Disclaimer: Characters contained within do not belong to me.

Author's Notes: Bear with me. Being late to the Naruto bandwagon, I am just now mourning the death of Itachi, and the only way for me to deal with grief is to write. If you are also following my other Naruto fic, a new chapter will be coming, but I've had to hold off on it for awhile, until I reach a point in the series when I can write it with greater knowledge and detail.

Fortunately, I know everything I need to in order to finish this story. So, I hope you enjoy it!

Into the Dark

by Kristen Elizabeth

Love of mine, someday you will die

But I'll be close behind...

- Death Cab for Cutie

The air was thick with black fire and concrete dust. He could feel the mixture entering his damaged lungs, threatening to cut short the few breaths he had left. His entire existence had come down to a battle between the disease overtaking his body and the power of his will to keep going until he reached Sasuke...but even Uchiha Itachi knew when he'd been defeated.

His bloody fingers pressed against Sasuke's unprotected forehead. He'd been disappointed to see that Sasuke had done away with his hitaiate (he had never been able to part with his own last link to the village of his birth), but right then, he was glad that he could feel the warmth of his little brother's skin. With that last moment of human contact, Itachi gave in...gave up...let go.

He didn't feel the standing stone wall slam against his head. It was a slow slide to a hard resting place, but he was beyond physical pain. Rolling onto his back, Itachi stared up at the grey sky without blinking.

Mission accomplished.

Had he possessed the strength, he would have smiled one last time. Sasuke was alive and strong, and all his brother had to do was look at Tobi with the new power Itachi's death would give him, and the last loose end of the sad tale of the Uchihas would be tied up. Sasuke would be the hero of the Hidden Leaf, free to live a long and happy life. Perhaps in time he would marry, have children, and start a new legacy for their clan. Everything Itachi had sacrificed...his mother, his father, Shisui, his reputation, his ideals, his very life...it would not be in vain.

Her death would not be in vain.

As his vision tunneled, Itachi could see her face, not pale and lifeless as it had been the last time he'd held her, but as it had been on a spring day so many years earlier, half-hidden behind a paper fan...beautiful, but just out of his reach.


Nine Years Earlier

Out of the corner of his eye, Itachi could see Sasuke's small silhouette against the paper screen door that separated the room in which he was dressing from the open-air corridor that ran the perimeter of the courtyard. As he knotted the ties on his grey hakama pants, he smiled to himself.

"You may come in, Sasuke," he told his little brother through the thin rice screen.

Sasuke wasted no time sliding the door open and poking his dark head inside. "Nii-san!" He immediately pouted upon seeing Itachi still dressing. "Aren't you ready yet?"

"Almost." Itachi reached for his black silk montsuki kimono, adorned with the Uchiha crest, and pulled it on. The sleeves barely touched his wrists, as the style dictated, but he tugged on them anyway, trying to stretch them further. After a moment, he gave up. "This will have to do."

Dressed in a miniature copy of Itachi's own formal attire, Sasuke watched his brother carefully. "Nii-san, do you want to get married?"

"I'm not getting married," Itachi said. "Not yet. This is just the yuinou."

Sasuke's scowl grew deeper, like it always did when he was corrected. "But it means you're going to get married."

Itachi stepped into his sandals. "Someday."

Sooner rather than later, he feared, especially now that he had been accepted into ANBU. The danger of the Black Ops assignments on which he would be sent would only push up the date of the marriage his parents had arranged for him. Their line of the Uchiha clan had to be carried on, before any mission could claim his life.

His little brother folded his arms with great superiority. "I'm never getting married," he announced. "They can't make me."

"Oh?" Sasuke shook his head, his nose turned up in the air, prompting Itachi to ask, "What if you got to choose for yourself? Someone you knew and liked?"

He nearly laughed at the face his brother made at this suggestion. "I don't like any girls!"

That wouldn't be true forever. There were already girls in the village who chased after Sasuke. He might have been able to avoid the attention as Itachi had, with polite, yet distant smiles, but Sasuke's response to squealing little girls with pink or blonde hair was to run away from them, which only made him more of a challenge. Eventually, though, he wouldn't mind being caught.

"Maybe you'll feel differently in a few years."

Sasuke was gearing up for a loud protest when their father suddenly appeared behind him. Even without turning around, his brother could sense his presence and immediately closed his mouth.

"It's time." Fugaku looked his eldest son up and down, inspecting him for any fault or flaw. Finding none, he folded his arms with satisfaction. "This is a good match, Itachi. The girl comes from a strong branch of the clan. I have no doubt she'll give you sons who will make you proud."

Considering it was the closest they'd ever come to a personal conversation, Itachi merely inclined his chin.

"Otou-san," Sasuke piped up, beaming when his father acknowledged him with a brief glance. "When nii-san gets married, will he still live here with us?"

"No." Sasuke's smile disappeared. Oblivious to this, Fugaku continued, "He'll have his own house."

"Nearby," Itachi added, for Sasuke's sake.

"Sasuke, go join your mother in the courtyard," Fugaku ordered. With his pout firmly back in place, Sasuke did as he was told, leaving them alone. A moment passed before his father spoke again. "I realize you're young, Itachi, maybe too young for marriage, but..." He stopped, as if he wasn't sure what he wanted to say anymore.

"Otou-san." Itachi bowed his head slightly. "I understand."

Fugaku nodded, but even though Itachi had given in, he went on, like he needed to say more to convince his son. "I think you'll find your bride very agreeable. In every way."

The implication hung in the air between them until Itachi cleared his throat. "Should we go?"

With a curt nod, Fugaku turned around. Itachi followed him out the door and into the sunshine and fresh air of the courtyard around which their home was built. A small group was already gathered at the edge of the koi pond. His mother smiled as her husband and son approached; Mikoto held Sasuke against the flower pattern on the silk skirt of her kimono, one hand on his shoulder to keep him in line.

Itachi recognized the clan's elders, as well as the senior members of his family's branch, his grandfather and his uncles. As he took his place in front of the pond, he noticed his friend, Shisui, standing just behind the other men, his arms folded across his flak jacket. Itachi smiled at the statement his friend was making by not donning formal clothes to celebrate his engagement.

I've got nothing against marriage, he recalled Shisui saying when Itachi invited him to the yuinou. But just because the Hokage thinks you're old enough to be in ANBU, doesn't mean you have any business starting a family at your age. Shisui had shaken his head, as if disgusted by the decisions of their clan. They've already taken your childhood. I guess they won't be happy until you're an old man living in a teenager's body.

Sensing motion at the far end of the courtyard, Itachi turned his head to see a small procession emerging from one of the house's many empty rooms. Led by a priest flanked on either side by two monks, his future bride was surrounded by her family members, to the point where he couldn't even tell which one of the many bowed heads belonged to her.

They came to a stop a few feet away from where Itachi and Fugaku stood. A tall man with a rugged, scarred face stepped forward, but rather than approach Itachi, he bowed to Itachi's father.

"Fugaku-san, I humbly offer my daughter to be joined in marriage with your eldest son," his bride's father said, "for the benefit and continuation of the Uchiha clan."

Fugaku gestured and, seemingly out of nowhere, several lower members of the clan's ranks appeared bearing the required gifts. "I accept your sacrifice with offerings of my own."

As he didn't seem to have any part in the negotiations, Itachi let his gaze wander over the unfamiliar faces in front of him, searching for the girl who would be his wife and the mother of his children. He immediately dismissed several candidates based on either the grey streaks in their hair or the color and style of their kimono, which indicated they were already married.

Of the remaining females, one in particular stood out. From the moment his eyes landed on her, Itachi's mouth felt dry.

Her glossy hair was the color of deeply stained wood, almost too dark to be called brown. She wore a light pink kimono decorated in a delicate pattern of white cherry blossoms, accented by a wide red obi that did nothing to hide the slenderness of her waist. Her sleeves were long and wide, but he could see just a bit of her pale arm as she held a folded paper fan up to her face.

All he could see was a flash of her amber eyes before she realized she was being watched and quickly looked down. Something sparked in the center of Itachi's chest and the ensuing warmth spread like wildfire through the rest of his body. He swallowed back a sudden lump in his throat.

Perhaps marriage wouldn't be such a burden if it meant he would belong to a woman as beautiful as her.

"Uchiha Itachi." It was all Itachi could do to tear his eyes away from the girl in the pink kimono. He looked at his bride's father, barely remembering to bow in acknowledgement. The man nodded before gesturing to the women behind him. "Your future wife, Akane."

He held his breath, waiting for her to step forward...but his heart sank only a moment later. Instead of the girl who had captured his attention with a single look, another girl shuffled towards him. Her kimono was just as elaborate, but although they shared some features, Uchiha Akane paled in comparison to the girl standing next to her.

Itachi froze. To show any disappointment would shame his family and bring dishonor to the entire clan. He extended a cold, numb hand to Akane and forced himself not to look over her shoulder when she placed her own, slightly damp palm in his.

Facing the priest, Itachi barely heard, much less understood the words of the blessing that sealed his fate and promised his heart to someone who would never have it.