn't bother assuming such a young child could be such a decent actor or that he would bother putting so much effort into a prank when he had been nothing but mild of emotion until this very moment. That was the realization that led her to gasp in nervous terror, her protective nature concerning Sasuke reacting effortlessly.

It only took a second for her to recognize what she had not really been paying any attention to- The slightest amount of focus on the chakra behind the door told her the absolute truth of the matter. The avenger's life force was indeed fading away. She grabbed up the young boy, backing away from the door, and she looked toward the other male present.

"Suigetsu, the door!"

The young Mist-nin, as Karin observed, suddenly looked equally frantic as he drew that massive blade from his back, and made quick work of the door in just a couple of swings. The battered wood fell in bits and splinters, and as the woman moved to shield her eyes, the boy in her grasp escaped from her, rushing through the door so quickly, it was as if he had disappeared. She and Suigetsu rushed to follow.

And with complete abandon, lost entirely in the urgency of the moment, this tiny boy, perhaps no older that five years, made the quickest dash toward that bathtub, leaping into the blood-red water without a shred of hesitation. He was immediately soaked to the bone from the splash, his new, white clothes being tinted pinkish, his hair falling in wet wisps and sticking to his face, but he ignored all else, bringing tiny hands to each side of the dying Uchiha's face.

In this moment, despite the noise and movement around these two, everything seemed to fade to a distorted but almost completely muted level, time slowing down to both of them as they connected eye-to-eye.

The small boy looked into a pale face, his own expression filled with worry and sadness he could not explain, but he knew he felt deep inside, his soul guiding him in the most mysterious fashion. Beneath the young boy's hands, the teen's skin was cold and clammy and the avenger's breath came in rapid, struggling pants, but he was still aware enough to look up and see what was going on.

His head was too heavy to move and though his lids wanted to seal themselves permanently, he managed to lift them the tiniest bit, dazed, coal-colored optics peering out from beneath his lashes to see a most unbelievable but welcoming visage before him. It had changed from the last time he looked upon that face, but if he delved deeply enough within his memory, it was exactly as he remembered it once. And as he visually acknowledged the boy, the sad child forced the smallest, saddest smile.

"Please, Sasuke.." The child spoke up, his voice softly pleading, his tone sweet and forlorn. "..Don't go."

Sasuke could not understand this moment- Perhaps it was his dying mind playing tricks, or his body making an attempt to save itself, as certainly the human body was a powerful, determined force. The young Uchiha did not recognize whether this was reality or not, and he couldn't understand the form in which this moment had come to him, or even why, but.. He was moved enough to react, though the act came as a nearly impossible task. He took a long, forced breath and pushed his body to cooperate enough to respond to his wishes, having enough strength to speak only one word, but it was one word that had made him feel so empty, wishing he could call it out over and over again, to one special person.

"..Itachi.."

::

TBC

::