This is an alternative story that branches off my fic "Raising a Raven." It is not a sequel, and can be read alone.

(The very first section is taken directly from Raising a Raven.)

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"With this power, lightning will strike down from the heavens. All I have to do is guide its power straight through your skull."

Itachi could have smiled at the irony of the situation. Here was his beloved younger brother, who's entire life up until eight years had been devoted to shadowing Itachi, standing as cold as stone as he gloated over the impending kill. Itachi had brought this upon himself. He had taught his brother to hate, to thrive on murderous passion.

Itachi fleetingly wondered if it had been worth it. If only events could have been manipulated to better serve them all. Perhaps if the Uchiha clan hadn't tried to overthrow Konoha, or the Third Hokage hadn't ordered the clan massacre. Maybe if he'd killed Sasuke... perhaps his brother could have been spared the pain.

But he couldn't kill Sasuke, not even now. He loved his little brother too much. Even if it meant throwing away his life and making himself a curse to the world, Itachi couldn't bring himself to destroy the last person important to him.

Besides, he had asked for Sasuke's hatred. Every single time they had chanced to meet he had driven his brother further down a path that no man should have to travel. He had taught an eight-year-old the desire to kill. Yes, everything had been his fault. Itachi deserved death.

But it didn't keep away the hurt when he knew it was the little brother he cared for so deeply that now sought to destroy him. There was no regret in Sasuke's eyes, only cold malice as he spoke.

"The name of this technique is 'Kirin.'"

Itachi drew back slightly, watching the lightning gather from the one eye he could see from. Whatever it is, do it quickly. He knew he wouldn't last much longer. His left arm was badly burnt from Sasuke's fire jutsu, and his leg was still bleeding sluggishly from the rigged shuriken blade. On top of that, Itachi's weakened body was finally giving out of years of pressing himself beyond his limits. He wouldn't go down without a fight, though. Even if this was the end, he would continue to defy death as long as he had any breath in his body.

A great creature appeared at Sasuke's summons, a monster created of electricity. Itachi started, knowing this was something he couldn't dodge. He would have to use his last card, and even that might not be enough. Even now there was little time.

"Disappear with the thunder," Sasuke's voice rang out, so cold and void of emotion. The monster vanished into the clouds, then launched itself towards Itachi.

Itachi barely had time to activate his Susanoo before the attack hit. Powerful bursts of lightning blasted apart the surrounding area, sending elecric jolts into the Susanoo armor. Itachi could feel his body begin to give way again as the force of the attack threw him into the ground. Something was wrong. His shield should have blocked Sasuke's attack, yet it almost seemed to be absorbing it, channeling the chakra towards Itachi.

Itachi screamed as the lightning jutsu broke through his Susanoo. Crimson and celadon waves of chakra wrapped around him, an impossible maneuver for the combination of the techniques. Susanoo and Kirin enveloped him in their embrace, chakra of an unknown kind warping the surrounding air. Panicking as he tried to escape the blast of power, Itachi summoned the last of his strength and tore free from the jutsu. He slammed against a stone wall as a brilliant spectrum of blue and red light shot into the air. A ragged scream rang out from the last place he had seen Sasuke before the area fell eerily silent.

Raising his head slowly, Itachi blinked the misty haze out of his eyes and slowly rose to his feet. His Akatsuki robe was ragged and charred, scorched by the Kirin attack. Ash rained down in soft clumps, covering the blasted clearing with the fine gray material. Sasuke was nowhere to be seen.

Itachi gazed around in disbelief and leaned back against the wall. So this was it. Sasuke had failed once more, this time for the last. His little brother...

A harsh sob tore past Itachi's throat before he forced his emotions back under control. It wasn't supposed to end this way! He was supposed to be killed, not Sasuke! Everything he had done was for his little brother... he hadn't really intended for Sasuke to die in the end.

"Foolish little brother," Itachi said in a harsh, broken tone. "You destroyed yourself with your own jutsu."

A tear streaked down his cheek, leaving a smudged trail in the thin sheet of ash coating his face. Itachi couldn't bring himself to care. His whole life had been wrapped around his little brother. Protecting Sasuke as a child, and then raising him as an avenger after Danzo had ordered the clan massacre. He had expected Sasuke to kill him today. He had never wanted to survive past his sibling. Yet, as always, the tables had been turned against him once more. Instead of Sasuke, he was one of the last surviving members of the Uchiha clan. Sickened, Itachi turned away.

It wasn't supposed to end this way.

The wind picked up slightly, its howling equal to that of a frightened child. Itachi smiled sardonically, recognizing the echo of his own soul. As he listened closer, however he caught the sound of another voice in the gale.

"H-help! S-somebody, please help me!"

Itachi turned in astonishment, resisting the urge to rub his eyes furiously in an attempt to banish the fog left from overusing his sharingan for so many years. Was there a child here? He hadn't sensed anyone other than himself and Sasuke... Pacing slowly around the smoking ruins, Itachi listened closly for the voice.

"H-hey!" a shaky voice sounded above him.

Itachi's head shot up to the wall where Sasuke had centered his Kirin attack. A small face peered down, eyes wide in fright.

"C-can you get me down?"

Itachi's jaw fell lax. There was no way a child could be here, not after the explosions that had torn the compound apart.

"Hold on a minute," he called thickly, still trying to muddle out the unexpected situation.

The child whimpered and pulled back from the edge as though afraid of falling. Despite his exhaustion, Itachi gathered his strength and leapt nimbly to the top of the column. He nearly fell backwards a moment later.

Dark eyes too large for the small face met his own, and Itachi quickly took in the spiky hair fanning out like a duck tail and a filthy dark vest that was too long for any youngster. Itachi's eyes widened and he swallowed hard.

"Sasuke?" he asked slowly.

The child looked up, his features confused and frightened. A light of recognition dawned and he stumbled to his feet. "Niisan!"

Itachi took a step backwards. He wasn't sure what he expected, but the bright smile and relieved cry was the last thing he could have hoped to hear. Sasuke... Don't you hate me?

To the contrary, the child ran up and slammed into Itachi, wrapping his tiny arms tightly around him. Looking up, young Sasuke frowned.

"Niisan? What's wrong? Where are we, niisan?"

When Itachi failed to answer, Sasuke's lower lip began to tremble. "Niisan, what happened?" he asked shakily. "Where are Kaasan and Tousan?"

Itachi's horrified eyes spoke volumes, and Sasuke found himself backing away. "What's going on?" he repeated in a stronger tone. "Why are we here? What happened to you, Itachi?"

Itachi fought down the urge to burst into maniacal laughter. Could it be true that his brother didn't remember anything that had happened over the past eight years? Gone was the cold, malice filled teenager. Faced now with the innocent child Sasuke had once been, Itachi didn't know what to do. He wanted to convince himself that this was an illusion, that he was either mad or having some crazy dillusion before death. He wanted Sasuke to snap out of it and return to normal, demanding vengeance for his clan's murder.

More than anything else, Itachi wanted to scoop his little brother into his arms and pretend that the last eight years had never happened.

But he couldn't. Nothing would ever erase the blood on his hands from the massacre eight years before. Sasuke would find out what his beloved niisan had done, and everything would be over. There would be more hate, more death. Itachi had been prepared for that before, but he couldn't wait eight more years for Sasuke to grow strong enough to finish the job. Itachi was already dying.

The sad smile twisted at Itachi's mouth again as he looked into the distance. "Foolish little brother."

The words came instinctively. Sasuke really had done himself in this time. Hadn't he caught on to the fact that Itachi was far older than thirteen? The telltale signs of his older brother's sickness should have been recognizable. Little did Sasuke seem to realize that he was soon to be one of the last remaining members of his clan.

"Itachi, stop it!" Sasuke shouted in a panic. "Why are you acting this way? What happened? Where are Kaasan and Tousan? Tell me, Itachi!"

A harsh sob tore past Itachi's throat and he swiped away the tears that suddenly burst free of their emotional prison. "They're dead, Sasuke."

Sasuke stopped shock still in hororr, and Itachi desperately tried to gather his composure. When had he ever lost control like this? The reappearance of his brother's eight year old state had shaken Itachi to his core. He didn't know how to respond to the young child facing him. Once he had calloused his heart specifically in that area. Now... now he was as vulnerable as a weaponless genin.

"D-dead?" Sasuke choked out. "H-how? When? This is a joke, isn't it, Itachi?"

Itachi managed to slam the bolt on his emotions, but some still managed to leak through the cracks under the door. What could he tell Sasuke? That his brother had murdered the clan on behalf of Danzo's orders? Could he use his excuse from before and say he had killed them in his quest for power? Itachi didn't know if he could face those dark eyes again, so heartbroken and full of betrayal. It was just too much. Time was running out for him. Why bother ending his life with a replay of the past?

"Itachi?" His brother's voice was desperate. Pleading.

Forsaking the careful barriers he had built up over the years, Itachi knelt down and held out his arms. Sasuke hesitated a moment, then ran into the comforting embrace.

"I'm sorry, Sasuke," Itachi replied in a husky tone. "They're gone." He fought back the overwhelming guilt that threatened to swallow him whole. "Someone... someone attacked the clan. You - we're the only ones left."

Sasuke stared at Itachi for a minute, then broke down and sobbed convulsively in his arms. "But why?" he questioned. "Why would anyone do such a thing? Mother and Father..."

Itachi had no answer, only his own self disgust for comfort. Curse you, Danzo. I swear there will be retribution for this.

A slight whisper of movement sounded close by, and Itachi turned just in time to see the black and white blur of Zetsu disappear into the ground. Grimly he noted that Madara would likely hear of Sasuke's age regression within the hour. It was time to make himself scarce.

"Come on, little brother," Itachi hushed gently as he scooped up the young Uchiha.

The thoughts were racing through his mind. What was he supposed to do now? Itachi knew he couldn't leave his kid brother to fend for himself, yet on the other hand, what kind of reception could he expect Sasuke to have among the Akatsuki? He hadn't even been prepared to deal with something of this magnitude.

For eight years Itachi had waited for Sasuke to grow strong enough to kill him with honor. Now... now all he had was a heartful of regret, a failing body, a handful of lies, and an eight year old brother to deal with. Everything had taken place before he was twenty-two years of age. It didn't seem fair.

Realizing that contemplating the problem wouldn't solve anything at the moment, Itachi leapt to the ground. His leg, already weakened from Sasuke's shuriken attack, collapsed underneath him. Too exhausted to halt his momentum, Itachi collapsed onto the ground.

Sasuke gave a cry as he tumbled a few feet away. Shaking the stars out of his eyes, he shouted anxiously when he saw Itachi's pain streaked face. "Niisan! You're hurt!"

"I'll be fine," Itachi grunted as he forced himself into a sitting position, his arms shaking from exertion. He couldn't imagine the agony it would cause Sasuke if the eight year old realized he had been the cause of his older brother's injuries. Considering that Sasuke had no apparent memories of the past eight years, Itachi was certain the realization would shatter his brother's young mindset.

"No, you're not okay," Sasuke shook his head vehemently as he ran to Itachi, stumbling over the oversized shirt he was swamped in. Kneeling down, he searched Itachi's face. The haunted, pain filled gaze frightened him even more than his brother's wounds.

"It's gonna be okay, niisan," Sasuke tried to comfort. "You'll be okay... right?"

His words ended in a tearful hitch. Kaasan and Tousan were dead, and apparently the rest of the clan along with them. Was he going to lose Itachi as well? Terror coursed through Sasuke at the thought. He couldn't remember anything past leaving school that afternoon, but the horror seared in Itachi's eyes told him that something terrible had happened. Itachi must have been injured in the attack, which meant that things were really bad. Sasuke had never dreamed that his older brother could be hurt in battle. Itachi had always seemed so invincible.

Looking closer, Sasuke shivered slightly. Why did Itachi look so much older now? Was it due to his injuries, or something more? Sasuke had heard that emotional trauma could age someone far past their years, but was it possible for that to happen in so short a time?

Itachi suddenly shuddered violently, and without a sound he collapsed to the fire scorched cobblestones.

"Niisan!" Sasuke shouted. Tears filled his eyes as he shook Itachi's shoulder, trying to wake him. "Nissan, please get up," he choked. "Please don't die, too."

A soft rainfall had begun earlier, and the water now fell in torrents as though to mourn the loss of Itachi Uchiha. Sobs wracked Sasuke's body as he curled up next to Itachi and clutched his brother's arm. Was he all alone now, without anyone left?

A darker shadow covered Sasuke's face. He looked up and felt a thrill of fear as an orange masked figure leaned forward.

"Who - who're you?" Sasuke stammered.

The man growled behind his mask. "Useless." Bending down, he shoved Sasuke aside and pressed his hand roughly against Itachi's neck.

"Leave him alone!" Sasuke shouted as he jumped forward and grabbed the man's arm. "Leave him alone!"

With a grunt of irritation the masked figure shook him off. "I have no use for you any longer."

Sasuke's eyes widened and he scrambled backwards as a sword appeared in the man's hand. "What are you doing?" he shrieked in panic.

The man didn't reply as he raised his sword above his head. Sasuke knew he should run or try to defend himself, but he was too terrified to do anything but watch the blade descend.

Suddenly a high pitched sound filled the air, seconds before the man with the orange mask screamed. Black tendrils of a strange flame errupted around the figure as he desperately tore his cloak off.


Sasuke shielded his head with one arm and peered around the masked figure. Itachi was sitting up, a stream of blood flowing from his blazing right eye. Red liquid continued to drip run down his face as he stared at the orange masked man.

Despite his struggles, the masked figure couldn't escape the black flames. A curtain of swirls began to surround him, but with an animal-like cry Itachi stumbled to his feet and fell forward against the man, his kunai knife striking the masked figure through the heart. Sasuke screamed as Itachi collapsed to the ground once more, his shirt covered in tendrils of black fire. The masked man gave a shout of rage and lifted his sword high in the air.

A strangled yell filled the air at that moment. A blur of orange and yellow streaked past Sasuke as a kunai knife suddenly sheared through the masked man's back. Another ninja with grey hair darted to Itachi's side and swiftly cut off the Uchiha's shirt, throwing away the remains of the burning material. Sasuke swallowed another cry and scrambled towards his brother.

Itachi looked awful. His emaciated body seemed scarcely more than skin and bones, and Sasuke was positive he could see every single ridge of his brother's spinal cord. Ugly burns coated Itachi's back where the black flames had seared through his shirt. Too preoccupied with his brother's condition, Sasuke didn't even notice as the grey haired ninja joined the battle, finally striking the killing blow to the orange masked man. To him, the most important thing in the world would be for someone to tell him Itachi would be okay.

"Please be all right," Sasuke begged his unconscious brother. "You're the only one I've got left. Itachi?"

"I guess we got here just in time," the grey haired ninja said as he tore off his burning sleeve. "Sakura, see if you can heal Itachi."

"Hai," a pink haired shinobi nodded as she knelt down beside the prone Uchiha.

"Sasuke's gotta be around here somewhere!" the blond ninja declared as he headed further into the ruins.

Sasuke looked up and nearly spoke, but his attention was distracted by the one named Sakura. The kunoichi's face was concerned, proving that the situation was worse than Sasuke had dared to hope.

"Is he gonna be okay?" Sasuke demanded frantically, his voice bordering on hysteria.

"I don't know," Sakura said without looking up. "He seems - " She raised her head at that moment and her eyes widened as she caught sight of Sasuke.

"Ka-Kakashi Sensei?" Sakura stammered as she stared at the Uchiha.

The grey haired man turned around and followed Sakura's gaze. His single visible eye registered his equal astonishment.

"Wh - What is it?" Sasuke asked nervously. "What's wrong?"

"Impossible," Kakashi breathed. He questioned in a doubtful tone, "Uchiha Sasuke?"

Sasuke nodded, suprised that the ninja knew his name. A strangled noise came from the pink haired medic. "S-Sasuke?"

"How do you know me?" Sasuke tilted his head in confusion. Turning back to the one called Sakura, he pleaded, "Is niisan gonna be okay?"

Sakura didn't appear to know what to say. "I... uh..."

"Sas-uke!" the blond ninja's voice rang out, interrupting further conversation.

"You don't need to look any further, Naruto," Kakashi called in a stiff voice.

"Huh? What are you talking about?" the blond's face was serious as he entered, rubbing his head. His face paled as though a horrific thought had entered his mind. "Kakashi... he isn't..."

"Naruto, you'd better take a look for yourself," Sakura waved the blond over.

"What is it, Sakura?" Naruto demanded as he approached. Like the others, he stiffened abruptly as soon as he laid eyes on Sasuke. "Wha - what happened? What'd Itachi do to him? That's Sasuke, isn't it?"

Sasuke's eyes filled with nervous tears at the loud voice. He was cold, wet, and scared, and everyone was shouting about him. Now this stranger had blamed Itachi for everything. What was going on?

"Naruto, stop!" Sakura chided as she caught sight of the trembles running through the young Uchiha. "You're frightening him!"

Sakura didn't know what to make of this sudden turn of events, but her heart was torn at Sasuke's bewildered expression. She couldn't imagine that such a small, terrified child could have been trying to murder his brother such a short time before.

"Easy, Sasuke," Sakura soothed, keeping an eye on the younger Uchiha as she continued tending to the burns on Itachi's back. "Everything's all right. We're going get you out of here."

"What about niisan?" Sasuke demanded as he swiped his arm across his nose. "He's hurt! Will he be all right?"

"I'm doing everything I can," Sakura hesitated. "Don't worry, we'll take him back to Konoha. I think we can save him..."

"You've got to!" Sasuke cried out, tears streaming down his face. "Itachi said he an' me are the only ones left. K-Kaasan..."

Naruto ran over as Sasuke burst into tears once more. "Don't worry, Sasuke," he promised. "Itachi's going to be fine."

Sakura shot the blond a frustrated look, dreading the thought of breaking the news to Sasuke if his brother didn't make it. Kakashi rubbed the back of his neck, completely at a loss.

"It's going to be hard explaining this to the Hokage," he shook his head.

"Just tell her about what really happened," Naruto pointed out. "Come on, Sasuke's just a kid! What can he do to harm anyone? You can't blame him for something he doesn't know he did!"

Sasuke looked frantically between the two ninjas, utterly bewildered at Naruto's words. What had he done?

Kakashi sighed. "Maybe we could find a way to keep Sasuke out of danger, Naruto, but what about Itachi? He's an S-rank missing nin and an Akatsuki. I don't think Tsunade will be permitted to spare his life after everything that happened."

Sasuke's eyes widened and he began breathing harder. Itachi was a missing nin? But why? He had been loyal to Konoha for so long...

"Kakashi, Itachi killed another Akatsuki member!" Naruto argued. "Maybe he's not bad after all! Can't we even give him a chance to explain?"

"I didn't say they were going to execute him without a trial," Kakashi corrected. "I just said that this was going to be a touchy situation."

"B-but what did Itachi do?" Sasuke asked in horror. "They're not gonna kill him too, are they?"

"See what I mean?" Kakashi rubbed a hand over his face. "I don't even know how this happened in the first place."

"It doesn't matter right now," Sakura flipped her medical pouch closed and rose to her feet. "Itachi needs further medical care right away, and I can't take care of everything without the proper supplies. Mystery solving can wait until we reach a proper hospital."

"So what do we do about Sasuke?" Naruto questioned.

Kakashi massaged his temples as though a sudden headache was plaguing him. "We'll have to bring him back to Konoha. Let Tsunade decide anything further."

"Kakashi, we can't let her lock Sasuke up!" Naruto objected. "Not when he's like this!"

"I didn't say that was going to happen," Kakashi replied long sufferingly. "I just said that the Hokage needed to decide what to do with him."

Stumbling to his feet, Sasuke approached the grey haired shinobi. "Kakashi Sama?" he pulled on the jonin's sleeve. "Am... am I in trouble?"

Kakashi looked down at the child's worried, innocent expression and groaned. "Great, this is just perfect."

"We can discuss it later, Kakashi," Sakura ordered brusquely. "We have to get out of here."

Sakura was shaken by Sasuke's childlike appearance as well, but at the moment there were more important matters on hand. Itachi's condition was serious, and besides that, this place was making her nervous.

"All right," Kakashi sighed. He took a long look around the reckage, mentally jotting down notes for his report. It was going to be a tedious job, explaining this to the Hokage.

"Do you think Sasuke'll be able to keep up with us?" Naruto scratched the back of his head. "Guess not..." Naruto couldn't move past the concept that Sasuke had gone from being a high ranked criminal to a helpless child in a single day. He wasn't sure how to act around his former teammate, now.

"Uh...Want a piggyback ride?" Naruto asked with a shrug.

Sasuke hesitated a moment as he watched Kakashi examine his unconscious brother, then nodded. Naruto knelt on the ground, allowing Sasuke to scramble up and wrap his arms around the blond's neck. Naruto shook his head. This was too weird.

Looks like I'll be keeping my promise to bring you back to Konoha, teme. I just didn't expect it to be like this.

"Careful now, watch his head," Sakura instructed Kakashi as the jonin picked up Itachi.

Sasuke whimpered, his eyes destitute. "He's gonna be okay, isn't he?"

"Don't worry, he'll be fine," Naruto tried to grin encouragingly. "Everything's going to work out. Promise."

Kakashi shook his head, his face morose. Naruto ignored the jonin's doubts, positive that he would prove them wrong. For years he had been trying to convince Sasuke to return to Konoha. Now, an unexpected turn of events had granted his wish. Naruto didn't know exactly how this had happened, but he wasn't sure he cared. All that mattered was that Sasuke was coming home.

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Reviews = Updates. I have 6 stories to keep up with, and I always continue the more popular ones first.