Author's Note: Based on manga chapter 589-590...but given a twist.

A Brother's Last Plea

Sasuke watched Kabuto succumb to Izanami, then turned to his brother. "Being with you, all I can remember is our time together. It's because I remember that I can't give up my vendetta against Konoha." To know his brother did all he did to protect him was the damage to Sasuke's heart.

Itachi wasn't sure what to say. "Forgiveness...and going back...are sometimes mutually exclusive."

He turned to face his brother. "I forgave...but I didn't go back."

Sasuke couldn't comprehend this. "Forgive? How? All the pain and suffering they put you through... Being close to you, I remember the brother I looked up to, the brother I loved. That's why I can't forgive. My hate for Konoha is growing stronger, in fact. I guess you're trying to put me on the right path as my niisan, but as your ototo, I'm unlikely to listen. You exist to protect the village; I exist to destroy it."

Itachi looked at his brother incredulously. "In spite of my best efforts, you love me and you hate Konoha? In spite of everything I put you make you hate me? I lied to you. Over and over again. Just to make you hate me. So that Konoha would be spared your wrath." He clenched his hands into fists. "To make you hate that you could punish me for what I did: for being so weak that I couldn't save our family."

He trembled. "Mother, and you understand..." Of course Sasuke didn't. He stepped forward. "Let me show you." The implication was obvious: with their kekkai genkai. He couldn't speak the words necessary to explain, not in such a short amount of time.

Sasuke hurt to hear Itachi speak this way. But he would do as Itachi asked. "H-hai." And then he was there, seeing Itachi's memories: Hiruzen, Koharu, Danzo . . . Danzo, damn him. And then Tobi. And then the night everyone died.

Itachi hung his head, breaking contact once the transfer of memories was complete. "You see...I couldn't save them. And I couldn't do as they asked of me, either. I was a failure in all respects. I couldn't maintain my loyalty to Konoha, or to my family. I was caught in between..." He could hardly breathe. No, wait. Something strange is happening. Is this the end? He didn't want his temporary body to fall apart now.

Then he realized he was just choked up because of his emotions.

Tears spilled over his cheeks.

Sasuke's eyes widened at this. "I-Itachi." He took a step forward. "They placed you in that impossible position by using me against you. They're to blame, not you. You suffered all this time... you.." He reached out a hand. It was almost overwhelming to try to touch Itachi. Itachi had carried him, treated his scratches, even babysat and held him when he was a baby. His niisan, the prodigy, the one he was always trying to catch up to, the one ...

The one he loved.

He reached out and touched the tears; his fingers shook.

Itachi hugged him, unable to hold back, and rested his forehead against Sasuke's. "The truth is...the truth is...after all this time, after everything I've done, to you, for the village, for someone else...I still love you. And I always will. No matter what you do, Sasuke, I...really love you. I love you more than the village and more than my loyalties to anyone else. I always...wanted to take care of you."

He gasped for breath. His throat was constricted. "Loyalty to a village can be a terrible thing. But...Sasuke...for some people...that's all that holds them together. Taking away someone else's stability would be a terrible mistake. And yet...if you do that...if you destroy Konoha...I will still love you."

Sasuke's eyes widened further; he could hardly react. Then the words pierced his heart, and he wrapped his arms around Itachi. "Niisan..." He trembled. A thousand years seemed to have passed between the former time they'd hugged and now. "Niisan... I love you, too."

It was the light in his darkness, although he didn't see it as that.

Itachi hugged him tightly. "Then as you want. But know...I would always want you to be loved. I would always want you to go where you are loved...and protected."

He cupped Sasuke's cheek and tilted Sasuke's head up. "Where are you loved and protected? This is now the question you must ask yourself. For this is where your happiness is. And your safety. And your life. This must be where you stay. Because I want more than anything..." Tears welled up and spilled again. "I wanted more than anything to be that place. But I wasn't. I want you to go there now. Wherever it is."

Sasuke stared up into Itachi's eyes. The place I'm loved and protected? "But you are the only place that would ever be! Niisan..." Don't go.

Itachi broke out into a sob. He couldn't help it. "I know that! But I can't stay! I'm going to fade away, and all you're going to have left is..." …is dust. "Memories of me. You can't stay this way. You have to go someplace where you are loved and protected. Because I love you."

He clung to Sasuke tightly, squeezing his eyes shut. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I made so many mistakes that I can't stay."

Sasuke didn't know what to do with this. What is love? What is protection? What is a village, and what are shinobi? He mirrored Itachi's move, cupping his cheek. "Niisan... I - " And before he could say more, voice his confusion, even think, he found himself bringing their faces together. He kissed Itachi, kissed him desperately, afraid he'd fade away before he could show the depth of his feelings the only way his body would now let him. He'd never kissed anyone before - never had an interest in it, even - but he gave it his entire soul, reaching out as he hadn't to anyone else.

Itachi compensated quickly, molding their lips together in a proper kiss, cupping the back of his ototo's head. He stroked Sasuke's hair.

When his brother said 'love', he didn't know it meant this. But he accepted the depths of these feelings, and furthermore...had given himself to his brother so completely from the day his brother was born that this feeling from himself couldn't be anything more than a foregone conclusion.

Sasuke made a small noise in the back of his throat. Niisan... He matched the movement, mouthing his brother's lips, and reached up to cup the back of his neck. Niisan... The kiss only grew more desperate, more passion. Niisan... I need you. He licked at Itachi's lips, knowing there was such a thing as a french kiss, and when Itachi's lips parted, he delved his tongue inside. He had no idea what he was doing, but Itachi's tongue met his, and he whimpered.

Itachi felt a deep stirring in his chest. He wound his arms around Sasuke's waist and held on, gently guided Sasuke's kissing. Like an older brother should. Along with a distant sense of arousal, he felt regret. Regret that he should turn to sand, to dust, before he ever had the chance to show Sasuke his love properly.

Sasuke melted into Itachi's body and moaned. Itachi's tongue caressed his tenderly, even slipped into his mouth and explored it gently, and Sasuke opened his mouth to him, wanting him more than ever, moaning, aching, aroused. He closed his eyes tightly, memorizing the feeling of Itachi's tongue inside him, and then sucked on it, never wanting to let go and fighting the knowledge he would have to.

Itachi moaned, pressed against Sasuke with his borrowed body, cursing the knowledge that it was. He squeezed Sasuke's waist.

Finally, he ran out of breath, for this body did breathe, and he pulled away, pulling Sasuke's head against his chest. "I love you, I love you...and I have always loved you. Find someone who loves you. Find them and go to them. Please..."

To his dismay, he felt something jerk inside his chest. Like the door of a cage being unlatched. "I'm going...I can't help it..." Even as he spoke, flecks of dirt fell from his lips. Every breath dislodged dust.

His eyes widened. "I think you freed me...with your love."

A terrible thought. That his time could be cut short further by something so wonderful.

"Itachi!" Sasuke felt tears in his eyes; they escaped quickly. Freed you with my love? "Niisan!" There was no time; he said all he could say: "I love you."

"I love you, too!" Itachi stroked his brother's cheek one last time before he had to jerk his fingers away. They were crumbling, too. He couldn't cry anymore; his face was cracked.

Sasuke watched this process with horror, regret.

Itachi turned away. "Don't watch. Please...don't think I am crumbling away. I am in your heart, Sasuke. In that way...I will never leave." At those words, he felt something crumble away. He felt very light. He turned to look at Sasuke, weightless, and then realized he was fading away. Bright light was surrounding him, taking him away.

Sasuke stared upward, watching the light go. Tears streaked down his cheeks. "In my heart, ne?" he whispered. He put his hand over his heart.

His questions doubled, tripled.

And now he knew he would have to have the answers.