Warning: Character Death, Mild spoilers for Chapter 397
Standard Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or profit from writing this.
It shouldn't have been this way.
Itachi clenches his hands, his fingernails digging little half-moons into his palms, and ignores Madara's smug, condescending nattering.
He reaches forward and brushes the bangs off of his brother's lifeless face. The cold and grey pallor of his skin is jarring. It was not so long ago that he was warm and vibrant.
It was not supposed to be like this.
It was supposed to be him lying on this slab.
"He underestimated you," Madara says. His voice oozes amusement he cannot conceal and Itachi mentally vows to murder the man again and again.
This time, he will not fail.
The redheaded girl, one of Sasuke's ragtag misfits, tells the old madman to shut up – "Can't you see he's mourning?" – and Madara slinks off, perhaps realizing that he can do no further damage here for now.
Behind him, he can hear the others, Sasuke's little rag-tag band of misfits, shuffling awkwardly in the absence of their only mooring. They have latched on to him, as if subconsciously seeking out that piece of Sasuke within his memories, and he hasn't the energy to refuse them.
Eventually, they tug at him, leading him away from the body, and force him to eat, bathe and dress himself, when all he wants to do is curl up and die.
"It was supposed to be different," he tells them, tears spilling down his face.
"I know," says the girl, and the others look away.
Not like this, Itachi thinks and tries to figure out what has gone so horribly wrong that it is Sasuke who lies dead.
Sasuke, who should never have left Konoha.
Sasuke, who had been victimized by that leech Orochimaru.
Sasuke, who was supposed to have been everything he could not be, his hope.
He is unable to sleep, rationalizing and stewing over every shred of the matter, and it is by his brother's body that his rag-tag team of misfits finds him in the morning.
Something in him has died with Sasuke.
Something else fills the void.
He collapses into exhausted sleep and when he wakes, Sasuke's body is gone. Madara is back and he can see the outline of the little jar with his brother's eyes in his robes.
He refuses the eyes and walks out into the daylight, Sasuke's misfits following him. He is keenly aware of Madara's impotent frustration.
It doesn't matter. Sasuke hadn't wanted to give his eyes up. Itachi would not dishonor his brother's memory by taking them anyway.
The surf crashes on the rocks ahead and, far above them, a hawk wheels across the sky. Itachi breathes, in and out with the surf, and the salty spray mixes with his tears, concealing them.
I'm sorry, Sasuke, there isn't going to be a next time.
Itachi grimaces, clenching his hands again, and chokes down a sob.
Above, the hawk cries out and he composes himself. Behind him, the others wait – they will follow him, as they did his brother, he knows this – and Madara watches him with a calculating eye.
For the first time in years, he wears the fan on his back. It is large and he allows the rage and pride and honor of it to swallow him whole, until there is nothing left but the desire for blood paid in kind and the orders that make his will known.
Itachi raises his head, his eyes burning as blood streaks down his cheeks.
The elders who were supposed to protect Sasuke will pay. Everyone in Konoha would pay.
It is his, Sasuke's, will.
The girl, Karin, shakes his shoulder, her eyes narrowed at him in concern behind those glasses.
"Sasuke, are you coming or not?" she asks. "Make up your mind!"
Itachi indulgently smiles at her. "Of course... Karin."
There are several ways to read this. One is true and, as the title implies, should be obvious to anyone who sees it, since this isn't an AU.