The confounded muses kidnapped my angsty DC mood and they won't give it back until I write something fluffy for Naruto. I think I'm beginning to see a pattern in my inspiration bursts...

"Why do you need a stuffed animal?" Sasuke asked, wrinkling his nose as he inspected the mauve lemur sitting upon the shelf.

"My own business," Itachi replied vaguely, sorting through a stack of boxes he had found in storage. "I put some things in your room; did you have a chance to see them yet?"

Sasuke nodded and held up the blue triceratops. "I'm callin' him Rock Lee, 'cause he's new so he's younger than Raurie and he's obsessed with training." He added as an afterthought, "He's really annoying, too."

If he's anything like Maito Gai, I can imagine so.

"I named him Tachi."

"Hm?" Itachi glanced over at his sulky brother, perturbed at the comment until he saw the ragged pup nestled in his arms. He raised an eyebrow cynically at the realization. "No. Definately not."

"What?" Sasuke squeaked indignantly. "I can't call him anything!"

"That is an exageration, Sasuke."

"It is not! You never agree with anything I do!"

The words Itachi wanted to say fled his mind at his brother's angered tone. He still holds a grudge against me, he realized. A lump rose in his throat despite his attempt to rationalization the situation. It does not matter what I do for him; he will always resent me, even if he does not know why.

The thought hurt, even though Itachi knew he should be accustomed to the concept by now. Had he not encouraged Sasuke to despise him until hatred overcame all bonds of family? Itachi knew better than to expect a few toys to be enough to buy back Sasuke's affection. Why then could he not accept his fate and move past the agony he felt tearing at him every time he saw the wariness in his brother's eyes?

Something in Itachi's expression must have given him away, as a wave of guilt washed over Sasuke's features and he darted forward to grasp his brother's hand. "I didn't mean it, Nissan," he said hurriedly. "We can call him whatever you want."

Now it was Itachi's turn to feel admonished. Kneeling down, he set his hands on Sasuke's shoulders and looked him in the eye, concentrating all the love he held for his little brother in his gaze. "Do not mind me," he said gently, forcing a smile. "Name him what you will. It is a small matter; I should not be bothered by it."

Sasuke shifted uncomfortably. "You're not s'posed to agree with me," he muttered dispondently. He sighed heavily. "Fine. I'll call him 'Ramen.'"

Sasuke didn't wait for a reply before he skulked to his room. Itachi hesitated, uncertain whether to follow or leave his brother to sort through his own thoughts. Deciding upon the latter he returned to his sorting, his mind occupied with the recent discussion rather than the task at hand. Sometimes I don't know what to make of you, Touto. Your mood changes as swiftly as a girl's and I'm left wondering who lost the argument.

Meanwhile Sasuke had flung himself across his futon, squeezing a much abused 'Ramen-Naruto-Itachi-Noname' to his side as he brooded. This was all the village's fault; if they weren't being so mean to Itachi all the time and shunning him then maybe he wouldn't be so moody all the time. Part of Sasuke was convinced it was his fault too, seeing as he had abandoned Itachi for eight lonely years, and he was determined to make it right.

I shouldn't have yelled at him, Sasuke sniffled, burying his face in his puppy's fur. Now I've just made him feel worse. What can I do, though? What would make Itachi feel better?

New inspiration hit and Sasuke straightened abruptly, nearly sending his puppy flying over the side of the futon as the young Uchiha bounded to his feet and dashed out of the room. Itachi glanced up in perturb at the flash of dark blue and ebony zipping past him, caught between the instinctive urge to ensure his brother was not crafting a death trap for himself and allowing Sasuke his own space.

"What are you doing?" he called warily when Sasuke darted into the kitchen with a forboding sense of purpose.

"Nothing, just... gettin' a snack," Sasuke evaded. "Just - just keep unpacking and don't come in!"

Warning bells clanged and common sense told Itachi that following through with his little brother's request was the equivelant of taking his own life in his hands. He peeked around the kitchen door, only to be dissuaded by a furious miniature terror as Sasuke personally shooed him away.

"Itachi!" Sasuke scolded, pushing his nissan with all his might, "You're not supposed to be in here!"

"Would you mind explaining exactly what you are trying to accomplish?" Itachi questioned, slightly alarmed as he observed a pilfered cupboard and the counter lined with several jars, packaged products and a large mixing bowl.

"I'm making a snack," Sasuke huffed in disaproval, giving Itachi his best imitation of Fugaku's glare. Hardly impressed, Itachi stepped past the protesting young Uchiha and examined the selected items.

"No," he determined at once, snatching up a bottle of cooking oil and setting it back on the top shelf. (How Sasuke had managed to clamber up for it in such a short space of time was beyond him. Itachi was more concerned over what disaster the eight year old might have accomplished if he had tried to light the product.) "No, no, definitely not, and no."

Unsweetened baking chocolate, flour, pickled salmon, and cabbage followed in quick succession. Weighing the can of tomatoes in his hand Itachi selected a knife and set about peeling the lid back, ignoring Sasuke's frustrated ranting as he insisted on having the kitchen to himself.

"If you were hungry you could just have let me know," Itachi sympathized, oblivious to the reason behind Sasuke's distress as he dubiously eyed an opened jar of dango sauce, a cannister of uncooked rice questionably dumped into the sticky substance, and another packet of plain noodles lying scattered across the counter surface.

"It was s'posed to be for you," Sasuke muttered, stomping past Itachi in his usual sulking manner. Before Itachi could speak a word Sasuke grabbed the jar of contaminated dango sauce and a handful of uncooked noodles, stirring up the sticky mess before joyously dumping the entire conglamoration into a saucepan. (Thankfully the latter had been turned off the moment Itachi caught sight of the blue flame flickering underneath.)

With a gleeful expression Sasuke stirred the mess excitedly, his expression faltering when it refused to form the proper shape he desired. The tomatoes forgotten, Itachi rubbed his forehead at a sudden headache and said tentatively,

"Is that...?"

"Dango," Sasuke mumbled low, shrinking away in dissappointment. Despite himself a smile tugged at the corner of Itachi's lips. On sheer impulse he reached down and ruffled Sasuke's hair, attempting to encourage him.

"It looks ... marvelous, Sasuke... "

Ducking instinctively away from Itachi's hand Sasuke smoothed his hair then glanced up hopefully, relieved his nissan was not horrified by the gloppy mess. "It's supposed to stick together," he sighed.

Itachi thought quickly, carefully turning on the flame before ushering Sasuke away from the stove. "It needs to be heated, that is all. Go see what Dango is up to; this will only take a minute."

Sasuke only took two steps before swivelling around. "Dango?!"

"The dog is officially named," Itachi stated, leaving no room for argument. Sasuke tilted his head to the side and considered, finally grinning in approval before dashing out.

Shaking his head with a sigh Itachi waited three seconds before turning off the stove and shoving the smouldering pan under the faucet. Fifteen more seconds had a packet of pre-made dango open and the carboard packaging hidden away, twenty-five seconds ensured the pan was cleaned and setting on the stove. Ten more seconds were required to set in the prepared dango and dump the remaining sauce over it, successfully hiding Sasuke's failed attempt.

The bright young Uchiha would no doubt attempt to scout out the truth of the matter within five minutes, but Itachi would be a poor shinobi indeed if he could not fool an eight year old. He wondered for a moment if he was going insane, making such a fuss over concealing his brother's pitiful cooking attempts.

When Sasuke dashed into the room a minute later and threw his arms around Itachi's waist, thrilled that his nissan had once again saved the day, Itachi was convinced that losing his mind might not be so terrible a prospect after all.

Sleep was far from restful for Sasuke that night as he tossed and turned, squeezing Raurie tightly and pressing his eyelids tight shut as strange images bombarded his mind. A great white snake with the head of a man lashed towards him while clouded formations like distorted ink held him motionless. A girl with pink hair stood in the courtyard, tears dripping from jade green eyes as he walked away. A man wearing a red and black cloak whispered in his ear, strong fingers that should have been a source of protection closing around his wrist and twisting it until he screamed from the lancing pain. Itachi stood in front of him wearing the same cloak, painted fingernails pressing in around his eye, digging... pulling...

Sasuke jerked awake with a blood curdling scream, only to let out a shriek of terror as a shadowed figure stood over him. Itachi drew back as though he had been struck, agonized despair flashing across his eyes for the briefest moment.

"Sasuke, it was only a dream!" he hastily reassured.

Sasuke only scrambled further away, gulping for air as the distorted combination of dreams and reality twisted his beloved brother into an object of malice.

"Don't touch me!" he cried out, falling off the edge of the futon in his frenzy to escape.

With a sigh of resignation Itachi turned on the light, banishing the dark corridors of Sasuke's nightmares as he realized he was in his own room. Gone was the malicious stranger with burning red eyes, who with cold indifference had torn away the eye of his own little brother. Whimpering at the memory Sasuke pressed a hand over his own eye, trembling at the thought of Itachi committing so cruel a deed.

For the first time in Sasuke's memory Itachi flinched. The Itachi from his past had never shown weakness, neither in combat nor emotional conflict. Now his emotionless facade had shattered for a moment, his careful guard broken through by his little brother's action. The trauma of his nightmares still consuming Sasuke's thoughts, he voice his fears.

"You - you wouldn't hurt me, right N-Nissan?" Sasuke's voice broke, tears welling up in his eyes as he shuffled closer to his brother.

Itachi drew in a sharp breath, a tortured look shadowing his features as a tremor ran through him. He froze in place, unable to move or formulate a coherent thought at the seemingly innocent question.

He could still feel his hand about Sasuke's throat as he slammed him against the wall, hear the crack of bone as he twisted his brother's wrist, trying desperately to prove to Sasuke that he must become greater, stronger, more determined if he was ever to surivive this brutal world so set on wiping his existence from the face of the earth.

The betrayal in Sasuke's eyes cut deeper than a sword, his strangled shout of pain as Itachi's fist buried itself in his stomach resounding in a crescendo of guilt until he wanted Jiraiya's jutsu to swallow him whole. Every cry of pain, every time he saw the light die in his brother's eyes as he was shown once more of how little his nissan cared, each assurance of Itachi's deplorable existence sunk him deeper into the mire of shame and self loathing, knowing that every sacrifice, no matter how noble, would never be enough to erase the brand of a traitor's heart.

Small hands clutched his shirt, a tearful choke bringing Itachi back to reality. Sasuke clung to him desperately, whispering, "Don't do this to me, Itachi! Please, don't get sick again!"

Again he had been distracted at a crucial point when Sasuke needed him. What kind of guardian was he for this lost, insecure child? Kneeling down Itachi gathered his brother into his arms, shushing softly and whispering, "It's all right, Sasuke."

Taking the cue Sasuke let the tears flow, sobbing into Itachi's shoulder and clinging to him for dear life. The familiar terror overwhelmed him, shredding all thoughts of security and comfort. He had lost Kaasan and Tousan; they would never come back.

He could not lose Itachi, too.

Please, Nissan, don't ever leave me! Anything else I could live with, but if you go now what else will I have to live for?

He could not bear the thought, not realizing that at that same moment his brother echoed the silent plea.

Somebody ban the use of coffee from underage writers. BACK, YOU EVIL MUSES! BACK! BACK!

A big Thank You to Dreamcatcher-fluffysama for their list of 10 suggestions which inspired this chapter! ^_^